The Four Vedas (चतुर्वेदाः)

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The word Veda (Samskrit : वेदः) means "to know" implying that the subject of the Vedas is Knowledge. Here, knowledge does not mean facts about the external world like physics or chemistry. It means the knowledge of the eternal, sacred, spiritual wisdom, about the nature of man himself. It is the knowledge of the changeless and supreme reality behind the ever changing objective world of men and matter.[1]

परिचयः || Introduction

Vedas are texts containing knowledge of आत्मा || Atma, पुरुषः || Purusha and the परमात्मा || Paramatma, have no authorship, no time frame within which they had been authored. They are called अपौरुषेयाः ॥ Apaurusheya meaning that they are not authored by any Purusha or human mind. They were revealed to the ऋषि-s || Rishis (Seers) - the द्रष्टा || Drashtas (men of wisdom), during the depths of their meditation.[2]

Their utterances were called मन्त्राः ॥ Mantras which were not the result of any intuition but were the result of Divine Vision which is called मन्त्र-दृष्टिः || Mantra Drshti. Their inner and outer meanings were really known only to those to whom they were revealed. Hence, none can challenge them on grounds of reason or logic. There is no final authority beyond the Vedas; in today’s management jargon the buck stops at the table of the Vedas.

महर्षिवेदव्यासेन संहितीकरणम् || Codification by Maharshi Vedavyasa

It is believed that the potency of the Vedas started decaying with the departure of Bhagavan Sri Krishna from this world. Even this was considered to be a Divine Plan for the कलियुगम् ॥ Kali Yuga as per which only a part of the glory and effulgence of the Vedas is to be left over from total extinction. This divine arrangement could be put through the agency of वेदव्यासः ॥ Vedavyasa, the son of Sage पराशरः ॥ Parashara. He was known as द्वैपायनः ॥ Dvaipayana as he was born in an island (द्वीपः ॥ Dweepa). He was considered as a manifestation of Bhagawan Sri Krishna himself for fulfilling a specific purpose in this world and hence he was known as कृष्णद्वैपायनः ॥ Krishna Dwaipayana. He was also known as बादरायणः ॥ Badarayana.[citation needed]

The word व्यास || Vyasa means an essay or composition. It also means dealing with a matter subject wise and classifying it suitably. As Krishna Dwaipayana did all these tasks for the proper study and understanding of the Vedas, he became famous as महर्षिः वेदव्यासः ॥ Maharshi Veda Vyasa. His contribution to the codification of the Vedas brought him fame as Veda Vyasa.

Maharshi Veda Vyasa collected all the mantras in existence during his period, edited, codified and organized them into four groups which he taught to his four chief disciples as given below :

तत्रर्ग्वेदधरः पैलः सामगो जैमिनिः कविः । वैशंपायन एवैको निष्णातो यजुषामुत ॥ २१ ॥
अथर्वाङ्‌गिरसामासीत् सुमन्तुर्दारुणो मुनिः ।(Bhag. Pura. 1.4.21) [3]

tatrargvēdadharaḥ pailaḥ sāmagō jaiminiḥ kaviḥ । vaiśaṁpāyana ēvaikō niṣṇātō yajuṣāmuta ॥ 21 ॥atharvāṅ‌girasāmāsīt sumanturdāruṇō muniḥ । (Bhag. Pura. 1.4.21)

 Name Of The Veda  Taught To Rishi
 ऋग्वेदः || Rigveda  पैलः ॥ Paila
 यजुर्वेदः || Yajurveda  वैशम्पायनः ॥ Vaishampayana
 सामवेदः || Samaveda  जैमिनिः ॥ Jaimini
 अथर्वणवेदः || Atharvanaveda  सुमन्तुः ॥ Sumantu

चातुर्होतारः || Four Chief Priests of Yajna

The Vedas were mainly utilized in the performance of यज्ञाः ॥ Yajnas (sacrifices) which were the most common form of early Vedic religion. Such use of the Veda led to its division into four parts based on the requirements of the chief priests conducting the yajnas.[4] This is referred to in the following Rigveda mantra

ऋचां त्व: पोषमास्ते पुपुष्वान्गायत्रं त्वो गायति शक्वरीषु । ब्रह्मा त्वो वदति जातविद्यां यज्ञस्य मात्रां वि मिमीत उ त्वः ॥११॥ (Rig. Veda. 10.71.11)[5]

r̥cāṁ tva: pōṣamāstē pupuṣvāngāyatraṁ tvō gāyati śakvarīṣu । brahmā tvō vadati jātavidyāṁ yajñasya mātrāṁ vi mimīta u tvaḥ ॥11॥

Meaning : One priest engages in duly reciting of the mantras while another sings the Samans in gayatri chandas. Another knower of Vedas duly uses the mantras for special karmas by applying the prayaschittas and vidhis, yet another uses them to follow the procedures of yajna karmas.[6]

होता || Hota

The chief priest whose function was to chant the ऋग्वेद-मन्त्राः ॥ Rigveda mantras and invoke the deities to the yajna.

