The four vedas – The Rig Veda

The Rig Veda derives its name from the sanskrit root – “Rik“. What we now refer to as shlokas, stanzas, hymns was in the past referred to as “Rik“. The whole of the Rig Veda is in hymn form, hence the name.

Although we refer to the vedas as four in number, it is important to note here that there are several “Shakas” or branches or schools usually on the basis of different methods of chanting / recitation. These Shakas are like the adventitious (stilt) roots of the large Banyan tree with the four vedas being the 4 main branches.

Modern researchers talk about the Rig Veda being the oldest but within the Vedas themselves or amongst practitioners this is given little credence because the Vedas as we saw in post-1 are “Timeless” – “Anaadi” and Apourusheyam (not authored by humans).

This can be further confirmed by the fact that the Rig Veda itself makes reference to the Saama and Yajur Veda at many places. The famous “Purusha Sooktha” which appears in the 10th Mandala of the 90th hymn of the Rig Veda refers to both the Saama and Yajur Veda. See the shloka below:

तस्माद्यज्ञात्सर्वहुत ऋचः सामानि जज्ञिरे
छन्दांसि जज्ञिरे तस्माद्यजुस्तस्मादजायत ॥९॥
Tasmaad-Yajnyaat-Sarvahuta Rucahs Saamaani Jagnyire |
Chandaamsi Jagnyire Tasmaad-Yajus-Tasmaad-Ajaayata

From the Complete Offering of His (The Virata Purusha; the primeval being) Yagya (Sacrifice of Creation) was born the Rig Veda and Saama Veda,
The Chandas (Vedic Meters) too were born from Him, and so also the Yajur Veda.

This shloka debunks the theory of researchers who claim that the Rig Veda was the first of the Vedas and all other vedas came later.

Each Shaka is further classified into 3 portions – Samhita, Braahmana, and Aaranyaka. When we talk of Veda Adhyayana we actually refer to the Samhita portion of the Vedas – recitation/chanting. The word Samhita means collection, “put-together”. The Braahmanas can be seen as “explanatory notes” in prose form of the “Samhita mantras”. The Aaranyakas as the name signifies, refers to a “forest” and therefore consist of that portion of the Vedas that need to be studied/reflected upon in the forest – they are less ritualistic and were born probably based on the difficulties of conducting rituals in a forest-setting. The contents of the Aaranyakas include Brahma VidyaUpasana, and Prana Vidya and could be considered to be a bridge between the Karma-Kaanda portion of the Vedas (Samhita and Braahmanas i.e. Rituals) and the Jnana Kaanda portion of the Vedas (Vedanta or Upanishads, i.e. Spirituality). 

The Aaranyakas mark a definite shift from the religions to the spiritual with the culmination occurring in the esoteric and supreme truths presented in the Vedantas or Upanishads.

The whole of the Rig Veda Samhita is in “Rik” or “hymn” form. Several “Riks” together constitutes a “Sooktha”. For example the Purusha Sooktha is a compilation of several Riks.

The Rig-Samhita contains 10,170 Riks and 1028 Sookthas arranged into 10 Mandalas and 8 Ashtakas. It begins with an Agni Sooktha and ends also with an Agni Sooktha.

Many commentators have interpreted this as “Fire Worship” but according to the Kanchi Paramacharya Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi this has to be seen and interpreted as worship of the “light of the soul’s consciousness (Atma Chaitanya)

ms2162-del-rig-veda-siglo-xvii-800x445
Image Credit: http://globalhindus.com/rigveda/. Image copyright rests with the original creator. This image is not used for any commercial purpose.

The Rig Veda contains hymns to all major Devatas. It also details the marriage of Surya’s daughter and marriage rites of Hindus are broadly fashioned on the basis of the details given here.

The Rig Veda occupies the pride of place amongst the Vedas – the rituals and call to action in the Yajur Veda and the musical recitation of Saama Veda emerge from the basic “Riks” of the Rig Veda. The exceptional poetry of the Rig Veda is considered to be masterpieces of poetic beauty.


