WHAT ARE THE VEDAS ?
Vedas means knowledge .It is a Sanskrit word which means finding ,knowing ,acquiring or understanding. Vedas are the oldest Sanskrit literature which exists since time immemorial .Vedas consists of the spiritual knowledge which was transferred orally from ancient generations of enlightened sages .
Vedas are also called Shruti ( which are heard ) distinguishing them from other religious scriptures which are called Smritis ( which are remembered) .What was learned by the ancient sages through deep meditation ( thousands of years) was transferred to the next generations orally in the form of sound or vibration .Therefore the true meaning of Vedic literature can only be understood in the form of vibration .The written form is just a symbolisation of the original knowledge .
CLASSIFICATION OF VEDAS
There are four Vedas – Riga Veda Yajur Veda ,Sama Veda ,Atharva Veda . Riga Veda is attributed to be the oldest one .
The structure of Vedic Sanskrit text includes the following parts :
SAMHITAS – It is the collection of Mantras .This is the oldest layer of Vedic texts. The Samhitas contain invocations to dieties like Indra and Agni .The four Samhitas ( which are same as the four Vedas ) consists of 72000 padas ( metrical feet) .
BRAHMANAS – Consists of prose texts that explains the content of the Samhitas. The Brahmanas may either form separate texts or can be partly integrated into the text of the Samhitas.
ARANYAKAS-These were composed by people who meditated in the forests .It contains the discussions and interpretations of ceremonies from ritualistic point of view .
UPANISHADS -Contain the conversation between teachers and students .They are the foundation of Hindu philosophical thought and its diverse traditions.
BRIEF SUMMARY OF FOUR VEDAS
1. RIGVEDA –
The Rigveda Samhita is the oldest Indian text .It contains 1028 hymns and 10,600 altogether . These hymns are dedicated to the Rigvedic Gods. It is structured based on clear principles .It begins with a small book addressed to Agni, Indra,Soma and other Gods. The meter of hymn is systematically arranged from jagati and tristubh to anustubh and gayatri as the text progresses.
As the text progresses the nature of hymns changes from praises of dieties to revealing the ancient lifestyle and culture of people . The society believed in one supreme God ,who was considered to be present in everyone .Although the people agreed on different manifestation of Supreme soul, the Brahman .
Later the texts questions about the origin of the universe.The question was ” Why did the universe exist, rather than how did the universe exist”. It also deals with other metaphysical issues of the society .
The interesting fact about Vedas is that it is percieved by common people that Vedas tells about Gods,but the reality is that Vedas only show us the path in which we can experience the God . These texts are more focussed on making the learner inquisitive about human existence rather than filling preconcieved ideas into the mind.
“Who really knows, and who can swear, How creation came, when or where! Even gods came after creation's day, Who really knows and who can truly say, When and how did creation start? Did He do it? Or did He not? Only He, up there, knows, maybe; Or perhaps, not even He.”
Samaveda ,consists of 1594,which are directly borrowed from Rigveda ,except few. It is divided into two parts .The first part includes four melody collections(song book) and second part includes three verse books (Archika).
A melody in the song book corresponds to a verse in the Archika .
Samaveda can be considered as a musical presentation of the hymns of Rigveda. The early sections of Samaveda begins with the praisings of Gods and later shifts to abstract ideas .Its purpose is to present the methods of public worship.
The very essence of classical Indian music and dance tradition is rooted in the sonic and musical dimensions of the Sama-Veda itself.It also explains the method of playing the musical instruments. To summarise the Sama veda in a single line , it has been a reminder of the majestic ancient cultural heritage and a point of pride for Hindus .It provides literature that is still the basis of Indian Music traditions.
Yajurveda is a compilation of ritual offering mantras that were said by priests during yajnas or religious sacrifices .Yajurveda is believed to be contemporary to Atharvaveda and the ancient Kuru kingdom .
Yajurveda has been the primary source of rituals during the early vedic rituals and sacrifices .The verses are linguistically distinguished from Rigveda ,but find its basis from Rigveda only. The youngest part of Yajurveda is not related to yajnas and it consists of largest collection of primary Upanishads,which are the basis of knowledge of many Hindu philosophical schools.
Yajurveda is mainly divided into two parts : Krishna Yajurveda and Shukla Yajurveda. The verses of Krishna Yajurveda are unarranged and unclear . At the same time Shukla Yajurveda are well arranged and conveys a clear meaning.
May my rice plants and my barley, and my beans and my sesame, and my kidney-beans and my vetches, and my pearl millet and my proso millet, and my sorghum and my wild rice, and my wheat and my lentils, prosper by sacrifice. – Shukla Yajurveda 18.12.
It is sometimes called ‘The Vedas of Magical formulas ‘. It is the fourth and final of the revered text of Hindu Dharma and depicted as the ‘ Knowledge storehouse of Atharvāṇas” Atharvāṇas meaning, formulas, and spells intended to counteract diseases and calamities. It is mostly considered as a discrete scriptures and not in coordination with the other three Vedas.
The Samhita layer of this text describes the growing 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.It contains of the record of evolutionary practices in religious medicines and and reveals the earliest form of folk healing.
It has been a primary source of information about Vedic culture ,the customs and beliefs ,the aspirations and frustrations of daily Vedic life as well as those associated with king and governance .
The study of Sanskrit in the west began in the 17th century.Thereafter the english translation of Vedas was published in the nineteenth century,