28.1.1 THE VEDAS - STRUCTURE
The primary source of Hinduism from which it derives all its authority and inspiration is the body of literature known as the vedas. They constitute the oldest religious literature of the world. They consist of two main divisions, the Mantras and the Brahmanas – the former containing chants and prayers and the latter containing a sort of commentary on the former, but both having equal authority. All are eternal, being revelations to the Rishis. A mantra may be in verse with fixed feet and syllables. Then it is known as a Rik. Otherwise it is called Yajus. A rik that can be sung is called a SAman. The three classes of mantras are grouped into four compilations or SamhitAs. These are the four Vedas which have the names Rg veda, Yajur-veda, SAmaveda, and atharvaveda. Each SamhitaA had one or more Brahmanas only a few of which are extant. Some of the Brahmanas have a portion called AraNyaka in which are found one or more Upanishads. The SamhitAs as well as the Brahmanas had various rescensions or ShAkhAs (branches) according to the original Rishis to whom they were revealed, and after whom they were named. We are told that there were 1180 such branches, but as of now it appears there are only eleven.
The most interesting thing to note is the fact that the Vedas were not written by any single person or persons. In fact they were not 'written' at all, until, in the nineteenth century, they were put into print. Till then, over the centuries, they were transmitted orally. In fact, all traditional teaching in India has gone on in this way for several centuries – from Guru to disciple (Shishya) from mouth to ear and from heart to heart. It is one of the amazing miracles of world heritage that, while even the written literature of great authors like Kalidasa and Shakespeare have today more than one reading or version at several points, the Vedas, which go back to 3000 B.C. have, in spite of being handed down entirely through oral transmission, come down to us in a single version with a scrupulous exactitude. Throughout the length and breadth of India, where the Vedas are treasured as the most ancient heritage, not a syllable of them is different in one place from what it is everywhere else.
How can this be? How was it possible? In spite of their massive content, (Rg veda and Yajur veda have 153,826 and 109,287 words respectively) they have been preserved from generation to generation though it was all done only orally. (By the way these statistics of word-count, etc. is not the work of any modern contrivance; but it is already part of the structure of the Vedas). All this has been preserved (till today) for more than five millenia (at least three millenia according to even the most stinting calculations) without ever putting them into writing. This must be considered a great lingusitic achievement of which India should be legitimately proud. The literature, which consists of diverse poetical and prose compositions were simply learnt by rote, the training being given by the teacher saying each word or combinations of words once with the proper incantations (called svaras) and the students saying it twice. They then learn, almost in the same way, to recite it in continuous form along with the incantations. The continuous recitation of a vedic text is called samhita pATha. The accuracy of the transmitted text is preserved by resorting to an artifice of nine different techniques or modes of recital.
The first is the pada pATha, which simply recites each word of the text separately; pada means word; pATha means reading.The system of euphonic changes that occur from the samhita pATha to the pada pATha is itself very technical (Sanskrit grammar would be crucial here) but makes sense. In addition, there are eight other techniques of recitation, the sole purpose of each is to preserve the original samhita text without the loss or addtion of a single syllable or svara. The svaras are a significant part of the recital of the vedas, whatever be the mode. The eight modes are called: krama, jaTa, ghana, mAlA, ratha, ShikhA, daNDa and rekhA. In each mode the order of recital of the words is specified as a particular permutation of their original sequence. We give below a sentence from the Yajurveda, obviously without the svaras, in its original samhita pATha form, also its pada text and then the order of the words in the ghana recital. A pundit who has learnt the ghana recital of one complete veda (he takes thirteen years of whole time work to reach that stage) is called a Ghana-pAThi.
First we give the rule for the ghana mechanics of recitation: Let us denote the original order of words in a sentence as: 1/2/3/4/5. Then the ghana recital will go as follows:
12/21/123/321/123/ 23/32/234/432/234/ 34/43/345/543/345/ 45/54/45/ 5 iti 5.
Example: samhita sentence:
eshAm purushANAm-eshAm paSUnAM mA bher-mA ro-mo eshAM kincanAmamat //
Meaning: Oh God! Do not frighten these our men and animals, may none of these perish or lack health.
pada text: (the slashes are shown to separate the words; but in reciting the pada text, one gives a half-pause after each pada):
Note: The ninth break here and the last break are the results of a technicality which the reader may ignore, unless one wants to specialise in this art.
