Interpreting Indian Literatures with Velcheru Narayana Rao: Oral Traditions in Literature

Interpreting Indian Literatures with Velcheru Narayana Rao: Oral Traditions in Literature

in Video
Published on: 29 October 2019

Prof. Velcheru Narayana Rao

Prof. Velcheru Narayana Rao is a writer and translator with a vast international teaching experience. He is the author of numerous path-breaking works on the history of Telugu and Sanskrit literature, oral traditions and poetics.

Velcheru Narayana Rao talks about the relevance of understanding Indian texts in the light of the oral traditions Indian languages have evolved from; Bengaluru, May 2019.

This is the first of the six lectures delivered by Prof. Velcheru Narayana Rao as part of the Nauras lecture series held at Bangalore International Centre, Bengaluru, May, 2019.

I never really wanted anything to be recorded. Orality in my world is temporary. It should die immediately after the speech is done. Anything in Indian culture, before industrialisation, was meant to be for the moment and temporary. The muggulu you make, the kolam, in front of the house, it should not stay for the next day. It should be made again in the morning. The food you cook should not stay for the next day because if it stays overnight, it should not be eaten. Everything in Indian culture, in my mind at least, the way I grew up, was meant to be for the moment; not to be preserved and vested in state. You cannot put the moonlight of the full moon day in a bank so that you can use it on a no moon day! So there is something wonderfully for-the-moment in my life, the way I grew up, the way I talk, the way I do things. If you listen to this same lecture again, it would sound horrible. Please don’t listen to it. It doesn’t sound like anything that I’m speaking. I need the presence of people before me, your faces, the eyes and your smiles, or your sneeze. These are the things that make me talk. You are part authors of what I’m saying.  The listener is a part author of what we are talking. So, authorship is not just mine when I’m talking. It is also yours.

So, let us go and see, even though I am showing pictures, there are not supposed to be pictures. Look at the alphabet, it was called the alphabet, of Indian languages. In any language, Sanskrit, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, it’s a, ā, i, ī, u, ū . . . isn’t it amazing? Similarly, the consonants, k, kh, g, gh, ṅ . . . c, ch, j, jh, ñ . . . ţ, ţh, d, dh, ṇ . . . Never mind, what language it is, it’s the same sounds. Something amazing about Indian languages, they share the same syllabary, I don’t call them alphabet. These are not alphabet. These are varna samamnyaya, collection of varnas. There is no easy way of translating what a varna is. ţ, ţh, d, dh, ṇ . . . p, ph, b, bh, m . . . y, r, l, v . . . ś, ṣ, s, h . . . etc. And there is an organisation to it. a, ā, i, ī, u, ū . . . Somehow, people who were producing these sounds and creating this organisation knew that language is born out of a human being. It is born here, at the belly button and it goes up. The wind goes up. The breath goes up. It’s modulated in a particular way to make vowels. It’s not stopped anywhere, it’s allowed to go through, but modulated in a particular way . . . a, ā, i, ī, u, ū, e, eɪ, aɪ . . . and the consonants k, kh, same place with a different effort. G, gh, same place and ṅ. So all that comes from, they have taken two variables—a place of articulation and effort you make in articulating it. For k, the place of articulation is here (the throat), and kh, you make a bigger effort, it is a mahaprana. G, your larynx is involved in making a g, same place. Gh, big sound . . . ṅ, where the nose is involved in it. So, that’s the same organisation for all the consonants in all Indian languages. How did this come about?

