Sunday, January 24, 2010

Vedasudhe III

Vedasudhe III

The Veda wasn't composed in the saMskritam language. That's right; let me repeat: the Veda wasn't composed in the saMskritam language.

Surprised? No, I'm not crazy. This is a fact! The Veda is its own language. saMskritam itself arose from this language of the Veda, not the other way around. This is the secret. One who doesn't realize this often trips in the interpretation or understanding of the Veda.

Back to the subject of yaugika words, the Veda exclusively contains yaugika words or words originating in the dhAtupAtha. There is, therefore, a system in which each dhAtu has a fixed meaning, and words originating from a dhAtu also have predictable and definite meaning. If one were to reach into the nirukta in order to understand the Veda within a framework of Vedic principles, there is no question of interpretation, multiple meanings or difference of opinion in what the Veda states. Every word, every shlOka will convey one meaning and precisely one meaning.

If one interprets the Veda outside of this framework, the results can be devastating. There is one very good example of this is the work of sAyaNa.

sAyaNa flourished in the Vijayanagara kingdom probably in the 14th century. The country was gripped in terror from the incursions and raids of the Islamic emperors of the North and the Bahamani sultans of the South - zealots who typically targeted religious rituals and religious leaders, and the Vedas were under threat. sAyaNa called a conference of Vedic scholars of the day in order to preserve and conserve the Veda. He is perhaps one reason that the Veda has survived to this day. Without his monumental work, we may not even have had the recourse to Veda in our day. Up until this point, sAyaNa's work is exemplary.
Next, sAyaNa wrote bhAshyas or commentary to various portions of the Veda. However, in this commentary not only has he not considered the framework of basic Vedic principles, he has also not considered the yaugika basis of language. Not that sAyaNa was stupid, but those were the circumstances of the day he lived in.

The misinterpretations can go to extremes. For the word 'agni''. sAyaNa found the primary meaning as 'fire'. Foreign scholars who have written major works on the Veda have simply taken the word agni to always and invariably mean 'fire'. When one uses 'fire' as the meaning of agni, the meanings are severely stunted. So much so, in many places the maMtra has no bearing on the literal meaning 'fire'. If one were to take these foreign scholars' translations of the Veda – [RV: say for example Ralph Griffith's famous and monumental work on the Rig Veda], it leads to further devastation.

[RV: In Part I, we saw:
यूयं तत् सत्यशवस आविश् कर्त महित्वना ।
विध्यता विद्युता रक्शः ॥(RV 1.086.09)

We translated this as:
Man derives his (spiritual) strength from the satya. Naturally gifted with the will to do so, he must search for and discover the truth. Any obstacles that arise in this search must be cut down with the power of knowledge.

Griffith's translation of the same verse reads thus:

O ye of true strength, make this thing manifest by your greatness – strike the demon with your thunderbolt.

(Source Griffith's translation at

One can see how badly mangled the verse seems in Grifith's version. 'Truth is strength' became 'ye of true strength'. 'find or discover the truth' has become 'make this thing manifest'. An unknown 'demon' has crept into the translation while there is none in the original. 'vidyathA' goes unmentioned.

This is not a critique of Griffith. He was a great scholar and probably single handedly responsible for bringing the name Rig Veda to the world. The intent is to only show the difference in translation. This is what happens when translations are done to fit theories into scripture – specifically the then favorite (now debunked) Aryan Invasion Theory. To top it all, Griffith's version is probably the first reference source for all Indologists – Indian and western alike. Any wonder that the Veda and Indic philosophy are badly understood not only in the west, but also in India?]

Misinterpretation of agni is still tolerable. There are some interpretations of the ashvamEdha yAga which bear mention here.

sAyaNa and since him a couple of others – UvaTa and mahIdhara have written commentaries on the maMtras of the ashvamEdha yAga.

In his work Vedanta Regiment, one Veerabharappa quotes sAyaNa's commentary of the ashvamEdha yAga, and states that he feels ashamed to write more on the subject. (Veerabhadrappa is from the Lankesh - of Lankesh Patrike fame ilk of political journalists, and it probably takes a lot to make him feed ashamed). So how bad is the ashvamEdha yAga, really?

Even learned scholars today place UvaTa and mahIdhara on high pedestals. However, the bhashyas of UvaTa and mahIdhara on the subject of ashvamEdha are – to put it mildly – extremely foul. With this kind of interpretation, it would never be possible to accord the respect Veda deserves. When people are presented with this explanation on the sacred subject of the ashvamEdha, will they accept its relevance? Will anyone develop shraddha in the Veda? Or will they oppose the Veda and its relevance?

