Philology vanished: Frawley's Rigveda II
The public should not be misled by the glib, fashionable advocating of "innovative" theories that may fall in line with the present cultural climate in certain sections of the Indian and NRI public.
LEAVING ASIDE all of Frawley's polemics, let us now take a close look at Frawley's "star witness" passages, comparing his "ocean" with the proposed meanings: "collection of waters, etc."
1. Frawley: "... how the rishi Vasishta was struck with thirst in the middle of the waters (RV VII.89.4), suggesting the inability to drink the salty water of the sea." He completely neglects the context. Verses 1-2 speak of the extended body or limbs of Vasistha, his illness, his wish not to die early. As has long been seen, this refers to Varuna's punishment of dropsy (oedema), which causes the body to swell; even then, Vasistha is thirsty though he stands in water. Varuna is not just a god of samudra but the main overseer of Rta ("dharma", RV 7.87!) and of truthful behaviour (A. Meillet, Journal Asiatique 10, 1907, etc.). Vasistha had inadvertently committed some evil act against Rta and fears Varuna's punishment (7.88.5-6). Vasistha stands in water as acts of truth or oaths involve touching or drinking of sweet water. Not the ocean, but sweet waters are meant.
2. Frawley: "The Rigveda frequently mentions the waviness of the ocean (RV IV.58, 1,11) and the back and forth movement of waves experienced while in a ship on the sea (RV VII.88.3)." Any pond or lake can have waves. Varuna's ship (7.88.3) in the sky floats in the realm of pure mythology. But, tides do not visibly occur in ponds and lakes and are consequently missing in the Rigveda.
3. Frawley: " [RV] mentions how Soma or Indu (the moon) stirs the ocean with the winds (RV IX.84.4)." This Soma hymn speaks about Soma drops (indu), as Soma/Indu `moon' is only post-Rigvedic. Soma preparation is described with extensive Rigvedic hyperbole. The (small!) Soma vessel is compared to a samudra, Soma drops to rushing waters, horses. Thus, no ocean or moon here, just Soma juice dripping in a modest pot creating "waves"! The image of the wind may stem from experiencing breezes at any lake. The moon does not create winds.
4. Frawley: "The Rigveda (RV VII.49) speaks of the waters, the eldest of which is the ocean (samudra jyestha), mentioning waters ... whose goal is the sea (verse 2), in which King Varuna dwells (verse 4)." This mythological hymn deals with the waters coming from the primordial salty (sal-ila) ocean (Engl. salt), from which the earth first arose, that still surrounds it and also exists in the night sky (Kuiper, Ancient Indian cosmogony, 1983, Witzel 1984). This concept is found from Old Egypt to Japan and the Americas, even in extremely landlocked regions. Varuna dwells in the mythical heavenly ocean, in the world-rimming one, and in sweet waters. The waters beyond the vault of the sky (Lueders 1951-9, Witzel 1984) come forth, purified, from the salila ocean, just like the Avestan waters, purified in the Puuitika lake (Videvdad 5.16), descend as sweet waters (Witzel 1984), as the "shining, purified, heavenly waters ... having the samudra/samudras as their aim." The Bahuvrihi compound samudrajye'stha (not two words!) means "someone who has samudra(s) as overlord." Nowhere is it obvious that the samudra(s) are the Arabian Sea, and not confluences, terminal lakes, or the heavenly samudra.
5. Frawley: "The [Rigveda] refers to how the Maruts, the wind-gods, bring the waters of the rain from the ocean (RV V.55.5)." This is more difficult to understand, unless one makes the Rigvedic Sarasvati flow right into the Arabian Sea, which is not the case (R. Mughal, Ancient Cholistan 1997). The southwest monsoon brings rain from the Bay of Bengal but in Gujarat (and the peninsula also) from the Arabian Sea. Did the Rigvedic people, who do not mention Gujarat, the Deccan or Bengal, hear of the ocean from their neighbours? However, the Maruts have been explained as mar-vat "blowing from the sea" (mar/maru, Latin mare `sea', Engl. mere). They appear in Near Eastern sources of c. 1500 BCE as the Marut(t)as (K. Balkan, Kassitenstudien, 1954), along with other pre-Rigvedic words (Witzel 1999). This may reflect the earlier habitat at the Caspian/Aral seas, from where they would have brought rain (Avesta: Yasht 8. 32-34). While clouds may seem to rise from any large body of water, the concept of the ocean as origin of the rain clouds is found only in post-Rigvedic texts. The Maruts could also bring rain from the world-rimming ocean or from beyond the sky (Lueders 1951-9). Frawley's translation is ahistorical (rain concept, sea-going Sarasvati) and thus not compelling.
