The word Veda means Knowledge. Vedas are the earliest piece of literature that was written in the Sanskrit language. These were handed down from one generation to the other orally by the pandits who learned this from their ancestors. Even if there were no facilities to preserve the Vedas through the art of writing, it is preserved by transmitting to the generations orally. In Hindu culture, Vedas are considered spiritual and everlasting revelations. Vedas come under Shruti which means what is being heard. There are four Vedas, each of which was composed of different ages. However, it is believed that it always existed and sages chanted this in their deep meditative states. The four Vedas are – Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.
The earliest of Vedas is the Rig Veda. It is a set of 1028 hymns in Vedic Sanskrit. Many of those are beautiful descriptions of nature. The prayers in this seek prosperity and well developed and cultured society. It is believed that these compositions are the natural outburst of Vedic rishis when they went through the mental transcendental stage. Some of the prominent rishis of this period are Vasistha, Gautama, Gritasamada, Vamadeva, Vishvamitra and Atri. Indra, Agni, Varun, Rudra, Aditya, Vayu, Aditi, and Ashwini twins are the eminent gods of this Veda whereas Usha (the goddess of dawn), Vak (the goddess of speech), and Prithvi (the goddess of earth) are the notable goddess of the Rig Veda. Do you know that the majority of the hymns spoke of universally recognized higher values of life like truthfulness, honesty, dedication, sacrifice, politeness, and culture? Rig Veda also provides knowledge about the social, political, and financial conditions of ancient India apart from religion.
The word Yajur means sacrifice or veneration. This Veda is mostly related to Rites and mantras of different sacrifices. It tells the directions and ways to conduct the yajnas. It is a mixture of both prose and poetry. Being a treatise on rituals, it’s the foremost popular of the four Vedas. Yajur Veda has two main divisions called Shukla and Krishna Yajur Veda i.e., Vajasaneyi Samhita and Taitriya Samhita. This mainly talks about the social and religious aspects of India at that time.
The term Sama means melody or songs. This contains the tunes for the recitation of Hymns. Sama Veda is mainly of 16,000 ragas and raginis which means musical notes. Only 75 verses out of 1875 verses are original and others belong to the Rig Veda. However, the Sama Veda gives the tunes for the recitation of the hymns of the Rig Veda. It may be called the book of Chants (Saman). This book stands as evidence of Indian music during this era.
The Atharva Veda is also called the Brahma Veda. It talks about the treatment for ninety-nine diseases. This Veda is originated from the 2 rishis called Atharvah and Angiras. The Atharva Veda is of immense value because it represents the religious ideas at an early period of civilization. It consists of two main branches namely, Paipaddala and Saunaka. This book gives detailed information about the family, social and political life of the later Vedic period. To know the Vedas, it becomes mandatory to know the Vedangas, the limbs of the Vedas. The Vedangas talk about Siksha (education), Vyakarana (grammar), Kalpa (rituals), Nirukta (etymology), Chhanda (metrics), and Jyotisha (astronomy).
Each Veda is composed of 4 parts: The Mantra-Samhitas or hymns, The Brahmanas or explanations of Mantras or rituals, Aranyakas, and Upanishads. The division of the Vedas into four parts is to suit the four stages during a man’s life.