Hamro dharma

Vedas and types

The Vedas

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1. 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.

2. 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.

3. The Vedas are the ancient scriptures or revelation (Shruti) of the Hindu teachings. They manifest the Divine Word in human speech. They reflect into human language the language of the Gods, the Divine powers that have created us and which rule over us.

There are four Vedas, each consisting of four parts. The primary portion is the mantra or hymn section (samhita). To this are appended ritualistic teachings (brahmana) and theological sections (aranyaka). Finally philosophical sections (upanishads) are included. The hymn sections are the oldest. The others were added at a later date and each explains some aspect of the hymns or follows one line of interpreting them.

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.

4. 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

Organization
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.

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Rig Ved

1. 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.

2. The Rig Veda is the oldest of the Vedas. All the other Vedas are based upon it and consist to a large degree of various hymns from it. It consists of a thousand such hymns of different seers, each hymn averaging around ten verses. The Rig Veda is the oldest book in Sanskrit or any Indo-European language. Its date is debatable. Many great Yogis and scholars who have understood the astronomical references in the hymns, date the Rig Veda as before 4000 B.C., perhaps as early as 12,000. Modern western scholars tend to date it around 1500 B.C., though recent archeological finds in India (like Dwaraka) now appear to require a much earlier date. While the term Vedic is often given to any layer of the Vedic teachings including the Bhagavad Gita, technically it applies primarily to the Rig Veda.

The Rig Veda is the book of Mantra. It contains the oldest form of all the Sanskrit mantras. It is built around a science of sound which comprehends the meaning and power of each letter. Most aspects of Vedic science like the practice of yoga, meditation, mantra and Ayurveda can be found in the Rig Veda and still use many terms that come from it.

While originally several different versions or rescensions of the Rig Veda were said to exist, only one remains. Its form has been structured in several different ways to guarantee its authenticity and proper preservation through time.

Sama Veda

1. 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.

2. The Sama Veda is the Yoga of Song. It consists of various hymns of the Rig Veda put to a different and more musical chant. Hence the text of the Sama Veda is a reduced version of the Rig Veda.

Its secret is in its musical annotation and rendering. The Sama Veda represents the ecstasy of spiritual knowledge and the power of devotion. The Rig Veda is the word, the Sama Veda is the song or the meaning. The Rig Veda is the knowledge, the Sama Veda its realization. Hence the two always go together like husband and wife. The Rig Veda is the wife and the Sama is the husband.

Yajur Veda

1. 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.�

2. The Yajur Veda seen by the outer vision is the Veda of ritual. On an inner level, it sets forth a yogic practice for purifying the mind and awakening the inner consciousness.

Several versions of the Yajur Veda exist, which differ in a number of respects. It was the main Veda used by the priests in ancient India and has much in common with the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Its deities are the same as the Rig Veda. The purpose of the ritual is to put together and recreate within ourselves the Cosmic Man or Indra. The ritual is to recreate the universe within our own psyche and thereby unite the individual with the universal. Its series of sacrifices culminate in the Atmayajna or the self-sacrifice wherein the ego is offered up to the Divine. While the lesser sacrifices win the lesser worlds, the Self-sacrifice wins all the worlds and gains the greatest gift of immortality.

Atharva Veda

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. The Atharva Veda is the last of the Vedas. It has not always been accepted as a Veda, which are often spoken of as three. It still contains many hymns from the Rig Veda but also has some more popular magic spells which are outside of the strictly ritual-knowledge orientation of the other Vedas.

Like the Rig Veda it is a collection of hymns but of a more diverse character, some very exalted like the Rig Veda others of more common nature. As such it gives us a better idea of the life of common people in Vedic times.

Atharvan is also an important figure in the Zoroastrian religion. Atar is the Persian name for fire and the Atharvan is the fire priest. The deities of the Atharva Veda are also the same as the Rig Veda although Rudra-Shiva assumes a more visible role. The language is a little simpler and less variable in its forms.

The Vedas (Sanskrit véda वेद “knowledge”) are a large corpus of texts originating in Ancient India. They form the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature[1] and the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism.[2]

According to Hindu tradition, the Vedas are apauruṣeya “not human compositions”[3], being supposed to have been directly revealed, and thus are called śruti (“what is heard”).[4][5] Vedic mantras are recited at Hindu prayers, religious functions and other auspicious occasions.

