The Vedas are oldest scripts of knowledge composed in Sanskrit. ‘Veda’ is a Sanskrit word derived from the root ‘vid’- ‘to know’/ or ‘wisdom’.
‘प्रत्यक्षेणानुमित्या वा यस्तूपायो न बुद्ध्यते । एनं विदन्ति वेदेन तस्माद् वेदस्य वेदता ॥’
That knowledge, which cannot be gained by any direct experience or inference, can be obtained through the Vedas. This is the ability of the knowledge of Vedas.
Veda has various names –
1. ‘Shruti’ (श्रुति) – that, which is heard (later texts being called as Smriti – ‘that, which is remembered’).
2. ‘Anushrava’ (अनुश्रव) – that, which is repeated just as said by Guru.
3. ‘Trayi’ (त्रयि) – that, which is of 3 types (in Kruta Yuga and Treta Yuga only 3 Vedas were considered – Rigveda, Samaveda and Yajurveda. These three together were called Trayi).
4. Samaamnaaya (समाम्नाय) – that, which is being learned by memorizing
5. Aamnaaya (आम्नाय) – that, which shines constantly without any change
6. Swaadhyaaya (स्वाध्याय) – that, which is studied by self
7. Aagama (आगम) – that, which is the origin of knowledge
8. Nigama (निगम) – that, which came out in the form of God’s sigh, as said by sage Yaska.
Vedas are believed to be the first literature of the world written by Lord Brahma (as stated in Epic Mahabharata), hence are called ‘Apourusheya (‘of a Divine’). According to Vishnu Purana, The Vedas were known to ancient Sages through their meditation and Penance, which were carefully preserved by them for future generations to come. The Vedic hymns were created by Sages based on the Veda knowledge.
Types of Vedas
Originally the Vedas were in one form, until Sage Vyasa of Dwapara Yuga classified them into four types known as ‘Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvana Veda’. Each Veda is further sub classified into Samhitas, Aranyakas, Brahmanas and Upanishads. Samhitas contain Mantras, Aranyakas contain knowledge on Rituals, Brahmanas contain knowledge of Sacrifices and the Upanishads are texts that describe Spiritual knowledge. Samhitas and Brahmanas are called ‘Karmakanda’, Aranyakas and Upanishads are called ‘Jnanakanda’.
There are 3 types of ‘Mantra’ (Hymns) – ‘Rik’, ‘Yajas’, ‘Sama’. ‘Rik is a hymn with special ‘Chandassu’ (Prosody), Rigveda has Riks. ‘Yajas’ is in sentence form without Prosody, Yajurveda has all such hymns used for Yajna (Sacrifice). ‘Sama’ is a form of Song with a rhythm and Prosody. The Samaveda has all Sama form of slokas. Atharvana Veda has many Riks and few Yajas.
Rigveda is ‘Knowledge of the Hymns of Praise’, to invoke Gods. It is the first, oldest and largest of the Vedic collection. Rigveda contains 10,580 hymns, and is divided into five branches – Shakala, Bashkala, Ashwalayana, Mandukya, Sankhyayana. Presently only Shakala is available, it is divided into two parts named ‘Ashtaka’ which consists of chapters, ‘Mandala’ which consists of Anuvaka and Sukta. There are ten Mandalas in this Veda. There is ‘Medical treatment process by Ashwini Gods’ in First Mandala, ‘Purusha Sukta’ in tenth Mandala. In Agni Sookta of Rigveda it is mentioned about Electricity and in Shudarna Sound waves are described. The description of Telephone, Electricity from water waves, Environmental Science, Technology, Mathematics etc are given in various mantras of Rigveda. The Upaveda of Rigveda is ‘Ayurveda’ which is about natural medicinal treatments. The person who recites the hymns of Rigveda is called ‘Hotha’.
Rigveda is considered in a form of Donkey with white in colour, with pleasant face, holding a long chain in hand. This form is described in a sloka –
ऋग्वेदः श्वेत वर्णस्यात् द्विभुजो रासबाननः |
अक्षमालाधरः सौम्यः प्रीतो व्याख्या कृतो द्यमः ||
Samaveda is ‘Knowledge of the Melodies’, for chanting. It has verses to be chanted in a rhythmic way mostly focusing on music. There are nine important branches of this Veda, from which only 3 – Ranayana, Koutumeeya, Jaimineeya are available. The person who sings the Samaveda is called ‘Udgata’.
