It was at the crossroads of time. It was towards the end of Dwapara Yuga and the start of Kali Yuga. It was the time when King Shantanu, the Kuru king who had ruled Hastinapura ably for years was nearing his end.
The Vedic knowledge that had come that far in time through many millennia prior to their times, was strewn all around and was becoming unwieldy. They were spread all over the land right from Afghanistan to Burma. The Veda Samhita composed by the various Rishi over millennia were also numerous.
It was a huge body both in terms of geographical spread as well as the number of verses. There was a popular saying –
Ananta Vai Vedah,
Veda are endless, infinite.
Also Kurukshetra which had been the region of many prominent Vedic ashrams, that had kept the Vedic tradition alive, was in a state of wilderness as the ashrams had been wiped out in an attack from the near west. The Rishis had relocated themselves from the banks of the river Sarasvati to the banks of other rivers such as the Yamuna and the Ganga.
Rishi Krishna Dwaipayana’s father, Rishi Parasara, who had attempted to consolidate all the 4 Veda and restore Kurukshetra, as the land where the Vedic tradition had flourished, was no more.
Krishna Dwaipayana, who was extraordinarily gifted with skills to learn the Veda even as a young child, committed himself to the cause initiated by his late father, of compiling all the 4 Veda for posterity and restoring Kurukshetra to its glory.
Using his winful ways, he secured the patronage of the Kuru dynasty of Hastinpura to accomplish his mission.
He convinced King Shantanu to perform the Vajapeya Yagna, one among the supreme endeavours along with the Rajasuya Yagna and Ashwamedha Yagna. These were Yagna that could only be conducted by those who had an emperor status as the efforts and resources required for conducting such Yagna were enormous.
To restore Kurukshetra to its original state, Krishna Dwaipyana chose it as the venue for the Vajapeya Yagna, so that it would be cleared and made habitable once again. Since the Yagna would attract many Veda practitioners, Krishna Dwaipayana also used this Yagna as an opportunity to create an assemblage of Rishi and get the Kuru dynasty to commission a project of compiling all the Vedic knowledge that had come that far in time.
He commissioned a gathering of Rishi to compile all the scattered Veda into a structured collection.
On the request of Krishna Dwaipayana therefore, an august gathering of Vedic Rishis from all across the lands was convened, to compile all the Veda into a structured collection and give it a formal body. It was commissioned by King Shantanu, as a formal project, supported by the Kuru kingdom. After the death of King Shantanu soon after this announcement, Bheeshma, the son of King Shantanu, who had taken over as regent on behalf of Vichitraveerya, the son of King Shantanu and Queen Satyavati, provided the necessary support to see this project through.
Under this patronage, Rishi Krishna Dwaipayana embarked on the onerous task of compiling all the Veda Samhita that was available during his times and giving a format, a structure to this body of knowledge. He assumed the role of the compiler-in-chief for this project called the Shrauta Satra, which went on uninterrupted, for the next 12 years in Kurukshetra, thus restoring it back as a Dharmakshetra even much before the Gita was delivered by Krishna to Arjuna before the start of the big, bloody war there, many years later.
This region, Kurukshetra can be unambiguously identified with the region around the town by the same name today, in the state of Haryana. This has been made possible due to the identification of the path of the lost river, Sarasvati and the innumerous archaeological sites along its banks – sites which were locations of the flourishing, vedic, Sindhu-Sarasvati civilization and its various Ashrams.
History of the Veda is therefore not hazy. The details are intrinsic in the ancient texts of the land. There is clarity on
- the person who commissioned its compilation – King Shantanu,
- the compiler in chief – Rishi Krishna Dwaipayana,
- the benefactor who saw this project through – Bheeshma
- the time frame when it was carried out – after the death of King Shantanu,
- the duration for which the compilation went on – 12 years,
- the geography for the assemblage of the vedic scholars who compiled it – Kurukshetra,
- the purpose for this effort of compilation – structuring and preservation of the Veda.
This was the grand act of Veda compilation, for which Rishi Krishna Dwaipayana was bestowed with the title “Veda Vyasa”, the compiler of the Veda and the Kurukshetra region came to shine again as Dharmakshetra, the region which was the source of Dharma, in the form of Veda, the guide to knowledgeable living.
The name given to Krishna Dwaipyana on his birth, had two parts – Krishna denoting “one with a dark complexion” and Dwaipayana meaning “the island born”. Krishna Dwaipayana has been one of the most erudite sons of India who has enlightened humanity with his act of compiling the Veda.
The Veda have gone through such compilations periodically and each time the one who takes on the onus of collecting and putting them together for their times, is called a Vyasa, meaning compiler. Krishna Dwaipayana was the 28th such Vyasa. Each Vyasa compiled it into a body, for the needs of their times and future.
Using astronomical data embedded in the Mahabharata itself, we are able to date the Kurukshetra war to 22nd November 3067 BCE. From the narrative in the work and other corroborating works, we can draw a broad chronology of major events in the Mahabharata as follows.
This chronology indicates that Bheeshma, the grand sire of the Kuru dynasty must have been about 90 years old at the time of the Kurukshetra war, i.e in 3067 BCE.
It also indicates that Bheeshma must have been between 16 and 33 years of age at the time of King Shantanu’s demise. It was during this period, that on behalf of the Kuru dynasty and King Shantanu’s promise to Krishna Dwaipayana, Bheeshma patronized the compilation of the Veda by Krishna Dwaipayana and the assemblage of Rishi at Kurukshetra.
From these milestone events, we can fix the period in Indian history when this monumental act was last undertaken by Rishi Krishna Dwaipayana, as between 3141 BCE and 3129 BCE – about 5100 years ago.
What comes out very clear in all this, is the single minded commitment of Krishna Dwaipayana – Veda Vyasa, towards the preservation of the Veda. The whole compendium of Veda as we have it today, is because he gave it a form, a shape and a technique of storage that has survived the onslaught of time and has been recited by generations of Vedic scholars since then.
At the end of this compilation, Veda Vyasa and team gave us the Veda which had 1130 Shakha, recensions. Today, we are left with only 10 Shakha that can be traced. 1120 Shakhas have been lost in the passage of time.
These 10 too seem to be struggling for survival.
Knowledge always needs redaction ever so often to keep it current with the state of the civilization.
India, the land called Bharath, had recognized this aspect as evident from the fact that the Veda itself had gone through so many redactions.
Little wonder, since its name Bharath denotes a land where people relish knowledge. Bha means knowledge and ratha denotes one who relishes knowledge.