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Oral Traditions

Oral Traditions

1. The essence of all religions and spiritual paths has come down to us mainly through oral traditions. It was passed on from generation to generation by speaking or singing them to one another, to their children and to their children’s children. The traditions were safeguarded, kept alive and revitalized by the teacher or the story teller or the singing minstrel.

1.1. Besides carrying the core of the doctrine, the oral tradition was luscious with song, poetry, myth, parable and wonder. These appeared to have had a more lasting and a stronger impact than did the codes, dogmas and the formal texts. Consequently, the great stories have become a part our collective- psyche.

2. Let’s take a look at the other worlds before we reach the classical oral traditions of India.

2.1. In the western world, most people, regardless of their religious affiliations, are familiar with the events in the life of Jesus – his forty days  in the desert; or changing water in to wine; or his last supper and his crucifixion. Similarly, the events in the life of the historical Buddha are also well known. His life as a prince shielded from harsh realities of life; his renunciation; his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree; his perambulations teaching Dharma and his death have been celebrated in song, dance and visuals.

2.2. The stories of the great ones bring alive, to us, their teachings and traditions. Jesus, in turn, used parables as vehicles to convey his message. His parables were simple stories that brought his tenets closer to the lives of ordinary men and women. The Buddha too had earlier employed such teaching methods.

2.3. Tibetan Buddhism, in contrast, has a more interesting and a complex method of storytelling. The Termas  of the Tibetan Buddhism  are, in fact, texts in disguise .They are the stories of wonder and awe, concealing within their womb the seeds of true message.  Such termasare said to be time-coded, waiting for a designated adept (treasure-gatherer) to reveal itself.

2.3. In Sufism, the clever and entertaining fables of a beloved – seemingly foolish  Mullah Nasruddin demonstrate the stupidity of self obsessions of the humans, in a manner  that all could recognize and enjoy. The Sufis told stories, made jokes, entertained and offended human sensibilities by holding a mirror to their frailties, in a way that no other one did.

3. In Zen Buddhist tradition, the stories and koans have been in use, for a longtime, as a tool for training the mind ( or dissolving the mind). Koans are designed not to reveal their meaning to the student easily and instantly; but, to throw his mind in to a vortex and a crisis .That crisis should be so intense and overpowering as to break   through the barriers of reason and barge into non-conceptual, direct apprehension of reality, the Satori.  Such Satori would occur, unexpectedly, in a flash after years of struggle trying to “understand” it.

3.1. Entertainment never was (or is) the object of a koan. One can still read the stories and be amused; but, that is not why the koans were narrated. Within a Zen tradition, the teaching-stories were preserved and passed on a lineage as a part of its training traditions. There is a certain simplicity and purity about those stories; and, they have to be placed, essentially, within the student –teacher relationship and in the context of sadhana.  The story finds its fulfillment in the satori attained by the student.

3.2. Going back into the Zen history we find that  the seeds of the Zen were in the Dhyana school of Bodhidharma who discouraged mere book learning. He said, Dhyana is not an intellectual exercise one can learn from books. Instead, it’s a practice of studying mind and seeing into one’s nature. The face-to-face transmission of the Dharma was important. That meant, the student and the teacher have to work together face –to – face. That made the student –teacher relation and interaction critical to its success.

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4. Before we come to the classical oral heritage  of India, let us briefly talk about that fabulous folk tradition of India.

The folk oral traditions of India go back into timeless antiquity. The heroes and heroines of the bygone eras are kept alive through songs and dances of simple rustic people. The nomadic tribes that wandered far into distant valleys in search of pastures and waterholes to tend their herds burst out into poignant soulful songs pining for their beloveds and yearning for the smells, sounds and feel of their motherland. Nehru, in his Discovery of India talks about how tribes that had drifted apart long ago, recognized each other through their songs, after centuries of separation.

4.1. The two major epics that shaped the Indian sensibility, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, were preserved and spread as oral epics. The Suthas narrated and sang the glory of its heroes and heroines in divine fervor. Even to this day the tradition of devote groups of listeners gathering around a sutha to listen to the ancient stories, rather than read the epic poems themselves, is still alive.

5.1. Though poetry is easier to remember than prose, the oral tradition in Indian literature was not confined to poetic literature. Indian story telling has been molded to suit oral form right from the very beginning of narrative fiction in India. The stories in the Kathasaritasagara and the Jathaka are structured for oral rendering by wandering minstrels.