Philosophies and sects that developed in the Indian subcontinent have taken differing positions on the Vedas. Schools of Indian philosophy which cite the Vedas as their scriptural authority are classified as “orthodox” (āstika). Other traditions, notably Buddhism and Jainism, though they are (like the vedanta) similarly concerned with liberation did not regard the Vedas as divine ordinances but rather human expositions of the sphere of higher spiritual knowledge, hence not sacrosanct. These groups are referred to as “heterodox” or “non-orthodox” (nāstika) schools.[6] In addition to Buddhism and Jainism, Sikhism also does not accept the authority of the Vedas.

Etymology and usage

The Sanskrit word véda “knowledge, wisdom” is derived from the root vid- “to know”. This is reconstructed as being derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *u̯eid-, meaning “see” or “know”.[9]

As a noun, the word appears only in a single instance in the Rigveda, in RV 8.19.5, translated by Griffith as “ritual lore”:

yáḥ samídhā yá âhutī / yó védena dadâśa márto agnáye / yó námasā svadhvaráḥ
“The mortal who hath ministered to Agni with oblation, fuel, ritual lore, and reverence, skilled in sacrifice.”

The noun is from PIE *u̯eidos, cognate to Greek (ϝ)εἶδος “aspect, form”. Not to be confused is the homonymous 1st and 3rd person singular perfect tense véda, cognate to Greek (ϝ)οἶδα (w)oida “I know”. Root cognate are Greek ἰδέα, English wit, witness, German wissen (to know, knowledge), Swedish veta (to know), Latin video (I see), Czech vím (I know) or vidím (I see), Dutch weten (to know).[10]

In its narrowest sense, the term Veda is used to refer to the Samhitas (collection of mantras, or chants) associated with the four canonical Vedas (Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda) though typically the reference also includes the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads attached to the Samhitas. In post-Vedic speculation, the term was further extended to refer to Itihasas (epics) and Puranas, each of which is sometimes designated as the “fifth Veda”; and in its widest interpretation, Veda can subsume “potentially all brahmanical texts, teachings and practices.”[11] In its primary meaning, as a common noun meaning “knowledge””, veda can also be used to refer to fields of study unrelated to liturgy or ritual, freely compounded e.g. in agada-veda “medical science”, sasya-veda “science of agriculture” or sarpa-veda “science of snakes”; durveda means “without knowledge, ignorant”.

Dating

Main article: Vedic period

The Vedas are arguably the oldest sacred texts that are still used. Most Indologists agree that an oral tradition existed long before a literary tradition gradually sets in from about the 2nd century BCE.[12] Due to the ephemeral nature of the manuscript material (birch bark or palm leaves), surviving manuscripts rarely surpass an age of a few hundred years. The oldest surviving manuscripts of the Rigveda are dated to the 11th century CE.

The Vedic period lasts for at least a millennium, spanning the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Gavin Flood[13] sums up mainstream estimates, according to which the Rigveda was compiled from as early as 1500 BCE over a period of several centuries. The Vedic period reaches its peak only after the composition of the mantra texts, with the establishment of the various shakhas all over Northern India which annotated the mantra samhitas with Brahmana commentaries, and reaches its end in the age of Buddha and Panini and the rise of the Mahajanapadas (archaeologically, Northern Black Polished Ware). Michael Witzel gives a time span of c. 1500 BCE to c. 500-400 BCE. Witzel makes special reference to the Mitanni material of ca. 1400 BCE as the only epigraphic record of Indo-Aryan that may date to the Rigvedic period, admitting this does still not allow for an absolute dating of any Vedic text. He gives 150 BCE (Patanjali) as a terminus ante quem for all Vedic Sanskrit literature, and 1200 BCE (the early Iron Age) as terminus post quem for the Atharvaveda.[14]

Categories of Vedic texts

Vedic texts are traditionally categorized into four classes: the Saṃhitās (mantras), Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads.[15][16] Also classified as “Vedic” is certain Sutra literature, i.e. the Shrautasutras and the Grhyasutras.

