Sri Aurobindo and The Veda

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I spoke till now as if the Veda is important for India, and for the recovery of India, but, actually speaking, the Veda may be looked upon as the only document of the ancient time available to the whole humanity, that is to say, if you trace the world history, and if you try to find out what was the earliest composition of the earliest stage of humanity, nothing is available to us today, ─ except the Veda. This is the only... we can call document, the only composition which is available to humanity. There were of course many other traditions in the ancient times, and there was certainly a great tradition of knowledge, there were traditions which you find in ancient Chaldea, in ancient Persia, in Egypt, in Greece, but all these traditions have been lost. There is hardly anything available, in the form of any text. There are ideas, there are mythologies, but as far as the texts are concerned, even the Greek mythology which is available is a later statement of the earlier Eleusinian tradition, and the secret knowledge which is lost.

So if you want to know what was the earliest thought of mankind, and if you want the proof of that earliest document of mankind, we have to turn only to the Veda because it is the only document available for the whole humanity. If you want to reconstruct human history, and the thought of human history, all the nations have to turn to the Veda to seek the description of the earliest thoughts of mankind for which you have proof. And what a proof! Because we must remember that this Vedic text was right from the beginning so much revered in India, obviously because it was considered to be a book of knowledge at that time, whatever you might say in modern times about it. It was known to the Vedic seer that they contain supreme secret knowledge, and therefore a tradition had developed in India that this knowledge should never be allowed to be lost. And a system was evolved in India so that one section of people of India had the obligation to memorise either all the four Vedas or at least one Veda, at least one Veda. This has been the tradition. And memorising not in a haphazard manner, but a very special system was evolved of memorising, of singing, of chanting the mantras of the hymns where every syllable was measured, and its place was fixed absolutely. Fortunately, even today, in spite of great losses of many kinds, there are at least two thousand chanters, singers, who can recite the Veda exactly as it was recited five thousand years ago. I have myself, in one of the capacities of my governmental work, made a survey in India, and, in Andhra Pradesh particularly, we have a large number of singers of the Veda, also in different parts of India, and I have tried to record on tape–recording some of the chanting of these Vedic recitations, so that we can one day hear them even here before us. The specialty of this method of singing is that it is sung in seven different ways, and all the seven ways should coincide so there is no mistake occurring anywhere. All the seven different methods, and the last method, which is called the ghanapatha, the method in which you first pronounce the first syllable, then you pronounce the second syllable, then you go back to the first syllable, and pronounce again the second, and then pronounce the third, then you go back again to the second, and then pronounce the first, and then again you go back to the second, and third, and fourth, and go back to the third, and second, and first, until you come to the end of a verse, which takes nearly from ten to fifteen minutes, even to recite one mantra like, ─ Agni mile purohitam yagnasya devamritvijam hotaram ratnadhatamam. This is a very simple first verse of the Rig Veda. This recitation in this ganapatha takes at least fifteen minutes, because of this method. And it is chanted, it is not only recited like prose, it is chanted. In fact even the chanting is so wonderful that when you hear the chanting, you know, these repetitions are so beautiful and so marvelous that you would like to go on hearing, hearing, hearing again and again, marvelous! And then the whole of Rig Veda, ten thousand verses, if you have to recite in this way you can imagine what a tremendous feat it would be, and how to memorise! And these memorisers remember both ways, and every word, as you move forward and backward and they have complete memory of it. It is a part of the training, right from the childhood at the age of four or five they start memorising. This is a part of their work. The tradition is so revered that even till today we have at least two thousand people in India who can recite exactly in the way in which they were reciting five thousand years ago. This is the reason why we have today an accurate text, of which there can be no question at all. If anybody doubts that this is not the text, you can just call a singer and ask him to recite in the ganapatha and every syllable is caught, even today, so that it is not left to the printer’s mistakes. The printing came much later. In fact throughout the history of India, it has been an oral tradition. That is why, as Sri Aurobindo says, today we have almost an accurate text of the Veda, and not only of the Veda, this is true also of the Brahmanas, and Aranyakas and the Upanishads and many others scriptures, the same method. It is tremendous. What a prodigious memory these Brahmins developed! In any case, there is no dispute about the fact that these Vedic texts are accurate, whether we understand them or not, but on this question there is no doubt that these are the most ancient texts available to mankind. So if human history has to be written correctly, if the thought of human mind has to be written historically, there is no recourse for mankind except to go back to the Veda. So the importance of the Veda is not only for India but for the whole world. It is the world’s earliest text available and therefore what the earliest man thought, what he conceived. If you want to find out, we have got to go back to the Veda. Even though they may not be the most ancient, because as Sri Aurobindo says, it is very clear that the Vedas were preceded by a very great civilisation, a very powerful stage of civilisation. And it was only when that age was declining that it was felt that the fragments of the knowledge of these Vedic seers were put together by a Rishi called Vyasa. In any case this is the tradition, that there was a great Rishi called Vyasa, who knew the Vedas in their fullness and he made an anthology, so these four Vedas are not the full text of all that was in that civilisation available as the Veda. But this is only an anthology, only selections; it is a miscellany you may say. What we call Veda is therefore an imperfect statement of what was at that time developed in that ancient time. So what must have been the civilisation at that time can only be imagined when we first understand the light that Sri Aurobindo had shed upon these texts, and secondly when we understand the poetic brilliance – you know, one of the marks whether the poetry is barbaric or naive or primitive or very developed can be seen by the metrical perfection, ─ metrical perfection, and, as Sri Aurobindo remarks, if you read the Veda simply, the rhythms of the Veda, as Sri Aurobindo says, the rhythms of the Veda are like the chariots of the Gods and they have a perfect symmetrical form, perfect, and this is Sri Aurobindo’s remark, one who is one of the greatest poets. It is his tribute to the Vedic rhythms, perfect symmetrical forms that we find in the Veda. So even if you do not understand the meaning of the Veda, even if they are barbaric, at least the poetical form is not barbaric, that is certain. Barbarians could not have produced that kind of symmetrical perfection of the rhythms throughout the Veda. It is lyrical in its sublimity; both the elements of lyricism, and epic character, both are present. In all the verses of the Veda, as you recite the Vedic verses, – actually one should enjoy reciting the Vedic verses, and then you can see if you know the Sanskrit language, and even if you do not know, but if you simply listen to it, the rhythms, the symmetrical forms, the sounds, the ringings of these Vedic verses are so perfect. As Sri Aurobindo says: That you fly on the wings, as you sing these Vedic verses you feel as if you are flying with your wings. This is the kind of power that the Vedic verses possess.

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