References:

  1. The Vedas – Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi; Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan; 2014.
  2. http://indianscriptures.50webs.com/partveda.htm
  3. http://ignca.nic.in/vedic_heritage_Aranyakas.htm

Bhaskaracharya and the inexorable nature of “Time” and “Destiny”

Bhaskaracharya the celebrated Indian mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer who lived 800-900 years ago was born in Bijapur, Karnataka and then is believed to have settled in Maharashtra. He is also known to have headed (for some time) the Astronomical Observatory Center at Ujjain, the leading mathematical center of medieval India.

His works and treatises on Arithmetic, Algebra, the pythagorean proof, Calculus, planetary movement etc. predate (by several 100 years) those of modern western Mathematicians, but that is not the focus of this post.

This post is about the inexorable nature of “Time” and “Destiny“. “What is destined shall come to pass…”

Bhaskaracharya’s daughter Lilavati was very dear to him. However, when he drew up her horoscope he realized that his dear daughter was destined to become a widow soon after her marriage. He re-worked on his calculations and arrived at a specific time when the planetary positions would be so favourable that they would ensure his daughter enjoyed a long married life of conjugal bliss.

Bhaskara set out to defy fate and destiny.

In order to ensure that he conducted the marriage of his daughter at the exact time arrived at through his calculations he used a Water Clock called Ghatika in Sanskrit. The words Gadikara in Kannada, Gadikaram in Tamizh and Ghadi in Hindi are all derived from this Sanskrit root.

This Ghatika was a simple two-vessel set-up – a smaller upper bowl and a larger lower bowl. The lower bowl was calibrated with markings to denote the passage of time. The upper vessel had a small aperture in it. The upper bowl was filled with water which dripped through the aperture into the lower bowl. The lower bowl had 60 markings with the each mark denoting time equivalent to 1/60 of a day.

This unit of time is called Ghatika (Ghati) and is still used in Panchangams and astrological almanacs. One Ghatika is equal to 24 minutes and one hour therefore has two-and-a-half Ghatikas. In Tamizh the Ghatika is referred to as “Nazhigai“. The muhurtha or the auspicious time of a marriage or other such important function is often denoted in Ghatis or Nazhigai’s.

This Ghatika was the precursor of the western sand-clock in which sand replaced water.

Coming back to the story of Bhaskaracharya and Lilavati, Bhaskaracharya set this Ghatika and waited for the precise time to conduct the marriage. As was the custom in those days Lilavati’s marriage was fixed when she was still a child. The child Lilavati while playing came near the Ghatika and a small pearl from her nose-ring accidently fell into the upper bowl and blocked a part of the aperture and reduced the amount of water dripping into the lower bowl.

ghatika yantra
Ghatika Yantra*

The marriage was therefore conducted in a “lagna” that was well past the auspicious time that Bhaskaracharya had calculated and Lilavati became a child-widow. It was only much later that a distressed Bhaskaracharya found the real reason but it was too late by then.

This story is not to defend astrology or child marriage etc. It is just to show how inexorable “Destiny” and “Time” are. What is destined to happen shall happen – to fight it is stupidity and focusing only on the present moment is the way to happiness.

Bhaskaracharya’s book on arithmetic titled “Lilavati” was a dedication to his daughter. He also taught her mathematics and made her into a high-ranking mathematician.

The beauty of the book lies in the fact that several of the problems are addressed to Lilavati herself in the most adoring and endearing way – typical of a father to a daughter…


*Image source and disclaimer: http://vipasana-vidushika.blogspot.in/2014/08/sages-from-hindu-scriptures_24.html. Last accessed: May 6, 2017. Copyright belongs to the original creator and the image is not used for any commercial purpose

The Vedas and their grand concept of TIME – Yugas, Kalpas, Manvantaras, and Brahma

The sheer grandeur with which the concept of “TIME” in its macro sense is discussed in the Vedas boggles the mind. Often, modern interpreters make the mistake of trying to look at similarities between these calculations and those arrived at by modern science as if validation by modern science is the only way the Vedas could be redeemed.

The more important point according to me is to soak in the grandeur and conceptual brilliance of the minds that could think at such a grand cosmic level and come up with numbers that run into Trillions without the help of modern telescopes, satellites and all the other paraphernalia of modern astronomy and science. That their numbers are so close to what modern science says is testimony to the greatness of those seers and vedantins.

