My first brush with Sanskrit came when I learnt the Vishnu SahasranAma. There is something so lyrical, so charming about this sahasranAma, that I was completely engrossed. The words just roll off one’s tongue, like water rolling off a lotus petal. It was only much later that I started to look deeper into it, in an attempt to understand what each name meant. For the uninitiated, the Vishnu SahasranAma consists of 1000 names for Vishnu; and is probably the most sacred, popular stotras for the Hindus, especially the Vaishnavites. The SahasranAma is recorded in the Mahabharata – during the battle of Kurukshetra between the Pandavas and Kauravas. When Bhishma is on his deathbed, Yudhishtira asks him, “Who is that single, all pervading, divine entity, in whom one can take refuge, by worshipping such an entity, one can attain salvation?” (Of course, this is a very ‘layman’ translation’) In response, Bhishmacharya responds that the means of salvation is to recite the Vishnu SahasranAma – there being only one, Supreme Being – Maha Vishnu.
In the literal sense, the stotra consists of 1000 names (sahasra) of Maha Vishnu. I think for people like me, this itself is enough! However, each of these names can be interpreted in several different ways – in other words, it is rich, layered, and hidden with deeper meanings, which probably only the true seeker can understand. Reciting this stotra is said to bring an instant calmness in the mind, peace, prosperity. I can vouch for the instant calmness of the mind – I am sure even an atheist can achieve this. Simply because the sound of each syllable is so lyrical, so musical – that the mind focuses automatically on the sound!
Although the Vishnu SahasranAma was ‘recorded’ in the Mahabharata, it is believed that it was composed by none other than sage Veda Vyaasa himself. In any case, our scholars have estimated that the events of the Mahabharata unfolded between 8th or 9th century B.C. And that gives me goosebumps. Imagine – something that was recited in 8th century B.C. or even earlier, is still recited, in the same way even to this day, in millions of households!
Now, the Vishnu SahasranAma is a drop in the ocean, as far our Vedic ‘literature’ is concerned. We all know about the four principle Vedas – the oldest being the Rig-Veda, then, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda and the Atharva Veda. Then there are the Maha Puranas, the Upanishads etc. Now, if a ‘simple’ shloka like the Vishnu SahasranAma can have so many layers of interpretations, what about all the profound knowledge expounded by the principle Vedas themselves? Obviously, I am talking about knowledge which is deeply abstract, metaphysical in nature – the type of knowledge which can be received only after due preparation, both mental and physical.
That took me to the next logical question. Any knowledge is obtained based on life experiences. We keep improving and experimenting on those experiences, and we perfect the knowledge. We ‘found’ out how to make fire, and improved thereon – from rubbing two stones together to harnessing natural resources of oil and gas. Similarly, what were the exotic, profound life-experiences of a race that made it amass the knowledge that is now contained in the Vedas? That too, at such an ancient time, when other peer races where struggling with stone tools and employing rudimental tactics of agriculture? Of course, the belief is that the Vedas have no beginning. They have always existed through Time. They were revealed to our Maha Rishis, who in turn imparted the knowledge to worthy beings on earth. Assuming this theory is true; even then, such knowledge cannot be imparted to an ordinary mortal. It is akin to teaching theory of relativity to an LKG child. This knowledge had to be imparted to a group of people, who possessed extraordinary mental faculties. This deduction is an aberration to the scientific data – the ‘people’ of that time were just about getting organised into societies, discovering metals etc.