5.2. India owes a lot of its rich tradition of story telling to its tribal people.

The tradition of story telling evokes pictures of weary travelers, at the end of a long day’s hard journey, gathering around a fire lit on the sands of a river bank under the starry night, listening with rapt attention and amusement to the stories of wonder and awe of distant lands inhabited by exotic people, narrated by an elder, in magical soothing voice with theatrical and lyrical interludes. With each re-telling, the stories gathered additional narrative, becoming more circuitous to enhance the drama of the live recitation.

The power of the spoken language to ignite the listener’s imagination and transport him to the world of ideas, dreams, myths and fables, is truly amazing. And, Myth is a very effective ancient way of teaching. What cannot be conveyed through philosophical discussions and logical debates can be transmitted more easily through myth and metaphor. Ancient myth speaks to us in multiple ways both rational and non-rational. 

As a professor of Mass communication remarked, “In the saying of the word, something is also done, and cannot be undone. Indian literature is full of tales in which a word was misused, uttered capriciously or wrongly, with mischievous or even disastrous consequences. And, in some ways the power of words can be seen as magic; but this is not mere magic. “

6. The period around and after the 10th Century, was the glorious period of Indian oral heritage. The groups of inspired poets, charged with devotion and love – Nanak, Dnyaneshwar, Eknath,  Tukaram, Kabir, Mira, Allamaprabhu, Akkamahadevi, Purandara Dasa, Narsi Mehta, Surdas and a hoast of others known as the bhakti poets, sang.  pouring out some of the very best poetry in the Indian literary history. They created poetry of abiding beauty in the languages spoken by the people.

Before that the Alwars and Nayanmaars of South India sang in pristine Tamil; and charged with devotion and dedication, poured their hearts out to their gods in musical ecstasy,

6.1. The songs of all those bards, permeated with fragrance of devotion, also carried love and concern for their fellow beings. They tried to guide and steer their brethren away from ignorance and superstition. Their messages   were a challenge to the established theology and social order. The lines and verses of their poetry, easy to remember and recite , have an amazing range and depth of philosophic, social and moral concerns. In many instances they held their communities together and brought about social integration. Those songs are relevant, even today; and are sung in the villages and cities. Their influence is so profound and pervasive that those songs are now a part of our collective psyche.

7. 1.There has never been a central agency or an organization in India to monitor or diffuse cultural values among its people. The spread of cultural values has always been, at the grass root level, by countless iterant, unassuming bards, fakirs, saints many of them outlandish and exotic. They came from all segments, all divisions of the society. They came from different regions, different religions, different sects and sub sects. They roamed about the countryside without any expectation or reward .They preached and lived what they believed. Those nameless, non-conforming selfless savants have been the guardians of Indian culture.

7.2 . Lets briefly talk about one such group of unassuming bards; the Bauls of Bengal. They belong to a fabulous folk tradition, which has a history that stretches back to about seven hundred years. Their tradition is a delightful amalgam of bhakthi of Vaishana School, tantra of Shajiya Buddhism and the mysticism of the Sufis. The Baul synthesis is characterized by four elements: there is no written text and therefore all teachings are through song and dance; God is to be found in and through the body and therefore the emphasis on kaya (body) sadhana, the use of sexual or breath energy; and, absolute obedience and reverence to Guru.

7.3. Bauls are easily noticeable by their attire, demeanor and way of living. They are wanderers, beggars, poets and musicians praising God in song, dance and mystical poetry. The message of the Bauls is encoded in their song and poetry; and is accessible through the appreciation and understanding of its rich symbolism.

7.4. Baul singer though romanticized in folk art, music and poetry, is a part of the fast vanishing tribe. As wanderers and beggars Bauls are looked down upon; are considered vagrants in polite society; and kept away as heretics by the orthodox. Their religious life is not bound by conventions and rules; but springs from intuition and lived-relationship with the divine. Bauls life is permeated with the fragrance of a passionate yet profound reliance upon the Beloved, the personal god within. The celebration of that relationship with all its ecstasy and heartbreaking agony is the lifeblood of a Bauls existence.

8. 1. As regards other forms of folk art and drama in particular, they continue to thrive in most Indian languages. Even during the ancient times the Sanskrit drama made a generous use of folk elements and folk dialects.

8.2. In the present day, the Kannada and Tulu languages have the Yakshagana theatre, the Gujarati language has the Bhavai theatre and the Marathi has the Tamasha performances. These regional forms do not have a fixed and written text to support the performance. They are spontaneous and depend on improvisation by the actors. And for that reason, when compared to plays with written scripts, they are closer to the audiences. That does not mean they are primitive forms of drama; on the contrary they are sophisticated in technique, presentation and performance.

8.3. The plays of modern Indian playwrights such as Girish Karnad, Habib Tanvir and others are rooted in the oral traditions of literature. They are less marked by the influences of the west and are closer to Indian culture and tradition.

