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Om, Sri Gurubhyo Namaha
The Vedangas (Organs of the Vedas)
Dr. S. Yegnasubramanian

The six Vedangas (organs of the Vedas) are glorified as an essential subset of the 14 Vidyasthanas – the abode of true knowledge and wisdom. They help to understand Veda mantras completely and in depth. For the Veda Purusha, the 6 limbs are:

veda1.gif (4154 bytes)

1. veda2.gif (201 bytes) - Siksha lays down the rules of phonetics – pronunciation / sounds / duration of utterance of each syllable – euphony. The goal is to achieve correct pronunciation and articulation through, akshara suddhi (syllable purity); svara suddhi (tonal / pitch purity – discussed in Vol. 1.2) and maatraa suddhi (durational purity), balam (force of articluation), samam (evenness) and santana: (continuity). Phonetics are most critical in the case of Vedic language, because, as was discussed in the article of the previous issue of the Journal (Vol. 1.2), we see that a change in sound results in completely different effects. Because of its importance, the first chapter of Taittiriya Upanishadsiksha valli - describes these six attibutes in its very first section in the following verse:

veda3.gif (2414 bytes)

( Refer to Vol. 1.2 for details of this mantra)

That is why sage Panini , the grammarian, gives in his "paanineeya siksha", how much care should be exercised when chanting vedas:

veda4.gif (2605 bytes)

As the mother tiger (cat family) carries its young gripping it by its teeth (firm, so that cub does not fall, but gentle, so that it does not harm), the mantras must be chanted lucidly, unblurred, unfaded and not too loud. Neither should they be casually mouthed nor spat in staccato tones !

The Sanskrit language has 51 letters, called Maatruka veda5.gif (288 bytes). Maatru is the cosmic Mother and the 51 letters are in Her image. The Siksha Sastra says that these 51 letters represent the various parts of Her body and even define which one represents which
part !

 

2. veda6.gif (258 bytes) - Vyakaranam The most important exposition of Grammar is that of sage Panini which is in the form of sutras or aphorisms. It is known as ashtaadhyaayi, because it has 8 chapters. There is an interesting story relating to the origin of the Panini Sutras. At the end of the Cosmic Dance, Lord Nataraja (Siva) clicked his damaru 9 times and 5 times (14 times). The dance was witnessed by Sanaka and other rishis. Sage Panini, also witnessed the dance through his "divya dhrushti" . With the 14 sounds produced from His damaru, Lord Siva gave birth to the vyakarana sutras or Mahesvara surtras Refer Sanskrit Lesson of Vol. 1.1) . They are recited during the observance of Upakarma on Sravana Poornima.

The commentary on the Vyakarana is called Maha Bhashya written by Sage Patanjali. The other commentary was written by Vararuchi. These three - the Vyakarana and the two commentaries - are important texts in Vyakarana Sastra. Vyakarana propounds the Sabda Brahma Vaada – that Sound and Brahman are One - which is the basis of Nada Brahma Upasana ( Vol. 1.2) – Music !

3. veda7.gif (228 bytes) - Chandas : Though the word chandas also means vedas themselves, the meaning here refers to the meter of vedic poetry. Rig and Sama vedas are fully in the form of verses, whereas, Yajur Veda has prose and poetry. A sloka or veda mantra is generally a quartet with four quarters or paada veda8.gif (228 bytes). Depending on the number of syllables in each of the paadas, we have different meters – anushtup (8 syllables), brihati (9), pankti (10), trishtup (11), ushnik (4 paadas of 7 syllable each = 28 syllables) – like that up to even 26 syllables to a paada. (Any meter beyond 26 syllables to a paada, is called dandakam.) The well known Gayatri Mantra has three paadas of 8 syllables each; the meter itself is known as gayatri since it has 24 syllables; however, when people perform japa, they recite it only as a 23 syllabled meter (veda9.gif (285 bytes) instead of veda10.gif (315 bytes)), and so is called nicrut gayatri chandas.

Chandas helps us to ensure the form of the Mantra (by meter count). No alteration to this can be attempted since it would disturb the spiritual significance of the mantra itself!

