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Veda Vyasa (contemporary painting)

Vyasa (Devanagari: व्यास, vyāsa) is a central and revered figure in the majority of Hindu traditions. He is also known as Badarayana. He is also sometimes called Veda Vyasa (वेद व्यास, veda vyāsa), (the one who split the Vedas) or Krishna Dvaipayana (referring to his complexion and birthplace). He is accredited as the scribe of both the Vedas, and the supplementary texts such as the Puranas. A number of Vaishnava traditions regard him as an avatar of Vishnu.[1] Vyasa is also considered to be one of the seven Chiranjivins (long lived, or immortals), who are still in existence according to general Hindu belief.

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In the Mahabharata

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Vyasa appears for the first time as the author of, and an important character in the Mahābhārata. He was the son of Satyavati (also known as Matsyagandha), daughter of a ferryman or fisherman (a dasyu aboriginal princess)[2], and the wandering sage Parashara. He was born on an island in the river Yamuna. This is said to be near Kalpi in Jalaun district in Uttar Pradesh[citation needed]. Many also point out that the sage was born on the confluence of the rivers Koel, Sankha and Brahmani at the present steel city of Rourkela in Northern Orissa[citation needed]. The place is named after him as Vedvyas. He was dark-complexioned and hence may be called by the name Krishna (black), and also the name Dwaipayana, meaning 'island-born'.

Vyasa was grandfather to the Kauravas and Pandavas. Both Dhritarashtra and Pandu, adopted as the sons of Vichitravirya by the royal family, were fathered by him. He had a third son, Vidura, by a serving maid.

Veda Vyasa

Hindus traditionally hold that Vyasa categorised the primordial single Veda into four. Hence he was called Veda Vyasa, or "Splitter of the Vedas," the splitting being a feat that allowed people to understand the divine knowledge of the Veda. The word vyasa means split, differentiate, or describe.

It has been debated whether Vyasa was a single person or a class of scholars who did the splitting. The Vishnu Purana has a theory about Vyasa. The Hindu view of the universe is that of a cyclic phenomenon that comes into existence and dissolves repeatedly. Each cycle is presided over by a number of Manus, one for each Manvantara, that has four ages, Yugas of declining virtues. The Dvapara Yuga is the third Yuga. The Vishnu Purana (Book 3, Ch 3) says:

In every third world age (Dvapara), Vishnu, in the person of Vyasa, in order to promote the good of mankind, divides the Veda, which is properly but one, into many portions. Observing the limited perseverance, energy, and application of mortals, he makes the Veda fourfold, to adapt it to their capacities; and the bodily form which he assumes, in order to effect that classification, is known by the name of Veda-vyasa. Of the different Vyasas in the present Manvantara and the branches which they have taught, you shall have an account. Twenty-eight times have the Vedas been arranged by the great Rishis in the Vaivasvata Manvantara... and consequently eight and twenty Vyasas have passed away; by whom, in the respective periods, the Veda has been divided into four. The first... distribution was made by Svayambhu (Brahma) himself; in the second, the arranger of the Veda (Vyasa) was Prajapati... (and so on up to twenty-eight).

Author of the Mahābhārata

Vyasa is traditionally known as author of this epic. But he also features as an important character in it. His mother later married the king of Hastinapura, and had two sons. Both sons died without an issue and taking recourse to an ancient practice called Niyoga where a chosen man can father sons with the widow of a person who dies issueless, she requests Vyasa to produce sons on behalf of her dead son Vichitravirya.

Vyasa fathers the princes Dhritarashtra and Pandu by Ambika and Ambalika, the wives of the dead king Vichitravirya). Vyasa told them that they should come alone near him. First did Ambika, but because of shyness and fear she closed her eyes. Vyasa told Satyavati that her child would be blind. Later this child was named Dhritarāshtra. Thus Satyavati sent Ambālika and warned her that she should remain calm. But Ambālika's face became pale because of fear. Vyasa told her that child would suffer from anaemia, and he would not be fit enough to rule the kingdom. Later this child was known as Pāndu. Then Vyasa told Satyavati to send one of them again so that a healthy child can be born. This time Ambika and Ambālika sent a maid in the place of themselves. The maid was quite calm and composed, and she got a healthy child later named as Vidura. While these are his sons, another son Śuka, born of his wife, sage Jābāli's daughter Pinjalā (Vatikā),[3] is considered his true spiritual heir. He was thus the grandfather of both the warring parties of the Mahābhārata, the Kauravas and the Pāndavas. He makes occasional appearances in the story as a spiritual guide to the young princes.

