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Jahnava Nitai Das

Percentage of Vedas available today

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But at present (the complete text of the Vedas is unavailable and owing to a decrease in human memory,) it is difficult to study the whole body of the Vedas. Further, because of their abstruse nature the available portions are difficult to understand. In addition great thinkers, commentators on the Vedas, give contradictory conclusions to the Vedic statements. Analyzing the Itihasas and Puranas is worthwhile, therefore, as they have the same nature as the Vedas and are decisive in giving the meaning of the Vedas.


Besides, the meaning of the unavailable (or difficult) portions of the Vedas can be inferred with the help of the Itihasas and Puranas. Thus at present only the Itihasas and Puranas are capable of yielding valid knowledge. Therefore the Mahabharata and Manu Smriti state, "One should explain the meaning of the Vedas with the help of the Itihasas and Puranas". (M.B. Adi Parva 1.267) Elsewhere it is stated, "The Puranas are called by that name because they complete (Purana)". One cannot explain the meaning of the Vedas with something that is not Vedic in nature, just as one cannot add lead to an incomplete golden necklace to make it complete."


But the doubt arises that if the word Veda includes the Itihasas and Puranas then we must search for separate books called Itihasas and Puranas, otherwise they will have no oneness with the Vedas. The answer is that the verses in the Vedas, and the Itihasas and Puranas are apaurusheya in nature and contain knowledge about the Lord and His energies, as such there is no difference between them. Still, there is a difference, because of accent and word order, which is strictly followed in the Vedas.


Oneness of the Itihasas and Puranas with the Rig and other Vedas, with respect to their apaurusheya nature, is indicated in the Madhyandina Sruti, "My dear Maitreyi, the Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva veda, Itihasas and Puranas...are manifest from the breath of the Supreme Lord" (Brihadaranyaka 2.4.10).




In the previous anucchedas Srila Jiva Gosvami established the Vedas as the valid means of acquiring knowledge about the Supreme. Specifically, he established the validity of the Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas as apaurusheya sabda. Now he points out the practical difficulties in studying them. The first difficulty is the unavailability of the complete text of the Vedas. Originally the Veda was one, then at the advent of Kali-yuga Srila Vyasadeva divided it into four, vyadadhad yajnasantatyai vedamekam caturvidham (S.B. 1.4.19). Then, as explained in the Kurma Purana (52.19,20), the four Vedas were further divided into 1130 branches:


"The Rigveda was divided into 21 branches and the Yajurveda into 100 branches, the Samaveda into 1,000 branches and the Atharvaveda into 9 branches."


Further, every branch has four subdivisions called Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka, and Upanishad. So all in all, the vedas consist of 1130 Samhitas, 1130 Brahmanas, 1130 Aranyakas, and 1130 Upanishads, a total of 4520 titles. By the influence of time, however, many texts have been lost. At present only about 11 Samhitas, 18 Brahmanas, 7 Aranyakas, and 220 Upanishads are available. This is less than 6% of the original Vedas.


The second difficulty is language. The Vedas are written in Sanskrit, which is of two types--vaidika and laukika. Only vaidika Sanskrit is used in the Vedas and to understand it one has to learn extra rules of grammar, which require years of study. Even so the Vedic verses are cryptic and it is impossible to decipher them without hearing from a bonafide guru, coming in disciplic succession.


And again, even before studying the Vedas one must study their six limbs called vedanga. These six limbs are: 1. Siksha, the science of pronunciation; 2. Kalpa, the process of performing sacrifice; 3. Vyakarana, the rules of grammar; 4. Niruktam, the meanings of difficult words used in the Vedas and their derivations; 5. Jyotisha, astronomy and astrology; 6. Chandas, Vedic meters. Each of these limbs is extensive and requires years of study.


To further complicate matters, the coming of Kali-yuga has brought a decrease in human memory. In former times there were no printing facilities. A student had to memorize all he learnt from his spiritual master simply by hearing, but this is no longer possible. In this age food, water, and air are polluted. All these factors have taken their toll on human memory making it difficult to study even the available 6% of the Vedic texts, what to speak of the entire four Vedas and their branches. The conclusion of Srila Jiva Gosvami is that although the four Vedas are sabda pramana, in the present age it is not practical to go through them for enquiring after the Absolute Truth.


