Archive for the ‘Hinduism – Scriptures’ Category

Hindu Scriptures VI

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

The Vedas – Part IV


Sahitās are also spelled as “Sanhitās” or “Samhitas”. The Samhitas are the collections of the Mantras or Hymns sung or recited to the devatās without much ritual. Most often, traditionally, the Samhita portion alone is referred to as the Veda. For example, the word ‘Rigved’ would typically mean the Rigved Samhita. In the case of the Rigved, Samved and Atharvaved, there is a clear-cut separation between the Samhita and the Brahmana portions. In contrast, in the Shukla (white) Yajurved, the Samhita and the Brahmana portions are separate from each other. In the Krishna (black) Yajurved, the Samhita and the Brahmana portions are intermixed. Thus, the Taittiriya Samhita, which belongs to the Krishna Yajurved, has the Samhita interspersed with Brahmana portions. Even the Taittiriya Brahmana has both Mantras and Brahmana passages mixed with each other. The mantras of Samhitas are mostly written in verse, meaning, in the form of poetry or hymns whereas the Brahmanas are predominantly in prose. It is the samhitas which shows us that poems were written by the human beings first than the prose were written. The Vedas sometimes refer only to the Samhitas. It seems that, as we will see later on, Sanhitas were taught the very first in the life of a person, right from the childhood (galthuthi), also called “Brahmcharyāshram” or the learning age in the Vedic society. There are many well known books written in the post-vedic period, possibly after 6th century BCE, also known as “Samhitās” or “Sanhitās”, because, the word “Samhita” means “Compilation of knowledge”. Vedic samhitas should not be confused with these samhitas of post-vedic period, such as, Gherand Samhita and Shiva Samhita related to Hatha Yoga; Sushrut Samhita, Charak Samhita, Kashyap Samhita, and other, related to Ayurved Medicine; Garga Samhita related to Astrology; another Garga Samhita describing the life of Krishna; Deva Samhita describing the origin of Jats from Shiv’s locks; etc. are also post-vedic samhitas.


The Brahmanas lay out the precepts, rituals and religious duties. It seems that the Brahmanas are prescribed for mainly the adult life called “Grahasthāshram.” A well established social human being functioning as the householders with all responsibilities of the family and raising the children belongs to Grahasthashram. The Brahmanas contain formulas for rituals, rules and regulations for rites and sacrifices and also outline other religious duties. The formulas and rules for conducting extremely complex rituals are explained to the minutest detail. And every ritual is performed for a specific purpose for which a specific effect or benefit is expected. It can be inferred that, in Vedic society there was nothing that could not be achieved by sacrifices.


Aranyakas were prescribed for the later period of life of semi-retirement, called “Vānprasthāshram,” meaning, the age group “towards retirement to the forest” when the people who had fulfilled their duties of raising and supporting their families and children, and were on the way to the retirement, usually, to the forests (the usual retirement place in ancient time was forest and not the vacation homes) and spend the remaining active life in meditation and contemplation of God. Thus, Aranyakas derived their name from the word “Aranya” meaning “wilderness”, “forest”, or “woods”. The Aranyakas provide the link between the ritualistic Brahmanas and the philosophical Upanishads. The symbolic and spiritual aspects of the sacrificial religion are meditated upon in the Aranyakas while philosophical issues are discussed in the Upanishads. Most of the famous Upanishads are found in the Aranyakas.


The Upanishads consists of philosophical discussions that examine and propound the wisdom in the earlier part of the Vedas. Since they appear at the end of the Vedas they are also called “Vedānta,” meaning, the end (anta) part of the Vedas. All subsequent Hindu thoughts or visions, called Darshans, were derived from the discussions found in the Upanishads. The Upanishads were prescribed for that period of life known as retirement, called “Sanyāsāshram,” meaning “renunciation” or “full retirement.” Sanyasashram is the period of life of people when they already have had lived and enjoyed their whole life doing rituals prescribed in the Brahmanas; have spent their remaining active semi-retired life peacefully, usually in the forests close to the nature, meditating and contemplating on God as prescribed in the Aranyakas; have broken all the emotional ties with their families and relatives; and are physically and mentally ready to leave without any more worldly desires remained for fulfilling in this very rare and precious God-given human life in this world. In short, the Upanishads are meant to provide us the very essence and the meaning of life.

