Hamro dharma

March 8, 2008

Vedas and types

Filed under: Uncategorized — bikdharma @ 11:38 am

The Vedas


The Vedas are perhaps the oldest written text on our planet today. They date back to the beginning of Indian civilization and are the earliest literary records of the whole Aryan race. They are supposed to have been passed through oral tradition for over 100,000 years. They came to us in written form between 4-6,000 years ago.

The Vedas are divided into four groups, Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. Each group has an original text (Mantra) and a commentary portion (Brahmana).

The Brahmana again has two portions, one interpreting ritual and the other the philosophy. The portions interpreting the philosophy of the original texts constitute the Upanishads.

There are also auxiliary texts called Vedangas. Vedic literature refers to the whole of this vast group of literature. The whole of Rigveda and most of Atharvaveda are in the form of poetry, or hymns to the deities and the elements.

Samaveda is in verses that are to be sung and Yajurveda is largely in short prose passages. Both Samaveda and Yajurveda are concerned with rituals rather than philosophy – especially Yajurveda.

There are four Vedas, the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. The Vedas are the primary texts of Hinduism. They also had a vast influence on Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Traditionally the text of the Vedas was coeval with the universe. Scholars have determined that the Rig Veda, the oldest of the four Vedas, was composed about 1500 B.C., and codified about 600 B.C. It is unknown when it was finally committed to writing, but this probably was at some point after 300 B.C.

The Vedas contain hymns, incantations, and rituals from ancient India. Along with the Book of the Dead, the Enuma Elish, the I Ching, and the Avesta, they are among the most ancient religious texts still in existence. Besides their spiritual value, they also give a unique view of everyday life in India four thousand years ago. The Vedas are also the most ancient extensive texts in an Indo-European language, and as such are invaluable in the study of comparative linguistics.

The Vedas
The Vedas collectively refers to a corpus of ancient Indo Aryan religious literature that are associated with the Vedic civilization and are considered by adherents of Hinduism to be revealed knowledge. Hindus believe that the Vedas were not written by anyone (including God), but are eternally existing (apaurusheya). While many historians regard the Vedas as some of the oldest surviving texts, they estimate them to have been written down between 1500 BCE and 500 BCE.
The Vedas consist of several kinds of texts, all of which date back to ancient times. The core is formed by the Mantras which represent hymns, prayers, incantations, magic and ritual formulas, charms etc. The hymns and prayers are addressed to a pantheon of gods and a few goddesses important members of which are Rudra, Varuna, Indra, Agni, etc. The mantras are supplemented by texts regarding the sacrificial rituals in which these mantras are used as well as texts exploring the philosophical aspects of the ritual tradition, narratives etc.
The Vedas were compiled around the time of Krishna (c. 3500 B.C.), and even at that time were hardly understood. Hence they are very ancient and only in recent times has their spiritual import, like that of the other mystery teachings of the ancient world, begun to be rediscovered or appreciated even in India. Like the Egyptian teachings they are veiled, symbolic and subtle and require a special vision to understand and use properly
The great compiler of the Veda and Puranas was Vyasa Krishna Dwaipayana. He was said to be the twenty-eighth of the Vyasas or compilers of Vedic knowledge. He was somewhat older than the Avatar Krishna and his work continued after the death of Krishna. Perhaps he is symbolic of a whole Vedic school which flourished at that time, as many such Vedic schools were once prominent all over India and in some places beyond

The Mantras are collected into anthologies called Samhitas. They are commonly referred to as the Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda respectively. Each Samhita is preserved in a number of versions or recensions shakhas.
The Rigveda contains the oldest part of the corpus, and consists of 1028 hymns. The Samaveda is mostly a rearrangement of the Rigveda for musical rendering. The Yajurveda gives sacrificial prayers and the Atharvaveda gives charms, incantations, magic formulas etc. In addition to these there are some stray secular material, legends, etc.


Rig Ved

The Rig-Veda Samhita is the oldest significant extant Indian text. It is a collection of 1,028 Vedic Sanskrit hymns and 10,600 verses in all, organized into ten books (Sanskrit: mandalas). The hymns are dedicated to Rigvedic deities. The books were composed by sages and poets from different priestly groups over a period of at least 500 years, which Avari dates as 1400 BCE to 900 BCE, if not earlier According to Max M�ller, based on internal evidence (philological and linguistic), the Rigveda was composed roughly between 1700�1100 BCE (the early Vedic period) in the Punjab (Sapta Sindhu) region of the Indian subcontinent. Michael Witzel believes that the Rig Veda must have been composed more or less in the period 1450-1350 BCE. There are strong linguistic and cultural similarities between the Rigveda and the early Iranian Avesta, deriving from the Proto-Indo-Iranian times, often associated with the Andronovo culture; the earliest horse-drawn chariots were found at Andronovo sites in the Sintashta-Petrovka cultural area near the Ural mountains and date to ca. 2000 BCE.

