A Note on the Vedic Literature
The antiquity of the Veda has been a subject of discussion and dispute. According to the ancient Indian tradition it is impossible to determine the period of the composition of the Veda. It is, however, universally acknowledged by historians that the Veda is the earliest available collection of the most ancient body of knowledge. According to one of the Indian historians, Shri Avinash Chandra Das, Vedas could have been composed any time between 250th and 750th century B.C. According to Lokamanya Tilak, the estimated period would be any time between 45th and 50th century B.C. This coincides with the view of Professor Haug, Professor Ludwig and Professor Jacobi. Professor Whitney places this period any time between 15th and 20th century B.C., while Professor Weber places it any time between 12th and 15th century B.C. Professor Max Muller believes that the Veda was composed during the 13th century B.C.
According to Brihadāranyakopanishad, all the four Vedas, Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda, are the breath of the Supreme Lord.
अस्य महतो भूतस्य निःश्चसितम् एतद् यद् ऋग्वेदो
यजुर्वेदः सामवेदोऽ थर्वागिरसः।
According to Manu Smriti, the entire Veda is luminous with knowledge (सर्वज्ञानमयो हि सः) It is believed that in its original condition Veda was one, but it was Rishi Vyāsa who divided it into four parts. For this reason, Rishi Vyāsa is known as Vedavyāsa. The four Vedas have been divided in many ways under the categories of mandala, ashtaka, varga, sukta, anuvāk, khānda, prashna, chhanda, etc. Every word of the poetic and prose composition of the Veda has been counted and fixed. The entire collection of the mantras is called "Samhitā". According to one view, the word Veda is applicable to both the collection of the mantras (inevitable expressions of poetic inspiration and revelation) and Brāhmanas. Brāhmanas are supposed to be detailed analysis and commentary on the collection of the mantras. Brāhmanas again are divided into three parts, (i) Brāhmanas, (ii) Āranyakas and (iii) Upanishads. In
the Brāhmanas, there is a detailed statement and explanation of various kinds of sacrifices and their ceremonies and rituals. Āranyakas are much more esoteric and Upanishads expound the knowledge contained in the Vedas. Upanishads are also called vedānta. At a later period, Rishi Bādarāyana Vyāsa composed Brahmasūtra or Sariraksutra in order to present the Upanishads in an organised form. At a still later period, Bhagvad Gita was composed as a part of the great Mahābhārata and it is considered to be the quint-essence of the Upanishads. The Upanishad, Brahmasutra and Bhagavad Gitā are collectively Prasthānatrayi.
The Vedic literature mainly consists of mantra samhitā, Brāhmanas, Āranyakas and Upanishads. In understanding the mantra samhita, the study of Brāhmanas, Āranyakas and Upanishads is considered to be essential, and the study of Brahmasutra and Bhagvad Gita is also considered to be necessary. Vedic literature also includes six additional works which are supposed to be aids in understanding the Veda. They are: (i) Shikshā, (ii) Kalpa, (iii) Vyākarana, (iv) Nirukta, (v) Chhanda and (vi) Jyotisha. Each one of them is called Vedānga.
Connected with the rituals and ceremonies of Vedic sacrifices (Vedic Karmakānda), is the Vedānga known as Kalpa. Kalpa Vedanga is in the form of sūtra, and it is thus aphoristic in character. The totality of the Kalpa Vedānga and its literature is threefold, consisting of Shrauta Sutra, Grihya Sutra and Dharma Sutra. For each Veda there are separate systems of Shrauta Sūtra, Grihya Sūtra and Dharma Sūtra. Some of the famous Shrauta Sūtras are Shānkhāyana, Āshvalayān, Ārsheya, Āpastamba, Baudhāyana, and Kātyayana. Among the Grihya Sūtras are included Shānkhyāna, Hiranyakeshi, Āpastamba, Baudhāyana, Kāthaka, Pārāskāra, Kaushika, etc. Among the Dharma Sūtras are included Gautama Dharma Sūtra, Apastamba Dharma Sūtra, Hiranykeshi Dharma Sūtra, Baudhāyana Dharma Sūtra, Vasishtha Dharma Sūtra.
In addition to these three categories of Kalpa Sūtras, there is a fourth category known as Shulba Sūtra which is regarded to be the origin of the ancient science of geometry. Three most famous Shulba Sutras ate those of Āpastamba, Baudhāyana and Kātyāyana. As in the case of Kalpa Vedānga , each of the Vedangas has further subsidiary literature. All this and much more may be regarded to constitute the vast Vedic literature. Itihāsa, Purānas and Vedic systems of philosophy also are included as parts of the Vedic literature.
But as mentioned above, the core of the Vedic literature consists, mainly of Mantra Samhitā, Brāhmanas, Āranyakas and Upanishads.
Among the Vedas, Rigveda occupies a prominent place. Rigveda consists of 10 Books or Mandalas and 1017 hymns or Sūktas. Total number of Verses in Rigveda is 10,580. Even the words and letters of the Rigveda have been counted. The number of words in the Rigveda is 1,53,826 and the number of letters is 4,32,000. Some of the great names of the poets who have received the mantras include Vasishtha Vishwāmitra, Vāmadeva, Bhāradwāja, Atri, Madhuchhandas. Six of the Mandalas or books are given each to the hymns of a single Rishi or family of Rishis. Thus the second Mandala is devoted chiefly to the sūktas of the Rishi Gritsamada, the third and the seventh similarly to the great names of Vishwāmitra and Vasishtha, respectively, the fourth to Vāmadeva, the sixth to Bhāradwāja. The fifth is occupied by the hymns of the house of Atri. In each of these Mandalas the sūtra addressed to Agni are first collected together, followed by those of which Indra is the deity; the invocations of other Gods, Brihaspati, Sūrya, the Ribhus, Ushā, etc., close the Mandalas. The whole book, the ninth, is given to a single God, Soma. The first, eighth and tenth Mandalas are collections of Sūtra by various Rishis, but. the hymns of each seer are ordinarily placed together in the order of their deities, Agni leading, Indra following, the other Gods succeeding.
