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religion, over centuries, has adopted a sacred text which the followers have
taken as the ‘Revealed Text’ as having emanated from the Lord Supreme although
such a text might have come as commandments from the founder or prophet of that
religion. While followers of other religion have been able to identify a single
text as their revealed text, Hindus (the term, in the absence of a better term,
used for followers of Sanaatana Dharma)
are by and large confused as to the answer for such a single text as their
religious scripture or text. There is confusion as to whether Ramayana or Mahabharata or other vedantic texts are to be so referred. This
confusion for Hindus is due to the absence of a basic religious education
pursued. There is no confusion as to the fact that our religion is not just
ritual, but means Dharma. Dharma is
which, when followed, will make us happy and contended. To know what is meant
by the term Dharma we should refer to
specific texts. These texts are referred to as ‘Dharmapramaanaas’ or that which give true knowledge of Dharma. The
fourteen major texts that are known as the ‘Vidyaasthaanaas’
speak about true Dharma as they enshrine Knowledge and Wisdom.
Angaani Vedasschatwaaro meemaamsa nyaaya vistarah
Puraanam Dharmasaastramcha Vidyahyetaah chaturdasa.
Puraana Nyaaya Meemaamsaa Dharma Saastraanga misritaah
Vedaahsthaanaanee Vidyaanaam Dharmasya cha chaturdasa
This means : four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Saama and Atharva); the six auxiliaries to Vedas (Shad Vedaangaas, viz., ‘Siksha’ or euphony and pronunciation; ‘Vyaakarnaa’ or grammar; ‘Chandas’ or meter; ‘Niruktha’ or etymology; ‘Jyotisha’ or astronomy; ‘Kalpa’ or procedure), (and four supplements, Upaangaas, viz.,) ‘Meemaamsa’ or interpretation of Vedic texts; ‘Nyaaya’ or logic; ‘Puraana’ or mythology and ‘Dharma Saastraas’ which contain the codes of conduct make up the fourteen seats of Wisdom and Knowledge. The Sanskrit word Vidya, Vidwaan etc. originate from the root ‘Vid’. The term Veda has the same root. You may appreciate that the English words Wit and Wisdom have all come from the same root! Simplistically put, Veda means ‘Book of Knowledge’. These texts not only give Wisdom but also the ultimate Knowledge and hence are known as ‘Dharmasthaanaas’. There are four more texts of wisdom which are just Vidyaasthaanas and not Dharmasthaanas; Ayurvedam (about health & medicine), Arthasaastram (economics/statecraft), Dhanurvedam (on archery) and Gaandharvavedam (on fine arts). These four are called ‘Upavedas’ that help protect the human physique and provide the basis for non-spiritual pleasure. These are necessary for our practical living as opposed to the fourteen Dharmasthaanaas that help our spiritual evolution to ultimate self-realization. Thus, these eighteen basic texts form the core of our texts.
Mantra means that by repeatedly meditating upon which one is saved - Mananaath thraayathe’ ithi ‘mantraha’. If one is to realize the correct import of, succeed with and get the fullest benefit from the Mantras, there is a prescribed method for chanting them. The below mentioned (six) methods of recitation are pronounced to be incorrect and should be avoided.
Geetee Seeghree Sirah kampee thathaa likhita paathakah
Anarthajnah alpakantascha Shadaitay pathakaadhamaah
Seegree is one who chants in a quick tempo and ends the recitation quickly. The intonation should be adhered to the time limits prescribed for uttering each word-sound. Sirahkampee is one who shakes and nods his head needlessly while chanting.
Likhitapaathakah is one reads from the written script. Vedas are otherwise known as ‘Sruti’ and should be learnt by ear from the oral chanting by a competent teacher and committed to memory in the proper manner.
Anarthajnah means one who does not understand the meaning.
Alpakantha is one who recites in a feeble voice. In order that the sound vibrations have beneficial effect, the sounds should be properly audible and not mumbled.
