Vedic Heritage of India (A Brief Survey)


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Vedas are the books of hymns and verses, melodies and sacrificial formulas composed in hoary antiquity by the successive generations of sages in the course of many centuries. They are the records of elevated thoughts of an age long past, spread over thousands of years representing invocations and incantations, mysteries and mysticism, religion and philosophy and metaphysics and science. They were orally transmitted from generations to generations through the centuries with every little and most minute detail of tone and stress. The Ashramas, the humble thatched huts were the teachers and the taught lived together, worked together, explored together the mysteries of the universe and its creator. In this priceless collection, the oldest Indo-European literary monument, was preserved in its pristine purity, without interpolation and corruption by the generation of Rishis through the centuries. This literary collection was three-fold, consisting of 1. ricas (verses) 2. Samans (melodies) – both composed on various metres – and 3. Yajus (sacrificial formula) composed in prose. In the Vedic language yaj means to worship and the yajnas were the modes of worship in those days in which the sacred fire was kindled the offerings were made to Goods while the hymns were recited, melodies were sung and the sacrificial formulas were recited, melodies were sung and the sacrificial formulas were uttered by the respective officiating priests. This large collection accumulated with additions of new revelations from time to time was originally called Brahman, the magnum opus; a student studying these literary works a Brahmachari, and a teacher in-charge a Brahmachari, who not only taught the students but also composed new hymns. The word Veda to denote these priceless divine revelations became popular only much later.

With the passage of time, these huge literary collection grow to such a great extent that the Brahmacharies felt it very hard to learn and memorize the entire collections of this magnitude, within the time limit of their Brahmacharya, their studentship. Apprehended of deterioration of standard and gradual depletion of this precious heritage, Krishna Dvaipayana, on the request of Brahmarshis, living in the solitude of Himalayan resort classified and arranged these collections in the order their employment in sacrificial rites into four-fold as:

1. Rigveda-Samhita with collection of ricas that belonged to Hotr priest, (2) Samaveda-Samhita with collection of ricas on which Samans were rendered, together with two classes of melodies sung on these ricas which belonged to Udgatr priest, (3) Atharvaveda-Samhita with collection of miscellaneous ricas covering incantations magic spells etc., pertaining to Brahma priest and (4) Yajurveda-Samhita with collection of sacrificial formulas and ricas belonging to Adhvaryu priest. Krishna Dvaipayana after having taught these samhitas, to four of his chosen disciples viz., the Rigveda to Paila, the Yajurveda to Vaishampayana, Samaveda to Jaimini and Atharvaveda to Sumantu, - asked them to establish Asbramas and promote the Vedic learning all over the Aryavarta. For having thus accomplished this massive gigantic collection accumulated through centuries Krishna Dvaipayana became better known later as VEDAVYASA in Indian History.

Eventually some more works but of different classes were added to each of these four Samhitas. They are: Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads, on the one hand, and the Vedangas, on the other, comprising books on phonetics, etymology, grammar, metrics and astronomy and the Kalpasutras representing 1. Srautasutras dealing with the sacrificial rites, 2. Shulbasutras containing the rules for measurement and the building of Yajnashala (sacrificial hall), fire-altar etc. (3) Grihyasutras treating the domestic rites, and (4) Dharmasutras consisting of spiritual and secular law. Among these, the Sutras, the manuals of rules composed in euphoristic prose style, are peculiar to Indian literature and nothing like these sutras can be seen in the entire literature and nothing like these sutras can be seen in the entire literature of the world. In these sutras the science condensed into a few words as far as possible is so systematically arranged that a student can easily commit the entire subject to memory, recollect any number of sutras any time and act strictly according to the rules. Again among these the Shulbasutras are the oldest works in Indian geometry and also the oldest contribution of Vedic India to the history of Mathematical science.

This in brief is an outline of the history of the vast Vedic literature consisting of over one hundred books.

This book, as may be seen, focuses on the view held by the teachers of the ancients on the great heritage of India. The Vedic words etc., imply the great Vedic tradition, believed to have come through the ages and even the Kalpas prior to the present one, in which we live e.g. speaks of Agni’s previous birth in the far off ages, and refers to sojourn of the Sages in Naka, on their way to Eternity. The Vedas, it may be noted, are not the ballads of wandering bards nor are they folksongs of rustic merry workers of the early age. They are the solemn records in which the great heritage of this ancient land has been preserved. The Rishis endowed with medha, a mental faculty, which stores the experiences and memories of one’s previous incarnations, could feel and perceive things transcending space and time. The word medha is derived by Yaska as and the Avestan Mazda is a cognate terms of this word. The Brahmarshis derived inspiration from this heritage, the secrets of which were hidden in the ever-shining cave of their hearts:

Here is such a verse from the Samaveda itself which is regarded as a khila, supplement in the Rigveda:

Kanva, the sage, not satisfied with trite euologies sung by the singers asks them to recollect the glorious hymns, the melodious songs of the previous ages and he in despair with folded hands prays to God saying: “May the medhas of the singers (in which the past memories are preserved) be set open”. A Brahmachari, in his daily prayer while making offerings prays to Agni to confer on him this ‘medha,’ this mental faculty in which he could store the learnings acquired from his guru, by the study of scriptures, by practice of Sadhana, by experience in life.

