“The true prevails, not the untrue.”
~ Mundaka Upanishad, Hymn III.1.6
सत्यमेव जयते नानृतं
In January 1950, in the wake of her freshly acquired independence, India adopted the motto that was to adorn the base of the Lion Capital of Ashoka, one simple phrase: “The true prevails, not the untrue.” How revealing that this country has put on her national emblem a mantra excerpted from the Mundaka Upanishad (Hymn III.1.6). This mantra is a profoundly significant spiritual message, and it will be inscribed on all Indian currency and official documents. The author is unknown, as is the case with all authors of the Upanishads, these ancient texts which Eknath Easwaran described as “towering peaks of consciousness”. The time has come here to pay tribute to these anonymous sages or rishis who produced these famous hallmarks of spirituality.
The Upanishads are a collection of hymns that have been, according to tradition, ‘seen’ or ‘heard’ (Shruti in Sanskrit, ‘that which is heard’), and transmitted orally. They ring in many a spiritual seekers’ memory with names like Isha, Kena, Katha, or Chandogya, and as a source of sacred knowledge. They were embedded in the Vedas – meaning ‘knowledge’ – which are old bodies of text formulated in Sanskrit between the 17th and 8th century BC in northwestern India. These Vedas are made of four collections of hymns – usually in verse – that form the basis of the Vedic religion, namely the Rg-Veda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda, and the Atharvaveda. The community and domestic religious life in these ancient times revolved around complex ceremonies, which could easily last a day, a week, or sometimes even weeks or months. This vast literature is filled with cultic formulas, liturgical chants, mythological stories, praises to a God, magic hymns, commentaries, the purpose of which was most often to obtain favors from the Gods. The most important hymns were the ones to Agni, the fire in all its forms, to Soma, the drink of immortality and a special offering in any ritual act, to the Gods (Indra, Mitra, Varuna, and many others) or to nature (the Sun, the Earth, Heaven, Night, Dawn). They may also contain some early philosophical speculations.
“What thing I am I do not know.
I wander secluded, burdened by my mind.
When the first-born of Truth has come to me
I receive a share in that self-same Word.”
~ Rig Veda, I.164.37