We can also see a certain principle of thought development in the arrangement of the Vedic hymns. The opening Mandala seems to have been so designed that the general thought of the Veda in its various elements should correctly unroll itself under the cover of the established symbols by the voices of a certain number of Rishis who almost all rank high as thinkers and sacred singers and are, some of them, among the most famous names of Vedic tradition. It is also significant that the tenth or closing Mandala gives us, with an even greater miscellaneity of authors, the last development of the thought of the Veda, and some of the most modern in language of its sūtra. It is here that we find the Sacrifice of Purusha and the great Hymn of the Creation. It is here also that modern scholars think that they discover the first origins of the Vedāntic philosophy, the Brahmavāda.
Sacrifice was the principal institution and symbol of the Vedic tradition and knowledge. Sacrifice or yajna symbolises inner submission, consecration and surrender to higher powers, gods and the Supreme. Outwardly, this submission was translated into an elaborate ritual of collecting sacrificial materials, lighting them in order to kindle the sacrificial fire and offering to that fire articles of various kinds, including clarified butter, grains, and other materials. This entire procedure was accompanied by recitation of appropriate mantras or hymns, sung in the prescribed methodical manner, often marked by appropriate hand movements and other gestures or mudras. The esoteric teaching of the Veda included the idea that human life is a journey, looked upon as a journey of sacrifice to be performed with minute care and attention to discipline and self-control by means of which obstacles in the journey can be overcome and many-sided achievements at various levels of existence can be attained. A close connection was conceived between the word, the idea and the reality, and it was supposed that words opened up the gates of ideas and ideas opened up the gates of the realisation of reality. It was against this background that the ritual of yajna was perfected in great detail, and apart from the worship, great attention was paid to the performance of sacrifice. The priest who performed the entire procedure of the sacrifice was called Adhvaryu, and the mantras which were used by the Adhvaryu in the performance of yajna constituted Yajurveda. Yajurveda is therefore also called Adhvaryuveda. Yajurveda is principally a composition in prose.
According to Matsyapurāna, Yajurveda was the only Veda in the beginning. The same view is repeated in Vayupurāna and Vishnupurāna. It was Vedavyāsa who arranged four Samhitās according to the requirements of the processes of symbolic sacrifice, and he. transmitted Rigveda to Paila, Yajurveda to Vaishampāyana, Sāmaveda to Jaimini, and Atharvaveda to Sumantu. In due course, they transmitted them to their pupils, and thereafter there developed the tradition of transmission by oral tradition from teacher to pupil, and in this fashion, there came about a development of various recensions or Shākhās of various Vedas. In Bhāgavata and in several Purānas there is a detailed description of various Shākhās of the Vedas; and we have also a similar description in Shāntiparva (Chapter 342) of Mahābhārata; we have also an organised information on the the Shākhās of the Vedas
in Charanavyūha. There are three notable books of Charanavyūha attributed, respectively, to Shaunaka, Kātyāyana and Vyāsa.
The total number of Shākhās are believed to be 1131, but at present only 10 Shākhās remain alive. As far as Rigveda is concerned, only one Shākhās, Shākala Shākhās alone remains alive out of the 21 which existed at one time. There is a claim that Sankhyāyana Shākhās is still known to a few Vedapāthis in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, but this is not certain. As far as Yajurveda is concerned, Patanjali had declared in his great Vyākarana Mahābhāshya that it had 101 Shākhās. But today only 5 Shākhās are alive. In fact, Yajurveda is classified broadly into Shukia Yajurveda and Krishna Yajurveda. Shukia Yajurveda is also known as Vājasaneyi. Vājasaneyi Samhitā has 30 Adhyāyas or Chapters, 303 Anuvaks,1975 Kandikās, 29625 words, and 88875 letters. There are two extant Shākhās of Shukla or Vājasaneyi Yajurveda, namely, Kānwa and Mādhyandina. Krishna Yajurveda has 5 extant Shākhās, namely, Āpastamba (Taittiriya), Hiranyakeshi (Kapishthala)', Katha', Kāthaka, and Kālāpa or Maitrāyanī. Maitrāyanī Samhita has 4 Kāndas which are sub-divided into Prapāthakas. In this Samhitā, there are 3144 mantras, of which 1701 are Riks from Rigveda. In this Samhita we have mantras and rituals of the important sacrifices like those of Chāturmāsya, Vājapeya, Ashwamedha, Rājasūya, Sautrāmani, etc. Taittiriya Samhitā has 7 Kāndas, 44 Prapāthakas and 631 Anuvaks. In this Samhitā we have the description of sacrifices like Rājasūya, Yajamāna, Paurodāsha, etc.
Apart from Adhvaryu, there is also Udgātā in a sacrifice, who sings certain specific mantras. The collection of mantras meant for Udgātā has been called Sāmaveda. Both in Charanavyūha and in Patanjali Mahābhāshya it is indicated that Sāmaveda had 1000 Shākhās. Sāmaveda is musical in character, and it contains only those Riks which can appropriately be sung. There are 1549 Riks in Sāmaveda, and only 75 of them are independent of Rigveda. At present, Sāmaveda has only 3 existing Shākhās, namely Kauthuma, Rānāyaniya, and Jaiminiya.