Varna Samamnyaya: Syllabary in Indian Languages
If you want to believe a story . . . Shiva, after his dance, made sounds from his drum in order to help uplift the rishis. Fourteen times, he made sounds from his drum and those sounds were the basis of Sanskrit grammar. (Reads phonetic sounds from the presentation.) Don’t listen to this again, because I didn’t pronounce them right. But these are the sounds; they almost look like they really are sounds from the drum. These are the rules provided for Panini to write his grammar. So start with a, go all the way towards the end, there is a ch there. (Reads phonetic sounds from the chart.) There is the ch. So a to ch, the ach, these are the vowels. Same way, start with h, go all the way down at the end there is l there. If you say hl, they are all connected to all these things. They are the consonants. These gave Panini the way of making his grammar. Computer scientists here would know, the grammar, the Ashtadhyayi of Panini, is composed more or less in the same order as the computer science rules. I already told you, k, kh, g, gh, ṅ . . . c, ch, j, jh, ñ . . . ţ, ţh, d, dh, ṇ . . . k,c, ţ, t, p . . . comes out like this. And then, antaḥstha . . . y, r, l, v. Then, ūṣman . . . ś, ṣ, s, h. Then, ṃ is an anuswāra, your the nose is involved in it. Same way the rest. So these rules are defined, remember forget about the sounds that are written down there. Sounds defined with the help of two variables… the two variables are the place of articulation and the manner of articulation. Something that people knew thousands of years ago in India, because they needed to preserve Veda, they wanted to make sure everybody pronounces the Veda correctly. They did not believe in tape recorders. They didn’t believe in writing. Once I write, you can pronounce slightly differently. It doesn’t preserve the sound. Sound can be preserved only in sound. Therefore, they told you how to pronounce it with these variables. Also made sure that anybody who is making these sounds should be young. They should be taught at that time. If you are not young don’t ever utter them. Because mispronouncing Veda could be dangerous, not simply wrong, could be dangerous. Having made sure that Veda is never written down, having made sure that Veda is not recorded, having made sure it would not be pronounced by anyone who does not know how to pronounce them, the children, they kept Veda alive. You were told that if you are learning your Veda … families of Brahmins were divided into four group—the Rigvedins, the Yajurvedins, the Samavedins and the Atharvavedins. You were told if you are a family of rigvedins, learn your Veda first, then the rest later. And you are told not to ever pronounce the Veda if you are not taught how to pronounce it when you were young. Having made these restrictions, they preserved the sounds of Veda, the chanting of Veda—you cannot believe it—for several thousands of years, continuing in a particular way. Now has come the time, with you tape recorders you preserve them and you kill them. Easiest way of preserving anything is by mechanising the pronunciation. So orality is orality for the moment. Please don’t listen to it again afterwards.

The Story of Kaca
Sound is life giving, life producing. I will give you a story. One story is the easier for us to pick up is the story of Kaca. Kaca was born in the god’s family. The non-gods, the anti-gods—I don’t call them demons—had a teacher called Sukra and he knew a mantra that could bring dead people alive, mrutasanjivani. In the battle between gods and demons, demons were dying but coming back to life next morning. The gods were very worried, they didn’t know what to do about it. So they said, Kaca, you are a very good boy, a disciplined boy, go to Sukra, the teacher of the anti-gods, a Brahmin and say I want to be your student. If you are a good Brahmin, you cannot refuse a student with proper qualifications if he comes and say I want to become your student. He can’t say I won’t teach you, won’t say that. To be honest, I never said it myself. And when Kaca went, and said I want to be your student, Sukra looked at the young man, looked very properly trained, born in the right family, very disciplined. So Sukra said, sure. Sukra had a daughter called Devayani. Kaca was sent with instructions; father loves Devayani more than anything else. So take care of her also, pay attention to her. Kaca went, properly learning everything from the teacher. And the teacher doesn’t love anything more than a good student. So he was very interested in what Kaca was doing. The other students of Sukra, who were anti-god students, already suspected that this Kaca came from the god’s families and he is going to steal the mantra from our teacher. We should make sure that he doesn’t do that. So what did they do? When Kaca went to the forest, taking the cows of his teacher, they went there and killed him. That’s it. But Devayani was already in love with Kaca. When Kaca did not come back home by sunset, Devayani went to her father and said, ‘hey, father, Kaca hasn’t come back’. And Sukra said; let me see where he is. He is in the forest, he is killed. Let me bring him back to life. And he came back. Next time the demons thought of something much more permanent. If we just kill him, Sukra is going to bring him back to life. So let’s kill him, burn him, put his ashes in the liquor Sukra drinks. Sukra has the habit of drinking in the evening before dinner. Devayani observed that Kaca didn’t come back. She went to her father and told him ‘Father, Kaca hasn’t come back.’ Father told her he will come back. He was already drunk. Devayani was worried, her father was drunk. She had to wait until her father’s drink go down.  The effect of drink waned a little later and Devayani was still crying for Kaca. Sukra then saw, oh, let me see where he is. He looked everywhere in the world, he was nowhere to be seen. Then, he realised he is here, inside Sukra’s belly. So what to do now? Then there is only one way. I will teach him the mrutasanjivani mantra and he will come out of my belly, tearing it open. That means I will die and he will make me alive because I taught him the mantra. So that’s exactly what happened. Kaca came out of Sukra’s belly, chanted the mantra properly and Sukra came back to life. I’m telling this long story because Nannayya, who wrote this story, described it as ‘Sukra came back to life, like a syllable pronounced by a competent speaker.’ That’s the image. (Enunciates Sanskrit shloka.) Like a shabda, properly pronounced by a person who knows how to pronounce it, Sukra came back to life. So properly pronounced word is like life. (Enunciates Sanskrit shloka.) Like a shabda pronounced by a properly trained person; competent speaker. That means, sound is capable of making people come to life. Sound is capable of also killing people. Sound is a very powerful thing. What does this mean? When all the phonemes of a language are already given to you in proper pronunciations, with the two variables, the point of articulation and the manner of articulation, if all the sounds of the language were given to you only this way, there is no graphic symbol. All the list of aksharas I gave you, they are really nothing. They should not be there really. Our language existed without the need for a graphic symbol. Not just that, you could be a scholar without knowing how to write. You could know the grammar of a language without knowing how to write. Writing did not mean a thing. Everything is just in sound. The only thing, akshara—that cannot be destroyed—is the sound. Akshara is not the syllable you write.