In the Srimad Bhagavata (Skandha-III; Chapter-11; Verses 21-23) it is said:

For the Brahmaloka and the realms outside the Universe, a day of Brahma is equal to the 4 yugas multiplied by a 1,000. His night is of equal duration. Creation starts at Brahma’s waking and continues for the entire duration of his day. When he approaches his (Brahma’s) night, he stops all activities, dissolves everything in himself and sleeps…

A short summary of the concept of macro-time as envisaged in the Vedas and explained in the Bhagavata is given below:

  1. There are 4 yugas and each yuga consists of a fixed number of years. {Note that the number of years in each Yuga is in the descending ratio of 4, 3, 2, 1}

    • Satya Yuga: 17,28,000 years (1.728 million years)
    • Treta Yuga: 12,96,000 years (1.296 million years)
    • Dvapara Yuga: 8,64,000 years (0.864 million years)
    • Kali Yuga: 4,32,000 years (0.432 million years)
  2. The 4 Yugas together constitute 1 Maha Yuga (Chatur Yuga) =  43,20,000 years (4.32 million years)

  3. 1,000 such Maha Yugas (i.e 4.32 million years X 1,000) = 43,20,000,000 years (4.32 billion years) makes 1 KALPA or “1 day of Brahma”

  4. Each Kalpa is divided into 14 Manvantaras with each Manvantara headed by a Manu. In other words each Manvantara consists of 71.4 Chatur Yugas. 14 such Manvantara cycles adds up to 1 Kalpa. We are believed to be in the reign of the 7th Manu – Vaivasvata (which is what we say in the Sankalpa mantra “Vaivasvata Manvantare“) and within this Vaivasvata Manvantara we are in the 28th Chaturyuga (again we say this in the Sankalpa mantra “Ashta-vim-shatatitame“)

  5. A similar 4.32 billion years constitutes the “night of Brahma” adding up to a total of 8.64 billion years (which is very close to the modern scientific belief that the earth will not be inhabitable when it reaches the age of 7.5 to 8 billion years and is also the accepted period spanning creation through dissolution)

  6. From now the numbers  are so mind boggling they take one’s breath away: As we have seen 8.64 billion years is the one full day of Brahma. 365 such days constitute 1 year of Brahma! and on this basis his lifespan is a 100 years!! 311 to 315.36 Trillion years!!!

The image below is perhaps easier to comprehend:

vedic timeImage Source: mcremo (Image is not used for any commercial purpose. Copyright belongs to original creator)

The Vedas, Vedangas, Upangas, and Upavedas – An introduction (The Vedas-2)

In the previous post on the Vedas we looked at how the vedas were “Apourusheyam” (Read here) i.e not the revelations of one prophet or messiah but rather timeless truths that have no single authorship and that the Vedas are the fundamental books of Sanatana Dharma – all other books and commentaries like the Bhagavad Gita etc. are merely commentaries or at best derivatives of the vedas. In this post we look at the 18 sub-divisions of the Veda (Referred to as the Vidya Sthanas).

It is often the practice to call all of these under one name – “Dharma Shastras” because they are repositories of both Vidya (Knowledge) and Dharma (Codes of right conduct). In the chart below I have made an attempt to depict the Vedas and their subdivisions in a single chart:

Veda-vidyastahnasIn discussing the Vedas, one often talks of the Veda-Purusha or Veda-Maata – i.e. the personification of the Vedas in terms of the human body. In Sanatana Dharma the use of the body to explain dharmic and scientific concepts is an established practice – Thus you have the “Vastu-Purusha” for example. The Temples of Sanatana Dharma are also symbolic expressions of the human body with the consecrated deity representing the Atman or Soul (being a part of and derived from the Universal Paramatman/Consciousness).

The table below shows the six (6) vedangas of the Vedas and their purpose/purport:

Vedangas Represented by/as Purport
Shiksha Nose The life-breath of the Vedas
Vyakarana Mouth Sound (Grammar)
Chandas Feet Metric Composition Refers to the
Nirutta Ears Vedic Dictionary. Presents the true meaning of each word.
Jyotisha Eyes Astronomy and Astrology.
Kalpa Hands Action. Induce one to action

More about the Vedas and the Vedangas in the subsequent posts

The Vedas are the authoritative texts of Sanatana Dharma (1)

What is the authoritative book on which your religion is based? If this question was posed to a Christian, he/she would say “The Bible”, a muslim “The Koran”; a parsi “The Zend Avesta”; a Buddhist “The Dhammapada”; a Jew probably “The Torah” or “The Tanakh” or “The Hebrew Bible”; a Sikh “The Granth Sahib”

If we were to pose this question to a practitioner of Sanatana Dharma (erroneously referred to as the Hindus) what would his/her answer be? In all probability we would not receive one standard answer – some would say Bhagavad Gita, someone else the Ramayana, someone the Upanishads and so on.

