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Hindu Scriptures

VEDAS - THE REVEALED WISDOM

Rig  Veda   -   Sama Veda  -  Yajur Veda   - Atharva Veda

The most sacred scriptures of Hinduism are the Vedas ("Books of Knowledge"), a collection of texts written in Sanskrit from about 1200 BCE to 100 CE. As sruti, the Vedas are regarded as the absolute authority for religious knowledge and a test of Hindu orthodoxy (both Jains and Buddhists reject the Vedas). "For Hindus, the Veda is a symbol of unchallenged authority and tradition." Selections from the Vedas are still memorized and recited for religious merit today. Yet much of the religion presented in the Vedas is unknown today and plays little to no role in modern Hinduism.

As historical and religious literature often is, the text is written from the perspective of the most powerful groups, priests and warrior-kings. Scholars say it is therefore unlikely that it represents the totality of religious belief and practice in India in the first millennium BCE. This perspective is especially evident in the earlier parts of the Vedas, in which the primary concerns are war, rain, and dealing with the "slaves," or native inhabitants of India.

The Srutis are called the Vedas, or the Amnaya. The Hindus have received their religion through revelation, the Vedas. These are direct intuitional revelations and are held to be Apaurusheya or entirely superhuman, without any author in particular. The Veda is the glorious pride of the Hindus, nay, of the whole world! The term Veda comes from the root 'Vid', to know. The word Veda means knowledge. When it is applied to scripture, it signifies a book of knowledge. The Vedas are the foundational scriptures of the Hindus. The Veda is the source of the other five sets of scriptures, why, even of the secular and the materialistic. The Veda is the storehouse of Indian wisdom and is a memorable glory which man can never forget till eternity. The Vedas are the eternal truths revealed by God to the great ancient Rishis of India. The word Rishi means a Seer, from dris, to see. He is the Mantra-Drashta, seer of Mantra or thought. The thought was not his own. The Rishis saw the truths or heard them. Therefore, the Vedas are what are heard (Sruti). The Rishi did not write. He did not create it out of his mind. He was the seer of thought which existed already. He was only the spiritual discoverer of the thought. He is not the inventor of the Veda.

THE UNIQUE GLORY OF THE VEDAS

The Vedas represent the spiritual experiences of the Rishis of yore. The Rishi is only a medium or an agent to transmit to people the intuitional experiences which he received. The truths of the Vedas are revelations. All the other religions of the world claim their authority as being delivered by special messengers of God to certain persons, but the Vedas do not owe their authority to any one. They are themselves the authority as they are eternal, as they are the Knowledge of the Lord. Lord Brahma, the Creator, imparted the divine knowledge to the Rishis or Seers. The Rishis disseminated the knowledge. The Vedic Rishis were great realised persons who had direct intuitive perception of Brahman or the Truth. They were inspired writers. They built a simple, grand and perfect system of religion and philosophy from which the founders and teachers of all other religions have drawn their inspiration. The Vedas are the oldest books in the library of man. The truths contained in all religions are derived from the Vedas and are ultimately traceable to the Vedas. The Vedas are the fountain-head of religion. The Vedas are the ultimate source to which all religious knowledge can be traced. Religion is of divine origin. It was revealed by God to man in the earliest times. It is embodied in the Vedas. The Vedas are eternal. They are without beginning and end. An ignorant man, may say how a book can be without beginning or end. By the Vedas, no books are meant. Vedas came out of the breath of the Lord. They are not the composition of any human mind. They were never written, never created. They are eternal and impersonal. The date of the Vedas has never been fixed. It can never be fixed. Vedas are eternal spiritual truths. Vedas are an embodiment of divine knowledge. The books may be destroyed, but the knowledge cannot be destroyed. Knowledge is eternal. In that sense, the Vedas are eternal.

