Some of the seemingly contradicting facts about the ancient vedas (or the vedic texts) are that
- Vedas are not of human origin
- Veda Vyasa wrote the Vedas
- Different vedic hymns are written by different vedic seers (Rishis)
- RigVeda is the oldest Veda
If Veda Vyasa wrote the vedas, then how is it possible for other Rishis to write the vedic hymns? If Veda Vyasa wrote the vedas then how is it possible that one is the oldest veda and the other newer? If Vedas existed since the beginning then how can Veda Vyasa or for that matter any seers write them?
Here in this article we try to unravel this mystery about the vedas and try to obtain a picture as clear as possible.
What exactly is contained in the vedas?
“They were perhaps whispers of God, or maybe insights of the wise. They gave the world meaning and life a purpose. These chants relieved Vedana, the yearning of the restless human soul, hence became collectively known as the Veda. Those who heard them first came to be known as the Rishis” -
says Devdutt Patnaik in his book Jaya, An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata
While modern science tries to help us understand the universe from a materialistic perspective, Vedic texts help us understand the universe from a spiritual perspective. Modern Science can tell us how the universe works (to a large extent), but it cannot tell us WHY it works the way it does? It can tell us how life evolved. But science cannot tell us WHY life exists, or what is the purpose of our life. Vedas can answer these questions, along with the answers related to the purpose of the very creation of this universe.
Modern Science is Knowledge, but Vedas are Knowledge+Wisdom. The wisdom which the ancient seers discovered through their relentless efforts in discovering the truth. The truth which goes well beyond the scope of modern science. The truth which tries to find a reasoning for the existence of you, me and this entire universe. The truth which tries to answer questions like “Who am I?”, “Why am I here?”.
Coming back to the dating of the Vedas, we know almost for sure now that the famous Mahabharata war between Kauravas and Pandavas was fought in the year 3139 BCE which is more than 5000 years back! We also know that Veda Vyasa who originally documented the Mahabharata history is also said to have written down vedas in their present form.
Now going back to the days of Veda Vyasa which is the time period of Mahabharata, once there was a 14 year old drought on the banks of the Saraswati river then. River Saraswati was one of the largest rivers which flowed through the northern India in the days pre-dating Mahabharata.
As a result of this severe drought which made people more occupied in trying to find a living and find food, most of the ancient vedic hymns of knowledge and wisdom started getting erased from the memories of the Saraswati civilization. In those days the vedic hymns were the individual sets of knowledge and wisdom collected or authored by different Rishis. Now finally when the rains returned after the terrible 14 year old drought, Vyasa – the son of a fisher-woman sat down to collect all the existing vedic hymns and finally compiled these scattered hymns into four different collections – the Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda.
So there is no question of one veda being older than the other. The myth of Rigveda being the oldest of all vedas and dating it to 1500 BCE was a by-product of the mythical Aryan Invasion Theory. Each of the veda has references to other vedas, so how can then one be older than the other?
So to summarize,
- Vedic hymns existed much before Veda Vyasa
- Veda Vyasa is the COMPILER of the Vedas, not the author. He collected and categorized all existing vedic hymns into four collections.
- It was Vyasa who compiled the vedas into the four collections as we know them today.
- Since the vedas were compiled by a single person, it would be incorrect to say that one veda is older than the other.
- Since Vyasa lived during the times of Mahabharata and since it was he who compiled the vedas, Rigveda or any other veda has to be dated to the times of Mahabharata. Hence it is incorrect to say that Rigveda was written in 1500 BCE because Mahabharata took place in around 3100 BCE
Finally, if Vedas are the words of God, then how can Rishis be called the authors of Vedic hymns ?
Well, consider quantum mechanics or relativity. We know that these are the universal laws of physics which dictate the functioning of our Universe. If God exists, then God must have created these laws. Then we have Einstein, Planck etc who discovered (NOT created) these laws. And then we today have science encyclopedias which contain these compiled findings of Einstein, Planck etc.
Now taking an analogy, we can consider the knowledge and wisdom in the Vedas to be eternal or divine, just like the way the laws of Physics like Quantum Mechanics, and Relativity are. We can equate scientists like Planck and Einstein with the ancient Rishis who discovered this knowledge and penned it down in the form of hymns. Now we realize that vedas are like modern encyclopedia but in a grand sense, that they have collections of these hymns categorized and organized, just like the way encyclopedia has collected knowledge on Relativity, Quantum Mechanics etc. Veda Vyasa is similar to the person who compiled this encyclopedia, there by making sure that this knowledge and wisdom remains preserved and available in a single source – the Vedas.
The way Einstein and Planck REALIZED the laws of Physics, the ancient Rishis realized the divine nature of this universe and the resultant wisdom and wrote it down in the form of hymns. Einstein or Planck did not CREATE these laws, nor did the Rishis. They just realized it through their investigations into the functioning of this Universe, the former from a materialistic (also called scientific in modern terminology) perspective and the latter from a spiritual (or philosophical) perspective.
Veda Vyasa then compiled all these hymns and published the vedas in the form of four collections as we know them today.