The Riks are transformed into songs of Sāma by appropriate addition of words or stobhas, such as hā, u, ho, i, o, ho, oh, ou, hā, etc.
* Incomplete versions only are available
Apart from 'hotā' connected with Rigveda, 'Adhvaryu' connected with Yajurveda, 'Udgātā' connected with Sāmaveda, there is a fourth priest called Brahmā who is supposed to be a specialist of all the four Vedas, including Atharvaveda. Rigveda, Yajurveda and Sāmaveda are collectively called Vedatrayi, and Atharvaveda is not included in the Vedatrayi, although it has significant place in the Karmakānda of the Vedas. Atharvaveda is also known as Atharvāngirasa Atharvaveda has two kinds of mantras, those relating to the cure of diseases and destruction of wild animals, pishāchas and enemies, and those relating to establishment of peace in family and village as also those relating to health, wealth, protection, and friendship with enemies. The origin of Āyurveda is to be found in Atharvaveda.
The Samhitā of Atharvaveda has 20 Kāndas which have 34 prapāthakas, 111 Anuvaks, 739 Sūktas and 5849 mantras. About 1200 mantras are common with those of Rigveda. 1/6 part of the Atharvaveda is in the prose style while the rest is poetic.
Patanjali has indicated that Atharvaveda has 9 Shākhās but today we have only 2 Shākhās, namely, Paippalāda and Shaunaka.
Apart from four Vedas and their numerous Shākhās, there is a vast literature of Brahmanas. The appendices of Brāhmanas which are partly in prose and partly in poetic form are called Āranyakas. Āranyakas are so called because there was a tradition to study them in forests. Some Upanishads are also included in Āranyakas; hence it is almost impossible to make a definite boundary-line between Āranyakas and Upanishads. Brāhmanas contain detailed analysis of various categories of sacrifices, their rituals and procedures. Brāhmanas include collections of history, legends, anecdotes and narration of stories connected with individuals. A synonym of the word "Brāhmanas" is "Pravachana". Pravachana means exposition; hence Brāhmanas are looked upon as expositions of various aspects of the Vedas. The Brāhmanas literature seems to have been very vast, but a number of Brāhmanas have been lost.
Each of the recensions of the Vedas had a separate Brāhmana. Brāhmanas were instructed simultaneously with the different recensions of the Vedas. The Aitareya Brāhmana belongs to the Shākala Shākhā of Rigveda, while Kaushitaki (Shānkhāyana) Brāhmana is connected with Bashkala Shākhā of Rigveda. Shatapatha Brāhmana is connected with Shukia Yajurveda, while Taittiriya Brāhmana and Kathaka Brāhmana are connected with Krishna
Yajurveda. Sāmaveda has several Brahmanas including Jaiminiya, Ārsheya, Mantra, Sāmavidhāna, Devatādhāya Vansha, Panchavinsha Shadavinsha. Gopatha Brāhmana belongs to Atharvaveda.
Among the lost Brahmanas, the important ones are Paimgāyani Brāhmana, Āshvalāyana Brāhmana, Gālav Brāhmana, Charak Brāhmana, Shwetāshvatara Brāhmana, Kāthava Brāhmana, Maitrayāni Brāhmana, Jhābālak Brāhmana, Khāndikeya Brāhmana, Rauraki Brāhmana, Shatyāyana Brāhmana, Talavakara Brāhmana, Āruneya Brāhmana, Parashara Brāhmana, and Kāpeya Brāhmana.
According to many ancient scholars hymns of the four Vedas and their explanations in the Brāhmanas both together constitute the Veda. The Brāhmanas have been throughout respected as the Veda itself. The rituals have been performed considering the Brāhmanas as equal to the Vedas. In the 19th century, however, Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati expressed the view that the Brāhmanas are not the Veda itself. According to him, while Vedas were revealed, Brāhmanas were not, although they were expressed by the seers. He advanced a number of reasons to establish his view-point, and they deserve an impartial study. In any case, it has to be stated that the language of the Brāhmana is not similar to that of the Vedic hymns. Some believe that Brāhmanas contain explanation of the Veda and they are couched in the language of Pravachana. They are therefore Vedic, but not the Veda itself. There is, however, no dispute about the fact that Brāhmanas are looked upon as elucidation or interpretations of Veda, and this itself implies the superiority of Veda as far as the question of authenticity is concerned.
There is no doubt that Brāhmanas were much more close in time to the Vedas than any other Vedic literature; at the same time, it is well known that Brāhmanas concentrated on Karmakānda rather than on Jnānakānda. As far as the Jnānakānda is concerned, we have a vast literature of Āranyakas and Upanishads. Āranyakas and Upanishads are collectively called Vedānta, since they constitute the last part of the fundamental core of the Vedic literature.
The main subject dealt with the Āranyakas is the esoteric meaning of sacrifices, their rituals as also the inner meaning of the conduct related to the system of varnāshrama. Aitareya and Kaushitaki Āranyakas are related to Rigveda, Taittiriya and Sānkhayāyana Āranyakas are related to Krishna Yajurveda, while
Brihadāranyaka is related to Shukia Yajurveda. Talavakara Āranyaka belongs to Jaiminiya Shākhā of Samaveda; and in fact this Āranyaka is Jaiminiya-
Brāhmanopanishadbrāhmana, and this Brāhmana contains Āranyaka and Upanishad as well.
The most important Āranyaka is the Aitareya Āranyaka of Rigveda. This Āranyaka consists of 18 Chapters and each Chapter is divided into a number of khandas. As mentioned earlier, Āranyakas deal with the inner meanings of various sacrifices, observances and rituals.
