Taking the Vedas to Common Man

To reach the root of any knowledge, three facts are important: 1) re-rendering without prior bias, 2) rethinking free from any impression which has a limited meaning, 3) the proper mixing of facts, emotions and arguments. In the modern age we need to study Vedas to understand our past in the light of the present. Mostly we want to see our present in terms of our contemporary situation. That is why the thoughts of most of the thinkers are influenced by their circumstances and perspective. Maybe, this is the reason that our nationalist thinkers tried to prove that Vedic literature is highly philosophical without any earthly element. Thus it got separated from the common man. In the present age, it is necessary to go through facts and try to bring out the reality into light in order to understand its human roots. For this we need rethinking rather than learning without thinking.

Vedic literature, especially the Vedas, is called Shruti. It is believed that at that time the script was yet to develop and under the Gurukul system of study, the knowledge was imparted through the Guru's spoken words. It could be partially true as it is to be noted that writing was prevalent at the time of Mohenjadaro and Harappa. The reason to call it shruti is that most of the hymns related to society and life were folk expression and they are always oral. The feelings of the society were passed on naturally and philosophy and knowledge was gained by experience, it can be said that their way of gaining knowledge was different. We can see that the description of the Brahmachari in the Brahmachari sukta of Atharvaveda is quite different from the later descriptions of the Brahmachari. The Atharvavedic Brahmachari traveled a lot, even went overseas in order to gain knowledge. The Atharvavedic hero Vratya also traveled in almost all directions in order to spread the knowledge. Thus their source of knowledge was mainly based on what they heard and saw. So we can say that Vedas belong to the folk as well as education-oriented community.

At the time of the Upanishads, thoughts had taken a specific shape. Knowledge had become more complicated and philosophical, thus requiring special attention for learning. So the teaching system was completely gurukul style. The division in society became more prominent and folk literature was limited to a part of the society. That is why the literature of this time was called Smriti.

Traditionally Sanskrit is described as "Deva Vani." According to mythological stories, Sanskrit is derived from the drum (damaroo) of Shiva. As we know, not a single hymn of the Vedas supports this mythological story. Of course Rig and Atharva Vedas describe four types of vak (language), among which turiya vak is related to divine power. The first hymn of Atharaveda is a prayer to Vachaspati (the God of Vani). The Vedic people believed in the power of language; that is why they had faith in oral curse and boon. In fact in the Vedic period language was the strongest source of communication, physically and psychologically. But in later periods, when the elite class dominated society, they wanted to have power over knowledge. The first step was to make the language difficult for the common man; the next step was to create stories, which describe the language as divine; and the third, to prevent women and Shudras from learning the language. Anyway, from the point of view of linguistics, the capacity of speaking and pronouncing different sounds is God’s gift to human beings. Language is not made or created by man; it comes into existence on its own. So any language is "Apourusheya" (impersonal).

In the Vedas the seers or Rishis are not creators of hymns all the time. Seers collected most of the hymns. That is why Vedas are called Sanhitas, meaning collections of hymns. The word "mantra" is derived from the root ‘man’, which means thinking power, the word "tantra" is derived from the root ‘tan’, which means physical power. The Vedic hymns are called Mantras, because they are directly related to mental power, the power of language. Rituals related to these mantras were known as Tantras. Later on these rituals became quite complicated. In the course of time they became the part of charms or magical literature.

Rigveda presents the finer side of society and a more refined poetic literature. It consists mainly of prayers, prayers with offerings were thought of as Yajurveda. Samveda mainly explains the musical power of hymns. In Atharvaveda the complete society is presented in all its variety. Some hymns are folk songs like love songs and songs concerned with harmony in family and society, songs related to life experiences like marriage and death. The hymns relating to medicine, war and kingdom, and patriotic songs were also very common. The hatred towards the enemy is so strong that the user is almost using magical powers. But those magical words are completely different from the magic of later periods. When a man closely related to the earth sees the danger for his wealth, home and himself, he starts singing of his feelings with force. These hymns are addressed to imaginary powers. By invoking these powers man tries to get mental strength for himself. Sometimes man in trouble sees imaginary powers even in grass, medicinal plants, water and birds. Some are highly philosophical hymns. They became the foundation of Upanishadic literature.

This was the time when people from different tribes or communities were trying to gain socially and politically important positions. But there is no evidence of any big war between the Aryas and the Dravidans. In fact there are a few hymns where Brahman and Dravin are mentioned together. It was not the time of huge countries and large armies; small struggles were common. Society had started taking shape in the direction of castes but it was not rigid as in the later period. There are so many hymns, which describe equality between Arya and Shudra. In some hymns, Brahmans are cursing Kshatriyas, who have snatched their cows, but in some others Brahmans are singing in praise of the kings who have given them so many gifts. So we can say that it was a mixed society and the caste system was in liquid form. Purush sukta of Rigveda needs rereading in this light.