The Vedic Tree and its Saakhaas
We saw earlier that ‘Endless are the Vedas’, but what is available to us today are just 10 recensions or Vedic Saakhaas (branches). Although we refer to Vedas as four in number, there are different versions and differing methods of recitation of these four. These are called paathaantharam or way of recitation and each such school of recitation or recension is called ‘Saakha’. Each of these is a branch of the Vedic tree. In each Saakha, there are three portions called Samhita, Braahmana and Aaranyaka. This again is a classification. When we speak of Veda adyayana, it is generally a reference to the recitation of the Samhita portion as Samhitaas are the foundation of a Saakha. Samhita means that which has been collected and arranged. It brings out the purport of a Veda and Samhitaas are mantras systematically arranged. We will see about Braahmana and Aaranyaka after we briefly glance through the contents of the four Vedas.
The whole of the Rig Veda Samhita is in the form verses (slokaas - stanzas) and it may be noted that Slokaa was earlier known as ‘Rik’ or a ‘hymn’ in praise. Each Rik is a mantra and many Riks constitute a ‘Sookta’. The Samhita portion of Rig Veda contains 10,170 Riks grouped into 1028 Sooktaas and encompassed within 10 mandalas and 8 ashtakaas and these sooktaaas are in praise of all Devataas. The marriage rites that are being followed today have originally been created on the pattern of the marriage of Sooryaa’s daughter, which is detailed in Rig Veda. The cognoscente extol many portions in Rig Veda as masterpieces of poetic composition. The action that Yajur Veda predicates and the musical recitation that Saama Veda dictates emerge from the basic Riks in Rig Veda. Rig Veda itself contains references to Yajus and Saama Vedas in many places. Purusha Sooktaa, which appears in tenth mandala, nineteenth hymn of Rig Veda, refers to the other Vedas as well. This should, therefore, be able to clarify the confusion of the modern researchers who are keen in assigning to Rig Veda a date earlier than Yajur Veda, Saama Veda etc. As per our Saastraas, all the Vedas co-existed with the Paramapurusha (Supreme Lord) at the beginning of all Creation. Aitareya Upanishad that deals with the turmoil of a Jeeva (soul) and which teaches the method to cut away from the cycle of Births and Deaths and emphasizes that ‘the Thought (Prajnaana) itself is the Brahman’ appears at the end of the Aitareya Aaranyaka of Rig Veda.
The words Yajus and Yaj are derived from the root ‘yaj’, which means worship. Just as the word ‘Rig’ itself means a Hymn in praise, the word ‘Yajus’ connotes spelling out the ritualistic procedure of the Yagna (sacrificial worship). Yajur Veda gives the mantras in Rig Veda appearing in the form of hymns a practical shape in the form of Yajna. In addition to referring to many mantras in hymn form from Rig Veda, Yajur Veda describes in prose the procedural details for the performance of different Yagnas. Although Yajur Veda has several branches (Saakhaas), as in the other Vedas, it has two main branches with numerous recensions in each branch. Those are called Sukla Yajur Veda and Krishna Yajur Veda. As Rishi Yaajnavalkya is believed to have learnt this Samhita from Sun God (Vaajasani), this came to be known as Vaajasaneyi Samhita. The earlier version of the Yajur Veda taught by Rishi Vaisampaayana came to be called as Krishna Yajur Veda. The glory of Yajur Veda lies in its clear presentations of Vedic Karma or Rituals. The Taittareeya Samhita in Krishna Yajur Veda makes Asvamedha Yajnaas such as Darsa Poornamasa, Somayaaga, Vaajapeya, and Raajasooya, known to the world in all its grandeur of procedural details. Yajur Veda also contains rare hymns of praise which are not contained in Rig Veda, such as the Sri Rudram. Although five Sooktaas called ‘Pancha Rudram’, find a place in Rig Veda, Sri Rudram of today refers only to that which is contained in Yajur Veda. Over a period, a clear majority have come to follow the Yajur Veda. While Sukla Yajur is the one recension mostly followed in Northern India, Krishna Yajur is prevalent school in South India. Again, the Purusha Sookta of today generally refers to the version that appears in Yajur Veda although it originally belonged to Rig Veda. The three-fold benefits of Yajna, performance of a Yajna without desiring any results or reward as stated in Bhagavad Gita, and attaining total Bliss (Aananda) are not taken up for discussion now due to space constraints. While Easaavaasya Upanishad comes from the Samhita portion of Sukla Yajur Veda, Brahadaaranyaka Upanishad, the biggest of all Upanishads appears a whole Aaranyaka of Sukla Yajus. Taittareeya Upanishad which is the most widely studied of the ten Upanishads and which contains mantras for most of the rituals (Karmaanushtaana) appears in the Aaaranyaka portion of Krishna Yajur Veda.
