Indian national motto — Satyameva Jayate — is from Mundaka Upanishad

A Letter From Grandpa

Niranjan Shah, a civil engineer, who pioneered famous high-rise buildings in Baroda, is a broadcaster in India and the USA and a prolific writer. Under “A Letter from Grandpa.” he has been writing since 2002 on India’s historical, philosophical, and literary heritage. He can be reached at   

By Niranjan Shah
My dear Snehi and Sohan:
Satyameva Jayate (Truth alone triumphs) is the national motto, accepted by both government and the people of India  constitutionally. The origin of the motto is a well-known mantra 3.1.6 from the Mundaka Upanishad. The full mantra is as follows:  Satyena panth vitato devay na | yen kramanty ayo hy ptak m , yatra tat satyasya parama nidh nam. The meaning of this mantra is “Truth alone triumphs; not falsehood. Through truth the divine path is spread out by which the sages whose desires have been completely fulfilled, reach where that supreme treasure of Truth resides.” Upanishadic mantra realized by ancient rishis of India thousands of years ago, has now become a motto of the nation. 

The Mundaka Upanishad belongs to the Atharva Veda and has three chapters, each of which has two sections. Mundak is derived from the root mund, to shave, as he that comprehands the teaching of the Upanisad is shaved or liberated from error and ignorance. The Upanishad states clearly the distinction between the higher knowledge of the Supreme Brahman and the lower knowledge of the empirical world. It is by this higher wisdom and    not by sacrifices or worship that one can reach Brahman. Only the sanyasin, who has given up everything can obtain the highest knowledge. 

What are Upanishads? Upanishads are the foundations on which the beliefs of millions of human beings are based. The Upanishads, though remote in time from us, are not remote in thought. They disclose the working of the primal impulses of the human soul which rise above the differences of race and the geographical position. Dara Shikoh, son of Shah Jahan (of Taj Mahal fame) translated the Upani-shads, into Persian directly from  Sanskrit and called it Sirr-e-Akbar,  “Gods most Perfect Revelation,” which was translated into Latin by Anquetil Duperron under the title Oupnekhat — This translation was introduced to Western readers. “From every sentence of the Upanishads deep, original,    and sublime thoughts arise, and the whole is pervaded by a high and holy and earnest spirit,” said German philosopher Arthur Schopen-hauer, one of the greatest philosophers of 19th century. He further said: “In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. They are destined sooner or later to become the faith of the people. It has been the solace of my life — it will be the solace of my death.” 

French philosopher Amaury de Riencourt says: “There can be no doubt that the Upanishads are based on the most profound study and understanding of human nature ever achieved, one with which we twentieth century Westerners, in spite of our vast present day knowledge, have not yet fully caught up.”

Robert  Earnest Hume, American Sanskritist, who taught in India and at Oxford wrote: “In the long history of man’s endeavor to grasp the fundamental truths of being, the metaphysical treatises known as the Upanishads hold an honored place. They are replete with sublime conceptions and with intuitions  of universal truth. The Upanishads undoubtedly have great historical and comparative value, but they are also of great present-day importance. It is evident that the monism of the Upanishads has exerted and will continue to exert an influence on the monism of the West; for it contains certain elements, which penetrate deeply into the truths which every philosopher must reach in a thoroughly grounded explanation of experience.”

Paul Deussen, a disciple of Arthur Schopenhauer, and a scholar of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, said: “Whatever may be the discoveries of the scientific mind, none can dispute the eternal truths propounded by the Upanishads. Though they may appear as riddles, the key to solving them lies in our heart and if one were to approach them  with an open mind one could secure the treasure as did the Rishis of ancient times.” 

The motto of the Czech Republic and its predecessor Czechoslovakia, Pravada vítzí (Truth Prevails) has a similar meaning. Did ancient Vedic teaching go to Europe? 

— Grandpa’s blessing
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