“Vedic oral tradition” is a broad rubric for traditions of recitation and ritual connected to India’s oldest Sanskrit texts, the Vedas, which were orally composed, compiled, and codified during the late 2nd millennium and early 1st millennium BCE. From that time into the early 21st century, the Vedas have been orally transmitted with great fidelity within certain orthodox communities of Brahmins, members of India’s priestly caste, whose social status is founded on their role as transmitters and interpreters of this sacred “knowledge” (veda). There are four Vedas, each one containing Sanskrit formulas (mantra) in a distinctive form: the Rig Veda compiles poetry in verses; the Sama Veda, songs and melodies; the Yajur Veda, liturgical formulas; and the Atharva Veda, spells, curses, and healing formulas. Within each Veda, the mantra collections (saṃhitas) are chronologically the earliest stratum, succeeded by the strata of interpretive texts called Brahmanas, Araṇyakas, and Upanishads, which furnish an array of mythological, theological, and philosophical reflections. Central to the vedic corpus are archaic, elaborate sacrifices that continue to be performed in some parts of India today. Regarded as a divine revelation “heard” (śruti) by primeval sages, and venerated as the supreme textual authority in Hindu traditions, the Vedas are comparable to scriptures in other world religions. While the Vedas have also been passed down in written form, their principal authority abides in orality: the power of the mantras is realized only when they are chanted out loud. Over the centuries, vedic oral tradition has exerted a strong influence on Hindu religiosity, both in the concrete sense of perpetuating the recitation of vedic mantras in Hindu rites of passage and temple worship, and in the broader sense of shaping Hindu paradigms of sacred sound.
With its history extending from the late Bronze Age into the early 21st century, and its influence reaching into every region of India, vedic oral tradition is a complex cultural phenomenon, encompassing text, ritual, transmission, and performance as well as the patronage networks, familial organization, and sociopolitical status of the Brahmins. While no single work covers the tradition’s historical background, longtime scale, wide geographical distribution, internal intricacy, religious influence, and modern situation, the works cited here and in the next section (Texts, Branches, and Canons) are a good place to start. The introduction in Staal 1961 presents a succinct overview of vedic oral tradition as it persists in modern India, contrasting the ongoing oral transmission of the Vedas with the literary transmission of scriptures belonging to Western “religions of the Book.” More recently, Staal 2008 presents a historical introduction, situating vedic oral tradition within the long arc of Indo-European migrations to the subcontinent and treating the formation and influence of vedic culture in ancient India. Knipe 2015 provides an informative survey of the basic features of living vedic traditions, including texts, rites, and social context, offering many key insights into the lives of “vedic” (vaidika) Brahmins in modern India. A general overview of vedic oral tradition should also include listening to recitation: Levy and Staal 2003, a selection of recordings that represent the diversity of the living traditions in the mid-20th century, is ideal for this purpose.
Knipe, David M. Vedic Voices: Intimate Narratives of a Living Andhra Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.
DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199397686.001.0001E-mail Citation »
Treats the lives, routines, and aspirations of several vaidika Brahmin communities in Andhra Pradesh from the 1980s until the second decade of the 21st century. Chapter 2, “Vedamlo, Living in the Veda,” is useful as a general overview; Knipe’s work provides a welcome ethnographic counterpart to the philological and descriptive approach of Staal 1961.
Levy, John, and Frits Staal. The Four Vedas: The Oral Tradition of Hymns, Chants, Sacrificial and Magical Formulas. 2 CDs or MP3. Asch Mankind Series FW04126. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2003.
E-mail Citation »
Originally released in 1968 as a set of two phonograph records (Folkways Records FE 4126), this classic selection of vedic chants recorded in the 1950s and 1960s features a sampling of all four Vedas from regions across India; also includes an essay and track-by-track commentary by Staal (see Staal 1968a, cited in Studies by Frits Staal).
Staal, J. F. Nambudiri Veda Recitation. Disputationes Rheno-Trajectinae 5. The Hague: Mouton, 1961.
E-mail Citation »
A seminal study of vedic recitation in 1950s South India that analyzes the chanting and transmission practices among the Nambudiri Brahmins of Kerala; also touches on recitation by Brahmins in Tamil Nadu.
Staal, Frits. Discovering the Vedas: Origins, Mantras, Rituals, Insights. New Delhi: Penguin, 2008.
