The Vedas are indeed countless and endless – ‘anantA vai VedAH’, it is said. Even Brahma could not gauge the extent of the Vedas. The Lord Himself had to incarnate on earth as Badarayana .i.e. Vedavyasa and he collated a small portion of them into the four Vedas, which we have heard of. It is indeed a very very tiny portion of the original Vedic lore abstracted for the purpose of making a beginning and for paving the way for Dharmic life. Even Badarayana, in truth, could not find the beginning and end of the Vedas. As even these four Vedas, tiny portions from the original which is limitless, cannot all be studied and understood by anyone, even if he is allotted eons of life. Vyasa Bhagvan taught each one of the Vedas (some little portion of each) to one student each, each of whom was specially blessed with the full extent of a Kalpa for their study. Paila learnt a small portion which goes under the name of Rig Veda; Vaishampayana learnt another small portion which goes under the name of Yajur Veda; Jamini learnt Sama Veda and Sumanta learnt Atharva Veda. These at least they could learn, only because of the special grace of their Guru, Vyasa Bhagwan. That being the case, how ridiculous it is for any man, whose life span is so short to claim and boast that he has mastered the Vedas!
Rig Veda has its auxiliary Ayurveda, the Science of Life. Its presiding deity is Brahma. Its Gotra is Atreyasa. Its chandas is Gayatri. The Rig Veda Purusha has red lotus like broad eyes and a three feet long shapely neck. He has beautiful flowing locks of hair. Rig Veda has all in all, 12 sections or divisions. Its systematic recital, with the correct intonation, endows greatest merit. Much of the portion of Rig Veda is not known to any in the Kali Age.
Yajur Veda has its auxiliary Dhanurveda (the science of Archery and weapons). Its presiding deity is Rudra. Its gotra is Bharadwaja. Its chandas is Tristup. The Yajurveda Purusha has bright lotus like eyes, with an effulgent body & majestic stature.
Yajur Veda has 86 Bedhas (Sections or divisions). It is humanly impossible to explain every section of this Veda. Each section has so many sub-sections, chapter, branches which are dealt with in great detail, but are not easily comprehensible. They have profound meaning and implications. They deal with sacrifices, Achara-Vidhis, the detailed instructions governing the performance of sacrifices, the mantas for the purpose and strict discipline to be observed by the Brahmin, especially by the priests officiating at such sacrifices. This Veda broadly consists of Mantras, Brahmanas, Samhitas and Aranyakas. This Veda has eight Upangas namely: Pratipada, Abupada, Chandas, Bhasha, Dharma, Mimasa, Nyaya and Tarka. It also has six Angas (limbs) namely Shiksha, Kalpaka, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Chandas and Jyotisha.
Sama Veda has its Upaveda – Gandharva Veda. Its presiding deity is Vishnu. Its Chandas is Jagati. Its Gotra is Kasyapasa. Sama Veda has a Thousand Shakhas (sections). The Sama Veda Purusha dons on his neck a beautiful flower garland and wears a white waist cloth. He has all the virtues like sama and dama i.e., total mastery over senses and mind. He has radiant eyes, a most fair complexioned golden-splendored body and is 9 feet in height.
Atharva Veda is full of Mantra Shastra. Its Upaveda is Astra Veda. Its presiding deity is Indra. Its Gotra is Vaijanasa. Its Chandas is Tristup. The Atharva Veda Purusha is of fierce form and of dark complexion. He is not an austere as the other three Veda Purushas. Atharvana Mantras can be used for malevolent purpose also and thus misused. The Veda has chiefly Nine Bhedhas (sections) and five Kalpas.
The Vedas are most profound. They are the sole protection for mankind both in the world here and worlds thereafter. They are to be worshipped as Mother. Humility is the true mark of scholarship. However, the knowledge, if at all anyone can gain and profess about the Veda, will be just no more than a grain of sand while the Vedic lore is like the unending stretch of the sandy shores of all seas of the earth.
