Hindu Scriptures & Sanskrit Literature  | Mathomathis would like to present an article on Root By Kadambi Srinivasan | Published by | Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams | Tirupati 2019. The following article would focus on Hindu Scriptures & Sanskrit Literature. Three religions are regarded as the oldest having come down to us from prehistoric times. They are Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism. Sanskrit, as defined by Panini, is the classical Sanskrit which evolved from the earlier Vedic Sanskrit. Vedic Sanskrit is the language of the Vedas consisting of Samhitas, Brahmanas and Upanishads. The metrical hymns of the Rig Veda Samhita are regarded as the earliest composed by man.

Prof. Max Muller - Mathomathis
Prof. Max Muller

Prof. Max Muller while recording the first voice on a Gramophone chose the first Sloka of Rig Veda “Agni Meele Purohitam”. He proceeded to explain the reason for his choice – “Vedas are the oldest text of the human race. And Agni Meele Purohitam is the first verse of Rig Veda. In the most primordial time, when the people did not know how even to cover their bodies and lived by hunting and housed in caves, Indians had attained high civilization and they gave the world universal philosophies in the form of the Vedas.


There are two important aspects about the Vedas – (a) Hindus regard that the Vedas have been received through revelation. It was not written by any man (Apaurusheya); and (b) The Vedas are without a beginning and end. How is it possible? Swami Vivekananda explains. “By the Vedas no books are meant. They mean the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons at different times. Just as the law of gravitation existed before its discovery, and would exist if all humanity forgot it, so is it with the laws that govern the spiritual world. The moral, ethical, and spiritual relations between soul and soul and between individual spirits and the Father of all spirits, were there before their discovery, and would remain even if we forgot them”. The name given to the discoverers of these laws was” Kavi”. The Vedas described them as kavayah satyasrutah meaning seers who were the hearers of the truth. The Veda itself was called Shruti meaning revealed scripture. The sage who had a direct intuitional perception is called Sakshath Krutha Rishi. The sage who heard it from his Guru and remembered it is called Shrutha Rishi.

Veda have been divided into Karma Kanda (section of works and rituals) and Jnana Kanda (section of knowledge) the former associated with the hymns and the later with the Upanishads. European scholars took up the ritualistic tradition and went on to make their own etymological explanation of the words resulting in arbitrary meaning for Vedic verses. In fact, what they were looking for in Veda was the early history of India, its society, institutions – in short a picture of the times. They then invented the theory (based on the difference of languages) of an Aryan invasion from the north, and an invasion of the Dravidian India. The Indians themselves had no memory of such invasions and there were no records of such events in their classical literature.

Yet, this appears to have persuaded the minds of some Indians in favour of this view. All this resulted in a chaos and a mutilation of dates of historical events. As Aurobindo puts it “the Vedic religion was on this account only a worship of Nature-Gods full of solar myths and consecrated sacrifices and a sacrificial liturgy primitive enough in its ideas and contents, and it is barbaric prayers that are the much vaunted, haloed and apotheosized Veda”. And we were left to trace our civilization and ancestors from among the ruins at Mohenjo Daro and Harappa. In recent years, Indian scholars have started work on the scientific dating of various events described in our Puranas. The Rishis, the poet seers of Veda, were men with a great spiritual and occult knowledge not shared by ordinary men. Among this enlightened group, there are a number of Rishikas (female Rishis) as well. Still the task is unfinished. To be revealed is one thing, to preserve it and pass it on is quite another thing.

The mantras acquire their powers by virtue of their acoustic energy of the syllables (Shabda). In addition, correct sequence of words, purity of the language, exact pronunciation of the words, precise stress on syllables, measured pause between syllables, appropriate tone, accent, modulation and pitch of recitation, proper breath control etc are very critical. In the case of written texts comparisons may be carried out much more easily. How can you devise a system to control the requirements of Vedic texts? In addition the requirement for memorising the entire Vedic texts existed. The Ashrams of the Rishis served as the learning centres and they were located in forests. And maintaining large libraries was impracticable.


Oral Tradition

Systems have been devised to meet this challenge. It is astounding that large volumes of Vedic texts were preserved by oral tradition for over thousands of years, safeguarding their purity and entirety. Svaadhyaya, the oral tradition, by which Vedas have been preserved, emphasizes the preservation of actual sound of the Vedas over their meaning and interpretation! Careful thought and planning have gone into devising methods to achieve the desired results. Oral methods have been around in other parts of the world as well but rarely has any other oral tradition been so venerated and so well preserved as the Vedic tradition.

Rishi Veda Vyasa categorised and compiled four Vedas so that they are more amenable to study and memorise. The task of preserving and perpetuating each branch of Veda in its entirety and purity was assigned to a specified Shakha (branch). The followers of each Shakha, identified as Shakhins of that particular Vedic school, were responsible for preserving their assigned part of Veda. Followers of each Shakha would learn and preserve one of the four Samhitas along with their associated Brahmana, Aranyaka, Upanishads and the Sutras such as Grihya Sutra and Srauta Sutra. Today only a small number of Shakhas have survived- among them are Sakala and Bhaskala. Siksha, one of the six Vedangas that dealt with phonetics and phonology of Sanskrit laid down the rules for correct pronunciation of Vedic Hymns and Mantras. Along with this, several patterns of Vedic chants were devised to ensure complete and perfect memorization of the text and its pronunciation including the Vedic pitch, accent. These patterns called Pathaas ensured correct recital of the Veda mantra by weaving the mantras into various patterns and complex combinations of patterns. There are eleven acknowledged patterns or Pathaas Viz.

  • Samhita or vakhyaa
  • Padaa
  • Krama
  • Jataa
  • Maala
  • Sikhaa
  • Rekhaa
  • Dhvajaa
  • Dandaa
  • Rathaa and
  • Ghana

For illustration, salient features of a few Pathaas are given below

  • Krama Paathaa: The first word of the mantra is added to the second, the second to the third, the third to the fourth and so on, until the whole sentence of the mantras is completed. The order of words will be 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 4-5 and so on.
  • Jata Paathaa: The first two words are recited together and then the words are recited in a reverse order and then again in the original order. Jata Paathaa is a play by twisting the Krama Paatha: The order will be 1-2-2-1-1-2; 2-3-3-2-2-3; 3-4-4-3-3-4; 4-5-5-4-4-5 and so on
  • Ghana Paathaa: This is one of the most popular form of recitations and requires years of learning and practice. A scholar proficient in recitation in this format is honoured as Ghana_ paathi. In Ghana Paathaa the combination will be: 1-2-2-1-1-2-3-3-2-1-1-2-3; 2-3-3-2-2-3-4-4-3-2-2-3-4; 3-4-4-3-3-4-5-5-4-3-3-4-5 and so on

By applying these stringent methods of learning and complicated patterns of recital, each generation committed to memory long passages of its assigned texts through incessant practice. This oral heritage spread over a number of years, ensured that the form and content of the texts were retained in their pristine condition. It was transmitted, orally, to the next generation. This was how the Vedic texts were retained in oral form, uncorrupted, over the centuries. Apart from the Vedas, ancient Sanskrit literature had a number of other manuals dealing with a variety of topics guiding individuals and societies to lead healthy and meaningful lives. The chart given below gives a brief summary of what was available. Foreign invasions and changing times have taken a heavy toll. Sanatana Dharma has been there for 1000s of years