The spiritual meaning of the Veda is largely to be found in Upanishads. The word Upanishad really means the secret teaching that enters into the ultimate truth. This secret is normally transmitted and received when the disciple sits close to the teacher, and when the consciousness of the teacher and pupil vibrates in harmony, so that even in silence the secret truth can be transmitted and received. Among the Upanishads the following 10 are considered to be most important: Isha, Kena, Katha, Prashna, Mundaka, Māndukya, Taittiriya, Chhāndogya Aitareya, and Brihadāranyaka. Shankarācharya has also referred to 5 other Upanishads in his Commentaries, and these 5 also have been given prominence as far as the spiritual knowledge of the ultimate reality is concerned. They are: Shwetāshvatara, Mahānārāyana, Maitrāyāni, Kaushitakī, and Nrisimhatāpinī.
In the Muktopanishad, it is mentioned that the total number of Upanishad is 108, and they are derived from the 4 Vedas as follows: (i) Rigveda: 10 Upanishads, (2) Shukia Yajurveda: 19 Upanishads, (3) Krishna Yajurveda: 32 Upanishads, (4) Samaveda: 16 Upanishads and (5) Atharvaveda: 31 Upanishads. Muktopanishad also lays down that the process of the realisation of the Brahman, the ultimate reality, begins with Brahmajijnāsa, aspiration to know the Brahman, and it continues through the hearing of the Upanishads, reflection on the Upanishads and dwelling on the Upanishads.
Isha, Kena, Katha Mundaka, Shwetāshvatara and Mahānārāyāna are poetic compositions and they have great literary merits. Atharvaveda has many Upanishads, and among these Upanishads there are some which are even non-Vedic, in the sense that they have connection with Purānas and Tantra. If the entire Upanishadic literature is taken into account, there are at least 250 Upanishads.
The important Upanishads and their connections with the Vedas may briefly be stated in the following table:
Aitareya, Māndukya and Kaushitaki are related to Rigveda;
Taittiriya, Katha, and Shwetāshvatara are connected with Krishna Yajurveda;
Brihadāranyaka and Isha are related to Shukia Yajurveda;
Kena and Chhāndogya are related to Sāmaveda; and
Prashna and Manduka are related to Atharvaveda.
In spite of the fact that the Upanishads are not as remote as the Veda in respect of language and symbolism, they are extremely difficult to understand. Upanishads should be looked upon as vehicles of illumination and not of instruction; they were composed for seekers who had already a general familiarity with the ideas of the Vedic and Vedantic seers and even some personal experience of the truths on which they were founded. This is why they dispense in their style with expressed transitions of thought and the development of implied or subordinate notions. Very often one single word or sentence reposes on a number of ideas implicit in the text but nowhere set forth explicitly. The reasoning that supports conclusions is often suggested by words but not expressly conveyed to the intelligence. The reader, or rather the hearer, was supposed to proceed from light to light, confirming his intuition and verifying by his experience, not submitting the ideas to the judgements of the logical reason. As a result, Upanishads demand a good deal of patience, quietude and concentration, if we are to understand them properly. Even then it is difficult to penetrate into the inner meaning of the Upanishads.
There have been numerous commentators, and during the middle ages, there have been sharp differences of opinion even as to the fundamental principles of the philosophy of the Upanishads. This has given rise to at least 5 major schools of the Upanishadic interpretation. These are: Advaitavāda or Monism of Shankarācharya, Vishishtādvaita or Qualified Monism of Rāmānujāchārya, Vishuddhādvaitavada or Pure Monism of Vallabhāchārya, Dvaitādvaitavāda or Dualism-non-Dualism of Nimbārkāchārya, and Dvaitavāda or Dualism of Madhawachārya. The commentaries of these great Ācharyas are commentaries on Brahmasutra which was composed by Bādarāyana (Vyasa Rishi) in which the secret o
the Upanishads was expounded aphoristically. The commentaries of the Acharyas have been further commented upon by their disciples and there have been commentaries on commentaries. Bhagavad Gita is also considered to be an organised exposition of the essence of the Upanishadic teaching; but Bhagavad Gita also has been interpreted differently by different Acharyas, and there have been a number of commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita. The commentary literature on the Upanishads, Brahmasutra, and Bhagavad Gita is continuing to develop even in our own times.
Vedic literature includes in its comprehensive sense the Vedānga literature as well. Vedānga literature began to develop even before the Upanishads. Mundaka Upanishad mentions 6 Vedāngas as follows: (i) Shikshā, (ii) Kalpa, (iii) Vyākarana, (iv) Nirukta, (v) Chhanda, and (vi) Jyotisha. Each Vedānga takes up one aspect of the Veda and an attempt is made to explain it.
Shikshā is related to sound, letters, pronunciation, the method of teaching and learning of these basic elements. Every Veda has its own peculiar pronunciation of certain letters, and each one of them has its specific modes and speed of recitation. A book called Shikshā Sangraha contains a collection of 32 systems of Shikshā. These systems relate to different Shākhās of the 4 Vedas. The most important among the books relating to Shikshā is the famous Pāniniya Shikshā. Another important book is Yajnavalkiya Shikshā. In Vasishthi Shikshā we have a detailed account of the differences between the mantras of the Rigveda and Yajurveda. Both Yājnavalkiya Shikshā and Vasishthi Shikshā are related to the Vajasaneyi Samhitā. The other important works are: Katyāyani Shikshā, Pārāshari Shikshā, Mādhyandini Shiksha, Keshavi Shiksha and Manduki Shikshā. In the Nāradiya Shikshā, which is related to Sāmaveda, there is supposed to be the knowledge of the secret of different sounds.
