Sayana: The Commentator on the Vedas

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Sayana – The Great Commentator on the Vedas

Sayanacharya occupies a unique place in the History of the Sanskrit Literature. The learned commentaries written by him on the Vedic Samhitas and Brahmanas are the most important works of their kind, which are of immense value to us for the proper exposition of the subtle truths which these works of hoary antiquity contain. There has been a host of commentators of the vedas even before the advent of Sayana but unknown as many of their works are, most of them are mere names to us. Indeed the only commentator who has had the rare good fortune of commenting upon all the four vedas and whose comments are still extant is the great Sayanacharya himself. He was, along with his equally famous elder brother Madhavacharya, responsible, as is rightly asserted by historians, for the great Renaissance of the Vedic Learning under the benign rule of the early Vijayanagara monarchs.

Sayana was born in a learned South Indian Brahmana family. His father was Mayana and his mother Srimati. He was a Brahmana of the Bharadvaja-gotra, Bodhayana Sutra and Krsna Yajurveda. He belonged to the Taittiriya Sakha of the Black Yajurveda, as is also evident from the fact that the very first vedic commentary he wrote was the Taittiriya Samhita of the Krsna Yajurveda.

It is but natural to think of Sayana, the commentator of the four Vedas, as a profound pandit endowed with the mental equipment of far exceptional kind; but it is amazing to find him a warlike warrior brandishing his sword on the fields of battle and showing his martial valour by feats of uncommon bravery. Indeed he was not only a great mimansaka given to the abstruse speculations and interpretations of the difficult vedic mantras, but was also a practical administrator of a vast kingdom, a responsible minister of an extensive empire and above all, a valourous soldier of a high order. In Sayana we find a rare fortunate combination of vast learning and practical wisdom, speculative faculty and physical valour.

Sayana wrote his Bhasyas upon the following five well-known Vedic Samhitas-

(i) Taittriya Samhita
(ii) Rigveda Samhita
(iii) Samaveda Samhita
(iv) Kanva Samhita
(v) Atharvaveda Samhita

Sayana wrote his commentaries upon the different Brahmanas and Aranyakas of the Vedas naturally enough after he had commented upon their Samhitas with the single exception of the Bhasya on the Satapatha Brahmana of the white Yajurveda which appears to have been composed (as is clear from the introductory verses) last of all, during the time of Harihara II. He commented upon the following Brahmanas and Aranyakas:-

A. Brahmana of the Krsna Yajurveda-
(1) Taittriya Brahmana
(2) Taittriya Aranyaka

B. Brahmana of the Rgveda-
(3) Aitareya Brahmana
(4) Aitareya Aranyaka

C. Brahmanas of the Sama Veda-
(5) Tandaya (Panchavimsha) Brahmana
(6) Shadvimsa Brahmana
(7) Samavidhana Brahmana
(8) Arsheya Brahmana
(9) Devata Adhyaya Brahmana
(10) Upanishad Brahmana
(11) Samhitopanishad Brahmana
(12) Vamsha Brahmana

D. Brahmana of the white Yajurveda-
(13) Satapatha Brahmana