Thursday, June 26, 2008

Kosambi on Buddhist poet Vidyakara

This is not written by Kosambi, he is only cited in this article on the Buddhist Sanskrit poet Vidyakara and his collection of verses Subhasitaratnakosa. I found the article informative and thought that it might be of interest to the readers of this blog.

Source: BANGLAPEDIA: Subhasitaratnakosa
Subhasitaratnakosa is an anthology of Sanskrit verses compiled by a Buddhist scholar named Vidyakara who lived in Bengal from the latter half of the 11th century AD to c 1130 AD. The first edition of this anthology, containing over a thousand verses, was prepared by Vidyakara shortly before 1100 AD. This first edition's palm leaf manuscript was discovered at the Ngor monastery in central Tibet. A second edition of the Subhasitaratnakosa (treasury of well turned verse), increased in size by about one third, containing 1738 verses, was compiled by Vidyakara himself not later than 1130 AD. A paper manuscript of this expanded edition was found in the private collection of the Nepalese Rajaguru, Pundit Hemaraja. The researches of DD Kosambi have shown that an anthology of Sanskrit verses published by FW Thomas in 1912 under the conjectural title Kavindravachanasamuchchaya from a fragment of a palm leaf manuscript represents the second edition of Subhasitaratnakosa.

About Vidyakara, the compiler of the Subhasitaratnakosa, no details are known. Researches of DD Kosambi have shown that Vidyakara was a monk at the Jagaddala monastery (in varendra) and in the compilation of his anthology he used the manuscripts kept in the library of that monastery. Several of the verses quoted by Vidyakara have references, which seem to be the very shelfmarks of the library of the Jagaddala vihara. It appears from the arrangement of verses that Vidyakara compiled his anthology over a long period, probably as a life-long hobby. It seems probable that with the decline of Buddhism in Bengal and Bihar and the invasion and occupation of North and Western Bengal by Muslims, some monks took the manuscripts of the Subhasitaratnakosa along with other manuscripts to neighbouring countries like Tibet and Nepal.

Of the 275 authors quoted in the Subhasitaratnakosa, only eleven seem to be earlier than the seventh century AD. Again, Vidyakara's favourite authors were close to him in time and place. Vallana, Yogeshvara, Vasukalpa, Manovinoda, Abhinanda were all Bengalis or at least easterners of the Pala kingdom, the core of which comprised Bengal and Bihar. Among the less frequently quoted authors are many Pala princes of state and church whose verses are not found in any other extant work. Among them are dharmapala, Rajayapala, Buddhakaragupta, Khipaka, and Jnanashri. Though Vidyakara quotes verses of classical authors like Kalidasa, Rajashekhara, and Bhavabhuti, he shows a special predilection for eastern or Bengali poets. His favourite authors in order of the frequency with which he quotes them belonged to a period from 700 to 1100 AD. But the Subhasitaratnakosa is eventually an anthology of the middle classical period (700-1050 AD) of Sanskrit.

Vidyakara has drawn verses from four sources: the great kavyas, the plays, small kavyas, and anthologies and stray verses. He has quoted verses mostly from plays, small kavyas and anthologies. The Subhasitaratnakosa has 50 vrajyas or sections. Following the usual norm of all Sanskrit works he begins with a benedictory verse composed by himself. As a Buddhist monk, he then quotes verses with praise of the divine human, the Buddha (section 1). The verses on the Buddha are followed by the sections containing the verses on the Bodhisattva Lokeshvara and the Bodhisattva Manjughosa (sections 2-3). Vidyakara includes more verses in praise of Hindu gods than of the Buddha (sections 4-7). Sections 8-13 contain verses on the different seasons. Vidyakara's liking for love poetry is manifest in verses on love in sections 14-26. In the Subhasitaratnakosa there are verses on villages and fields (sections 12, 13, 35). The verses throw light on contemporary society. There are also verses on warfare and heroism (sections 45-46). In the section 49, entitled miscellaneous, we find verses on Hari-Hara, that is to say, love and gnomic verses teaching some point of worldly wisdom. The last Vrajya (50) in praise of poets has literary as well as historical value.

