A Brief Introduction to the Vedas

The Vedas, which literally mean "knowledge," are Hinduism's oldest known sacred literature written in Sanskrit. They first appeared in ancient India around 2000 B.C.E. with the arrival of the Aryans.

vedas

The Vedas are widely regarded to be ‘Apaurusheya’ or authorless, as the knowledge is believed to have been received by the sages directly from the Divine source while they were in deep meditation. This is the knowledge of the entire cosmos that was orally passed down from a Guru to his shishya (student). The Gurus chose only certain people as their shishyas, who they thought were capable to correctly understand, retain and apply their teachings. The shishyas had to memorize all the Vedas exactly as they were taught to them in order to preserve their essence, and continue the tradition of the guru-shishya parampara. Centuries late, the Vedas were finally documented and compiled by Ved Vyasa between 1500-500 BC. Historians refer to this period as the Vedic Age.


TYPES OF VEDAS

The Vedas are essentially divided into 4 parts, containing prayers, hymns, praises, and religious instruction:


Rig Veda

The Sanskrit word ‘Rig’ means to praise, and ‘Veda’ refers to knowledge. It is the most ancient of all the Vedic scriptures. Divided into 10 books or mandalas, it consists of 1,028 hymns and 10,600 verses as well as the famous Gayatri Mantra. These hymns are the reflections of the divine vibrations that the sages experienced. They are chanted to invoke the Almighty to provide strength and courage in the face of both internal and external evil.


The Rig Veda encourages the worship of the five forces of nature, which also make up the human body, such as Earth (Prithvi), water (Jalam), fire (Agni), wind (Vayu), and sky (Akash). Deities like Indra, Soma, Agni, Varuna, and Mitra, are the primary deities who are thought to be avatars of the all-pervading Brahman.


The Rig Veda, as a scripture, contains details about the origin of the universe, the purpose of human existence, the way of life, and attempts to answer deep existential questions that are rarely addressed.


Sama Veda

It comprises 1,549 verses and includes two segments: a collection of four melodies called 'Saman' and another collection of verses and hymns called 'Arcika'.


This scripture, also known as the 'Book of Songs,' adds a musical touch to the hymns chanted from the Rig Veda. During those times, Hindu priests sang sacred songs during religious ceremonies, which helped to establish the Indian classical music and dance traditions that are still practised today. This Veda also specifies the rules and regulations for playing ancient musical instruments like the veena or harmonium. The melodies are thought to inspire dance, which, when combined with the lyrics, elevates and uplifts the soul.


Yajur Veda

The Yajur Veda comprises Yajus, which are sacred mantras sung during religious sacrifices and ceremonies. It is a compilation of the correct methods of chanting mantras and performing religious rituals. Generally, such rituals were performed by an individual before the sacrificial fire or the Yajna, with a specific goal in mind. Its aim was not only to serve as a guidebook for religious ceremonies, but also to encourage the general public to participate in them with full awareness. Due to its practical application, Yajur Veda is the most followed of the four Vedic scriptures and is still used by Hindu priests during religious ceremonies.


The 'Book of Rituals' is divided into two sections: Krishna Yajur Veda, also known as Taittiriya, and Shukla Yajur Veda, also known as Vajasaneyi. The Krishna Yajurveda (black) refers to parts of the text that are ambiguous and poorly organised, whereas the Shukla Yajurveda (white) verses are much clearer and more systematically organised. In comparison to Rig Veda, Yajur Veda is new and is written in a simpler language.


Atharva Veda

The final of the four Vedas is the Atharva Veda, also known as the "Veda of Magical Formulas." Because this Vedic text differs greatly from the previous three scriptures in terms of writing style, language, and content, some historians do not even consider it to be a Veda.


It teaches a variety of spells, prayers, and hymns that are used to treat and heal various illnesses, extend one's lifespan, and ward off evil spirits with black magic, among other things. It is divided into 20 books and contains one of the earliest speculations on medicine and surgery, as well as 730 hymns and 6,000 mantras. Dentistry, embryology, plastic surgery, fracture treatment, and the use of herbal medicines were among the many disciplines studied.


STRUCTURE OF THE VEDAS

Each Veda includes four major parts:


Samhitas

The Samhitas are the first part of each of the Vedic texts. It constitutes mantras or hymns dedicated to deities and the natural world. People in those times worshipped the elements of nature as deities. They observed their environment very carefully and saw that each element played a distinct role in maintaining a balance in the universe.


Brahmanas

The Brahmanas compose the second section of the Vedas. They are prose commentaries that try to explain the significance of rituals and sacrifices mentioned in the Samhitas. The mantras became more difficult to understand for younger generations as time passed. Hence, it became necessary to provide a detailed explanation of the situation. Consequently, the Brahmanas'are self-explanotary in style. 

Aranyakas

The Aranyakas are the third section of the Vedas and serve as a bridge between the ritualistic Brahmanas and the philosophical Upanishads. They were created by the ascetics, who migrated to the forests in search of spiritual fulfillment. The lack of resources in the forests forced them to devise a new way to continue their sadhana, as they were unable to carry out the conventional yajnas or perform rituals. That is when the Aranyakas were created to serve as a guide to meditation. These texts do not place a high value on rituals and sacrifices, preferring to focus on philosophy and meditation instead.


Upanishads

The term "Upanishad" literally means "sitting at the feet of your Guru" to receive knowledge. They are frequently referred to as 'Vedanta,' which literally means "the end of the Vedas." Written in prose as well as verse form, these texts deal with philosophy, meditation and address ontological questions over rituals and sacrifices. They are generally discussions between a Guru and a shishya on complex topics. Usually, the disciple poses a question, and the master answers it.


The Upanishads hone the human psyche through discussions of Universal Consciousness, Soul, the cycle of birth and rebirth, liberation, and the universe as a whole. This encourages students to consider their purpose for being in this world and to live meaningful lives.


There are 200 known Upanishads, of which only 108 are currently available. Aitereya (Rig Veda), Kena (Sama Veda), Isha (Shukla Yajur Veda), Katha (Krishna Yajur Veda), and Prashna are some popular Upanishads (Atharva Veda). Mundaka, Mandukya, Chhandogya, Brihadaranyaka, and Taittiriya are among the others.


The Vedas help humans become aware of their true nature. The knowledge it contains is as old as time and was received directly from the Universal Consciousness by the sages. It aids in distinguishing between what is right and wrong, true and false. Giving a human form to principles and ideas, such as Indra, Agni or Varuna, makes us relate to them and inculcate those principles. The main aim of the Vedas is to help the seeker find balance in different aspects of his/her life to reach higher spiritual goals.


pratha-divya

AUTHOR

Divya Balvally

Pratha Content Writing Intern


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