The Ancient Vedic Knowledge, Spirituality and Science

Objectives

The article presents the following objectives:

  • A brief introduction to Vedas and Ancient Indian knowledge
  • List of Vedic Literature – Manuscripts, Translations, Books
  • List of National Manuscript Libraries and Vedic Schools
  • To identify the knowledge from Vedas and Ancient Indian sciences - Science (knowledge), Spirituality (Experience of knowledge with Kundalini) and Unknown-sciences, for research and development and use of common man
  • To gain known knowledge and avoid reinvent the sciences

About Vedas

Vedic literature as such signifies a vast body of sacred and esoteric knowledge concerning eternal spiritual truths revealed to sages (Rishis) during intense meditation.
The Vedas are considered full of all kinds of knowledge, and an infallible guide for man in his quest for the four goals – Dharma, Artha (material welfare), Kama (pleasure and happiness) and Moksha (Salvation).

Vedic Literature and Classification

The Vedas are four in number – Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda.
Due to different ways in reading (pata bedha) in different kulas (family traditions) different sakhas manifested. The Rgveda was divided into 21 branches and the Yajurveda into 100 branches, the Samaveda into 1,000 branches and the Atharvaveda into 9 branches (Kurma Purana 52.19-20). Further, every branch has four subdivisions called Samhita (or Mantra), Brahmana (contains mantras and prayers), Aranyaka and Upanisad (both with philosophical contents). So all in all, the Vedas consist of 1130 Samhitas, 1130 Brahmanas, 1130 Aranyakas, and 1130 Upanisads, a total of 4520 titles. By the influence of time, however, many texts have been lost, stolen and destroyed. Some scriptures were so intimate that they have buried and hidden so as not be misused by anyone in Kali-yuga.
4 Upavedas: Ayur (medicine), Gandharva (music), Dhanur (martial science), Sthapatya (architecture). Upaveda ("applied knowledge") is used in traditional literature to designate the subjects of certain technical works.
6 Vedangas ("limbs of Veda"): Siksa (pronunciation), Canda (poetic meter), Nirukta (etymology and lexicology), Vyakarana (grammar), Kalpa (ritual), Jyotisa (astronomy and astrology). First two teach how to speak the Veda, second two teach how to understand the meaning of the Veda and the last two teach how to use the Veda.
Puranas: They explain the teachings of the four Vedas in story form, making spiritual life more simple. There are eighteen Puranas divided into three groups along with three predominating Deities: sattva (goodness) - Visnu, rajas (passion) - Brahma and tamas (ignorance)[Ref.Siva. Padma Purana, Uttara khanda].  The eighteen Maha Puranas are - 1. Brahma, 2. Padma, 3. Vaisnava, 4. Saiva (or Vayu), 5. Bhagavata, 6. Bhavisya, 7. Naradiya, 8. Skanda, 9. Linga, 10. Varaha, 11. Markandeya, 12. Agneya, 13. Brahmavaivarta, 14. Kaurma, 15. Matsya, 16. Garuda, 17. Vayaviya and 18. Brahmanda. Garuda Purana 3.1.43,45,64 also adds: "Bhagavata is the best of all Puranas." They are divided in this way to gradually raise the conditioned soul from ignorance to pure goodness.

Listing Vedic Manuscripts, their descriptions and knowledge online

 

THE ANCIENT VEDIC HYMNS

Manuscripts

Sanskrit translation & description

VEDAS

 

 

Rig Veda - Knowledge of Hymns, 10,859 verses
“There is only one truth, only men describe it in different ways.“

 

 

Yajur Veda - Knowledge of Liturgy, 3,988 verses

 

 

Sama Veda - Knowledge of  Classical Music, 1,549 verses

 

 

Atharvaveda

 

 

 

 

 

UPANISHADS

 

 

18 Upanishads and 108 Main Upanishads
Rig vedic

  • Aitareya

Yajur vedic

  • Brihadaranyaka  
  • Isha
  • Taittiriya  
  • Katha  
  • Shvetashvatara

Sama vedic

  • Chandogya  
  • Kena

Atharva vedic

  • Mundaka  
  • Mandukya 
  • Prashna

 

List of Upanishads

Jyotisha – Astrology and Astronomy.
Kalpa – Rituals and Legal matters.
Siksha – Phonetics.
Aitareya – Creation of the Universe, Man and Evolution.
Chandogya – Reincarnation, Soul.
Kaushitaki – Karma.
Kena – Austerity, Work, and Restraint.
Dharnur Veda – Science of Archery and War.
Mundaka – Discipline, Faith and warning of Ignorance.

