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 veda: Commentaries or Bhāṣhyās on the ‘Vedās’

There is a long history of the interpretation of the Veda, whose understanding is mandatory, for us to appreciate how Sri Aurobindo brought out a great light, out of his own tapasyā and masterly interpretation of the Vedic verses.

The earliest explanations of the mantra Samhitās are in the Brāhmanās. Some of those written on palm-leaves and birch-barks, date back to 800 BCE. Since then, over several centuries many commentaries have been written. The following table lists some of the important ones in a chronological order. We will go through their contents and impact, especially in the light of spiritual and psychological interpretations given by Sri Aurobindo followed by Sri Kapāli Sāstry.

1 Brāhmana books: 3000-800 BCE -Covers all Four Vedas
2 Yāska Āchārya: 800 BCE or earlier- On 100 Rig Veda Sūkthās
3 Shaunaka: 900 BCE: Author of Brhad Devata
4 Jaimini: 3rd Century BCE - Author of Mīmāmsa Sūtrās
5 Ādi Shankarāchārya: 788 – 821- CE- Founder -Non-dualistic school of Vedānta
6 Ramānujāchārya: Not clear – 1137 CE- Founder- philosophy of Qualified Monism
7 Madhvāchārya: 1238 – 1317 CE - Founder of dualistic school of Vedānta
8 Sāyana Āchārya: 1315 - 1387 CE-On all Samhitās and several Brāhmanās
9 Rāghavendra Thīrtha: 1595 - 1671 - Expanded the works of Madhvāchārya
10 Wilson: 1786 – 1860 CE: Translations based on Sāyana’s works
11 Max Muller: 1823 – 1900 CE - Translations based on Sāyana’s works
12 R.T.H.Griffith: 1826 – 1906 CE - Translations based on Sāyana’s works
13 Swāmi Dayānanda: 1824 – 1883 CE Founder of the ‘Ārya Samāj’
14 Sri Aurobindo: 1872 – 1950 CE - Spiritual & Psychological Interpretations
15 T.V. Kapāli Sāstry: 1886 – 1953 CE - Spiritual & Psychological Interpretations

Brāhmana books - (3000 – 800 BCE)

In the spiritual practice of interpreting the meaning of the Vedās, the first tools are the Brāhmana holy texts. The language of the Brāhmanās is a separate stage of Vedic Sanskrit during the ‘Iron Age’ (900 – 600 BCE). Some Vedic mantrās in those texts have been quoted and discussed from the point of view of sacrificial fires (yajna). The authors of the Brāhmana texts believed that all the ancient commentaries were written only for the sake of sacrificial fires and that the meaning associated with the rituals in the sacrificial fires must be that implied by the sage who visualized the Sūkta and compiled it. Even though the Brāhmana books, give in general, a ritualistic explanation of mantrās, in places they clearly mention the spiritual interpretation. For instance Aitareya Brāhmana declares that ‘yūpa’, the sacrificial altar (i.e., the altar on which the animals are sacrificed) is really the ‘yajamāna’ or the performer himself. Most unfortunately, this aspect was not given any importance by later commentators such as Sāyana.
The Aitareya and Kausītaki Brāhmana, compiled by followers of the Rig Veda, include discussions of daily sacrifices, the sacrificial fire, new- and full-moon rites, and the rites for installation of kings. The Panchavimsa, Shadvimsa, and Jaiminiya Brahmana discuss ‘soma’ ceremonies, and atonements for mistakes made in the rituals. The Shatapatha Brahmana introduces elements of domestic ritual, and the Gopatha Brahmana treats the priests' supervision of sacrifices.
Sri Aurobindo on Brāhmanās:
“The Brāhmanās and the Upanishads are the record of a powerful revival which took the sacred text and ritual as a starting- point for a new statement of spiritual thought and experience. This movement had two complementary aspects, one, the conservation of the forms, another, the revelation of the soul of Veda, - the first represented by the Brāhmanās, the second by the Upanishads.
The Brāhmanās labour to fix and preserve the minutiae of the Vedic ceremony, the conditions of their material effectuality, the symbolic sense and purpose of their different parts, movements, implements, the significance of texts important in the ritual, the drift of obscure allusions, the memory of ancient myths and traditions. Many of their legends are evidently posterior to the hymns, invented to explain passages which were no longer understood; others may have been part of the apparatus of original myth and parable employed by the ancient symbolists or memories of the actual historical circumstances surrounding the composition of the hymns. Oral tradition is always a light that obscures; a new symbolism working upon an old that is half lost, is likely to overgrow rather than reveal it; therefore the Brāhmanās, though full of interesting hints, help us very little in our research; nor are they a safe guide to the meaning of separate texts when they attempt an exact and verbal interpretation.”

