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The Vedas – An overview of the 4 sacred scriptures

Niranjan Bhombe

Madhvi Ojha

7 June 2023

"ऋषिषिर्बहु गीतंछन्षिषि्षिहविपृथक् ।
ब्रह्पसवतवि हेतुमद्षि्षवषततवि"

Knowledge is appealing to the intellect when it is expressed with precision and clarity, and is substantiated with sound logic. Further, for it to be accepted as infallible, it must be confirmed on the basis of infallible authority. The reference for validating spiritual knowledge is the Vedas. (Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 13, Verse 5)


Vedas are not just the name of some books; they are the eternal knowledge of

God. Whenever God creates the world, He manifests the Vedas for the benefit of the souls. The Bṛihadāraṇyak Upaniṣhad (4.5.11) states: niḥśhvasitamasya vedāḥ “The Vedas manifested from the breath of God.” They were first revealed in the heart of the first-born Brahma. From there, they came down through the oral tradition, and hence, another name for them is Śhruti, or “knowledge received through the ear.”


The Veda is called Sruti. Sruti is a Sanskrit word which means ‘that which is heard'. In ancient days, the Vedas were studied by word of mouth. The teacher, the master or the Guru would pronounce the Veda mantras, and the disciple or the student would listen. The mantras were repeated several times in different ways by the teacher, and the student learned the art of pronunciation and articulation of the mantras of the Vedas by hearing them. The Guru split the particular verse or the mantra into its divisible parts. Nine times he said it, and the student repeated it nine times. It is understood that when a mantra is repeated nine times, the student has captured the art of proper articulation of the mantra.


Art and science, technology, physiology, psychology, religion, metaphysics, and the art of living in this world—all these can be found implicit in the mantras of the Veda Samhita. This is why the Vedas are considered as the most holy of the scriptures?



Types of Vedas:


There are four Vedas: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, and Atharva Veda, and all of them together are attributed as ‘Chaturveda.’


At the beginning of the age of Kali, Ved Vyas, who was himself a descension of God, put down the Vedas in the form of a book, and divided the one body of knowledge into four portions—Ṛig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sāma Veda, and Atharva Veda. Hence, he got the name Ved Vyās, or “one who divided the Vedas.” The distinction must be borne in mind that Ved Vyas is never referred to as the composer of the Vedas but merely the one who divided them. Hence, the Vedas are also called apauruṣheya, which means not created by any person.


Of the four Vedas, the Rig Veda is the oldest, or original text. Its philosophy and

prescriptions show an evolution from worship of the forces of Nature to the recognition of one Supreme Spirit — Brahman — and, correspondingly, evolution from dependence on the favours of the "gods" to Self-mastery. The Yajur Veda and Sama Veda are considered generally to be derived from the Rig Veda. The Yajur is a special arrangement of rituals—a handbook for priests who conduct the ceremonial rites. The Sama Veda contains selected chants and defines their proper melodic intonation as applicable to the Vedic rituals. The

Atharva Veda is of later origin, and is primarily incantations and magical formulas designed to appease negative forces and gain mundane favours. Among its practical prescriptions are those that have been called the beginning of Indian medical science.



The Rig Veda:


The Rig Veda comprises of 10,600 verses. It contains 1028 hymns dedicated to different deities.


While being the oldest, it is also the longest Veda. It is divided into ten books (called mandalas) and has 1028 hymns in praise of various deities. These include Indra, Agni, Vishnu, Rudra, Varuna, and other early or “Vedic gods.” It also contains the famous Gayatri mantra and the prayer called the Purusha Shukta (the story of Primal Man).


These prayers or hymns are called “Riks”, that’s why this text got its name as Rig Veda. Along with the hymns, the Rigveda also contains knowledge about cosmology, the universe, stars and constellations, astrology, etc.



The Yajur-Veda:


It is a priestly handbook for use in the performance of yajnas.


Yajur Veda, of Sanskrit origin, is composed of Yajus and Veda; the two words translate to ‘prose mantras dedicated to religious reverence or veneration’ and knowledge. This liturgical collection is famous as the ‘book of rituals.’

Yajur Veda is a compilation of rituals offering formulas or prose mantras to be chanted or muttered repeatedly by a priest. At the same time, an individual performs the ascertained ritual actions before the sacrificial fire or the Yajna.


Since the Vedic times, the primary source of information about sacrifices and associated rituals, more importantly, has served as a practical guidebook for the priest, or the Purohits, who execute the acts of ceremonial religion.


The Yajurveda is broadly grouped into Krishna Yajurveda and Shukla Yajurveda, also referred to as the Black Yajurveda and the White. About the verses of the Krishna Yajurveda being un-arranged, unclear, and disparate or dissimilar, the collection is too often referred to as Black Yajurveda. In contrast, the well-arranged and imparting a particular meaning, the Shukla Yajurveda is known as the White Yajurveda.



The Sama Veda:


The Sama Veda is the shortest in all. It only contains 1575 verses. This Veda contains mainly hymns, prayers, music, and devotional songs.


The Sama Veda has served as the principal roots of the classical Indian music and dance tradition, and proudly the tradition boasts itself as the oldest in the world.


“Our music tradition [Indian] in the North as well as in the South, remembers and cherishes its origin in the Samaveda… the musical version of the Rigveda.”


Such has been the influence of Sama-Veda on Indian classical music and dance. So much so that the very essence of classical Indian music and dance tradition is rooted in the sonic and musical dimensions of the Sama-Veda itself. In addition to singing and chanting, the Samaveda mentions instruments and the specific rules and regulations of playing them to preserve the sanctity of those ancient instruments.



The Atharva Veda:


The Atharva is the fourth and the youngest Veda. It is depicted as the “knowledge storehouse of Atharvāṇas,” Atharvāṇas meaning formulas and spells intended to counteract diseases and calamities, or “the procedures for everyday life.”


Atharva Veda is a mixture of hymns, chants, spells, and prayers; and involves issues such as healing of illnesses, prolonging life, and as some claim also the black magic and rituals for removing disorders and anxieties. This Veda contains knowledge about different rituals and rites. It gives details on Mantras and worship, different types of pujas for different types of Gods. It also contains the knowledge of medicines, medical treatments, and surgeries. It contains knowledge on diseases and disorders of body.



What the Vedas Have Given To the World?


For many people, the importance of the Vedas can never be undermined. As per tradition, they have been there from the beginning of the universe. And they deal with subjects that are beyond any human control. The Vedas are considered to be a divine gift. One of the remarkable aspects of the Vedas is their extensive coverage of various subjects that are beyond human control. They provide insights into diverse areas of knowledge such as mathematics, philosophy, technology, astronomy, medical science, surgical science, logic, language, culture, and fine arts. The Vedas offer profound wisdom and practical knowledge in these domains, which have influenced ancient and modern disciplines alike.


The Vedas are written in Sanskrit, which is the oldest language and is also known as Devbhasha (the divine language). The linguistic excellence of Sanskrit is reflected in the structure and poetic beauty of the Vedic hymns.

The gamut of the Vedas is much more than just hymns or prayers. They give meaning to life and also a framework to lead life on the path of religion or dharma. They are the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature. But most of us have a tone-deaf attitude towards our tradition and heritage, which is condemnable. So it is high time to adopt such a latent part of Indian culture with open arms and perceived life through a unique prism of thought. By exploring the Vedas,

we can gain a deeper understanding of our roots, our cultural identity, and the timeless principles that can guide us in navigating the complexities of life.





  • David Frawley, what is Hinduism? A guide for global mind, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (2018), p-18

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