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HINDUISM MYTHOLOGY
 
 

Vedas in Hinduism

Vedas

According to Hindu tradition, the Vedas are apauruseya (not human compositions), being supposed to have been directly revealed, and thus are called sruti (what is heard). Vedic mantras are recited at Hindu prayers, religious functions and other auspicious occasions.

Philosophies and sects that developed in the Indian subcontinent have taken differing positions on the Vedas. Schools of Indian philosophy which cite the Vedas as their scriptural authority are classified as astika . Two other Indian philosophies, Buddhism and Jainism, did not accept the authority of the Vedas and evolved into separate religions. In Indian philosophy these groups are referred to as nastika ("heterodox" or "non-Vedic") schools.

 

The Vedas are the ancient scriptures or revelation (Shruti) of the Hindu teachings. They manifest the Divine Word in human speech. They reflect into human language the language of the Gods, the Divine powers that have created us and which rule over us.

There are four Vedas, each consisting of four parts. The primary portion is the mantra or hymn section (samhita). To this are appended ritualistic teachings (brahmana) and theological sections (aranyaka). Finally philosophical sections (upanishads) are included. The hymn sections are the oldest. The others were added at a later date and each explains some aspect of the hymns or follows one line of interpreting them.

The Vedas were compiled around the time of Krishna (c. 3500 B.C.), and even at that time were hardly understood. Hence they are very ancient and only in recent times has their spiritual import, like that of the other mystery teachings of the ancient world, begun to be rediscovered or appreciated even in India.  Like the Egyptian teachings they are veiled, symbolic and subtle and require a special vision to understand and use properly.

The great compiler of the Veda and Puranas was Vyasa Krishna Dwaipayana. He was said to be the twenty-eighth of the Vyasas or compilers of Vedic knowledge. He was somewhat older than the Avatar Krishna and his work continued after the death of Krishna. Perhaps he is symbolic of a whole Vedic school which flourished at that time, as many such Vedic schools were once prominent all over India and in some places beyond.

Branches of Knowledge

The Vedas are divided into four groups, Rigveda , Yajurveda , Samaveda and Atharvaveda represent various shakhas , or branches, of knowledge. Depending on the branch, different commentaries and instructions are associated with each Veda.

  1. The Rigveda contains hymns (mantras) that formulate the mythology of ancient Vedic practice;
  2. The Samaveda consists mostly of mantras from the Rig Veda, but arranged in an order specifically suited to the Soma sacrifice;
  3. The Yajurveda contains detailed prose instructions for the sacrifices; and
  4. The atharvaveda comprises semi-magical spells against enemies, sorcerers, diseases and mistakes made during the sacrificial ritual, as well as kingly duties and some deeper spiritual truths.

Each of the four Vedas may be divided into two sections:

  1. The mantra portion, also called the Samhita is a collection of hymns to be used in Vedic sacrifices.
  2. The Brahmanas portion contains specific rules and regulations for the sacrifices as well as prose commentaries explaining the meaning of the mantras and rituals.

The Brahmanas , describing rules and purpose of Samhitas , are further divided:

  1. The Aranyakas which conclude the Brahmanas , are written along a blurry line between
  2. The Upani?hads which contain highly philosophical and metaphysical writings about the nature of, and the relationship between, the atman (Inner Self) and Brahman. The Upanishads are often referred to collectively as Vedanta ("the end of the Vedas"), not only because they appear physically in the concluding pages of each Veda, but also because the mystical truths they express are seen by many as the culmination of all the other Vedic knowledge.

There are also auxiliary texts called vedanga . The new books that appeared later are called smriti . Smrti literature includes Itihasas (epics like Ramayana , Mahabharata ), Puranas (mythological texts), agama (theological treatises) and darsanas (philosophical texts).

 

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.

 

Veda ( Sanskrit : "Knowledge.") from the root vid , meaning to know without limit - the scriptures that are the basis of Hindu belief and practice. The Vedas were "heard" or "seen" by sages from a divine source and passed orally through the family line. The word Veda covers all Veda-sakhas known to humanity. The Veda is a repository of all knowledge, fathomless, ever revealing as it is delved deeper. It means knowledge. These and associated books contain knowledge on philosophy, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, navigation, music, dance, drama etc.

Since time unknown they had been only in verbal form in India. Then some-body compiled them in writing. These are the oldest books of the world (These were compiled at least 6000 BC). These are mainly on devotion and philosophy. Like all great Indian compilers the compiler did not like to mention his/her name, however people attribute it to sage Veda-Vyasa.

They are compiled in complex meters and filled with various sophisticated plays on the sounds of words. They are compiled in a language (Sanskrit) which is filled with synonyms indicating a long and rich development. Above all it has an entire mysticism of sound, mantra and the Divine Word.

They have been in the hearts of Indians since then. Though is not fair to confine them under a tag, but if we have to do that then they are, what is called Hindu philosophy.

 

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, Sikhismand 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 the Alvar saints as equivalent to the Vedas.

