Vedic Literature- The Ocean of Knowledge

Submitted by souravroy on Tue, 17-Jan-2012 - 00:58

“If I am asked which nation had been advanced in the ancient world in respect of education and culture then I would say it was- India” -Max Muller, German Indologist.

The Vedas are a large body of texts originating in ancient India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism.

The word veda is derived from the Sanskrit word vid- “to know”. These are a large body of texts originating in ancient India. The earliest scripture on earth is the Rig Veda, which was composed even before 1700 BC.

Vedic texts include-

Vedas or Samhitas- The four vedas are Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. Each of these have specific details-

·         Rigveda- Contains hymns dedicated to 33 gods which include Indra, Agni, Rudra, etc. The veda is organized into ten books. It speaks of cosmic knowledge.

·       Yajurveda- Speaks of practical knowledge. Each mantra must accompany an action in sacrifice but. There are two major groups of recensions of this Veda, known as the “Black” (Krishna) and “White” (Shukla) Yajurveda. It describes the sacrificial alters, their geometries and construction.

·         Samveda- Contains hymns and proses on music, dance and theatre.

·         Atharvaveda- Speaks of medicines, diseases, antibiotics and warfare.

Upavedas- There are 4 upavedas, namely-

·         Dhanurveda- science of warfare.

·         Gandharvaveda- study of aesthetics.

·         Ayurveda- study of medicine.

·         Arthashashtra- science of public administration, governance, economics and politics. Composed by Chanakya.

Brahmanas- These are prose texts that discuss, in technical fashion, the vedas or samhitas. For each veda, there is a brahmanas.

Aranyakas- These are “wilderness texts” or “forest treaties”, composed by people who meditated in the woods as recluses and are the third part of the Vedic literature. The texts contain discussions and interpretations of dangerous rituals (to be studied outside the settlement) and various sorts of additional materials.

Upanishads- These the FAQs of vedas! They are in the form of teacher-student conversation discussing the technical and practical aspects of the knowledge available in vedas. There are more than 200 upanishads known, of which the oldest and most important are referred to as the principal or mukhya upanishads. The oldest of these, the Brihadaranyaka, Jaiminiya and the Chandogya Upanishads, were composed before Buddha, while the Taittiriya, Aitareya and Kausitaki, which allegedly show Buddhist influence, were composed after the 5th century BC.

Vedangas- These are the six auxiliary disciplines traditionally associated with the study and understanding of the Vedas. They include-

·         Shiksha- phonetics and phonology

·         Kalpa- ritual

·         Vyakarana- grammar

·         Nirukta- history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.

·         Chandas- structure of poetry

·         Jyotisha- astronomy for calendar issues, such as auspicious days for performing sacrifices.

According to Hindu tradition, the Vedas are apauruneya "not of human agency", are supposed to have been directly revealed, and thus are called sruti ("what is heard"). The four Samhitas are metrical (with the exception of prose commentary interspersed in the Krishna Yajurveda). The term sa?hita literally means "composition, compilation". The individual verses contained in these compilations are known as mantras. Some selected Vedic mantras are still recited at prayers, religious functions and other auspicious occasions in contemporary Hinduism.

The Vedas are among the oldest sacred texts of the world. The Samhitas date to roughly 1500–1000 BCE, and the "circum-Vedic" texts, as well as the redaction of the Samhitas, date to c. 1000-500 BCE, resulting in a Vedic period, spanning the mid 2nd to mid 1st millennium BCE, or the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The Vedic period reaches its peak only after the composition of the mantra texts, with the establishment of the various shakhas all over Northern India which annotated the mantra samhitas with Brahmana discussions of their meaning, and reaches its end in the age of Buddha and Panini and the rise of the Mahajanapadas (archaeologically, Northern Black Polished Ware). Michael Witzel gives a time span of c. 1500 BCE to c. 500-400 BCE. Witzel makes special reference to the Near Eastern Mitanni material of the 14th c. BCE the only epigraphic record of Indo-Aryan contemporary to the Rigvedic period. He gives 150 BCE (Patañjali) as a terminus ante quem for all Vedic Sanskrit literature, and 1200 BCE (the early Iron Age) as terminus post quem for the Atharvaveda.

Transmission of texts in the Vedic period was by oral tradition alone, preserved with precision with the help of elaborate mnemonic techniques. A literary tradition set in only in post-Vedic times, after the rise of Buddhism in the Maurya period, perhaps earliest in the Kanva recension of the Yajurveda about the 1st century BCE; however oral tradition predominated until c. 1000 CE.

Due to the ephemeral nature of the manuscript material (birch bark or palm leaves), surviving manuscripts rarely surpass an age of a few hundred years. The Benares Sanskrit University has a Rigveda manuscript of the mid-14th century; however, there are a number of older Veda manuscripts in Nepal belonging to the Vajasaneyi tradition that are dated from the 11th century onwards.

The various Indian philosophies and sects have taken differing positions on the Vedas. Schools of Indian philosophy which cite the Vedas as their scriptural authority are classified as "orthodox" (astika). Other traditions, notably Buddhism and Jainism, which did not regard the Vedas as authorities are referred to by traditional Hindu texts as "heterodox" or "non-orthodox" (nastika) schools. In addition to Buddhism and Jainism, Sikhism and Brahmoism, many non-Brahmin Hindus in South India do not accept the authority of the Vedas. Certain South Indian Brahmin communities such as Iyengars consider the Tamil Divya Prabandham or writing of theAlvar saints as equivalent to the Vedas. In most Iyengar temples in South India the Divya Prabandham is recited daily along with Vedic Hymns.