Dear reader, here we partly conclude the information on Vedas in short. It is an attempt to provide a gross picture or idea of Hindu scriptures. The minute details and precise informations can be obtained and verified individually by referring the authentic text books. The original Sanskrit text and its translation also needs to be verified personally for its authenticity and truthfulness. In future, we will discuss Samhitās, Brāhmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads and also the other scriptures in detail. Let us not forget that the information only becomes knowledge when one puts it into practice. Unless we put aside our ego that “I am such and such person and this body is me,” called the “deha-bhāv” in Hinduism, and attain the “ātmā-bhāv”, that is, “the soul inside my body is real me,” all that is described in the scriptures is in vein or it just remains as merely an information and never becomes knowledge called Shākshātkār. Though individually may our knowledge of scriptures be limited, our understanding of the scriptures should be thorough. The difference between Hinduism and other major philosophies is that, whereas other philosophies discuss God as “paroksh (parā-aksh),” Hinduism discusses God as “pratyaksh (prati-aksh)”, “murtimān” ,or “sākshāt (sa akshata).” Paroksh means manifestation of God beyond our reach or beyond our vision, that is, the form of God in His abode only. Pratyaksh means manifestation of Godin front of our eyes, either by Himself (Swayam) in human form, in form of His Avatars, in the form of His holy words as Scriptures, in the form of His holy image or object of worship as Murtis, or through His legacy called “Guru paramparā” that passes the very essence of His scriptures through many generations and by creating His very presence keeping Him alive through many millenniums. To begin with Hinduism was given not just for Indians only, but was given for the whole mankind. Ordinarily speaking, Hinduism is a factory of transforming out hearts and mind for the betterment of our society. It is a factory of transforming our physique and psych for the betterment of our individual lives. Spiritually speaking, Hinduism is a factory of transforming our souls for making them capable of staying with God in His abode enjoying His very bliss forever.

At the end, we rest here by quoting the very essence of all the scriptures.

 “… and the essence of all the scriptures is that one should only do which pleases God…” (a quote from the Vachanāmrut, Gadhadā II-28, of Bhagwān Swāminārāyan)

Hindu Scriptures V

Friday, October 16th, 2009

The Vedas – Part III

As we have seen previously, each of the four Vedas, namely, Rigved, Sāmved, Yajurved, and Atharvaved, consist of four components known as Samhitās, Brāhmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. The Samhitas are considered the Vedas proper; the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads are periodic additions, made by way of growing with the changing times. The fourth and the last portions of the Vedas, the Upanishads, are called Vedānta. The Veda texts were preserved orally long before the methods of preservation of written material became robust. It is said that they were all compiled by Veda Vyasa. Vedas in all contain about 20,389 hymns. Each Ved has a different focus. The Rigved involves mainly a metaphysical consideration of the nature of God. The Sām and Yajur Vedas prescribe liturgical functions. The Atharvaved is believed to be of a distinctly later period than the other three Vedas. One can see that the definite priest-hood system was established by the Atharvaved period. In earlier Vedic period the head of the household would normally perform the religious rituals himself. In the priest-hood period the priests were supposed to conduct all major rituals so that they were performed exactly as specified because only they were learned and it was believed that if the rituals were faulty the purpose of the rituals would not be achieved. Thus, it was in the later part of the Vedic period that the priests or the Brahmins seemed to become powerful and dominant in the society. So when Ved Vyās compiled all the Vedas (i.e. possibly around Mahabharat period – around 3101 to 5561 BCE) the Vedic system was fully established, the teachings of Upanishads was also well spread, and after that the preaching of Purāns became more dominant.


