Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Vedas

Rig Veda Manuscript
“Veda” means “knowledge.” The chief scriptures of the Vedic age were the four Vedas: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, and Atharva Veda. These were chiefly books of hymns that were sung or chanted during the sacrifices. They were composed in Vedic Sanskrit. Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanisads were attached to each of these Vedas later on. In the original format, the four Vedas are referred to as the Samhitas (or Collection). The Vedas are considered to have been orally passed on and put to writing only later on. The original texts of the hymns are thought to have been metrical in nature. However, with the establishment of Shakas (branches) of theological learning in various parts of Northern India, these Vedic texts were annotated with Brahmana discussions on the text. The metrical texts were also considered to have been tampered with by the application of rules of sound combination resulting in a somewhat obscure text. There have been various attempts to restore the original metrical text in recent times, one of which by Barend A. van Nooten and Gary B. Holland is made available online by the University of Texas.[1]

The four main divisions of the Vedas are as follows:

Samhitas: These were collections of metrical hymns, prayers, and songs usually sung or chanted during the performance of various rites and sacrifices.
Brahmanas: These were prose commentaries and theological discussions on the meaning of the various texts, sacrifices, and ceremonies.
Aranyakas: Also known as the “forest texts”, these were, partly appended to the Aranyakas and partly independent, commentaries and meditations by hermits living in the forest on the significance of the rituals and sacrifices described in the Vedic hymns.
Upanisads: These were also usually either part of the Aranyakas or independent of them, without any absolute dividing point. For instance, The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is both an Aranyaka and an Upanishad and forms the last part of the Satapatha-Brahmana, a Brahmana of the White Yajur-Veda.[2] The Upanishads are mystical contemplations on the meaning of the world, soul, life, death, and reality.

The four Samhitas are as follows:

Rig Veda: The word Rig comes from ṛc and means “praise, verse”. Thus, Rig Veda is the book of Praise-knowledge. The Veda is organized into 10 books, known as Mandalas, each consisting of several hymns or Suktas. The Suktas consist of stanzas called ṛc that can be further analysed into pada  (foot) or verses.
Sama Veda: The collection is derived from the word Saman, meaning "melodies"; thereby, Sama Veda is the book of the "knowledge of melodies". It is considered that the hymns in this book were mainly used during the Soma sacrifice and many of the hymns are repeated from the Rig Veda.
Yajur Veda: Yajus means “sacrificial formula”; thus, Yajur Veda gives the “knowledge of sacrificial formulas”. There are two primary versions of this, viz. the Shukla Yajur Veda (White Yajur Veda) and the Krishna Yajur Veda (Black Yajur Veda). While the White Yajur Veda focuses on liturgy, the Black Yajur Veda has more explanatory material about the rituals.[3]
Atharva Veda is the book of the “knowledge of magic formulas” (atharvan). It is a collection of spells, prayers, charms, and hymns with “prayers to protect crops from lightning and drought, charms against venomous serpents, love spells, healing spells,” containing hundreds of verses, some derived from the Rig Veda.[4]
Following is the list of the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads appended to each Veda, as classified by A.K. Bhattacharya:[5]

Brahmanas: Aitereya and Kaushitaki or Sankhayana
Aranyakas: Aitereya and Kaushitaki or Sankhayana
Upanishads: Aitereya (part of Aitereya Samhita) and Kaushitaki (part of Kaushitaki or Sankhayana Aranyaka)

Brahmanas: Chandogya, Tandya and Jaiminiya or Talavakara
Aranyaka: Jaiminiya or Talavakara and Chandogya
Upanishads: Chandogya (part of Chandogya Brahmana) and Kena (part of Jaiminiya and Talavakara Brahmana)

Shukla Yajur Veda:
Brahmanas: Satapatha
Aranyaka: Brihadaranyaka
Upanishads: Isha (part of Vajasaneya Samhita) and Brihadaranyaka (part of Satapatha Brahmana)

Krishna Yajur Veda:
Brahmana and Aranyaka are considered together in Taittiriya Samhita and contains Maitrayani Brahmana
Upanishad: Katha and Svetasvatara

Brahmanas: Gopatha
Aranyaka: None known
Upanishads: Prasna, Mundaka and Mandukya

[1] The Rig Veda, Accessed on April 24, 2015.
[2] Dominic Goodall, R.C. Zaehner (eds), Hindu Scriptures (University of California Press, 1996), xi
[3] The Texts of the White Yajurveda, tr. by Ralph T.H. Griffith [1899], at
[4] Hymns of the Atharva Veda, tr. by Ralph T.H. Griffith, [1895], at
[5] Ashim Kumar Bhattacharya, Hindu Dharma: Introduction to Scriptures and Theology (London: iUniverse, 2006), pp.6,7