Preservation of the Vedas (वेदपरिरक्षणम्)

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For generations, over thousands of years, वैदिकविद्या || Vedic education was imparted to students in a गुरुशिष्य-परम्परा || guru-shishya parampara, following the traditional system of oral recitation until महर्षि-वेदव्यास's ॥ Maharshi Veda Vyasa’s great contribution of organizing them into a written format.

World's ancient literature, Rigveda (ऋग्वेदः), has not undergone any change even in single syllable nor got intermixed with any later texts. Apart from ऋग्वेदः ॥ Rigveda, it has yet to be seen if any other such text exists which is so well preserved. Even Ramayana (रामायणम्), Mahabharata (महाभारतम्), Puranas (पुराणानि) and other Samskrit texts are not free of syllable and content changes[1]. In the Rigvedic time, apart from ऋषि-s || Rishis, commoners existed in the society. Notably, Vedas were not common knowledge. If we understand the connection of pure lineage or गोत्रम् || Gotra, the strict disciplinary life in गुरुकुलम् || Gurukula, the commitment and austerity of the Rishis, the cryptic process and symbolism of वेदमन्त्राः ॥ Veda mantras, strict adherence to committing them to memory, system of recitation of the मन्त्राः ॥ mantras - these were all the root causes in protecting the one integral voice of Vedas.

परिचयः|| Introduction

Transmission of texts in the Vedic period was by oral tradition, preserved with precision with the help of elaborate mnemonic techniques. Prodigious energy was expended in ensuring that these texts were transmitted from generation to generation with immaculate integrity, up until a few centuries back, when due to various reasons like foreign invasions and colonization that resulted in the loot and digestion of our knowledge systems and wealth, led to the decline in oral recitation of the Vedas.[2]

वेदपाठपद्धतिः|| Vedapatha Paddhati

Rishis (Vedic seers) devised means of protecting and preserving the text of Vedas letter by letter, with all their accessories and accents. Vedic mantras have स्वराः || Svaras (accents) which preserve its original form of word- construction. Thus, Vedas are not just textual, written matter but comprise of intonations, pitch, accents, pronunciation, time duration and of fine nuances of human element which cannot be captured on paper. Hence, existence of volumes of printed material is of minimal use as the real authority is vested with those very few scholars, who are remaining, keeping the age old tradition of recitation alive.

प्रकृतिपाठः || Prakrti Patha

There are three Prakriti Pathas for memorizing Mantras most commonly known as:[3]

  1. संहितापाठः || Samhita Patha –   in which मन्त्रः ॥ Mantra remains in its true form.
  2. पदपाठः || Pada Patha-   in which each word of a मन्त्रः ॥ Mantra is separately spoken.
  3. क्रमपाठः || Krama Patha-  in which two words of a मन्त्रः ॥ Mantra are spoken jointly as  क-ख, ख-ग ॥ Ka-kha, kha-ga.

विकृतिपाठः || Vikrti Patha

Memorization of the sacred Vedas included up to eleven forms of recitation of the same text. These texts were subsequently "proof-read" by comparing the different recited versions. This ensured their verbatim preservation through ages of time. Based on the क्रमसंहिता || Krama Samhita eight methods of recitation are given by व्याडि-ऋषिः || Vyadi Rishi in व्याडिविकृतिवल्ली ॥ Vyadi Vikrtavalli[1]

जटा माला शिखा लेखा ध्वजो दण्डो रथो घनः | अष्टौ विकृतयः प्रोक्ता क्रमपूर्वा मनीषिभिः | (विकृतिवल्ली 1.5)

jaṭā mālā śikhā lekhā dhvajo daṇḍo ratho ghanaḥ | aṣṭau vikṛtayaḥ proktā kramapūrvā manīṣibhiḥ | (vikṛtivallī 1.5)

There were eight ways of memorizing Vedas. These are[3][4]

  1. जटापाठः || Jatapatha
  2. मालापाठः || Malapatha
  3. शिखापाठः || Shikhapatha  
  4. रेखापाठः || Rekhapatha (लेखापाठः || Lekhapatha)  
  5. ध्वजपाठः || Dhvajapatha
  6. दण्डपाठः || Dandapatha
  7. रथपाठः || Rathapatha
  8. घनापाठः || Ghanapatha

