Old, older, and oldest Dharmasastra: the manuscript tradition of the Manu Sastra, the original text of the Manu Sastra, and the first dharmasutras.

AuthorFitzgerald, James L.

    No scholar today has done more to put on the record what the old Brahmin tradition considered to be dharma than Patrick Olivelle. (1) Beginning with his early works on yatidharma, the asramadharma, and the samnyasa-upanipds, continuing with the critically important edited volume on dharma in 2004 (2)--which contained a major piece of research and reflection by him on the word's later Vedic and post-Vedic history (3)--and the two big volumes under discussion here, and culminating in a critical edition of the Vaisnava Dharmakistra in 2009 and numerous recent articles and chapters, Olivelle has furnished those interested in mapping the word and idea "dharma" an abundance of materials, insights, and arguments. Those materials assist us fundamentally on a daily basis, and the insights and arguments will hold our attention for a long time to come. (And as all know, this tidal wave of publications on dharma is hardly all that Olivelle has been doing in the past few decades!) All of Indology stands deeply in Olivelle's debt for so much important work so well done.

    The two books under discussion here are contributions of fundamental scholarship: new presentations in Sanskrit and English of the five earliest texts of the tradition of Brahmin dharmagastra--the four earliest dharmasutras and the Manavadharmasastra, which came into existence four to five centuries after the first dharmasutra. (4) The men and institutions of this tradition had, perhaps, more direct influence on the shape of the social and political realities of India than any other single stream of voices in South Asian history. Though the learned men of the dharmagastra and their texts are profoundly out of temper with a number of the norms that have come to prevail in the past one hundred years--they were the scholarly members of a cultural elite claiming a special status, with attendant benefits, privileges, and exemptions--it is important that this tradition be charted with as much historicistic detail and nuance as can be mustered. Precisely because the misalignment between dharmagastra and modernity is not simply a thing of the past, fundamental scholarship such as Olivelle's here is much more than an antiquarian completion of the record. There are even deeper misalignments of intellectual and moral presuppositions between the Brahmin elite of India and the elites of the modern Western worldview--misalignments that contribute to the contemporary tensions between some of the pious of both traditions--and on their margins these two works may occasionally help illuminate these matters, as I hope some of my comments below will do, particularly with regard to the implicit norms of oral and written texts in connection with the Manu gastra (see III.3 below).

    As will become clear, the editions of the Sanskrit texts presented in these two volumes are fundamentally different in nature: Olivelle's sutra texts are carefully rearticulated presentations of refurbished and improved versions of older editions of those texts, while his text of the Manavadhamasastra is an entirely new critical edition based upon fifty-three manuscripts, the great majority of which have never been used before.

    These two volumes provide the best available presentations of these texts to date--they will be the scholarly standard for these texts for Sanskritists and non-Sanskritists both for many years to come. These books, and some of Olivelle's attendant scholarship, raise some critically important issues that require much more space to address than is available here and now. So OliveIle's theories about the dharma of the dharmagastra being the result of a Buddhist revival of the word (DS, 14) and his conviction that the Manavadharmasastra was composed in a single authorial burst (MCL, 5-7) will be treated in detail elsewhere. Here I attend to matters of the basic scholarship that grounds these books, coming to focus upon translational issues--principally of the word dharma--for the sutra volume and issues of textual criticism for Manu 's Code of Law. Particularly important with his new edition of the Manu gastra is the work Olivelle has done there to focus our attention upon what he calls the "after-life" of the text, a matter that should become a principal rather than a secondary concern of Western scholarship. His new edition is based upon a splendid marshalling of new resources that may, conceivably, yield even more results in the not-too-distant future (see my suggestion regarding cladistics analysis at the end of this review).


