It is well and wisely said that the Veda is not one single book, but that it is a library in miniature, that it denotes a whole literature. The Veda is, verily, a collection of various texts which belong to different chronological strata and which are characterised by different conceptual trends and different literary forms. However, for the sake of a proper and correct understanding of the thought and culture of the age of the Veda, it is helpful to consider the Vedic literature in its three main phases, namely, the Samhitas, the Brahrnanas, and the Upanisads. These three phases, it may be emphasised, are not only chronologically successive but they also reflect a distinctively logical development of thought. Indeed, it is this thread of logical development which invests the conceptually and stylistically diverse Vedic literature with a kind of unity. Broadly speaking, the Samhitas (particularly the Rgveda and the Atharvaveda), the Brahmans (which may conceptually include also the Yajurveda), and the Upanisads (specially the early major ones) may be said to represent respectively the three phases of the Vedic religion, namely, mythology and magic, ritualism, and spiritualism. Of course, these phases can by no means be demarcated in a hard and fast manner. The Veda is iike a rainbow. Just as it is not possible precisely to mark out where one colour of the rainbow ends and the other begins- one colour alomst imperceptibly fades out into the other-, even so it is not possible to say where one Vedic phase ends and the other begins, for, the trends and tendencies of one phase, not infrequently, pass on to the next and are then gradually transformed or become extinct.
Without going into details regarding the three phases mentioned above, we may assume with sufficient reason that the Upanisads represent, in more senses than one, the acme of the Vedic thought. For one thing, the Upanisads vehemently counteracted the intellectual and social domination of the priestly class which had been engendered in the period of the Brahmanas, - on the one hand, by promoting free thinking and an attitude of inquiry among the people, and, on the other, by trying to establish a kind of egalitarianism in spiritual matters. But the most significant contribution of the Upanisad lay in the bold intuitive manner in which they attacked and sought to solve the basic problems relating to man, universe, the ultimate reality, and the mutual relationship among these.
However, so far as the history of the Vedic thought and culture, as a whole, is concerned, all this achievement of the Upanisads, outstanding as it is, was to a certain extent attenuated on account of certain inherent weaknesses of their teachings. To begin with, those teachings were hardly commensurate with the capacity of the common man, for, they demanded a high acumen and a rigorous spiritual discipline on the part of the seeker. Again, those teachings, emanating as they did from different thinkers, did not present any homogeneous system of thought and accordingly often tended to produce philosophical bewilderment. But what had perhaps been more serious was that the Upanisadic teachers gave people a 'philosophy' (or, rather, 'philosophies') which most of them were not capable properly to comprehend, much less to 'live', they did not give them a 'religion' which most of them could have practised easily and diligently. As a result, the cultural influence of the Upanisads proved to be in inverse proportion to the high-watar mark of Vedic spirituality which they represented.
The post-Upanisadic period in India's cultural history was a period of a total thought-ferment. It presaged a break in the continuity of the Vedic tradition. The non-Vedic ways of life and thought, whose origin can be traced back to the pre-Vedic times but whose development was arrested on accounrt of the meteoric escalade of the Vedic thought and culture, now began to assert themselves. They took advantage of the atmosphere of free thinking created by the Upanis.ads, at the same time avoiding the weak points from which the Upanisads had suffered. They thus posed a veritable threat to the very survival of the Vedic way of life and thought. But the Vedic thought and culture had struck sufficiently deep roots during the preceding three periods, and their vitality had not entirely withered away. The rear-guards of the Veda soon rallied themselves to resuscitate their Vedic heritage. They realised that, for such resuscitation, it was necessary to consolidate, reorganize, and systematize the entire Vedic way of life and thought. Fresh literary efforts were accordingly set afoot in that direction. A new literary form was evolved for that purpose - that of the Sutras, at once brief, unambiguous, invulnerable, utterly functional, and embodying just the essentials. The Vedic way of life, for instance, was sought to be systematized through the Kalpasutras - its religious aspect through the Srautasutras, individual and domestic aspects through the Grhyasutras and social and political aspects through the Dharmasutras. Similarly, the Vedic and Sanskrit languages were meticulously regulated through. Panini's Vyakarana - Sutras.
These Sutras presumably were the earliest specimens of the Sutra -literature. This unique literary form. which had proved remarkably efficacious. later came to be adopted in other fields of knowledge as well. It is. verily. this richness and variety of the Sutra - literature which has been succinctly laid bare by different scholars in the following pages of this book.
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