अनुक्रमणिकाः || Anukramanikas

Another step in the preservation of Vedas was to prepare treatises known as अनुक्रमणिकाः || Anukramanikas in which the names of ऋषिः || Rishi, देवता || Devata, छन्दः || Chandas, similarly number of chandas, words are mentioned in reference to each hymn of the Vedas. छन्दस् ॥ Chandas (meter), a characteristic of वेदमन्त्राः ॥ veda mantras, also helps in avoiding loss of content by enforcing number of syllables.[3][5] शौनकानुक्रमणी ॥ Shaunakanukramani, कात्याननानुक्रमणी ॥ Katyayananukramani, अनुवाकानुक्रमणी ॥ Anuvakanukramani, सूक्तानुक्रमणी ॥ Suktanukramani, आर्षानुक्रमणी ॥ Arshanukramani, सर्वानुक्रमणी ॥ Sarvanukramani, बृहद्देवता ॥ Brhadevata, प्रातिशाख्यसूत्राणि ॥ Pratishakhya sutras etc are available texts in this context.[1]

That these methods have been effective, is testified by the preservation of the most ancient Indian religious text, the ऋग्वेदः ॥ Rigveda, as redacted into a single text during the Brahmana period, without any variant readings within that school.

वैदिकसंविधानम् || Vedic Structure

Understanding the way in which the vedas are organized into a definite pattern, gives us an insight as to how integral the learning system was and how it worked impeccably over such a long period of time. In addition to the वेदपाठपद्धतिः ॥ veda pathapaddhati, knowledge in वेदाङ्गानि ॥ Vedangas are essential to understand the vedic language, meaning and their usage and the यज्ञाः ॥ yajnas expounded in Vedas.

चतुर्दशविद्याः ॥ Chaturdasha vidyas included the study of Vedas, वेदाङ्गानि ॥ Vedangas, उपवेदाः ॥ Upavedas, उपाङ्गाः ॥ Upangas (Vaidika Vangamaya) which was considered as holistic education. This was the goal of आचार्य-s ॥ Acharyas and गुरु-s || Gurus who in earlier days imparted education in गुरुकुलानि ॥ Gurukulas.

गुरुकुलानि ॥ Gurukulas

गुरुशिष्य-परम्परा ॥ Gurushishya parampara was the main foundation that preserved vedas and सनातनधर्मः ॥ Sanatana Dharma since ages. From उपनयनम् ॥ upanayana (initiation) until the age of 20, ब्रह्मचारी-s || Brahmacharis study vedas, learning by rote the procedures to conduct यज्ञाः ॥ yajnas and यागाः ॥ yagas, collecting the समिध-s || samidhas (thus, they learn Plant Sciences), raising and domestication of cattle (they learn Animal Sciences), different आश्रमधर्माः ॥ ashrama dharmas (they learn Human Sciences) thus, living harmoniously with nature. Once they enter the गृहस्थश्रमः ॥ grhastha ashrama they actually perform the यज्ञकर्माणि ॥ yajna karmas. They practice what they studied and by the way of ब्रह्मयज्ञः ॥ Brahma yajna, they further study and teach the vedas that have been handed down to them.

पाण्डवाः ॥ Pandavas and कौरवाः ॥ Kauravas in महाभारतम् ॥ Mahabharata, were educated by the renowned गुरुद्रोणाचार्यः ॥ Guru Dronacharya, in a gurukula system. श्रीकृष्णः ॥ Srikrishna and बलरामः ॥ Balarama were educated under the aegis of गुरुसान्दीपनिः ॥ Guru Sandeepani.

The Vedas, Vedic rituals and its ancillary sciences called the वेदाङ्गानि ॥ Vedangas, were part of the curriculum at ancient Bharata universities such as at Taxila, Nalanda and Vikramashila.

The titles for scholars who mastered the Vedas were:

  1. द्विवेदी || Dwivedi: two Vedas
  2. त्रिवेदी || Trivedi: three Vedas
  3. चतुर्वेदी || Chaturvedi: four Vedas.