The development of Shikshā as a Vedanga and as a science demonstrates profundity and vast scope of research that was undertaken in respect of pronunciation in ancient India. It is because of this Vedānga that the system of Vedic recitation has remained intact right from the ancient times to the present day. A given Shākhā is recited in the same way all over the country, and
Vedapāthis of the same Shākhā, belonging to different parts of India, pronounce mantras with the same intonation, speed and strength and force, and even the same gestures of hand movements. If the Vedānga system of pronunciation has remained so uniform in the country and if the tradition has remained so powerful, it is because of the degree of perfection that was achieved in respect of Shikshā.
The Vedic religion involves complex ritualistic Karmakānda (system of prescribed acts and sacrifices). A detailed understanding of this Karmakānda became necessary in due course of time, and this gave rise to a vast literature of Kalpasūtra. Kalpa means that which is understood or justified in respect of sacrifices and other prescribed acts and rituals. Karmakānda is three-fold : Shrautasūtras, which are connected with sacrifices laid down in Shruti or Veda; Grihyasūtras, which are related to various rituals connected with the life of the householder, and various Samskāras which are laid down for important occasions of life starting from birth upto death; and Dharmasūtras which are related to social, political and other benevolent duties. The entire Kalpa literature is Sūtra literature, since it is composed aphoristically. There is also a fourth category of Kalpa Sūtra, which is known as Shulbasūtra, and which is related to the science of geometry and architecture connected with the construction of sacrificial altars, fire-vessels and other related structures.
Corresponding to each'Veda there are various Shrauta Sūtras. Shānkhyāyana and Āshwalāyana pertain to Rigveda; Ārsheva (or Māshaka), Lāhyāyana and Drāhyāyana belong to Sāmaveda; Āpastamba, Hiranyakeshi, Baudhāyana, Bhārdwaja, and Vaikhānasa are related to the Taittiriya Shākhā of Krishna Yajurveda; Mānava Shrauta Sutra is related to Maitrayāni Shākhā of Krishna Yajur Veda (this Sūtra is believed to be the basis of the famous Manu Samriti); Kātyāyana Shrauta Sūtra is related to Shukia Yajurveda; Vaitāna Sūtra is related to Atharvaveda, and this Sutra is also related to Gopatha Brāhmana and Kātyāyana Shrauta Sutra of Yajurveda.
The sacrificial priest needs to have appropriate knowledge of all the Shrauta Sutras connected with the four Vedas. In some of the sacrifices, as many as 16 priests are required. There are 14 kinds of sacrificial acts, of which 7 are Havir Yajna and 7 are Soma Yajna. Of the Havir Yajna the important sacrifices are those of
Darshapoomamāsya and Chaturmāsya. In Soma Yajna the important ritual is that of Agnishtoma. Soma Yajnas are of the three kinds, those which are for one day (ekāha), those of 12 days (dwādashāha), and those of many days (anekāha). Agnichayana connected with Soma Yajna continues for one complete year.
Grihya Sūtras, which come after Shrauta Sūtras, also belong to different Vedas. Shānkhāyāyana Grihya Sūtra, Shāmbavya Grihya Sūtra, and Āshwalāyana Grihya Sūtra are related to Rigveda; Gomila and Khādira belong to Sāmaveda; Āpastamba, Hiranyakeshi, Baudhāyana, Mānava, Kāthaka, Bhāradwāja and Vaikhānasa belong to Krishna Yajurveda, while Pāraskara belongs to Shukia Yajurveda; Kaushika Grihya Sutra belongs to Atharvaveda.
The various rituals described in Shrauta Sūtra require three different kinds of Aenikundas (fire vessels) which are called Garhāpatya, Āhavaniya and Dakshina, while in the Deva Yajna prescribed by Grihya Sūtra only one Agnikunda is required.
Among the Dharma Sūtras, Gautama Dharma Sūtra is related to Sāmaveda, and Āpastamba, Hiranyakeshi, and Baudhāyana are related to Krishna Yajurveda. But Dharma Sūtras such as Gautama, Vasishtha, Mānava, Vaikhānasa and Vishnu are not related to any specific Veda Shākhā.
The word "dharma" has been used in various senses in Indian literature. According to Manu Smriti, dharma is characterised by what is contained in the Veda, in the Smriti, and in what is involved in the conduct of good and noble people as also what is good for the one's inner soul. In Sanskrit literature, the word "Dharma Shāstra" is largely connected with all the Smritis beginning with Manu and Yājnavalkya and which is in conformity with the Vedas. The Dharma literature begins with the Dharma Sūtra of Gautama, Baudhāyana and Āpastamba which appear to belong to 7th to 4th century B.C. In due course, the Dharma literature flourished extensively and as many as 100 Smritis seem to have been composed; some of them are in prose, but many are in poetic form. Among the authors of Smritis, Manu is the foremost, and there have been a large number of commentaries on Manu Smriti. Among these commentaries, the prominent ones are those of Medhātithi, Govindarāja, Kullukabhatta, Nārāyana, Rāghavānanda, Nandana and Rāmachandra.
The subject of Dharma has also been dealt with in some detail in the Bhagavad Gita, which is the greatest gospel of Karmayoga and in
which we find the greatest ancient synthesis of Karma, Jnāna and Bhakti. The Bhagavad Gita recognises an evolutionary system of Dharma, by means of which the individual and the society can be helped in their evolutionary and progressive development towards perfection. In the course of this development, there are also important concepts of svadharma and svakarma. And in the culminating chapter of the Gita, we find Lord Krishna asking Arjuna to renounce all Dharmas and to surrender to the Supreme Divine.
