Understanding Vedic literature

“If I am asked which nation had been advanced in the ancient world in respect of education and culture then I would say it was- India” – Max Muller, German Indologist.

The word veda is derived from the Sanskrit word vid- “to know”. These are a large body of texts originating in ancient India. The earliest scripture on earth is the Rig Veda, which was composed around 1700 BC.

Vedic texts include-

Vedas or Samhitas- The four vedas are Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. Each of these have specific details-

  • Rigveda- Contains hymns dedicated to 33 gods which include Indra, Agni, Rudra, etc. The veda is organized into ten books. It speaks of cosmic knowledge.
  • Yajurveda- Speaks of practical knowledge. Each mantra must accompany an action in sacrifice but. There are two major groups of recensions of this Veda, known as the “Black” (Krishna) and “White” (Shukla) Yajurveda. It describes the sacrificial alters, their geometries and construction.
  • Samveda- Contains hymns and proses on music, dance and theatre.
  • Atharvaveda- Speaks of medicines, diseases, antibiotics and warfare.

Upavedas- There are 4 upavedas, namely-

  • Dhanurveda- science of warfare.
  • Gandharvaveda- study of aesthetics.
  • Ayurveda- study of medicine.
  • Arthashashtra- science of public administration, governance, economics and politics. Composed by Chanakya.

Brahmanas- These are prose texts that discuss, in technical fashion, the vedas or samhitas. For each veda, there is a brahmanas.

Aranyakas- These are “wilderness texts” or “forest treaties”, composed by people who meditated in the woods as recluses and are the third part of the Vedic literature. The texts contain discussions and interpretations of dangerous rituals (to be studied outside the settlement) and various sorts of additional materials.

Upanishads- These the FAQs of vedas. They are in the form of teacher-student conversation discussing the technical and practical aspects of the knowledge available in vedas. There are more than 200 upanishads known, of which the oldest and most important are referred to as the principal or mukhya upanishads. The oldest of these, the Brihadaranyaka, Jaiminiya and the Chandogya Upanishads, were composed before Buddha, while the Taittiriya, Aitareya and Kausitaki, which allegedly show Buddhist influence, were composed after the 5th century BC.

Vedangas- These are the six auxiliary disciplines traditionally associated with the study and understanding of the Vedas. They include-

  1. Shiksha- phonetics and phonology
  2. Kalpa- ritual
  3. Vyakarana- grammar
  4. Nirukta- history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.
  5. Chandas- structure of poetry
  6. Jyotisha- astronomy for calendar issues, such as auspicious days for performing sacrifices.

While most of these literature has been written by upper caste brahmins with the aim of suppression of masses, it is important to read and understand the knowledge in them.


One response to “Understanding Vedic literature

  1. Perhaps you should read Agniveer.com’s views on Vedic culture. Regards!

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