Vedic literature : Vedas, Brahmanas & Aranyakas

Vedic literature

  • The Vedas are the earliest known vedic literature in India & written in Sanskrit.
  • The word ‘Veda’ literally means knowledge.
  • In Hindu culture, Vedas are considered as eternal & divine revelations.
  • They treat the whole world as one human family Vasudev Kutumbakam.
  • There are 4 Vedas, namely, the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda & Atharva Veda.
  • Each Veda consists of the Brahmanas, the Upanishads and the Aranyakas.
  • The Rig Veda, Sama Veda and the Yajur Veda are collectively known an Traji.
  • In later years the Atharava Veda was incorporated in this group.
  • It is very difficult to determine the age of the Vedas and also the time they were written.
  • Max Muller says that the Rig Veda was composed before 1000 B.C.
  • While according to Lokmanya Tilak it appeared before 6000 B.C.

1.Rig Veda

  • It is the earliest of the Vedas & collection of 1028 hymns in Vedic Sanskrit.
  • The prayers are for seeking worldly prosperity & for the development of a highly cultured society.
  • Along with religion Rig Veda provides us knowledge about social, political and economic condition of ancient India.
  • Prominent rishis: Vasistha, Gautama, Gritasamada, Vamadeva, Vishvamitra & Atri.
  • Prominent gods: Indra, Agni, Varun, Rudra, Aditya, Vayu, Aditi & the Ashwini twins.
  • Prominent goddesses: Usha , Vak & Prithvi etc..

2.Yajur Veda

  • Yajur means sacrifice or worship.
  • It concerned mostly with rites & mantras of different sacrifices.
  • It gives directions for the performance of the yajnas.
  • It has both poetic & prose renderings.
  • Being a treatise on rituals, it is the most popular of the 4 Vedas.
  • There are two major branches of Yajur Veda, namely Shukla & Krishna Yajur Veda.
  • This text reflects on the social & religious condition of India at that time.

3.Sama Veda

  • Sama means melody or songs.
  • This Veda consists of 16,000 ragas & raginis or musical notes.
  • Out of total 1875 verses only 75 are original & others are from the Rig Veda.
  • It prescribes the tunes for the recitation of the hymns of the Rig Veda.
  • It may be called the book of Chants (Saman).
  • This book is an evidence of the development of Indian music during this period.

4.Atharva Veda

  • It is also known as the Brahma Veda.
  • It contains treatment for 99 diseases.
  • The source of this Veda is traced to two rishis called Atharvah & Angiras.
  • It is of immense value as it represents the religious ideas at an early period of civilisation.
  • It has 2 branches, the Paippalada & the Saunaka.
  • This book gives detailed information about the family, social & political life of later Vedic period.
  • In order to understand the Vedas, it is necessary to learn the Vedangas or the limbs of the Vedas.
  • These supplements of the Vedas provide education (siksha), grammar (vyakarana), ritual (kalpa), etymology (nirukta), metrics (chhanda) & astronomy (Jyotisha).
  • A good deal of literature grew around these subjects.
  • It was written in the form of precepts in the sutra style.
  • A precept was called sutra because of its brevity.
  • The most famous example of this is Panini’s grammar, Ashtadhyayi, which illustrates the rules of grammar & also throws light on society, economy and culture of those times.

Brahmanas & Aranyakas

Brahmanas

  • After the 4 Vedas, a number of works called the Brahmanas were developed.
  • These books gave a detailed explanation of Vedic rituals and instructions & deal with the science of sacrifice.
  • The latter portions of the Brahmanas were called the Aranyakas.
  • The final parts of the Aranyakas are philosophic books named Upanishads which belong to the later stage of the Brahmana literature.

Each of the 4 Vedas have their own Brahmana books;

  1. Rig Veda had Kaushitaki & Aitreya,
  2. Yajur Veda had Taitteriya,
  3. Shukla Yajur Veda had Shatpath &
  4. Atharva Veda had Tandav, Panchvish & Jaimaniya.

Aranyakas

  • Deals with soul, birth and death and life beyond it.
  • These were studied and taught by men in Vanprastha i.e. Munis and the inhabitants living inside the forests.
  • All these works were in Sanskrit.
  • Initially they were handed down orally and were put to writing much later.

The Upanishads

  • The word Upanishad is derived from upa (nearby), and nishad (to sit-down), that is, “sitting down near”.
  • Groups of pupil sit near the Guru to learn from him in the Guru-shishya parampara or tradition.
  • The Upanishads mark the culmination of Indian thought and are the final parts of the Vedas.
  • As the Upanishads contain abstract and difficult discussions of ultimate philosophical problems, they were taught to the pupils at the end.
  • That is why they are called the end of Vedas.
  • Vedas start with the worship of the manifest, as that is obvious and then slowly transform to the knowledge of the unmanifest
  • There are more than 200 known Upanishads.
  • The Muktika, gives a list of 108 Upanishads – this number corresponds to the holy number of beads on a mala or Hindu rosary.
  • The Upanishads form an important part of our literary legacy.
  • They deal with questions like the origin of the universe, life and death, the material and spiritual world, nature of knowledge and many other questions.
  • The earliest Upanishads are the Brihadaranyaka which belongs to the Sukla Yajur Veda and Chand yogya which belongs to the Sama Veda.
  • Some of the other important Upanishads are the Aitareya, Kena, Katha Upanishad.

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