Vedic Literature (Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda & Atharvaveda)

The Vedas are said to have been passed on from one generation to the next through verbal transmission and are, therefore, also known as Shruti (to hear) or revelation (communicating divine truth).

The Vedic literature is broadly divided into two categories:

1) Shruti (heard): Vedas (Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda), Brahmanas (ritual treatises), the Aranyakas (“Forest Books”), and the Upanishads (philosophical elaborations on the Vedas).

2) Smriti (remembered): Vedanga, Shad darsana, Puranas, Itihasa, Upveda, Tantras, Agamas, Upangas.

The texts which constitute the Vedic literature are:

1) The four Vedas and Samhitas
2) The Brahmanas attached to each Samhita
3) The Aranyakas
4) The Upanishads

The Vedic literature is roughly divided into three periods:

Three periods
Period Composition
Mantra period Samhitas
Brahman period Brahmanas, Upanishads, and Aranyakas
Sutra period Sutra

Veda Contains
Rig Veda God Grace (Hymes (भजन) and Prayers (प्रार्थना))
Yajurveda Sacrifice process (Hymes and Rituals (रसम रिवाज))
Sama Veda Music (Musical Hymes)
Atharvaveda Medicine (Magical Charms & Spells (मंत्र))

Three Vedas - Rig, Yajur, and Sama - were known as the trayi-vidya ("threefold knowledge").

Rig Veda (1700-1100 BC)

Rig Veda is the oldest in any Indo-European language, it is composed in Sanskrit and originated in ancient India (1700-1100 BC).

It is divided into ten books (Mandalas) and composed of a collection of 10,600 verses (श्लोक) and 1,028 hymns (भजन) by a number of priestly families.

Rigvedic hymns were collected by Paila under the guidance of Vyasa, the Rishi family of Angira has composed 35% of the hymns and the Kanva family composed around 25%.

The hymns are also known as Sukta, composed to be used in sacrificial rites and other rituals with utmost devotion.

The ninth Mandala of Rigveda is devoted to "soma (a drink)" called soma Mandala.

Mandals Feature
1st and 10th Youngest and Longest
2nd to 7th Oldest and Shortest
8th and 9th Mixed age

It contains numerous secrets about the origin of the world, the importance of the Gods and a lot of advice for living a satisfying and successful life.

As per the Rig Vedic hymns, the entire universe has originated from Prajapati, (the initial God can be compared to Zeus in Grek mythology) and this forms the principle basis of creation.

Indra (King of Devas - A position, currently occupied by "Purandhara") is the chief deity cited in the Rig Veda - Varuna (sky god), Agni and Surya were some of the other chief deities.

There is a lot of emphasis on Lord Shiva but Lord Vishnu is cited as a minor deity.

The Gayatri mantra (Savitri) and Varna system are also mentioned in Rig-Veda.

Vishvamitra is the composer of Gayatri Mantra.

The famous Purushasukta (पुरुषा सूक्तम) explains that the four varnas (Castes) (Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra) were born from the mouth, arms, belly and the legs of the creator

The Vedic People personified the natural forces and looked upon them as living beings to which they gave human or animal attributes.

Name of God Associated with natural forces
Vayu Wind God
Dyaus Father of Heaven
Aditi Mother of Surya
Maruts Storm Spirits
Gandharvas Divine Musicians
Ashavins Healers of diseases and experts in surgical art
Ribhus Gnomes
Apsaras Mistresses of Gods
Rudra An archer God, whose anger brought disease
Usha Goddess of Dawn
Aditi Mother of Goods
Prithvi Earth Goddess
Aryani Forest Goddess
Saraswati The River Deity

Sindhu is the most mentioned river and the most prominent river is Saraswati.

Gotra (Kinship unit or Clan) word first time came at the time of "Rigveda".

The nature of Rigvedic religion was Polytheism or Henotheism i.e. a belief in many gods but each god standing out in turns as the highest.

"Aghanya" refers to Cows in Rig Veda.

Yajurveda (1400-1000 BC)

Yajurveda (sacrificial formula) is the book of sacrificial prayers, short magic spells, it contains the rituals of the Yajnas (sacrifice, devotion, worship, offering).

It prescribes the rituals for performing different sacrifices - it was the manual of the Adhvaryus priest (person in charge of the physical details of the sacrifice).

Witzel estimated the century of Yajurveda's composition to be between 1200 and 800 BC, contemporaneous with "Samaveda" and "Atharvaveda".

The Yajurveda is broadly grouped into two - the "black" or "dark" (Krishna) Yajurveda and the "white" or "bright" (Shukla) Yajurveda. The Black Yajur Veda(Krishna) existing in four versions and the White Yajur Veda(shukla) existing in two versions.

