1 May 2008

The Veda and Sri Aurobindo's Light

O Flame, O ray in our limited existence, bring for us an illumination full of utter energy, by an all-encompassing felicity cleave forward our path towards the plentitude.

- Hymn to Agni (Rig Veda)

She of the vision of knowledge, she of its flowing inspiration, she of its vastness, three goddesses who give birth to the Bliss, they who stumble not, may they take their seats at the alter strewn of the sacrifice.

- Hymn to Agni (Rig veda)

The Rig Veda rises out of the ancient dawn with the sound of a thousand-voiced hymn lifted from the soul of man to an all creative Truth and an all- illumining Light.

-Sri Aurobindo

Those in this world are unfortunate who have not had the touch of Sri Aurobindo’s mind. In him the East and the West found the best meeting ground. He was in every inch a realist and in the perfectly integral sense of matter, a materialist per se. He never followed anything with any preconceived idea or whose veracity lied only on customary belief. He had a mind of a scientist who never accepts anything without verification of its reality. So he was not warmly welcome to the majority of religious persons of India –the country, perhaps best explored in his spiritual mission as a land of Divine Presence. To the atheists he remains to be accepted as a great thinker or philosopher but is summarily refused for his vision of a future of mankind in a higher consciousness, notwithstanding his irrefutable logical explanations for such an unalterable destiny. Actually the materialists also follow a religion like the believers. The difference is that they are not aware that their system of seeking is also based on their absolute faith in the system itself –the system, Mind works with, under an integral process in evolution. The believers here in India are deeply rooted in Mayavada of Shankaracharya. So some believers even think of him as an atheist for his taking up of matter as something in the scheme of his sadhana.

If there can be any incarnation of the aspiration of modern man, then Sri Aurobindo was definitely an incarnation. He accepted with due regard all the positive progressive elements of modern man. So he assured his devotees that he had tested his every spiritual realization more rigorously than a scientist testing his result before declaring it to be true. He never accepted anything which he had not personally realized.

He was a pedant in the general sense of the term. But he never accepted that he would go to be known as a savant or philosopher. He wrote on many things of human activities. But to any serious reader he appears to be telling from his own understanding and solid realization. Sri Aurobindo –was not a scholar in the mechanical and current sense of the term. But if he felt a need to know anything for some purpose he studied the subject and became a master of it. But he didn’t study in the usual way. Whenever he took up something seriously –he went on researching on the matter. In this matter his characteristic inclination was more akin to western scientific researchers. He never insisted people –whenever he required addressing people outside his own spiritual community in the Ashram, he expected them to be rigorous in finding the real and the system must be secure and fool-proof.

So had there been no Sri Aurobindo –the hymns of the Veda still remain to be “the sacrificial compositions of a primitive and still barbarous race written around a system of ceremonial and propitiatory rites, addressed to personified Powers of Nature and replete with a confused mass of half-formed myth and crude astronomical allegories yet in the making.” Now it is for Sri Aurobindo with his scholarly and scientific efforts the secrets have been revealed before people. He refuted with his irrefutable light, Sayana and the later western scholars. Though there were three modern Indian contributions viz. Tilak, T.Paramasiva Aiyar and Swami Dayananda Saraswati but-none of them were free from conjectural opinions and can stand the rigorous tests that are essential in the matter.

Sri Aurobindo had –in his early period accepted without much interest the conclusions of European Scholarship ‘both as to the religious and and as to the historical and ethnical sense of the ancient hymns.” He had regarded as he had knew about the Rig Veda in modern translation as “an important document of our national history, but seemed of small value or importance for the history of thought or for a living spiritual experience.”

So what transpired Sri Aurobindo to be interested in The Vedas? In his own words he had regarded the Upanishads ‘as the most ancient source of Indian thought and religion-the true Veda, the first Book of knowledge’. He had been made to learn that “the Veda for the priests, the Vedanta for the sages”. Let us know how Sri Aurobindo had been drawn into the secret realms of the Vedas in his own words.