Later, the graphic symbols were attached. The sounds that were given to you in that order. Different graphic symbols developed depending on the technology available, writing instruments available and other reasons. Kannada and Telugu are written in round letters like this, because they were written in the palm leaves. If you cut a palm leaf vertically, it makes a hole, but if you cut it sideways it does not cut. You can make a circle in the palm leaf, it will not make a hole. The graphic letters created by people writing on palm leaves developed a way of writing with curves like Kannada, Telugu and Sinhalese, Oriya. Those who were using birch barks, they went like this (motioning hand forming a horizontal line and then downwards). Birch bark does not make a hole. So graphic symbols developed and attached with sounds you already know, were developed depending on the technology available, the writing instrument that were there and other reasons.

That’s how our texts look like. You can’t read it. There are no spaces, no question marks, no colons, no semi colons. You need to be trained to read a text, before you read a text. You don’t read a text before you are actually trained how to read it. There it is only written, but the way you read it, you need to learn how to read it. Later on, when printing came up, we were still writing like we were writing on a palm leaf. No spaces, nothing. Just all letters put together. And you still needed somebody to teach you how to read it even after print has arrived. Then they developed little more, spaces and lines, thinking it might make it possible for people to read, without somebody teaching them how to read. Even now, how do you read a verse?

The way it is written or printed is not going to tell you how to read. Two kinds of literacy developed, oral literacy and graphic literacy. Graphic literacy is practised by the scribe. He knows how to write, but the poet who is only saying these words doesn’t need to write. Writing is like typewriting. I can type even now. You can call me literate. People who were not writing were still scholars. Scribes were writing. For example, in Telugu, I believe it is the same think in Kannada—somebody please help me with other languages you know here—the word ‘to write’ was never used to denote ‘compose’ a text. They told a poem, made a poem, or strung a poem, they built a poem, even wove a poem! But did not write a poem. Writing is scribe’s business. The word ‘to write’ was never used in composing something. Still, if you go to Hyderabad you will find, on the Tank Bund,  sculptures of poets and Nannaya, the first poet in Telugu, in his sculpture it is shown as writing. That sculpture actually ridicules the way Nannaya composed a text. This is because we thought they were writing. In Kalahasti near Tirupati, there is a street called Writer’s Street, Vratapanivari Vidhi. You think the writers lived there? No, people who make tapestries, of kalamkari, lived there.

There is something interesting between reading Sanskrit and reading other regional languages, particularly Telugu and Kannada and other languages. In Sanskrit, even though there is a metre, there is a convention that they stop it (the verse) at the place where there is a virama/visranti, a space, and then at the end of the line there should be a break. It should not be a run on. Enjambement is not allowed in Sanskrit. (Recites Sanskrit shloka.) If you know one shloka, you can sing the rest of the shlokas, as the breaks are already given there. It is not so when it comes to Telugu. The metre gives you a four-line verse, but the semantic breaks are to be known to you. Unless you know the semantic breaks, the metrical break is not going to help you read it. (Recites Telugu verse.) So you need to know where the semantic break is occurring. Just the metrical form and predetermined breaks are not going to help you read the verse. I will show you how many breaks are there. (Recites the Telugu verse again.) Unless you know where the semantic breaks are, you can’t read the verse. You should also know how a verse is composed to produce a certain aesthetic effect in the way it’s composed.

