Vedic Language

by Late Sri Rayalu Vishwanadha

When we presume that Sanskrit is the language of Veda, we get into trouble in understanding the text. There is difficulty in understanding the meanings of words and sentences. Doubts arise in following the thought itself.


For instance, the words “svāhā (स्वाहा)”, “svadhā (स्वधा)”, and “vaṣaṭ (वषट्)” are very common in Veda but their precise meaning is not known.

  • svāhā stomasya vardhanā pra kavī dhītibhir narā | स्वाहा॒ स्तोम॑स्य वर्धना॒ प्र क॑वी धी॒तिभि॑र्नरा | [r̥g saṁ 8-8-5]
  • yajñovai svāhākāraḥ | यज्ञॊवै स्वाहाकारः [śatapatha br 3-1-3-27]
  • vaṣaṭkāreṇa juhuyāt vaṣaṭkāreva | वषट्कारॆण जुहुयात् वषट्कारॆव [śatapatha br 7-2-3]

What these sentences mean can be fully understood, only when the exact meaning of the words svāhā (स्वाहा), svadhā (स्वधा), and vaṣaṭ (वषट्) are known.


  • mā chandaḥ | मा छन्दः॑ [Tai. Saṁ 4-3-7]
  • annaṁ vai chandramāḥ | अन्नं॒ वै च॒न्द्रमाः॑ [Tai. Br 3-2-3]
  • sahasraśr̥ṅgō vr̥ṣabhō jātavēdāḥ | स॒हस्र॑शृङ्गो वृष॒भो जा॒तवे॑दाः [Tai. Br 3-7-2]

Unless we know the meaning of each word in these sentences, we cannot even guess what the sentences mean. If we consider them as Sanskrit words, sentences will not convey convincing meanings.

Some Vedic words like mūtram (मूत्रम्), purīṣam (पुरीषम्) etc. even convey repugnant or repulsive meanings. By quoting Sanskrit meanings, some of the modern writers are even entering the area of pornography in explaining Vedic statements.


  • agnimabhipavate | agnimabhisaṁpavate | अ॒ग्निम॒भिप॑वतॆ | अ॒ग्निम॒भिसंप॑वतॆ | [Tai. Br 2-3-9]

Is there any significant difference in the above two statements? Does the Mantra need repetition to just add an adverb, saṁ (सम्) (Upasarga) to the verb ‘pavate (पवतॆ)’, when latter sentence alone could have done the job, particularly when we know Veda uses minimum words with maximum efficiency?

  • manō gāyatriyai | gāyatrī triṣṭubhē | triṣṭubjagatyai | jagatyanuṣṭubhē | म॒नो॑ गायत्रि॒यै | गा॒य॒त्री त्रिष्टुभे॑ | त्रि॒ष्टुब्जग॑त्यै | जग॑त्यनु॒ष्टुभे॑ | [Tai. Br 3-7-6]

What is the underlying thought?

  • vācēnnam |‍ brahmaṇa ōdanam | वाचेन्नम् |‍ ब्रह्मण ओदनम् | [Tai. Ar 3-10]

What is Veda conveying in these two sentences?

akṣara (अक्षर) Variation:

It looks a single Akṣara makes a difference in the meaning of the same word, and same r̥k (ऋक्), in different sections of Veda:

iḷāmagnē | इळामग्ने |
[r̥g saṁ 3-1-23]
iḍāmagnē | इडामग्ने |
[tai. saṁ. 4-2-4]
parīṇasō | परीणसो |
[r̥g saṁ 8-84-7]
parīṇasi | परीणसि |
[sā. saṁ. pūrv. arcika. 34]
pra yaṁ rāyē | प्र यं राये |
[r̥g saṁ 8-103-4]
pra yō rāyē | प्र यो राये |
[sā. saṁ. pūrv. arcika. 58]
yātyagnirā | यात्यग्निरा |
[r̥g saṁ 10-8-1]
bhātyagnirā | भात्यग्निरा |
[ath. saṁ 18-3-65 & Tai. ār. 6-3-1]


How to explain the change of akṣaras, when the texts are being carried from the very beginning, to this day without any distortion by oral tradition?

