2002 Indic Colloquium
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Kapil Kapoor

Contact Information




Jawaharlal Nehru University
Centre for Studies in Diplomacy, International Law and Economics
New Delhi, INDIA 110067



91-11-6167676 / 6107557 Ext. 2399



91-11-6165886 / 6198234 JNU FAX


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91-11-6107676 / 6167557 JNU





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Background Information

Professor Kapil Kapoor is the Rectora at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Professor of English and Concurrent Professor of Sanskrit Studies. He has been teaching classical texts like Bhartrihari's Vakyapadiya, Bharata's Natyasastra, Panini's Asthadhyayi, and Patanjali's Yoga Sutra at JNU for the last several years. He is an eminent scholar, with several books to his credit. Over the last ten years, he has been touring the country extensively giving major talks and keynote addresses on issues pertaining to Indic traditions.


Loss, Recovery and Renewal of Texts in India's Tradition

(Editor's Note: Diacritics have by necessity been removed in this abstract. Full diacritics are present in the PDF paper.)

Read the entire paper in PDF format (160K, 24 pp.)

Through sciences that were the earliest to develop in India, phonetics, grammar (vyakarana), etymology (nirvacana), textual analysis (mimasa), and through systems of text-permutations (patha) interpretation of meaning (shastra paddhati), India has maintained its knowledge texts for almost five thousand years, if not more - Rigveda is the oldest extant Indo-European poetry and the Brahmanas are the oldest Indo-European prose. Evidently, the community attached great value to knowledge and made enormous intellectual effort not only to possess, as relics, but also to comprehend the texts that embodied the knowledge. There are, however, records that the 'texts', the knowledge, were 'lost' more than once – they actually disappeared or got fragmented and dispersed, or became opaque through their tradition of learning having been terminated. The text-internal dynamics (change in language over time for example) and text-external circumstances (war or natural calamities or invasions) disrupted the tradition and rendered the texts inaccessible, incomprehensible or incoherent. It is also recorded that the community assiduously sought to recover and/or renew the seminal texts and developed over a period of time a number of mechanisms for the purpose – re-enunciation, recension, redaction, adaptation, translation, commentary, popular exposition and recreation. There have been several cycles of loss and recovery and these are embodied in what the tradition calls the Vyasa Parampara. The last cycle, we posit (for the tradition has yet to incorporate a record of this cycle) began in and around the eleventh century when under the impact of waves of invasions, the tradition of learning broke up, texts dispersed, fragmented and were lost and the Indian knowledge systems became esoteric and almost dried up. The processes of reconstruction and renewal of texts/knowledge began in the ‘modern’ times (18th century onwards), outside India, in Europe. The history of reconstruction and dissemination of the classical Indian (Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit) intellectual tradition in the last 200 years or so is truly an example of a successful global effort (viriwa yajña) to maintain and sustain what is in fact the heritage of mankind. Reconstructed Indian thought has influenced and shaped much contemporary thinking. All the major European minds of the nineteenth century - Humboldt, Fichte, Hegel, Goethe, Schopenhauer, Kant, Nietzsche, Schiller, Schelling, de Saussure, Roman Jakobson, Trubetzkoy, were either Sanskritists or, on their own admission, had been deeply involved in Indian thought. Their work has inspired various thought movements – Idealism, Romanticism – which have shaped the contemporary mind. For example, Structuralism which owes so much to the work of de Saussure who was the professor/teacher of Sanskrit at Geneva before he came over to Sorbonne, is the the underpinning of what are today virtually global thought–movements right up to Post-Modernism. A large numbers of Indian texts, through translations, have become available across cultures and enabled and strengthened Indian studies. However, the diffusion and dissemination of texts and their 'modern' study has created a new challenge for the Indian scholar to defend the tradition and his 'traditional' reading of the texts. Knowledge formation, storage and dissemination in the oral tradition is radically different from that in the scriptal/written traditions and has monumental intellectual achievements to its credit. It needs to be defended and sustained.

We take a look at what motivates these processes and mechanisms, what they are and what they achieved.

Read the entire paper in PDF format (160K, 24 pp.)