Vyasa (Devanagari: व्यास, vyāsa) is a central and revered figure in most Hindu traditions. He is also sometimes called Veda Vyasa (वेद व्यास, veda vyāsa), (the one who classified the Vedas in to four parts) or Krishna Dvaipayana (referring to his complexion and birthplace). He is the author as well as a character in the Mahabharata and considered to be the scribe of both the Vedas, and the supplementary texts such as the Puranas. A number of Vaishnava traditions regard him as an Avatar of Vishnu. Vyasa is sometimes conflated by some Vaishnavas with Badarayana, the author of the Vedanta Sutras. Vyāsa is also considered to be one of the seven Chiranjivins (long lived, or immortals), who are still in existence according to general Hindu belief. He is also the fourth member of the Rishi Parampara of the Advaita Guru Paramparā of which Adi Shankara is the chief proponent.
The festival of Guru Purnima, is dedicated to him, and also known as Vyasa Purnima as it is the day, which is believed to be his birthday and also the day he divided the Vedas.
In the Mahabharata
Vyasa appears for the first time as the author of, and an important character in the Mahābhārata. He was the son of Satyavati, daughter of a ferryman or fisherman, and the wandering sage Parashara. He was born on an island in the river Yamuna. The place is named after him as Vedvyas, possibly the modern-day town of Kalpi in the Jalaun district of Uttar Pradesh. He was dark-complexioned and hence may be called by the name Krishna (black), and also the name Dwaipayana, meaning 'island-born'.
Vyasa was grandfather to the Kauravas and Pandavas. Their fathers, Dhritarashtra and Pandu, adopted as the sons of Vichitravirya by the royal family, were fathered by him. He had a third son, Vidura, by a serving maid.
Hindus traditionally hold that Vyasa categorised the primordial single Veda into four. Hence he was called Veda Vyasa, or "Splitter of the Vedas," the splitting being a feat that allowed people to understand the divine knowledge of the Veda. The word vyasa means split, differentiate, or describe.
It has been debated whether Vyasa was a single person or a class of scholars who did the splitting. The Vishnu Purana has a theory about Vyasa. The Hindu view of the universe is that of a cyclic phenomenon that comes into existence and dissolves repeatedly. Each cycle is presided over by a number of Manus, one for each Manvantara, that has four ages, Yugas of declining virtues. The Dvapara Yuga is the third Yuga. The Vishnu Purana (Book 3, Ch 3) says:
"In every third world age (Dvapara), Vishnu, in the person of Vyasa, in order to promote the good of mankind, divides the Veda, which is properly but one, into many portions. Observing the limited perseverance, energy, and application of mortals, he makes the Veda fourfold, to adapt it to their capacities; and the bodily form which he assumes, in order to effect that classification, is known by the name of Veda-vyasa. Of the different Vyasas in the present Manvantara and the branches which they have taught, you shall have an account. Twenty-eight times have the Vedas been arranged by the great Rishis in the Vaivasvata Manvantara... and consequently eight and twenty Vyasas have passed away; by whom, in the respective periods, the Veda has been divided into four. The first... distribution was made by Svayambhu (Brahma) himself; in the second, the arranger of the Veda (Vyasa) was Prajapati... (and so on up to twenty-eight)."
Author of the Mahābhārata
Vyasa is traditionally known as author of this epic. But he also features as an important character in it. His mother later married the king of Hastinapura, and had two sons. Both sons died without issue and hence their mother asked Vyasa to go to the beds of the wives of her dead son Vichitravirya.
