Saunaka Maharshi – our link to the previous yugas.

Illustration by Sankar : Sankara Narayana Sathiraju", shankarair@gmail.com

Introduction :

We all know of Saunaka as the chief of the rshis of Naimisaranya who was engaged in a long (12 years or 1000 years) satra (yajna), to ward off the evil effects of Kaliyuga. We also know him as the recipient of all the Puranas as well as the Mahabharatam. It would appear that Saunaka’s work was in a sense a continuation of Vyasa’s work. Veda Vyasa classified the Vedas, Saunaka created the Anukramanis, Brhaddevata and Rg Vidhana. Vyasa collected, collated and edited the Puranas and taught them to Romaharashana and Ugrasrava who later told (taught?) them to Saunaka and his team. Saunaka also heard the Srimad Bhagavatham and Mahabharatam from these two custodians of history. The versions of the puranas and bharatam that we hear today are the versions told to Saunaka. The longer versions recited to the devatas themselves are lost to us today.

It is Saunaka, one of the rishis of the early Kaliyuga and the late dwapara yuga who is the connecting link between all the knowledge of the previous yugas and us. Was his Yajna a gnyana yagnya? Was he trying to gather and preserve all the information consolidated by Vyasa, from before the Mahabharata War for us, his succeeding generations?

Saunaka’s Work : (Reference, see also Rg Vidhana of Saunaka : Some Notes)

  1. The Vidhanas were written to simplify the ceremonies of the Srauta and Gruhya Sastras. My Veda Guru told me that there is a work called Rg (Rk, Rik) Vidhana which tells how each rk (mantra of the rk veda) is to be used for different benefits.  The rshi of that work is Saunaka Mahrashi. According to some general reading on the internet, I learnt that every Veda has its own Vidhana.
  2. Saunaka and Katyayana are the authors of the Vidhanas for the Rg and the Yajur Vedas. kaus’ikasUtra (vis’wAmitra) explains the Vidhana for the atharva veda.
  3. They also worked on the Anukramanis and the pratisakhyas. (Anukramanis tell us about the devatas, rshis, chandas, anuvakas and sukthas of the Vedas). Saunaka also composed the Brhaddevata which tells the legends of the Vedic devatas.
  4. The manuscripts of the Rg Vidhana are available in India.
  5. There is available a commentary on the Rg Vidhana by Matrusunu called RgvidhAna padapancikA
  6. Variations of the  rg vidhanam  are available in the Vishnudharmottara and the Agni Purana.
  7. The Vedanga literature has beginnings in the Brahmanas.
  8. The grammar of the rg vidhana is earlier to Panini.
  9. kAtyAyana the author of yajur vidhana, is the grand disciple of Saunaka as per the SaDgurusiSyA.

The meeting of Ugrasrava and Saunaka :

Ugrasrava  is the first person introduced in the Mahabharata after Vyasa bows to  Narayana, Nara, and Saraswathi. Ugrasrava means the one with the high or loud voice. He also had another name, Sauti, the son of Suta. He was well versed in the Puranas. He is best known as the narrator of the Mahabharata to Saunaka and other sages of Naimisaranya. Suta is addressed as Saumya in the Devi Bhagavatham, by Saunaka. Suta heard the Srimad Bhagavatham when, Suka Maharshi, the son of Veda Vyasa narrated it to Raja Parikshit, the son of Abhimanyu and grandson of Arjuna.

Story from the Mahabharata, Adi ParvaOne day Ugrasrava came to Naimsaranya. This means the forest of Nimi. (It is in modern Uttar Pradesh :  MapPhotosNimi was Sita Devi’s Purvaja (ancestor, previous born. As per my calculations, he may have been her grandfather. (Please see Generations between Rama and Krishna. And Generations previous to Sri Rama. if you are interested.)

He came to Naimisaranya to tell the sages there the Puranas. The sages there were Saunaka and others, who had come there to perform a long 12 year yajna, to ward off the evil effects of Kaliyuga. They believed that with Sri Krishna and Raja Parikshit gone, there would be no one to respect and protect the brahmans and Rishis.  By that time the most brahmans, following the Varna – Asrama – Dharma were completely into philosophy. It does look as if Aswatthama, the son of Drona and the grandson of Bharadwaja was the last brahman warrior for several centuries. (The Bhargavas (Parasurama) and the Bharadwajas were noted for their fighting skills.)

Saunaka received Ugrasrava with respect and Ugrasrava took his asana (easy sitting posture) humbly. Ugrasarava asked Saunaka and others how their penance was going and Saunaka asked Ugrasarava about his well being, travels and purpose. 

Ugrasrava said, “I heard the wonderful narrative composed by Krishna Dwaipayana (Veda Vyasa). Vaisampayana related it entirely at the Sarpa – Yajna (Naga – Yajna) of King Janamejaya. (Janamejaya was the son of Parikshit and the grandson of Abhimanyu.) I travelled to Samantha Panachaka (Kurukshetra), where the Pandavas and Kauravas fought with all the kings of the country on one side or the other. Shall I tell you the sacred stories collected in the Puranas containing precepts of Dharma and of worldly profit, or the acts of illustrious saints and sovereigns of mankind?”

