word Veda literally means knowledge, the knowledge par
excellence or supreme knowledge. The Veda is considered
to be the divine truths raveled to the seers (Rishis)
from time to time during their long-term penance and samadhi.
The great seers or Rishis perceived reality at the two
levels of visions-in its essential form and then in its
Another name of Veda is Shruti, as Veda was directly heard
from God (or because of getting traditional method of
word of mouth and then learning it by heart).Commentator
on Veda, Saayanaacharya, defines Veda as "A book,
which reveals the knowledge of supernatural methods for
the achievement of the desired and avoidance of the undesirable."
The Hindus consider Veda as the original and prime source
of their cultural life. For them, since the time immemorial,
Veda is the word of God. In effect, the thinking and feelings
of Hindus are controlled and regulated by the Veda. It
is almost impossible to perceive and fully understand
the ethos of spiritual and cultural lives of Indians without
having an insight into Veda.
The themes appearing in the Vedas are not ephemeral. They
are eternal and are relevant to the humanity for all times
to come. One can get possessed and spellbound and eventually
ecstatic by the articulate illustrations and majestic
details of the natural beauty. The magnificent accounts
of glorious sunrise, torrential rains and thunder and
lightning have no match in other literatures of the world.
According to Veda, a seeker of truth has full freedom
to follow his path, provided he is clear in his mind as
to what he wants. The word Veda literally means knowledge
and then the knowledge par excellence or supreme knowledge.
This knowledge was not derived from a particular scripture
or prophet but came into being in course of several millennia.
This knowledge continued incessantly being transmitted
from centuries to centuries from generation to generation
by word of mouth. According to tradition, since Veda is
revelation, it is apaurusheya, i.e., not of human origin.
The Hindu religious tradition has accorded the Vedas the
highest place in its literature. As such, they are revered
as the basic scriptures of Hinduism.
It is extremely difficult to fix up the date of the Vedas.
The dates assigned by the various scholars vary as widely
as 25,000 B. C. to 1000 B. C. However, the general consensus
among most of the Indian scholars is to consider the Harappa-Mohenjodaro
culture (c. 4000 B. C.) to be a later phase of the Vedic
culture. This places the date of the Rig-veda, the earliest
of the Vedas, around 10,000 B. C.
For centuries, the Vedas have been handed down to the
posterity by oral tradition.
Top of the Page
Hence the name sruti, 'what is heard'. And, they have
been mainly utilized in the performance of yajnas and
yagas (sacrifices), which were the most common form of
early Vedic religion. Such utilization of the Vedas in
the sacrificial processes naturally led to its division
based upon the convenience of the chief priests conducting
The Four Vedas: A compilation of all the hymns
used by the hota-priest to invite the various deities
to the sacrifice became the Rig-veda. All the liturgical
parts of the Vedas, useful to the priest, the chief executor
of the sacrificial rites, brought together, formed the
Collection of all the musical chants, especially those
associated with the Soma group of sacrifices, and to be
sung by the udgatr-priest, the singer, was named as Sama-veda.
The reset, a sort of miscellaneous appendix and addenda
became the Atharva-veda and was assigned to the
brahma-priest, considered as the supervisor over the whole
As per the annals of the Hindu orthodoxy, the great sage
Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa is said to have effected this
division by collecting all the mantras extant during his
time, and editing them into four groups: Rig, Yajus, Saman
and Atharvan. He taught them to his four chief disciples:
Raila (Rig-veda), Vaisampayana (Yajur-veda), Jaimini (Sama-veda)
and Sumantu (Atharva-veda). This is how these four Vedas
Other Methods of Division-
The Vedas are divided in another way too: Mantra and Brahmana
Samhitaa is the name given to the collection of the Mantras.
The Brahmana includes in itself two more sections, the
Aranyaka and the Upanisad. If the Mantras comprise the
hymns, the Brahmanas contain liturgies in prose. The Aaranyakas
teach about meditations based on symbolical interpretations
of the liturgical rites. The Upanisad may roughly classified
as philosophical treatises dealing with the ultimate problems
Conventionally speaking, it is the Samhitaa that is indicated
by the word Veda. For instance, Rig-veda means only the
Rik-samhitaa or the Rik-veda-samhitaa. The Braahmanas,
the Aranyakas and the Upanisads of the Rig-veda have different
and independent names and are considered more like its
These Samhitaas, in course of time, branched off, leading
to the formation of Sakhaas or recensions. The origin
of these sakhaas probably lies in the fact that each of
the principle sages like Paila or Vaisampaayana had several
disciples. These disciples or their successors might have
done some editing and readjustment of the Vedic mantras
to suit the needs of the rites which they had to perform
and upon which local culture too might have exerted its
A brief account of the contents of the four Vedas is attempted