8.4. Even today, access to traditional knowledge of subjects like art, music, grammar or   philosophy is widely held to require a direct oral transmission from   master to pupil.  In India, it is this oral tradition that is held to embody   the pure transmission of music;  its teachers and students, alike, are still not comfortable in reducing musical sounds in to written notations.

8.5. Among the many traditions (parampara) inherited in India, the tradition of Vishwakarma (the sculptors and architects) is unique. The principles , rules , measurements , proportions as also the aspects of expression of the deities to be sculpted are described in Shilpasastra, Natyasastra and various other texts; and all of which are in Sanskrit. The scholars who could read those texts knew next to nothing about sculpture. While, the Shilpis who actually carved the images had no knowledge of Sanskrit or access to the texts; and therefore could not know the texts or interpret the shlokas. This dichotomy was bridged by the generations of Shilpis who through experience learnt the craft, imbibed its principles and concepts; and passed them on to their succeeding generations and to their disciples

The mode of transmission of knowledge of this community was both oral and practical. The rigor and discipline required to create objects that defy time and persist beyond generations of artists, has imbued this tradition with tremendous sense of purpose, and zeal to maintain purity and sensitivity of its traditions; and to carry it forward. This has enabled them to protect and carry forward the knowledge, the art and skills without falling prey to the market and its dynamics.

8.6. India’s age-old love for the oral found a powerful means of expression in cinema. Indian cinema, with descriptive passages than narrative sequences; as also studded with songs and dances; and with the story always ending on a happy note with the Good and Love triumphing over the bad guys and the Loveless., is more akin to folk tales than to what cinema is in the western world.

9. 1. The most amazing of all the oral traditions preserved in India are the oral traditions of the Vedas.

“The three worlds would have merged in darkness had there been no light called Sabda” said Acharya Dandin (6th century) the celebrated author of prose romance and an expounder on poetics.

9.2. For Indian thinkers, language was primarily the spoken word or speaking itself (vaak). Indian philosophy has been even more emphatic than Western thought with regard to the priority of the oral over the written. The tradition in both Hindu and Buddhist philosophy has been to correct the written text with the oral. It is the oral word, carefully memorized, guarded by the discipline of the prathi_shakins, and passed down from teacher to student through succeeding generations that has remained authoritative and authentic in India.

Not merely that; the meaning or the purport of a term in a  text  is derived and explained based on its precise pronunciation. Because, the written word, inscribed on a surface,  is unable to bring out the various shades of the term . For instance, Sri Sayanacharya offered several interpretations to the term ‘Asat’. He explains, the form of Asat – with ascent of the first syllable – in many ways :  in the sense of untruth ‘ (asatya); and once each in the senses of ‘ inauspious ‘ (ashubha); ‘ un-manifest (avyakrta), and ‘ indescribable ‘ (nirupdkhya) . The form of Asat –without ascent- is understood as to mean:  ‘ goes or reaches ‘ (gacchati, prapnoti), and ‘ fruitful (phala-sadhana-samarthah).

Sri Sankara commenting on symbols and reality, curiously remarks, “ We see that the knowledge of the real sounds  a, aa, e, ee  etc., is reached by means of the unreal written letters.”(B.S. 2.1.14). He perhaps was suggesting that the spoken language is the real language.

9.3. The ancient Indian philosophers and Grammarians just loved elaborate discussions on all aspects of the spoken word: its origin in the mind and body of the speaker; its articulation; its transmission; the grasp of the sound and the essence of the word by the listener; its ultimate reception by the speaker’s intellect and such other related issues.

9.4.Each of the major schools of Indian philosophy such as Mimamsa, Tantra, Yoga and Prabhakaras viewed and interpreted the origin and nature of the Universe by exploring the nature and manifestations of the sound. They built elaborate philosophical edifices around the concepts they evolved during that process. Those traditions considered sound as one of the most important principles of existence; as the source of matter and as the key to be free from it. They described Sound as the thread-like link between the material and spiritual realms.

Panini’s Astadhyayi, the Grammar, is also based on the sound of spoken Sanskrit.

9.5. The French philosopher Jacques Derrida said: The spoken word is given a higher value because the speaker and listener are both present to the utterance simultaneously. There is no temporal or spatial distance between speaker, speech, and listener, since the speaker hears himself speak at the same moment as the listener does. This immediacy seems to guarantee the notion that in the spoken word we know what we mean, mean what we say, say what we mean and know what we have said.

It is only of late we have come to regard that speech and writing are expressions of one and the same language; and that language can be best understood by combining both the form and content of writing.

