Now, we discuss to the
concluding part of the Veda namely 'the Upanishads. The Upanishads
come towards the end of the Aranyakas. If the Samhita is likened to
a tree, the Brahmanas are its flowers and the Aranyakas are its
fruit yet not ripened, the Upanishads are the ripe fruits.
1. Nature of Upanishads
The Vedas are generally considered
to have two portions viz., Karma-Kanda (portion dealing with
action or rituals) and Jnana-Kanda (portion dealing with
knowledge). The Samhitas and the Brahmanas represent mainly the
Karma-Kanda or the ritual portion, while the Upanishads chiefly
represent the Jnana-Kanda or the knowledge portion. The
Upanishads, however, are included in the Shruti. They are at
present, the most popular and extensively read Vedic texts.
The Upanishads are often called 'Vedanta'.
Literally, Vedanta means the end of Veda, Vedasya antah,
the conclusion (Anta) as well as the goal (Anta) of
the Vedas. Chronologically they came at the end of the Vedic period.
As Upanishads contain difficult discussions of ultimate
philosophical problems, they were taught to the pupils at about the
end of their course. The chief reason why the Upanishads are called
the 'end of the Veda' is that they represent the central aim of the
Veda and contain the highest and ultimate goal of the Veda as they
deal with Moksha or Supreme Bliss.
2. Meaning of the word
The word 'Upanishad' has been
derived from the root Sad (to sit), to which are added two prefixes:
Upa and Ni. The prefix Upa denotes nearness and
Ni totality. Thus, this word means 'sitting near by
devotedly'. This no doubt refers to the pupil's sitting down near
his teacher at the time of instruction. The word in course of time
gathered round it the sense of secret teaching or secret doctrine (Rahasya)
which was imparted at such sittings. Upanishads are frequently
spoken of as Rahasya (secret) or Guhya (mystery) also.
We find in Upanishads, that due to secrecy and mystery of the
teachings, a teacher refuses to impart instruction to a pupil who
has not proved his worthiness to receive the instruction. Through
another definition, the word primarily signifies knowledge, yet by
implication it also refers to the book that contains that knowledge.
3. Number of the
There is a good deal of
speculation concerning the number of Upanishads. Traditionally, the
old Upanishads had their place in the Brahmanas and Aranyakas. There
is only one instance of a Samhita containing Upanishad - the
Vajasaneyi Samhita comprises the Ishavasya Upanishad forming the
In later times, the
Upanishads obtained a more independent position but still they
professed to belong more particularly to one or the other of the
It is difficult to ascertain the exact number that should be
regarded as authentic Upanishads. A religious system is considered
valid in India only when it is supported by Shruti, hence the
founders of religious sects have sometimes written books and called
them Upanishads in order to give their views scriptural authority.
The Allah Upanishad, for instance was composed in the
sixteenth century, at the time of emperor Akbar.
Different estimates of their number have been given by scholars and
they have been put by some scholars at as many as 200.
One hundred and eight Upanishads are enumerated in the
Muktikopanishad and a popular edition contains them. However, among
these Upanishads, ten Upanishads, the names of which have been
mentioned in the Muktikopanishad, are considered the most important
Upanishads from the point of view of Vedantic Philosophy.
Ten Principal Upanishads known as 'Dashopanishad' are :
Isha, Kena, Katha ,
Prashna , Munda , Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya and
Kaushitaki and Maitrayaniya Upanishads are often listed in old
4. Division of the
According to the
Muktikopanishad 108 Upanishads are divided according to four Vedas
are as follows:
(1) 10 Upanishads from
(2) 19 Upanishads from the Shukla-Yajurveda
(3) 32 Upanishads from the Krishna-Yajurveda
(4) 16 Upanishads from the Samaveda and
(5) 31 Upanishads from the Atharvaveda.
The Principal thirteen
Upanishads, related to the Vedas are:
(A) Upanishads of the
(2) Kaushitaki Upanishad
(B) Upanishads of the
(4) Isha Upanishad
(C) Upanishads of the
(6) Katha Upanishad,
(7) Shvetashvatara Upanishad,
(8) Maitrayaniya Upanishad
(D) Upanishads of the
(10) Kena Upanishad
(E) Upanishads of the
(13) Prashna Upanishad.
5. Major Theme of the
The Upanishads are religious and
philosophical treatises. They constitute the last phase of the Vedic
revelation. They represent the knowledge of Brahman (Brahma-Vidya).
What is this world? Who am I? What becomes of me after death? - Such
questions are asked and answered in these Upanishads. The essential
theme of the Upanshads is the nature of the world and God. Already
in the hymns of the Rigveda, we notice here and there a shift of
emphasis from the innumerable gods to the one Infinite as in the
famous passage. 'Ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti '. This
becomes more pronounced in the Upanishads and is very well
illustrated here. The doctrine of true knowledge and salvation are
major subjects of the Upanishadic philosophy. These treatises mark
the culmination of the earlier line of investigation into the nature
of ultimate reality.
In the Upanishads, we get
an intelligible body of verified and verifiable spiritual insights
mixed with a mass of myths and legends and cosmological speculations
relating to the nature and origin of universe. Besides, Brahman and
His creation, are also discussed in these texts.. The principal
contents of the Upanishads are philosophical speculations. The
spirit of their contents is anti-ritualistic. Although the
subject-matter of most of the Upanishads is almost the same, yet
each Upanishad has its own unique idea or ideas and its own method
6. Importance of the
(1) The Upanishads occupy a
unique place in the development of Indian philosophical thought.
They contain the highest authority on which the various systems of
philosophy in India rest. So Vedanta Philosophy is directly related
to the Upanishads. Not only the Vedanta philosopher professes his
faith in the ends and objects of the Veda, but the Sankhya, the
Vaisheshika, the Nyaya and Yoga philosophers, all pretend to find in
the Upanishads some warranty for their tenets.
(2) The Upanishads are associated
with the Vedas and make the entire range of Vedic knowledge as
complete. 'The Upanishads generally mention the Vedas and their
study with respect. Certain verses from the Vedas, such as the
Gayatri, form the subject of meditation here.
(3) Brahmavidya or the
knowledge of Brahman, the Supreme Reality is the great kingdom of
the principal Upanishads. They give importance to 'Knowledge' alone.
Any one having knowledge may be Guru or Acarya. Even kings
approached to them for the attainment of knowledge. The story of
Satyakama Jabala, who though unable to give his father's name, was
yet initiated into spiritual life, shows this fact. In the Chandogya
Upanishad (4.1-3) Raikva a Brahmana not by caste but by his
knowledge, instructed king Janashruti. In the same Upanishad (5.3),
the king Pravahana instructed the Brahmana Gautama in the new
doctrine of transmigration. This story together with the one in
which king Ashvapati kaikeya instructed five Brahmanas in the
doctrine of Atman (Chan. Up. 5.11) shows that for Upanishads
knowledgeable person is the most important and not the Brahmana,
Kshatriya or anyone else.
(4) Each of the Vedas has many
Mahavakyas or great sayings. But four Mahavakyas found in
the Upanishads related to four Vedas are very important,
thought-provoking and powerful. These spell out the non-duality of
the Jiva and the Brahman-
Prajnanam Brahma- –Rigveda
Aham Brahmasm - Yajurveda
Tattvamasi –- Samveda
Ayamatma Brahma --Aharvaveda
(5) Without understanding
the Upanishads, it is impossible to get an insight into Indian
history and culture. Every subsequent development of philosophy and
religion in India has drawn heavily on the Upanishads.