Research Article No.1812; Date: 19th April 2015
Written by London swaminathan
Uploaded from London at 21-24
When the sages formed the Speech with their mind
Straining it, as they strain flour with sieve
Therein have friends discovered bonds of friendship
Whose holy beauty lies hidden in that Speech.
With worship they followed the steps of the Speech
And found it installed in the hearts of sages
They acquired it and gave it at many places
And seven singers intone it together.
There is a man who sees but has not seen Vak
There is the man who hears but not has heard her
But to another she reveals her lovely form
Like a loving wife, finely robed, to her husband
—Rig Veda 10-71
One who studies Vedas ‘subject wise’ will be amazed to see the level of knowledge in all the faculties at such an early age. They have reached the highest level in Grammar and Linguistics. Nowhere in the world were grammar and etymology part of regular education in religious institutes. I am talking about a period between 1000 BCE and 1700 BCE. Max Muller said no one can date the Vedas under 1200 BCE. The latest research in Sarasvati River basin and History of Rig Veda show that it can be safely dated to at least 1700 BCE. For Brahmanas (not Brahmin caste, but literature) even if we accept Max Muller’s date it would be 1000 BCE.
Let us look at what Vedic literature say about grammar, etymology, linguistics in general:-
Hindus were the first to write a grammar book. We have Panini’s Ashtadyayi dated to seventh century BCE by Goldstucker and other great Sanskrit scholars of India.
Hindus were the first in the world to do an Index. They compiled an index for the Vedas: Vedic Anukramani
Hindus were first in installing a chair for the study of words (Nirukta) in all Vedic Educational Institutes in ancient India.
1.The Rig Veda celebrates Vac ( personified speech) as a Goddess (RV 10—125). For the Hindus all that is good is feminine, as affectionate as a mother. So they named all the Vedic metres after women starting from Gayatri metre (24 syllables) and the speech as Vac or Sarasvati or Bharati. Some stanzas of the RV are capable of giving grammatical explanation. Expressions like ‘catvari srnga’ and ‘sapta sindhavah’ have been interpreted by Patanjali in terms of four parts of speech and seven cases.
2.There are speculations on letters, syllables and words in the Brahmanas as also terms like Aksara, Varna and Vibhakti which Panini has used without definition. In the Satapata Brahmana (SB 13-3-1-18) we meet with names for singular ad plural.
3.In the Chandogya Upanishad we find classification of letters and technical terms such as Svara (vowels), sparsa (consonants) and women (sibilants).
4.The next land mark was reached when the Samhita texts were reduced to pada-patha where in each word is exhibited separately in its individual grammatical form followed by word signs like ‘iti’ and also symbols by avagraha etc. to distinguish case terminations to analyse compounds and to mark out a few special cases of accentuation.
5.Yaska (at least 8th century BCE) distinguishes a Northern and an Eastern school of grammarians and mentions nearly twenty predecessors such as Sakatayana, Pargya, Sakalya. The theory of verbal origin of nouns stressed by Yaska may be said to be the foundation of the whole system of Panini.
6.Yaska states that there are four parts of speech : naman (noun) akhyata (verb), upasarga (preposition) and nipata (particle) — terms later used by Panini.
64 Grammarians before Panini!
7.Of the sixty four grammarians, referred to as the predecessors of Panini’s ,few must have belonged to the Vedic age (Cultural Heritage of India I (281 -283)
(My comments: Brahmanas themselves belong to 1000 BCE. Yaska mentioned 20 grammarians before 8th century BCE. Panini mentioned 64 grammarians before seventh century BCE. This big number of grammarians show that the civilization has reached a very high standard during the Vedic times. Only when peace prevails, this is possible.
8.VAC:-Personified speech is celebrated in one hymn of the Rig Veda (10-12-5) in which she describes herself. She accompanies all the gods and supports Mita-Varuna, Indra-Agni and the Asvins. She bends Rudra’s bow against the unbeliever. Her place is in the waters, the sea. She encompasses all beings. In another passage she is called the queen of the gods and divine.
9.A legend of Vac frequently referred to in the Brahmanas is that of Soma being brought back from the Gandharvas at the price of Vac transformed into a woman. (AB 1-27).
My comments: It may be a symbolical story to convey certain thing. We do not know the meaning now.
Riddles in the Vedas
10.Riddle poetry was very popular with the Vedic Hindus. The Rig Veda contains a large number of riddles (RV. 1-114) such as ,seven harness a one wheeled cart; it is drawn by one horse with seven names; three naves have the immortal never-stopping wheel, on which all these beings stand’
11.In content, the Kuntapa hymns (AV20-127-36) are partly riddles and their solutions are partly obscene songs and coarse jokes.
12.The Vajasaneyi Samhita contains a number or riddles with which the priests amused themselves at the horse sacrifice. These riddle games form an equallay imporatant part of the prayers and sacrificial formulae.
13.The Vedic texts frequently assure us that gods wish to be not only fed but entertained as well as they take a particular pleasure in the mysterious and the enigmatic.
- Spoken language was known as ‘Bhasa’. Vedic Sanskrit has grown out of the spoken tongue of the times as its root. The point is discussed by Yaska in the Nirukta (i-16). Those who do not speak a refined language are referred to in the Rig Veda as ‘mrdhravac’ 5-29-10; 5-32-8).
