The Vedas are said to be the oldest recorded knowledge of mankind. The belief is that the Vedas were not composed by men, but were cognitions of men, the ancient Rishis, about the fundamental truths of the universe. They were revealed to different Rishis, and are recorded in the four Vedas – Rig, Yajur (Krishna and Shukla), Sama, and Atharva Vedas.
The Vedas are generally associated with Hinduism, but other major religions such as Sikkism, Jainism, and Buddhism all make use of them. They are thought to be beyond caste, religion, and creed. The Vedic literature is vast, and far exceeds the contents of the four and five Vedas. As an example, the Mahabharata, just one of the great epics closely associated with the Vedic literature, is nearly five times the size of Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey combined. The Upanishads are great philosophical texts studied at the Veda Pathasalas along with the Veda. It is thought that originally 108 Upanishads existed. There are many branches that spring from the root of the four major Vedas, and include dissertations on medicine, astronomy and astrology, warfare, diplomacy, and many other topics, such as physical yoga, which is so popular all over the world now.
A special part of the Vedas has to do with how they are chanted. The meter – the up and down of the sound, is as important as the pronunciation. This is part of what guru and siksha – teacher and disciple – have preserved in unbroken tradition for thousands of years. The same Veda can be chanted in different meters. It can also be chanted in different order. For instance, the Rig Veda, chanted in regular method, takes perhaps 45 hours to recite. But in some “Ghana” methods, it might take 700 hours to recite! For thousands of years, it is believed the Veda was never written down, but passed down in a purely oral tradition.
The devangari script of the Veda is the “language of the gods”. “Gods” means the underlying intelligence supervising the universe. When chanted correctly, this intelligence is enlivened and produces remarkable benefits.
It is no secret that the Vedic knowledge is rapidly disappearing in India. Because the knowledge is so vast, it is not a simple matter preserving it. As an example, Tulsidas’ and Valmeeki’s Ramayana’s are secure. But what about the other 200 or so versions of the Ramayana in India? Every week an old pundit dies, and another chunk of knowledge dies with him. This is why we consider our mission of training students so important.