Report of the Third International Vedic Workshop,
Leiden, 30 May - 2 June.
Report on the
Third International Vedic Workshop
The Vedas: Texts, Language and Ritual
by Arlo Griffiths
Between 30 May and 2 Juni the Third International Vedic Workshop took place in Leiden, under the motto “The Vedas: Texts, Language and Ritual”. Professors H. Bodewitz (Instituut Kern) and A. Lubotsky (VTW) acted as convenors, J. Houben and A. Griffiths were responsible for the organisation. The first International Vedic Workshop had been held in 1989 at Harvard University, and was followed in 1999 by a second workshop at Kyoto University.
The Vedas form the oldest elaborate corpus of texts (from ca. 1500 BC.) in an Indo-European language. They are the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism, and are connected with a ritual system that partly survives to the present day. In the almost one-and-a-half century of its history, study of the Vedas has stimulated major developments in disciplines such as linguistics, the comparative study of religions, and cultural anthropology. In the last decade groundbreaking new developments have taken place on account of research by scholars working in diferent countries and with different disciplinary backgrounds. It was the prupose of the workshop to offer both leading scholars and emerging young researchers the chance to come together and take stock of these new developments, to create and renew networks for cooperation and future research.
There were 44 speakers from 11 countries, and in addition there were 30 auditors from the Netherlands and abroad. Leiden University was represented by the speakers A. Griffiths, J. Houben, L. Kulikov, and A. Lubotsky.
The Workshop began on 30 May with a panel of 6 45-minute papers dedicated to the "Religion of the Rigveda", i.e. to the cultural system that underlies this oldest Vedic text, which stands apart linguistically, culturally, and geographically from other (later) Vedic texts, but is also basic to them. The panelists represented a broad spectrum of approaches to the topic, from detailed philological study of the words of the Rigvedic text, to macro-comparison of (ancient) cultural phenomena from India to North America. Thanks to a system of pre-assigned discussants for each paper, a fruitful debate arose, under the chairmanship of H. Bodewitz.
The second, third, and fourth days (31 May – 2 June) were dedicated, respectively, to the broad themes "Vedic Texts", "Vedic Language", and "Vedic Ritual". Although the programme was very tight, and time for open discussion consequently limited, the papers that were presented collectively gave a clear indication of the vibrancy of Vedic studies. A separate section on "Modern Media" made it clear to what extent use of searchable electronic text databases and dictionaries on CD-ROM and the internet is already changing modes of research, and promises to keep doing so in the future.
Basic to the approach taken by all participants in the workshop was the philological method, but several contributions (also on film!) made clear that present research focuses not only on the ancient texts themselves, but also on the still living traditions of ritual and recitation in various regions of India today.
The participants from the University of Texas (Austin) have graciously offered to organize the next workshop at their own institution in 2006.