Introduction to Veda and Vedic studies

Indigenous Education Jan 03, 2021

वेदोSखिलो धर्ममूलं

This well-known quote from Dharma Shastra, gives us an understanding that Veda is not only the source of our religion but it’s the source of all kinds of Dharmas including Vyasti Dharma and Samasti Dharma.

In contrary to this, academic world view or common perception of the masses considers the four vedas as the source texts of the Hindu Religion.

In western societies there’s a conflict between religion and science, religion and Humanity, and so on. Culture, Tradition, Religion, Spirituality all these aspects are not related to each other. Sometimes they even contradict each other.

Therefore they clearly distinguish between religious knowledge and other forms of knowledge. Due to the domination of this western thought around the globe, Indians also consider Vedic knowledge as religious knowledge. With this label of religion, Vedas are also believed to be in conflict with scientific thought, human intelligence, rationality etc as an apple in the basket of oranges is generally known as just one more fruit in the basket

Apart from this tag of religion, Vedas are also considered as philosophical texts or Vedic literature. Hence naturally Vedic texts are a subject of study in many universities across the globe.  But Learning about the sruti texts in an academic course as an ancient literature to understand the past and learning sruti texts in sruti Parampara with the intent of practice are completely different.

Therefore despite having Vedic study courses at hundreds of Universities, if we want to know how sruti is pronounced and applied in practice, we have to approach Individuals who belong to oral tradition and never think about going to Universities and perusing a degree.

This sruti parampara or oral tradition is well protected even today by several individuals with the support of various private organisations.

Name of Pujya sri. Chandrashekharendra Saraswati Mahaswami of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham,  is worth mentioning with golden letters in the history of 20th century’s vedic education because he Initiated and guided many such organisations throughout  his life to protect sruti parampara.

Students while doing revisions of their learnings

There are many individual scholars , who host students at their homes and teach the Vedas with the support of some donors. These scholars are very reluctant to seek recognition and financial aid from the government because with academic recognition and funds from the government, they will be compelled to follow the syllabus decided by those officials, who have not studied in the traditional discipline.

Introduction to Veda and Vedic studies.

Mantra Bramhanayoh Veda Namadheyam.

Mantra and Bramahana are known as Veda.

Another name of the veda is “Trayee”. Means veda or Trayee consists three kandas. That’s why it’s famously said, Kaanda trayaatmako vedah. The Samhita or Collection of Mantras is Upasana Kanda, Bramhana texts are karma kanda and Upanishads are jnana kaanda. These three kandas are the original texts of the veda. Hence they are collectively called “moola”.

After completing the “moola”, the  Pada paatha and Krama paatha are to be studied along with the 8 eight viktrities.

Afterwards, they study the six limbs or shandangas.

Shiksha, vyakarana, chanda, nirukta, jyotisha and kalpa are the six limbs

Six limbs of Veda

It takes approximately six or more years to complete the moola, three years to learn the Vikiritis and 3 years fully dedicated time to study the 6 limbs

Along with this system of study or completing the veda, they may study Sahitya, darshanas or Itihas-purana

There are four upavedas in this stream of knowledge. Upa-vedas are generally for those, who do not learn the vedas completely in sruti tradition.

Dharma Shastra with its vastness, is to be studied in addition to the Veda and to be applied throughout the life.

Source of this immense knowledge system is the veda and it is be memorized and chanted in daily practices.

This Vedic chanting or Veda itself is being considered as a heritage in recent times.

Vedic Chanting is Indeed Recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage. But if we look at the Definition of ‘Heritage’, it’s mainly about Historical significance.

Apart from providing a sense of belonging, historically significant things might not be useful or productive in today’s time.  Identity of heritage also removes the sacredness   and turns it into a lifeless ornament which might kindle the pride in the heart of possessor.

But Sruti is Sacred and much greater than Heritage because it produces results even today

To understand this, we have to check the root meaning of the word “veda”.

The Sanskrit root “Vid- produces three meanings.

Vid- Jnaane, laabhe, sattayaam.

Knowledge, advantage and existence. These three aspects are universal and always relevant. Therefore not only for the Hindus, but the Veda is advantageous for the whole mankind and always Relevant.

Therefore Indians who are not yet influenced by western ideas of tradition and culture, don’t Consider Veda or Sruti Parampara as merely Heritage. Instead they regard it as “shabda Bramha” or divine entity that provides the means to fulfil their wishes in the form of yajna.

The Main purpose of the Veda is to facilitate various forms of yajna which sustain and flourish the life on the planet. Veda hi Yajnartham abhi Pravruttaah.

This knowledge contained in the sruti has come from a source or dimension which beyond the access of the sense organs and the intellect.

प्रत्यक्षेण अनुमित्या वा यस्तूपायो न बुध्यते

एतं विदन्ति वेदेन तस्मात्वेदस्य वेदता

It is the knowledge which is beyond the faculties of pratyaksha or anumaana.

Therefore Indians consider Veda as    “apourusheya” , a sacred  entity and regard it as Brahman or verbal manifestation of creator himself.

