The Vedas are the oldest Hindu scriptures. It is believed that scholars heard these texts directly from God and passed them on to the next generation. They were eventually first written down in Sanskrit. Hindus believe that the Vedas teach them to pursue and accept only the truth.
The term Veda means ‘knowledge’ in Sanskrit. There are a total of four Vedas: the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda, and the Atharva Veda. Each of the Vedas, in turn, is divided into four subsections comprising the Samhitas, the Aranyakas, the Brahmans, and the Upanishads.
The Samhitas give a detailed account on hymns and mantras while the Aranyakas are related to meditation and worship. The Brahmanas feature prayers and rituals that give priests directions on how to perform their duties. The Upanishads incorporate texts on spiritual knowledge and philosophy related to Hinduism.
Let’s read a little to know more about each of the Vedas.
The Rig Veda is the oldest of all the Vedas and was first written down in around 300 BCE. Its Samhita features 1,028 hymns sung in praise of various Hindu gods. The Veda also encompasses prayers to the divine asking him to protect the reciter and bless the person with victory, long life, and good health.
These hymns are segregated according to the deity to whom they are linked, in 10 books or mandalas. The gods given importance in the Rig Veda are Indra; Varuna, the rain god; Agni, the fire god; Rudra, a god related to storms and mountains; and Surya, the sun god.
The Rig Veda is termed as the groundwork of Hinduism. Some verses are chanted even today along with Hindu prayers and as part of the rites associated with a Hindu marriage. Hymn 85 from book 10 represents one such verse sung during a marriage ritual. Vasishta, Vishwamitra, and Bharadwaja are believed to be a few pioneers of the Rig Veda text.
The term yajur is derived from the Sanskrit word yajus that means worship. The Yajur Veda is believed to have been composed between 1200-800 BCE. Its Samhita encompasses 1,875 verses spread across forty adhyayas or chapters. It is considered as a handbook by priests to refer to the various details to be performed when a ritual is being performed.
The Yajur Veda is broadly classified into two categories: the dark or black Yajur Veda known as Krishna and the bright or white Yajur Veda called Shukla. The Krishna gives in-depth information pertaining to all sacrificial rituals while the Shukla details about prayers and exact instructions for specific religious sacrifices. The Veda makes reference to deities such as Indra, Agni, Savita, Rudra, and Prajapati among others.
The name Sama Veda originates from the Sanskrit term Samam meaning song. This Veda features 1,549 verses outlined across six chapters. However, only 75 of these verses are unique to the Sama Veda. The rest are borrowed from Rig Veda. The primary focus of this Veda is on devotion and worship. It illustrates the mantras or chants to be recited when a sacrifice is being done. The Veda is believed to help a person comprehend the universal truth and achieve spiritual evolution via music.
This is the shortest of all Vedas and start with hymns sung in honour of Indra, Soma, and Agni to confer the reciter with good fortune, happiness, and divine peace. These hymns were sung during religious ceremonies such as yagnas in the past. The Sama Veda is referred to in the Bhagavad Gita when lord Krishna tells Arjun that he represents Sama Veda among all the Vedas.
The Atharva Veda is the most recent and last of the Vedas. The origins of this Veda go back to about 900 BCE. It is a storehouse of charms, magical formulae, and spells that list out the procedures to be adopted in day-to-day life. The Veda comprises 730 hymns with 5,987 mantras spread across 20 books. A part of the texts listed in the Atharva Veda are adapted from Rig Veda verses.
The Atharva Veda makes special mention of the applications of medicinal herbs and medicines. The mantras of this Veda are related to annihilation of adverse forces, cure of diseases, reinforcement of peace, long life, and friendship. They are also associated with the nature of immortality, time, death and supreme reality.
The Atharva Veda is also mentioned as Brahmaveda and Bhrgvangirasah after Brahma and Bhrigu respectively.
The Vedas are believed to have been originally compiled by Ved Vyas in written form. They are sometimes mentioned as Trayi because they feature mantras in three forms comprising verses, prose and chants.