Lightbulb Moment

Clip from my MA edition of the 9th chapter of the Kriyākālaguṇottara. Shows what I had marked as a corrupt pāda.

When I was editing the 9th chapter of the Kriyākālaguṇottara for my MA thesis, I spent several hours trying to figure out pāda 25d, which I ended up marking as corrupt.  The palmleaf manuscript, oldest of the group, was indeed corrupt and hypometrical: kimedaṃ vikaryate.  I speculated about taking edaṃ as some kind of Prākṛtic pronoun, effect of non-standard sandhis, anything that would help me draw some sense out of it.  In retrospect, the corruption of the palmleaf manuscript lead me astray in transcribing the other manuscripts, and the true reading was further obscured by several things: lack of word division in the manuscripts, lack of discrimination between va and ba akṣaras, use of anusvāra for any nasal, and the inconsistent differentiation of pa and ya.  In error, I transcribed the reading of the “Beta” manuscripts thus: kimetadaṃ vikāpate.  I reviewed the passage with my advisors–some of the world’s leading Sanskritists–to no avail, they too were misled because of my interpretation, my “transcription.”  Transcription is usually thought to be a fairly cut and dry affair.  You put into roman or typed Devanāgarī exactly what is written in the manuscript, and faithfully record that in your critical apparatus and even if you choose the wrong reading then at least future scholars can disagree and accept a variant reading from the critical apparatus.  In fact, it is always an interpretation.  How do you transcribe a letter that looks like a hybrid pa/ya?  I am not aware of any critical edition that list variants without any spaces between words, but I am seriously considering adopting this convention for my own work.  The real reading for the pāda, in the Beta manuscripts now seems so obvious: “kimetadaṃvikāpate” or formally “kim etad ambikāpate.”

3 thoughts on “Lightbulb Moment

  1. Well said, and just about everything you say applies to musical transcription as well. There is an interesting tension here between 1) your assertion that transcription always requires interpretation, and 2) your conclusion that there is indeed a “real” reading of the pada.

  2. Thanks Matty. It does appear to be a tension, but I think it is wrong to take the statement too literally. I guess I overspoke to make the point. It is always an interpretation, but I personally have to believe that there are right and wrong interpretations. I believe in truth, and when I realized my mistake in this pāda, I felt like it became clear and that is what I call truth, or the correct interpretation. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is impossible that someone with more brainpower than me might see some other interpretation that makes even more sense, but I don’t think it is likely and anyhow if that happened I would be delighted to learn something new!

  3. Excellent to see such an honest blog entry. By the way, the Harihara comm. ed. by F. Grimal does in fact report variants without spaces: Hariharaviracitā Mālatīmādhavaṭīkā = Le commentaire de Harihara sur le Mālatīmādhava de Bhavabhūti, ed. Francois Grimal, Institut Francais de Pondichery, 1999. Publications du Département DʼIndologie, 77.

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