The Vedas

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Indian literature begins with the Vedas (Veda is a Sanskrit word meaning knowledge). The Vedas were a series of sacred texts used in religious rituals and sacrifices and composed in an early form of Sanskrit (Vedic Sanskrit). Even in modern times, the Vedas are regarded as the cornerstone of Hinduism.

The oldest Vedic texts are those of the Rig Veda, dating from about the 1300's B.C. These are mostly mythical poems to the great Vedic gods--Indra the Warrior, Agni the god of fire, Surya the sun god, and Varuna the upholder of heaven and earth.

The later books of the Vedas are the Yajur Veda (mainly formulas for sacrifice), Sama Veda (poetry from the Rig Veda adapted to melodies as priestly chants), and Atharva Veda (verses dealing with peace and prosperity and the daily life of human society).

Several prose sequels to the Vedas were written in the period before the Christian era. First were the Brahmanas (Priestly Explanations of Doctrine) and the Aranyakas (Forest Treatises), which discuss the function and purpose of sacrificial rites and consider the relationship of man and the universe.

A later group of texts, the Upanishads (Spiritual Teachings), written in prose and poetry, continues this enquiry into the nature of life. The Upanishads are great classics of spiritual and philosophical thought.

Rig Veda Being the oldest of the Vedic literature, it is most important because it is the valuable record of ancient India. It has ten books or mandalas containing 1028 hymns by the successive generations of Rishis (sages). As the Aryans had no script of their own, the hymns of the Rig Veda were memorized and passed on orally from one generation to the other before being recorded in written form at a much later stage. It has many mantras like the Gayatri mantras which is resided by the Hindus in their houses. It is said to represent the voice of Gods. Many hymns were written in the praise of different Gods of nature. The Rig-Veda gives us information not only on the early Vedic religion and their Gods but also on the social condition of those days. It points to settled people, and organized society and full grown civilization.

Sam Veda It mainly contains verses taken from Rig-Veda with reference to Soma sacrifices. Its hymns are set to music. The Sam Veda has hymns meant for the priest only who sang them at the time of the performance of Yajnas. It tells us much about the music of ancient Aryans.

Yajur Veda It contain hymns concerning sacrifices. The study of this Veda shows that the Aryans had acquired knowledge of sacrifices by that time. It depicts changes in social and religious conditions which had come in the society from the period of Rig-Veda. The Yajur Veda has two parts - the white and the black. The former consists of hymns and latter contains commentaries.

Atharva Veda It contains mantras on three topics - gnana (Knowledge), Karma (deeds), and Upasana (invocation). It is important from the point of view of knowing the history of science in India. It is also collection of spells and charms which are popular among the people. This Veda throws light on the beliefs of the people some of the Mantras are meant to bring success in life, while some where used to ward off evil spirits responsible for disease and sufferings. This Veda believed to be a later composition and contains some non-Aryan material. It seems to have been composed when a synthesis of Aryan and non-Aryan cultures took place.

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