 

 

 

 

 

UPAVEDAS

 

 

Ayur Veda - Knowledge of Medicine, over 100,000 verses

 

 

Gandharva (music)

 

 

Dhanur (martial science)

 

 

Sthapatya (architecture)

 

 

Shastrashastra (Military science)

 

 

 

 

 

VEDANGAS

 

 

Siksa (pronunciation),
Canda (poetic meter),
Nirukta (etymology and lexicology),
Vyakarana (grammar),
Kalpa (ritual),
Jyotisa (astronomy and astrology)

 

 

 

 

 

PURANAS

 

 

1. Brahma
2. Padma
3. Vaisnava
4. Saiva (or Vayu)
5. Bhagavata
6. Bhavisya
7. Naradiya
8. Skanda
9. Linga
10. Varaha
11. Markandeya
12. Agneya
13. Brahmavaivarta
14. Kaurma
15. Matsya
16. Garuda
17. Vayaviya 
18. Brahmanda.

 

List of Puranas

 

 

 

Sulba Sutra – Knowledge of Mathematics

 

 

The following Shulba Sutras (Geometrical texts written around 800 BC - 200 BC) exist in print or manuscript

  1. Apastamba
  2. Baudhayana
  3. Manava
  4. Katyayana
  5. Maitrayaniya (somewhat similar to Manava text)
  6. Varaha (in manuscript)
  7. Vadhula (in manuscript)
  8. Hiranyakeshin (similar to Apastamba Shulba Sutras)

 

 

Ancient Indian Mathematical texts during the last two millenniums written by, Aryabhatta, Bhaskaracharya, Varahamihira, Brahmagupta, etc.

  • Written by Bhaskaracharya II in 1150 AD - Siddhānta Shiromani, is divided into four parts called Lilāvati (arithmetic), Bijaganita (algebra), Grahaganita (mathematics of the planets) and Golādhyāya (spheres)
  • Surya Siddhant

 

 

 

Bhāskara_II - Wiki

'Vedic Mathematics' as propounded by Swami Bharati Krishna Tirtha
He came across Ganita Sutras which he reconstructed and formed 16 Sutras & 13 Upa-Sutras (1911-1918 AD), however which got lost.
During the last years of his life, he re-wrote an Introductory Volume on the subject but couldn't write further volumes on account of his failing health. It is his book that is popularly known as Vedic Mathematics which deals with faster computation techniques.

 

 

Mathematics in the Vedas

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga Sutra  - Knowledge of Meditation

 

 

Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali

 

Word-by-word Translation
Alternate Library Link

 

 

 

Kama Sutra - Knowledge of Love and Sex

 

 

 

 

 

OTHERS

 

 

Kautilya’s (Chanakya’s) Arthashastra
Arthashastra is divided into 15 books:

  • Concerning Discipline
  • The Duties of Government Superintendents (Construction, Minerals, Metals, Business)
  • Concerning Law
  • The Removal of Thorns
  • The Conduct of Courtiers
  • The Source of Sovereign States
  • The End of the Six-Fold Policy
  • Concerning Vices and Calamities
  • The Work of an Invader
  • Relating to War
  • The Conduct of Corporations
  • Concerning a Powerful Enemy
  • Strategic Means to Capture a Fortress
  • Secret Means
  • The Plan of a Treatise

 

Book

Management aspects from Kautilya’s Arthashastra

 

Presentation

Kautilya’s (Chanakya’s) Nitishastra

 

Book

Chanakya / Kautilya / Vishnugupta

  • Chanakya v/s Alexander

 

 

Video

Vedic Philosophy

 

Audio Q&As

 

 

 

 

Listing of Manuscript Libraries and Vedic Schools with online presence

 

Sr. No.

Libraries / Schools
of Vedic and Ancient Literature

Description

Links Address

  •  

National Mission for Manuscripts namami.org

The Mission seeks to unearth and preserve the vast manuscript wealth of India. It is a collaboration of various libraries indentified as Manuscript Resource Centres.
The National Database of Manuscripts, Kriti Sampada, is available on the internet http://www.namami.org/pdatabase.aspx
The mission has proposed a project for National Digital Manucripts Library. This project includes development of software (Search engine) which will prove very useful for the scholars and people interested in research by searching different manuscripts.

http://www.namami.org/pdatabase.aspx

  •  

The Digital Library of India (DLI)

Govt. Of India spent resources to scan and preserve over 250,000 books in many languages, of which around 13,000 are in Sanskrit. This project is coordinated by IISc and over 20 partner centres across different specialties.

http://www.new.dli.ernet.in/

  •  

Archive.org

Search and read books on Vedic and other Ancient texts

http://archive.org/search.php?query=vedas

  •  

Archaeological Survey of India asi.nic.in

More than 2000 scanned books in PDF are digitized at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) at the link given here.

