Sri Aurobindo’s writings on the Vedas span through a number of books. Three volumes – Vol 14 ‘Vedic and Philological Studies’, Vol 15 ‘The Secret of the Veda’, and Vol 16 ‘Hymns to the Mystic Fire’ – are completely dedicated to revealing to man the truths contained in the Vedas. We also find significant writings on the Vedas in the Vol 9 “Writings in Bengali and Sanskrit” as well as in Essays and Letters. The importance Sri Aurobindo gave to the Vedas can be understood by the fact that most of the quotations given at the beginning of His Magnum Opus The Life Divine are from the Vedas.
Sri Aurobindo’s systematic study of the Vedas started, it seems, after his arrival to Pondicherry. As we know he had a series of spiritual experiences whose confirmation he found in the Vedas. It was not therefore a scholarly academic approach that he had undertaken but rather an experiential one. The experience however came earlier and the confirmation later. At the same time Sri Krishna who had appeared to him in the Alipore Jail had given to him a new nirukta to decode the secret of the Vedas and to lay the foundations of a new Science of philology with regard to the ancient Sanskrit of the Vedas. Thus started a series of exposition of the Vedic before 1914 (which we find in this volume) and then through the pages of the Arya. Though Sri Aurobindo’s enormous work in many fields took away most of his time leaving some of his writings on the Vedas rather incomplete or short of the intended plan. Yet what we have received is a treasure trove from the Vedic lore discovered by Sri Aurobindo and given to man as one of the important works he had come to do.
The recovery of the Vedas was not just a recovery of India’s great spiritual past, something that was needed to recover the lost confidence of a subject nation by connecting it to its soul. It was needed also to bridge an otherwise illogical gap between India’s great past and its even greater future. In this volume we see the first efforts to recover the inner sense of the Vedas through philological studies. Sri Aurobindo takes up a detailed study of the origins of Aryan speech, gives us an elaborate account of each syllable, provides us a comparative account of ancient Sanskrit roots with Greek, Latin and the other ancient language of India, Tamil. He also takes up the meaning of some words through their roots and provides us a chart to undertake a future study of the wonder that is Sanskrit. There are a number of hymns from the Rigveda that he translates here, stories whose deeper sense is uncovered and symbols whose secret truth revealed. Along with these there is a description of the gods of the Vedas and their role and functions in the cosmic play.
All this makes this volume a wonderful treat not only for the scholar and the academically oriented but for a serious student of the Vedic lore. Let us close with Sri Aurobindo’s deliberations on the Sanskrit word Go.
The word Go in the Vedas appears to bear two ordinary meanings, first, cow, secondly, ray, light or lustre. In the hymns of Madhuchchhanda it occurs 6 times, in five hymns. It occurs twice in the fourth hymn addressed to Indra in the first three verses which are all of them important for the discovery of the proper sense of the word as it is used in this passage. In the third verse which is the key to the passage, we find the prayer “Then may we know (of) thy ultimate good thoughts”. Then may we know. When? as a consequence to what? Obviously as a consequence to the result of the second verse, which I translate “Come to us, O bringer out of the nectar (savana), thou the Soma-drinker; drink of the ecstatic Soma wine, a giver of illumination, enraptured” or in better English bringing out the sense & association of the words, “Come to us, O thou who art a distiller of the nectar, thou, the Soma-drinker, drink of the impetuously ecstatic Soma wine & be in the rapture of its intoxication our giver of illuminating light. Then may we know thy ultimate perceptions of the intellect. Pass us not by — O come!” Id lays emphasis on goda as the capacity in which, the purpose for which Indra is to drink. Revato and madah give the conditions under which Indra becomes a giver of illumination, the rushing & impetuous ecstasy produced by the Soma wine. It is then that men know the ultimate perceptions of mind, the highest realisations that can be given by the intellect when Indra, lord of mental force & power, is full of the ecstasy of the immortalising juice. This clear & easy sense being fixed for these two verses, we can return to the first & discover its