41.) Begging the Question in Hindu Studies

It could be argued that I am begging the question by claiming that the questions are begged. So let me block the path to infinite regression by placing a few concrete examples at your disposal. Consider the following passage, in which the center of the composition of ṚgVeda hymns is placed around the Sarasvatī River rather than the Punjab, contra Müller, Weber and Muir.[1]

From these materials conclusions can be drawn only with much caution. It is easy to frame and support by plausible evidence various hypotheses, to which the only effective objection is that other hypotheses are equally legitimate, and that the facts are too imperfect to allow of conclusions being drawn. It is, however, certain that the Rigveda offers no assistance in determining the mode in which the Vedic Indians entered India. The geographical area recognized in the Saṁhitā is large, but it is, so far as we learn, occupied by tribes which collectively are called Āryan, and which wage war with dark-skinned enemies known as Dāsas. If, as may be the case, the Āryan invaders of India entered by the western passes of the Hindu Kush and proceeded thence through the Punjab to the east, still that advance is not reflected in the Rigveda, the bulk at least of which seems to have been composed rather in the country round the Sarasvatī river, south of the modern Ambālā. Only thus, it seems can we explain the fact of the prominence in the hymns of the strife of the elements, the stress laid on the phenomena of thunder and lightning and the bursting forth of the rain from the clouds: the Punjab proper has now, and probably had also in antiquity, but little share in these things; for there in the rainy season gentle showers alone fall. Nor in its vast plain do we find the mountains which form so large a part of the poetic imagining of the Vedic Indian. On the other hand, it is perhaps to the Punjab with its glorious phenomena of dawn, that we must look for the origin of the hymns of Varuṇa. The highest moral and cosmic ideal attained by the poets, may more easily have been achieved amid the regularity of the seasonal phenomena of the country of the five rivers.[2]

Should not one raise the question here whether Punjab had a dry climate at the time, rather than assume that it must have been so and rule out Punjab as the venue?

Similarly, A. L. Basham narrates a Hindu folktale.

A wealthy merchant, Ratnadatta, has no sons, and his only daughter, Ratnāvalī, much loved and pampered by her father, refuses to marry, despite the pleading of the parents. Meanwhile a desperate thief had been captured by the king, and is led through the streets to the execution by impalement.

“To the beat of the drum the chief was led

to the place of execution,

and the merchant’s daughter Ratnāvalī

sat on the terrace and watched him.

He was gravely wounded and covered with dust,

but as soon as she saw him she was smitten with love.

Then she went to her rather Ratnadatta, and said:

‘This man they are leading to his death

I have chosen for my lord!

Father, you must save him from the king,

or I will die with him!’

And when he heard, her father said:

‘What is this you say, my child?

You’ve refused the finest suitors,

the images of the Love-god!

How can you now desire

a wretched master-thief?’

But though he reproached her thus

she was firm in her resolve,

so he sped to the king and begged

that the thief might be saved from the stake.

In return he offered

the whole of his great fortune,

but the king would not yield the thief

for ten million pieces of gold,

for he had robbed the whole city,

and was brought to the stake to repay with his life.

Her father came home in despair,

and the merchant’s daughter

determined to follow

the thief in his death.

Though her family tried to restrain her

she bathed,

and mounted a litter, and went

to the place of impalement,

while her father, her mother and her people

followed her weeping.

The executioners placed

the thief on the stake,

and, as his life ebbed away,

he saw her come with her people.

He heard the onlookers speaking

of all that had happened,

For a moment he wept, and then,

smiling a little, he died.

At her order they lifted the corpse

from the stake, and took it away,

and with it the worthy merchant’s daughter

mounted the pyre.”[3]

He then concludes the account with the following note.

Stories such as this puzzle the social historian. If the texts on the Sacred Law have any relation to real life it is quite incredible that a girl of good class in the 11th century should have been given such freedom by her parents, or should even have thought of legally marrying a despised outcaste. The story probably looks back to a much earlier time, when social relations very much freer.[4]

The question is: should we not revise our view of filial relations in the 11th century rather than locate the evidence in a distant past, so that we don’t have to?

[1] A. Berriedale Keith, “The Age of the Rigveda”, in E. J. Rapson, ed., Ancient India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1922) p. 79 note 1.

[2] Ibid., p. 79.

[3] A. L. Basham, The Wonder that was India (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1967) p. 429-430.

[4] Ibid.


2 Responses to “41.) Begging the Question in Hindu Studies”

  1. Vinod Khare Says:

    Umm, I’m not historian, but isn’t there other evidence which suggests that filial relations in the 11th century were not as liberal as that? Therefore, to fit the story into the ‘standard model’ we have to trace its routes to earlier times.

    However, the obvious problem with this approach is that while increasingly new evidence might suggest that filial relations were liberal in the 11th century, we might mistakenly keep pushing the origins back to account for an earlier, incorrect model. I guess, every now and then we should stop, look at the entire body of evidence in toto and form a new theory.

    As an aside, I’m reminded of the Khajuraho temples which are from around the time and show sexually liberal thought in their skulpture.

  2. Rangnath singh Says:

    Sir, you have put right argument forward. Definitely it was a big logical fault but i think it was very obvious to them to draw such conclusions due to their particular epistemology developed in the culture guided by the Book.

    as a beginner in the field of religious study i think indic religion needs totally different understanding of religion itself and the position of scripture in any religious tradition.

    Rangnath Singh
    Centre for Comparative Religion
    Jamia Millia Islamia
    New Delhi

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