Samaveda is described in the form of black coloured Purusha with the face of a horse, holding whip in right hand and a pot in left hand. This form is described in a sloka –
नीलोत्पलधल श्यामोः सामवेदो हयाननः |
अक्षमाला अन्वितो दक्षे वामे कुम्भधारण स्मृतः ||
Yajurveda is ‘Knowledge of the Sacrificial Formulae’. It is divided into the prose commentaries on how to perform religious rituals and sacrifices. The person who follows Yajurveda during a Yajna is called ‘Adhwarya’.
In Yajurveda Stotras (Eulogium) there is reference to ‘Prajapati, Parameshti, Narayana, Bruhaspati, Indra, Varuna, Ashwini Gods’ etc. Sages like Vasishta, Vamadeva, Vishwamitra referred to many Gods in the stotras of this Veda. Yajurveda mentions ‘Ahimsa’ (Non-violence) and insists avoiding the killing of animals. There are two types of Yajurveda – ‘Shukla Yajurveda’ and ‘Krishna Yajurveda’. Sage ‘Vaishampayana’ learnt the Yajurveda from Sage ‘Veda Vyasa’ and taught this part of Veda to Yagnavalkya. But due to some differences between both the sages, Vaishampayana asked Yagnavalkya to leave the learning. The mantras left by Yagnavalkya turned black in colour (Krishna means black). Gods in the form of ‘Tittiri Birds’ came and took away the Veda knowledge from Yagnavalkya, hence Krishna Yajurveda is also called as ‘Taittariya Samhita’. The Upanishads of Krishna Yajurveda are ‘Katha, Taittireeya, Swetaaswetara’.
Yagnavalkya prayed to Sun God and re-obtained Yajurveda which is called Shukla Yajurveda (Shukla means white). Shukla Yajurveda is also called as ‘Vajasaneya Samhita’, because Sun God took form of a horse (‘Vaji’) to teach the Veda. The ‘Eshavasyopanishath’ is an important Upanishad of Shukla Yajurveda, while other Upanishads are Bruhadaranyaka, Jabala, Subhala. Shukla Yajurveda had about 17 branches, but presently only two branches named ‘Kanwa Samhita’ and ‘Madyandina Samhita’ are available. Kanwa Samhita is followed by South India and Madyandina is followed by North India.
Yajurveda Purusha is in the form of Goat with Yellow colour, holding a stick in left hand. He is believed to give prosperity and luck to the human kind. His description is given in following sloka –
अजस्य पीत वर्णस्यात् यजुर्वेदो अक्षसूत्र धृत् |
वामे कुलिसपाणिस्तू भूतिदो मङ्गलप्रदः ||
Atharvanaveda is ‘Knowledge of the medicine in the form of Formulae’. It contains charms and magical incantations and has a more folkloristic style. There were 15 branches of this Veda, but only two are available and they are ‘Paippalada’ and ‘Sounaka’. The Upaveda of Atharvana Veda is ‘Shilpa Veda’ which explains the science of sculpture. The person who monitors the Sacrifice ritual from the start till end is called ‘Brahma’ who is respected as ‘Atharvana Veda Panditha’.
Atharvana Veda is described as a Purusha in White colour, having a face of monkey, holding a chain in left hand and pot in right hand. This form is described in the following sloka –
अथर्वणाभिदो वेदो धवलो मार्कटाननः |
अक्षमालान्वितो वामे दक्षे कुम्भधरः स्मृतः ||
Sage Vyasa taught Vedas to his disciples ‘Pailudu, Jaimini, Vaishampayana and Sumantha’. They further taught the Vedas to their disciples, thus the Vedas became popular in India. While reciting the slokas of Vedas, the voice should be clear, loud with clarity. There were more than a lakh slokas of Vedas, however presently only approximately 20000 slokas are available in India.