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How the RigVeda is memorized

(This is a guest post by reader Ranjith P, after he saw a RigVeda chanting exercise in a temple near his home)

As you might  know it is a puzzle that how is RigVeda,  a ~4000 year old text is still memorized and chanted without making any mistake. It turns out that  people have made many special exercises to make sure that each person understands each word in detail, and can chant it in any order.  Once such exercise is called vaaram which helps people  learn RigVeda word by word by reciting it in a complex ordered way.

For example, these are the verses from Book 1, Hymn 23

Now watch these being recited

The two persons chanting are Dr. Mannoor Jathavedan Namboodiri (first person) and Mr. Naarayanamangalam Visakh. The second part (second person) is from Rig Veda Book 8 Hymn 11

When you see the video, you will note a few things

  1. In the first few minutes you can clearly see some stones near the person. They use some stones and somehow generate a random number. And using this, they choose a random hymn  in RigVeda and start from there. They don’t pre-plan where to start. That means, they have to know the whole of Veda by heart
  2. They repeat  words like: alpha beta, beta gamma, gamma, delta etc (first word, second word, second word, third word, third word fourth word etc).
  3. At the end of each sentence (and randomly) they have to split words (spitting sanskrit words is tough) .
  4. If you imagine transmitting some information orally, after some generations, very likely that one will goof up long and short vowels. For example,  words like “devaa” could be mistaken for “deva” and “vayoo” for “vayu“. To avoid it, they have developed a way of chanting where they stress the long vowels very clearly by extending it a bit too long so that the “deergham” is very clearly conveyed orally

When the second person chants you can see the first person, using his fingers, at random locations, ask the second person to split words (to test whether he knows)

This vaaram is like a minor day-to-day version of the famous Kadvalloor Anyonyam. vaaram is only one of the exercises and there are many others as well.

PS: This event happened at the Edakkuda temple, Malappuram district, Kerala

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4 Responses to How the RigVeda is memorized

  1. sdas January 12, 2015 at 5:59 am #

    Rigveda is much older. Christian force can not think anything beyond 4000. Rig Veda is not less than 10000 years old. Dr.N.S.Rajaram has done massive research on this.

  2. kedar February 4, 2015 at 8:34 pm #

    slightly unfair, I must say…

    This is definitely more captivating to look at, but this kind of teaching method is valid only for kerala. As for the rest of bhArata, this is what paniniya shiksha (shiksha is one of the six vedangas) says:

    गीती शीघ्री शिरःकम्पी तथा लिखितपाठकः ।
    अनर्थज्ञोऽल्पकण्ठश्च षडेते पाठकाधमाः ॥ ॥३२॥

    One who chants like a song, one who chants too quickly, one who shakes his head while chanting, one who chants looking at a written text, one who chants without knowing meaning, and one who chants with a feeble voice are the six worst of all who chant the veda.

  3. chandra July 8, 2015 at 4:07 am #

    Regarding Vedas,there were lot of misunderstanding, in the meaning of hymns,There were lot of mistakes ,lot of repeatations ,mixture of old & new hymns,lot of interpretations,and so on.yasur&sama are the replica of rig Veda almost ,there were neither philosophies nor scientific in vedic hymns.All are praising the nature gods like Indira,varuna,soma to provide them shelter,food&cattles .nothing more than that,if you thought more,then it was a new one written in later period and placed inside the rig Veda, in according to get false support from rig Veda,say for example ” purusha suktha ” explaining the birth of chaturvarna in detail was a later one,and placed inside the rig Veda to project chaturvarna was a ancient one even supported by rigveda falsely. Also Atharva Veda was not included in Veda groups,for a long period,merely because it was sung by non-brahmins,I.e chatrias. At a later it was accepted within Veda groups.

  4. dhinchak December 29, 2015 at 11:21 pm #

    At times the puddle outside gives a good idea of what the downpour must have been like when you were not around.

    You people are talking about Ved-Vedang while I am mesmerized by a mere Hanuman Chalisa. But going backwards from Hanuman Chalisa the Tulsi Ramayan and Valmiki Ramayan make an even bigger impact. Wonder what a man’s learning must have been like when he was learning Vedangs and doing Ved paats.

    Guess our generation will have to remain content with modern education.

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