The reason for this is very simple – Sanatana Dharma is the only religion in the world where parents of children do not provide even a basic foundation or grounding in the tenets and principles of their own “Dharma”. I choose not to use the word religion because the word does not capture the true essence of Sanatana Dharma – This “Dharma” was, is, and never will be a religion

Religion means rituals whereas “Dharma” refers to those principles one must follow in life to be CONTENTED and HAPPY. This is probably the reason why even the Supreme Court of India observed that Hinduism is a way of life. This is one major difference between Sanatana Dharma and all other religions.

Besides this, there is one other major difference between Sanatana Dharma and all other religions – All other religions are “Pourusheyam” i.e. “Revealed Texts” – there is one founder or Prophet, or Saint whose commandments form the core of that religion’s beliefs, principles, and practices. Sanatana Dharma however is “Apourusheyam” i.e. not revealed by any one “purusha” or human being – they are timeless, limitless “Truths” that have existed before the time of creation itself and will do so forever.

Therefore, if one were to look for a book or rather a single source of authority in the ocean of Sanatana Dharma then one must look for a book that is truly “Dharma-Pramana” (that which establishes the TRUTH). If this be the criterion, then the Vedas alone pass muster – the Bhagavad Gita is but a small speck in the ocean of Sanatana Dharma – it derives from the Vedantas (Upanishads) and is not even a commentary on the vedas in their entirety.

The Kanchi Paramacharya Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi in the second volume of his “Deivathin Kural” (The voice of God) uses the two quotes below (in Tamizh) to establish what constitutes “The Vedas” (Translation appears below the image)

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The Vedas are four (4) in number (Rig, Yajur, Sama, Atharva), then the six (6) Vedangas – angas or limbs or divisions of the vedas (more about each of these in subsequent posts), followed by Mimamsa (vedic interpretations), Nyaya (logic), Puranas (Mythology), and Dharmashastras (Codes of Conduct) making it Fourteen (14) in total. To these 14 may be added the 4 Upa-angas (ancillary limbs) namely Ayurveda (Science of Life), Artha-Shastra (Science of Wealth and Economics), Dhanur-Veda (Science of weapon-making and warfare) and Gandharva-Veda (Writings and treatises on the fine arts including music, dance, drama) bringing it to a grand total of 18 – these form the “Vidya-Sthanas” – “…that in which knowledge and wisdom are enshrined”

I will conclude this post with a beautiful conversation between Hanuman (representing the embodied Atman) and Rama (representing the Supreme Divinity – Paramatman) that appears in the beginning of the Muktiko-Upanishad of Sukla Yajurveda which epitomizes the great vastness of the Vedas…

Hanuman asks Rama: “Tell me Raghava, how many are the vedas, and how many their branches and how many the Upanishads?”

Rama replies: “The Vedas are four (4), their branches many and so also the Upanishads – The Rig Veda has 21 branches, the Yajur Veda 109, the Sama Veda a 1,000 and the Atharvana Veda 50 – each of these branches has its own Upanishad (Vedanta)…

Subsequent posts will look at other aspects of the Vedas.

References:

  1. Deivathin Kural Volume-2; Vanathi Publications; 2016 edition/Reprint
  2. Thirty Minor Upanishads – Translated by K. Narayanaswmi Aiyar; 1914 edition. Printed by Annie Besant, Vasanta Press; Adayar; Madras.

Akrura’s hymn to Krishna (10)

This will be the last post in this series on Krishna. This post draws from Chapter-40; Skandha-10 of the Bhagavata in which Akrura (who is actually an envoy of Kamsa) realizes Krishna’s true nature and then composes a hymn extempore, revealing to the world the true nature of Krishna. These verses clearly show that Krishna is that indwelling atman, spirit, soul within each individual – that which pervades and invades every sentient and insentient being in the Universe.