Each mantra is dedicated to a Devata, has a specific chandas and has a Rishi who brought it to the world. That is the reason why we touch our head as we recite the name of the Rishi (symbolically placing his feet on our head), touch the nose when we recite the chandas (the guardian for the mantra is meter and so there is no life of the mantra without it; in the same way, there is no life without breath); touch our heart when reciting the name of the devata (to meditate upon the deity in our heart)

4. veda11.gif (220 bytes) - Nirukta is generally known as vedic dictionary or kosa veda12.gif (264 bytes). Amara Kosa is one of the popular sanskrit dictionaries. Dictionary is also called nighandu. Kosa is actually the etymology where each word is split into syllables and gives the root from which the word is derived with meaning. The root of a word is called dhaatu veda13.gif (242 bytes). In Sanskrit all words have roots.

 

5. veda14.gif (260 bytes) -Jyotisha deals with vedic astrology / astronomy. It was mainly designed to help in arriving at the most favorable time for the performance of vedic rituals; this is to indicate the measure of success or lack of it when vedic rituals are performed under the influence of a particular graha, nakshatra, tithi etc. It involves precise mathematical calculations concerning the transit of planets etc., and so mathematics veda15.gif (268 bytes) is an integral part of it. Jyotisha sastra has three parts - skandha trayaatmakam veda16.gif (454 bytes). (the word skandha means main branch from the trunk of a tree ) They are,

1. siddhanta skandham veda17.gif (472 bytes): deals with trigonometry / arithmatic / algebra / geometry etc.

2. hora skandham veda18.gif (405 bytes): deals with the movement of planets and their effect on people etc.

3. samhita skandham veda19.gif (451 bytes) deals with aspects like, the location of underground waters, designing and building houses, of omens, etc.

Jyotisha sastra covers principles of gravitation, rotation of earth etc. Famous astronomers like Arya Bhatta, Varahamihira and others have given beautiful discussions on these and other concepts.

The origin of creation is also calculated using astronomical principles; the samkalpam which we perform before doing any ritual is based on such calculations. (Details of these and similar concepts will be discussed in a future article).

6. veda20.gif (176 bytes) - Kalpa deals with the aspects inducing a person into vedic action. The mastery in the other 5 vedangas mentioned so far is aimed to perform the actions mentioned in kalpa successfully. In a way, it is like a manual which will give details like a) how a ritual should be done; b) what are the functions of brahmacharis, grihastas, sannyasis etc. c) what ritual involves which mantra, devata, materials d) how many priests should perform a given ritual, e) what vessel of what shape, size to be used etc.

Kalpa sastra (sutra) has been compiled by many sages like, Apasthamba, Bhodayana, Vaikhanasa, and others. In each of the veda recensions, there are two kinds of kalpa sutras – the srouta (named after sruti which means veda) sutra and the grihya sutra. They outline the forty rituals (garbhadana, pumsavana, seemantha, etc. – details of which will be covered in a future issue) to be performed from the time of formation of the embryo in the womb to the time of cremation of the body ! They also outline the eight Atma gunas (virtues like, compassion, tolerance, cleanliness etc.) Among the two sutras, srouta sutras describe the major sacrifices and the Grihya sutras describe the domestic rites. When we do abhivadanam to elders, we state what sutra we follow – Apasthamba, Bodhayana etc. These refer to Srouta sutras. In ancient times, the Srouta karmas were given greater importance than grihya karmas. In addition, there are other texts called, sulpa sutras, dharma sutras etc. Among the four vedas, the kalpa sutras of Atharva Veda (which itself is very very less in practice), are not readily available.

As mentioned earlier, these six sastras are known as vedangas or the organs (limbs) of the vedas. Our Rishis have done a very great service to humanity through such analytical and sophisticated approach to enable the understanding of the veda mantras. It is really sad that whatever little scholarship remains today in these subjects is fast deteriorating due to lack of adequate appreciation and encouragement. Let us all commit to change this trend for the better as a token of our gratitude to veda mata!

Ref: "The Vedas", Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1991.

