Vedic Cosmology-3: The period of the Vedas

May - Jun 2005

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While the Vedas are unanimously accepted by the scholars of all ages as the most ancient treatises of knowledge, there have been differences in assessment of the period of their origin. According to ancient Indian scriptures and sages, the Vedas are as old as Nature because they represent the divine voice, which emerged at the time of the Creation of Nature. Among the western scholars, Prof. F. Maxmuller (in the “History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature” pg. 244) recognizes the Vedas as written much before the articles of Egypt and Ninenvhe; he estimates their period to be somewhere in-between 1500 to 1200 years B.C. However, his views were not acceptable to many of his contemporary savants. In response to their criticism, Maxmuller has himself commented that – “We would not be able to lay down any terminus whether the Vedic hymns were composed in 1000 or 1500 or 3000 years B.C., no power on the earth could ever fix”.  According to Prof. Weber (c.f. “History of Indian Literature” pg. 4) –“Certainly, the most ancient literature (the Vedas) is available only in India”. 

McDonald and Keeth have approximated the period of Vedas as around 2000 to 1200 years B.C.  In the views of Wolver it is 2000 to 1500 years B.C.   Wilson (c.f. pg. 45 in the Introduction section of “Translation of Rig Veda” Vol.-1), Whitney, Hog, Griffith, Hillary, Schroeder, and Goldschar have argued that the period of the Vedas must have been before 2000 years B.C. Winternitz (pg. 6 of the Hindi translation of  “Ancient Sanskrit Literature”) has inferred the time of Vedas to be around 2500 to 2000 years B.C. whereas Jacobi  (in “Indian Antiquary”, Vol. 23, pg. 158) takes it back to 4000 to 3000 years B.C.

Thus, in all, the period of the Vedas is mostly approximated by the Western Scholars as 4000 to 1200 years B. C.  It is anyway not possible for them to take the period of existence of anything before 4000 years B.C. because, as per the holy Bible, the age of present creation of the world is only around 6000 years; and the average time in which the above inferences were made by thinkers from Maxmuller to Jacobi was around 1950 AD.  The observations of Justice Kashinath Trayambak Tailang Swami [c.f. the preface pp. 33-39 of his English translation and commentary of the holy Bhagvad Gita] are worth quoting in this context. He comments that –– The European scholars of Sanskrit construct some theories based on weak or approximate facts and principles and build their imaginative edifice on this raw  (incomplete) foundation. Then they develop some logic to hide the shaky foundation (to justify their inferences)…. Apart from this, notable here is also the fact that irrespective of their numerical estimates of the likely period of the Vedas, the Western scholars have all recognized the Vedas as the most ancient scriptures of knowledge for the human race.  Most remarkable are the views of Nobel Laureate Materlink as discussed below. 

Globally reputed Indian Historians and eminent thinkers have argued the period of the Vedas as tens of thousands years before that estimated by abovementioned scholars.  For example, According to Shankar Balkrishna Dixit the peak period of the Vedas was before 3000 years B.C.; Lokmanya Tilak found it to be somewhere between 10,000 to 6000 years B.C. Master Sampoornananda posited the period of the Vedas as around 30,000 to 18,000 years B.C. while Prof. Avinash Chandra Das and Devendra Mukhopadhyay have computed it as 50,000 to 25,000 years B.C.  Scholars of Sanskrit and ancient Indian Literature like Pandit Krishna Shastri Godbole has estimated the period of Vedas as before 18,000 B.C. Shri Lele Shastri and Pandit Sudhakar have respectively inferred this time to be 40,000 and 54,000 years B.C.  

Expert of ancient Mathematics, Patankar Shastri of Rajapur (India) had calculated the Age of Vedas based on the orbital positions of several stars as described in the Vedas. His computations showed it to be about 21,000 years B.C. In his masterpiece volume entitled “Vedic Fathers of Geology” Shri Pawagi has described the Vedas to be about Two Hundred and Forty Thousands (2,40,000) years old. In his Hindi treatise “Veda Kal Ka Nirnaya” Pt. Dinanath Shastry has found the origin of Vedas to be before 3,00,000 years. Dr. Jwala Prasad’s research analysis [c.f. “Rigvedic Geology and The Land of Saptsindhu” Vol. II, part II, pp. 205-214] takes it further in the yore as –– about 5,00,000 years B.C.  His own comments on this finding are – “This is staggering but what is the escape?”  In other words, he reminds us that the facts are facts whether we believe them or not. 