Below is a free translation of a few select verses (the operative word is “FREE”)

  1. You are that primordial being, the Purusha from whom everything has evolved and into whom everything subsides
  2. The elements – earth, water, fire, sky, air, and space are but parts of your being
  3. You are pure and transcendent, not bound by even Prakriti and therefore unattainable through the intellect but easily grasped when the seeker submits to your will.
  4. Those who have developed the highest spiritual insight realize “YOU” as “YOURSELF” as that one Lord and Universal being
  5. Those who need the help of symbols worship you as that indweller in either the body, nature, or Devas
  6. Those who see everything as manifestations of  your supreme Maya serve YOU through the SERVICE of fellow beings
  7. Those devoted to the rituals of the Vedas see you in the fire of their yagnas
  8. Those who attain you through a Quantum leap in Jnana (knowledge) drop everything and adore you as the all pervading Supreme
  9. Just as all rivers fed by rain wander into the ocean, so also do all paths lead to YOU and YOU alone.
  10. Each one has come from you and remain strung together like the beads of a necklace – separate yet interdependent; interdependent yet held together by you
  11. Salutations to you, who are all of this but still remain a witness to this play, unattached and pristine
  12. Salutations to you who are Pure Consciousness beyond the grasp of Time, Karma, and Nature, infinite and inscrutable
  13. Protect me for I have surrendered myself to thee…

Krishna’s Rasa-lila (9)

The word Rasa-lila, arrived at by the sandhi (meeting of two words) of “Rasa” meaning aesthetics and Lila meaning “Dance” can be loosely translated as “The Dance Divine“. It has also been a subject of much derision and mirth for Hindus themselves and a stick to beat the Hindu religion for people of other religions.

A reading of the section from the “Rasa Lila episode of the Srimad Bhagavata under “The Gopis plea” (verses 31-41), should clarify the true purport of this “play” of the divine:

…”Lord, we have abandoned our all to serve thy feet. Accept us as the Supreme Being accepts all who go to him seeking liberation”Abandon us not, O Thou of mysterious ways! who art the source of all codes, the Lord of all, the topic of instruction for all scriptures and teachers – For art Thou not the closest relative, the dearest object of Love for all Jivas, being the soul of their souls? The really wise man entertains love only to Thee – the ever lovable Soul of one’s soul…”

Sanatana Dharma talks about the 9 modes of Bhakthi or devotion – Shravana (listening to the glories of the lord), Kirtana (Singing), Smarana (Constant remembrance), Archana (Worship),  Paadasevana (Service of the needy) , Vandana (Prayer and Prostration),  Dasyatva (Lord-servant relationship), Sakhya (The lord is my friend), Atmanivedan (Surrender, Sharanagathi)

The Rasa-Lila of the Gopis would fall under the category of Atmanivedana, complete surrender to the Supreme being the indwelling atman where all body-consciousness is lost, and sex is sublimated in the divine essence of the lord of love within.

Mira Bai the 16th century mystic was a living example of this. She was in every sense a Gopi, she thought of herself as Radha and her Giridhar was all that mattered to he:

Friends, I am completely dyed in this (i.e. Krishna’s) colour. I drank the cup of immortal bliss, and became drunk. My inebriation never goes away, however many crores of ways I try “*

“Mira danced with ankle-bells on her feet. People called Mira mad; my mother-in-law said I ruined the family reputation. Rana sent me a cup of poison and Mira drank it laughing. I have dedicated my body and soul at the feet of Hari. I thirst for the nectar of the sight of him. Mira’s lord is Giridhar Nagar; I come for refuge to him…“*

The last word on this has to be left to the inimitable Osho (Rajneesh):

Rasalila is dance of Cosmic Consciousness with individualised Consciousness, It is a State of Mind were bliss manifests. One can experience this the way Sufis experienced. This (Rasalila) is Maharaas where Krishna represents the whole of the male element in creation known in sanskrit as the Purusha. The Gopis represent the entire female principle of Prakriti and this Maharaas represents the combine dance of Prakriti and Purusha… ” – Krishna, the man and his Philosophy by Osho; Chapter 9: The Cosmos is a dance of Opposites.

*Poison to Nectar The Life and Work of Mirabai by Madhu Kishwar and Ruth Vanita. Available at: http://www.manushi-india.org/pdfs_issues/pdf_files-50-51-52/poison_to_nectar.pdf.