Tag Archives: Vedas

vedic literature of ancient india

Secrets of ancient humanity and lost civilizations can be found all over the world. Yet they are perhaps most common in India, which even today the spiritual practices of the ancient world continue and its characteristic regard for the sacred. The same type of temples with similar forms of ritual worship that were known in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, or Greece thousand of years ago still occur throughout India today from Badrinath in the Himalayas to the north to Kanyakumari in the south. Indeed it seems that the ancient world never ended in India but has continually maintained and, at times, reinvented itself.

Spiritual and occult arts such as abounded in the ancient world – including Yoga, Vedic astrology, Ayurvedic medicine and the use of rituals (Yajnas) to improve all aspects of our lives – remain commonly used and are honored by the culture of India as a whole. Indeed we could say that India is a living museum of the ancient world and its lost civilizations. To understand the ancient world, it may be better to visit the holy places of India where the ancient traditions are still unbroken, rather than try to interpret ancient ruins through bricks and pottery shards, which scholars today usually do so according to their own modern mindsets, not recognizing the all-pervasive regard for the sacred that was the basis of ancient life and culture.

Most notably, ancient India presents us with by far the largest literature that has survived from the ancient world. The Vedic literature of India, by all accounts dating from well before the time of the Buddha (500 BCE) and by traditional accounts extending back well over five thousand years (3100 BCE), covers several thousand pages. This is with the four Vedas (RigYajur,Sama and Atharva), their various BrahmanasAranyakas andUpanishads.

The Vedas contain many ancient poems, commentaries, dialogues and teachings, of which the famous Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita – the bedrock of Indian philosophy and Yoga – represent only the last layer or a late summation. There is no comparable ancient literature remaining from any other country, much less an on-going tradition of its interpretation and application according to both ritual and meditation.

The Vedas are not directly concerned with history or with the mundane aspects of culture. Yet a mentioning of these does occur in a peripheral way in the texts. In the Vedas, we can find references to the names of peoples, places and to certain events. Beside the deep spiritual knowledge, there are indications of astronomical, mathematical and medical knowledge of a profound order. There are also indications of natural disasters like floods, earth quakes, the melting of glaciers and the shifting of rivers, with a cataclysmic sense of life based upon a long experience of Nature’s changes.

Yet, even by way of understanding their spiritual side, it requires a deeper vision to appreciate the Vedas. The Vedas are composed in a cryptic ‘mantric code’ that cannot be understood without the proper orientation and right keys. Vedic mantras were said to have been cognized by great yogis and seers from the cosmic mind. They reflect a different type of language in which the higher truth is deliberately hidden in a veil of symbols, sacred sounds and correspondences. What may appear outwardly as a seeking cows and horses, for example, can inwardly refer to a development of higher powers of the senses (cows) and pranas or vital energies (horses). In fact, Vedic words have many layers of meaning, of which the surface appearance can be misleading, particularly to the modern mind not used to such a multidimensional language. This is also a phenomenon that we find throughout the ancient world. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, for example, abounds in similar symbols that unless we can grasp the spiritual meaning, which few may be willing to look for, can appear quite superstitious.

The Vedas say, “The Gods prefer the cryptic and dislike the obvious.” The higher powers speak in symbols, riddles, paradoxes or conundrums. The Vedas speak of four levels of speech, of which ordinary human beings only know and speak with one (Rig Veda I. 164.45). They refer to a Divine Word or imperishable syllable on which they are based (Rig Veda I. 164.39). They reflect a pattern of cosmic sound that underlies all the laws of the universe and has its counterparts on all levels of both individual and cosmic manifestation. For this reason, the Veda was called the Shruti, or ‘revelation’ behind the Hindu tradition.

The Vedas speak of secret meanings to their mantras that were veiled to protect the teaching from its application by the spiritually immature. To receive the key to the Vedic mantras required years of work of ascetic practices, mantras, yoga, meditation, special initiations and the special favor of a teacher who knows the tradition and has realized the teaching in his own deeper consciousness. We cannot expect such cryptic mantras to unlock their secrets to a casual reading, particularly done in limited or bad translations in a language and mindset quite alien to the Vedic or ancient world view.

Modern scholars, particularly from the West, have not been able decipher this Vedic code. Most have not even recognized that it exists. This is not surprising because scholars have largely failed to understand the deeper meaning of the symbols of ancient Egypt, Sumeria, Mexico and other ancient cultures. Ancient cultures like India and Egypt were carrying on great traditions of spiritual and occult knowledge, not just the rudiments of technology, trade or empire building. Since modern scholars have little background in that spiritual knowledge, with its recognition of higher states of consciousness extending into the Infinite and Eternal, naturally they cannot find it in symbols in which it is specially encrypted.

