Thor bu - Curiosia Indo-Tibetica

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

kim ucyate bhavān?

I will not reveal* where that phrase was uttered since our topic of the day is scribal Sanskrit. My first exposure to scribes was reading a wonderful little work by István Ráth-Végh called "The Comedy of the Book" (as far as I know unfortunately not translated into English, but a German translation seems to be around). This witty collection of anecdotes and other curiosities had an entry on rather personal scribal marginalia on mediaeval codices, such as "I've got a bad headache today", or "Let a good cow be given to the scribe", or even "Let a nice girl be given to the scribe". I found this very amusing and little did I know then that I'll be spending the rest of my life constantly trying to pry what was going on with scribes on that particular day when they chose to copy a particular work. Baffling mistakes, eyeskips, etc. could be put down to external pressure: chatty wife, screaming children, equivalent of Bollywood music in the streets, bad weather. We'll never know. But as you all know, many scribes had absolutely no inkling what they were copying.

Enter Sarvārthasiddha of Maitrīpura mahāvihāra (the Kwa Bahal of Kathmandu just within the old city**) affixing this note to a manuscript of the Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa now kept in the Bodleian Library (ms. Hodgson 2). Note that it was probably great weather in āśvina 1823 as the monsoon just ended, so bad Sanskrit is not to be put down to the rain.

yadā dṛṣṭaṃ tadā likhitaṃ lekhako nāsti doṣakaṃ |
jadi śuddhaṃ m-aśuddhaṃ vā śuddhanīyo mahadbudhīḥ ||

When (i.e. the way) I saw it then (i.e. just the same way) I wrote it, there ain't no fault with the scribe! If anything is clear or unclear [in the readings], the big-headed ones correct it!

Sorry for the colloquial translation, I just couldn't resist. It's a bit puzzling (amongst many other things) why the wise ones should correct good readings. But this seems to have been a trope. Here's another one from 1281 māgha (again nice and cool weather):

jādisaṃ pustakaṃ dṛṣṭā tādisaṃ likhitaṃ mayā |
jadi sudham asudhaṃ vā mama dokho na dīyate ||
udakānalacorebhyo musikebhyo tatheva ca |
rakṣatavya payatnena mayā kaṣṭena likhite ||

I wrote this just the way I saw it in a book. If anything is clear or unclear [in the readings], don't put the blame on me! I copied it in the midst of hardships, so it should be kept away from water, fire, thieves, and mice.

This guy was particularly bad: he even managed to misspell the name of his king (Anaṃtamīla for Anantamalla) and wrote 'Thoysday' for 'Thursday' (vyaśapati for bṛhaspati).

And there are doubtless many more. Please feel free to add your finds.

* I heard the anecdote from Prof. Sanderson.
** The fact that this Bahal is still within city bounds is Kashinath Thamod's discovery.

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Anonymous H.I. said...

Thank you for the post. I'm sure that you are well aware that the verses you quote are all well-known ones of the 'Scribal Maxims' genre (very easily recognizable, however distorted by the scribe); but I wonder if some reading the post might mistakenly receive the impression that you are saying that they were composed by your Sarvārthasiddha (using, perhaps, 'tropes').

I don't know of any really large-scale study of such verses; among relevant literature (again, very probably known to you) is K.V.Sarma: Scribes in Indian Tradition, in: Adyar Library Bulletin 56 (1992), pp. 31-46 (this is the K.V.Sarma, grandfather of the SAS Sarma working at the EFEO in Pondicherry). Some MS catalogues are also useful; a recent one that deserves mention is the Catalogue of the Jain Manuscripts of the British Library by Nalini Balbir et al., published by the British Library and the Institute of Jainology, London, 2006, which has a more extensive than usual treatment of scribal remarks, including scribal maxims, in vol. 1.

Incidentally, the yādṛśaṃ pustake/pustakaṃ dṛṣṭaṃ verse is in particular, as Balbir et al. note, one of which one finds numerous 'orthographical variations or deformations'...

It seems churlish to nitpick about your off-the-cuff translations; but for mayā kaṣṭena likhite/likhitam I would feel that 'I copied it in the midst of hardships' has somehow slightly the wrong flavour. 'I copied it with
great toil/physical suffering' is more in the right direction, I think (cf. the verse beginning with bhagnapṛṣṭhakaṭigrīvas or some variant of this).

Thanks again.

7:40 am  

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