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Heritage On Record

The Vedas date back to approximately 2500 B.C. Since then, they have been passed on from generation to generation through recitation. The grandfather, father and son all sit together and learn the chants by sruti or hearing. There was no script, no written text till very recently. In fact the effect of the Vedas lay in their recitation, not in the mere words.

“That is how the Vedas have lived since they were born; in their sound, in their chantings. It was much later that they were written down. Reading the Vedas is an incomplete experience, hearing them being chanted is not just a complete and a spiritual experience but belongs entirely to a different world. We were keen to identify people who were born into the tradition because that is the original,” says Guni Hestings Krichcheiner.

Guni Hesting Krichcheiner, a writer and scholar of Oriental studies, has just finished recording Vedic chantings. She, along with Professor Bahulkar, has recorded 224 cassettes of ninety minutes duration each. They contain all the authentic and different recessions of the four Vedas, the Rig, Yajur, Atharva and Sama Veda. Guni clarifies that the recording was not accompanied by any rituals. It was a purely academic exercise.

One set of the cassettes have been gifted to the Vedic Sastrotjak Samaj in Pune, another to the Royal Denmark Library. The third set is with Guni.

“The recording was done at the right time,” says Guni. “For six of the eight pundits we recorded are no more. We just managed to catch them on time. We have taken care to locate such people who were from a family of chanters and were authentic. There was only one person who could recite the Atharva Veda and today he is no more. While there are others who have learnt from others, the family of chanters of Atharva Veda are perhaps non-existent.” To an outsider some things appear clearer than to a person living within a certain tradition. “It struck me that here was a phenomenal tradition which would soon be extinct. I felt a very compelling urge to document it, and immediately. I went back to Denmark and applied for funds. The Danish Research Council funds different cultural causes and they readily agreed to my request,” says Guni, all exuberant and happy now that she has finished her project. “Every word of our recording is clear and we have catalogued them so carefully that it will make easy reference.”

Fifteen years of work on recording the Vedas has made more of an Indian out of Guni that many of those born into the tradition would be. Comfortable in a sari, Guni eats Indian food and is a total vegetarian. “I believe there is something more to it than just an academic desire to record the chantings,” says he Danish lady who has taught, done social work and written for children an addition to this marathon job. “But this is perhaps the single most important job that I have undertaken,” says Guni.

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