Scholars look upon the Vedas, just like the Egyptian religion, as little more than primitive nature worship, though the nature symbols like Fire in the Vedas have a vast cosmic symbolism and connect to the fire of the breath, the fire of the mind, the fire of consciousness and the Cosmic Fire through which the entire universe exists.

Introduction to Article The Vedic Literature of Ancient India and Its Many Secrets By David Frawley

 


hiranyagarbha – the gold embryo

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SUN 268 by Roland van der Vogel

Many people today look to Patanjali, the compiler of the Yoga Sutras, as the father or founder of the greater system of Yoga. While Patanjali’s work is very important and worthy of profound examination, a study of the ancient literature on Yoga reveals that the Yoga tradition is much older. This earlier Yoga literature before Patanjali can be better called the Hiranyagarbha Yoga Darshana as it is said to begin with Hiranyagarbha. In fact, most of the Yoga taught in Vedas, Upanishads, Gita, Mahabharata and Puranas – which is the main ancient literature of Yoga – derives from it. Such ancient Pre-Patanjali texts speak of a Yoga Shastra or the ‘authoritative teachings on Yoga’ and of a Yoga Darshana or ‘Yoga philosophy’, but by that they mean the older tradition traced to Hiranyagarbha.

While no single simple Hiranyagarbha Yoga Sutras text has survived, quite a few of its teachings have remained. In fact, the literature on the Hiranyagarbha Yoga tradition is much larger than that on Patanjali Yoga tradition, which itself represents a branch of it. We cannot speak of a Patanjali Yoga tradition or of a Patanjali Yoga literature apart from this older set of Yoga teachings rooted in the Hiranyagarbha tradition. The Patanjali Yoga teaching occurs in the context of a broader Yoga Darshana that includes other streams. There is only one Yoga Darshana that existed long before Patanjali and was taught in many ways. It is the Yoga Darshana attributed to Hiranyagarbha and related Vedic teachers.

Who then was Hiranyagarbha, a human figure or a deity? The name Hiranyagarbha, which means “the gold embryo”, first occurs prominently as a Vedic deity, generally a form of the Sun God. There is a special Sukta or hymn to Hiranyagarbha in the Rig VedaX.121, which is commonly chanted by Hindus today. The Mahabharata speaks of Hiranyagarbha as he who is lauded in the Vedic verses and taught in the Yoga Shastra (Shanti Parva 339.69). As a form of the Sun God, Hiranyagarbha can be related to other such Sun Gods like Savitri, to whom the famous Gayatri mantra is addressed. Therefore, the Hiranyagabha Yoga tradition is a strongly Vedic tradition. We can call it the Hiranyagarbha Vedic Yoga tradition.

It teachings are found not only in the Yoga Sutras but in the Mahabharata, including the Bhagavad Gita, Moksha Dharma Parva and Anu Gita, which each contain extensive teachings on Yoga from many sides. The Hiranyagarbha Yoga tradition is the main Vedic Yoga tradition. The Patanjali Yoga tradition is an offshoot of it or a later expression of it. Besides looking at Patanjali in a new light, we should work to restore the teachings of the Hiranyagarbha Yoga Darshana. Many of these can easily be compiled from the Mahabharata, Upanishads, and other ancient Vedic teachings. Through it we can gradually reclaim the older Vedic Yoga it was based upon. In this way, we can restore the spiritual heritage of the Himalayan rishis. This is an important task for the next generation of Yoga aspirants, if they want to really reclaim the origin and depths of the teaching.

Excerpt from American Institute of Vedic Studies Article The Original Teachings of Yoga: From Patanjali Back to Hiranyagarbha by David Frawley


gayatri mantra and surya namaskar

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Om bhur bhuvah svah
tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah prachodayat. 

The eternal, earth, air, heaven
That glory, that resplendence of the sun
May we contemplate the brilliance of that light
May the sun inspire our minds.

-Translation by Douglas Brooks

 

The Gayatri mantra first appeared in the Rig Veda, an early Vedic text written between 1800 and 1500 BCE. It is mentioned in the Upanishads as an important ritual, and in the Bhagavad Gita as the poem of the Divine. According to Douglas Brooks, PhD, a professor of religion at the University of Rochester and a teacher in the Rajanaka yoga tradition, the Gayatri is the most sacred phrase uttered in the Vedas. “It doesn’t get more ancient, more sacred, than this. It’s an ecstatic poetic moment.”