Feature article of next issue
The Upangas
(Subsidiary Organs of the Vedas)

SVBF Logo

Om, Sri Gurubhyo Namaha
The Vedangas (Organs of the Vedas)
Dr. S. Yegnasubramanian

The six Vedangas (organs of the Vedas) are glorified as an essential subset of the 14 Vidyasthanas – the abode of true knowledge and wisdom. They help to understand Veda mantras completely and in depth. For the Veda Purusha, the 6 limbs are:

veda1.gif (4154 bytes)

1. veda2.gif (201 bytes) - Siksha lays down the rules of phonetics – pronunciation / sounds / duration of utterance of each syllable – euphony. The goal is to achieve correct pronunciation and articulation through, akshara suddhi (syllable purity); svara suddhi (tonal / pitch purity – discussed in Vol. 1.2) and maatraa suddhi (durational purity), balam (force of articluation), samam (evenness) and santana: (continuity). Phonetics are most critical in the case of Vedic language, because, as was discussed in the article of the previous issue of the Journal (Vol. 1.2), we see that a change in sound results in completely different effects. Because of its importance, the first chapter of Taittiriya Upanishadsiksha valli - describes these six attibutes in its very first section in the following verse:

veda3.gif (2414 bytes)

( Refer to Vol. 1.2 for details of this mantra)

That is why sage Panini , the grammarian, gives in his "paanineeya siksha", how much care should be exercised when chanting vedas:

veda4.gif (2605 bytes)

As the mother tiger (cat family) carries its young gripping it by its teeth (firm, so that cub does not fall, but gentle, so that it does not harm), the mantras must be chanted lucidly, unblurred, unfaded and not too loud. Neither should they be casually mouthed nor spat in staccato tones !

The Sanskrit language has 51 letters, called Maatruka veda5.gif (288 bytes). Maatru is the cosmic Mother and the 51 letters are in Her image. The Siksha Sastra says that these 51 letters represent the various parts of Her body and even define which one represents which
part !

 

2. veda6.gif (258 bytes) - Vyakaranam The most important exposition of Grammar is that of sage Panini which is in the form of sutras or aphorisms. It is known as ashtaadhyaayi, because it has 8 chapters. There is an interesting story relating to the origin of the Panini Sutras. At the end of the Cosmic Dance, Lord Nataraja (Siva) clicked his damaru 9 times and 5 times (14 times). The dance was witnessed by Sanaka and other rishis. Sage Panini, also witnessed the dance through his "divya dhrushti" . With the 14 sounds produced from His damaru, Lord Siva gave birth to the vyakarana sutras or Mahesvara surtras Refer Sanskrit Lesson of Vol. 1.1) . They are recited during the observance of Upakarma on Sravana Poornima.

The commentary on the Vyakarana is called Maha Bhashya written by Sage Patanjali. The other commentary was written by Vararuchi. These three - the Vyakarana and the two commentaries - are important texts in Vyakarana Sastra. Vyakarana propounds the Sabda Brahma Vaada – that Sound and Brahman are One - which is the basis of Nada Brahma Upasana ( Vol. 1.2) – Music !

3. veda7.gif (228 bytes) - Chandas : Though the word chandas also means vedas themselves, the meaning here refers to the meter of vedic poetry. Rig and Sama vedas are fully in the form of verses, whereas, Yajur Veda has prose and poetry. A sloka or veda mantra is generally a quartet with four quarters or paada veda8.gif (228 bytes). Depending on the number of syllables in each of the paadas, we have different meters – anushtup (8 syllables), brihati (9), pankti (10), trishtup (11), ushnik (4 paadas of 7 syllable each = 28 syllables) – like that up to even 26 syllables to a paada. (Any meter beyond 26 syllables to a paada, is called dandakam.) The well known Gayatri Mantra has three paadas of 8 syllables each; the meter itself is known as gayatri since it has 24 syllables; however, when people perform japa, they recite it only as a 23 syllabled meter (veda9.gif (285 bytes) instead of veda10.gif (315 bytes)), and so is called nicrut gayatri chandas.

Chandas helps us to ensure the form of the Mantra (by meter count). No alteration to this can be attempted since it would disturb the spiritual significance of the mantra itself!