E-mail Citation »
An eclectic and wide-ranging treatment of vedic texts, rituals, and culture, aimed at the general reader, this volume synthesizes a selection of material from Staal’s academic books and articles. Particularly useful is Part I (“Origins and Backgrounds”), which surveys the basic facts of geography, language, and archaeology pertinent to understanding the Vedas as an oral tradition rooted in ancient India.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
“Frege und die Typentheorie,” in Logik und Logikkalkül, ed. M. Käsbaur, Munich 1962
“On Sense,” in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 65, 1964-65
“Freedom and Prediction,” in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, suppl. vol. 61, 1967
Gottlob Frege, “Nachgelassene Schriften”, Review in Journal of Philosophy, vol. 68, 1971
“Frege and the Rise of Analytic Philosophy”, in Inquiry, vol. 18, 1975
“Frege as a Rationalist,” Studies on Frege, ed. M. Schirn, Stuttgart 1976, vol. 1
“Frege’s Alleged Realism,” Inquiry, vol. 20, 1977
R.L. Gregory, “Scientific Materialism in Nineteenth Century Germany,” Review, in Brit. J. of Philos. Of Science, 1980
“Crispin Wright on Wittgenstein,” Inquiry, vol. 25, 1982
“Subjectivity in the Tractatus”, Synthese, vol. 56, 198
“Frege: The Early Years”, Philosophy in History, ed. Q. Skinner et al., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1984
“Geist, Materie und Ich in der Philosophie Wittgensteins”, Mensch, Natur, Gesellschaft, vol. 3, 1985
“Foucault, the author and the discourse”, in vol. 28., Inquiry, 1985, French translation, Critique, 1986, German translation, Suhrkamp, 1990
“Wittgensteins Blaues Buch”, in Proceedings of the Tenth Intern. Wittgenstein-Symposium, Vienna 1985
P. M. S. Hacker and G. Baker, Frege: Logical Excavations and C. Wright, Frege’s Conception of Numbers as Objects, Review, in Isis, 1985
Herbert Schnädelbach, Philosophy in Germany: 1831-1933, Review in British Journ. Of. Phil. Sci., Winter 1985
“Frege against the Booleans”, in Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic, 1987
“Semantic Content and Cognitive Sense”, in Frege Synthesized, Amsterdam 1987.
“Das Ich muss aufgegeben werden. Zur Metaphysik in der analytischen Philosophie”, Metaphysik nach Kant? Proceedings of the 6th. International Hegel-Kongress, Stuttgart 1987
“Heidegger: suite sans fin,” in Le Messager Europeen, vol. 3, 1989
“Thinking as Writing”, Grazer Philosophische Zeitschrift, 1989
“Metadiscourse. German Philosophy and National Socialism”, in Social Research, Winter 1989
“The Break. Habermas, Heidegger, and the Nazis”, in Colloquies of the Center for Hermeneutical Studies, Berkeley 1992
“Die verfehlte Sendung”, in Der geistige Anschluss. Philosophie und Politik an der Universität Wien 1930-1950, ed. K. R. Fischer and F. M. Wimmer, Vienna 1993
“Zwischen Modernismus und Postmoderne: Wittgenstein und die Architektur”, in Die Wiener Jahrhundertwende, Vienna 1992
“Macht und Ohnmacht der analytischen Philosophie”, in Bausteine wissenschaftlicher Weltauffassung, ed. F. Stadtler, Vienna 1996
“Frege on Meaning”, Ratio, vol. 9, 1996, reprinted in The Rise of Analytic Philosophy, ed. H.J. Glock, Oxford 1997
“Wittgenstein: Life and Work, in The Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein, 1996
”‘Whose house is that?’ Wittgenstein on the self", in The Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein, 1996
“Filozofia I Polytika W Nazistowskich Niemczech” in Odra, 1997
“Homelessness and Homecoming. Nietzsche, Heidegger, Hölderlin,” in India and Beyond. Festschrift for Frits Staal, Amsterdam 1996
“What has history to do with me? Wittgenstein and analytic philosophy”, Inquiry, March 1998
“Von der Uneinheitlichkeit des Wissens”, in Philosophie in synthetischer Absicht. Festschrift für Dieter Henrich, ed. by M. Stamm, Stuttgart 1998
“Truth before Tarski” in Alfred Tarski and the Vienna Circle, Kluwer, Dordrecht 1999
