Vedic Terminology

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Vedas have evolved over a period of time and the language and structure of these texts are highly preserved over thousands of years. However, as the vedic literature expanded the need to understand different aspects of them was required and thus developed the study of ancillary subjects such as Vedangas and Puranas.

Vaidika Koshas

The vast vaidika vangmaya came to include new terms which where defined in subsequent ages by maharishis. Following are the definitions of some terms associated with vedas and vaidika vangmaya some of which were not used in the Vedas but came into being in an attempt to understand them. The list is vast and not all compassing, many Vaidika koshas[1] of many volumes contain the inexhaustive compilation of innumerable words that are seen in Veda and vedangas.

Vaidika granthas

॥ Shrutis

Shrutis are scriptures are of divine origin revealed to ancient rishis. These texts include the four vedas, Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, Atharvana Veda. Vedas, which are Apaurusheyas, are the oldest available texts of Sanatana Dharma handed down by oral traditional from father to son and from teacher to disciple. Their presence is ageless before their codification and compilation by Krishna Dwaipayana also called Maharshi Veda Vyasa. Shruti is also said to be of two types - Nigama and Aagama.

॥ smrtis

smrtis are texts derived from Shrutis (Vedas, which are the highest authority) that contain social, economic and political guidelines along with the prayaschittas for deviating from the code of conduct. They are said to be composed by rishis or seers and reflect the vedic principles to be put into use in daily life. One who practices the karma according to codes given in smrtis is called Smartha. They are the following [2]

Astadasha smrtis
Manu Brihaspati Daksha Gautama Yama Aangirasa
Yajnavalkya Prachetasa Shaatatapa Parashara Samvarta Aushanasa
Shanka Likhita Aatreya Vishnu Aapasthamba Haarita

Apart from these three more smrtis - Ushana, Vasishta and Vyasa (who is said to have examined all the smrtis and compiled them as Vyasa smrti) are present as seen in other texts.

Astadasha Upa-smrtis
Kanva Kapila Lohita Devala Katyayana Lokakshi
Budha Shaatatapa Atri Prachetasa Daksha Vishnu
Vrddhavishnu Vrddhamanu Dhaumya Narada Paulastya Uttaraangirasa

There are alternative versions of this list of smrtis and Upasmrtis and it may be noted that there are some common names in both the lists. Thus, smrti literature includes Vedangas, Veda Upangas, Itihasa and Puranas. However, smrtis can be classified into two types :

  1. Define Code of Conduct : In them are defined the different Varnashrama dharmas, aspects of relationship between man and woman, Raja dharmas, Rules about consumption of food (activities of daily life), Pujas and Rituals, Yajnas and yaagas, Shraddha karma for the deceased, judiciary rules. Example : Dharma sutras of Manu and Yajnavalkya.
  2. Expound Shastras : Some texts contain information related to one subject such as Panini's Ashtadhyayi for Vyakarana, Gautama sutras in the Nyaya sastra.

॥ Itihasas

Itihasas describe the history of past events or happenings. Example : Mahabharata[2] and Ramayana.

॥ Puranas

Amarakosa defines Purana as one having the Panchalakshanas

sargascha pratisargascha vamso manvantarani cha

According to this definition, Purana is one which describes Sarga, Pratisarga, Vamsa, Manvantara, and Vamsaanucharita. Mention of Puranas has been made in the Brahmanas, smrti says Puranas are commentaries on vedas, while Mahabharata has used the Purana to mean stories about devas and siddhas[3].

॥ Aagamas

Aagamas, meaning "that which were handed down" to us from past generations. They include an enormous collection of texts and include those written on vedic foundation. They are the primary source and ultimate authority for temple construction and rituals followed therein[2]. The three main shaakas namely Vaishnava, Shaakta, and Saiva - have their own Aagama texts related to the deity.

They include methodology for worship of the deity, yoga, yantra, temple construction, deity installation, rituals and purificatory rites, social and religious observances to be followed, conduct of celebrations and festivals, tantric instructions and other finer details concerned with these topics.

