The Vedas

The Vedas

The guiding force of Hinduism is its belief in the infallible word of God, the Vedas. Veda is the general term to refer to the whole corpus of the hymns, psalms, praises compiled by the various Rishis. Hindus believe that Vedas are revealed texts i.e., the knowledge revealed by God and hence there is not an iota of data in it which can be questionable. The sages who had attained the status of Rishis due to the virtue of their intense penances were chosen by God to be the promulgators of His knowledge. In course of time, due to the multitude of knowledge and the lack of competence on part of man to master the entire corpus, Krishna Dvaipaayana, the son of Rishi Paraashara segregated the contents of Vedas into four distinctive divisions, namely Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Saama Veda, and Atharva Veda. It is not that such a division was unknown in the past, but it was due to the absolute methodical arrangement of Rishi Dvaipaayana, that he came to be known as Veda Vyaasa i.e. the ‘Editor of the Vedas’.

Vedas are likewise called sruti writing, recognizing them from different religious writings, which are called smṛti. The Veda, for standard Indian scholars, are considered disclosures seen by antiquated sages after extraordinary contemplation, and writings that have been all the more deliberately saved since old circumstances. In the Hindu epic of the Mahabharata, the making of Vedas is credited to Brahma. The Vedic songs themselves affirm that they were skillfully made by Rishis (sages), after enlivened inventiveness, similarly as a craftsman fabricates a chariot.

Each Veda has four sections (Angas) namely Mantra (Samhita), Braahmana, Aaranyaka and Upanishad. The Mantra / Samhita portions are concerned with the praises and hymns addressed to the deities of the Vedic pantheon.

Brahmanas are the portions enjoining the usage of the mantras in the various Yajnyas i.e., sacrifices. Vedic religion believes in Tyaaga i.e. giving up the sense of ownership on one’s possessions. The idea behind the Yajnya, derived from the root ‘Yaj’, was to prompt a man to sacrifice, for the sake of the larger interest of the world as well for one’s own prosperity. There were different sacrifices, called Srauta Yajnyas with different methodologies of performances. The Brahmana portions elaborated the usage of mantras and explained the methodology of the sacrifices.

Aranyakas mark the shift of emphasis from action towards poise of inquiry. Aranyakas seek to know the significance of the sacrifices, their symbolic interpretation, and the role of sacrifices in spiritual development.

What began as a quest in the Aaranyakas, attained its culmination in the Upanishads. Upanishads, literally meaning sitting near the teacher / Supreme Brahman/knowledge, to attain the Ultimate Truth regarding the life of an individual. The Upanishads contain the key to the philosophical truth which unravels itself in the conversations between the teacher and students. Upanishads may be considered as raizon de etre of not only Vedic religion but of the entire world, for one can see the roots of almost all western or eastern philosophies in the Upanishadic lore.

The Vedic texts were thus classified into four, with almost every Veda having their four-fold divisions. There were many recensions Shaakhaas (Branches) for each Veda.

Rig Veda :

This may be considered as stated by famous IndologistProf. Max Muller as “The Oldest Book in the Library of the World”.

The books were composed by poets from different priestly groups over a period of several centuries from roughly the second half of the 2nd millennium BC, starting with the Punjab (Sapta Sindhu) region of the northwest Indian subcontinent. The Rigveda is structured based on clear principles the Veda begins with a small book addressed to Agni, Indra, and other gods, all arranged according to decreasing the total number of hymns in each deity collection.

Yajur Veda :

The ‘Yajur’ derives its name from the emphasis its contents lay on the performance of the Yajna. The contents of Yajur Veda are mainly prosaic and deal especially with the performances of the various Vedic sacrifices called Srauta Yajnas.

There are two major groups of texts in this Veda: the "Black" (Krishna) and the "White" (Shukla). The term "black" implies "the un-arranged, motley collection" of verses in Yajurveda, in contrast to the "white" (well arranged) Yajurveda. The White Yajurveda separates the Samhita from its Brahmana (the Shatapatha Brahmana), the Black Yajurveda intersperses the Samhita with Brahmana commentary. Of the Black Yajurveda, texts from four major schools have survived (Maitrayani, Katha, Kapisthala-Katha, Taittiriya), while of the White Yajurveda, two (Kanva and Madhyandina). The youngest layer of Yajurveda text is not related to rituals nor sacrifice, it includes the largest collection of primary Upanishads, influential to various schools of Hindu philosophy.

It has two predominant schools i.e. Krishna Yajur Veda and Shukla Yajur Veda. The legend goes that Sage Yajnyavalkya received the instructions directly from the Lord Surya, hence the Veda is called Shukla Yajur Veda (Shukla: meaning – Bright)

Saama Veda :

The term ‘Saman’ refers to musical notes. The Veda is so named as the mantras of Rig Veda are put to ‘tunes’ and are recited during the sacrifices. The origin of Indian classical music is traced to the Saamans (hymns).
The Samaveda Samhita[86] consists of 1549 stanzas, taken almost entirely (except for 75 mantras) from the Rigveda. The Samaveda Samhita has two major parts. The first part includes four melody collections and the second part is three verse “books”. A melody in the songbooks 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 descending order. The songs in the later sections of the Samaveda have the least deviation from the hymns derived from the Rigveda.

Atharva Veda :

The last of the quartet, Atharva is named after the Rishi Atharva Aangiras. This Veda is generally misconceptualised as dealing with black magic, owing to ignorance of what the occult stands for. It deals with certain practices to keep the general populace safe from external disturbance using cryptic hymns. It is one of the best-known records of the Indian knowledge system with regard to the understanding of Nature that Nature is not ‘for man’ but man is a ‘part of nature.

Amongst the various mantras of Atharva Veda, Ganapati Atharvasheersha, Devi Atharvasheersha are regarded important as they infuse the life force of the deities into the image worshipped or accelerate the Siddhi (Mastery) of the Mantra of the deity.

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 a significant portion of the text to ask the meaning of a ritual.

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