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Vak (Samskrit: वाक्) means speech. Language study has early been considered vital in India to understand knowledge and consciousness, which is considered one with the Supreme Being in many schools of Indian philosophy. It is well known that the life of language has been given to us in the form of oral tradition, through the breath of utterance. The creative power of Vak is held in high esteem in Vedas. Upanishads uphold that the primordial Omkara, the Pranava represents all speech and it is that alone which manifests in different forms as all syllables.
Three words are used synonymously for language, namely bhasha (भाषा), vak (वाक्) and vaani (वाणी).
One scholar mentions that after going through all the passages referring to vak, it is possible to reduce the main shades of meaning to six:
- Vak as devata,
- Vak as a stuti (Prayer)
- Vak as human, everyday speech
- Sound of the non-human beings as of cattle, frogs, birds
- Sound of inanimate objects like dundubhi, aksa, etc.,
- Natural sound of water, thunder, etc.
The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad has equated speech with Brahman.
वाग्वै सम्राट्परमं ब्रह्म । (Brhd. Upan. 4.1.2)
Vak in Vedas
There are many quotations from the Vedic literature that amply illustrate the high regard that vak was held in. It is said that omkara represents all speech; that alone is manifest in different forms as all the syllables.
ओङ्कारेव हि सर्वा वाक्। सैषा स्पर्शेष्वभिव्यज्यमाना बह्वी नानारूपा भवति।
Omkara is the source of all the Vedas, all knowledge. The word "Brahma" also refers to knowledge. It is recorded in the Vedas that vak has created this diverse Universe; there is nothing more primary than vak itself.
In the Vedas, language or Vak has a prominent role. In Rigveda, Vak is associated with Varuna, Indra, Agni, and Asvins. In the Brahmanas and other Vedas, Vak is identified with Sarasvati, who is the goddess of learning, wisdom and inspiration.
In Rigveda (also in Atharvaveda, Taittriya Aranyaka and Shatapatha Brahmana) we come across the four fold division of Vak (वाक्) given by nama, akhyana, upasarga and nipata as the vyakarana aspect of Vyakarana.
चत्वारि वाक्परिमिता पदानि तानि विदुर्ब्राह्मणा ये मनीषिणः । गुहा त्रीणि निहिता नेङ्गयन्ति तुरीयं वाचो मनुष्या वदन्ति ॥४५॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.164.45)
Summary: There are four kinds of speech-sound; they being noun, verb, upasarga and nipata. They are seen by manishins (मनीषिणः who are those who have controlled their mind). Maitrayani Samhita clearly states
सा वै वाक् सृष्टा चतुर्धा व्यभवत्। एषु लोकेषु त्रीणि तुरीयाणि। पशुषु तुरीयम् । (Mait. Samh. 1.11.5 and Niru.13.9)
Sanskrit grammarians state that sabda is of four phases :--
- परा ॥ Para is the phase of शब्दब्रह्मन् (Shabdabrahman) the undifferentiated primordial sound manifested at मूलाधारः or solar plexus.
- पश्यन्ती ॥ Pashyanti is the phase which is manifested at the navel and which is cognisable to yogins.
- मध्यमा ॥ Madhyama is the phase which is manifested at the heart
- वैखरी ॥ Vaikhari is that phase which is manifested out of the vocal organs as the articulated sound.
- Narayanan, Sharda. (2012) Vakyapadiya, Sphota, Jati and Dravya. New Delhi : D. K Printworld (P) Ltd.
- Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (Adhyaya 4)
- Subramanya Sharma. V. M. (2012) Ph.D Thesis: The Notion of Word in Vakyapadiyam. Hyderabad : University of Hyderabad
- Sastri. Subrahmaya. P. S. (1944) Lectures on Patanjali Mahabhashya. Vol 1. (Ahnikas 1 - 3). Annamalai Nagar: Annamalai University. (Pages 35-36)
- Maitrayani Samhita (Kanda 1 Prapathaka 11)