Vedavyasa or Vyasa was born approximately around 3100 B.C. Numerous works have been attributed to Vedavyasa. He is known by many names such as Krushna Dvaipayana, Badarayana, Parashara and Bhagvan Vyasa. However, the most popular and famous among them is Vyasa. The Sanskrit name Vedavyasa literally means the compiler of the Vedas. It is also widely believed that Vedavyasa was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
Birth of Vedavyasa
Sage Parashara was the grandson of Brahmarishi Vashishta. Dasharaja, chief of the fishermen colony, one day discovered a large fish and cut it open. To his utter surprise there were two children inside the womb of the fish. The boy child was gifted to the King and Dasharaja happily kept the girl child and named her Satyavathi. Satyavathi grew up to be an adept boat rower and one day offered to row Sage Parashara across the river. During the journey, Sage Parashara explained to Satyavathi that it was an extremely auspicious occasion to give birth to a child, who would grow up to be a great man. Thus, Satyavati agreed and she gave birth to Vedavyasa, with the blessings of Sage Parashara.
Compiler of the Vedas
Earlier called Dvaipayana, Vedavyasa had a number of disciples. He decided to further split the Vedas and simplify it. He thought the Vedas were an extremely rich source of wisdom and knowledge and therefore it ought to be further divided and simplified to enable the common man to read and understand the significance of the Vedas. He therefore, invested the faculties of his four most prominent disciples namely Jamini, Sumanthu, Vaishampayana and Paila, to this task. He later married Jabali Kanya Vatika and had a son from her named Shuka.
In his later life, Vedavyasa also wrote Brahma Sutra. The Brahma Sutra is also called Shariraka Mimamsasutra.
Vyasa’s role in the Mahabharata
Vedavyasa’s role in Mahabharata is extremely crucial. A number of important occasions crucial to his presence in the epic are as follows –
- Vedavyasa was the son of Satyavathi and was born through the blessings of Sage Parshurama. Later when Satyavathi got married to Shantnu, King of Hastinapura, she was blessed with two sons, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Chitrangada was an extremely powerful prince who was killed in a war and sometime later Vichitravirya also died a premature death and was survived by two wives, Ambike and Ambalike, and no issue/heir to rule the empire of Hastinapura. Their step-brother Devavratha (Bhishma Pitamah) had taken an oath to remain unmarried throughout his life. It was during this time; Satyavathi called Vedavyasa and asked him to bless the widows of Vichitravirya. However, such was the radiance of Vedavyasa that while he was blessing Ambike she could not see right into the eye of the sage and hence gave birth to a courageous but blind son, Dhritarashtra. On the other hand, while Ambalike came in front of him, she got too scared and her body turned pale, she therefore gave birth to a warrior son, Pandu, whose skin was pale in color.
- The hundred children (ninety-nine sons and one daughter, all test-tube babies) of Gandhari and Dhritarashtra were also born by the virtue of Vedavyasa. The eldest and the youngest sons were named Duryodhana and Dushasana respectively; the daughter, youngest of all, was named Dushale.
- Again, it was Sage Vedavyasa who guided Dharmaraj Yudhisthira and his brothers throughout their exile hardships. During Pandavas’ one year disguise period, Vedavyasa advised the brothers to stay in a small town of Ekachakranagara as Brahmins.
- Pandavas’ marriage to Draupadi was also attributed to Sage Vedavyasa as he informed them about Draupadi’s swyamvara being organized at Panchala. He also took Draupadi’s father, Draupad, into confidence and assured him that his daughter would be the happiest and most revered of all the women on the planet being the wife of all the five Pandavas.
- Sage Vedavyasa was known for his non-partial character. Prior to the war of Mahabharata, he went to meet Dhritarashtra and asked him to warn his son Duryodhana against declaring any war with the Pandavas. He also kindly requested Dhritarashtra to order Duryodhana to concede his defeat against the Pandavas as he had no other alternative; victory of the good over the evil was predefined.
