Vyāsa or Veda-Vyāsa is a central figure in the Bhāratīya tradition, revered as the compiler of the four Vedas, the author of the eighteen major and minor Purāṇas, the author of the Mahābhārata, and more importantly, the author of the Brahma-Sūtras. In short, Vyāsa finds himself at the centre of the prasthāna-traya or the three central treatise of sanātana-dharma, namely, the Brahma-Sūtras, the significant Upaniṣads and the Bhagavadgītā, that form the basis of religio-spiritual identity of Hinduism. In a nutshell, Sanātana-dharma as we know it, owes its very fabric and existence to the great Vyāsa. Who really is this great seer?
According to the Mahābhārata, Vyāsa is a culmination of the penance of Sage Parāśara, and is considered an aspect of Lord Viṣṇu himself, descended upon earth in order to achieve many a divine goal. Once, sage Parāśara found himself in a boat, ferried across the holy water of the Yamunā by a damsel who reeked of fish. She was Satyavatī, an extraordinary damsel who was being raised by a fisherman. A sudden onset of fog set upon the river and the ferry, and Parāśara found his mind as muddled as the sky above. He was overcome with desire for the damsel. Rather taken aback and distressed by the rising passion, Parāśara contemplated what could have caused his well-trained mind to run astray. In a flash he recognized that the passion he experienced was as a result of the will of the Supreme. Satisfied that he was but an instrument in the larger scheme of things, Parāśara gave himself up to the inviolable will of the Supreme. As a result, Satyavatī bore a male child who was dark of hue. Born as he was upon an island of the Yamunā, he was named, Kṛṣṇa-Dvaipāyana. As further testimony to the union being but a service unto the Supreme, Parāśara proceeded along his way, and Satyavatī, now devoid of the foul smell of fish owing to her union with the great Parāśara, returned to her life as the adopted daughter of the fisherman.
Davipāyana was born no baby but a Brahmarṣi, a seer of the highest order. He was a contemporary of the Kṛṣṇāvatāra and the foundation upon which the entire Mahābhārata rested. Not only did he record the events pertaining to the Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas as the Mahābhārata, he was also centrally responsible for the events even coming to be. The Patriarchs of the Kuru race, namely Pāṇḍu, Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Vidura were sired by the divine will of the great sage, upon the request of the queen mother, who also happened to be Dvaipāyana’s mother, Satyavatī. A personality of such excellences, naturally must be a spark of the divine. A traditional śloka states,
व्यासाय विष्णुरूपाय व्यासरूपाय विष्णवे।
नमो वै ब्रह्मनिधये वाशिष्ठाय नमो नमः॥
vyāsāya viṣṇurūpāya vyāsarūpāya viṣṇave|
namo vai brahmanidhaye vāśiṣṭhāya namo namaḥ||
Salutation upon salutation to Vyāsa, the grandson of Vaśiṣṭha, the repository of divine knowledge, who is none other than Lord Viṣṇu himself.
The Viṣṇu-Purāṇa states further, that Lord Viṣṇu descends as Vyāsa with the advent of every Dvāpara-yuga, in order to classify the sacred Vedas.
द्वापरे द्वापरे विष्णुर्व्यासरूपी महामुने।
वेदमेकं स बहुधा कुरुते जगतो हितः॥
dvāpare dvāpare viṣṇurvyāsarūpī mahāmune|
vedamekaṁ sa bahudhā kurute jagato hitaḥ||
With the advent of every Dvāpara-yuga, Lord Viṣṇu, supremely intent on the wellbeing of the universe, assumes the role of Vyāsa and classifies the one Veda into many (sections).
What is interesting however, is that Kṛṣṇa-Dvaipāyana born of sage Parāśara and Satyavatī, is not the only Veda-Vyāsa accepted in the tradition. Much like rest of the positions of power and responsibility in the tradition, that of Veda-Vyāsa or the classifier of the Vedas too is a position occupied by many a realized soul. Each of these Vyāsas, aspects of the Supreme, dedicate themselves to the classification and propagation of the Vedas with the advent of every Dvāpara-yuga. The Viṣṇu-Purāṇa states that in the Vaivasvata-manvantara alone, twenty-eight Vyāsas have risen and have classified the Vedas twenty-eight times. Kṛṣṇa-Dvaipāyana, the illustrious son of Parāśara was the twenty-eighth. In describing how Dvaipāyana went about categorizing the Vedas and in establishing a tradition that would ensure the safe propagation of the Vedas, the Purāṇa states that (this) Vyāsa went about categorizing the one Veda just as Vyāsas before him had done. It further elaborates how Vyāsa identified the right disciples who would be capable of preserving the Vedas and of transmitting them to future generations.
यथा तु तेन वै व्यस्ता वेदव्यासेन धीमता।
वेदास्तथा समस्तैस्तैर्व्यस्ता व्यासैस्तथा मया॥
yathā tu tena vai vyastā vedavyāsena dhīmatā|
vedāstathā samastaistairvyastā vyāsaistathā mayā||
Just as the Veda was categorized by the wise Vyāsa, so too was it categorized by the (preceeding) Vyāsas and myself.
It is further stated that the next Vyāsa would be Drauṇi, the son of Droṇa, clearly indicating a successive line of Vyāsas to come. Mind boggling as this is, the revelation strongly suggests that the only constant in this ever-changing universe is evolution or change itself. If a giant as Kṛṣṇa-Dvaipāyana is not a constant, it is definitely worth wondering who is!