अध्वर्युः || Adhvaryu

The chief executor of the Yajurveda part used to perform the यज्ञक्रियाः ॥ yajna kriyas (sacrificial rites) and was in charge of the physical details of the yajna. He also takes care of the construction of the यज्ञवेदी ॥ yajnavedi and preparation of the आहुति-s ॥ ahutis.

उद्गाता || Udgata

The chief singer who sings the collection of all the सामवेद-मन्त्राः ॥ Samaveda mantras (musical chants).

ब्रह्मा || Brahma

The chief overseer who would recite the mantras of अथर्ववेदः ॥ Atharvaveda and was considered as the supervisor over the whole process of yajna.

वेदवर्गीकरणम् || Classification of Vedas

There are four Vedas as compiled by the Great Rishi Veda Vyasa :

  1. ऋग्वेदः || The Rigveda
  2. यजुर्वेदः || The Yajurveda
  3. सामवेदः || The Samaveda
  4. अथर्वणवेदः || The Atharvanaveda.

Of these, the first three were the principal original division, also called त्रयी-विद्या || Trayi vidya, that is, "the triple science" of reciting hymns (Rigveda), performing sacrifices (Yajurveda), and chanting songs (Samaveda). The Rigveda is the oldest work, which according to the Western Indologist Witzel, is probably from the period of 1900 to 1100 BC. However, till date no authentic dating method has been able to date literary works accurately. Only one version of the Rigveda is known to have survived into the modern era. Several different versions of the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda are known, and many different versions of the Yajurveda have been found in different parts of South Asia.

वेदविभागाः || Sub Classification of Vedas

Each Veda has been sub-classified into four major text types –

  1. संहिता || Samhita (mantras)
  2. ब्राह्मणम् || Brahmana (commentaries on rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices)
  3. आरण्यकम् || Aranyaka (method of conducting rituals, ceremonies, sacrifices and symbolic-sacrifices)
  4. उपनिषद् || Upanishad (discussion about meditation, philosophy and spiritual knowledge).

Some scholars add a fifth category namely उपासना || Upasana (worship).[citation needed]

The various Indian philosophies and denominations have taken differing positions on the Vedas. Schools of Indian philosophy which cite the Vedas as their scriptural authority are classified as आस्तिकाः || astika (orthodox). Other traditions, such as लोकायतम् ॥ Lokayata, चार्वाकः ॥ Charvaka, आजीविकाः ॥ Ajivika, Buddhism and Jainism, which did not regard the Vedas as authorities are referred to as नास्तिकाः || nastika (heterodox or non-orthodox) schools. Despite their differences, just like the texts of the श्रमणपरम्परा || shramana traditions, the layers of texts in the Vedas discuss similar ideas and concepts.

While composition of Brahmanas and Aranyakas ceased with the end of the Vedic period, additional Upanishads were composed after the end of the Vedic period.

The Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads, among other things, interpret and discuss the Samhitas in philosophical and metaphorical ways to explore abstract concepts such as the Absolute (ब्रह्मन् ॥ Brahman), and the soul or the self (आत्मन् ॥ Atma). The subjects of soul, परब्रह्म || parabrahma and the Ultimate purpose of life being मोक्षः ॥ moksha (liberation) are extensively discussed in the end part of Vedas. Hence they are called वेदन्तः ॥ Vedanta.

Vedanta includes philosophical discussions collectively put together in the Upanishads and is one of the major trends of Hinduism. In other parts, they show evolution of ideas, such as from actual sacrifice to symbolic sacrifice, and of spirituality in the Upanishads.

आदिशङ्कराचार्यः ॥ Adi Shankara classified each Veda into कर्मकाण्डम् || karma-kanda (action/ritual-related sections) and ज्ञानकाण्डम् || jnana-kanda (knowledge/spirituality-related sections).

Dating सनातन-धर्मः || Sanatana Dharma

Vedas will have historical implications when the rishis are assumed to be the authors of these vedas. So the primary question of whether these rishis are मन्त्रकर्तारः || authors of mantras or मन्त्रद्रष्टारः || drastas to whom the Vedas were revealed to, needs to be understood clearly.[7] Only when historicity needs to be verified does dating of vedas becomes important.

The Vedas are among the oldest sacred texts known to mankind. Although many Western scholars have given their opinions about the age of Vedas, it is generally accepted that Vedas are the oldest known texts available as is Sanatana Dharma. The Vedic period was blooming with the composition of the mantra texts, with discussions and debates on the Samhitas and Brahmanas, with the exposition of Dharmic principles by सूतः ॥Suta and शौनकऋषिः ॥ Shaunaka rishis, with the establishment of the various शाखाः ॥ shakhas all over भारतखण्डः || Bharatakhanda which was as far as Afghanistan or खण्डहारः || Khandahar on the west and Indonesia in the South East. It flourished well and was given the grammatical structure by Panini, in the 2nd Century B.C.

