Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

PM gifts Upanishads to Joe Bide


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Ten Principal Upanishads

Mains level: Read the attached story


Central Idea

  • PM Modi presented the US President Joe Biden with a number of gifts, including a first edition print of the book The Ten Principal Upanishads from 1937.

Ten Principal Upanishads

  • The Ten Principal Upanishads is translated from Sanskrit by Shri Purohit Swami, a scholar of Hindu scripture, and Irish poet WB Yeats.
  • It is considered to be one of the best translations of the Upanishads, some of the most important Hindu religious texts.
  • Written in the mid-1930s, the book was a product of Yeats’ desire to create a translation which is true to the original text while still being accessible for the layperson.

Two categories of Hindu scriptures

There are broadly two categories of Hindu sacred texts: Shruti (loosely translated as “the revealed”) and Smriti (“the remembered”).

[I] Shruti

  • The Shruti category is considered to be the most authoritative and consists of the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva) and accompanying texts.
  • These include Brahmanas (ritual texts), Aranyakas (“forest” or “wilderness” texts), and Upanishads (philosophical texts).

[II] Smruti

  • The Smruti category of Hindu scriptures is less authoritative – in many ways they are considered to be derived from the first – but more popularly known.
  • These include the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, Dharmashastras, Puranas and all other post-Vedic scriptures.

What are the Upanishads?

  • The Upanishads, also known as the Vedanta – as they signal the end of the total Veda – speculate about the ontological connection between humanity and the cosmos.
  • They serve as foundational texts in many traditions of Hindu theology and have hence attracted far more attention than the Vedas themselves.
  • Dated to roughly 800-500 BC, the Upanishads discuss concepts such as transmigration, which have today become central to Hindu tradition.
  • Upanishads signify texts that were traditionally transmitted in intimate, teacher-student settings, imparting profound knowledge and spiritual insights.

(A) Spiritual Essence

  • The Upanishads form the philosophical portion of the Vedic scriptures known as the Vedanta.
  • They explore the metaphysical and mystical aspects of existence, aiming to unravel the nature of reality, the self, and the ultimate truth.

(B) Origins

  • The Upanishads were composed between 800-500 BC, following the earlier Vedic texts.
  • Various sages, seers, and scholars authored the Upanishads, resulting in a rich diversity of philosophical perspectives.

(C) Themes and Subjects

  • The Upanishads delve into profound concepts, such as the nature of the self (atman), the ultimate reality (brahman) (NOT Brahmin), and the relationship between the two.
  • They explore metaphysical inquiries, the nature of existence, the concept of karma, the path to liberation (moksha), and the interconnectedness of all beings.

Key Upanishads and Teachings 

  • While there are over 200 Upanishads, a set of principal Upanishads is considered the most significant and influential.
  • There are ten main (or principal) Upanishads:
  1. Esha
  2. Kena
  3. Katha
  4. Prashna
  5. Mundaka
  6. Mandukya
  7. Taittiriya
  8. Aitareya
  9. Chandogya
  10. Brihadaranyaka

WB Yeats and his translation of Upanishads

(A) Who was WB Yeats? 

  • WB Yeats (1865-1939) was born in Ireland and is regarded as one of the most influential figures in modern English literature.
  • He was a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival, which sought to promote Irish culture, folklore, and independence.

(B) His Interest in the Upanishads

  • Yeats’ interest in Indian culture and philosophy predates his encounter with the Upanishads.
  • In 1885, he met Mohini Chatterjee, a prominent figure in Bengal’s Theosophical circles, who visited Dublin. This meeting sparked Yeats’ early engagement with Indian themes in his poetry.

(C) Friendship with Rabindranath Tagore:

  • Yeats developed a close friendship with Rabindranath Tagore, the renowned Indian poet, philosopher, and Nobel laureate.
  • In 1912, they met in London, where Tagore introduced Yeats to his translated work, including Gitanjali.

(D) Introduction to the Upanishads:

  • William Rothenstein, a photographer, sent Yeats the manuscripts of Tagore’s partial translation of the Upanishads.
  • Impressed by their spiritual depth and cultural significance, Yeats became intrigued by the Upanishads’ teachings.
  • Disappointed with the available English translations of the Upanishads, Yeats sought to create a translation that was both true to the original text and accessible to a wider audience.
  • He collaborated with Sanskrit scholar Shri Purohit Swami, who helped him translate the Upanishads with an emphasis on clarity and understanding.

Back2Basics: Key Verses from Upanishads

Verse Source Interpretation
“Om Asato ma sadgamaya…” Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.3.28 Lead me from the unreal to the real, from darkness to light, from death to immortality.
“Aham Brahmasmi” Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 I am Brahman (NOT Brahmin).
“Tat Tvam Asi” Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7 That thou art.
“Ayam Atma Brahma” Mandukya Upanishad 1.2 This self is Brahman.
“Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma” Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.1 All this is Brahman.
“Neti, neti” Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.3.6 Not this, not this.
“Satyam jnanam anantam brahma” Taittiriya Upanishad 2.1.3 Brahman is truth, knowledge, and infinite.
“Yato vacho nivartante, aprapya manasa saha” Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.3.1 Whence words turn away, along with the mind, unable to reach it.


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