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Interpretation, Indian theories of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F046-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved February 19, 2019, from

Article Summary

Need for interpretation of texts was felt already during the ancient period of Vedic texts in India. Vedic texts were orally transmitted for over a thousand years. During this period, the change in locations of people reciting the texts and the mother tongues of the reciters led to a widening gap between the preserved sacred texts and their interpreters. Additionally, there was a notion that the sacred language was a mystery which was only partially understood by the common people. This led to the early development of exegetical tools to assist the interpretation of the sacred literature.

Later, grammarians and etymologists developed sophisticated exegetical tools and theories of interpretation. These generally led to a deeper understanding of the structure of language. The priestly tradition developed its own canons of interpretation, which are manifest in the system of Mīmāṃsā. Here we have the first fully developed theory of discourse and context.

The categories developed by Mīmāṃsā were used by other schools, especially by the school of Dharmaśāstra, or Hindu religious law. Both Mīmāṃsā and Dharmaśāstra created sets of hierarchical principles for authoritative guidance in interpretation. Other philosophical and religious traditions developed categories of their own to deal with problems of interpretation. A major problem was created when the literature accepted as authoritative by a tradition contained apparently contradictory passages. The traditions had to deal with this problem and find ways of explaining away those passages which did not quite fit with their own view of truth. For this purpose, a whole set of categories were employed. At a later period, several ingenious principles of interpretation were used for texts in general. Here, significant contributions were made by the traditions of Sanskrit grammar and poetics.

Citing this article:
Deshpande, Madhav M.. Interpretation, Indian theories of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F046-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

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