Understanding Scriptures - Part 2

Summary: The questions are right at the end indicated in big bold letters. One can get a summarised view by reading the question section. The logic and reason of asking is in the whole long speech in the middle. Please scroll down directly to questions if you want to avoid this long explanation.


Introduction and Problem Encountered

Kalpa is one of the limbs of the Vedas, dealing with rituals. I happened to be going through one of the most detailed sutras, the Baudhāyana Pitṛmedha (funeral kalpa (rituals)) Sutras in order to read about the sapiṇḍīkaraṇa rites as well as the same Gṛhyasūtra’s coronation rituals. In both cases to my dismay neither process has been described in great detail, but sticking to the sutra format, very very briefly. The details of Paraskara sapiṇḍī rites was dismal because there were none. On the other hand, the real sapiṇḍīkaraṇa rites are carried out in an elaborate and logical manner. So also with the coronation rituals as can be evidenced from the detailed book, ‘Rājyābhiṣekapaddhati’ written by Cakrapāṇi Miśra, the Brahmin and close friend of Mahārāṇā Pratāpa of Mewar. It so happens with other cases as well such as the Atiratra Soma Yajnas etc.

Drawing a comparison with Dharmasutras

Now this would go a little off-topic to explain the flow of logic and we will come back the Kalpa.

We can see from the discussion in this question that Manu is the original authority and the Smritis and Dharmasutras written by other sages would be based on Manu’s dharma. (The comparative notes in Manu help endorsing this view).

Sutras are aphorisms, i.e. statements used to convey an idea in a succinct manner. Since all works elucidating dharma have Manu as their source, the Dharma Sutras can thus be called as short statements conveying the dharma of Manu in a succinct manner.
(Note: here the Dharma Sutras (DS) mean those sutras that are included in the sutras to each Vedic Shakha like Baudhayana DS, Apastmaba DS)

Now as we can see that the dharma sutras may not mention all details but try to give a basic gist of Manu’s dharma (one of the upanga of the Vedas), the same is the case with the kalpa sutras (under the same names like Baudhayana, etc). These are sutras or aphorisms that describe the Kalpa (Vedic rituals), one of the 6 angas of the Veda, in a brief manner without all details. The kalpa sutras are only aphorisms to help the Brahmin of that shakha remember a basic framework of the procedure and because of this very reason, the procedures have not been elaborated (as was my problem stated in the 1st paragraph above).

Further Support for the Existence an Elaborate Vedanga

Just as some Puranas too list the dharma as enumerated by Manu, they mention elaborate Kalpa (rituals) for Shraadha, etc too, titled Shraadha Kalpa. Thus it would be obvious that (just as the dharma sutras and many smritis are ultimately sourced from an elaborate Manu) these Kalpa sutras maybe sourced from a larger more elaborate Kalpa Vedanga, clearly mentioning all ceremonies, rituals, penance and fasting procedures, prayashchitta rites and the list can go on which is not in Sutra format.

So also is the case with other Vedangas like Jyotisha and Vyakarana which don’t have sutras but elaborate works by traditional ancients like Parashara, Bhrigu and Indra (lost, now only sutras of Panini and others survive) before the originators of the Vedic Shakhas in Kaliyuga.


Accordingly, based on the above, my questions are:

    1. Is there an elaborate Kalpa Vedanga that describes all rituals in an elaborate fashion the way they’re actually performed? It maybe available or extinct, but the fact that it existed at some point earlier is important.
    1. Which traditional sage(s) or is/are the author of the Kalpa Vedanga? (or rather propounder similar to Manu of Dharma) and what is the traditional flow from Brahmaji to him?
    1. What all has been described in that elaborate Kalpa? (Anything beyond the sutras)
    1. Since the Agamas describe some worship procedures, can they be said to be a small part of the Kalpa?
    1. If there is no such Kalpa, then how has the entire subcontinent been able to conduct through the ages, elaborate rituals, in a more or less basically similar manner without a proper detailed original book to fall back upon? And what is the basis on which the Kalpa Sutras of the Shakhas derive their processes, and, without a traditional flow from Brahmaji, even their authority?

Note: the Brahmanas have feeble mention of some rituals just as they have some statements of dharma and not all, which are in fact elaborately contained in Manu’s dharmashastra. However they do not prescribe the elaborate rituals like they don’t prescribe elaborate rules of Dharma. So though the Kalpa would be ultimately sourced from the Veda, yet it would be a separate treatise just like Manu’s dharmashastra and other limbs like Jyotisha, Vyakarana, etc

This is neither a duplicate of Who is the author compiler of the Vedangas? nor What are the texts associated with the 6 vedangas as both these focus on the Kalpa sutras.

