Śikṣā

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Siksa, ZikSA, shikshaa


Śikṣā literally means ‘instruction in phonetics’.

An understanding of the Vedas is quite a tough job, primarily due to two factors:

  1. The archaic language
  2. Its phonetic system

That is why a study of the six Vedāṅgas, subsidiary sciences that help in understanding the Vedas, is often insisted upon while undertaking a study of the Vedas. The very first of the six Vedāñgas is Śikṣā. Its main purpose is to teach the correct pronunciation and intonation of the Vedic mantras of the Samhitās.

Classification of Vedic Mantras

One peculiar feature of the Vedic mantras is that they are divided in several ways leading to what are known as:

  1. Padapātha
  2. Kramapāṭha
  3. Jaṭāpāṭha
  4. Ghanapāṭha

The breaking of a compound word with intonation marks into the constituents of a padapāṭha depends entirely on the chanting marks like udātta, anudātta and svarita. Different notes on the same compound word can lead to different ways of breaking it and hence it has different meanings. An oft-quoted example in this regard is the wrong intonation of the word indraśatruh by Tvaṣṭā[1] As a result, the word used in the oblation of offerings into the consecrated fire meant ‘one to whom Indra is an enemy,’ instead of the one intended, ‘one who is an enemy of Indra’.

Classification of Śikṣā

This Vedāṅga is very ancient. Its subject matter is found in some of the Brāhmaṇas and the Upaniṣads also. In the Taittiriya Upaniṣad[2] it has been referred to briefly. This science of Sikṣā has six parts:

  1. Varṇa - letter of the alphabet
  2. Svara - pitch or intonation
  3. Mātrā - syllabic instant or measure of time
  4. Bala - stress or emphasis
  5. Sāma - medium mode of pronunciation
  6. Santāna - juxtaposition or combination

Varṇas

The varṇas or letters of the Sanskrit alphabet are 63 or 64 according to the Sikṣā, taking the three svaras or udātta etc. into consideration.

Mātrā

It refers to the three kinds of time duration:

  1. Hrasva - one syllabic instant
  2. Dīrgha - two syllabic instants
  3. Pluta - three syllabic instants

Bala

Bala means stress which applies to the place of production of the sound of the alphabet by the flow of air and the effort needed, both external and internal. There are further subdivisions in these.

Sāma

It is the medium mode of pronunciation which should produce faultless and sweet pronunciation.

Santāna

It is the same as uniting two words as per the rules of sandhi, described in the works on grammar.

Works on Sikśā

The extant Sikśā works are:

  1. Pāninīya Sikśā on the Ṛgveda and the Yajurveda
  2. Vyāsa Sikśā for the Kṛṣna Yajurveda
  3. Yājñnavalkya Sikśā for the Śukla Yajurveda'
  4. Nāradiya Sikśā for the Sāmaveda
  5. Māndukya Sikśā for the Atharvaveda

Recently 32 works on Śikṣa have been procured from various sources and printed.


References

  1. Tvaṣṭā was the father of Vṛtrāsura.
  2. Taittiriya Upaniṣad 1.2
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore