This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

The six Vedangas

The term darshana should not be confused with Vedanga, a word which means literally ‘limb of the Veda.’ Confusion is understandable, especially considering the fact that we have called the darshanas ‘branches’ of the doctrine, and Vedanga has a literal meaning almost identical to this, and there are six of each; but the Vedangas are sciences, being compared to bodily limbs by which a being acts. They have what in the modern world would be called a ‘technical’ purpose, and this will become clear as we enumerate them. Shiksha is the science of correct pronunciation, which is drawn from a knowledge of the true meaning of letters and the laws of euphony. Chhandas is the science of prosody, applying the vibrations of the cosmic order to metre and rhythm. Vyakarana is grammar, although it should be remembered that here grammar is not arbitrary, but derived from the meaning of language. Nirukta concerns the explanation of terminology found in the Vedic texts, including but not limited to etymology, and more often concerning symbolic meanings and composition. Jyotisha is astronomy, but in the traditional context this means both astronomy and astrology, since the distinction between the two is a modern notion, invented to justify an incomprehension of the latter science. Even the Greeks combined the two and used the terms indifferently, although they and the Hindus mean by astrology something very different than the vulgar divinations involved in what passes under that term in the West. Finally, kalpa concerns the accomplishment of rites in order to give them efficacy. Their formulation in the sutras is concentrated and given a notation that has the appearance of algebraic precision. We should mention also that the texts related to the Vedangas are smriti, ‘that which is remembered,’ although due to their direct connection with the Vedas they are foremost among these.

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