Vyasa fathers the princes Dhritarashtra and Pandu by Ambika and Ambalika. Vyasa told them that they should come alone near him. First did Ambika, but because of shyness and fear she closed her eyes. Vyasa told Satyavati that this child would be blind. Later this child was named Dhritarāshtra. Thus Satyavati sent Ambālika and warned her that she should remain calm. But Ambālika's face became pale because of fear. Vyasa told her that child would suffer from anaemia, and he would not be fit enough to rule the kingdom. Later this child was known as Pāndu. Then Vyasa told Satyavati to send one of them again so that a healthy child can be born. This time Ambika and Ambālika sent a maid in the place of themselves. The maid was quite calm and composed, and she got a healthy child later named as Vidura. While these are his sons, another son Śuka, born of his wife, sage Jābāli's daughter Pinjalā (Vatikā), is considered his true spiritual heir. He makes occasional appearances in the story as a spiritual guide to the young princes.
In the first book of the Mahābhārata, it is described that Vyasa asked Ganesha to aid him in writing the text, however Ganesha imposed a condition that he would do so only if Vyasa narrated the story without pause. To which Vyasa then made a counter-condition that Ganesha must understand the verse before he transcribed it.
Thus Lord VedVyas narrated the whole Mahābhārata and all the Upanishads and the 18 Puranas, while Lord Ganesha wrote.
Vyasa is supposed to have meditated and authored the epic by the foothills of the river Beas (Vipasa) in the Punjab region.
There is an ashram of vedavyasa in Vedhagiri. It is believed that pandavas visited vyasa at vedhagiri and got advise during there vanavasa (exile period). The remnants of the ashram is still there on the top of Vedhagiri hill.
Vyasa's Jaya, the core of Mahābhārata is structured in the form of a dialogue between Dhritarashtra (the Kuru king and the father of the Kauravas, who opposed the Pāndavas in the Kurukshetra War) and Sanjaya, his advisor and chariot driver. Sanjaya narrates each incident of the Kurukshetra War, fought in 18 days, as and when it happened. Dhritarāshtra sometimes asks questions and doubts and sometimes laments, knowing about the destruction caused by the war, to his sons, friends and kinsmen.
In the beginning Sanjaya gives a description of the various continents of the Earth, the other planets, and focuses on the Indian Subcontinent and gives an elaborate list of hundreds of kingdoms, tribes, provinces, cities, towns, villages, rivers, mountains, forests etc. of the (ancient) Indian Subcontinent (Bhārata Varsha). He also explains about the 'military formations adopted by each side on each day, the death of each hero and the details of each war-racings. Some 18 chapters of Vyasa's Jaya constitutes the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred text of the Hindus. Thus, this work of Vyasa, called Jaya deals with diverse subjects like geography, history, warfare, religion and morality.
Ugrasrava Sauti's Mahābhārata
The final version of Vyasa's work is today's Mahābhārata, structured as a narration by Ugrasrava Sauti who was a professional story teller, to an assembly of (rishis) who had just attended the 12 years sacrifice of Saunaka also named as kulapati in the forest of Naimisha. Bharata is embedded inside it, and within it Jaya.
Within the Mahābhārata, there is a tradition in which Vyasa wishes to write down or inscribe his work:
The Grandsire Brahma (creator of the universe) comes and tells Vyasa to get the help of Ganapati for his task. Ganapati writes down the stanzas recited by Vyasa from memory and thus the Mahābhārata is inscribed or written. Ganapati could not cope with Vyasa's speed and he misses many words or even stanzas.
There is some evidence however that writing may have been known earlier based on archeological findings of styli in the Painted Grey Ware culture, dated between 1100 BC and 700 BC. and archeological evidence of the Brahmi script being used from at least 600 BC.
The difficulty faced by Ganapati (Ganesha) in writing down Mahābhārata as described in the tradition, could be real, and was most probably faced by those people who first attempted to write it down as some reciter recited it continuously. This is because, the reciter will not be able to stop in the middle of recitation and then resume it, as the lines are committed to his memory as a continuous recording.
In the Puranas
Vyasa is also credited with the writing of the eighteen major, if not all, Purāṇas. His son Shuka is the narrator of the major Purāṇa Bhagavat-Purāṇa.
