Vincenzo Vergiani, Hugo David (Cambridge)

Doing things another way
Bhartṛhari on “substitutes” (pratinidhi)

  • Time: Fr., 17. Oktober 2014, 15:00 (c.t.)
  • Venue: Institut für Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens,
    Seminarraum 1
  • Organisation: Vincent Eltschinger


Specialists of Vedic ritual call "substitutes" (pratinidhi) those ritual elements (sacrificial substances, etc.) introduced in the liturgical procedure in case the prescribed items are not available at the moment of the sacrifice (e.g. barley can, in certain circumstances, become a substitute for rice). This category, first theorized in Jaimini’s Mīmāṃsāsūtras (6.3.11-41), plays an important role in the Brahmanical conception of the ritual, answering many practical issues and securing the adaptability of essentially "Vedic" rites to a variety of material contexts. At the same time, it constitutes a major challenge for linguistic and philosophical analysis: how far can an action accomplished by different means still be referred to as the "same" action? In this lecture, we will analyse the treatment of this topic by the 5th-century grammarian Bhartṛhari who develops, in various parts of his Vākyapadīya, a full-fledged theory of (ritual) substitution, without any clear equivalent in contemporary Mīmāṃsaka literature. Besides giving an outline of this theory, we will try to understand the reasons that incited Bhartṛhari to engage with a problem pertaining mostly to the science of ritual, and the consequences it had for his conception of language as expressive of a specified, though unitary action.


Dr. Vincenzo Vergiani is Senior Lecturer in Sanskrit at the University of Cambridge (UK) and director of the project "Sanskrit Manuscripts in the University Library, Cambridge". His main areas of research are the Sanskrit grammatical traditions and the history of linguistic ideas in pre-modern South Asia.

Dr. Hugo David is a Newton International Fellow at the University of Cambridge (UK). His main focus of interest is the history of Brahmanical systems of philosophy and exegesis. His doctoral thesis, submitted in 2012 at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (Paris), dealt with theories of language in classical Advaita-Vedānta.