The Vedic Age in India Represents a Symbolic Stage of Civilisation

It is difficult, if not virtually impossible, for someone from an intellectual and mechanistic age to enter into the spirit of, or even reach an understanding of the mind and insight of someone from another age, when the logical intellect did not play the same role that it plays in our society.  An attempt to interpret, therefore, symbolic utterances or written texts from today’s viewpoint is therefore bound to lead to considerable misunderstanding and misinterpretation.  Sri Aurobindo, using his yogic experience as a foundational power of understanding, undertook considerable work in making the symbolic sense of the Vedic Age available to the modern intellect.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “If we look at the beginnings of Indian society, the far-off Vedic age which we no longer understand, for we have lost that mentality, we see that everything is symbolic.  The religious institution of sacrifice governs the whole society and all its hours and moments, and the ritual of the sacrifice is at every turn and in every detail, as even a cursory study of the Brahmanas and Upanishads ought to show us, mystically symbolic.”

“Not only the actual religious worship but also the social institutions of the time were penetrated through and through with the symbolic spirit.  Take the hymn of the Rig Veda which is supposed to be a marriage hymn for the union of a human couple and was certainly used as such in the later Vedic ages.  Yet the whole sense of the hymn turns about the successive marriages of Surya, daughter of the Sun, with different gods and the human marriage is quite a subordinate matter overshadowed and governed entirely by the divine and mystic figure and is spoken of in the terms of that figure.  Mark, however, that the divine marriage here is not, as it would be in later ancient poetry, a decorative image or poetical ornamentation used to set off and embellish the human union; on the contrary, the human is an inferior figure and image of the divine.  The distinction marks off the entire contrast between that more ancient mentality and our modern regard upon things.  This symbolism influenced for a long time Indian ideas of marriage and is even now conventionally remembered though no longer understood or effective.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 1, The Cycle of Society, pp. 7-8