Vyasa is credited with compiling a mass of Vedic, Sanskrit literature. Vyasa - often called Veda-Vyasa - is central and revered in most Hindu traditions. He is also known as Krishna Dvaipáyana. He is generally considered the author of the Mahábhárata, as well as a character in it, and the scribe of both the Vedas and Puranas. A Hindu belief: Vyasa is also considered to be one of the long lived or immortal yogis, and still around. The festival of Guru Purnima (Vyasa Purnima) is dedicated to Vyasa.
In the Mahábhárata, Vyasa appeared in order to make Vedic knowledge widely available. He was the son of Satyavati - daughter of the fisherman Dusharaj - and the wandering sage Parashara, who is credited with being the son of Sage Vashistha, and of authoring the first Purana, Vishnu Purana. As soon as he had grown up, he left his mother, promising his mother that he would come to her when needed.
There are two different tales about Vyasa's birthplace. One tale is that he was born in the Vyas municipality in the Tanahun district. Another tale is that Vyasa was born on an island in the Yamuna River near Kalpi, Uttar Pradesh. Vyasa had dark skin (Krishna means dark, dark blue or black, among other things). Dwaipayana meaning 'island-born'.
Vyasa is believed to have lived on the banks of Ganga. The Mahábhárata tells how Vyasa and his disciples came to the Dandaka forest and were pleased with the region, and chose this place to live in after the Kuruskhetra war that the Bhagavad Gita is linked to.
We are told that Vyasa was born with the knowledge of the Vedas, the Law scriptures (Dharmashastras) and the Upanishads. In the first book of the Mahábhárata, Vyasa asks Ganesh to aid him in writing the text. Vyasa went on to dictate to the scribe Ganesh the entire Mahábhárata and all the Upanishads (there are over a hundred) and the eighteen main Puranas.
The Mahábhárata is shaped as a tale told by a professional story teller to a gathering of Vedic seers (rishis) in the Naimisha forest of Naimisha. — The earliest portions of the Mahábhárata are estimated to date from roughly the 4th century BCE, when writing appears to have been introduced to India. Yet there is some evidence that writing may have been known in India between 1100 BCE and 700 BCE.
Vyasa's son Shuka is the narrator of the Bhagavat-Purana.
A commentary on the Sutras of Patanjali, is attributed to Vyasa.
The Brahma Sutra (also called Vedanta Sutra) is attributed to a Badarayana. Some hold that he is Vyasa, because the island on which Vyasa was born is said to have been covered with badara trees (Indian jujube trees) - and others do not.
(From Wikipedia, "Vyasa")
Life and Exploits of Vyasa in Some Detail
On the bank of the river Ganges lived the charming maiden Satyavati. She was the daughter of the chief of the fishermen's tribe (an aboriginal princess), and took sages across the river in her boat.
Satyavati used to smell unpleasantly, but one day she ferried the rishi (seer-sage) Parashara across the river. He took a liking to her and blessed her with a sweet aroma and a son who was named Krishna Dwaipayana because he was to be dark (krishna) and born on an island (dwaipayana, meaning 'island-born') in the Yamuna River, Uttar Pradesh. He was also given the title Vyasa (compiler, arranger) later.
Vyasa grew up quickly and left for the forest the day he was born. But he - later known as Veda Vyasa, or the arranger (splitter) of the Vedas into four parts - promised his mother that he would come back whenever he was called for.
Vyasa mastered the Vedas. It is said that he dictated the entire epic at a stretch while the elephant-headed Ganesh acted as the scribe. Vyasa also played a central role in the unfolding story he wrote by appearing and disappearing on the scene whenever his mother or her family members sought his help. He solved their problems.
But before that, Vyasa grew up in forests living with hermits. Next he lived in the forests near the river Sarasvati and became a teacher and a priest. During that period he fathered a son and disciple, Suka, and gathered a large group of disciples. Late in life, living in caves in the Himalayas, he portioned the ancient Veda songs into four books, composed very many and long Puranas works, and composed the poetic work Mahábhárata in two and a half years.
It was at this stage he supposedly dictated to a god with a pot-bellied, human body and an elephant head on top. This was carried through because God the Creator (Brahma) asked Vyasa to enlist the elephant-headed god, Ganesh, as his scribe. The elephant head was a replacement for a head that had been cut off by his father in a rash moment, when the boy, Ganesh, had hindered him from entering the room of his mother to have sex with her even though she was unwilling at the time, and had asked her boy to be at the door as her sentry. To recompense the heinous deed the father said they could send servants into the forest and give the boy the head of the first corpse they found. That happened to be an elephant. This belief is part of the tradition too, and the brave, pot-bellied god with an elephant head is venerated as a giver of success [Clh].
