2002 Indic Colloquium
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George Cardona

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619 Williams Hall
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305



(215) 898-7849

(609) 267-7222


(215) 573-2091


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Background Information

George Cardona is a Professor of Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. His research has focused on the Sanskrit grammatical tradition of Panini and so on, as well as on Vedic and Indian philosophy (principally Nyaya and Mimamsa). He has written many books and articles, including Panini, His Work and its Traditions (Motilal Banarsidass 1988) and Linguistic analysis and Some Indian Traditions (Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1983).


Tradition and Argumentation:
Tensions among some early thinkers and their backgrounds

(Editor's note: diacritics in original were changed to nearest Roman characters for this web page. Diacritics are preserved in full paper PDF.)

Read the entire paper in PDF format (48K, 9 pp.)

There is an ongoing tension between, on the one hand, tradition accepted as authoritative, and, on the other hand, reasoning used to support as well as to attack such tradition. Thus, contrary to a common misperception, at no time in early and medieval India was there an absolute, thoughtless acceptance of tradition, even by different followers of a single tradition.

To demonstrate this I will consider evidence from the earliest Paninian grammarians, from Bhartrihari, from literary commentary, and from Nyaya commentary. The main points I plan to discuss are as follows:

(1) Patañjali says on several occasions with respect to statements of Katyayana that once teachers formulate sutras they do not retract them, but they formulate statements that complement the earlier ones. That is, authorities are willing not only to state rules but also to consider additions and amendments to them. This is a general Indian attitude, reflected also in other spheres.

(2) Modern scholars are familiar with the polemical style of Indian scholars arguing for views maintained in one school of thought and in the course of such argumentation refuting vigorously views held by others. Early scholars like Patañjali, on the other hand, do not, at least superficially, argue in so overt a manner. Nevertheless, they too make clear what they consider positions to be accepted. Thus, after noting that the question whether speech is nitya or anitya was thrashed out in the Samgraha, Patañjali remarks that whatever view one takes, the grammar is to be put into play. On another occasion, he remarks with regard to the use of present verbal forms that one should use them considering the semantics that speakers have in mind and not worry about specious arguments against the possibility of a present time. Such statements reflect the willingness to consider particular claims both inapplicable and irrelevant in particular contexts.

(3) Even so apparently mild a critic as Bhartrihari, who in effect carries on Patañjali modes of presentation, not only upholds tradition but also can be quite firm in rejecting certain positions, not merely in the context of the Paninian system but also more generally. Moreover, even when he stresses the need for considering various traditions, he also brings this into the context of such knowledge serving as an aid in upholding the conclusions of one particular system.

(4) Mallinatha, who embarks on commentaries whose aim is apparently to recapitulate slavishly what original authors say, also remarks that his Sa*jivani serves to revive what has been put to near death by the poison of bad commentaries. More pointedly, a Naiyayika like Jayantabhatta speaks against the bad reasoning of poor thinkers which has brought to near-ruin the authority of the Vedas. Jayanta's wording (vede…u hi dustaarkikavacitakutarkaviplaavitapraamaa.nye…u ...) mirrors the diction of a verse at the end of the Vakyapadiya (... aar…e viplaavite granthe ...).

Read the entire paper in PDF format (48K, 9 pp.)