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As I discuss in this question, by far the most popular school of Hindu philosophy is the Vedanta school, which bases its tenets on the doctrines laid out in the Brahma Sutras, a work by the sage Vyasa that summarizes and systematizes the philosophical teachings of the Upanishads. (You can read the Brahma Sutras here.) But the Vedanta school didn't always have the dominant position in Hindu philosophy, before the time of Adi Shankaracharya the dominant school of Hindu philosophy was the Purva Mimamsa school, which I discuss here. In contrast to the Vedanta school which is devoted to analyzing the Jnana Kanda of the Vedas, i.e. the Upanishads, Purva Mimamsa focuses on analyzing the Karma Kanda of the Vedas, i.e. the Samhitas and Brahmanas.

Now one of the central beliefs of the Purva Mimamsa school was that the Vedas were Apaurusheya or authorless. Other schools also believed that the Vedas were Apaurusheya in the sense that they had no human author, but Purva Mimamsa went one step further in saying that they had no connection to any divine source either: they were just eternal truths that that could be heard by sages when they were in a state of Tapasya (deep meditation). In any case, in Jaimini's Mimamsa Sutras, the defining text of the Purva Mimamsa school, Jaimini tries to refute the objection that the Vedas are not eternal because they refer to the names of people, and thus must have been written after those people were born. Specifically, he examines a quote from this Kanda of the Taittiriya Samhita of the Yajur Veda:

Babara Pravahani desired, 'May I be a speaker of speech.' He grasped the five-night rite and sacrificed with it. Then indeed he became a speaker of speech. He, who knowing thus offers the five-night rite, becomes a speaker of speech, and men call him 'lord of speech'.

For more information on the five-night rite, see my question here and my answer here. In any case, in this excerpt from the Mimamsa Sutra, Jaimini tries to refute this objection by saying that "Babara Pravahani" is not actually the name of a person:

The Purvapakshin has cited the term "pravahani" (as a proper name occurring in the Veda, and hence proving that the Veda came after that person). - But this is not right. We do not know of any person of the name "Pravahana", hence the term pravahani cannot mean "the son of Pravahana"; in fact the prefix "pra" is well-known as signifying excellence, and the root "vaha" as signifying the act of carrying; and we do not know of any combination of these two (pra-vahana) as signifying any common well-known word; as regards the "i" (in the term "pravahani"), it is known as signifying "progeny" as well as "agent of an action"; so that the term pravahani signifies "one who carries things in an excellent manner" [and it cannot mean "the son of Pravahana", as we do not know of any person of the name of "Pravahana"]. - As far as the term "babara", it is only a word imitative of sound (produced by the blowing wind). This the two words ("pravahani" and "babara") only express the everlasting thing ("the blowing wind").

First of all, unlike Jaimini I do know of a person named Pravahana, but I digress :-) My question is, is this how the Purva Mimamsa school interprets all the appearances of proper names in the Vedas. Do they think they can all be explained away in this manner.

The Vedanta school has a much more plausible explanation for the appearance of names, which is that in every age people with those names are born to fill the same role. Here is what Adi Shankaracharya says in his commentary on the Brahma Sutras:

Similarly, although individual gods are admitted to originate, there arises no contradiction in the case of such words as Vasu, and the like, since the species denoted by them are eternal. And that the gods, and so on, belong to different species, is to be concluded from the descriptions of their various personal appearance, such as given in the mantras, arthavâdas, &c. Terms such as 'Indra' rest on the connexion (of some particular being) with some particular place, analogously to terms such as 'army-leader;' hence, whoever occupies that particular place is called by that particular name.

And later on he quotes some Smriti text which makes the same point:

Whatever were the names of the rishis and their powers to see the Vedas, the same the Unborn one again gives to them when they are produced afresh at the end of the night (the mahâpralaya). As the various signs of the seasons return in succession in their due time, thus the same beings again appear in the different yugas. And of whatever individuality the gods of the past ages were, equal to them are the present gods in name and form.

So does the Purva Mimamsa school agree with the Vedanta school's explanation, or is it really committed to the view that there are absolutely no proper names in the Vedas? That seems like it would be a tough case to make.

Do any other Purva Mimamsa works, like those of Kumarila Bhatta for instance, address this issue?

  • Is there any record of this in Adi Shakara's debate with MadanaMisra? – Vineet Menon Dec 3 '15 at 4:42
  • @VineetMenon We know next to nothing about that debate; see my answer here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/6557/36 In any case, I'm not actually sure if this is a difference between the Purva Mimamsa and Vedanta schools, or if this kind of analysis only applies to the specific name Babara Pravahani. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 3 '15 at 5:49
  • @KeshavSrinivasan see if this video list helps you in anyway youtube.com/… – Student Sep 13 '16 at 14:18

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