The caste in which one is born is determined by his past Karmas (actions and conduct). Good actions lead to higher birth, births in higher castes; and sinful and bad actions lead to births in lower castes or even in sub-human species. Brahmin is predominantly of Satwic (of pure, serene and tranquil) temperament; he has a special duty and role in society. He is the spiritual custodian of the people of all communities. He has the great responsibility for the material and general well being of all his younger brothers and sisters in the family. He has to observe the strictest disciplines; he has to perform all the prescribed rituals as per Vedic injunctions and his conduct should be a model and example to all others. His daily rituals are for the well being of all. For that purpose, the Brahmin has to consecrate his entire life. That was why Brahmins of yore were ranked as equal to Gods, and even the rulers (kings) used to honor them as such.
If a Brahmin fails in the discharge of his ordained duties, he will slide down to birth in the lower castes. Apart from the duties ordained, there are also actions prohibited. If a Brahmin indulges in any of the prohibited actions, he gets born in the lowest castes or even as an animal or may be even as a lowly creature. Among the many sins listed which cause the downfall of men (Durgati in contrast to Sadgati), especially of the Brahmins, the following are some:-
1) Forsaking the Guru and the parents and ill treating them.
2) Forsaking the wife and children.
3) Committing of adultery, theft, etc. (even sensuous thoughts about other women are as much a sin).
4) Killing of animals or inflicting of even the least suffering upon them.
5) Separating away the calf from its mother.
6) Non-observance of injunctions regarding food.
7) Failure to perform the Shraddha ceremony to the departed souls (ancestors) and forbears of the family.
8) Indulging in slanderous talk, especially blasphemy against the Vedas, Deities and Gods.
9) Turning away the guests and not offering them food.
10) Refusing to give water to thirsty person.
11) Indulging in iconoclasm (breaking of idols) and causing damage to temples and places of worship, or fouling tanks, well and rivers.
12) Non-observance of the Nitya-Vidhis, the daily obligatory duties enjoined on one.
The Prayaschitta Vidhi for the sins committed by a Brahmin are as follows:
Krchra Vow observance is like this: Fasting for 3 days, followed by sustaining oneself on milk for the next 3 days, on ghee for further 3 days, etc. Those who are weak are permitted to eat ginger seeds; otherwise what is prescribed is water in which is soaked either Aswatha or Banyan leaves or Lotus flowers or Dharbha grass etc. The Chandrayana Vrata is like this: Beginning with fast on new moon day and taking one morsel of food the next day and increasing one by one morsel of food every day afterwards; from full moon day onwards again decreasing one by one morsel of food everyday and with total fast again on the new moon day.
Through Gayatri Homa and Veda Parayana also, as much merit is earned as by doing these Vratas.
With stay at Kashi for a month, all sins are absolved. A bath at Setu-Bandha absolves sin of causing death of a Brahmin and the like. Sustaining oneself with one single and limited meal a day and reciting of Narayanopanishad etc. will absolve one of all the sins committed in countless of former lives.
Before starting to do the Prayashchita, one should begin by sipping Panchagavya, after fasting on the previous night. Panchagavya is a mixture of cow’s milk, urine, dung, ghee, curds, in which added also is water in which is dipped the Kusha grass and which has been then sanctified by the chant of the mantras and preferably also blessed by the Guru.
All the above rites are very potent means by which one can absolve his sins dome knowingly or in ignorance.
Once Lord Shiva and Parvati went to the Mandara Mountain. All the Gods, Rishis, Apsaras, Gandharvas, Yakshas, Kinnaras, Rudgraganas, Shivadutas, all came and assembled over there. Lord Shiva was seated on His Throne. By his side was seated Mother Parvati. Golden in complexion, and bedecked in richest jewellery and adorned with beautiful flowers, she was radiating all splendor. All were absorbed in the ecstasy of the Darshan of the Divine couple, the Mother and Father of the Universe.
Sanatkumara Rishi prayed to Lord Shiva to teach them the one Dharma Vidhi, which will be simple to be observed by all yet will confer all the four Purusharthas – four chief Aims of Life, Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha and which will destroy all the sins, endow bodily and mental purity and also intellectual illumination.
Lord Shiva said there is one Dharma Vidhi which is simple and can be followed by each and everyone and which will confer all good and save men from all ills of the world. This Vidhi is called ‘The Tripundra Bhasma Dharana Vidhi’. The Bhasma is symbolic of the ultimate truth, the ultimate truth of all matter. It has a spiritual significance in that it is changeless, immutable like Godhead. It is colorless or white, so to say, indicating purity. In Jabalopanishad, Bhasma Vidhi is described in great detail.
