The Mother of Indian Culture – II

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India, said a western historian, is the Mother of the human race. The ‘Veda’ is the Mother of Indian civilization and culture. Whatever may be the outer material circumstances, which gave birth to the Indian civilization, the inner spiritual source of Indian culture are the Vedas. The spiritual and cultural history of India begins with the Vedas. But unfortunately, this spiritual treasure of India is misunderstood by most of the academic community in the West and also in India. In this article, we will examine the historical and spiritual significance of the Vedas for the evolution of Indian civilization and culture.

The Origin

One of the intensely debated and controversial subjects in Indian history is the date or origin of the Vedas. The extent of uncertainty on this subject can be seen in one of the statements of Max Mueller, when he said once, probably in exasperation, “Whether the Vedic hymns were composed in 1000 or 1500 or 3000 BC, no power on earth can determine.” However, as we have discussed in our introduction, in our approach the dates are of least importance. But the inner and outer factors behind the origin of the Vedas, especially its spiritual origins, are of great importance for understanding the spiritual sources of not only the Indian but human civilization.

There are two aspects to this problem of Vedic origins. First is the origin of the written texts which have come down to us, available for study. Second is the origin of the spiritual tradition or culture which gave birth to the Vedas. The first one, the events or process by which an ancient religious text or a part of it has come down to us can perhaps be traced—though not fully—within the historical time frame. But the origin of the spiritual traditions which gave birth to the Vedas goes far back into the mist of an unknown past.

The Vedas were preserved in ancient India through a unique and remarkable oral tradition. But at a certain stage, the need for writing down and compiling the utterances of the Vedic seers might have been felt by the leaders of the Vedic tradition. So, according to Indian tradition and legend, Veda Vyasa, the great Rishi compiled the Vedas and arranged them in the form in which the Vedic hymns have come down to us. However, according to most traditional Indian lore, what we have at present as the Vedas are only a tiny fraction of what was composed, preserved or written by many generations of Vedic tradition and culture. For example, according to the Mahabharata much of the Vedas were lost. So the Vedic texts which are available to us are either a selective compilation of Veda Vyasa or the remnants which survived the ravages of time from a much vaster bulk of Vedic literature.

The other important feature of the Vedic hymns noted by many Vedic scholars, is that both the thought and language of the Vedic hymns were already at an advanced stage of development and attained a certain fixity of form. This indicates that the Vedic hymns were perhaps composed not at the beginning of the Vedic age but belong to a much earlier period. As Sri Aurobindo points out:

“The invariable fixity of Vedic thought when taken in conjunction with its depth, richness and subtlety gives rise to some interesting speculations. For we may reasonably argue that such a fixed form and substance would not easily be possible in the beginning of thought and psychological experience or even during early progress and unfolding. We may therefore surmise that our actual Samhita represents the close of a period, not its commencement, not even some of its successive stages. It is even possible that its most ancient hymns are a comparatively modern development or version of a more ancient lyric evangel couched in the freer and more pliable forms of a still earlier human speech. Or the whole voluminous mass of its litanies may be only a selection by Veda Vyasa out of a more richly vocal Aryan past.” 1

Jeanine Miller, in a book on yoga and mysticism of the Vedas, expresses a more or less similar view on the Rig Vedic hymns:

“The hymns do not mark the start of the Vedic cult, they rather embody the culmination of a culture whose beginnings were already remote in the eyes of its promoters and to which they constantly looked back. The layers of thought that may be distinguished—mythological and philosophical—are steeped in an age old tradition going back to a distant past ever present in the rsi’s mind as the time of their ancestors, the beneficent patriarchs whose heirloom was their treasure and the foundation of their civilization.” 2

This brings us to the origin of the Vedic tradition and culture. What is the source of the Vedic tradition and culture? Is the Vedic the only original spiritual tradition in India or were there other parallel traditions? There are a few clues and hints given by modern spiritual masters like Sri Aurobindo and the Mother3  and some legends in spiritual traditions of the world, which may help us to get a faint glimpse of the mystery of Vedic origins.

While discussing the problem of Aryan and Dravidian languages, Sri Aurobindo talks about the possibility that both Sanskrit and Tamil could well be the derivations of a still more ancient and original language, which was a more direct and faithful expression of the divine creative word or the eternal truth of language, a devabhasha, language of the Gods. This view of the ancient Indian languages is also somewhat similar to the conception of an Indian legend which says that both Tamil and Sanskrit emanated from the drum, damaru of God Shiva.

