The phrase “Vedic tradition” is a broad rubric for a large collection of compositions. These form the civilization heritage of India. Vedas are the core part of this. They were meditatively cognized, orally compiled and verbally transmitted through the generations. The written part of the heritage however is a much larger set. The Purana (story dominant) and Itihas (History dominant) compositions are the most popular among this set. The Puranas and the Itihas proliferated by relying on Tools of writing. The Rishis who compiled the Vedas, on the other hand, created one of the most efficient systems of memorization which does not rely on these tools of writing. The question arises “did these two modes of sustaining knowledge intersect?” In this connection, let us explore a popular narration related to Vyasa and Ganesh.
Vyasa is the author of the famous Mahabharat text and Jaya is its original name. Ganesh is the scribe of this text. The elephant headed Ganesh broke one of his tusks and wrote the Mahabharat with it. Ganesh could write very fast. Therefore, he put forth one condition for agreeing to the role of a scribe. Vyasa put a counter condition to Ganesh. Ganesh must only write a phrase only after understanding it thoroughly. It is worth pondering a few points in this popular narration. It can lead us to a connection between different aspects of the Vedic tradition, namely, the Vedas and the Puranas and Itihas.
Ganesh wrote the Jaya text with the sharp tip of his tusk. In the Rik Veda, we find a reference to Rina (Dash) and Chid-Rina (Dot) as the foundations of Rik. This can also be taken as a reference to a writing system in the Vedic tradition. It is easy to Inscribe dots and dashes on a soft writing surface with a sharp object. Scribes therefore created manuscripts from palm leaf and birch bark in the olden times. Dots and dashes can be permuted four ways and can be the basic symbols in writing. Three of these four can create Sixty four unique combinations or signs.
The Brahmi script
The Brahmi script makes use of sixty four signs/letters. Several archeological artifacts from across the Indian subcontinent, from BCE, carry writings in the Brahmi script. The Shankaracharya of Puri Mutt, namely, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati has researched Vedic texts to illustrate the connection between the Devanagari script and the Brahmi script. Devanagari script however is the preferred writing script for literature in the Vedic tradition today. From Swami Saraswati’s writing, we gain an understanding that the Vedas recognize the idea of writing. It is a part of its Vyakarana or Grammar tradition.