Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Veda included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Veda


The root 'Vid' in Sanskrit means 'to know'. The books composed of the knowledge of the Āryans, collected and compiled were called the Vedas.

The origin and importance of the Vedas.

It is said that Brahmā was the creator of the Vedas. Many say that, for the performance of sacrifices Brahmā created from Agni (fire), Vāyu (Wind) and Ravi (the Sun), the three Vedas Ṛg, Yajus and Sāman which are eternal and in accordance with regulations.

The Vedas have two sides, the spiritual and the mundane. Moreover all the explanations of the Vedas from the Brāhmaṇas to the Bhāṣya of Sāyaṇa, pertain to sacrifices. The literary meaning of Veda is mundane. Considering these two points and the facts that they are religious books and that they reveal the mental and social outlooks of the early Āryans, and as the origin of all the thoughts of Indians, all the Vedas, especially Ṛgveda, hold a lofty place.

Parts of the Vedas.

Mahāviṣṇu incarnated as Vyāsa in Dvāpara Yuga and divided the Vedas. The first Veda consisted of four pādas and a hundred thousand granthas. Vyāsa divided it into four parts known as, Ṛgveda, Yajurveda, Sāmaveda and Atharvaveda. The sage and seer Vyāsa thus created by Ṛg, "Hautra" (a collection of lyrics in praise of different Gods, to be recited by the priest styled the 'hotṛ'), by Yajus "Ādhvaryava", (a book of sacrificial prayer, of prose formulas to be uttered by the 'Adhvaryu' priest, who performed the manual work involved in a sacrifice), by Sāman, "Audgātra", (Songs meant to be sung at the Soma sacrifice by a special class of priests 'Udgātṛ') and by Atharva "Brahmatva", (a collection of songs, spells and incantations, for the healing of disease, the restoration of harmony, the exorcism of evil spirits and to celebrate the power and omniscience of God) and established them separately. Paila, a scholar in Ṛgveda, and a disciple of Vyāsa, gave the original Veda to Indrapramiti and its Saṃhitā (collections) to Bāṣkala as gifts. Bāṣkala divided the Saṃhitā into four, and gave each of them to Baudhya and others. Yajurveda was divided into twentyfour branches. They were composed by Vaiśampāyana of extraordinary intelligence, a disciple of Vyāsa. Kāṇḍas (Chapters) such as Vājasaneya etc. were composed later by hermits such as Yājñavalkya and others in the form of Smṛtis (tradition, as handing down only the tradition derived from ancient sages, to whom the Vedas were 'revealed'). Jaimini the disciple of Vyāsa, divided Sāmaveda into different branches. Sumantu and Sukarmā compiled separate Saṃhitās (collections) from them. Sukarmā composed thousand Saṃhitās. Sumantu the disciple of Vyāsa took the Atharvaveda and taught it to thousands of Paippalāda disciples. By the blessings of Vyāsa, Sūta made the Purāṇa Saṃhitā (the collection of Purāṇas). (Agni Purāṇa, Chapter 150).

Branches af the Vedas.

It has already been mentioned that the Vedas are four in number called Ṛg, Yajus, Sāma and Atharva. Each of these Vedas has branches called Saṃhitās (collections) and Brāhmaṇas (treatises relating to prayer and sacrificial ceremony). Āraṇyakas are appendices to the Brāhmaṇas. Upaniṣads (secret or esoteric doctrines) are appendices of the Āraṇyakas. Thus each of the Vedas has Saṃhitās, Brāhmaṇas, Āraṇyakas and Upaniṣads. All these are, in a way, expositions of the Vedas. In all these expositions there are numberless Sūktas. All these taken together are called Vedic literature. In the Saṃhitās there are lyrics in praise of different gods. All these are spells and incantations (mantras) in the form of songs. The under-currents of all these spells are Vedas and stories from the Vedas. Generally speaking the Brāhmaṇas contain prose texts giving practical observations on sacrifice which are mentioned in the songs of praise. Here and there stories from Purāṇas and epics occur. The Āraṇyakas (forest-texts) got that name, because they are books of instruction to be given in the forest or writings meant for wood-dwelling hermits. As they contained esoteric spells and incantations which might cause injury even to those who were not concerned with them instruction in them was not given in towns or villages. The contents of the Āraṇyakas are the allegorical signification of the rites and sacrifices and the mystic meaning of the Vedas.

It has been mentioned that the Upaniṣads are appendices of the Āraṇyakas. Still there is not much difference between the two and hence they cannot be separated from one another so easily. The Upaniṣads are called Vedāntas, (The aim and completion of the Vedas), because they are the end of the Vedas. The Vedāntas belong to the later period of the Vedic age. Instruction in Vedāntas was given only after completing the study of the mantras (Vedas) and the Brāhmaṇas. The Upaniṣads contain philosophical speculations about the conception of Brahman and the Vedas. The word Veda includes the Vedāṅgas also. Vedāṅgas (Ancillaries of the Vedas) are Śikṣā (phonetics), Vyākaraṇa (grammar), Chandas (metrics), Nirukta (etymology), Joytiṣa (astronomy), and Kalpa (ritual). At first instruction is given in the study of Brahman and the study of Vedas. When more discussions and expositions on them are needed, the study of Brāhmaṇas and Āraṇyakas are resorted to. In course of time the Brāhmaṇas and Āraṇyakas, which contain discussions and expositions of the Vedas became independent branches of study under these names. That is why they contain mainly prose texts.

