The Vedic Samhitas were difficult to understand, and much learning was required to comprehend them. Before approaching the Samhitas, the Vedangas were to be studied. The Vedangas were a group of texts on six topics, shiksha or phonetics; vyakarana or grammar; chhandas or metre; nirukta or etymology, alternatively glossary; jyotisha or astronomy and astrology; and kalpa or ritual.
Most of these various Vedanga texts were written in sutras, a sutra being a short statement providing information in a compressed way. These sutras too, could only be understood by a learned person.
Did this ensure that only the elite could ever understand the Vedas?
Another category of secondary Vedic literature are the Anukramanis. Anukramani can be translated as a catalogue or index, but it is actually an additional explanatory text, providing details about various aspects of the Vedic samhitas. Anukramanis are assigned to various authors, and several Rig Veda anukramanis are said to be written by Shaunaka, a rishi known from other sources too. These provide the names of deities, metres, rishi authors, and other details of the Rig Veda suktas [hymns]. Anukramanis are also commented on by other authors. For the Sama Veda, some of the Sama Veda Brahmanas have characteristics of Anukramanis, while the there are other Anukramanis too for this, as well as for the Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda.
As seen earlier, the main texts of Vedic literature are the Vedic Samhitas, followed by the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. But there are numerous other texts, used to memorize or explain aspects of these texts. Among these are the Padapathas or ‘word texts’. Those who know Sanskrit are aware that words are joined together in the language [sandhi], according to certain rules. This joining is often done by adding a consonant or changing a vowel. Vedic texts use sandhi, but Padapatha texts break up, join, and repeat the words in different ways. If words are represented by a b c d, some Padapathas have ab, bc, cd, etc. Others have ab, ba, ab, bc, cb, bc etc, or even ab, ba, abc, cba, and different variations. These texts were thus used to memorise and preserve the texts exactly.
Upanishads –3 The Brahma Sutra
Vedanta is a system of philosophy based on the Upanishads. Its main principles were summarized by Badarayana, who probably lived between 500 BCE – CE 100. Badarayana wrote the Brahma Sutra, also known as the Vedanta Sutra. To the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutra, the Bhagavad Gita is added, in order to understand Vedanta. Numerous commentators wrote extensive commentaries on every aspect of Vedantic texts. They interpreted these texts in different ways, giving rise to different schools of Vedanta. Among these are Advaita, Dvaita, Dvaitadvaita, Vishishtadvaita, Shuddhadvaita and Shivadvaita. These and other philosophies will be explained in a different group of posts.
As seen earlier, the focus of all the Upanishads is the realization of Brahman. But this concept of Brahman is difficult to understand. Two descriptions of this are given below. According to the Kena Upanishad, it is through Brahman that everything is known. Yet Brahman is neither the known or the unknown.
The Katha Upanishad says: ‘Brahman, the immortal, contains all worlds in it, and no one goes beyond it.’
Some Upanishads state Brahman has two forms, both mortal and immortal. The mortal form must refer to the gods, who, though a part of Brahman, are not eternal.
Brahman, in its true sense, has never been created and can never be destroyed.
Some of the later Upanishads focus on gods, others on rituals. There are yoga Upanishads and sannyasi Upanishads. But the aim of all is the same, to transcend the world and realize Brahman. For this one must first understand the bliss of true realization, for only then will one focus on it. And only when the mind is fully focused on Brahman and on nothing else, will such realization be possible.
For more on the Upanishads, read The 108 Upanishads depicted above.