The Vedas are lengthy collections of sacred writing that date back to ancient India and are written in Vedic Sanskrit. They comprise the earliest body of Sanskrit literature as well as the earliest Hindu scriptures. According to legend, the Vedas were verbally transmitted from one generation to the next. As a result, they are often referred to as Shruti.
The four Vedas—Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda—make up the body of the Vedic literature. Samhita refers to the mantra text of each of the Vedas.
Types of Vedic Literature
There are broadly two types of Vedic literature:
- Shruti Literature – The word ‘Shruti’ from the term ‘Shruti Literature’ means ‘to hear’ and describes the sacred texts which comprise Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, & Upanishads. Shruti Literature is canonical, consisting of revelation and unquestionable truth, and is considered eternal.
- Smriti Literature – Whereas, the word ‘Smiriti’ literally means to be remembered and which is supplementary and may change over time. Smriti Literature is the entire body of the post-Vedic Classical Sanskrit literature and consists of Vedanga, Shad darsana, Puranas, Itihasa, Upveda, Tantras, Agamas, and Upangas.
Aryans developed Vedic culture on Vedas. The word Veda means “knowledge,” and Vedas are considered the best of all knowledge in the eyes of Hindus. Vedas are a collection of hymns, prayers, charms, litanies, and sacrificial formulae. The Vedic period is divided into four Vedas, namely, Rig Veda, Sam Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda.
- Collection of Hymns,
- Oldest of all Vedas,
- Associated with 1017 hymns or Suktas,
- Rig Veda is compiled in 10 ‘mandalas’ & 8 ‘Akhtakamss’.
- Rig Veda contains the famous Gayatri Mantra
- Oldest mandalas II, III, IV, V, VI & VII
- Latest mandalas I, VIII, IX, X
- The tenth “Mandalas,” which has the “Purusha Sukta” hymn, was probably added later.
- Mandala IX is fully devoted to Soma
- Book of sacrificial prayers (prose text)
- Rituals of yajnas are sung by the priest “Adhavaryu.”
- Its mantras tell us the procedure of the sacrifices and what part the “Adhvaryus“- the Brahmanas who performed the manual work in the arrangement of sacrifice were to play at the time of sacrifice.
- It has been compiled in the “fourth path.”
- The Yajur Veda has been divided into Krishna (black) Yajurveda & Shukla (white) Yajurveda.
- It is the rhythmic compilation of hymns of Rigveda
- “Book for Chants” has 1,549 hymns, meant to be sung by a special Brahmana class called Udgatris at the ‘soma’ sacrifice
- But the Samaveda has very little original value.
- Sama Veda Has only 75 fundamental hymns
- Karnataka – Jaiminga
- Gujarat – Kanthun
- Maharashtra – Ranayaniya
- Mantras for magic spells
- Populate ritualistic systems & superstitions
- Associated with the “Saunkiya” and “Paiplad” community
- Collection of 711/731/760 hymns
- Atharva Veda has been divided into 20 “Kandas.”
- Out of which 18th, 19th & 20th ‘Kandas’ are later works
- Atharva Veda provides freedom from evil spirits.
- It has the oldest text on Indian medicine.
The word Veda was split from the Sanskrit word Ved, meaning ‘spiritual knowledge.’ There are four Vedas-Rig Veda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda. The Rig Veda includes a reference only to the first three Vedas, which indicates at some later date the fourth Veda was written.
Vedic literature is divided into three periods. These three periods overlap each other: –
- The Mantra Period: Samhitas were composed
- Brahmana Period: Brahmanas, Upanishads, and Aranyakas were composed
- Sutra Period
Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads
Brahmanas are massive prose texts containing speculation of the meaning of the hymns, giving precepts for their application, relating stories of their origin in connection with sacrificial rites, and explaining the secret meaning of the later ones.
- Rigveda: Aitereya and Kaushitaki Brahmanas
- Samaveda: Tandya and Jaiminiya Brahmanas
- Yajurveda: Tattiriya and Satapatha Brahmanas
- Atharvaveda: Gopatha bharamanas
- The Aranyakas are the final or concluding parts of the Brahmanas. It does not place a lot of emphasis on ceremonies, rituals, and sacrifices, but includes only philosophy and mysticism. They lead with the questions of the universe’s existence, origin and elements, and universe formation.
