Taittiriya Upanishad

by A. Mahadeva Sastri | 1903 | 206,351 words | ISBN-10: 8185208115

The Taittiriya Upanishad is one of the older, "primary" Upanishads, part of the Yajur Veda. It says that the highest goal is to know the Brahman, for that is truth. It is divided into three sections, 1) the Siksha Valli, 2) the Brahmananda Valli and 3) the Bhrigu Valli. 1) The Siksha Valli deals with the discipline of Shiksha (which is ...

Lesson II - Study of Phonetics

(Second Anuvāka)

The Upaniṣad being mainly intended for a knowledge of its meaning, there should be no want of care in the study of the text.[1] Therefore here follows a lesson on Śikṣā, the doctrine of pronunciation.

ॐ शीक्षां व्याख्यास्यामः । वर्णः स्वरः । मात्रा बलम् । साम सन्तानः । इत्युक्तः शीक्षाध्यायः ॥

oṃ śīkṣāṃ vyākhyāsyāmaḥ | varṇaḥ svaraḥ | mātrā balam | sāma santānaḥ | ityuktaḥ śīkṣādhyāyaḥ ||

Om! We shall treat of the phonetics: sound, rhythm, quantity, strength, modulation, union. Thus has been declared the lesson on phonetics.

Phonetics (Śikṣā) is the science which treats of sounds and their pronunciation. Or, the word ‘śikṣā’ may here signify the sounds etc., which are treated of in that science.[2] Sound: such as ‘ā’. Rhythm: such as udātta or high-pitched tone. Length: short, long, etc.  Strength: intensity of effort. Modulation: pronunciation of sounds in the middle tone. Union: conjunction of several sounds.—These are the things to be learnt. Thus far is the lesson on phonetics, in these Words the Upaniṣad concludes the present subject with a view to proceed to the next.

For him who, by the recitation of the mantra given in the first anuvāka, has removed obstacles, it is proper to proceed with the text treating of the ways of contemplation and of the nature of Brahman. As the text of the Upaniṣad is mainly intended for a knowledge of the things therein treated of, one should spare no pains in learning the text; and accordingly the Upaniṣad proceeds with a lesson on phonetics. Here one may ask, what if one be careless? We reply: carelessness will lead to evil. It has been said, “The Mantra, when wanting in rhythm or sound, or when wrongly used, conveys not the intended idea. That thunderbolt of speech will ruin the worshipper as the word ‘indra-śatru’ did owing to a fault in rhythm”[3]

(Objection:)—If so, this lesson should have been given in the karma-kāṇḍa or ritualistic section.

(Answer:)—True. For that very reason,—as the lesson subserves both the sections,—it is given between the two sections.

(Objection:)—Then, as subservient to both, let it be given at the beginning of the Veda.

(Answer:)—Though subservient to both, it has to be given in the theosophical section in order to shew its greater use as regards knowledge. As to the ritualistic section, despite the chance of misunderstanding the scriptures owing to error in the rhythm and sound, it is possible to do away with any imperfection in the performance by prāyaśchitta or an expiatory act. Accordingly, in such cases, the Veda gives the following mantra for an expiatory offering of clarified butter:

“Whatever in the sacrifice is wrongly done, unknown or known, do, O Agni, rectify that (part) of this (sacrifice); thou indeed knowest what is right.”

On the contrary, when the scriptures in the theosophical section are wrongly understood, the imperfection cannot be made up for. Indeed, it is not possible to do away with wrong knowledge by an expiatory act. We have never seen an illusory perception of serpent in a rope removed by the reciting of the Gāyatrī hymn. Wherefore no expiatory act whatever is enjoined in connection with knowledge, in the same way that it is enjoined in connection with the rituals. On the contrary, in the case of him who, striving in the path[4] of wisdom commits any sin, the scriptures deny all expiation other than theosophy, in the following words:

“If the yogin should unguardedly commit a sin, he should resort to yoga alone, never to any other thing such as mantra.”

Wherefore the lesson on the phonetics is given here especially to enjoin great care in the study of the Upaniṣads, so that there may be no defect in the knowledge acquired and that the scripture may be understood aright.

............Modulation (sāma) consists in reciting the text neither too fast nor too slow, in pronouncing every sound according to its proper time...............As to the six things mentioned here the Veda should be recited according to the directions given in the several sciences; and these are the only six things in the science of phonetics to be attended to.—Since in the Upaniṣad “śikṣā” and other words are recited in one neutral accentless tone, this lesson cannot indeed insist on the accentuation of radical words and terminations as taught in the science of grammar; still the accentuation as current in the traditional mode of reciting the téxtś should be learnt. Though it does not enable  us to acquire any special knowledge in particular, still, being enjoined in this lesson on phonetics, it may be of some:—to us unknown—service. That unknown service may consist in the removing of obstacles placed in the way of him who engages in contemplation and seeks to acquire wisdom.


Footnotes and references:


Otherwise, the intended meaning cannot be conveyed.


The science of phonetics being expounded elsewhere, the second interpretation is preferable.—(A)


Pāṇini-Śikṣā. 52. The story concerning “indra-satru” is told in the Taittirīya-Saṃhitā 2-4-12 as follows: Tvaṣṭā, “the Vulcan of the Hindus,” whose son had been slain by Indra, prepared to get up the Soma sacrifice without Indra. The latter wished for an invitation for it, but Tvaṣṭā would not invite him, who had slain his son. Then Indra interrupted the sacrifice and forcibly drank away the Soma juice. Thereupon Tvaṣṭā poured into the fire an oblation of the Soma juice that then remained, praying “O Agni, grow up into an Indra-satru.” Thence rose a person, named Vṛtra, who began to extend his form rapidly over the three regions of the earth, the interspace and heaven. Tvaṣṭā was afraid of his growing power and gave Indra a consecrated weapon to kill him with. With this weapon and with the whole strength of Viṣṇu at his back, Indra was able to draw away the whole strength of Vṛtra into himself and Viṣṇu, when Vṛtra became absorbed in Indra’s body. Tvaṣṭā of course prayed that the person should prove Indra’s destroyer; but, as he had mispronounced “Indra-satru,” with udātta (acute accent or high tone) on the first instead of on the last syllable, the result was quite the contrary.


Taittirīya-Brāhmana 3-7-11.

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