- Preceding the great war of Mahabharata, Vedavyasa again met the Pandavas to make them realize the intensity of the war as they would have to fight against great warriors like Bhishma Pitamah, Drona, Karna and Aswathama. Hence, he initiated Dharmaraj Yudhisthira with the mantra of Prathismruthi. He also asked him to initiate his brother Arjuna with the Prathismruthi vidya.
- Finally, when Dharmaraj Yudhisthira won the Mahabharata war against Kauravas, he suffered from deep fratricide guilt and was unable to take over the throne of Hastinapura. At this point of time Vedavyasa and Bhishma Pitamah, who was lying on the bed of arrows, recalled Dharmaraj his duties towards his state and subjects as a Kashtriya. Vedavyasa also asked him to perform the famous Aswamedha Yajna before taking over the throne of Hastinapura.
Story behind writing the Mahabharata
After conceiving the idea of writing an epic of magnificent proportions, he took a ritualistic bath and sat upon a platform made of durba grass, inside a cave. He started to reflect upon the format of the epic and performed Tapas. After sometime, Lord Brahmadeva appeared in Vedavyasa’s ashram and was received with extreme courtesy. Vedavyasa also revealed the idea of writing an epic to Lord Brahmadeva and asked his help in writing the epic. Lord Brahmadeva suggested praying to Lord Ganesha. When Lord Ganesha appeared before Vedavyasa, he put on a condition that once he starts writing, he would not stop. Vedavyasa also requested Lord Ganesha to understand before writing down the verses.
They began writing the epic on an auspicious day. Vedavyasa began dictating the verses, which would provide mankind with the knowledge of the Purushastras. Vedavyasa composed hundred thousand stanzas for the great epic. He also composed another epic of the same story, which had sixty lakh stanzas. Narada played a very crucial in popularizing the epic.
Srimad Bhagavatha Composed
In spite of composing a mammoth volume of spiritual and religious literature, Vedavyasa was not content with his work. On a particular day, while meditating on the banks of the River Yamuna, Narada appeared before Vedavyasa. Narada explained to him about the lack of praising the Lord in his works. Narada then requested Vedavyasa to dedicate a work to the Lord.
Vedavyasa started to develop a work, with the Lord as the main theme. He described the intention of his work to his son, Shuka. But Shuka could not decipher the meaning of the verses composed by his father. Vedavyasa then narrated the verses to Parikshit, the grandson of Dharmaraja. Thereafter, the great verses of the Srimad Bhagavatha were composed.
Vyasa also says something about Dharma:
He puts man at the centre rather than God.
गुह्यं ब्रह्म तदिदं ब्रवीमि।
न हि मानुषाच्छ्रेष्ठतरं हि किञ्चित्॥(Mahabharata Shantiparvan 180.12)
He had a great belief in Purusharthas. He says that:
अहो सिद्धार्थता तेषां येषां सन्तीह पाणयः।
अतीव स्पृहये तेषां येषां सन्तीह पाणयः।
पाणिमद्भ्यः स्पृहास्माकं यथा एव धनस्य वै।
न पाणिलाभादधिको लाभः कश्चन विद्यते।।(Mahabharata Shantiparvan 180.11.12)
Vyasa gives the message that:
न जातु कामान्न भयान्न लोभात्।
धर्मं त्यजेज्जीवितस्यापि हेतोः।।
धर्मो नित्यः सुखदुःखे त्वनित्ये।
जीवो नित्यो हेतुरस्य त्वनित्यः।।
ऊर्ध्वबाहुविरौस्येष म च कश्चित् श्रुणोति माम्।
धर्मादर्थश्च कामश्च स किमर्थं न सेव्यते।।(Mahabharata Swargarohana 5.49)
We can never conceive the culture of this great land Bharatha without remembering Vedavyasa. The other great sages were engaged in the task of building the welfare of the people of the world and our shastras take great pride in acknowledging this with gratitude.
व्यासाय विष्णुरूपाय व्यासरूपाय विष्णवे।
नमो वै ब्रह्मणीध्याय वसिष्ठाय नमो नमः॥