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A History of Sanskrit Literature by MacDonell

Being more fully exploited than was done by Roth himself


as "new or fortified for a year,"

and in a third as "belonging to a demon called Carad." One of the defects of Sayana is, in fact, that he limits his view in most cases to the single verse he has before him. A detailed examination of his explanations, as well as those of Yaska, has shown that there is in the Rigveda a large number of the most difficult words, about the proper sense of which neither scholar had any certain information from either tradition or etymology. We are therefore justified in saying about them that there is in the hymns no unusual or difficult word or obscure text in regard to which the authority of the commentators should be received as final, unless it is supported by probability, by the context, or by parallel passages. Thus no translation of the Rigveda based exclusively on Sayana's commentary can possibly be satisfactory. It would, in fact, be as unreasonable to take him for our sole guide as to make our understanding of the Hebrew books of the Old Testament dependent on the Talmud and the Rabbis. It must, indeed, be admitted that from a large proportion of Sayana's interpretations most material help can be derived, and that he has been of the greatest service in facilitating and accelerating the comprehension of the Veda. But there is little information of value to be derived from him, that, with our knowledge of later Sanskrit, with the other remains of ancient Indian literature, and with our various philological appliances, we might not sooner or later have found out for ourselves.

style="text-align: justify;">Roth, then, rejected the commentators as our chief guides in interpreting the Rigveda, which, as the earliest literary monument of the Indian, and indeed of the Aryan race, stands quite by itself, high up on an isolated peak of remote antiquity. As regards its more peculiar and difficult portions, it must therefore be interpreted mainly through itself; or, to apply in another sense the words of an Indian commentator, it must shine by its own light and be self-demonstrating. Roth further expressed the view that a qualified European is better able to arrive at the true meaning of the Rigveda than a Brahman interpreter. The judgment of the former is unfettered by theological bias; he possesses the historical faculty, and he has also a far wider intellectual horizon, equipped as he is with all the resources of scientific scholarship. Roth therefore set himself to compare carefully all passages parallel in form and matter, with due regard to considerations of context, grammar, and etymology, while consulting, though, perhaps, with insufficient attention, the traditional interpretations. He thus subjected the Rigveda to a historical treatment within the range of Sanskrit itself. He further called in the assistance rendered from without by the comparative method, utilising the help afforded not only by the Avesta, which is so closely allied to the Rigveda in language and matter, but also by the results of comparative philology, resources unknown to the traditional scholar.

By thus ascertaining the meaning of single words, the foundations of the scientific interpretation of the Vedas were laid in the great Sanskrit Dictionary, in seven volumes, published by Roth in collaboration with Boehtlingk between 1852 and 1875. Roth's method is now accepted by every scientific student of the Veda. Native tradition is, however, being more fully exploited than was done by Roth himself, for it is now more clearly recognised that no aid to be derived from extant Indian scholarship ought to be neglected. Under the guidance of such principles the progress already made in solving many important problems presented by Vedic literature has been surprising, when we consider the shortness of the time and the fewness of the labourers, of whom only two or three have been natives of this country. As a general result, the historical sense has succeeded in grasping the spirit of Indian antiquity, long obscured by native misinterpretation. Much, of course, still remains to be done by future generations of scholars, especially in detailed and minute investigation. This could not be otherwise when we remember that Vedic research is only the product of the last fifty years, and that, notwithstanding the labours of very numerous Hebrew scholars during several centuries, there are, in the Psalms and the Prophetic Books of the Old Testament, still many passages which remain obscure and disputed. There can be no doubt that many problems at present insoluble will in the end be solved by that modern scholarship which has already deciphered the cuneiform writings of Persia as well as the rock inscriptions of India, and has discovered the languages which lay hidden under these mysterious characters.


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