Purpose and Origin of the Vedas
Veda means knowledge. The word comes from the Sanskrit language and is derived from the verb root vid, 'to know'. Originally the Vedas were composed in Sanskrit. There are two types of Sanskrit, vaidika and laukika. The Vedic Sanskrit is called vaidika and it is more complicated both in its grammar and in the use of certain words which are only found in the Vedas. The worldly or more popular Sanskrit is called laukika. This is the language of the puranas and itihasas. The Vedas themselves do not say so much about their origin and purpose or, whatever little is said, is generally not taken very seriously by Western scholars who dismiss it as primitive belief and mythology. The most celebrated and well known part of the Vedas is undoubtedly the Rg-Veda. The word rg comes from the verb root rc, meaning 'to praise'. From the same root comes a feminine noun rc, which means 'praise' or 'verse', especially a sacred verse recited in praise of a deity. Thus we can understand the direct meaning of Rg-Veda to be 'The knowledge of sacred recitation' or, as stated in the dictionary, 'Veda of praise'.
The Rg-Veda, which is most likely the most ancient literature in the world, consists of 1017 hymns. If the Valakhilya hymns are included the total number is 1028. The hymns are arranged in eight Astakas or ten Mandalas. Mandalas two to eight contain groups of hymns, each group ascribed to one author or member of a particular Rsi family. The ninth Mandala contains the hymns sung at the soma ceremonies. The first and tenth Mandalas are somewhat different in their language and thought to be composed by a larger variety of individual authors. We will discuss the probable date of the Rg-Veda at a later stage of this paper.
In order to properly understand what the Vedas really are and what their origin and purpose is, it is best to examine some statements from the Vedic literature which clearly explain these matters. In modern Western scholarship it has apparently become a fashion to ignore the authoritative statements that the Vedas make about themselves, and to instead speculate who composed the Vedas, when, where and for what purpose.
In the Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad 2.6.10 it is said, asya mahato bhutasya nihsvasitam etad yad rg-vedo yajur vedah sama-vedo 'tharvangirasah. "The four Vedas - namely the Rg-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sama-Veda, and Atharva-Veda - are all emanations from the breathing of the great Personality of Godhead." In the Bhagavata Purana it is said, vedo narayana saksat svayambhur iti susruma. "The Vedas are directly the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Narayana, and are self-born." (Bh.P. 6.1.40) The same reference also explains the purpose of the Vedas, veda-pranihito dharmo hy adharmas tad viparyayah. "That which is prescribed in the Vedas constitutes dharma, the religious principles, and the opposite of that is irreligion." Now it might be argued that these are simply quotes from Upanisads and Puranas, which are not exactly part of the Vedas, let alone the Rg-Veda itself.
However, traditionally the Upanisads are accepted as belonging to the Vedas, in fact, they are taken to be the actual explanations of the Vedas. Each Veda has a set of Upanisads associated with it. An exact description of the structure or organization of the Vedic literature will be given further down in this paper. The Puranas are traditionally called the 'Fifth Veda' and this too will be established by authoritative quotes from the Vedic literature. As a preliminary argument let us say that those statements about the origin and purpose of the Vedas, which are quoted from Puranic or Vedic references, should be given a far greater credibility and authority than the whimsical speculations of modern scholars, because they are much closer to the original Vedic culture, not only by date and by location, but also on account of the spiritual practice of their compilers and propounders.
In the following section we shall present an extensive quotation from the Eleventh Canto of the Bhagavata Purana. This text is part of the famous Uddhava-Gita and gives an interesting, esoteric explanation of the Vedic path. (Bh.P. 11.21.35-42).
veda brahmatma-visayas tri-kanda-visaya ime
paroksa-vada rsayah paroksa mama ca priyam
sabda-brahma su-durbodha pranendriya-mano-mayam
ananta-para gambhira durvigahya samudra-vat
mayopabrmhita bhumna brahmanananta-saktina
bhutesu ghosa-rupena visesurneva laksyate
yathornanabhir hrdayad urnam udvamate mukhat
akasad ghosavan prano manasa sparsa-rupina
chando-mayo 'mrta-mayah sahasra-padavi prabhuh
vicitra-bhasa-vitata chandobhis catur-uttaraih
ananta-para brhati srjaty aksipate svayam
gayatry usnig anustup ca brhati panktir eva ca
tristub jagaty aticchando hy atyasty-atijagad-virat
ki vidhatte kim acaste kim anudya vikalpayet
ity asya hrdaya loke nanyo mad veda kascana
"The Vedas, divided into three divisions, ultimately reveal the living entity as pure spirit soul. The Vedic seers and mantras, however, deal in esoteric terms, and I [Krishna] also am pleased by such confidential descriptions. The transcendental sound of the Vedas is very difficult to comprehend and manifests on different levels within the prana, senses and mind. This Vedic sound is unlimited, very deep and unfathomable, just like the ocean. As the unlimited, unchanging and omnipotent Personality of Godhead dwelling within all living beings, I personally establish the Vedic sound vibration in the form of omkara within all living entities. It is thus perceived subtly, just like a single strand of fiber on a lotus stalk. Just as a spider brings forth from its heart its web and emits it through its mouth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead manifests Himself as the reverberating primeval vital air, comprising all sacred Vedic meters and full of transcendental pleasure. Thus the Lord, from the ethereal sky of His heart, creates the great and limitless Vedic sound by the agency of His mind, which conceives of variegated sounds such as the sparsas. The Vedic sound branches out in thousands of directions, adorned with the different letters expanded from the syllable om: the consonants, vowels, sibilants and semivowels. The Veda is then elaborated by many verbal varieties, expressed in different meters, each having four more syllables than the previous one. Ultimately the Lord again withdraws His manifestation of Vedic sound within Himself. The Vedic meters are Gayatri, Usnik, Anustup, Brhati, Pankti, Tristup, Jagati, Aticchanda, Atyasti, Atijagati and Ativirat. In the entire world no one but Me actually understands the confidential purpose of Vedic knowledge. Thus people do not know what the Vedas are actually prescribing in the ritualistic injunctions of karma-kanda, or what object is actually being indicated in the formulas of worship found in the upasana-kanda, or that which is elaborately discussed through various hypotheses in the jnana-kanda section of the Vedas."
According to Vedic knowledge, the Vedic sound is divided into four phases, which can be understood only by the most intelligent brahmanas. This is because three of the divisions are internally situated within the living entity and only the fourth division is externally manifested, as speech. Even this fourth phase of Vedic sound, called vaikhari, is very difficult to understand for ordinary human beings. Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura explains these divisions as follows. The prana phase of Vedic sound, known as para, is situated in the adhara-cakra; the mental phase, known as pasyanti, is situated in the area of the navel, on the manipuraka-cakra; the intellectual phase, known as madhyama, is situated in the heart area, in the anahata-cakra. Finally, the manifest sensory phase of Vedic sound is called vaikhari. Such Vedic sound is ananta-para because it comprehends all vital energies within the universe and beyond and is thus undivided by time or space.
In his book Gods, Sages and Kings, David Frawley explains the position of the sacred syllable om in the text of the Rg-Veda. He writes: "While we do not find om mentioned specifically in the Rg-Veda, there is throughout the book an emphasis on the sacred word or chant, the mantras as the power whereby the Gods are revealed. This sacred word could very well have been om. Let us see how later texts indicate that it was.
The Upanisads state:
Who is the bull of the chants, possessing all forms, who from the immortal chants was born, may that Indra deliver me with wisdom. (Taittiriya Up. 1.3.1)
"The 'bull of chants' is om. It is identified with Indra, the foremost of the Vedic gods. Indra in the Rg-Veda conquers the powers of darkness with the Divine Word of Brahman. Om is also called Brahman. A famous verse of Vamadeva from the Rg-Veda describes the bull of chants as:
Four are his horns, three are his feet, two are his heads and seven are his hands. Bound threefold the bull roars, the mighty God has entered into mortals. (IV.58.2, Mahanarayana Up. IX.1, Bh.P. 8.16.31)
"This is said by various commentators like Sayana to be an explanation of om. Om in the Upanisads is said to have four quarters, referring to the four states of waking, dream, deep sleep, and pure consciousness. The various mathematical versions of the chant and the sacrifice in the Rg-Veda are the various levels of vibration of om. The seven seers are the seven energies of om. Indra is the power of om. The sun is the light of om. The Sama-Veda is the song of the sun... which is om.
Dirghatamas states in the Rg-Veda:
The sacred syllable of the chant in the supreme ether in which all the gods reside, he who does not know that, what can he do with the Veda? (I.164.39)
"That sacred syllable on which the Vedas rest is om."
So far David Frawley's conclusion. It is easy to simply say something about the Vedas. Hardly anybody knows Sanskrit well enough to follow up such claims. But, for the sake of getting a balanced presentation, let us look up Frawley's reference and see in which context it appears and what earlier Indian commentators had to say about it. We will use the Ramakrsna Matha edition of the Mahanarayanopanisad, which was published in Madras 1957. The translation and commentary are by Svami Vimalananda who himself closely followed Sayana's commentaries, but who also included Bhattabhaskara's interpretations which are often quite different. Sayana is an early commentator whose date is given as AD 1350-1387. He has commented on practically all parts of the Vedas.
In our edition the verse appears as 12.10 and is said to be identical with Rg-Veda IV.58.3. The Sanskrit is as follows:
catvari srnga trayo asya pada dvesirse sapta hastaso asya
tridha baddho vrsabho roraviti maho devo martyan avivesa
"The syllable om conceived as the Bull possesses four horns, three feet and two heads. He has seven hands. This Bull connected in a threefold manner, eloquently declares the Supreme. The Self-luminous Deity has entered the mortals everywhere."
This translation is very similar to the one shown above. But in his commentary Svami Vimalananda also gives two alternative interpretations. We will quote the entire commentary below.