The term "black" implies "the un-arranged, unclear, motley collection" of verses in Yajurveda, in contrast to the "white" which implies the "well arranged, clear" Yajurveda.

There are four surviving recensions (revised edition of a text) of the Krishna (black) Yajurveda - Taittiriya saṃhita, Maitrayani saṃhita (oldest), Kaṭha saṃhita, and Kapisthala saṃhita.

Out of sixteen, only two recensions of the Shukla Yajurveda have survived - Madhyandina and Kanva.

The best known and best preserved of these recensions is the Taittiriya saṃhita written by Tittiri, a pupil of Yaksha and mentioned by Panini.

Sama Veda (1200-800 BC)

Sama Veda is a collections of hymns taken from the Rig Veda and set to tunes for the purpose of singing - there are 1549 hymns and only 75 hymns are original.

There are two Upanishads embedded in Samaveda: Chandogya Upanishad (Lord Krishana) and Kena Upanishad or Talavakara Upanishad.

The Samaveda is considered as the storehouse of the melodious chants and root of the Indian classical music and dance.

Though it has lesser verses than Rigveda, however, its texts are larger.

There are three recensions (revision of a text) of the text of the Samaveda:

1) Kauthuma (Panchvish Brahmana)
2) Raṇayaniya (Shadvish Brahmana)
3) Jaimaniya (Jaiminiya Brahmana)

There are two Aranyakas: Chadogya Aranyaka (Chadogya Upnishad) and Jaiminiya Aranyaka (Jaiminiya Upnishad).

Samaveda is categorised into two parts: Part-I includes melodies called Gana & Part-II includes three verses book called Archika.

Gandharveveda is Samveda's Upveda, it is a technical treatise on Music, Dance and Drama. Bharat's Natyashashtra is based upon Gandharvaveda.

Atharvaveda (1100-800 BC)

The Atharva Veda is the knowledge storehouse of atharvaṇas, the procedures for everyday life.

The text is the fourth Veda, but has been a late addition to the Vedic scriptures of Hinduism.

The language of the Atharvaveda is different from Vedic Sanskrit, preserving pre-Vedic Indo-European archaisms (old-fashioned).

It is a collection of 730 hymns with about 6,000 mantras, divided into 20 books.

About a sixth of the Atharvaveda texts adapts verses from the Rigveda, and except for Books 15 and 16, the text is in poem form deploying a diversity of Vedic matters.

Two different recensions of the text - the Paippalada and the Saunakiya - have survived into modern times.

The Atharvaveda is sometimes called the "Veda of magical formulas", a description considered incorrect by other scholars.

Royal rituals and the duties of the court priests are also included in the Atharvaveda.

Atharva Veda is also called as Brahmaveda, it was mainly composed by two groups of rishis known as the Atharvanas and the Angirasa.

Mundaka Upanishad and Mandukya Upanishad are embedded in the Atharva Veda.

Satyameva Jayate is a part of a mantra from the Hindu scripture Mundaka Upanishad.

Samhita (संहिता)

Samhita refers to the most ancient layer of text in the Vedas, consisting of "mantras", hymns, prayers, litanies and benedictions.

Each of the four Vedas is arranged into "four chronological parts" of which the Samhitas are the first. The other three are: Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads.

Some scholars categorize the "Samhitas" and the "Brahmanas" together as the Karma-Kanda part of the Vedas because they contain information relevant to rituals and ceremonies.

Brahmanas (900-700 BC)

The Brahmanas (ब्राह्मण) are Vedic shruti works attached to the Samhitas (hymns and mantras) of the Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas.

They are a secondary layer or classification of Sanskrit texts embedded within each Veda, often explain the hymns and instruct Brahmins on the performance of Vedic rituals (in which the related Samhitas are recited).

In addition to explaining the symbolism and meaning of the Samhitas, Brahmana literature also expounds scientific knowledge of the Vedic Period, including observational astronomy and, particularly in relation to altar construction, geometry.

Divergent in nature, some Brahmanas also contain mystical and philosophical material that constitutes Aranyakas and Upanishads.

Each Veda has one or more of its own Brahmanas, and each Brahmana is generally associated with a particular Shakha or Vedic school.

Less than twenty Brahmanas are currently extant, as most have been lost or destroyed.

The oldest Brahmana is dated to about 900 BCE, while the youngest are dated to around 700 BCE.

