The Vedas – Part IV
Saṃhitās are also spelled as “Sanhitās” or “Samhitas”. The Samhitas are the collections of the Mantras or Hymns sung or recited to the devatās without much ritual. Most often, traditionally, the Samhita portion alone is referred to as the Veda. For example, the word ‘Rigved’ would typically mean the Rigved Samhita. In the case of the Rigved, Samved and Atharvaved, there is a clear-cut separation between the Samhita and the Brahmana portions. In contrast, in the Shukla (white) Yajurved, the Samhita and the Brahmana portions are separate from each other. In the Krishna (black) Yajurved, the Samhita and the Brahmana portions are intermixed. Thus, the Taittiriya Samhita, which belongs to the Krishna Yajurved, has the Samhita interspersed with Brahmana portions. Even the Taittiriya Brahmana has both Mantras and Brahmana passages mixed with each other. The mantras of Samhitas are mostly written in verse, meaning, in the form of poetry or hymns whereas the Brahmanas are predominantly in prose. It is the samhitas which shows us that poems were written by the human beings first than the prose were written. The Vedas sometimes refer only to the Samhitas. It seems that, as we will see later on, Sanhitas were taught the very first in the life of a person, right from the childhood (galthuthi), also called “Brahmcharyāshram” or the learning age in the Vedic society. There are many well known books written in the post-vedic period, possibly after 6th century BCE, also known as “Samhitās” or “Sanhitās”, because, the word “Samhita” means “Compilation of knowledge”. Vedic samhitas should not be confused with these samhitas of post-vedic period, such as, Gherand Samhita and Shiva Samhita related to Hatha Yoga; Sushrut Samhita, Charak Samhita, Kashyap Samhita, and other, related to Ayurved Medicine; Garga Samhita related to Astrology; another Garga Samhita describing the life of Krishna; Deva Samhita describing the origin of Jats from Shiv’s locks; etc. are also post-vedic samhitas.
The Brahmanas lay out the precepts, rituals and religious duties. It seems that the Brahmanas are prescribed for mainly the adult life called “Grahasthāshram.” A well established social human being functioning as the householders with all responsibilities of the family and raising the children belongs to Grahasthashram. The Brahmanas contain formulas for rituals, rules and regulations for rites and sacrifices and also outline other religious duties. The formulas and rules for conducting extremely complex rituals are explained to the minutest detail. And every ritual is performed for a specific purpose for which a specific effect or benefit is expected. It can be inferred that, in Vedic society there was nothing that could not be achieved by sacrifices.
Aranyakas were prescribed for the later period of life of semi-retirement, called “Vānprasthāshram,” meaning, the age group “towards retirement to the forest” when the people who had fulfilled their duties of raising and supporting their families and children, and were on the way to the retirement, usually, to the forests (the usual retirement place in ancient time was forest and not the vacation homes) and spend the remaining active life in meditation and contemplation of God. Thus, Aranyakas derived their name from the word “Aranya” meaning “wilderness”, “forest”, or “woods”. The Aranyakas provide the link between the ritualistic Brahmanas and the philosophical Upanishads. The symbolic and spiritual aspects of the sacrificial religion are meditated upon in the Aranyakas while philosophical issues are discussed in the Upanishads. Most of the famous Upanishads are found in the Aranyakas.
The Upanishads consists of philosophical discussions that examine and propound the wisdom in the earlier part of the Vedas. Since they appear at the end of the Vedas they are also called “Vedānta,” meaning, the end (anta) part of the Vedas. All subsequent Hindu thoughts or visions, called Darshans, were derived from the discussions found in the Upanishads. The Upanishads were prescribed for that period of life known as retirement, called “Sanyāsāshram,” meaning “renunciation” or “full retirement.” Sanyasashram is the period of life of people when they already have had lived and enjoyed their whole life doing rituals prescribed in the Brahmanas; have spent their remaining active semi-retired life peacefully, usually in the forests close to the nature, meditating and contemplating on God as prescribed in the Aranyakas; have broken all the emotional ties with their families and relatives; and are physically and mentally ready to leave without any more worldly desires remained for fulfilling in this very rare and precious God-given human life in this world. In short, the Upanishads are meant to provide us the very essence and the meaning of life.
Dear reader, here we partly conclude the information on Vedas in short. It is an attempt to provide a gross picture or idea of Hindu scriptures. The minute details and precise informations can be obtained and verified individually by referring the authentic text books. The original Sanskrit text and its translation also needs to be verified personally for its authenticity and truthfulness. In future, we will discuss Samhitās, Brāhmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads and also the other scriptures in detail. Let us not forget that the information only becomes knowledge when one puts it into practice. Unless we put aside our ego that “I am such and such person and this body is me,” called the “deha-bhāv” in Hinduism, and attain the “ātmā-bhāv”, that is, “the soul inside my body is real me,” all that is described in the scriptures is in vein or it just remains as merely an information and never becomes knowledge called Shākshātkār. Though individually may our knowledge of scriptures be limited, our understanding of the scriptures should be thorough. The difference between Hinduism and other major philosophies is that, whereas other philosophies discuss God as “paroksh (parā-aksh),” Hinduism discusses God as “pratyaksh (prati-aksh)”, “murtimān” ,or “sākshāt (sa akshata).” Paroksh means manifestation of God beyond our reach or beyond our vision, that is, the form of God in His abode only. Pratyaksh means manifestation of Godin front of our eyes, either by Himself (Swayam) in human form, in form of His Avatars, in the form of His holy words as Scriptures, in the form of His holy image or object of worship as Murtis, or through His legacy called “Guru paramparā” that passes the very essence of His scriptures through many generations and by creating His very presence keeping Him alive through many millenniums. To begin with Hinduism was given not just for Indians only, but was given for the whole mankind. Ordinarily speaking, Hinduism is a factory of transforming out hearts and mind for the betterment of our society. It is a factory of transforming our physique and psych for the betterment of our individual lives. Spiritually speaking, Hinduism is a factory of transforming our souls for making them capable of staying with God in His abode enjoying His very bliss forever.
At the end, we rest here by quoting the very essence of all the scriptures.
“… and the essence of all the scriptures is that one should only do which pleases God…” (a quote from the Vachanāmrut, Gadhadā II-28, of Bhagwān Swāminārāyan)