Recently I received an email from Prof. Dominik Wujastyk (University of Vienna), regarding Penn’s copy of the Sāṃkhyapravacana (Sāṃkhya Teaching), Ms. Coll. 390, Item 249 (ca. 1700-1850). The Sāṃkhyapravacana is an early Hindu philosophical work that re-envisions and combines the Sāṃkhya and Yoga philosophical systems, attributed to Patāñjali (ca. 4th-5th century CE) as part of his Yogasūtra (a.k.a. Pātañjalayogaśāstra), a work well known to students and scholars of the history and philosophy of yoga. Prof. Wujastyk pointed out, however, that Penn’s catalogue record for this item mistakenly linked it to another work by a different author also named Patāñjali—that is, the Mahābhāṣya or Great Commentary, a commentary on Pāṇini’s Sanskrit grammatical system from the second century BCE. I was intrigued about how what seems like such an obvious error could have arisen and so began an investigation. . . . .
What I found when I pulled the item back off the shelf to re-examine it (something I typically do if there is a problem with a record) was a two layered problem. The first is that the error is embedded within the Library of Congress (LC) database, conflating the two historical Patāñjali’s under a single authority heading. The second layer is that the error is germane to the manuscript itself (i.e., Ms. Coll. 390, Item 249).
Item 249 identifies the Sāṃkhya Teaching as part of the Yogasūtra tradition in its colophon (f. 46r). But it also identifies the work as a subsection of the Mahābhāṣya (Great Commentary) tradition mentioned above in its closing title page (f. 47v). The inclusion of this second title seems to point to the conflation of two separate authors.
Recent scholarly studies by Philipp Maas (2006) and Dominik Wujastyk (2011) have pointed out the reality of two different Patāñjalis—separated by about 500 years. By contrast, Penn’s manuscript seems to conflate the grammatical and yogic texts as part of a singular textual continuum! In this, the manuscript follows a longstanding tendency, starting with an 11th-century author named Bhojadeva and perpetuated thereafter by Sanskrit scribal and literary traditions. Not only does the scribe of Item 249 reaffirm Bhojadeva’s conflation of two distinct authors into one, but he also appears to have conflated two distinct works into a single oeuvre. What this evocation of a textual continuum suggests is that Item 249 was part of a larger textual compilation called the Mahābhāṣya that included the works of the grammarian Patāñjali and the philosopher Patāñjali, expanding upon the original grammatical work.
Can we call this conflation a scribal “error”? Should the manuscript catalogue entry “correct” the presentation of authorship within the manuscript itself? The scribe was following 1000 years of reception history, whether right or wrong in terms of its historical veracity. Item 249 is part of a continuum in a long textual journey that gives us both glimpses into the ancient past and a sense of how South Asian pundits, scholars, and other Sanskrit readers received, understood, and believed that history to have unfolded.
With respect to the Library of Congress authority headings, which are supposed to inform our cataloging efforts and help to make connections between records, the goal is somewhat different. Precedence is typically given to modern Western scholarship, rather than the culture or tradition of a manuscript’s own origin. The two authors should thus be unlinked. Despite this, I am still intrigued by Item 249. It points to an interesting problem, reflecting the challenges to the manuscript cataloger who is based in the United States as she or he wrestles with tradition, history, and the task of making sense of the material texts confronted day-to-day so as to make them accessible to others.
This particular manuscript, thus, raises questions about authorship and helps to open up a conversation about the tensions between traditionally-held reception-history and modern Western scholarship. Do these two impulses need to always be at odds with one another, or can one help to inform the other? The cataloger’s great “release” from this dilemma (or “mokṣa” to use a Sanskrit term) is the “520”—a summary field that allows us to exegete, to some extent, exactly such discrepancies, even despite the Library of Congress authority headings we are forced to use.
Maas, Philipp. 2006. Samādhipāda. Das erste Kapitel des Pātañjalayogaśāstra zum ersten Mal kritisch ediert. Aachen: Shaker.
Wujastyk, Dominik. 2011. “The Path to Liberation through Yogic Mindfulness in Early Āyurveda.” In Yoga In Practice, ed. David Gordon White. Princeton University Press.