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FROM "GAMBLER" TO "CAMOUFLAGE": The Strange Semantic Metamorphosis of Pali "kitava" 1 Verse 252 of the Dhammapada speaks of a perennial

human weakness. It says:

Easily seen is the fault of others, But one's own it is hard to see. The faults of others One winnows like chaff, But conceals one's own As a cunning gambler, the defeating throw 1.

The Pali commentary of the Dhammapada completely misinterprets the simile in the last line (kali va kitav saho). Instead of taking it as an idea expressed in the language of gambling, the commentator sees here the language of hunting. In effect his explanation of the simile is as follows: (One hides one's faults) "as a hunter of birds camouflages his body with a covering of leaves". What is even more baffling is the way in which he understood the three key words that occur in the simile. In his translation of the Dhammapada published in 1881, Max Mller rendered the crucial last line of this verse as follows: as a cheat hides the bad die from the player 2.

In doing so he evidently understood the three important words thus: kali: the bad die kitav:. from the player saho: a cheat This is certainly a great improvement on the commentator's interpretation, but there is one little thing to be said against it, as we will presently see. In the Vedic vocabulary of gambling, kali meant the throw of dice that brought defeat to the player 3, In later Sanskrit it meant "evil", "strife", "ill-luck" as well as "the unlucky age" (kali-yuga). Similarly

Originally published in Sri Lanka Journal of Buddhist Studies, Vol III, 1991, pp.17-25

well-attested is the meaning of Sanskrit aha, the equivalent of the last word of the simile. In Sanskrit it always meant shrewd, cunning, deceitful. As for kitava (with the stem ending in a short vowel -a), it too is attested from the earliest times (e.g., g Veda 10.34. 7 and 13) and is explained as a Middle Indian form re-appearing in Sanskrit 4. The

Middle Indian word is regarded as derived from a Sanskrit formation kta-vant- which means "having the kta 5". In the vocabulary of gambling, kta is the exact opposite of kali, it means the throw of dice that brings the best victory (whence kta-yuga: the golden age). But, although kitava- stems from an old word that meant "he who has the winning die", it is more commonly used in the sense of gambler, cheat, rogue 6. It is evident that Max Mller saw in kitav a word in the ablative case ("from the player"). In this he may have been influenced by the Commentary which treats it as syntactically equivalent to a word in the instrumental case. If this is right, the nominative saho would be the true subject of the clause and kitav would be syntactically independent of it. But when we compare the Pali verse with its equivalent in the recently published Patna Dharmapada, we see that kitav can be neither an ablative nor an instrumental but only a nominative. The comparable line of the Patna text reads kali va ktav saho 7 in which ktav is clearly the equivalent of Sanskrit *ktavn.. Gustav Roth, who published the text of this Dharmapada in 1980 has placed a question mark on the -rof this word, but the evidence of the Udna Varga manuscripts, which Franz Bernhard has so painstakingly put on record, shows that that version of the Dharmapada had an old reading kitava 8 as well as the more widely attested ktv. Now, this ktv stands in place of the nominative kitava. Quite clearly the Vulgate reading ktv yadvat kali aha 9 is a later

development in a textual tradition that was getting progressively Sanskritized. In this process, this tradition seems to have been influenced by a Dharmapada text with a -r- in this word. A study of the numerous

variant readings of the Udna Varga shows that in their attempt to restructure and Sanskritize the text, the Sarvstivdins have not been reluctant to utilize other versions of the Dharmapada and this includes all the versions that are now available10. From the existence of the readings kitava and ktv it would seem that there were certainly two forms of the word in question among the Dharmapada texts known to the Udna Varga redactors, i.e., one with a medial -i- and the other with an -r-. Therefore there need not be any great hesitation in regarding the Patna reading with -r- as an authentic form. This word ktav of the Patna text, and the reading kitava of an old manuscript of the Udna Varga are both nominatives. The extant Pali form shows a third nominative form in the repertoire of Dharmapada readings that were current among the Buddhists of the early period. Like the Patna Dharmapada's ktav, it too retains features of the suffix vant of the original ktavant- from which all these forms are descended. It is important to note the two differing declensional patterns followed by these derivatives of *ktavant. Their nominative singular (masc.) forms can be tabulated as follows: (1) ktavn/ ktav/ kitav (-vant type) (2) kitava/ kitavo (-a type) Both types are represented in the old Pali texts, as can be seen from the following examples: (1) kitav sikkhito yath 228 (2) kitavassa ... bhutta S.i. 24 If, according to this evidence, kitav in Dh. 252 is a word of the first of the above two types, it is a nominative and the other nominative saho found in the line clearly stands in apposition to it. The reference then is to a cheating player and not to a cheat who hides the die from the player, as Max Mller's translation would suggest. The points that we made above will help us considerably in assessing the full extent of the confusion that is to be found in the interpretation of Dh. 252 by the Commentary. We mentioned above that the Commentary

