Fifth Veda

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The notion of a fifth Veda (Sanskrit: pañcama veda), that is, of a text which lies outside the four canonical Vedas, but nonetheless has the status of a Veda, is one that has been advanced in a number of post-Vedic Hindu texts, in order to accord a particular text or texts and their doctrines with the timelessness and authority that Hinduism associates with the Vedas.[1] The idea is an ancient one, appearing for the first time in the Upanishads, but has over the centuries since then also been applied to more recent Sanskrit and vernacular texts.

Sanskrit texts: the "Panchama Veda"[edit]

The earliest reference to a fifth Veda is found in the Chandogya Upanishad (7.1.2),[2] which applies the term to the "histories" (Itihasa-Purana, "ancient traditions") of its day,

itihāsapurāṇaṃ pañcamaṃ vedānāṃ

This reference to itihasa was used by the Mahabharata, which belonged to the class of epic literature called "itihasa", to refer to itself as the fifth Veda.[3] Relying also on its attribution to Vyasa, the legendary compiler of the Vedas, the Mahabharata declares itself a new Veda for a new era, intended for all people, and which is the equal of, and in some ways superior to, the four canonical Vedas.[4] The other major Hindu epic, the Ramayana, also makes a claim to be the fifth Veda.[1]

Similar claims are made in the Puranas, which claim to be the fifth Veda either together with the itihasas, or by themselves, frequently referring to themselves as the "Purana-Veda".[5] The Bhagavata Purana elaborates on the Chandogya Upanishad's statement concerning the fifth, by stating that after the four Vedas emerged from each of Brahma's four mouths, the fifth Veda - itihasapurana - emerged from his fifth mouth[1] or all his mouths.[6] It then declares itself supreme over all other puranas, on the grounds that it was Vyasa's crowning achievement.[5] Similarly, the Skandapurana, too, suggests that the puranas are the Fifth Veda, thus giving itself scriptural authority.[1][7]

The Natya Shastra, a text dealing with performative theory, also applies to itself the label of "Fifth Veda" (1.4) although strictly speaking, it is a branch of the Gandharvaveda, an upaveda of the Samaveda (Monier-Williams). The Natyashastra says that it was formulated by Brahma, incorporating elements of the other four Vedas, but unlike them, open to all castes,[8] the idea being that the dramatic or musical performance of sacred stories, which, through the events they related, symbolised divine processes, could draw individuals to holier thoughts.[9] Other works that have been characterised as the "Fifth Veda" include, texts on ayurveda (Veda concerning the maintenance of "life"), a system of traditional South Asian medicine.[10]

Non-Sanskrit texts[edit]

Several vernacular texts have also had the status of Veda assigned to them. An example is the Ramcharitmanas, a 17th-century retelling of the story of the Ramayana in Awadhi, which is often called the "Fifth Veda" or "Hindi Veda" in northern India, and is viewed by devotees as equalling or superseding the four canonical Vedas in authority and sanctity as the text for the Kali Yuga.[11][12]