  • The Samhita (Sanskrit saṃhitā, “collection”), are collections of metric texts (“mantras“). There are four “Vedic” Samhitas: the Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda, Yajur-Veda, and Atharva-Veda, most of which are available in several recensions (śākhā). In some contexts, the term Veda is used to refer to these Samhitas. This is the oldest layer of Vedic texts, apart from the Rigvedic hymns, which were probably essentially complete by 1200 BC, dating to ca. the 12th to 10th centuries BC. The complete corpus of Vedic mantras as collected in Bloomfield‘s Vedic Concordance (1907) consists of some 89,000 padas (metric feet), of which 72,000 occur in the four Samhitas.[17]
  • The Brahmanas are prose texts that discuss, in technical fashion, the solemn sacrificial rituals as well as comment on their meaning and many connected themes. Each of the Brahmanas is associated with one of the Samhitas or its recensions. The Brahmanas may either form separate texts or can be partly integrated into the text of the Samhitas. They may also include the Aranyakas and Upanishads.
  • The Aranyakas, or “wilderness texts”, are the concluding part of the Brahmanas that contain discussions and interpretations of dangerous rituals (to be studied outside the settlement) and various sorts of additional materials.
  • The Upanishads are largely philosophical works in dialog form. They discuss question of nature philosophy and the fate of the soul, and contain some mystic and spiritual interpretations of the Vedas. For long, they have been regarded as their putative end and essence, and are thus known as Vedānta (“the end of the Vedas”). Taken together, they are the basis of the Vedanta school.

This group of texts is called shruti (Sanskrit: śruti; “the heard”). Since post-Vedic times it has been considered to be revealed wisdom, as distinct from other texts, collectively known as smriti (Sanskrit: smṛti; “the remembered”), that is texts that are considered to be of human origin. This system of categorization was developed by Max Müller and, while it is subject to some debate, it is still widely used. As Axel Michaels explains:

These classifications are often not tenable for linguistic and formal reasons: There is not only one collection at any one time, but rather several handed down in separate Vedic schools; Upanişads … are sometimes not to be distinguished from Āraṇyakas…; Brāhmaṇas contain older strata of language attributed to the Saṃhitās; there are various dialects and locally prominent traditions of the Vedic schools. Nevertheless, it is advisable to stick to the division adopted by Max Müller because it follows the Indian tradition, conveys the historical sequence fairly accurately, and underlies the current editions, translations, and monographs on Vedic literature.”[18]

The Shrauta Sutras, regarded as belonging to the smriti, are late Vedic in language and content, thus forming part of the Vedic Sanskrit corpus.[19][20] The composition of the Shrauta and Grhya Sutras (ca. 6th century BC) marks the end of the Vedic period , and at the same time the beginning of the flourishing of the “circum-Vedic” scholarship of Vedanga, introducing the early flowering of classical Sanskrit literature in the Maurya period.

While production of Brahmanas and Aranyakas ceases with the end of the Vedic period, there is a large number of Upanishads composed after the end of the Vedic period. While most of the ten mukhya Upanishads can be considered to date to the Vedic or Mahajanapada period, most of the 108 Upanishads of the full Muktika canon date to the Common Era. The Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads often interpret the polytheistic and ritualistic Samhitas in philosophical and metaphorical ways to explore abstract concepts such as the Absolute (Brahman), and the soul or the self (Atman), introducing Vedanta philosophy, the basis of later Hinduism.

Vedic schools or recensions

Main article: Shakha

Study of the extensive body of Vedic texts has been organized into a number of different schools or branches (Sanskrit śākhā, literally “branch” or “limb”) each of which specialized in learning certain texts.[21] Multiple recensions are known for each of the Vedas, and each Vedic text may have a number of schools associated with it. Elaborate methods for preserving the text were originally based on memorizing by heart instead of writing. Specific techniques for parsing and chanting the texts were used to assist in the memorization process. (See also: patha)

Exegetical literature developed in the Vedic schools but comparatively few early medieval commentaries have survived. Sayana, from the 14th century, is known for his elaborate commentaries on the Vedic texts. All classes (varna) in early Vedic society were allowed to study the Vedas and there were Vedic sages that authored the Vedas(Rishis)that were women. However, the later dharmashastras, from the Sutra age, dictate and women and Shudras were neither required nor allowed to study the Veda.[citation needed] These dharmashastras regard the study of the Vedas a religious duty of the three upper varnas (Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas).[citation needed]

The Four Vedas

Rigveda (padapatha) manuscript in Devanagari, early 19th century

Rigveda (padapatha) manuscript in Devanagari, early 19th century

The canonical division of the Vedas is fourfold (turīya) viz.,[22]

  1. Rig-Veda (RV)
  2. Yajur-Veda (YV, with the main division TS vs. VS)
  3. Sama-Veda (SV)
  4. Atharva-Veda (AV)

Of these, the first three were the principal original division, also called trayī, “the triple Vidyā“, that is, “the triple sacred science” of reciting hymns (RV), performing sacrifices (YV), and chanting (SV).[23][24] This triplicity is so introduced in the Brahmanas (ShB, ABr and others), but the Rigveda is the only original work of the three with the other two largely borrowing from it.

