A Haughty Dismissal by Harvard Professor Michael Witzel

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Shrikant Talageri

A Haughty Dismissal by Harvard Professor Michael Witzel

A reply to Michael Witzel’’s
“”Some Notes on S. Talageri’’s ‘- Michael Witzel: – An Examination of his Review of My Book’””

By Shrikant G Talageri

 

My book[1]; Witzel’s “review” of my book[2]; my examination of his “review”[3]; his “notes” on my examination[4]; and now (this) my reply to his “notes” – it looks like a never ending soap opera or serial drama.

 

But the reader will notice that there is an alternating pattern in the links of this serial chain: my book, examination and reply contain objective point-by-point elucidations; his “review” and “notes” scrupulously avoid replying to any of the points raised or made by me (or points replied to by me) and concentrate on abuses and jeers peppered with inanities about what “Talageri does not know” or “Talageri has not read”, followed by the schoolboy repetition of discredited allegations, blatant lies, and misleading diversions.

 

His present “notes” dt. 09 July 2001 are reproduced in full below from the webpage http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~witzel/Talageri-answer.htm

 

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“Some notes on

S. Talageri’s “MICHAEL WITZEL – AN EXAMINATION OF HIS REVIEW OF MY BOOK”

This is a confused and confusing, overlong 39,000 word answer to my 24,000 word review of Talageris 500-page book. It  discusses anything from private emails to my lack of English and to the nationality of my wife (sic!).

There is no need to go into details here as T. has not even begun to rethink his position, as he well should have, particularly with respect to the two major points that effectively deconstruct his ‘ground-breaking’ book:

(1)  T. has still not read Oldenberg’s  seminal work (1888) which describes the ordering of Rgvedic hymns and the way they were collected in several stages. Oldenberg’s work stands unopposed by modern scholars, T. excepted of course, but T. offers no systematic refutation, just a little second-hand nibbling at the edges, just as everywhere else in his ‘answer’.

This is best illustrated by T.’s  renewed misunderstanding of the principle underlying  the order of deity collections appearing after the usual Agni and Indra hymns that are found at the start of each Mandala. The various post-Agni/Indra collections (to Brahmanaspati, Visvedeva, Rbhu, etc.) are not a ” second set consisting of other hymns … placed at the end of the collection” and later “inserted into the hymns of the first [collection]” –(how does he know all of this?). Instead, their position simply depends on the *number* of hymns allotted to the deity in question (Oldenberg 1888, Witzel 1997, 2001). In other words, the ‘mathematical’ priciple carries.   This extremely *simple* fact can be checked by any grade school reader of a RV edition or translation: deities with the most hymns come first (after Agni/Indra), others follow in numerical decreasing order.  This is not “numerology” but simple counting, as seen in so many other Indian texts. No Vedic mathematics needed either to understand that. All additions to the original RV text are clearly visible on this and on similar grounds (e.g. later combinations of Trca and Pragatha sets, Oldenberg 1888, Witzel 2001).

The upshot is that T.’s  RV  is not that of the time of the RV authors, and any conclusion based on it also reflects the Brahmana time additions, made until Sakalya’s Padapatha. This of course nicely fits the equally late Brahmana time Anukramanis.

(2) T., however, still does not say which Anukramani he used and how he reached the conclusion that it is coeval with the RV. Instead, and rather surprisingly, he now tells us that he did not use *any* Anukramani at all but instead, the names of Rsis, deities and meters printed in the various RV editions before each hymn. A truly philological and historical procedure!

Also, he still does not want to take notice of the fact that his (now, indirect) source of the Rsi ascription in the editions, the Sarvanukramani, was not even fixed by 500 AD (Scheftelowitz 1922, Witzel 2001) — as was its counterpart, the Brhaddevata, see the  edition by M. Tokunaga (1997).  In addition, T. simply neglects all other Anukramanis (Macdonnel 1886), Rgvedic or other.  In sum, T. uses one particular Late Vedic Anukramani to establish the history of Rigvedic times, and compares that with a Rgveda of equally Late Vedic redaction.

This is what I called “garbage in garbage out:”  By using Late Vedic texts, what can one expect but the Late Vedic/Epic and Puranic  point of view that differs from the truly Rgvedic one by the changes made over centuries?