‘Saama’ means to bring peace to the minds or ‘Shaanti’. Many of the Riks or mantras of Rig-Veda are set to music in melodious hymns in Saama Veda with lengthened notes. Saama Gaana can be said to be the basis and source of the Sapta Swara (seven notes) concept fundamental to Indian Music systems. Saama Gaana or singing of the hymns as per rules of Saama Veda propitiates all Devataas. In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna Bhagavaan says ‘Amongst Vedas, I am Saama Veda’. What appears in the Chaandogya Braahmana of Saama Veda is Chaandogya Upanishad. ‘Chaandoga’ means one who sings the Saama Gaana. Chaandogya Upanishad mantras constitute the supreme authority (pramaana) for the Brahma Sutra of Veda Vyaasa. Kenopanishad also called as Talavakaara Upanishad as it appears in Talavakaara Brahmana of the Jaimini Saakha of Saama Veda.
Atharva means a purohit (priest). This Rishi, called Atharvan brought the mantras in the Atharva Veda to the world. The distinct types of mantras contained in this Veda are designed to ward off evil and destroy the enemies. These mantras are in prose as well as in verses. Some of the mantras found in this Veda pertain to Devatas not mentioned in the other Vedas. The hymn, which extols the wonder of Creation called the ‘Prithvi Sooktam’, appears in Atharva Veda. Among the ten major Upanishads, ‘Prasna, Mundaka and Maandukya’ are from this Veda. The importance of this Veda can be judged from the well-known saying, for a Mumukshu (or seeker after Truth), Maandukya Upanishad alone can ensure Moksha (Liberation).
Upa-ni-shada means ‘to sit by the side’. What was taught by making the disciple sit by the side of the teacher is the Upanishads. It is also taken to mean ‘that which helps you reach the side of or near “Brahmam”. The Upanishads permit dual interpretation as above just as ‘Upanayana’ is interpreted both as ‘leading to the Guru’ and ‘leading to the Paramaatma’. Upanishad is not for those who are not mentally conditioned to absorb the teachings. Upanishads themselves say, when propounding subtle Truths, “This is Upanishad. This is Upanishad.”. That which is latent in the Vedas is called Rahasya or secret. The Upanishads are such confidential personalized instructions to those fit to receive them.
Eaasa Kena Kathaa Prasna Munda Maandukya Taithari
Aitareyam cha Chaandogyam Brahadhaaranyakam Dasa
The unusual characteristics of the Vedas are: 1) they are without a beginning (Anaadi), (2) they have no human authorship (apourusheya), and (3) they are at the root of all creation. The greatness of Vedas is something more than these. The sound while chanting them activates our nerve centers and affects the atmosphere, resulting in individual as well as collective well being of the world. Collective well being extends beyond humanity and encompasses the well being of animals and plants as well. Latest research in the field of music has found that mere delineation of ragas or musical notes help cure diseases and help promote growth of vegetation and high yields of fruits and vegetables. The outstanding feature of the Vedas, therefore, lies in the fact that the sound of the mantras by itself when chanted, has a meaning, apart from the words which are also full of meaning. Vedas contain injunctions for ensuring the well being in this world and the world to come. It guides the actions of a person from the moment of birth to the moment of death and thereafter ensure salvation. It does not stop at individual salvation. How should the society behave, what are the duties of the common man, how should a country be governed, what should be the conduct of men and women - all these aspects have been presented in a codified form in the Vedas. This is the prime reason why we should refer to our religion as a ‘code of conduct’ - lacking in dogma - ‘Sanaatana Dharma’ and not as ‘Hinduism’ coined by the invaders and which reference, unfortunately, has come to stay.