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Asko Parpola

Asko Heikki Siegfried Parpola
Born July 12, 1941, Forssa

Master of Arts 1963, Licentiate 1966, PhD 1968 (Sanskrit and comparative Indo-European linguistics), University of Helsinki

Emeritus professor and docent in Indology, University of Helsinki 2005–
Research Fellow 1968–72, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), Copenhagen
Acting professor of Sanskrit and comparative Indo-European linguistics 1972, University of Gothenburg
Research Fellow 1972–74, Humanities Research Council of the Academy of Finland
Senior Research Fellow 1974–1981, Humanities Research Council of the Academy of Finland
Acting professor of comparative religion 1977, University of Helsinki
Professor of Indology (personal chair), University of Helsinki 1982–2004
Visiting scholar 1987, Churchill College, University of Cambridge 1987
Visiting scholar 1999, Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University 1999
Visiting scholar 2006, Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto
Hermann Collitz Professor, Summer Institute of Linguistics, Linguistic Society of America/Stanford University 2007

Research themes
Vedic research (the Veda is India’s oldest known literature and religion)
The riddles of the Indus Civilization: writing, language and religion
The prehistory of Aryan languages in the light of archaeology and historical linguistics

Publications, research projects and other academic activity

Awards and special achievements
University of Helsinki Master’s Thesis Prize 1963
First Class Knight of the White Rose of Finland 1990
Alfred Kordelin Foundation lifetime achievement award 2003
Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland
M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award 2009
Honorary member of the American Oriental Society
Indian Presidential Citation of Honour in Sanskrit Studies 2015

Photo: Juri Ahlfors
Written by Asko Parpola, (Olli Siitonen ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

Hunting for Sāmaveda texts

There is no shortage of subjects to research in the rich culture of India. One can even find 2500–3000-year-old texts previously unknown to science! As the topic of my doctoral dissertation, my teacher Pentti Aalto suggested the Drāhyāyaṇa-Śrautasūtra, which the Finnish scholar Julio Reuter began publishing in 1904. It is part of the Sāmaveda (SV), the ‘storehouse of knowledge of sacrificial chants,’ which describes Vedic rituals, and is a later version of the Lāṭyāyana-Śrautasūtra (500 BC). I studied the relationship between the two texts and their relationship to all other SV texts

Photographing the Thanjavur manuscript 2006, photo Asko Parpola.

Unpublished texts are described in libraries’ manuscript catalogues, and from some Thanjavur Library extracts claiming to be the Maśaka-Kalpasūtra, I noticed that what I was actually viewing were previously unknown parts of the Jaimini-Śrautasūtra, which is part of the SV. In the same year, 1966, an extensive commentary was published on the very text I had discovered; the edition was based on just one manuscript and was full of mistakes. Moreover, Bhavatrāta, who lived in 700 AD, does not include the explicated text in his commentary.

The critical edition of those important texts is now nearing completion. But first we needed to find additional manuscripts and the Jaiminīya-Uttaragāna (JUG), a large collection of songs dating from 900 BC, which was only known through references. Since 1985, I have collaborated with Masato Fujii (who completed his PhD at the University of Helsinki in 2004 and is now a professor at Kyoto University) in our 25 trips to India to photograph rare Jaiminīya texts. The Thanjavur manuscript is still the only one of its kind, but several manuscripts containing the Bhavatrāta commentary, the JUG, and many other Jaiminīya texts have been found. From the songs it has even been possible to record a now-extinct 1000-year-old oral tradition.

Jaiminīya Sāmaveda specialist and central informant Muṭṭattukkāṭṭu Iṭṭi Ravi (1904–1989) with his palm-leaf manuscripts, Kerala 1971 © Asko Parpola.


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