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Introduction to Hindu Scriptures


Part 2

Vedangas

 

In addition to the four parts of the Vedas (see Part 1 of this series), there are six "Vedangas". The word "anga" in Sanskrit means limb. Thus the Vedas are imagined to possess six limbs in the form of the six Vedangas as mentioned in the following Sanskrit verse:

"Siksha Kalpo Vyakaranam Niruktam Chandasam Chayah
Jyotishamayanam chaiva vedangani shadeva tu"

These Vedangas are considered "limbs" of the Vedas. For example, "Jyotisha" (literally meaning light, deals with astronomy and astrology) is considered to be the "eyes" of the Vedas and "Chanda" (the science of rhyme and meter in poetry) is visualized as the feet of Vedas. Just like the limbs of the body, they perform various supportive and augmenting functions in the study, preservation and protection of the Vedas and the Vedic traditions. A student wanting to understand and realize the inner meaning of the Vedas is required to first master these six Vedangas before attempting to study the actual Vedas. The six Vedangas are:

 

Siksha: deals with the study of sounds and pronunciation associated with each syllable. The vibrations generated by sounds are considered to possess immense power in Hindu mysticism ("Akshara Brahma" - Sound is the Supreme Spirit). Sikhsa trains the students in the art and science of articulation of words and syllables so that they can chant the vedic hymns perfectly, so that these chants produce the desired sound vibrations. The teachings of the Siksha are contained in the ancient texts known as Pratisakhyas, each attached to a particular Samhita, providing instructions for the recitation of the hymns contained in it.

 

Chhanda: deals with the analysis of the types of meter used in the construction of various Vedic hymns. In Sanskrit, the word "pada" is used as the metrical unit. The measurement is made depending on the nunber of syllables used. Gayatri, Tristubh and Jagati are the most common meters used in the poetic compositions. Chhandashastra of Pingalanaga is considered to be the oldest text available on the subject.

 

Vyakarana: deals with Sanskrit grammar or the analysis and decomposition of words, word formation, root words and complex sentence structures. Thus Vyakarana provides useful insights into the usage of words and sentences leading to the mastery of the language. The most authoritative work on the subject is considered to be the Ashtadhyayi of sage Panini. Ashtadhyayi is divided into four parts:

  • Siva Sutras: These deal with phonetics of the word and letter sounds.
  • Ashtadhyayi: deal with the structure of words and sentences and their construction.
  • Dhatupata: In Sanskrit, there are "root words" and "derived words". Dhatupata deals with list of root words.
  • Ganapatha: deals with nouns or noun phrases.

Nirukta: deals with the explanations of obscure words especially those found in the Vedas. The Vedas are replete with mysterious symbolism not usually understood by all. Nirukta helps in the analysis and interpretation of these symbolisms. The most authoritative exponent of this branch of study is Yaksha, a Sanskrit grammarian and master of Sanskrit etymology. He is remembered for his monumental work called Nirukta, which is an excellent commentary of the obscure words found in the Nighantu (dictionary) of his time.

 

Jyotisha: deals with the astronomical and astrological aspects of fixing auspicious date and time to perform various Vedic rites and rituals including the sacraments or rites of passage. There are two versions - the Aarca Jyotish and the Yajus Jyotish. One belongs to Rigveda and the other to Yajurveda. According to tradition, sage Bhrigu is said to be the first person who perfected the knowledge of Jyotisha and built a record of the natal charts of every human being who was to be born on earth.

 

Kalpa: deals with the practical, ceremonial, sacrificial and ritual aspect of the Vedas. Technically it is the applied science of the Vedas. The method and the manner in which the sacrificial ceremonies and daily household rituals have to be performed are established in a compendium of sutras or aphorisms known as Kalpa Sutras. Many mathematical developments are recorded in the works known as Sulava Sutras, which are the supplements of the Kalpa. A wealth of geometrical and arithmetical results is recorded in Sulava Sutras.

 

These subjects were an integral and essential part of ancient Vedic education system, aimed to promote an all round development of the students with a better understanding of the Vedas and Vedic practices.

Upvedas

 

There are five "Upavedas" which expound profound sciences. Arthaveda discusses statecraft; Ayurveda (derived from the Rig Veda) is a storehouse of medicine and health; Dhanurveda (derived from Yajurveda) discusses military science; Gandharvaveda (derived from the Samaveda) is on music and the arts and the Science of mechanics and architecture is explained in the Sthapatyaveda, which is derived from the Atharvaveda.

...........continued in part 3

 

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