I am not someone who studied vedas in a vedic pathshala but I have grown up reading and listening that vedas are “apaurusheya” (not man made). It was only recently I came across arguments from Dr. Koenraad Elst that the vedas do not make such claim. A lot of people disagreed with him showing that in many scriptures vedas are attributed to various divine powers. Brahma gave vedas to Agni who gave to Prajapati etc.
Here are my thoughts.
What does divine origin means ?
This is a tricky question. Scientifically nothing is of divine origin. Most certainly not a book or an idea. Hence the divine origin question is of a faith. Now people may have different sort of faith. Muslims believe that Jesus was merely a messenger of God and not a son. For Christian’s belief that Jesus was Son of God is central to their belief system. So how do we resolve these differences ? Hence all the questions of faith must be seen in a certain frame of time and set of people.
A person goes into a cave and comes out. The person claims that the God spoke to him and gave him a message. People ask what was the message. He says you must alway sit while peeing. Since this is God’s will people take it seriously.
Now, there is very little doubt that in the context of the above cult, the order that you must sit while peeing is of divine origin. Not because the God actually spoke but rather the importance of that order entirely rests on the faith that the God indeed told the man this inside the cave.
Now, let us imagine the same man comes out of cave and somehow becomes a major religious leader. A cult grows around him and people see him as their connection with the God. The man casually mentions that one should not cut their nails on Friday. Others note this down and a few hundred years later people still don’t cut their nails on Friday because that man said so. Since that man was so close to God, this must be treated as sacred knowledge but it is not of divine origin as the man did not claim that “God told me so”.
Divine origins of Vedas.
Out of the 4 vedas, Rigveda is the most ancient and even among it, certain mandalas are older than others. None of the portions of Rigveda claim to be “divine knowledge”, no rishi claims that they obtained this knowledge from some other entity that is not human. Vedas do not obsess over the concept of God as in other religions but they do acknowledge that the higher powers exist. But the Rigveda itself does not claim that the knowledge is coming from that higher power.
Nothing in Rigveda appeals to any higher power and none of the knowledge in it is to be taken seriously because it comes from higher powers. In fact seers merely state it as a matter of fact.
Let us understand something about Hinduism. My grandmother thanked God when the government provided electricity was restored after long breaks or when the TV signal was strong enough for us to watch doordarshan. The God had nothing to do with it, she knew it as well but she was thankful. That is how Hindus are.
Ramanujam the mathematician would come up with insane concept of abstract maths and would thank the goddess for guiding him in dreams. But Ramanujam’s maths stands on its own and is not take seriously because of its alleged divine origins. In such cases we can easily discard the divine origins even if someone claims such.
Vedas are considered “Apurusheya”.
Many many subsequent scriptures such as Atharva veda, Puranas, Mahabharata and modern saints claimed that Vedas are “Apurusheya”. But this status of Vedas was never flowing from the Rigveda itself but rather the book became so holy and important that subsequent generations made that claim only to highlight its importance.
Now, I am reminded of this famous legend that the great Hindu King Shivaji who laid foundations of a modern Hindu Kingdom that eventually destroyed Islamic Kingdoms in India, was visited by Goddess Bhavani and she gave him a celestial sword. You see this legend comes much later after Shivaji, Shivaji did not make such claim neither did his official court record keepers.
Shivaji did not go to people claiming that “Look Goddess gave me this divine sword, so rally behind me”. It was merely a legend, a story told to affirm the greatness of a King who was great by his own actions. Neither his work, nor his sword was of divine origin. In fact we know that it was purchased from Portuguese merchants.
Is it wrong to call Vedas Apaurusheya ?
Not really. Since lot of subsequent scriptures keep Vedas on that pedestal, it is 100% consistent with Hindu values to treat vedas as Apaurusheya if they deem it such. After all ISKON is not wrong to come up with the concept of “Krishna Consciousness”, it is debatable if Bhagvat Puran makes such claim and ISKON’s claim that they are the only true descendant of Arjuna and hence the only true authority to interpret Geeta are evidently false, yet they are pretty much part of Hindu pantheon as such beliefs do not make them non-Hindu.
Even if Vedas are Apaurusheya, I have not come across any commentary ever that says Vedas must be taken seriously because of their divine origin, nearly everyone I have read sees Vedas as the truth, which simply exists on its own irrespective of human judgement. It merely got revealed to humans.
So if anyone tells you that you must respect vedas because they are created by some higher power, that would be 100% wrong.
Obsessing over Veda’s origins is devaluing them.
The holy books that often insist that they are God’s words often have to do so because they are so irrational and stupid that no one would take them seriously as books or philosophy. A book that controls how to dress and talk will not last very long in human history unless religious violence enforces it.
On other hand true knowledge will outlast the religion which created it. Hindus today do not study Vedas (Hindus in India are legally not allowed to start and run their own schools as they deem fit), but the stories from Vedas or even the quotes are pretty much alive among common Hindu literature. “एकं सत् विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति” line from the first mandala of Rigveda has lasted thousands of years. It can be seen as the foundation of diversity and inclusion if I were to use modern liberal terminology. “एकं सत् विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति” is of divine origin and hence be taken seriously or is it something that the ancient hindu society had set to establish as a principle of tolerance and inclusiveness that found its way in Rigveda ?
For many religions making the claim that their holy book is man made brings down their entire religion like a house of cards. For vedas it is opposite, when you realize that some seers wrote these lines 3000 years ago, it is a mind blowing moment.