Now to the question of why the traditional method?
Well why not? See what the wiki says:
The oral tradition of the Vedas (Śrauta) consists of several pathas, “recitations” or ways of chanting the Vedic mantras. Such traditions of Vedic chant are often considered the oldest unbroken oral tradition in existence, the fixation of the samhita texts as preserved dating to roughly the time of Homer (early Iron Age)….. The various pathas are designed to allow the complete and perfect memorization of the text and its pronunciation, including the Vedic pitch accent. … UNESCO proclaimed the tradition of Vedic chant a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity on November 7, 2003.
It is true that we have come far from the age old puritanical method of teaching brahmin boys of seven years from the month of February to July.
There are several experiments which have started, which have been done. Some are trying to teach anyone who is interested without looking at the factor whether the person is qualified or not. Some want to teach woman too. Some want to to use modern teaching aids like audio media. Some want to teach vedas to students who attend regular school.
Let us examine one by one.
We cant dismiss any of them as useless; each might have its own persons who might benefit. We are only examining if they can be the regular method of teaching.We can eliminate any method that is not interactive. Reciting vedas being essentially based on sound it will simply not work if there is no one to listen and correct our recitation. What the audio media can do is to help those who do not have an access to an acarya to practice after getting a formal initiation and corrections from acarya. That works mainly for elders who feel left out and want to learn at least something. This can not be the mainstay teaching method.
Those who experimented with teaching woman – some such experiments went on in an ashram in Madurai, I heard – soon called it off as it did not agree with the students physically. Actually where some mantras are to be recited by woman in yagnyas, the kalpam (book of procedures) says “make them say this” , they are recite without swaras.
Though the three varnas -brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya- are qualified to learn vedas only the brahmana is qualified to teach. The yagnavalkya smriti says in kali there are only two varnas brahmana and abrahmana. In practice one finds that those who are not qualified- those whose genes are not from brahmanas or those who have not undergone brahmopadesam – they simply just cant memorise and recite the mantras.
Another experiment of clubbing vedic teaching along with regular curriculum have found some users in the elite bright classes but the ordinary students from middle class (or lower) families have found it difficult to manage both. Finally they end up with a neither here nor there situation.
More over one of the important point in vedic education is to inculcate samskaras. That is not something one can achieve by lecturing but by leading from personal example. When a student is with his guru there are umpteen things to be learnt by observing the guru: how to behave with elders, how to be kind to people below you…. in short from how to get up in the morning to how to go to sleep in the night. These samskaras are important in how a persons personality is shaped which is important to one’s proper growth spiritually. While how much one can learn depends on the (Bhudhdhi) intellect how one will shape up depends on the shradhdha (keenness).
So it is desirable to get along with the traditional way of teaching.
This involves so many classes of repeating twice what the guru recites and so many days of “ thuruvai” completing so many recitations under the observation of the acarya. This technique has helped in ensuring that these texts were transmitted from generation to generation with inordinate fidelity. There are advanced techniques of recitation, the chief purpose of such methods is to ensure that not even a syllable of a mantra is altered to the slightest extent, which has resulted in the most stable oral tradition of texts worldwide.
The insistence on preserving pronunciation and accent as accurately as possible is related to the belief that the potency of the mantras lies in their sound when pronounced. The shakhas (branches of vedas) thus have the purpose of preserving knowledge of uttering divine sound originally heard by the rishis.
So much for preserving the sounds. The subject of sastras like vyakaraNA, (grammar) mimaamsa (a Sanskrit word meaning `investigation` what do the vedas want to convey?) etc. which help in understanding the vedas to certain extent is in a sad state of affairs. Even bhasyam – the literal meanings are not learnt these days by those who study vedas. Sadly they have got de linked.
Modern practitioners claim that the sounds of Sanskrit phonemes (aksharas) have been shown to affect the mind, intellect, and auditory nerves of those who chant and hear them claiming that they affect the seven chakras of the spinal column, as well as the three pranic channels of the subtle body.
Of course one can study the upanishads – so many excellent books are out in English. You might have heard of scholars in this subject but ever heard of any one who attained brahma gynanam from these?
One need to study vedas, recite it and do the karmas prescribed in it. Doing such karma leads to 8 atma gunas. They help one in attaining a complete understanding of this universe and attain moksha.
Though all of us are far from that goal it is clear that except traditional study of vedas one can not achieve this.
So what are we trying to do here?
We are trying to maintain the sounds primarily. Our students will learn to recite the veda by heart. After learning this they will be guided further in the line they choose and are adept at. It could be reciting the vedas in the vikruti (modified) ways of patha, jata, krama, gana etc and take up only veda parayanam (recitation) later. Or it could be they straight away want to start earning a living for their families- it is a fact that many families will be looking for the day they start doing this. They will be taught the prayogas. Or it could be they want to study sastras and understand the vedas. We can easily put them in that line too. Some might want to just do veda parayanam and do something else for a living. We have contacts with organisations who are involved in that too.
We are also trying to teach veda to house holders, school going students, retired people – if not for anything, just to maintain an interest in vedas in families. Otherwise soon we will have indians asking “what is veda?”
We have conducted classes for them on how to do a homam so that they can easily do it when a prohit is guiding them.
We have plans to conduct summer classes for prohits to revise – and correct if need be – the procedures they conduct.
There is so much to do really and we aim to do as much as we can to preserve our swadharma.