According to some all the mantras are intended to be sung, as that is the best way of remembering them; but this is an erroneous view. The law of life is action, in its widest connotation, is the subject-matter of the Rig Veda. But we can get this only if we interpret the text properly; and we can succeed if we divide words into parts, and practice the art in accordance with the rules of grammar. We should bear in mind that there is unity of idea underlying the whole text; and we must not omit any part of it. In case of doubt we should consult competent teachers; though there are sometimes differences of opinion among them.
However, this method of interpretation involves a complete substitution of one meaning for another, with a new natural order of connection between words, which would itself be a test of its correctness. According to Jaimini it would be stupid to ask for more.
The cause of this form of composition is that the properties of objects, which are closely connected with one another, should be properly described; and so if there are any examples, they too should be in the same form. This is possible because the words are quite new; and there is no similarity between the original and the new meaning. But it is only when we are unable to get a proper meaning from the original form of the text, that we should adopt this method. If the words or their parts are badly arranged, we cannot get the correct meaning; and this is how we can test this method. But this does not apply to great phenomena, which takes place according to a law, such as the new and the full moon, which are described as god.
All hymns are not to be sung: According to some all mantras or hymns are Samans, that is, intended to be sung aloud on the ground that that is the best way to remember them, and we are enjoined to do so; but this is an erroneous view.
Action, and its idea in the Rig Veda: The law of life is action; and so Action is an accurate description of the law of life. It is expressly mentioned that action is the subject matter of the Rig Veda, action conceived as a sacrifice, like the sacrifice of cooking food; and there is no restriction in regard to the comparison and contrast of the idea of action in connection with any object.
A sacrifice is a good and intelligent action; and eating cooked food is such a good and intelligent action on the part of man; and so it is symbolic of the idea of sacrifice. On the other hand giving up cooked food, and living on the produce of the forest is symbolic of renunciation of action; and this has already been explained.
How to understand this: But we cannot get this by means of the ordinary meaning of words; and we can get their real meaning if we realize that they have been used in some other sense. If we take the words of the text as they are and give them their common meaning, we find that there is no reference to action even in two of them, taken one by one; and in such a case we should understand that their correct formation, in connection with the text and its explanation, is the same as in the case of the word Agni. (We have already explained that we can get the meaning of the word Agni as intellect, associated with the mind and the senses, by dividing it into parts).
But we have to be careful in our task and unless the words in their new meaning produce the desired effect, we should not admit their connection with on another; and this condition is an integral part of this method. It is, however, possible to say that this is what we do and yet do not succeed. In any case, if we wish to interpret the text correctly, we should accept only such meanings as have a bearing on the idea of action (the text has the word grahana, which means "the hand"; and it is an instrument of action); and according to the directions of the sruti, the reference to action should be found in a trcha or a strophe consisting of three verses. If, on the other hand, we accept the usual meaning of words, we shall find that the whole idea is changed for the worse, as we can see for ourselves.
Method of interpretation and test of its correctness: When we divide a word into parts, each sound (syllable or letter) should be complete in itself; and that is the meaning of the correct formation of words. It is in this manner that we can find a different meaning of the text, and its entire teaching would remain unbroken in this way. We can get the real meaning of the word sruti by means of repeated practice, relating to the composition of words; and we can see through their disguise in this manner. Their excellence of meaning is produced by means of a definite cause; and we should accept the meaning of parts of words in immediate succession to one another; and we can resort to this practice because there is unity of idea underlying the whole text. This applies specifically to certain verses derived from the Pragatha stanzas of the Rig Veda, and also the Pragatha stanzas themselves. But in our effort to see through the disguise we must not omit or exclude anything.
We are able to get this meaning because of the correct formation of words or the application of rules of grammar in connection with their compounding. But a subsequent sutra tells us that the cause of this form of composition is that the properties of objects, which are closely connected with one another, should be understood; and that is done by means of the meaning of each part of a word.
This can be illustrated by means of a name, say Krshna. We can divide it into K, r, sh, na, and have to take the meaning of each letter one after the other. So too with regard to other names.
Authority of teachers: If the text had only one meaning, we should doubt its value, both in respect of the Rig Veda and Sama Veda; for we have been taught by competent teachers that there should be correlation or continuity of thought in the Vedas. If, therefore, we find that the text can be interpreted equally well in two ways, the change of form of words should be made with due regard to the injunction of these teachers, who know how it has been composed. But Badari says that when there is a reference to the character of objects, we should understand their names as they are, because each object has a separate existence of its own. On the other hand some others say that, even as in the case of the hymns of the Rig Veda, there is no conflict between the properties of objects and their names.
