[Advaita-l] Svarita in RV and YV (was Re: SRI SUKTAM - Meaning)

Sundaresan, Vidyasankar (GE Infra, Water) vidyasankar.sundaresan at ge.com
Fri Mar 6 09:18:30 CST 2009

>Does this means we couldn't lay down texts like the
>Chandogya upanishad, the only upanishad I have
>studied till now, to music and vedic recitation? If
>so is there any text,who deals with the way how
>a vedic texts has to be chanted? 

These are questions that come up in many different
contexts, so I'll try to give a general answer here.

In recent times, various people have attempted to set
the upanishads and other vedic texts to melodies in
the Indian classical music systems. This is not only
unnecessary, but also contrary to the spirit of both
vedic recitation and classical music. An equivalent
example would be like trying to set entire passages
from the New Testament to Western classical music.
You can imagine how successful that would be!

Vedic recitation is meant to be learnt from a well
qualified guru who knows how to recite the texts in
the traditional way. Traditional teachers will not teach
recitation of the vedas to a student who has not been
properly initiated through the ritual of wearing of the
yajnopavIta (popularly, sacred thread). The only veda
that already has melodic tunes incorporated into its
recitation is the sAma veda. However, it is again a bit
futile to compare sAma veda melodies to contemporary
Ragas in Hindustani or Carnatic music. Most of us on
this list (at least the vocal ones) tend to have a
traditional outlook, so we'd all frown at those who
reset sAma veda hymns to contemporary classical
music melodies! 

There are distinct traditional styles of recitation, which
differ according to the veda and also according to
geography. The total material of the veda is so vast
that reciters have to specialize in one or two branches.
It is almost impossible for one person to memorize all
the texts, learn to recite them according to their distinct
styles and keep them all true to their originals. There
are other texts, generally called SikshA or prAtiSAkhya,
which are specific to the branch of the veda and which
set out the rules of pronunciation and recitation. These
texts serve both a descriptive and a prescriptive function,
but they are preserved and studied by super-specialists
only, not by all those who learn to recite. It is a bit like
learning to sing or play an instrument vs. studying the
intricate historical and musicological details behind just
intonation and equal temperament. The latter is not the
musician's primary job. Similarly, the theoretical details
of vedic recitation are not the primary concern of the
reciter. His job is to recite with fidelity and strength.

Finally, with respect to vedAnta - traditional recitational
schemes are known only for a few upanishad texts. I am
not aware of continuing traditions for reciting the kaTha,
muNDaka, praSna, mANDUkya, chAndogya, kena and
SvetASvatara texts. Traditional ways of reciting the
Rgveda upanishads and the yajurveda upanishads are
better preserved. However, even in these cases, there is
a vastly more rigorous approach towards preserving the
traditional recitation for the ritual portion of the veda than
towards the upanishad and brAhmaNa/AraNyaka texts.

Best regards,

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