Vedangas, limbs of Veda; are six in number and are to be reflected along with Vedas. Just like the limbs of the body, they perform various supportive and augmenting functions in the study, preservation and protection of the Vedas and the Vedic traditions. They are Shiksha (Phonetics), Niruktam (explanation), Kalpam (Ritual Canon), Jyothisham (Astrology), Chandas (Vedic meter), and Vyakaranam (Grammar). All these are additional chapters in the Vedas; disciplines associated with the study and understanding of the Vedas.
They represent the organs of the Veda Purusha. Paniniya Shiksha (41-42) narrates two verses on the importance of the Vedangas which describe Veda as a Purusha having six limbs as six Vedangas : Chandas are his two feet, Kalpam are his two arms, Jyotisham are his eyes, Niruktam is his ears, Shiksha is his nose and Vyakarana is his mouth.
Shiksha and Chandas are aids for pronouncing and reciting Vedic mantras correctly, Vyakaranam and Niruktam are for understanding their meaning, and Jyotisham and Kalpam provide appropriate times and methods for performing the Vedic sacrificial rites and rituals.
The Vedangas played an important role in maintaining the purity and integrity of the Vedic tradition. For centuries they taught and continue to teach Vedic students how to recite the Vedic hymns, understand their meaning and perform the various rituals and ceremonies strictly according the established procedures. The Vedangas greatly help us in proper understanding and application of the Vedas.
The Vedangas likely developed towards the end of the Vedic period. Individually, these auxiliary disciplines of study are traceable to the 1st to 5th-century BCE. However, it is unclear when and where a list of six Vedangas were first conceptualized.
The Vedangas developed as ancillary studies for the Vedas, were sciences that focused on helping understand and interpret the Vedas that had been composed many centuries earlier. The insights into meters, structure of sound and language, grammar, linguistic analysis and other subjects influenced post-Vedic studies, arts, culture and various schools of Hindu philosophy. The Kalpa Vedanga studies, for example, gave rise to the Dharma-sutras, which later expanded into Dharma-shastras.
Let us learn in brief, each of the six Vedangas:
1. SHIKSHA: phonetics, phonology, pronunciation. This auxiliary discipline has focused on the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, accent, quantity, stress, melody and rules of euphonic combination of words during a Vedic recitation.
2. NIRUKTAM: etymology, explanation of words, particularly those that are archaic and have ancient uses with unclear meaning. This auxiliary discipline has focused on linguistic analysis to help establish the proper meaning of the words, given the context they are used in.
3. KALPAM: ritual instructions. This field focused on standardizing procedures for Vedic rituals, rites of passage rituals associated with major life events such as birth, wedding and death in family, as well as discussing the personal conduct and proper duties of an individual in different stages of his life.
4. JYOTISHAM: Auspicious time for rituals, astrology and astronomy. This auxiliary Vedic discipline focused on time keeping.
5. CHANDAS: prosody. This auxiliary discipline has focused on the poetic meters, including those based on fixed number of syllables per verse, and those based on fixed number of morae per verse.
6. VYAKARANAM: grammar and linguistic analysis. This auxiliary discipline has focused on the rules of grammar and linguistic analysis to establish the exact form of words and sentences to properly express ideas.