As an alternative, someone may suggest that even if all the Vedas are not available and they are difficult to understand, why not just study the Vedanta Sutras, the summary of the Vedic conclusions? To this Jiva Gosvami replies that various thinkers differ over the meaning of Vedanta Sutra, so this will only lead to confusion. Besides, there are thinkers like Gautama, Kapila, Jaimini, and others, who have other philosophies, why accept Vedanta rather than one of their explanations? For all these reasons it will be impossible to understand sambandha, abhideya, and prayojana even with the help of the Vedas. To resolve this dilemma Srila Jiva Gosvami proposes an alternative, study the Itihasas and Puranas.


The Itihasas and Puranas are easier to understand than the Vedas, because they are written in laukika, or spoken Sanskrit, in contrast to the Vedas which are written in Vedic Sanskrit, which is not spoken. Further, the esoteric meanings of the Vedas are more accessible, because the Itihasas and Puranas are told in story form. And whereas only the dvijas, or the twice born people, are allowed to study the Vedas that restriction does not apply to the Itihasas and Puranas. Anyone may study them. Even their prime speaker, Suta Gosvami, is not a dvija. They carry the same conclusions as the Vedas and having come from the same source, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they are free from the four human defects and are also sabda pramana. Thus the Itihasas and Puranas are as reliable as the four Vedas.


The Itihasas and Puranas are identical with the Vedas, but that does not mean that they are one with the Vedas in every sense. Otherwise the words Itihasa and Purana would simply be a different name for the Vedas. The Vedas are written in Vedic Sanskrit, which contains accent--Udatta (high), Svarita (medium) and Anudatta (low). Hence the meaning of a word can change according to the change of accent. An example of this is in the history of the demon Vritrasura, who was created by means of a mantra during a sacrifice. This demon was supposed to kill Indra, but during the sacrifice the priests pronounced the mantra--indra satro vivardhasva--with the wrong accent. The result was just the opposite: Indra killed Vritrasura.


Another significant difference between the four Vedas and the Itihasas and Puranas is the word order, which is fixed in the case of the Vedas. Nobody has the authority to change even a syllable of the Vedic texts and it has been maintained in this order since the beginning of creation. Techniques have been devised, such as Pada-patha, Krama-patha, Ghana-patha, Jata-patha, and so on for keeping the word order intact. No interpolation or juggling is possible; the Itihasas and Puranas are not so rigid and therefore the readings may be different in different yuga cycles. This does not occur with the four Vedas. Because no special techniques are used to keep the order of the words of the Puranas and Itihasas intact we find differences in readings between different editions.


The Mahabharata, an Itihasa, was compiled by Srila Vyasa for people of this age specifically because they are not qualified to understand the Vedas. This is stated in the Srimad Bhagavatam 1.4.25:


"Out of compassion, the sage thought it wise that this would enable men to achieve the ultimate goal of life. Thus he compiled the great historical narration called the Mahabharata for women, laborers, and friends of the twice born, who are not qualified to study the Vedas."


Srila Jiva Gosvami says that the Puranas are called so because they make the Vedas complete. Does he mean the Vedas are incomplete? No, but the Puranas are a form of explanatory, supplementary literature that help us to understand the terse, cryptic message of the Vedas. Like the Vedas, they convey knowledge of the Absolute Truth. To perform this function they must be of the same transcendental quality as the Vedas. The Skanda Purana (4.95.12) therefore states:


"In the Vedas, Ramayana, Puranas, and in Mahabharata Lord Hari is glorified everywhere--in the beginning, middle, and end."


The Itihasas and Puranas, therefore, having emanated from the same source as the Vedas and having the same conclusion as the Vedas, they have equal authority to the four Vedas.


Next, Srila Jiva Gosvami explains further about the Itihasas and Puranas not being inferior to the Vedas.

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