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A study of the Bhagavadgita as an example of Indian oral-literate tradition.

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India has complex and sophisticated oral tradition which ha s developed over millennia. The Sanskrit language has had an enormous influence over the whole of India, especially its oral tradition. The advent of the literate tradition in India which began approximately five thousand years ago preserved (in writing) much of the oral style elements. In chapter I of this dissertation the influence of the Sanskrit language and its oral transmission to various parts of the globe are briefly traced. Marcel Jousse, in the early part of this century, developed theories involving the anthropological basis governing human expression. These are rooted in mimism, bilateralism and formulism. Chapter 2 of this dissertation briefly outlines the principles of Jousse's theories and provides a brief overview of orality - literacy studies. The views of other experts in the field like Parry, Lord, Finnegan and Ong are also discussed. The Bhagavadgita (the chosen text) is a popular religious text among Indians. Its style encapsulates the oral style elements of Sanskrit literature. A brief summary of the first six discourses which cover the philosophy of Karma Yoga are provided in Chapter 3. Selected slokas (couplets) of these discourses are used as a basis to discuss certain formulaic techniques like a dialogue within a dialogue, application of the Parry-Lord theory, use of imagery (including simile, comparison and metaphor), use of honorific names and the significance of numbers as mnemotechnical devices. All these are elements of oral style. The discussion of the philosophy of Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of Devotion) takes up the next six discourses (discourses 7-12) of the Bhagavadg1ta. Chapter 4 provides a brief summary of these discourses. The elements of oral style which are i dentified and discussed among slokas (couplets) in these discourses are the propositional geste, parallelism, key words in a recitation and contextual meaning. The final chapter (chapter 5) deals with the philosophy of Jnana Yoga (Yoga of Knowledge). The slokas (couplets) of the next six discourses (13 - 18) which cover this philosophy are used as a basis to identify and discuss the nine characteristics of oral style as described by Ong, borrowing from other sources, alliteration and assonance which are further elements of the oral style. This dissertation concludes that the oral formulaic style has played a significant role in preserving the uniqueness, freshness and originality of the Bhagavadgita.


Thesis (M.A.)-University of Natal, Durban, 1995.


Bhagavadgita--Criticism, interpretation, etc., Sanskrit literature--History and criticism., Oral-formulaic analysis., Theses--Orality-literacy studies., Hinduism--Sacred books.