 

 

Origin of the Vedas

The Vedas are probably the earliest documents of the human mind and is indeed difficult to say when the earliest portions of the Vedas came into existence. As the ancient Hindus seldom kept any historical record of their religious, literary and political realization, it is difficult to determine the period of the Vedas with precision. Historians provide us many guesses but none of them is free from ambiguity.

Who wrote the Vedas?

It is believed that humans did not compose the revered compositions of the Vedas, which were handed down through generations by the word of mouth from time immemorial. The general assumption is that the Vedic hymns were either taught by God to the sages or that they were revealed themselves to the sages who were the seers or "mantradrasta" of the hymns. The Vedas were mainly compiled by Vyasa Krishna Dwaipayana around the time of Lord Krishna (c. 1500 BC)

Structure of the Vedas

Each Veda consists of four parts - the Samhitas (hymns), the Brahmanas (rituals), the Aranyakas (theologies) and the Upanishads (philosophies). The collection of mantras or hymns is called the Samhita. The Brahmanas are ritualistic texts and include precepts and religious duties. Each Veda has several Brahmanas attached to it. The Upanishads form the concluding portions of the Veda and therefore called the "Vedanta" or the end of the Veda and contains the essence of Vedic teachings. The Upanishads and the Aranyakas are the concluding portions of the Brahmanas, which discuss philosophical problems. The Aryanyakas (forest texts) intend to serve as objects of meditation for ascetics who live in forests and deal with mysticism and symbolism.

The Mother of All Scriptures

Although the Vedas are seldom read or understood today, even by the devout, they no doubt form the bedrock of the universal religion or "Sanatana Dharma" that all Hindus follow. The Vedas have guided our religious direction for ages and will continue to do so for generations to come. And they will forever remain the most comprehensive and universal of all ancient scriptures.

Why are the Vedas called Srutis ?

The Vedas originally existed only in sound form, they are sometimes referred to as Sruti . In scriptures, Sruti means that which is heard. The real reason for giving the name Sruti to the Vedas is that Cosmic Vibrations which are inaudible and cannot be seen were heard by the mediating Sages as sound. That is also one of the reasons why the sound aspect is given so much importance. Great stress is therefore laid by the teachers of Vedas on the correct pronunciation of the word and the intonation while chanting.

The ancients of India devised elaborate recitation drills so that through the ages, the chants would remain the same, without mutation and corruption. Macdonnel (1899) who, commenting on this oral tradition, said as far back as 1899 that .

" The Vedas are still learnt by heart as they were long before the invasion of Alexander, and could now be restored from the lips of religious teachers if every manuscript or printed copy were destroyed."

"The One Truth the sages call by many names." ~ Rig Veda

The Rig Veda: The Book of Mantra

The Rig Veda is a collection of inspired songs or hymns and is a main source of information on the Rig Vedic civilization. It is the oldest book in any Indo-European language and contains the earliest form of all Sanskrit mantras that date back to 1500 B.C. - 1000 B.C. Some scholars date the Rig Veda as early as 12000 BC - 4000 B.C. The Rig-Vedic 'samhita' or collection of mantras consists of 1,017 hymns or 'suktas', covering about 10,600 stanzas, divided into eight 'astakas' each having eight 'adhayayas' or chapters, which are sub-divided into various groups. The hymns are the work of many authors or seers called 'rishis'. There are seven primary seers identified: Atri, Kanwa,Vashistha, Vishwamitra, Jamadagni, Gotama and Bharadwaja. The rig Veda accounts in detail the social, religious, political and economic background of the Rig-Vedic civilization. Even though monotheism characterizes some of the hymns of Rig Veda, naturalistic polytheism and monism can be discerned in the religion of the hymns of Rig Veda.

The Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda were compiled after the age of the Rig Veda and are ascribed to the Vedic period.

The Sama Veda: The Book of Song

The Sama Veda is purely a liturgical collection of melodies ('saman'). The hymns in the Sama Veda, used as musical notes, were almost completely drawn from the Rig Veda and have no distinctive lessons of their own. Hence, its text is a reduced version of the Rig Veda. As Vedic Scholar David Frawley puts it, if the Rig Veda is the word, Sama Veda is the song or the meaning, if Rig Veda is the knowledge, Sama Veda is its realization, if Rig Veda is the wife, the Sama Veda is her husband.

The Yajur Veda: The Book of Ritual

The Yajur Veda is also a liturgical collection and was made to meet the demands of a ceremonial religion. The Yajur Veda practically served as a guidebook for the priests who execute sacrificial acts muttering simultaneously the prose prayers and the sacrificial formulae ('yajus'). It is similar to ancient Egypt's "Book of the Dead". There are no less than six complete recessions of Yajur Veda - Madyandina, Kanva, Taittiriya, Kathaka, Maitrayani and Kapishthala.

The Atharva Veda: The Book of Spell

The last of the Vedas, this is completely different from the other three Vedas and is next in importance to Rig-Veda with regard to history and sociology. A different spirit pervades this Veda. Its hymns are of a more diverse character than the Rig Veda and are also simpler in language. In fact, many scholars do not consider it part of the Vedas at all. The Atharva Veda consists of spells and charms prevalent at its time, and portrays a clearer picture of the Vedic society.



 
 


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