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Vedas :
Vedas are the ancient most books of India. They are four in number called Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. Fascinated by their catholic outlook and the message of the universal brotherhood, western scholars like Max Muller wholeheartedly praised them as the first books of the human race and today they are regarded as the heritage of the mankind as a whole. Etymologically, the word Veda means knowledge and the Vedas are regarded as the most valuable treasure of knowledge. The central theme of the Vedas is to lead man towards more meaningful, purposeful and useful life and they are always eternal and at the same time new and fresh.

The Birth of Vedas :
The Purusha Sukta in the 10th Mandala of Rigveda (10.90) also appearing in other three Vedas tells us that this universe or creation came out of great sacrifice and from this came the things and beings and along with them came the Vedic mantras for the benefit and guidance of human beings. They were later echoed in the hearts of the sages who gave to the world in the form of mantras. It is stated that initially there was one volume with one lakh of mantras or the verses and they were passed on from generation to generation by oral tradition by memorising the mantras. As the time passed with the loss of memory one lakh got reduced to almost 20,000 mantras and at that time on account of the efforts of Bhagwan Shri Vedavyas, they were collected and then in the form of four volumes as we see them to-day, he gave back to the mankind. Later generations could not master all the four volumes and so they picked up one each and we, the Gowda Saraswat took up Rigveda, for our studies and practice. Thereafter even from Rigveda popular mantras were selected naming them as Shakhas or schools. GSBs accepted Shakala Shakha (the other one is Bashkala) and thus we have Shakala School of Rigveda.

Significance :
What is the significance and relevance of Vedas in the modern times? The answer is Vedas are eternal in time and modern in outlook. On no occasion they preach the renunciation of the world and retirement to the forest unless the age is ripe. To sum up, we can quote form the concluding chapter of the Shaklee Yajurveda as follows:

"All that we see, both the moving and unmoving is pervaded by God (God is all pervasive). Renounce (selfishness) and enjoy the life without coveting and desiring the wealth of others. (Be satisfied with what you have). Performing your duties devoutly, have a strong desire to live a useful life of one hundred years. By performing or attending to the duties expected of you, you will never become a sinner and this is the only way out for you, having taken a birth on this Earth" (Shukla Yajurveda Ch.40.1 and 2)


Rigveda :
Rigveda, the first among the four Vedas has the largest collection of mantras. Quite a few mantras from Rigveda are borrowed by other Vedas and historically it is believed to be the most ancient one and contents-wise also it is the very mine of knowledge both spiritual and temporal, although many of the mantras outwardly appear to be prayers and group songs, advice and commandments, that at times convey different meaning to different people at different times, depending upon their level of thinking and understanding. The poets are the sages of the yore who were gifted with a tremendous capacity of knowing the past, present and the future and therefore the mantras contain the truth eternal that cannot and will not change with the passage of time or with the change in outlook of man or the values in life.

Rigveda is divided into ten mandalas depending upon the families of the sages who had "seen" the mantras. Interestingly there are quite a few sages like Vishwamitra, Atri, Bharadwaj and Vasishtha who are the "moolpurush" of some of the gotras of the Gowda Saraswats. We are either the direct descendants or the descendants of their disciples. On many occasions the disciples were regarded as the sons of the gurus and among themselves they were treated as brothers.
Opening and Concluding Hymns: Rigveda opens with a mantra addressed to Agni, the fire-god. It states, "I pray to Agni, the priest, the deity of sacrifice, the singer of mantras, the offerer of oblations, and the best giver of treasure" (1.1.1)

 The concluding mantra is a commandment ordaining, "Walk together, talk together and Act with one mind. Just as the devas of the ancient times took together the offerings, may your aim be common, assembly be common and being united in mind and thoughts, worship with common oblation. With your hearts united for common aim, may your minds be one so that all will live together happily."

True, throughout Rigveda, Agni is the centre of worship by our forefathers. They regarded him as their friend, philosopher and guide besides the deity of daily worship, always in their presence when there were no temples or idols to worship. They regarded him as a bridge between the humanity and divinity. Viewing differently, civilisation dawned with the use of fire and so the fire-god deserves to be saluted first. Then the survival of human beings depends on the spirit of oneness and unity, in any society at any point of time. Therefore the song of unity needs a special place to draw the attention of everyone. "Without unity, the human race will perish," and this seems to be the ultimate message of our wise-men of the ancient times which holds good not only today but also thousands and thousands of years hence. That is the beauty and the greatness of the Vedas.

Evolution of Religious And Philosophical Literature :
Vedas form not only the very foundation of Hindu Dharma but also the Indian Literature. In the course of time from them emanated Upanishads, the highest philosophy the mankind has ever seen and the gist and the essence of all the Upanishads found a place in the simple and brief form Shrimad Bhagawad Gita. The Vedas have in them reference to many events and anecdotes and detailing them elaborately Puranas took shape. The word purana indicates puratan or of ancient times while the word Upanishad indicates studies by sitting close to each other, both the Guru and Shishya so that there will be personal attention while studying intricate topics full of mysticism. Two great Indian epics, Ramayan and Mahabharat are called Itihas or the history and they were composed much later.

Present Status :
In all our temples and homes where even a simple pooja or a small havan is performed mantras from the Rigveda suitable for the occasion are invariably chanted by our priests. But both the priests and we do not have time and patience to understand what message these mantras convey. For example when the "panchamrita abhisheka" takes place the mantra chanted says, "For those who live by the eternal law that is Dharma, the breeze, the river, the medicinal herbs, the sky, the sun and everything will be sweet." The hymn concludes by stating that even the cattle will pour sweet milk. Similarly when the "dakshina" is given to the priest, the mantra chanted pronounces that the whole world revolves round generosity and generosity only.
 
(Pic: Yajna in Shri Gokarn Math, Wadala, Mumbai)                                          
To-day all the Vedic texts are available with translations in major Indian languages besides English and there is no need to study Sanskrit to have a cursory look at least to get to know why our forefathers struggled hard against all odds and dedicated their lives to preserve this invaluable treasure of ours.

Rik Samhita Yajna:

 A rare yajna called Rik Samhita Yajna ( Rik Samhita means Rigveda Volume) was performed for the welfare of  mankind as a whole,  in Mulki Shri Venkatraman Temple in the month of September, 2001 from 18th  to 23rd  when all the 10552 mantras were chanted and all the deities in the Veda were invoked with offerings of ‘teel’ and ghee with each mantra. There was a special chanting of Gayatri Manta also. The yajna was performed by Paryaya Archak Shri Mulki Bhaskar Bhat, Sampige Mane, personally defraying all expenses but  with the active support of the temple that provided him the infra-structure. On the concluding day there was a collective Kumkumarchan Seva by about 1000 married ladies chanting 1000 auspicious names of Shri Mahalaxmi. (Pic. at left shows the decorated Yajna Mantap on the first day, with Shri Bhaskar Bhat  his wife and the priests and the pic at right shows Poornahuti or the concluding ceremony of the yajna with the final offering by Shri Bhaskr Bhat). This is a classic example of excellence in priesthood by GSBs who were known as Masters in conducting the yajnas, in the olden days.