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A GLIMPSE OF VEDIC LITERATURE
: KUMAR SANJAY JHA
article is an attempt to present the fundamental texts in what constitutes
Vedic Literature. It is a
road mark for those who want to set out the explore the depths of the
term 'Vedic literature' simply means literature based on or derived
from the Vedas. The texts
which constitute the Vedic literature are: 1. The four Vedas i.e. Samhitas,
2. the Brahmanas attached to each of the Samhitas, 3. the Aranyakas,
and 4. the Upanishads.
Rg-Veda, Samveda and Yajurveda are collectively known
as Vedatrayi. Atharva
Veda is considered a later addition. Bharatamuni's Natyasastra is considered to be the panchama
Veda (fifth Veda). The Rg-Veda
is the oldest among all Vedas. It
must have been compiled over several centuries.
Some of the earliest hymns are said to have been composed around
1500 BC. These were passed on
from the teacher to the disciple, orally.
The different parts (mandalas) are ascribed to different families
of seers' e.g. Gautama and Kanva etc.
It is the foundation of all the Vedic literature.
Rg-Veda is neither a historical nor a heroic poem but is mainly a
collection of hymns by a number of priestly families.
The hymns addressed to various Gods such as Agni, Indra etc are
recited at the time of sacrificial rites and other rituals.
The Rg-Veda contains 1028 hymns (sukta) which are divided
into ten mandalas and sometimes into astakas.
Mandalas 2 to 7 are considered to be the earliest of all
tenth mandala is said to have been added later as its language differs
slightly from the other nine mandalas.
It contains the famous Purushasukta that explains that the four
varnas (Castes) (Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra) were born
from the mouth, arms, belly and the legs of the Creator.
The universally famous Gayatri mantra (Savitri) is in Rg-Veda.
There are five divisions of Rg-Veda namely, Sakala, Baskala,
Asvalayana, Sankhayana and Mandukya.
The total mantras in Rg-Veda are 10,600.
Samaveda derived from the root saman i.e. 'melody', is a
'collection of melodies. Samaveda
consists of 1603 (excepting 75) verses that have been borrowed for the
Rg-Veda. These were
meant to be sung at the time of Soma sacrifice.
The Jha Samaveda is important in tracing the history of
Yajurveda is the book of the Adhvaryu priests.
The Yajurveda prescribes the procedures to be adopted at the
time of performing different sacrifices.
There are two main texts of the Yajurveda: Sukla Yajurveda or
Vajasaneyi (Madhyandin and Kanva) and Krsna-Yajurveda (Taittiriya,
Kathaka, Maitrayani and Kapisthal) . It is a collection of short magic spells used by a certain
class of priests at the time of sacrifices.
Patanjali, the grammarian, refers to 101 schools of Yajurveda.
Atharaveda is entirely different from the other three Vedas is
content and style. It is the
latest of the four. However,
it is equally important and interesting as it describes the popular
beliefs and superstitions of the humble folk.
For a very long time it was not included into the category of the
Veda. It is divided into 20
kandas and has 711 hymns and a collection of 5987 mantras - most of these
hymns are used to ward off the evil spirits.
The Atharvaveda has two different divisions - Paippalada and
Saunakiya. Each Vedas has
its own Samhita and commentary.
Brahmanas explain the hymns of the Vedas.
They are written in prose and they elaborately describe the various
sacrifices and rituals, along with their mystic meanings.
Each Veda has several Brahmanas.
The two Brahmanas attached to the Rg-Veda are Aitareya
Brahmana and Kausitaki Brahmana.
These were composed by Hotri-priests or invoker (the priest
who recites mantras of the Rg-veda at the sacrifices).
The Sukla Yajurveda is appended with Satapatha
Brahmana which recommends 'one hundred sacred paths' (Satapatha).
It is the most exhaustive and important of all the Brahmanas. The Gopatha Brahmana is appended to the Atharvaveda.
These Brahmanas, in fact, are the elaborate commentaries on the
various hymns is Samhitas.
word Aranyaka means 'the forest' and these are called 'forest books'
written mainly for the hermits and students living in the jungles.
These are the concluding portions of the Brahmanas or their
appendices. A strict code of
secrecy was maintained over the Aranyakas as it was believed that
the contents would spell danger if taught to the uninitiated.
And hence they were to be studied in the forest.
They deal with mysticism and symbolism.
