Vedic Literature at a Glance

Vedic Literature at a Glance  

Shruti Raval
Views : 2636 | April 2004

One remarkable aspect that distinguishes Hinduism from other great religions of the world is that there was no particular prophet - a 'Paygambar' or pioneer of it.

Christianity was pioneered and preached by the prophet Jesus Chirst. Islam came down from Hajarat Muhammad Paygambar and Buddhism emerged from the preachings of Gautam Buddha. Such is not the case with Hinduism.

Hinduism as a matter of fact is a life - style built on concepts, or ideology that originated in the most ancient Sanskrit books named Vedas. The world 'Veda' (meaning 'knowledge') came down from the Sanskrit verb root 'Vid', which means 'to know'. A few more meanings of the word 'Ved' are: 'Ved' is a 'divine knowledge' which leads man from the primitive state of animality to the state of refined, cultured, sublime lifestyle of human being. Another meaning of 'Ved' is 'existence'.

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The existence not of one's own body but of one's soul. Monier Williams says that Ved is a divine unwritten knowledge, imagined to have issued like breath from the self existent, being called Brahman and thought to be itself self existent. Certain ascetics, who stayed in solitude constantly perceived the phenomena taking place in nature all around.

Their profound meditation and severe penances to understand one's own existence and its relation with universe brought them the divine knowledge. It is believed that this knowledge was received by them through 'Shabda', as well as 'Vision', so its recipients came to be known as 'Rishis' and 'Drashtas'.

This knowledge, which came to be revealed to them was not in writing. It passed from the generation of 'Rishis' to their disciples in oral form. In order to preserve this knowledge in its purest and truest from, it was then written down. Lines of related words arranged in poetic forms came to be known as 'Mantras'.

The Vedas are four in number :

(The Rig Veda : It is considered to be the oldest Veda and it .consists 1017 hymns. It is a collection of songs in praise of Gods, such as Agni, Varuna, Mitra, Surya, Rudra, Yama, Marut etc.

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  1. The Yajur Veda : It is a collection of 'Mantras' mainly related to sacrificial rituals. Various complicated systems related to sacrificial ceremonies are described in it.
  2. The Sama Veda : lt is made up of most of the hymns of the Rig Veda, that are meant to be sung.
  3. The Atharva Veda : This collection seems to have come out during the latter part of the Vedic period.

Some scholars believe that, to some extent, it is influenced by the non Aryan culture. Some of it's hymns are repeated from the Rig Veda.

An eye catching aspect of the Atharva Veda is that, it contains many 'Mantras' pertaining to supernatural elements, such as evil spirits like ghosts. It also mentions the remedies to avert them. This notion can not be the outcome of the Aryan culture.

The Vedic literature can be subdivided in three parts:

  1. Mantras : The 'Mantras' are prayers and praises of Gods.
  2. Brahmanas : They contain the 'Mantras' regarding various types of sacrificial rituals (Karma Kand) performed on different occasions. They also show how to apply particular 'Mantras' to particular religious rites. In these books the supremacy of religious priests is given more importance than the spirit of the 'Mantras'.
  3. The Aranyaks and Upanishadas : The word Aranyak is derived from the word ‘Aranya’, which means’ Forest .Some Rishis dwelling in solitude in forests concentrated their minds on long and deep reflection over the subjects of ‘Atma’ (the ‘Chaitanya’ found in living beings.

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It is subjected to the limits of time and space.) and ‘Paramatma’ (the universal Chaitanya’ existing in every animate or inanimate being. It is free from the boundaries of time and space) The knowledge which those Rishis received through their penances was then put into words. As this happened in 'Aranyas', the collections containing this material were called Aranyaks. The Upanishads are like the supplements of the Aranyaks.

Hence the contents of the Upanishads is more or less the same as that of Aranyakas. The knowledge stored in Upenishads is considered to be the essence of all knowledge . As and when Vedic literature flourished widely, it was classified and divided subjectwise. According to the classification there are six 'Angas', or limbs of the Vedic texts. They are as follows:

(1) Kalpa -Rules for applying Mantras to Vedic sacrificial ceremonies.

(2) Shiksha -Science of pronunciation .

(3) Nirukta -Explanation, or interpretation of the Veda.

( 4 ) Chhanda -Rules of poetic metre.

(5) Vyakarana -Grammar

(8) Jyotish -Astrology At present, as the title of the article suggests, we have thrown only a glance over the Vedic literature. Later, if circumstances permit, we shall talk about Jyotish as a part of the Vedas.

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