Despite the wonders of the information age there are still precious few actual collaborations between scholar
living in the West and scholars living in India on points of Indology. Each world of scholarship bends to exist
happily with rules, social worlds, and questions of its own, occasionally peering with timid engagement into the
other world for reasons of necessity. Only rarely do scholars engage that other scholarly world for reasons of
sheer joy and curiosity. We are no longer curious, but rather laden with the unfortunately false presumptions that
"Western" and "Indian" forms of scholarship always have particular tendencies and characteristics which define
them. Why would an Indian scholar look at Western Indology if she has learned that it must be colonial by virtue
of the fact that it is Western? And Western scholar have been ignoring Indian scholarship for years, treating it at
best as a handmaiden to their own work. The terms "Western Indology" and "Indian Indology" were originally
provisional terms suggesting certain kinds of cultural orientations and critiques, and yet now they have become
the determining factors which draw a hard dividing line between our questions and concerns.
This is a sorry state of conversation indeed. Yet Indological Questions and concerns are surprisingly common.
And we ignore those common concerns at our intellectual peril. Some works, however, do still bravely cross the
cultural dividing line. This is why it is a great delight indeed to write a foreword to the work of Maitreyee
Deshpande, whose cross-cultural Indological energies are evident in her book, "The Concept of Time In Vedic
Ritual". Among the many virtues of this work, the readers can see that her questions are shared by a larger
community of Indologists, both "Western" and "Indian", and will be of interest to scholars working in different
fields, disciplines and scholarly worlds. How might we use the tiniest ritual details to rethink the idea of time in
early India? What kinds of time are possible in this early Indian ritual World, and what can it teach us about other
Deshpande argues that in Indology, the emphasis has been on the metaphysical study of the Brahmanas, but
very little on the empirical emphasis of the texts. Her critique spans both Western and Indological scholarship,
ranging from A. B. Caland to Brian Smith. Her typology of time goes a long way toward remedying that lack, both
in terms of its thoroughness of data collection, as well as its development of a new set of categories with which
to think about Vedic ritual. The book's main contributions, as I see it, are both historical and conceptual.
Let me begin with the historical. On the one hand, she systematically shows the ways in which Brahmanic ritual
expands itself to incorporate the exigencies of time. While time has been a scholarly focus in the study of the
more philosophical Vedic texts, such as the Upanisads, and the later hymns of the Rg Veda, the "history of time"
(to borrow a phrase from Stephen Hawking) as such in early India has not included the ritual texts. Deshpande
demonstrates that there is a distinct set of conceptions about time in ritual performance that include narrative,
grammar, and implicitly philosophical perspectives. Her book will help any historian of ideas place the ritual texts
(usually ignored in the history of Indian ideas) alongside their predecessors and successors, and complete the
picture of early Indian intellectual life that we currently possess.
The sheer thoroughness of the index of ideas about time that comprises the bulk of the book is remarkable.
While the author herself does not claim thoroughness, the reader cannot help but remark on the years of work
which the sheer gathering of data must have required. Any historian would be able to use this work as a kind of
Turning now to the conceptual contribution: The typology that Deshpande develops is also creative and helpful.
While some of her categories are intuitively obvious, some of them are not, and reflect a much more accurate
idea of Sankritic ideas of time. "Duration", "Order", "Frequency", "Time Identified with Ritual Details" and "Time
and Measurement of Ritual Details" all impress me as very important and fresh ways of looking at time in Indian
perspective. They are productive categories not only because one wouldn't necessarily think of them in their own
right, but because they can provide important links to the reconception of time in the Upanisads. One of the
crucial ways in which Upanisadic time is re-configured is through the identification of the meditating body with
the passage of time, and we can see the "middle stage" of this process by looking at the Brahmanas as
Two particularly fruitful reconceptions of time which Deshpande suggests and which are, I think, very new to
Vedic studies. The first is the creation of fictitious time, or the creation of time within ritual itself. This idea lends
weight to the theory that the world of the Vedic sacrifice had to have the force of the cosmos contained within it
in order to be effectives. Many Vedic theorists have speculated that this is the case, but here Deshpande lends
empirical weight and specificity to the speculation. Second, the Idea of "desire" as a motivating category for the
measurement of time itself holds important resonances with certain kind of postmodern Philosophy, such as that
of Julia Kristeva and Renee Girard. Deshpande's concept of desire as itself a kind a Vedic time is helpful
indeed, for it allows us to reread the Vedic world with new philosophical idea in mind.
For the sake of a fresh lens on Vedic ritual, let the rereading begin. All of our communities with benefit by the
joyful, curious, and thorough book.
About the Book
Time is an important factor in the performance of Vedic ritual. It is very much essential that every detail in the
ritual be performed at its proper time. Vedic texts abound in numerous speculations about the mystic connection
of time and ritual. A detailed study of such speculations was a long felt desideratum. The present thesis is an
attempt in this direction. Aspects such as duration, order, frequency, auspicious and inauspicious time, symbolic
time, time in respect to microcosm and macrocosm, etc. have been dealt with in this book.
About the Author
Maitreyee Rangnekar Deshpande did her graduation from University of Mumbai and the post-graduation and
doctorate from the University of Pune. She did her Ph.D under the guidance of Dr. G. U. Thite. She has studied
German from Max Mueller Bhawan. Pune and French from Alliance Francaise de Poona, Pune. She has written
a few articles in English and Marathi, which have been published in various journals.
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