The word “rig” is derived from the word ‘ric’ which literally means ‘praise or verse’, especially ‘a sacred verse recited in praise of a deity’. Rigved describes metrical hymns, which are meant to be recited loudly. It involves mainly a metaphysical consideration of the nature of God. It is the oldest Ved and is sometimes known as ‘the wisdom of the hymns’. It is divided into 10 books, with 1,028 hymns. In all the Rigved contains about 10,552 hymns or verses. Most of the early hymns of the Rigved are about nature and its personifications in the form of devas, like Agni, Surya, Indra, Varun, Vāyu, etc. The later hymns are addressed to the Supreme Being, as this concept had evolved by then. Each hymn names the sage to whom it was revealed. Most of the hymns of Rigved are repeated in the Yajur and Sam Vedas. Rigved has one Sanhita and two Brahmanas. It can be called as the creation hymn that shows us the nature worshiping society of that period.


Sām or Sāman means “melody” or “song” – the poem that can be sung. The Samaved is purely a liturgical collection of melodies (sāman). Samved contains about 1,875 hymns or verses. The text of most (all but 76) of the hymns in the Samaved are drawn from the Rigved and have no distinctive lessons of their own. The remaining 76 mantras of Samved are also resumed to be from Rigved that are lost. Hence, its text is, in another way, a reduced version of the Rigved. Three recensions of the Samaved Samhita are known, namely, the Kauthuma recension (seen in Gujarat and in Bihar), the Jaiminiya (seen in the Karnatak and Kerala), and the āyanīya (seen in the Maharashtra). Bhagvad Gita (chapter 10, verse 22) in the epic Mahabharat says that the Samved is the best among the four Vedas. It is the Samved that is the foundation of all other systems of music. All verses in the same adhyāy or decade of Samved have one common meter and one deity. All the deities of Rigved are all present in theses verses. All the benefits of singing of Samved accrue only when every syllable of every verse in the entire adhyay or chapter is chanted or sung correctly. Perfection was achieved and was maintained since during that time when writing was not yet developed. Mankind had to rely upon their senses of hearing and speaking. It was an art or talent that developed in those periods of time.


Yajurved is a collection of all mantras or hymns that are useful in rituals. It contains about 1,975 hymns. In Yajurved, the verses are in prose form that has no meter. Yajurved is further divided into two parts, the Sukla and the Krishna. The Krishna Yajurved Samhita exists today in various recensions, most importantly the Taittiriya Samhita and the Maitrayani Samhita. The Shukla Yajurved Samhita is preserved most prominently as the Vajasaneya Samhita. It is believed that, the Vajasaneya is a later revelation to sage Yāgnavalkya from the resplendent Sun-God. In the Krishna (“Black or dark”) Yajurved the commentary, Brahmana, the prose content is mixed with the hymns; and in the Shukla (“white or bright”) Yajurbed there is no commentary among the hymns. The contents of these two recensions are also presented in different order. The Yajurved Samhita is divided into 40 chapters and contains 1,975 verses. About 30 percent of the verses are drawn from the Rigved Samhita (particularly from chapters eight and nine). This Veda is a special collection of hymns to be chanted during yagna.