This vast and complex teaching of the Gita seems to be inherent in the teaching of the Veda, which is also the original synthesis of Karma, Jnāna and Bhakti. The master concept of the Veda from which the concept of Dharma developed in the later period is that of Ritam. Ritam and Satyam seem to be interchangeable/but there is a certain distinction between the two in so far as Satyam may be regarded to be the truth and Ritam to be the right. In fact, the full formula of perfection as defined in the Veda is Satyam, Ritam, and Brihat. Brihat or the vast is the fundamental perspective of the truth. Where there is limitation, there is partiality and there is imperfection or distortion of truth. It is only in the context of the vast infinitude that truth can be apprehended, comprehended and known, and it is only when truth is known that right action cart proceed. This is the significance of the trinity of satyam, ritam and brihat.
If we keep firm on this original meaning of ritam, we can appreciate the entire development of the concept of Dharma in Indian literature. Dharma is that which holds us, which gives us cohesion, and which keeps us fixed on the progressive path of development and growth. In this context, there can not be static Dharma, and there can not be one uniform Dharma for all human beings and for all levels of life. What is right for a tāmasika (dull)' being cannot be right for the, rājasika (passionate or dynamic), and what is right for the rājasika cannot be right for the sāttwika (pure and luminous). And since sāttwika is still not the highest, what is right for the sāttwika cannot be binding on the one who transcends even the golden fetters of the sattwa. The one who transcends the chain of tamas, rajas and sattwa and enters into the infinitude, the Brihat of the Veda, he becomes capable of transcending all dharmas which are appropriate to lower developments through tamas, rajas and sattwa. He is liberated from the egoistic limitations, he becomes capable of total surrender to the
Supreme, and in a state of comprehension of the truth, satyam, he becomes capable of the right action, ritam.
It is against this background of the concept of ritam and dharma that we can better appreciate the entire history of the Dharmashāstra in India, where there has been strict insistence on adherence to social law and yet complex and flexible application of it, and even a supervening tendency to preach transcendence of all good and evil and all the binding chains of dharma.
We come next to Nirukta. Nirukta is a kind of commentary on Nighantu which is a collection of difficult words of the Veda. Nighantu is supposed to have been composed by Prajāpati Kashyap. In the first two chapters, Nighantu provides a collection of those words which have one meaning, and in the fourth chapter, it gives a collection of those words which have several meanings. In the fifth chapter, the names of Vedic gods have been collected. There have been many commentaries on Nighantu, but it is the commentaries on Nighantu, but it is the commentary of Yāska, which has found its place as one of the Vedāngas, and this Vedanga is known as Nirukta. Nirukta is not confined only to meanings of words; it traces the words to their originals, and it indicates how different similar or dissimilar words arose from those origins. The principle that all names are originated from verbs is an important principle of Nirukta, and even modern linguists accept this principle. It is believed that Yāska lived some time between 10th and 8th century B.C. Prior to Yāska also, there were many methods and systems of Vedic interpretation, such as Ādhi-daivata, Ādhyātma, Ākhyāna-Samaya, Aithihāsika, Naidāna, Pārivrājaka, Yājnika, etc. By the time we come to Yāska, the original meanings of many words had become obscure, and he mentions several words where there is no certainty of their meanings.
According to a belief propounded by Kautsa, Vedas have no meaning. Yāska opposed this belief and he said:
‘‘स्थानुरय भारहरः किलाभूत। अधीत्य वेदान् न विजानाति यो ऽ थर्म्।
यो ऽ र्थज्ञ इत् भद्रमश्नुते। नाकमेति ज्ञानविधूतपाप्मा।।’’
He has thus compared him, who does not know the meaning of the Veda, to an inert bearer of Veda. According to him, one who attains to the knowledge of meaning becomes free from sin and proceeds towards heaven.
There have been several commentaries on Nirukta such as those of Durgāchārya, Skanda Maheshwara and Vararuchi.
Nirukta deals with various subjects which are very close to Grammar or Vyākarana, and therefore Nirukta is often considered to be a part of Vyākarana. However, Vyākarana is considered to be a principal part of the six Vedāngas.Vyākarana is looked upon as the mouth among the Vedāngas. According to the ancient tradition, Brahmā was the first to expound Vyākarana, and he was followed by Grammarians like Brihaspati, Indra, Maheshwara, etc. The most celebrated author of Vyākarana is Pānini, who has himself mentioned several great names of the great Grammarians. Pānini's famous book is Ashtādhyāyi, in which he has discussed both Vedic and non-Vedic words. There have been numerous Grammarians who followed Pānini between 1st century B.C. upto 14th century A.D.Some believe that Pānini belonged to 7th century B.C., while others place him in the 4th century A.D. According to Yuddhishthira Mimānsaka, Pānini belonged to 2900 years before the beginning of Vikram Era, which is supposed to be 200 years after the Mahābhārata war.
One of the greatest commentaries on Vyākarana is that of Patanjali. This is supposed to be the most authentic book on Pānini's Vyākarana. The authenticity of Patanjali's commentary is so great that wherever there is a difference of opinion between Sūtra, Vārttika and Mahābhāshya, the verdict of Mahābhāshya of Patanjali Cs regarded to be ultimately acceptable. According to Western scholars, Patanjali belonged to 2nd century B.C. According to Yuddhishthira Mimānsaka, Patanjali belonged to 2000 or 1200 years before the Vikram Era.
In the 16th century A.D., the method of the study of Grammar propounded by Pānini began to be replaced to some extent by tradition of Kātantra. In that tradition, Siddhānta Kaumudi of Bhattoji Dikshit and Prakriyā Sarvasa of Nārayāna Bhatta are more prominent. Vyākarana developed also in the field of philosophy, and this was initiated by Bhratrihari who -belonged to the 6th century A.D.