Yāska Ācharya - (800 BCE or earlier)
The next tool for the interpretation of the Vedās is the ‘Nighantu’ text and Yāskā’s ‘Nirukta’.
Yāska is the oldest and pioneer commentator of the Vedās. A celebrated ‘Sanskrit scholar and Grammarian’, he is believed to have flourished, as early as eighth century BCE. He has authored a well known ancient work on ‘etymology’ (origin & history of words) of ‘Sanskrit’ words, known as ‘Nirukta’. Being one of the six ‘Vedānga’ disciplines of Hinduism, this is a compendium of Sanskrit dictionary and ‘Thesaurus’ taking into consideration the usage of letters and words with their meaning in Vedās and also the then existing different dialects of Sanskrit which differed from region to region.

The word Nirukta can be divided into two parts, ‘nir’ and ‘ukta’. Nir means that which is total and ukta means that which is said or explained. In the Nirukta, words have been described comprehensively. It is not a mere explanation of the meaning of words but also elucidates the origin of the word associated with that particular meaning. In other words every word is minutely analysed. They emphatically proclaim that though such a grammatically ruled word is not proven from a root of similar meaning one should not bother about it. Ignoring the rules of grammar one should firmly adopt the meaning suggested by the Name. Wholeheartedly obeying this directive, Yāska and the authors of the Nirukta before him, created new words. Vedic words should be interpreted according to the context and the same origin of the word should be given when it is used with the same meaning. However, when it is used with a variety of meanings, different origins may certainly be given.

Yāska compiled the ‘Nirukta’ text as a commentary on the ‘Nighantu’, which already existed. According to him, the ‘Nighantu’ was a collection of rare or difficult words gathered by earlier sages for easier understanding of Vedic texts. The ‘Nighantu’ is now traditionally combined with the ‘Nirukta’ as a unified text and forms the basis for lexicons and dictionaries.

Yāska, vigorously answers the critics of Veda like Kautsa, who declared that Veda had no meaning. He then emphasized that Veda has at least three levels of meaning namely:
1. The physical or naturalistic (ādibhautic) interpretation in which the various cosmic powers like Agni, Indra are regarded as the physical powers of nature such as fire, rain etc.
2. The interpretation (ādidaivic) of Veda as rituals or prayers for the popular deities like Agni, Indra etc. Here yajn͂a is viewed as external rites to please the deities who will give them favours.
3. The spiritual, psychological interpretation (adhyātmic) in which everything both within man and cosmos is viewed as one aspect of the Supreme One.
Sri Aurobindo on Yāska Āchārya:
“In Yāskā’s lexicon, our most important help, we have to distinguish between two elements of very disparate value. When Yāska gives as a lexicographer the various meanings of Vedic words, his authority is great and the help he gives is of the first importance. It does not appear that he possessed all the ancient significances, for many had been obliterated by time and change and in the absence of a scientific Philology could not be restored. But much also had been preserved by tradition. Wherever Yāska preserves this tradition and does not use a grammarian’s ingenuity, the meanings he assigns to words, although not always applicable to the text to which he refers them, can yet be confirmed as possible senses by a sound Philology. But Yaska the etymologist does not rank with Yāska the lexicographer. Scientific grammar was first developed by Indian learning, but the beginnings of sound philology we owe to modern research. Nothing can be more fanciful and lawless than the methods of mere ingenuity used by the old etymologists down even to nineteenth century, whether in Europe or India. And when Yāska follows these methods, we are obliged to part company with him entirely. Nor in his interpretation of particular texts is he more convincing than the later erudition of Sāyana”.
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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