"This is the well-known allegoric stanza of the Rg-Veda IV.58.3, variously interpreted in different contexts. Patanjali in his Great Commentary on Panini explains it as representing the various flexions of speech; Bhattabhaskara takes it as a eulogistic representation of the sacrifice with auxiliaries; and Sayana here interprets it as the syllable om already metaphorized as a bull. The word vrsabha conventionally means a bull and etymologically that which rains (plenty). The meditation on Pranava is stated to confer on the aspirant spiritual riches. The vrsabha or Pranava, has four horns as indicated in the previous note. Om is also the Reality expressed by it; and that Reality is reached through the three feet or steps, namely, the waking, sleeping and dreaming of the individual soul, and also the universe, the soul embodied in the universe and its unevolved cause. The higher and lower aspects of Prakrti, taught in the Gita chapter VII, are considered as his two heads. The seven worlds are fancied to be his hands. Being the ground of all that exists, this vrsabha is connected with the threefold aspects of subjective and objective universe mentioned just now. The vrsabha or bull bellows loudly. Here the Pranava declares the Supreme Reality eloquently. This declaration here implies the presence of Paramatman in all creatures and His sustaining of them. According to Bhattabhaskara the four horns are the four adjutants of the sacrifice, the Adhvaryu, Hotr, Brahman, and Udgatr; the three feet are Garhapatya, Ahavaniya and Anvaharyapacana; the heads are the institutor of the sacrifice and his wife or the Prayaniya and Udayaniya(I); the seven metres headed by gayatri are the seven hands. The body of the sacrifice is bound in a threefold manner by the three savanas or ceremonies connected with the extraction of soma. The yajna grants desired objects. So it is vrsabha. The noise produced by the bull compares to the chant of the three Vedas at the sacrifice. The Lord Himself entered human beings through the sacrifices in which He is worshiped."
Note: The reference is Mahanarayanopanisad 12.9, which a citation of RV IV.58.2. The Sanskrit of that section goes as follows, upa brahma srnvac chasyamana catuh srngo 'vamid gaura etat.
The four-horned white bull represents the syllable om described as chandasam rsabha visvarupah in the beginning of the Taittiriyopanisad. The four horns are the four sound elements in the Pranava, A, U, M and the reverberating nasal bindu.
Note I: These are the names of the three sacrificial fires, the central, eastern and southern fires.
The verse in question may be interpreted as a description of the sacred syllable om, as a list of the various flexions of speech and as an example of the Vedic sacrifice itself. In all cases the ancient scholars have taken it to be a symbolic representation of a higher truth. The last part of the verse, maho devo martyan avivesa - the great Lord has entered the mortals - certainly justifies these indirect interpretations because here the Sanskrit is rather simple and all parties have translated it in the same way. The bull is strange enough but what does he have in common with these mortals all of a sudden? And how is this Maha-deva entering them? We have to accept that much of the Vedas is expressed in esoteric language as confirmed in the Bhagavat-Purana quoted above. It seems that the Vedas are expressing different levels of reality through one and the same text. On the lowest level one may perceive a collection of hymns, such as RV II.47.2, where Indra is requested to slay one's enemies, give victory and grant safety and fearlessness. On a higher level one might accept the hymns as descriptions of sacrifice - religious rituals for the sake of economic development, heavenly pleasures or purification by pious activities. On a still higher level the sacrifice might be internalized. Indra can be taken as one particular god or as the individual self or as the Supreme Self. The descriptions are then understood in an increasingly symbolical fashion and become more similar to the yoga discourses of the Upanisads.
With the above explanations and examples in mind, we may be ready to accept the statements of the puranas, which declare that the Vedas are apauruseya. A term indicating that they have no human origin. Granted, they have been received by the great Rsis, but these sages never claimed authorship. They simply propounded knowledge that had been revealed to them. They always pointed at the one Supreme Being. In order to substantiate this claim, we will have to take a closer look at the actual date of the Vedas and at such ideas as the Aryan Invasion, which propose not only a relatively young age for the Vedas but also worldly origin and purpose.
David Frawley writes, "The oldest literary sources we have from the ancient Greek world are the works of Homer (c. 700 BC). From the Middle East, the oldest extant books are those of the Hebrew Bible. While parts of the Old Testament are much older, as a whole much of it was redone after 500 BC. The Gathas of Zoroaster are also old, dating from before the founding of the ancient Persian empire (525 BC), but they are later than the Vedic. They are also fragmentary since their greater portions were destroyed by the Greek and Muslim conquests of Persia. From China the oldest book is the I Ching, though only its core portions date to 1000 BC or earlier. While The Egyptian Book of the Dead is much older than these (to 3000 BC), no living tradition or record of its interpretation has survived for us.
"Vedic literature thus provides us with more original ancient teachings than what we have from all the rest of the world put together... Even by the most conservative estimates the four Vedas date from 1500-1000 BC and have remained virtually unchanged since. The extensive Brahmanas and early Upanisads precede the time of Buddha. Such preservation is particularly remarkable in a tropical country like India where written records decay quickly. India also endured many conquests - some, like the Muslim attacks, extremely violent and destructive - but it was able to maintain its ancient records. Even today Brahmins recite the Vedas much as they did some three thousand years ago or more. This shows a singular dedication to the teaching and tradition, which should at least be worthy of notice."
In modern times the Vedic literature has been examined and translated by Western scholars such as Mueller, Wilson, Keith, Griffith and Bergaine. They did not have very deep insight into the workings of the Vedic culture and were often inspired by questionable motives. In the nineteenth century it was the declared policy of the British government to show that Western culture, based on Greek tradition and further enhanced by the Christian belief, was far superior to the Vedic tradition. Monier Williams' celebrated Sanskrit dictionary was compiled with this aim - to demolish and discredit the ancient Sanskrit teachings and to replace them with Sanskrit editions of Christian literature. This can hardly be called a noble and certainly not a scientific approach.
In this regard David Frawley writes, "The great Indian epic, the Mahabharata, for example, refers to a civil war involving all of north India that occurred some time before that of the Buddha. Kings from throughout the whole country of the time are mentioned as having been involved in the battle. This we have turned into a local skirmish among petty princes in the northwest corner of India, which was later exaggerated by poets. We assume exaggeration, if not deception, on the part of the ancients rather than giving them credit for what they actually say when it goes against what we believe possible for them... The question of the Rg-Veda is even more difficult because many ideas about it have been accepted as fact, even though they are highly speculative and not proven by the actual text. The modern idea is that the Vedic people were a racial type (Aryans). They are said to have invaded India in the second millennium BC as primitive nomads from Central Asia.
The Rg-Veda is said to have been composed in the Punjab region of northwest India as the first step of this invasion. These are ideas used to interpret the text. They are not found within it. In fact, they require altering the meaning of words and changing the orientation of the text to make them credible. However, no one seems to read the Rg-Veda these days in the original Sanskrit. We read it through the interpretations and naturally it proves the interpretations. If we find astronomical references to early areas (before 2000 BC) in the Vedas, we cannot say that these are too early for them to be real. This is not scholarship, it is prejudice, which literally means pre judgment."
At this point we have to - in order to keep the text short - simply summarize a couple of evidences which point to a much earlier date of the Rg-Veda than what is generally given by modern Western or even Indian scholars. The Rg-Veda contains astronomical references which are based on a knowledge of the phenomenon of precession. The Vedic culture expressed through the Rg-Veda employed sidereal time. Thus the points of vernal equinox or winter solstice would be mentioned as having occurred or occurring in particular lunar constellations, called naksatras. It is relatively simple to calculate on that basis what the dates of a vernal equinox mentioned in the text were according to our calendar.
In this way we get the following table:
|07o 00'||Pisces||Uttarabhadra||c. 1991 AD, Today|
|00o 00'||Aries||Asvini||c. 400 AD, Puranic Era|
|23o 20'||Aries||Bharani||c. 1280 BC, Vedanga Jyotisa|
|06o 40'||Taurus||Krttika||c. 2250 BC, Late Vedic Age|
|00o 00'||Gemini||Mrgasira||c. 4000 BC, Middle Vedic Age|
|26o 20'||Gemini||Punarvasu||c. 6000 BC, Early Vedic Age|
|Cancer||Pusya||c. 6500 BC, Early Vedic Age|
The dates in the above table can be supported by a number of quotes from the Rg-Veda, too numerous to be quoted in this paper. For more detail the reader is referred to David Frawley's chapter on Vedic Astronomy. He writes: "While the references before the Krttikas (Taurus vernal equinox) are less clear, that reference itself is definite. Its language is as clear as stating, 'now the vernal equinox is in early Taurus.' It proves that whoever the Vedic people were and wherever they lived, their culture was in its later phase by 2000 BC. With this reference substantiated the others become hard to dismiss... With such astronomical references in all Vedic texts, on what grounds can we deny them? If the Rg-Veda uses the same terms as later astronomy, we cannot say they are wrong or referred to something else because it does not agree with our theories. Our theories may be wrong but the stars are not."
Another quite striking example can be quoted regarding the starting date of Kali-yuga. The Kali-yuga, according to Puranic references as well as references from the Jyotisa-sastras, began on February 18, 3102 BC. The sastras claim that there was a planetary alignment of the seven planets including the sun and the moon. Dr. Richard Thompson, in his book Vedic Cosmography and Astronomy, shows how this planetary alignment can be verified by making the necessary calculations with modern computer programs. The standard view of modern Western scholars is that this date for the start of Kali-yuga is fictitious. Indeed, these scholars maintain that the battle of Kuruksetra itself is fictitious, and that the civilization described in the Vedic literature is simply a product of poetic imagination. There is not enough space here to present the brilliant research work of Dr. Thompson in more detail. His book will be listed in the bibliography at the end of this paper. The Surya-siddhanta, perhaps the most famous work on Indian astronomy, is full of amazingly accurate astronomical data. This work gives the figures for planetary cycles in orbital revolution per divya-yuga. One divya-yuga is 4,320,000 solar years. One thousand such divya-yugas give the duration of one day of Brahma, called a kalpa. At the end of each kalpa there is a partial devastation. We include these ideas in this paper to point at the very vast time frame which is accepted for periodic cosmic phenomena in the Puranas and other Vedic literature.
The Surya-siddhanta says about itself that it was spoken by a messenger from the sun-god, Surya, to the famous asura Maya Danava at the end of the last Satya-yuga. This is of course an enormous time span but there are some quite remarkable statements in that book which give us something to think about. There is for example a description of certain constellations, whose astronomical data in terms of their position in the heavens appear to be totally wrong. However, if, with the help of computers and suitable programs a retrocalculation is done, it shows that the positions of the stars would be accurate for a time about 50,000 years earlier. There is no question of such calculations being faked and the oldest available manuscripts of the Surya-siddhanta come from a time where such calculations could not possibly have been done without the help of computers.