http://www.ignca.nic.in/asp/searchBooks.asp

  •  

GayathriManthra.com

Sanskrit, English & Microfilm versions of 4 Vedas, 108 Upanishads and 20 Puranas.
Yogas, Shahstras, Sutras, Puranas, etc

http://www.gayathrimanthra.com/Library.html
http://www.gayathrimanthra.com/Documents.html

  •  

sacred-texts.com

Collection of Vedic books mostly translated by foreign authors and philosophers. Site by John Bruno Hare.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/index.htm

  •  

SanskritDocuments.org

Scanned books and Links to other resources over internet

http://sanskritdocuments.org/scannedbooks/

  •  

 

 

 

Difference between Western and Indian Views:

The fundamental difference between Western philosophy and Indian philosophy, especially the scriptures, is that while Western philosophy tries to uncover the real with the use of the intellect, Indian philosophy is basically an attempt to logically reconcile the world of experience with the spiritual experience of the sages. The sages – Yajnavalkya, the Buddha, Mahaveera – had experienced reality – unlike Western philosophers they’re not speculating, analyzing with the help of reason what reality may be – they know what it is. They have experienced it and using analogies they try to describe it.
The scriptures are not to be interpreted as progress in philosophical thought, but the identification of the various manifestations of the One Supreme Being. Unity in the Divine is what the Vedic Sages have proclaimed as the highest teaching and numerous verses supporting this are spread across each Veda, from the first mantra portion to the last Upanishad portion: “the One real which the wise declare as many”.
One cannot directly start with the Upanishads, which teach the highest truth. One must first develop the physical, mental and moral maturity to be eligible to learn such truth. The Mantras, Brahmanas and parts of the Aranyakas serve such a purpose. The four parts of each Veda can also be mapped to the four stages of life [student (brahmacharin), householder (grhasta), forest dweller stage (vanaprastha), wandering mendicant (samnyasin)].

Science in Vedic and Other Ancient Texts

The ancient Indian texts covers various sciences, some of them listed below.

  • Mathematics
  • Cosmology
  • Yoga and Spirituality
  • Self defense and Art of War Craft
  • Ayurveda / Medical Sciences
  • Minerals and Metals
  • Architecture

There have been uncoordinated efforts to uncover the sciences in these ancient texts. Some of the books discussing the science in Vedas and other ancient texts are listed below:

Sr. No.

Book / Text

Description

Links Address

  •  

Books on Mathematics and mathematical astronomy

 

  • Surya Siddhanta
  • Brahma-Sphuta-Siddhanta of Brahmagupta
  • Aryabhatiya of Aryabhata
  • Rekhaganita of Jagannatha Samrat
  • Siddhanta Siromani of Bhaskaracarya
  • Varahamihira
  • Vrddhayavanjataka of Minaraja
  • Astadhyayi of Panini

http://www.wilbourhall.org/

http://www.new.dli.ernet.in/ (Search with book name in Title, and select Any subject)

  •  

 

 

 

  •  

 

 

 

 

Brief Contents of Veda Samhitas

1. The Rigveda Samhita
Rigveda mostly consists of hymns to be sung to the various gods as manifestations of the One Divinity. Varuna, Mitra, Surya, Savitr, Vishnu, Pusan, the Ashvin twins, Agni, Soma, Yama, Parjanya, Indra, Maruts, Rudra, Vishvakarman, Prajapati, Matarishvan, Ushas, Aditi are some of the Gods encountered in the Rg Veda. Varuna - the god of the sky, Indra - the god of war and Agni - the god of fire, are more popular than Vishnu and Rudra (Shiva). Surya, Savitr and Pusan all refer to the solar deity and the Gayatri mantra is addressed to Savitr. Ushas and Aditi are goddesses.
This is the oldest Vedic text, as also the largest. It comprises of 10552 mantras in 1028 hymns (=Suktas).
The hymns are altogether attributed to 407 Rishis, or Sages, of which 21 are women Sages ( = Rishika).

Rigveda Manuscript - 1879-80

Rigveda (A1879 – 80)

Rigveda collection of Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune

2. Yajurveda Samhitas:
The Yajurveda has two main divisions – Shukla Yajurveda and Krishna Yajurveda.
The extant Shukla Yajurveda Samhitas are Madhyandina and Kanva.
The extant Krishna Yajurveda Samhitas are Kathaka, Maitrayaniya, Taittiriya (also called ‘Apastambi’ Samhita), Kapishthala (fragmentary) and possibly Charaka.
Of the extant Yajurveda Samhitas, the two major ones currently are the Madhyandina and the Taittiriya.
The Yajurveda therefore is a liturgical text, but also contains sacrificial formulas to serve the purpose of ceremonial religion (yaju is derived from the root “yag” – to sacrifice).
Madhyandina Samhita consists of,