Thus, the Mantras are properly of three forms: 1. Ric, which are verses of praise in metre, and intended for loud recitation; 2. Yajus, which are in prose, and intended for recitation in a lower tone at sacrifices; 3. Sāman, which are in metre, and intended for chanting at the Soma ceremonies.

The Yajurveda and Samaveda are not so much independent collections of prayers and hymns as special prayer- and hymn-books intended as manuals for the Adhvaryu and Udgatr priests respectively.

Subsequently, the Atharvaveda was added as the fourth Veda. Its status was probably not completely accepted till after Manusmrti, which often speaks of the three Vedas, calling them trayam-brahma-sanātanam, “the triple eternal Veda”. The Atharvaveda like the Rigveda, is a collection of original hymns mixed up with incantations, borrowing little from the Rig and having no direct relation to sacrifices, but supposed by mere recitation to produce long life, to cure diseases, or effect the ruin of enemies.

Each of the four Vedas consists of the metrical Mantra or Samhita and the prose Brahmana part, giving directions for the detail of the ceremonies at which the Mantras were to be used and explanations of the legends connected with the Mantras. Both these portions are termed shruti, heard but not composed or written down by men. Each of the four Vedas seems to have passed through numerous Shakhas or schools, giving rise to various recensions of the text. They each have an Index or Anukramani, the principal work of this kind being the general Index or Sarvānukramaṇī.

The Rig-Veda

Main article: Rigveda

The Rig-Veda Samhita is the oldest significant existent Indian text.[25] It is a collection of 1,028 Vedic Sanskrit hymns and 10,600 verses in all, organized into ten books (Sanskrit: mandalas).[26] The hymns are dedicated to Rigvedic deities.[27]

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[28] According to Max Müller, 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.[29] Michael Witzel believes that the Rig Veda must have been composed more or less in the period 1450-1350 BCE.[30]

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.[31]

The Yajur-Veda

Main article: Yajurveda

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.

The Sama-Veda

Main article: Samaveda

The Sama-Veda (Sanskrit sāmaveda ) is the “Veda of chants” or “Knowledge of melodies”. The name of this Veda is from the Sanskrit word sāman which means a metrical hymn or song of praise.[32] It consists of 1549 stanzas, taken entirely (except 78) from the Rig-Veda.[33] 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.[34] Two major recensions remain today, the Kauthuma/Ranayaniya and the Jaiminiya.

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 udgātṛ, a word derived from the Sanskrit root ud-gai (“to sing” or “to chant”).[35] 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.

The Atharva-Veda

Main article: Atharvaveda

The Artharva-Veda is the “Knowledge of the [atharvans] (and Angirasa)”. The Artharva-Veda or Atharvangirasa is the text ‘belonging to the Atharvan and Angirasa’ poets. Apte defines an atharvan as a priest who worshipped fire and Soma.[36] The etymology of Atharvan is unclear, but according to Mayrhofer it is related to Avesta athravan (āθrauuan); he denies any connection with fire priests.[37] Atharvan was an ancient term for a certain Rishi even in the Rigveda. (The older literature took them as priests who worshipped fire).

The Atharva-Veda Saṃhitā has 760 hymns, and about 160 of the hymns are in common with the Rig-Veda.[38] Most of the verses are metrical, but some sections are in prose.[39]

It was compiled around 900 BCE, although some of its material may go back to the time of the Rig Veda,[40] and some parts of the Atharva-Veda are older than the Rig-Veda.[41]

The Atharvana-Veda is preserved in two recensions, the Paippalāda and Śaunaka.[42] According to Apte it had nine schools (shakhas).[43] The Paippalada version is longer than the Saunaka one; it is only partially printed and remains untranslated.

Unlike the other three Vedas, the Atharvana-Veda has less connection with sacrifice.[44][45] Its first part consists chiefly of spells and incantations, concerned with protection against demons and disaster, spells for the healing of diseases, and for long life.[46][47]

The second part of the text contains speculative and philosophical hymns. R. C. Zaehner notes that:

“The latest of the four Vedas, the Atharva-Veda, is, as we have seen, largely composed of magical texts and charms, but here and there we find cosmological hymns which anticipate the Upanishads, — hymns to Skambha, the ‘Support’, who is seen as the first principle which is both the material and efficient cause of the universe, to Prāna, the ‘Breath of Life’, to Vāc, the ‘Word’, and so on.[48]

In its third section, the Atharvaveda contains Mantras used in marriage and death rituals, as well as those for kingship, female rivals and the Vratya (in Brahmana style prose).