Agni is the presiding deity for Bhasma. The ash from the sacrificial fire is most sacred. In the absence of it, ash prepared from cow dung is to be used. A little ash is to be taken, reciting the ‘Sadyojata’ mantra. A little water is to be added and mixed in it with the aid of thumb, while reciting the ‘Manastoka’ mantra. Then chanting the ‘Trayambakam Yajamahe’ mantra, it has to be taken near the forehead. Then reciting the ‘Trayayusham Jamadagne’ mantra, the tripundra dharana, i.e. applying it in three lines – is to be done. First, with the aid of the middle and ring fingers two lines are to be applied, the top one and the bottom are from left to right, then with the aid of the thumb, the middle line is to be applied, drawing it from right to the left. The marks are not to extend beyond the sides of the eyebrows. With devotion, these marks are to be always worn on the forehead.
The first line mark is Brahma Devata and is symbolic of Rigveda. It means (A) syllable of Pranava Mantra (AUM). It endows ‘Kriya Shakti’. The second line is Vishnu Devata, and is symbolic of Yajur Veda. It means (U), syllable. It endows ‘Icha Shakti’. The third line is Maheshwara Himself and is symbolic of Sama Veda. It means (M) syllable. It endows ‘Jnana Shakti’.
Bhasma Dharana can be done by one and all, and during all the stages of Life. It will cure all the ills of the body, mind and spirit. It ensures mental purity, intellectual illumination and spiritual enlightenment in their life beyond it opens the gates of Kailasa for him, which is the Eternal Abode of Supreme peace and beatitude. For destroying one’s sins, there is nothing comparable to doing Bhasma Dharana, but it should be done with full faith and devotion. For one who applies ashes on his forehead and wears Rudraksha Mala on his neck, there will be nothing wanting for him either in this life or in the beyond. Wearing of Rudraksha and applying Vibhuti (Bhasma) on the forehead confer great sanctity to the wearer. They are most purifying and will ward off all evil. None can harm the wearer and even the Lord of Death would keep away from him. They confer happiness in this life and ensure happiness in the life beyond.
Lord Shiva is all powerful; it was Lord Shiva who caused the Vedas to manifest and gifted them to Brahmadeva to serve as guidance to the latter in his functioning as the Creator of the world of matter and the Universe of beings. Along with the Vedas, He also gifted to him the Brahmopanishad, in which there is one chapter entitled Rudradhyaya and describing the Rudrabhisheka Mahima. Brahmadeva narrated the Rudrabhisheka Mahim to the Rishis once, as described in the Rudradhyaya of the Brahmopanishad. His narration goes as under:
The study of Rudradhyaya and performance of Rudrabhisheka would expiate one of all his sins and would endow also liberation on him from the cycle of birth and death. He said that Rudrabhisheka was the panacea for all the ills of the mundane life. All the Rishis, thereafter, as advised by Brahmadeva, took to Rudrabhisheka. From the Rishis, it spread among all the people, and everywhere the echo of Rudra Japa and Rudradhyaya could be heard. Whenever and wherever Yama Dharma Raja’s Dutas (servants/guards) visited, they were repelled by the seething heat generated by the spiritual vibrations emanating from Rudra Japa. The Yama Dutas narrated their plight to Yama Raja. The latter rushed to Brahmadeva and told him about the matter. Brahmadeva told Yama Raja that he should instruct his Dutas that they should never approach anywhere near where Rudradhyaya and Purusha Sukta chanting would be going on and they could move feely only where such chanting is not there.
There are also many disciplines regarding acceptance of food. One can take food in Guru’s house without any hesitation, so also in the maternal uncle’s house, in the father-in-law’s house, in the houses of brothers, and in the houses of pious people. If there was no Brahmin priest available at the time of Shraddha ceremony, one can attend and take food, but on the next day, he should do Gayatri Japa. Anyway, food is most holy. It should be taken in the houses of the pious and Satwic people, and taking God’s name.