The mantra is a hymn to Savitur, the sun god. According to Brooks, the sun in the mantra represents both the physical sun and the Divine in all things. “The Vedic mind doesn’t separate the physical presence of the sun from its spiritual or symbolic meaning,” he says.

Chanting the mantra serves three purposes, Brooks explains. The first is to give back to the sun. “My teacher used to say the sun gives but never receives. The mantra is a gift back to the sun, an offering of gratitude to refuel the sun’s gracious offering.” The second purpose is to seek wisdom and enlightenment. The mantra is a request to the sun: May we meditate upon your form and be illumined by who you are? (Consider that the sun offers its gift of illumination and energy to all beings, without judgment and without attachment to the outcome of the gift.)

Finally, the mantra is an expression of gratitude, to both the life-giving sun and the Divine. Brooks encourages taking a heart-centered approach to the mantra. “The sensibility it evokes is more important than the literal meaning. It’s an offering, a way to open to grace, to inspire oneself to connect to the ancient vision of India,” he says. “Its effect is to inspire modern yogis to participate in the most ancient aspiration of illumination that connects modern yoga to the Vedic tradition.”

Christopher Key Chapple, professor of Indic and comparative theology at Loyola Marymount University, says Surya Namaskar is nothing less than the embodiment of the Gayatri mantra, a sacred prayer to the sun. “As we sweep our arms up and bow forward, we honor the earth, the heavens, and all of life in between that is nourished by the breath cycle,” he says. “As we lower our bodies, we connect with the earth. As we rise up from the earth, we stretch through the atmosphere once more, reaching for the sky. As we bring our hands together in Namaste, we gather the space of the heavens back into our heart and breath, acknowledging that our body forms the center point between heaven and earth.”

The original Surya Namaskar wasn’t a sequence of postures, but rather a sequence of sacred words. The Vedic tradition, which predates classical yoga by several thousands of years, honored the sun as a symbol of the Divine. According to Ganesh Mohan, a Vedic and yoga scholar and teacher in Chennai, India, Vedic mantras to honor the sun were traditionally chanted at sunrise. The full practice includes 132 passages and takes more than an hour to recite. After each passage, the practitioner performs a full prostration, laying his body face-down on the ground in the direction of the sun in an expression of devotion.

The connection between the sun and the Divine continues to appear throughout the Vedic and yoga traditions. However, the origins of Surya Namaskar in modern hatha yoga are more mysterious. “There is no reference to asanas as ‘Sun Salutation’ in traditional yoga texts,” Mohan says.

So where did this popular sequence come from? The oldest-known yoga text to describe the Sun Salutation sequence, the Yoga Makaranda, was written in 1934 by T. Krishnamacharya, who is considered by many to be the father of modern hatha yoga. It is unclear whether Krishnamacharya learned the sequence from his teacher Ramamohan Brahmachari or from other sources, or whether he invented it himself. In The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace, yoga scholar N.E. Sjoman identifies an earlier text called the Vyayama Dipika (or “Light on Exercise”) that illustrates athletic exercises for Indian wrestlers, including some that are strikingly similar to Krishnamacharya’s version of Surya Namaskar.

“Certainly, modern asana practice—and Surya Namaskar, after it was grafted on to it—is an innovation that has no precedent in the ancient Indian tradition, but it was rarely formulated as ‘mere gymnastics,'” says Mark Singleton, author of Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice. “More often, it was conceived within a religious [Hindu] framework, and was seen as a spiritual expression as well as a physical one. But in modern India, for many people, it made complete sense for physical training to be conceived as a form of spiritual practice, with no contradiction implied.”

So, it appears that Krishnamacharya was influenced by both athletics and spiritual practice, and it was the emphasis he placed on the breath and on devotion that set his teaching of yoga asana apart from a purely athletic endeavor. According to Mohan, co-author (with his father, A.G. Mohan) of the forthcoming From Here Flows the River: The Life and Teachings of Krishnamacharya, it was the attitude of Surya Namaskar that Krishnamacharya cared about. Whether he was teaching the Vedic mantras or the sequence of postures, the intention was the same. “One is offering salutation to the Divine, represented by the sun, as a source of light removing the darkness of a clouded mind and as a source of vitality removing the diseases of the body,” says Mohan.