॥ Darsanas

Darsana (Samskrit : ) word means "to look", "view". In Vedantic terms it means tattvasastra one which explains the nature (of a particular thing). They are of two types : Astika and Nastika.

Astika darsanas that believe in Vedic Philosophy: Vedanta, Saiva, Vaishnava, Shaakta, Gaanesha, Sauradarsanas. Vedanta darsanas are further divided into Shadarsanas namely Samkhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa[2]. There are different versions whether Samkhya darshana follows vedic principles.

Nastika darsanas that do not adhere to Vedic Philosophy: Charvaka, Baudha, Jainadarsanas among others.[2]

One who is well versed in darshanas is called Daarshanika.

॥ Shastras/Sastra

Shastras (sastra) are used to denote texts of specialized education/knowledge in a general sense. Shastras explain righteous instructions confirming to the Vedas and define the Pravrtti and Nivrtti ways[2]. Shastras are treatises containing methodical exposition of specialized technical knowledge in a defined area of practice. Generally, each shastra contains objective, eligibility and framework for study, purvapaksha (theory), pramanas (sources of knowledge) and siddhantas (propounding concept through pramanas), vadaopavadas (debate)[4]. For example :

॥ Vedanta

Vedanta means "end of Vedas" typically given in Upanishads. Aranyakas and Upanishads are inseparably connected with each other[3].

॥ Upanishads

Upanishad is that which is near". Upanishads are called the Jnanakanda of the vedas as they describe the tattva or nature of the Brahman and the different ways to attain Brahman (Panchagnividya). They contain the knowledge about Pranava, Brahma, Atma, Sristhi and paraloukika jnana. Upanishads are many in number with 108 most important ones and for 10 of which Srimad Shankaraacharya has given his commentaries.

Veda vibhaga Nirmanapaddhati

Typical divisional aspects of Vedas have been summarized as follows as given by Pt. Shri. Rishiramji Regmi [5] for Yajur veda and by Dr. C M Neelakandhan[6] for Saama veda.

Rig veda Samhita Mandala Krama : Mandalas Suktas Mantra

Rig veda Samhita Astaka Krama : Ashtaka Adhyaya Mantra

Krishna Yajur veda : Kanda Prapathaka Anuvaka Kandika

Shukla Yajur veda Samhita : Adhyaya Anuvaka Adhyaya Kandika

Saama veda Samhita : Archikas (Kanda Prapathaka Saaman-Mantras) Gaana

वैदिकशाकाः ॥ Vaidika Shaakhas

वैदिकशाकाः ॥ Vaidika Shaakhas are paathantharas or alternate editions of Vedic recitations propounded by different rishis. Known by the names of the rishis they are exclusive versions of veda patha paddhati preserved through guru-shishya parampara.

मन्त्रः ॥ Mantra

मन्त्रः ॥ Mantra is the fundamental unit of all Vedic literature and a group of mantras form a Sukta, which is the most widely used recitation unit of vedas. Mantra (Samskrit : मन्त्रः) according to Shabdakalpadruma is given as मन्त्र्यते गुप्तं परिभाष्यते इति and the root word is 'मत्रि' in the meaning गुप्तभाषणे । secret conversation[7].

अनुवाकम् ॥ Anuvaka

Anuvaka is one classification or grouping of a set of mantras of Rig and Yajurveda.

It is also the system of vedadhyaya - studying vedas wherein the disciple learns from his Guru which a particular word or sound should or should not be uttered[2].

प्रपाठकः ॥ Prapaathaka

Prapaathakas are a system of classification or grouping of mantras seen mainly in Yajurveda Samhitas. It is saamavedadhyayana - system of studying Saamaveda and a part of vedaadhyayana[2].

॥ Adhyaya

Adhyaya is a common system of grouping of mantras seen in vedas samhitas and many other texts such as Shrimad Bhaagavata Purana.

॥ Kanda

Kandas are textual sections or divisions seen in epics like Ramayana.

॥ Parisista /Parishishta

Parista literally means "what is left over". Parisistas are given by rishis to understand the yagnakriyas widely deal with the procedures that have not been covered in detail.