Homes of evil minded people are to be avoided. Food is not to be accepted from:
i) Greedy people;
ii) People who are not doing their duty to their family;
iii) People who are proud and egoistic;
iv) People who indulge in always self-praise and taking ill of others;
v) People who are ill tempered;
vi) People of immoral conduct;
vii) People who are addicted to drinking wine and other intoxicating drinks;
viii) People who delight in harming others; If we accept food from such people, their sins will affect us.
The food should be taken only from the hands and homes of people of Satwic and devout temperament. Through the food we take, the Gunas flow into us. The food should promote Satwa Guna, i.e., pure, cool and enlightened temperament in us.
Parasara Smriti lays down in great detail under Achara-Samhita the code of conduct for the Brahmins, who are spiritual custodians of the community and the society. The Achara Samhita is something like Bhagwad Gita, for the Brahmins. It is, so to say, like a Fifth Veda. It lays down daily disciplines to be strictly observed by a Brahmin from dawn to dusk. The disciplines laid down are as under and whoever meticulously observes them will attain everything and will never suffer from any want, nor will be ever subject to grief.
The Brahmin should rise in the early hours of the morning, which is called the Brahma Muhurta (between 3.30 and 5.00 AM), during which time, the Satwa quality will be prevalent in the atmosphere.
As soon as one rises form bed, he should remember his Guru first and offer mentally his obeisance to him; he should then offer his obeisance to God and the deities (Trimurtis, Sun God, the Navagrahas, etc), then to the sages, the Pitru Devatas and to the parents. He should not let the mind wander away. He will have to let it dwell on Guru-God thoughts only, for sometime at least. He is advised to have first the Darshan of Cow (Gomata) before he does anything else.
After offering obeisance to the cow, he should (gargle his mouth and then) do Achmana, by sipping a little water. This Achmana is a constant practice, many times during the day, prescribed for Brahmin. If there is no water available for the Achmana, if he just touches his right ear, that is said to be sufficient. The right ear is said to be the seat of Agni (Fire God), Varuna (God of the seas and air), Surya, Chandra and other Deities. Achamana is to be done taking the Guru’s God’s name and chanting the appropriate Mantras. Till sunrise and before he goes out for his morning ablutions, he will have to devote either to chanting of prayers, recital of Vedic Mantras or Meditation. After dawn one should attend to the calls of nature. At that time he should keep silent. He should then clean his mouth and teeth (to get rid of the foul odor, as well as for the mouth hygiene). The twigs of trees which are to be used for cleaning the teeth are listed. After this one should take his bath. It cleanses and refreshes the body and drives away laziness. It endows strength, longevity, intellectual brilliance, etc. It cleanses away the effect of bad dreams and also drives away poverty and all ills.
Brahmacharis (celibates) are to bath in the mornings and all house-holders in the morning and in the afternoons as well as in the evenings i.e., all three times during the day. Whatever water one should be using for bath, he should deem it as waters of the Holy Ganges flowing down from the feet of Hari, and which endows both bodily purity as well as purity of the mind and spirit. When water is not available or when one is sick, one should recite the ‘Apohista’ Mantra, and do Marjana three times. This is called ‘mantra Snana’. Doing Vishnu Nama Sankirtana is called ‘Manasika Snana’. Taking Darshan of the Guru, or sprinkling the water after washing the feet of the parents is called ‘Teertha Snana’.
On the days of Vratas, Sraddhas or after birth ceremonies or death ceremonies in the family – on the tenth day of the pollution period, hot water bath is prohibited. In flowing water of a river, one should face opposite the current, and in tanks etc, one should face towards the east and then take the bath.
If one takes oil-bath on Sundays, it could lead to disease, on Mondays it should lead to draining of energy, on Tuesdays it could lead to death, on Wednesdays it endows wealth (Lakshmiprapti), on Thursdays and Fridays, it could cause the impairment and danger to the health of children (Santhana Nastham) and on Saturdays it brings in all auspiciousness, health and wealth. Housewives are not to take hair bath daily.
On the days when one has taken oil bath, he is not to apply Bhasma. On all other days and at all times, he should necessarily apply Bhasma on his forehead.
For Deva Puja, the shrine room should be kept clean, Rangoli should be done and the place should be decorated with flowers. The atmosphere should be filled with the fragrance of incense sticks, sandalwood or other perfume materials. The place should be specially congenial and soothing to the minds. It should make an instant appeal to the minds and bring it into devout and worshipful mood. The atmosphere should be such that the senses get sublimated, mind gets collected and calmed and the spirit gets uplifted and elevated.