Here is a story. Yuddhishtira was performing a yagya and Bhishma told him to give the first honour, arghya, to Krishna. That’s what Yuddhishtira did. But then there were people who were opposed to this. They said you can’t give arghya to Krishna, he is not even a Brahmin, just a cowherd. Then Bhishma tried to convince everybody by saying Krishna is great, Krishna is spoken about in all Vedic texts. He gave a pleasant comfortable reasoning for that. But that was not working out that way. Then, Sahadeva just told them, ‘Look, if you don’t agree with this, this is what you will get.’ And, this is the verse about it. If you read the verse in four lines, it does not mean a thing. That’s not how it should be read. (Recites Telugu verse.) My breath is not enough to hold it together. It goes higher and higher and higher. (Recites the verse.) Sahadeva lifted his leg and said, ‘I am going to kill, I am going to put my foot on the head of anybody who says I don’t agree with this.’ (Recites the last line of the Telugu verse.) The line becomes very quiet, exactly like how the assembly became quiet. You can read that in four lines, you have to know how to read it. I learnt it from Vishwanath Sathyanarayana. He read it for me and it was an eye opener for me. So you have to learn how to read a text, before you read it. You can’t just open the book and read. That was why I was suggesting there are two kinds of texts here. One, I call the recorded text, its flat, it’s written in a script, on paper or whatever material, printed or whatever. It is flat like that. Page 1 has the same value as page 114. That’s not how Indian texts work. Indian texts go the other way. Some parts of the text have to go up, some parts come down. Some are broken, some are never read. That I call the received text. So those of us, who just find a manuscript in somebody’s house, and pick it up immediately and say I have the book, I can read it, take it to Oxford, sit in the air-conditioned library, and read it, they are not getting the text.  If you do not know how the received text occurs, getting a text doesn’t mean a thing. That’s exactly what happened when Europeans came to this country. They collected manuscripts, took them home, put them in the library. You can find any number of them in libraries in England, in other places, in France. What they had was a text written on the sheets. And because they believed that was the only text, that was the original text, they are producing critical editions and whole lot of other things associated with it. You cannot produce a critical edition of a received text. Received texts are heard, they are temporary. You should know how it is read from people who know how to read it, unlike the flat text here. If you go back to the literary theory in Sanskrit, Dandin wrote a text called Kavyadarsha. It is divided into two parts at the beginning itself. The Drushya kavya and the Shravya kavya. You see a poem, that is the theatre, and you hear a poem when it’s read. But there is no such thing as pathshya kavya. You can’t read a text. You either listen to it or watch it. That means a text is not to be simply picked up and read.

Our texts are only text fields, a big text can produce small texts out of it. You know that very well. In Ramayana, Sundarakanda has a special quality to it. You read Sundarakanda over and over again. You read Sundarakanda for good luck, you read it for divination, to find out what is happening. Am I going to pass the exam? Sure, open the Sundarakanda, put your finger there. So a text is being used in a number of ways. Sundarakanda has become a completely different, independent text, other than complete Ramayana. Nobody reads Ramayana and Mahabharata from the beginning to the end, except those who are proof reading texts in a printing press! What happened? Our texts are not just texts, they are text fields. New texts come out of them.

The final statement I can make is texts have births and rebirths. Texts have communities, which use them, which have an active role in making and remaking them. Changes in texts are produced not only by scribal errors, which do occur and should be corrected, but more importantly by community participation in using the text. If the community which uses the text is tight, unchanging and coherent, the text remains tight, unchanging and coherent. Like Ashtadhyayi of Panini. There was a very small group of people who read the text, a coherent group, therefore the text remained that way. If the communities which use the text are distributed over a wider area, are complex and practice more than one kind of text culture, the text changes to suit the needs of the community which uses it. Texts not only have histories, they have cultures and communities. Texts not only have births, they have samskara, families, deaths and rebirths. Texts are not only isolated artefacts, they are members of societies. They also reflect and reproduce the practices of the societies that use the text.

So this is how Indian texts exist, not the way we thought, keeping them in the library, printing critical edition and thinking we have the final book. That is distorting the text, killing the text, ruining the text. Indian text has to be properly understood in its context. People haven’t thought of it. Still, look at the Bhandarkar Mahabharata, it’s the final. We have numbered them. We know everything; we know how to read it. No, you don’t. That’s exactly what to tell people. Our texts are us. We make them and remake them. If you don’t recognise that the way an Indian text exists is not the same way as a Western text exists, then we are not telling people how to use our texts.

