The Vedas- A Brief Introduction

The Vedas contain the divine wisdom and knowledge of things directly seen by the Rishis or seers of hoary antiquity by intuition and are called Shrutis, i.e. what is directly heard or experienced by intuition. Hence Vedas are called Apaurusheya, i.e., not composed by any human beings.1 The Vedas are the earliest books of mankind and occupy a unique position in world literature. In comparison with the Egyptian pyramids and other ancient monuments which inspire us with their mute grandeur and perpetuate the memories of their builders, the Vedas which have most faithfully preserved the immortal words uttered by the ancient seers thousands of years ago have been inspiring millions of devout Hindus since time immemorial. The Vedas are the fountainhead of later Indian literature both religious and secular. All Indian law givers regard the Veda as the principal source of Dharma and all Hindus look upon the Vedas as the supreme authority in all matters concerning religion, laws and social conduct. There is an unmistakable imprint of Vedic influence over Indian religions, philosophy, literature, art and culture. Even today millions of Hindus perform their religious rites with the recitation of those very Vedic mantras which were recited by their forefathers thousands of years ago.2

Authors of the Veda

The hymns of the Rig Veda were composed by the members of Rishi families like the Kanvas, Angirases, Agastyas, Grtsamadas, Atris, Viswamitras, Vasishtas, Kasyapas, Bharatas and Bhrgus. Apart from these families we also have hymns composed jointly by members of different families and those composed by Rishis whose family identity is unknown or unidentifiable.3 These mantras were revealed to about 400 Rishis among whom 30 are women. Some women Rishis who composed the Rigvedic hymns were Aditi, Apaalaa, Godhaa, Indraanii, Lopamudra, Romashaa, Urvashi, Yami, Sikataa, Nivaavari and Aatreyi.4 Swami Mahadevananda Giri has given the names of the Rishis who has composed the Rigveda in appendix I of his book Vedic Culture.5

Date of its Composition

Based on astronomical data Indians have fixed the date on which the Mahabharatha war took place. According to Aryabhatta, Kaliyuga began from 3102 B.C. and the date of Mahabharatha war was 3138 B.C. In modern times scholars like Dr. Mankad fixed 3201 B.C. as the date of the war and mathematicians and astrophysicists making use of planetarium software and taking the astronomical data available in the text of the epic Mahabharatha itself as the basis, have assigned the year 3067 B.C. as the date of the Mahabharatha war.  Another famous astronomer Varahamihira says that Yudhisthira became king in saka era 2526 B.C. corresponding to 2469 B.C. or 2447 B.C. Dr. P.C.Sengupta based on Vedanga Jyotisha has fixed 2449 B.C. as the date of Mahabharatha war. The date arrived by the Kashmiri historian Kalhana was 2448 B.C., one year less than that assigned by P.C.Sengupta. Considering either 3067 B.C. or 2449 B.C. as the date in which the Mahabharatha war took place helps us arrive at the approximate age of the composition of Rigveda.6

It is said that Mandala II to VII form the oldest core of the Rigveda; of which the III mandala is ascribed to sage Vishwamitra and the VII to sage Vasishta. Both Vasista and Vishwamitra were associated with Sudasa, the Ikshavaku king and entertained by him on different occasions. In Vayu Purana we have a total of 94 kings from Manu to Bhrihadbala belonging to the Ikshavaku dynasty. Bhrihadbala died in the Mahabharatha war and was 47 generation after Sudasa, the famous king of Ayodhya. Taking Vayu Purana as the basis for the list of ancient Indian kings and the year 2449 B.C. as the date of Mahabharatha war and allotting 40 years for each generation, the date of Sudasa would be 4329 B.C. and as Vasista and Vishwamitra were contemporaries of Sudasa, the date 4329 B.C. could be taken as the approximate date of the composition of the Rigveda. If we take the year 3067 B.C. as the date in which the Mahabharatha war took place then the approximate date of the composition of the Rigveda would be 4947 B.C.7

Classification of the Vedas

In ancient times Vedas meant only one collection of all the mantras numbering about twenty-five thousand or more. Later for the purpose of study and preservation, the single collection was divided by Veda Vyasa into four overlapping collection of mantras as Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda and taught one each to his disciples, Paila, Vaishampayana, Jaimini and Sumantu respectively.8 According to Sri Chandrashekar Saraswathi men in ancient times were endowed with great mental and physical abilities and were able to master the whole Vedas. But in the Kali age they began to lose their divine yogic powers. Hence to protect the Vedas from going into total extinction, Krishna Dvaipayana (also known as Veda Vyasa) divided the Vedas 9 and this took place after the end of Mahabharatha War (2449 B.C or 3067 B.C.)