As for Frawley's question: "how Witzel himself would translate ... `samudrayeva sindhava' meaning `as rivers to the sea.' Perhaps ... as `as rivers flowing into the atmosphere"? The latter concept (heavenly river, Milky Way, Sarasvati; later the Ganga) does of course exist (Witzel 1984). However, this Indra stanza (8.6.4) can simply mean "like the streams to their confluence." Just as all tribes submit to Indra, the various female streams `bend' to their master, the male Indus river, when uniting with him (cf. 3.33.10). In sum, the exact meaning of samudra in each of Frawley's "key" Rigveda passages is a matter of detailed study (much abbreviated here), and his naive substitutions of `logical' meanings do not work. Samudra has all the meanings indicated above, perhaps including a few hear-say remarks about the distant Arabian Sea.
The perennial Sarasvati
Frawley repeats the inadequate translation already criticised last time: "the Sarasvati, the easternmost Panjab river, then devoid of water, ...[was] a great river pure in its course from the mountains to the sea (RV VII.95.5)!" He then relates the modern myth that the Rigvedic Sarasvati flowed into the Arabian Sea. But, there were at least three consecutive "Sarasvati" channels in prehistoric times (B.P. Radhakrishna et al., Vedic Sarasvati, 1999). As for the third, westernmost channel, the Sarsuti-Ghaggar-Hakra, Mughal's work (1997) indicates repeated drying up and reflooding by Satlej waters of certain of its sections. Originally, the river ended in a heavily populated delta near Ft. Derawar, with seasonally changing terminal lakes (samudra), like the Afghan Hamun lakes. Therefore the Afghani Harax-vaitii has the same name as the Saras-vatii "she who has (many) ponds/lakes". As for her praise by Vasistha (7.95.5), even today the upper course (Sarsuti) is not devoid of water. The stanza smacks of the typical hyperbole. It cannot be excluded altogether that Vasistha, apparently an immigrant from East Iran, is reminded here of the Haraxvaiti (lower Helmand) that flows into the Hamun samudra.
Some other of Frawley's "key" quotes show full "innocence" of previous studies. Spirituality does not help in questions of literary style or material culture. He says: "the term pur for city (... city in Greek thought, ie. Pura = Polis) is common throughout the text. Both the Vedic people and their enemies have a hundred cities (satapura, RV VI.48.8; RV II.14.6). There are also references to temples or buildings with a thousand pillars (sahasra sthuna, RV II.41.5; RV V.62.6) or a thousand doors (sahasra dvara, RV VII.88.5)." But, pur does not yet mean `city' in the Rigveda, rather temporary mud wall and palisade enclosures that keep cattle and people safe (Rau, The Meaning of pur in Vedic Literature, 1976; pur-a is not Rigvedic, and Greek pol-is was at first just a fortification!). Frawley must show that Rau's (unmentioned) interpretation is wrong, otherwise his mere opinion carries no weight. The Rigvedic people and their often half-mythical enemies (S'ambara's mountain forts at 2.14.6) have "a hundred forts" (s'ata pur, not a compound, not Epic pura!), spread between Kabul and the Ganga. Frawley again ignores poetic hyperbole that uses 100, 1000 in the sense of "many" (EJVS 7-3, W. Wuest, Stilgeschichte und Chronologie des Rgveda, 1928). Thus, RV 6.48.8 has 100 forts next to 100 winters (years). Without cities, also no "temples" or "buildings with a thousand pillars ... or doors", poetical hyperbole again! Even the great Indus Civilisation did not have buildings with 1000 pillars. The mythical dwelling (2.41.5) of Mitra and Varuna, called raajan and samraajan, has more pillars than the rather flimsy Vedic one, and Varuna's has 1000 doors (7.88.5). RV 5.62.6 speaks of Mitra and Varuna's reign (ksatra) that rests on 1000 pillars, poetry again!
Alternative, new scholarship?
If Frawley were not so pretentious ("new Vedic scholarship that understands ... and honours Vedic spirituality.... Vedic scholarship of the future..."), one might simply chalk up all of this to the naiveté of a self-taught interpreter of difficult archaic texts. Such "parallel" or "alternative scholarship" has been sent, time and again, to the dung heap of history. To advance beyond being "alternative" it has to adopt stricter procedures and methods. Frawley et al. are welcome and free to understand and reinterpret the Rigveda any way they want, but this is not "new scholarship." The public should not be misled by the glib, fashionable advocating of "innovative" theories that may fall in line with the present cultural climate in certain sections of the Indian and NRI public. Such new "theories" are based on uninformed and context-less translations and interpretations (EJVS 7-3). Bible Belt-like, Frawley habitually picks out a (half-)phrase and bends it his way. But, to quote the Pandit himself: "If one can interpret the Rigveda in th[is]... sense ... then there is no telling what the Veda can be turned into."
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