Shruti Parampara (श्रुतिपरम्परा)
Shruti Parampara (Samskrit: श्रुतिपरम्परा) refers to the oral tradition that has been preserving the traditional way of Veda adhyayana inclusive of both vedic chanting ie. how the shrutis (Vedas) are pronounced as well as how they are applied in practice as part of daily Upasana and Karma to be done in the Grhastha life.
This article is an introduction to the documentary film titled "Vedic Delight" (embedded on this page) that showcases the oral tradition of vedic studies and examination process.
परिचयः ॥ Introduction
वेदोऽखिलो धर्ममूलं... ।। २.६ ।। vedo'khilo dharmamūlaṁ... ।। 2.6 ।।
This well-known quote from Dharma Shastra, gives us an understanding that Veda is not only the source of our religion but it is the source of all kinds of Dharmas including Vyashti Dharma and Samashti Dharma.
In contrary to this, academic world view or common perception of the masses considers the four vedas as the source texts of the Hindu Religion.
In western societies there’s a conflict between religion and science, religion and Humanity, and so on. Culture, Tradition, Religion, Spirituality all these aspects are not related to each other. Sometimes, they even contradict each other.
Therefore, they clearly distinguish between religious knowledge and other forms of knowledge. Due to the domination of this western thought around the globe, Bharatiyas also consider Vedic knowledge as religious knowledge. With this label of religion, Vedas are also believed to be in conflict with scientific thought, human intelligence, rationality etc. as an apple in the basket of oranges is generally known as just one more fruit in the basket.
Apart from this tag of religion, Vedas are also considered as philosophical texts or Vedic literature. Hence, naturally Vedic texts are a subject of study in many universities across the globe. But learning about the shruti texts in an academic course as an ancient literature to understand the past and learning shruti texts in shruti parampara with the intent of practice are completely different.
Therefore, despite having Vedic study courses at hundreds of Universities, if we want to know how shruti is pronounced and applied in practice, we have to approach individuals who belong to oral tradition and never think about going to Universities and persuing a degree.
This shruti parampara or oral tradition is well protected even today by several individuals with the support of various private organisations.
Name of Pujya Sri. Chandrashekharendra Saraswati Mahaswami of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham is worth mentioning with golden letters in the history of 20th century’s vedic education because he initiated and guided many such organisations throughout his life to protect the shruti parampara.
वेदः वेदाभ्यासश्च ॥ Introduction to Veda and Vedic studies
मन्त्रब्राह्मणयोः वेदनामधेयम् । mantrabrāhmaṇayoḥ vedanāmadheyam ।
Meaning: Mantra and Brahmana are known as Veda.
Another name of the Veda is “Trayee”. Meaning, Veda or Trayee consists three kandas. That is why it is famously said, काण्डत्रयात्मको वेदः । kāṇḍatrayātmako vedaḥ । The Samhita or collection of mantras is Upasana kanda, Bramhana texts are Karma kanda and Upanishads are Jnana kanda. These three kandas are the original texts of the Veda. Hence, they are collectively called “moola”.
After completing the “moola”, the Pada patha and Krama patha are to be studied along with the 8 vikrtis.
Afterwards, they study the six limbs or shadangas.
It takes approximately six or more years to complete the moola, three years to learn the Vikrtis and 3 years fully dedicated time to study the 6 limbs.
There are four upavedas in this stream of knowledge. Upavedas are generally for those, who do not learn the Vedas completely in shruti tradition.
Dharma Shastra with its vastness, is to be studied in addition to the Veda and to be applied throughout the life.
Source of this immense knowledge system is the Veda and it is to be memorized and chanted in daily practices.
This Vedic chanting or Veda itself is being considered as a heritage in recent times.
Vedic Chanting is indeed recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage. But if we look at the definition of ‘heritage’, it is mainly about historical significance.
Apart from providing a sense of belonging, historically significant things might not be useful or productive in today’s time. Identity of heritage also removes the sacredness and turns it into a lifeless ornament which might kindle pride in the heart of possessor.
But Shruti is sacred and much greater than heritage because it produces results event today.
To understand this, we have to check the root meaning of the word "Veda".
The Sanskrit root "Vid" produces three meanings.
विद् ज्ञाने लाभे सत्तायाम् । vid jñāne lābhe sattāyām ।
Meaning: Knowledge, advantage and existence.
These three aspects are universal and always relevant. Therefore, not only for the Hindus, but the Veda is advantageous for the whole mankind and always relevant.
Therefore, Bharatiyas who are not yet influenced by western ideas of tradition and culture, don’t consider Veda or Shruti Parampara as merely heritage. Instead they regard it as “Shabda Brahma” or divine entity that provides the means to fulfil their wishes in the form of yajna.
The Main purpose of the Veda is to facilitate various forms of yajna which sustain and flourish the life on the planet.
वेद हि यज्ञार्थम् अभिप्रवृत्तः । veda hi yajñārtham abhipravr̥ttaḥ ।
This knowledge contained in the shruti has come from a source or dimension which is beyond the access of the sense organs and the intellect.