Each mantra is dedicated to a Devata, has a specific chandas and has a Rishi who brought it to the world. That is the reason why we touch our head as we recite the name of the Rishi (symbolically placing his feet on our head), touch the nose when we recite the chandas (the guardian for the mantra is meter and so there is no life of the mantra without it; in the same way, there is no life without breath); touch our heart when reciting the name of the devata (to meditate upon the deity in our heart)

4. veda11.gif (220 bytes) - Nirukta is generally known as vedic dictionary or kosa veda12.gif (264 bytes). Amara Kosa is one of the popular sanskrit dictionaries. Dictionary is also called nighandu. Kosa is actually the etymology where each word is split into syllables and gives the root from which the word is derived with meaning. The root of a word is called dhaatu veda13.gif (242 bytes). In Sanskrit all words have roots.

 

5. veda14.gif (260 bytes) -Jyotisha deals with vedic astrology / astronomy. It was mainly designed to help in arriving at the most favorable time for the performance of vedic rituals; this is to indicate the measure of success or lack of it when vedic rituals are performed under the influence of a particular graha, nakshatra, tithi etc. It involves precise mathematical calculations concerning the transit of planets etc., and so mathematics veda15.gif (268 bytes) is an integral part of it. Jyotisha sastra has three parts - skandha trayaatmakam veda16.gif (454 bytes). (the word skandha means main branch from the trunk of a tree ) They are,

1. siddhanta skandham veda17.gif (472 bytes): deals with trigonometry / arithmatic / algebra / geometry etc.

2. hora skandham veda18.gif (405 bytes): deals with the movement of planets and their effect on people etc.

3. samhita skandham veda19.gif (451 bytes) deals with aspects like, the location of underground waters, designing and building houses, of omens, etc.

Jyotisha sastra covers principles of gravitation, rotation of earth etc. Famous astronomers like Arya Bhatta, Varahamihira and others have given beautiful discussions on these and other concepts.

The origin of creation is also calculated using astronomical principles; the samkalpam which we perform before doing any ritual is based on such calculations. (Details of these and similar concepts will be discussed in a future article).

6. veda20.gif (176 bytes) - Kalpa deals with the aspects inducing a person into vedic action. The mastery in the other 5 vedangas mentioned so far is aimed to perform the actions mentioned in kalpa successfully. In a way, it is like a manual which will give details like a) how a ritual should be done; b) what are the functions of brahmacharis, grihastas, sannyasis etc. c) what ritual involves which mantra, devata, materials d) how many priests should perform a given ritual, e) what vessel of what shape, size to be used etc.

Kalpa sastra (sutra) has been compiled by many sages like, Apasthamba, Bhodayana, Vaikhanasa, and others. In each of the veda recensions, there are two kinds of kalpa sutras – the srouta (named after sruti which means veda) sutra and the grihya sutra. They outline the forty rituals (garbhadana, pumsavana, seemantha, etc. – details of which will be covered in a future issue) to be performed from the time of formation of the embryo in the womb to the time of cremation of the body ! They also outline the eight Atma gunas (virtues like, compassion, tolerance, cleanliness etc.) Among the two sutras, srouta sutras describe the major sacrifices and the Grihya sutras describe the domestic rites. When we do abhivadanam to elders, we state what sutra we follow – Apasthamba, Bodhayana etc. These refer to Srouta sutras. In ancient times, the Srouta karmas were given greater importance than grihya karmas. In addition, there are other texts called, sulpa sutras, dharma sutras etc. Among the four vedas, the kalpa sutras of Atharva Veda (which itself is very very less in practice), are not readily available.

As mentioned earlier, these six sastras are known as vedangas or the organs (limbs) of the vedas. Our Rishis have done a very great service to humanity through such analytical and sophisticated approach to enable the understanding of the veda mantras. It is really sad that whatever little scholarship remains today in these subjects is fast deteriorating due to lack of adequate appreciation and encouragement. Let us all commit to change this trend for the better as a token of our gratitude to veda mata!

Ref: "The Vedas", Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1991.

Feature article of next issue
The Upangas
(Subsidiary Organs of the Vedas)

SVBF Logo