Written as an introductory outline of the development of Vedic literature from the Vedic Samhitas and continuing through the Upanishads, Glimpses of Vedic Literature provides the beginning student with the necessary tools to understand this complex literary treasure and its continuing influence on the Indian spirit and culture. The later chapters highlight Sri Aurobindo's discoveries which unlocked the mysteries and secrets of the Vedas and explained their relevance to modern man and to the future of humanity through the practice of Yoga. Looking at the problems of the current age, the author finds psychological applications from Vedic literature to guide us forward.
The book under review is a compilation of original texts selected from the vast Vedic literature, particularly from the Mantras, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. However, the book is not strictly a compilation. As the author claims in his Introduction, it contains a series of "notes", the aim of which is to "provide some basic information about the Vedas". It is meant for those "who have heard of the Veda but have practically no idea of the Vedic literature and its contents".
In India the study of the Vedas is considered to be very important, but most people know nothing about them. Many have heard of the Vedas, but they make no attempts to read and understand them. One reason is that they do not have a book on the Vedas which would meet their demands. Indeed scholars have been trying to produce such a book in India, but the outcome has been quite unsatisfactory. The books are either too simple or too complex in the matter of selection and presentation of the original texts. On the contrary, the present book is definitely an exception, for Kireet Joshi has excelled in his methods of selection and presentation.
The book is divided into two parts. Part I includes all the texts selected from the Mantras to the Upanishads. Now and then the author intervenes with comments which make the selections more illuminating. The selections from the Rig Veda open with the Gayatri Mantra composed by Vishvamitra, one of the great Vedic Rishis, and close with two mantras by the seer Aghamarshana. Each of the other three Vedas is represented by appropriate mantras: Yajur Veda by six verses, each of which closes with the prayer "May that mind of mine be filled with Good Will"; the Sama Veda by ten verses which "form some of the sublimest prayers of the Veda"; and the Atharva Veda by a few verses taken from the Prithivi Sukta.
Chapter Ten introduces the Brahmanas, literary commentaries on the mantras of the Veda. These are mainly concerned with "the explication of rituals", using parables and legends for this purpose. Our attention is drawn to some of them the stories of King Harischandra of Ikshvaku dynasty, Rishi Aitareya and Manu. The Aranyakas, as presented in Chapter 12, "form a natural transition to the Upanishads", and lay down many courses of meditation for the seeker.
The book now turns to the Upanishads. Here some of the famous narratives are given, such as those connected with Satyakama Jabali (Chhandogya Upanishad), Narada (Ibid.), Svetaketu (Ibid.), Nachiketas (Katha Upanishad), Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad), and the Yaksha and the gods (Kena Upanishad). In addition to these narratives, the teachings of the Isha and Kena are briefly discussed. Part I closes with detailed accounts of four important Upanishads Katha, Taittiriya, Mandukya and Mundaka and suitable passages from Sri Aurobindo's book The Foundations of Indian Culture
Part I is replete with words, phrases, passages, and interpretations taken from a common source and this is none other than Sri Aurobindo. Kireet Joshi's discussions in this part are lively and accurate because they all proceed from this single source. It is but natural, then, that Part II is devoted to Sri Aurobindo's monumental contributions to the study of the Veda.
In seven chapters from "
The Veda in the Light of Sri Aurobindo" to "Yoga and Knowledge", Kireet Joshi discusses all important aspects of Sri Aurobindo's studies. He gives a brilliant account of Sri Aurobindo's psychological theory put forward in the book The Secret of the Veda
and helps us to note the exact contribution of this study of the Veda. Speaking about the translations of the Agni Suktas, he says that they establish Sri Aurobindo's psychological theory "on a very secure foundation". He points out that Sri Aurobindo's other important works on the Upanishads and the Gita prove that they are deeply influenced by the original ideas of the Veda. Further, he says that the profound yogic teachings of the Veda have been very clearly unveiled by Sri Aurobindo's interpretations. A system of Yoga founded upon them can successfully reproduce even now the original experiences of the great Rishis. And Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga has shown to us that these experiences form the foundations necessary for the future development of humanity. In this connection, a passage from Sri Aurobindo reproduced in this book assumes importance: "The recovery of the perfect truth of the Veda is ... not merely a desideratum for our modern intellectual curiosity, but a practical necessity for the future of the human race."
Kireet Joshi's book on the Vedic Literature will be happily welcomed by both laymen and students in India and other countries.
Prof. Jayashanmugam is a retired professor of Philosophy, Annamalai University.