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Our Sanskrit and Vedic Heritage

From: Sadagopan (
Date: Tue Sep 22 1998 - 18:55:42 PDT

Dear Bhakthas : A good friend of mine
requested me to help him with some speaking points 
about Hindu Inheritance .I prepared this article 
quickly for him .This is  asummary of a 64 page article 
dealing with the different aspects of the Four Vedas .

You might also find the information interesting .
Hence I am sharing this posting with You all.
>The study of Sanskrit is a must to understand 
>our inheritance as Indians . It is not a luxury or 
>an eccentric or esoteric exercise ; it is however
>a necessity to understand the ideas , the literary forms , 
>the roots of national behavior , the pattern of our thought
>since the source of our culture is deeply embedded 
>in Sanskrit . 
>This grand and noble language is a shared national
>inheritance of India . From Kanyakumari in the lush
>south to the austre Himalayas standing up as the measuring 
>rod of our Earth in the North , from Lord Krishna"s 
>Dwaraka in the West to the rain forests of Assam in 
>the East , we have been united by Sanskrit for centuries .
>Ancient Vedas and Vedic literature , Upanishads , 
>Astronomy , Astrology , Mathematics, Dharma Sasthras , 
>Ithihasas , Puranas , Philosophical systems , poetry , 
>Drama , Mantra sastras , Agamas , Tantras,
>Historical tales , maha kavyas , Sangitham , Dance , 
>all of these have been deeply influenced by the majestic
>and noble language of Sanskrit . The immaculate precision
>of Sanskrit grammar , the greatness of its literature 
>have been emphasized by Indian leaders from Mahatma Ghandhi
>(Bhagavadh Gita as the guiding light for his daily life),
>Kulapathi K.M. Munshi ( the founder of Bharatiya Vidhya Bhavan ) ,
>Jawaharlal Nehru ( the author of Discovery of India ) and President
>Sarvapalli Radhakrishanan ( the great philosopher). 
>In this presentation , we will cover briefly , the multi-faceted
>splendor of Sanskrit and its pervasive influence on 
>Indian culture from Vedic times to modern times . 
>We will start with the Vedas and Vedic literature .
>They are four in number : Rig , Yajur, Sama and Atharva 
>Vedams . They house the earliest recorded poetry and prose 
>literature of the human race. To an orthodox Hindu , 
>the Veda is not a work of human beings , but it is
>of Divine origin floating in the atmosphere of 
>eternal sound waves. The Vedas are considered the breath
>of the Almighty and the repository of ALL knowledge .
>The vedas consist of a body of texts dating back to
>many centuries and are integral to the understanding of 
>the Vedic Culture.
>Rig -Veda consists of 10,589 mantras , which are grouped 
>under 1028 hymns and ten mandalas and 85 anuvakas .
>Each of the hymns is known as the Sooktha  and 
>the individual verse in these hymns is known as 
>the "Rk". The hymns themselves are set in differnet
>kinds of meres ranging from 24 syllables (Gayathri Metre )
>to 104 syllables (utkruthi metre).There have been 21 
>sakaas (branches ) of Rig Vedam according to different schools .
>Today , we have only one branch of Rig Veda available to us.
>This Vedam is used for Upasana .
>Yajur-Veda has a total of 1975 verses spread over 40
>chapters or adhyaayaas . The Yajur Veda samhitas are
>two in number and are known as the White (sukla ) 
>and black (Krishna ) Yajur Veda samhitas .This Vedam 
>used for the performance of rituals .
>Sama Vedam is the Veda of holy songs .It has liturgiacal
>importance and sanctity next only to Yajur Vedam . 
>The Udgathri priests sing the Sama veda at Soma Yagas
>and other yajn~ams . The Sama Vedam is made largely 
>out of the assembly of detatched verses from the Rig Vedam 
>to meet the needs of the Soma Yaagams and other rituals .
>The Sama veda contains in all 1,875 verses of which all but
>75 are from Rig Vedam .
>Atharva Vedam is a collection of 5977 verses housed
>in twenty books . This Vedam is largely in the form 
>of poetry with a small section in the form of prose. 
>These verses range from invocations for the cure from
>diseases with the help of medicinal herbs , freedom
>from the possession by spirits and lofty philosophical 
>concepts about Creation et al . 
>All these Vedas have from time immemorial are learnt
>by the oral tradition through face-to-face instruction
>from the teacher to the student .This method of learning
>has helped to preserve the proper pronunciation , svaras
>(Vedic accents ) and an understanding of the proper places 
>in the body , where the particular sounds associated
>with an akshara (letter ) originates.Vedas in general
>including the Upanishads ( Veda Siras ) are referred 
>to as Sruthis (revelations ) in contrast to Smritis 
>( human tradition ) , which includes the six limbs of 
>Vedas with defenite human origin .