He wrote in his The Secret of the Veda,-“My first contact with Vedic thought came indirectly while pursuing certain lines of self-development in the way of Indian Yoga, which, without my knowing it, were spontaneously converging towards the ancient and now unfrequented paths followed by our forefathers.” During this period of his sadhana he had been experiencing regularly, in him, figures of three female energies, Ila, Saraswati and Sarama-representing ‘severally three out of four faculties of the intuitive reasons,-revelation, inspiration and intuition’. He wrote that two of these names had not been well known to him as names of Vedic goddesses. He knew that they were connected rather with the current Hindu religion or with old Puranic legend, Saraswati, goddess of learning and Ila, mother of the Lunar dynasty. He went on “But Sarama was familiar enough. I was unable, however, to establish any connection between the figure that rose in my mind and the Vedic hound of heaven, who was associated in my memory with the Argive Helen and represented only an image of the physical Dawn entering in its pursuit of the vanished herds of Light into the cave of the Powers of darkness.” Thus had been the beginning of his search and subsequent research in the seclusion of his lone room in Pondicherry.

But before that he had been struck with some of his observation during his stay in Southern India for political activities which ultimately intensified his involvement with the secret of the Veda. It is always better to read in his own words, his own experiences. He wrote “Two observations that were forced on my mind, gave a serious shock to my second-hand belief in the racial division between Northern Aryans and Southern Dravidians. The distinction had always rested for me on a supposed difference between the physical types of Aryan and Dravidian and a more definite incompatibility between the northern Sanskritic and the southern non-Sanskritic tongues. I knew indeed of the later theories which suppose that a single homogeneous race, Dravidian or Indo-Afghan, inhabits the Indian peninsula; but hitherto I had not attracted much importance to these speculations. I could not, however, be long in Southern India without being impressed by the general recurrence of northern or ‘Aryan’ types in the Tamil race. Wherever I turned, I seemed to recognize with a startling distinctness, not only among the Brahmins but in all cases and classes, the old familiar faces, features, figures of my friends of Maharashtra, Gujerat, Hindustan, even, though this similarity was less widely spread, of my own province, Bengal. The impression I received was as if an army of all the tribes of the North had descended on the South and submerged any previous populations that may have occupied it. A general impression of a southern type survived, but it was impossible to fix it rigidly while studying the physiognomy of individuals. And in the end I could not but perceive that whatever admixtures might have taken place, whatever regional differences might have been evolved, there remains, behind all variations, a unity of physical as well as of cultural type throughout India. For the rest, this is a conclusion to which ethnological speculation itself has an increasing tendency…………

“And there was always the difference of language to support the theory of a meeting of races. But here also my preconceived ideas were disturbed and confounded. For, on examining the vocables of the Tamil language, in appearance so foreign to the Sanskritic form and character, I yet found myself continually guided by words or by families of words supposed to be pure Tamil in establishing new relations between Sanskrit and its distant sister, Latin, and occasionally, between the Greek and the Sanskrit. Sometimes the Tamil vocable not only suggested the connection, but proved the missing link in a family of connected words. And it was through this Dravidian language that I came first to perceive what seems to me now the true law, origins and, as it were, the embryology of the Aryan tongues. I was unable to pursue my examination far enough to establish any definite conclusion, but it certainly seems to me that the original connection between the Dravidian and Aryan tongues was far closer and more extensive than is usually supposed and the possibility suggests itself that they may even have been two divergent families derived from one lost primitive tongue. If so, the sole remaining evidence of an Aryan invasion of Dravidian India would be the indications to be found in the Vedic hymns.”

So with this ‘double interest’ Sri Aurobindo took up for the first time studying the Veda in original. After not a very long time he discovered that the Vedic indications of a distinction between Aryans and Dasyus and the identification of the latter as indigenous Indians was not as solid as Sri Aurobindo had supposed earlier. Interestingly, he discovered that a ‘considerable body of profound psychological thought and experience lying neglected in these ancient hymns.’ On this he continued with profound interest, “ And the importance of this element increased in my eyes when I found, first, that the mantras of the Veda illuminated with a clear and exact light psychological experiences of my own for which I had found no sufficient explanation either in European psychology or in the teachings of Yoga or of Vedanta, so far as I was acquainted with them, and, secondly, that they shed light on obscure passages and ideas of the Upanishads to which, previously, I could attach no exact meaning and gave at the same time a new sense to much in the Puranas.”