Several Tamil texts have been assigned the status of being a new Veda by the adherents, who usually term the text in question the "Tamil Veda" or "Dravida Veda".[13] The Tamil Vaishnavite bhakti community of the Alvars conferred this status on the Tiruvaymoli[14] (and, later, the Divya Prabandham in general), a claim which was also accepted in secular works such as the Lilatilakam, a 14th-century grammar of Kerala Manipravalam.[15] As with the Natyashastra,[16] authors seeking to confer the status of a Veda on the Tiruvaymozhi argued that unlike the canonical Vedic texts reserved for the Brahmin caste, this new Tamil Veda was accessible to all varnas.[17] Similarly, the Tamil Shaivite community conferred upon the hymns of the Tevaram the status of a Tamil Veda, a claim which several of the poets themselves made.[18] Tamil Shaivites saw the designation "Tamil Veda" as making the Tevaram an alternative to the Sanskrit Veda, whereas Vaishnavites saw their equivalently designated texts as being a parallel track, rather than an alternative.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Smith, Brian K. (August 1987). "Exorcising the Transcendent: Strategies for Defining Hinduism and Religion". History of Religions. 27 (1): 32–55. doi:10.1086/463098. JSTOR 1062532. at p. 46.
  2. ^ Lidova, Natalia R. (Autumn 1997). "Review of: The Vernacular Veda: Revelation, Recitation and Ritual by Vasuda Narayanan". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 65 (3): 681–684. doi:10.1093/jaarel/65.3.681. JSTOR 1465662. at p. 684
  3. ^ Fitzgerald, James (1985). "India's Fifth Veda: The Mahabharata's Presentation of Itself". Journal of South Asian Literature. 20 (1): 125–140.
  4. ^ Sullivan, Bruce M. (October 1994). "The Religious Authority of the Mahābhārata: Vyāsa and Brahmā in the Hindu Scriptural Tradition". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 62 (2): 377–401. doi:10.1093/jaarel/LXII.2.377. JSTOR 1465271. at p. 385.
  5. ^ a b Holdrege, Barbara A. (2000). "Mystical Cognition and Canonical Authority: The Devotional Mysticism of the Bhagavata Purana". In Katz, Steven T. (ed.). Mysticism and Sacred Scripture. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 184–209. ISBN 978-0-19-509703-0. at pp. 193-196.
  6. ^ Bhagavata Purana, 3.12.37-3.12.39.
  7. ^ Skandapurana purāṇaṃ pañcamoveda iti brahmānuśasanaṃ
  8. ^ Ley, Graham (2000). "Aristotle's Poetics, Bharatamuni's Natyasastra, and Zeami's Treatises: Theory as Discourse" (PDF). Asian Theatre Journal. 17 (2): 191–214. doi:10.1353/atj.2000.0020. at pp. 194-195.
  9. ^ Bahm, Archie J. (1965). "Comparative Aesthetics". The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 24, No. 1. 24 (1): 109–119. doi:10.2307/428253. JSTOR 428253. at p. 110.
  10. ^ Larson, Gerald James (July 1987). "Ayurveda and the Hindu Philosophical Systems". Philosophy East and West. Philosophy East and West, Vol. 37, No. 3. 37 (3): 245–259. doi:10.2307/1398518. JSTOR 1398518.
  11. ^ Lamb, Ramdas (1991). "Personalizing the Ramayan: Ramnamis and Their Use of the Ramcaritmanas". In Richman, Paula (ed.). Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 235–251. ISBN 978-0-520-07589-4. at pp. 237-238.
  12. ^ Lutgendorf, Philip (1990). "The Power of Sacred Story: Ramayana Recitation in Contemporary North India". Ritual and Power. 4 (1): 115–147..
  13. ^ "What is Tamil Veda?".
  14. ^ Clooney, Francis X. (April 1992). "Extending the Canon: Some Implications of a Hindu Argument about Scripture". The Harvard Theological Review. 85 (2): 197–215. doi:10.1017/S0017816000028856..
  15. ^ Freeman, Rich (February 1998). "Rubies and Coral: The Lapidary Crafting of Language in Kerala". The Journal of Asian Studies. The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 57, No. 1. 57 (1): 38–65. doi:10.2307/2659023. JSTOR 2659023. at p. 57.
  16. ^ The similarity between the vedicisation of the Tiruvaymozhi and earlier moves to declare Sanskrit texts as the "Fifth Veda" is pointed out in Lidova, Natalia R. (Autumn 1997). "Review of: The Vernacular Veda: Revelation, Recitation and Ritual by Vasuda Narayanan". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 65 (3): 681–684. doi:10.1093/jaarel/65.3.681. JSTOR 1465662. at pp. 683-684.
  17. ^ Narayanan, Vasudha (1994). The Vernacular Veda: Revelation, Recitation, and Ritual. Studies in Comparative Religion. University of South Carolina Press. p. 26. ISBN 0-87249-965-0.
  18. ^ Peterson, Indira V. (1982). "Singing of a Place: Pilgrimage as Metaphor and Motif in the Tēvāram Songs of the Tamil Śaivite Saints". Journal of the American Oriental Society. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 102, No. 1. 102 (1): 69–90. doi:10.2307/601112. JSTOR 601112. at p. 77.
  19. ^ Cutler, Norman; Peterson, Indira Viswanathan; Piḷḷāṉ; Carman, John; Narayanan, Vasudha; Pillan (1991). "Tamil Bhakti in Translation". Journal of the American Oriental Society. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 111, No. 4. 111 (4): 768–775. doi:10.2307/603406. JSTOR 603406. at p. 770.