History Notes: Vedic Literature Part – I

By Rahul Chadha|Updated : December 9th, 2019

The Vedic literature was composed in Sanskrit. To begin with the Vedas were recited and not written. They were taught by oral method. Hence they were called as Sruti (heard) and Smriti (memorized). But later on they were reduced to writing after the invention of scripts.

The major literary and religious works of Vedic Period are the four Vedas and the Upanishads. These works still continue to hold immense authority in the sphere of spiritual and religious literature. The idea and principles of Karma (action) and Moksha (spiritual liberation) are widely accepted by the people belonging to Hindu faith.

Four Vedas

Veda is a sanskrit word. It means “knowledge“. There were four Vedas :

  1. The Rig Veda
  2. The Sama Veda
  3. The Yajur Veda and
  4. The Atharva Veda.


1. The Rig Veda

  • Collection of hymns
  • Oldest of all vedas
  • Associated of 1017 hymns or Suktas after adding "Blhilya Sukta" number in 1028
  • Compiled in 10 'mandalas' & 8 'Akhtaks'.
  • Also contains the famous Gayatri Mantra
  • II, III, IV, V, VI & VII are oldest mandalas
  • I, VIII, IX, X are latest mandalas.
  • The Tenth "Mandalas" or chapter which has the "Purushasukta" hymn, was probably added later.
  • Mandala IX is completely devoted to 'Soma'.
  • Mandala II to VII was created by Grita Samada, Vishwamitra, Vamadeva, Atri, Bharadwaj, Vashistha, VIII Kanwa and Angira, IX Soma

2. Samveda

  • Rhthmic compilation of hymns for Rigveda
  • "Book for Chants" contains 1,549 hymns, meant to be sung at the 'soma' sacrifice by a special class of Brahmanas called Udgatris. But the Samaveda has very little original value.
  • Has only 75 fundamental hymns

3. The Yajur Veda

  • Book of sacrifical prayers
  • Rituals of yajnas
  • Is sung of priest "Adhavaryu"
  • Its mantras tell us how the sacrifices were to be performed and what part the "Adhvaryus"- the Brahmanas who performed the manual work in the arrangement of sacrifice were to play at the time of sacrifice.
  • Has been compiled in "fourth path"
  • Has been divided into, Krishna(black) Yajurveda & Shukla(white) Yajurveda
  • Prose text

4. Atharvaveda

  • Mantras for magic spells
  • Populate ritualistic system & superstitions
  • Associated with "Saunkiya" and "Paiplad" community
  • Collection of 711/731/760 hymns
  • Not included in 'Trai'
  • Has been divided in 20 "Kandas"
  • 18th, 19th & 20th 'Kandas' are later works
  • Provides freedom from evils spirits.
  • Oldest text on Indian Medicine.

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