Thus was the beginning of the journey of Sri Aurobindo to the world of truth of the Veda. He discovered the truth of the Veda-the earliest literature (spiritual or otherwise) of the world. In deciphering the words he had to discover the identities of the Rishis and their time. So he took up the entire Veda in original and discovered the meaning of the mantras, comparing the root-words with Greek and Tamil, hitherto unknown to the world or known in ignorant and derogatory sense as some barbarians’ appeasing the unknown powers of Nature for material benefits. My intention here is not to discuss the secret meanings of the mantras but to highlight what Sri Aurobindo discovered in his research about the differences of so called Aryans and Dravidians and the North-South divide that have been supposed to breed an impression that there was no fundamental link between the two different tongues and races (Sri Aurobindo perhaps liked to use the word ‘ethnicities’). Sri Aurobindo studied philology and in his own way tried to conceive the intents of the mantras. He wrote that Comparative Philology helped a lot but in the present state of this science it was yet to attain maturity. He wrote,” Modern Philology is an immense advance on anything we have had before the nineteenth century. It has introduced a spirit of order and method in place of mere phantasy; it has given us more correct ideas of the morphology of language and of what is or is not possible in etymology. It has established a few rules which govern the the phenomena of the detritions of language and guide us in the identification of the same word or of related words as they appear in the changes of different but kindred tongues. Here, however, its achievements cease. The high hopes which attended its birth, have not been fulfilled by its maturity. It has failed to create a Science of Language and we are still compelled to apply to it the apologetic description given by a great philologist after some decades of earnest labour when he was obliged to speak of his favourite pursuits as ‘our petty conjectural sciences’. But a conjectural science is of no Science at all.”

So Sri Aurobindo had to depend on his own understanding based on his irrefutable logic and his overriding wisdom-still unparallel in this realm of the Veda.

I have had to relate all this to those who have not read Sri Aurobindo’s voluminous book-“The Secret of the Veda”. I have had to inform them the basic problems of discovering the secret of the Veda in absence of any recorded history of that far ancient era of human civilization and the absence of a well-formed and matured Science of Language. Surprisingly, a very recent revelation from The Indian Genome Variation (IGV)’s mammoth effort to analyse genetic variation across the Indian population has erased the dividing lines that separate caste and religious groups. The study by a consortium of six Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) laboratories and the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta has arrived through the process of their research studies that Dravidian lineages have mixed with Indo-Europeans, Austroasiatics have mingled with Dravidians, and bridge populations in central India are blends of Dravidian, Indo-European and Himalayan groups. Their analysis also shows that Kashmiri Pundits and Kashmiri Muslims are genetically similar and share genetic similarities with Dravidian groups. It is also said that some Dravidian speaking population groups have Indo-European lineage.

I have cited only the relevant portion of the above scientific findings to show that it proves what Sri Aurobindo, first through his intuition and then through his intensive studies of Tamil and the Vedic vocables (and through his sadhana) firmly established that there exists no such distinctively separate physical roots that may divide the Dravidians and the northern Aryans. From this it becomes evident that the two seemingly different tongues-Tamil and Sanskrit may have ancient links (as Sri Aurobindo showed in his Secret of the Veda) hidden in the formation of Vedic words.

After this startling revelation –the Science of Languages requires to be a true and mature Science (free from conjectures) as advised by Sri Aurobindo almost hundred years ago.

Finally I like to quote a portion of Sri Aurobindo’s letter to the editor of The Hindu dated 26th August, 1914 in response to criticism of the opening chapter of The Secret of the Veda. Sri Aurobindo wrote,”…My point was that such knowledge, when it expressed a developed philosophy and psychology, stood in need of historical explanation,-a very different matter. If we accepted the European idea of an evolving knowledge in humanity,-and it is on that basis that my argument proceeded –we must find the source of the Brahmavada either in an extraneous origin such as a previous Dravidian culture-a theory which I can not admit, since I regard the so called Aryans and Dravidians as one and homogenous race-or in a previous development, of which the records have either been lost or are to be found in the Veda itself.” But I can not see any possibility of the coming of the seer and scientist-philologists in near future. Sri Aurobindo –himself already prepared a ground for them and indicated many results he discovered for the posterity. I’ll conclude with Sri Aurobindo’s comment on his own work.

“I do not claim that mine is the first attempt to give an adhyatmic interpretation of the Veda. It is an attempt –the first or the hundredth matters little-to give the esoteric and psychological sense of the Veda based throughout on the most modern method of critical research. Its interpretation of Vedic vocables is based on a re-examination of a large part of the field of comparative philology and a reconstruction on a new basis which I have some hope will bring us nearer to a true science of Language. This I propose to develop in another work, the “Origins of Aryan Speech”.

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