Preserving the Vedic Traditions

Ibn Battuta, the Moroccon traveler who reached lands as far as Delhi and Calicut in 1341, grew up in Tangier. In the book The Adventures of Ibn Battuta, Prof. Ross E Dunn writes about Ibn Battuta’s upbringing: Tangier did not have madrassas like the ones in Tunis or Fez, but the neighborhood Koranic school provided him with sufficient Islamic teaching.

These students sat at the foot of the master listened to his discourses and learned the Qu’ran by heart. To be a learned master, you had to commit the text to memory and compared to other schools, the Moroccan school emphasized the rote learning. Like the Indic tradition, the memorization of these texts were meant to transmit scriptures to future generations

I am not sure if the Islamic tradition still emphasizes committing texts to memory with the same rigour as the old schools in Tangier and Fez, but the Indic tradition continues uncorrupted and with the same high standards in Thrissur, Kerala. In an event called anyonyam (each other), Rig Vedic scholars from two schools — Thrissur and Thiruvanaya — meet at the Sree Rama temple at Kadavallur, every November, to demonstrate their mastery over Rg Veda chanting.

The Kadavalloor Anyonyam is an outward manifestation of the method of ancient traditional Vedic recital. Only in Kerala can one see remnants of the basic traditions in the study of Vedams, use of Prayogams, and in enunciation (chanting / recital). Only in Kerala have the Mudras (standardised movement of hand and fingers) used during Vedic recital been retained in its truly traditional, uncorrupted and pure form till this day. Its musical aspects (notes like Udaatham, Anudaatham, Swaritham) later evolved and developed into the classical music system of the country, and yet, the original form continues to be retained here. [via ]

Here is a video

See Also: Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam’s speech at the Brahmaswom Madom, one of the vedic schools which participates in the anyonyam.

7 Comments

  1. Very interesting.

    The islamic tradition that you mention is more closer to ‘upanishad’ than anonyonyam.

    Upanishad’s literal meaning is also that.

    Even today – in almost all vedic school the ‘uccharana’ ‘anu-uccharana’ tradition continues. Where the master and pupil are the only two people whose ears can listen to what is being said. The phrase they use is that “it should no be heard by the 6th ear”. The master says the vedic verse and pupil repeats it twise to memorize it. U. ve. Velukudi Krishnan has a session on vedic teaching methods. I’ll send it to you if I can find it.

  2. “Its musical aspects (notes like Udaatham, Anudaatham, Swaritham) later evolved and developed into the classical music system of the country, and yet, the original form continues to be retained here.”

    This sentence makes it look as if Kerala style Rg Vedic chanting is the root of Indian classical music.

    Considering rigveda, there are four kinds of chantings–
    utthara Bhaaratha paaTham,
    mysore paaTham,
    madraas paaTham,
    kEraLa paaTham.

    Udaattham, Anudaattham, and svaritham are the basic pitches used in reciting vedas in any of these. Basically, its only in the way these signs are interpreted while chanting that they differ. So if music evolved from Vedas at all, then it should have evolved simulateously from all the parts of India where Vedas (actually sAma vEda) were recited.

    Also,there are some interesting features in kEraLa chanting like the halantha-“th” becomes “l”, shown clearly in Adi Sankara movie: In the upanayana samskaara of Sankara, the way Gayathri is pronouned is “tat savitur, varEnyam bharga, dEvasya dhImahi dhiya, yOnah prachOyAl”.

    Because of this, many vedic pandits from other parts of India find it hard to accomodate kEraLa style paaTham, though it remains a personal favorite of mine.

  3. I don’t know how common it is elsewhere, but we did have Bhagavad Gita recitals in the morning school assembly (Chinmaya, Thrissur) for a month every year. It had some connection with Lord Rama as well. Also, Bhagavad Gita recitals were a compulsory non graded subject for us as well.

  4. Mumbai:
    Even for people who have mastered the six vedangas, Panini’s rules of grammar, and Patanjali yoga sutras, Brahma sutras, and other Bhaashyas, assigning the right meaning of each word in a vedic verse has become a major pain.

    Basically its not a question of either the amount of knowledge or the amount of raw intellect a person has. It has to do with something else as well– we need to have a Veda-dRshta: “One who can see the Vedas with his inner eye”.

    Hence the need for tapasvis and yogis to take up the study of Vedas as it ought to be.

    As long as we dont have enough of such people, it is imperative to pass on the vedic verse by rote to the next generation. Eventually, someone will step up to the task.

  5. The author gets it wrong to say “only in Kerala can one see remnants of systems of Vedams”. I have been associated for over two decades in organizing annual veda exams in all four Vedas. From my experience, Andhra tops in Veda learning of Yajurveda and Samaveda. Karnataka tops In Rg Veda. Kerala does not have any great importance among traditional veda scholars

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