The Vedangas and Upavedas are collections of texts that augment and apply the Vedas as a comprehensive system of sacred living. There are six Vedangas.
1. Siksha (The nose of the Vedas)
Siksha means Vedic phonetics and lays down the rules of phonetics - sounds of syllables, of pronunciation- euphony. It lays down the parameters of Vedic words. Phonetics are very important in Vedic language because a slight change in sound may lead to change in the meaning of a mantra and consequently have undesirable effects on the sacrifice. Siksha explains how the sound of each syllable should be produced, how high or low should be its pitch and for how much duration (maatra) the sound must last.
2. Nirukta (The ears of the Vedas)
Nirukta is the Vedic dictionary. Nirukta may be regarded as the Vedic equivalent of etymology i.e. the study of words. Nirukta explains the origin of each Sanskrit word in the Vedas. In Sanskrit, names or words are not assigned ad-hoc but there is a systematic way of forming words. Every word has a deep meaning and may sometimes be formed by the combination of two or more nouns. All words are derived from the basic roots or Dhatus. As Nirukta breaks each word into its component roots and analyses its meaning, so it is likened to the ear, which distinguishes speech by breaking words into its component phonemes. It is also regarded as the World’s first Encyclopedia.
3. Vyakarana (The mouth of the Vedas.)
Vyakarana deals with grammar and so is very important. There are many books on Sanskrit grammar, but the most famous and most extensively used is the Vyakarna of Sage Paanini. Paanini's grammar is in the form of aphorisms (Sutras).
4. Chanda Saastra (The feet of the Vedas)
Chanda Saastra deals with metric composition. Any verse has to have a specified 'metre' and number of letters in it, for a good fit. Chanda Saastra lays down the rules for this. It defines the boundaries of metrical composition into metre, rhyme, etc.
5. Kalpa Saastra (The arms of the Vedas)
Kalpa Saastra is a collection of books of Shauwta Sutra, Dharma Sutra, Pithrumedha Sutra, Sulba Sutra, Gruhya Sutra and Prayaschitham. All our customs and rituals are explained in Kalpa saastra.
Kalpa Saastra answers the questions like:
- How should a ritual be performed?
- What are the duties of the child, student, householder, King, mendicant etc?
- Which ritual involves which mantra, which material and which Deva?
- How many priests should be employed for a sacrifice?
- What objects should be used in various rituals?, and so on.
The Kalpa Saastra details the Vedic rituals to be performed from the time the embryo forms in the womb to birth leading upto the final sacrifice of death. Cremation or Antiyeshti, meaning the last rite is seen as a sacrifice of the whole body to Agni, the fire god. The Namakarana (naming ceremony), the Upanayana (sacred thread investiture ceremony), Vivaaha (marriage) are also described within the Kalpa. The Vedic system of architecture i.e. Vaastu Shastra is also described in Kalpa. The entire Kalpa Saastra weighs more than 250 Kilograms. (i.e., 2.5 quintals)
6. Jyothisha (Astronomy + Astrology) The eyes of the Vedas
Jyothisha includes Ganitham, Kalakriya, Golam, Jatakam, Muhurtham, Prasnam and Nimiththam.
Perhaps the most famous of all Vedangas, it is the science of astrology. Jyotisha gives rules to calculate the positions of the planets and stars at any instant in the future or past. Based on these positions and certain well defined rules, the fate of a person can be reasonably determined provided his/her birthdate, time and place of birth are accurately known. Vedic astrology is based on lunar signs in direct contrast to the solar sign system prevalent in the west. The premise is that the moon being closer to the Earth extends a greater influence on mankind than the distant Sun.