Veda Brahmanas
Rigveda Aitareya Brahmana,
Kaushitaki (Sankhayana Brahmana)
Samveda Tandya Brahmana,
Shadvinsha Brahmana,
Samavidhana Brahmana,
Arsheya Brahmana,
Daivata/ Devatadhyaya Brahmana,
Upanishad Brahmana,
Samhitopanishad Brahmana,
Vamsha Brahmana,
Jaiminiya Brahmana,
Jaiminiyopanishad Brahmana
Yajurveda Taittiriya Brahmana,
Shatapatha Brahmana,

Kathaka Brahmana,
Atharvaveda Gopatha Brahmana

Aranyakas (~ 700 BC)

The Aranyakas (आरण्यक) are the part of the ancient Indian Vedas concerned with the meaning of ritual sacrifice.

They typically represent the later sections of the Vedas, and are one of many layers of the Vedic texts.

Aranyakas describe and discuss rituals from various perspectives, some include philosophical speculations.

In an alternate classification, the early part of Vedas are called Samhitas and the ritualistic commentary on the mantras and rituals are called the Brahmanas which together are identified as the ceremonial karma-kanda, while Aranyakas and Upanishads are referred to as the jnana-kanda.

Aranyakas, along with Brahmanas, represent the emerging transitions in later Vedic religious practices.

The transition completes with the blossoming of ancient Indian philosophy from external sacrificial rituals to internalized philosophical treatise of Upanishads.

Veda Aranyaka
Rigveda Aitareya Aranyaka,
Kaushitaki Aranyaka
Yajurveda Taittiriya Aranyaka,
Maitrayaniya Aranyaka,
Katha Aranyaka,
Brihad Aranyaka
Samaveda Talavakara Aranyaka,
Atharvaveda No

The Atharvaveda has no surviving Aranyaka, though the Gopatha Brahmana is regarded as its Aranyaka, a remnant of a larger, lost Atharva (Paippalada) Brahmana.

Upanishads (1000 BC-1700 AD)

The Upanishads are late Vedic or most recent part of the Vedas and deal with meditation, salvation, philosophy (main theme), and ontological knowledge - other parts of the Vedas deal with mantras, benedictions, rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices.

The Upanishads are commonly referred to as Vedanta (the end of the Veda) - firstly, because they denote the last phase of the Vedic period and secondly, because they reveal the final aim of the Veda.

The Oldest Upanishads are Brhadaranyaka (बृहदारण्यक) and Chandogya Upanishads which date as back as the 1000 BC.

Latest were composed in the medieval and early modern period.

The latest Upnishad is Muktika Upnishad and was recorded by Dara Shikoh.

The concepts of Brahman (ultimate reality) and Atman (soul, self) are central ideas in all of the Upanishads, and "know that you are the Atman" is their thematic focus.

Along with the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahmasutra, the mukhya Upanishads (the Prasthanatrayi) provide a foundation for the several later schools of Vedanta, among them, two influential monistic schools of Hinduism.

Around 108 Upanishads are known, of which the first dozen or so are the oldest and most important and are referred to as the principal or main (mukhya) Upanishads.

The well-known dialogue between Nachiketa and Yama is mentioned in Kathopanishad.


Vedangas are six auxiliary disciplines associated with the study and understanding of the Vedas, they include: Shiksha (Phonetics), Kalpa (Ritual Canon), Vyakaran (Grammar), Nirukta (explanation), Chhanda (Vedic meter) and Jyotisha (Astrology).

Itihasa (Epics)

Itihasa refers to the collection of written descriptions of important events in Hinduism.

It includes the Mahabharata, the Puranas and the Ramayana.

The Puranas are religious texts composed in Sanskrit, orally narrated for centuries before being written down from the 2nd century AD onwards.

They are part of the sacred literature of the Hindu faith that also comprise of the Vedas, Brahmanas, Aryayankas, Upanishads, and the great epics.

There are traditionally 18 Puranas, but there are several different lists of the 18, as well as some lists of more or fewer than 18.

Interestingly Mahabharat was originally known by the name Jaya or Jayasamhita.


The term upaveda or Upved refers to traditional sciences or technical literature which have no connection whatever with the Sruti or revealed Veda.

The four upavedas are Dhanurveda (Archery), Gandharvaveda (Music and Dance), Ayurveda (Medicine) and Arthashastra (Economy). Some schools hold Shastrashastra (Military) as fourth Upaveda in place of Arthashastra.

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Vedic River Modern Name
Kubha Kabul
Parushni Ravi
Sadaneera Gandak
Shutudri Sutlaj
Akshini Chenab
Chitrotpala Mahanadi
Matetama, Devitama, Naditama Saraswati

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