Vedangas – An Introduction

Vedangas are considered as limbs of the Vedas. A student who wants to understand and realize the inner meaning of the Vedas is required to first master these six Vedangas before attempting to study the actual Vedas.

The six Vedangas are:

1.    Vyakarana – Grammar

2.    Jyotishya – Astrology

3.    Nirukta – Etymology

4.    Chanda – Prosody

5.    Shiksha – Study of sound & pronunciation

6.    Kalpa – Science of sacrifice

First Reference to Vedangas

In Mundakopanishad, we find reference to two types of knowledge, Para and Apara. Para refers to the supreme type of knowledge through which one can attain the ultimate soul. On the other hand, Apara refers to the mundane.

“तत्रापरा ऋग्वेदो यजुर्वेदः सामवेदोऽथर्ववेदः शिक्षा कल्पो व्याकरणं निरुक्तं छन्दो ज्योतिषमिति ।”

Tatrapara rugvedo yajurvedah samavedotharvavedah shiksha kalpo vyakaranam niruktam chhando jyotishamiti |

Here we find reference to the six vedangas

What are Vedangas?

Traditionally the idea of Vedanga is

मुखं व्याकरणं तस्य ज्योतिषं नेत्रमुच्यते ।

निरुक्तं श्रोत्रमुद्दिष्टं छन्दसा विचितिः पदे ।

शिक्षा घ्राणं तु वेदस्य हस्तौ कल्पान् प्रचक्षते ॥

Mukham vyakaranam tasya jyotisham netramucyate |

Niruktam shrotramuddishtam cchandasa viciti pade |

Shiksha ghranam tu vedasya hastau kalpan pracakshate ||

Vyakarana is the mouth of Vedas, Jyotishya is eye, Nirukta is ear, Chanda is leg, Shiksha is nose and Kalpa is hands. Thus, they are the angas (body parts) of Vedas. Hence they are known as Vedangas.

Originally Vedangas were not separate scriptures, but the knowledge of Vedangas was hidden in the Vedas. While learning Vedas one would receive the knowledge of Vedangas. Vedangas are six branches of knowledge essential for the understanding of the teachings of the Vedas.

Introduction to each Vedanga

1.   Siksha: Shiksha branch deals with the study of sounds and pronunciation associated with each syllable. The vibrations generated by sounds are considered to possess immense power in Hindu mysticism. It trains the students in the art and science of articulation of words and syllables so that they can recite the Vedic hymns perfectly, so that these chants produce the desired sound vibrations. The teachings of the Siksha are contained in the ancient texts known as Pratisakhyas, each attached to a particular Samhita, providing instructions for the recitation of the hymns contained in it.

2.   Chhanda: Chhanda deals with the analysis of the types of meter used in the construction of various Vedic hymns. In Sanskrit, the word “pada” is used as the metrical unit. The measurement is made depending on the nunber of syllables used. Gayatri, Tristubh and Jagati are the most common meters used in the poetic compositions. Chhandashastra of Pingalanaga is considered to be the oldest text available on the subject.

3.   Vyakarana: Vyakarana branch deals with Sanskrit grammar or the analysis and decomposition of words, word formation, root words and complex sentence structures. Thus Vyakarana provides useful insights into the usage of words and sentences leading to the mastery of the language. The most authoritative work on the subject is considered to be the Ashtadhyayi of Sage Panini. Ashtadhyayi is divided into four parts:

Siva Sutras: These deal with phonetics of the word and letter sounds.

Ashtadhyayi: deal with the structure of words and sentences and their construction.

Dhatupata: In Sanskrit, there are “root words” and “derived words”. Dhatupata deals with list of root words.

Ganapatha: deals with nouns or noun phrases.

4.   Nirukta: Nirukta is etymology. It deals with the explanations of obscure words especially those found in the Vedas. The Vedas are replete with mysterious symbolism not usually understood by all. Nirukta helps in the analysis and interpretation of these symbolisms. The most authoritative exponent of this branch of study is Yaksha, a Sanskrit grammarian and master of Sanskrit etymology. He is remembered for his monumental work called Nirukta, which is an excellent commentary of the obscure words found in the Nighantu (dictionary) of his time.

5.   Jyotisha: Jyotishya deals with the astronomical and astrological aspects of fixing auspicious date and time to perform various Vedic rites and rituals including the sacraments or rites of passage. There are two versions – the Aarca Jyotish and the Yajus Jyotish. One belongs to Rigveda and the other to Yajurveda. According to tradition, Sage Bhrigu is said to be the first person who perfected the knowledge of Jyotisha and built a record of the natal charts of every human being who was to be born on earth.

6.   Kalpa: Practical, ceremonial, sacrificial and ritual aspect of the Vedas is known as Kalpa. Technically it is the applied science of the Vedas. The method and the manner in which the sacrificial ceremonies and daily household rituals have to be performed are established in a compendium of sutras or aphorisms known as Kalpa Sutras. Many mathematical developments are recorded in the works known as Sulava Sutras, which are the supplements of the Kalpa. A wealth of geometrical and arithmetical results is recorded in Sulava Sutras.

These subjects were an integral and essential part of ancient Vedic education system, aimed to promote an all round development of the students with a better understanding of the Vedas and Vedic practices.


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