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Vedas And Upanishads

Extracts From The Holy Vedas
By Sanjeev Nayyar, May 2003 [[email protected]]

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This compilation has two chapters. One is an introduction. Two is verses taken in verbatim from a book ‘The Holy Vedas’ by Pandit Satyakam Vidyalankar.


The Rig Samhita has 10,589 verses, the Yajur 1,975, the Samaveda 1,875 and the Atharva 5,977 verses making a total of 20,416 verses. Hymns have been picked up from each of the Vedas and grouped under representative heads.

Pandit Rajmani Tigunait wrote “In Indian philosophy and culture, the Veda is of paramount importance. It constitutes the most important scripture known to man. It was transmitted, orally, possibly as early as 4,000 B.C. before it was compiled. Sanskrit, the language of the Veda is ancient and the richest of all the languages of the world, but alas, only a fortunate few know this language. Vedic Sanskrit is more ancient than classical Sanskrit. Long before Panini systematized classical Sanskrit grammar, Niruktam used to interpret Vedic Sanskrit words.

The Vedas has four sections, Rg, Yajur, Sama and Atharva. The Rg Veda is a collection of poetic hymns in which numerous gods and goddesses – who are the personification of the different forces of nature – are invoked and glorified. These hymns appear to be simple prayers to the deities. Yet couched in highly symbolic language, they contain great philosophical and metaphysical meaning. All the thoughts of Indian philosophy flow from the profound origin of the Rg Veda. The Yajur Veda focuses on mantras that were used in the performance of rituals called Yajnas. The mantras of the Sama Veda are the same as those found in the Rg Veda, but they are repeated according to the rules of prosody and are to be sung in specific tone during rituals. If these mantras are not sung on a particular pitch, their meanings are distorted. Seven notes, which are used in all the great music of the world, were discovered by the Vedic seers. The Atharva Veda contains mantras that are believed to have great supernatural power. Unlike the other three Vedas, most mantras of the Atharva Veda deal with the mundane world and are for material gains.

All of Vedic literature is divided into four chronological stages, Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishad and thus each of the Vedas has four stages of development. The Samhita portion is composed of various Vedic mantras. The Brahmana portion takes the first step in interpreting or giving commentary in the meaning of the mantras found in the Samhita portion. It gives a ritualistic interpretation of the Vedic mantras with instructions for their use in archaic rituals of the bygone cultural, religious, social systems of ancient Indian civilization. The instructions given in the Brahmanas are designed to be practiced by householders, that is, by those people who live in the customary manner, fulfilling their needs towards family and society.

In the Arankyas, methods of training the mind for higher attainment are described. This literature is meant for householders who have learnt to calm down their senses and control their minds though a correct understanding of their relationship with the external world.

The Upanishads, the fourth and the last stage of Vedic literature, represent the culmination of Vedic approach. There are one hundred and eight prominent Upanishads, eleven of which are considered to be preeminent. The Upanishads are the latter parts of the Vedas. The word Veda means knowledge and Vedanta means the end of knowledge. Vedanta is another name for the Upanishads. The Upanishads means to sit close besides the competent teacher, and many Upanishads are written as a dialogue between students and teachers.

The Upanishads the greatest source of Indian philosophical thought, and all of the systems of Indian philosophy can be found, in their latent potential form, in these works. The philosophical expositions in the Vedas, are expressed in the form of aphorisms, which are compact, terse and abstruse. The theories take on explicit form only in the Upanishads.

The Vedic literature contains the seeds from which sprouted the various schools of philosophy, each with its own emphasis and style. Although the heterodox schools, such as Buddhism, do not acknowledge the authority of the Vedas, their teachings can actually be found there. Buddhism claims to stand independently, but its nihilistic theory is one of the ten philosophical theories mentioned in the Nasadiya-sukta of the Rg Veda. Even among the orthodox schools, however, one can find differences in emphasis. For instance, the Mimamsa system states that rituals are the ultimate means to attain the highest goals of life, while Vedanta emphasis the theory of knowledge and practice of meditation and contemplation. The different systems of Indian philosophy came into being from Vedic literature at various times according to the prevailing needs of society.

The Upanishads date from app 1000 to 400 B.C. They are said to be the culmination of the Vedas and a reform movement against the excessively ritualistic life prescribed by the Brahmans. However, rituals continued to be performed during the times of the Upanishads.

It is often said that Buddhism which developed in the 6th century B.C. constituted a revolution against the rituals, sacrifices and rigid caste system of the Brahmanism. But the Upanishads – which are full of teachings, love, knowledge and morality and which provided an alternative to Brahmanism – already existed at the time of Buddha. The great sages of the Upanishads, however, such as Vasistha, Gargya, and others lived alone in forests in search of knowledge. Only occasionally did they visit towns to teach students and to help kings in the performance of yajnas. The sages knew the importance of rituals and moral practices in the establishment of peace within the individual and the community. So they simultaneously practiced the philosophies of Vedanta (jana yoga, the yoga of knowledge), Mimamsa (rituals) and Karma yoga (the yoga of action). The Upanishads were known only to a few adepts who practiced their teachings faithfully but did not spread it widely. Therefore, Buddhism came into existence to reform the major portion of society, which was dominated by Brahmanism.”

Panditji’s book “Seven Systems of Indian Philosophy” is very good for those of you who want to be initiated into the study, its language is simple and easy to understand.

Swami Satyaprakash Sarasvati  wrote “The Vedas are the earliest source of knowledge. They are in a language prior to which there was no language of such a rich stock of literature. The Vedic language is the mother of Sanskrit, a language of great importance for comparative research. Vedic theism is pure and simple and most natural monotheism, invoking one God, the Supreme Lord, the mighty force behind all forces and the Divine Light behind all effulgence. Just as the presence of the soul within a human body is recognized by the activity of the body or the life in it, similarly, the existence of the Supreme Reality in the cosmos is realized by looking at the purposeful dynamism in the Lord’s creation. Hence the Vedic verses invoke the Lord by evoking Nature’s Bounties, known as deities, the Devah or Vishvedavah.

The Vedic concept of God is perfectly ethical, and hence the Vedic verses uphold high moral values of life. God is truth personified, Activity personified, Purity personified, Love personified and Bliss personified. We crave to imbibe within us a bit of his qualities. The Vedic Dharma is a morality based Dharma based on the truth and its acceptance of life i.e. faith Shraddha, austerity Tapas, piety Daya and selfless service, dedication Yajna, generosity Dana, peace Shanti, friendship Mitrata, fearlessness Abhaya and mutual understanding Saumanasam. Above all, is the essential quality of complete reliance on God, the lone alambana or skambha, the pillar of strength.

The Vedic verses refer to a type of coordinated life. Man is not an individual. He is a social organism. God loves him only who serves other beings, men, cattle and other creatures. His glory lies in being part of a big family. Man thus lives, works and dies for society. The Vedic verses refer to this dynamism. Man is expected to develop his craft, sciences and technology, and lead a society from poverty to prosperity, with a happy today and a happier tomorrow.”

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