10. 1. Perhaps the most salient feature of ancient Indian linguistic culture was the concern for the preservation of sacred texts and the purity of the language in which they were composed. This concern arose out of the willingness of the society not only to commit the resources (time, effort, energy,  enthusiasm and material resources) for this transmission, but also to the development of a technique that would guarantee the purity , entirety  and constancy of the texts. The decision or strategy devised was to commit the sacred texts to memory and to transmit the sacred texts orally, but in a highly controlled way that was rightly felt to be the only way to avoid the introduction of error into the texts. As anyone who has witnessed a demonstration of this technique can attest, the outcome seems to be fairly foolproof, better anyway than via literacy and handwritten transmission, where scribal error and individual additions and emendations can often be introduced.

10.2. Tradition accepts that Rishi Veda_Vyasa categorized and compiled four Vedas by splitting the primordial single Veda and rendered the Vedas more amenable to study and to memorize. The task of preserving and perpetuating each branch of the Veda, in its entirety and purity , was assigned to a specified Shakha (meaning branch).The followers of each Shakha , identified as Shakins of that particular Vedic school, were responsible for preserving their assigned part of the Veda. Followers of each Shakha would learn and preserve one the four Veda Samhitas along with their associated Brahmana, Aranyaka, Upanishads and the Sutras such as Grhyasutra and Shrautasutra. Only a small number of these Shakhas have survived; the prominent among them are Sakala and Baskala. [For more on Shakas, please see the link in the comments section]

It is astounding that large bodies of Vedic texts could be preserved in oral traditions for over thousands of years, safeguarding their purity and entirety.

10.3. In order to achieve this difficult task, an elaborate and a meticulous system of recitations were devised. These systems of discipline with their checks and balances , ensured the correctness of a text including the correct sequence of its 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. Shiksha one of the six Vedangas (limbs of Veda) that dealt with phonetics and phonology of Sanskrit, laid down rules for correct pronunciation of Vedic hymns and mantras. Please click here.

10.4. 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 such patterns. There are eleven acknowledged patterns or Patahaas Viz. Samhitha or vakhyaa, padaa, krama, jataa, maala, Sikhaa, rekhaa, dhvajaa, dandaa, rathaa and Ghana. Please see the links in the comments section

10.5. Among these, The Samhita Paathaa and Pada Paathaa are natural (Prakrithi) way of reciting the words of the mantras, in their normal sequence. The rest are Vikrithi (or artificial) Paathaas. Recently mathematical series have been devised to work out the Krama, Jata and Ghana Paatha patterns. For more on this and for greater details on Paathas please click see the link in the comments section.

10.6. By applying such stringent methods of learning and complicated patterns of recital, each generation committed to memory long passages of its assigned texts through incessant practice spread over a number of years, retained the form and content of the texts in their pristine purity; and  succeeded in transmitting it, orally, to the next generation. This was how the Vedic texts were retained in oral form, uncorrupted, over the centuries. It was an act of intense reverence, dedication and love.Rarely has any other oral tradition of poetry been so venerated and so well preserved as the Vedic tradition.

11. 1. Because the regimen was already so well established the epics too were committed to the oral tradition. In the mantra tradition, orality was best suited to preserve the purity and the secrecy of the sacred syllables. The primary purpose here was to talk to gods and not merely to know what gods had spoken. The mantra had therefore to be learned in a proper way from/by a proper person and pronounced in a proper manner. Writing the syllables and words on paper (stone , copper , bark or whatever) would not therefore be a substitute for learning  and pronouncing the mantra  properly. The efficacy of precisely articulated sounds is believed to be in its power to invoke gods and spirits.

As my friend Shri DSampath says the mantras and the dhyana slokas have audio – visual dimensions to them, to enable better retention. And , knowledge transfer in such cases would be  effective when it is oral.

As regards the religious life of a community , the oral traditions have a very strong affiliation.

With the invention of the printing press, there was a radical shift away from hearing to the scriptures or Epics, recited by a Suta or a Puranica, the one who recites. The study of a text turned into ‘silent reading’. But, the worship practices, the core of the religious life, invariably, involve chanting Mantras or singing prayer hymns. Further, music is the most refined of all the sound-events; and, is ideally suited for devotional worship. Beautiful sounds have a special capacity to convey ones emotional appeals more eloquently than the written texts can do. The ‘silent reading’ of the written words, in such contexts, just do not have a place.

One has to; therefore, recognize the strong bond that exists between religious practices and oral traditions.