DIVISIONS OF THE VEDAS

The Veda is divided into four great books: the Rig-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, the Sama-Veda and the Atharva-Veda. The Yajur-Veda is again divided into two parts, the Sukla and the Krishna. The Krishna or the Taittiriya is the older book and the Sukla or the Vajasaneya is a later revelation to sage Yajnavalkya from the resplendent Sun-God. The Rig-Veda is divided into twenty-one sections, the Yajur-Veda into one hundred and nine sections, the Sama-Veda into one thousand sections and the Atharva-Veda into fifty sections. In all, the whole Veda is thus divided into one thousand one hundred and eighty recensions. Each Veda consists of four parts: the Mantra-Samhitas or hymns, the Brahmanas or explanations of Mantras or rituals, the Aranyakas, and the Upanishads. The division of the Vedas into four parts is to suit the four stages in a man's life. The Mantra-Samhitas are hymns in praise of the Vedic God for attaining material prosperity here and happiness hereafter. They are metrical poems comprising prayers, hymns and incantations addressed to various deities, both subjective and objective. The Mantra portion of the Vedas is useful for the Brahmacharins. The Rig-Veda Samhita is the grandest book of the Hindus, the oldest and the best. It is the Great Indian Bible, which no Hindu would forget to adore from the core of his heart. Its style, the language and the tone are most beautiful and mysterious. Its immortal Mantras embody the greatest truths of existence, and it is perhaps the greatest treasure in all the scriptural literature of the world. Its priest is called the Hotri. The Yajur-Veda Samhita is mostly in prose and is meant to be used by the Adhvaryu, the Yajur-Vedic priest, for superfluous explanations of the rites in sacrifices, supplementing the Rig-Vedic Mantras. The Sama-Veda Samhita is mostly borrowed from the Rig-Vedic Samhita, and is meant to be sung by the Udgatri, the Sama Vedic priest, in sacrifices. The Atharva-Veda Samhita is meant to be used by the Brahma, the Atharva-Vedic priest, to correct the mispronunciations and wrong performances that may accidentally be committed by the other three priests of the sacrifice. The Brahmana portions guide people to perform sacrificial rites. They are prose explanations of the method of using the Mantras in the Yajna or the sacrifice. The Brahmana portion is suitable for the householders. There are two Brahmanas to the Rig-Veda-the Aitareya and the Sankhayana. "The Rig-Veda", says Max Muller, "is the most ancient book of the world. The sacred hymns of the Brahmanas stand unparalleled in the literature of the whole world; and their preservation might well be called miraculous." The Satapatha Brahmana belongs to the Sukla-Yajur-Veda. The Krishna-Yajur-Veda has the Taittiriya and the Maitrayana Brahmanas. The Tandya or Panchavimsa, the Shadvimsa, the Chhandogya, the Adbhuta, the Arsheya and the Upanishad Brahmanas belong to the Sama-Veda. The Brahmana of the Atharva-Veda is called the Gopatha. Each of the Brahmanas has got an Aranyaka. The Aranyakas are the forest books, the mystical sylvan texts which give philosophical interpretations of the rituals. The Aranyakas are intended for the Vanaprasthas or hermits who prepare themselves for taking Sannyasa. The Upanishads are the most important portion of the Vedas. The Upanishads contain the essence or the knowledge portion of the Vedas. The philosophy of the Upanishads is sublime, profound, lofty and soul-stirring. The Upanishads speak of the identity of the individual soul and the Supreme Soul. They reveal the most subtle and deep spiritual truths. The Upanishads are useful for the Sannyasins. The subject matter of the whole Veda is divided into Karma- Kanda, Upasana-Kanda and Jnana-Kanda. The Karma-Kanda or Ritualistic Section deals with various sacrifices and rituals. The Upasana-Kanda or Worship-Section deals with various kinds of worship or meditation. The Jnana-Kanda or Knowledge-Section deals with the highest knowledge of Nirguna Brahman. The Mantras and the Brahmanas constitute Karma-Kanda; the Aranyakas Upasana-Kanda; and the Upanishads Jnana-Kanda.

THE ESSENCE OF THE VEDAS

Live in the spirit of the teachings of the Vedas. Learn to discriminate between the permanent and the impermanent. Behold the Self in all beings, in all objects. Names and forms are illusory. Therefore sublate them. Feel that there is nothing but the Self. Share what you have,-physical, mental, moral or spiritual,-with all. Serve the Self in all. Feel when you serve others, that you are serving your own Self. Love thy neighbour as thyself. Melt all illusory differences. Remove all barriers that separate man from man. Mix with all. Embrace all. Destroy the sex-idea and body-idea by constantly thinking of the Self or the sexless, bodiless Atman. Fix the mind on the Self when you work. This is the essence of the teachings of the Vedas and sages of yore. This is real, eternal life in Atman. Put these things in practice in the daily battle of life. You will shine as a dynamic Yogi or a Jivanmukta. There is no doubt of this.

There are four Samhitas (also called Vedas): Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda

The Rig Veda

The Rig Veda is the oldest of the Vedas. All the other Vedas are based upon it and consist to a large degree of various hymns from it. It consists of a thousand such hymns of different seers, each hymn averaging around ten verses. The Rig Veda is the oldest book in Sanskrit or any Indo-European language. Its date is debatable. Many great Yogis and scholars who have understood the astronomical references in the hymns, date the Rig Veda as before 4000 B.C., perhaps as early as 12,000. Modern western scholars tend to date it around 1500 B.C., though recent archeological finds in India (like Dwaraka) now appear to require a much earlier date. While the term Vedic is often given to any layer of the Vedic teachings including the Bhagavad Gita, technically it applies primarily to the Rig Veda.
The Rig Veda is the book of Mantra. It contains the oldest form of all the Sanskrit mantras. It is built around a science of sound which comprehends the meaning and power of each letter. Most aspects of Vedic science like the practice of yoga, meditation, mantra and Ayurveda can be found in the Rig Veda and still use many terms that come from it.

While originally several different versions or rescensions of the Rig Veda were said to exist, only one remains. Its form has been structured in several different ways to guarantee its authenticity and proper preservation through time
 

Composed as early as 1500 BC, the Rig Veda or Rg Veda ("Wisdom of the Verses") is the oldest of the four Vedic collections and one of the oldest surviving sacred texts in the world. The Rig Veda consists of 10,552 verses (collected into 10 books) of hymns and mantras used by the hotri priests.