Vidyakara's anthology is proof of ancient Bengal's contributions to Sanskrit literature. It also contains valuable information on the socio-economic history of ancient Bengal. It still remains the oldest general anthology of Sanskrit verses. govardhanacharya (Aryasaptashati) and Shridharadasa (Saduktikarnamrta), the court poets of the Sena period, carried on the tradition and enriched Sanskrit anthological literature (Kosakavya). [Shahanara Husain]

Bibliography DD Kosambi and Gokhale (ed), The Subhasitaratnakosa, Harvard Oriental Series, 42, 1957; HH Ingalls (tr), An Anthology of Sanskrit Court Poetry, Vidyakara's 'Subhasitaratnakosa', HOS, 44, 1965.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Discussion on Kosambi's work on Numismatics

Kosambi's book Indian Numismatics can be downloaded from here.

Indo-Eurasian_research : Message: Re: [Indo-Eurasia] The Abrus precatorius seed as an Indian weight unit
Re: [Indo-Eurasia] The Abrus precatorius seed as an Indian weight unit

Francesco writes in his post on seeds (proposed by Allen speculatively) being used as an Indus weight standard:

/> Any comments, anyone?

Allen's idea (and Kosambi's) is interesting, Francesco -- but how could it be tested? What evidence of such use would remain in the artifactual record? And seed weights vary, so the hyperbole about perfectly standardized Indus weights in any event would still go out the window.

There are also genetic issues to consider. As I know from visits to Steve Weber's lab and talks with Steve and Dorian Fuller, we can't assume that modern seeds and those found in the Indus Valley are identical in size or weight. That needs to be taken in consideration in statements like this:

/> Contrary to what you, Allen, suggest in your post, the rattI has an
/> *average* (but not certainly a fixed) weight of 0.106 to 0.109 grams.
/> It was the smallest unit of weight measurement for ancient Indian coins.

On the calculations you point to in Kosambi, you write:

/> This subject was magistrally discussed by D.D. Kosambi in _Indian
/> Numismatics_ (New Delhi, Orient Longman, 1981), where he provides a
/> severe critique of the interpretation of the data on Indus weights
/> offered by A.S. Hemmy (whose work has been cited by Steve in some
/> earlier posts in this thread). Kosambi thought it plausible that
/> the seed of the gunja plant could have been the basis of the Indus
/> weight system:

It is important to note that Kosambi is not predominantly talking about Hemmy's work that I cited but his work on the weights of Indian coins from nearly two millennia after the fall of the Indus.

Moreover, he doesn't criticize Hemmy's RAW measurements, which is all I referred to. He instead criticizes a part of Hemmy's work that I didn't refer to: Hemmy's fudging to find standard proportions in the data, which led him to conclude (after his fudging) that the Indus mixed up binary and decimal systems (invented to explain all the anomalies in weight proportions: this is ultimately what lies behind many of the later myths about perfectly proportioned weights).

Since the raw data from the 20s and 30s from Mohenjo Daro (in Hemmy) and the raw data from modern Harappan excavations (sent to me by Richard Meadow) don't suggest that there were precise standards, you can ONLY get these neat proportions by fudging the data.

But if you read Kosambi carefully, you'll see that he does the same thing that Hemmy does: he starts from the assumption that there is a single weight standard, just like Hemmy. He only disagrees with Hemmy's work by replacing Hemmy's imagined standard with a seed standard -- basing his calculations on *modern* seed weights. (Sorry, it can't work.) There are a lot of mathematical manipulations in this chapter, but given all the unknowns the equations he gives just add smoke to his mirrors.

(Note also all the strange assumptions he makes about supposed links between Mohenjo Daro finds and "Indo-Aryan Linguistic survivals of the dual system rise to 8 units" [p. 29. It would take a lot of space to analyze what he's talking about here, but it is all irrelevant to our discussion, so I won't bother.)

In any event

(1) we don't know seed weights from the Indus era and can't know them: the seeds that researchers like Weber count are preserved by being carbonized in hearths; it takes a lot of expertise even to tell different carbonized plant seeds apart, and of course the data preserve no information on weight; moreover, there are no reasons for supposing that Indus seeds would be genetically identical
to modern seeds.

(2) we have no evidence that the Indus used seeds this way in the first place. What we DO know is that the weights that have survived in the Indus Valley aren't standardized precisely either within individual sites or across multiple sites.

So the seed idea that Allen proposed is interesting and possible, but it is difficult to see how it could be tested. If some direct evidence of some sort showed up that supported it (iconographical? Possible but unlikelky), it wouldn't have any pertinence to the "standardized weight" myth.

Still an interesting idea, however. But beads of particular sizes might work just as well, really.

Technorati Tags: , ,