connection with what follows. From sky to sky, its Rishi says to Indra, thou callest forth for uti, (for favour or kindness, as the ordinary interpretation would have it or for manifestation, expansion in being, as I suggest), the maker of beautiful forms, (who, being compared with a cow, must be some goddess), who is like one that gives milk freely to the milker of the cows, or, as I suggest, who milks freely to the milker of the rays. Undoubtedly, sudugham goduhe may be translated, a good milch cow to the milker of the cows; undoubtedly the poet had this idea in his mind when he wrote. The goddess is in the simile a milch cow, Indra is the milker. In each of the skies (the lower, middle & higher) he calls to her & makes her bring out the beautiful forms which she reveals to the drinker of the Soma. But it is impossible, when we take the connection with the two following verses, to avoid seeing that he is taking advantage of the double sense of go, and that while in the simile Indra is goduh the cow-milker, in the subject of the comparison he is goduh, the bringer out of the illumination, the flashes of higher light which produce the beautiful forms by the power of the goddess. The goddess herself must be one who is habitually associated with illumination, either Ila or Mahi. To anyone acquainted with the processes of Yoga, the whole passage at once becomes perfectly clear & true. The forms are those beautiful & myriad images of things in all the three worlds, the three akashas, dyavi dyavi, which appear to the eye of the Yogin when mental force in the Yoga is at its height, the impetuous & joyous activity (revato madah) of the mingled Ananda and Mahas fills the brain with Ojas and the highest intellectual perceptions, those akin to the supra-rational revelation, become not only possible, but easy, common & multitudinous. [CWSA 14: 99-100]
Speaking of the divergences and commonality between Sanskrit, Tamil, Greek and Latin, Sri Aurobindo reveals:
The Tamil for father is appa, not pita; there is no corresponding word in Sanscrit, but we have what one might call a reverse of the word in apatyam, son, in aptyam, offspring and apna, offspring. These three words point decisively to a Sanscrit root ap, to produce or create, for which other evidence in abundance can be found. What is there to prevent us from supposing appa, father, to be the Tamil form for an old Aryan active derivative from this root corresponding to the passive derivative apatyam? Mother in Tamil is amma not mata; there is no Sanscrit word amma, but there is the well-known Sanscrit vocable amba, mother. What is to prevent us from understanding the Tamil amma as an Aryan form equivalent to amba, derived from the root amb, to produce, which gives us amba & ambaka, father, amba, ambika and ambi, mother and ambarısa, the colt of a horse or young of an animal. Sodara, a high Sanscrit word, is the common colloquial term in Tamil for brother and replaces the northern vernacular bhaı & classical bhrata. Akka, a Sanscrit word with many variants, is the colloquial term in Tamil for elder sister. In all these cases an obsolete or high literary term in Sanscrit is the ordinary colloquial term in Tamil, — just as we see the high literary Sanscrit sunuh appearing in the colloquial German Sohn & English son, the obsolete & certainly high literary Aryan adalbha, undivided, appearing in the colloquial Greek adelphos, brother. What are we to conclude from these and a host of other instances which will appear in a later volume of this work? That Tamil is an Aryan dialect, like Greek, like German? Surely not; — the evidence is not sufficient; — but that it is possible for a non-Aryan tongue to substitute largely & freely Aryan vocables for its most common & familiar terms & lose its own native expressions. But then we are again driven by inexorable logic to this conclusion that just as the absence of a common vocabulary for common and domestic terms is not a sure proof of diverse origin, so also the possession of an almost identical vocabulary for these terms is not a sure proof of common origin. [CWSA 14: 556-557]
It is important to note however that this book was not published before 1950 and Sri Aurobindo did not see the articles again. Some of them do seem to be more like a draft article and others find their completeness in the Volume on The Secret of the Vedas. Still for those especially interested in the origin of Sanskrit language this volume is irreplaceable. Rest of the ideas we see developing in this volume are taken up again in Volume 15 of CWSA and developed to their finality.