The hymns of the Rig Veda focus on pleasing the principal gods Indra (war, wind and rain), Agni (the sacrificial fire), Surga (the sun) and Varuna (the cosmic order) through ritual sacrifices. Along with governing important matters of life such as rain, wind, fire and war, the Vedic gods also forgive wrongdoing (5.85.7) and mete out justice in the afterlife (1.97.1).

Deceased ancestors are able to influence the living (10.15.6), so they are also appeased with rituals (10.15.1-11). The afterlife of the Rig Veda is eternal conscious survival in the abode of Yama, the god of the dead (9.113.7-11). It is the gods, not karma, that are responsible for assuring justice in this life and the next (7.104).

Sama Veda

The Samaveda  from sāman "melody" + veda "knowledge" ), is third (in the usual order) of the four Vedas, the ancient core Hindu scriptures. Its earliest parts are believed to date from 1000 BC and it ranks next in sanctity and liturgical importance to the Rigveda. It consists of a collection (samhita) of hymns, portions of hymns, and detached verses, all but 75 taken from the Rigveda, to be sung, using specifically indicated melodies called Samagana, by Udgatar priests at sacrifices in which the juice of the Soma plant, clarified and mixed with milk and other ingredients, is offered in libation to various deities.

The verses have been transposed and re-arranged, without reference to their original order, to suit the rituals in which they were to be employed. There are frequent variations from the text of the Rigveda that are in some cases glosses but in others offer an older pronunciation than that of the Rigveda (such as [ai] for common [e]). When sung the verses are further altered by prolongation, repetition and insertion of stray syllables (stobha), as well as various modulations, rests and other modifications prescribed in the song-books (Ganas).

The Sama Veda is the Yoga of Song. It consists of various hymns of the Rig Veda put to a different and more musical chant. Hence the text of the Sama Veda is a reduced version of the Rig Veda.

Its secret is in its musical annotation and rendering. The Sama Veda represents the ecstasy of spiritual knowledge and the power of devotion. The Rig Veda is the word, the Sama Veda is the song or the meaning. The Rig Veda is the knowledge, the Sama Veda its realization. Hence the two always go together like husband and wife. The Rig Veda is the wife and the Sama is the husband.  

Yajur Veda 

The Yajurveda  a tatpurusha compound of yajus "sacrificial formula', + veda "knowledge") is one of the four canonical texts, of Hinduism, the Vedas. Estimated to have been composed between 1,400 and 1000 BCE, the Yajurveda 'Samhita', or 'compilation', contains the liturgy (mantras) needed to perform the sacrifices of the religion of the Vedic period, and the added Brahmana and Shrautasutra add information on the interpretation and on the details of their performanceThe Yajur Veda seen by the outer vision is the Veda of ritual. On an inner level, it sets forth a yogic practice for purifying the mind and awakening the inner consciousness. 

Several versions of the Yajur Veda exist, which differ in a number of respects.  It was the main Veda used by the priests in ancient India and has much in common with the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Its deities are the same as the Rig Veda. The purpose of the ritual is to put together and recreate within ourselves the Cosmic Man or Indra. The ritual is to recreate the universe within our own psyche and thereby unite the individual with the universal. Its series of sacrifices culminate in the Atmayajna or the self-sacrifice wherein the ego is offered up to the Divine.  While the lesser sacrifices win the lesser worlds, the Self-sacrifice wins all the worlds and gains the greatest gift of immortality.

Atharva Veda

The Atharva Veda is the last of the Vedas. It has not always been accepted as a Veda, which are often spoken of as three.  It still contains many hymns from the Rig Veda but also has some more popular magic spells which are outside of the strictly ritual-knowledge orientation of the other Vedas.

Like the Rig Veda it is a collection of hymns but of a more diverse character, some very exalted like the Rig Veda others of more common nature. As such it gives us a better idea of the life of common people in Vedic times.

Atharvan is also an important figure in the Zoroastrian religion. Atar is the Persian name for fire and the Atharvan is the fire priest. The deities of the Atharva Veda are also the same as the Rig Veda although Rudra-Shiva assumes a more visible role. The language is a little simpler and less variable in its forms

The Atharva Veda ("Wisdom of the Atharvan Priests) was added significantly later than the first three Samhitas, perhaps as late as 500 BC. It consists of 20 books of hymns and prose, many of which reflect the religious concerns of everyday life. This sets the Arharva Veda apart from the other Vedas, which focus on adoring the gods and performing the liturgy of sacrifice, and makes it an important source of information on the practical religion and magic of the time.

Books 1 through 8 of the Atharva Veda contain magical prayers for long life, prosperity, curses, kingship, love, and a variety of other specific purposes. Books 8 through 12 include cosmological hymns, marking a transition to the loftier philosophy of the Upanishads. The remainder of the books consist of magical and ritual formulas, including marriage and funeral practices.

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