Vyasa is credited with writing the long poem, but it is perhaps more likely that he compiled existing material. It is the bharata form of 24,000 verses that is ascribed to Veda-Vyasa specifically. The bharata "of realism, wisdom and compassion" later swelled several times in the hands of others and became the Mahábhárata, that is, the large bharata.
The final author, or editor, is taken to be a Brahmin [Xmi 61]. With the poem's three editions, three beginnings and a long process of making of 800 years or so, it is held that there is really no single author. [Xmi 56, 61]
However, some yogis are credited with being able to live on and on for long. In the Yoga Vasistha a long-lived one tells some of his secrets. [The tale]
Stories Ascribed to Veda-Vyasa
Stories from eighteen main Puranas and just as many subsidiary Puranas were told in markets and other common places, and intertwined in the stories there were norms and proverbial sayings, and much else. Vyasa is credited with writing the eighteen major Puranas, if not all of them. And his son Shuka is the narrator of the major Purana, the Bhagavata-Purana.
NOT STRICT CONSISTENCY: Six Puranas glorify Brahma, six Vishnu, and six Shiva. In the Shiva Purana, Shiva is highly eulogised and Vishnu is put in an inferior position and sometimes belittled. In the Vishnu Purana it is the other way round; Hari (Vishnu) is highly eulogised and Shiva is given an inferior position.
SHAREWARE TALES ABOUND: Not a few ancient stories are shareware among different Puranas. For example, a story of the fire-god Agni from the still older Vedas, reappears in the Srimat Bhagavata (about Vishna as Krishna), with Krishna presented as the main character of that adapted story, and so on.
That one single author is credited with up to thirty-six works that hail different gods in turn, in part with shared stories where different gods as the "best among the rest" is of a tradition which links up to a greatly respected personage.
SUCH INTERESTING TALES: According to a long epic poem that Vyasa himself dictated and Hindus revere, Vyasa was born on the same day as his mother conceived, grew up in one day, understood life very well and walked away from there, while his mother still looked exactly like a virgin after giving birth to him.
This is made plain in the very first part (parva) of the ancient epic poem Mahábhárata, which says it was dictated by Vyasa to a success-giving god with an elephant head on top of a pot-bellied human form. The ancient god with an elephant head on his shoulders, is revered under such names as Ganesh as a remover of obstacles, though traditionally he also places obstacles in the path of those who need to be checked.
Many people embellish stories after some time until there are variants and widely divergent tales too. A variety of tales surround many gods and goddesses. There are many ancient tales on how pot-bellied Ganesh has an elephant head and what those features stand for through variants of symbol-making. In one of them Ganesh has a mouse to ride on. Many do not go into the symbolism of icons and stories, and prefer to worship representations earnestly and all right. (Wikipedia, s.v. "Ganesha"; "Iconology").
Chidbhavananda, Swami. The Bhagavad Gita. 24th impression. Tirupparaitturai: Sri Ramakrishna Tapovanam, 2012. ⍽▢⍽ A tall work that is useful for students and scholars because of its explanations and commentary. The Gita is at bottom for making progress after the conditions for peace have been lost.
Elgood, Heather. Hinduism and the Religious Arts. Paperback ed. London: Cassell, 2000. ⍽▢⍽ Symbolism is explained.
Gambhirananda, Swami, tr. The Bhagavad Gita. 6th impression. Champavat: Advaita Ashrama, 2003. ⍽▢⍽ This text and commentary is also one of the solid translations that is particularly useful for students and scholars.
Gambhirananda, Swami, tr. Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya of Sri Sankaracarya. 4th ed. Calcutta: Advaita, 1983. ⍽▢⍽ Difficult reading, but one of the founding scriptures of Hinduism.
Ganguli, K., tr. The Mahábhárata, Vols 1-12. 4th ed. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1981. ⍽▢⍽ Here is the Mahábhárata poem in its entirity! The volumes are today online.
Goswamy, B. N. Essence of Indian Art. San Franciso, CA: Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 1986.
Johnston, Charles, tr. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. London: Stuart and Watkins, 1968. ⍽▢⍽ Terse, online text. It needs commentaries to be tolerably understood.
Raghunathan, N., tr. Srimad Bhagavatam, Vols 1-2. Madras: Vighneswara, 1976. ⍽▢⍽ Stories for good lassies and lads. A main part is developed around Sri Krishna. Other translations are online too.
Subramaniam, Kamala, tr. Mahábhárata. Bombay: Bharatiya Book University, 1982. ⍽▢⍽ A fine retelling of the stories of the epic we find the Bhagavad Gita in, as one of its longer chapters.
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