[In the Part-1 of this Series, I had tried to cover the story of formation of what we call India, from the sage of split of Super- Continent, Gondwana and the early settlement of Aryan Civilization- Read here (India-That is Bharat- Part-1)
In the Part 2 of this series, I covered the the Rigvedic World, the world from where the Vedas emerged (Read Here- India, That is Bharat- Part 2).]
There are times when we feel exasperated with a tendency among the intellectuals to degrade Hinduism, to create a sense of embarrassment among the people of this country- about our history and heritage. For past more than five centuries, we have been ruled by people who were culturally different and numerically lesser than the people they ruled. Their success rested on creating a belief among the natives that they were not good enough to rule themselves. That we deserved to be ruled. What this required was to erase, wipe out and doctor our history. It is really unfortunate that the practice continues. Those who argue vehemently that the book which was written as the words of God (and the Only God), words beyond reproach, verification and debate, were misinterpreted; the same people, when it comes to vilify Hinduism will resort to selective quoting and selecting mention of the word Manu-vaad and Veda. The sad thing is we, as Hindus, and as Indians, know so little about our own ancient history. We have such little knowledge of Vedas than anyone can come, throw them at our face and we cower in this cunningly crafted narrative of shame and embarrassment. Vested interests will claim that a book written in 6th Century AD is misunderstood, because we must interpret it with our times; but will insist that literature written somewhere in 2000 to 3000 BC should be judged with the most modern eyes and quoted verbatim, even when the latter is gold standard of metaphoric and aphoristic writings.
To draw equivalence, firstly all Vedic literature is presented as words of God. This basic premise is the most devious. Let me say what I think. Veda is not a word of God and Hinduism is not a religion of Book. There was no man who woke up suddenly, gathered men about him and asked for unquestioned obedience because he told them what he claimed to be the words of God. There was not one single man who created these words, so that they would become binding on you and me and enable him to create an empire. Veda, which means knowledge is not a book of Dos and Don't for the followers to strictly adhere. Veda is struggle for the search of spiritual meaning for man just out of the caves, and trying to deduce, determine and establish his own place in the wide world. For a man at that stage of human evolution, Vedas were much ahead of their times- in terms of subtlety of thoughts and clarity of idea, not to mention, for exemplary and exquisite eloquence. Vedas were never words carved in on a dead stone.
Vedas were words of wisdom writ on the quivering surfaces of flowing waters, shimmering through the dark ages.
The History of Veda:
Vedas are not the books written by one person. Veda grew and expanded and moved with the times. While writing came to Vedic Aryans supposedly by Fourth Century BC, first references were found of writing with Kalam (the pen) and the Mashi (the Ink) in the Buddhist inscriptions of 200 BC. Vedas preceded written words, but followed the spoken words, which the Aryans called Vac , which was celebrated in the Taittiriya Brahmana as -
"Vac is the imperishable one (Akshara), first born of the cosmic order (rta), the mother of the Vedas (Vedanam-mata) the navel of immortality."
Veda is not one book. There are four Vedas, actually the fourth one, The Atharva Veda, written in 900 BC, nudged its way into reckoning later on, by around 600 BC. Initially all knowledge was said to be three-layered, namely
The three layers are Bhu ((the Earth), Bhuvah ( The in-between) and Swah (The heavens). AtharvaVeda came later and had the most elegant verses. Yajurveda totally ignores Atharva Veda when it proclaims:
"I take refuge in the word as the RigVeda
In the mind as the Yajurveda
and In the breath as Samaveda."
Rigveda was the oldest of the four Vedas, the first literature. Without words, the world was incomprehensible. Then we had words which could describe the things and make the world comprehensible. Since Rigveda came about much before writing, the Vedic Aryans would depend on verbal transfer of knowledge. Rigveda mostly had hymns on the forces of nature. They were written by man who was for the first time coming on to a situation where he could imagine not being overwhelmed by Nature for the first time. His happiness is palpable when he speaks-
"When men set forth the earliest utterances of speech (vac), giving name to things, then was disclosed a jewel, treasured within them, most excellent and pure." - Rig Veda
So happy was the Aryan Indian then, that not only did he readily shared it with his fellows, he demanded that his friends remember what he shares with them about the nature. He contends forgetting that shared knowledge a sin as grave as the murder of a friend or a Brahmin (The Intellectual-philosopher, the seeker of knowledge). So much so, that it came out as a RigVedic prayer:
"Come again, Lord of Speech,
Together with divine mind;
Lord of Good, make it stay in me,
In myself, what is heard."