Rigveda means the Veda of Adoration and mostly contains verses adoring or adulating deities. But it also dealt with other subjects, like the procedure of wedding, the folly of gambling. About two-thirds of Rigveda is about the gods Agni (Fire) and Indra (Ruler of the gods). Other Rigvedic gods include Rudra, the two Ashvins,Savitar and Surya, Varuna, the Maruts and the Ribhus. There are references to a divine creeper, the Soma, whose juice was an energizer. Some animals like horses, some rivers, and even some implements (like mortar and pestle) were deified. Rigveda contains a sense of intimate communion between Nature and the Rishis or visionaries. According to some, the concerns of Rigveda are those of simple, nomadic, pastoral Aryans. According to others, the people in the times of the Rigveda had a settled home, definite mode of life, developed social customs, political organizations, and even arts and amusements. Rigveda is the oldest, largest and most important of the Vedas, containing ten thousand verses forming 1017 poems in 20 groups.

Sama Veda

A collection of hymns used by the priests during the Soma sacrifice. Many of these duplicate in part or in whole hymns from the Rig Veda.

The Sama-Veda is the “Veda of chants” or “Knowledge of melodies”. The name of this Veda is from the Sanskrit word saman which means a metrical hymn or song of praise. It consists of 1549 stanzas, taken entirely (except 78) from the Rig-Veda. Some of the Rig-Veda verses are repeated more than once. Including repetitions, there are a total of 1875 verses numbered in the Sama-Veda recension published by Griffith. Two major recensions remain today, the Kauthuma/Ranayaniya and the Jaiminiya. P> Its purpose was liturgical and practical, to serve as a songbook for the “singer” priests who took part in the liturgy. A priest who sings hymns from the Sama-Veda during a ritual is called an udgat, a word derived from the Sanskrit root ud-gai (”to sing” or “to chant”). A similar word in English might be “cantor”. The styles of chanting are important to the liturgical use of the verses. The hymns were to be sung according to certain fixed melodies; hence the name of the collection.

Samaveda consists of a selection of poetry mainly from the Rigveda, and some original matter. It has two parts, Purva-Archika (First Adoratona) and Uttar-Archika (Later Adoration), containing verses addressed to the three gods Agni (Fire), Indra (King of Gods) and Soma (Energizing Herb). The verses are not to be chanted anyhow, but to be sung in specifically indicated melodies using the seven svaras or notes. Such songs are called Samagana and in this sense Samaveda is really a book of hymns.

Yajur Veda

The Yajur-Veda (”Veda of sacrificial formulas”) consists of archaic prose mantras and also in part of verses borrowed from the Rig-Veda. Its purpose was practical, in that each mantra must accompany an action in sacrifice but, unlike the Sama-Veda, it was compiled to apply to all sacrificial rites, not merely the Soma offering. There are two major recensions of this Veda known as the “Black” and “White” Yajur-Veda. The origin and meaning of these designations are not very clear. The White Yajur-Veda contains only the verses and sayings necessary for the sacrifice, while explanations exist in a separate Brahmana work. It differs widely from the Black Yajurveda, which incorporates such explanations in the work itself, often immediately following the verses. Of the Black Yajurveda four major recensions survive, all showing by and large the same arrangement, but differing in many other respects, notably in the individual discussion of the rituals but also in matters of phonology and accent.

Yajurveda refers to acts of worship such as oblations made into Agni or Fire. It has two branches, Krishna or Black and Shukla or White. While both contain mantras or incantations to be chanted at rituals, Black Yajurveda also has many explanations. The recensions of Black Yajurveda are Taittirya, Katthaka, Maitrayani and Kapishtthala. Those of White Yajurveda are Madhyanadina and Kanva. The literary value of Yajurveda is mostly for its prose, which consists of short terse sentences full of meaning and cadence.�

Atharva Veda

The Atharva Veda also contains material from the Rig Veda, but of interest are the numerous incantations and metaphysical texts, which this anthology (part of the Sacred Books of the East series) collects and categorizes. The Atharva Veda was written down much later than the rest of the Vedas, about 200 B.C.; it may have been composed about 1000 B.C.