But language is part of a culture and a distinct language presupposes a distinct culture. Here again commenting on some of the theories of Dravidian origins, Sri Aurobindo suggests the possibility of two distinct cultures existing in two different geographical regions of ancient India. First is the Vedic Aryan culture with its symbols of Sun, Fire and soma sacrifice prevailing in Punjab and Northern and Central India, Afghanistan and perhaps Persia with Sanskrit as its main language in Northern India. The other is Non-Aryan (different from the Vedic), in East, South and West, the nature of which is not known 4. But in ancient India, religion and spirituality is the source of culture or in other words, culture emanates from religion. So a distinct culture presupposes a distinct religious and spiritual tradition.

There existed in ancient India another great spiritual tradition, which may perhaps provide the clue to the other non-Vedic or non-Aryan tradition and culture. It was the Siddha tradition in Southern India with its own unique philosophy, yoga, literature, systems of science and medicine and with Tamil as its main language. There are similarities as well as differences between the early Vedic and the Siddha tradition. Both of them had an integral spiritual vision which conceived the world as a real manifestation and expression of the divine power; expressed their spiritual intuitions in a symbolic language; developed a distinct and unique culture with its own thought, language, science, traditions, symbols. But there are also differences between the two traditions. While the Vedic tradition followed the Sun-Fire-Soma symbolism, the Siddha tradition followed the Shiva-Sakthi-Kundalini symbolism of the Tantras. This shows the Siddha tradition, which prevailed in southern India, and the Tantra, which was dominant in the east, had perhaps a common origin in a distinct spiritual tradition different from the Vedic and the Aryan. The other difference between the Vedic and Siddha is that while the Vedic tradition aimed at realizing spiritual immortality of the soul, the Siddha tradition aimed also at some form of spiritual transformations of the body.

However, when we examine carefully the philosophy, yoga and ideals of the Vedic, Siddha and Tantric tradition we can discern a complementing link between them, each tradition stressing on one aspect of an integral spiritual ideal, which includes perhaps the divinisation of the body. Interestingly, the Mother in her conversations, mentions a very ancient tradition, older than the Vedic and Chaldean and says:

“In the very, very old traditions – there was a tradition more ancient than the Vedic and Chaldean which must have been the source of both – in that ancient tradition there is already mention of a ‘glorious body’ which would be plastic enough to be transformed at every moment by the deeper consciousness …..” 5

This suggests the possibility of a very ancient and original spiritual tradition which was perhaps source of all or most of the ancient spiritual traditions of the world in India and also other parts of the ancient world like Egypt, China or Greece. This ancient tradition probably possessed the highest and the most integral spiritual ideal. Here, we are going back to a remote past when the geography of earth was very different from what it is now and the spiritual potentials and destiny of humanity was formed in the human consciousness by divine powers.

For example, there are some theories which state that somewhere in the remote past India was a sprawling continent, extended from Kanyakumari, touching Africa in the West, Australia in the East and occupying a large portion of the Indian Ocean. As a Western scholar, Sir T.W. Holderness writes,

“Peninsular India, south of the Vindya mountains is geologically distinct from Indo-Gangetic plains and the Himalayas. It is the remains of a former continent, which stretched continuously to Africa in the space now occupied by the Indian Ocean. The rocks of this land mass formed are amongst the oldest in the world.” 6

We may or may not agree with these speculations. But it is quite possible ancient India was much larger than what it is now, extending perhaps to many continents. Geographically we may place the origin of the Vedic tradition and culture in this larger India.

There are many legends in all the religious and spiritual traditions of the world which talk about beings from other worlds coming down to earth to help humanity in its higher evolution. For example, Graham Hancock, in his brilliant and thoughtful study of ancient civilizations 7, describes many such surprisingly similar legends in the ancient religious traditions of the world. These legends sspeak of wise men, gods or goddesses, appearing all of a sudden, many of them with supernatural powers, teaching the primitive local population techniques and values of civilization and culture and disappearing after their work was done.

 

Other Articles in this series

Part I | Part II  |  Part III  |  Part IV  |  Part V  | Part VI

References:

1. Sri Aurobindo, SABCL, Vol. 14, Secret of the Vedas, P. 10
2. Jeanine Miller, The Vedas: Meditation and Harmony, P. xxxiv
3. The Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
4. Sri Aurobindo, SABCL, Vol. 17, pp.278.
5. The Mother, MCW, Vol. 9, 86
6. M. Govindan, Babaji and the 18 Siddha Kriya Yoga Tradition, p. 37
7. Graham Hancock, Finger Prints of the Gods, A Quest for the Beginning and the End.