>These are closely associated with the Vedas and are
>essential to learn to intrepret Vedas and to serve
>as the custodian of a particular way of intrepretation 
>of the sacred text of the Vedas . These six Vedangas are:
>(1) siksha ( phonetics),(2)Vyakarana (Grammar) ,
>(3) Jyothisha (astronomy and astrology) , 
>(4) Nirukta (etymology) , (5) Chandas( Prosody)
>and (6) Kalpa (Methods for the practises of rituals).
>Each of these six upangas are essentially in the form of 
>sutras or aphorisms . Lot of commentaries are available 
>and a thorough grounding in the six Vedangas are 
>essential for the reciting and intrepreting of 
>the Vedas . 
>The four ancillary Vedas are Ayurveda or the science of 
>medicine and physiology , Dhanur Veda or the Science of 
>martial arts , Gandharva veda or the Science of Music and 
>dance and finally Artha saastra or the Science of Politics
>and Economy .
>In contrast to the six Vedangas and the four Upavedas ,
>the Upanishads are an integral part of the Vedas .The
>name Upanishad is given to these essential section of 
>the Vedas because their study leads us near the Supreme 
>Brahman.Some of the key Upanishads are Isavasya, Kena , Katha ,
>Prasna , Mundaka , Mandukya , Taittiriya , Aitareya ,
>Chandogya , Brahadaranyaka and Svetasvatara Upanishads .
>Adi Sankara , Ramanujacharya and Madvaacharya have 
>invoked the above Upanishads to intrepret the Brahma 
>Sutrams of Vyasa Bhagavan to support their respective
darsanams.Sri Bhasyam of AchArya Ramanuja is one
of the four grantha chathushtyams for a Sri Vaishnava
to learn thru kalakshepa mukham from a qualified Acharya .
>Maha Bharata ( the great story of the war of 
>the Bharata clans) and Ramayanam (the deeds of 
>Rama ) are the two epics , which have helped to
>preserve the way of righteousness among people 
>of India . The Maha Bharata has 90,000 slokas
>housed in 18 books (parvas). It describes the 
>fight between dharma and adharma arising from 
>the rivalry between the 100 Kauravas and the five 
>Pandavas, the descendants of the King Bharata . 
>The moral tales told in this epic makes it
>shine as an encyclpedia of Indian beliefs 
>about right and wrong. The celebrated 
>Bhagavdh Gita and Vishnu Sahasra naamam 
>are housed in this epic. 
>Ramayanam has 24,000 slokams in seven cantos sung by 
>Adi kavi Valmiki dealing with an incarnation of
>Sriman Narayanan as Rama , the prince of Ayodhya 
>and His noble wife , Sita . This oldest epic
>is told and retold in all corners of India 
>to teach the ethical values to the populace .
>Exquisite descriptions of nature, portrayal 
>of human emotions, state craft and the practise
>of dharmam are covered by this epic and it has served 
>as a vital living force among the Indian people .
>These Puranas are ancient , semi-historical
>Sanskrit literature and are some what akin to
>the two Epics regarding their impact .Vision of
>the poet captures the high purpose of life and
>of high morals for instructional purposes.
>Sage Vyasa is the author of these 18 Puranas .
>Some of the famous Puranas are: Vishnu Puranam ,
>Brahma puranam , Padma puranam ,Siva Puranam , 
>Bhagavata Puranam , Agni puranam et al. Ways
>to conduct one's life is described through 
>stories and parables . There are also 18 upa-
>puranas (ancillary puranas ) . 
>Towards the end of the Vedic period , the Hindu
>norms of life were codified and set forth in sutras .
>The code of Manu is the most well known among 
>the Dharma sastras .This and other dharma sastras
>include civil and criminal law , the ways of 
>the kings, varanasrama dharmam and prayaschittams.
>The samkhya , Yoga, Vaiseshika , Nyaya ,
>Mimamasa and Vedanta are the six main 
>streams of Indian philosophy .
>The SAMKHYA or the exposition in number is 
>off from orthodoxy in a Vedic sense , 
>although it claims a certain Vedic tradition . 
>Few scholars hold that this system
>does not believe in the existence of a God and 
>associate it with the doctrines to Buddhism .
>The YOGA system is very similar to the samkhya
>system except it accepts the concept of God as 
>the object of concentration .Patanjali's yoga sutras 
>are the source literature for the Yoga system 
>to attain the purity of mind , body and speech .
>The VAISESHIKA (discriminative exposition )
>system deals with visesha or specialty
>among matter regarding their substance and action .
>A natural view of the world with the emphasis on
>the atomistic approach is the heart of this system
>of philosophy .The seven categories of the Vaiseshika 
>system got intertwined with the Nyaya system during 
>its evolution .
>The NYAYA (logic) system is a rich one dealing 
>with logic and general epistemology .Early contribtors
>were Buddhist and Jain scholars .Later works like 
>Nyasa Kusumanjali of Udayana distance themselves
>from them and focus on perception , inference , analogy 
>and verbal tstimony from a metaphysical point of view .
>The purva MIMAMSA system established by sage Jaimini
>arose from the desire to know the true meaning of
>the Vedic injunctions and of the rules of
>guidance and intrepretation of the Veda mantrams. 
