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Guide to the Vedas
June 17, 2021

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Your ultimate guide to the Vedas

The word ‘Veda’ means ‘knowledge’ and is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘vid’, which means ‘to know. 

The Vedas are regarded as revealed scripture, self-evident, and self authoritative. It is not composed by any human authors. 

Yaskaacharya, the oldest explorer of the Vedas in his Nirukta has distinctly said that these seers received the sacred knowledge or knowledge that was revealed to them.  That’s why the Vedas are called Apaurusheya, not composed by the human mind. 

These Yogis/Rishis are neither authors of the Mantras nor are they responsible for the contents of the Mantras. This is the reason why the Vedas are the foundation of the Indian Schools of Philosophy. 

READ: Yoga is all about Ashtanga Yoga – Is it really?

They are classified into four:

Rgveda: The word Rg means to praise. The hymns/mantras in the Rgveda praise the various energies, elements of the cosmos. 

Yajurveda: Yajur means to worship. It explains the different procedures of worship of nature and the cosmos. 

Sama Veda: Sama means song. It is the musical format of chanting the mantras for the ease of recitation. 

Atharva Veda: Atharva means stable mind, It offers the procedures for daily life activities. 

Each of these Vedas is classified into four sub-divisions based on the subjects they explore: 

They are: Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishads

 

Let us understand each Veda in detail: 

1. Rgveda: 

The Rg Veda is the oldest explorations of human wisdom and the biggest amongst all the four Vedas. All the features of classical Sanskrit poetry can be traced to Rigveda. You can find the seeds of philosophical development in the Rgvedic hymns. If you want to study and understand Indian literature and Spiritual culture, you need to understand the Rgveda due to its poetry and philosophical importance. 

Yaskacharya in his Nirukta, says that Rgveda can be interpreted in three ways – 

Adhi Devata – from the perspective of the energies of nature

Adhi Yajna: from the perspective of rituals,

Adhyama:  from the perspective of the Consciousness and spiritual journey

The whole of the Rigveda-Samhita is in the form of verses, known as Rik.

‘Rik’ is the name given to those Mantras which are meant for the praise of the deities. Thus the collection (Samhita) of Riks is known as Rigveda-Samhita. 

Among many shakhas of Rgveda, only one Shakha or a branch is available and it is called “Shaakala”. 

The Rigveda Samhita contains about 10552 Mantras, classified into ten texts and they are called Mandalas. Each Mandala is divided into several sections called Anuvakas. Each Anuvaka consists of a number of hymns called Suktas and each Sukta is made up of a number of verses called riks. There is no definite number of Riks. Some are bigger and some are very small depending on the subject it is dealing with.

2. Yajurveda: 

It is the Veda primarily of prose mantras for worship rituals. The Yajurveda is also important for its presentation of philosophical doctrines. It preaches the concept of Prana and Manas also.

The Yajurveda is classified into two types: 

  1. Shukla Yajurveda
  2. Krishna Yajurveda

The Krishna Yajurveda is characterised by a mixture of mantra and brahmana whereas the Shukla Yajurveda maintains the clear separation of the two. 

The Shukla Yajurveda has two branches available: Madhyandina and Kanva Branches. 

The Krishna Yajurveda has four branches available: Taittiriya, Maitrayani, Kathaka and Kapisthala Shankhas. 

Yajurveda gives a vivid description of many important rituals such as ‘Darsha-purnamasa, Agnihotra, Somayaga, Chaturmasya, Agnihotra, Vajapeya, Ashvamedha, Sarva-medha, Brahma-yajya, Pitrimedha, Sautramani etc.

3. Sama Veda: 

You can say that is “the Rgveda set to music” It is a systematic fusion of melody and the Rig Veda Hymns.  

There are only three branches available: 

  1. Kauthuma, 2. Ranayaneeya and 3. Jaiminiya (also called Talavakara)

The Samaveda comprises two major parts.

The first part includes four melody collections Gana and the second part three verse ārcika- Books). The Gana collection is subdivided into Grama Geya and Aranyageya. 

The Gramageya melodies are those for public recitations, while Aranya Geya melodies are for personal meditative use.

The Archika portion is subdivided into Purvarcika and Uttararcika portions. The Purvarcika is organized in order of deities, and Uttararchika text is ordered by rituals.

4. Atharva Veda: 

The Atharvaveda is the oldest literary monument of Indian medicine. Rishi Sushruta the father of surgery credits Atharvaveda as a foundation for his contribution. There are a series of Mantras related to curing various physical and mental diseases. Another class of hymns includes prayers for protection from the bite of snakes or injurious insects. We find mention and application of medicines and medicinal herbs. This feature distinguishes the Atharvaveda from the rest of the Vedas.

Atharvaveda explores the means to acquire happiness on the physical level along with the emphasis on the spiritual journey in the words of Sayanacharya, one of the greatest commentators on the Vedas. 

It had nine shakhas: 

paippalāda, stauda, mauda, śaunakīya, jājala, jalada, Brahmavada, devadarśa and cāraṇavaidyā.

The available branches at the moment are Paippalada and Shaunakiya. It is the Shaunaka-Samhita that is frequently meant when the Atharvaveda is mentioned in ancient and modern literature.

The Vedangas: 

These Vedangas are the branches of knowledge required to understand the meaning of the Vedas. 

They are: 

Shiksha – Phonetics

Vyakaranam – Grammar and Linguistic analysis 

Chandas – the study of Meters

Niruktam – Etymology

Jyotisham – The study of Astronomy and Astrology

Kalpa – The study of Vedic rituals

Paniniya Shiksha explains the Vedas as a Purusha having six limbs as six Vedangas: Chandas are His two feet, Kalpa are His two arms, Jyotisha are His eyes, Nirukta is His ears, Shiksha is His nose and Vyakarana is His mouth.

Upavedas: 

Then you have the Upavedas, which is the applied knowledge of the Vedas. There is a Upaveda for each Classification of the Vedas. 

1. Ayurveda (Medical Sciences), associated with the Rgveda

2. Dhanurveda (Warfare), associated with the Yajurveda

3. Gāndharvaveda (Music and sacred dance), associated with the Samaveda

4. Artha Shastra (Economics), associated with the Atharvaveda

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