How We Got the Vedas

The Vedas we know contain eternal truths, and of all the truths, the knowledge of god or Atman is the most important one. Swami Vivekananda says ‘ the Vedas should be studied through the eyeglass of evolution. They contain the whole history of the progress of religious consciousness, until religion has reached perfection in unity.‘ So the Vedas contain everything. The question is how did the Vedic truth appear in verse form? Who brought them to us?
An extract of Swami Sunirmalanada‘s (Ramakrishna Mission) thoughts..

evolution of vedas

An interesting incident happened some years ago. We shall not say whether the repercussions were good or bad; that’s not our concern. But our concern is the incident itself. A revered monk sat as the president in some meeting. A musician started singing some Mantras from the Vedas set to her tunes. Unfortunately, the lady belonged to a race that finds it difficult to pronounce Sanskrit correctly. To this race, so becomes sho, ksha becomes sko. They pronounce daksha as dakko, Om becomes ong; sati as shoti, sahana vavatu as shohono bhobotu. She began singing the Mantras with the pronunciation characteristic of her race. This troubled the monk and he walked away. Immediately, there was an uproar that it was an insult to humanity; that woman were being insulted, that the monk had to be condemned. Perhaps, the monk was pained over something else. And what was that?

Imagine those bygone days of thousands and thousands of years ago when there was no writing imagine those days when there was no other civilization but the Aryan. Imagine the river and the sunrise and the trees. And the sages repeating Vedic truths to their disciples. And then the disciples memorizing them. For tens of thousands of years, this tradition of the teacher repeating mantras and the students memorizing them went on. It went on and on until writing was introduced. Suppose you could record the chants of two sages ten thousands years apart on two different cassettes-one sage of 15000 BC and another of 5000 BC and suppose you played both the cassettes simultaneously. You would not find any disharmony in the chants at all. Both sages, though thousands of years apart, would repeat the mantras in the same way, in the same tune, in the same rhythm and style. That was the wonder and greatness of our sages! So have truths, discovered some twenty thousands years back, come down to us today in their pristine purity, as they were! Only in modern times they have changed the tunes etc. but how did our Rishis achieve such a wonder?

The Vedic sages had scientific methods to propagate Vedic knowledge. They had the vedangas.

1. Siksha meant that Vedas had to be recited compulsorily every day in a systematic manner. The mantras had to be chanted in a methodical, scientific way. For this, there was jata-patha had two forms : ayvakrita jata-patha or ‘reversed recitation‘. To repeat ishavasyam, as it is was termed avyakrita and to reverse it as vasyam isha meant it was vyakrita. This system was so complex and so scientific those modern scientific minds would be bewildered at their own haphazard ways of training! Then there was ghana-patha, and so on. This was the grand style of teaching so that not a single letter was lost.
2. Vyakarana or grammar helped teachers teach the rules of conjunction and interjunction, sandhis and samasas, the lingas and vibhaktis etc., so that no truth or mantra was distorted.
3. Chandas was meant to give tunes to the Vedic mantras. Suppose students were to repeat mantras in a dry mode. They would become bored. So, the wonderful tunes of mantras, especially of the Sama chants.
4. Nirukta was meant to serve the purpose of a thesaurus. Sage yaska used the dictionary. Nighantu, to develop this system.
5. Jyotisha. The sages were not parrots, just keeping the mantras in memory had they been parrots, the mantras would have been powerless and useless and Hinduism would not have had its vitality today. So, each sage performed sacrifices described in the Vedas, practiced sadhana as described everyone could not perform all the sacrifices and all the sadhanas mentioned, they were divided into schools and institutions, and each independent schools and institutions, and each independent school became a custodian of a particular sacrifice rite and portion of the Veda. In order to follow Vedic injunction at the right time and at the right season, the science of astrology or Jyotisha was developed. Calculating the Zodiacal positions, the nature, position, effects etc, of the stars and planets was a wonderful science that was developed independently to help humanity. I generally ask this question to those physicists who decry Jyotisha as nonsense: How many centuries ago did modern science discover that the sun is in the Centre and there are nine planets revolving around it? How many aeons ago did Indian scientists of old discover this truth? Just because Galileo Galilee said that sun was the centre, priests tortured him and Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600 AD! The problem with the scientists is what’s available to the five senses and to the instruments that bring knowledge to these senses, alone is true. The rest is simply false. And every day a scientific theory is tumbling out. If science were everything, why did they fool people all these years with their big bang theory? Now they say that was a mistake!
6. Kalpa is the science of performing sacrifices, composed in the form of aphorisms. There are four Kalpas: Shrauta Sutras, Grihya Sutras, Dharma Sutras and Sulba Sutras. These Sutras guided the sages in their lifestyles and activities.

We can clearly see from this simple introduction itself how great the Indian science of the Vedas was! It was not a cock-and-bull story written by fools. It was a wonderful system developed over millenniums! Just one challenge to modern scientific people: Please show us one single case of grammar in any other language of the world which has a Sutra system like that of Panini. Please show us a single dictionary in the worlds in verse form like that of our Amarakosha. It’s simply impossible to imagine how our ancient scientist thought of such systems. India is great; Indian history is great; Indian thoughts are great. Let’s bow down in all humility to Indian thought and learn from it. Let’s study the Vedas. The Vedas are not terrific Sanskrit things. Anyone can read them using transaction. And there are wonderful translations. If foreigners can study them and do such a lot of work on them, why not we? Our ancient knowledge has come to us after much difficulty and tremendous sacrifice. Millions have died in the hands of invaders to save Hinduism. Let’s not forget their sacrifice.

You may ask: If Indian Vedas are so great, if it is such a perfect science, why did India suffer so much? Why is there no development at all here? The reason is this: Exactly one thousands years ago, gold was sold on the streets of India like we sell groundnuts! The world envied Indian progress. Indian scientist taught the whole world! Nalanda, Taxila and other universities were the oxford and Cambridge of the world! We lost everything because of Muslim invaders and the subsequent occupations. Now, once again there is interest in the Vedas and we shall rise once again there is interest in the Vedas and we shall rise once again, Swamiji has declared time and again: ‘India will be raised, not with the power of the flesh, but with the power of the spirit; not with the flag of destruction, but with the flag of peace and love?.’. ‘ I see in my mind’s eye the future perfect India rising out of this chaos and strife?‘.

From Guru to disciple, from disciple to disciple-the river of Vedic knowledge flowed in this way. And now we have every gadget under the Sun. But today we don’t follow the metres and Chandas that the Rishis have followed. We want to set film tunes to Mantras and sing them in such a way that the deergha becomes a hrasva, a word becomes three words, a sentence becomes meaningless and the pronunciation is simply preposterous. This we call modernity! Modernity indeed! To preserve knowledge through all the vicissitudes without changing even a single letter for thousands of years is not a joke. Reporters can’t report what they see the previous day correctly, not to speak of thousands of years!

Today, everyone is only too eager to criticize Brahmins. Who were the sages? They were Brahmins, mostly, though people from all communities were sages. Brahmins may have done some wrong, but to blame them for every wrong under the Sun is silly. We must be grateful to them for all that they have done to humanity. Simply condemning some race for no reason.

Let’s recall this sentence from Vivekananda: There is no new religious idea preached anywhere which is not found in the Vedas.