One more intriguing point in connection with the Puranic time scale and its four yugas: The Rg-Veda verse quoted above, "Four are his horns, three are his feet, two are his heads and seven are his hands" (IV.58.3), can be symbolically interpreted as, 4,3,2 and 7 zeros. That is exactly the duration of one kalpa, or one thousand times the aggregate of the four yugas, or 4,320,000,000 years.
The Aryan invasion is a myth invented by Western scholars in order to discredit the original Vedic civilization. They could simply not tolerate the idea that an advanced human culture could have originated in India. It had to come from outside. In any case, the term aryan, is not designating a racial type but rather a cultural class. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Svami defines, "The word Aryan is applicable to persons who know the value of life and have a civilization based on spiritual realization." While it is a fact that people existed who immigrated from Central Asia to Central India, there is no evidence that they were the ones who established the Vedic culture. The Vedic culture was already very old and advanced by the time these people arrived in Aryavarta, 'the abode of the noble and excellent ones'. A modern scholar has written:
"Current archeological data do not support the existence of an Indo-Aryan or European invasion into South Asia at any time in the pre- or protohistoric periods. Instead, it is possible to document archeologically a series of cultural changes reflecting indigenous cultural development from prehistoric to historic periods. The early Vedic literature describes not a human invasion into the area, but a fundamental restructuring of indigenous society ... The Indo-Aryan invasion as an academic concept in eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe reflected the cultural milieu of that period. Linguistic data were used to validate the concept that in turn was used to interpret archeological and anthropological data." [Jim G. Shaffer "The Indo-Aryan Invasions: Cultural Myth and Archeological Reality," in J.R. Lukak's The People of South Asia (New York: Plenum, 1984)]
In the following part of this paper we will take a closer look at what is included in the Vedas. In other words those scriptures that can be called Vedic will be named and a list of topics discussed in the Vedas will be presented.
Generally the Vedas are accepted as four, Rg, Yajur, Sama and Atharva. Each Veda has two distinct portions, known as mantra and brahmana. The mantra section contains hymns to the fire, the sun, the air, the sky and the wind or to the respective deities who personify these elements. The brahmana section contains descriptions of the rituals and ceremonies in which the mantras were supposed to be used. It also gives historical explanations in connection with the mantras. The mantras are of three types, 1. Rc, which are verses of praise in metre, and intended for loud recitation; 2. Yajus, which are in prose, and intended for recitation in a lower tone at sacrifices; 3. Saman, which are in metre, and intended for chanting at the Soma ceremonies.
Also included under the designation Vedic are the Sutras, Upanisads, and Aranyakas. The Sutras are manuals for teaching in ritual, philosophy, grammar and so on. Most closely connected to the Vedas are the Srauta- and Kalpa-sutras. They are giving concise rules for the performance of every kind of sacrifice. Of course there are others like the Grhya-sutras, Dharma-sutras, Panini's celebrated grammar, Patanjali's Yoga-sutras and many more. The Upanisads are philosophical writings attached to the Brahmanas. Their aim is the exposition of the secret meaning of the Vedas. The Upanisads are considered to be the source of the Vedanta and of Sankhya philosophies.
Regarding the Upanisads, the following eleven Upanisads are
considered to be the topmost: Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka,
Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya, Brhad-aranyaka and
However, in the Muktikopanisad, verses 30-39, there is a description of 108 Upanisads: (1) Isopanisad, (2) Kenopanisad, (3) Kathopanisad, (4) Prasnopanisad, (5) Mundakopanisad, (6) Mandukyopanisad, (7) Taittiriyopanisad, (8) Aitareyopanisad, (9) Chandogyopanisad, (10) Brhad-aranyakopanisad, (11) Brahmopanisad, (12) Kaivalyopanisad, (13) Jabalopanisad, (14) Svetasvataropanisad, (15) Hamsopanisad, (16) Aruneyopanisad, (17) Garbhopanisad, (18) Narayanopanisad, (19) Paramahamsopanisad, (20) Amrta-bindupanisad, (21) Amrta-nadopanisad, (22) Siropanisad, (23) Atharva-sikhopanisad, (24) Maitrayany-upanisad, (25) Kausitaky-upanisad, (26) Brhaj- jabalopanisad, (27) Nrsimha-tapaniyopanisad, (28) Kalagni-rudropanisad, (29) Maitreyy-upanisad, (30) Subalopanisad, (31) Ksurikopanisad, (32) Mantrikopanisad, (33) Sarva-saropanisad, (34) Niralambopanisad, (35) Suka-rahasyopanisad, (36) Vajra-sucikopanisad, (37) Tejo-bindupanisad, (38) Nada-bindupanisad, (39) Dhyana-bindupanisad, (40) Brahma-vidyopanisad, (41) Yoga- tattvopanisad, (42) Atma-bodhopanisad, (43) Narada-parivrajakopanisad, (44) Trisikhy-upanisad, (45) Sitopanisad, (46) Yoga-cudamany-upanisad, (47) Nirvanopanisad, (48) Mandala-brahmanopanisad, (49) Daksina-murty-upanisad, (50) Sarabhopanisad, (51) Skandopanisad, (52) Mahanarayanopanisad, (53) Advaya-tarakopanisad, (54) Rama-rahasyopanisad, (55) Rama-tapany-upanisad, (56) Vasudevopanisad, (57) Mudgalopanisad, (58) Sandilyopanisad, (59) Paingalopanisad, (60) Bhiksupanisad, (61) Mahad-upanisad, (62) Sarirakopanisad, (63) Yoga-sikhopanisad, (64) Turiyatitopanisad, (65) Sannyasopanisad, (66) Paramahamsa-parivrajakopanisad, (67) Malikopanisad, (68) Avyaktopanisad, (69) Ekaksaropanisad, (70) Purnopanisad, (71) Suryopanisad, (72) Aksy-upanisad, (73) Adhyatmopanisad, (74) Kundikopanisad, (75) Savitry-upanisad, (76) Atmopanisad, (77) Pasupatopanisad, (78) Param-brahmopanisad, (79) Avadhutopanisad, (80) Tripuratapanopanisad, (81) Devy-upanisad, (82) Tripuropanisad, (83) Katha-rudropanisad, (84) Bhavanopanisad, (85) Hrdayopanisad, (86) Yoga-kundaliny-upanisad, (87) Bhasmopanisad, (88) Rudraksopanisad, (89) Ganopanisad, (90) Darsanopanisad, (91) Tara-saropanisad, (92) Maha-vakyopanisad, (93) Panca-brahmopanisad, (94) Pranagni-hotropanisad, (95) Gopala-tapany-upanisad, (96) Krsnopanisad, (97) Yajnavalkyopanisad, (98) Varahopanisad, (99) Satyayany-upanisad, (100) Hayagrivopanisad, (101) Dattatreyopanisad, (102) Garudopanisad, (103) Kaly-upanisad, (104) Jabaly-upanisad, (105) Saubhagyopanisad, (106) Sarasvati-rahasyopanisad, (107) Bahvrcopanisad and (108) Muktikopanisad. Thus there are 108 generally accepted Upanisads, of which eleven are the most important, as previously stated.
The Aranyakas, literally 'forest-born', are a class of philosophical writings which are closely connected with the Brahmanas. They are called Aranyakas because they were either composed in forests or studied there. The Upanisads are considered to be attached to them.
Besides the scriptures mentioned above there are also the six Vedangas, literally 'limbs of the Vedas'. These are auxiliary works, the study of which is considered to be essential for the proper understanding of the Vedas. The Vedangas are considered to be part of the Vedas and are mainly composed in Sutra style. They are listed as follows:
- Siksa, the science of proper articulation and pronunciation, comprising the knowledge of letters, accents, quantity, the use of the organs of pronunciation and phonetics.
- Chandas, metre, represented by a treatise ascribed to Pingla-naga.
- Vyakarana, linguistic analysis or grammar, represented by Panini's celebrated Sutra.
- Nirukta, explanation of difficult Vedic words.
- Jyotisa, astronomy
- Kalpa, ceremonial
The first and second of these Vedangas are said to be intended to secure the correct reading or recitation of the Vedas, the third and fourth the understanding of it, and the fifth and sixth its proper employment at sacrifice.
Other scriptures also counted among Vedic texts, are for example the Ayur-Veda, and the Dhanur-Veda. The Ayur-Veda is the sacred science of health and medicine and is considered as a supplement of the Atharva-Veda. The Dhanur-Veda or science of archery is regarded as an Upa-veda connected with the Yajur-Veda, and derived from Visvamitra or Bhrgu.
There are many more subjects elaborated on within the Vedic literature, such as the silpa-sastras, a class of works dealing with any mechanical or fine art including architecture and others. The celebrated Vimanika-sastra however, is not counted among the Vedic works because it is quite recent and of dubious origin.
The following part of our paper is an excerpt from the Tattva-Sandarbha, a book which was written in sixteenth century India by Srila Jiva Gosvami, one of the greatest Sanskrit scholars and philosophers of all times. The text is supposed to shed some light on the difficulties of Vedic study and give yet another angle of perspective on Vedic research and analysis.
tatra ca veda-sabdasya samprati dusparatvad duradhigamarthatvac ca tad- artha-nirnayakana muninam api paraspara-virodhad veda-rupo vedartha- nirnayakas cetihasa-puranatmakah sabda eva vicaraniyah. tatra ca yo va veda-sabdo natma-viditah so 'pi tad-drstyanumeya eveti samprati tasyaiva pramotpadakatva sthitam.
But at present it is difficult to study the Vedas in their entirety or to understand them. In addition, the great thinkers who have commented on the Vedas interpret them in contradictory ways. We should therefore study the Itihasas and Puranas, since they are Vedic in nature and are conclusive in determining the Vedas' meaning. Moreover, with the help of the Itihasas and Puranas we can infer the meaning of the unavailable portions of the Vedas. Thus at present only the Itihasas and Puranas constitute the appropriate source of valid knowledge.
tatha hi mahabharate manaviye ca itihasa-puranabhya veda samupabrmhayet iti puranat puranam iti canyatra. na cavedena vedasya brmhana sambhavati na hy aparipurnasya kanaka-valayasya trapuna purana yujyate.
