Vedic Literature (1500 BC – 600 BC) - History of India

The word ‘Veda’ is derived from the Sanskrit word vid which means ‘to know’ or knowledge par excellence. Vedic literature had grown up so much in course of time and was handed down generation to generation by word of mouth.

Vedic literature comprises of four literary productions.
      1)  The Samhitas (or) The Vedas
      2)  The Brahamans
      3)  The Aranyaks
      4)  The Upanishads   

There are four Vedas: Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. The first three Vedas are jointly called as Vedatrayi (trio of vedas).

The Rig Veda (Collection of Lyrics):

  • The Rig Veda contains 1028 hymns, divided into 10 mandals.
  • 6 mandals (from 2nd to 7th) are called Vamsha Mandals (Kula Granth)/ Gotra.
  • The 9th mandala contains hymns of Soma.
  • The 10th mandala contains the renowned Purushsukta hymns that explain four Varnas viz. Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra.
  • Gayatri Mantra is the most sacred hymn of the Rig Veda mentioned in 3rd mandala written by Vishwamitra. This mantra is addressed to the God Sun.
  • The hymns of Rig Veda were recited by Hotri.

The Soma Veda (Book of Chants):
  • The ‘Soma’ word means the melody or music.
  • Soma Veda contains 1549 hymns. All hymns were taken from Rig Veda excluding 75 hymns.
  • The Soma Veda plays a vital role in Indian music.
  • The hymns of Soma Veda were recited by Udgatri.

The Yajur Veda (Book of sacrificial prayers):
  • Yajur Veda is a ritualistic Veda. It deals with the procedure for the performance of sacrifices.
  • This Veda is divided into two parts.
  • Krishna Yajur Veda (Prose and Poetry)
  • Shukla Yajur Veda (Poetry)
  • The Yajur Veda hymns were recited by Adhvaryus.

The Atharva Veda (Book of magical formulae):
  • The Atharva Veda is the chronologically fourth of four Vedas. It is entirely different from the other three Vedas.
  • In this Veda, the Sabha and Samiti are described as two sisters and two sisters of Prajapati.
  • It contains medicinal treatise, magical mantra et al.
  • The Atharva Veda is also called as Brahma Veda.

The Brahamans:
The Brahamans explains the hymns of Vedas. They are ritualistic in nature and written in prose. Brahma literally means ‘sacrifice’. The various rituals and sacrifices have been discussed in the Brahmanas. Every Veda has Brahmanas attached to it.

  • The Rig Veda – Aitareya and Kaushitiki/Sankhyan
  • The Soma Veda – Panchvisha (Tandya Maha Brahmana), Shadvinash, Chhandogya and Jaiminaya
  • The Yajur Veda – Shatapatha (the oldest and the largest Brahamana) and Taittariya.
  • The Atharva Veda – Gopatha

The Aranyakas:
The word ‘Aranya’ means forest and these texts are written by the sages for the students living in the Jungles. The Aranyakas are the concluding part of the Brahamanas.

The Upanishads:
The term Upanishads means knowledge acquired by sitting close to the teacher. These are philosophical texts and generally called as Vedanta (end of Vedas).
There are 108 Upanishads. Vrihadaranyaka is the oldest Upanishads.
Satyamev Jayate is extracted from Mundak Upanishad.

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Author: Karun

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