    The heart of Olivelle's Dharmasatras consists of /Hi pages presenting the texts of the four extant old sutras with Olivelle's translations of them on facing pages, in the chronological order of the core texts as he has determined it: Apastamba, Gautama, Baudhayana, and Vasistha. Each of the four sutras is preceded by a brief discussion of important features not shared with the other three, and this notice is followed by a detailed conspectus of its contents. Following the texts and translations are 234 pages of notes. The body of notes for each sutra commences with a description of the refurbished edition of the sutra Olivelle presents, and the notes (which are signaled by note-numbers in the body of the Sanskrit texts) present variant readings, discussions of the reading adopted, quotations from four commentators, and discussions of the translation and/or meaning of the text. Three appendices follow the notes: one a glossary of ritual vocabulary, a second explaining the names of gods, people, and places, and the last a four-page listing of fauna and flora. A bibliography and a relatively detailed index of groups of terms under topic headings bring the book to a close.

    A general introduction preceding the body of the work briefly takes up various general matters regarding the form, content, and history of the siitras. Salient among these are their authorship and dating, their internal structures, the meaning of "dharma" in these works, and a concluding discussion of the import of the plurality of contending voices contained in these stitras (texts often wrongly presumed by modern readers to be normative in simple and straightforward ways).

    Olivelle's revised editions come from his painstaking reviews of and corrections to the first and, in three cases, subsequent editions of the four sutras produced by four nineteenth-century German editors (Georg Biihler's two editions of Apastamba, Adolf Stenzler's edition of Gautama, Eugen Hultzsch's two editions of Baudhayana, and A. Anton Fuhrer's two editions of Vasistha). Olivelle corrected and revised these to one extent or another in light of various philological discussions of the first editions, especially criticisms from Otto von Bohtlingk, (5) and several subsequent editions of the sutras published in the first half of the twentieth century. In the case of two sutras (Gautama and Vasistha) Olivelle gathered two new manuscripts of each from Nepal and also brought in the quotations of them in later dharmagastra literature; in the case of Vasigha he made use of a preliminary report of the results of Harry Falles gathering of new manuscripts of this text in preparation of a critical edition of it. (6) The amount of editorial innovation on Olivelle's part seems to vary significantly from one text to the next, with Apastamba remaining more or less the same as Biihler's second edition of it, (7) but Gautama and Vasistha eliciting more numerous editorial alterations on his part. Olivelle makes it perfectly clear that the editions in this volume are based on the work of earlier editors, though only dharmasastra specialists may take cognizance of just how much has been forwarded to the present work from earlier editions and annotations. (8) Olivelle's editorial project is unusual, but given the long absence of entirely new critical editions of the sutras based on a thorough collection of new manuscripts, Olivelle's synthesis here is a welcome and valuable scholarly resource.(9)

    An interesting liminal issue arises as we pass from the editor's establishing the readings of the text to questions of their interpretation and translation. I refer to the need for conscious decisions about how the individually demarcated units of the texts, the "sutras," (10) are to be connected, or not. The last, and only, scholar previously to translate all the dharmasutras, Georg Baler, rendered all discretely numbered units of these texts in a single numbered stream of separate paragraphs, one for each such "sutra." (11) Olivelle has presented the contents of the texts in a radically different way, though, unfortunately, without any discussion of his motives, grounds, or method for doing so. (12) In a dramatic departure from Buhler's presentation, Olivelle places an interpretive overlay on the texts by distinguishing three levels of content within them and using his own labels for each level. (13) He uses white space to suggest continuities and discontinuities in the matter, grouping sutras into distinct paragraphs and distinguishing verses from prose by giving each stanza its own paragraph printed in smaller type and indented on both sides. This overlay is a profound commentarial intervention in the presentation of the texts, but one that constitutes a justifiable and carefully considered interpretive translation of these texts to a radically different intellectual context from that of their origin, even if there are significant elements of subjectivity at many interpretive cruces (and thus grounds for occasional disagreement). Some of these very significant departures from Buhler's presentations of the translated texts were anticipated by Elvira Friedrich in a conceptually provocative examination and translation of Apastamba that appeared in 1993. (14) Preparatory to an effort to read Apastamba divorced from the guidance of the main traditional commentator, Haradatta, Friedrich...

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