Seated on a clean, comfortable seat, one should take to the Puja (worship). The worship has to be done three times a day – morning, afternoon and evening. If the full and elaborate worship is not possible for want of time or any other reasons, one should at least do the Shodasopachara Puja (worship constituting the sixteen types of services) in the morning, Panchopachara Puja (worship constituting of five types of services) in the forenoon, and offering of the camphor light (Niranjana) in the evening, and perform the worship this way. Having been born as a Brahmin if he does not do the worship daily, he will be subject to hell life after death.
There are six types of Puja. These are:-
i) Udaka Narayana Puja i.e. worshipping of God in Water
ii) Agni Puja i.e. worshipping God in Fire
iii) Aditya Puja .i.e. worshipping God in the Sun
iv) Manasika Puja i.e. worshipping God in the Shrine of one’s heart. (offering of worship mentally)
v) Pratima Puja i.e. worshipping God in the Icons (idols)
vi) Yajna Puja i.e. worshipping God through performance of Yajna
The Manasika Puja is the highest form of worship. Idol worship is a relatively lower type or form of worship compared to Manasika Puja, but it also has its place in the spiritual journey. Worship of cow and a Brahmin, visualizing them as God, is also an accepted form of Puja. Worship of Guru pleases all the Trimurtis. In the Kali age, as men are not capable of cultivating and cherishing such exalted form of adoration towards the Guru and of identifying the Guru with God, God has assumed the forms of Saligrama stones and of Linga form stones, which are found on the banks and the river beds of the Narmada and the Gangaki rivers. Worship of the Saligrama of the Linga absolves man from all his sins.
With Guru’s Upadesha and worshipping the idol as per his instructions, God will respond fully in stone and wood idols even and will fulfill all the desires of the worshipper.
Regarding the worship to the idol, firstly one should seat himself before the shrine, should do Sankalpa and then Pranayama (regulation of breath). Pranayama helps to quieten the mind and centralizes the consciousness for concentration. Water has to be sprinkled over the materials for worship. The idol has to be then installed in the Simhasana (throne or seat for the Lord). On the left side of the idol should be placed the bell. The flowers and other materials of worship of the previous day are to be removed. The lamp has to be lighted. Then worship has to be first offered to Lord Ganapati. Then the Guru has to be remembered. The worship to the shrine has to be done. The tutelary deity has to be visualized in the shrine of one’s own heart, and the same visualized form has to be then invoked and enshrined in or to be identified with the idol placed for worship. This is Prana-Pratishtha, imparting living reality to (or instilling life into) the idol. One should visualize that God himself has come and is standing in front of him. Bhavana, with true faith, is the very essence of the idol worship. Then to the visualized form of God, identified with the idol, Padya, Arghya, Aachamana, Madhuparka, Snana – all these Upacharas (services) are to be done. Then chanting the prescribed Mantras, Abhishekas etc. have to performed with milk Panchagavya, etc.
The idol has to be dried with a clean cloth and placed back on the Shrine. Then Vastra (cloth/clothes), Gandha (sandal-paste), Yajnopavita (sacred thread), are to be offered and thereafter Puja has to be done with flowers, with materials and articles of fragrance, and with Akshatas (rice mixed with Turmeric paste), etc. While white flowers are ideal for worship, colored flowers are not so sacred for worship. Lotuses, Jasmines and some other such flowers are good; Ganapati is not to be worshipped with Tulasi and Devi is not to be worshiped with Garika. Maredu (Bilwa) is dear Shiva and Tulasi for Vishnu. After the offerings of flowers, Dhoopa has to be offered. During the Puja, appropriate Mantras and prayers are to be recited with full devotion.
After the Puja, Naivedya (food) will have to be offered to the Lord. Visualizing God to have eaten the food offering, His hands are to be cleaned with water. Then Tambula (Betel leaves) have to be offered. The Puja will have to be concluded with Arati and offering Mantra Pushpa at His feet and doing the Pradakshana and finally doing the Sashtanga Namaskara.
The Puja Teertha has to be sprinkled on one’s forehead, to be smeared on the eyes and should be sipped by the mouth. The Puja-Teertha is most purifying; it purifies the body, mind and the spirit.