 “svarga (स्वर्ग)” is the word used in all the other three Veda saṁhitas but in Yajurveda saṁhita alone, it is replaced by “suvarga (सुवर्ग)”. Does adding a simple vowel u (उ) make a great difference?

Different Language:

These variations suggest that Vedic language is different from conventional languages, we know and use. Veda talks about the importance of akṣara at many places. There are many r̥ks (ऋक्) and Yajur mantras emphasizing the importance of akṣara. 11th  anuvāka of 7th praśna in 1st kāṇḍa of taittirīya samhita is all about akṣaras, starting with “agnirekākṣareṇa vācha mudajayat” “अग्निरॆकाक्षरॆण वाछ मुदजयत्”
There are r̥ks with a single akṣara as a complete word:

 ūrdhva ū ṣu ṇo adhvarasya hotar agne tiṣṭha devatātā yajīyān |

ऊ॒र्ध्व ऊ॒ षु णो॑ अध्वरस्य होत॒रग्ने॒ तिष्ठ॑ दे॒वता॑ता॒ यजी॑यान् । [r̥g. saṁ. 4-6-1]

How can one get to understand the r̥k without knowing the meaning of single akṣara – words? .
Earlier Vedic scholars (śaunaka, being one of them) wrote books on the language structure of Veda. They are called prātiśākhya granthas. Each one of those books deals at length about akṣara. Hence we have to look at our speech system, the source of all akṣaras to understand Vedic language.

Vedic Alphabet:

When we speak or hear, the speech sounds are akṣaras. When we put them to writing their name is alphabet. Vedic alphabet is shown below as per their articulation points in the speaking machine (mouth):


a (अ) ka (क) ca (च) ṭa (ट) ta (त) pa (प) ha (ह) ya (य)
i (इ) ga (ग) ja (ज) ḍa (ड) da (द) ba (ब) ṣa (ष) ra (र)
u (उ) ṅa (ङ) Ña (ञ) ṇa (ण) na (न) ma (म) śa (श) la (ल)
sa (स) va (व)


  1. The arrangement of the positions of articulation in the mouth, either from left to right or from top to bottom is shown above. Every one can verify for himself / herself the arrangement.
  2. Main Vowels only are shown as the remaining vowels are just combinations of the prime vowels:
    a + i = e (अ +‍ इ = ए);
    a + u = ō (अ +‍उ = ऒ);
    a + e = ai (अ +‍ ए = ऐ)‍;
    a + ō = au (अ +‍ ऒ = औ)‍ and
    a + a = ā (अ +‍अ = आ);  i + i = ī (इ + इ = ई);  u + u = ū (उ +‍उ = ऊ)
  3. Only articulation points (and not all akṣaras) are shown. The akṣara kha (ख) has no separate point of touch. The articulation point is the same as ka. Similar is the case with other aspirants – cha, jha etc.
  4. Vowel “a” is added to each consonant (k – क् – k + a = ka – क् +‍अ = क) to make it an akṣara. Combination of vowel and the consonant results in an akṣara, a separate recognizable “sound unit”. This automatic combining capability of both the vowel and consonant is innate in every man. Consonant sound alone cannot be sustained for more than half mātra duration (mātra is the time period required to utter an akṣara  to be clearly audible and recognizable). Veda calls this natural union, ”saṁhita”. It is the vowel sound that gives “prāṇa – life” and makes the consonant stand the full matra period. The vowel – consonant combination is the fundamental saṁhita on which the entire speech system depends.
  5. The live energetic vibrant akṣara matrix, embedded in the mouth of every human being, is the basis on which the Vedic language is built.
  6. When we look at the matrix, we notice an orderly system in the arrangement of the akṣara positions:
    • There are three main rows with eight akṣaras in each row and a fourth subsidiary one with two akṣaras.
    • If we look from top to bottom, they are separated into three broad groups, vowels in the left (1 column), consonant (stops) akṣaras in the center (5 columns). The last two column (7th & 8th) are different from both vowels and stops. Sanskrit linguists call 7th column akṣaras ūṣma (ऊष्म) type and of the 8th column, antaḥstha (अन्तःस्थ) type. The ūṣma – akṣaras require more air to utter. The nature of effort to pronounce antaḥstha akṣara is different from that all other types. Sanskrit grammar texts refer consonants in the middle as sparśa (स्पर्श) akṣaras and the Vowels as prāṇa (प्राण) akṣaras.
    • Vowel speaking area is spread from the throat to the lips and indicates the boundaries of the speaking machine. Similarly the limits of active area for of each group is clear, both in length and breadth from the orderly arrangement of the articulation points in the mouth.
    • The sparśa akṣaras are in three horizontal lines. First line consists of akṣaras with minimum resonance, the second with those of higher resonance and the last highest resonance. (Nasal sounds) .
    • The arrangement is so scientific and perfect, that the tongue can jump to any point and pick up the consonant before the vowel sound comes to join.