Atharvaved is considered the last Veda recorded, it consists of mostly original hymns (rather than replications from the Rig Veda). It is known as the Veda of prayer, in recognition of its abundant magical charms and spells. It also contains many Agama-like cosmological passages that bridge the earlier Vedic hymns and formulas with the metaphysics of the Upanishads. The Atharvaved contains about 5,987 hymns. According to the tradition, the Atharvaveda was mainly composed by two groups of rishis known as the Atharvanas and the Angirasa; hence its oldest name is Ātharvāgirasa. In the late Vedic Gopatha Brahmana, it is attributed to the Bhrigu and Angirasa. There are two surviving recensions or shākhās, known as Shaunakīya and Paippalāda. Atharvaved was not found in South India during the middle Ages and until very recently; and since they are the last one in the Vedas, it suggests that Vedic culture began in the southern India when India was an island near Africa (around 120 million years ago) and later on spread to the north and from there to Europe (possibly after about 45 to 10 million years ago). The Charaavyuha lists nine shakhas, or schools, of the Atharvaveda, namely, paippalāda, stauda, mauda, shaunakīya, jājala, jalada, kuntap, brahmavada, devadarsha, and chāraṇavaidyā. Of these, only the Shaunakīya and the Paippalāda recensions have survived. Two main post-Samhita texts associated with the Atharvaved are the Vaitāna Sūtra and the Kaushika Sūtra. The Vaitana Sutra deals with the participation of the Atharvaveda Brahman priests in the Shrauta ritual while the Kaushika Sūtra contains many applications of Atharvaveda mantras in healing and magic.

The Shaunakiya text is divided into four parts: Part 1: Kāṇḍas 1-7. It deals with healing and general black and white magic that is to be applied in all situations of life, from the first tooth of a baby to regaining kingship. Part 2: Kāndas 8-12. It constitutes early speculation on the nature of the universe and of humans as well as on ritual. Part 3: Kandas 13-18. It deals with issues of a householder’s life, such as marriage, death, and female rivalry. Part 4: Kandas 19 and 20. They are later editions. The Paippalada text has a similar arrangement into four parts: Part 1: Kandas 1-15, Part 2: Kandas 16-17, Part 3: Kānd 18, and Part 4: Kandas 19-20, with roughly the same contents.

The Atharvaved also deals with medicine. It identifies the causes of disease as living causative agents such as the yātudhāna, the kimīdin, the krumi or kimi and the durāma

The Atharvans seek to kill them with a variety plant based medicines in order to counter the disease. Atharvaved (hymn I.23-24) describes the disease leprosy and recommends the rajani aushadhi for its treatment. Atharvaved also informs about varieties of warfare.

Hindu Scriptures IV

Monday, October 5th, 2009

The Vedas – Part II (contd.)

Another distinguishing feature or characteristic of Vedic philosophy related to divinity (devas and the Supreme Authority) was the belief in “Sākārvād” or the personification of devas and the Supreme Authority. Vedic philosophy did not believe in water as just water, rain as just a rain, wind as just a wind, fire as just a fire, lightening as just a lightening, or Sun as just a star. They are all the natural powers controlled by divine powers of varied potentials. Vedas believed in water as another (worldly) form of divine personified god Varun, rain as another form of personified form of god Indra, wind as just another form of personified form of god Vāyu, fire as one of many forms of personified form of god Agni Nārāyan, and Sun as another form of personified god Surya Nārāyan. They were all considered Devs (Devos or Theos) whereas the Brahm or Brahmā was considered the creator of all in Vedic teachings. This kind of understanding is known as “Kshetra-Kshetragna” principle (Field-Fielder theory). For every universal or mundane body there lies its essence or divine controller. No one has seen God in the sky and no one is ready to believe God as a human being even if God Himself shows up presently on the earth. But because of personification of God mankind relates more with God than any other form of God. Formless or abstract God still needs to reveal, talk, or communicate to us in the form we understand. What could be better way of communication than the personification of God?

Image worshiping or idolatry (Murtipujā) – one of the major characteristics of Hinduism is the byproduct of personification of God. Murti puja is in fact not the idol worshiping but God worshiping. Just like in a “glass of water” or “bottle of wine” we see water or wine instead of glass or bottle, in murti puja the devotee sees God in side Murti or idol. It seems like murtipuja was initially started with nature worshipning as one way of thanking God, then it developed into “Shivling” and “Shaligram” puja (that has no human face or figure) and then later on it was fully developed as murtipuja of near human like murtis creating more likeness, affinity, and intimacy with God. Eight kinds (ashta prakār) of murtis are discussed in Purāns. For example, murtis may be constructed of or carved from any one of eight substances, namely, stone, wood, metal, clay, paint, sand (drawn upon the ground), jewels, or the imagination of mind (mental).