Ganesha writes Mahābhārata as dictated by Vyasa

In the first book of the Mahābhārata, it is described that Vyasa asked Ganesha to aid him in writing the text, however Ganesha imposed a condition that he would do so only if Vyasa narrated the story without pause. To which Vyasa then made a counter-condition that Ganesha must understand the verse before he transcribed it.

Thus Lord VedVyas narrated the whole Mahābhārata and all the Upanishads and the 18 Puranas, while Lord Ganesha wrote.

Vyasa is supposed to have meditated and authored the epic by the foothills of the river Beas (Vipasa) in the Punjab region.

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Vyasa's Jaya

Vyasa's Jaya, the core of Bhagwat Geeta is structured in the form of a dialogue between Dhritarashtra (the Kuru king and the father of the Kauravas, who opposed the Pāndavas in the Kurukshetra War) and Sanjaya, his advisor and chariot driver. Sanjaya narrates each incident of the Kurukshetra War, fought in 18 days, as and when it happened. Dhritarāshtra sometimes asks questions and doubts and sometimes laments, knowing about the destruction caused by the war, to his sons, friends and kinsmen. He also feels guilty, due to his own role, that led to this war, destructive to the entire Indian subcontinent.

In the beginning Sanjaya gives a description of the various continents of the Earth, the other planets, and focuses on the Indian Subcontinent and gives an elaborate list of hundreds of kingdoms, tribes, provinces, cities, towns, villages, rivers, mountains, forests etc of the (ancient) Indian Subcontinent (Bhārata Varsha). He also explains about the 'military formations adopted by each side on each day, the death of each hero and the details of each war-racings. Some 18 chapters of Vyasa's Jaya constitutes the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred text of the Hindus. Thus, this work of Vyasa, called Jaya deals with diverse subjects like geography, history, warfare, religion and morality.

Ugrasrava Sauti's Mahābhārata

The final phase of Vyasa's work culminated as Mahābhārata, structured as a narration by Ugrasrava Sauti (Sutji) who was a professional story teller, to an assembly of sages (rishis) like Saunaka. Bharata is embedded inside it, and within it Jaya.

Reference to writing

Within the Mahābhārata, there is a tradition in which Vyasa wishes to write down or inscribe his work:

The Grandsire Brahma (creator of the universe) comes and tells Vyasa to get the help of Ganapati for his task. Ganapati writes down the stanzas recited by Vyasa from memory and thus the Mahābhārata is inscribed or written. Ganapati could not cope up with Vyasa's speed and he misses many words or even stanzas.

The latest portions of the Mahābhārata are estimated to date from roughly the 4th century BC, the time of the introduction of writing to India.

There is some evidence however that writing may have been known earlier based on archeological findings of styli in the Painted Grey Ware culture, dated between 1100 BC and 700 BC.[4][5][6] and archeological evidence of the Brahmi script being used from at least 600 BC.[7]

The difficulty faced by Ganapati (Ganesha) in writing down Mahābhārata as described in the tradition, could be real, and was most probably faced by those people who first attempted to write it down as some reciter recited it continuously. This is because, the reciter will not be able to stop in the middle of recitation and then resume it, as the lines are committed to his memory as a continuous recording.

(The name Ganapati, was used in ancient days, to denote the head of a republic. In ancient India, there were kingdoms ruled by kings or Rajas as well as republics ruled by elected heads or Ganapatis. Kambojas were a republic. To some extent Dvārakā had republican style of rule. Ganapati, who wrote down Mahābhārata, probably was one of these republic chiefs, well educated in the art of writing or inscription.)[citation needed]

In the Puranas

Vyasa is also credited with the writing of the eighteen major, if not all, Purāṇas.His son Shuka is the narrator of the major Purāṇa Bhagavat-Purāṇa.