  • Chapters 1-2 deal with Darsapurnamasa rites,
  • Chapter 3 with sacrifices performed in the morning and the evenings, sacrifices performed every four months at the start of the three seasons
  • Chapters 4-8 with Soma sacrifices
  • Chapters 9-10 with Rajasuya and Vajapeya
  • Chapters 11-18 with construction of altars for yajnas
  • Chapters 19-31 with Sautramani rite
  • Chapters 22-25 with the Ashvamedha
  • Chapters 26-29 give material supplementary to earlier chapters
  • Chapters 30-39 contain mantras for novel and unique rites like the Purushamedha, Sarvamedha, Pitrmedha and Pravargya
  • Chapter 40 is the Isavasya Upanishad

3. The Samaveda Samhitas and Melodies:
It is purely a liturgical collection that comprises of 1875 Rks. All these verses are set to melodies, called the Samans. The origins of Indian classical music lies in the Sama Veda.
The Samhita is divided into two broad divisions- Purvarchika, on which the Gramageya and the Aranyaka samans are set, and the Uttararchika, on which the Uha and the Uhya chants are set.
4. Atharvaveda Samhita:
It is often said that the Atharva Angirasa was originally not given the status of a Veda, but seems to have been later elevated to the position. The main theme of the Atharva Veda is cure for diseases, rites for prolonging life and fulfillment of one’s desires, statecraft, penances, magic, charms, spells and sorcery. While the Gods of the Rg Veda are approached with love, the Gods of the Atharva Veda are approached with cringing fear and favor is curried to ward off their wrath.
Sophisticated literary style and high metaphysical ideas mark this Veda. The two extant Samhitas of Atharvaveda are Shaunakiya and Paippalada. The former has 5977 mantras while the latter has approximately 7950 mantras.
The Atharvaveda has numerous names –

  • Bhrgvangirasa Veda – because of association with Bhrigus and Angirases
  • Atharvangirasa Veda – Because of association with Atharvana and Angirasa priests, and because of a dual nature (sorcery as well as ‘shanti-pushti’ rites)
  • Kshatraveda – because it has several hymns dealing with war, rites of coronation and so on.
  • Brahmaveda – because it has several hymns dealing with spirituality

Vedic Shakhas and their Geographical Distribution

The Vedic literature that has come down to our times is attached to various traditional schools of recitation and ritual called the ‘shakhas’. All the four Vedas have more than one shakha extant.
From various sources, it can be determined that the following geographical distribution of Vedic Shakhas at various intervals of times, and their present state of survival :- 