These eight kinds of murtis are known as sthir or achal murtis, which are not generally interacting. In the scriptures one more kind of murti is described. Sant, Satpurush, or God-realized person is known as ninth kind of murti, called chal murti, which alive, moving, and interacting. Monotheism (Ekeshwarvād) and reincarnation (Avatārvād) are other byproducts of Vedic philosophy. All the Avatars or incarnations were considered many forms of one God called Vishnu Nārāyan. This was another factor unifying Hinduism. Hinduism was the first in believing in one creator. Although, Western religions and Hinduism both believe in Monotheism, the major difference between them is, Hinduism believes in one creator or one supreme God for all, whereas, the western religions mostly restrict their God as the only God.

The system of “division of labor” is started way back from the period of Vedas. In Vedic period, different kinds of work, fixed duties, or functions, according to their abilities and intellectuals, were assigned to different kinds of vipras or priests for the Yagnas or Vedic rituals. For example, sixteen kinds of tvijas (rutvij) of Vedic period for the specialization of roles eventually became 16 different hereditary branches of the Brāhmin (vipra or dvij) caste, such as agnihotri, adhvaryu, pandyā, purohit, dwivedi, trivedi, chaturvedi, etc. Thus, the system of division of labor later on became well known hereditary caste system (Gnātiprathā or Jātivād). Which in turn eventually became much criticized social class system of so called higher class, middle class, and lower class. The word “Varna” (color of skin) for caste (Jāti) was used much later when learned priest or brāhmin caste people stayed under the shade and became comparatively fair complexioned and shudra or laborer caste people working outside in the field became dark complexioned. Members of any caste were restricted in their choice of occupation and for their choice of relationships and association with members of other castes. Since 20th century much of the rigidity or strictness of the caste system is loosen as the society became more and more open, educated, and advanced. Members of any one caste are restricted in their choice of occupation and may have only limited association with members of other castes.

The idea of Waste management, garbage disposal and recycling is a major part of “Think Green” or “Go Green” movements of 21st century. What do we do in modern society of use and throw? After being used for definite purpose we throw away disposable dishes, boxes, wrappers, bottles, etc. on which waste management industry thrives. Everyone knows that what animals do for millions of years about dead bodies of their loved ones’. They just leave carcasses as they are. What ancient human beings used to do for dead bodies of their loved ones’?  Unlike animals they probably used to leaves dead bodies of their loved ones probably not on the streets but at specific places either for vultures or other animals to eat, buried under ground for natural decomposition, or burned to ashes to avoid putrefaction and foul smelling. There was no science developed for proper disposable but the above three major methods shows for sure the early signs of civilization. Rituals were added later on with the disposal to cope up with the shock as human intelligence or understanding developed. Among various methods of disposal of dead bodies, where the Vedic Hinduism differs? Vedic teachings of soul and body had clearly showed the Vedic society that after death the essence of life – the soul – leaves the body for its designated place leaving behind just a dead structure of worldly elements. Hinduism believes that the day of judgment of any soul is everyday or every moment that it lives creating karma. Thus every moment one lives is the final day of judgment for that person, the death of that person decides his next birth or final liberation. So, there was no definite purpose of keeping or preserving the dead body – which was anyway “…for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” as the Book of Genesis says. Meaning, the physical elements of the body shall dissolve or return to the physical elements of the nature. Since burying the body under the ground may leave parts of the body for ever, they must have thought the best possible method of its disposal to be the ‘cremation’. They must have known that all of the parts of the dead body are not fully biodegradable. We now know, after invention of the technique of carbon dating, that the bones of Dinosaurs could leave up to 228 million years and other tissues, blood protein, and DNA up to 80 million years. In this way all the elements of the universe are fully restored in the shortest cost-effective and more scientific way and the life moves on. Putting the four R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover the resource into action is what Waste Management is all about.