There are one lakh of mantras or spells and incantations in all the four Vedas taken together. They are for blessing everybody and to make the four objects of life easily attainable. Sāṅkhyāyana and Āśvalāyana sorted and grouped the mantras. Accordingly there are two thousand one hundred and ten mantras known as Brāhmaṇas. Dvaipāyana and other hermits have stated the number of granthas (verses) in Ṛgveda. It is said that there are one thousand nine hundred and ninety nine mantras in Yajurveda. There are one thousand eightysix branches also. The branches in Yajus are known by the names Kāṇvī, Mādhyandinī, Kaṭhī, Madhyakaṭhī, Maitrāyaṇī, Taittirīya, Vaiśampāyanikā and so on.

In Sāma Veda there are branches such as Kauthumī, Ātharvaṇāyinī and so on; and songs such as Āraṇyakam, Uktham, Ūham and son on. The number of Sāmavedic verses are nine thousand four hundred and twentyfive.

Sumantu, Jañjali, Ślokāyani, Śaunaka, Pippalāda, Muñjakeśa and such others were responsible for the sorting and grouping of the mantras in the Atharvaveda. Altogether there are one thousand six hundred Upaniṣads. (Agni Purāṇa, Chapter 271).

Expositions of the Vedas.

The religion of the Āryans became an established one when Vyāsa had created the Vedasaṃhitās. The aim of Vyāsa was to bring about uniformity in the religious observances by performing rites and rituals, religious ceremonies such as sacrifices etc. without any flaw. Following this a very wide Vedic literature grew up. The study of the Vedas, critical review of meaning, the connection between mantras and tantras (Chants and rituals), Grammar, etymology, all these became inevitable. As the Vedas could be looked at from different points of view, from very early days, various types of expositions of the Vedas came out. Seven types of commentaries, Nairukta, Yājñika, Vaiyākaraṇa Jyautiṣa, Sāmpradāyika Ādhyātmika, Aitihāsika (pertaining to etymology, sacrifice, grammar astronomy, customs of a tribe, Brāhma or Spiritual legends and ancient lore) were the prominent among them. When the westerners began research work in the Vedas, another branch of literature also took form, known as the Āgamikas (the historical). Even in the time of Yāska, who was an authority on Nirukta (etymology) the Vedas were expounded on the basis of legends and ancient lore. Hints to this effect are seen in Yāska’s works. Mention is made about other types of expositions also, in them. The last book of importance in the Sāmpradāyika type of exposition, was Vedārthaprakāśa, of Sāyaṇa. But the commentary of Skandasvāmī, the books Ṛgarthadipikā and Udgīthabhāṣya of Mādhavācārya etc. have spread the sāmpradāyika type of speculations in India. There is another cult in India which believes that everything seen in the Vedas is spiritual and that the spells and incantations are esoteric.

The gods of the Vedas.

All the gods known today are not found in the Vedas. Even those who are found do not have the prominence that is given to them now. For example, the deity Viṣṇu, worshipped as one of the three godheads today, is not as omnipotent as the Indra of the Vedas. Though Viṣṇu is praised in five spells in Ṛgveda, when compared with other deities, he was not of much prominence. In the Vedas the incarnation of Vāmana is not given much importance. Even though Rudra is a recognized deity and mention occurs about Kapardī, in the Vedas, there is not a song of praise of Śiva in the Ṛgveda. There is no mention at all, about the worship of the Phallus, Devī and so on in the Vedas. The Vedas celebrate the Omniscience of Varuṇa, Indra, Agni, Mitra, the Maruts and so on. The lustre of Indra was gradually dimmed with the efflux of time and he became a mere libertine in the Purāṇas. The importance of many deities such as Varuṇa, Agni, Mitra, Aśvin and so on was greatly diminished in the Purāṇas. Thirtythree deities pertaining to Earth, Ether and Sky are praised in the Vedas.

The rites concerning instruction in Vedas.

Manu has given certain instructions as to how the teaching of Vedas should be conducted.

The teachers of Veda.

See under Guruparamparā.

The period of the Vedas.

The Indians believe that the spells and incantations and the Brāhmaṇas are not manmade, but are revelations by God. So they are considered to be beginningless and endless. The hermits are considered to be seers of the spells. It is mentioned "Mantradraṣṭāraḥ na tu Kartāraḥ". (They are seers of Mantra, not makers). In the opinion of one party, according to this maxim, it is not necessarry to search for the creators or the period of creation, of mantras. They hold that only the Sūtras (thread, clue, guide, rule, aphorism) are made by man.

The westerners and the modern thinkers of India do not agree completely with this view. They believe that the early Āryans who entered India, first settled down in the Punjab and that the local civilization which they had assumed, broke out as songs of praise. In course of time, these songs of Praise took the form of Ṛgveda mantras (saying, song, formula). In the beginning there was only one Veda. Many believe that this state continued up to B.C. 1500. It is a fact universally acknowledged, that this Vedic literature is the most ancient literature of the world. There is difference of opinion as to the period of origin of this Vedic literature. Prof. Macdonell and Prof. Jacobi are foremost among those who have made their opinions. In the opinion of Prof. Macdonell, the Vedic literature originated in the period between B.C. 1500 and 1200. But Jacobi’s opinion is that all the Vedas were made before B.C. 4000.

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