The composition of the Vedas indicates consummate development of the knowledge of the poetic meter, Chhandas. The first discussion on Vedic meters is to be found in the Sānkhyāyana Shrauta Sūtra. But the classical work on meters is that of Maharshi Pingal. Meters or Chhandas have been studied by Pingal in the
eighth Chapter of his book Chhandah Sūtra. In this book, he has taken into account not only Vedic meters but also others. There are mainly 7 Vedic meters, namely, Gayatrī, Ushnik, Anushtubh, Brihatī, Pankti, Trishtubh, and Jagatī. According to Kātyāyana, the highest number of mantras in Rigveda are to be found in Trishtubh. This number is 4253. Gāyatrī has 2467 mantras; Jagatī has 1350 mantras; Anushtubh has 855 mantras; Ushnik has 341 mantras; Pankti has 312 mantras, and Brihatī has 181 mantras. Although there are numerous meters, we find only 50 meters in the Sanskrit literature.
Prior to Pingalāchātya, there were several great teachers of Chhanda Shastra, such as Koshtuki, Yāska, Kāshyapa, and Māndavya. There have been several commentaries on the Chhanda Sūtra of Pingalācharya. In fact, there has been a continuous development of books on Chhanda Shāstra in the Sanskrit literature.
The development of musical science also owes a great deal to Chhanda Shāstra. It is well known that Sāmaveda is meant to be sung. Although the method of singing Sāma is different from that of the classical music, the 7 tunes, namely, shadja, rishabha, gāndhara, madhyama, panchama, dhaivata, and nishāda are used in Sāma in the same way as in the classical music. In the Chhāndogyopanishad which is based upon Samaveda, 5 types of the musical renderings of Sāma have been indicated, namely, Himkāra, Prastāva, Udgitha, Pratihār, and Nidhān. It is :t noteworthy that Vedic literature refers also to several musical instruments, including the Veena. In the social life, too, because of the close connection between religious rites and music, various melodies developed, particularly 6 melodies corresponding to 6 seasons. Closely connected with music was the development of dance and drama. Among the important works in Sanskrit regarding music, dance, and drama the most important one is Natya Shastra of Bharat Muni. There are two Samhitās on Nātya Shāstra, namely, dwādashasahasri and shat sahasri. The traditions established by Bharat Muni remained prevalent for more than thousand years, and even in the book Sangeet Ratnākar of Sharangadeva of 13th century A.D., the authority of Bharat Muni has been acknowledged. Thereafter also there has been a vast literature on music, dance, and drama. In fact, music, dance, and drama received royal patronage throughout the ages, and even some of the great
kings of the North and the South were themselves great musicians.
Closely connected with Shikshā, Chhanda and Vyākarana, there is a body of literature known as Prātishākhya. For each Veda and for each Shākhā there are certain specific rules, and these rules deal with various subjects connected with pronunciation, meters, and various grammatical matters. The meaning of the Veda is also indicated in the Prātishākhya, and it is therefore considered to be an aid to the study of the concerned Veda. The Rik Prātishākhya deals with Shaishiriya Upashākhā of the Shākala Shākhā of the Rigveda. Maharshi Shaunaka is the author. The great commentator Uvat has written a commentary on this Prātishākhya. It is believed that Rik Prātishākhya was composed between 5th and 6th century, A.D.
Vajasaneyi Prātishākhya was composed by Kātyāyana who belongs to a period earlier than that of Pānini. Uvat and Anantabhatta have written, respectively, Matriveda and Padārthiprakashaka to elucidate the Prātishākhya of Kātyāyana. Taittiriya Prātishākhya is related to Taittiriya Samhitā of Krishna Yajurveda. The commentary has been written by Mahishi, which is known as Padakramasadana.
Pushpasutra and Riktantra are the two Prātishākhya on Sāmaveda. The author of Pushpasutra is supposed to be Vararuchi, and the author of Riktantra is supposed to be Shākatayāna.
Chaturādhyāyika is the oldest Prātishākhya of Atharvaveda. Kautsa is supposed to be the author of this Prātishākhya, which is . also known as Kautsa Vyākarana.
The sixth Vedānga relates to jyotish,—astronomy and astrology. Jyotish is considered to be the science of light, and it is looked upon as the eyes among the Vedāngas. Vedic knowledge had discovered an inner rhythm of the cosmic movement, and this rhythm seems to correspond with periodic developments and seasons of human life. Time was conceived as succession of movements that measure growth, development and fulfilment of human aspirations. Since human aspirations and sacrifice were closely connected with each other, the determination of the time of the beginning and the end of sacrifices assumed a great importance. As a result, the transit of planets, calculation of days and nights and the determination of various seasons were closely studied. The science of Jyotish described planets, constellations, comets and also the rotations and revolutions of various luminous objects of
the heavens. Corresponding to the movements of planets there were also predictions in regard to fortunate or unfortunate results in human life. This is at the root of astrology.
Rigveda Jyotish Vedānga has been attributed to Lagadhācharya. It consists of 36 verses. There is also Jyotish related to Yajurveda and another Jyotish related to Atharvaveda. Yajurveda Jyotish consists of 34 verses, and it has been attributed to Shoshāchārya. Atharvaveda Jyotish has 14 chapters and 102 verses. It is supposed to be a dialogue between Pitāmaha who was the speaker and Kashayapa who was the listener.
