Knowledge in society has two
dimensions, depth in individuals and spread across people, across regions
and through time. The knowledge of most people is conditioned by their own
subjective and objective experiences. But common people of all climes and
times have always recognized that beyond the limits of what they know, are
vast areas of the unknown, which they relate to through faith or trust in,
or fear of, a higher power that appears to control everything, both
known and unknown.
Every society and every age has also had a small number of people, seers and sages, who have been able to see far beyond their external physical world and deep into the internal world of thought, emotion and intuition for a more complete understanding of all human experience. And many have found that subjective experience is inseparable from objective experience and that they are indeed the inseparable faces of the same coin. From this they drew guidelines for living for the common people, which, in time, came to form their scriptures.
The Vedas too must have originated in much the same way and come to occupy a place of centrality in the lives of the people. Of course, this would be with features similar in many ways to what has evolved in other cultures and in many ways uniquely different. One refrain for instance, that is common to many traditions, is the claim to a divine origin for their scriptures. That the scriptures were the word of God is affirmed as firmly by the Bible as by the Vedas. Without being drawn into contentious semantics, it seems reasonable and adequate for all practical purposes to interpret such statements to mean that their scriptures found first expression through the minds of seers and sages, which of course, in their humility, they attributed to divine inspiration.
There are however, other
features that make the Vedas unique among the world’s scriptures. One
is that they are among the oldest, if not the oldest of them. Secondly,
they are unquestionably, among the most massive and comprehensive explorations
of man in the fields of religion and philosophy. And thirdly, they have come
to us in one of the most scientific languages devised by man, namely Sanskrit.
These claims to uniqueness are recognized by scholars from all over the world,
men of enormous scholarship and impeccable credentials. And perhaps these
features will become evident to the reader himself as he reads through
the full text of the Vedas and their translations presented here.
One other extraordinary feature of the Vedas, is how the several thousnds of hymns that comprise their corpus came to be structured into their four-fold division – the Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva – and how whatever has survived of this enormous edifice, has survived without corruption or loss of content, though taught and transmitted through a wholly oral tradition, throughout the length and breadth of the Indian sub-continent, by several hundreds of generations spread over so many millenia .
The reason lies in the
adoption of an extraordinarry inter-locking strategy, operating at several
levels, and across vast spans of time and distance. At the most basic level,
a strict grammatical structure of the language and the metre of the compositions
provided a rigid framework for the texts. Every work also carried inbuilt
references to the size of each level of the component text. At the next level,
highly developed teaching methods resting on highly scientific techniques
for memorising the texts were prescribed and followed, where recitiation could
never go wrong. And at the final level, the early Vedic compilers established
a country-wide network of shakas or schools, strictly drilled in these teaching
and recitiation methods, and committed to maintaining the integrity and sanctity
of the texts. And last but not least, the texts were embedded into strict
rituals that commanded the unquestioning faith of the common people as a whole.
Thus the Vedic corpus acquired the strength of a monolithic structure and
The four Vedas present an interesting approach on the part of the early compilers, to their internal structure and content. The Rig Veda adopted the poetic form, the Yajur adopted the form of prose, the Atharva, a mix of prose and poetry, while the Sama Veda had its hymns set to music. Within each Veda again, one can see a functional progression of sequences, commencing with the authoritative texts in the Samhita, their ritualistic context in the Brahmanas, the rationale of text and ritual in the Aranyaka and ending with their ultimate philosophical import in the end sequence of the Upanishads. Thr Rig, Yajur and Sama traverse the progression from the early pastoral adoration of the powers of Nature, through the personification of these powers as dieties and gods and finally to the ultimate single undivided Reality into which everything, subjective or objective, finally merge. The Atharva Veda alone stands apart, in that its mantras address the less rational (and more common) experiences of the common people – the world of distress and disease, the spirits that cause them and the spells and charms that cure them.
The troubled political history of India, first with the Muslim invasions and later with British rule had its inevitable impact on the Vedic edifice. Many of the Vedic schools or shakas and their texts were lost in the social and economic turmoil of the centuries of dominance of these cultures. Luckily for India, a succession of outstanding English and European scholars from the 18th Century onwards were able to recognize, retrieve, document, preserve and translate many of the ancient surviving texts and their efforts created an international climate of interest in Indological studies.
While tradition has it that
originally there were 1024 Vedic shakas, today, only a handful survive.
and not counting several fragments that have been retrieved over the years,
the following is a summary of their surviving full texts :
RIG YAJUR SAMA ATHARVA
Samhita 1 6 2 1
Brahmana 2 3 9 1
Aranyaka 2 3 - -
Upanishad 3 6 3 2
The Rig Veda which is
subject of this presentation belongs to the Sakala school. It is generally
presented in one of two classification schemes – the Adhyaya-Ashtaka sceme
and the Mandala-Sukta scheme. The latter which is presented here is more
widely used, and according to it, the Rig Veda has about 10600 stanzas, aggregated
progressively into 1028 Suktas, 85 Anuvakas and finally ino 10 Books or Mandalas.
(with a total word count of 153826) A total of 15 different poetic metres
are employed, the Tristubh metre (4 lines x 11 syllables), the Gayatri metre
(3 x 8), and the Jagati (4 x 12), being the most commonly used.
The original verses in Sanskrit are presented here with Vedic notations, (diacritical
type of marks indicating the modulations prescribed in the recitation), and
with translations in simple and chaste English where every effort has been
made to eliminate the ornate and explain the esoteric. The first hymn addressed
to Agni, alone is presented with an option to view the original text transliterated
in all Indian scripts (including Grantha), and also in diacritised
English for the benefit of the English speaking world (in the IPA format).
This incidentally demonstrates the automatic transliteration features
of the remarkable Multi-Lingual Editor software package used for preparing
these presentations, and developed by the Indian Institute of Technology,
Chennai. While the automatic transliterations are largely accurate linguistic
and font constraints do lead a small number of representation errors, which
would need to be manually corrected in the converted text using the editor
in the local language concerned. Further texts will be added
as and when their compilation is completed in one or more of these