Contents of the Vedas

Rig Veda

The Rig Veda samhita is in Rik or hymn form. (The name rik is applied to those mantras that are divided into feet, metrical padas (often) based on meaning) Each Rik is a mantra. A number of Riks constitute a Sookta. The Rig Veda has 1028 sooktas containing 10,552 mantras.10 A mantra is a poetic revelation received by a human sage (Rishi) during the state of deep concentration.11 The Rig Veda consists of hymns mainly in praise of different gods and form the immediate source of the other three Vedas. These gods are personalities presiding over the diverse powers of nature or forming their very essence like the storm, the rain, the thunder, etc. it was the forces of nature and her manifestations on earth and atmosphere that excited the devotion and imagination of the Vedic poets. These gods may be roughly classified as the terrestrial, atmospheric and celestial gods.12 The largest number of mantras, (2500) is addressed to Indra, followed by Agni with 2000 mantras and Soma with 1200 mantras.13

Yajur Veda

The word Yajus is derived from the root Yaj which means worship. The word Yajna (sacrificial worship) is also derived from it. (Yajus means those Vedic mantras that are neither rik nor Saman) The chief purpose of Yajur Veda is to give the mantras of the Rig Veda appearing in the form of hymns a practical shape in the form of yajna or worship.14 The Yajur Veda contains in addition to the verses from Rig Veda (Usually at least a third of the mantras in any Yajur Veda recession are rik mantras 15) many original prose formulas- to be employed in various religious sacrifices. Hence this Veda may be called the book of sacrificial prayers.16

The Yajur Veda is divided into Shukla Yajur Veda and Krishna Yajur Veda. The Shukla Yajur Veda is also known as Vaajasaneya Samhita (Vaajasani means the sun) as Rishi Yajnavalkya is believed to have learnt this knowledge from the sun god.17 Shukla Yajur Veda has 3988 mantras including both rik and yajus mantras.18 The Vaajasaneyi Samhita of the Shukla Yajur Veda, its associated Brahmana, Shatapata Brahmana and the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad are associated with sage Yajnavalkya.18

The Samhita of the Taittiriya branch of Krishna Yajur Veda known as Taittiriya Samhita has a total of 4773 mantras of which 3248 are yajus and 1525 are rik mantras. Of these rik mantras, 862 can be traced to the existing edition of Rigveda samhita. Thus about 663 rik mantra in the Taittiriya Samhita are not in the current Rigvedic text.19 In the Taittiriya branch of Krishna Yajur Veda, the Taittiriya Brahmana and Taittiriya Aaranyaka have both mantra and the Brahmana passages and hence form a continuation of the Taittiriya Samhita.20 One point to note is that there are about thousand mantras which are common to both Vaajasaneya Samhita and Taittiriya Samhita.21 Of all the shakhas (branches) of the four Vedas, Taittiriya Samhita of Krishna Yajur Veda has the greatest number of adherents in Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala and the border regions in Maharashtra.22

Sama Veda

Sama means to bring ‘shanti’ or peace of mind.23 The Sama Veda consists of 1549 stanzas distributed in two books. Except 75 verses, all other verses of this Veda is taken entirely from Rig Veda and were meant to be recited by the Ugatri priest to certain fixed melodies during the Soma sacrifices. Hence this Veda may be called the book of chants. (Saman is the name applied to Vedic mantras that are sung) The contents of Sama Veda are derived chiefly from the 8th and 9th book of Rig Veda and resemble the Yajur Veda in having been compiled exclusively for ritual application.24 According to Swami Dayananda Saraswathi, Sama Veda is the basis of Gandharva Veda, the science of music.25

Atharva Veda

Atharva means a purohit and also a name of a rishi (Atharvana).26 This Veda has mostly rik mantras with a small number of yajus mantra.27 According to tradition Atharva Veda is mainly a contribution of sages Atharvana and Angira. Atharva Veda contains references to various aspects of spiritual and temporal importance like Brahmavidya, kingship, marriage, treatment of ailments, poetics, etc. This Veda is also connected with subsequent development of Tantric system and mentions the significance of Japa or chanting of mantras to achieve material or other benefits which form an integral part of Indian religio-mysticism till today.28 Atharva Veda is the basis of Ayurveda, Kamashastra and Dandanithi.29

Parts of the Vedas

The Brahmanas

Each Veda consists of samhitas which are collection of hymns called mantras. To each Veda are attached a treatise called Brahmanas written in prose. They are the primary source of information about sacrifices, rituals and priests. They contain numerous myths and legends put forward for illustrating ritual and sacrifices. The subject matter of the Brahmanas can be divided into two main topics of vidhi (rules) and arthavada (explanations). Thus the rules for conducting a sacrifice are supplemented by a commentary on aspects connected with the sacrifice.30 They subject matter of the Brahmanas which are attached to the various Vedas differs according to the divergent duties performed by the kind of priest connected with each Veda. The Brahmanas of the Rigveda in explaining the ritual usually limit themselves to the duties of the priest called Hotri or reciter. The Brahmanas of the Sama Veda are concerned only with the duties of the Udgaatri or chanter or the Saamans and the Brahmanas of the Yajur Veda with those of the Adhvaryu or the priest who is the actual sacrifice.31