betrays an ignorance of the fact that the simile in this verse is expressed in the language of gambling. Let us first see whether this ignorance is widespread in the commentarial literature. For this purpose let us examine four commentarial explanations relating to canonical passages containing the terms of gambling mentioned above, namely kali, kaa (kta) and kitava/kitav. This will show us the major shades of meaning associated with these words and the semantic development of kitav from a term of gambling to a term of hunting in the commentaries and the related Sinhala texts. The first passage is J. v. 116 where we find an important negative form derived from the word kitava: amacce tta jnhi dhre atthassa kovide anakkhkitave tta asoe avinsake Know, my son, (to employ) as ministers people who are wise, who understand what is beneficial, who are anakkha and akitava, who are not addicts and who are not destructive.

It is the comment on the untranslated words that is relevant to us. It says that akitava (negative form) means "not deceitful" and anakkha "not given to gambling". anakkhe akitave ajtakare ceva akerike 11 This explanation suggests that the primary meaning the commentator sees in the word kitava is deceitfulness (kerika). It is also significant that the commentator thinks that it is the other word anakkha that gives the meaning "not given to gambling". The second passage is 206 which has a verse with words from the original vocabulary of gambling. kal hi dhrna kaa magna bhavanti vedajjhagatn 'ariha To the wise Veda studies are a defeat, 0 Ariha; but to the stupid, they are a victory. The short commentary12 on this suggests that Vedic studies are to the wise a kali-ggaha (being under subjection of kali) and this is explained

as parjaya-sakhta: it amounts to defeat. Similarly, the opposite kaaggaha is what amounts to victory (jaya-sakhta). Again what we see are the predominantly secondary associations of kaa and kali: victory and defeat, but not necessarily restricted to gambling. However, it is interesting to note a considerable addition of meaning to these words in the Sinhala version of this Jtaka. According to it, kaa-ggaha is kualagrahaaya: grasping the good, and kaliggaha is akuala-grahaaya 13: grasping what is not the good. The third passage is 228 which has all three gambling terms we are discussing, kali, kaa and kitava. kalim eva nna gahmi/ asippo dhuttako yath/ kaa alto gahti / kitav sikkhito yath // In this canonical Jtaka verse, the idiom is undoubtedly that of gambling and it can only mean: Like an inexpert addict, I only suffer defeat; but Alta grasps victory, as does a well-trained gambler. The commentary understands the first part of the verse correctly: yath akkhadhutto parjayabhva gahti 14: as one addicted to dice accepts defeat. But on the more important second part with the word kitav, it offers no comment 15. However, in the Sinhala version of the Jtaka commentary, we find quite a surprising development. It says: Alta obtains victory, as does a well-trained hunter of birds (hikmu v lihii-vddeku men)16. Here the term kitava is torn from its original association with gambling and is transposed into the vocabulary of hunting: the kitava now becomes a hunter of birds. And yet, this is not a meaning found in the canonical Pali verse. Is this development in interpretation found only in this Sinhala version of the Jtaka and other similar sources of later provenance? No, it is also clearly attested in a much earlier source, namely in one of the Pali commentaries reputed to be from the pen of the celebrated Buddhaghosa. It occurs in a comment on the following lines of the Sayutta Nikya:

aathsantam attna / aath yo pavedaye/ nikacca kitavasseva / bhutta theyyena tassa ta. (S.i. 24)

This surely means: He who professes himself to be other than what he really is -- his living is earned by theft, as a gambler's is by trickery. But this is what Buddhaghosa says in the commentary: kitava means a hunter of birds. He, though he is not part of the shrub, covers himself with leaves and branches etc., and takes on the appearance of the shrub and, killing... birds that come near him, provides sustenance to his family. Like that kitava's consumption of birds' flesh by means of this deception (is the imposter's earning of his living by deceiving the public). kitavo vuccati skuiko. so hi agumbo va samno skh-padipaicchdanena gumba-vaa dassetv... upagate sakue mretv drabharaa karoti. iti tassa kitavassa imya vacanya eva vacetv sakua-masa-bhojana viya.... 17 In these instances, the Theravada exegetical tradition, whether it is expressed in Pali or Sinhala 18, betrays a loss of understanding of the original meaning of kitava, which is surprising because it is the meaning that fits so naturally in the context of the canonical verses that has somehow slipped out of the collective memory of the traditional exegetists. These examples show us that in the commentaries the words kitava, kali, and kaa are remembered primarily in their generalized senses, i.e., deceiver, defeat and victory. Unlike in the canonical usage, in the commentaries they are not specifically associated with gambling. And, in the semantic development of kitava it was the association with "deception" that proved to be decisive and durable. Within that framework, we see a new shift of meaning in the Sayutta commentary from "(deceiving) gambler" to "(deceiving) hunter". But this development was not the end to the commentators' problems with the word kitava. The occurrence of the two declensional types seems to have continued to baffle them. The form kitavo and other examples of that type seem to have been intelligible, but not kitav as a nominative ( 228; Dh. 252). This must have been why the Jtaka