Even in the oldest Tamil book , ‘Kotun thamiz’ (rustic language) is referred to as the language spoken by some people. They were also Tamils living in border areas. When the same was said in the Vedas, they brought in the racist Aryan-Dravidian theory. Even the Greeks called other language speakers as barbarians. Sangam Tamil literature also describe the Yavanas (Greeks/Romans/Arabians) as speakers of a rude language. For any language speaker, another language is a Mrdhra vac. Even Telugus called Tamils Aravas. When such a thing existed in all parts of the world at all times, foreign scholars distorted the image of the Vedic society.
If we make a list of what one community called another community or their language, we will have a long list of insults. There is no race involved. I see lot of phrases about Irish, English, Scottish and Welsh in London.
15.The Satapata Brahmana (SB 3-2-1, 23-24) refers to barbarisms in speech which are to be avoided. Scholars think that it is a reference to Vratyas (please read my article on Vratyas), who are Hindus but did not practice the rituals, leading a nomadic life. We have parallels in Tamil Siddhas, who were high philosophers, but against the rituals.
16.Panchavimsa Brahmana (17-1-9) describes Vratyas as speaking the language of the initiated by the uninitiated people as they felt it difficult to utter.
- In the Rig Veda (10-14-16), 10-130-4.5) we meet with several terms which later became well known as technical designations of metres.
Gayatri is said to born of Agni, Usnih of Savitr, Anutubh of Soma, Brahati of Brhaspati, and Virat of Mitra Varuna. Indra, the god praised most often, invented the Tristubh, the metre employed most often. The Visvedevas created Jagati.
A hymn in the eighth Kanda of Atharva Veda gives the number of syllables in these seven chief metres of Vedic poetry by increasing by four successively i.e. from 24 in Gayatri to 48 in Jagati. These seven metres are referred to in several hymns. Fascinated by the charming rhythm of metres, the authors of the Brahmanas ingeniously show that their harmony is, in some mystical and mysterious fashion the fundamental cause of the harmony of the world.
18.Among the five or six extant Indices (anukramanis), the chandonukramani enumerates the metres of the Rig Vedic hymns and states the number of verses in each metre.
These Indices, metres and the care with which they have compiled the statistics show that the civilization was very advanced in literature and mathematics. We don’t see such things in the contemporary Egyptian or Sumerian civilizations.
19.The Satapata Brahmana (8-1-1-2) tells us that metres, like other beings, were created by Prajapati. In 3-9-4-10. It mentions gayatri as a mystical name of Agni who carries off Soma. Gayatri, in the form of a bird, fetches the Soma from heaven. In the Brahmana and Upanishadic speculations on the mystical significance of metres, numbers play a great part. The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (5-15) says, “The word Bhumi, Antariksha and Dyu make up eight syllables; a gayatri pada (foot) contains eight syllables, therefore he knows the gayatri gains the three worlds
In other scriptures we have lot of things said about these metres. This shows their obsession with metres, prosody, their number and the mathematics behind it. The Vedic society was very scientific and much more advanced than Sumer and Egypt.
20.Nirukta of Yaska states, “without this science there can be no understanding of the Vedic mantras (1-15). However it is a commentary on an older list of Vedic words, called the Nighantu or Naighantuka, to each of which one of the more illustrative Vedic passages ought to be understood as attached. Yaska himself mentions earlier Niruktakaras. The Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads offer as many as 600 etymologised words, through proper etymologies, synonymous expression, explanation of one Vedic word by another and brief annotations of whole verses and hymns.
Yaskas borrowing from earlier works is quite evident though he was the first one to formulate general principles of etymology. When we consider that he lived around 850 BCE and many more etymologists lived before him, the science of etymology must have advanced to a high degree around 1000 BCE. This is a big difference from other civilisations. They did not advance in literature or its allied branches. Only a peaceful and prosperous society could make some progress in this area.
21.The Taiitiriya Samhita and Maitrayani Samhita have got the largest number etymologised of the Rig Vedic words. Among the Brahmanas, satapata Brahmana and Aitareya Brahmana, and among the Aranyakas, the Aitareya is notable in this respect. Among the Upanishads Brhadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads occasionally take to etymologising on the basis of etymologising principles formulated by Yaska.
- Anecdotal etymologies are copious in Brahmana literature. Thus the etymologies of Agni, Asva, Udumbara, Vidyut, Prithivi etc., are connected with the legend of Prajapati; those of Ashada, Aparajita etc., with the legend of Devasura contest; and that of Puskara and Sakvari with the legend of Indra- Vritra fight in the Brahmanas.
23.Vedic language had become antique with obsolete words by the time of Yaska. He counts more than 400 words of which he did not know the meaning. This shows the big gap between the time of Yaska and the Samhitas.
24.In the Atharva Veda (8-10-5), there is a reference to Vak on incantation for acquiring extraordinary charm of speech and manner. Social prestige through intelligent speech is vouchsafed in the Rig Veda (10-71-10). Success in assembly and triumph in debate, were greeted with joy by the friends of equal mind. At the later Vedic ae Hindus had even invented a prescription for procuring a son not only attending the assembly or conference, but also having naturally cultured speech as ‘susruta vak’ by learning in the lore’s, clearly noted in Brahadaranyaka Upanishad (6-4-17)
All the above quotes point out that the Vedic Hindus cared so much about their speech and such a thing is possible only in a civilized society.
Souce: Cultural History of India; A Cultural Index to Vedic Literature by N N Bhattacharya and Sri Aurobindo’s Vedic Glossary.