This is why the Mahabharata [Adi-parva 1.267] and Manu-samhita state, "One should complement one's understanding of the Vedas with the help of the Itihasas and Puranas." And elsewhere it is stated, "The Puranas are called by that name because they complete (purana)." One should not try to "complete" or explain the meaning of the Vedas with something that is not Vedic in nature, just as one should not finish an incomplete gold bracelet with lead.
nanu yadi veda-sabdah puranam itihasa copadatte tarhi puranam anyad anvesaniyam. yadi tu na, na tarhitihasa-puranayor abhedo vedena. ucyate visistaikartha-pratipadaka-pada-kadambasyapauruseyatvad abhede 'pi svara- krama-bhedad bheda-nirdeso 'py upapadyate.
But, one may object, if the Itihasas and Puranas are actually included as part of the text of the Vedas, we need to identify some other Puranas than those we are familiar with; otherwise the Itihasas and Puranas would not qualify as nondifferent from the Vedas.
To this we reply that the Itihasas and Puranas are nondifferent from the Vedas inasmuch as both kinds of literary works have no human author and present the same detailed knowledge. Nonetheless, there is some difference between them with regard to intonation and word order.
rg-adibhih samam anayor apauruseyatvenabhedo madhyandina-srutav eva vyajyate eva va are 'sya mahato bhutasya nihsvasitam etad yad rg-vedo yajur-vedah sama-vedo 'tharvangirasa itihasah puranam ity-adina.
The Madhyandina-sruti [Brhad-aranyaka Up. 2.4.10] implies the oneness of the Itihasas and Puranas with the Rg and other Vedas in terms of the apauruseya nature all these works share: "My dear Maitreyi, the Rg, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas, as well as the Itihasas and Puranas, all appear from the breathing of the Supreme Being."
Difficulties in Studying the Vedas
In the previous texts Srila Jiva Gosvami has established that the Vedas - Rg, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva - constitute the valid means of acquiring knowledge about the Supreme. Here he points out the practical difficulties involved with studying them nowadays.
The first difficulty is the unavailability of the complete text of the Vedas. Originally the Veda was one, and at the advent of the current age, Kali-yuga, Srila Vyasadeva divided it into four: vyadadhad yajna-santatyai vedam eka catur-vidham (Bh.P. 1.4.19). Then, as explained in the Kurma Purana (52.19-20), Vyasadeva's followers further divided the four Vedas into 1,130 branches:
eka-vimsati-bhedena rg-veda krtavan pura
sakhana tu satenaiva yajur-vedam athakarot
sama-veda sahasrena sakhana prabibheda sah
atharvanam atho veda bibheda navakena tu
"Formerly the Rg Veda was divided into 21 branches, the Yajur Veda into 100 branches, the Sama Veda into 1,000 branches, and the Atharva Veda into 9 branches." Each of these branches has 4 subdivisions called Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka, and Upanisad. So all together the Vedas consist of 1,130 Samhitas, 1,130 Brahmanas, 1,130 Aranyakas, and 1,130 Upanisads, a total of 4,520 titles. By the influence of time, however, many texts have been lost. At present only about 11 Samhitas, 18 Brahmanas, 7 Aranyakas, and 220 Upanisads are available. This constitutes less than 6% of the original Vedas.
The second difficulty one faces in trying to study the Vedas concerns their language. There are two varieties of Sanskrit, vaidika ("Vedic") and laukika ("worldly" or "ordinary"), and the Vedas contain only the former. Years of study are required to become an accomplished scholar of ordinary Sanskrit, but if such a scholar wishes to understand Vedic Sanskrit he has to learn extra rules of grammar and a different vocabulary, which may require years of additional study. And even when the language of the Vedic verses is fathomed, these verses are so cryptic that one cannot possibly decipher them without hearing them explained by a bona fide guru in disciplic succession.
Another difficulty: Even before studying the Vedas one must study their six corollaries, or "limbs," called Vedangas. These six limbs are siksa, the science of pronunciation; kalpa, the process of performing sacrifice; vyakarana, the rules of grammar; nirukta, the meanings and derivations of difficult words used in the Vedas; jyotisa, astronomy and astrology; and chandas, Vedic meters. Each of these limbs is extensive and requires serious study.
So far our citation from the Tattva-Sandarbha. In the end of this paper we will include a more extensive quote from the same book in order to complete authoritative evidence that the Puranas are Vedic literature, indispensable for the proper understanding of the Vedas.
Much could be said about the spreading of the Vedic culture over the globe. However it would become the theme of yet another exhaustive paper. Most widely acknowledged is the linguistic connection with the Vedic language, Sanskrit. Everybody knows about the Indo-European languages but there is no consensus about their origin. While the Vedic language seems to have been better preserved in the Western world, the Vedic religion has remained more stable in the Eastern world. Though worship of the sun and of fire was also prominent all over Europe.
The philosophy of the Vedas has been summarized in the codes of the Vedanta-Sutras of Krsna-dvaipayana Vyasa. The following is a quote from the Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila 7.106, with translation and commentary by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Svami. We present this quote because it gives a concise yet detailed summary of the structure and contents of the Vedanta-Sutra.
prabhu kahe, vedanta-sutra isvara-vacana
vyasa-rupe kaila yaha sri-narayana
The Lord said, "Vedanta philosophy consists of words spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead Narayana in the form of Vyasadeva.
The Vedanta-sutra, which consists of aphorisms revealing the method of understanding Vedic knowledge, is the concise form of all Vedic knowledge. It begins with the words athato brahma-jijnasa ("Now is the time to inquire about the Absolute Truth"). The human form of life is especially meant for this purpose, and therefore the Vedanta-sutra very concisely explains the human mission. This is confirmed by the words of the Vayu and Skanda Puranas, which define a sutra as follows:
astobham anavadya ca
sutra sutra-vido viduh
"A sutra is an aphorism that expresses the essence of all knowledge in a minimum of words. It must be universally applicable and faultless in its linguistic presentation." Anyone familiar with such sutras must be aware of the Vedanta-sutra, which is well known among scholars by the following different names: (1) Brahma-sutra, (2) Sariraka, (3) Vyasa-sutra, (4) Badarayana-sutra, (5) Uttara-mimansa and (6) Vedanta-darsana.
There are four chapters (adhyayas) in the Vedanta-sutra, and there are four divisions (padas) in each chapter. Therefore the Vedanta-sutra may be referred to as sodasa-pada, or sixteen divisions of aphorisms. The theme of each and every division is fully described in terms of five different subject matters (adhikaranas), which are technically called pratijna, hetu, udaharana, upanaya and nigamana. Every theme must necessarily be explained with reference to pratijna, or a solemn declaration of the purpose of the treatise. The solemn declaration given in the beginning of the Vedanta-sutra is athato brahma-jijnasa, which indicates that this book was written with the solemn declaration to inquire about the Absolute Truth. Similarly, reasons must be expressed (hetu), examples must be given in terms of various facts (udaharana), the theme must gradually be brought nearer for understanding (upanaya), and finally it must be supported by authoritative quotations from the Vedic sastras (nigamana).
According to the great dictionary compiler Hemacandra, also known as Kosakara, Vedanta refers to the purport of the Upanisads and the Brahmana portion of the Vedas. Professor Apte, in his dictionary, describes the Brahmana portion of the Vedas as that portion which states the rules for employment of hymns at various sacrifices and gives detailed explanations of their origin, sometimes with lengthy illustrations in the form of legends and stories. It is distinct from the mantra portion of the Vedas. Hemacandra said that the supplement of the Vedas is called the Vedanta-sutra. Veda means knowledge, and anta means the end. In other words, proper understanding of the ultimate purpose of the Vedas is called Vedanta knowledge. Such knowledge, as given in the aphorisms of the Vedanta-sutra, must be supported by the Upanisads.
According to learned scholars, there are three different sources of knowledge, which are called prasthana-traya. According to these scholars, Vedanta is one of such sources, for it presents Vedic knowledge on the basis of logic and sound arguments. In the Bhagavad-gita (13.5) the Lord says, brahma-sutra-padais caiva hetumadbhir viniscitaih: "Understanding of the ultimate goal of life is ascertained in the Brahma-sutra by legitimate logic and argument concerning cause and effect." Therefore the Vedanta-sutra is known as nyaya-prasthana, the Upanisads are known as sruti-prasthana, and the Gita, Mahabharata and Puranas are known as smrti-prasthana. All scientific knowledge of transcendence must be supported by sruti, smrti and a sound logical basis.
It is said that both the Vedic knowledge and the supplement of the Vedas called the Satvata-pancaratra emanated from the breathing of Narayana, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Vedanta-sutra aphorisms were compiled by Srila Vyasadeva, a powerful incarnation of Sri Narayana, although it is sometimes said that they were compiled by a great sage named Apantaratama. Both the Pancaratra and Vedanta-sutra, however, express the same opinions. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu therefore confirms that there is no difference in opinion between the two, and He declares that because the Vedanta-sutra was compiled by Srila Vyasadeva, it may be understood to have emanated from the breathing of Sri Narayana. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura comments that while Vyasadeva was compiling the Vedanta-sutra, seven of his great saintly contemporaries were also engaged in similar work. These saints were Atreya Rsi, Asmarathya, Audulomi, Karsnajini, Kasakrtsna, Jaimini and Badari. In addition, it is stated that Parasari and Karmandi-bhiksu also discussed the Vedanta-sutra aphorisms before Vyasadeva.
The Vedanta-sutra consists of four chapters. The first two chapters discuss the relationship of the living entity with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is known as sambandha-jnana, or knowledge of the relationship. The third chapter describes how one can act in his relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is called abhidheya-jnana. The relationship of the living entity with the Supreme Lord is described by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu: jivera 'svarupa' haya krsnera 'nitya-dasa'. "The living entity is an eternal servant of Krsna, the Supreme God." (Cc. Madhya 20.108) Therefore, to act in that relationship one must perform sadhana-bhakti, or the prescribed duties of service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is called abhidheya-jnana. The fourth chapter describes the result of such devotional service (prayojana-jnana). This ultimate goal of life is to go back home, back to Godhead. The words anavrttih sabdat in the Vedanta-sutra indicate this ultimate goal.
