By Jayaram V
The Vedas are very exhaustive scriptures. They are also
the most authoritative scriptures of Hinduism. They are authoritative
texts because whenever there is a doubt or dispute as to a particular
opinion, hypothesis or belief, scholars refer to them to ascertain
truth. This tradition has been followed in Hinduism for centuries
and for all good reasons. It is not possible to validate all knowledge
through direct experienced, especially transcendental truths that
are beyond the mind and the senses. Transcendental truths can be
validated only by transcendental knowledge and the Vedas possess
such knowledge. Some knowledge is validated by direct experience
(pratyaksha). Some knowledge is validated indirectly by the experience
of others or by inference (paroksha), and some knowledge is validated
by the scriptures which are considered an authority and in Hinduism
the Vedas perfectly qualify for that purpose.
Each Veda contains several sections and thousands of hymns. Some
of the Vedic hymns, especially the hymns of the Rig Veda, are considered
at least 6000 to 8000 years old. Most Vedas have been composed before
1500 B.C.E. Since the Vedas were inviolable, they were never edited
or changed since the ancient times. Through the history of Hinduism,
the purity of the Vedas remained intact and we have strong evidence
to suggest this. The Vedas were preserved for the posterity by not
one particular group or institution but by several lineages of Brahmana
families, and they all preserved the same text. We can therefore
confidently say that we have the same Vedas today that were once
used to perform sacrificial rituals on the banks of the extinct
River Saraswathi thousands of years of before.
The Vedas are believed to be revealed scriptures, because they
are considered eternal and divine. According to Hindu beliefs, no
one created the Vedas. They exist eternally in the highest realm
of Brahman, as part of His universal consciousness. They are revealed
to the humans to enable them to perform their obligatory duties.
The Vedas provide you with a glimpse of the inner workings of the
universe. They let you know why and how your world exists when it
comes to an end and how you should conduct yourself in this world
to avoid harm to yourself. It is a knowledge couched in great symbolism
and unless you are well versed in the knowledge of the scriptures
you may not find them useful at all. It is a like a treasure hidden
in the earth. Unless you dig deep, you will not find it. Since they
were not written by any human beings but were only heard in deep
meditative states, they are commonly referred to as "srutis" or
"those that were heard"."
The principal Vedas were originally only three in number,
namely, the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda and the Sama Veda. Atharva
Veda, the fourth one was added later on. Together the first three
were called "trayi vidya," which constituted the threefold knowledge.
The name 'Rig Veda' was derived from the root word 'Rik' which means
'to worship.' The name Yajur Veda came from the root word 'Yaj'
which also means the same. But in course of time the Rig Vedic hymns
became popular as hymns for chanting and recitation, while the hymns
of the Yajur Veda became associated more with the sacrificial ritualistic
aspects of yajna worship.
The name 'Sama Veda' came from the root word 'Saman' meaning
music. Most of the 1549 hymns of the Sama Veda are derived from
the Rig Veda. But in the Sama Veda they acquire a musical connotation
as the priests sing them according to specific meters. During the
yajna or sacrificial worship the priest would chant hymns from all
the three Vedas systematically. The Hotri priest would chant hymns
from the Rig Veda. The Adhavaryu priest , would busy himself with
the chanting of the hymns from the Yajur Veda and the performance
of various sacrificial acts according to detail specifications,
while the Udgatri priest would sit and sing the hymns from Sama
Veda to the accompaniment of some musical instrument such as the
lute or vina.
The Atharva Veda was recognized as the fourth Veda during the
later Vedic period. It contains hymns which deal mostly with the
practical and philosophic aspects of human existence The hymns deal
with such themes as social conduct, success in trade and agriculture,
relationships, human welfare and such practical matters.
Each Veda is divided into four parts. The first part is called
the Samhita, which is the mantra proper. The second part is called
the Aranyaka. The third part is called the Brahmana, which deals
with the sacrificial and ritualistic aspects of the Vedas in prose
form. The fourth part is called the Upanishad, which deals with
the esoteric mystic aspects of the Supreme Self and the inner self.
The Vedas throw considerable light on the scope and nature of
Vedic religion and the life of the early Aryans. We have presented
through the following links a few sample hymns from the Rig Veda
and representative links to different Vedas to help you know with
the basic concepts of the four Vedas. We have also added the complete
translation of the four Vedas from our sacred Scripture's archives.
Suggested Further Reading