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Date(s) - 16/03/2020
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Seminar Hall


Title of the first talk:
Pre-modern Indian perspectives on giving, gifting, and sacrifices: the king

16th March 2020 (Monday)

The talk has two main parts. The first part presents five Old Indian theories of state: the idealistic theory of state, the Arthaśāstra’s seven-member theory, the protection-through-punishment theory, the contract theory, and the loyalty theory. The second part discusses three selected aspects of the king’s givings and takings related to these theories of state. (i) According to Kauṭilya, the king or his
officers should compensate the victim for items stolen by a thief if the latter cannot be apprehended. In contrast, compensation for stolen items is not widespread in modern legal systems.
(ii) One of the king’s duties is just punishment and one may worry about the king’s incentives to administer justice properly. One answer given by Manu points to Varuṇa as chastiser of kings. In the same context, Manu demands that a king must keep a property fine for himself, but “he should offer that fine to Varuṇa by casting it into water”. Kane has opined that “these prescriptions were counsels of perfection and must have been futile. No king would ordinarily fine himself”.
(iii) When human evidence was not available in a satisfactory quality, a pre-modern Indian judge might turn to ordeals or judicial wagers (paṇa). Basically, a judicial wager amounts to proclaiming: “I am speaking the truth; if found otherwise by the king, I will pay the appropriate fine, and, on top, make the wager payment.” Lariviere writes: “The paṇa seems … not to be a factor at all in deciding the case … .” Judicial wagers give rise to two puzzles, the incentive puzzle and the scarce-evidence puzzle.

Title of second talk:

Pre-modern Indian perspectives on giving, gifting, and sacrifices: the brahmins

20th March 2020 (Friday)

The nibandha Kṛtyakalpataru by Lakṣmīdhara defines: “When a person gives as a matter of routine obligation to worthy recipients (pātra) independently of any specific purpose, it is called a Gift Based On Duty (dharmadāna). … Whether small or large, the size of a gift does not bring about its benefits, but rather the spirit of generosity (śraddhā) and the means (śakti) available to the donor associated with a gift—indeed, only these two things cause prosperity or ruin.” Śraddhā originally means belief or trust (in the efficacy of prescribed ritual acts or acts of dharmic giving), but took on the meaning of the spirit of generosity in the course of time. These two significations of the term have a relationship of cause and effect. I try to capture this relationship in a microeconomic model. My talk also addresses the question of when one might expect receiver initiative (begging) or giver initiative.
The talk closes with a normative discussion of dānadharma. One might argue that the definition of a worthy recipient serves the interests of the Brahmin community with unambiguously high opinions of themselves and of their place in society. Similarly, the Brahmins advocated giving to themselves! These points of view need to be supplemented by other viewpoints I try to defend.

Title of third talk:
Pre-modern Indian perspectives on giving, gifting, and sacrifices: gods and gurus

31st March 2020(Tuesday)


The officiating priest in a Vedic sacrifice or a mahādāna expects a dakṣiṇā for his services. In a similar manner, the student is expected to present a gift to his teacher upon completion of this studies. Indeed, the pupil is admonished by his teacher: “Speak the truth. Follow the Law. Do not neglect your private recitation of the Veda. After you have given a valuable gift (dhana) to the teacher, do not
cut off your family line. … Treat your mother like a god. Treat your father like a god. Treat your teacher like a god. Treat your guests like gods.” This dakṣiṇā is the main focus of my talk. There has been some confusion in the literature on whether the dakṣiṇā is a gift or a payment for services rendered. I argue that a dakṣiṇā is a hybrid form of payment between a fee or wage on the
one hand and a gift on the other hand. My talk also addresses the question in which sense the shift from Vedic sacrificing to dharmic giving (the topic of my second talk) amounts to a secularization
process. Here, it is important to note that dharmic gifts are giving in order to earn otherworldly merit while Vedic sacrifices aim for this-worldly benefits.