In Buddhism

Within Buddhism Vyasa appears as Kanha-dipayana (the Pali version of his name) in two Jataka tales: the Kanha-dipayana Jataka and Ghata Jataka. Whilst the former in which he appears as the Bodhisattva has no relation to his tales from the Hindu works, his role in the latter one has parallels in an important event in the Mahabhrata.

In the 16th book of the epic, Mausala Parva, the end of the Vrishnis, clansmen of Vyasa's namesake and Vishnu incarnate Krishna is narrated. The epic says: One day, the Vrishni heroes .. saw Vishvamitra, Kanwa and Narada arrived at Dwaraka. Afflicted by the rod of chastisement wielded by the deities, those heroes, causing Samba to be disguised like a woman, approached those ascetics and said, ‘This one is the wife of Vabhru of immeasurable energy who is desirous of having a son. Ye Rishis, do you know for certain what this one will bring forth?Those ascetics, attempted to be thus deceived, said: ‘This heir of Vasudeva, by name Samba, will bring forth a fierce iron bolt for the destruction of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas.

The important Bhagavata Purana (book 11) too narrates the incident in a similar manner and names the sages as Visvāmitra, Asita, Kanva, Durvāsa, Bhrigu, Angirâ, Kashyapa, Vâmadeva, Atri, Vasishthha, along with Nârada and others - it does not explicitly include Vyasa in the list.

The Ghata Jataka has a different version: The Vrishnis, wishing to test Kanha-dipayana's powers of clairvoyance, played a practical joke on him. They tied a pillow to the belly of a young lad, and dressing him up as a woman, took him to the ascetic and asked when the baby would be born. The ascetic replied that on the seventh day the person before him would give birth to a knot of acacia wood which would destroy the race of Vásudeva. The youths thereupon fell on him and killed him, but his prophecy came true .

Notably, he is not the Bodhisattva in the Ghata Jataka.

In the Arthashastra

The only non-religious book in which Vyasa has an interesting entry is the Arthashastra of Chanakya. In chapter 6, it says:

'Whosoever is of reverse character, whoever has not his organs of sense under his control, will soon perish, though possessed of the whole earth bounded by the four quarters. For example: Bhoja, known also by the name, Dándakya, making a lascivious attempt on a Bráhman maiden, perished along with his kingdom and relations; so also Karála, the Vaideha... Vátápi in his attempt under the influence of overjoy to attack Agastya, as well as the corporation of the Vrishnis in their attempt against Dwaipáyan.

This reference matches the Jataka version in including Vyasa as the sage attacked by the Vrishnis, though Vyasa does not die here.

Author of Brahma Sutra

The Brahma Sutra is attributed to Badarayana — which makes him the proponent of the crest-jewel school of Hindu philosophy, i.e., Vedanta. As the island on which Vyasa was born is said to have been covered by Badara (Indian jujube/Ber/Ziziphus mauritiana) trees, he is known as Badarayana. Though traditionally, Vyasa is considered the Badarayana who wrote the Sutras, many historians think these were two different personalities.

Author of Yoga Bhashya

This text is a commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Vyasa is credited with this work also, though this is impossible, if Vyasa's immortality is not considered, as it is a later text.

See also

References

  1. ^ Mahābhārata 12.350.4-5, K.M. Ganguly full edition http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m12/m12c049.htm
  2. ^ According to legend, Vyasa was the son of the ascetic Parashara and the dasyu (aboriginal) princess Satyavati and grew up in forests, living with hermits who taught him the Vedas ,from the Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. ^ Skanda Purāṇa, Nāgara Khanda, ch. 147
  4. ^ S. U. Deraniyagala. Early Man and the Rise of Civilisation in Sri Lanka: the Archaeological Evidence.
  5. ^ N. R. Banerjee (1965). The Iron Age in India. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.
  6. ^ F. Raymond Allchin, George Erdosy (1995). The Archaeology of Early Historic South Asia: Emergence of Cities and States. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-37695-5.
  7. ^ T. S. Subramanian. Skeletons, script found at ancient burial site in Tamil Nadu. Institute for Oriental Study, Thane.

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