Monthly Archives: Apr 2012

Ghosts and relics.

In linguistics, a “ghost word” is a word that comes into being not through an organic process, but simply because of a mistake – often an error in translation or transcription that becomes accepted as fact. These phantoms cause no end of linguistic malarchy, as scholars try to follow the retreating shadow to its origin.

In a shockingly interesting article from 1985 – bless you, Journal of the American Oriental Society; most of what you publish is so dry, but this essay was knowledgeable and didn’t put me to sleep – Hartmut Scharfe of UCLA argues convincingly for the existence of a ghost word dating from Vedic times: Sanskrit rāj/rāja/rājan, often translated as chieftain, ruler, or king.

Scharfe reminds us that “hierarchical order is conspicuously absent from the Vedic pantheon” – which alone is an excellent common-sense reason to reject king as the best possible rendering of rāja – and then explains how the word is used for several Devas in turn, always when each is at the height of power and achievement. Indra is rājan in killing Vṛtra; Agni, beguiling darkness, is rājan. And so forth. A better translation of the word, he suggests, is “the one of power and charisma,” or perhaps “the one who supremely protects.” Based on this, I think of rājan like the one fully engaged in helpful action, or the ever-active for the universal benefit.

The point is, the word later came to signify one who was worthy to rule by virtue of benevolent force. But in Vedic times it did not signify any sense of dominion.

This is one of the many reasons that I’ve never liked the name Devarāja, for Indra.
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Returning briefly to my meandering ramblings from yesterday: I wish that Western culture would take the same interest in the Vedics as in the ancient Egyptians. I’d love to see a professional film or project, or museum displays on par with the wonder-inspiring traveling exhibition of Tutankhamun’s death relics.

But we want to feel the past intimately present. People buy antiquities, not for the pleasure of owning run-down things, but to finger a string of faience beads that once hung from a woman’s neck thousands of years ago, or to see their reflections in peculiar, pitted bronze surfaces that once showed faces so remote. We want to trace the same fissures and folds of metal and marble that an ancient sculptor’s hands once shaped, and touch crumbling pages while feeling anew the wonder of illiteracy, or at least imagine that we could, while slyly eyeing these relics through glass cases. But so much of the material from Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa are either simple living items – pots, pitchers, nothing otherworldly dazzling or intriguingly exotic – or else, they are objects and inscriptions so foreign that their meaning seems lost before the effort of understanding even begins.

No, the greatest legacy of the Sarasvatī River civilisation is aural, not visual or tactile – and Vedic chanting rates a Not So Much on the scale of Hollywood marketability.
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Returning to Stargate for one moment, with a curious tie-in to the idea of “words established by mistakes”:
After reading the pretty-bad-novel-version of Stargate, I finally know what Daniel and that meddling academic type were squabbling about at his lecture. I always wondered why the academics were heckling him for no real reason.
It turns out that their argument was based upon a real debate: Colonel Vyse really did make the discovery of inscriptions – of the name of Pharoah Khufu, among others – within the Great Pyramid, a structure in which no writings had previously been found.
In the book, after the stuffy professor mentions “the quarryman’s inscription of Khufu’s name within the pyramid,” Daniel demonstrates that the inscription was a fraud. He shows that the writing contained a mistake, a misspelling in Khufu’s name – a mistake that an actual quarryman probably would have been killed for inscribing in a pharaoh’s resting-place. However, that mistake happened to match exactly the name of “Khufu” in a misprinted volume of ancient Egyptian history – a volume which Vyse was carrying on the expedition.
This may not be the same evidence that exists in reality, but nonetheless, many people do actually believe that Vyse’s “discovery” was a fake. So it was a neat tie-in of actual academia versus the cooked-up version in the movie – and at least I was rewarded, for plodding through a poorly-written novelization of a far superior film, by learning something new today. :flashes the “The More You Know” rainbow:

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© Arjunī and ridiculously reverent. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Arjunī and ridiculously reverent with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Careful what I wish.

“So many techniques, all equally crass, to make the gods appear. And when they give in, what do you do? Extend the bowl: ‘Give us rains. Cattle. Sons. Wealth.’ As though one defined human beings by their wanting…That’s why when the moment comes I shall confront Indra in silence. For that, it is essential that one shed all human weakness. Be alone. Absolutely on one’s own to face that moment. Become a diamond. Unscratchable.”
–Girish Karnad, from play Agni Mattu Malé (a tale which you may recognise better as film Agnivarsha)

Lacking the dramatic and literary flair of Karnad’s prose, I nonetheless hesitate to ask the Divine for anything, with similar reasoning: He is there, and beautiful, and wondrous. Even the eyes that gaze with calm sweetness from his picture are a gift. What more shall I ask?

Yet studying requires money, and studying in India enough money to transplant myself abroad. So I asked, of the One who opens the way to freedom, let me earn the means for my studies. Help me find an opportunity; I will work hard if given the chance.

This was a month ago, and today I started a new job. I will be working two full-time positions, one to live here and now, one to save for a future existence there.

So, please bear with me in the next few weeks, as I struggle to adjust to this sudden boon! I will have to carve out “blog time” – somewhere between bedtime, bus time, and all of the new points of the clock that now demand my attention.

Jai Śrī Indra Deva!

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© Arjunī and ridiculously reverent. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Arjunī and ridiculously reverent with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.