  1. The Āśvalāyana-grhya-pariśista has four chapters and deals with subjects related to the Ṛgveda.
  2. The Gobhilasañgraha-pariśista belongs to the Sāmaveda. It deals with gṛhyakarmas or rites to be performed in one’s home and some kāmyakarmas or desire-motivated actions.
  3. Karmapradipa is the work attributed to either Gobhila or Kātyāyana. It is known by other names also such as Sāmagrhya, Chandoga-pariśista and Gobhilasmrti.
  4. The Nigamapariśista and the Pravarādhyāya of Kātyāyana are assigned to the Śukla Yajurveda tradition[8].

॥ Suktam

A collection of or set of individual Rik mantras on one devata is called Sukta. There are many Suktas in a Mandala and each sukta may contain varying number of mantras. Vaidika suktas characteristically have the following four features : Rishi, Devata, Chandas, and Swara. Example : Nasadiya Suktam. Purusha Suktam.

॥ Sloka

Slokas are organized metrical word constructions referring to verses other than mantras of Vedas.

Texts other than the vedas (Shastras, Puranas, Itihasas) which are poetic in form are said to contain slokas. Slokas have chandas and thus vary in the number of syllables per line based on the chandas in which they are built in.

॥ Sutra

Sutra is a code that contains the essence of a subject expressed in minimum number of words possible. Sutras are like formulae which are universally applicable, faultless and contain one or more letter or words. Exemplary construct of sutras is seen in Panini's Ashtadhyayi which is a grammatical treatise containing sutras composed of even one letter. Others

॥ Stotram

One or a set of slokas written in praise of a devata by rishis (Narayana) and siddhapurushas such as Sri Shankaraacharya. Example as in Lakshmi stotram where the stotram is addressing Lakshmi devi by rishis. Kanakadhara stotram is given by Sri Shankaraacharya in praise of Lakshmi devi. Many such stotras are recited or chanted for either fulfillment of worldly desires or for adhyatmik upliftment as part of worshiping a particular deity.

Astakam (where the number of slokas are eight in number) and such stotras are chanted by everyone without the requirement of vedic procedures.

Treatises and commentaries are also written as slokas having a particular chandas. Example : Vivekachudamani by Sri Shankaraacharya.

Tantrik texts are composed as slokas praising different deities and include conversations between different deities, thus prose compositions are also seen. Example : Devi Astottarasatanama stotram from Viswasaara tantra.

People of Vedic times

॥ Rishi

Rig Veda gives an ancient, extraordinary definition about a rishi as follows

प्रत्यर्धिर्यज्ञानामश्वहयो रथानाम्। ऋषि: स यो मनुर्हितो विप्रस्य यावयत्सख: ॥ (Rig. Veda. 10.26.5)

Accordingly, the term ऋषि:॥ Rishi is one who has the following qualities

यज्ञानां प्रति अर्धि: = One who effectively promotes and accomplishes yagnas (sreshta karma) and who is as pure, absolute and spotless always involved in performing the right deeds.

रथानाम् अश्व: (हय:) = One who earnestly and speedily urges forward the journey of a person's life on a positive path and redirects the journey of people with crooked, conniving, wavering mentalities back into the righteous track with his positive methods.

मनु: हित: = One who unbiasedly without prejudice works tirelessly for the well-being of mankind

विप्रस्य सख: = One who befriends wise and intellectual persons

यावयत् सख: = One who extends beyond the boundaries of mankind to promote the well-being of all creatures.

॥ Devi/Devata/Deva

॥ Sura

॥ Asura Vaidika kosha

॥ Dasyu

॥ Pani

Vaidika Kriyas

॥ Yagnam : A common and general term used to denote all satkarmas (good deeds) and encompasses several aspects such as worship, praise, pleasing of a deity, a purpose to achieve, a yaaga, an oblation and could be a mental (Jnana) or physically ritualistic process (Kratu) which may or may not include the piling of Agnihotra. An unmarried man is not allowed by sastras to perform any special yagnas or yaagas. A brahmachari is restricted to perform only some vaidika kriyas.

