The Vedas are a large body of religious text originating in ancient India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. Vedas are considered as the earliest literary records of Sanskrit Literature, written by Rishi Vyasa. It is bealived to be the oldest book in hinduism. Vedas means knowledge. It is a Sanskrit word from the root “Vid”, which means finding, knowing, acquiring, or understanding. The Vedas formed the earliest segment of Vedic literature. The Vedic literature had been evolved in the course of many centuries and was handed down from generation to generation by the word of mouth. The Vedas are the collection of hymns, prayers, charms, litanies, and sacrificial formulae. The ideas, teachings, and practices described in the Vedas formed the basis for the six major schools of Hindu philosophy – Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, and Vedanta.
- Rig Veda − It is the oldest Veda. It is a collection of hymns.
- Samveda − it is a collection of songs, which are mostly taken from Rig Veda.
- Yajurveda − It is a collection of sacrificial formulae.
- Atharvanaveda − it is a collection of spells and charms.
The Rig Veda serves as the principal one and all three but the Arthaveda agree with one another in form, language, and content. Each Veda has been subclassified into four major text types or four portions.
- The Samhitas, the most ancient layer of text in the Vedas, consisting of mantras, hymns, prayers, and benedictions which has in literary terms put together or joined the other three texts;
- The Aranyakas which constitute the philosophy behind the ritual sacrifice,
- The Brahmanas which in turn has the commentary on hymns of four Vedas and
- The Upanishads, which consist of conversations between teachers and students which clarify the philosophical message of the Vedas.
The Rigveda Samhita is the oldest extant Indic text. It is a collection of 1,028 Vedic Sanskrithymns and 10,600 verses in all, organized into ten books. The hymns are dedicated to Rigvedic deities. Two Sanskrit words Rig and Veda constituting it translates to ‘praise or shine’ and ‘knowledge’ respectively
Like the other three Vedas, the believers of the Hindu dharma regard the Rig Veda too as Apauruṣeya; meaning, not of a man or impersonal and also not belonging to a particular author. The hymns and the verses were written by the Rishis (Sages) and as the ardent believers of the Sanatana dharma claim the revered Lord himself taught the Vedic hymns to the sages, who then handed them down through generations by word of mouth.
The Mandalas of the Rig Veda which are ten in number and were composed by poets from different priestly groups over a period of several centuries is structured based on clear principles The Rigveda is structured based on clear principles. The Veda begins with a small book addressed to Agni, Indra, Soma and other gods, all arranged according to decreasing total number of hymns in each deity collection; for each deity series, the hymns progress from longer to shorter ones, but the number of hymns per book increases. Finally, the meter too is systematically arranged from jagati and tristubh to anustubh and gayatri as the text progresses.
Rigveda, in contemporary Hinduism, has been a reminder of the ancient cultural heritage and point of pride for Hindus, with some hymns still in use in major rites of passage ceremonies. Musicians and dance groups celebrate the text as a mark of Hindu heritage, and these have remained popular among the Hindus for a long time. However, the contemporary Hindu beliefs are distant from the precepts in the ancient layer of Rigveda Samhitas.
The Samaveda Samhita consists of 1549 stanzas, taken almost entirely (except for 75 mantras) from the Rigveda. While its earliest parts are believed to date from as early as the Rigvedic period, the existing compilation dates from the post-Rigvedic Mantra period of Vedic Sanskrit, between c. 1200 and 1000 BCE or “slightly later,” roughly contemporary with the Atharvaveda and the Yajurveda.
The Samaveda samhita has two major parts. The first part includes four melody collections and the second part three verse “books”. A melody in the song books corresponds to a verse in the arcika books. Just as in the Rigveda, the early sections of Samaveda typically begin with hymns to Agni and Indra but shift to the abstract. Their meters shift also in a descending order. The songs in the later sections of the Samaveda have the least deviation from the hymns derived from the Rigveda.
In the Samaveda, some of the Rigvedic verses are repeated. Including repetitions, there are a total of 1875 verses numbered in the Samaveda recension translated by Griffith. Two major recensions have survived, the Kauthuma/Ranayaniya and the Jaiminiya. Its purpose was liturgical, and they were the repertoire of the “singer” priests.
Yajur Veda, of Sanskrit origin, is composed of Yajus and Veda; the two words translate to ‘prose mantras dedicated to religious reverence or veneration’ and knowledge respectively. Third of the fourth canonical texts of the Hindu dharma, this liturgical collection is famous as the ‘book of rituals’. Of the ancient Vedic text, it is a compilation of ritual offering formulas or the prose mantras to be chanted or muttered repeatedly by a priest while an individual performs the ascertained ritual actions before the sacrificial fire or the Yajna.
The earliest and most ancient layer of Yajurveda samhita includes about 1,875 verses, that are distinct yet borrow and build upon the foundation of verses in Rigveda. Unlike the Samaveda which is almost entirely based on Rigveda mantras and structured as songs, the Yajurveda samhitas are in prose and linguistically, they are different from earlier Vedic texts. The Yajur Veda has been the primary source of information about sacrifices during Vedic times and associated rituals.
The Yajurveda is broadly grouped into Krishna Yajurveda and Shukla Yajurveda, also referred to as the Black Yajurveda and the latter as the White. In reference to the verses of the Krishna Yajurveda being un-arranged, unclear, and disparate or dissimilar, the collection is too often referred to as Black Yajurveda. In contrast, the well-arranged and imparting a particular meaning, the Shukla Yajurveda is known as the White Yajurveda.
Yajurveda, in contemporary Hinduism, has been a reminder of the ancient cultural heritage and point of pride for Hindus. The text is a useful source of information about agriculture, economic, and social life during the Vedic era. The verse, translated from the Shukla Yajurveda, for example, lists the types of crops considered important in ancient India.
The Artharvaveda Samhita is the text ‘belonging to the Atharvan and Angirasa poets. It has about 760 hymns, and about 160 of the hymns are in common with the Rigveda. Most of the verses are metrical, but some sections are in prose. Two different versions of the text – the Paippalāda and the Śaunakīya – have survived into the modern times. The Atharvaveda was not considered as a Veda in the Vedic era, and was accepted as a Veda in late 1st millennium BCE. It was compiled last, probably around 900 BCE, although some of its material may go back to the time of the Rigveda, or earlier.
The Atharvaveda is sometimes called the “Veda of magical formulas”, an epithet declared to be incorrect by other scholars. The Samhita layer of the text likely represents a developing 2nd millennium BCE tradition of magico-religious rites to address superstitious anxiety, spells to remove maladies believed to be caused by demons, and herbs- and nature-derived potions as medicine. The text, states Kenneth Zysk, is one of oldest surviving record of the evolutionary practices in religious medicine and reveals the “earliest forms of folk healing of Indo-European antiquity”. Many books of the Atharvaveda Samhita are dedicated to rituals without magic, such as to philosophical speculations and to theosophy.
The Atharva veda has been a primary source for information about Vedic culture, the customs and beliefs, the aspirations and frustrations of everyday Vedic life, as well as those associated with kings and governance. The text also includes hymns dealing with the two major rituals of passage – marriage and cremation. The Atharva Veda also dedicates significant portion of the text asking the meaning of a ritual.