Some of the important rishis who composed the Brahmanas are Mahidasa Aitareya the composer of Aitareya Brahmana of the Rigveda, Rishi Kausitaka who composed Kausitaki Brahmana, Rishi Taittiri the composer of Krishna Yajurveda and its Brahmana portion called Taittiriya, Rishi Jaimini, the originator of Talavakara Brahmana of the Sama Veda, Yajnavalkya the great exponent of Shukla Yajurveda and Shatapatha Brahmana.32

The Aaranyakas

As a further development of the Brahmanas we get the Aaranyakas or forest treatises. These works were probably composed for old men who had retired into forests and were thus unable to perform elaborate sacrifices requiring multitude of accessories and articles which could not be procured in the forest. These texts gave prominence to meditation on certain symbols for obtaining merit.33

The Upanishads

The Rishis of a much later age attempted to recover the spiritual knowledge independently by means of tapas (meditation). The philosophical truths and occult knowledge recovered by the Rishis are contained in the Upanishads. There is the list of 108 Upanishads compiled in the Muktika Upanishad. But the famous 13 Upanishads which are associated with a Brahmana book or Aaranyaka book typically constituting their ending chapter or chapters are quoted by Baadaraayana in his book Brahma Sutras. They are Isha, Kena, Katha, Prashna, Mundaka, Maandukya, Aitareya, Taittiriya, Chhandogya, Brhadaranyaka, Kaushitaki, Shvetashvatara and Mahanarayana.34

Of the well-known ten Upanishads, three belong to Atharvaveda (Prashna, Mundaka and Mandukya), two to Shukla Yajur Veda (Isha and Brihadaranyaka), two to Krishna Yajur Veda ( Katha and Taittiriya); one to Rig Veda (Aitareya) and two to Sama Veda (Kena and Chandogya).35

Topically arranged these Upanishads might be thus classified- 39 belong to the Jnanakanda and 62 to Karmakanda while seven deal with miscellaneous topics associated with Karmakanda. It might be interesting to notice at the outset that while ordinarily it is believed that the Upanishads are primarily philosophical and speculative in their topical interest, on actual examination it would be realized that the Upanishads which deal with the Karmakanda or our daily conduct in life are greater in number than those that deal with purely metaphysical speculation. The undue predominance given to metaphysical value of Upanishads is due to the great movement of Vedantic revival set afoot by acharyas like Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva.36

Vedangas- Limbs of the Veda

The term Vedangas literally means a limb of the Veda, the study of which was essential either for the reading, the understanding or the proper sacrificial employment of the Vedas. The beginning of the Vedangas go back to the period of the Brahmanas and Aranyakas where the explanation of the sacrificial ritual are mixed with occasional discussions on matters relating phonetics, etymology, grammar, metrics and astronomy. These subjects were treated systematically in due course in special treatises or texts in the form of sutras. The sutra form was meant to serve the practical purpose of presenting some science systematically and concisely so that the pupil may easily commit it to memory. The six subjects commonly comprehended under the title of Vedangas are

  1. Siksha or the science of pronunciation of letters and accents. The doctrine of shiksha arouse out of a religious need; for inaccurate pronunciation of Vedic texts was thought to bring disaster to the sacrificer.
  2. Chandas is metre
  3. Vyakarana means grammar, the purpose of its study is to avoid incorrect words.
  4. Nirukta- Etymology, the object of which was to explain or interpret difficult Vedic words.
  5. Jyotishya- Astronomy; its object was to convey such knowledge of the heavenly bodies as is necessary for fixing the days and hours of the Vedic sacrifices.37
  6. Kalpa or ceremonial- The Kalpa deals with matters such as
  • How should a particular ritual be done
  • What functions or karma should be performed by men of each caste, in which stage (ashrama)
  • Which ritual involves which mantra, which materials and which devata
  • How many Rithviks (priests) should be employed
  • What vessels of what shape and size should be used

The Kalpa saastra has been compiled by a number of sages. Six sages, Aapasthamba, Bodhaayana, Vaikhaanasa, Satyaashaada, Bharadwaja and Agnivesa have written Kalpa Sutra for Krishna Yajur Veda which is mostly prevalent in South India. For Rig Veda, sage Aaswalayana and for Shukla Yajur Veda, sage Katyaayana and for Sama Veda, sage Jaimini have composed the Kalpa Sutra.38