Srila Vyasadeva, a powerful incarnation of Narayana, compiled the Vedanta-sutra, and in order to protect it from unauthorized commentaries, he personally composed Srimad-Bhagavatam on the instruction of his spiritual master, Narada Muni, as the original commentary on the Vedanta-sutra. Besides Srimad-Bhagavatam, there are commentaries on the Vedanta-sutra composed by all the major Vaisnava acaryas, and in each of them devotional service to the Lord is described very explicitly. Only those who follow Sankara's commentary have described the Vedanta-sutra in an impersonal way, without reference to visnu-bhakti, or devotional service to the Lord, Visnu. Generally people very much appreciate this Sariraka-bhasya, or impersonal description of the Vedanta-sutra, but all commentaries that are devoid of devotional service to Lord Visnu must be considered to differ in purpose from the original Vedanta-sutra. In other words, Lord Caitanya definitely confirmed that the commentaries, or bhasyas, written by the Vaisnava acaryas on the basis of devotional service to Lord Visnu, and not the Sariraka-bhasya of Sankaracarya, give the actual explanation of the Vedanta-sutra.
Traditionally, in Indian philosophy, six schools are accepted that are all based on the Vedas in various ways. These philosophies are known as sad-darsana and were originally propounded by the following sages:
(1) vaisesika, propounded by Kanada Rsi
(2) nyaya, propounded by Gautama Rsi
(3) yoga or mysticism, propounded by Patanjali Rsi
(4) the philosophy of sankhya, propounded by Kapila Rsi
(5) the philosophy of karma-mimansa, propounded by Jaimini Rsi
(6) the philosophy of brahma-mimansa, or Vedanta, the ultimate conclusion of the Absolute Truth (janmady asya yatah), propounded by Vedavyasa.
The text quoted below is taken from Canto Ten of the Bhagavata Purana. The passage comes from the eighty-seventh chapter, which is called Prayers of the Personified Vedas and constitutes one of the most philosophical chapters of the Bhagavata-Purana. The translation and commentary are by Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami. The text gives a summary of each of the six philosophical systems.
janim asatah sato mrtim utatmani ye ca bhida
vipanam rta smaranty upadisanti ta arupitaih
tri-guna-mayah puman iti bhida yad abodha-krta
tvayi na tatah paratra sa bhaved avabodha-rase
Supposed authorities who declare that matter is the origin of existence, that the permanent qualities of the soul can be destroyed, that the self is compounded of separate aspects of spirit and matter, or that material transactions constitute reality - all such authorities base their teachings on mistaken ideas that hide the truth. The dualistic conception that the living entity is produced from the three modes of nature is simply a product of ignorance. Such a conception has no real basis in You, for You are transcendental to all illusion and always enjoy perfect, total awareness.
In traditional Indian philosophy, the followers of Vaisesika, Nyaya, Sankhya, Yoga and Mimansa philosophies all have their own erroneous ideas, which the personified Vedas point out in this prayer. The Vaisesikas say that the visible universe is created from an original stock of atoms (janim asatah). As Kanada Rsi's Vaisesika-sutras (7.1.20) state, nitya parimandalam: "That which is of the smallest size, the atom, is eternal." Kanada and his followers also postulate eternality for other, nonatomic entities, including the souls who become embodied, and even a Supreme Soul. But in Vaisesika cosmology the souls and the Supersoul play only token roles in the atomic production of the universe. Srila Krsna-dvaipayana Vedavyasa criticizes this position in his Vedanta-sutras (2.2.12): ubhayathapi na karmatas tad-abhavah. According to this sutra, one cannot claim that, at the time of creation, atoms first combine together because they are impelled by some karmic impulse adhering in the atoms themselves, since atoms by themselves, in their primeval state before combining into complex objects, have no ethical responsibility that might lead them to acquire pious and sinful reactions. Nor can the initial combination of atoms be explained as a result of the residual karma of the living entities who lie dormant prior to creation, since these reactions are each jiva's own and cannot be transferred from them even to other jivas, what to speak of inert atoms.
Alternatively, the phrase janim asatah can be taken to allude to the Yoga philosophy of Patanjali Rsi, inasmuch as his Yoga-sutras teach one how to achieve the transcendental status of Brahmanhood by a mechanical process of exercise and meditation. Patanjali's yoga method is here called asat because it ignores the essential aspect of devotion - surrender to the will of the Supreme Person. As Lord Krsna states in Bhagavad-gita (17.28),
asraddhaya huta datta
tapas tapta krta ca yat
asad ity ucyate partha
na ca tat pretya no iha
"Anything done as sacrifice, charity or penance without faith in the Supreme, O son of Prtha, is impermanent. It is called asat and is useless both in this life and in the next."
The Yoga-sutras acknowledge the Personality of Godhead in an oblique way, but only as a helper whom the advancing yogi can utilize. Isvara-pranidhanad va: "Devotional meditation on God is yet another means of achieving concentration." (Yoga-sutra 1.23) In contrast, Badarayana Vedavyasa's philosophy of Vedanta emphasizes devotional service not only as the primary means to liberation but also as identical with liberation itself. A-prayanat tatrapi hi drstam: "Worship of the Lord continues up to the point of liberation, and indeed goes on in the liberated state also, as the Vedas reveal." (Vedanta-sutra 4.1.12)
Gautama Rsi, in his Nyaya-sutras, proposes that one can attain liberation by negating both illusion and unhappiness: duhkha-janma-pravrtti-dosa-mithya-jnananam uttarottarapaye tad-anantarabhavad apavargah. "By successively dispelling false conceptions, bad character, entangling action, rebirth and misery - the disappearance of one of these allowing the disappearance of the next - one can achieve final liberation." (Nyaya-sutra 1.1.2) But since Nyaya philosophers believe that awareness is not an essential quality of the soul, they teach that a liberated soul has no consciousness. The Nyaya idea of liberation thus puts the soul in the condition of a dead stone. This attempt by the Nyaya philosophers to kill the soul's innate consciousness is here called sato mrtim by the personified Vedas. But the Vedanta-sutra (2.3.17) unequivocally states, jno 'ta eva: "The jiva soul is always a knower."
Although the soul is in truth both conscious and active, the proponents of Sankhya philosophy wrongly separate these two functions of the living force (atmani ye ca bhidam), ascribing consciousness to the soul (purusa) and activity to material nature (prakrti). According to the Sankhya-karika (19-20),
tasmac ca viparyasat
siddha saksitva purusasya
drastrtvam akartr-bhavas ca
"Thus, since the apparent differences between purusas are only superficial (being due to the various modes of nature that cover them), the purusa's true status is proven to be that of a witness, characterized by his separateness, his passive indifference, his status of being an observer, and his inactivity."
tasmat tat-sa yogad
acetana cetana-vad iva lingam
guna-kartrtve 'pi tatha
karteva bhavaty udasinah
"Thus, by contact with the soul, the unconscious subtle body seems to be conscious, while the soul appears to be the doer although he is aloof from the activity of nature's modes."
Srila Vyasadeva refutes this idea in the section of the Vedanta-sutra (2.3.31-39) that begins, karta sastrartha-vattvat: "The jiva soul must be a performer of actions, because the injunctions of scripture must have some purpose." Acarya Baladeva Vidyabhusana, in his Govinda-bhasya, explains: "The jiva, not the modes of nature, is the doer. Why? Because the injunctions of scripture must have some purpose (sastrartha-vattvat). For example, such scriptural injunctions as svarga-kamo yajeta ('One who desires to attain to heaven should perform ritual sacrifice') and atmanam eva lokam upasita (Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad 1.4.15: 'One should worship with the aim of attaining the spiritual kingdom') are meaningful only if a conscious doer exists. If the modes of nature were the doer, these statements would serve no purpose. After all, scriptural injunctions engage the living entity in performing prescribed actions by convincing him that he can act to bring about certain enjoyable results. Such a mentality cannot be aroused in the inert modes of nature."
Jaimini Rsi, in his Purva-mimansa-sutras, presents material work and its results as the whole of reality (vipanam rtam). He and later proponents of Karma-mimansa philosophy teach that material existence is endless - that there is no liberation. For them the cycle of karma is perpetual, and the best one can aim for is higher birth among the demigods. Therefore, they say, the whole purpose of the Vedas is to engage human beings in rituals for creating good karma, and consequently the mature soul's prime responsibility is to ascertain the exact meaning of the Vedas' sacrificial injunctions and to execute them. Codana-laksano 'rtho dharmah: "Duty is that which is indicated by the injunctions of the Vedas." (Purva-mimansa-sutra 1.1.2)
The Vedanta-sutra, however - especially in the fourth chapter, which deals with life's ultimate goal - elaborately describes the soul's potential for achieving liberation from birth and death, while it subordinates ritual sacrifice to the role of helping one become qualified to receive spiritual knowledge. As stated there (Vedanta-sutra 4.1.16), agnihotradi tu tat-karyayaiva tad-darsanat: "The Agnihotra and other Vedic sacrifices are meant only for producing knowledge, as the statements of the Vedas show." And the very last words of the Vedanta-sutra (4.4.22) proclaim, anavrttih sabdat: "The liberated soul never returns to this world, as promised by the revealed scripture."
Thus the fallacious conclusions of the speculative philosophers prove that even great scholars and sages are often bewildered by the misuse of their own God-given intelligence. As the Katha Upanisad (1.2.5) says,
avidyayam antare vartamanah
svaya dhirah panditam-manyamanah
janghanyamanah pariyanti mudha
andhenaiva niyamana yathandhah
"Caught in the grip of ignorance, self-proclaimed experts consider themselves learned authorities. They wander about this world befooled, like the blind leading the blind."
Of the six orthodox philosophies of Vedic tradition - Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisesika, Mimansa and Vedanta - only the Vedanta of Badarayana Vyasa is free of error, and even that only as properly explained by the bona fide Vaisnava acaryas. Each of the six schools, nonetheless, makes some practical contribution to Vedic education: atheistic Sankhya explains the evolution of natural elements from subtle to gross, Patanjali's yoga describes the eightfold method of meditation, Nyaya sets forth the techniques of logic, Vaisesika considers the basic metaphysical categories of reality, and Mimansa establishes the standard tools of scriptural interpretation. Apart from these six, there are also the more deviant philosophies of the Buddhists, Jains and Carvakas, whose theories of voidism and materialism deny the spiritual integrity of the eternal soul.
