One Mantra 3 Purposes

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Vyasa’s compilation of Vedas

Vyasa collected a subset of Mantras at the end of the last Yuga or Era. Certainly, a larger set of Mantras was in vogue earlier. Vyasa created four compilations from the subset. These compilations are today known as the four Vedas, namely, the Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva. Several mantras are common between the Rig, Yajur and Sama Veda compilations. Almost every Sama Veda mantra is also in the Rig Veda compilation. However, not all mantras of the Rig Veda are in the Yajur Veda compilation. In fact, Yajur Veda contains mantras which are not in the Rig Veda. What is the reason for the overlap of Mantras? Let us first review how a Yajna is performed.

How is a Yajna performed?

The tradition of Yajnas has continued through the ages. We must review some basic facts about how a Yajna is performed before understanding the nature of Mantras in the four Vedas.

  • The first step in the Yagna involves inviting appropriate Devas to the Yagna. Secondly, experts in the art of Yajna say that Rig mantras have the power to draw the energies of Devas.
  • The second step in a Yajna is to offer Devas sacrificial offerings such as cooked rice, porridge, etc. Yajur Veda priests undertake this step. They connect the material existence to the subtle. A powerful connection requires offering to be sanctified. Therefore, Yajur Veda priests sanctify the offerings by chanting mantras. Finally, they place the purified offerings in the Yajna Vedi (fire altar) or Kunda (read my post Sthandila and Kunda as precursors to Temples)
  • Additional chanting the mantras accompanies the act of offering. These mantras dedicate the offering to a designated Deva.
  • The third step in a Yagna is interesting. Sama Veda priests seek the blessings from the Devas. This happens towards the end of a Yajna with the chanting of Sama Veda mantras. Saman chants touch the heart of Devas. Secondly, they create a feeling level connection between the human plane and the plane of the Devas. As a result, Devas grant the fruits of the Yagna to everyone.

Overlap of Mantras among four Vedas - How is Yajna performed.
Music originated from Sama Veda

Overlap among Mantras in the four Vedas

Normally, a mantra addresses either a single Deva or a group of Devas. Besides, the same mantra can be used to address the same Deva in the above three steps. However, intonations differ because the purpose varies in each step. Indeed, the intonation identifies the purpose for which the Mantra is being chanted.

Music is the language of the heart. Musical notes flourish in Sama Veda chants. In fact, Sama Veda is the precursor to classical Indian music. Similarly, the style of chanting is distinct for the Rig and Yajur Vedas. A casual listener too begins to distinguish this style difference within a short time. The following is a beautiful rendering of a few popular mantras in the Rig and Yajur style of chanting. From this one can get a better sense about the style differences despite the overlap of mantras.

Why did Vyasa collect only a subset of Vedas in his compilation?

Vyasa through his foresight understood the ensuing challenges in the upcoming Kali Era for Yajnas. He decided long duration Yajnas to be infeasible. Therefore, he chose five Yajna prototypes as the basis for Yajnas in the Kali Era (As explained by Kanchi Paramacharya). He gathered the necessary mantras around this objective. My post Rishi Saunaka more important than Veda Vyasa to Max Muller? complements this idea.

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