Language of the Vedas

The Vedas, especially the Rigveda samhita and the mantra portion of the Yajurveda belong to the early phase of the development of Sanskrit language. The Brahmanas of the Rigveda and Yajurveda present the second stage in the development of Sanskrit and belong to the period which may be called middle Sanskrit. The last stage is the classical period to which belongs the epics, earliest specimens of kavyas and dramatic plays. Panini’s Sanskrit is identified with that which preceded the epics and to the literary period between the Brahmanas and Yaska’s Nirukta.39 Paanini who lived during 5th century B.C. use the term chhandas to describe the Sanskrit language in which the Vedas were composed as distinguished from bhasha, the spoken Sanskrit language prevailing during his times. Chhandas included both samhita and the Brahmana literature.40

Purpose of the Vedas

According to Purvamimamsa, the whole Veda is concerned with sacrifices.41 Hence the Vedic religion is considered first and foremost a liturgy and only secondarily a mythological or speculative system. The Rig Veda, Sama Veda and Yajur Veda are mentioned together as the triple Veda (Vedatrayi) and conform to ancient hieraticism.42 But apart from yajnas and methods of worship, the Vedas also mention many methods of meditation and prayers (upaasana).43 The Rig-Veda contains over ten thousand mantras, hardly one-third of them are employed in Vedic rites, the rest are employed in japa.44 Also several hymns and verses of the Rigveda are purely philosophical, cosmological, mystic and speculative.45 The Vedas also deal with various kinds of medical treatment to ensure bodily health and shantis or methods to pacify enemies and to avert the harm contemplated by them.46 According to Sri Aurobindo the Vedas are not books of rituals but books of wisdom valid for all times, particularly modern times, framed in exquisite poetry.47

Mode of Vedic Worship

At a very early stage in the development of Vedic religion, the offering of oblation in the fire to the gods was accompanied by the recitation of Vedic verses as the Vedic people held the belief that a sacrifice which was accompanied by the recitation of Vedic verses yielded desired results.48

In the beginning the ritual were very few and simple, but with the passage of time they become large in number and complicated in their performance. As the ritualistic performances became complicated the householder (yajaman) began to patronize a priest who might help in the performance of the rites and in return the yajaman gave him dakshina (wealth and cattle). When the Vedic sacrifices took a large shape the family priest alone was not able to perform the entire rituals and other priests were invited, these occasional priests were called rtviks and were given fees called dakshina.49

When the Vedic ritual developed further, the priests felt the need of a collection of verses and formulas to be recited at the performance of sacrifices and this necessity led to the compilation of certain Rigvedic verses and ritualistic formulas in the form of Yajur Veda.50

The Kalpa Sutra describes 40 Vedic rituals or karmas to be performed from the time the embryo forms in the womb to the time the body is cremated. They are divided under the heads- Grihya Sutra containing 26 rituals and Srouta Sutras containing 14 rituals. While Grihya Sutras describes the domestic rites those done at home, Srouta Sutras describes major sacrifices.51 The Srouta Sutras contained a very detailed, meticulously accurate and vivid descriptions of several sacrifices based on Brahmana texts.52

Important Vedic Sacrifices

Some of the important yajnas (sacrifices) were Agnyadheya (performed by a person with his wife with the help of four priests for two days), Agnihotra, Darsha Purnamasa, Pindapitryajna and Jyotistoma. Sacrifices like Vaishvadeva, Varunapraghasa, Sakamedha and Shunasiriya were called Chaturmasya i.e. seasonal sacrifices. Then there was Soma sacrifices, which were seven in form and were performed by kings, nobles and the rich and required 16 priests. These sacrifices were Agnistoma, Atyagnistana, Ukthya, Sodashin, Vajapeya, Atiratra and Aptoryama. Other important sacrifices were Sautramani and Ashvamedha sacrifices.53

Vedic Priests

The Vedic sacrifices required the services of specialized priests performing different duties. The Hotr priests used to recite the rik mantras and summon the Gods; he is the summoner, aahvaata. The Udgaata priest’s duty was to delight the Gods by chanting the Saaman mantras54 Verses from Rigveda and Sama Veda are recited loudly.55

Preparing the altars, bringing the fuel, placing utensils at Vedi, producing agni by churning of two fire sticks, bringing of animals, killing and making offerings to them into agni were performed by the adhvaryu priest.56 All yaju mantras were to be muttered in a low voice except Aashruta.57 The Brahma was the chief priest who led the whole ceremony without interfering in the rules of the sacrifice. He was supposed to know all the three Vedas.58 The names of other priests who were associated with Vedic rites were agnimindha, gravagarbha, shamsta, suvipra, potr, prashastr, etc.59

Interpretation of the Vedas

The hymns of Rig Veda samhita were composed at different times by different rishis and were transmitted from father to son in certain families. The composition of these hymns extended over a long period, the language is not the same throughout and sometimes it is so antiquated that they defy all efforts at interpretation and their sense was not understood even by the rishis who flourished in the very next generation.60 This led to the growth of various schools who interpreted the Vedas from their point of view. They were the Nairuktas (etymologists), the Yajnikas (ritualists or sacrificial school), Vyakaranas (grammarians), Jyautisakas (astronomers), Sampradayavids (traditionists), Adhyatmavids (philosophers), Aitihasikas (legendarians) and Bhasavids (philogists/linguists of the west)61   Parivrajakas (mystic school), Adhidaivata (naturalistic), Nayyaayikas (logicians) and Adhibuta (supra-physical).

