The Prelude Part 0.1

The Division, Multiplication and the Shishyas

At the time of creation the Veda was born from the face of God. It supposedly contained a Lakh of granthas with four padas like Riks. From the Veda were born the ten yajnas. The Veda was originally one. It was Vyas who divided it into four divisions resulting in the four Vedas.

Rishi Bharadwaja who was disciple to Valmiki studied Vedas for a thousand years at end of which period he would ask for another thousand years and continue his studies. After three thousand years, Indra came and told Vishrwa’s father-in-law, there are three large mountains there. Then he picked handful of dust and placed one in front of each mountain and told Bharadwaja, the amount you have studied is the dust. The huge mountains behind are the sum total of the knowledge needed to grasp it all. Bharadwaja asked for more time. Indra made him immortal.

Of course, he could not do so for everyone so the institution of Ved Vyas was created.

When Brahma commanded Vyas to divide the Vedas into divisions he first selected four disciples who could see the end of the Vedas. (Vedanta!)

He nominated Paila to study Rgveda, Vaisampayana to study Yajurveda, Jaimini to study Samaveda and Sumantu to study Atharvaveda. Besides these he selected the highly intelligent Romaharsana Suta to study the Itihasas and Puranas. (Sootji Ugrashrva is son/descendent of Romaharshana).

We were never focused on any of the achievements of Pandavas. In Vana Parva, chapter 95 while on teerth yatra with Dhaumya and Lomasha, Vyasa joined them at Gaya teerth. Here Four Pandavas studied the Vedas with the four disciples in four months. That is celebrated as Chatrumasya Vrata in Puranas. Vyasa used this occasion to not only instruct Pandavas but also engender modesty and humility in all his students using Pandavas as role models. Then, Sahadeva would move with Atharva Rishis to bank of Kalindi and conduct yagnas and further studies. This was one of rare occasions of Sahadeva’s independent movement away from Pandavas, Yudhishthara describes more such twin adventures/works in Udyoga Parva. The Famous Bharat Rishi strota which is subscribed to Yudhishthara may be developed at this point.

You have to understand that Vyas identified and developed potential among what became some of the greatest minds, thinkers and philosophers of our history. The other achievements of Paila, Vaisampayana, Sumantu, Jaimini and their disciples are recorded in some detail. Their texts continue to burden the bookshelves of the book sellers and their reputation and names have spread down to us.

Division of Vedas

To divide the Vedas in four, Vyas chose the Chaturhotra, the performance of four hotras. (define Hotras??)

When the Sura and Asura break happened, the Asuras chose Water as their medium for Yasna and Suras chose Agni for their medium for Yagna. The sublime meaning of the word yajna (Yagna and Yasna) is derived from the Sanskrit verb yaj, which has a three-fold meaning of worship of deities (devapujana), unity (sangatikarana) and charity (dána). The offerings to Gods go through two mediums Fire and Water. So Yagna and Yasna are cognate terms with medium to reach the Gods, Agni or Varuna being different.

Iran for large part is very dry and desert ridden country especially in Eastern parts so the Water is a very important part of human life. Offering that life sustaining water is the extreme form of devotion and worship. Historical Iran is the size of Modern India with population slightly larger than Punjab-Haryana. (Though historical Iranian population was much larger as much as fifth or higher of Indian population du jour in Achamaenid and Sassanid periods, they have had their huge mahapralayas in historical periods.) Zarathustra was born in liberal free thinking Bahalika lands with access to all philosophies and cultures and his thinking was affected by the fertile green and mountainous climes of his birth place and free thinking of his fellow citizens.

Agni became central to our rituals and Varuna and his associate Mitra became important to Asuras. That gets modified in Iranian to Ahura Mazda (Asura Varuna, Mazda being term for Bhagwan for God, some believe derived from Mitra or Mihira the Sun God, Mitra being eldest Aditya in their reckoning, Indra is Mazda Indra (Aditya Indra) and his devasthana is in Mazendran.) Our J is S in Iranian and our S is H in Iranian. So Rajas guna is Rasah in their language. Rasah is thus incorrectly cognated with Rasa or passions in our belief and leads to development of sub-cults and meanings. That also leads later people to believe Rajas is passion (Rasa) which is not really correct or what the founding thinkers thought of.

Hindus did not completely give up Varuna either. So every morning, we still worship Sun God with water. We still also use water as medium to take offerings to Gods. The belief in Pancha Tatva and their efficacy is reflected that we use all the elements in our worship. Five elements also are aligned to five senses. All five senses belong to five elements but the prathmikta or priority order may be different.

Earth is used as well to worship. It is used to construct the moortis or statutes. The Icons. Thus, we use the earth to directly take the offerings and we use the sense of Sight to see the forms of the Gods themselves. They are thus fashioned in our image. The difference in Buddhism and Hinduism is that Earth may be associated more to priority of smell than to priority of Sight. (As world is maya, experience with eyes closed.) BTW that is not the only difference.

Water is of course taste. It is prime medium in Mithraism with equal importance in Hinduism. Zoroastrianism actually developed as Agni centric philosophy of Zarathusthra bringing Agni back as center to water rituals of Mithraism.

The next element is Air. The Yagna is a combination where the priests use samagri from Earth, use water and oil from Water, and throw into the Fire whose smoke then takes the offerings to Gods (AIR). So Agni and Vayu are best of friends. When we throw the offerings, we utter mantras and concentrate on the Ether, the fifth element.

Ether and mantras and meditation became the other medium to reach the gods. That practice is also current in modern Hinduism. The development of meditational religions like Silent (Jainism) and Middle Path (Buddhism) also came about later.

So that is why Chaturhotra is important to Shrauta rituals. (What is Shrauta??)