Noble Laureate Prof. Materlink has argued [c.f. pg. 12 of the Introduction Chapter of his scholarly volume “The Great Secret”], citing the evidential findings of German Archeologist Hellad, that the Vedas are at least Seven Million Years (70,00,000) old.  Swami Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of the “Arya Samaj” considered the Vedas as Two Billion (2,000, 000, 000) years old.  

Thus the mystery of the period of the Vedas appears no less intriguing than these great treatises themselves.  Galaxy of eminent minds of the world have studied and translated the Vedas and also written commentaries on them and the entire spectrum of Vedic Literature.        

Commentaries on Vedas: 

Who wrote the first commentary on any of the Vedas in a language cited, at least by name, in the records of the now available history of human civilization? The exact answer to this is not known. As per the records, Skand Swami’s commentary of Rigveda is the oldest available commentary on the Vedas. This was written sometimes in 625 A.D. Apart from scholastic interpretations and referencing of some ancient treatizes used for the same, his commentary gives detailed numbering of each of the mantras and richas as per the method regarded to be devised by Rishi Shaunak. The name of the rishi who realized and compiled or formulated it is also cited against each mantra or richa along with the name of the devat³ (the focus of –– the sublime knowledge, spiritual energy and divine cosmic power) of that mantra or richa. This commentary has therefore served as the magnum opus in the reference works of later generations of researchers of Vedic literature or Ancient Sanskrit. 

Despite their intellectual eminence and scholarly excellence, the Veda-commentaries, up to 9th Century A.D. as well as those of the later centuries are rather abstract and obscure for most people; moreover these are not available in complete form.  Acharya Sayan (b. 1372- d. 1444 A.D.) had done a great service to the masses by writing the commentaries on all the four Veda Samhitas in modern Sanskrit language with explanations within the reach of most scholars. (It many also be noted that his is the oldest available commentary on the Atharveda).  

But he covered only the ritualistic (karmakañÃa) part of the interpretations of Vedic teachings.  As his work served like a yardstick for most of the European (or Western in general) scholars on commentaries on parts of some Veda-Samhitas and Vedic scriptures, they got a narrow and incomplete view of the Vedas.  Many of their works are compiled in the series of volumes on “Sacred Books of the East – Vedic Hymns”. Noted among the western commentators are Prof. Maxmuller, who had meticulously studied Sanskrit and Sayan’s commentaries and gotten the first volume of Rigveda written in Devanagari script during 1849-1875, and Prof. R.T.H. Griffith who was the first and the last scholar to have translated Rigveda (as compiled in Sayan’s commentaries) in English.  Prof. Griffith had also translated many hymns of Samveda and Atharveda in English verse form during his tenure (1861-1878) as the Principal of the Govt. Sanskrit College Varanasi.   Detailed bibliography of the commentaries on Vedas and related scriptures by the Indian and modern scholars till the late 20th Century A.D. are presented in [1, 2].    

Sagacious great personalities like Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilak (c.f. Arctic Home in Vedas), Mr. T. Paramshiv Iyer (c.f. “The Riks”), Swami Dayanand Saraswati (c.f. his commentaries on Rigveda and vedic scriptures) have excellently discussed the meanings of the Vedic hymns and mantras with respect to both the oriental and western views and commentaries.  Sri Aurobindo3 has analyzed the mystic implications of the Vedic hymns and mantras. Swami Vivekanand has trenchantly explained the knowledge of the Vedas in new light for the modern world.  The commentaries by Vedmurty Pandit Shriram Sharma Acharya4-7 are lucid and enlightening and also provide detailed background and scientific and logical implications, wherever necessary, for the benefit of wider class of readers.      

The spiritual depth, philosophy and science of nature hidden in the Vedas is revealed in the scriptures derived from the Vedas and related works. We shall introduce the latter in brief here.  