Within Buddhism Vyasa appears as Kanha-dipayana (the Pali version of his name) in two Jataka tales: the Kanha-dipayana Jataka and Ghata Jataka. Whilst the former in which he appears as the Bodhisattva has no relation to his tales from the Hindu works, his role in the latter one has parallels in an important event in the Mahabharata.
In the 16th book of the epic, Mausala Parva, the end of the Vrishnis, clansmen of Vyasa's namesake and Krishna is narrated. The epic says: One day, the Vrishni heroes .. saw Vishvamitra, Kanwa and Narada arrived at Dwaraka. Afflicted by the rod of chastisement wielded by the deities, those heroes, causing Samba to be disguised like a woman, approached those ascetics and said, ‘This one is the wife of Vabhru of immeasurable energy who is desirous of having a son. Ye Rishis, do you know for certain what this one will bring forth?Those ascetics, attempted to be thus deceived, said: ‘This heir of Vasudeva, by name Samba, will bring forth a fierce iron bolt for the destruction of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas.
The important Bhagavata Purana (book 11) too narrates the incident in a similar manner and names the sages as Visvāmitra, Asita, Kanva, Durvāsa, Bhrigu, Angirâ, Kashyapa, Vâmadeva, Atri, Vasishthha, along with Nârada and others - it does not explicitly include Vyasa in the list.
The Ghata Jataka has a different version: The Vrishnis, wishing to test Kanha-dipayana's powers of clairvoyance, played a practical joke on him. They tied a pillow to the belly of a young lad, and dressing him up as a woman, took him to the ascetic and asked when the baby would be born. The ascetic replied that on the seventh day the person before him would give birth to a knot of acacia wood which would destroy the race of Văásudeva. The youths thereupon fell on him and killed him, but his prophecy came true .
Vyas In Sikhism
In Brahm Avtar composition present in Dasam Granth, Second Scripture of Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh mentioned Rishi Vyas as avtar of Brahma. He is considered as fifth incarnation of Brahma. Guru Gobind Singh had written brief account of compositions of Rishi Vyas, which he wrote about great kings like King manu, King Prithu, king Bharath, KingJujat, King Ben, King mandata, King Dilip, King RaghuRaj and King Aj. Guru Gobind Singh attributed him the store of vedic learning.
In the Arthashastra
Arthashastra of Chanakya (Kautilya), Vyasa has an interesting entry. In chapter 6 of the first Department, it says:
'Whosoever is of reverse character, whoever has not his organs of sense under his control, will soon perish, though possessed of the whole earth bounded by the four quarters. For example: Bhoja, known also by the name, Dándakya, making a lascivious attempt on a Bráhman maiden, perished along with his kingdom and relations; so also Karála, the Vaideha... Vátápi in his attempt under the influence of overjoy to attack Agastya, as well as the corporation of the Vrishnis in their attempt against Dwaipáyan.
This reference matches the Jataka version in including Vyasa as the sage attacked by the Vrishnis, though Vyasa does not die here.
Author of Brahma Sutra
The Brahma Sutra is attributed to Badarayana — which makes him the proponent of the crest-jewel school of Hindu philosophy, i.e., Vedanta. Vyasa is conflated with Badarayana by Vaishnavas with the reason that the island on which Vyasa was born is said to have been covered by Badara (Indian jujube/Ber/Ziziphus mauritiana) trees. Apart from Adi Shankara who refers to these two separately rather than as a single individual, many modern historians also think these were two different personalities.
Author of Yoga Bhashya
This text is a commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Vyasa is credited with this work also, though this is impossible, if Vyasa's immortality is not considered, as it is a later text.
Christopher Pearse Cranch (March 8, 1815 – January 20, 1892) was an American writer and artist.
Cranch was born in the District of Columbia. He attended Columbian College and Harvard Divinity School. He briefly held a position as a Unitarian minister. Later, he pursued various occupations: a magazine editor, caricaturist,...