Commentary left off the word without a comment. (The Sinhala Jtaka did not see any difference between the two forms, but that was a long time later when perceptiveness in this regard was even further blurred). Let us now turn to the Dhammapada commentator. His comment on Dh. 252 is not simply a case of keeping step with the development discussed above. By choice or otherwise, he makes more than one startling shift of meaning in his comment, for which one is hard put to find a cogent rationale. This is his comment on the simile kali va kitav saho:
Here saho means a hunter of birds, kitav means the concealment (of oneself) with pieces of branches etc. and kali means one's own person (body) in that it causes offence to the birds. Just as a hunter of birds... conceals his person by means of a kitav (a leafy camouflage), so does one conceal one's own fault.

ettha sakuesu aparajjhanabhvena attabhvo kali nma; skhbhagdika paicchdana kitav nma; skuiko saho nma.. yath sakualuddako...kitavya attabhva paicchdeti, eva attano vajja chdeti. 19 Here we have the following: kali: one's body kitav: camouflage of leaves etc. saho: a hunter of birds. Let us try to figure out how the Dhammapada commentarial tradition came to this extraordinary configuration of meanings. At the time when an effort to compose a commentary on Dh. 252 was undertaken, what the tradition had before it was a simile that had become unintelligible primarily because the original meaning of kitava was no longer known among the users of these texts. They were familiar with the new meaning given to the word (as kitava- of the -a declensional pattern). In keeping with that meaning, it was thought that the simile was drawn from the sphere of hunting. But there was difficulty in connecting kitav (which is how the word appeared in the verse) with the nominative word saho, because kitav was not the familiar nominative singular form (which was kitavo). At this point, the commentarial tradition seems to have come up with the idea

that kitav is a further development of kitava, perhaps a feminine form meaning "fowler's camouflage" (i.e., from "deceiving hunter" to "hunter's deception"). The form as it stood in the verse was probably accounted for as an obsolete or anomalous instrumental of which the "regular" equivalent was kitavya, the strange form, we find in the comment quoted above. But saho too had to be accounted for. It was to do this that the tradition evidently took what on the face of it looks like a wild leap and assumed that saho here was the word referring to fowler (for the connection with fowling had at any cost to be maintained). The thought behind this might have been that though saho literally meant "cheat", it in effect meant "fowler" here. No regard seems to have been given to the fact that in a context where both saho and kitav occurred, the word for fowler (given the semantic development discussed above) should have been the latter and not the former. The Dhammapada commentary usually pays scant attention to such nicetiesa fact which has caused innumerable headaches to modem students of this work. (Cf. its explanation of bhamassu by means of bhamatu in verse 371, much to the annoyance of a great scholar of recent times 20). As for kali, the commentarial tradition could with some degree of plausibility take it as standing for the body, the latter being often portrayed in religious texts as the ground of wrong action. (Cf. also the akusala association of kali in the Sinhala Jtaka referred to above). It was perhaps in this way that the Dhammapada Commentary came up with the rendering "as a fowler hides his body with a camouflage of leaves" for the simile which at the time of its origin meant "as a cunning gambler hides a bad die". It would be uncharitable to lay all this confusion at the door of the writer of the extant Pali commentary of the Dhammapada. In all probability he was simply reproducing what he found in the old Sinhala Commentary, which itself probably enshrined an interpretation hammered out over a long period of time by a tradition that had lost touch with the original meaning of the key word of this simile. The worst

that may be said against our commentator is that he is being uncritical and unscholarly, not that he is inventing all the obvious errors of this extraordinary comment. To conclude, it must be said that this handling of the comment on Dh. 252 can be a pointer when we consider the question of the authorship of this Pali commentary. In a previous contribution21 the present writer adduced some evidence, on the basis of the comment on Dh. 1 and 2, to show that the author of the Dhammapada Commentary could neither be Buddhaghosa nor Dhammapala, the author of the commentary on the Nettippakaraa. The evidence of the extremely inept and unscholarly way in which our commentator handles the words of verse 252 makes the ascription of its authorship to Buddhaghosa less tenable than ever before.

