Sunday, June 13, 2010

Book Review - The Vedas

The Vedas by His Holiness The Paramacharya of Kanchi: This book is a well written translation from the discourses of the Parmacharya of Kanchi back in the 1980s. The Acharya's wisdom is splendidly obvious and fulfilling to the mind as we read through. It doesn't provide the vedic hymns and translation, that the title of the book might suggest. Rather, it provides an excellent ground work as a first reading - an excellent overview of the Vedas, classifying the various texts, that constitute the Vedas, outlining the basic content and history behind of each of them. It offers sensible and well thought out explanations and arguments on the scriptures that can appeal to the scientific mind, even if we may not agree with the ideas presented or debate if the arguments. The Acharya suggests that research and debate on exact timing of when vedas were written is not so important to get hung up on, as it is a documentation of various pieces of knowledge that existed even before it was written - much like trying to date a physics book that documents Newton's laws, Galileo's discoveries etc all of which happened at different times. He explains, the science behind Vedas as descriptive of nature, the universe, astronomy origins and calculations, and the cosmic vibrations at various levels, and how the close association of our ancestors with nature helped them develop the vedic mantras and rituals, and how chanting these mantras and performing rituals can influence the cosmic vibrations, thereby controlling the elements of nature, and the effects even at an individual level. It is a well built case and strong defense of the Vedas, but we may argue some of it requires substantiation that modern researchers could attempt. Why would science be written in hymns? - the Acharya offers the explanation that prose became popular only after print media came about, hand hymns were the easy way to memorize and pass on to generations prior to print!

The Acharya also dispels many myths and offers plenty of lessons from Indo-European linguistic origins that leave us astounded. Some examples:
  • Dental is an offshoot from the Sanskrit word Dhantha, a word that requires teeth to pronounce properly! But, pronouncing Dental doesn't need the teeth at all!
  • Hour is a result of transformations from Hora, which has origins to mean time in Latin and Sanskrit. Heart is a transformation from Hrudhaya.
  • The sun-god in Hinduism is depicted as riding a chariot driven by seven horses - the Acharya cites the hymn on which this belief is based, which uses the word Saptha-Ashwa meaning seven-rays (as in VIBGYOR or seven colours in each light ray), It turns out Ashwa also means horse, probably because horses metaphorically travel as fast as light rays! Mindboggling oversight in interpretation that lost the science behind!
The book also highlights the contributions of scholars and philosophers over time such as Lord Krishna, (in Bhagavad Gita) Adi Shankara, who have interpreted the Vedas the right way and written commentaries, stories, hymns to simplify or embellish the understanding. Finally, there is a boat load of Vedic philosophy (Upanishads) in many chapters that went over my head, but may delight the philosophically oriented.

I am glad I picked this book at the airport for in-flight reading - the gain was worth way over the $3 cost!

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