Ultimately, the only perfectly reliable source of knowledge is God Himself. The Personality of Godhead is avabodha-rasa, the infinite reservoir of unfailing vision. To those who depend on Him with absolute conviction, He grants the divine eye of knowledge. Others, following their own speculative theories, must grope for the truth through the obscuring curtain of Maya. Srila Sridhara Svami prays,
bhramyan-manda-mater amanda-mahimams tvad-jnana-vartmasphutam
sriman madhava vamana tri-nayana sri-sankara sri-pate
govindeti muda vadan madhu-pate muktah kada syam aham
"For the bewildered soul wandering within the darkness of those exalted philosophies promoted by the harsh methods of false logic, the path of true knowledge of You, O Lord of magnificent glory, remains invisible. O Lord of Madhu, husband of the goddess of fortune, when will I become liberated by joyfully chanting Your names - Madhava, Vamana, Trinayana, Sri Sankara, Sripati and Govinda?"
At this point we have more or less reached the end of what was intended to be said in this paper. We are aware that some readers will not completely agree with our views, owing to the fact that this presentation is primarily based on the conclusions of Vaisnava philosophy. However, it is hoped that some of the material presented will give further impetus to the thoughtful minds of those who are skilled in analytical thinking and are lovers of the Ultimate Truth.
The following is an excerpt from the Tattva-Sandarbha which gives extensive evidence for the status of the Puranas and Itihasas as Vedic literature.
ata eva skande prabhasa-khande
pura tapas cacarogram amarana pitamahah
avirbhutas tato vedah sa-sad-anga-pada-kramah
tatah purana akhila sarva-sastra-maya dhruvam
nitya-sabda-maya punya sata-koti-pravistaram
nirgata brahmano vaktrat tasya bhedan nibodhata
brahmya purana prathamam ity-adi.
The Prabhasa-khanda of the Skanda Purana [2.3.5] therefore states: "Long ago, Lord Brahma, the grandfather of the demigods, performed severe penances, and as a result the Vedas appeared, along with their six supplements and their pada and krama texts. Then the entire Purana emanated from his mouth. Composed of eternal sound and consisting of one billion verses, it is the unchanging, sacred embodiment of all scriptures. You should know that of the various divisions of this Purana, the Brahma Purana is the first."
atra sata-koti-sankhya brahma-loke prasiddheti tathokta
rg-yajuh-samatharvakhyan vedan purvadibhir mukhair ity-adi-prakarane
itihasa-puranani pancama vedam isvarah
sarvebhya eva vaktrebhyah sasrje sarva-darsanah
ity api catra saksad eva veda-sabdah prayuktah puranetihasayoh.
The figure one billion cited here refers to the number of verses existing in Brahma's domain. Srimad-Bhagavatam's Third Canto gives a similar description in the passage starting with the words rg-yajuh-samatharvakhyan vedan purvadibhir mukhair: "Beginning from the front face of Brahma, gradually the four Vedas - Rg, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva - became manifest" [Bhag. 3.12.37]. In this passage we find the statement, "Then Brahma created the fifth Veda - the Puranas and the histories - from all his mouths, since he could see all the past, present, and future" [Bhag. 3.12.39]. Here the word veda is used specifically in reference to the Itihasas and Puranas.
anyatra ca purana pancamo vedah,
itihasah purana ca pancamo veda ucyate
vedan adhyapayam asa mahabharata-pancamanity-adau.
anyatha vedan ity-adav
api pancamatva navakalpyeta samana-jatiya-nivesitatvat sankhyayah.
And elsewhere it is said, "The Puranas are the fifth Veda," "The Itihasas and Puranas are called the fifth Veda" [Bhag. 1.4.20], and "He taught the Vedas along with the fifth of their number, the Mahabharata" [M.Bh. Moksa-dharma 340.21]. If the Itihasas and Puranas were not Vedic, it would have been inappropriate for the preceding verses to include them as the fifth Veda, since normally one counts together only objects of the same kind.
bhavisya-purane karsna ca pancama veda yan mahabharata smrtam
tatha ca sama-kauthumiya-sakhaya chandogyopanisadi ca rg-veda bhagavo
'dhyemi yajur-veda sama-vedam atharvana caturtham itihasa purana pancama
vedana vedam ity-adi.
Also, the Bhavisya Purana states, "The fifth Veda, written by Sri Krsna-dvaipayana Vyasa, is called the Mahabharata."
Another reference is found in the Chandogya Upanisad of the Kauthumiya school of the Sama Veda: "Venerable sir, I have studied the Rg, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas, and also the Itihasas and Puranas, which are the fifth Veda" [Kauthumiya Chandogya Upanisad 7.1.2].
ata eva asya mahato bhutasya ity-adav itihasa-puranayos caturnam
bhutatva-kalpanaya prasiddha-pratyakhyana nirastam. tad ukta brahma purana
Thus is refuted the frequently raised objection that the Itihasas and Puranas, said in the Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad to emanate from the breath of the Supreme Being, are included in the four Vedas and therefore have no separate existence. The same is stated in the words "Brahma Purana is the first..."(Skanda Purana).
The Itihasas and Puranas Are Vedic
To substantiate the statement from the Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad quoted in Text 12.4 (B.a. Up. 2.4.10), which establishes the Vedic nature of the Itihasas and Puranas, Srila Jiva Gosvami here cites more evidence from the Puranas, Itihasas, and Upanisads. From these references the following is clear: The Puranas and Itihasas have the same source as the four Vedas and are in fact called the fifth Veda.
Srila Jiva Gosvami here refers to the frequent objection that the Itihasas and Puranas cannot be the fifth Veda because they are part of the four Vedas. While explaining the above-mentioned statement from the Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad, some followers of the Mimansaka school claim that the words Itihasa and Purana refer to historical passages found in some parts of the Vedas and not to separate works. Examples of sruti statements sometimes considered Puranic are yato va imani bhutani jayante ("from whom these beings take birth"; Taittiriya Up. 3.1) and sa brahmana srjati rudrena vilapayati harir adir anadih ("Lord Hari creates through Brahma and destroys through Rudra, but He Himself is the eternal source of all"). These and similar passages are referred to as "Purana" because they deal with creation and destruction, which are among the subjects treated in the Puranas.
Mimansakas further argue that over an immense period many of these original Puranic portions of the Vedas were lost and those that remained became difficult to understand. Therefore, the Mimansakas propose, Srila Vyasa mercifully wrote new Itihasas and Puranas for the benefit of the unintelligent people of Kali-yuga, and this is what is described in Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.4.25). Hence the Itihasas and Puranas mentioned in the Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad are part of the Vedas, not independent books, and therefore it is incorrect to conclude that they are the fifth Veda. This is the Mimansakas' argument.
Srila Jiva Gosvami refutes this argument with references from the Vedas and also from the Itihasas and Puranas themselves. These citations confirm the Itihasas' and Puranas' status as the fifth Veda on the grounds that they emanated separately from Lord Brahma's mouths. If they were only parts of the Vedas, there would be no reason for these authoritative scriptures to call them the fifth Veda. Moreover, there are many statements about the apauruseya, Vedic nature of the Itihasas and Puranas in the Vedic Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanisads, Kalpa-sutras, Dharma-sutras, and Grhya-sutras, as well as in the Puranas, Itihasas, and other smrti texts. Here are a few of these statements:
rcah samani chandamsi purana yajusa saha
ucchistaj jajnire sarve divi deva divi-sritah
"The Rg, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas appeared from the Supreme Lord along with the Puranas and all the demigods residing in the heavenly planets." (Atharva Veda 11.7.24)
sa brhatim disam anu vyacalat
tam itihasas ca puranam ca gathas ca narasamsis canuvyacalan
itihasasya ca vai sa puranasya ca gathanam ca narasamsinam ca priyam dhama bhavati ya evam veda.
"He approached the Brhati meter, and thus the Itihasas, Puranas, Gathas, and Narasamsis became favorable to him. One who knows this verily becomes the beloved abode of the Itihasas, Puranas, Gathas, and Narasamsis" (Atharva Veda 15.6.10-12)
evam ime sarve veda nirmitah sa-kalpah sa-rahasyah
sopanisatkah setihasah sanvakhyatah sa-puranah.
"In this way all the Vedas were manifested along with the kalpas, rahasyas, Brahmanas, Upanisads, Itihasas, anvakhyatas, and Puranas" (Gopatha Brahmana, Purva 2.10).
nama va rg-vedo yajur-vedah sama-veda atharvanas caturtha itihasa-puranah pancamo vedana vedah.
"Indeed Rg, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva are the names of the four Vedas. The Itihasas and Puranas are the fifth Veda" (Chandogya Up. 7.1.4).
mimansate ca yo vedan sadbhir angaih sa-vistaraih
itihasa-puranani sa bhaved veda-para-gah
"One who thoroughly studies the Vedas along with their six limbs and the Itihasas and Puranas becomes a true knower of the Vedas" (Vyasa-smrti 4.45).
In the next text Srila Jiva Gosvami explains why the Itihasas and Puranas are counted as the fifth Veda.
pancamatve karana ca vayu-purane suta-vakyam
itihasa-puranana vaktara samyag eva hi
ma caiva pratijagraha bhagavan isvarah prabhuh
eka asid yajur-vedas ta caturdha vyakalpayat
caturhotram abhut tasmims tena yajnam akalpayat
adhvaryava yajurbhis tu rgbhir hotra tathaiva ca
audgatra samabhis caiva brahmatva capy atharvabhih
akhyanais capy upakhyanair gathabhir dvija-sattamah
purana-samhitas cakre puranartha-visaradah
yac chista tu yajur-veda iti sastrartha-nirnayah iti.
In the Vayu Purana [60.16-18, 21-22] Suta Gosvami explains why the Itihasas and Puranas are considered the fifth Veda:
"Srila Vyasadeva, the almighty Supreme Lord, accepted me [Suta Gosvami] as the qualified speaker of the Itihasas and Puranas. In the beginning there was only one Veda, the Yajur Veda, which Srila Vyasa divided into four parts. These gave rise to the four activities called catur-hotra, by means of which Srila Vyasa arranged for the performance of sacrifice.
"The adhvaryu priests carry out their responsibilities with yajur-mantras, the hota priests with rg-mantras, the udgata priests with sama-mantras, and the brahma priests with atharva-mantras."