>There is a great emphasis on human duty towards
>the proper performance of Vedic sacrifices and 
>rituals .The supermacy of the Vedas as one of 
>the greatest authority is a core doctrine of this
>system .Kumarila Bhatta was a great champion of
>this system and a confirmed ritualist .He checked 
>the onslaught of Vedic religion by Buddhists. His
>sishya was the famous Mandana Misra , who was 
>defeated by Adi Sankara in debate that lasted 
>over 18 days. After losing in the debate, 
>Mandana Misra accepted Adhi Sankara as his Acharya 
>and was iniitated into monkhood with the name 
>of Suresvara and became the first Acharya of 
>the Sringeri peetam .
>The VEDANTA or Uttara mimamamsa accepts Veda 
>as its authoritative source and is based on
>Upanishidic revelations intrepreted in 
>aphoristic form by Sage Badarayana in
>the form of Brahma sutras ,which accept 
>the supreme Brahman as the goal of one's
>life.The purva mimamsa school explains the world
>without an absolute power for its cause ; the 
>uttara mimamsa school in distinct contrast 
>categorically asserts the existence of 
>the Absolute Brahman as the cause of this Universe 
>and its functioning .There are 555 Brahma sutras.
>which are terse and abstruse . The genius of
>the three Acharyas, Sankara , Ramanuja and
>Madhva , has led to their intrepretation in 
>original ways to establish their Vedantic systems.
>The advaita , Visishtadvaitha and the Dvaitha
>systems got established through their intellectual
>power and rigor.It is not the purpose of this
survey article to engage in an attempt at 
comparative evaluation of these three BhAshyAs . 
>Advaita preaches that the mundane world is a myth 
>that appears real by maya or illusion . It recognizes
>the non-dualism between Brahman and Jeevan .The 
central tenet of Advaitham is that Avidya
>or ignorance of true knowledge conceals the supreme
>one from the vision of man and the removal of that
>avidya permits the man to see Brahman within himself
and recognize their identity .
>In Visishtadvaitham , the Jeevans and the insentients 
>constitute the body of Isvaran ,the supreme Brahman , 
>which is the root cause of everything .The individual soul 
>is real and does not become one with the Brahman ,
>but remains in a state of bliss at a distance from 
>Brahman in Sri Vaikuntam after Moksham .
>Dvaitham founded by Ananda Thirtha recognises five types
>of dualism btween the Jivan and the Brahman . Here, 
>the Brahman and the cognizable world are real and thoroughly 
>different from each other , while the individual soul
>is subservient to Brahman . Devotion to Lord Vishnu
>in the form of Krishna is central to this darsanam .
>These three are closely allied to each other.
>Atharva Veda is considered the source of all
>mantras , which is made up of aksharas in a
>particular order to be recited with a chandas ; 
>on proper recitation after initiation by an Acharya , 
>the mantras  yield the fruits of spiritual
>and temporal bliss  to the reciter.Prapancha  Saaram
>of Adhi Sankara , Saradaatilakm , Mantra Mahodadhi 
>are the source books of most of the mantras .
Anbil Swamy has posted an informative series of articles
on manthrams& their significance most recently . 
>Nigama(vedam) and Agama are considered the two
>pillars of Hinduism as a religion . Agama and
>Tantra are closely allied and are linked to
>Nigama .There are a large number of Agama and 
>Tantra texts , which generally deal with the
>worship of consecrated deities in temples,
>the rules for temple construction , the making
>of deities for worship ,repair and consecration 
>of temples , conductance of uthsavams , drawing
>of Yanthras et al . 
>Agamas and Tantras are broadly divided into 
>six main types: Saiva, Sakta , Viashnava ,
>Ganapatya , Saura and kaumara .They deal in
>turn with the worship of Siva , Devi (sakthi) , 
>Vishnu , Ganapathy , Sun and Skanda .There are 
>28 Sivagamas, two Vaishnava agamas( paancharaatram
>and Vykaanasam ) . The tantras also deal with
>the modes and processes of worshipping the appropriate
>Ishta Dhaivam .There are for instance 64 saakta tantras
>to worship Devi. Saubhagya Ratnakara of Vidyananda 
>and the Kamakala Vilasa of Punyananda are recent 
>works of significance that elaborate the earlier
>Tantric works.
>Sanskrit is the thread on which all these 
>kula dhanams of ours like Vedams , Vedangams,
>Upavedams , Ihtihaasams , Puranams , Dharma sastrams , 
>darsanams , kavyams , natakams, poetry , mantra 
>sastrams, Agamams and Tantra sastrams et al
>are strung together as a beautiful garland .
>They are like shining gems in a beautiful
>necklace of our Vedic tradition . Even the works
>in the vyavahara Bhaashas take their origin from
>these illustrious source works in Sanskrit.It has 
>been pointed outthat one who knows Sanskrit 
>is a better Indian for he is in a position to
>appreciate the common national inheritance 
>of India from time immemorial.
>Om Veda Purushaya nama;
>September 21, 1998