Velcheru Narayana Rao in conversation with Sudha Gopalakrishnan

Sudha Gopalakrishnan (SG): I frankly do not know what I am going to be talking to you or asking you after such an erudite, such a thoughtful presentation you just gave. You took us through a whole shabda-artha-varna-prapancha and after that what question one can ask you about! But, some points actually stuck with me, which I would like to ask. Also perhaps you struck at the very vitals of our assumptions of what is a text, what is syllable, what is akshara, the whole gamut of large field you threw open. I want to ask you about—I mean, this need not be sequential—what comes to me perhaps I could ask. One is about conservation, the field of conservation we have in India. I must confess that I was leading the National Mission for Manuscripts, in which we dealt with lakhs of them. One big thing was about the conservation of manuscripts. At the same time you were saying that things that are born have to die. Also there is a parallel concept of jalasamadhi whereby manuscripts were ritually taken to the water and destroyed after they were used. Sometimes into the fire also. What is the significance of this ritual? How do you interpret this ritual?

Velcheru Narayana Rao (VNR): I don’t know how to answer this question quickly. But preserving manuscripts, taking them away from people who use it, without asking who owned the text, how did they use the text, who wrote the text, why did they write it, who asked them to write it, were they writing the text for their own use or for somebody who paid them to write it – all this information is lost when you pick up a text from somewhere and preserve it in a library. Manuscript libraries should not be existing. Manuscript libraries should have a biography of each manuscript, where did you get it, who used it before you got it, who wrote it, who is the person who asked them to write it, were they paid to write it or were they writing for their own use. All this information is removed or erased when you bring a text and preserve it in what is called a manuscript library. I was opposed to manuscript libraries. You may think that I’m out of date. I’m totally out of date. I should not be living now, I should be living in the seventeenth century. It’s unfortunate that they are missing now. But the fact of the matter is manuscript is not what log they are written. Before you collect it, get the biography of that manuscript. Who wrote the text, why did they write it, who asked them to write it, were they writing the text for their own use or somebody paid them to write it? Paying somebody to write a manuscript, giving the manuscript as a gift, was supposed to be a merit in itself. So why does one part of text has more copies that another part of the text? For example, there are more copies of Sundarakanda in any library than Balakanda. Why are there more copies of Virataparva than other parvas? We never ask these questions. We collate them, put them together, and produce what can be called a collated edition or a critical edition of that. Both these activities are wrong-headed. I want the text to be preserved in a different way. Every text should have a biography of that text along with it. Then you preserve it. I don’t know if any manuscript library has done what I want them to do. But this is what I like them to do. Again, I don’t belong to this century. Don’t take me wrong, I’m talking from a separate century altogether.  I don’t know if I answered your question. [No, no]. We respect the manuscript, that’s why we throw it out, put it into the water. We cremate it or immerse it in the water. That’s the way, when a human person dies, he is cremated. That is the attitude to manuscripts that has been respected and preserved. I don’t know if anybody here wants to do what I want to do. I don’t belong to this century. That’s why I’m saying this.  

SG: Having said that isn’t there also a mode of transmission that happens? How did texts get transmitted? And, secondly, copying manuscripts were considered a punya in our culture. For example, Jain manuscripts or Buddhist manuscripts. They were copied by scribes. There might have been errors also. Those errors might have been misinterpreted later. Some other texts might have been gone. How does this transmission take place in the absence of . . . ?

VNR: That is quite interesting. Actually, this is the issue I will talk about tomorrow (in the next lecture) . . . how does a text get transmitted? Transmission itself has a culture. Do you just take a book, read it and transmit it? No, you have to be trained to transmit a text. That’s how transmission occurs. Vedas were transmitted much more severely and carefully than these. There is some kind of training that is given to transmit a text. So, let us talk about transmission tomorrow. Please give me time to talk about it tomorrow. One more thing, there is a difference between Hindus and Jains. I don’t want to use the word Hindus. Rather, this group of people who are now called Hindus. Jains believed in writing. They were non-violent. There were two non-violent activities they could have; krishi and mashi. Krishi is cultivation, agriculture and mashi is writing. Writing is a non-violent act and they thought copying a manuscript had some merit. It can be any manuscripts, even obscene manuscripts, Jains copy it. Because copying is a non-violent act. Jains preserved a lot of texts that way. Buddhist is a different story. We will talk about them tomorrow.

SG: You also said in the ancient past they devised a fail-safe system of preserving the Vedas, by structuring each and every sound, syllable and the time and the structure. How would you put that against other systems of preserving and transmission, you talked about Mahabharata and said the critical edition of the Mahabharata is something that should not have been done.

