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 Rāṇāyanīya (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 Ātharvāṅgirasa. 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 Charaṇavyuha 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 kṛimi and the durṇāma
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.