Atharvaveda means the Veda of the Wise and the Old. It is associated with the name of the ancient poet Atharvan (The Wise Old One). It is also called Atharva-Angirasa, being associated with the name of another rishi, Angiras. Although later in age, the Atharvaveda reveals a more primitive culture than the Rigveda. The custom is to enumerate Yajurveda and Samaveda after the Rigveda, and mention Atharvaveda last. Atharvaveda contains about 6 thousand verses forming 731 poems and a small portion in prose. About one seventh of the Atharvaveda text is common to the Rigveda.

Atharvaveda contains first class poetry coming from visionary poets, much of it being glorification of the curative powers of herbs and waters. Many poems relate to diseases like cough and jaundice, to male and female demons that cause diseases, to sweet-smelling herbs and magic amulets, which drive diseases away. There are poems relating to sins and their atonement, errors in performing rituals and their expiatory acts, political and philosophical issues, and a wonderful hymn to Prithvi or Mother Earth.


The Upanishads are regarded as part of the Vedas and as such form part of the Hindu scriptures. They primarily discuss philosophy, meditation, and the nature of God; they form the core spiritual thought of Vedantic Hinduism. Considered as mystic or spiritual contemplations of the Vedas, their putative end and essence, the Upanishads are known as Vedanta (”the end/culmination of the Vedas”). The Upanishads do not belong to a particular period of Sanskrit literature. The oldest, such as the Brhadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads, may date to the Brahmana period (roughly before the 31st century BC; before Gita was constructed), while the youngest, depending on the canon used, may date to the medieval or early modern period.

The word Upanishad comes from the Sanskrit verb sad (to sit) and the two prepositions upa and ni (under and at). They are sacred tests of spiritual and philosophical nature. Vedic literature is divided into karmakanda containing Samhitas (hymns) and Brahmanas (commentaries), and gyanakanda containing knowledge in the form of the Aranyakas and Upanishads. Thus each Upanishad is associated with a Veda, Isha-upanishad with Shukla Yajurveda, Kena-upanishad with Samaveda, and so on.

The earliest Upanishads may have been composed between B.C. 800 and 400.There have been several later additions, leading to 112 Upanishads being available today. But the major Upanishads are ten, Isha, Kena, Kattha, Prashna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Shwetashwatara, Chhandogya and Brihadaryanyaka. The teachings of the Upanishads, and those of the Bhagavat Gita, form the basis of the Vedanta philosophy.

The Isha-upanishad emphasizes the identity of the human soul with the divine soul. The Kena-upanishad discusses the qualities of the divine essence (Brahman) and the relationship of the gods to the divine essence. The Katha-upanishad, through the story of Nachiketa, discussed death and the permanence of the soul (Atman). The fairly long Chhandogya-upanishad develops the idea of transmigration of souls. The rihadaryanaka -upanishad, the longest of the Upanishads, bears the message of the completeness of the divine essence, and the associated peace. As literary remnants of the ancient past, the Upanishads � both lucid and elegant – have great literary value.

The Upanishads are a continuation of the Vedic philosophy, and were written between 800 and 400 B.C. They elaborate on how the soul (Atman) can be united with the ultimate truth (Brahman) through contemplation and mediation, as well as the doctrine of Karma– the cumulative effects of a persons’ actions.

Upanishad means the inner or mystic teaching. The term Upanishad is derived from upa (near), ni (down) and s(h)ad (to sit), i.e., sitting down near. Groups of pupils sit near the teacher to learn from him the secret doctrine. In the quietude of the forest hermitages the Upanishad thinkers pondered on the problems of deepest concerns and communicated their knowledge to fit pupils near them. Samkara derives the word Upanishad as a substitute from the root sad, ‘to loosen.’ ‘to reach’ or ‘to destroy’ with Upa and ni as prefixes as termination. If this determination is accepted, Upanishad means Brahma-knowledge by which ignorance is loosened or destroyed. The treatises that deal with brahma-knowledge are called the Upanishads and so pass for the Vedanta. The different derivations together make out that the Upanishads give us both spiritual vision and philosophical argument. There is a core of certainty which is essentially incommunicable except by a way of life. It is by a strictly personal effort that one can reach the truth.

The Upanishads more clearly set forth the prime Vedic doctrines like Self-realization, yoga and meditation, karma and reincarnation, which were hidden or kept veiled under the symbols of the older mystery religion. The older Upanishads are usually affixed to a particularly Veda, through a Brahmana or Aranyaka. The more recent ones are not. The Upanishads became prevalent some centuries before the time of Krishna and Buddha.

The main figure in the Upanishads, though not present in many of them, is the sage Yajnavalkya. Most of the great teachings of later Hindu and Buddhist philosophy derive from him. He taught the great doctrine of “neti-neti”, the view that truth can be found only through the negation of all thoughts about it. Other important Upanishadic sages are Uddalaka Aruni, Shwetaketu, Shandilya, Aitareya, Pippalada, Sanat Kumara. Many earlier Vedic teachers like Manu, Brihaspati, Ayasya and Narada are also found in the Upanishads.


