Maharshi Gautama enumerated four Vedavratas (Samskrit: वेदव्रतानि) in his elucidation about the Samskaras. These four are also included in the 16 samskaras by several smrtis. Their names and procedure differ considerably in several grhyasutras but some like Paraskara Grhyasutra does not describe them. They are included under the heading of Educational Samskaras.
There are four Vratas (Saṃskāras) for starting the learning of different branches of Veda. Each Vrata can be performed for a year or six months or one month or a fortnight or a single day during Uttarāyaṇam (i.e. six months from fifteenth of January). In case of any inconvenience all the four Vedavratas can be performed before marriage. The Vratas are performed by the Ācārya. Different Gṛhyasūtras have offered different nomenclature for these Vratas.
The Four Vratas
Ashvalayana grhyasutra (1.22.20) mentions in general terms that in the vratas (Vedavratas) all the ceremonies beginning from shaving the head up to Paridana, performed during Upanayana are repeated each time during the start of each vrata. The four vratas according to Ashvalayana Smrti were Mahanamni vrata, Mahavrata, Upanishad Vrata and Godana. Each vrata is to be performed for a year.
The Shankhayana grhyasutra (2.11-12) describes after the student is instructed in the Gayatri mantra, four vratas are to be performed. Shukriya Vrata (शुक्रियव्रतम्) refers to duties of holiness and is to be observed for three days, or twelve days or one year or any other time period according to the Acharya's discretion.
यां वान्यां भप्रशस्तां मन्येत तस्यां शुक्रिये ब्रह्मचर्यमादिशेत् ९ त्रिरात्रं ब्रह्मचर्यं चरेद्द्वादशरात्रं संवत्सरं वा यावद्वा गुरुर्मन्येत १० (Sank. Grhy. Sutr. 2.2.10)
By this Vrata, the student is enabled to study the main portion of the Veda.
Next follows the Anuvaachana (अनुवाचन), or the way of studying the Veda, which can be done only after the Shukriya Vrata has been enjoined on the student. Before that nothing but the Savitri can be taught to him. Finally, the student has to undertake Shakvara (शक्वर), Vraatika (व्रातिक) and Aupanishada (औपनिषद) vratas, each of which is to last for one year, referring to the different parts of the Aranyakas. These three are special Vratas connected with the character of mystical secrecy or "rahasya" attributed to the Aranyaka. After the lapse of the year through which the Vrata is kept, a ceremony is performed called Uddeekshanika (उद्दीक्षणिक), i.e. the giving up of the Diksha or preparatory observance for the study of the Aranyaka texts. This vrata consists chiefly in the teacher’s ascertaining whether the student has fulfilled the duties involved in the Vrata after which the Aranyaka texts are taught to the student in the prescribed way. In this way, we find special observances to undertake study of different parts of the Vedas and Vaidika vangmaya. And these vratas vary with different different Vedas studied by the students.
According to Āpastambagṛhyasūtram – the entire Veda is divided into four parts, viz. Prājāpatya, Saumya, Āgneya and Vaiśvadeva. These are the names of four Vratas also.
The Gobhila grhyasutra (3.1.26-31) which is connected with Samaveda mentions the vratas as Godanika, Vraatika, Aditya, Aupanishada, Jyeshtha-samika each lasting for a year. It also mentions that some do not perform the Aditya vrata. The Godanika vrata is connected to the Godana samskara by the Gobhila grhyasutra. It prescribes some observances namely, avoiding falsehood, anger, sexual intercourse, perfumes, dancing and singing, wearing collyrium, eating honey and meat, and wearing shoes in this vrata. It also prescribes that wearing the mekhala, begging for food, carrying the danda, daily bath, offering of samith and touching the teacher's feet in the morning are common to all vratas. The Godanika enables the student to study the Purvarchika of the Samaveda (mantras related to Agni, Indra, Soma and Pavamana). The Vraatika was introductory to the study of Aranyaka (excluding Shukriya sections), the Aupanishada vrata to the study of Upanishad-brahamana, the Jyestha-samika to the study of the Ajya-doshas.
If a student failed in observing the vratas, he had to perform prayaschitta by undergoing the prajapatya penance thrice or six or twelve times. If a brahmachari is guilty of failing in his daily duties of observing saucha and achamana, of the performance of sandhyā prayer, of using darbha, of begging for food, of offering fuel stick to fire, of avoiding the touch of śüdras and the like, of wearing the cloth (for covering his private parts), the loin thread, the yajñopavita, the girdle and the staff and deerskin, of not sleeping by day, of not holding an umbrella over his head or of not wearing shoes, or not putting on garlands, of avoiding luxurious bath, sandal paste, collyrium, of not sporting in water, of avoiding gambling, and addiction to dancing, singing and music, of not engaging in conversation with heretics, he had to undergo the penance of three kṛcchras (according to Baudhayana) and to perform a homa with the vyährtis separately and together (i. e. four oblations of clarified butter were to be offered). If he was guilty of other more serious lapses he had do heavier prayaschittas.
Thus we may note that Vedavratas is a way of developing discipline in the student.
Time of Vedic Study
There will be two main events for each Vrata – Upākaraṇam (or Upakarma), which is the beginning of the Vrata and Utsarjana, which is ending the Vratam. Upākarma has to be performed on Pūrṇimā (full moon day) of the month of Śrāvaṇa and Utsarjana of the same Vrata on Pūrṇimā of the month of Paushya.
During the rest of the seven months the Brahmacārī has to learn the six Vedāṅgas (limbs of Veda), viz. Śikṣā (Phonetics), Vyākaraṇam (Grammar), Chandas (Prosody), Niruktam (Etymology), Jyotiṣam (Astrology), Kalpa (Procedure of rites and it consists of four branches – Śrautasūtram, which deals with the performance of Yajñas / Sacrifices, Gṛhyasūtram, that deals with Saṃskāras etc., Dharmasūtram, that deals with all walks of life and Śulbasūtram, that deals with geometrical matters of a Yajña).
In the study of Veda there are two traditions - Sārasvatapāṭha and Anukramapāṭha. Presently it is Sārasvatapāṭha, which is complicated, that is in vogue.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Kane, P. V. (1941) History of Dharmashastras, Volume 2, Part 1. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. (Pages 370 - 374)
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Mookerji. Radha Kumud, (1947) Ancient Indian Education (Brahminical and Buddhist) London: MacMillan And Co., Ltd. (Page 182-190)
- ↑ Shankhayana Grhyasutra