Among the greatest astronomers and astrologers of India, the most celebrated name is that of Varāhamihira. His famous book, Pancha Siddhāntikā speaks of 5 systems of Jyotish: Pitāmaha Siddhānta, Vasishtha Siddhānta, Romaka Siddhānta, Poulisha Siddhānta, and Surya Siddhānta. In due course, Jyotish inspired development of various sciences including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, astronomy and astrology. Bhaskarācharya of 12 century A.D. is regarded as the first among the mathematicians and astrologers of the middle ages. Jyotish is even today prevalent all over India, and it is even now a developing science. Panchānga, which gives detailed information regarding the tithi, vāra, nakshatra, yoga and karana, is commonly used in most of the Indian homes; and the annuals of Panchānga are constantly consulted by astronomers, astrologers and many individuals in the day-to-day life.
Apart from this Vedānga, there are also four other sciences and arts which have come to be known as Upavedas. The Upaveda of Rigveda is Āyurveda, the Upaveda of Yajurveda is Dhanurveda, the Upaveda of Sāmaveda is Gandharvaveda, and Upaveda of Atharvaveda is Arthaveda. Āyurveda is related to the secret of life and the science and art of sustenance, protection and maintenance of long life. The originator of Āyurveda is supposed to be Dhanwantari. Apart from him, other prominent names are Aitraeya, Kashyapa, Harit, Agnivesha, and Bhedamuni. At present, 3 important books of Āyurveda are: Chakra Samhitā, Sushruta Samhitā, and Vāgbhatta Samhitā.,These three books are collectively called brihat-trayi.
Dhanurveda seems to be a very ancient science dealing with weapons of war and art of warfare. In the Rāmāyana and Mahābhārata a good deal of light is thrown upon this science and art, particularly in the descriptions of battles. The most ancient
books of Dhanurveda are not available, but some of the known books are Dhanurvidhi, Drauna Vidyā, Kodanda Mandana and Dhanurveda Samhitā. According to the tradition, the originator of Dhanurveda is lord Shankara himself. Parashurama is supposed to have learnt Dhanurveda from Lord Shankara. Dronacharya learnt this science from Parashurāma, and Arjuna learnt it from Dronācharya. Sattyaki is supposed to have learnt this science and art from Arjuna.
Gandharvaveda is the science of music, derived from Sāmaveda, and we have already dealt with this subject briefly, while dealing with the Vedānga of Chhanda.
Arthaveda is the Upaveda of Atharvaveda, which deals with social, economic, and political systems. It also deals with architecture and various arts. According to Shukranīti there are number of arts but 64 are considered to be more prominent. In later literature we find that 64 arts or Kalās were expected to be cultivated by a cultured lady. These included the art of cooking, skill in the use of body ointments and paints for the teeth, etc., music, dancing, painting, garland-making, floor decoration, preparation of the bed, proper use and care of dress and ornaments, sewing, elementary carpentry, repair of household tools and articles, reading, writing and understanding different languages, composing poems, understanding dramas, physical exercises, recreation from utilizing leisure hours, and the art of preparing toys for children.
The most famous book of Arthashastra is that of Kautilya. This book has remained authoritative, and many books which have been written thereafter on Arthashastra rely upon that book. Prior to Kautilya, we have also the famous enunciations of Bhishma and Vidura.
For the proper understanding of the Veda, not only Vedangas but also itihāsa and purānas have been recommended. From the point of view of history (itihāsa), Rāmāyana, Mahābharata and Purānas are consulted. But in Indian literature the word "itihāsa" refers mainly to Mahābhārata. Maharshi Valmiki is the author of Rāmāyana and Mahābharata was composed by Maharshi Vedavyāsa. According to the tradition, the word Purāna is so-called because it is supposed
to refer to the most ancient knowledge, even though the most ancient composition is that of the Veda. It is said that Brahmā had received the knowledge containing the Purānas from the Supreme Divine; Brahmā transmitted it to his four mind-born sons, including Sanat Kumāra. Narada received this knowledge from Sanat Kumāra, and he transmitted it to Krishna Dwaipāyana Vedavyāsa, Vedavyāsa composed that knowledge in 18 books, each one of them is called Purāna.
The names of these Puranas are given in the following table along with the number of verses mentioned against each:
|Number of verses|
There are also a number of Upapurānas, such as Narasimha, Nandi, Bhārgava, etc.
Purānas have been composed to explain the meanings of Vedas for common masses of people so as to evoke in them sensitivity in their being towards the Divine knowledge and to inspire in them devotion for the Supreme Reality. Purānas describe the creation of universe, development of universe, and the dissolution of the universe. In several Purānas, there is a good deal of description of the
earth and its geography, and apart from many legends, there is also a description of secret knowledge relating to birth, death, and the condition of the soul after the death of the body. We also find in them questions and answers dealing with philosophic and yogic matters. Most importantly, Puranas are related to great deities, particularly Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Bhāgavata Purāna is considered to be the most valuable book on Lord Krishna, and it is looked upon as an unparalleled composition on the theme of Shri Krishna and devotion to Shri Krishna. Purānas are also related to several other deities and great Rishis of the past. An important contribution of the Purāna is related to the concept of avatāra and the description of various avataras of the Supreme Divine.
Purāna literature is very vast and it has made a great impact on the religious and spiritual mind of India.
The tradition of philosophy in India goes back to very early times, and based upon the Veda, several systems of philosophy have flourished. These systems are: Nyāya, Vaisheshika, Sānkhya, Yoga, Poorva Mimāmsā and Uttara Mimāmsā. All these systems of philosophy accept the authority of the Veda, and although there are differences among them, attempts have also been made to bring about a synthesis of these systems of philosophy. The literature on these systems is to be found in the Sūtras attributed to great philosophers such as Gautama, Kanāda, Kapila, Patanjali, Jaimini and Bādarāyana, and in copious commentaries and commentaries on commentaries. In fact, even in the modem period there are expositions and commentaries on these systems of philosophy.