These schools interpreted the words in the Veda differently. For instance Yaska in his Nirukta says that for the Aitihasikas the word ‘Vrtra’, means Asura, son of Tvastr, while according to the Nairuktas, ‘Vrtra’ means only cloud. In another instance the Nairuktas identified the twins mentioned in RV X.17.2 as Indra and Madhyamika, while the Aitihasikas identify them as Yama and Yami. Yaska’s Nirukta mentions the names of 17 individual predecessors like Agrayana, Kautsa, Gargya, Galava, Sakatayana, etc. whom Yaska differs often and who differ among themselves with regards to interpreting words in the Vedas.62

Though the first systematic attempt to interpret the Vedas was made by the Nairuktas, the ritualistic interpretations of the Vedas gradually supplanted the other systems of Vedic interpretations, for the sacrificial employment of the Vedic mantras came to be regarded as their main utility in the period of the Kalpa Sutras and later on.63 The earliest attempt to put ritualistic interpretation on the Vedic mantras is discernible in the compilation of the Yajur Veda (literarily meaning ‘the Veda of the ritualistic formulas) in which a considerable number of verses from Rigveda had been adapted for sacrificial purpose.64

This is why almost all the ancient extant commentaries on the Rigveda are predominantly ritualistic in their approach. The famous commentator Sayana in the introduction to his commentary on the Rigveda asserts that since the Yajur Veda is useful mainly for the performance of sacrifices, he has first explained that Veda and has later on taken up the Rigveda for explanation.65

The ritualistic interpretations occupy a predominant position not only in the commentaries of Sayana, Uvata and Mahidhara on the Yajur Veda, but also on the commentaries of Skandasvamin, Udgitha, Venkatamadhava, and Sayana on the Rigveda and also in the commentaries on the Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.66

The dominant tradition of ritual application of Vedic mantras and the tremendous influence exercised by the ritualistic texts like the Brahmanas, Kalpa Sutras and Paddhatis on the Vedic students seem to account for the preponderance of ritualistic interpretation of the Vedas.67

During modern times Swami Dayananda Saraswathi and Sri Aurobindo have interpreted the Vedas in the Adibuta (supra-physical) and Parivrajakas (mystic) method respectively.

The Adibuta method gives man-related, creature oriented, social or nationalistic interpretation of the Vedic hymns. This method has been very rarely used by the commentators of the Veda and Swami Dayananda Saraswathi alone has used this method.68

According to Sri Aurobindo the hymns of the Veda has a mystic meaning and the rishis for the sake of secrecy resorted to double meaning, the secret word was understood only by the one who was purified in soul and awakened. But P.V.Kane objects to his view and says that the most sublime thought of the Rigveda is that there is only one spirit behind the various gods; Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, that originally there was only One, there was no day and night, no death and immortality. No secrecy was observed about this fundamental truth and it was proclaimed in mantras that can be understood even by an ordinary man of today who knows a little Sanskrit. Because we cannot understand some mantras does not mean that the ancient seers purposely composed mantras with two meanings.69

According to Ram Gopal the problem of Vedic interpretation is that since the language of the Vedas and especially that of the Rigveda is highly developed, polished and often figurative any attempt to present a literal translation of the Vedic hymns according to the meanings assigned to common words in the later Sanskrit is bound to lead to a gross misinterpretation of the Vedas.70

Vedic shakas (branches) and charanas (schools)

Veda Vyasa had divided the Vedas into four and taught Rigveda to Paila, Yajurveda to Vaishampaayana, Samaveda to Jaimini and Atharvaveda to Sumantu. Paila in turn divided the Rig Veda into two samhita and gave one each to Indrapramati and Baskala. Indrapramati taught it to his son Maandukeya. Baskala divided his samhita into four and taught it to Bodhi, Aadimaadhava, Yajnavalkya and Parashara. Vaishampaayana made 27 divisions of Yajurveda and taught it to his disciples. Jaimini’s great grand- son, Sutva divided the Samaveda into thousand branches. Sumantu taught Atharvaveda to Kabandha who split it into two and gave each to his disciples, Devadarsha and Pathya.71 In this way the original Veda was divided into four and later subdivided into a number of branches and sub branches called shakas.