“Heidegger and the Critique of Reason”, in What’s Left of the Enlightenment?, ed. Keith Baker et al., Stanford University Press, Stanford 2001
“Conflict is the Father of Everything: Heidegger’s Polemical Conception of Politics” in Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics, ed. R. Polt and G. Fried, Yale University Press, New Haven Conn., 2001
“Was ‘Bedeutung’ bedeutet. Frege, Russell und Wittgenstein zu einem (?) Begriff” in Mit Bedeutungen Verfahren, ed. E. Waniek, Vienna 1999
“Frege and the Indefinability of Truth” in From Frege to Wittgenstein, ed. E. Reck, Oxford 2001
Review of Michael Friedman, “A Parting of the Ways”, The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 98, 2001
“Foucault Rethinks the Genealogy of Morals” in Weltanschauungen. Festschrift fuer Kurt Rudolf Fischer, ed. G. Diem-Wille, Frankfurt 2002
“Frege’s These von der Undefinierbarkeit der Wahrheit” in Das Wahre und das Falsche, ed. Dirk Greimann, Hildesheim 2003
“Carl Schmitt’s essay The Concept of the Political” in A New History of German Literature, ed. David E. Welberry et al., Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004
“Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time” in A New History of German Literature, ed. David E. Welberry et al., Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004
“Wittgenstein and Pyrrhonism” in Pyrrhonian Skepticism, ed. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Oxford 2004
“Heidegger’s Nietzsche” in The Blackwell Companion to Heidegger, ed. Hubert Dreyfus and Mark Wrathall, Oxford 2005
“Foucault’s Encounter with Heidegger and Nietzsche” in The Cambridge Companion to Foucault, second edition, ed. Gary Gutting, New York 2005
“Stanley Cavell and the Pursuits of Happiness” in The Claim to Community. Essays on Stanley Cavell and Political Philosophy, ed. Andrew Norris, Stanford 2006
“Feyerabend in Berkeley” in Paul Feyerabend. Ein Philosoph aus Wien, ed. Friedrich Stadler and Kurt Rudolf Fischer, Vienna 2006
“Jaakko Hintikka (and Others) on Truth” in The Philosophy of Jaakko Hintikka, ed. Randall E. Auxier and Lewis Edwin Hahn, Chicago 2006
“Family Resemblance” in Deepening Our Understanding of Wittgenstein. Grazer Philosophische Studien, vol. 71, ed. Michael Kober, Graz 2006
“Glitter and Doom at the Metropolitan: German Art in Search of the Self” in Inquiry, vol. 50, 2007
“Truth and the Imperfection of Language” in Essays on Frege’s Conception of Truth. Grazer Philosophische Studien, vol. 75, ed. Dirk Greimann, 2007
“The Pluralism of the Political: From Schmitt to Arendt,” in Telos, vol. 4, 2009
“I am only a Nietzschean”,in Foucault and Philosophy, ed. by Timothy O'Leary ans Christopher Falzon, Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, 2010. Turkish translation 2013.
“Our grammar lacks surveyability,” in Language and World. Part One. Essays on the Philosophy of Wittgenstein, edited by Volker Munz, Klaus Puhl, and Joseph Wang, ontos verlag, Frankfurt 2010
Review of Peter E. Gordon, Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, February 2011
“Could you define the sense of the word ‘political’? Foucault as a political philosopher,” in History of the Human Sciences, vol. 24, 2011.
“Von der normativen Theorie zu diagnostischen Praxis,” in Deutsche Zeitschrift fuer Philosophie, vol. 59, 2011.
“Simple Objects: Complex Questions,” Wittgenstein’s Early Philosophy, edited by Jose L. Zalabardo, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2012.
“Beyond ‘the New’ Wittgenstein,” in Ethics, Society, Politics, edited by Hajo Greif and Martin Gerhard Weiss, De Gruyter Ontos, Berlin 2013.
“The Time is Coming When One Will Have to Relearn About Politics,” in Individual and Community in the Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, edited by Julian Young, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2013.
“Oskar Becker. Vom ‘Dasein’ zum ‘Dawesen’,” in Heidegger Handbuch, edited by Dieter Thomae, 2nd edition, Verlag J. B. Metzler, Stuttgart 2013.