Shrauta or Shruti And Prasthana Traya

Śhruti or “what is listened” is the body of sacred texts comprising the central canon of Vedas and is one of the three main sources of dharma. The belief is that Sruti was “HEARD” by the various Rishis and Munis from the mouth of Brahma himself. Sruti differs in the terms from other sources of Hindu philosophy like smriti (“remembered text”) because Sruti is purely divine in origin. It is traditionally believed to be a direct revelation of the “cosmic sound of truth” heard by ancient Rishis who then translated what was heard into something understandable by humans.

Because of the divine origin, Sruti is preserved as a whole, instead of verse by verse. Smriti on the other hand may include all the knowledge that has been derived and inculcated ‘after’ Śruti had already been received by the great seers or Rishis. In other words it is not ‘divine’ in origin, but was ‘remembered’ by later Rishis by transcendental means, and passed down though their followers. In some of the Smriti text itself, we are reminded of the divine nature of the Śruti texts, and are ever advised that in case of any conflict between the two, the Śruti will always overrule Smriti.

Vedas, Vyasa-sutras and Bhagavadgita are the authoritative texts of Sanatana Dharma, the true name for what would pass as Hinduism. These are the foundation stones of the great structure of Sanatana Dharma. Among these, Vyasa-sutras define the meaning of Upanishads, the head of Vedas. Geeta advises how the principles so defined should be implemented in daily life.

In general, this trinity is called the Prasthana Traya. In this trinity, the fundamental authorities are Upanishads. These are considered to be eternal and apauruseya (not of human origin). In this manner, Sanatana Dharma is apauruseya. As Buddhism, Christianity and Islam have their own founders, Hinduism does not have a founder. The basis of Hinduism is certain great principles based on traditional conventions. Individuals have a place in Hinduism only as the models of these principles.

Most of vedanta and Sanatana philosophy is propounded by interpreting the Prasthanatrayi, literally, three sources, the three canonical texts of Hindu philosophy, especially of the Vedanta schools. It consists of:

  • The Upanishads, known as Upadesha prasthana (injunctive texts), and the Śruti prasthāna (the starting point of revelation)
  • The Brahma Sutras, known as Nyaya prasthana or Yukti prasthana (logical text)
  • The Bhagavad Gita, known as Sadhana prasthana (practical text), and the Smriti prasthāna (the starting point of remembered tradition)

सर्वोपनिषदो गाव: दोग्धा गोपालनंदन: |
पार्थो वत्स: सुधी: भोक्ता दुग्धं गीतामॄतं महत् ||

  • All Upanishads are like cows, Nanda’s son is their keeper. Intelligent Partha is the calf who enjoys the milk and splendid Geeta-Amrita is the milk of these cows. (Geeta is the precise summary of all Upanishads.)

How do we get to Upanishadas? That is the last chapter. We have lot more to understand to reach Upanishadas.

The first building block of Upanishadas are understanding the Chtutrhotra. Remember the handfuls of dust Indra left in front of the mountains.

So back to that is why Chaturhotra is important to Shrauta rituals.

Shrauta yajnas are typically performed by four Vedic priests, the hota, the adhvaryu, the udgata and the brahman.

This section is described in detail by Asvalayana (He is student in Guru shihsya paramapara of Saunaka as well as Asvala who was a student of Yajnavalkaya.) We find this section in Bridaranyaka Upanishada, one of the most amazing constructs of human thought and philosophy. We will come back to this later. Asvalyana is a great historical philosopher, on the scale of Socrates, Plato and Mohandas. He is some 12 plus generations after Mahabharata War, he is some 15 odd generations before Buddha. He is an historical figure who is celebrated even before Siddhartha decided to go walkabout. He wrote Asvalayana Grhyasutra, Asvalayana Srautasutra and Asvalayana Stuti which list most of what is detailed. 
The functions associated with the priests are:

  1. The Hotar, (priest), recites invocations and litanies drawn from Riks. The verses recited by the Hotar are of three kinds – introductory verses, verses pertaining to yajna and eulogistic verses. The Hotar is also supposed to contemplate on and identify with the deity of speech – Fire or Agni.
  2. The Adhvaryu is the priest’s assistant and is in charge of the physical details of the ritual like measuring the ground, building the altar etc. mentioned in the Yajus. The adhvaryu offers three kinds of oblations, those that blaze up, those that make great noise and those that sink. The adhvaryu is supposed to contemplate on and identify with the deity of the eye – Sun or Surya.
  3. The Udgatar is the chanter of hymns set to melodies (sāman). The udgatar, like the Hotar, chants the introductory, yajna and eulogistic verses. These three types of hymns are identified with the three kinds of vital breath Prana, Apana and Vyana in the body and the udgatar himself contemplates on the vital breath.
  4. The brahman is the superintendent of the entire performance, and is responsible for correcting mistakes by means of supplementary verses invoking the visvedevas(pantheon of celestials or devas). In the Brihadaranyaka, the pantheon of visvedevas are held to be a creation of an infinite mind assuming infinite forms. Therefore, the only god that protects the yajna and with which the brahman has to identify himself with is the deity of the mind – Moon or Chandra.

So Vyas arranged the performance of Adhvaryu as Yajus, that of Hotr as Rks, that of Udgatar as Samans and that of Brahma as Atharvans.

Then he separated the Rks to form Rgveda, Yajus to form Yajurveda and Samans to form Samaveda.

He devoted Atharvaveda to specify the rites and duties of Kings and the deeds of Brahma. Veda Vyas thus split the single Veda tree into four and from there arose later a forest of Veda trees.

Part 2 follows on disciples.

Vedas, Brahmanas, Arayanakas, Upanishadas

by Pranshu B. Saxena

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