The text of a Vedic shaka would grow into a living institution and spread into offshoots claiming numerous teachers and students within its fold. The original teacher was the nucleus round whom there grew up an appropriate literature of exposition like the Brahmanas to which contribution were made by teachers and pupils of successive generations expanding their literary heritage. The charana represented the type of educational institution in which one particular recension or branch of the Veda was studied by a group of pupils called after the original founder. For example Rishi Tittiri promulgated the Taittriya sakha of which the students were also called Taittiriyas. These charana in course of time developed its full literature comprising of Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishad text, Kalpa and srauta sutras and later on even its Dharma Sutra.72 According to the divergence of the Brahmanas of different shakas there occurred the divergences of content and the length of the Upanishads associated with them. Thus the Upanishads attached to the Brahmanas of the Aitareya and Kausitaki schools are called respectively Aitareya and Kausitaki Upanishads.73

The establishment of numerous branches may also be due to a variety of factors like geographical location, ritual specialization and doctrinal and ritual disputes. It is within these branches that most of the Vedic texts were composed and orally handed down. Each of these Vedic branches has as its foundation text a samhita (collection) of verses or liturgical formulas and a prose text Brahmana explaining the meaning of the liturgy. The samhita was by and large common to all the branches of a Veda, even though some may have their own recension of it, while each branch has its own Brahmana.74

These shakas followed their own methods of recitation of the text, preservation of the knowledge, interpretation and application of the mantras.75 During Paanini’s time the Rigveda had been divided into 21 shakas (branches), the Yajurveda into 101 shakas, the Samaveda into 1000 shakas and the Atharvaveda into nine shakas. 76

Available recensions of the Veda as present

As of now only one, Shakalakas of the Rigveda; two, Shaunakiya and Paippalada of the Atharvaveda; three, Kauthumas, Ranayaniyas and Jaiminiyas of the Sama Veda and five of the Yajurveda (three of Krishna YV namely Taittiriyas, Kathas and Maitrayaniyas and two of Shukla YV namely Madhyandinas and Kanvas) recensions are available.77

Methodology for Vedic studies: The study of Vedas began after the upanayana ceremony which was performed at the age of eight for Brahmins, at the age of ten for Kshtriyas and twelve for Vaishyas. Gautama Smrtis says 12 years is required to study one Veda. Manu Smrti says one should study the three Vedas for 36 years under a guru or 18 years for two Vedas and nine years for one Veda. The student should not only memorize it but also understand its meaning and actually perform the sacrifices and also teach it or expound it. Daksa says Vedabhyasa (study of Vedas) comprehends five matters, viz, memorizing it, reflection over it, constant repetition of it, japa and imparting it to pupils. These were ideals attained by a few persons only, while most Brahmins generally rested content with memorizing one Veda or a portion of it.78

Interpolation in the Vedas

Dr. B.R.Ambedkar in his work- Who were the Shudras, citing Colebrooke 79 and Max Muller 80 opines that the Purusha Sukta verse in the tenth mandala of the Rigveda is an interpolation. Similarly H.L.Hariyappa 81 infers that two of the Rigvedic verses (1.24.12 and 1.24.13) ascribed to Shunashshepa could be a later insertion or interpolation by samhita designers in order to remind themselves of that great Vedic event. Regarding how interpolation takes place we get an idea from Ghasi Ram who has translated the commentaries on the Veda by Maharshi Dayanada Saraswathi into English. According to him whenever an author aspired to give currency to his views he adopted the most convenient course by composing a work of his own and sending it out into the world in the name of Vyasa or some other person whose authority was acknowledge by all and sundry or if he dared not do this he quietly interpolated his views into an authoritative work. The manuscript so tampered with was copied and circulated in places far and wide and thus gained currency in the country and came to be regarded as an authentic copy of the original. This explains the fact why we find views diametrically opposed tone another advocated in one and the same book.82 Hence Katre in his work, Introduction to Indian Textual Criticism says that Interpolation is a natural instinct in man and such cannot be considered a crime. Considering the texts which have been transmitted for centuries by oral tradition only- namely the Veda and Vedic literature- the aspect of interpolation need not be doubted at all, “for the organs of tradition were not machines, but men”.83

Status of Vedic worship at present

According to the Purvamimaamsa, Vedas are eternal, self-existent and of absolute authority.84 Manu states that in case of conflict between Sruti and Smrti, the former prevails.85 Still the learned men of the 10th century prohibited about 55 customs and practices sanctioned by the Vedas, declaring them to be harmful in the Kali age. The reason for this injunction was, during 500 B.C. and 1000 A.D. vast changes in the religions and social ideas of the Indian people and in their customs and usages had taken place. Buddhism arose, flourished and disappeared from India, the caste system became rigid in the matter of food, marriage and social behavior; Vedic rites, divinities worshipped and language underwent great transformation. Animal sacrifice though occasionally performed had ceased to be looked upon as meritorious. As the common people had ceased to follow ancient ritual and worship, the religious literature had to be recast to suit new ideals and new worship.86

