by Maunish Vyas


The Vēdas are the oldest Divine Revelations known to Man. They are so old, that it is impossible to estimate their dates as some scholars have tried to do. The only date we can go by is 3200 to 3100 BCE, which is that of the Mahābhārata period when they were codified and classified by Vēda Vyāsa, an aṁsa avatār and contemporary of Sri Krishna. They were already very ancient even at this time, some 5000 years before the present. We can only say that they are minimum 5000-plus years old.


The Vēdas were revealed to some 403 ṛṣhis (sages) at different places and different periods. The Vēdas were revealed to ṛṣhis from “within” the spiritual heart when they were undergoing the deepest tapasyā for many many years. These came out as sounds heard from “within”. These were then called as mantras and were taught orally to the ṛṣhis’ disciples who had to pronounce these sounds in the exact same fashion like a perfect mimic. If a student did not mimic it with absolute perfection, he had to practice it repeatedly till he got it perfect. After the teacher approved the perfection in pronunciation and intonation, the student could go ahead to learn the next mantra. Such a perfectly mimicking student became the “teacher” for the next generation of students. This way, the oral tradition has been carried down to the present for thousands of years. They were never ever written down in those days because some sounds simply cannot be depicted in any letter-symbol. (The written versions are fairly recent, only some 1200 years old.)


5000 years ago, when Vēda Vyāsa existed, he had to learn different portions from different ṛṣhi-family groups, for which he had to travel a lot since there were no telephones in those days. He had to spend more than 50 years of his life just travelling from school to school all over the Country to learn that particular ṛṣhi-family-group’s mantras. He was probably the first one to eventually master all the Vēda mantras existent till then. No one else knew all the Vēda mantras in his time. Now he was faced with a task even more difficult. How to teach and pass on this vast ocean of Vēda to any one person? He saw that it was impossible. He divided the Vēda into four groups (divided as per the quality and utility of the mantra) called as Ṛks, Yajus, Sāma and Atharva. He taught one group each to four students. Thus was the vast ocean of Veda preserved. He was conferred the title of “Vēda Vyāsa”. In gratitude, we worship this same Vēda Vyāsa every year on Vyāsa Pūrṇimā day (nowadays called as Guru Pūrṇimā).


There were 1180 branches of Vēda during Vyāsa’s time. He attached one upaniṣhad to each branch, hence we had 1180 upaniṣhads, out of which, only 108 remain. Out of the 1180 Vēda branches, only around nine to eleven remain. Out of these, some six to seven are in immediate danger of extinction, because no one wants to study Vēda in the traditional way. When the last remaining teacher of a “nearly extinct” branch dies, that branch too shall die with him.


This is what Bhagavān Sri Sathya Sai Baba spoke about Veda shākhās:

Neglect of Vēdas is cause for spiritual decline. Each of the Vēdas had several śhākhas (branches) and upaśhākhas (sub-branches). Out of the 20 branches and 21 sub-branches of the Ṛg Vēda, only three have survived today. Likewise out of 96 branches of Yajur Vēda only two have survived the ravages of time. Sāma Vēda, which had 1000 branches, retains today only three branches. If so much of spiritual treasure is contained in the few branches of the Vēdas that have survived, how much greater would have been the spiritual heritage of the Bhāratīyas if the Vēdas had survived in their entirety! It is because of the neglect of the Vēdas that the spiritual and scientific knowledge of Bhāratīyas experienced a steady decline. As a consequence they developed a narrow outlook. Broadness of vision suffered an eclipse. Today the numbers of those who have no love or respect for the Vēdas are on the increase. Even among the Bramhins interest and concern for the Vēdas have declined.”

[Discourse in the Pūrṇachandra Auditorium on 3-10-1989]


For those who can understand that “our very existence is dependent upon preserving these remaining Vēda śhākhās” no further discourses are necessary.


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