  • Shakala RV: Thrives in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Orissa, and Tamil Nadu and to some extent in Uttar Pradesh. Might have existed in Punjab. Nambudiris of Kerala recite even the Brahmana and Aranyaka with accents. Accented manuscripts of Brahmana and Aranyaka are available to this day.
  • Shankhayana Rigveda: Gujarat and parts of Rajasthan and Maharashtra. Oral tradition extinct, only manuscripts of Samhita are extant. Ritual lives in a very fragmentary condition
  • Bashkala RV: Claims have been made about its existence in Kerala, Rajasthan, Bengal and Assam as a living tradition, but have never been verified. The Samhita exists in manuscript. Nambudiris of Kerala are said to follow this Shakha of RV as far as the Samhita is concerned but studies of their oral tradition do not seem to bear this out.
  • Ashvalayana RV: Manuscripts of the Samhita have been found in Kashmir, Maharashtra (Ahmadnagar) and Patna (Bihar). In parts of central and eastern India, Shakala RV texts are often attributed to Ashvalayana. For instance, the Aitareya Brahman is often called Ashvalayana Brahmana in West Bengal. Oral traditions extinct although the followers of Shakala Shakha in Maharashtra often term themselves as Ashvalayanas because they follow the Kalpasutra (Shrautasutra + Grhyasutra) of Ashvalayana.
  • Paingi RV: Exited in Tamil Nadu, in and around Andavan. Oral traditions lost but Brahmana texts rumored to exist.
  • Mandukeya RV: Magadha and eastern and central Uttar Pradesh. Possibly lower Himalayas in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. No text or oral tradition extant although the Brhaddevata and Rigvidhana might belong to it.
  • Shaunakiya AV: Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Coastal Andhra Pradesh, Avadh region in Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh. Only Gujarat has maintained the oral traditions, and the shakha has been resuscitated in recent times in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and in Andhra Pradesh.
  • Staudayana AV: According to Majjhima Nikaya, followers of this shakha lived in Koshala (central and eastern Uttar Pradesh). The shakha is completely lost.
  • Paippalada AV: Followers are currently found in parts of Orissa and adjacent areas of Bihar and West Bengal and recite the Samhita in ekasruti (monotone syllable). Epigraphic and literary evidence shows that they once thrived in Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, and parts of Gujarat, East Bengal and in Tamil Nadu as well.
  • Devadarshi AV: According to literary evidence, followers of this Shakha once lived in coastal Andhra Pradesh. Other AV shakhas said to have been prevalent in that region were Shaulkayani and Munjakeshi. The shakha is completely lost.
  • Charanavaidya and Jajala AV: Perhaps existed in Gujarat, Central India and adjacent parts of Rajasthan. According to the Vayu and Brahmanda Puranas, the Samhita of the Charanavaidya shakha had 6026 mantras.
  • Mauda AV: According to some scholars, they existed in Kashmir
  • Madhyandina YV: Currently found all over North India- Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and even Maharashtra (up to Nashik), West Bengal, Assam, Nepal. Along with Taittiriya Yajurveda, it is the most prevalent Vedic shakha. Followers of this school were found in Sindh (Pakistan) in the 19th century but became extinct after Hindus were ethnically cleansed by the Muslim majority after 1947.
  • Kanva YV: Currently found in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh. In Orissa, the followers of this shakha follow a slightly different text. Epigraphic evidence shows that they were once present all over India, as far as Himachal Pradesh and possibly in Nepal.
  • Charaka YV: Interior Maharashtra, adjacent parts of Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh. Followers of this shakha now follow the Maitrayani YV shakha, having lost their own texts.
  • Maitrayani YV: In Morvi (Gujarat), parts of Maharashtra (Naskik/Bhadgaon, Nandurbar, Dhule). Earlier, they were spread all the way east up to Allahabad and extended into Rajasthan and possibly into Sindh.
  • Kathaka YV: The oral traditions became extinct possibly a few decades ago. They were found in central and eastern Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, possibly west Punjab and NWFP. In later times, they got restricted to Kashmir, where all their extant manuscripts have been unearthed. Recently, the entire Hindu minority was cleansed from the Kashmir valley by Islamists, and so the shakha might be deemed extinct completely now.
  • Charayaniya Katha YV: Existed in Kashmir.
  • Kapisthala Katha YV: Found in West Punjab around the time of the invasion of Alexander. Also in parts of Gujarat. Only a fragmentary Samhita and Grhyasutra text exist, and followers of this shakha are said to exist at the mouths of Narmada and Tapi rivers in Gujarat.
  •  Jabala YV: Central India, around the Narmada region. In Maharashtra, there still exist Shukla-Yajurvedin Brahmins who call themselves ‘Jabala Brahmins’, but there is no knowledge of the existence of any texts of this shakha.
  • Taittiriya YV: Buddhist texts and some versions of Ramayana attest their presence in the Gangetic plains but currently they are found all over Southern India. The Taittiriyas are themselves divided into numerous sub-schools. Among these, the followers of Baudhayana and Apastamba were found all over South India (including Maharashtra), while the Hiranyakeshins were found mainly in Konkan and Western Maharashtra. The Vaikhanasas have a more eastern presence- around Tirupati and Chennai. The Vadhulas are present currently in Kerala and earlier in adjacent parts of Tamil Nadu. The Agniveshyas, a subdivision of the Vadhula immigrants from Malabar, are found around Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. The Apastamba, Hiranyakeshin, Vaikhanasa and Baudhayana schools have survived with all their texts intact. The Vadhulas survive, with most of their texts while the Bharadvajas and Agniveshyas are practically extinct as a living tradition although their fragmentary/dilapidated texts survive.
  • Kauthuma SV: Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu (tradition revived with the help of Brahmins from Poona), Kerala, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar (tradition revived a century ago), West Bengal (tradition has been revived recently). There are numerous varieties of Kauthuma chanting. This shakha is the most vibrant tradition of Samaveda.
  • Ranayaniya SV: Orissa (manuscripts available, status of oral tradition not known), Maharashtra, Karnataka (the Havyak <havik> community for instance), Uttar Pradesh (till recently in Bahraich and Mathura), Rajasthan (till recently in Jaipur). The existence of this shakha was endangered till recently, but it has been strengthened with the help of institutions like the Kanchi Kamakoti Matha.
  •  Jaiminiya/Talavakara SV: Two distinct sub streams- the Namudiri recitations in Central Kerala, and the recitations of Tamil Nadu Brahmins in districts adjacent to Kerala and in and around Srirangam. The survival of these schools is endangered.
  •  Shatyayaniya SV: Said to have been prevalent in Tamil Nadu and parts of North India. The shakha is no longer extant.
  • Gautama SV: Said to have been prevalent in Tamil Nadu and in Andhra Pradesh till the 17th cent. C.E. Many followers of the Kauthuma school in Andhra Pradesh still call themselves ‘Gautamas’.
  • Bhallavi SV: Said to have been prevalent in Karnataka and parts of North India
  • Other Shakhas of YV: A text called ‘Yajurvedavriksha’ gives the geographical distribution of more than 100 Shakhas of Yajurveda. This description is being left out for brevity.

