Epics, Khilas, and Puranas: Continuities and Ruptures

By Rocher, Ludo | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, January-March 2007 | Go to article overview

Epics, Khilas, and Puranas: Continuities and Ruptures


Rocher, Ludo, The Journal of the American Oriental Society


Epics, Khilas, and Puranas: Continuities and Ruptures. Edited by PETTERI KOSKIKALLIO. Zagreb: CROATIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES AND ARTS, 2005. Pp. xxviii + 683.

In 2002, the same year in which the proceedings of the second Dubrovnik International Conference on the Sanskrit Epics and Puranas were published, the DICSEP group met for the third time in Dubrovnik. The group was larger than in 1999--there were now twenty-three contributors; the text of the resulting volume is longer--sixty-seven percent longer, to be precise.

In some ways this volume continues the tradition established by the two earlier ones. The general editor--Mislav Jezic replacing Radoslav Katicic--sets the stage with a preface that comments on every article in greater detail than is possible in this review. For the third time Greg Bailey writes the introductory chapter. There are again two exhaustive indexes, one of all passages cited (pp. 611-34), and one general index (pp. 635-60). Finally, Croatian summaries of all papers--except Bailey's initial one--prepared by Mislav Jezic, complete the volume (pp. 661-79).

New is the extension of research on the epics and puranas far into the past. In the longest essay of the volume (pp. 21-80), Michael Witzel examines in detail "The Vedes and the Epics: Some Comparative Notes on Persons, Lineages, Geography, and Grammar."

The most striking novelty of DICSEP 3, no doubt, is that, "due to the impulse given by the work of Horst Brinkhaus" (p. xi; Brinkhaus was the sole contributor on the Harivamsa in DICSEP 2, pp. 157-76; in DICSEP 1 the Harivamsa was hardly mentioned), in between nine articles on the epics (only one of these on the Ramayana) and eight on the puranas, there are now six contributions under the heading "Harivamsa, the Khila," which "attracted the contributions of the most prominent Ramayana scholars at DICSEP 3" (p. xiv): Mary Brockington (on the absent presence of Rama Dasarathi), Peter Schreiner (on Siva in the Khila), John Brockington (on Jarasamdha; cf. his article in DICSEP 2, pp. 73-88), Horst Brinkhaus (on duplicates in the Somavams'a account), Andre Couture (on the words yoga and yogin), and Christopher Minkowski (on Nilakantha's Harivamsa commentary). For a team of scholars so far mainly concerned with the Mahabharata and the Ramayana on the one hand, and the puranas on the other, no text could better serve the theme of their third conference, "Continuities and Ruptures," than the Harivamsa.

One continuing concern about the vast body of texts discussed at the DICSEP meetings is that of tracing both the origin of the texts and their subsequent evolution into their present form. In connection with the Mahabharata, for example, witzel illustrates evolution by distinguishing seven successive layers, from "the initial, Rgvedic Bharata battle" to "the final redaction under the Guptas, or rather under King Harsa, at the beginning of the 7th century CE" (pp. 68-70). Others look for original texts--or "the" original text--mainly of the puranas. Christophe Vielle's study of the Vayu-and Brahmanda Puranas (pp. 535-60) is sustitled ''Preliminary Remarks towards a Critical Edition of the [lost original] vayuprokta Brahmandapurana." Peter Bisschop's "The Nirukti of Karohana in the Skandapurana" (pp. 561-74) deals with a texteritical problem he encountered while participating in the edition of "the original Skandapurana" of the Groningen project.

Another yet unresolved problem is one that Alf Hiltebeitel addresses directly in "Weighting Orality and Writing in the Sanskrit Epics" (pp. 81-111). Hiltebeitel's views in favor of an original written Mahabharata are not new: "My cards have ... been on the DICSEP table since at least ... my 1997 paper" ("Reconsidering Bhrguization," DICSEP 1, pp. 155-68), "and they are now declared all the more so since my more recent book, Rethinking the Mahabharata (2001), makes further arguments in favor of writing" (p. 82). He acknowledges, though, that his paper at the first DICSEP--he did not contribute to DICSEP 2--met with "sympathy for my views only from a small number of participants" (p. …

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