These remain now as surnames of people in India.

Translation of Vedas

Translation in the ancient आर्ष || Arsha tradition as done by authentic Vedic scholars is factual and done without prejudice and with no extraneous motive or for an academic agenda. वेदः ॥ Veda is verily the भगवद्वाणी || Bhagavad Vani (Words of ब्रह्मा ॥ Brahma) revealed in scientific Vedic Language which is संस्कृतम् ॥ samskrit, free from local color and historical acts. Therefore, Vedic language is to be interpreted and understood according to its own laws and structure, and the only key available for such interpretation is the निरुक्तम् || Nirukta of महर्षिः यास्कः ॥ Maharshi Yaska and the grammar of पाणिनिः ॥ Panini & पतञ्जलिः ॥ Patanjali.[2]

A literal translation of the Vedas creates confusions and contradictions as the English language is insufficient to express the deep inner meaning embedded in Vedas. A good commentator, should be adept in languages, carefully choose words, and explain with derivatives to analyse the hidden nuances of meaning within their context but not always can it be understood by the reader.

For example, the literal meaning of the verse,

सुमित्रिया न ऽ आप ऽ ओषधयः सन्तु दुर्मित्रियास् तस्मै सन्तु यो ऽस्मान् द्वेष्टि यं च वयं द्विष्मः ॥ (Shukla. Yaju. Veda. 36.23)[6]

sumitriyā na ' āpa ' oṣadhayaḥ santu durmitriyās tasmai santu yo 'smān dveṣṭi yaṃ ca vayaṃ dviṣmaḥ ॥ (Shukla. Yaju. Veda. 36.23)

Meaning : May the waters, vital forces of life, and herbs be friendly to us and may they be enemies to those who hate us and whom we hate.

The literal meaning is incomprehensible and meaningless. The contextual meaning of this मन्त्रः ॥ mantra is:

"May waters, tonics, pranic energies and medicinal herbs be good friends of our health system and immunity and let the same waters, tonics, pranic energies, herbal medicines act against those ailments, diseases and negativities which injure us, which we hate to suffer and which we love to destroy, moreover let them have no side effects because side effects too help the negativities and injure us".

It becomes a powerful prayer for the well-being of an advanced society, and very logically the next Mantra expounds a prayer for a full hundred years and more of life and health.

तच् चक्षुर् देवहितं पुरस्ताच् छुक्रम् उच् चरत् । पश्येम शरदः शतं जीवेम शरदः शतम् (Shukla. Yaju. Veda. 36.24)[6]

tac cakṣur devahitaṃ purastāc chukram uc carat । paśyema śaradaḥ śataṃ jīvema śaradaḥ śatam (Shukla. Yaju. Veda. 36.24)

नव्यवेदाध्ययनविधानम्|| Modern Vedic Education

The Vedas were likely written down for the first time around 500 BC. However, all printed editions of the Vedas that survive in the modern times are likely the version existing in about the 16th century AD.

Due to the ephemeral nature of the manuscript material (birch bark or palm leaves), surviving manuscripts rarely surpass an age of a few hundred years. The Sampurnanand Samskrit University has a Rigveda manuscript from the 14th century; however, there are a number of older Veda manuscripts in Nepal that are dated from the 11th century onwards. However, one of the important reasons for the loss of manuscripts is that during the Westerner's rule, many such were stolen and taken to repositories in Western countries, a process that is continuing till date and involves loss of precious specimens of archeological and sculptural wealth that belongs to timeless भारतीयसंस्कृतिः ॥ Bharatiya samskriti.

With the discovery of paper and, through the centuries, improved stationery material was the main means of preserving the vedic literature. Western Indologists have generated volumes of their interpretation of vedas and took many manuscripts from India to other places like Germany. However, the main drawback was the non-availability of a voice preservation method since early 18th century. Vedic language which primarily depends on the accents and pronunciation, was not preserved and thus, many शाखा-s || shakhas have been lost with those learned scholars since few centuries. Today, many manuscripts and valuable literary treasures can be found in remote corners of the world.