To which Saunaka replied, ” Tell us that Purana, first composed by the great Rishi Dwaipayana, which was heard and esteemed both by the Devas and the Brahmarshis a was highly esteemed. It is the best narrative that exists,  possessing subtle meanings logically combined with knowledge gleaned from the Vedas. It is a sacred work. It is composed in elegant language, and it includes the subjects of other books. It explains the other Sastras and the Vedas.  Tell us  that itihasa also called Bharata, the holy composition of the wonderful Vyasa, which dispells the fear of evil, just as it was cheerfully recited by the Rishi Vaisampayana, under the direction of Dwaipayana himself, at the sarpa yajna of Raja Janamejaya!”

Sauti (Ugrasrava) then bowed and began to tell them about the Bharatam.

Story from Pauloma Parva, Mahabharata : “‘UGRASRAVA SAUTI, the son of Lomaharshana, versed in the Puranas, while present in the forest of Naimisha, at the *twelve years’ sacrifice of Saunaka (*The Siva Puranam refers to a 1000 year yajnam.), surnamed Kulapati, stood before the Rishis in attendance. Having studied Puranas with meticulous devotion and thus being thoroughly acquainted with them, he addressed them with joined hands thus, ‘I have graphically described to you the history of Utanka which is one of the causes of King Janamejaya’s Snake-sacrifice. What, revered Sirs, do ye wish to hear now? What shall I relate to you?’

The holy men replied, ‘O son of Lomaharshana, we shall ask thee about what we are anxious to hear and thou wilt recount the tales one by one. Saunaka, our revered master, is at present attending the apartment of the holy fire. He is acquainted with those divine stories which relate to the gods and asuras. He adequately knoweth the histories of manavas, Nagas, and Gandharvas. Further, O Sauti, in this sacrifice that learned Brahmana is the chief. He is able, faithful to his vows, wise, a master of the Sastras and the Aranyaka, a speaker of truth, a lover of peace, a mortifier of the flesh, and an observer of the penances according to the authoritative decrees. He is respected by us all. It behoveth us therefore to wait for him. And when he is seated on his highly respected seat, thou wilt answer what that best of Dwijas shall ask of thee.’

“Sauti said, ‘Be it so. And when the high-souled master hath been seated I shall narrate, questioned by him, sacred stories on a variety of subjects.” After a while that excellent Brahmana (Saunaka) having duly finished all his duties, and having propitiated the gods with prayers and the manes with oblations of water, came back to the place of sacrifice, where with Sauti seated before was the assembly of saints of rigid vows sitting at ease. And when Saunaka was seated in the midst of the Ritwiks and Sadhyas, who were also in their seats, he spake …”

Some Extra Notes on the Vedangas :

Brahmanas :

  1. The Brahmanas are commentaries on the samhitas, that explain the rites which accompany the mantras. The satapatha brahmana may be considered a commentary on the Vajasneyi Samhita.
  2. The Brahmanas also contain legends as well as discussions on the etymyology, metrics, grammar etc.

Aranyakas :

  1. The Aitreyaranyaka discusses 3 ways of chanting the Vedas, the Pada Patha, Samhita and Krama Patha. Preserving Vedas Integrity : Vedic Chanting Styles pAThAs

Pratisakhyas :

  1. The Pratisakhyas “truly” represent the Vedic Siksha.
  2. The Pratisakhyas discuss sandhis, metrics etc and how to convert one of the above pathas to the other. They are important to the study of Vedas.

Niruktha :

  1. Yaska’s Nirukta : is a Vedic commentary on the Nighantus (including Kasyapa’s). A Nighantu is a glossary of difficult and rare Rg Vedic terms. The Naighantuka kanda of the Nighantus consists of 3 lists of synonyms. The Naigama (Aikapadika) kanda consists of a list of isolated and difficult words. The Daivata kanda contains a classification of devatas.
Chandas :
  1. The RgvEda prAtis’AKyA and s’AnKayanas’rauta s’Astra are devoted to metres. The pingala sUtrAs, Candah sUtrAs and the nidhAna sUtras deal with metres.
Kalpa :
  1. Kalpasutras have 3 parts, the srauta for large yagnyas, the gruhya for domestic purposes, the dharma for law etc. Pitrmedhasutras, karikas, prayogas, sraddha kalpa and other such additional texts exists.
The AtharvaNa jyotiSA :
  1. gives divisions of time, nakshatra names, auspicious time for conception etc.

Vidhanas :

  1. There are 2 rg vidhanas, kanishta and jyestha.
  2. The kaniSTa vidhAna has 4 adhyayas. Like this RcAm vidhAnam, we also have sAmnAm vidhAnam.
  3. The Rvidh is aware of amRtA, pitryA, vAsavI, raudrA, and vaisvadEvI samhitAs.
  4. kAtyAyana the author of YVidh, is the grand disciple of Saunaka as per the SaDgurusiSyA.

Source for shlokas below : Rg-Vidhana -based on Brhadrgvidhana at Saraswathi Mahal Library at Thanjavur.

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