- Aranyakas in literal terms means ‘Jungle.’.
- Arankayas provides a description of Moral Science and Philosophy.
- Arankayas provide details of hermits and saints who lived in Jungles.
- Aranyakas give stress on meditation.
- Protests the system of ‘Yajnas.’
The literary meaning of Upanishad is ‘Satra’ (to sit near master’s feet) in which the Guru offers a band of knowledge to their disciples
- It would be appropriate to describe the Upanishads as mystic writings. There is a total of 108 Upanishads
- The most prominent Upanishads areIsh, Prasana, Aitareya, Chhandogaya, Kathoupanishad, Taittiriya (Source of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’), Ishopanishad, Brehadaranyaka, etc.
- Upanishads are a combination of Tatva-mimansa and philosophy
- Upanishads are also called “Vedanta.”
- The Primitive upanishads are “Brahadaranyaka” and “Chandogya”
- Later, Upanishads, like “Katha” and “ShvetashvataraSwetaswatar,” were written in poetic forms.
- Brahma is the summary of philosophy, which is the only ‘truth’ in the world.
- Upanishads say knowledge awards salvation.
Smriti means traditional knowledge and designates almost the entire body of post-Vedic classical Sanskrit literature. Smriti literature is divided into various subjects: –
Vedangas refer to certain branches of post-Vedic studies regarded as auxiliary to the Vedas. The Vedangas are conventionally divided into six headings, namely: –
- Jyotisha means astronomy
- Kalpa or the ritual canon, including the dharma shastras or legal codes,
- Chhanda means metre
- Siksha means phonetics,
- Nirukta means etymology
- Vyakarana means (Grammar)
It means six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy:
1. Vaiseshikha, 2. Nyaya, 3. Sankhya, 4. Yoga, 5. Mimamsa, and 6. Vedanta.
Itihasa: Legendary or semi-legendary works, specifically the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and often extended to the Puranas.
Puranas: They are heavily colored with superstitions. The Puranas represent the most corrupt form of Hinduism. Puranas are 18 in number.
- It is also known as the auxiliary Vedas.,
- Upaveda deals with medicine, architecture, erotics, archery, and various arts and crafts.
- Upavedas were partly derived from original Vedic texts.
- Upavedas were generally associated with one or more than one Vedas.
Tantras: It is the writings of Shakta or Shaivite sects and also of certain antinomian Buddhist scholars.
Agamas: Agamas are scriptures of sectarian Hindus like Vaishnavites, Shaivites, and Shaktas.
Upangas: Upangas is a generic name for any collection of treatises although traditionally confined to the philosophical systems of ‘Nyaya‘ and ‘Mimansa‘ – the ‘Dharma Sutras‘ the ‘Puranas‘ and the ‘Tantras‘.
Epic Period (600 BC to 500 BC)
Some historians regard the Later Vedic Period as the Period of Epics.
- The Ramayana
- The Mahabharata and
- The sage, Valmiki, is said to have written this.
- The related events in it precede the Mahabharata by around one hundred and fifty years.
- Ramayana’s story is of indigenous origin and had existed in Prakrit in ballad form, in more than one version.
- In Sanskrit, it was rewritten and increased with several ‘Shlokas.’
- The epic was given a Brahmanic character that was unseen in the original work.
- It is also called Adi Kavya.
- Evidence puts the Ramayana’s oldest portion before 350 BC.
- The reference in the epic to the mixed hordes of Yavanas and Shakas indicates accretions during the Graeco-Scythian period and may have acquired its final form by approximately AD 250.
- The Mahabharata is the bulkiest epic of 100,000 lines and is divided into 18 paravas (books).
- This book is generally assigned to Rishi Ved Vyas, but scholars have expressed doubts about whether one single person could have accomplished such a great work.
- The story itself only occupies around one-fourth of the poem.
- It is a story of the Aryans-Kaurava & Pandava war.
The rest are episodic, consisting of cosmology, theogony, state crafts, war science, ethics, legendary history, mythology, fairy tales, and several digressive and philosophical interludes, the best known of which is the Bhagavad Gita.
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