From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia
Veda is the highest authority in Hindu knowledge system and the authority of all other scriptures are based on the authority of the Veda. Vedas are four - Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva. Rigveda contains prayers to Gods (Riks are the mantras). Yajurveda has methods to use Riks for sacrifices (Yajus-Yajna). Sama Veda introduces musical notes. Atharva Veda gives ways to make life successful, and contains methods to fulfill what can be called material aspirations.
Each Veda has three sections - Samhita, Brahmana and Aranyaka. Samhita has prayers or Suktas. Brahmana has sacrificial methods. Aranyaka has Mantras and methods that are practiced in the forests (that is, not for grhasthas). Upanishads normally appear in the last part of Aranyaka and deal with spiritual philosophy. Some Upanishads are exceptions and appear in Samhita and Brahmana too. Thus Upanishad, as it appears in the last part of the Veda, is called Vedanta. There are 108 Upanishads and 10 of them are famous. Since Upanishads mostly philosophical they are found in prose. But there are Upanishads like Taittireeya and Ganapathi Atharva seersha that have svara.
These four sections are mapped to the four Ashramas. A brahmacari is supposed to study the Samhita. Grhastha is supposed to follow the Brahmana. Vanaprasthi is supposed to follow Aranyaka. Sanyasi is supposed to contemplate on the Upanishads.
The Rigveda itself indicates that Truth is one - "ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti agnim yamam matariswanam ahuh" (meaning Truth is one, but the learned refer to it in different names like agni, yama, matariswan). But the concept that there is a single Parabrahman and that all Gods are Its forms, is more clearly visible towards the Vedanta (Upanishads). Its implications can be seen in later sections, especially when we discuss Darshanas and Puranas.
Veda literally means knowledge. Traditionally the following features are attributed to the Veda:
- Veda is anantha (infinite). Only an infinitesimal portion of it is revealed to humans. This can be understood in the sense that knowledge is infinite. However, Veda is the knowledge of Brahman, the True, Absolute and the Infinite. And the essence of Veda is said to be understood if one knows the infinite, i.e., opens up to the infinite Self. Realizing the infinite through any single mantra/sukta of the Veda is equivalent to understanding the essence of any other mantra and the entire Veda. Thus it is said know the One (Brahman) by which everything else is known.
- Veda is anadi, having no beginning or end. It said to exist eternally; it is called the breath of Paramatma. This is a poetic expression, this does not literally mean paramatma has a breath but just the way breath exists with a person's life similarly veda exists with God/creation. While the modern view is that Rigveda is the oldest, it is only in compilation that it is possibly older. Rigveda itself mentions Yajurveda and Samaveda. For instance Purusha sukta (RV 10.90) says "Tasmaat yagnaat sarva hutaH, RucaH-samaani jagnire, chandaagmsi jagnire tasmaat, yajus tasmaadajaayata".
- Veda is apourusheya, not authored by humans. The seers are said to reveal veda mantras to the world, they are called drastas. Rigveda says "catvari vak parimita padani tani vidur brahmana ye minishinah, guha trini nihita neengayanti turiyam vaco manushya vadanti", meaning vak exists in four forms and the learned know of them. Three are hidden and the fourth is what men speak. Vak (literally word, but meaning veda mantra here) is said to exist in four forms - para, pasyanti, madhyama and vaikhari. Para is the eternal form of vak. Pasyanti is when a seer envisions the mantra. Madhyama is when it descends into mind plane. Vaikhari is the expression. Thus the Veda mantras exist eternally, they are only revealed to the world by the seers.
Though there are four Vedas, there are alternate recitations in each Veda. These are called "pathantaram"s. Based on these, various branches exist in each Veda, each of them is called a Veda sakha.
There are various methods of chanting the Veda, like ghana and jata.
The mantras in Rigveda are called Riks. Rigveda has 10 mandalas, 1028 suktas and 10170 riks in the whole. Each sukta is a collection of riks on a devata and each mandala has many suktas. The samhita portion of Rigveda contains suktas alone and all suktas are addressed to devatas like Agni, Vayu, Vishnu, Rudra, Mitra, Varuna, Pushan, Aryaman.
The major Upanishads found in Rigveda sakhas are Aitareya and Kaushitaki.
As the name suggests, Yajurveda deals with Yajna, sacrifice. It applies riks and gives procedures and mantras for sacrifices.
There are two major sakhas in the Yajurveda, Sukla and Krishna. Krishna Yajurveda sakha is also called Taittireeya sakha. Samhita of Sukla Yajurveda is called Vajasaneya samhita and that of Krishna Yajurveda is called Taittireeya samhita. Brahmana of Sukla Yajurveda is called the Satapatha brahmana. In the Krishna Yajurveda, there is an overlap between samhita and brahmana portions and lays down the procedures for sacrifices. This can be understood in the light of the fact that brahmana is the sacrificial code and Yajurveda combines this with riks. Many sacrifices like Darsapurnamasa, Vajapeya, Somayaga, and Aswamedha are found in Yajurveda.
There is a special place for lord Rudra in the Krishna Yajurveda, and Rudra suktam is found in the middle of Taittireeya Samhita. It has 7 kandas and the fourth kanda has 9 chapters. Namakam is the 5th chapter and while Chamakam 7th chapter of the fourth kanda. This is because Rudra is the presiding deity of Yajnas and Yajurveda deals with Yajnas.
The major Upanishads found in Yajurveda are Brihadaranyaka, Maitri, Isa, Taittiriya, Svetasvatara and Katha.
Samaveda puts the riks in musical notes. The musical notes in samaveda are said to be the origin of traditional musical octet.
Major Upanishads found in Samaveda are Kena and Chandogya.
Atharvaveda, apart from hymns to gods, gives many ways to make life successful. While Gayatri mantra is said to be the essence of the three Vedas (Rig, Yajur and Sama), there is a different Gayatri mantra for Atharvaveda. And it requires that a second Upanayana is done for the pupil before he is initiated to learning Atharvaveda. (Another brahmopadesam of Atharva Gayatri is done here).
Atharvaveda contains prayers to Gods not mentioned in the other three Vedas, like Pratyangira. Atharvaveda also uses many Riks. For instance, the Manyu sukta of Rigveda appears as two chapters "sena nireekshana" and "sena samyojana" in the Atharvaveda.
Major Upanishads in Atharvaveda are Mandukya, Mundaka and Prasna.
- Origin & Evolution of the Veda
- Veda as History
- Veda - Textual Classifications & Categories
- The Vedangas