The table below lists only the texts that exist (in print or manuscript) OR are rumored to exist in manuscript. The various cells describe whether the printed editions or manuscripts are available or not, and whether the oral traditions are extant or not. The symbol ‘X’ indicates that no information is available.  

Shakha

Samhita

Brahmana

Aranyaka

Upanishad

Shakala RV

Oral and Printed

Printed (=Aitareya Brahmana) and Oral (?)

Printed (Aitareya Aranyaka) and Oral (?)

Printed (Aitareya Upanishad) and Oral (?)

Bashkala RV

Manuscript exists with accents and Padapatha.

-

-

-

Shankhayana RV

Manuscript exists with accents and Padapatha.

Printed (=Shankhayana Brahmana)

Printed (=Shankhyana Aranyaka)

Printed as a part of the Aranyaka

Kaushitaki RV

X

Printed (=Kaushitaki Brahmana) and Oral

Manuscript exists

Printed (=Kaushitaki Upanishad)

Ashvalayana RV

Manuscript exists, with accents and Padapatha.

Same as Shakala

Same as Shakala shakha

Same as Shakala shakha

Paingi RV

X

Manuscript might exist

‘Rahashya Brahmana’ lost.

X

Madhyandina YV

Oral and Printed

Oral and Printed (Madhyandina Shatapatha) with accents.

Oral and Printed (=Shatapatha XIV.1-8) with accents,

Oral and Printed (=Brihadaranyaka Upanishad= Shatapatha XIV. 3-8) with accents.

Kanva  YV

Oral and Printed

Oral and Printed partially (=Kanva Shatapatha Brahmana) with accents.

Oral and Printed (Book XVII of Kanva Shatapatha) with accents.

Oral and Printed (with numerous commentaries, as ‘Brihadaranyaka Upanishad’) with accents.

Katyayana YV

Manuscript (?)

Manuscript (only first 6 books, rest lost)

X

X

Taittiriya YV

Oral and Printed

Oral and Printed: =Taittiriya Br. and Vadhula Br. (part of Vadhula Srautrasutra)

Oral and Printed (=Taittiriya Aranyaka) with accents.

Oral and Printed (=Taittiriya Upanishad, Mahanarayana Upanishad) with accents.

Maitrayani YV

Oral (partial?) and Printed

Lost

Oral and Printed (=Maitrayani Aranyaka/Upanishad) with accents.

Oral and Printed (virtually same as Aranyaka)

Kathaka YV

Printed. Accents survive only on 1/3 on the text.

Fragments printed  and in manuscript)

Printed as ‘Katha Aranyaka’ (almost the entire text from a solitary manuscript)

Printed as Kathaka Upanishad with numerous commentaries. Katha Shiksha Upanishad also published.

Kapishthala YV

Printed (from a fragmentary manuscript. Accents left out)

Small fragment extant in manuscript

X

X

 Charaka

Manuscript exists (?)

Lost

In Manuscript (?)

X

Kauthuma SV

Samhita and Samans printed/recorded

Printed (8 Brahmanas in all). Accents lost long back.

None. The Samhita itself has the ‘Aranyaka’.

The famous Chhandogya Upanishad with numerous commentaries

Ranayaniya SV

Manuscripts of Samhita exist. Samans recorded but not printed

Same as Kauthuma  with minor differences.

None. The Samhita itself has the ‘Aranyaka’.

Same as Kauthuma.

Jaiminiya/Talavakara SV

Samhita published. Two distinct styles of Saman recitation, partially recorded and published.

Brahmana published (without accents) – Jaiminiya Brahmana, Arsheya Brahmana

Tamil Nadu  version of Talavakara Aranyaka (=Jaiminiya Up. Brahmana) published

Famous Kena Upanishad

Shatyayana SV

X (traditions might be similar to Jaminiya SV)

Manuscript  (?)

X

X

Paippalada AV

Two versions: Kashmirian (published) and Orissan (partly published, in manuscript, unaccented)

Lost

X

Famous Prashna Upanishad, Sharabha Upanishad etc. – all published.

Shaunaka AV

Printed and Oral traditions alive

Fragmentary Gopatha Brahmana (extant and published). No accents.

X

Mundaka Upanishad (?) published.

