Why is the Vedic Sanskrit and Puranic Sanskrit different?

by September 14, 2020

From Shyam P

Answer Podcast

Transcription :

Transcriber: Suresh Gupta

Question: Why is the Vedic Sanskrit and Puranic Sanskrit different?

Answer: The Sanskrit is different because the two bodies of knowledge are addressed to different people.

Vedas primarily consist of karma kanda or jnana kanda where the primary focus is always on the rituals and thus, the literal recitation of the words is more important. That is why, the grammatical form is preserved in a very specific way in the lineage of panditas who recite Vedic scriptures such as Rigveda where the precise pronunciation is very important. In the Puranas, the primary focus is not just on the literal recitation, it is also in the meaning.

Puranas are part of the body of literature called smriti and Vedas are part of shruti. Since the purpose is different, the use of Sanskrit changes. More importantly, we also need to look at the context. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was asked, why the language of Puranas is more recent. He answered, “A person will change his dress according to the environment, climate and situation, similarly the same essential knowledge is presented according to time, place and circumstance. The focus of the Puranas is on understanding hence, the Sanskrit in them is relatively simpler. When the language is for recitational purpose (in terms of precise recitation) and not so much for comprehension then the ornamental form is considered more important.”

Although the Puranas are simpler and the Sanskrit of the Vedas is slightly different, if we look at Srimad Bhagavatam, its Sanskrit is much more Vedic than Puranic. The verse meter, the verses, the grammar and the structure are actually not of the typical Puranic genre, it is much more sophisticated. The reason is, it is spotless Purana (amala purana), where the conclusion of all the body of Vedic literature (the Vedas and the Puranas) is brought together. If somebody argues that earlier the language was very pure and later it became simpler, we can suggest that the Srimad Bhagavatam is the last of the Vedic literature and its language is so lofty.

The more important point is that if we look at the characters – Indra, Chandra, Surya, Agni, all of them are mentioned in the Vedas as well as the Puranas. We can infer a few things about them based on the generic connotation but more detailed description and stories about them come in the Puranas. If the Vedas and the Puranas are completely disconnected body of knowledge then why are the characters same, it is because, the Vedas are focussing more on karma kanda whereas the Puranas focus more on bhakti. Although some characters may be new, but the main essential characters are the same and overall the cultural context is also the same. Yajna, sacrifices, mantras etc. are mentioned in the Vedas as well as in the Puranas. But the essential point from the perspective of Vaishnav Acharyas is that there is continuity.

If we consider the analogy of Y axis, it contains – negative, zero and positive. Godless material life is like being in the negative axis. When we move forward towards Godly life then it is like moving upwards in the negative Y axis. This Godly material life is karma kanda. Moving upwards we come to point zero which are the Upanishadas. There one understands that he is different from his material form and gets hint of a spiritual form. Further, in the positive axis, there are the Puranas and especially the Bhagavat Purana which talks about spiritual forms, spiritual personalities, spiritual activities etc. and in that way there is continuity in the development of thought.

One important thing we need to understand about language is that, just because a person knows a language, it does not mean that the person understands everything written in that language. Assume there is a book about ancient medicines written in Chinese and there is a Chinese physician who has studied that book and has cured thousands of patients, based on that book. Later, this physician learns English and translates the book into English. On the other hand, there is another person, who is an English scholar linguist. This person learns Chinese and becomes a scholar in both English and Chinese and then translates the Chinese book on ancient medicine into English. Now, which book do you think will be more reliable? Naturally the one by Chinese physician, because he has the experience of curing the patients.

The point is, for study of ancient medicines, a separate kind of training is required. Similarly, mere knowledge of Sanskrit is not enough to understand the import, depth and continuity of Vedic literature. To understand these fully, one has to be like a spiritual doctor and such a person is referred to as Guru. Thus, all the scholars, as far as their linguistic skills or academic diligence are concerned, they can be respected but as far as their capacity to transform themselves or others through spiritual wisdom, it is actually near zero. For them these Vedic scriptures are not transformational books but just nonhistorical or mythological books. Hence, despite their scholarship, they do not see these books as a means for personal transformation. However, the acharyas are like the Chinese physician who have treated the material disease and transformed the lives of thousands of people. One example is the life of Srila Prabhupada who learned and presented this Vedic knowledge in English and transformed people all over the world.

Hence, we have to understand that if our objective in studying scripture is to become a better human being, a better devotee or more self-empowered person, then we should study from those, who are studying the book with the same perspective. That is why, it is accepted that there is a difference between the Vedas and the Puranas, but the reason is that the target audience is different, the subject matter is different, the thrust of the subject matter is different. However, we see that the characters and many of the themes are same. Traditional acharyas who have been teaching this body of knowledge, they see that there is continuity – from material form to formlessness and then to spiritual form. When we understand this continuity, we realise that these are continuous and harmonious bodies of evolving spiritual knowledge.

End of transcription.

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