Edited Excerpts from Yoga Journal Articles Chant to the Sun and Shine on Me by Kelly McGonigal

 


classical music of india

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The Classical Music of India has its origins in the chanting of the Vedas dating back to several thousands of years ago. Since then, it has been bequeathed by oral tradition through the generations to its present form. In the course of time, it evolved into two distinct systems, namely, the Karnatic (in the South) and the Hindusthani (in the North).

Indian classical music is based on melody. It can be described as contemplative and introspective. There is no intentional harmonic structure beneath the melodic lines. Such freedom permits almost unlimited melodic possibilities. Another attribute of Indian music is improvisation. Most of the classical music performed is extemporaneous. Even while playing the compositions, the performer attempts variations and embellishments that bring out a unique interpretation of the composition and the artist’s individuality.

It is interesting to note that the seven notes in Indian music, Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, correspond to Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, in the West. What makes Indian classical music unique is its two important characteristics: the raga and the tala. Every piece played adheres to the confines of raga and tala. A raga defines the melodic aspects of the music.  The rhythmic basis of Indian music: the tala, is a cycle of a fixed number of beats repeated over and over again, and played as distinct patterns of strokes on the accompanying drums.

Excerpt from Article: Classical Music of India at Friends of Indian Music and Dance, University of Vermont Global and Regional Studies Program


mahamrityunjaya mantra

From Wikipedia

The Mahamrityunjaya Mantra (Sanskrit: महामृत्युंजय मंत्र, mahāmṛtyuṃjaya mantra “Great Death-conquering Mantra”), also called the Tryambakam Mantra, is a verse of the Rigveda (RV 7.59.12). It is addressed to Tryambaka, “the three-eyed one”, an epithet of Rudra, later identified with Shiva.  The verse also recurs in the Yajurveda (TS 1.8.6.i; VS 3.60)

In Devanagari script:

ॐ त्र्यम्बकं यजामहे सुगन्धिं पुष्टिवर्धनम्

उर्वारुकमिव बन्धनान् मृत्योर्मुक्षीय मामृतात्

oṁ tryambakaṁ yajāmahe sugandhiṁ puṣṭi-vardhanam

urvārukam-iva bandhanān mṛtyormukṣīya māmṛtāt

Word to Word meaning of the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra:

  •  oṁ = is a sacred/mystical syllable in Sanatan Dharma or Indian religions, i.e. Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism,
  • त्र्यम्बकम् tryambakam = the three-eyed one (accusative case),
  • यजामहे yajāmahe = We worship, adore, honour, revere,
  • सुगन्धिम् sugandhim = sweet smelling, fragrant (accusative case),
  • पुष्टि puṣṭi = A well-nourished condition, thriving, prosperous, fullness of life,
  • वर्धनम् vardhanam = One who nourishes, strengthens, causes to increase (in health, wealth, well-being); who gladdens, exhilarates, and restores health; a good gardener,
  • उर्वारुकमिव urvārukamiva = like the pumpkin <a kind of Indian vegetable> (in the accusative case),

:::::Note:- urvārukam: ‘urva’ means “vishal” or big and powerful or deadly. ‘arukam’ means ‘disease’. Thus urvārukam means deadly and overpowering diseases. (The pumpkin interpretation given in various places is also correct for the word urvārukam, but not apt for this mantra). The diseases are also of three kinds caused by the influence (in the negative) of the three guṇas and are ignorance (avidyā), falsehood (asat, as even though Vishnu is everywhere, we fail to perceive Him and are guided by our sight and other senses) and weaknesses (ṣaḍripu, a constraint of this physical body and Shiva is all powerful).

  • बन्धनान् bandhanān = “from captivity” {i.e. from the stem of the cucumber} (of the gourd); (the ending is actually long a then -d which changes to n/anusvara because of sandhi)

:::::Note:- bandhanān: means bound down. Thus read with urvārukam iva, it means ‘I am bound down just as by deadly and overpowering diseases’.

  • मृत्योर्मुक्षीय mṛtyormukṣīya = Free, liberate From death
  • मामृतात māmṛtāt = (give) me immortality, emancipation

origins of surya namaskar

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the oldest known hatha yoga text does not mention “Sun Salutations” but mentions a sūrya-bhedana (sun-piercing) kumbhaka (II, 44 and 48-50) while the Gheraṇḍa Saṁhitā mentions sūrya-bheda kumbhaka (58-59). The oldest documented book with clear depictions of asanas is the Sritattvanidhi, though there is no mention of “Sun Salutations” in the text, it does describe the asanas “Sarpasana” (Bhujangasana), “Gajasana” (Adhomukh Swannasan), “Uttanasana” and series of asanas done in tandem, similar to Sūrya Namaskāra.

