The focus of this project is an in-depth examination of the Jātisamuddeśa – a chapter of Bhartṛhari’s Vākyapadīya (5th c. CE) – together with the commentary thereupon composed by Helārāja (10th c. CE). The Vākyapadīya was one of the most influential treatises on language in premodern India. Made up of about two thousand verses arranged into three main chapters (the third further divided into fourteen subsections), the work analyses the role language plays in how humans interact with the world by exploring various aspects, from the simply grammatical to the strictly philosophical. The Jātisamuddeśa, a subsection of the work’s third chapter, is mainly dedicated to an investigation of whether that which the meaning units of speech convey is a universal feature.
The project’s principal objective is to produce a new critical edition of the first part of the Jātisamuddeśa as well as of Helārāja’s commentary thereon. In carrying out this task, the project will benefit from the use of all known manuscripts of the Jātisamuddeśa that also contain Helārāja’s commentary – these number twenty-one. This will provide scholars a basis for improving on the currently available editions of both works. This is particularly true for the commentary, which has a large margins for improvement. The project will reconstruct the text of both works by employing a stemmatic approach, thus trying to get closer to the text of the Jātisamuddeśa as it was read in the 10th c. CE by Helārāja.
A second objective of the project is to produce an annotated translation of the part of the Jātisamuddeśa being analyzed, together with its commentary. Although these verses of the Jātisamuddeśa have been translated in the past, none of these earlier translations was based on a critical re-examination of Helārāja’s commentary, nor were they based on a broader contextualization of that commentary, which is one of the objectives pursued by this project.
Finally, though the Jātisamuddeśa is mainly concerned with the semantic question of whether units of speech express universals, other philosophical issues often emerge in the discussion. The project will focus on three specific such questions, with the aim of contextualizing Bhartṛhari’s and Helārāja’s ideas within the broader panorama of Indian philosophy. The first is whether it is possible to conceive universals of universals. The second concerns the existence of God as the factor guaranteeing a fixed relationship between word and meaning. The third and final point regards how these thinkers attempted to harmonize the idea that units of speech express universals with the semantic aspect of Vedic injunctions.