The Puranas are post-Vedic texts which typically contain a complete narrative of the history of the Universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of the kings, heroes and demigods, and descriptions of Hindu cosmology and geography. There are 17 or 18 canonical Puranas, divided into three categories, each named after a deity: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. There are also many other works termed Purana, known as ‘Upapuranas.’

The Epics

The Mahabharata and Ramayana are the national epics of India. They are probably the longest poems in any language. The Mahabharata, attributed to the sage Vyasa, was written down from 540 to 300 B.C. The Mahabharata tells the legends of the Bharatas, a Vedic Aryan group. The Ramayana, attributed to the poet Valmiki, was written down during the first century A.D., although it is based on oral traditions that go back six or seven centuries earlier. The Ramayana is a moving love story with moral and spiritual themes that has deep appeal in India to this day.

In addition, a key Hindu sacred text, the Bhagavad Gita, is embedded in Book Six of the Mahabharata.


The text of the Mahabharata with parallel Devanagari and Romanization Unicode.

The Ramayana

Rámáyan Of Válmíki

Srimad Valmiki Ramayana is an epic poem of India which narrates the journey of Virtue to annihilate voice. Sri Rama lived in Treta Yug, millennia BC. Srimad Valmiki Ramayana is composed of verses called Sloka, in Sanskrit language, which is an ancient language from India. Thus the structure of Srimad Valmiki Ramayana is arranged into six chapters. Ramayana contains 24,000 verses [sloka] arranged into numerous cantos [sarga] which are contained in six books as mentioned earlier.Characters from the Ramayana even existed. However, Sage Valmiki has recorded the dates if events in detail, albeit by describing the positions of stars and planets.

Abridged Versions

The popular story of Ruru and Priyumvada from the Mahabharata.

Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita, usually considered part of the sixth book of the Mahabharata (dating from about 400 or 300 B.C.), is a central text of Hinduism, a philosphical dialog between the god Krishna and the warrior Arjuna. This is one of the most popular and accessible of all Hindu scriptures, required reading for anyone interested in Hinduism. The Gita discusses selflessness, duty, devotion, and meditation, integrating many different threads of Hindu philosophy.

The Bhagavad Gita
Bhagavad Gita is revered as a sacred text of Hindu philosophy. The name ‘Bhagavad Gita’, when translated into English, literally means ‘Song of God’. Its written format is that of a poem which is 700 verses long.
Commonly referred to as The Gita, it is a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna which takes place on a battlefield, just prior to the start of a climactic war. During the conversation, Krishna proclaims that he is God and at the request of Arjuna, displays his divine form, which is described as timeless, that leaves the latter awestruck. The conversation summarizes a number of different Yogic and Vedantic philosophies, explaining the meaning and purpose of life and existence. It is not exactly clear when the Bhagavad Gita was written. Astronomical evidence cited in the Mahabharata place the incidents upon which the Gita is based around the time 3100-3150 BCE, while the Puranas suggest a date of c. 1924 BCE. Scholars place the actual writing of the Gita in the latter half of the 1st millennium BC (roughly 4th century BC), making it a contemporary of the older Upanishads.
The discourse on the Bhagavad Gita begins before the start of the climactic battle at Kurukshetra. It begins with the pandava prince Arjuna, as he becomes filled with doubt on the battlefield. Realising that his enemies are his own relatives, beloved friends, and revered teachers, he turns to his charioteer and guideKrishna counsels Arjuna, beginning with the tenet that the human Soul is immortal, and human death on the battlefield is just the shedding of the body, but the soul is permanent. Krishna goes on to expound on the yogic paths of devotion, action, meditation and knowledge. Fundamentally, the Bhagavad Gita proposes that true enlightenment comes from growing beyond identification with the Ego, the little Self, and that one must identify with the Truth of the immortal Self, the ultimate Divine Consciousness. Through detachment from the personal Ego, the Yogi, or follower of a particular path of Yoga, is able to transcend his mortality and attachment from the material world, and see the Infinite.To demonstrate the infinity of the unknowable Brahman, Krishna grants Arjuna the boon of cosmic vision (albeit temporary), and allows the prince to see Him in all his Divine Glory. He reveals that He is fundamentally both the ultimate essence of Being in the universe, and also its material body. This is called the Vishvarupa/Viratrupa.
Gita refers to the war as Dharma Yuddha, meaning just war. In chapter 4, verse 7, it clearly states that God takes incarnation to establish righteousness in the world.


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