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Ancient History / Vedic Civilization

History of Vedic Literature


    The history of Vedic literature dates back to around 1500 BC when Rig Veda got started composing. Vedic Civilization is also known as Aryan Civilization. Vedic Civilization in India got started from 1500 BC and continued upto 600 BC. It can be divided into two periods. From 1500 BC to 1000 BC, it is called Early Vedic period or Rig Vedic period and from 1000 BC to 600 BC, it is called Later Vedic period. During these periods, massive literature was composed including 4 Vedas.

    Vedic Literature of India

    The Vedic literature of India is that literature which was composed and compiled during the Vedic period. Vedic literature is divided into into 8 categories namely, Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads, Vedangas, Upavedas, Itihasas and Puranas.


    Vedic Literature


    Vedas

    There are four Vedas namely, Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.

    • Rig Veda

      Rig Veda was the oldest book in India and it was compiled between 1500 BC to 1000 BC. It is believed that it is not man-made but was sent by the God.

      Rig Veda contains 1028 hymns (prayers) invoking various Gods like Agni, Indra, Varuna, etc. for gaining of some material comforts. Out of which "Gayatri Mantra" is the most sacred one. Gayatri mantra is dedicated to the goddess "Savitri".

      Rig Veda is divided into 10 Mandalas (chapters). The 10th Mandala of Rig Veda is Purusha Sukta in which one Sloka refers to the origin of caste system in India.

      Purusha Sukta says it was the creator, Lord Brahma, who created caste system from his own body but from different organs. It says Brahmins are created from Brahma's head, Kshatriyas are created from the shoulders, Vaishyas are created from the thighs and Sudras are created from feet. It also says the current birth depends on previous birth.

    • Yajur Veda

      It was compiled between 1000 BC to 600 BC. Yajur Veda contains rituals, a cult in which a single God is addressed. For example, Garbhadhana ritual is meant for childless couple. Praying was to be done only through rituals. Priests would recite rituals on behalf of devotees. So, there will be no connection between the God and the devotee.

    • Sama Veda

      Sama Veda was compiled between 1000 BC to 600 BC. The meaning of Sama is Melody. Sama Veda mainly deals with music.

    • Atharva Veda

      It was compiled between 1000 BC to 600 BC. Atharva Veda deals with superstitions. It believes that Slokas or Mantras can prevent evil spirits and diseases.

    Brahmanas

    • Brahmanas are books that deal with various rituals but in prose form. A number of Brahmana texts were present in ancient India, of which many texts have been lost. A total of 19 Brahmanas are in existence now.

    • Each Brahmana is connected with either one of the four Vedas and within that Veda they are associated with a particular school or shakha. Some of the Brahmanas are Aitareya Brahmana, Shatapatha Brahmana, Gopatha Brahmana, etc.

    Aranyakas

      Aranyakas are the philosophies written mainly for the forest dwelling hermits and their disciples. They are appendices (concluding portions) to Brahmanas. They can be considered as the bridge between the Brahmanas that talk about ritual sacrifices and the Upanishads that talk about knowledge and spirituality.

    Upanishads

    • Upanishads contain philosophical content like Atma (soul) and Paramatma (Cosmic soul), Karma, Birth and Rebirth, Moksha (salvation), Ahimsa, Bhakti, etc. In total there are 108 Upanishads.

    • Some important Upanishads are Chandogya Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad (the phrase 'Satyameva Jayate' is taken from Mundaka Upanishad), Brihadaranyaka Upanishad which talks about transmigration of soul based on Karma, etc.

    • Regarding salvation, which is nothing but getting the soul into cosmic soul, Vedas and Brahmanas differ with Upanishads. Vedas and Brahmanas say that 16 rituals are to be performed for salvation, whereas Upanishads condemn rituals.

    • Upanishads teachings say that Bhakti (Mysticism) is a way for salvation. Bhakti believes in direct relationship between the God and the devotee and it is self surrender to the God.

    Vedangas

      Vedangas are limbs of Vedas and are written for how to chant Vedas properly. There are 6 Vedangas in total.

      (i) Siksha Vedanga, which covers phonetics (sounds)
      (ii) Nirukta Vedanga, which covers etymology (origin of words)
      (iii) Chandas Vedanga, which covers Metrics
      (iv) Vyakarana Vedanga, which covers Grammar
      (v) Jyotisha Vedanga, which covers Astrology
      (vi) Kalpa Vedanga, which covers Rituals

    Upa Vedas (Subsidiary Vedas)

      There are four Upa Vedas.

      (i) Ayurveda (Veda about life)
      (ii) Gandharva Veda (Veda about music)
      (iii) Shilpa Veda (Veda about architecture)
      (iv) Dhanurveda (Veda about archery and warfare)

    Itihasas (Epics)

      There exists two Epics of India, Ramayana written by Valmiki and Mahabharata written by Veda Vyas. Bhagavad Gita is not an epic but it is an appendix to Mahabharata.

    Puranas

    • There exists 18 Puranas. The Puranas contain mythological information. Puranas divide Ages into four Yugas. They are Krita, Treta, Dvapara and Kali Yuga. Every successor Yuga is worse than the previous Yuga.

    • Puranas give the genealogical records (Vamshavali) of the ancient rulers of Kali Yuga. They are very much useful for studying history. Important Puranas are Vayu Purana, Skanda Purana, Matsya Purana, Vishnu Purana, etc.