But in this method of interpretation, since the fundamental notions are so different there should be a complete substitution of one meaning for another; and the change of form should be complete, as people would say. We shall then find that there is a new natural order or connection of words in the text; but if we are unable to get a proper meaning, this order too will cease to exist. Indeed, this natural order itself would give us the explanation of the meaning of the text; and Jaimini says bluntly that it would be stupid to demand more.
Object of this form of composition: As the text has been composed for a special purpose, namely, to describe the law of life, and it is free from all extravagance the cause that has made for this form of composition is the idea that the properties of objects should be correctly described, for they are closely connected with one another; and it requires that if there are any examples to be cited, they too should be in the same form. We should be able to get all this from the meaning so obtained, because that is the purpose of this formation of words. Thus, when a name is used in this form of composition, it would undergo a change, because it is quite new. Indeed, there is no similarity between the original and subsequent meaning of a word, because that is the very purpose of this form of composition, which is based on the correct formation or use of words. But it is only when we are unable to get a proper meaning, that words should be construed in this manner; and if we are satisfied with the one meaning as it is, there should be no division of words into parts; and their meaning should be determined on the basis of their description.
The Mimansa tells us quite clearly that a number of names used in the text have been newly coined for this purpose. Indeed, it would be impossible to have this form of composition without it.
Test of correctness: If, however, the words (or their parts) are badly arranged, the change would be for the worse, and there would be no consistency of ideas, with the result that the correct meaning cannot be determined. In this manner we can find out the correct meaning of any two Saman hymns by means of oneness of inference drawn from circumstances, and feel convinced in regard to the true meaning of words in the same manner as in connection with their original form. The hymns of the Sama Veda has been specially mentioned because it is necessary to change the form of words used in them. This, as has already been explained, is indicated by their having to be sung.
Special cases: But this rule does not apply to two actions (or sacrifices) performed in accordance with a law, which takes place at different times, such as the new and the full moon. These phenomena (or actions) are personified as gods and honored as such; and that is how they are connected with the meaning of the text. We cannot say that this is intended to give us the idea of Time, and so Time should be personified in the same manner (that is, as a god), because that is not the principal topic of the text; and we get this from the description of the text itself. Nor can we say that, if it is not possible (to agree that the new and the full moon refer to Time), the idea of Time should be like that of Agni because (that too does not fit into the text, and) we have to see what constitutes the principal topic of the text and what does not. Indeed, there is uniformity of representation in regard to the idea of both Time and Agni throughout the text; for what is worshipped as a god is their different spheres of activity. We cannot even say that we should honor Time as a god at least at the beginning of things (preliminary sacrifice), because we cannot conceive of it at that stage ( or it cannot be acted upon by anything).
It may be argued that Time should be represented as a god at least at the beginning of things, when life is created; for then at least it cannot be regarded as destructive. The answer to this is that at that stage we cannot conceive of Time at all; and so it cannot be personified in any form, even as a god. But when life begins, Time begins to act upon things, and cannot be acted upon by anything itself.
The Mimansa explains: that Time cannot be represented as a god, because a god represents the great forces of nature acting in accordance with the law of sacrifice, that is, as creating and sustaining life. But Time cannot always be understood in this light, for it is often believed to be a great destructive force: hence it cannot be represented as god. It may be of interest to observe that the Bhagavad Gita describes Krshna (God) as revealing himself to Arjuna in the form of Time; but the latter is unable to bear the sight.
Time, in the sacred books, is often represented as a Serpent; and the word Kala means Time as well as a poisonous serpent. This is the idea of Kaliya, the serpent, subjugated by Krshna in the story of the Bhagavad Purana; and it would be explained in its proper place. The association of Time with the idea of a serpent has also a special significance if its own, and is not merely due to the fact that some serpents are deadly, and so is Time believed to be. The ancients believed that Time is part of the energy of the Sun, a radiation, which has the form of a wave, and could best be represented as a serpent-wave, or a serpent. this has been explained at some length elsewhere. It may be of interest to observe that Vrtra, who is described in the Vedas as a serpent, conforms to the same idea.