After the Deva Puja and before taking food, we have to offer oblations, the Pancha Yagnas, viz., Deva Yagnya, Rishi Yagnya, Pitru Yagnya, Bhuta Yagnya, and Athiti Yagnya. These Yagnya’s absolve man of the sins which everyone invariably commits while doing the daily chores. The Pancha Yagnya’s are done through Vysvadeva from the food cooked, a little portion will have to be first offered to the Gods, Pitrus, ancestors, Bhutas, Rishis and Athitis, and then only one will have to take his food, considering it as Yagnya-Sesha (the remnant portions of Yagna).
If a guest happens to arrive, he should be welcomed and fed. Athiti is to be deemed as God himself come in human form. After the guest is fed only the Grihastha (the house holder) has to take his food. When an Athiti or Brahmachari comes for Bhiksha, he should be offered Bhiksa, instantly even if Vaisvadeva and Naivedya have not been performed yet.
If Athiti is pleased, all Gods, all Pitrudevatas will be pleased. One morsel of food given to them brings mountain sized merit and one tumbler of water offered to them brings an ocean-size merit. One who does not offer food to Athiti and eats by himself, will be born as a dog or donkey in his next life.
Strict silence is enjoyed while taking food. Actually before taking food, there are other oblations to be done and observed. A circle with four cones (mandala) should be drawn with flour and plate of food should be kept on the mandala. A little food has to be kept aside on the right side on the floor as ‘Bali’, in the name of Chitragupta, and thereafter only we should et the food. One should visualise that God only, seated inside him, is eating the food and that the food is also Brahman himself (Brahmarpanam, Brahma HaviH Brahmagnau brahmanahutam. Brahmaiva tena gantavyam, Brahma Karma Samadhina).
‘Pranabhuti’ and ‘Ausposana’ Mantras are to be recited at the beginning and after the completion of taking the food. At night when taking food, there should be lighted lamp and one should not eat the food in the dark. Moderation is very much necessary in food. How many mouthfuls one should take as per day of the fortnight, i.e. Chandrayan Vrata is described in the Shastras. The types of utensils and plates to be used for taking food, the metals out of which thy are made, their shapes – these are also described in some detail in the Shastras.
Food without a daily oblation, food made with too much salt, garlic, etc, are prohibitive. On particular days, some types of food and certain types of vegetables and fruits are to be avoided, like Padwal on Padyami day, bel phal on Friday, Shaniphal on Tuesday, etc. A Brahmin should never take nishiddha food or food touched by a cat, rat, crow, dog, etc. He should not eat food that is stale, i.e., leftovers from previous. These impair the Satwic states and promote rajasic and tamasic tendencies in him. A Brahmin should nurture and guard his Satwic gunas which are necessary and essential for his functioning as the community and the society as a whole.
In the evening the Brahmin should perform Sayam Sandhya, i.e., chanting Gayatri Mantra with three oblations of water and uttering Gotra, Pravara and with Auposan. Thereafter only he should take his night meals. Before retiring to bed, one should read some sacred books, and then after offering his whole day’s work as worship done to the lord, he should go to sleep.
Sayana Vidhana (sleeping) is also described, i.e., regulations, relating to the cot used for sleeping by a Brahmin, etc. The cot should be clean. It should not have been made of jambul wood or tusks of a dead elephant. Days for weaving cots are also specified – they are Sunday, Tuesday or Thursday. When weaving, certain Deities are to be remembered. One should sleep with head towards east or south.
The places prohibited for sleep for a Brahmin are also mentioned. Old temples, cremation grounds, at the foot of a tree, near anthill, near tanks, on food grains and dilapidated house are prohibited places for sleeping. A Brahmin should not go to bed with wet clothes. He should not go to sleep without a garment. He should not sleep under the bare sky.
A Brahmin should not indulge with his wife when she is in her monthly period or when she is wearing blue colored sari. There are injunctions on the wife as to how to conduct herself during her monthly periods and the things and disciplines she should observe. All these are necessary for bodily health as well as for moral and spiritual health, not only for the couple but also for the well being and welfare of the progeny. All these have been codified by Prasara Rishi in Parasara Smriti.