The word Upanishad means to sit down near someone and denotes a student sitting near his guru to learn. Eventually the word began to be used for the secret knowledge imparted by the guru to his selected pupils. A number of treatises were prepared, first orally and then in writing, and were called by the same name of Upanishad. Today Upanishads specify philosophical knowledge and spiritual learning.
The main motto of the Upanishads is “Knowledge Awards Salvation”
Upanishads are called Vedanta (the end of the Veda) firstly, because they denote the last phase of the Vedic period and secondly, because they reveal the final aim of the Veda.
The Oldest Upanishads are Brhadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads which date as back as the first millennium BC. Latest were composed in the medieval and early modern period. The latest Upnishad is Muktikā Upnishad and was recorded by Dara Shikoh.It dates to 1656. Dara Shikoh was son of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and is known to have translated fifty Upanishads into Persian. There are 108 Upanishads and they are also called Vedanga. “Upa” means nearby and “sada” means sit. So Upanishads contain the knowledge imparted by the gurus to their disciples.
There are 108 Upanishad. 11 are predominant and they are called “Mukhya Upanishads“. They are as follows:
Aitareya Upanishad should be noted for one of the 4 Mahavakyas viz. “Prajanam Brahama” or “Consciousness is Brahman”. The Four Mahavakyas of Vedas are as follows:
- Prajnanam Brahma – “Consciousness is Brahman” (Aitareya Upanishad of the Rig Veda)
- Ayam Atma Brahma – “This Self (Atman) is Brahman” (Mandukya Upanishad of the Atharva Veda)
- Tat Tvam Asi – “Thou art That” (Chandogya Upanishad of the Sama Veda)
- Aham Brahmasmi – “I am Brahman” (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad of the Yajurveda)
It is contained in the Shatpath Brahman. It contains the following Famous Shloka:
असतो मा सद्गमय
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय
मृत्योर् मा अमृतं गमय
ॐ शांति शांति शांति
बृहदारण्यक उपनिषद् 1.3.28.
The meaning of the above Shloka is : Lead Us From the Unreal To the Real, Lead Us From Darkness To Light, Lead Us From Death To Immortality, OM , Let There Be Peace Peace Peace
This Upanishada is associated with the Taittiriya school of the Yajurveda. The Taittiriya Upanishad describes the various degrees of happiness enjoyed by the different beings in creation
This Upanishad is associated with the Kauthuma Shakha of the Samaveda. Along with Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, the Chandogyopanishad is an ancient source of principal fundamentals of Vedanta philosophy.
“Ken” literally means ‘by whom’. It belongs to the Talavakara Brahmana of Sama Veda and is therefore also referred to as Talavakara Upanishad.
It is one of the latest Mukhya Upanishads, dating approximately to Mauryan times.
Upanishads are sources of serious philosophical thought; however, this Upanishad differs from other Upanishads by explaining the same principles in a very simple, easy-going and poetic way.
It was translated by Max Müller in 1879. It was rendered in verse by Edwin Arnold as “The Secret of Death”. The central story is immortality and covers the story of encounter of Nachiketa, son of sage Vajasravasa, with Yama, God of death.
This Upanishad deals with the Para Vidya and Apara Vidya. The Para Vidya is knowledge that leads to Self Realization , Apara Vidya deals with everything else or the material knowledge. Mundaka Upanishad is notable as the source of the phrase Satyameva jayate (3.1.6)
Mandukya is the Shortest Upnishad. It contains twelve verses expounding the mystic syllable Aum, the three psychological states of waking, dreaming and sleeping, and the transcendent fourth state of illumination.
Six pupils interested in knowing divinity or Brahman come to sage Pippalada and requests him to clarify their spiritual doubts. Therefore, this Upnishad is in Question Answer format.