Any person familiar with computer networks and internet communication today knows that when data is sent from one computer to the other through a wired/wireless medium, the data is usually repeated many times (sometimes in particular combinations) to make sure that any loss/error that may occur during transmission can be detected and corrected in the transmission end.
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors had similarly devised many brilliant ways of preserving our Vedas and making sure that no error is possible in the oral transmission of Vedas. The "data" was stored then in the human brain (weighing merely 200 grams). The human mouths were used for transmission while ears for reception and sound was the medium. And this was done from generation to generation.
Some excerpts from the article of Dharmatma Dr. Yegnasubramanian (President of Sringeri Vidya Bharati Foundation, USA) article, Rescuing Our Vedic Priesthood,
"Vedic Chanting – a perfectly formulated oral tradition
The Vedas are called 'Sruti"- which means, what is heard.
It is never read from a text, since the recitation of any Veda mantra should conform to the following six parameters, namely,
mAtrA (duration of articulation);
balam (force of articulation);
sAma (uniformity), and
If any of these parameters is not maintained, it would change the meaning of the mantra itself, leading to even diametrically opposite effects!
In the absence of a written text, our rishis had devised many ways to prevent even a small error to creep in to the recitation of the veda-mantras. These fool-proof methods used to chant each veda-mantra in various patterns and combinations are known as : vaakya,pada, krama, jaTA, mAlA, SikhA, rekhA, dvaja, danDa, ratha, and Ghana.
Among these, vAkya, pada, krama, jaTa and Ghana methods of chanting are more popular and let us analyze them only here.
Vaakya or samhitA pATha is to recite a mantra in a sentence straight with appropriate intonations. In sentences, some of the words have to be conjoined in chanting.
In padapAtha, a sentence is broken down to 'words' or pada's, which gives the student the knowledge of each word.
The Ghana method is more difficult than the above where the combinations of words will be
2-3-4 and so on. A priest who can recite in the Ghana method is given the title ghanapAThi.
These methods of complicated recitations in a oral tradition were devised in order to preserve the purity of the word, the sound, intonation, pronunciation, accent and sound combinations of the Veda mantras. By repeating the words in manifold ways, the correct tally of words was also kept which has naturally ensured its purity.
Just to illustrate what it takes for a priest to earn the title of a ghanapAThi, let us briefly analyze what is involved in the training. For illustration, let us consider only one portion of the krishNa yajur veda, called the taittiriya samhitA. In this portion there over 2,000 pancASat's (1 pancASat = 50 pada's), amounting to 109,308 pada's. We can roughly assume each pada to have 3 syllables, thus totaling ~330,000 syllables. In the Ghana method of chanting, each syllable gets repeated 13 times, thus amounting to 4,290,000 utterances. And each of these utterances have to conform to all the six parameters discussed earlier.
Only when a person becomes capable of reciting this in any order asked, gets the title of a ghanapAThi. This is for only one samhitA portion in krishna yajur veda alone. Then there is Sukla yajur veda, rig veda, sAma veda, and atharva veda. There were scholars proficient in more than one veda as evident from the names dvivedi, trivedi and caturvedi. In addition, there are other samhitA portions, brAhmaNa portions, AraNyaka poritons, and the Upanishads, in the vedic scriptures alone.
After proficiency in ghanapATha, some learn lakshaNa-ghanapATha, which deals with the characteristics of each letter, its origin, how it has to be emphasized in a mantra, its varNa, the presiding deity, etc etc. Then there are purANa's, dharma-Sastras etc. All these were learnt without any book, tape or any such instruments in the oral tradition, and were stored just in ~200 grams of the human brain! And the most interesting thing is, it was not that one or two individuals who were proficient in this dharma, but an entire society was well versed in this! Such a scholarship takes well over 25 years of intense education in a gurukulam, in addition to observing all the religious disciplines!"
Just listening to this powerful Ghana patham alone can have an amazing effect on us.