It takes a great deal of time to arrive at sources, and the retrieving process takes even longer. It was not expected that any claim would be made to final answers being received to the questions put to the scholars participating in the colloquium on Sources and time which took place in Pondicherry under the joint auspices of the French Institute and the local branch of Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient.
The main preoccupation of the textualists, most of them strangers to India, was obviously, to display and to examine the manner in which texts stand the test of time, how they survive, are preserved and transmitted, and how philologists struggle to restore the best possible version, going on to show how, and with which of the available tools such as commentaries, ancient and modern, oral and written, indigenous or otherwise, that version itself is better understood and, ultimately, to how it is translated bearing in mind that the epoch and metalanguage of the translators is but the latest damaging aspect of time erosion, of course never to be final.
The scholars were however asked which historical and epistemological language would permit both the definition and preservation of that part of cultural patrimony which lies within the traditional transmission of knowledge, operating from external approach, as well as permitting exposure of the inherent metalanguage hidden behind each of the traditional sastra as within each of our day-to-day self-interrogations.
A special feature of the structure of the French research institutes established in Pondicherry is their very close cooperation with Indian scholars having their own methods and hierarchy. The colloquium was therefore a unique opportunity to evaluate such interactions and to develop the interface between western principles and instruments of textual criticism, as tested over a long period in classical western philology, and the more indigenous, and very effective, readings of texts by those who have received formal training in traditional Indian learning, and who often consider a text as a support to an oral transmission (now fragile and, to an inquisitive western mind, sometimes hardly warranted) and tend to see variant readings as fastidious lists of scribal errors; this perspective conveniently reminds us that an Indian text always remains fluid and is always between genesis and degradation. It may, moreover, be observed, perhaps even regretted, that many of our Indian colleagues no longer conform to the conventional image of the "pandit" familiar in the west through occasional, and brief, encounters with Indian informants, but rather that they now emerge moulded by university education, syllabus and values.
It was a special treat for all to witness a purely Sanskrit session presided over by Professor V. N. Jha, Director, Centre for Advanced Studies in Sanskrit, Pune University, who provided in English a running summary of the discussion for those insufficiently familiar with spoken Sanskrit.
On the other hand, historians and other scholars concerned with the transitional nature of tradition, trying to ascribe a chronology to culture and dealing with the reckoning of time view the "sources" strictly as their main instrument for recovering time. Hence the questions: which sources for which history and how to conduct a proper inquiry by way of ever- widening variety of sources not susceptible to a uniform approach. The colloquium was introduced to a diversified range of sources not necessarily the daily concern only of textologists and sanskritists. If it were perhaps too much to ask them to take up such a multidisciplinary challenge as that posed by a cross section of archaeology, modern artefacts and contemporary world, it was important nevertheless to give a great deal of attention to Persian, Tamil and Telugu sources, and to travelogues and folk songs, with a glance at folk tales and other oral sources, as well as to the quotidian stuff of the most ordinary local history, not forgetting the, still altogether ignored, contemporary literature.
It was not without point to remind the hussars of modern history that if some of their modern sources are taken for granted or raise new problems, such as fixing the oral in writing (to cite an important example), philology retains its relevance because many sources continue to be made available to scholars (usually accompanied by a word of caution) through the painstaking and rewarding erudition of the textualists. In this context a special salute was given to the contribution of epigraphy to South-Indian Social history.
Over the three days participants from several countries and experts in a variety of disciplines were able to enjoy the opportunity to talk together and to learn from their affinities as well as from their differences.
Textualists were free to reassert their indomitable belief in the principles of textual criticism and convincingly to demonstrate their skill in establishing critical editions. The sportive younger generation pushes ever towards the rarest and the most erudite, yet the wise may still wonder what kind of text they will arrive at and what the extent is of their concern with its ideological content and what the wordly significance of their philological feats may turn out to be. As a matter of fact, historians do make a point when they look at the texts strictly in context, even if the definition of that context remains uncertain and fluid enough and exposed to the risk of fallout from any ephemeral theoretical speculation. The presence of history is nonetheless nowadays evenly felt so that context is being accepted, more and more, as an integral element of an anticipated ideal critical edition. That is why it is appropriate to offer, as a curtain-raiser to these proceedings, some remarks by our colleague from the University of Wisconsin (Madison), V. N. Rao read at the concluding session of the colloquium, the spirit of which it perfectly summarises.
We thank all the participants who contributed to the academic sessions, and especially those who have sent us their papers for printing. We are very grateful indeed to the eminent personages who accepted invitations to preside over a session: Professors Colette Caillat and Romila Thapar, Doctor Kapila Vatsyayana, Professors Goldman, Jha, and Sanderson, with special thanks to Professor Michel Zink, from the College de France, Paris who delivered a concluding address thereby greatly widening our Asian horizon to take in another equally flourishing tradition of commentary, from Middle Ages in Europe.
We thank the official patrons of the colloquium, His Excellency Claude Blanchemaison, Ambassadeur de France a’ New-Delhi, Mme d'Orgeval and M. Jean-Claude Jacq from the French Ministry of External Affairs, M. Barbry, Consul General de France in Pondicherry, and MM. Denys Lombard, director of EFEO in Paris, and Francois Houllier, director of the French Institute in Pondicherry, for their patronage and presence.
We are also greateful to all those whose energy and dedication in so many different areas allowed the assembled participants to forget that such an event requires a lot of hard work.
Last, but not least our thanks and appreciation go to all the artists whose presence in and around the conference has been, as well as a pleasant surprise and entertainment, a real cultural delight and enrichment.
Adoor Gopalakrishnan flew from Trivandrum especially to give a private showing of his film Elippathayam (The rat trap, 1981) in the auditorium of the Alliance Francaise.
V. Vishvanadan, the Indian painter living in Paris, was here to organise an exhibition of his works for the occasion, also at the Alliance Francaise, whose Director, M. Gilles Castro generously agreed to host our cultural programmes.
The well known Sangit Natak Akademi award-winning musician in the Carnatic tradition, Kalaimamani Shrimati Rajeswari Padmanabhan, enchanted all the rasika with a concert of classical veena during a most convivial farewell evening party.
Mme Jeanine Beausoleil, curator of the Albert Kahn Museum in Boulogne gave us the privilege of a forty minute showing of two unique sequences of immense ethnographic and historical value, from the archives from the "Planete" d'Albert Kahn, Benares (1928) and Le jubile du Maharadja de Kapurthala (1927).
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