The living Hindu religion of today is essentially Tantric. Even a few genuine Vedic rites that are preserved and are supposed to be derived straight from the Vedas, i.e. the Sandhya have been modified by the addition of tantric practices.87 Currently rituals like Chandihoma, Vishnuyaaga, etc. imitating the character of srouta rituals are mixed with tantric elements and performed.88 The Gods worshipped today by the Hindus are Shiva and Vishnu and his avatar’s like Rama and Krishna. Shiva and Vishnu were minor gods during the Vedic age. Later Shiva absorbed the functions of Agni and Vishnu those of Indra and Surya. The Vaishnava, Shakta and Shaiva movement on which the present Hinduism is based is influenced by the Agamas. The rituals of the temples based on Agamas killed out the Vedic yajnas.89 Vedic sacrifices are now very rarely performed except a few simple ones like Darshapurnamaasa and Charturmaasyas.90


  1. Subodh Kapoor (Edited)- Encyclopedia of Vedic Philosophy: The Age, Religion, Literature, vol-8, Cosmos Publication, New Delhi, 2002. P.2071
  2. Ram Gopal- The History and Principles of Vedic Interpretation, Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi, 1983. P.1
  3. Shrikant G. Talageri- The Rigveda- A Historical Analysis, Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi, 2000, p.6
  4. L.Kashyap- Essentials of Krishna and Shukla Yajur Veda, Sri Aurobindo Kapali Sastry Institute of Vedic Culture, Bangalore, 2004, p.16
  5. Swami Mahadevananda Giri- Vedic Culture, University of Calcutta, 1947
  6. See
  7. Ibid
  8. L.Kashyap, Op.cit, p. 16
  9. Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati- The Vedas, Bharatiya Vidhya Bhawan, Mumbai, 2006, pp:108,109
  10. Ibid, p.43
  11. L.Kashyap- Essentials of Rigveda, Sri Aurobindo Kapali Sastry Institute of Vedic Culture, Bangalore, 2005, p.2
  12. Surendranath Dasgupta- History of Indian Philosophy, vol- I, Cambridge University Press, 1922, pp: 16,17
  13. L.Kashyap- Essentials of Rigveda, pp: 29,30
  14. Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, cit, p.85
  15. L.Kashyap- Essentials of Krishna and Shukla Yajur Veda, p.2
  16. A. MacDonell-History of Sanskrit Literature, D.Appleten & Company, New York, 1900, p.30
  17. Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, cit, p.45
  18. L.Kashyap- Essentials of Krishna and Shukla Yajur Veda, pp:3,19
  19. L.Kashyap- Essentials of Rigveda, p.7
  20. L.Kashyap- Essentials of Krishna and Shukla Yajur Veda, p.94
  21. Ibid, p.19
  22. Ibid, p.11
  23. Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, cit, p.47
  24. A. MacDonell, Op.cit, pp:171,172
  25. Introduction to the commentary on the Vedas by Maharshi Dayanand Saraswathi, Translated from the original Sanskrit by Ghasi Ram, Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha, New Delhi, 1984, p.382
  26. Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, cit, p.47
  27. L.Kashyap- Essentials of Rigveda, p.7
  28. Introductory remarks by M.C.Joshi in The Atharva Veda by Devichand, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Ltd, 1997, p.x
  29. Hukum Chand Patyal- Significance of the Atharvaveda in Journal of the Ananthacharya Indological Research Institute, vol-I, edited by G.K.Pai and A.P.Jamkhedkar, p.46
  30. V.Kane- History of Dharmashastra, vol-5, part II, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona, 1962, p.1223
  31. A. MacDonell, Op.cit, p.33
  32. Swami Mahadevananda Giri, cit, pp:281,282
  33. Surendranath Dasgupta, cit, p.14
  34. The Light of Veda- A Practical Approach by T.V.Kapali Sastry- Compiled by R.L.Kashyap, Sri Aurobindo Kapali Sastry Institute of Vedic Culture, Bangalore, 2004, p.15
  35. K.Venkatesan – The Upanishads and the Atharvaveda, QJMS– VOL XXVI July 1935, No 1,p.53
  36. Ibid, p.51
  37. Vedangas and their Value- G.Sitaramiah, QJMS, vol-32, April 1942, pp:375-76
  38. Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, cit, pp: 169,170
  39. Krishnamachariar, History of Classical Sanskrit Literature, TTD Press, Madras, 1937, pp:3-5
  40. S.Agrawala-India as known to Panini, University of Lucknow, 1953, p.318
  41. V.Kane, Op.cit, p.984
  42. Hukum Chand Patyal- cit, p.43