Interpreting Vedic Texts

Numerous methods have been used in ancient and modern times to interpret Vedic texts. Note that since the Vedic literature itself is heterogeneous, there isn’t a single method that is best suited for interpreting the entire Vedic literature. For instance, if the hymn in question is merely a praise of an act of charity, it is futile to impart a spiritual meaning to it.
The various methods of interpretation of Vedic texts are as follows -

  • Yajnika School: This is a ritualistic interpretation of the Vedas and is exemplified to a great extent in the Brahmana texts themselves. In certain cases, it is seen that the ritual employment of a mantra has no relationship to its actual meaning. Rather, the mantra seems to have been rubricated into the ritual merely on account of the presence of a word or two that have a phonemic similarity to a word that would correctly describe an object or an act connected with the ritual. It must be noted however that the employment of the Vedic Samhitas in rituals has actually contributed to their preservation down the ages. Moreover, the details of the ritual acts in the Brahmanas often give some measure of the cultural background and the material aspects of ancient India. Last, the Samhitas of Yajurveda and Samaveda are in reality liturgically arranged for aid in ritual performances. After the Samhitas and the Brahmanas, we have another vast corpus of literature called the Kalpasutra, which describes the minutiae of Vedic rituals in a systematic and a comprehensive manner. The Kalpasutras are considered in a separate section. Most of the extant commentaries of the Vedas follow this technique although they draw elements from other modes of interpretation as well.
  • Nairukta School: This is the etymological method of interpretation of words or phrases occurring in the Vedic mantras and its origins can be traced to the Brahmana text themselves. The text par excellence of this mode of interpretation is the Nirukta of Yaska, which itself is a commentary on a collection (called Nighantu) of difficult words occurring in the Vedas. The Nirukta of Yaska was apparently preceded by a dozen works belonging to this genre as he quotes them profusely. Nirukta is considered one of the 6 Vedangas of the Veda along with grammar, astronomy, phonetics, ritual and prosody.
  • Dharmashastric School: In his Nirukta, Yaska quotes the opinion of some who derive legal instructions from certain verses of the Rigveda. For instance, in Nirukta 3.3, he observes that some interpret Rigveda 3.31.1 to mean that daughters can also inherit the property of their father whereas some state that only sons are eligible for inheritance.
  • Naidana School: Nothing much is known about this school of interpretation although a text called the Nidana Sutra by Patanjali exists. From the citations of their views in the Nirukta of Yaska, it appears that they were closely allied to the Aitihasika school of interpretation with the caveat that they paid more attention to the original context of or the cause for the composition of Vedic hymns.
  • Mimamsaka School: The followers of this school believe that all the Vedic texts should be treated as a harmonious whole, that the correct import of the hymns can be understood if we consider the context, the relationship of various sentences and of words in those sentences; if we consider parallel passages in various texts; and if we interpret passages after determining their central import. Unfortunately, the method is mostly restricted to the interpretation of Brahmanas, Aranyakas and the Upanishads, as exemplified in the Purva and Uttara Mimansa Sutras (and also numerous commentaries on them). The Vedas are considered eternal, uncreated Word, free of any references to temporal events and free of defects associated with human compositions.
  • Aitihasika School: The followers of this school of interpretation hold that each and every mantra or hymn is related to an Itihasa i.e., a traditional account of ancient events, and accordingly they interpret the concerned hymn or verses in conjunction with that Itihasa.  For instance, Yaska narrates an Itihasa connected with the Nadi Sukta (Rigveda III.33) wherein Sage Visvamitra is said to have addressed the rivers with the concerned mantras whereupon they allowed him to cross over. The Brahmana texts contain numerous such Itihasas and the now-lost Shatyayani Brahman is often quoted by the commentators of Rigveda for these Itihasas.
  • Parivrajaka School: This school seeks to highlight the spiritual import of mantras. While several hymns of the Vedic Samhitas indeed convey spiritual ideas very directly, followers of this school of thought hold that even the other hymns can be explained in a spiritualistic manner. Examples of this method of interpretation are the commentary on the first 40 hymns by Shri Madhvacharya (13th cent. C.E.) and the commentary of Atmananda on the Asya Vamasya Sukta (Rigveda I.164). Kapali Shastri has written a spiritual commentary on the entire first Ashtaka of the Rigveda while Swami Brahmamuni has written a spiritual commentary on the entire Kauthuma Samaveda Samhita. This is not to say that this mode of interpretation is modern. Rather, the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and the Upanishads themselves expound numerous verses in the spiritual mode. In his Nirukta, Yaska cites the views of several followers of this method of interpretation, as does Sayana in his commentaries on various Vedic texts.