Bhagavad geeta gives the process of Jnanayagna. Adhiyagnam katham 8 .2 bhagavadgeeta Karma brahmo 3.15 bhagavadgeeta Yagnanardhat karmano yatra 3.9 Bhagavadgeeta 9.15 Jnana yagne, 9.16    

॥ Yaagam : Yaagas are elaborate rituals with specific names (in contrast to Yagna which is a general name) involving Agnihotra with special offering of suitable dravyas (havis such as purodaasa, milk, ghee, etc) to the devatas. Some yaagas last for one day to three or more days even up to 12 years. Example: Sarpa sattra yaga was performed by King Janamejaya where all sarpas serpents were destroyed in the yaaga fire.

A ‘Yaaga’ is made up of several rituals which has its own principal part (Pradhana). Those that form subsidiary or supplement to this are called ‘Angas’. Some of the rituals may be common to several ‘Yaagas’[9].  

A Yaaga is specialized vedic process involving an uddesa or intention (sankalpa) towards a particular deity, an altar (yajnakunda), a host (yajamaana), yajnika offerings of various kinds (kratuvu, bali), utensils, sacred fire (yagagni), one or more officiating priests (purohita), gifts (dakshina) for the priests and guests, expiation ceremony (prayaschitta) and other concluding rituals. They are performed in open or in a house, temple, palace or a temporary structure (yajnavatika) built for the purpose[10].

In Yaagas, yajamani offers the aahuti, in a standing position, using the utterance "वौशट् ॥ vaushat" at the end of mantras for the deity. Thus the ceremonies which are performed with the root "yaj" are yaagas like in "सोमेन यजेत ॥ somena yajeta"[11].

॥ Homa : Homa refers to both the small scale rituals involving specially constructed altars with Agnihotra such as in navagraha homa conducted for grihapravesam (housewarming) to larger scale rituals such as Chandi homa conducted in temples. Homas are usually conducted as Angas for mantrajapams and do not involve all the vedic procedures.

In Homam yajamani offers the aahuti, in a seated position, using the utterance "स्वाह ॥ svaaha" at the end of mantras for the deity. Thus the ceremonies which are performed with the root "hu" are Homas like in "अग्निहोत्रम् जुहुयात् ॥ agnihotram juhuyaat"[12].

In present days, homas are being conducted by women priests but that aspect is outside the purview of the nitya agnihotram.

॥ Isthi : Smaller Angas of the yaagas, some of them can be performed as individual events. Putrakaamesti is the famous example which was performed by King Dasaratha for obtaining a son.

॥ Nityapuja

॥ Archana

॥ Japa

* ..मन्त्रस्य त्रिविधजपो यथा, --“ वाचिकश्च उपांशुश्च मानसश्च त्रिधा स्मृतः .त्रयाणां जपयज्ञानां श्रेयान् स्यादुत्तरोत्तरः ..यदुच्चनीचस्वरितैः स्पष्टशब्दवदक्षरैः .मन्त्रमुच्चारयेद्व्यक्तं जपयज्ञः स वाचिकः ..शनैरुच्चारयेन्मन्त्रमीषदोष्ठौ प्रचालयन् .किञ्चित् शब्दं स्वयं विद्यादुपांशुः स जपः स्मृतः ..धिया यदक्षरश्रेण्या वर्णार्द्वर्णं पदात् पदम् .शब्दार्थचिन्तनाभ्यासः स उक्तो मानसो जपः ..तेन स्वरादिसुव्यक्तवर्णोच्चारणवान् वाचिकः .स्वयंशब्दग्रहणमात्रयोग्यकिञ्चिच्छब्दवानुपांशुः .जिह्वोष्ठचालनमन्तरेण वर्णानुसन्धात्मको-मानसः ..” * ..वाचिकेऽप्युच्चैर्जपनिषेधमाह शङ्खः .“ नोच्चैर्जप्यं बुधः कुर्य्यात् सावित्र्यास्तु विशेषतः .” योगियाज्ञवल्क्यः 

॥ Tapa

॥ Dhyana

॥ Homa

॥ Daana

॥ Purodasha

॥ Havishya