Modern Asian Studies

Orality, Literacy and Memorization: Priestly Education in Contemporary South India

C. J. FULLER  a1
a1 London School of Economics and Political Science

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For the debate on orality, literacy and memorization, India provides some striking evidence. In his comparative analysis of ‘oral aspects of scripture’, Graham gives the Hindu tradition a special place, for the ‘ancient Vedic tradition represents the paradigmatic instance of scripture as spoken, recited word’ (Graham 1987:68). The Vedas, the oldest texts of Hinduism, have been transmitted orally for three thousand years or more, despite the very early implementation of writing, and it is the Vedas as recited from memory by Brahmans that are alone authoritative. A corollary of the spoken word's primacy is that in teaching the Vedas and other texts, although ‘written texts have been used’, ‘a text without a teacher to teach it directly and orally to a pupil is only so many useless leaves or pages’ (ibid.: 74).