There are four Vedas in Indian tradition. Their names are Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. Vedas are so much difficult to understand; have mysterious and hidden meanings in every word, so there is a particular system to understand the Vedas which is called ‘Vedangas’. It is said that without the complete understanding of Vedangas, one can never understand the true meaning of Vedas. So before going into Vedas, we must understand the Vedangas.
Vedangas consist following parts:
- Shiksha (phonetics)
- Vyakarana (grammar)
- Chanda (prosody)
- Nirukta (etymology and dictionary)
- Jyautisha (astronomy)
- Kalpa (rituals)
These are 6 in number so also called ‘shadanga’ which means six organs.
1. Shiksha (phonetics)
Shiksha means, the study of pronunciation in accordance with Swara (vowel) and Varna (letter). In English it is called ‘phonetics’ which means the study of speech sounds and how they are produced.
The language of Vedas is called Vedic language which is the most primitive form of Sanskrit. Sanskrit is a very rigid language set by a unique grammar. In Sanskrit, a very slight variation in pronunciation of single letter can change the meaning of whole word or even complete paragraph. So it is so much important to learn the pronunciation of each alphabet. Clarity of speech and ability to listen, both depend on the correct understanding of pronunciation; so it has an important role in speaking as well as listening.
2. Vyakarana (grammar)
Every language needs grammar and without the grammar language cannot exist. Vedic language too has a grammar which is called Vyakarana.
Vyakarana is the study of rules in a language for changing the form of words and joining them into sentences.
According to mythology and vedic dictionaries, there are many works on Vyakarana by different authors but among the extant works of grammar, Panini’s work ‘ashtaadhyaayi’ is the oldest one. It is believed that ‘ashtaadhyaayi’ is a fourth century A.D. work. I am not sure about this; there was a grammarian by name Shakatayana who said that the oldest work on grammar is aindra vyakarana. I don’t know much about Shakatayana but you can Google his name as ‘Sanskrit Grammarian Shakatayana’ for more details about him.
3. Chandas (prosody)
Chandas is the study of patterns of sounds and rhythms in poetry which also includes the part of phonetics which is concerned with stress and intonation as opposed to individual speech sounds.
According to Panini, Chandas are the foundation of Vedas and have an important role in the study of Vedas. Vedic language is in Chandas. It is believed that the oldest source of Chandas is ‘Chandasurta’ by some unknown author named Pingalacharya. Chandas are not only for Vedas but used in many other scriptures too. Chandas are identified by the number of letters used in words, and number of words used in paragraphs. The use of Chandas in Vedic language was very important.
4. Nirukta (etymology and dictionary)
Nirukta is the study of the origin and history of words and their meanings.
Nirukta is very important because without it, how can one know the exact meaning of terms used in Vedas. In simple words, Nirukta is a dictionary but it is much more than a simple dictionary. Yaska was the person who compiled all the terms in Nirukta and wrote a detailed and meaningful interpretation of each term.
5. Jyautisha (astronomy)
Before explaining Jyautisha, I want to tell you about a vedic ritual ‘Yajnas’. Yajnas is a ritual of offering food and herbs to god by chanting of vedic mantras and prayers. The most important element of Yajnas is the holy fire into which food and herbs are poured, as everything that is poured into the fire is believed to reach the god.
Yajnas are most important part of almost every major ritual or worship. Yajnas are performed on a specific time and season. If Yajnas are not performed in their particular time and season, there is not benefit to do so. So it was necessary to calculate the correct time.
Jyautisha is the mathematics to track the movement of sun and other celestial bodies to calculate the perfect time for Yajnas and other vedic rituals.
According to Dharma Shasthra, there were four classes of society as Brahmins, Kshatriya, Vaishyas and Shudras. Except Shudras, every class had a particular season to perform Yajnas. According to Taittiriya Brahmana, a Brahmin during spring, a Kshatriya during summer & a Vaishya during post-monsoon can perform Yajnas.
6. Kalpa (rituals)
Kapla is also called Kalpa Sutras. Literal meaning of Kalpta Sutra is action. There are four kinds of action according to Kalpa Surtras – shrauta, grihya, dharma and shulba. Shrauta sutras explain the methods to perform the Yajnas. Grihya sutras explain duties of households. Dharma sutras are about duties of ruler and shulba sutras provide the knowledge of geometry to construst the vedi.
These are the six parts of Vedangas. There are many interesting facts about these Vedangas that I will explain in next articles.