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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sanskrit Tantric Dictionaries

Can one trust dictionaries? Of course not, and not only because they are incomplete or inaccurate, but also because they pretend to represent an objective stand, although they are in fact (like any other human product) the result of also a precise agenda. Moreover, the agenda is even more dangerous if it is not acknowledged, thus:
  1. 1. be sure you read the preface of (e.g.) the Monier Williams' dictionary and be cautious once you have become aware of his Christian-proselytist agenda.
  2. 2. be even more cautious with works who do not explicitly discuss the aim of their enterprise (i.e., their prayojanaprayojana).

As part of (1) my project of reading more, (2) my project of supporting younger colleagues, I have recently decided to read more unpublished materials by graduate students and discovered on this paper by Nisha Ramayya on the Monier Williams and its androcentric standpoint. The article is enjoyable and stimulating, since it focuses most of all on Tantric terms, an interesting case-study, given that MW is very much against feminine cults, "witchcraft" and related practices.
I only regret the fact that the author did not take into account other dictionaries, and especially the much more specific Tantrikābhidhānakośa. I hope she will enlarge her paper into a publishable article by including a discussion about it.

What are your experiences with Sanskrit general and specific dictionaries?

For a short summary on my views about general Sanskrit dictionaries, check this post. For my praise of reading, see this post. On the need to work as a team, see this post.


ombhurbhuva said...

‘This is the only adequate antidote for phallocracy’s Biggest Lies. As Truth-Telling Mediums, Wicked Grammarians break the brokenness of consciousness that is crushed under the rule/rules of the sadosociety.’

There is a great deal of silliness in that essay of Nisha’s but Monier-Williams idea that Sanskrit was a tool to be used in the conversion of the Hindus takes the prize. Ramakrishna Paramahansa did not know Sanskrit and the Bengali he spoke was a local dialect. It is like saying that a knowledge of Latin would be necessary to convert Christians when that was the liturgical language. Most people who were Christians did not understand Latin just as most Hindus do not understand Sanskrit. Some may know a few phrases and the epithets of the gods.

This new dictionary that she proposes could be like a hieratic language known only to initiates. They could publish in it. Why not?


Dear Elisa,

By the Tantrikābhidhānakośa, do you mean the one authored by Pt. Pancanana Sastri?


elisa freschi said...

@Michael, I agree with you, yet M.W. seems to share Nisha's opinion in his own Preface. Perhaps stating that one's final purpose was the conversion of Hindus was the only way to get fundings for an Indological enterprise?

@Sudipta, no, I was referring to the TĀK whose first volumes have been edited by H. Brunner, G. Oberhammer and A. Padoux, whereas the succeeding ones by D. Goodall and M. Rastelli. See here:

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