12.1. It was however in the Sutras – the pithy, unambiguous, aphorisms laying out all the essential aspects of each topic and dealing with all aspects of the question, free of repetitiveness and flaw – the oral tradition functioned as key to open a vast treasure

12.2.. Sutra literally means a thread but technically it meant in the ancient Indian context, an aphoristic style of condensing the spectrum of thoughts of a doctrine into terse, crisp, pithy pellets of compressed information that could be easily committed to memory. They are analogous to synoptic notes on a lecture; and by tapping on a note, one hopes to recall the relevant expanded form of the lecture. Perhaps the Sutras were meant to serve  a  similar purpose. A Sutra is therefore not merely an aphorism but a key to an entire discourse on a subject. Traditionally, each Sutra is regarded as a discourse rather than a statement.

12.3. Problems arose when the sutra-concept was overdone and often carried to its extremes. It is said a Sutrakara would rather give up a child than expend a word. The Sutras often became so terse as to be inscrutable. And, one could read into it as many meanings  as one wanted to.

It was left to the genius of the commentator; the Bashyakara to pinpoint Vishesha Vakya the exact statement in the Vedic text referred to by the sutra; to maintain consistency in treatment – in the context and spirit of the original text; to bring out the true intent and meaning of the Sutrakara’s reasoning and conclusions. It was therefore said, each according to his merit finds his rewards. But, it was here the written and printed texts came to rescue of the teachers and learners, alike.

13.1. The oral method of preserving and communicating knowledge had a fatal flaw. There are instances where the collective wisdom of a race acquired throughout the centuries was ruined and  wiped out of existence  in a flash by catastrophes, earthquakes, tsunamis , war or whatever. Those unfortunate occurrences demonstrated time and again the risks involved is storing the racial memories in a line of individuals.

13.2. The inevitability of the spoken word has also vastly diminished in today’s world. The reliance on spoken word is no longer necessary, nor it is always possible; and in a large number of instances it is treated not merely as unreliable but also relegated to the status of non-communication. Even in the field of literature oral literature was seen as a sign of cultural backwardness.

14.1. It would be wrong to assume that one type of communication is superior to the other. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. The spoken word can be beautiful and soul stirring in a way that the written word can never be; it alone is capable of preserving the purity of the word, its sound and its form. On the other hand, the written word preserves thoughts in a very meticulous manner for dissemination and further study; and it surely can be disbursed more easily. Each tradition has its value and its place in the scheme of things.

14.2. The unique feature of the Indian classical literature is the interaction between the oral and written texts, Sheldon Pollock in his The Language of the Gods writes:

In contrast to Veda and its strictly oral transmission,    large post-Vedic literatures were expressed in writing. Nevertheless, writing did not extinguish the spoken word. Rather, we find new performing styles; recitatives in simple meters without accentuation, songs and dramatic staging.

None of this should be taken to suggest that the rise of the manuscript culture in India, whether diachronically or synchronically viewed, entailed a clean and permanent break between the oral and the written. To the contrary, the ongoing interaction of the oral and literate constitutes one of the most remarkable and unique features of Indian literacy culture.

That is to say; the oral and written texts are relevant and important in their own context. While the Vedic oral rendition has its own status, there would have been no effective distribution of Puranas and epics without the written texts.

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References and Sources:

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1. Paragraph 10.2: For Shakhas please click here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakha

2. Paragraph 10.3. For Shiksha Please click on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiksha

3. Paragraph 10.4. For eleven acknowledged methods of pathas , please click on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samhitapatha

4. Paragraph 10.5. For mathematical series devised to work out the Krama, Jata and Ghana Paatha patterns please click on :

http://pvkalathur.blogspot.com/2007/08/v-e-d-s.html

5. Sources and References:

http://www.theosophy-nw.org/theosnw/world/general/ge-kavi.htm

Unbroken Chain of Oral Tradition by Dr. Harischandra Kaviratna

http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-PHIL/ew95321.htm

“Speech versus Writing” In Derrida and Bhartṛhari by Harold G. Coward

http://www.rocw.raifoundation.org/masscommunication/BAMC/DevelopmentofContemporarymedia/lecture-notes/lecture-17.pdf

Mass Communication in Ancient India

https://mailman.rice.edu/pipermail/sasialit/2003-May/016866.html

Telling a Ramayana by G N Devy

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2012 in General Interest, History, oral traditions

 

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Rishis of the Rig Veda and oral traditions of the Vedas

This post is in response to comments and queries from Kaveriyamma. Those related to the Rishis of the Rig Veda, their linage, the female Rishis and the oral tradition.

RISHI

A Rishi in Rig Veda is an author of a Rik, a mantra.  It is not a product of his reasoning or intellect; but , of an intuitive perception. He envisioned the entities beyond the range of human senses; conceived the self evident knowledge (svatah pramana) ; and , realized the Truth by direct intuition. Vamadeva , a Rishi in one of his hymns (RV 4.3.16) describes himself as the illumined one , expressing the Truth reveled to him (ninya vachasmi).

