The four Vedas viz. Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samveda and Atharvaveda come under the Shruti category of ancient Hindu scriptures and are considered sacred. Later texts like the various shastras and the itihaasas form Smruti.
Rig-Veda is known as the oldest religious text in the world. It is also known as “First testament” of mankind. It was composed around 1700 BC. Last hymns were composed between 1500-1200 BC. It’s a collection of hymns by a number of priest families. It is organized in 10 books which are called Mandalas. The first and 10th Mandalas are the youngest and the longest books. Second to Seventh Mandalas are oldest parts of Rig-Veda but the shortest books. 8th and 9th books are of mixed ages.
Rig-Veda is neither a historical nor a heroic poem but is mainly a collection of hymns by a number of priestly families. These were recited at the time of sacrificial rites and other rituals with utmost devotion. The Rig-Veda contains 1017 (1028, including 11 hymns of the Valakhilya recession) hymns (Sukta) and is divided into ten mandalas. The first and the tenth Mandalas are said to have been added later as their language differs slightly from the other eight Mandalas.
“Yajus” means “sacrificial formula” and Yajurveda is the book of sacrificial prayers. It contains the rituals of the Yajnas. It is estimated to have been composed between 1,400 and 1000 BC.
It prescribes the rituals for performing different sacrifices. It was the manual of the Adhvaryus. Adhvarus wre the people prepared the ground and the altar, offered the sacrificial victims and poured out the libations.
There are two distant forms of this Veda. In the oldest, the instructions about rituals are mingled with the verses from the Rig-Veda. The chief recession of this is that taught by a school of teachers called the Taitttiriyans. This was called Black Yajurveda.
At a later date other scholars called the Vajasaneyins separated the explanatory matter from the verses to be recited and hence were called white (Shukla) Yajur-Veda, the other being called the black (Krishna) Yajur-Veda.
This implies that the Krishna Yajurveda includes the Brahmana prose discussions within the Samhita (no Brahman) while the Shukla Yajurveda has separately a Brahmana text, the Shatapatha Brahmana.
World’s oldest prose literature of the Indo-Europeans is contained in Yajurveda.
“Saman” means melody and it contains the Rythmic compilation of Hymns for Rigveda. It ranks next in sanctity and liturgical importance to the Rigveda. It contains 1549 hymns which are meant to be sung at the soma sacrifice by a special class of Brahmans called “Udgatris”. It has three shakhas or recensions:
- Kauthuma : Panchvish Brahmana
- the Jaiminiya : jaiminiya Brahmana
- Rāvāyanīya : Shadvish Brahmana
There are two Aranyakas : Chadogya Aranyaka and jaiminiya Aranyaka. Chadogya Aranyaka has Chadogya Upnishad and Jaiminiya Aranyaka has Jaiminiya Upnishad. Gandharveveda is Samveda’s Upveda is is a technical treatise on Music, Dance and Drama. It is also called Natya Shashtra.
Atharva-Veda is entirely different from the other three Vedas and is chronologtically the last of the four. It is important and interesting as it describes the popular beliefs and superstitions of the humble folk.
Atharvaveda contains the magic spells, incorporates much of early traditions of healing and magic that are paralleled in other Indo-European literatures.
For a very long time it was not included in the category of the Vedas.’Atharvan’ was a legendary Rishi and is considered to have sung the Atharvaveda. He is also said to have first instituted the fire-sacrifice or yagna. Atharvaveda was mainly composed by two groups of rishis known as the Atharvanas and the Angirasa, hence its oldest name is Ātharvāṅgirasa.
There are two surviving recensions or Shakhas known as Śaunakīya (AVS) and Paippalāda (AVP).
- Gopath Brahmana is the Brahmana of Yajurveda.
- There are three Unishads viz. Prasna, Mundaka and Mandukya.
- Satyamev Jayate, India’s Motto comes from Mundaka Upanishad.