The Mother of Indian Culture – III

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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.

Let us now piece together all the scattered clues, hints and intuitions we have gathered on the Vedic origins and see what is the scenario we get. One of the possible scenarios would be somewhat like this. Somewhere in a very ancient pre-historic remoteness of our past, in some part of our planet where India was part of a larger continent, there existed an ancient and original spiritual tradition of which all other great spiritual traditions that came later are derivative fragments. This tradition was founded by great spiritual beings who descended from higher divine worlds to prepare humanity for its future spiritual evolution and destiny. This tradition possessed the perfect knowledge of the full divine plan and the highest divine ideal of human and earthly evolution, in other words the total spiritual blue-print of terrestrial evolution. The great spiritual founders of this tradition, by their inner realization and action established the seed of this divine plan and the ideal and the path and potentials to realize it in the consciousness of humanity, so that it may gradually unfold itself in the course of human and terrestrial evolution. They also expressed the divine ideal outwardly in a language, which was the most direct and flawless expression of the divine creative word and which gave birth to the word, Devabhasha or the language of the gods. This was the original Veda.

India is perhaps the land chosen by divine providence to preserve, develop and manifest this eternal Veda for the spiritual deliverance and transformation of the world. The Vedic sages talk about two types of Rishis, modern and ancient. A class or type of these ancient Rishis, known as Angrivasa Rishis, were considered by Vedic seers as the primal forefathers of humanity. These ancient Rishis were perhaps the descendants of this original divine Tradition, coming down to earth from higher spiritual worlds to prepare the human consciousness. There were probably many such descents from higher worlds in order to prepare the human consciousness and give a push to its evolutionary progress. The Vedic age was perhaps the latest, coming at the beginning of this present cycle of human evolution. The Mother in her Conversations on the Vedic age says:

“I think it (Vedic age) was perhaps at the beginning. …. not exactly the beginning of humanity but the beginning of conscious evolution of humanity towards realization…… But these promises and examples are like a starting point, like the first push given to begin the evolution of consciousness towards a higher realization. I think the Vedic age was the latest …..1

And when Mother was asked, “Were the Vedic Rishis men who had evolved to that state or were they special manifestations?”, Mother replied,

“What do you mean? whether they were evolutionary beings or involutionary beings? … it is absolutely certain that they were involutionary beings, that is beings who had come down from higher regions and used these bodies, who had identified with these bodies.” 2

Extending our vision into the future, we may surmise that as humanity progresses towards its destiny, this eternal Veda revealed to the original divine tradition and the founders of the Vedic religion, will be again re-revealed to humanity through the illumined vision of its future seers and prophets who will guide and steer humanity towards its divine goal. India, will hopefully take the lead in this future evolution of humanity.

Are we running wild with our imagination? We are only trying to reconstruct a plausible scenario based on the spiritual intuitions of humanity. Are we indulging in myth-making? We need new myths which bring faith and hope to humanity. Myth is the language through which the ancient wisdom spoke to humanity. The modern scientific reason, dry, utilitarian, cautious and skeptical, has brought us and the world to the verge of a nuclear and ecological catastrophe. Let us experiment with faculties other than reason. Myth and legend are a warmer light than reason. As Sri Aurobindo muses:

“Myth suckled knowledge with her lustrous milk …… far richer in their sweet and nectarous sap ….. than the staple or dry straw of reason’s tilth.”3

Are we indulging in what Americans call “blue-skying” with empty fantasies of the future? But there was almost a consensus among modern psychologists that intuition, imagination and fantasy are the sources of creativity. The new paradigm on creativity counsels us to consciously exercise the faculties of fantasy for igniting the spark of creativity. So let us project our thought, intuition and imagination courageously into the unknown domains of the past and future, without bothering much about errors. There will be errors in perception as long as we use the limited faculties of our human mind and within these limited boundaries of the mind errors are part of the unfolding process of knowledge.

Scope of Vedic Literature

Let us now get down again to more mundane facts of the cultural history of the Vedic age. The Vedic literature was classified by scholars into four categories: Samhitas, Brahamanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads and we may add one more Vedangas.

Samhitas are the four Vedas: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda. Rig Vedas, oldest of the Vedic litany consists of 1017 hymns. Yajur Vedas Samhita consists of prayers and formula, mostly taken from Rig Veda, which the priests have to perform at sacrificial ceremonies. The Sama Veda is almost wholly a collection of Mantras from the Rig Veda, set to melody, for singing during sacrificial ceremonies and festivals. Atharva Veda contains a variety of subjects including medicine, charms, magic, occultism, philosophy, mysticism.

Brahamanas are later compositions written in prose containing explanatory notes on the minutiae of Vedic ritual, legends, instructions on constructing Vedic altars, rules of ethical or social conduct and other subjects related mostly to the outer forms of Vedic religion.

Aranyakas which means pertaining to forests, are philosophical and spiritual speculations on the Vedas. They are perhaps the works of contemplative thinkers who were dissatisfied with the exclusively or predominantly ritualistic approach of the Brahmanas and seeking the deeper and inner truth of the Vedas. They are named Aranyakas, probably because these contemplatives retired into the forests for a dedicated pursuit of truth.

Upanishads are a more or less successful culmination of the movement which begins in the Aranyakas. They are the inner spiritual discoveries, intuitions and experiences of illumined seers and spiritual thinkers, expressed in an inspired language. Upanishads are called Vedanta, that is, end of the Vedas, because they come at the end of the Vedic literature.

The other part of the Vedic literature are the Vedangas. Sometimes they are not considered as part of the Vedic litany but as secondary or derivative literature based on the Vedas. Vedangas are made of phonetics or Siksa, metrics or Chanda (both of which are necessary for right chanting of the Vedas), grammar or Vyakara, etymology Nivuktha, instruction on rituals or Kalpa and astrology or Jothisya.

With this brief introduction to the Vedic literature, we may proceed further to examine some of the major events of the cultural history of the Vedas.

 

Other Articles in this series

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

 

References:

1. The Mother, MCW, Vol. 7, 357-58
2. The Mother, MCW, Vol. 7, 360-61
3. Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, p. 245