What is written in the Vedas?

By Sunil Kumar

The Vedas are among the earliest literary compilations on the planet; and were probably composed on the banks of the Saraswati river.

There are 4 Vedas and 108 Upanishads currently.(1180 originally). They have been regarded as “apaurusheya”(revelations, eternal, not of human origin). “Veda” literally means wisdom; and the main ones are the Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda.

The Rig Veda is one of the oldest religious te...

The Rig Veda is one of the oldest religious texts. This Rig Veda manuscript is in Devanagari (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All Vedas consist of Samhitas(hymns), Brahmanas(rituals), Aranyakas and Upanishads(philosophical discussions). As the Upanishads are the concluding part of the Vedas; they are called Vedanta; the essence of Vedic teaching. For example; stories on the senses, self, Nachiketa asking Yama, Yajnavalkya etc.

The Rig-Veda is a ‘samhita’ or collection of mantras consists of 1,017 hymns ( ‘suktas’ ), covering about 10,600 stanzas, divided into eight ‘astakas’ or 10 mandalas each having eight ‘adhayayas’ ( chapters ), which are again sub-divided into various groups.

Mandalas two to eight contain groups of hymns, each group ascribed to one author or member of a particular Rishi family. The ninth Mandala contains the hymns sung at the soma ceremonies. The first and tenth Mandalas are somewhat different in their language and thought to be composed by a larger variety of individual authors.

Each Veda has two distinct portions, namely mantra and brahmana.

Description of the mantra section: It contains hymns to the fire, the sun, the air, the sky and the wind or to the respective deities who personify these elements.

The brahmana section contains descriptions of the rituals and ceremonies in which the mantras were supposed to be used. It also gives historical explanations in connection with the mantras.

The mantras are of three types, 1. Rc(Ric: Sanskrit word), 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. Saman(hymns of praise), which are in metre, and intended for chanting at the Soma ceremonies.

Aranyakas(literally forest born) are closely related to the brahmanas; and the Upanishads are considered to be attached to them; with their stories of rishis dwelling in forests etc. On a deeper note; they are a quest to understand the self, realization of the soul; Brahman(eternal consciousness) etc.

The Sama Veda is a collection of melodies(saman).The Yajur Veda was made to meet the demands of a ceremonial religion; Vedic sacrifices(yajnas). The Yajur Veda practically served as a guidebook for the priests who execute sacrificial acts(largely fire oblations) muttering simultaneously the prose prayers and the sacrificial formulae (‘yajus’).

The Atharvaveda is composed in Vedic Sanskrit, and it is a collection of 730 hymns with about 6,000 mantras, divided into 20 books. Some deal with magic formulae of the time. Many books of the Atharvaveda Samhita are dedicated to rituals without magic and to theosophy(discussion of the divine).

A large part of Vedic tradition is supposed to have been lost over thousands of years. Upavedas; such as Ayurveda(medicine), Dhanurveda(archery) etc, Vedanga, Smritis etc are all connected to the same stream of Vedic thought.


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