Book Review: 'The Veda, My Passion' Is An Invitation To The Sounds And Music Of The Grand Divine Rumination
Amidst the vast array of literature on the Rig Veda, what, one may wonder, is the uniqueness of Dr Rangan’s commentary?
It is the emphasis on bringing out the tone or 'dhvani' of the Veda, as the name itself suggests.
“Whatever may be the truth regarding Veda’s freedom from human authorship, to me, it means Veda’s freedom from human prejudices… Vedic language is in motherese or baby language where you cannot see the stiff rule of that great Panini for an advanced language. We can see even the transitions in genders and tenses. Language in those good old days was not to express our rationale but to express intuitive insights through archetypes. You can see here only a crib talk. But if you have an intuitive eye, you can appreciate the tone there, as crib talk is the best way of communication, in my view, for expressing tone”.
It is this short excerpt that aroused my curiosity about the book The Veda My Passion by Dr R Rangan, which is based on his own new commentary on the Rig Veda.
The author is a well-known traditional scholar of Shastras, especially Veda and Ramayana. His Ramayana discourses have enthralled devotees and Rasikas alike. Son of the famed spiritual Guru, Sri Krishnapremi Swamigal, he is a graduate in English literature, with a doctorate in Yoga studies from SVYASA university, Bengaluru.
He established two ashrams and runs two Vedic Gurukulam institutions in Bengaluru and Ayodhya, and founded a unique organisation called WEBOLIM (Web of Life Makers) comprising of the network of devotees and spiritual seekers.
Apart from numerous articles on various aspects of Hindu Dharma, he has published a 10-volume WEBOLIM Valmiki Ramayana edition (2020) that comprises his own English translation of the complete Valmiki Ramayana text, along with exhaustive research material on multiple recensions and multiple regional narratives of Ramayana over the ages and critical viewpoints regarding some of the academic and popular distortions around Ramayana.
This voluminous new Sanskrit commentary for the complete Rig Veda called dhvanidipikawas released in January 2021, with blessing messages from great personages that include Sringeri and Kanchi Sankaracharyas, Mathadhipatis of Ramanuja and Madhva institutions and eminent Sanskrit scholars.
It is a monumental work of its kind, a veritable addition to the existing corpus of Vedic commentaries by sages and scholars across the ages.
It is with the view of elucidating the salient and unique aspects of his new commentary to non-Sanskrit readers that the author wrote the above-mentioned book.
There have been many commentaries and research works on the Rig Veda, both traditional and modern, with different interpretations ranging from purely ritualistic and purely spiritual, with historians, Indologists, linguists and anthropologists looking at the Veda from the perspectives of their own fields.
Amidst this voluminous and bewildering array of existing literature, there is also the need for presenting the Veda in an authentic and cohesive manner to all inquisitive minds, particularly youngsters without diluting its depth.
Dr. Rangan’s efforts and work assume great significance in this regard.
Dr. Rangan has immense respect for all genuine and sincere efforts at Veda interpretation, including modern ones. But his own interpretation is thoroughly on spiritual lines.
In his interviews regarding the commentary and in the initial chapters of the book, he explains that that this is nothing new, but the continuation on the lines of the long and established tradition.
“Shankaracharya was the savior of the Upanishads from Mimamsa-clutches. Key to have access to Vedic Mantras for spiritual implications was found by Madhvacharya long ago. Hints to access to the Veda spiritually are found in the commentaries of Sayana, Madhava, Bhaskara, Udgitha, Skandaswami and so on. Possibility of spiritual interpretation was well-established by Maharishi Dayanand. Exploration to this Brave New World or rather Neo Classical World was already started by Sri Aurobindo. The last wish of Swami Vivekananda was fulfilled. Now our work is to take it furtherThe Veda My Passion, pp. 58-59
What then, given this, is the uniqueness of Ranganji’s commentary? It is the emphasis on bringing out the tone or dhvani of the Veda, as the name itself suggests.
It is well known that dhvani is a very important concept in Indian aesthetics and was developed as a further sophistication to the famed Rasa theory that was in vogue from the ancient times of Natya Shastra.
Anandavardhana, the greatest exponent of dhvani, maintains that it is the soul of poetry, and by extension all art. Dhvani literally means suggestion. It is the layer of meaning beyond denotation and connotation and often becomes the very essence of a work of art.
While the concept is well known in the Sanskrit Kavya tradition, it can be said that this commentary has extended it to the context of Vedic interpretation as well.
The book is written as a series of essays that form a natural sequence in a way.
The author starts with his own personal journey, with the questions that arose in his mind when he started learning Veda at a very young age.
Then the concept of Apaurusheya (free of human-authorship) nature of the Veda is taken up and the views from different schools are analysed.
The author establishes his view of Veda’s freedom from human prejudices in detail — such as the freedom from prejudices related to non-human species, prejudices related to human classes (Varna), gender prejudices and religious prejudices.
“In general, religious scriptures consider animals as beings without spirituality. But the Veda not only never talks like this, but also observes several spiritual elements in them, e.g. मृग: पृक्ष: करोति — Animals offer oblation (RV 5.75.4). इभो राजेव सुव्रत: - Soma has good vow like a chief elephant (9.57.3).. We cannot take it literally. We cannot tell that the animal makes ritual fire and offers ghee. But somewhere either in its psyche or in action, it has oblation-offering in some form which the Veda observes.”The Veda My Passion, pp. 31
A large portion of the book is dedicated to unravelling the multiple layers of meanings related to Vedic gods and goddesses — Varuna, Mitra, Agni, Waters, Aditi, Sarasvati, Soma, Indra, Yama, Savita, Ashvinis, Rudra, Vishnu. Minor deities like Aranyani, the forest-goddess and Sita, the furrow-goddess are also covered.
Through this, the Vedic worldview on many aspects of life are brought out. Brief references to Ramayana, Puranas and Patanjali Yoga Sutras are made as appropriate, just enough to bring out the import of the Vedic mantras when required, thus avoiding the risk of excessive “over reading”.
“Three things are common to all Vedic gods. 1. All gods are described as in-dwellers. In essence, all are from pure self. 2. All gods are part of one infinite and therefore described as infinite, and all pervasive. 3. All gods are connected to universal welfare. The most important understanding here is that all the above mentioned are identical.”The Veda My Passion, pp. 96
Vedic ideas on sin, repentance, the cosmic order (Rta), Yagya, Dharma, food and universal welfare are well explained in separate chapters. The famed Nasadiya Sukta or Creation hymn is explained with profound insights in two chapters titled ‘Great flood and beyond’ and ‘Birth of burning desire’.
The classic puzzles of the Rig Veda, like the Ten Kings (dasharajanya) battle, Yama-Yami dialogue, Urvashi-Pururavas dialogue are taken up in separate chapters and demystified in an elegant manner.
All through the book, original mantras in Devanagari script are given for the quoted Vedic passages, making it an instant reference for the Sanskrit-aware reader.
Reading this 300-page book was a rewarding and enriching experience for me, as it took me a bit closer to the timeless Vedic wisdom and the spiritual vision of the Vedic Rishis.
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