The general consensus is that the Rig-Veda could have ‘originated’ between 1700 – 1100 B.C. But then, I found an interesting piece of information – certain astronomical data have been recorded in the Yajur Veda and the Atharva Veda, which date back to 2400 B.C. The language used in these ancient Vedic texts is a very archaic form of Sanskrit. It was only in the 4th Century B.C. that Panini wrote the Ashtadhyayi, where he defined the rules for Sankrit grammar. This gave rise to the classical Sanskrit, in which all the poetry and literature took shape (e.g. Kalidasa’s works etc.) Now, let us draw a quick comparison to a peer civilization – the most popular Egyptian civilization. At a time when these guys were using circles and dots and fowls and animals as their script, the ‘Vedic race’ had a perfect language – perfect in all sense, complete in all sense. How many centuries does it take to ‘perfect’ the language of a race? And therefore, for how many centuries was this Vedic Race in existence? Yes, we all know of the Mohenjo Daro and Harappan civilizations. We also know that this civilization ‘disappeared' in 1700 B.C. due to change in climatic conditions (and not because of the fictitious Aryan invasion as popularised by some Western scholars.) But there is no evidence that shows the Mohenjo Daro/Harappan civilizations were in possession of such Sanskrit texts. However, excavations have revealed the existence of ‘Homa’ areas, thereby implying that even this civilization did follow rites and rituals prescribed in the Vedas. So in what prehistoric era did this Vedic Race actually live? And where did they live?
Similarly in the 2nd century B.C – around 150 B.C actually, Patanjali wrote his Yogasutras, which are practised all over the world even today. This treatise is not just about ‘doing’ the Yoga - mastering the asanas, as is done today. The Yogasutras deal with psychology, the abstract, metaphysical aspects of the Soul, the Brahman, the controlling of one’s impulses, self-awareness – principles of such astounding complexity and maturity, that it seems too detached from the world around at that time (and still is, if you ask me!) Again, the same question arises. What was the extraordinary environment, what were the extraordinary experiences – that enabled Patanjali? Who were these ancient Masters, who imparted such phenomenal wisdom to our ancestors – thousands of years ago? Why is there NO evidence of their physical existence?
So, on one hand, we are looking at civilizations who were using hieroglyphics for scripts, war-ravaged regions in Europe, nomads, races grappling with agricultural methods, usage of stone tools, at best, spears and bows and arrows and ‘light weight’ chariots etc. – and on the other hand, the Vedas reveal a different race, light years ahead of the rest, technologically advanced (how can one explain accurate astronomical calculations?), intellectually advanced (even if Mahabharata is a ‘myth’ as declared by some scholars, surely, it was not written by a simpleton); essentially a race that seemed to transcend physical planes of space and time.
And yet, I find it strange that there is such a dismissal and denial of these facts. Of course, a philosophy as complex as that of the Vedas could never have been accepted by the then Church – remember they tied themselves into knots over evolution theory? And most of the modern scholars try to put the entire Vedic knowledge into a very narrow framework of proof-seeking – there is no Rosetta Stone for the Rig Veda, and hence, it is difficult to correlate. And yes, it does not fit into the entire evolution theory too. On one hand, there is the Stone Age and the Bronze Age and what have you, but on the other hand, our texts talk about the Soul, the primordial Sound, and the Truth about existence. One cannot even draw a parallel! But still, even a bumbling fool like me can figure out something is not adding up. Sure, we do not have mummies and tombs and anything thrilling that way. But how can one miss out completely on the existence of such a superior race?
Where did this race come from? Where did they vanish?
The other day, I caught a program called Ancient Aliens on History Channel. They were drawing a comparison between several ancient cultures – the Mayans, the Incas, our Mohenjo Daro, Egyptian – the common thread was that all these cultures had a representation of some kind of contact with superior powers from outer space. This is represented by means of paintings, frescos etc. More often than not, it shows Beings ‘imparting’ some kind of knowledge from the skies.
Perhaps, therein is my answer - heavenwards. The only explanation (atrocious, bold and bizarre as it may sound) that I can think of for the disappearance of this Vedic Race, who left behind their astounding knowledge in ancient India – is that they were inter-galactic, they were extra terrestrial – and once their job was done on earth, they left. Vanished into thin air. There is not even a footprint for a proof. Hence the general world-wide disenchantment with the Vedic age – as far as academia is concerned, it’s some ancient text – so date it, forget it.
But then, that is the nature of the Vedas. It reveals Itself only to the true seeker.
©Sumana Khan - 2010