RigVeda would turn out into a collection of Ten Books (Mandalas), when Panini first structured the spoken words of Prakrit into Samskrit - World's first scientifically structured language in around 400 BC. For a while the Vedas would continue to propagate through oral traditions only. RigVeda was composed on the banks of Saraswati, right at the time when Aryans were trying to figure out a life which resembled more to their Harappan adversary's domesticated, agrarian world. They were still far from becoming the eastern civilization in the plains of Ganga and Yamuna. The Rig Veda has around 84 mentions of the River Sarasvati, also known as the lost river, and only 3 of the Ganga, the former fades away in the favor of later, by the time, we reach at Atharva Veda in 900 BC. The martial Aryans were not yet very well-settled into the superstitious, ritualistic world of the Indus civilization, who would pray for favors of the Gods to support their agriculture, to protect them from the nature. Baffled Aryans would call on the Agni to:
"Destroy with your heat the workers of magic,
Destroy with your power, the evil spirits;
Destroy with your flames the idolaters
Burn into flames those scoundrels." - Rig-Veda
RigVeda (In the praise of knowledge) has 1017 Main hymns and 17 Supplementary Hymns. These were written in praise of nature, in a way to please the nature and environment and get its support in sustaining lives. Mandala 1, 8, 9 and 10 are the result of collective effort of sages of different families. Remaining 6 Mandalas of the Samhita (Anthology) were from defined family of sages.
Yajurveda details sacrificial rituals, some of which Aryans might have borrowed from the Indus people, with their magnificent temple and common baths.
SamVeda covers the chants which go with the vedic rituals.
The words with which Vedas were told from one generation to the other were called Shruti (The heard). There were interpretations and meaning which were beyond the verbatim transfer, which stayed in the mind of the teachers who passed it on. That was termed as Smriti (the remembrance).
The Rigveda was passed orally from generation to generation, as it also grew. It was not a static piece of unalterable document, unlike the books of later day, religions of book. Mandala after Mandala would get added (not always by the Brahmins, but also by Philosopher-kings like Vishwamitra). These iterations made these writings stand the test of time, and also made Hinduism what it is - The eternal or Sanatana. As Rigvedic Poet (who calls himself Karu or Artisan and not some messenger of God), writes about the evolutionary nature of Rigveda itself:
"With sacrifice and wish have I brought Indra..
Him magnified by ancient songs and praises,
by lauds of later time and days yet recent."
Indra and Varuna, who were the most celebrated Gods in the Rigvedic period would slowly give way to the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. While Indra is the valiant Military commander, a destroyer of the castles of the Panis (the mercantile class of the Meluhhans) , Varun is a humor-less God of severe justice. Maximum number of hymns in Rigveda are however, addressed to Agni- the Fire-God. Agni would not only save them from the wild beasts at nights; it would also clean up forests and provide them with cultivable lands.
Samveda carries much less value in comparison as it mostly repeats the hymns of Rigveda, (except 75) and re-arranges them in order for Soma sacrifice.
After the Vedas, comes the Brahmanas. Brahmanas explains and connects the Hymns of Rigveda with the rituals. Brahmanas of Rigvedas explain the duties of the Hotri - or the priest who recites the hymns, Brahmanas of Yajurveda, the duties of actual sacrificer. As time passed, Brahmanas further expanded with more detailed explanation of the allegorical representations and metaphorical meanings of the Vedas. Separate books came to be written, as these Vedas were studied and deliberated upon in the forests. These books were called Aranyaks (Aranya- Forest). The last and most lofty of the books in the Vedic traditions is Upanishads literally meaning "to sit down near one." These were interpretations and philosophical meanings being derived from the Vedas. While multiple Upanishads later came into being, there are Thirteen Upanishads dating to 3rd and 4th Century BC which are said to be representing the basic Vedic knowledge. Out of these, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is said to be the oldest one and is also the longest one.
I shall be covering more on these topics in this series. I believe it is very critical for all Indians to read and understand at least the basic of Vedas to prevent the falsification of the History of Hinduism and thereby the History of India. For instance, the instances of Cow sacrifice is quoted from Rigveda in the modern world to justify beef-eating; while in the modern times, there are environmentalists propagating vegetarianism for environmental reasons. What is ignored that as the civilization moved from Rigveda to Atharva Veda, Cows became the pivot of economic well-being of the society. Wars were fought over Cows (Gavisti). Also customs like Sati are quoted to deride denounce Hinduism and even Atharva Veda is quoted to prove that Sati was a part of Hindu Vedic world. It is an eye-opener to know that the oft-quoted verse from Atharva-Veda ought to be read in conjunction with the later part of the hymn. The later part takes it to conclusion as it speaks of Widow-remarriage. Furthermore, Federalism, democracy, secularism- which we consider as modern-day concepts, were found clearly represented in the Vedic India. Even the philosophical points like The Will and Self which caught the fancy of Western World with Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and later day philosophers, were well understood by that Vedic Hindu sitting outside his thatched hut, right on the fringes of the forest, in the Indus valley and later, in the lush Gangetic, doab planes of India.
1. Gem In the Lotus: Abraham Eraly (Amazon Link)
2. A History of Sanskrit Literature: Arthur A. Macdonell.( Published in 1900)