In this way, scholars who have cast aside the basic Vedic principles, who haven't bothered to interpret from the dhAtu, and have intentionally or unintentionally created monstrous bhAshyas have only invited scorn on the Veda. Today, if there is an opposition to the Veda, the issue isn't with the opposition camp, but with these wild interpreters of the Veda who give abhorrent interpretation.

Of the Veda common man says 'Oh – that Veda which advocates the killing and eating of cows and horses? Forget it, let's not even talk about it'. All anti-Vedic essays today contain quotes from UvaTa and mahIdhara, and point to monstrosities in the scripture, and tell us that the Veda is foul and irrelevant. This is what the original European scholars did during the British rule, too. Their goal was to kill Indian culture, humiliate their ancient civilization, subjugate the population and project themselves as savio(u)rs of India. This is what most of even the learned world believes today. No one was either bothered to or interested in learning the true meaning of the Veda. The Vedic message was twisted so badly that it has lost its relevance.

How, then, should the Veda be interpreted? On what basis should the Veda be understood? What background should be used to convey the Vedic message in order to make it valuable to everyone?

One thing is clear at this point. Veda is not simply for recital. Not that one shouldn't recite the Veda, but Vedic learning does not stop at recital. The real benefit for everyone is from the message of the Veda, the content – the meaning of the Veda. To understand the true intent of the Veda, we must understand the system in which the Veda was built, not in any manner of individual interpretation. [RV: Note the example of Griffith's translation]. At the same time, Vedic principles should not be violated.

What are the Vedic principles?
The first one has already been spoken of:

यथॆमाम् वाचम् कल्याणीम् आवदानि जनॆभ्यः (Yajur Veda 26.2)

There is no segregation – the Veda is for all humankind.

The second one – if the Vedic message were to be reduced to two words, they would be knowledge or j~JAna and non-violence or ahiMsa

A person is a j~JAni if and only if he follows the principles of ahiMsa. If not, no amount of knowledge will allow him to be called j~JAni. Violence and j~JAna cannot and do not co-exist. Mercy and empathy are the traits of j~JAna.

[RV: Empathy - noun; the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another]

The mahAbhArata says:
(We already talked of the mahAbhArata and said that it has been corrupted. However that which resonates with the Veda is considered pure, and taken as pure irrespective of whether the material is from the mahAbhArata, the Bible or the Koran)

श्रुयताम् धर्म सर्वस्वम् श्रुत्वा च अवधार्यताम्
आत्मनह् प्रतिकूलणि न परॆशाम् समचरॆत् (from the mahAbhArata)

SruyatAm dharma sarvasvam SrutvA ca avadhAryatAm
Atmanah pratikUlaNi na parESAm samacarEt

This is being said to dharmarAya: I am giving you the entire content of dharma. Listen and do not forget. Do not inflict on others that which is inconvenient to you.
This is dharma. One can't make the definition of dharma simpler than this.

What does this mean? Before committing any act, before spewing forth any words, stop. Stop and think. If someone does this to me, will it hurt me? If it does, don't do it (or speak it) to others.

Man is the only being capable of empathy. One who understands this is a j~JAni. A j~JAni does not hurt another being; a j~JAni practices ahiMsa. The equation balances.

If the Veda teaches j~JAna, it implies that the Veda also propounds ahiMsa. Therefore, ahiMsa, too is one of the basic Vedic principles. The basis of the Veda is in ahiMsa.

Modern interpretations indicate that animal sacrifices were a part of yaj~Ja and yAga. However we have already stated that ahiMsa is one of the basic principles the Veda. This is a contradiction. How does one reconcile the two statements? The truth is that animal sacrifices were never a part of the Veda; not that idiots who didn't know better haven't conducted animal sacrifices in yaj~Ja, however, the Veda does not sanction animal sacrifice in yaj~Ja.

अग्ने यं यज्ञमध्वरं विश्वतः परिभूरसि ।
स इद्देवेषु गच्छति ॥ (Rig Veda 1.1.4)

agne yaM yaj~JamadhvaraM viSvataH pariBUrasi |
sa iddeveShu gacCati ||

What is this maMtra saying? It gives another meaning for the word yaj~Ja (यज्ञ). yaj~Ja is also called adhvaram. In other words, adhvaram and yaj~Ja are synonymous. What is adhvaram? More pertinent, how do we arrive at the meaning of adhvaram?