संवादः ||Discussion

A question may be, "all the मन्त्र-s || mantras, सूक्त-s || suktas, and अनुवाक-s || anuvakas that are being recited now did they exist then"?

To answer the non-believer and non-discerning, the example of the पुरुषसूक्तम् || Purusha suktas and other works can be used which makes it clear that the यज्ञः ॥ yajna related सूक्तानि ॥ suktas were not in the same form as presently available but were available in another form. Also, notable is the fact that a यज्ञः || Yajna would not take place unless the four chief priests presided over it. The ऋग्मन्त्राः ॥ Rig mantras must have expanded over time just as trees give us more flowers and fruits as time goes yet belonging to same species. We see that the many vedas have the Rig mantras at the foundation, laying layers of expansion of concept as the Vedas progressed to अथर्वणः ॥ Atharvana.

पण्डिताः || Pandits (priests) or people who perform pujas or rituals either in the temple, home or workplace offer mantras, called मन्त्रपुष्पम् || mantra pushpa. These mantras clearly reveals that the four Vedas co-existed and not as the diabolical Indologists claimed, one after the other. The very fact that same mantras are available in different vedas in different formats indicate the oneness of all vedas.

Similarly, for posterity, the later Rishis invoked the new सूक्तानि ॥ suktas or mantras based upon their vision (मन्त्रदृष्टिः ॥ Mantra drasti) which then became a part of ऋक् || Rik, यजस् || Yajus and साम || Sama Vedas. As they came more into usage they were integrated with the existing सूक्तानि ॥ Suktas, without a change. The foundational meaning remains as in the Vedas. Over different time periods, neither the देवाः || Devas nor the क्रियाः || kriyas (rituals) changed their integral meaning. This is the nature of the सम्प्रदायः || Sampradaya style or गुरुशिष्यपरम्परा || Guru shishya learning (disciplined succession). This phenomenal system helped disseminate and retain knowledge widely without much difficulty. All आचार्याः ॥ Acharyas accept that, studying the Vedas is mandatory for understanding the integral meaning of Vedas.

Computers and modern digital techniques revolutionized the way vedic knowledge is read and disseminated in the present day. Many works have been compiled lately as an attempt to reconnect our Vedic heritage to our people from which we have been disconnected since the 800-year foreign domination (first by the Arabs and then by the Anglo-Saxons) of our land.

We need to revitalize our civilization like the call of Swami Dayananda post-independence to counter the Indologists' narrative of Caste system, idolatry, untouchability, all types of superstitions and slaughtering of animals in the sacrifices, the नर-मेधः || Nara-medha (human sacrifices), all of which are the results of wrong Vedic interpretations, for which a heavy price is being paid by us since the last 300 years. Swami Dayananda wrote in the post-colonized context after independence whereupon he called upon his countrymen "to go back to the Vedas" for eradication of social evils as he opined that the cause of degradation and slavery of Indian nation was the ignorance of true Vedic teaching on which our culture was based and also thrived. It is true that we became independent in 1947, but then we got freedom and not independence. We continue to function as an Anglo-Saxon cultural satellite mainly as a market for its ideology through the English language and a nursery to train a new generation of sepoys and Coolies.

The central importance of the new-age Vedic translations is that it presents the Vedas from its primary sources, especially in a context where knowledge systems are directed by propaganda from Internet sources and social media and not evidence-based facts. 

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Shastri, Jwalanth Kumar. (2009) Ved aur vedarth Rajasthan: Sri Ghudhmal Prahladkumar Arya Dharmarth Nyasa
  2. 2.0 2.1 Narayanacharya, K. S. (2011). Veda Sanskritiya Parichaya, Part I. Hubli:​Sahitya Prakashana​
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Introduction to Vedas (Vedic Heritage Portal)
  4. Upadhyaya, Baldev. (1958) Vaidik Sahitya.
  5. Gopal Reddy, Mudiganti and Sujata Reddy, Mudiganti (1997) Sanskrita Saahitya Charitra (Vaidika Vangmayam - Loukika Vangamayam, A critical approach) Hyderabad : P. S. Telugu University
  6. 6.0 6.1 Shukla Yajurveda (Adhyaya 36)