I started my career as the Curator, Anup Sanskrit Library, Bikaner, in 1951. In the same year I got married to Miss Mohini Sabnis, B.Sc., B.T., Dip-in Physical Education, the second daughter of late Mr. Rama Rao G. Sabnis, Pleader, Dharwar. She was a teacher at the Higher Secondary School, Bijapur at that time. Latter she resigned the post and joined me at Bikaner and also worked as a Science teacher at the Maharani Sudarahan College, till we both moved together to Darbhanga in 1952. Here too she worked for a couple of years as a teacher at the Multipurpose Higher Secondary School, Laheriasarai and then resigned the post. In 1961 on the pursuation of local friends she accepted the post of the founder Principal of a newly started Public School at Darbhanga. In August 1962 I was appointed the Director of the Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, newly started by the Government of India at Tirupati. We both, with our daughter Sadhana, who was at that time about 5 years old, moved down to Tirupati where we lived full 8 years.

I am happy that this book on our great heritage with its history and the sentiment attached thereto is being published in the series of the Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha now a deemed-to-be-University with which we both, I directly, Mrs. Sharma indirectly, were attached so much from its very inception.

About the Author
Professor Dr. Bellikoth Ramachandra Sharma, the author, born in 1911, is a noted devout Sanskrit Scholar, who has been working in the Vedic field, eversince he started his Svadhyaya in July 1943 at the Deccan College Research Institute, Poona, as a research student. On finishing his elementary schooling at his native village, Bellikoth, Kasaragod Taluq (S.K, now in Kerala), he learnt Sanskrit in traditional way, first at the Pathashalas and later at the Bhuvanendra Sanskrit College, Karkala and Rajah’s Sanskrit College, Tiruvaiyar, -a reputed centre of Sanskrit studies in India in those days. He memorized whatever he studied, -Amarakosha, Astadhyayi, Mahakavyas, and Vyakarana etc, from which he could recollect and quote any portion anytime, promptly and accurately, and many of the references he gave in his writings from the original Sanskrit texts were from his memory.

He started his humble carrier as the Headmaster, Shri Shrinivasa Pathashala, Mangalore, 1936-1943. After having obtained the M.A. degree in Sanskrit from Madras University he worked for his doctorate at the D.C.R. Institute, Poona 1943-1948; was Curator, Anup Sanskrit Library, Bikaner, 1951-1952; Professor, Mithila Institute, Darbhanga, 1952-1962; Founder Director, K.S. Vidyapeetha, Tirupati, 1952-1970; first, Professor 1070-1972 and then, Professor-cum-Director, 1972-1975. Vishweshwaranand Vishvabandhu Institute, Punjab University, Hoshiarpur; Visiting Fellow, Nepal Research Centre, Kathamandu, Nepal, 1976; U.G.C. Awardee, Mysore University, 1978-1981; Shastra-Chudamini-Professor, Govt. of India, attached to the Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore 1981-1983.

In 1984 he was awarded the Certificate of Honour (Sanskrit) by the President of India; received many regional awards; was the Joint Secretary, A.I.O.C; President, Vedic Section, AIOC, Ujjaini; President, G.S.B. Sabda, Mysore and was associated with a number of learned bodies in various capacities in India.

He has contributed a large number of papers to research journals and felicitation volumes and his solid massive contributions are in the field of the Vedas, primarily, of the Samaveda, which he has made his own for over four decades. He has since brought out over twenty important Vedic texts with commentaries, critical notes, Introduction etc., and he has thus made an unerasable mark with his outstanding scholarly contributions in the history of Sanskrit literature. Besides the Sama-Brahmanas, among the works he has since brought out, the Puspasutra, all with commentaries,- are so me of the major works in this field to be noted. Above all he is the first person in the Vedic history to critically edit two major Samhitas viz., Kanva-Samhita of Shukla-Yajurveda (5 vol s), and the Samaveda (3 volumes), both with Padapatha and all available commentaries. He did all these works single-handed keeping awake late in the night, literally burning the midnight oil. Prof. Sharma, now an Octogenarian, still continues his work with unabated energy as before even at this ripe age.

In his present work, he has made an attempt to bring out some of the salient features of the Brahma-prstha, -a fascinating word meaning Vedic heritage, focusing the various aspects of this ancient literary monument, which he describes as an schools of thought, religious, philosophical and secular,- originated in the Aryavarta, the urheim of the Vedic Aryans.

Discussing the Vedic theories, as presented in various hymns of the Rigveda, on the origin of the universe, i.e., on the Bhava-vrtta, as it is called in the Veda, which, “in modern scientific terminology,” says Prof. Sharma “may mean both Cosmogony, ‘origin and history of the universe’ as well as Cosmology, ‘origin and theory of the universe’,- it is thus both combined in one word, in Vedic Sanskrit.”


1. Introduction To The Veda 1
The Origin of the Veda 3
The Age of the Veda 11
Influences of the Vedas on our lives 12
2. Method of Study 16
Recitation 19
Deterioration of Pronunciation 20
3. Interpretation 21
4. Rishis 24
The Samhitas 27
Rishi-Vamsha 31
5. The Chandas 34
6. Samskaras 38
Upanayana 38
Yajnopavita-The Sacred Thread 42
7. Corpus of Vedas 45
The Rigveda 49
The Yajurveda 50
The Atharvaveda 55
The Samaveda 56
8. The Brahmanas 59
Mystic Sacrifice 60
9. The Aranyakas and Upanishads 67
10. The Vedic Deities 72
Philosophical Speculation 74
11. The Samaveda 77
The Sama Samhitas 78
The Brahmanas of the Samaveda 82
12. The Soma Sacrifices 87
The Soma 91
13. Significance of the Samaveda 96
Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana 97
14. Vedic Cosmology 106
15. Conclusion 121
Appendix I (Veda to Puranas) 131
Appendix II (Veda in General) 132
Appendix III Rigveda 132
Appendix IV Yajurveda 133
Appendix V Samaveda 134
Appendix VI Atharvaveda 134
References 135
Glossary 153
Index 195