Monday, July 31, 2006

The Vedas

As per Kalyan's request, this post gives my perception of different Vedas. I dont think going in detail will be of any help right now. Of course, we can always carry the discussion forward 'offline'.

The word 'Veda' arises from the word 'Vid', meaning 'to know'. The whole set of Vedic canon existed as one, and at one point of time in ancient past, it was divided into three parts-- rig, sAma and yajur vedas, based on the kind of the mantras that form the majority. AtharvaNa veda seems to have been composed a little while later.

Mantras are divided into riks, sAmans, and yajus.

Riks are mantras that are poetic, have a rhythmic meter, and are extremely mystic in nature. A collection of riks is called a sukta. These riks and suktas are verbal representations of truths revealved to Rishis who obtained them after immense tapasya. Rig Veda has more than 10,000 riks arranged into more than 1,000 suktas in turn arranged into 10 books. The most famous ones are PuruSa suktam, ViSnu suktam, nAsadIya suktam, hiranya-garbha suktam, etc. The most famous mantra of all-- the gAyatri mantra occurs as 3.62-10, i.e., 10th rik of the 62nd sukta of the 3rd book. The sukta is written by Vishwamitra Rishi.

sAmans are mantras that are sung in a particular style. The normal chanting of the Veda has three pitches. But sAmans have 5. One must listen to sAma Veda to really understand what I am trying to say ( Gandharva veda is an upaveda (branch) of sAma vEda and the indian musical system has developed from it.

Yajus are the vedic prose that detail the various ritualistic procedures to be carried out. AyurvEda is considered as an upaveda born from Yajurveda. Yajurveda comes in two editions-- Shukla Yajur veda and Krishna Yajur Veda. Generally, north Indians follow the former and south Indians, the latter. The famous mantra 'rudram', which is in praise of Rudra Shiva is in Yajurveda. Some of the riks that are found in rudram are not there even in rigveda.

Atharva Veda is the only veda to be named after a person-- rishi Atharvan. It is a parallel book that deals extensily with philosophy, morality, medicine, and even warfare. Here, chemical and bio-weapons are explicity mentioned, which might be a reason why Buddhist and Jainist texts are particularly against this veda. Only two of the nine editions survive. I dont want to imagine what more weapons were mentioned in the original atharveda!!

From the exterior, many mantras appear to be meaningless, and many others seem to be contradicting one-another. This is because Sanskrit is a language in which a word can have, and frequently does have, multiple meanings, and the translators have taken the contemporay meaning for a word. But when right meanings are assigned to the words of the mantras, esp. riks, the whole collection of mantras in the veda seems to make complete sense and in coherence.

Most of the riks are found in RigVeda, and are repeated in YajurVeda. But there are some riks in Yajurveda, as mentioned above, that are not found in RigVeda. This is because each veda has undergone a series of recensions (editings) and some of the mantras seem to have been deleted from each veda this way. One can only wonder what secrets did those deleted mantras hold!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Sandhya Mantras

Many of the Sandhya Vandanam Mantras directly trace their origin to the Vedas. This is not surprising if what what Dr.Kashyap told me is right. In his email, he opined that by 1000BCE, the Vedic people realised that there were not enough people to carry on the torch of knowledge present in the Veda. So they set aside some of the suktas that they thought were relevant eternally and came up with the practice of Sandhya Vandanam and prescribed it as compulsory for every brahmin.

Here are some of the mantras from Sandhya found in the Vedas and Upanishads:

1) MArjana Mantram: ApO HishTha-- Rig Veda10.9 (the first time, only the first 6 Riks are chanted. In the punar-mArjanam, all the riks in the suktam are chanted)

2) Rtam cha Satyam-- Rig Veda 10.190 (This suktam deals with Creation!)

