The Vedas
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The Vedas   |   Vedic Civilization   |   Mahabharat   |   History

Vedas are part of the Hindu Shruti - these religious scriptures of the Aryans, form part of the core of Vedic culture traditions within Hinduism and lay the inspirational foundation for later Vedanta, Yoga, Tantra and even Bhakti streams of Hinduism. In Sanskrit the word means Knowledge or Truth. Strictly 'ved' is singular, 'veda' is plural, but traditionally the word is given in English as 'veda' with the standard added 's' for plural.

Origins of the Vedas

Hindus believe that the Vedas were transmitted, via an oral tradition, for perhaps 8000 years. Many Western and other Indian commentators see this as an exaggeration, dating the earliest part of the Veda, the Rig-Veda Samhita, to around 1800–1500 BCE. However, it is acknowledged by most that the Vedas did indeed have a long oral tradition and were passed on from teacher to disciple for at least many centuries before first being written down, which has led to some estimates that the earliest parts of the Vedas' may date back to 2500-2000 BCE.

According to tradition, the hymns of the Rig-Veda Samhita were collected and arranged by Paila under the supervision of Vyasa. It is believed that the Vedas were written on the banks of River Saraswati, somewhere in the region of present day Haryana. Hymns which were particularly chanted during religious and social functions of the community were compiled by Vaishampayan under the title Yajus mantr Samhit. (Yajur-Veda). Jaimini is said to have collected hymns that were set to music and melody - 'Saman'. (Sama-Veda). The fourth collection of hymns and chants known as Atharv Sanhita (Atharva-Veda) is ascribed to Sumantu.

The Vedas are acknowledged to be the world's first recorded scripture, and are the oldest consistent and complex body of knowledge detailing astrology, astronomy, ritual practice, and how these relate to the spiritual life of humanity.

The Four Books of the Vedas

The Veda contain hymns, rituals, and mantras. There are 4 Vedas: the Atharva-Veda, Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda, and the Yajur-Veda; the last three are referred to as the "Threefold Ved". The Atharva Veda is often deemed to be significantly less authoritative. It is sometimes argued that there is a fifth Veda, the Vedanta. The original text of the Veda is known as the Samhita. However the Samhitas are supplemented by many commentaries and explanations, forming the 'Shruti' as a whole. The most developed of these commentaries, the Upanishads, engage in philosophical speculation about the implications of the ancient invocations and rituals recorded in the Samhitas. Thus the Vedas are structured rather like a venerated work of classic literature supported by elaborate footnotes and introductory essays explaining its hidden complexities.

In the traditional Hindu understanding, Vedas are said to be non-personal and without beginning or end. This means that the truths embodied in the Vedas are eternal and that they are not creations of the human mind. The four Vedas Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda are divided into four sections:

  1. Samhitas:     Contains the mantras and hymns
  2. Brahmanas:  The ritualistic teachings
  3. Aranyakas:   The meditational section
  4. Upanishads:  Mystic and philosophical section, known as Vedanta, or the end of the Vedas, implying the culmination of Vedic thought; since the time of Adi Shankaracharya they have exerted the most active influence on Hindu thought

The religion of the Vedic period, particularly at its earliest, was distinct in a number of respects, including reference to females in positions of religious authority (female rishis, or sages), an apparent lack of belief in reincarnation, and a markedly different pantheon, with Indra generally the chief god, and little mention of the later primary gods Vishnu, and Shiva, although Brahma does appear quite frequently.

The Views of the Vedas: Monism, Monotheism, Henotheism and Polytheism

While Hinduism is generally monistic or monotheistic admitting emanating deities, the early Rig Veda (undeveloped early Hinduism) was what Max Müller based his views of henotheism on. In the four Vedas, Muller believed that a striving towards One was being aimed at by the worship of different cosmic principles, such as Agni (fire), Vayu (wind), Indra (rain, thunder, the sky), etc. each of which was variously, by clearly different writers, hailed as supreme in different sections of the books. Indeed, however, what was confusing was an early idea of Rita, or supreme order, that bound all the gods. Other phrases such as Ekam Sat, Vipraha Bahudha Vadanti (Truth is One though the sages know it as many) lead to understandings that the Vedic people admitted of fundamental oneness. Attempts even at monism were attempted by subordinating other gods to singular entities or gods of supreme power, three most notably being Vishwakarma, Indra and Varuna, though Indra was the most eulogized as supreme in his 200 Rig Vedic verses. From this mix of monism, monotheism and naturalist polytheism Max Muller decided to name the early Vedic religion henotheistic. He decided that while polytheism did not fit with views so clearly admitting of fundamental unity, monism in his opinion was not yet fully developed.

This, however, is clearly a one-man view. Extremely advanced, indeed unprecedented and thitherto unduplicated ideas of pure monism are to be found in the early Vedas, notwithstanding clearly monist and monotheist movements of Hinduism that developed with the advent of the Upanishads. One such example of early Vedic monism is the Nasadiya hymn of the Rig Veda: "That One breathed by itself without breath, other than it there has been nothing." To collectively term the Vedas henotheistic, and thus further leaning towards polytheism, rather than monotheism, is to ignore the clearly monist bent of the Vedas that laid the foundation for the Upanishads as early as 1000 BCE.

Cosmogony of the Vedas

The Vedic view of the world and cosmogony sees one true divine principle self-projecting as the divine word, Vaak, 'birthing' the cosmos that we know from the monistic 'Hiranyagarbha' or Golden Womb, a primordial sun figure that is equivalent to Lord Surya. The varied gods like Vayu (of wind), Indra (King of Gods), Rudra (the Destructive element), Agni (Fire, the sacrificial medium) and the goddess Saraswati (the Divine Word, aka Vaak) are just some examples of the myriad aspects of the one underlying nature of the universe.

Sanskrit Vedic Civilization Vedanta
Above article originally from Wikipedia. The text on above article is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
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