They form the natural transition of the Upanishads.
They offer the bridge between Karma marga (way of deeds)
which was the sole concern of the Brahmanas and the jnana marga
(way of knowledge) which the Upanishads advocated.
Taittariya, Brhadaranyaka, Chhandogya and Kena
word Upanishad has been derived from the root Upani-sad that
means 'to sit down near someone'. It
denotes a student sitting under the feet of his guru to learn.
Eventually the word began to be used for the secret knowledge
imparted by the guru to his selected pupils.
Today the word began to be used for the secret knowledge imparted
by the guru to his selected pupils. Today
the word is associated with philosophical knowledge and spiritual
learning. Upanishads are also called Vedanta (the end of
the Veda) firstly, because they denote the last phase of the Vedic period
and secondly, because they reveal the final aim of the Veda.
Our nation's motto Satyameva jayate is taken from the Mundakopanishad.
fact, the Upanishads are the culmination of ancient Indian
philosophical ideas. The
whole of later philosophy of India is rooted in the Upanishads.
The philosophical principles of Sankara, Ramanuja, Ramakrishna
Paramahans, Aurobindo and others are derived from Upanishads and,
by and large, all the philosophical doctrines of subsequent and large, all
the philosophical doctrines of subsequent days have borrowed something or
the other from them. There
are 108 Upanishads classified according to the Vedas, and were
composed by several learned saints between 800 BC and 500
BC. Some of the most
renowned Upanishads are Aitareya, Kausitaki, Taittariya,
Brhadaranyaka, Chhandogya and Kena.
these are older than Buddha and Panini.
Among the later Upanishads mention may be made of Katha.
Svetashvatara, Isa, Maitrayaniya etc., which lay stress on Samkhya
and Yoga doctrines. The
language of these Upanishads is classical Sanskrit and not the
Aranyakas, the Upanishads also give less importance to
ceremonies and sacrifices. They discuss various theories on the creation of the Universe
and define the doctrine of Karma (action).
Brahman (God) and atman (soul) are treated as
identical. They profess the
goal of life to be-to attain moksha (salvation) which is possible
through meditation and self-control.
the works referred to above are also called Sruti which means 'revelation'.
Literally speaking Sruti means 'heard'.
The Vedas are not the outcome of logical interpretation, not a
historical anecdote, but they
are Divine revelations. The
Vedic literature enjoys the status of the foremost authority in all
religious matters for the Hindus.
are the auxiliary treatises of the Vedas and are the law books of Indian
society. Literally 'Smrti'
means 'to remember' and these are regarded, as a part of the revelation
though not included in the Vedic literature proper.
are six Vedangas (limbs of Veda).
They are: Siksha, Kalpa, vyakarana, niruktas, chhandas and
deals with pronunciation, Kalpa with rituals, Vyakarana with
grammar, Nirukta with etymology, Chhanda with meter and Jyotisa
there are six schools of Indian philosophy known as Shad-Darshana.
These are: Nyaya, Vaishesika, Sankhya, Yoga, Purva and Uttara
Mimansas. These are
written in Sutra (aphorism) style, which are short, to the point
and without doubts. They all
propagate the virtues of life. The
Nyaya Darshana was written by Gautama, Vaishesika Darshana
by Kanada, Purvamimansa Darshana by Jaimini, Sankhya by Kapila, Yoga
by Patanjali and the Uttaramimansa Darshana by Bhadarayana.
the Vedangas and the Darshanas claim to have derived
inspiration from the Vedas the explain the Vedic Philosophy.
Still they are not included in the umbrella of core Vedic
literature. In the same
manner, four Upavedas namely Dhanurveda (deals with the art of
warfare), the Gandharvaveda (deals with the music), Silpaveda
(deals with are and architecture) and Ayurveda (deals with
medicine) also do not form part of the Vedic literature though they enjoy
Vedic texts have been nourished, simplified and continued from one
generation to the next through the Sruti parampara by the great
saint scholars and sages, to name a few Sri Sankaracarya, Caitanya
Mahaprabhu, Madhvacharya and Ramanuja. The Vedas are the treasure housed of knowledge not
merely spiritual, but scientific, cultural and material. A fresh look at them, overcoming the hitherto laden emphasis
on their religiosity would render that wisdom to us.
[Kumar Sanjay Jha is Asst. Archivist at Kaladarshana Division]
Copyright IGNCAŠ 2001