Enough said. “

 

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To begin with, Witzel ignores anything and everything written by me in my examination of his review, and sees only the number of words, my quotations from “private emails”, and my references to his weak English and his wife. So let me take up these minor (but, to Witzel, major) points first:

 

a) About “private emails”, anyone who reads my examination of Witzel’s review will see how lethal the quotations from Witzel’s emails are to his case, and will understand why Witzel would want to keep them “private”.

 

What is more intriguing is that practically all these quotations (except some of those pertaining to Witzel’s unscrupulous offer of a “fully paid scholarship at Harvard” under his tutelage if I were willing to be “flexible” in my views and conclusions) are from a certain “online exchange” from which Witzel and his friend Steve Farmer have never seen fit to refrain from quoting my own remarks – and to which I have never objected.

 

In his review Witzel openly refers to my dates for the composition of the Rigveda, as detailed on Farmer’s website:

 

“http://www.safarmer.com/pico/talageri.html , put together by Steve Farmer. Farmer attaches Talageri’s own dates, provided in an online exchange on 21 July 2000 (for Talageri’s own words, see the bottom of the web page) to an originally dateless chart that Talageri gives in his book”.

 

Let us go over the exchanges which led to my assigning dates for the composition of the Rigveda:

 

Steve Farmer, during our email discussion on “spoked wheels”, kept pressing me to give some “hard dates” for the Rigvedic hymns. To this, I wrote (in my email dated 7 July 2000):

 

“I certainly refuse to be so naïve as to join in the game of making speculative assignment of specific ‘hard dates’ to Mandalas, hymns and verses without hard proof (such as an archaeologically datable and decipherable inscription commemorating some Rigvedic personality or event).”

 

However, Farmer again urged me (in his email of 11 July 2000) to supply my “estimated range of dates” so that he could have a “better idea” of my formulations. Consequently, I speculated (in my email letter of 15 July 2000) – a speculation which subsequent discussions (spokes, BMAC words, Indo-Iranian vocabulary, etc.) have validated – that the composition of the Rigveda must have stretched over a period of 2000 years from 3500-1500 B C. In my email of 21 July 2000, to which Witzel wrongly attributes my assignment of these dates, I infact pointed out that regardless of whether the period of composition, taken by me as 2000 years, was taken to be 20,000 years or 200 years, it made no difference to the crux of my analysis (about the chronology of the Mandalas, the direction of movement in the Rigveda, etc.)

 

Farmer had no scruples in publicizing and ridiculing, on his Internet site (not that I have ever objected to it), my estimated dates, given reluctantly, and with many qualifications, in a “private email”. And Witzel has no scruples in quoting the same.

 

So Witzel’s holier-than-thou references to my exposure of the blatant lies and glaring contradictions in his “private emails” is a trifle incongruous, to say the very least.

 

b) About my reference to his English, or “lack of English” as Witzel puts it, it was when I turned his phrase “o grammatica, o mores” on him. Witzel had used the phrase in his review to mock my alleged “lack of grammar”, when he analysed another phrase “Germocentric racist” invented by himself and slanderously attributed to me. In my examination of his review, I demonstrated Witzel’s own grossly ungrammatical constructions to illustrate his genuine “lack of grammar”.

 

c) About my reference to Witzel’s wife, it was in the context of examining certain slanderous statements by Witzel. And (to use his own favourite phrase) Witzel “does not mention” that I immediately added:

 

“No – I am not proud of what I have just written: I am only holding up a mirror to Witzel (with due apologies to everyone else named in the process) to show him how cheap such slander-mongering can sound!”

 

So much for the trivia which appear to constitute the sum total of Witzel’s reading of my examination of his review. On the basic issues, Witzel now decides “there is no need to go into details here” (as if he has ever, at any point in this debate, shown any inclination to go into details!) and merely repeats his thoroughly discredited (read my examination of his review) statements about the Rigveda and the Anukramanis:

 

1) Two Sets of Rgvedic Hymns: About the Rigveda, the way in which he demonstrates my ignorance about “Oldenberg’s seminal work” is worth another look:

 

“This is best illustrated by T.’s  renewed misunderstanding of the principle underlying  the order of deity collections appearing after the usual Agni and Indra hymns that are found at the start of each Mandala. The various post-Agni/Indra collections (to Brahmanaspati, Visvedeva, Rbhu, etc.) are not a ” second set consisting of other hymns … placed at the end of the collection” and later “inserted into the hymns of the first [collection]” –(how does he know all of this?). Instead, their position simply depends on the *number* of hymns allotted to the deity in question (Oldenberg 1888, Witzel 1997, 2001). In other words, the ‘mathematical’ principle carries.    This extremely *simple* fact can be checked by any grade school reader of a RV edition or translation: deities with the most hymns come first (after Agni/Indra), others follow in numerical decreasing order.  This is not “numerology” but simple counting, as seen in so many other Indian texts. No Vedic mathematics needed either to understand that.”