Hindu Scriptures III

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

The Vedas – Part II

Following are some of the major uniquely distinguishing features of Vedas:

Vedas believed in “Universalism” or “Universal Brotherhood”. What science now, at the end of 20th century and at the beginning of the 21st century, says Vedas believed thousands of centuries or rather hundreds of millennium before, that we are one big family whose roots can be traced to a single pair of a father and a mother – common parents! Color, race, creed, and other features were developed later on.

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, meaning, the entire world is one family.

Ayam bandhurayam neti gananā laghuchetasām, Udāracharitānām tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam” (Maha Upanishad: Chapter 6, Verse 72), meaning, “One is my brother and the other is not – is the thinking of a narrow-minded person. For those who are broad-minded, liberals, or noble people, the entire world is a one big family.

‘Ayam nijah paroveti gananā laghuchetasām,

Udāracharitānām tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ | (Hitopadesh: 1.3.71), meaning,

“This is my own relative and that is a stranger” – is the calculation of the narrow-minded; for the magnanimous or generous hearts, however, the entire earth is but a family”

The message of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is also told in Panchatantra: 5.3.37. It is also mentioned in Purananuru (a collection of 400 verses composed by more than 150 poets) – an ancient Tamil Sangam literature dated around 100 BCE. “Yathum Oore Yavarum Kelir” (Song 192 by Kanniyan Poongundran), meaning, “every place is my home town; everyone is my kin’ or ‘to us all towns are one, all men our kin”.

Sisters and Brothers of America, I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance…We are the children of God…” When this Vedic message of universal brotherhood and children of Brahmā was presented to the western world at the parliament of Religions: 11th to 27th of September 1893, by Swami Vivekananda the whole audience of seven thousand people of the assembly went into inexplicable rapture with standing ovation and clapping that lasted for more than three minutes.

Vedic philosophy believed in “Environmental Friendliness” thousands of centuries before the concept was developed by the modern world. Respect to the nature and to all natural resources was the first message of Vedic philosophy to the mankind. Environmental friendliness just did not include only nature and the human beings but it also included animals, tiny creatures, plants, and all living things, as well as, all non-living things like land, air, water, fire, Sun, Moon, planets, etc. We can say that the Vedic society was the first “Environmental Protection Agency” in the history of mankind. Vedas were the first promoters of “Animal Rights”.

Vedas believed in “Non-violence” and “World Peace”. “Ahinsā Paramo Dharma”, meaning, the very first duty, ethics, and responsibility of mankind above all duties, ethics, and responsibilities are to maintain the non-violence and peace in the world. Not only that to keep weapons, develop weapons, or use weapons was considered a big sin. It was all forbidden in the Vedic society. Any type of cruelty was forbidden under the laws of ahinsa (also spelled as ahimsa).

Any kind of killing (hinsā or himsa) was considered a big Sin (Pāp) in Vedic society. Not only killing of human beings but killing of animals, even tiniest creatures, was also considered a sin. Not only killing of others but the killing of self, called “suicide” (Ātmahatyā), was also considered a big sin. Not only killing but even disfigurement or dismemberment of any bodily parts and even causing pain and sufferings to others,was also considered a grave sin.

Killing for any purpose, not even for praising or pleasing the deity or lord, was also forbidden in Vedas. People misunderstood the meaning of “Sacrifice” for their own preferences, likings or understandings. Sacrifice always meant giving up something that is most loving thing for a person. Sacrificing meant for the self-offering of the self or the most loving thing of the self and not the offering of the others or the most loving thing of the others. Sacrifice never meant innocent third party killing. Barbarianism was considered antisocial or uncivilized acts. Animal sacrifice was never the message of Vedic philosophy. When human beings became more and more civilized they understood the rights of others more and more.