The Vedic Scirptures: 

Overall the Vedic scriptures (Arsha Vangmaya) consist of the 04 Vedas (Veda-Samhitas), around 20 Brahmanas and Aranyakas, 06 Dharshanas, 108 Upanishads, 20 Smritis and 18 Puranas. The Brahmanas deal with interpretation and explanation of the meanings of the mantras of the Vedas. The modern researchers have cited only 12 Brahmanas and 06 Aranyakas. The major “Brahmanas” derived from the Rigveda are Aitareya and Kaushitki; those of Yajurveda are Tattiriya from Yajurveda’s Krishna branch and Shatpath from the Shukla branch. The “Brahmnas” of the Kauthumiya branch of Samaveda are – Tandava, Shadvinsha, Adbhut, Mantra and Chhandogya; those of the Jaiminiya branch are Jaminiya Brahmana and Jaminiya Upanishad Brahmana. The Brahmanas studied the most in the modern times include – the Shatpath Brahmana, Gopath Brahmana, Shadvinsh Brahmana, to name a few. 

In the ancient times there were five major branches of the Rigveda – Shakal, Vashkal, Ashwalayan, Shakhayan and Mandukya; later on these were expanded into twenty-seven. The most comprehensive collection (Samhita) of Rigveda has 10 mandalas, 85 anuvaks and 10589 mantras and hymns. The Yajurveda has two major parts – Krishna and Shukla; the known branches of Krishna Yajurveda are – Tattiriya, Maitrayani and Katha; and those of Shukla Yajurveda are Kanva and Vajasaneya. The recognized branches of the Samaveda are Kauthumiya, Jaiminiya and Ranayaniya. The Yajurveda mainly contains yajuÌa (non-verse or prose type) mantras; the sama or musical element is specificity of the mantras of Samaveda; Atharvaña is the characteristic of the mantras of the Atharvana.  

The nature of Aranyakas lies in between the Brahmanas and the Upanaishads; apart from the analysis of the meaning and symbolic implications of the Veda mantras, they also contain some elements of spiritual philosophy. The major Aranyakas of Rig and Yajurveda are also by the same name as their Brahmanas. Those of the Samaveda are Jaiminyopanishad and Chhandogya Aranyakas. There is no mention of any Brahmna or Aranyaka of the Atharveda.   

The six Darshanas contain the entirety of the Philosophies of human life – its divine dimensions, dignified culture and glorious progress. These are namely – the Yoga Darshan, Nyaya Darshan, Sankhya Darshan, Vaishaishik Darshan, Mimansa Darshan and the Vedant Darshan.  The Upanishads present highest kind of spiritual knowledge and preeminent science of evolution of consciousness. Among the Upanishads for which extensively scholastic studies and commentaries by sagacious talents like Adi Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya are available till date, the principal ones are –– the Ishavasya Upanishad, Kenopanishad, Kathopanishad, Prashnopanishad, Kaushitaki Upanishad, Mundokopanishad, Mandukya Upanishad, Taittiriya Upanishad, Aitareya Upanishad, Chhandogyopanishad, Vrahadaranyakopanishad and Shwetashwara Upanishad. Suryopanishad and Nrasinhatapini Upanishad are also referred by the modern scholars of Vedic literature.           

1. Jayaswal Dr. Arun Kumar: Vedic Sanskriti Ke Vividha Ayam. Lalit Prakashan, New Delhi. 2000.
2. Sharma Bhavna: Vedic Srishti Vigyan. Amar Granth Publications, Delhi. 2002.
3. Sri Aurobindo: The Secrets of the Veda (On the Veda – Part I). Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. 1956
4. Acharya Pt. Shriram Sharma & Smt. Bhagavati Devi Sharma (ed): RigVed Samhita, Vol. I-IV. Brahmvarchas Shantikunj, Hardwar (India). 1994.
5. Acharya Pt. Shriram Sharma & Smt. Bhagavati Devi Sharma (ed): SamVed Samhita. Brahmvarchas Shantikunj, Hardwar (India). 1994.
6. Acharya Pt. Shriram Sharma & Smt. Bhagavati Devi Sharma (ed): YajurVed Samhita. Brahmvarchas Shantikunj, Hardwar (India). 1995.
7. Acharya Pt. Shriram Sharma & Smt. Bhagavati Devi Sharma (ed): AtharvaVed Samhita, Vol. I-II. Brahmvarchas Shantikunj, Hardwar (India). 1995.
(Series to be continued)

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