 

A classic example of Witzellian diversion: nowhere, but nowhere, throughout my book, his review, or my examination of his review, have we ever before broached anything about two sets of hymns, one consisting of “Agni/Indra collections” and the other of hymns to other deities.

 

Since Witzel is fond of pretending to be dimwitted and unable to understand even the simplest things his “opponents” are saying, and thereby confusing his readers into genuinely failing to understand what is being discussed, let me clarify this particular point so that it becomes clear to the dimmest witted person:

 

Throughout our exchanges, we were discussing two sets of hymns (within each Mandala) the first of which according to Witzel is the “original” set of hymns as recognized with the help of Oldenberg’s numerical principles, and the second of which is the set of hymns which do not fit into Oldenberg’s numerical pattern.

 

To be specific, Witzel himself clarified in respect of Mandala 6 that the hymns of the second set were 15-16, 44-52, 59-61, 74-75. The hymns of the first set were therefore 1-14, 17-43, 53-58, 62-73.

 

The first set includes both “Agni/Indra” hymns (1-14, 17-43) as well as hymns to other deities (53-58, 62-73).

 

The second set also includes both “Agni/Indra” hymns (15-16, 44-46, 59-60) as well as hymns to other deities (47-52, 61, 74-75).

 

These are the two sets of hymns we were discussing, about which I have written what Witzel has quoted, but which he now knowingly and deliberately misquotes as being my remarks concerning his now suddenly invented division of the hymns into “Agni/Indra” and “other deities” – a division which never entered our discussion at any point.

 

I cannot attribute this to any “renewed misunderstanding” on Witzel’s part: it is just one more clear case in a long series of cases of Witzel’s unprincipled and fraudulent style of debate and discussion.

 

2) Anukramanis of Rgveda: About the Anukramanis, Witzel again repeats the lies and obfuscations written by him in his review on that score, which I have exposed conclusively and in great detail in my examination of his review and which now stands thoroughly discredited. There is really no need for me to go into detail here since I have already written everything about it.

 

The reader is also invited to read carefully the recent paper “Remarks on the transition from Rgvedic composition to Srauta Compilation” by his own Ph.D student Theodore Proferes[5], and compare his use of the Anukramanis with my own.

 

It will be a treat to read the verbal gymnastics and sheer apologetics that Witzel will perforce have to indulge in if he wants to maintain his criticism of my use of the Anukramanis, and at the same time to avoid applying the same criticism to Proferes’ use of the same.

 

It should always be possible to have a healthy respect for one’s “opponents” in any academic debate. But when one side is represented by people like Witzel who themselves have no respect whatsoever for their “opponents” and are equally determined to make it impossible for their “opponents” to have respect for them, the whole discussion becomes a travesty of academic debate.


[1] TALAGERI, Shrikant G. 2000. The Rigveda, A Historical Analysis. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Available online at http://www.bharatvani.org/books/rig/

[2] WITZEL, Michael .2001. “WESTWARD HO! The Incredible Wanderlust of the Rgvedic Tribes Exposed by S. Talageri” in EJVS 7.2, available online at http://northshore.shore.net/%7Eindia/ejvs/ejvs0702/ejvs0702article.pdf

[3] TALAGERI, Shrikant G. 2001. Michael Witzel – An Examination of his Review of my Book. Available online at http://www.bharatvani.org/general_inbox/talageri/ejvs/cover.html

[4] WITZEL, Michael. 09 July 2001. S. Talageri’s “MICHAEL WITZEL – AN EXAMINATION OF HIS REVIEW OF MY BOOK”, available online at http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~witzel/Talageri-answer.htm

[5] PROFERES, Theodore. 2003. Remarks on the Transition from Rgvedic Composition to Srauta Compilation. Pages 1-21, in The Indo-Iranian Journal, vol. 46

 

 

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