Akṣara in Vedic language:

How does Veda apportion meaning to each akṣara?

Every akṣara has a specific and significant position in the matrix. Also nature and intensity of effort involved in uttering, differ from akṣara to akṣara and also from one group to another. All the variations and characteristics of each akṣara are reflected in its meaning.

Our life is a continuum of actions and events. Area of articulation is the main area where actions and events are taking place. Every action is an yajña. Satapatha Brāhmana says “vāg‍hi yajñaḥ – वाग्‍हि यज्ञः”, i.e., our ideas, intentions and desires are converted into akṣaras is the yajña śāla – the place of action. The speech “action” is representative of all actions in our life.

The sparśa akṣaras are in three rows. Human existence has three aspects. First one refers to activities associated with our daily routine. The second one is connected with our ideals, dreams, goals and emotions. The third is the world of knowledge, thinking and awareness. Akṣaras in the three rows are correspondingly used in Vedic language. All nāsikyas (nasal sound are used to identify and describe the various jñana activities. The akṣara “ma (म)”, last in the line, is reserved for mind (manas) .

The ūshma aksharas are used to identify prāna area (forces responsible for living).

Man has four traits. Four antaḥstha akṣaras are used for the four traits as given below:

  1. Man always does one thing or the other— (ya – य) .
  2. He is an individual, separate jīva — (ra – र) .
  3. He is not the same individual but a different one when he is dreaming to achieve his / her goals, gripped by deva bhāva — (la – ल).
  4. Can speak to express himself, vāk — (va – व) .

We can see that the matrix is the miniature audio picture of man himself and Vedic language expands it into a full-blown audio picture.

Examples of actual use:

Vowels are spread over the entire yajña śāla. The akṣara “a – अ” is located at the entrance, “i – इ” in the middle and “u – उ“ at the end. They are taking part in the formation of every akṣara. They represent the time and the potential needed for the yajña.

Broadly there are three stages of time for any incident or event (yajña) – past, present and future. Veda attributes the three stages to the three prime vowels  “a – अ”, “i – इ” and “u – उ“ respectively since their positions of articulation are in the same order. “a – अ” is also used for the ever-present tense since when we open our mouth to speak, first sound that comes out is that of “a – अ” and is present when other vowels are not in operation.

  • agnim īḻe purohitaṁ | अ॒ग्निमी॑ळे पु॒रोहि॑तं |

The above is the first sentence of r̥g veda and agni is the first Word. The word starts with “a – अ”. So agni is ever present. The word ends in “i – इ”. The word agni is now being used in the yajña. Whatever may be the meaning of the word, two features of the “object” meant by the word agni are clear. r̥g veda starts with agni, the ever present force and constantly in use with every yajña (action) . r̥g veda deals with all aspects of yajña up to the point of start. yajñas in Veda cover the entire spectrum of actions in life and the resulting behavior. yajña is an attempt to improve ourselves from the existing state. When the yajña is completed successfully, the driving force agni, invoked for the purpose becomes a part of us. Then it will be agna and NOT agni. So Sama Veda which deals with final stages of yajña starts with the word agna  – “agna āyāhi vītaye – अ॑ग्न॒ आया॑हि वी॒तयॆ॑ [ sā. saṁ. 1]”. Agni, the driving force of the achievement has become agna, ever present in us as a new capability achieved. But for the change of vowels in this word, we will not know the two different states of Agni.

“i – इ” indicates present tense (time during which yajña is conducted) and “u – उ“,the future. Yajur veda, which describes implementation of procedures in detail, begins with both these vowels in the first two sentences.

