Before we delve into the Vaidika universe, let me present a question:
“how do we recognise asat (ignorance)?”
One particularly safe check, kAla and desha accounted, would be to say:
“ignorance is synonymous with unreasonable confidence.”
Or, in this way, when assumptions become synonymous with conclusions, we say this is ignorance. Some of the contemporary discussions conducted — on Vaidika subjects — among the online groups, in my opinion belong to this category, and as such require periodic reviewal and addressal; hence this short piece.
Vaidika studies in bhArata must take a problem solving approach, over and above that of a purely linguistic or history oriented one. It is precisely the failure of publicly funded institutions in this regard that has left wide open the windows on many a problem — right from bhArata’s prehistory, to the possibilities for the future — and has made the “market” rife for speculations, such as to be seen in exchanges within the online world, that predictably, make use of many unsound tools, such as comparative mythology, poor translations of Sanskrit texts, etc.
That AdhyAtmika ideas don’t compare/ translate well at all from one culture to another is a long standing consensus on the issue, really, so when this same translation is still suitably used to “better” understand the fundamental thoughts of the Veda, or say its traditions, one is hard pressed to fathom why this shouldn’t be better seen as a polemical/ ignorant exercise that starts with assumptions (Aryan invasion is one such) and ends with the same in the form of conclusions, in addition to nothing of note returned at all in-between.
Indeed, comparative mythology can be of some value in special contexts —there is admittedly a distinct possibility of the existence of a unique devatA or AdhyAtmika motive that itself could have been the very banner — the propellant force, as it were — associated with the expansion (and remembered accordingly) of certain conquering tribes (from whichever homeland).
The evidence is encouraging, and in Vaidika devatA parjanya we do find the single pan-Indo-European deity remembered both in name as well as in religious import, wide across-the-board.
More importantly, there is this basic homeland requirement of the consistency of seemingly diverse basis ideas — a requirement, which in layman’s terms means, e.g. there can be no vishNu-expression without a garuDa-expression, or there can be no marut-expression without a parjanya-expression, or no mitra without varuNa, no agni without iLA, etc. In other words, when all the expressions in a system are connected to each other in measured (unambiguous) steps, the system is known as being consistent.
Any adequately evolved (“axiomatised”) thought (or belief-, or aesthetic-) system cannot be both complete and consistent at the same time — again, a widely demonstrated proposition, albeit having its origin in Mathematics.
“Complete” in simple words means, any truth (that the system is supposed to express) can be expressed by some finite collection/ application of the expressions of the system.
In simple terms, if the Vaidika system is indeed the original home — as reflected in its consistency of ideas — then it must also be not complete, that is, original ideas should keep coming — springing from the same base — in an ever recursive quest for “to know it all”. HanumAn, kALI, gaNEsha, durgA, krishNa, rAma, chhinna•mastA, and uncountably others — are a testimony to that. On the other hand, all Arya traditions outside bhArata didn’t sustain because they, of necessity, came out as being inconsistent (their disparate elements being historical accidents) and complete (fully expressive of all truths in their narrow domain of mythology).
In the expression of a consistent system, therefore, much more is at stake than the fulfilling of some mythology geared towards festive museum-cum-temple art-and-architecture.
A consistent knowledge system is, of purpose, implemented on real world objects. This is by certain mechanisms, one of which is known — again from Mathematics — as “homomorphism” (saMvartana). The most important class of such homomorphisms in the Veda is the spelling out of the devI equivalents of each Vaidika deva, and vice versa. For example, dakshA and daksha, indrANI and indra, etc.
Or, in the contexts of different Vaidika traditions, in Tantra the iDA and the pingalA, in sankhyA the Zero (shunA) and the One (sItA), in the primeval “left” and “right” of the Hindu sampradAya-s and geographies, in the sisterly mirrors gangA and sarasvatI — and such and such — all exemplarily speak of an exceptionally high degree of consistency running through the veins of Hinduism straddled across vast measures of times and spaces. Remember, this is just one example.
A consistent system, if meticulously revealed, has the capacity to explain all the other real/ abstract world objects. sankhyA — the number system — comes out of the same Vaidika system, and further leads to sAnkhya, Physics. (That the Vaidika system indeed contains the sankhyA-system is no trivial conclusion, and requires more than a passing remark. This also means that Vaidika system has more, not less, to do with modern science.)
“Homomorphisms”, such as explained here, in this way become one of the tools that a consistent system utilises for grasping all truth that is possible. Some other methods are: recursive application, parallel (vector) compilation, fibre connections, etc.
