Guiding Light of The Month

THERE is a great difference between being in the midst of active work, of external action, while keeping one’s thought constantly fixed on Thee, and entering into that perfect union with Thee which leads to what I have called “absolute Consciousness, true Omniscience, Knowledge”. - The Mother

The secret of the vedas - a first attempt: History and the Preservation of the vedas

Researchers are still struggling to fix up the exact period of the Vedās. Many Hindus believe that the Vedās were transmitted orally for up to 8000 years. Most Western and a few Indian commentators see this as an exaggeration and date the earliest part of the Veda, the Rig-Veda Samhita, to around 1800–800 BCE. However, it is acknowledged by most that the Vedās did indeed have a long oral tradition and were passed from teacher to disciple for at least many centuries before first being written down. Accordingly, some have estimated that the earliest part of the Vedās may date to 2500–2000 BCE.

For several centuries, the Vedās had to be committed to memory and were passed on orally from generation to generation. Without the use of writing, a fool-proof method was used to chant each mantra in various patterns and combinations such as Pada, Krama, Jata and Ghana Pāṭhas to prevent any errors creeping into the Vedās. The modes of chanting prescribes the basics, like how much time one has to take for reciting a syllable / word, how to regulate breathing while reciting so that required vibrations are produced in the specific parts of the body which will yield pure word-sound.

Codification / Classiification of the Vedās:

Originally the Veda was a single (oral) book of mantrās (‘ekō vedāh). It is a belief that the potency of the Vedās started decaying with the departure of Lord Sri Krishna from this world. This is also considered as a Divine Plan for the Kali Yuga for which only a part of the glory and effulgence of the Vedās is to be left over from total extinction. This Divine arrangement was accomplished through Sage Veda Vyāsa. This sage was then not known under this name. His name was Dwaipāyana as he was born in an island (Dweepa- in Sanskrit). He was considered as a manifestation of Bhagawān Sri Krishna himself for fulfilling a specific purpose in this world and hence he was known as Krishna Dwaipāyana.

The word ’Vyāsa’ in Sanskrit means an essay, composition or splitter. It also means dealing with a matter, subject wise and classifying it suitably. As Krishna Dwaipāyana did all these tasks for the proper study and understanding of the Vedās he became famous as Sage Veda Vyāsa. He collected all the Mantrās in existence during his period, edited, codified and organized them into four groups which he taught to his four chief disciples, whose names are given below:

The Rig veda was taught to Paila
The Yajur veda* was taught to Vaishampāyana
The Sāma veda was taught to Jaimini
The Atharva veda was taught to Sumantu

*Note: Yajur Veda has two major recensions – ‘Shukla Yajur Veda’ and ‘Krishna Yajur Veda’
Krishna or the ‘Taittirīya’ is the older book and the Shukla or the ‘Vājasanēya’ is a later revelation to sage ‘Yājnavalkya’ from the resplendent Sun-God.

These collections are called Samhitās. They bring out the purport of a Veda in the shape of ‘mantrās’ methodically arranged. Samhitā means that which is collected and arranged. There are three types of mantrās in all the four Veda Samhitās. They are rik or rk, yajus and sāman. Some of them are metrical and others not.

• rk mantra is a verse of illumination which is in one of the various meters such as Gāyatri, Anustup, Trishtup. The metre is determined by the number of syllables ending with a vowel. A mantra in Gāyatri metre should have 24 such syllables.
• yajus mantra is a short rhythmic phrase such as ‘namah shivāya. It is appropriate to characterize the Yajus mantrās as prose. A popular misconception is that Yajur Veda has only yajus mantras. In fact, a third of the total number of mantras in any of its recension are in rks.
• A sāman is a metrical mantra sung in a prescribed manner, which is elaborate. Usually the text of a sāman mantra is the same as that of a rk mantra.

It is to be noted that Rig Veda Samhitā is a collection of only ṛk mantrās; Sāma Veda Samhitā is made of only sāman mantrās. However, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda Samhitās contain both the rk and yajus mantrās.

There is also a substantial overlap among the four Veda Samhitās. In fact, Rig Veda provides its text to others in the proportions such as 95% to Sāma Veda Samhitā, 50% to Shukla Yajur Veda Samhitā and 30% to Atharva Veda Samhitā. The total number of mantrās in all the four Samhitās (Rig, Shukla-Yajur, Sāma and Atharva) is roughly 20,000.
Rig Veda Samhitā: It is a book of about 10,552 mantrās, each in a specific metre, arranged in 10 mandalās (chapters). Each mandala has several Sūkthās or hymns. On an average, each Sūktha has about 10 mantrās. All these were revealed to over 1000 sages or seers. Some of them were women seers too like Vāk Ambrni, Lopamudrā, Sūrya, Apāla etc.

Yajur Veda Samhitā: In its two recensions (Shukla and Krishna) both metrical and non-metrical poems are present. Shukla Yajur Veda has about 1600 mantrās; It is made of 40 chapters, the last one being the famous ‘Īshāvasya Upanishad’. Krishna Yajur Veda’s ‘Taittirīya Samhitā’ has 4773 mantrās of which 3248 are Yajus mantrās in rhythmic prose and 1525 mantrās are ‘rks’ (metrical).

Sāma Veda Samhitā: It is a book of about 2000 metrical verses, all but 75 of them are in Rig Veda Samhitā. These verses are chanted in an elaborate way labelled ‘udgīta’. The text used for chanting is an expanded version of the basic text found in Sāma and Rig Veda Samhitās. The chanting notation of its text involves 7 symbols, unlike the 3 in Rig Veda Samhitā, thus providing the foundation for Indian music with its basic 7 notes.

Atharva Veda Samhitā: It has verses both metrical and non-metrical. The metrical verses are 6000 of which 1200 are in Rig Veda Samhitā. It has a total of 731 sūkthās, 80 of which are non-metrical. It has several interesting hymns dealing with different branches of knowledge. It has the first definition of mathematical infinity stating that ‘Infinity is that which is left after subtracting infinity out of it’. Has hymns like ‘Bhumi Sūktha' to cover ecology and others to deal with society at large.

It will now be very clear to realize how important and antique the Rig Veda is and why Sri Aurobindo had selected the same for the study of its deeper understanding and contemplation.

1. ‘ The Light of Veda – A Practical Approach ’ – by Sri T.V.Kapāli Sastry
2. ‘ A New Light on the Veda ’ – by Sri T.V.Kapāli Sastry
(Originally written in Sanskrit under the name ‘Siddhānjana – Bhūmika’, translated into English by Sri M.P.Pandit and thoroughly revised by the author himself, in 1952. Published by Sri Aurobindo Kapali Sastry Institute of Vedic Culture, Bangalore. (SAKSI) )
3. ‘ Agni in the Rig Veda ’ - by Dr R.L.Kashyap
4. ‘ Why read the Rig Veda ’ – by Dr R.L.Kashyap

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