Ever heard of the term Vedas? The ancient scriptures belonging to Hinduism or the devas, Indra, Agni & Som? They might seem insignificant now, but 3000 years ago, they were a big deal in India and Iran!
This short article will explore the history and structure of the most authoritative scriptures in ancient Indian history.
Names and authors
The word ‘ved’ means to know, so veda = knowledge. These scriptures are mainly associated with the Aryans and the Aryavarta. .The Vedas have been in oral circulation since the 2nd millennium BCE (The rise of Aryans). The Vedas were not the work of a single person. They were communicated to a number of saints & teachers, who in turn transmitted them to their disciples orally. In modern times, we cannot even remember the Hindi alphabet but our ancient ancestors remembered all the 4 Vedas! In the vedic age, this vast knowledge was learned by the help of mnemonic techniques. The same mnemonic techniques are used by modern Jain monks for learning Jain scriptures in the present age. Learning Vedas is no easy task, as just one Veda (The Rig Veda) consist of 10,402 lines! The post of compiler of all these scriptures was given to Seer Vyasa (Ved Vyasa, also the author of the Mahabharata)
The oldest scripture in the world, the Rig Veda, was orally composed in north-western India (Punjab) between c. 1500 and 1200 BC while book 10 of the Rig Veda, and the other texts were composed between 1200-900 BCE, more eastward, between the Yamuna and the Ganges, the heartland of the Aryavarta and the Kuru kingdom (c. 1200 – c. 900 BCE). The “circum-Vedic” texts, as well as the redaction of the Vedas, date to c. 1000–500 BCE.
Why the Eastward shift?
The Aryans were present in Iran and north western India from 2500 BCE to 1200BCE. Then they shifted towards the Gangetic plains, forming the culture, people and the country India (Bharat).The reasons for this historical migration are given in the Vedas and the world’s longest epic, the Mahabharata. In the first Veda (Rig Veda) the river Ganga is not very important for civilization. But, an extinct river Sarswati is said to be life sustaining. Scholars say that drying up of Saraswati and Indus river might have led the Aryan clans to enter The Gangetic Plains .The Rig Veda also tells us about a battle between 10 Aryan kings for the control of Gangetic plains, the winning clan was Bharata (hence name of the country).The Mahabharata also mentions drying up of Saraswati river and drought. This was a big watershed event in India’s history.
The Structure of Vedas
The Vedas are a set of hymns and instructions said by the almighty to man.
There are 4 Vedas , According to tradition, Vyasa is the compiler of the Vedas, who arranged the four kinds of hymns into four Samhitas (Collections).
The 4 Vedas (samhitas) are –
1. Rig Veda (Rig here means rich, heavy &
2. Yajur Veda (yajur means sacrifice)
3. Sam Veda (Sam means equal)
4. Atharva Veda (solutions for everyday life) –
Book for Atharv people.
Each Veda has 4 parts:
A) Samhita – Collection of hymns (mantras in praise of Indra, Agni, Som, Vayu, etc.)
B) Brahmanas – Prose texts that comment and explain the solemn rituals as well as expound on their meaning and many connected themes. Each of the Brahmanas is associated with one of the Samhitas or its recensions.
C) Aranyakas – The wilderness texts” or “forest treaties”, were composed by people who meditated in the woods as recluses and are the third part of the Vedas. The texts contain discussions and interpretations of ceremonies, from ritualistic to symbolic meta-ritualistic points of view. It is frequently read in secondary literature.
D) Upanishads – Largely philosophical works, some in dialogue form. They are the foundation of Hindu philosophical thought and its diverse traditions. Of the Vedic corpus, they alone are widely known, and the central ideas of the Upanishads are still influential in Hinduism.
The Sanhita and Brahman are spoken and
The upanishads are just remembered (smriti).
Today, India is a country with 135 crore people, it has many diverse cultures. One of the cultures majorly followed by Indians is Hinduism (not to be confused by religion, here it is a way of life). This way of life has given Indians many gods ,beliefs, stories, epics, forms of art, festivals knowledge in the field of medicine(Ayurveda), Yoga, literature and philosophy .Moreover, it is the answer to why we are born ,what is life ,what we have to do? Etc. All the things in a Hindu way of life are influenced by the 4000 plus year old Vedas. The Vedas, which were the cradle of civilization in India (Bharat). Everything associated with Hinduism comes from the Vedas. From the birth of a child to the death of an old man! The Vedas remain omnipresent. Their gods may be forgotten, but the new ones also come from them!
“within infinite myths lies the eternal truth ,who sees it all?, Indra has but a thousand eyes, Varuna has a 100, you and me, only two”