  • iṣetvorjetvā – iṣe tvā + ūrje tvā | इ॒षॆत्वॊ॒र्जॆत्वा॑ – इषॆ त्वा + ऊर्जॆ त्वा |

All our actions (yajñas) are only with a purpose to achieve iṣa – our present requirement, hence starts with vowel “i – इ”. The word ūrja is our “hopefully achievable future wants” and has to start with “u – उ“. The two sentences are combined into one (saṁhita) to indicate that human nature is to keep an eye on future while working for the present!

Vedic Word:

In Sanskrit and other languages only word has a meaning but not its component akṣaras. Vedic word is a combination of Vedic akṣaras. The meaning of the word is summation of their individual meanings. The meaning of the word can be deduced by linking the meanings of individual akṣaras in a logical way.

akṣaram is a Vedic word. It in itself is a combination (saṁhita) of the following akṣaras:

  • All the svaras (vowels) we can speak are represented by “a – अ”
  • All sparśa-akṣaras (stops) are represented by “k – क्”
  • All ūṣma-akṣaras (aspirants) by “ṣa – ष”
  • All antaḥstha akṣaras (semivowels) by “ra – र”
  • All nāsikya akṣaras (nasals) by “ṁ – म्”

Saṁhita’s capability is indicated by compound akṣara kṣa – क्ष. The word not only indicates all the audio capsules which mouth can produce, but also its saṁhita capability. The word akṣara literally means what it sounds!

One more example to indicate how Vedic words are coined. “ōm” is a very common word in Veda and “ōm iti ekākṣaraṁ brahma – ॐ इति एकाक्षरं ब्रह्म” is an oft quoted sentence from Veda. akṣara “ō – ऒ” is the result of combining vowels “a – अ” and “u – उ“. They are located at the beginning and middle of the speech tunnel. “ṁ – म्”, the consonant, is at the end of the tunnel. All the three combined represent all “objects” that have a beginning, existence and the end. “ōm” has been made into a single akṣara with a purpose. All “objects” combine into only one “ big object”, the universe. Brahma, the universal creative force is known only through its creation. “ōm” represents Brahma through its manifestation, having the properties of “a – अ”, “u – उ“ and “ṁ – म्”.

Different Language:

Veda uses the akṣaras as they are located in the matrix to bring out the various forces working inside to change our intentions into akṣaras. In fact, Vedic language uses its words and akṣaras, as windows through which we can see the the working of the subtle body.

Vedic language is made to express the various forces of the microcosm, whereas all our languages are meant to express what we see and know outside of us. All our languages combined will not contain what man does not know. Vedic language talks only of what we do not know. Vedic language uses its words and akṣaras to name the forces within us. We use that akṣara to name the items we know and want to refer. Thus, Vedic language is apart from all the languages we know and use in our daily life.

Time of origin:

Many scholars have strived to find the meanings for many Vedic words and recorded their views. It is well known there are more than a few meanings for some Vedic words. But all these ages no scholar has ever questioned the usefulness of the language. Probably there were no people speaking the language and owning it as a mother tongue. The fact leads us to believe that Vedic language  and Veda must have been existing prior to all known languages including Sanskrit. It is fairly reasonable to say that Vedic language is the oldest of all languages.

Veda is a single book:

Same language is found in all sections of Veda – Saṁhitas, Brāhmaṇas, āranyakas and Upaniṣads. The same words with same meanings are found in all parts of Veda.

Yajña is the subject that Veda deals in all its sections and we cannot have a complete picture of yajña unless we go through the entire book.

Even to have a complete picture of Vedic language, we have to go through the whole book, since the akṣaras and their related forces are not listed at one place. Veda is about the maha (great) yajña, our life itself and is not a language textbook. Importance of akṣara is detailed in taittirīya saṁhita. What saṁhita means is explained in taittirīya upaniṣad. Source of akṣara is described in śatapatha brāhmaṇa. If these different volumes came out at different times, it is impossible to understand earlier texts. In such a situation anyone born in r̥g vedic times should have had to wait till upaniṣad age to know what saṁhita is.

Veda is a single book with all its sections put together and Vedic language is the oldest of all languages. It is a unique language with a purpose. It is not a language for communication and is never intended to be so. Hence it had never been used for colloquial purpose and will never be used for that purpose.

हरिः ॐ

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