The term Rishi is defined as “rishati jnānena samsāra-pāram” – meaning one who goes beyond the mundane world by means of knowledge. Further, some scholars think the root ‘drish‘ (sight) might have given rise to root ‘rish‘ meaning ‘to see’ .

Rishi is therefore a wise seer, a drastara, one who visualizes a mantra – ṛsīnām mantra dṛṣṭayo bhavanti – 7,3 . He is also the one who hears. The seers were the “hearers of the Truth” (kavayaha sathya srutah) . Sri Aurobindo described Shruthi as “divine recordings of cosmic sounds of truth” heard by the Rishis. The Vedas are thus Shruthis , revealed scriptures. That is the reason , the Vedas are Apaurusheya , not authored by any agency.

Amarakosha, the Sanskrit lexicon, gives the synonym for the term Rishi as :  ṛṣayaḥ satyavacasaḥ (2.6.900), the one who speaks truth. A Rishi in the Rig Veda is a sage who realized the truth. However all sages are not Rishis; just as not all Rishis are Kavis.

(For more on Kavis, please see Kavi, Rishi and the Poet ).

Yasca_charya makes a significant  classification even among the Rishis. He draws a clear distinction between a Sakshath_krutha_Rishi , the seer who has the direct intuitional perception; and , the Srutha_rishi , the one heard it from the seers and remembered what he heard –  sākṣāt.kṛta.dharmāṇa.ṛṣayo.babhūvuḥ – 1,20

The Srutha_rishi is like the mirror or the moon that basks in the glory of the sun . The moon and the mirror both take in the glory of the sun and put forth the shine to the world in their own way. Similarly, the Srutha_rishi obtained the knowledge by listening to the Sakshath_ Krutha_ Rishi, and more importantly by remembering what he heard. The bifurcation of the Vedas/Upanishads on one hand (as Shruthi, as heard) ; and the Vedangas, Shastras, Puranas, Ithihasa etc. on the other (as smriti, as remembered) , stems from the above concept.  Smriti, in general, is secondary in authority to Shruti .

Rig Veda mentions about four hundred Rishis; and, about thirty of them were women. Before going into their names and other details, let us, briefly, talk about the mantras.

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In another manner, the Rishis were classified into three divisions.(1) Satarcinah – the Rishis of the first mandala, where  each of whom, seems to have contributed a hundred or more Riks; (2) Madhyamah – the Rishis in  Mandalas two to seven; and.(3) Ksudrasuktah and Mahasuktah – the other Rishis of shorter and longer hymn.

In the Rig Veda, two to seven mandalas are homogeneous in character as they present a collection of hymns belonging to a particular family. These mandalas are , therefore, known as Kulamandalas

MANTRA

Poetry raised to its sublime heights is mantra to which a Rishi gives utterance. The Rishi visualizes a magnificent idea, through intuitive perception, crystallizes it and gives it an expression. . One cannot be a sublime poet unless one is a Rishi (naan rishir kuruthe kavyam).  Badarayana Sutra (244:36) says Rishi not only lives the mantra but also is the essence of it.

A mantra is usually prefaced by a segment made of three components, mentioning the Rishi who visualized the mantra, the Deva or the Devatha who inspired the mantra or to whom the mantra is addressed; and the metrical form of the mantra. Every time, one meditates on the deity uttering its mantra with devotion; one recalls its Rishi with reverence and gratitude.

For instance, the most celebrated Gayatri   mantra which appears in Rig Veda at RV_3,062.10a is prefaced by a short description, Vishvamitra risihi; Savitha devatha; Gayatri chandaha, which says that the mantra was revealed to Rishi Vishwamitra; the illuminating spirit behind the mantra was Savitha Devatha from whom everything comes into being ; and it was conveyed to the Rishi in Gayatri chhandas (a metrical form having three lines of 8 syllables each, a total of 24 syllables). Before one meditates on goddess Gayatri uttering her mantra, one submits salutations to its Rishi, Vishwamitra.

Yaska_charya also mentions that mantras have three layers of meaning (traye artha) – yadi mantra artha  pratyayāya anarthakam bhavati- 1,15The essential power of the mantras are to transport us to the world of ideas beyond the ordinary and to experience the vision that the Rishi had.

VEDAS

It is said; Kṛṣṇa – dvaipāyana or Vedavyāsa divided the extant material  of the Vedas  into four groups; and taught them to his four chief disciples : Paila; Vaiśampāyana; Jaimini and , Sumantu . The disciples of each of these further rearranged their portions of the Vedic text.And, such modified forms came to be known as Shakhas or branches.