Common sense says that we should go to a dictionary. saMskritam also has dictionaries, but there are two kinds which is a detail we often miss out. One of them is the widely known word reference dictionary where words are in alphabetical order. However, as we already said, the Veda does not use the saMskritam language.

The uninitiated assumes that the Veda is written in saMskritam. S/he fails to understand say one of the words therein. Where does s/he turn to? To a saMskritam dictionary; s/he goes wayward right from that point on. saMskritam dictionaries are for laukika words that has been discussed previously, and not for the yaugika words that is the language of the Veda. Not that there aren't equivalents, between yaugika and laukika words, but it would be wrong to assume that what a saMskritam dictionary indicates is final and binding on the language of the Veda.

Since the Veda is its own language, one must, to get the meaning of any word therein, refer to a Vedic dictionary. Vedic dictionary and how words are constructed in the Veda has been given to us by yAskAcArya.

[RV: From Wiki:
Yāska (Devanagari यास्क)) was a saMskritam grammarian who preceded Pānini (fl. 4th c. BC), assumed to have been active in the 5th or 6th century BC.
He is the author of the Nirukta, a technical treatise on etymology, lexical category and the semantics of words. He is thought to have succeeded Śākaṭāyana, an old grammarian and expositor of the Vedas, who is mentioned in his text.

The above is a facsimile from Wiki; I am not sure I agree with the dates given therein, although the subject matter is probably accurate enough]

One of the vEdAMga, the nirukta has been authored by yAskAcArya, and this is the reference Vedic dictionary. To get a final and binding interpretation of a yaugika word, one must turn to the vEdAMga and the niGaMTu therein, which is the nirukta.

Back to the word adhvara. The nirukta says:

dhvara iti hiMsAkarma

dhvara therefore means hiMsa. Clearly, then, adhvara means ahiMsa. Very simple. If yaj~Ja is equated adhvaram as above, then without a shadow of doubt, yaj~Ja is an ahiMsAkarma. There is no scope for himsa, including any sort of animal killing or sacrifice. Therefore, one can very logically conclude that the Veda never sanctioned any kind of animal sacrifice.


srinivas said...

thanks for providing very valuable information - was not aware of many things, except that veda was older than sanskrit language - worth preserving this

vaMdanegaLu ravi :)

ಸುಪ್ತದೀಪ್ತಿ suptadeepti said...

ನಮಸ್ಕಾರ ರವಿ,
ಈ ಲೇಖನ ಬಹಳಷ್ಟು ಮಾಹಿತಿಪೂರ್ಣವಾಗಿದೆ. ಇದಕ್ಕಾಗಿ ಎಷ್ಟೊಂದು ಅಧ್ಯಯನ ಮಾಡಿದ್ದೀರೆಂದು ಅಚ್ಚರಿಗೊಂಡಿದ್ದೇನೆ. ವಂದನೆಗಳು, ಅಭಿನಂದನೆಗಳು. ಉಳಿದ ಲೇಖನಗಳನ್ನೂ ಬಿಡುವಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಓದುತ್ತೇನೆ.

Ravi said...

Thanks, jyOti, Adare ivu nAnu risarc mADi barediddalla - sudhAkara Sarma eMbavaru mADida upanyAsagaLa BASAMtara. nanna vicAragaLannu [RV] oMdige barediddEne.

hariharapurasridhar said...

ಶ್ರೀ ರಾಮಪ್ರಸಾದ್,
ವೇದಸುಧೆಯನ್ನು ಆಂಗ್ಲಭಾಷೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಉಣಿಸುತ್ತಿರುವ ನಿಮಗೆ ಅನಂತ ಧನ್ಯವಾದಗಳು.
ಕೆಳಗಿನ ಕೊಂಡಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಇನ್ನೊಂದಿಷ್ಟು ಮಾಹಿತಿ ಇದೆ.

hariharapurasridhar said...

ಶ್ರೀ ರವಿ,
ರಾಮಪ್ರಸಾದರಿಂದ ಕೊಂಡಿ ಸಿಕ್ಕಿದ್ದರಿಂದ ಬ್ಲಾಗ್ ರಾಮಪ್ರಸಾದರದ್ದೆಂದು ಭಾವಿಸಿದೆ.ಧನ್ಯವಾದಗಳು ನಿಮಗೂ ಸಲ್ಲುತ್ತವೆ.ನಿಮ್ಮ ಮೇಲ್ ವಿಳಾಸ ದಯಮಾಡಿ ಕೊಡಿ