  • Correction I would like to point is that vyakarana and jyotisha are not elaborate. They are also brief aphorism or similar way. Vedanga Jyotisha is not same as parashara etc. Which came much later. pANini is also in the form of sutras. Commented May 2, 2021 at 22:20
  • @RakeshJoshi Vedanga Jyotisha by Lagadha doesn’t have much so shouldn’t Parashara be more authentic? Siddhanta there a surya siddhanta etc. Jyotisha at least samhita version by Bhrigu, Atri are supposed to be elaborate and vyakarana Panini is relatively modern. We had Kashakritsna (again sutra form) but a main Aindra grammar. Now how that grammar was was it in sutra or not we don’t know.
    – Adiyarkku
    Commented May 3, 2021 at 5:27
  • no these are developed later on. If you know difference between astrology and astronomy then you will understand whats difference between them. Commented May 3, 2021 at 20:31
  • @RakeshJoshi yes i know the difference but traditionally they consider it as three pillars of the very same Vedanga.
    – Adiyarkku
    Commented May 4, 2021 at 3:59

1 Answer 1


Kalpa is not a book from which other books have been derived. Its one of the vedanga.

Why do we need to invest time in vedangas? In order to properly understand vedas and interpret them and subsequently follow a vedic way of living i.e agni upasana and so on To properly lead a vedic life its important to have some understanding of these subjects.

Kalpa consists of grihya sutras, shrauta sutras, dharma sutras, sulabha sutras etc. These were written by rishis or sages through their understanding of vedas. Some brahmanas describe about bigger vedic sacrifices. They could be the basis for texts like shrauta sutras which deals with shrauta karmas like Agnihotra, chaturmasya and soma yagas etc. Grhya Sutra deals with domestic rites and sacraments like 16 samskaras.

Why are many texts written as aphorisms?

sUtra is a cryptic way of communicating. It's mainly adopted to preserve secrecy and prevent interpolations. Thus any sUtra required elaboration from the guru. So this vedic tradition is a guru sishya parampara.

Each veda has sutras formulated by its rishis. They have slight differences. These differences are due to traditions or sampradaya. saMpradAya is not doing different things but doing things differently. Just like you have one or more methods or solutions to problems. What ultimately matters is performing the nitya naimittika karmas

Since you cited example of baudhāyana. Let's see what it means if someone says that his sutra is baudhāyana grihya and shrauta sutra. This means that his family follows domestic samskaras as per baudhāyana grihya sutra and shrauta rituals as per baudhāyana shrauta sutra of krishna yajurveda. Its not necessary that grihya and shrauta sutras to be same.

Another person who is krishna yajurvedi (born in family who has been following krishna yajurveda) he may have, for example, Apastamba GRhya SUtra and shrauta sutra. These could have slight variations with other GRhya SUtras.

Next point is that these kalpa sutras have chapters dedicated for each karma for example yajnopavita samskara. They have details like how when where whom to perform this samskaras with main steps and instructions. The information is clear, concise and without ambiguity.

So the granthas on rituals we see are nothing but elaboration and step by step instructions for the guidelines mentioned in sutras. Sutras are like manuals and guidelines for performing vedic rituals.

About manu, it may be true that he had the dharma sutras but its not correct to say that HIS alone is authentic and others are not. We have gautama dharma sutras, vashishtha dharma sutras and so on. Even with smritis we have parashara smriti , yajnavalkaya smriti and so on.

But I also want to mention that dharma sutras, smritis are more prone to interpolations and we have many scholars mentioning that.

In regards to tantra, its generally not there in kalpa format but we do have something called parashurama kalpa sutra which deals about subject of Sri vidya upasana. Its again in Sutra format.

To sum up, we have different versions of kalpa sutra because of various rishis propagated vedas to thier pupil according to thier understanding. They have enough and clear information on carrying out rituals. Those who have good understanding of vedas can figure out the process from these sutras.

  • It’s a nice and informative answer I have upvoted. Thank you :). But have you seen Paraskara Sutra. The Sapindikarana vidhi? And also Katyayana’s pitrmedha? Nothing is described the way we follow it. In fact Katyayana is more related with pyre (chitaa) making. Also For example Baudhayana pitrmedha mentioned 16 pinda after death in one section (Dont remember I think Narayana Bali or sapindi- something like after 16 pinda perform sapindi or a Narayana Bali). However in the main section there’s no mention of 16 pind yet we follow. And this vidhi isn’t there in Katyayana at all. Yet you get books
    – Adiyarkku
    Commented May 4, 2021 at 4:01
  • Yet you get hooks to perform antyeshti. See as far as marriage goes i can agree but funeral rites are out of place. Earlier I too felt if a person’s sutra is X he follows rituals prescribed in X, but seeing so many sutras lacking so much material such a thing doesn’t seem absolutely plausible.
    – Adiyarkku
    Commented May 4, 2021 at 4:06
  • @Archit all those books for karma kanda are made with keeping these sutras in mind. Authors of these granthas would have good understanding of the sutras. Commented May 4, 2021 at 13:14
  • 1
    The answer is very useful. Can we add cite/link some sources? Thanks
    – Pandya
    Commented Aug 28, 2021 at 14:48

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