As regards Rig Veda , it is said to have had 21 such Shakhas. Out of these only five Shakhas have survived : Śākala; Bāskala; Āśvalāyana; Sāñhhāycma; and,  Māridukeyct.

BOOKS of Rig Veda

The Rig Veda Samhita is a collection of 1,028 Suktas (hymns); divided into ten Mandalas (books).  These 1,028 Suktas include eleven Valakhilya Suktas. The number of mantras in a Suktas varies from just one (1-99) to 58 (IX-97). The total number of mantras is 10,462. Thus , the average number of mantras per hymn is ten. These hymns are as envisioned by various seers

There are , in fact, two methods of classifying the Rigveda Samhita. The one is the Mandala system ; and the other is the Astaka method .

In the former,  the entire Rig Veda text is divided into Ten Books (Mandalas). This classification is based upon  its authors (Rishis) and also on its subject.  But, the size of each Mandala  is not the same; because, the number of  Suktas and the number of  Mantras  in each Mandala varies. Yet;  the Mandala – Sukta method is more popular.

Mandala Method

Maṇdalas Anuvākas Suktas Mantras
1 24 191 2006
2 4 43 429
3 5 62 617
4 5 58 589
5 6 87 727
6 6 75 765
7 6 104 841
8 10 103 1716
9 7 114 1108
10 12 191 1754
Total 85 1028 10,552

The other method is that of the Ashtaka – where the entire text of the Rigveda is divided into eight segments- Ashtaka ; and , each Ashtaka is made up of eight sections (Adhyaya). And, each Adhyaya has almost the equal number of Vargas (sub-sections); each having almost the equal number of Mantras.  The Ashtaka classification is intended, mainly, for the use of the student .  Its designed to help the learner to memorize the text, by apportioning more or less equal number of mantras under  each section .

In either of the schemes , the total number of Mantras is the same, viz., 10, 552.

Aṣtaka Method

Astakas Adhyāyas Vargas Mantras
1 8 265 1370
2 8 221 1147
3 8 225 1209
4 8 250 1289
5 8 238 1263
6 8 331 1730
7 8 248 1263
8 8 246 1281
Total 64 2024 10,552

( Source : http://www.hindupedia.com/en/%E1%B9%9Agveda#Organization_of_.E1.B9.9Agveda_Samhit.C4.81)

***

As mentioned earlier, The Mandalas are of uneven size. These mantras are authored by about 400 Rishis of whom about 30 are women. Each Rishi is identified by two names – his/her personal name and the name of his/her father or teacher or lineage. For instance, the first Sukta of Rig Veda was revealed to Madhuchhanda Vishwamitra meaning that he was the son or the disciple of Vishwamitra; the Gayatri mantra was revealed to Vishwamitra Gathin meaning Vishwamitra was the son of Gatha. It also indicates whether the Rishi was a man or a woman; for instance, Ghosha Kakshivali (RV 10.39-40) was the wife of kakshivan another Rishi.

A   Rishi could be a man or a woman, could be a celibate or a householder or unmarried.

As mentioned, each hymn of the Rig Veda is attributed to a Rishi. Of the ten Mandalas (Books) six Mandalas, numbering from 2 to 7 are homogeneous in character and are considered the oldest parts of the Rig Veda. Each of these six books was composed by a Rishi and by members of his family / disciples and of his Gotra. These Mandalas (2-7) are therefore often called Family Books. On the other hand, the books 1, 8 and 10 were not each composed by a distinct family of Rishis but by different individual Rishis. The Books #1 and 8 are almost Family Books as a majority of their hymns are composed by the family of Kanvas and many hymns are found in both the Books.  The Book # 9 is different from the rest; all the hymns therein are addressed to Soma (while not a single hymn is addressed to Soma in the Family Books) and by groups of Rishis. The tenth Book is a collection of various earlier and later hymns.Book # 10 appears to be of a later origin and of a supplementary character. The Books # 1 and 10 are the latest and the longest Books together accounting for about 40 percent of the bulk of the Rig Veda.

The following chart indicates the number of Suktas , Mantras, in each Mandala,  ascribed to a Rishi or his family  or his disciples

( http://www.voiceofdharma.com/books/rig/ch2.htm )

http://vedicheritage.gov.in/samhitas/rigveda/

***

RISHI-linage

There are certain texts called Anukramani (also called Anukramanika) which serve as Index to the Rig Veda and provide basic information about each hymn of the Rig Veda. The most well-known of the Aukramani is Katyayana’s sarvanukramani and is dated around the second century. The entries in the texts mention about each hymn specifying, the name of the Rishi who   authored the hymn; the Devatha who inspired or to whom the hymn is addressed; and the Chandas or the metre of the hymn. They are extremely useful in historical analysis of the Rig Veda.For more on Anukramanis, please see

http://www.bharatvani.org/books/rig/ch1.htm .