The trend of civilized society was towards limiting the violence and killing for the betterment of the society. Just as unjustified mass killing is limited by justifying one killing by the legalization of death sentence, in the history of mankind, killing was tried to be limited by older societies under the name of sacrifice. The ideas of prescribed or controlled burn and controlled killing (death sentence) of modern society to prevent major catastrophic wildfires and mass murders have their roots in Vedas. Although Vedas did not believe any kind of killing, people took the ideas for their self interests. Just as there is a big difference between killing and murder, between murder and death sentence, between death sentence and human sacrifice, there is a big difference between animal sacrifice and grain sacrifice. Vedic society clearly understood the above Vedic principle of ahinsa or non-violence. Vedic yagnas, rituals, and religious ceremonies were prescribed to perform based on this philosophy. Not only that, Vedic teachings propounded sacrifice of only those grains (as against endangered and rare spices of grains) that were naturally more abundant, very old, and could not be grown again even if they are sowed. Until someone would think of another environmental friendly way of disposal of excess of grains this was the master idea of Vedic period – an idea of relating everything in our day to day life to our religion.

Vegetarianism” was more of the byproduct of Ahimsa or non-violence rather than of health consciousness of Vedic period. It became the main feature of civilized Vedic Hindu society. Cruelty or inhumanity lies behind meat eating. Moreover, they must have realized that the bodily features of human beings were never meant for meat-eating. Man was never created carnivorous or scavenger from very beginning. Cooking was a main difference between sober human beings and wild animals of that period. Scientists now agree that meat or flesh of any kind is not the food for human beings. It is never cost-effective nor it is health or cardio friendly.

Hindu Scriptures II

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

The Vedas – Part I

Does anyone wonder how come so many philosophies are under one roof or one umbrella of single philosophy, called Hinduism? How come varieties of beliefs and practices can survive for thousands of years against many odds but under one name called Hindu religion? The reason is they all are rooted under one single fundamental book of philosophy, called Ved (also spelled as Veda). The name Ved is derived from the Sanskrit root word vid”, meaning “to know”, “to learn”, or “to understand”.

One Ved, later on, was divided into four Vedas, namely, Rigveda, Yajurveda, Sāmaveda, and Atharvaveda. Vedas are most sacred ancient scriptural texts of Hinduism. It is believed that the knowledge of Vedas called the Vedic knowledge is directly given by God to the mankind. Vedas are the direct gift of Brahmā – the creator and god of this world. They are believed to be “divinely heard” as mantras (hymns) by the ancient Rishis (sages) and that is why they are also categorized as “Shrutis” (heard) as against “Smrutis” (recalled or remembered) which were memorized through many generations of mankind. For millenniums, they were passed over verbally, as an oral tradition like so many other oral traditions in the world in the singing fashion, through thousands of generations until writing was discovered. It just flowed like a river whose root lies somewhere higher up at the top of a mountain and whose delta is spread in the humanity. There is no single human creator of Vedas. And, that is why Vedas are known as “apaurusheya.” Though, it is believed that the latest compilation available was done by maharshi Ved Vyas – a well known authentic author and character figure of Mahābhārat and Purāns. He was son of rishi Parāshar and mother Satyavati. {Vyas was married to Pinjalā (Vatikā), the daughter of Jābāli. They had son named Shuk (Shukdevji). Vyas also had children with Ambikā, Ambālikā, and a maid. Ambikā and Ambālikā were childless widows of Vyas’s half-brother Vichitravirya. Vyas had to father their children on the request of his mother Satyavati, an ancient practice called Niyog, where a chosen man can father sons with the widow of a person who dies issueless. Vyas’s son with Ambikā was named Dhritarāshtra, who was blind, with Ambālikā was named Pāndu, who was severely anemic, and with the maid (because other two children were unhealthy) was named Vidur.} It is believed that originally there was one Veda comprise of more than hundred thousand verses. Ved Vyas is said to have arranged them under four headings and passed them on to four of his disciples: the Rig Veda to Paila, the Yajur Veda to Vaishampāyan, the Sāma Veda to Jaimini, and the Atharva Veda to Angiras. It is also believed (according to the Vishnu Puran (Book 3, Ch 3)) that Lord Vishnu incarnates in every Dwāpar Yug as Ved Vyas to preserve Vedas and the Vedic knowledge for betterment of mankind. Thus, Vedas are the oldest scriptures and the foundation of Hinduism. Current texts of Vedas in the book form are available for about 3000-6000 years.

