The relative chronology of the older Upanisads: A metrical and linguistic approach

Signe Marie Cohen, University of Pennsylvania


My dissertation, entitled The Relative Chronology of the Older Upanisads, is a text-critical study of the Aitareya, Bāskalamantra, Brhadāranyaka, Chāndogya, Īśā, Kaivalya, Katha, Kausītaki, Kena, Mahānārāyana, Maitrī, Māndūkya, Mundaka, Praśna, Śvetāsvatara, and Taittirīya Upanisads. Dates of composition for the oldest Upanisads, and for various sections within each, have been the subject of vast speculation but little solid research. Although partial text-critical studies of some of the older Upanisads exist, no one has attempted to complete a systematic examination of the texts of the older Upanisads in order to determine their relative ages. Many scholars have ignored the complicated question of interpolations and textual additions when interpreting the Upanisads. Instead, each Upanisad has been treated as a homogeneous textual unit composed at a single point in time, which is believed to express a coherent set of ideas. Closer textual study of each Upanisad, however, reveals more complicated histories of composition, with textual additions at various time periods adding new perspectives and ideas to these important Sanskrit texts. In my dissertation, I distinguish textual layers from different time periods within each Upanisad by analyzing meters, linguistic forms, types of sandhi, philosophical contents, and the internal coherence of each text. Each Upanisadic text viewed as a whole should make good, or perhaps even better, sense if its purportedly later stanzas are removed. If, for example, a stanza appears considerably later than the rest of a text on metrical, linguistic, and conceptual grounds, it can often be demonstrated that later interpolators had a theological reason for inserting a stanza at that very point in the earlier text. I identify the later interpolations of each of the older Upanisads. Based on detailed metrical, linguistic and conceptual analysis of each of the older Upanisads I propose a chronology of these texts.

Subject Area

Asian literature|Ancient languages

Recommended Citation

Cohen, Signe Marie, "The relative chronology of the older Upanisads: A metrical and linguistic approach" (1999). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9953515.