For more on the Rishis, their  Gotra lineage , please check the pdf  document

The following table indicates the number of hymns in the rig Veda, attributed to some main families.

Family No. of

Hymns

Angirasa 3,619
Kanva 1,315
Vasistha 1,267
VIshwamitra 0,983
Atri 0,885
Brighu 0,473
Kashyapa 0,415
Grtsamanda 0,401
Agasthya 0,316
Bharata 0,170

( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rigveda )

As regards female Rishis (Rishikas), about 30 of them are named in the Rig Veda. To name some of them: : Ghosha Kakshivati , Dakshina Prajapathya ,Vishvavara Atreyi,  Godha, Apala Atreyi, Yami Vivasvathi, Lopamudra, Romasha Svanya, Aditi Dakshayeni, Ratri Bharadwaja , Vasukra Pathni , Surya Savitri, Indrani, Sarma Devasuni ,   Urvashi, Shashwati Angirasi, Sri Laksha and others .

Lopamudra , a great Rishika in her own right , was the wife of Rishi Agasthya and Ghosha Kakashivati was the wife of another Rishi kakashivan . Daughters of the Rishis Bharadwaja , Angirasa and Atri were also Rishikas.Vishvavara, Romasha and Vach Ambrini stood out as other Rishikas of merit.

Please check this link for more on Rishikas 

ORAL TRADITIONS

Tradition accepts that Rishi Veda_Vyasa categorized and compiled four Vedas by splitting the primordial single Veda and rendered the Vedas more amenable to study and to memorize. The task of preserving and perpetuating each  branch of the Veda, in its entirety and purity , was assigned to a specified Shakha (meaning branch).The followers of each Shakha ,  identified as Shakins  of that particular Vedic school, were responsible for preserving their assigned part of the Veda. Followers of each Shakha would learn and preserve one the four Veda Samhitas along with their associated Brahmana, Aranyaka, Upanishads and the Sutras such as Grhyasutra and Shrautasutra. Only a small number of these Shakhas have survived; the prominent among them are Sakala and Baskala. For more on Shakas, please see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakha

It is astounding that large bodies of Vedic texts have been preserved in oral traditions for over thousands of years, safeguarding their purity and entirety. How our ancients could successfully achieve such an unbelievable task, is truly remarkable.

In order to achieve this difficult task, an elaborate and a meticulous systems of recitations were devised. These systems of discipline with their  checks and balances , ensured the correctness of a text including the correct sequence of its 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. Shiksha one of the six Vedangas (limbs of Veda) that dealt with phonetics and phonology of Sanskrit, laid down rules for correct pronunciation of Vedic hymns and mantras.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiksha

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 Patahaas Viz. Samhitha or vakhyaa, padaa, krama, jataa, maala, Sikhaa, rekhaa, dhvajaa, dandaa, rathaa and Ghana.

( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samhitapatha )

The salient features of a few main Paathas are as under:

Vakhya Pathaa or Samhitaa Pathaa: To recite the mantras in a straight sentence.

Pada Paathaa: to recite the mantras, word by word, instead of joining the words; to acquaint the student with the words in the text.

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. This helps to fix the words in their proper position and sequence. It also helps the students to understand changes occurring in swara in such a combination. The person who is well versed in reciting the Krama Paathaa is known as “Krama Vit.”.

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:   Krama + Inverse of Krama + Krama = jataa. 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 honored 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 till last pada ends in that sentence. This is a complex combination of Jata Paatha and Pada Paatha in the following order:   jataa + 3rd Padaa + Inverse of 3 Padaas + 3 Padaas in Straightway = Ghana Paathaa.

The Samhita Paathaa and Pada Paathaa are called Prakrithi (or natural) Paathaas, as the words of the mantras occur in normal sequence. The rest are called Vikrithi (or artificial and not natural) Paathaas. Recently mathematical series have been devised to work out the Krama, Jata and Ghana Paatha patterns. For more on this and for greater details on Paathas please visit

http://pvkalathur.blogspot.com/2007/08/v-e-d-s.html

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 spread over a number of  years, retained the form and content of the texts in their pristine condition and transmitted, orally, to the next generation. This was how the Vedic texts were retained in oral form, uncorrupted, over the centuries.

[ please view this video where Vidwan Shri Suresh  explains and demonstrates  the various Paatha recitations. with particular illustration of the Gayatri Mantra]

Pipal

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, oral traditions, Rigveda

 

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