The translator of the ancient Sritattvanidhi, Krishnaraja Wodeyar III, was also responsible for arranging for Sri. T. Krishnamacharya to teach yoga at Yogaśālā in Mysore sometime around 1930. Sri. T. Krishnamacharya’s teachings are largely responsible for the modern version of Sūrya Namaskāra as seen in modern day Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and the Visesha Vinyasa Sun Salutation subroutine from Vinyasa Krama Yoga, as well as a host of other popular forms of yoga. K. Pattabhi Jois claims to have taught exactly as he had learned from Krishnamacharya, though other than personal testimony, there seems to be no other evidence as to the precise content of Krishnamacharya’s teachings. While Krishnamacharya’s specific sources for his yoga teachings are unclear, it is said that he learned from Sri Ramamohana Brahmachari in the Himilayan Mountains (perhaps Muktinath where his son has visited, but certainly somewhere near the Gandaki River in Nepal) beginning in 1916; however, the source of his teaching (at the Mysore Yogashala or otherwise) is not otherwise documented. Krishnamacharya’s son attests to his father having developed some of his teachings himself. There is the possibility that he may have been influenced by the Mysore Palace Gymnastics Tradition.

Another indication as to the origins of Sūrya Namaskāra is the 1928 Indian publication of “The Ten Point Way of Health” by Raja Bhavan Rao Srinivas (“Bala Sahib”), Pant Pratinidhi of Aundh (1868–1951; Raja of Aundh 1909-1947), followed by later publication in England in 1938. The Raja claims to have practiced the series as a child. And some sources report that only after extensive practice and analysis (and potentially modification) himself did he finally publish the book. Thus, the true origin of the series remains unclear, though it has to be noted that Raja of Aundh, himself never claimed to have invented Surya Namaskar. Further he actually stressed on the ancient origins of this procedure. He helped in popularizing surya namaskar as a simple physical exercise for all round development of an individual in India. He introduced it in schools as a form of education and encouraged even the ordinary man to be physically fit by performing surya namaskar every day. Still, how exactly Sūrya Namaskāra came to be included in the yogic practices of Hatha and Ashtanga Yoga remains unclear.

Other sources which cite early use of “Sun Salutations” are A Short History of Aryan Medical Science from 1896, which claims that in India “there are various kinds of physical exercise indoors and outdoors. But some of the Hindus set aside a portion of their daily worship for making salutations to the Sun by prostrations. This method of adoration affords them so much muscular activity that it takes to some extent the place of physical exercise”.

Early English publications record some ancient methods of sun salutation; however, the do not seem to be related to the modern Sūrya Namaskāra as seen in Yoga practice today. In “A Catalogue raisonnée [sic] of oriental manuscripts”, noted that a short book with 71 leaves with “Tricha calpa vidhi” from “Aditya Puranam” was preserved. He describes the vidhi as “Modes of rendering homage to Sun, with praise and spells; the object being health or delivery from disease”. He further notes the presence of Arghya Pradana, Surya Stotaram, Aditya dvadasa namam – 12 names of the Sun according to the monthly signs of zodiac, Surya Narayana cavacham, Saurashtacshari mantram, and many other elaborate rituals as the part of the vidhi. In Page 148 of the same book he describes a shorter version called “Laghu tricha kalpa vidhi”.

Aditya Hridayam is another ancient practice which involves a variation of Sūrya Namaskāra. It is a procedure of saluting The Sun, taught to Sri Rama by Sage Agastya, before his fight with Ravana. It is described in the “Yuddha Kaanda” Canto 107 of Ramayana.

There are numerous references of praising the Sun for the purpose of good health and prosperity, in Vedas. Some of these Vedic hymns were incorporated into Nitya Vidhi (Daily mandatory routine for a Hindu) for the well being of an individual, through salutations to the Sun. These daily procedures were termed as Surya Namaskara (literally translates as “sun salutations”). Physical prostration to Sun, showing complete surrender of oneself to God, is the main aspect of these procedures. The forms of Surya Namaskar practiced vary from region to region. Two such popular practices are Trucha Kalpa Namaskarah and Aditya Prasna.

Excerpt From Wikipedia Articles, Surya Namaskar and  Surya Namaskar Origins