BIBLIOGRAPHY (Reference to these works in the notes is by the abbreviations in italics). (1) Bernhard, Franz. Udnavarga, Band I. Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1965. (2) Carter, J. R. & Palihawadana, M. The Dhammapada, A New English Translation with the Pali Text and the First English Translation of the Commentary's Explanation of the Verses With Notes Translated from Sinhala Sources and Critical Textual Comments. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. (3) Dh. =The Pali Text of the Dhammapada (in No. 2 above). (4) Dh. A.: The Commentary on the Dhammapada, vol. iii. ed. H. C. Norman. London: Pali Text Society, 1970. (5) GD: The Gandhari Dharmapada. ed. John Brough. London: Oxford University Press, 1962. (6) Geldner. Der Rig-Veda II. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1951. (7) J. The Jataka, Together with its Commentary, ed. V. Fausbll. Vol. v & vi. London: Pali Text Society, 1963/1964. (8) J. A.: The Jataka Commentary (in No. 7 above). (9) Macdonell, A. A. A Vedic Reader for Students. Oxford Univ. Press, 1917. (10) Max Mller, F. The Dhammapada. Translated from Pali. (Sacred Books of the East, vol. X, part I). Oxford, 1881. (11) Mayrhofer, Manfred. Kurzgefasstes etymologisches Wrterbuch des Altindischen, Band I. Heidelberg. 1956. (12) Meghadta: The Meghadta of Klidsa. ed. M. R. Kale. Bombay, 1926.

(13) Palihawadana, Mahinda (l). Dhammapada and Commentary: Some Textual Problems and Brough's Comments on them. Article in Vidyodaya Journal of Arts, Science & Letters. Vol. 12 (1984), pp. 260-271. (14) Palihawadana, Mahinda (2). Dhammapada 1 & 2 and their Commentaries. Art. in Buddhist Studies in Honour of Hammalava Saddhatissa. Nugegoda, Sri Lanka, 1984. (pp. 189-202.) (15) P.D. == Patna Dharmapada. Text appearing in Gustav Roth's paper (No. 18 below), pp. 98-135. (16) Pemananda, PPJ.: Pansiya Panas Jtaka Pot-vahans. ed. Vatuvatte Pemananda Sthavira. Colombo: Ratnakara Press, 1959. (17) Piyatissa, S. A.: Sratthappaksin (Commentary on Sayutta Nikya). ed. W. Piyatissa Mahthera. Simon Hewavitarana Bequest, vol. XVI. Colombo, 1924. (18) Roth, Gustav. Particular Features of the Language of the rya Mahsghika Lokottaravdins and their Importance for Early Buddhist Tradition. Art. in Die Sprache der ltesten buddhistischen berlieferung (The Language of the Earliest Buddhist Tradition), ed. Heinz Bechert, Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1980. pp. 78-135. (19) S. = Sayutta Nikya, Pali Text Society Edition, vol. i. (20) UV=Udnavarga Text, Bernhard's edition. See No. 1 above. NOTES
1 2

Translation: Cf. Carter & Palihawadana, p. 55. (See also p. 479). Max Mller, p. 63. 3 Macdonell, p. 187. 4 Mayrhofer, p. 208, s.v. kitava. (g Veda X. 34 has kitava (vocative) in stz. 13 and kitavasya in stz. 7). 5 A derived meaning of kta already well attested in the gveda was "booty", i.e., the prize one gets from victory or conquest. Cf. RV 8.19.10 sa rai sanit ktam: "der gewinnt den ersten Preis mit seinen Tapferen" ( Geldner, II. p. 320).
6 7 8 9

Cf. Meghadta, II. 51 da svapne kitava ramayan km api tva mayeti. P.D. 166, Roth, p. 112. Bernhard, p. 333. The v.l. reads kali v kitava aha. U V xxvii. 1.

10 U V xxvii. 1 itself is a case in point, supayam of line i compares with supai of G D 272 as against sudassa of Dh. 252 and sudaam of P D 166; kitava (old reading) compares with kitava of Dh. 252 and kidava of G D 272 as against ktav of P D 166 with which however the variant reading ktv (ktav?) agrees.

J. v. p. 117 (J. A. text). J. vi. p. 209 (J. A. text). 13 Pemananda, PPJ. p. 2297. (Cf. similar use of kali in natthi dosa-samo kali, Dh.202). 14 J. vi. p. 229 (J. A. text)..




It is significant that here too it is the same form as in Dh 252, i.e., kitav with long

at the end, that has been left unexplained in the commentary.


Pemananda, PPJ, p. 2216


Note that the commentary is not baffled by kitavassa, a form of the -a type declension whose nom. sg. is kitavo. Piyatissa S. A., p. 51. The old Sinhala works on Dh., Saddharma Ratnvaliya (c. 13th cent.) and


Dhammapada Pura Sannaya (c. 14th c.) and all modern Sinhala translations take kitav to mean a hunter of birds.
19 20 21

Dh. A. iii p. 375. Carter & Palihawadana, p. 503 f.; Palihawadana (l), pp. 260- 265. Palihawadana (2), pp. 189-202.