There are four Vedas – Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda.
Vedic literature is one of the best sources of Ancient Indian history. The Vedas have formed the Indian scripture. The ideas and practices of the Vedic religion are arranged by the Vedas, also form the basis of classical Hinduism.
What are Vedas?
The Vedas are the religious text which informs the religion of Hinduism. Hinduism is also known as Sanatan Dharma means “Eternal Order” or “Eternal Path”.
The term Veda means “knowledge” in that it is believed to hold the fundamental knowledge relating to the underlying cause of, the function of, and personal response to existence. They are regarded among the oldest, if not the oldest, religious works in the world.
The Four Vedas
“Rig Veda” is the first Veda. It is the oldest scripture written. Scholars deem this one to be the most important. Modern-day yoga scholars refer to it.
It is comprised of 10 books, or mandalas, that contain more than 1,000 hymns of devotion to the various Hindu deities.
There is a famous prayer in this Veda called the Purusha Shukta as well as the beloved Gayatri mantra.
Features of Rigveda
- It is the oldest form of Veda and the oldest known Vedic Sanskrit text(1800 – 1100 BCE).
- The meaning of the word ‘Rigveda’ is Praise Knowledge
- It has 10600 verses.
- Out of 10 books or mandalas, books number 1 and 10 are the youngest ones as they were written later than books 2 to 9.
- Rigvedic books 2-9 deal with cosmology and deities.
- Rigvedic books 1 and 10 deal with philosophical questions and also talk about various virtues including charity in society.
- Rigvedic books 2-7 are the oldest and shortest also called family books.
- Rigvedic books 1 & 10 are the youngest and longest.
- 1028 hymns deal with deities including Agni, Indra and are attributed and dedicated to a sage rishi.
- The ninth Rigvedic book/mandala is solely dedicated to Soma.
- The meters used to form hymns are Gayatri, Anushtubh, Trishtubh, and Jagati.
Samaveda dates back to 1200-800 BCE. It is more of a guidebook for the priests and contains rituals and ceremonial instructions. Priests would use this guidebook in ritual sacrifices. This Veda is made up of two parts: the “black” and “white”.
Features of Samaveda
- There are 1549 verses (except 75 verses, all have been taken from Rigveda).
- There are two Upanishads set in Samaveda – Chandogya Upanishad and Kena Upanishad.
- The Samaveda is considered the root of Indian classical music and dance.
- It is considered the storehouse of the musical chants.
- Though it has lesser verses than Rigveda, however, its texts are larger.
- There are three recensions of the text of the Samaveda – Kauthuma, Raṇayaniya, and Jaimaniya.
- Samaveda is classified into two parts – Part-I includes melodies called Gana & Part-II includes three verses book called Archika.
- Samaveda Samhita is not meant to be read as a text, it is like a musical score sheet that must be heard.
Stands to mean ‘Worship Knowledge’. Yajurveda dates back to 1100-800 BCE.
It is actually a book of chants and songs which were sung during ceremonial sacrifices. All the melodies in this particular book actually from the Rig Veda.
Features of Yajurveda
- It has two types – Krishna (Black/Dark) & Shukla (White/Bright).
- Krishna Yajurveda has an un-arranged, unclear, motley collection of verses.
- Shukla Yajurveda has arranged and clear verses.
- The oldest layer of Yajurveda has 1875 verses mostly taken up from Rigveda.
- The middle layer of the Veda has Satapatha Brahmana which is a commentary of Shukla Yajurveda.
- The youngest layer of Yajurveda consists of various Upanishads – Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Isha Upanishad, the Taittiriya Upanishad, the Katha Upanishad, the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, and the Maitri Upanishad.
- Vajasaneyi Samhita is the Samhita in the Shukla Yajurveda.
- There are four surviving recensions of the Krishna Yajurveda – Taittiriya saṃhita, Maitrayani saṃhita, Kaṭha saṃhita, and Kapisthala saṃhita.
Atharva Veda dates back to 1000-800 BCE. It includes all the mantras, spells and charms once used. It has a different feel to it than the other three Vedas and is sometimes considered to have its own spirit – making it unique in its own way. The Atharva Veda is said to portray a good picture of what Vedic life was all about long ago.
Features of Atharvaveda
- The daily procedures of life are very well enumerated in this Veda.
- It has 730 hymns/suktas, 6000 mantras, and 20 books.
- Paippalada and the Saunakiya are two surviving recensions of Atharvaveda.
- Called a Veda of magical formulas, it includes three primaries. Upanishads – Mundaka Upanishad, the Mandukya Upanishad, and the Prashna Upanishad
- The 20 books are arranged by the length of hymns they contain.
- Unlike Samaveda where hymns are borrowed from Rigveda, hymns of Atharvaveda are unique except a few.
- This Veda contains hymns many of which were charms and magic spells that are meant to be pronounced by the person who seeks some benefit, or more often by a sorcerer who would say it on his or her behalf.
>>> Read about Literary Sources of Ancient Indian History