Vedas cover many subjects, from nature to human behavior, sociology to humanities, from god (Paramātmā) to soul (ātmā), from worldly life to the life after death, from the life of sanyāsi (renunciate) to the everyday life of common man, etc. Vedas are the original basic scriptures of Hinduism on the base of which other scriptures and philosophies of Hinduism were developed from time to time. Vedic theology is one of the oldest theologies of the world.

Hindu Scriptures I

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

Hindu Scriptures – in general

The scriptures are sacred or holy books or writings of religions. They vary in form, volume, and age.  Hindu scriptures were originally oral and were passed down as memorized texts through many generations before being put in writing. This may be the reason why they were written in the poem or hymn form and can be sung. People still try to recite or chant the scriptures aloud.

It is surprising to know that the word “scripture” is also being monopolized by some! The scriptures in general are supposed to be the sacred books or writings of any religion. The literature includes all kinds of written texts, whereas, the scriptures specifically include authentic holy and sacred religious texts.

Hindu scriptures include the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Purāns, the Itihāses (such as, Rāmāyan and Mahābhārat), Bhagvad Gitā, Agams, Darshan Shāstras, major authentic commentaries called Bhāshyas of different acharyas and scholars, etc.

The Vedic scriptures are categorized as Shrutis and Smrutis.

Shrutis include:

The four Vedas:

Rig-Veda:  The Ṛigveda contains hymns (mantras) that formulate the mythology of ancient Vedic practice. Rigveda hymns (invocations and litanies).are recited by the hotr priests in the ritual or yagna ceremonies.

Yajur-Veda: The Yajurveda contains detailed prose instructions for the sacrifices. Yajurveda hymns are recited by the adhvaryu priests. The adhvaryu are usually in charge of the physical details of the sacrifice. They used to measure the ground, to build the altar, to prepare the sacrificial vessels, to fetch wood and water, to light the fire, to bring the animal and immolate it, among other duties. Each action is accompanied by supplicative or benedictive formulas (yajus), drawn from the Yajurveda.

Sāma-Veda: The Sāmaveda consists mostly of mantras from the Rigveda, but arranged in an order specifically suited to the Soma sacrifice. The soma pavamāna used to be the freshly pressed juice of the soma plant. Samaveda hymns, which are set to melodies (sāman) are recited or chanted by the udgatr priests during the Yagna or ritual ceremonies.

Atharva-Veda: The Atharvaveda comprises semi-magical spells against enemies, sorcerers, diseases and mistakes made during the sacrificial ritual, as well as kingly duties and some deeper spiritual truths. The entire performance of yagna or sacrifice is supervised by the Brāhman (Brāhmin) priests. They are responsible for correcting mistakes by means of supplementary invocations.

Each of the four Vedas is further divided into two sections: Saṃhitās and Brāhmaṇas.

1. The Sahitā portion includes Mantras. It is a collection of hymns to be used in Vedic sacrifices (Yagnas) and rituals.

2. The Brāhmaas portion (not to be confused with Brāhman or the Brāhmin priest caste), contains specific rules and regulations for the sacrifices as well as prose commentaries explaining the meaning of the mantras and rituals.

The Brāhmaṇas, describing rules and purpose of Vedic mantras of Saṃhitās, are also further divided into: Ārayakas and Upanihads.