  43. Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, cit, p.85
  44. V.Kane, Op.cit, p.1223
  45. Ibid, 983
  46. Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, cit,, p.85
  47. The Light of Veda- A Practical Approach, cit, p.viii
  48. Ram Gopal, cit, p.23
  49. B.Chaubey- Origin and Evolution of Vedic Rituals in the Journal of the Ananthacharya Indological Research Institute, Op.cit, pp:17,19
  50. Ram Gopal, cit, p.23
  51. Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, cit, p.170
  52. V.Kane- History of Dharmashastra, vol-2, part II, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona, 1941, p.980
  53. Ibid, pp: 986-1255 gives details about these sacrifices
  54. The Light of Veda- A Practical Approach, cit, p.30
  55. V.Kane- History of Dharmashastra, vol-2, part II,p.984
  56. B.Chaubey, Op.cit, p.20
  57. V.Kane- History of Dharmashastra, vol-2, part II,p.984
  58. Paul Deussen- Sixty Upanishads of the Veda, vol-I, translated from Germany by V.M.Bedekar and G.B.Palsule, Motilal Banaridass Publishers, New Delhi, 1987, p.1
  59. V.Kane- History of Dharmashastra, vol-2, part II,p.981
  60. Krishnamachariar, Op.cit, p. xix
  61. Hariyappa- Rig-Vedic Legends through the Ages, Poona, 1953, pp: 132,133
  62. V.Kane- History of Dharmashastra, vol-5, part II,p.984
  63. Ram Gopal, cit, p.30
  64. Ibid, p.22
  65. Ibid, p.30
  66. Ibid
  67. Ibid
  68. Ramnath Vedalankar’s article entitled- Dayananda’s unique contribution to Vedic interpretation in World Perspectives on Swami Dayananda Saraswathi– Editor, Ganga Ram Garg, Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi, 1984, p.11
  69. V.Kane- History of Dharmashastra, vol-5, part II,pp:986,987
  70. Ram Gopal, cit, p.12
  71. Vettam Mani- Puranic Encyclopedia, Motilal Banarsidass, 1975, pp:304,305
  72. S.Agrawala, Op.cit,pp:286,295-298
  73. Surendranath Dasgupta, cit, p.30
  74. Patrick Olivelle- The Dharma Sutras- The Law Codes of Ancient India, Oxford University Press, 1999, p.xxii
  75. Jyesht Verman- The Vedas, Oxford and IBH Publishing Co Pvt Ltd. 1992, pp: 9,10
  76. S.Agrawala, Op.cit,pp:14,15
  77. Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, cit, p.112
  78. V.Kane- History of Dharmashastra, vol-5, part II,pp:1180-1182
  79. Colebrooke says that in language, metre and style the Purusha Sukta is very different from the rest of the prayers with which it is associated. It has a decidedly more modern tone and must have been composed after the Sanskrit language had been refined and its grammar and rhythm perfected.
  80. In the opinion of Max Muller “There can be little doubt, for instance, that the 90th hymn of the 10th book… is modern both in its character and in its diction. It is full of allusions to the sacrificial ceremonials, it uses technically philosophical terms, it mentions the three seasons in the order of Vasanta, spring, Grishma, summer and Sharad, autumn; it contains the only passage in the Rig Veda where the four castes are enumerated. The evidence of language for the modem date of this composition is equally strong. Grishma, for instance, the name for the hot season, does not occur in any other hymn of the Rig Veda; and Vasanta also, the name of spring does not belong to the earliest vocabulary of the Vedic poets. It occurs but once more in the Rig Veda (x. 161.4), in a passage where the three seasons are mentioned in the order of Sharad, autumn; Hemanta, winter; and Vasanta, spring.”
  81. Hariyappa- Rig-Vedic Legends through the Ages, Poona, 1953, p. 186
  82. Introduction to the commentary on the Vedas by Maharshi Dayanand Saraswathi, cit, pp:vii,viii
  83. Cited in L.Hariyappa’s- Rig-Vedic Legends through the Ages, Poona, 1953, p. 186
  84. V.Kane- History of Dharmashastra, vol-5, part II,p.1270
  85. Ibid, p.1265
  86. Ibid, p.1267
  87. T.Srinivasa Iyengar- Outlines of Indian Philosophy, Theosophical Publishing Society, Benaras and London, 1909, p.130
  88. G.Kshikar- The Shrauta Ritual and its Relevance Today in the Journal of the Ananthacharya Indological Research Institute, Op.cit, p.55
  89. T.Srinivasa Iyengar, Op.cit, pp:124,128
  90. V.Kane- History of Dharmashastra, vol-II, part II,p.978

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