Suta Gosvami further states:
"O best of the twice-born, thereafter Srila Vyasa, who best knows the meaning of the Puranas, compiled them and the Itihasas by combining various akhyanas, upakhyanas, and gathas. Whatever remained after Vyasa divided the Vedas into four parts was also Yajur Veda. This is the conclusion of the scriptures."
brahma-yajnadhyayane ca viniyogo drsyate 'misa yad
puranani iti. so 'pi navedatve sambhavati. ato yad aha bhagavan matsye
kalenagrahana matva puranasya dvijottamah
vyasa-rupam aha krtva sa harami yuge yuge
iti purva-siddham eva purana sukha-sangrahanaya sankalayamiti tatrarthah.
The Puranas are also used in the formal study of the Vedas called brahma-yajna: yad brahmananitihasa-puranani. "The Itihasas and Puranas are Vedas" [Taittiriya Aranyaka 2.9]. If the Itihasas and Puranas were not Vedic, they would not be used this way in the brahma-yajna.
Therefore in the Matsya Purana [53.8-9] the Supreme Lord says, "O best of the twice-born, foreseeing that the Purana will gradually be neglected, in every age I assume the form of Vyasa and abridge it." In other words, Srila Vyasa condenses the already existing Purana so that people can easily comprehend it.
tad-anantara hy uktam
catur-laksa-pramanena dvapare dvapare sada
tad astadasadha krtva bhur-loke 'smin prabhasyate
adyapy amartya-loke tu sata-koti-pravistaram
tad-artho 'tra catur-laksah sanksepena nivesitah iti.
The Matsya Purana [53.9-11] also states, "The Purana consisting of four hundred thousand verses is divided into eighteen parts, in which form it is passed on by oral recitation here on earth in every Dvapara-yuga. Even today the original Purana of one billion verses exists in the worlds of the demigods. The essential meaning of that Purana is contained in the abridged version of four hundred thousand verses."
atra tu yac chista tu yajur-veda ity uktatvat
tv atra martya-loke sanksepena sara-sangrahena
nivesito na tu racanantarena.
Suta's statement [quoted in text 14.1] that "whatever remained after Vyasa divided the Vedas into four parts was also Yajur Veda" indicates that the essence of the original Purana formed the abridged version of four hundred thousand verses in the world of mortals. It is not a different composition.
The Itihasas and Puranas Are the Fifth Veda
The Itihasas and Puranas are called the fifth Veda because they are derived from the original Veda, the Yajur Veda. This is explained in the section of the Vayu Purana that describes the catur-hotra priests. There are four kinds of rtviks, or priests, needed to perform a Vedic sacrifice, and their duties were originally all known from the Yajur Veda. But later on the Veda was divided into four parts for easy understanding and application. The duties of the four priests - adhvaryu, udgata, hota, and brahma - are known from each of these four divisions. The adhvaryu is associated with the Yajur Veda, and his duties include sanctifying the sacrificial paraphernalia and measuring the shape and size of the sacrificial arena. The udgata priest studies the Sama Veda and chants hymns during the sacrifice to propitiate the Lord. The hota priest decorates the altar, invokes the demigods, pours oblations, and chants the Rg Veda. The brahma priest is a student of the Atharva Veda and acts as the supervisor and coordinator of sacrificial ceremonies.
After Srila Vyasa compiled the four Vedas, there still remained one billion verses from the original Yajur Veda. These verses became the original Purana, which is still available on the heavenly planets. Out of compassion for the people of Kali-yuga, Vyasadeva extracted five hundred thousand essential verses from this original Purana. Four hundred thousand of these He divided into the eighteen Puranas. The remaining verses formed the Itihasa called Mahabharata. The Itihasa and Puranas are therefore called the fifth Veda because they were produced from the original Veda. Another reason the Puranas and Itihasas are considered the fifth Veda, distinct from the other four, is that the priests of the four Vedas do not use the Puranas and Itihasas in sacrificial ceremonies, even though these works are studied along with the Vedas.
In his commentary on the Visnu Purana (3.6.16), Srila Sridhara Svami defines the terms akhyana, upakhyana, and gatha:
svaya-drstartha-kathana prahur akhyanaka budhah
srutasyarthasya kathanam upakhyana pracaksate
gathas tu pitr-prthivy-adi-gitayah
"An akhyana is a narration of something witnessed by the speaker, while an upakhyana is a narration of something the speaker has not witnessed but rather heard about. Gathas are songs about the forefathers and earthly beings."
The words yac chista tu yajur-vedah ("The remaining part was also called Yajur Veda"; Vayu Purana 60.16.22) signify that the Itihasas and Puranas are apauruseya, not composed by any mortal; thus they have the same authority as the Vedas, having been compiled by Srila Vyasa from the Supreme Lord's very breath. While compiling the Puranas and Itihasas He included some of His own statements to make the narration more easily comprehensible. For example, in the Bhagavad-gita the words "Arjuna said" and "Krsna said" are added by Srila Vyasa to help the reader understand. But we should not consider even these added statements to have been written by a mortal being, since Vyasa is an incarnation of the Supreme Lord. This is evident from the verse of the Matsya Purana quoted in the text.
Someone might raise the objection that from the Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad (2.4.10) it is clear that the four Vedas individually appeared from the Supreme Lord. Why, then, is it said that Vyasadeva divided the one Veda into four parts? We reply that while it is true that each Veda individually emanated from the Lord, originally all four Vedas were collectively called the Yajur Veda because that Veda is much larger than the other three. Generally, the largest member of a set can represent the whole set. In Sanskrit this is called adhikyena vyapadesa bhavanti, or the law that the largest constituent represents the whole. A herd of cows with just a few buffaloes in it is still called a herd of cows, and the four fingers and one thumb are usually called the five fingers. Because the four Vedas had become disordered, Sri Vyasa rearranged the Vedic texts to help clearly define the duties of the four sacrificial priests. How the Vedas became mixed up because of a curse by Gautama Rsi will be told in text 16.
In the next text Srila Jiva Gosvami further substantiates his conclusion about the Vedic nature of the Itihasas and Puranas, and he also explains the meaning of the name Veda-vyasa.
tathaiva darsita veda-saha-bhavena siva-puranasya
sanksipya caturo vedams caturdha vyabhajat prabhuh
vyasta-vedataya khyato veda-vyasa iti smrtah
puranam api sanksipta catur-laksa-pramanatah
adyapy amartya-loke tu sata-koti-pravistaram
sanksiptam ity atra teneti sesah.
Similarly, the Vayaviya-samhita of the Siva Purana indicates the Vedic nature of the Puranas by discussing their appearance along with the Vedas: "The ingenious Lord abridged the Veda and then divided it [vyasta] into four. Therefore He became known as Veda-vyasa. He also summarized the Puranas in four hundred thousand verses, but in the heavenly planets they still comprise one billion verses" [Siva Purana 22.214.171.124-38].
Here the word sanksiptam ("condensed") implies "condensed by Him."
skandam agneyam ity-adi-samakhyas tu pravacana-nibandhanah
anupurvi-nirmana-nibandhana va. tasmat kvacid anityatva-sravana tv
avirbhava-tirobhavapeksaya. tad evam itihasa-puranayor vedatva siddham.
The name of a Purana - Skanda, Agni, and so on - refers to its original speaker, as with the Katha Upanisad, which was promulgated by the sage Katha. Or else the name refers to the person who arranged the Purana's contents. The reason the Puranas are occasionally described as impermanent is that they are sometimes manifest and sometimes not.
In this way the Vedic nature of the Itihasas and Puranas is established.
tathapi sutadinam adhikarah sakala-nigama-
madhura-madhuram etan mangala mangalana
sakrd api parigita sraddhaya helaya va
bhrgu-vara nara-matra tarayet krsna-nama iti.
Yet Suta and others who are not twice-born are qualified to recite the Puranas in the same way that every person is qualified to chant Lord Krsna's holy name, the transcendental fruit of the creeper of all the Vedas. As stated in the Prabhasa-khanda [of the Skanda Purana]:
"O best of the Bhrgu dynasty, the holy name of Krsna is the sweetest of the sweet and the most auspicious of the auspicious. It is the transcendental fruit of all the Vedas and is purely spiritual and conscious. Whoever chants it but once, whether with faith or with contempt, is liberated."
yatha cokta visnu-dharme
rg-vedo 'tha yajur-vedah sama-vedo 'py atharvanah
adhitas tena yenokta harir ity aksara-dvayam
iti. atha vedartha-nirnayakatva ca vaisnave
bharata-vyapadesena hy amnayarthah pradarsitah
vedah pratisthitah sarve purane natra sa sayah ity-adau.
The Visnu Dharma Purana states:
"A person who chants the two syllables ha-ri has already completed the study of the Rg, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas."
And the Visnu Purana affirms that the Puranas and Itihasas establish the meaning of the Vedas:
"On the pretext of writing the Mahabharata, Srila Vyasa has explained the Vedas' meaning. Without doubt all the ideas of the Vedas are given a firm foundation in the Puranas."
kimca vedartha-dipakana sastrana madhya-patitabhyupagame 'py
avirbhavaka-vaisistyat tayor eva vaisistyam. yatha padme
dvaipayanena yad buddha brahmadyais tan na budhyate
sarva-buddha sa vai veda tad-buddha nanya-gocaram
Moreover, even if we count the Itihasas and Puranas among the books explaining the meaning of the Vedas, still they are unique because their compiler is so glorious. The Padma Purana says, "Brahma and others do not know what Bhagavan Veda-vyasa knows. Indeed, He knows everything known to others, but what He knows is beyond everyone else's grasp."
The Itihasas, Puranas, and Vedas All Have the Same Origin
The word sanksiptam in the verse cited here from the Siva Purana (126.96.36.199) is significant. It means "condensed," not "composed." Srila Veda-vyasa, the literary incarnation of God, condensed the already existing Vedas. Then He took unused verses from that abridged portion and made them into the Puranas. Thus He did not create the Puranas as an original composition. This confirms that the Puranas, by virtue of their transcendental origin, are equal to the four Vedas. They are eternal and apauruseya.