This knowledge has been interpreted and explained by many commentators including modern academicians. Every such commentary is done considering only one of the dimensions of it. But there are three dimensions to it. Adhi-daivika meaning, adhi bhoutika meaning and Adhyaatmika meaning. Commentaries or interpretations with “trividha-drishti” or three dimensional meanings are very few.

Apart from this three dimensions, “Adhiyajneeya – meaning” or the Interpretation from context of Yajna is considered as real meaning in the tradition

Indians are told that looking at the Veda as a beautiful literature is superior and a cool thing to do. But the person who is practicing the rituals prescribed by the veda without knowing the meaning is an idiot.

This attack on the vedic practices or rituals was part of a big conspiracy, which has impacted most of the urbanized Indians.

Foreign ideas like “I am spiritual, but not religious” also have played a major role in the destruction of the scientific culture of Vedic practices.

Most of the mobile phone users are unaware of the science and technology based on which the phone functions. But they are not deprived of the benefit of it. It’s not necessary for everyone to become a scientist to get the benefit of science.

Similarly karma kanda or the rituals are the technology beneficial for those who know how to do it.

Fortunately, despite the invasions and anti-ritual propaganda, few sane voices and Individual efforts have kept the Vedic practices alive here and there. We have not lost it completely yet.

Since the Veda is sacred and manifestation of the divine, the person who has memorized it and lives by it is also considered as divine. In the northern part of  India, Vedic Pandits or Bramhins are referred to as “bhoo-devata” or Bhoodev ji, by the villagers even today. In south indian Languages, Vedamurti, or Veda Bramha shri is used as a prefix to address the Vedic scholars and their feet are worshipped. Urban culture might have lost it, but Veda and Vedic pandits are sacred entities for a large number of Indians.

Academic v/s Traditional approach to Veda

The great Rishi and commentator of Veda, Sri Sayanacharya, writing the Bhashya to the Rigveda says, “Veda is that which shows an “aloukika” path to fulfill the ishta (wish) and to avoid the anishta (unwanted). इष्ट प्राप्तये अनिष्ट परिहाराय अलौकिकं मार्गं योवेदयति, स वेदः।   (ishta Praaptaye, anishta Parihaaraya, aloukikam margam. Yo vedayati… sa.. vedah)

Implementation of Vedic wisdom in the form of Yajna

Sayana is calling the Veda as “aloukika”, in contrast to the loukika, or the wordly.  Even in the Gita, Sri Krishna makes a similar distinction by saying “लोकेवेदे च ” (Loke Vede cha). Here, Krishna is using the term “loka” in contrast to Veda. Thus, traditionally Veda is considered to be the aloukika way to fulfill worldly wishes of mankind. Further, the tradition has divided the Veda into three parts as Upasana Kaanda, Karma Kaanda, and Jnana Kaanda.  कांडत्रयात्मको वेदः

Conditioned by the tropes of the Western world, modern academic scholarship looks at the Veda as an ancient literature or as a source of religious and esoteric knowledge. Therefore Vedic studies are seen as a part of the study of civilizations and their mores. From an academic perspective it is part of the study of ancient history. For traditional Vedic practitioners, however, it is still a live and divine entity and they refuse to refer to it in the past tense.

The academic study of Veda has successfully portrayed the Upaasana and Karma Kaanda as irrelevant and focused on the Jnana Kanda only, while the tradition insists on the study of Veda for the sake of upaasana and karma. It is not just a course which one studies to acquire a degree and graduate from a University.

For traditional people Vedic study is a necessary preparation for their daily Upaasana and Karma to be done in the Grihastha life after the marriage.

Thus there is a fundamental contradiction in the intention behind the study of the Veda between traditionalists and modern-day academics. While the one studies the Veda to understand the previous generations, the other studies it as a preparation for practices to be undertaken in the future.

The Academic approach is driven by curiosity and a sense of heritage, whereas the traditional approach is driven by Shraddhaa and Bhakti.

Difference between Adhyayanaand Study

Maharshi Patanjali in his Mahabhaashya said,ब्राम्हणेन निष्कारणेन षडङ्गो वेदोअध्येतव्यः, ज्ञेयश्च। “without any particular reason, a Brahmana should do adhyayana of Veda (his own shaakha) along with its six limbs and also should know it”.

Patanjali is drawing our attention to three things: (i) he is specifically laying out the duties of a Brahmin (ii) making the distinction between adhyayana (अध्ययन) and knowing. Therefore knowing the meaning of Veda comes after completing the “adhyayana” in the tradition.

The third aspect of the above statement from Patanjali is that, “a Brahmana should do adhyayana”, as is made clear by his use of the word “Brahmanena”. He is not saying “one can become a Brahmin by doing Veda Adhyayana” as social reformers and intellectuals of today say.

Academic Vedic study in Sanskrit universities and other such places is dissimilar to the above-mentioned traditional way of adhyayana, and focused towards knowing the meaning alone. Such modern methods of study treat the Veda as a resource for making claims regarding civilizational identity or use it as a solution to Bhoutika problems.

I do not mean to assert that the purpose of Veda is only Adhyatma. The Vedas may provide solutions to worldly problems as well. But the Veda’s way of the solution is the “aloukika way” as Sayanacharya puts it in the above mentioned quote


Priyavrat Ghosh

Trained in Journalism, Indology, Film Making, photography and Linguistics.