Gavin Flood discusses the relatively late acceptance of the Atharva-Veda as follows:

“There were originally only three priests associated with the first three Saṃhitās, for the Brahman as overseer of the rites does not appear in the Ṛg Veda and is only incorporated later, thereby showing the acceptance of the Atharva Veda, which had been somewhat distinct from the other Saṃhitās and identified with the lower social strata, as being of equal standing with the other texts.”[49]

Brahmanas

Further information: Brahmanas

The mystical notions surrounding the concept of “Veda” that would flower in Vedantic philosophy have their roots already in Brahmana literature, notably in the Shatapatha Brahmana. The Vedas are identified with Brahman, the universal principle (ŚBM 10.1.1.8, 10.2.4.6). Vāc “speech” is called the “mother of the Vedas” (ŚBM 6.5.3.4, 10.5.5.1). The knowledge of the Vedas is endless, compared to them, human knowledge is like mere handfuls of dirt (TB 3.10.11.3-5). The universe itself was originally encapsulated in the three Vedas (ŚBM 10.4.2.22 has Prajapati reflecting that “truly, all beings are in the triple Veda”).

Vedanta

Further information: VedantaUpanishads, and Aranyakas

While contemporary traditions continued to maintain Vedic ritualism (Shrauta, Mimamsa), Vedanta renounced all ritualism and radically re-interpreted the notion of “Veda” in purely philisophical terms. The association of the three Vedas with the bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ mantra is found in the Aitareya Aranyaka: “Bhūḥ is the Rigveda, bhuvaḥ is the Yajurveda, svaḥ is the Samaveda” (1.3.2). The Upanishads reduce the “essence of the Vedas” further, to the syllable Aum (). Thus, the Katha Upanishad has:

“The goal, which all Vedas declare, which all austerities aim at, and which humans desire when they live a life of continence, I will tell you briefly it is Aum” (1.2.15)

The Vedas in post-Vedic literature

Vedanga

Main article: Vedanga

Six technical subjects related to the Vedas are traditionally known as vedāṅga “limbs of the Veda”. V. S. Apte defines this group of works as:

“N. of a certain class of works regarded as auxiliary to the Vedas and designed to aid in the correct pronunciation and interpretation of the text and the right employment of the Mantras in ceremonials.”[50]

These subjects are treated in Sutra literature dating from the end of the Vedic period to Mauryan times, seeing the transition from late Vedic Sanskrit to Classical Sanskrit.

The six subjects of Vedanga are:

Puranas

A traditional view given in the Vishnu Purana (likely dating to the Gupta period[51]) attributes the current arrangement of four Vedas to the mythical sage Vedavyasa.[52]. Puranic tradition also postulates a single original Veda that, in varying accounts, was divided into three or four parts. According to the Vishnu Purana (3.2.18, 3.3.4 etc) the original Veda was divided into four parts, and further fragmented into numerous shakhas, by Vishnu in the form of Vyasa, in the Dvapara Yuga; the Vayu Purana (section 60) recounts a similar division by Vyasa, at the urging of Brahma. The Bhagavata Purana (12.6.37) traces the origin of the primeval Veda to the syllable aum, and says that it was divided into four at the start of Dvapara Yuga, because men had declined in age, virtue and understanding. In a differing account Bhagavata Purana (9.14.43) attributes the division of the primeval veda (aum) into three parts to the monarch Pururavas at the beginning of Treta Yuga. The Mahabharata (santiparva 13,088) also mentions the division of the Veda into three in Treta Yuga.[53]

Other “Vedas”

The term upaveda (“secondary knowledge”) is used in traditional literature to designate the subjects of certain technical works. They have no relation to the Vedas, except as subjects worthy of study despite their secular character. Lists of what subjects are included in this class differ among sources. The Charanavyuha mentions four Upavedas:

But Sushruta and Bhavaprakasha mention Ayurveda as an upaveda of the Atharvaveda. Sthapatyaveda (architecture), Shilpa Shastras (arts and crafts) are mentioned as fourth upaveda according to later sources.

Some post-Vedic texts, including the Mahabharata, the Natyasastra and certain Puranas, refer to themselves as the “fifth Veda“.[56] The earliest reference to such a “fifth Veda” is found in the Chandogya Upanishad. “Dravida Veda” is a term for canonical Tamil Bhakti texts.

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