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Vedic Period: Four Vedas

Vedas: Pillars of Ancient Indian History

  • Four Types: Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda.
  • Historical Significance: Key source for Ancient Indian History.
  • Scriptural Foundation: Vedas shape the Indian scripture.
  • Religious Codification: Ideas and practices of Vedic religion are codified by the Vedas.
  • Basis of Classical Hinduism: Foundation for the development of classical Hinduism.
Veda Key Features
Rig Veda Earliest Veda, collection of hymns praising deities like Agni and Indra.
Samaveda Chants and melodies derived from Rig Veda hymns for ritualistic singing.
Yajurveda Prose collection of instructions for performing sacrifices and rituals.
Atharvaveda Hymns focused on practical purposes like healing, magic, and protection.


1. Rigveda

  • It is the oldest form of Veda and oldest known Vedic Sanskrit text (1800 – 1100 BCE).
  • The meaning of the word ‘Rigveda’ is Praise Knowledge.
  • It has 10,600 verses.
  • Out of 10 books or mandalas, book number 1 and 10 are the youngest ones as they were written later than books 2 to 9.
  • Rigvedic books 2-9 deal with cosmology and deities.
  • Rigvedic books 1 and 10 deal with philosophical questions and also talk about various virtues, including charity in the society.
  • Rigvedic books 2-7 are the oldest and shortest, also called family books.
  • Rigvedic books 1 & 10 are the youngest and longest.
  • 1,028 hymns deal with deities, including Agni, Indra, and are attributed and dedicated to a sage rishi.
  • The ninth Rigvedic book/mandala is solely dedicated to Soma.
  • The meters used to form hymns are Gayatri, Anushtubh, Trishtubh, and Jagati (Trishtubh and Gayatri are most important).
  • The Rigveda is divided into ten books known as Mandalas.
  • It comprises 10,600 verses and 1,028 hymns.
  • It is the oldest text in any Indo-European language.
  • Originated as early as 1700 BC.
  • The Angiras (rishi family) composed 35% of the hymns, and the Kanva family composed 25% of Rig Veda.
  • Many verses of the Rig Veda are still used as significant Hindu prayers and during rituals.
  • Contains secrets and clarifications about the origin of the world, the importance of the Gods, and advice for living a satisfying and successful life.
  • According to the Rig Veda, the Universe devised from Prajapati, the initial God and the principle basis of creation.
  • The hymns are known as Sukta and were composed to be used in rituals.
  • Indra is the chief deity cited in the Rig Veda.
  • Other chief deities include the sky God Varuna, fire God Agni, and the Sun God Surya.
  • The God of storms and mountains, Rudra, as cited in the Rig Veda, is the origin for Lord Shiva, the Hindu God.
  • Lord Vishnu, one of the Trimurti of Hindu Gods, was also a minor deity mentioned in the Rig Veda.
  • The universally famous Gayatri mantra (Savitri) is also in Rig-Veda.
  • The varna system, Four-fold division of society, ‘Sudra’, Gamester’s Lament, Purusha Shukta Hymns are mentioned in this Vedic text.

2. Samaveda

  • Known as the Veda of melodies and chants, Samaveda dates back to 1200-800 BCE.
  • Related to public worship.
  • Contains 1549 verses (except 75 verses, all taken from Rigveda).
  • Two Upanishads embedded in Samaveda – Chandogya Upanishad and Kena Upanishad.
  • Considered the root of Indian classical music and dance.
  • Regarded as the storehouse of melodious chants.
  • Though it has fewer verses than Rigveda, its texts are larger.
  • Three recensions of the text – Kauthuma, Raṇayaniya, and Jaimaniya.
  • Categorized into two parts – Part-I includes melodies called Gana, and Part-II includes three verses book called Archika.
  • Samaveda Samhita is not meant to be read as a text; it is like a musical score sheet that must be heard.

3. Yajurveda

  • Stands to mean ‘Worship Knowledge,’ Yajurveda dates back to 1100-800 BCE.
  • Compiles ritual-offering mantras/chants.
  • Two types: Krishna (Black/Dark) & Shukla (White/Bright).
  • Krishna Yajurveda has an un-arranged, unclear, motley collection of verses.
  • Shukla Yajurveda has arranged and clear verses.
  • The oldest layer of Yajurveda has 1875 verses mostly taken up from Rigveda.
  • The middle layer of the Veda has Satapatha Brahmana, a commentary of Shukla Yajurveda.
  • The youngest layer of Yajurveda consists of various Upanishads, including Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Isha Upanishad, Taittiriya Upanishad, Katha Upanishad, Shvetashvatara Upanishad, and Maitri Upanishad.
  • Vajasaneyi Samhita is the Samhita in the Shukla Yajurveda.
  • Four surviving recensions of the Krishna Yajurveda: Taittiriya Samhita, Maitrayani Samhita, Kaṭha Samhita, and Kapisthala Samhita.

4. Atharvaveda

  • Stands to mean a tatpurusha compound of Atharvan, an ancient sage, and knowledge (atharvan+knowledge).
  • Dates back to 1000-800 BCE.
  • The daily procedures of life are very well enumerated in this Veda.
  • It has 730 hymns/suktas, 6000 mantras, and 20 books.
  • Paippalada and the Saunakiya are two surviving recensions of Atharvaveda.
  • Called a Veda of magical formulas, it includes three primary Upanishads – Mundaka Upanishad, Mandukya Upanishad, and Prashna Upanishad.
  • The 20 books are arranged by the length of hymns they contain.
  • Unlike Samaveda where hymns are borrowed from Rigveda, hymns of Atharvaveda are unique except a few.
  • This Veda contains hymns many of which were charms and magic spells meant to be pronounced by the person who seeks some benefit or, more often, by a sorcerer who would say it on his or her behalf.




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