Indian Scriptures – Kalpa Sutras

Kalpa Sutra is one of the six parts of Vedangas. Kalpa means ritual and sutra means formula. Kalpa sutras are so-called because it contains the prescriptions for actions in the form of formulas. The simple meaning of Kalpa Sutras is formulas to perform actions. Kalpa Sutras provide information on four types of actions – shrauta, grihya, dharma and shulbha. All the explanations given in sutras are brief, unambiguous and complete in essence. The first three type of actions are common to Rig-Veda, Yajurveda and Samaveda but the fourth type is a little bit different. Every type of action or class has distinct commands and so constitutes rituals. Following table represents each Kalpa separately and explains the relationship between different classes of sutras and Vedas:

Kalpa Sutras

Dharma Sutras related to Shukla Yajurveda and Atharvaveda do not exist in present time.

All Shrauta sutras mainly consist of the manner in which yajnas have to be performed. 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 were performed with the motive of reaping worldy benefits. Prescriptions of manners to perform yajnas are strict and don’t allow any room for devaition. As you can see in the picture that there are several shrauta sutras, which are related to different vedas. It simply means, there were several ways in which yajnas were performed.

I want to tell an important thing that a married person was not eligible to perform Yajnas in the absence of his wife.

Grihya sutras prescribe household duties. There are two types of rituals related to grihya sutras. One type of rituals has to be performed only once in a life and second type of rituals has to be performed more than once (everyday or every year) in life. It should be noted that all four sutras are complementary to each other, so there is no contradiction. All the sutras are agree on the ‘topic’ but they have different views on the ‘method’. For example, all the four sutras are agree on the ‘marriage’ but they have different ‘methods’ to perform the ritual of marriage. After reading all the sutras one can understand that there is no choice and no contradiction between any sutras.

Grihya sutras consist sixteen types of rituals which are called ‘shodasha samskaras’ . The word ‘shodasha’ means ‘sixteen’ and ‘samskaras’ means ‘rituals’. Shodasha Samskaras are a series of sixteen rituals that marks the various transition from one stage to another stage of human life. These rituals or samskaras are divided in following four classes:

  1. To be performed before birth,
  2. after birth,
  3. before begin the learning of the vedas, and
  4. to prepare man for marriage.

The names of ‘shodasha samskaras’ are:

  1. Garbhadhana
  2. Pumsavana
  3. Simanatonnayana
  4. Jatakarman
  5. Namakarana
  6. Nishkramana
  7. Annaprashana
  8. Chudakarana
  9. Karnavedha
  10. Vidyarambha
  11. Upanayana
  12. Praishartha
  13. Keshanta and Ritusuddhi
  14. Samavartana
  15. Vivaha
  16. Antyeshti

It is not important to explain all these samskaras but we must understand the manner in which they were performed and qualification which were held necessary. The most important thing about these smskaras are that they were not regarded as common to all. There are two types of discrimination. First type of discrimination is based on Verna and second type is based on gender.

Four vernas or classes of society are Brahmins, Kshatriya, Vaishyas and Shudras. Discrimination based on four these classes eventually lead to caste system.

The gender based discrimination did not affect man because there were no special restrictions as far as man was concerned. But this was not in the case of women. Women were not entitled for some important samaskaras. For example they were not entitled to a particular samaskara which was important for education. So the women, like shudras, were denied of education.

One particular samskara deserve special mention that is Upanayana. Upanayana is the samskara of wearing the holy thread. This ritual is followed by brahmopadesha.  Brahmopadesha is not permissible for shudras and women, even to this day. It is this particular samskara which makes Brahmin caste, in particular, a distinct caste. It also explains why brahmin is called ‘DWIJA’ (twice born) after the completion of this samskara. It is said that before this samskara is performed, brahmin is not a brahmin at all and so this samskara is supposed to give second birth to him.

Samskaras were made to uplift the man and woman spiritually so it is argued that why was a certain class (or classes) denied of this benefit?

In spite of the fact that samskaras were spiritual in nature, the hidden motive behind adherence to them is mundane. It is very easy to discover in the samskaras some spiritual support, if not any foundation, for all aspects of earthly life. For different reasons the samskaras did not receive support from the Upanishads and heterodox systems. The Upanishads disapproved the samskaras because the goal was this-worldly. The heterodox systems strongly reacted to the samskaras because they claimed affinity to the Vedas. Despite difference in their philosophy, both the Upanishads and the heterodox systems adhered to life in monastery. Their apathy to anything connected with earthly life is behind their antagonism to the samskaras. This discussion also brings to the surface an important fact that philosophy and religion do not coincide always if religion is understood as Dharma. While samskaras stand for Dharma, the Upanishads stand for philosophy.

Kaushika Sutra of Atharvaveda is unique because this sutra does not deal with any type of spiritual matter unlike previously mentioned sutras. It throws some light on herbal plant and thereby it helps in understanding ancient system of Indian medicine.

There is a sharp distinction between Grihya sutras and Dharma sutras. While Grihya sutras regulate man’s actions which are restricted to family, Dharma sutras have societal leaning. Gautama’s Dharma sutras appears to be the earliest one. These sutras specify not only the obligations within the frame-work of chaturvarnya, but also ‘Raja Dharma’ – the duties of ruler. In Indian context morality is essentially based upon what the Dharma sutra specifies. Hence the limits and defects of Dharma sutras have distinct bearing on the acceptability of moral principles.

Last one to be considered in this section is Shulba sutra. Though this Sutra also is relevant in the context of performing yagnas, it is restricted to geometrical aspects only because in the absence of adequate knowledge of geometry it was impossible to construct the Vedic atlas. Shulba sutra is an example of primitive technology developed by ancient Indians to meet the demands of ecclesiastical dimension of life.

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