The modern researchers are still struggling to fix the exact period of the Vedas and there is no final conclusion as yet. Their conclusions differ as widely as 25000 years B.C. to 1000 years B.C. However, the general consensus among most of the Indian scholars is to consider the Mohenjadaro-Harappa culture i.e. about 3000 B.C. to be the later phase of Vedic culture. Thus, as a common understanding among various scholars about the date of the Rig-Veda, considered as the earliest in human history, is around 10,000 B.C.[citation needed]

However, with the advent of Islam and Christianity in the West and Buddhism and Jainism, with various shakhas at war with each other, various philosophies with different ideologies have impacted the Indian theosophical concepts, with many views questioning the veracity of Vedas in the present age.

The largely publicized myths about Vedas, by Western Indologists such as Witzel, Jack Goody, Renou, Bloomfield, Kenneth Zysk, Axel Michaels, Max Muller and the many others, have been around, for the past three hundred years when Indian subcontinent was colonized and plundered by the Western civilizations. Many of these myths are being questioned and are diligently being proved false by the present generations of Vedic scholars lately.

 पञ्चमवेदः || Panchamaveda 

Though the general agreement about the number of vedas is four, there are instances in literature about पञ्चमवेदः ॥ Panchamaveda or Fifth veda. What constitute the Panchamaveda are given differently in different texts.

Purana Itihasa as Panchamaveda

Earliest reference of Puranas and Itihasa as Panchamaveda include the following[8]

  • Taittriya Aranyaka (2.10) speaks of Brahmanas, Itihasas, Puranas, and Narasamshi gathas.
  • Brhadaranyaka (4.1.2) refers to Itihasa and Purana
  • Chandogya Upanishad (7.1.2 and 4) in the conversation of Shvetaketu and Pravahana Jaivali refers to Puranas and Itihasa as Panchamaveda

नाम वा ऋग्वेदो यजुर्वेदः सामवेद आथर्वणश्चतुर्थ इतिहासपुराणः पञ्चमो वेदानां वेदः पित्र्यो राशिर्दैवो... (Chan. Upan. 7.2.4)

  • Skanda purana gives the following sloka stating that Purana (by context includes itihasa) is the panchamaveda

पुराणं पञ्चमो वेद इति ब्रह्मानुशासनम् || purāṇaṃ pañcamo veda iti brahmānuśāsanam || (Skan. Pura.[9]

  • Bhagavata purana clearly states that Puranas and Itihasas are Panchamaveda.

ऋग्यजुःसामाथर्वाख्या वेदाश्चत्वार उद्धृताः । इतिहासपुराणं च पञ्चमो वेद उच्यते ॥ २० ॥

r̥gyajuḥsāmātharvākhyā vēdāścatvāra uddhr̥tāḥ । itihāsapurāṇaṁ ca pañcamō vēda ucyatē ॥ 20 ॥ (Bhag. Pura. 1.4.20)[3]

Mahabharata as Panchamaveda

Shabdakalpadhruma quotes the Bhavishyapurana sloka

विष्णुधर्म्मादिशास्त्राणि शिवधर्म्माश्च भारत ॥ कार्ष्ण्यञ्च पञ्चमो वेदो यन्महाभारतं स्मृतम् । (Bhav. Pura. 1. 4. 87)[10]

viṣṇudharmmādiśāstrāṇi śivadharmmāśca bhārata ॥ kārṣṇyañca pañcamo vedo yanmahābhārataṁ smr̥tam । (Bhav. Pura. 1. 4. 87)

Bhavishya purana in Sumantu's words to Shatanika, expresses that Mahabharata is panchama or fifth veda, as people in the world say. [11][12] Mahabharata which covers numerous topics related to human relationships is considered as the "Fifth Veda".


  1. Narayanacharya, K. S. (2011). Veda Sanskritiya Parichaya, Part I. Hubli:​Sahitya Prakashana​.
  2. Introduction to Vedas on Vedic Heritage Portal
  3. 3.0 3.1 Shrimad Bhagavata Puranam (Skanda 1 Adhyaya 4)
  4. Upadhyaya, Baldev. (1958) Vaidik Sahitya.
  5. Rig Veda Samhita (Mandala 10 Sukta 71)
  6. Pt. Sripada Damodara Satavalekar. (1985). Rigved ka Subodh Bhashya, Volume 4, Parady: Svadhyaya Mandali
  7. Sharma, Pt Sri Jayadevaji (2008) Rigveda Samhita Bhashabhashya Volume 1 Ajmer: Arya Sahitya Mandal Ltd
  8. Kane, Pandurang. Vaman. (1930) History of Dharmasastra, Volume One. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
  9. Skanda Puranam (Reva Khanda)
  10. Bhavishya Purana (Parva 1 Brahmaparva Adhyaya 4)
  11. Upadhyaya, Baburam. (2012) Bhavishya Mahapurana with Hindi Translation Volume 1 Brahmaparva. Prayag : Hindi Sahitya Sammelan
  12. Malladi, Sri. Suryanarayana Sastry (1982) Samskruta Vangmaya Charitra, Volume 1 Vaidika Vangmayam Hyderabad : Andhra Sarasvata Parishad