Guiding Light of The Month

O LORD, Thou art my refuge and my blessing, my strength, my health, my hope, and my courage. Thou art supreme Peace, unalloyed Joy, perfect Serenity. My whole being prostrates before Thee in a gratitude beyond measure and a ceaseless worship; and that worship goes up from my heart and my mind towards Thee like the pure smoke of incense of the perfumes of India. - The Mother

‘The Secret of the Veda’ – A First Attempt

Associated with each of the ‘Samhitā’ books described in our May 2010 Newsletter, there are 3 types of books called ‘Brāhmana’, ‘Āranyaka’ and ‘Upanishad’. Thus there are 16 types of Vedic books in a 4 x 4 matrix – The columns are Rig, Yajur, Sāma and Atharva and the rows are Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishad. An example of relatively well known books under each head is shown below:

‘Brāhmana’ Books
At the end of the age of the Samhitās the deep knowledge in these books was almost lost; however the texts themselves were carefully preserved by special methods of recitation known as ashta vikrti which are in use even today. The loss of Vedic knowledge is mentioned repeatedly in the later books of Purānās. The ‘Brāhmana’ books are the result of the attempts to recover the lost knowledge. The recovery had two stages. First, one was to record the names or details of the hymns of the Veda Samhitā recited at various steps in the outward ritual ‘yajna’ and also the various steps of the ‘yajna’.

The second stage deals with the contemplations and the philosophical issues, emphasizing the subtle nature of the ‘yajna’ and this led to the books of ‘Āranyakās’ and ‘Upanishads’.

‘Āranyaka’ Books:

Āranya means forest. These were the books used by persons who retired from the active life of householder ‘grhasta’ and stayed in the forests to carry on their spiritual pursuits. These books do mention ‘yajna’ but emphasize their symbolism, especially the inner ‘Yajna’ occurring in the subtle body of the human aspirant. These books naturally provide a bridge between the books of ‘Brāhmana’ and the ‘Upanishad’.

Typically, these books constitute the penultimate chapters of the Brāhmaṇa books. Sometimes they are separate. Example: Rig Veda has a separate Āranyaka called ‘Aitareya Āranyaka’ which is associated with ‘Aitareya Brāhmana’. Shukla Yajur Veda has no separate Āranyaka text. The last chapter of the Brāhmana book is the ‘Shatapatha Brāhmana’ and again its last chapter(s) constitutes the famous ‘Brhadārnyaka Upanishad’. Again, ‘Chhandogya Brāhmana’ of Sāma Veda has no Āranyaka. It has the massive ‘Chhandogya Upanishad’.

‘Upanishad’ Books: Also called ‘Vedānta’ these books are clearly much later to the Samhitā books. In the course of time the outer rituals became very strong. Thus the crust of ritualism almost enveloped the deep spiritual knowledge of the mantrās. The rishis of a much later age (1000 or more years) attempted to recover the spiritual knowledge independently by means of ‘tapas’. The philosophical truths and occult knowledge recovered by them are contained in the Upanishad books. The special feature is that the intellectuals easily understood these books compared to Veda Samhitās.

A list of 108 Upanishads compiled is shown in ‘Muktika Upanishad’. However only 13 are famous, that are associated with a ‘Brāhmana’ or ‘Āranyaka’ book. They are: Īsha, Kena, Katha, Prashna, Mundaka, Māndūkya, Aitarēya, Taittirīya, Chhāndogya, Brhadārnyaka, Kaushitāki, Shvetāshvatara, Mahānārāyana. These became famous because the great commentator on Upanishads, Bādarāyana quoted these in his classic ‘Sūtra’ book called ‘Brahma Sūtrās.

It is to be noted that the three Upanishads Mundaka, Māndūkya and Prashna which play a crucial role in the vedāntic interpretations are all associated with the Atharva Veda, showing the sacredness of this fourth Veda also.

(The peace invocation from the Brhadārnyaka Upanishad. Source:
The two massive Upanishads, Chhāndogya and Brhadārnyaka constitute 80 % of the text of all the 13 Upanishads. Also the text of all the 13 Upanishads put together is one half or less that of the Rig Veda Samhitā alone. Again, this clearly shows why the Rig Veda is so important.

Auxiliary or subsidiary texts of the Vedās: Apart from the books referred to above, there are many others known as Vedāngās, Veda-Upāngās, Upa-Vedās, Smrtīs, Itihāsās, Purānās etc., These will be given some attention in our next issue.

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

to be continued……
Krishnamurthy (

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