One may protest that since the Puranas have names such as Skanda and Agni they must have been composed by these persons, and so they are neither eternal nor apauruseya. But if this were the case, the Vedas themselves would have to be considered noneternal compositions since their parts have names like Katha Upanisad and Aitareya Brahmana, which refer to the sages Katha and Aitareya. The explanation is that portions of the Vedas are named after certain sages not because they wrote those portions but because they were these portions' main teachers and exponents. Since persons with names like Katha and Aitareya appear in every millennium, one should not think that before the appearance of the known Katha and Aitareya these names were meaningless words in the Vedas. In the same way, several of the Puranas are named either after their first teacher or the person who rearranged them. It may sometimes be that over the course of time a certain Vedic work becomes less popular or is completely forgotten on this planet. Eventually some sage or demigod again speaks it, and then the book becomes known by his name. An example of this is given in Srimad-Bhagavatam, where sage Yajnavalkya is described as receiving the Vajasaneyi-samhita of the Yajur Veda from the sun-god: "Satisfied by such glorification, the powerful sun-god assumed the form of a horse (vaja) and presented to the sage Yajnavalkya the yajur-mantras previously unknown in human society" (Bhag. 12.6.73). Just as the Lord seems to take birth and disappear like a mortal being, the Vedic literature similarly becomes manifest and unmanifest. Srimad-Bhagavatam had become unmanifest at the end of the Dvapara-yuga, five thousand years ago. At that time Narada Muni instructed Vyasa to again reveal the Bhagavatam. If the Bhagavatam had not existed before, Puranas older than the Bhagavatam would not refer to it by name. In the Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda, Gautama advises Ambarisa Maharaja, who reigned in the Satya-yuga, to study Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Finally, even if one were to include the Itihasas and Puranas among other smrti scriptures written by saintly sages to explain the meaning of the Vedas, the Itihasas and Puranas occupy a unique place because of the eminence of their propounder, Srila Vyasadeva, an incarnation of the Supreme Lord.
[The above also refutes the common idea of Western Indologists that India has no historical writings. "According to Bharateeya viewpoint, the ultimate object of history is human welfare. It is said that history should act as the magnifier of the culture and nourisher of the Dharma of the land. Hence, Bharateeya history was expected to project an overall picture of all facets of social life like religion, culture, economy, politics etc. Accordingly, in Bharat, various facets of history writing and reciting were fully developed. The following facets have come to our notice thus far: 1) itihasa; 2) purakalpa; 3) puravritta; 4) akhyana; 5) upakhyana; 6) aitihya; 7) parakriya; 8) parakriti; 9) itivritta; 10) anucharita; 11) anuvamsha; 12) katha; 13) parikatha; 14) gatha; 15) anvakhyan; 16) charita; 17) narashamsi; 18) kalavid; 19) gotra- paravarkar; 20) rajashasana; 21) purana; 22) akhyayika; 23) rabhya). Atharvaveda (15.6.11-12) mentions four, i.e. Itihasa, purana, gatha and narasamsi. Rigveda (cf. Gurudatta, 1963, Itihasa kmein bharateeya paramparayen, 3rd edn., 1986, New Delhi) mentions only narasamsi and gatha along with rabhya. The Satapatha Brahmana (188.8.131.52) adds two more in the list of Atharvaveda, i.e. anuvyakhyana and vyakhyana which may be the same as upakhyana and akyana of later times... Sastras like brahmanas, itihasas, puranas, kalpas, gathas and narasamsis are enumerated in the Taittiriya Aranyaka... Kautilya (Arth. 1.3) mentions itihasa along with the Vedas, which shows that during the Maurya period itihasa also was found in the specific book form like the Vedas. It was prescribed that kings should listen to itihasa and purana in the afternoon..." (Sriram Sathe, Kaliyugabda 5102, Millenniums Tested Bharateeya Science of History, Bangalore. excerpts from pages 59-63).]
Srimad-Bhagavatam, (Bhagavata Purana), A.C. Bhaktivedanta Svami, Los Angeles 1987, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
Srimad-Bhagavatam, Hridayananda dasa Gosvami, Los Angeles 1989, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
Gods, Sages and Kings, David Frawley, Saltlake City 1991, Passage Press
Mahanarayanopanisad, Svami Vimalananda, Madras 1979, Sri Ramakrishna Math
Vedic Cosmography and Astronomy, Richard L. Thompson, Los Angeles 1989, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
Tattva-Sandarbha, Jiva Gosvami, Satya Narayana dasa (transl.), New Delhi 1995.
Examples of srutis mentioning smritis - Itihasas and Puranas (for easy reference):
Smritis are discounted by mayavadis as non-Vedic (i.e. non-sruti, with a lower importance) and also by modern Western scholars as later texts (due to the idea that Vedic sanskrit of sruti is older). However srutis do mention smritis and thus refute these speculations.
rcah samani chandamsi puranam yajusa saha
ucchistaj-jajnire sarve divi deva divi-sritah
The Rg, Sama, Yajur and Atharva became manifest from the Lord, along with the Puranas and all the Devas residing in the heavens. (Atharva Veda 11.7.24)
sa brhatim disam anu vyacalat
tam itihasas ca puranam ca gathas ca narasamsis canuvyacalan
itihasasya ca vai sa puranasya ca gathanam ca narasamsinam ca priyam dhama bhavati ya evam veda
He approached the Brhati meter, and thus the Itihasas, Puranas, Gathas, and Narasamsis became favorable to him. One who knows this verily becomes the beloved abode of the Itihasas, Puranas, Gathas, and Narasamsis. (Atharva Veda, Saunaka rescension, 15.6.10-12)
evam ime sarve veda nirmitah sa-kalpah sa-rahasyah sa-brahmanah
sopanisatkah setihasah sanvakhyatah sa-puranah
In this way all the Vedas were manifested along with the kalpas, rahasyas, Brahmanas, Upanisads, Itihasas, anvakhyatas, and Puranas. (Atharva Veda, Gopatha Brahmana, Purva 2.10)
And, verily, the precepts, the sciences, the dialogue, the traditional myths and legends [itihAsa-purANa], and the NArAsamsI GAthAs are honey-offerings to the gods; and whosoever, knowing this, studies day by day the precepts, the sciences, the dialogue, the traditional myths and legends [itihAsa-purANa], and the NArAsamsI GAthAs, for his lesson, satisfies the gods with honey-offerings; and, being satisfied, they satisfy him by (granting him) security of possession, by life-breath, by seed, by his whole self, and by all auspicious blessings; and rivers of ghee and rivers of honey flow for his Fathers, as their accustomed draughts. (Sukla Yajur Veda, Satapatha Brahmana 184.108.40.206)
And on the ninth day, after those (three) offerings have been performed in the same way, there is the same course of procedure. 'Adhvaryu!' he (the Hotri) says.--'Havai hotar!' replies the Adhvaryu.--'King TArkshya Vaipasyata,' he says; 'his people are the Birds, and they are staying here;'--both birds and bird-catchers have come thither: it is these he instructs;--'the PurANa is the Veda: this it is;' thus saying, let him tell some PurANa. The Adhvaryu calls in the same way (on the masters of lute-players), but does not perform the Prakrama oblations. (Sukla Yajur Veda, Satapatha Brahmana 220.127.116.113)
The Itihasas and Puranas are Vedas. (Krsna Yajur Veda, Taittiriya Aranyaka 2.9)
asya mahato bhutasya nihsvasitam etad yad rg-vedo yajur-vedah sama
vedo’tharvangirasa itihasah puranam ityadina
O Maitreya, the Rg, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas as well as the Itihasas and the Puranas all manifest from the breathing of the Lord. (Sukla Yajur Veda, Satapatha Brahmana/Madhyandina-sruti, Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad 2.4.10)
atha ye 'syodanco rasmayas ta evasyodicyo madhu-nadyo
'tharvangirasa eva madhu-krta itihasa-puranam puspam ta amrta apah.
te va ete tharvangirasa etad itihasa-puranam abhyapatams tasyabhitaptasya yasas teja indriyam viryam annadyam raso 'jayata.
The northern rays of the sun are the northern honey-cells. The verses of the Atharvangirasa are the bees. The Itihasa—purana is the flower. The water is the nectar.
These very hymns of the Atharvangirasa heated the Itihasa-purana. From it, thus heated, issued forth-as its essence-fame, radiance, vigour of the senses, virility and the food that is eaten. (Sama Veda, Chandogya Upanisad 3.4.1-2, tr. Nikhilananda Swami)
rg-vedam bhagavo 'dhyemi yajur-vedam sama-vedam atharvanam
caturtham itihasa-puranam pancamam vedanam vedam pitryam rasim daivam
nidhim vako-vakyam ekayanam
O Sanatkumara, I have learnt Rg-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sama-Veda, Atharva-Veda and also the Itihasas and Puranas, which are the fifth Veda of the Vedas... (Sama Veda, Chandogya Upanisad 7.1.2)
nama va rg-vedo yajur-vedah sama-veda atharvanas caturtha
itihasa-puranah pancamo vedanam vedah
Indeed, Rg, Yajur, Sama and Atharva are the names of the four Vedas. The Itihasas and Puranas are the fifth Veda. (Sama Veda, Chandogya Upanisad 7.1.4)
rgvedam vijnapayati yajurvedam samavedamatharvanam
caturthamitihasapuranam pancamam devanam vedam pitryam rasih daivam
(Sama Veda, Chandogya Upanisad 7.2.1, as 7.1.2)
vijnapayati > vijanati, devanam > vedanam, otherwise ditto
(Sama Veda, Chandogya Upanisad 7.7.1)
According to Matsya Purana (3.3-4, 53.3) are Puranas even older than Vedas (samhitas) themselves:
purANa sarva zAstrANAM prathamaM brahmaNA smRtam
nityaM zabda mayaM puNyaM zata koTi pravistaram // MatsP_3.3 //
anantaraM ca vaktrebhyo vedAs tasya viniHsRtAH
mAmAMsA nyAya vidyAz ca pramANASTaka saMyutAH // MatsP_3.4 //
purANaM sarva zAstrANAM prathamaM brahmaNA smRtam
anantaraM ca vaktrebhyo vedAs tasya vinirgatAH // MatsP_53.3 //
On printed texts of mantra Samhitas (earliest manuscripts around 800 CE)
National Mission for Manuscripts (India)
Catalogue of manuscripts (available at the IGNCA, India)
Vedic Conception of Sound in Four Features
Standard of valid knowledge
Summaries of main Upanisads
Overview of 18 Upanisads
Brahma sutras (Vedanta sutras)
Mahapuranas: available editions and translations
Garuda Purana excerpt
Ten subjects of Srimad Bhagavatam
Manu-samhita (Manu-smrti) overview
Sastras and studies I.
Sastras and studies II.
Sastras and studies III.
Sanskrit thriving in British schools
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