VNR: Veda is a different story. They wanted to preserve the Vedas not as a text in itself, but there is a kind of swara in Veda; udatta, anudatta and svarita. Unless you know these swaras you do not know how to pronounce the Vedas. And the swara can be taught only when you are little. And, texts which are Laukika texts, like Mahabharata and Ramayana, they don’t have swaras. They only have ability to tell how to pronounce the syllables, and if the syllable is properly pronounced the text is preserved. Whereas in Vedas one has to know the swaras along with the syllables. There is a story about a demon called Vritra. He wanted to perform a sacrifice, a yagya, because he wanted to kill Indra. The Brahmins who were performing the sacrifice, towards the end of the sacrifice, they had to say (Sanskrit phrase), ‘bless him who is performing it.’ But Indra-satru is an interesting word. If you put the accent in the first syllable, it is bahuvrihi. If they put the accent in the last syllable it is a shashti tatpurusha. It is either one who has Indra as satru or one whose satru is Indra. Two different meanings depending upon how you pronounce it. And the Brahmins pronounced it as (Sanskrit phrase), ‘One who has Vritra as the enemy’.  That way, Indra was able to kill Vritra and save himself. Wrong pronunciation can decide who you become. It’s not the case with laukika Sanskrit, because the swara disappears from the laukika Sanskrit. So, preserving Veda had a different kind of restriction as opposed to reading Mahabharata, Ramayana or any other text. So their preservation was much less controlled that the preservation of Veda.

SG: Coming to the laukika Sanskrit as you mentioned, how did the massive amounts of data that were preserved for instance in artisanal knowledge, scientific disciplines like medicine, how did that get transmitted? Was it also through an oral tradition? Was there some kind of writing?

VNR: Writing would have reminded them of the text. Writing was not preserving, they should know how to articulate it and read it. Sastras are a different story. They were meant only for a few people who understood them. So the texts of Sastras were preserved in a much more controlled fashion than I mentioned in the last part of my talk. Mahabharata and Ramayana are not like that. They are vast texts, orally preserved, listened to and remembered by listeners, and then there would be changes in it. But when written down, they were writing because it reminded them what to read, not tell them what to read. I don’t know if it’s making sense.

SG: Of course, it does. You said texts have births and re-births and re-interpretations . . .

VNR: That’s largely because some texts are gone. Parts of Atharva Veda were not there until recently, they were discovered and brought back. So there are many texts, which were believed to be lost but then recovered. Somebody remembered them, somebody knew someone who could talk about them. That’s where I was mentioning births and rebirths.

SG: Would you talk about Kavyadarsa, the categorisation of Kavya into drushya, shravya and . . . It will be good to know about Dandin’s idea of kavya.

VNR: Dandin was writing only about poetry, not about Sastra. When it comes to poetry he defined poetry into these two ways; drushya and shravya. Drushya is theatre that is visible poetry and shravya is audible poetry. You listen to it when they are reading it out. So, silent reading did not exist in India. Silent reading was a very new thing that came after the printing press and whole lot of other things that happened.

SG: One final question, if you don’t preserve manuscripts the way Westerners do, put in libraries, digitise them, how would the next generation grapple with them, read them, interpret them? What should be the way to go about?

VNR: Train people to read them, let there be people who are trained to read each text. Then they can preserve it. Then they can say I can read it. When I went to Brown University, they had Mahabharata preserved very carefully in palm leaves. Parts of Mahabharata, not the whole. Then they were wondering if anybody here could read it. It’s wonderful, they saved it. I said I can read it and I just read it. Then they were amazed. I said it’s what a text to be used for, by people who know how to read it. If you don’t know how to read it there is no point in saving it.

SG: You are absolutely right. There should be a training for reading Kharoshti or Brahmi or Grantha, or all those texts, which are lost to us. But I don’t think in any university or in any syllabus this is going to be transmitted. What is the way out here?

VNR: We are thinking of recreating text through script. Since I can read Kharoshti I can read this text, I can read Nagarik so I can read this text, and I can read Brahmi so I can read this text. No, that’s wrong! First of all you need to know how to read the text. Then you can see these were the syllables and this was the script that is used to read this text. Train people to read the text, train young men and women to read the text. And then, by learning to read the alphabet, they should be able to read anything in that particular text. I want young people to know how to read these texts. Then they can operate the text, like I know it already, it’s in this script now. We can prepare people to read a text and then give this script to them.