3) AyAtu varadA dEvi -- TaittIriya Aranyaka 10.26-1

4) OjOsi sahOsi -- TaittIriya Aranyaka 10.26-1

5) gAyatrIm AvAhAyAmi-- TaittIriya Aranyaka 10.26-1

6) tatsaviturvarENyam (gayatri mantram)-- Rig Veda 3.62-10

7) Om bhUrbhuvah... (the whole gAyatri mantram)--- VajasanEyi samhita (the other name for Shukla Yajur Veda) 36.3, taittIriya samhita (the other name for Krishna Yajur Veda) 4.1.11-1

8) UttamE SikharE -- MahAnArAyanOpaniSad 36.1

9) Rtam satyam param -- MahAnArAyanOpaniSad 23.1

10) Mitrasya CharshaNi-- Rig Veda 3.59-6,7,8,9 (In most other versions, 3.58-6,1,2 are chanted instead)

11) jAtavEdase-- Rig Veda 1.99-1

12) Om bhadram nO apivAtaye manah-- Rig Veda 10.20-1

Note that only Pratah Sandhya mantras in are presented here.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The delightful urvaSi

Utter the word urvaSi and the popular imagination soars up to the court of Indra, the King of the Gods in the Heaven. And there can one see the exquisitely sensuous Apsara urvaSi. Surprisingly, there is mention of urvaSi in RigVeda, but is She the Apsara that we all have come to identify?

From "Essentials of Rig Veda" by Dr.R.L.Kashyap:

So much has been written about Her not only in the Puranas, but also in literature, one hardly notices the fact of her vedic origin.

The Brahmanas, YAska and SAyana, all have committed mistake of applying the Puranic legends to Veda. That is to say, they all try to read the developed legend into the original hymns. This is reversal of the true process for understanding them. The Vedic hymns must explain the Puranic legends and not vice versa.

[Let us consider a couple of examples of references to urvaSi:]

1.In 2.27.4, the seer prays for "Abhayam Jyotih" (fearless light) in "urvaSi."

2.In 5.41.19, "urvaSi" occurs in both the lines of the Rik (mantras of Rig Veda are called Riks). Here she raises the chant [of the seers] and covers with her light, the offering of the sacrifice.

There is no idea of the nymph of the heaven, or even of the water-spirit here.

In all ... references [found in Rig Veda regarding urvaSi], the etymological sense "uru" + "aSi" is dominant. "uru" is 'wide', and "aSi" is 'to enjoy'. The name so formed can convey "wideness" of either light or delight.

Beyond the heaven of the mind (dyuloka) , we find in the Veda several intermediate planes between Mind and Rtam-- the supermind, [the supertruth]. There is Brhat diva, "the great heaven"-- and there are the trIni Rochana, "the three shining realms". Of all these realms..., Indra is the Lord.

The [Veda suktas point to the fact that] "great heaven" [governed by Indra] has the "wide enjoyment", urvaSi. This original Vedic symbolism seems to have given rise to the Puranic legend in which urvaSi figures as a celestial nymph, a power in the hands of Indra.

[Hence, from] the references to urvaSi in Rig Veda... it is clear... that the word "urvaSi" is not used ... to indicate a person of that name. It indicates 'wide enjoyment' or 'infinite delight'. It is only when one has found the 'fearless light' that one can be established in 'the wide enjoyment' [of the 'great heaven'].

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


gaņānām tvā gaņapatim havāmahe kavim kavīnām upamashravastamam
jyeşhţharājam brahmaņām brahmaņaspata ā naĥ shŗņvan ūtibhiĥ sīda sādanam

--GRtsamada, Rig Veda 2.23-1
(taken from )

The explanation and meaning are based on the book Essentials of Rig Veda by Dr.R.L.Kashyap:

In Rig Veda, Gaņapati, Brhaspati, and Brahmaņaspati refer to the same deity. The word "Gaņapati" occurs only twice in Rig Veda where it is identified with the deity Brahmaņaspati. In the veda, Brahma stands for the Potent Word, 'mantra' and brahmaņaspati is, naturally, the leader of the mantras. So here Gaņapati means leader of hosts of mantras, not of Gods.

Among the hosts of mantras (gaņānām), we invoke (havāmahe) the Leader of the host of mantras (gaņapatim), a seer among the seers (kavim kavīnām) and of highest fame (upamashravastamam).
May the leader (or eldest-- for jyeşhţharājam), the Lord among the Mantras (brahmaņām brahmaņaspata) hear(shŗņvan) us and manifest (sādanam) in us with his protections (ūtibhiĥ).

