The Merit, and the Plight of a Vedic Scholar Today
Just to illustrate what it takes for a priest to earn the title of a ghanapAThi, let us briefly analyze what is involved in the training. For illustration, let us consider only one portion of the krishNa yajur veda, called the taittiriya samhitA. In this portion there over 2,000 pancASat’s (1 pancASat = 50 pada’s), amounting to 109,308 pada’s. We can roughly assume each pada to have 3 syllables, thus totaling ~330,000 syllables. In the Ghana method of chanting, each syllable gets repeated 13 times, thus amounting to 4,290,000 utterances. And each of these utterances have to conform to all the six parameters discussed earlier.
Only when a person becomes capable of reciting this in any order asked, gets the title of a ghanapAThi. This is for only one samhitA portion in krishna yajur veda alone. Then there is Sukla yajur veda, rig veda, sAma veda, and atharva veda. There were scholars proficient in more than one veda as evident from the names dvivedi, trivedi and caturvedi. In addition, there are other samhitA portions, brAhmaNa portions, AraNyaka poritons, and the Upanishads, in the vedic scriptures alone.
After proficiency in ghanapATha, some learn lakshaNa-ghanapATha, which deals with the characteristics of each letter, its origin, how it has to be emphasized in a mantra, its varNa, the presiding deity, etc etc. Then there are purANa’s, dharma-Sastras etc. All these were learnt without any book, tape or any such instruments in the oral tradition, and were stored just in ~200 grams of the human brain! And the most interesting thing is, it was not that one or two individuals who were proficient in this dharma, but an entire society was well versed in this! Such a scholarship takes well over 25 years of intense education in a gurukulam, in addition to observing all the religious disciplines!
Having analyzed what it takes for a vedic priest to become a ghanapAThi, let us look at his plight in modern day society.
When there is so much of respect and recognition for all other secular professionals “ be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, scientist, businessman, artist etc.“ the respect and the compensation extended to these vedic scholars are pathetically far below standards.
On the one end we are all proud to inherit such a rich and cherished vedic tradition, but, on the other, not being sensitive enough or even negligent towards preserving and transferring it forward. At this rate, what were originally 1,131 SakhAs, and are only 10 today, will further deteriorate leading to a great loss to human-kind.
The only guardians of this rich tradition are the vedic priests. Because of the way the society treats them and the poor compensation, they are not motivated to send their children to vedic schools (pAThaSAlA’s). Generally they come from economically backward families, and so they drop out of schools early, striving to make a living and to support their poor families. All others who have already migrated to secular education are not going to revert back to vedic learning in the traditional sense.
In addition, the personal discipline to be observed by the vedic priest being so stringent (otherwise, the rituals and mantras are believed not to give the desired result, and to even bring demerit), it makes one to shy away even more. When compared to the status of priest-hood in other religions, the plight of the vedic priest is really sad.
What can be done to bring back the lost glory of the vedic priest ?
Even though the situation appears very gloomy, there is lot of hope today.
The very fact that a forum like this wants to address this issue itself is very encouraging. Following are some of my thoughts to help foster and propagate this tradition, though by no means exhaustive:
1. The first step is for every member of this varNa to be aware of what we have in our vedic scriptures and become sensitive to this education.
2. Even if one may not have time or may have other limitation to learn, observing the disciplines, one could at least support those who learn, and the pAThaSAlA’s
3. Many of the teachers in these pAThaSAlA’s are highly under-paid and they continue to teach just to foster this dharma. With the affluence of the NRI community, support can be given to increase the compensation for the teachers and stipend to the students.
4. Scholarships for advanced vedic learning can be implemented to motivate students not to discontinue from a full curriculum due to economic reasons.
5. Most of the mantra’s employed in rituals are from Vedas.
Actually rituals(samskAras) are aimed at developing the eight inner values (Atma guNa’s),which are: compassion (dayA), patience (kshamA), free from jealousy(anasooyA), purity (soucam), keeping cool (anAyAsam), not beingmiserly(akArpaNyam), absence of attachment (aspruhA), and peace (mangaLam).
The more we shy away from rituals, more are the chances of losing those mantra’s, since less will be the motivation for the priest to practice them!
6. There can be awareness courses on samskAra’s (there are ~ 41 samskAra’s from conception to cremation!), so that every member of the varNa will develop an interest and faith in them. Such faith will increase their respect for the vedic priest as an AchArya.
7. We believe that giving dAnam (gift) to a priest washes our sins. The priest gets this power because of his vedic knowledge. Hence, the compensation for the priests should be given with faith, humility and sincerity so that, it is not just a compensation for a job done, but an offering (sambhAvanA) for blessing our families in the name of Vedas.
Read full Report by Dr Dr. S. Yegnasubramanian at
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