प्रत्यक्षेण अनुमित्या वा यस्तूपायो न बुध्यते । एतं विदन्ति वेदेन तस्मात्वेदस्य वेदता ।। pratyakṣeṇa anumityā vā yastūpāyo na budhyate । etaṁ vidanti vedena tasmātvedasya vedatā ।।
It is the knowledge which is beyond the faculties of pratyaksha or anumana.
This knowledge has been interpreted and explained by many commentators including modern academicians. Every such commentary is done considering only one of the dimensions of it. But there are three dimensions to it. Adhi-daivika meaning, Adhi-bhautika meaning and Adhyatmika meaning. Commentaries or interpretations with “trividha-drshti” or three dimensional meanings are very few.
Apart from these three dimensions, "Adhi-yajniya" meaning or the interpretation from context of Yajna is considered as real meaning in the tradition.
Indians are told that looking at the Veda as a beautiful literature is superior and a cool thing to do. But the person who is practicing the rituals prescribed by the Veda without knowing the meaning is an idiot.
This attack on the vedic practices or rituals was part of a big conspiracy, which has impacted most of the urbanised Indians.
Foreign ideas like “I am spiritual, but not religious” also have played a major role in the destruction of the scientific culture of Vedic practices.
Most of the mobile phone users are unaware of the science and technology based on which the phone functions. But they are not deprived of the benefit of it. It is not necessary for everyone to become a scientist to get the benefit of science.
Similarly, karma kanda or the rituals are the technology beneficial for those who know how to do it.
Fortunately, despite the invasions and anti-ritual propaganda, few sane voices and individual efforts have kept the Vedic practices alive here and there. We have not lost it completely yet.
Since the Veda is sacred and manifestation of the divine, the person who has memorized it and lives by it is also considered as divine. In the northern part of Bharata, Vedic Pandits or Brahmanas are referred to as “bhu-devata” or Bhudev ji, by the villagers even today. In South Indian languages, Vedamurti, or Veda Brahma Shri is used as a prefix to address the Vedic scholars and their feet are worshipped. Urban culture might have lost it, but Veda and Vedic pandits are sacred entities for a large number of Bharatiyas.
Academic v/s Traditional Approach to Veda
"Veda is that which shows an “alaukika” path to fulfill the ishta (wish) and to avoid the anishta (unwanted)."
इष्टप्राप्तये अनिष्टपरिहाराय अलौकिकं मार्गं यो वेदयति, स वेदः। iṣṭaprāptaye aniṣṭaparihārāya alaukikaṁ mārgaṁ yo vedayati, sa vedaḥ ।
लोके वेदे च...॥१५.१८॥ loke vede ca...॥15.18॥
Here, Krishna is using the term “loka” in contrast to Veda. Thus, traditionally, Veda is considered to be the alaukika way to fulfill worldly wishes of mankind. Further, the tradition has divided the Veda into three parts as Upasana Kanda, Karma Kanda and Jnana Kaanda.
Conditioned by the tropes of the Western world, modern academic scholarship looks at the Veda as an ancient literature or as a source of religious and esoteric knowledge. Therefore, Vedic studies are seen as a part of the study of civilizations and their mores. From an academic perspective, it is part of the study of ancient history. For traditional Vedic practitioners however, it is still a live and divine entity and they refuse to refer to it in the past tense.
The academic study of Veda has successfully portrayed the Upasana and Karma Kanda as irrelevant and focused on the Jnana Kanda only while the tradition insists on the study of Veda for the sake of upasana and karma. It is not just a course which one studies to acquire a degree and graduate from a University.
For traditional people, Vedic study is a necessary preparation for their daily Upasana and Karma to be done in the Grhastha life after marriage.
Thus, there is a fundamental contradiction in the intention behind the study of the Veda between traditionalists and modern-day academics. While one studies the Veda to understand the previous generations, the other studies it as a preparation for practices to be undertaken in the future.
Difference between Adhyayana and Study
Maharshi Patanjali in his Mahabhashya said,
ब्राह्मणेन निष्कारणेन षडङ्गो वेदो अध्येतव्यः, ज्ञेयश्च । brāhmaṇena niṣkāraṇena ṣaḍaṅgo vedo adhyetavyaḥ, jñeyaśca ।
Meaning: Without any particular reason, a Brahmana should do adhyayana of Veda (of his own shakha) along with its six limbs and also should know it.
Patanjali is drawing our attention to three things:
- He is specifically laying out the duties of a Brahmana
- He is making the distinction between adhyayana (अध्ययन) and knowing. Therefore, knowing the meaning of Veda comes after completing the “adhyayana” in the tradition.
- The third aspect of the above statement from Patanjali is that, “a Brahmana should do adhyayana”, as is made clear by his use of the word “Brahmanena”. He is not saying “one can become a Brahmana by doing Veda Adhyayana” as social reformers and intellectuals of today say.
Academic Vedic study in Sanskrit universities and other such places is dissimilar to the above-mentioned traditional way of adhyayana, and focused towards knowing the meaning alone. Such modern methods of study treat the Veda as a resource for making claims regarding civilizational identity or use it as a solution to Bhautika problems.
It is not mean to assert that the purpose of Veda is only Adhyatma. The Vedas may provide solutions to worldly problems as well. But the Veda’s way of the solution is the “alaukika way” as Sayanacharya puts it in the above-mentioned quote.