The Veda, literally “the-knowledge”, in a way indeed encompasses all possible knowledge, by the way of containing “all-consistencies.” And since the Veda is not closed knowledge, you will not find the detail of “interplanetary travel” laid out in it : as the ignorants on the other end of the spectrum — in reality the other side of the same coin — love to shout off their rooftops.
Both ends of asata are equally dangerous, because both wrongly assume Veda to be a complete and inconsistent system, and not surprisingly, both come to the same conclusion, “Veda is primitive.” (Or, “Veda is mere ritual”, etc)
The correct view of Veda therefore is, not as “the-knowledge” (vidyA) — which makes it closed (asata)— but as “the-knowing” that acknowledges its consistency (Rta).
The polemical discourse (Aryan Invasion, etc) has the “currency” — literally speaking — that it has because it is backed by big money. In such circumstances, it is convenient to lose faith, and become a conformist. But because one cannot change one’s skin tone as easily (as ones’s convictions), hence the need for “respectful cognition (by the-other-earth-dwellers) of (unique) Hindu identity, also the-being-different” and so forth. This sums up to a large extent the contemporary Hindu trajectories visible in the media.
Back to the matter at hand: what is this Vaidika system in its basic outline — what is this marvellous superstructure like — that has been the ever breathing progenitor, the fountainhead, of originalities among the bhAratIya-s?
Before I answer this question, let us understand the meaning of a system, or a context. Again, a simple example: if shrI rAma is an avatAra, bhagavAna•vishNu is the context. Or, if kAtyAyinI is the devI then amba•durgA is the context. Or, if indra is a vasu then agni, the ashTa•vasu is the context. And so on.
The biggest such context, which is indeed also seen as a deity, therefore becomes very much one and the same as the “Vaidika system” itself.
Well, the name of that deity is Aditi.
Dictionaries give the meaning of this theonym as “unbounded, undivided”, alright, though in my opinion better understood, arguably, as:
ad अद् + iti इति, or “the start to the end”. “From the Alfa to the Omega.”
Aditya-s are therefore the basic devata-s, the pillars, which build up the Reality that surrounds us all, here and now. And, by definition (cf. Yaska), Aditya-s are the ones who are ever present — from the very start (ādi) to the very end (iti).
The widely understood virATa manifolds (lokAH): pRthvI, dyO (svarga), antariksha, and Om : which are further divided into three sub-manifolds each, lead necessarily to the existence of twelve Aditya-s (sometimes exclusively dealt in only the six or seven of dyO•pRthvI context).
The earliest material evidence of toying with this core idea is found in the indu-valley seals, where the various designs — ranging from four mutually tangent circles (each concentric with three circles), to the fully evolved svAstika in the end — are testimony to the creative efforts involved in the shaping of Aditi as this abstract art.
Aditi is still here, you will still find Her devotees, if only you looked harder. svAstika, Aditi’s signature, is alive too — even survived organised misappropriation (courtesy the Nazis). The neo-Nazis, however, are still very keen about their Aryan project as having its logical conclusion in the successful appropriation of the svAstika, even if necessitated by the planting of “minority Aryan tribes” among “majority Dravidian Indu-dwellers” even before the muhUrta of the official “Aryan Invasion”.
No doubt there is much to talk about— the 33 devatAs, the flow of soma, the dyAvA•pRthvI, visvedevA as Aditya-s, the rAmAyaNa and the mahAbhArata, the tantra and the yoga, the sankhyA and the sAnkhya, among others — but I intend to end this essay here with the outlining of the basics already complete.
But not before offering a word of caution to bhAratIya scholars who aspire to become students of dharma. This is regarding the fundamentals of studying (and, quoting) the dhArmika literature. Remember this “parimANa” thumb rule:
(One word of the Veda, aka śabda) = (one line of upanishads, aka vAkya) = (one para of the purANa-s, aka AkhyAna).
This is only a thumb rule, I agree, but is an important formula which when respected, takes into account all such factors such as synchrony, diachrony, polysemy, the intended depth and measure of thought, etc.
Otherwise, for example, weighing the śabda of Veda against the śabda of purANa, or the vAkya of purANa with that of the upanishads, etc, will only keep you running into circles if not into contradictions.
To sum up, I dealt a complex issue, namely the Veda and its contemporary studies, in simplest possible terms. However, I sense this write-up still sounds unfamiliar, disorienting to the majority (if not the totality) of the readers, who are daily fed the by-far-the-most-dangerous-of-all-theories, the VIP — “Veda-is-primitive” theory (peddled by Western Indologists, muddled by desi-s who have “evolved” beyond “rituals”).