Sunday, 11 September 2016

Did Vishvamitra eat dog meat? Bibek Debroy's theory.


Bibek Debroy, one of our less objectionable Economists, has written some tendentious volumes on the Mahabharata. In 'Sarama and her Children', he makes two ludicrous claims which any ordinary Hindu reader would immediately know to be false.
These claims are-
1) that Vishvamitra stole dog meat because he was hungry but did not actually eat it. This was because it rained and so plants began to grow and, by the Economist's standard assumption regarding a one period economy, this meant they became available to eat immediately. 
If Debroy is right, the meaning of the relevant Mahabharata episode is not 'break religious taboos only if life is in danger' but rather 'steal dog meat and offer it in holy sacrifice if there is a drought'.
2) Every Hindu knows that Vishvamitra means  'World Friend' or the World as the theophany of the God Mitra. Why? Vishva means 'World'. Mitra means 'Friend'. Just as 'Ashvamitra' means 'Friend of Horses' so too does Visvamitra mean friend of all the World. 
Debroy however thinks Vishvamitra means 'enemy of the World'. Why? Well 'amitra' means not-friend. So, Vishv- amitra would mean 'enemy of Vishv'. However 'Vishv' does not mean World. That is Vishva. What does Vishv mean? Nothing. Well, I suppose, you could have a cod etymology in which it is the root of 'Vishva', which has the acceptation, more especially for Advaita, of  the gross, as opposed to subtle, aspect of perceptual reality. However, since this gross aspect is sublated by subtle 'taijasya' type soteriological knowledge, it forms no part of Vishva once the latter is properly perceived as 'prajnya' (blissful, all pervasive and unsublatable). To say Vishvamitra is the 'Friend of the World' means the same thing as saying he is the 'Enemy of a gross perception of the World as material, temporal and self-contradictory'.
(This is to simplify things a little. There are paramparas, lineages, where Vishva is used for Vishv- e.g. in this passage (from Wikipedia)
(The significance of the word, Vishva, in Hindu philosophy, is revealed in the Upanishads. In the Āgama Prakarana of his Karika on the Mandukya Upanishad Gaudapada explains that in the three states of consciousness, the one and the same object of experience and the experiencer appears in three-fold forms (त्रिधा भोगं) as – विश्व (Vishva) ('gross'), तैजस (Taijasa) ('subtle') and प्राज्ञ (Prajna) ('the blissful').)

Why does Debroy say Vishvamitra means the 'enemy of the World' when all Hindus know the opposite is the case? The answer is that he wants to prove that the name actually means 'Special lover of dogs'- Vi-shva (dog)-mitra. The problem here is that according to Debroy's eccentric sandhi, the meaning would actually be 'special enemy of dogs'.

Judge for yourself-

 Debroy is too shy to tell us that Sunahshepha means 'dog's penis'.
This is illuminating for adepts, because the subtext to the whole episode of Vishvamitra and the Chandala is a comparison of the Asvamedha ritual (in which a dog is sacrificed for a specific reason) which Visvamitra alone among the Vedic Rishis had completed, and its esoteric counterpart in Upanishadic praxis.
Debroy, of course, being an Economist, is deaf to any such 'dhvani'.
He thinks that the Mahabharata was a text lying around in philology phase space which suffered random interpolations. No redaction of the Mahabharata is internally consistent. It's a book with no organizing principle. Even when it uses a name whose meaning is immediately understood by all knowers of Sanskrit and most Hindus- e.g. Vishvamitra- the 'usual fashion' of interpreting it- at least if the writer is an Economist- turns out to be the opposite of what is universally known and acknowledged. But the fun doesn't stop there. Not only do words mean the opposite of what they were intended to mean and are accepted to mean, they don't mean that either but something else entirely, logic be damned, grammar be damned, because, hey!, hermeneutics is an 'anything goes' General Equilibrium.

No comments: