The word Vedangas in Sanskrit means “limbs of the Vedas” which is appropriate because it is a collection/genre that is an appendage of the Vedas. The origin of the Vedangas can date back to as early as 1200 BC but some speculate on an even earlier date of 1800 BC. The jyotisa collection for instance refers to the beginning of the Vedangas during a winter solstice, which may have occurred closer to 1800 instead or 1200 BC (Achar 173). The Vedangas consist of six appendages: siksa, chandas, vyakarna, nirukta, jyotisa [oldest in Hindu history], and kalpa. The first four of the appendages are considered exegetical, meaning they are used as aids to help understand the Vedas. The last two appendages are regarded as ritual because they deal with rites and laws as well as the proper time and place to perform the appendages (Bhat 10).
The first appendage of the Vedangas is siksa, which is the category related to correct pronunciation and accentuation. Siksa is proper pronunciation and in order to have proper phonics, there have to be rules. A major rule under this category pertains to the sound of syllables because being off pitch by even a slight degree would alter the result and therefore the effect of the word trying to be pronounced (Tiwari 1). There are four main pratisakhya; which deals with the phoenics of the Sanskrit language. Pratisakhya also falls under siksa: Rgveda-Pratisakhya of Rgveda, Taittiriya-Pratisakhya of Krishna Yajurveda, Vajasaneyi Pratisakhya of Shukla Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda-Pratisakhya of Atharvaveda. These pratisakhya are responsible for determining the relationship between Samhita; the most ancient layer of text in the Vedas, consisting of mantras, hymns, prayers, litanies and benedictions, to Padapathas; which are recitation styles designed to complete and memorize a text, and also vice versa. They are also important for the interpretation of the Vedas (Bhat 11).
The second appendage of the Vedangas is kalpa, which is the category related to Vedic rituals. If the Vedas were imagined as a person (Purusa), this section would be known as the arms. Rules referring to sacrifice, excluding things that are not directly connected to the ceremony are found in the Kalpa-sutras [contents directly connected to the Brahmanas and Aranyakas] (Tiwari 1). The Kalpa-sutras is broken down into three categories (1) the Srauta-sutras, (2) the Grhya-sutras, and (3) the Dharma-sutras. The Srauta-sutras consist of great sacrificial rites, where the most priests were employed. The Grhya-sutras consist of household rituals that do not need a priest’s assistance. The Dharma-sutras consist of customary law prevalent at the time (Bhat 13).
The third appendage of the Vedangas is vyakaraṇa, which is the category related to Vedic grammar. Parts of this section have been lost over time because of pratisakhya, which also connects to grammar but has surpassed Vyakarana (Bhat 11). However, one major figure when Vyakarana is being discussed is Panini, primarily because he was one of the most, if not the most significant grammarian alive. His book the Astadhyayi is possibly the reason Panini surpassed all other grammarians of the period. Vyakarana is called the mouth of the Veda Purusha and is also seen as crucial for understanding the Vedas (Tiwari 1).
The fourth appendage of the Vedangas is nirukta, which is the category related to why certain words are used. This section is known as the ears of the Veda Purusa. Under this category, there has only been one text that is based on “etymology” that has survived known as the Nirukta of Yaska. In this text, it explains words found in the Vedas are explained and then assigned to one of three sections based on the type of word. The first category are words that were collected under main categories, the second category are more difficult words found, and the third category are words based on the three regions (earth, sky, and heaven) and the classification of deities (Tiwari 1). These three categories are known as the Naighantuka-kanda, Naigama-kanda, and the Daivata-kanda. The Vedangas put lots of emphasis towards this category for increase growth in the grammatical science in India (Bhat 12).
The fifth appendage of the Vedangas is chandas, which is the category related to meter, which covers the sense of the Mantra. Even though there has been no exclusive Vedic meter that survived there is the Chandas-shastras (book by Pingala). This section is often referred to as the feet of the Veda Purusha. This is because the Vedas are known as the body, which relies on the chandas [feet]. The use of this appendage is so reading and reciting is done properly (Tiwari 1). The chandas discuss the number of syllables in texts and poems which is linked to meter. This category is connected to the Brahmanas, which created the syllable and verse, however research could not find a meter in it. There are also two different types of meters based on the Rg Veda and the Yajur Veda based on the recessions (Bhat 12).
The sixth appendage of the Vedangas is jyotisa, which is the class related to the knowledge of astronomy. This section is the oldest text about astronomy in Hindu literature and dates back to around 1300 BC (Abhyankar 61). Since this category was supposedly created during a winter solstice when the sun and the moon were aligned, the date of 1820 BC has been proposed and is said that astronomy started shortly after (Achar 177). Jyotisa is known as the eye of the Veda Purusha. Jyotisa is not the teaching of astronomy, but the use of astronomy to fix the appropriate time [days and hours] for sacrifices (Tiwari 1). The most substantial sources of knowledge on astronomy can be found early in the Brahmanas. Jyotisa is especially useful because it can give positions of the moon and sun for solstices as well as other useful information (Bhat 13).
Since the Vedangas are appendages of the Vedas they can be seen as equally important in the studying and learning of the Hindu culture. Siksa provides the phonics of the Sanskrit, and without it speaking and understanding would be near impossible. Kalpa provides the proper steps towards performing rituals and when to do them. Vyakaraṇa is similar to the phonics but provides proper grammar for words that are used in the Vedas. Nirukta contains etymology (ie. meaning of usage). Chandas provide the meters in Vedic hymns to help proper reading. Jyotisa is the knowledge of astronomy to help with dating events in Hindu history and other useful information. The origins of the Vedangas can also be traced to the Brahmanas, which are a collection of ancient commentaries based on the Vedas. This connection can be made because the Brahmanas also have discussions on grammar, meter, etymology etc. (Bhat 10).
References and Further Readings
Abhyankar, K. D (1998) “Antiquity of the Vedic Calendar.” Bulletin of the Astronomical Society of India, Vol. 26, 61-66.
Achar, B.N (2000) “A Case For Revising The Date or Vedanga Jyotiṣa” Indian Journal of History of Science, Vol. 35, No. 1: 173-183.
Arnold, E.V (1905) Vedic metre in its historical development: Cambridge, UP.
Bhat, M. S (1987) Vedic Tantrism: A Study of R̥gvidhāna of Śaunaka with Text and Translation: Critically Edited in the Original Sanskrit with an Introductory Study and Translated with Critical and Exegetical Notes. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Brockington, J. L (1989) “Review of Literature in the Vedic Age.” The Brāhmaṇas, Āraṇyakas, Upaniṣads and Vedāṅga Sūtras. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 52(3), 569–570.
Tiwari, Sashi (2014) “The Vedangas – Vedic Heritage.” The Vedangas – Vedic Heritage. Delhi: Delhi University.
Related Topics for Further Investigation
Nirukta of Yaksa
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Article written by: Ryan Loman (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.