  • Vaiyyakarana School: This is a general method of interpretation by the application of the rules of grammar to Vedic mantras. It is taken into account by all the other schools while commenting on the mantras. The Padapathas of the Vedic Samhitas is the earliest such commentary on these texts. These Padapathas seek to analyze the compound words occurring in the mantras according to certain rules of grammar. The Padapatha of Rigveda Samhita is by Shakalya, on Samaveda Samhita is by Gargya, and on the Taittiriya Samhita is by Atreya. The Padapathas on the Shaunakiya Atharvaveda Samhita, Maitrayani Samhita, Rigvediya Shankhayana Samhita, Rigvediya Ashvalayana Samhita, Shukla Yajurvediya Kanva Samhita and the Madhyandina Samhita also exist but are anonymous. Later grammarians however often reject a few analysis contained in the Padapatha as being opposed to the rules of grammar.
  • Arya Samaj School of Interpretation: This was found by Swami Dayanand Sarasvati (1824-1883) and is exemplified by his commentary on the Madhyandina Yajurveda Samhita and approximately 7.5 mandalas of the Rigveda Samhita. After him, various scholars of the Arya Samaj have written numerous commentaries on the 4 major Vedic Samhitas in English, Hindi, Marathi and other Indian languages. These commentaries conform to the ideals regarding the Vedas propagated by the Arya Samaj: First, the Vedas are held to preach pure monotheism and therefore Agni, Indra etc., are held to be merely names of the one God. Second, the Vedas are said to encompass the Samhitas only, not the Brahmanas. Third, the Vedas are said to be the eternal word of God revealed at the beginning of creation, and as such, they are devoid completely of historical accounts or proper names. Fourth, since the Vedas are divine knowledge, they contain all the branches of knowledge (even modern ones like telegraphy, aeronautics and so on) in the root form. Fifth, all the modern commentaries on the Vedas are held to be spurious. Only the works composed by sages from Brahma to Jaimini (including the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Sutras and so on) are held to reliable commentaries on the Vedas. Even these are to be rejected in so far as they are in conflict with the intent of the Samhitas. Sixth, even amongst the Samhitas, only the following 4 were revealed by God- Shakalya, Madhyandina, Shaunaka and Kauthuma. All the other Samhitas are composed by men and are like glosses on these 5 Samhitas. Seventh, the method of Yaska and Vyakarana are to be relied upon heavily to interpret the Vedas and the later Hindu texts like Puranas etc., must be rejected completely. There are several other principles followed by this school of interpretation (in one of his own works, Swami Dayanand himself lists 16 such principles).
  • Shri Aurobindo’s School of Interpretation: This is a modern version of the ancient Parivrajaka school of interpretation and is discussed in numerous works of Sri Aurobindo like ‘The Secret of the Veda’ and of his followers like Kapali Shastri and David Frawley. Herein, the various gods in the Samhitas are said to represent different states of consciousness on the spiritual journey of men.
  • Pauranic School: This is not really a school of interpretation, and refers to a few partial commentaries on the Vedic Samhitas that seek to discover the biographies of Hindu deities like Sri Rama and Sri Krishna in the hymns. This method is similar to the Aitihasika school, with the big difference that here that the ‘Itihasa’ does not pertain to the Seer of the hymn.
  • Indological Method: This method is adopted currently by virtually all Vedic Scholars outside India and also by numerous scholars within India. It is has the greatest internal diversity and we have lumped various methods of interpretation of the Vedas only for the sake of convenience. Several members of this school take the Rigveda to be an Indo-European text that must be interpreted with the help of parallel traditions in the other branches of the Indo-European language family. Linguistics and Philology are relied upon heavily. Some Indologists like Ludwig suggested wholesale emendations in the traditionally handed texts, whereas others, like Max Mueller, strongly advocated the accuracy of the traditionally handed text. Scholars like Oldenberg completely rejected the traditional commentaries like those of Sayana, while others like Pischel emphasized that the Vedas are Indian texts and ought to be interpreted keeping in mind Indian paradigms as reflected in the traditional commentaries. Indologists of course take into account the Vedic Vyakarana, Nirukta and the Brahmanas and Kalpasutras into account, but are often also seen to reject their testimony on various grounds, some of which are highly conjectural. For instance, the AIT was taken as gospel truth in the past and accordingly a lot of hymns were interpreted as if they represented battles between tall, fair, long nosed Aryans and black, short native Indians. The most remarkable contributions of these scholars have been the creation of massive concordances, indices and scholarly exegetical notes on the Vedic texts (besides publishing critical editions of the same), correlation of ideas mentioned in the Vedic texts with parallel ideas in other literary traditions, analysis of the internal chronology of these texts and composition of exhaustive commentaries and translations in various languages. At times however, some of this work appears to be mere conjecture dressed up in jargon of the field, and too divorced from what the Vedic tradition has to say about itself. Nevertheless, an intensive study of both modern as well as old exegetical traditions is a must for comprehending the Vedic texts.

 

Location

All states of India
India
30° 51' 2.4372" N, 75° 21' 58.3596" E
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