Now for the ghana recital (without the svaras; with the svaras it would be a delight to hear). The recital is a non-stop recital, except for a half-pause at the place shown by /. There is no break anywhere else. The hyphens shown are for requirements of those who can decipher the grammar; they will not be reflected in the recital.
eshAM-purushANAM-purushANAm-eshAm-eshAM purushANAm-eshAm-eshAm purushANAm-eshAm-eshAm purushANAm-eshAM /
purushANAm-eshAm-eshAM purushANAM purushANAm-eshAM paSUnAM paSUnAm-eshAm purushANAm purushANAm-eshAM paSUnAM /
eshAM paSUnAM paSUnAm-eshAm-eshAM paSUnAm-mA mA paSUnAm-eshAm-eshAM paSUnAm-mA /
paSUnAm-mA mA paSUnAM paSUnAm-mA bher-bher-mA paSUnAM paSUnAm-mA bheH /
mA bher-bher-mA-mA bher-mA-mA bher-mA-mA bher-mA /
bher-mA-mA bher-bher-mAro aro mA bher-bher-mA araH /
mA ro aro mA-mA ro mo-mo aro mA mA ro mo /
aro mo mo aro aro mo eshAm-eshAm mo aro aro mo eshAM /
mo eshAm-eshAm mo mo eshAm kim kim-eshAm-mo mo eshAm kim /
mo iti mo/
eshAm kim-kim-eshAm-eshAM kim-cana cana kim-esham-eshaM kim-cana /
kim cana cana kim kim canAmamad-Amamat cana kim kim canAmamat /
canAmamad-Amamac-cana canAmamat /Amamad-ityAmamat /
One shoulld hear this being recited in chorus. I have tried to recite it for you as a sample, in the video 'Meet our Ancient Scriptures - 1' which can be watched from among the videos listed on the Menu page.
The significant point to note here is that in Sanskrit the order of words does not matter for the meaning of the sentence. If you do it with an English sentence, say, ‘Rama vanquished Ravana’, it will go like this:
Rama vanquished vanquished Rama Rama vanquished Ravana Ravana vanquished Rama Rama vanquished Ravana … and so on.
You can now see the absurdity in the meanings thrown up by the sequence of words. In Sanskrit this absurdity would not arise. So a ghana recitation is supposed to be equivalent to a recitation of the veda 13 times and to that extent is multifold fruitful! The 13 is because except for two beginning and two ending words in a sentence the others are repeated 13 times. (It can be checked with the word paSUnAM above).
Orthodox opinion holds that the vedas are eternal. The significance of this will be understood only if the concept of Time in Hindu cosmology is understood. In Hindu cosmology and metaphysics it is not accepted that the universe was created out of nothing at a particular point of time. For if something is created or born, it has to be dissolved, has to die. Strictly the conservation principle applies here. The universe was created, according to the Vedas, only by transformation of something which was latent before that. For instance, one such Vedic statement (M.N.U. 1-13) says: Sun & Moon were created by the Creator as they were
sUryA-candramasau dhAtA yathA pUrvam-akalpayat /
Creation is just a manifestation of what was unmanifest before. SrshTi and SamhAra, Creation and Dissolution, are only two events in a long cyclic succession of events. There is no beginning or end. This alternation between manifestation and non-manifestation is what appears as the passage of time. Manifestation is when the universe of names and forms appears and non-manifestation is when it disappears. The only Ultimate Reality is Brahman. Even BrahmA the Creator is only a manifestation of the Absolute Brahman at one point of time. He is the womb from which the entire universe becomes manifest. He is the One into which the entire universe dissolves. Each period of this manifestation is a day of BrahmA. From one day of BrahmA to another day, that is, from one period of manifestation to another such, many things survive in their latent forms. Among these are the Vedas – it is in this sense that the Vedas are eternal – and the complex of prints of individual minds with their store of impressions called vAsanAs. These survive the ‘night’ of BrahmA, the period of non-manifestation. The lengths of these days and nights in this long cycle of events have been elaborately described in the scriptures. The units mentioned therein are fantastically large and mind-boggling and a modern mind may be tempted to dismiss them as concoctions. But the consistency with which different scriptures written at different times in the past reveal the magnitudes of these units, called yugas, is remarkable.