By Surendra Tanna, VSK, Mumbai
On an initiative from Government of India during April-May 2003, the United Nations Education, Social and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has declared Vedic chanting as one of the most valuable intangible heritages of mankind. Shri Koychira Matsuura, Chief Director of UNESCO has sanctioned an assistance of Rs five crore to preserve the Vedas.
In 1962 in Delhi, a committee was formed at a Vedic conference, inspired by the Kanchi Shankaracharya. This committee made a list of Vedasamhitas (different Vedas). The committee had then found that four recensions of the Vedas—Maitrayaniya (branch of Krishna Yajurveda), Jeminiya (branch of Samaveda), Ranayaniya (branch of Samveda), and Pippalad (the branch of Atharvaveda) had almost vanished. To rejuvenate them, a Veda Rakshana Nidhi Trust was constituted. In order to relearn such rare branches of the Vedas, learned scholars were sent to different parts of India.
Similarly the Government of India established the Maharshi Sandeepani Rashtriya Veda Vidyalaya Pratishthan, a seat for learning the Vedas. At present this institution has its headquarters at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh. Among other tasks, the institution tries to save the art of traditional oral intonic recitation of the Veda mantras, preserve and research. It helps schools, teachers and students financially, awards pension to aging teachers and publishes books too.
To supplement these efforts, the UNESCO was invoked by the Government of India. The jury, which consented to the project, comprised Dr Richard Kurian, Director, Centre for Folklore and Cultural Heritage of Smithsonian Institute, Juoan Goyatisolo, litterateur from Spain, Yoshikaju Hasgova from Japan, Shrimati Olive W. M. Jevin, a piano master, and Eliano a music composer from Jamaica.
As part of the programme, the Department of Culture, Government of India, has prepared a five-year project. Accordingly, 15 pathashalas in gurukul tradition have to be established where the students will be taught to recite intonic Vedic hymns, their phonology, grammar and of course, the meaning and inherent knowledge base. It would also organise lectures, live demonstrations of intonic recitations and arrange conferences and seminars of Vedic scholars. The project will also hold Veda Vigyan weeks and besides printing rare manuscripts, it will also reprint old scriptures, manuals and books. Under the supervision of the government, the Department of Culture, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, Maharshi Sandeepani Rashtriya Ved Vidya Pratishthan, Ujjain, Maharshi Ved Vidya Pratishthan, Pune, and Veda Rakshan Nidhi Trust, Kanchipuram would organise these programmes.