When the mantra is recited appropriately, it enters our subtle bodies and releases the concealed forces ansd leads them upwards in manifestation.

He appears in the Tantra Yoga in the form of Gaņapati, the presiding deity over the paravAk, the speech supreme with his abode in the mUlAdhAra chakra, the subtle body of every human.

This deity is also the popular elephant headed God worshipped in puraNas , whose trunk is in the form of the sacred syllable OM. He is also called as vighneshwara or the Lord of Obstacles. Physical obstacles are caused in our tasks because of our conflicting thoughts and desires. All problems of existence are problems of harmony. Gaņapati places the appropriate mantra in the subtle body using his tusk skillfully and the power ofthe mantra removes the inharmoney, the cause of the obstacle.

His power enables us to hear the voice of divine inspiration in our hearts. He is called a Kavi of the highest fame because a 'kavi' is not a mere poet, but the originator of all actions, both in macrocosm and microcosm. when he hears us, his actions for us clearly follows.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Agni-Durga suktam

jātavedase sunavāma somam arātīyato ni dahāti vedaĥ
sa naĥ parşhat ati durgāņi vishvā nāvēva sindhum duritātyagniĥ

--mArIcha Kashyapa, Rig-Veda I.99
(taken from

This verse is chanted at the beginning of the durga suktam and is dedicated to Agni, not Durga.

The meaning and explanation of the verse (from VI. A Hundred Mantras, Rig Veda Mantra Samhita):
1."We press Soma to the knower of all births, one who consumes the knowledge of the enemies."
2."Let Agni carry us across all obstructions (durgāņi), like a boat over the river."

Agni is the seer, knower of all. It lies in his power to render us all help as a result of his foreknowledge. Knowledge is a most priceless possession of man and without it, he is rudderless in the sea of life. To Him, says the rishi, let us offer our choicest gift, the very sap of life, the distilled juice of Ananda, the Soma, so that pleased, he would transport us over all the eddies and whirls, tides and waves of obstruction and misfortune that beset life.

"Like a boat across the waters" is a favorite image of the ancients. It is repeated in the upanishads, and it also finds mention in Tantric texts.

PS:Note the interpretations of the word "Soma " till now:
While Indologists have theorised it is an intoxicating drink made from a plant and ritualists have said that it is a plant used in yagnas, spiritualists like Aurobindo have stressed that Soma is actually the delight, "the Ananda", the sap of existence got from the tree of life.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


For a civilisation that claims to be thousands of years old, it should not strike as a surprise when the meanings of some of the words change, even drastically sometimes. Simply put, this blog is not exactly about poetry or poets for that matter.

The word "kavi" in vedic sanskrit had a deeply spiritual connotation. The ancient seers were addressed as kavis-- those who composed verses borne out of depths of the universe and realised after many ardent years of meditation.

And I take this opportunity on the day of Vyasapurnima, a day hallowed to the great seer who classified the Vedas, to start a blog on the spiritual and cryptic meaning of the veda mantras, which unfortunately till recently have been interpreted only from the POV of history, linguistics, and sociology.

Whatever I intend to post is NOT my study or my research, but a presentation of excerpts from the books of Sri Aurobindo Kapali Sastry Institute of Vedic Culture, written mostly by Dr.R.L.Kashyap, Professor Emeritus of Purdue Univesity. By posting something about the veda here, I hope that atleast some of us get a flavour of the actual internal meaning of the sacred texts and also I intend to explore more about it in process.

This blog is dedicated to the intellections of those Kavis to whom we attribute our very cultural existence, to Sri Aurobindo and Sri Kapali Sastry for discovering the esoteric import of the vedas, to Dr.Kashyap who has worked unceasingly for the cause of spreading the wisdom and awareness about the vedas and vedic culture, and most importantly to that heavenly seer, "The Kavi" who is the karta, dharta, and harta of everything.