The well-known interrogation of Śvetaketu on life after death occurs in three parallel versions in ChU 5, 3, BĀU 6, 2 and KauṣU 1, 1. One of the differences between the latter version and the former two is that it does not consist of five questions. According to Söhnen (1981, 201) Citra asks one question. I would rather assume a twofold, disjunctive question, followed by a concluding one. The agreement between the three versions is that all the questions are yes-no questions. In the KauṣU Śvetaketu does not know the answer; in the two parallels the questions start with “Do you know?” and Śvetaketu answers “No.”
The disjunctive question in the KauṣU runs (after the introductory vocative, which does not belong to the sentence):
… asti saṁvṛtaṁ loke yasmin mā dhāsyasy anyatamo vādhvā …
Actually the question continues with some words and it is uncertain where the disjunctive question ends.
One of the difficulties of this passage is the exact meaning of saṁvṛtam, which is interpreted by some scholars as “hidden place” and by others as “conclusion (of transmigration).” See Söhnen (1981, 181, n. 12). The translation “hidden place” does not make sense. It is doubtful whether the term may have the meaning “conclusion.” Moreover, the addition between brackets “of transmigration” is a pure guess and refers to a concept which was still rather unknown. The ellipsis of such a genitive is quite improbable.
Frenz (1969, 105) renders with “Einfriedung” and assumes a metaphor in which the deceased are kept within an enclosure in heaven like cattle within a “Pferch.” In the disjunctive question adhvan then should denote a way out (“… oder [gibt] es einen anderen Weg aus ihr heraus?”). Since Citra’s questions obviously do not refer to the temporary transfer of the sacrificer to heaven during the sacrifice (as appears from the context), this interpretation was rightly rejected by Söhnen (1981, 181, n. 12), who makes the question refer to the obstruction of the path to heaven and its overcoming. See also Olivelle (1996, 202 and his note on p. 365).
The alternative of the being closed of heaven should indeed be expressed by anyatamo vādhvā, which is translated by Olivelle (1996, 202) with “or does it have another road?” His rendering of anyatama does not convince, since anyatama is not the same as anya and a preceding adhvan (which might justify the translation “another”) is not mentioned. Söhnen (1981, 181), who freely reformulates the question as “ob es einen anderen Weg zu jener Himmelswelt gebe” on p. 201, translates “Oder [gibt es] irgendeinen anderen Weg dahin.” Here “irgendeinen” is correct, but “anderen” is not. With the suffix -tama the adjective anya means “one or other” or “one out of more.”
So the opposition is between heaven being closed and having one or other entranceway or one access road among more roads which are blocked.
Söhnen (1981, 181, n. 11) observes that the initial position of the predicate asti here is the only formal indication of a question. However, in yes-no questions such a change of wordorder mostly does not suffice. See Strunk (1983, 42) who observes that a Pluti is required and that the initial position of the verbform only supports the marking of a question. Especially in disjunctive questions the Pluti would be compulsory.1 Strunk (1983, 86) mentions the present passage as an extraordinary example of a disjunctive question without a Pluti. It is true that such disjunctive questions mostly consist of two asyndetically connected yes-no questions and that the usual Vedic word for the sometimes occurring connecting particle is āho, but I believe that indeed the present questions are disjunctive. Since the Pluti is not unknown to the KauṣU, one may assume that some Plutis have disappeared in the transmission of the text of the present passage. In such a case a long vowel like ā is the best candidate for an emendation. Here the double question might end with adhvā3 instead of adhvā.
Some translators take the following genitive tasya with the disjunctive question. See Söhnen (1981, 182, n. 15) who mentions four translators who form an exception and take tasya with the next clause. Her formulation “lassen den Nebensatz mit tasya beginnen,” however, is rather unfelicitous, since e.g. Hume (19312, 302), one of the mentioned translators, definitely does not turn the clause introduced by tasya into a dependent one and translates: “Or is there any road? Will you put me in its world?”
Hume’s translation (of this part of the question) is correct. A question ending with tasya and followed by a relative clause based on an emendation of the text (as assumed by Söhnen and others) is hardly acceptable. One does not expect a genitive tasya which follows a noun. Moreover, a main sentence ending with tasya, and a disjunctive question at that, is odd. Therefore I prefer the following edition, punctuation and translation:
gautamasya putrāsti saṁvṛtaṁ loke yasmin mā dhāsyas⟨ī3⟩2 anyatamo vādhvā⟨3⟩. tasya mā loke dhāsyasī⟨3 i⟩ti
O son of Gautama, is there a fence at the world in which you are planning to place me? Or is there one or other entranceway [or: one road out of more which gives access]? Will you place me in its world, i.e. in the world to which this leads?
Since the last question does not belong to the disjunctive question which was introduced with asti in initial position and perhaps originally was qualified as a question by the Pluti at the end of adhvā and of dhāsyasi, this question does not have any formal question marker at all. Therefore a lost Pluti between dhāsyasi and iti may be assumed instead of the transmitted reading dhāsyasīti.3
Against Hertel (19222, 156) reading ⟨mā⟩ māloke dhāsyasi and translating “Daß du mich nicht etwa in eine Nichtwelt [d.h. ins Nichts] führst” the following objections may be adduced. The word aloka has no Vedic parallels. The construction of the prohibitive (or preventative) mā with the future indicative is not Vedic. It is found in Buddhist and epic texts. See Renou (1961b, 525 f.). Translations like Frenz (1969, 105) “Dass du mich ja nicht in eine falsche Welt bringst!” and Olivelle (1996, 202) “I fear that you will place me in a false world,” which follow Hertel, look like main clauses on account of the punctuation. Actually, however, the formulation of these translations points to dependent clauses rather than to really prohibitive main clauses. However, mā does not introduce a dependent clause4 in the Veda. See Delbrück (1888, 546) “In der Uebersetzung geben wir mā́ oft durch ‘damit nicht’ wieder, jedoch ist zu bemerken, dass das Verbum nach mā́ nie betont ist, also die Inder die mā́-Sätze stets als Hauptsätze auffassen (Die Negation des abhängigen Satzes ist néd.)” The use of mā with a dependent clause is found in post-Vedic texts, especially in connection with a future indicative. See Renou (1961b, 525 f.) on mā with the future meaning ‘lest’: “l’ emploi, non véd. … devient productif en bouddh., au moins devant futur … il s’ explique par un passage secondaire de la fonction parataxique à la fonction subordonnée.”
It is true that once mā with the future indicative is found in a Vedic text, and a text related with our Upaniṣad at that, namely in ŚāṅkhĀ 11, 6 māham akāmo mariṣyā́mi. Renou (1961b, 462) calls its use “prohibitif.” Actually it expresses the wish that something will not take place; it is directly followed by a precative. Here mā does not introduce a dependent clause.
I doubt whether this Vedic place offers enough support for accepting Hertel’s interpretation, which also requires the insertion of one more mā in the text. A main clause “May you not place me in a non-world” hardly looks reliable, since a non-world in the sense of destruction or hell (if that would be the meaning of this ghost word) is not reached by a sacrificer due to some lack of knowledge of his invited priest.5