The Four Vedas (चतुर्वेदाः)
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, adhyatmik 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.
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.
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.
Revelation and Compilation of Vedas
Revelation of Vedas by Brahma
Bhagavata Purana (Skanda 12 Adhyaya 6) refers to the revelation of the Vedas from Brahma, at the time of srshti. Suta Maharshi describes how Parameshti Brahma was meditating with a well composed mind on Brahman (Self), and from whose inner space of the heart arose a sound (Nada).
ततोऽभूत्त्रिवृदॐकारो योऽव्यक्तप्रभवः स्वराट्-यत्तल्लिङ्गं भगवतो ब्रह्मणः परमात्मनः ॥ ३९ (Bhag. Pura. 12.6.39)
tato'bhūttrivr̥daoṁkāro yo'vyaktaprabhavaḥ svarāṭ-yattalliṅgaṁ bhagavato brahmaṇaḥ paramātmanaḥ 39 (Bhag. Pura. 12.6.39)
From that nada arose the Omkara which consists of three matras (अ, उ, म्) the source of which is unmanifest yet shines (in the heart) by itself. This Omkara (Pranava) is the special identification mark (ल्लिङ्गं) of Brahman.
स्वधाम्नो ब्राह्मणः साक्षाद्वाचकः परमात्मनः स सर्वमन्त्रोपनिषद्वेदबीजं सनातनम् ॥ ४१ (Bhag. Pura. 12.6.41)
svadhāmno brāhmaṇaḥ sākṣādvācakaḥ paramātmanaḥ sa sarvamantropaniṣadvedabījaṁ sanātanam ॥ 41 (Bhag. Pura. 12.6.41)
It (Pranava or Om) directly and comprehensively expresses the Paramatman, The Brahman itself (ब्राह्मणः साक्षाद्वाचकः) which is its source. It is the eternal seed of all the Mantras, Vedas and Upanishads.
तेनासौ चतुरो वेदांश्चतुर्भिर्वदनैर्विभुः | सव्याहृतिकान्सॐकारांश्चातुर्होत्रविवक्षया ॥ ४४ ॥
tenāsau caturo vedāṁścaturbhirvadanairvibhuḥ | savyāhr̥tikānsaoṁkārāṁścāturhotravivakṣayā ॥ 44 ॥
पुत्रानध्यापयत्तांस्तु ब्रह्मर्षीन्ब्रह्मकोविदान् | ते तु धर्मोपदेष्टारः स्वपुत्रेभ्यः समादिशन् ॥ ४५ ॥
putrānadhyāpayattāṁstu brahmarṣīnbrahmakovidān | te tu dharmopadeṣṭāraḥ svaputrebhyaḥ samādiśan ॥ 45 ॥
ते परम्परया प्राप्तास्तत्तच्छिष्यैर्धृतव्रतैः | चतुर्युगेष्वथ व्यस्ता द्वापरादौ महर्षिभिः ॥ ४६ ॥
te paramparayā prāptāstattacchiṣyairdhr̥tavrataiḥ | caturyugeṣvatha vyastā dvāparādau maharṣibhiḥ ॥ 46 ॥ (Bhag. Pura. 12.6.44-46)
With the help of the sounds (letters and alphabets) Brahma (Vibhu) gave expression to the Four Vedas together with their vyahrtis (bhuh, bhuva, svah) and the Omkara from his four mouths (faces). He further expressed the (activities of) the Chaturhotr viz., Hota, Adhvaryu, Udgata and Brahma (chief rtviks of yajnas). He taught the Vedas to his sons (Marichi and others), Brahmarshis and made them experts in the pronunciation and intonation (Brahmakovids). They became the promulgators of dharma and taught Vedas to their sons. During the course of the four Yugas, these disciples, who strictly observed all vratas (धृतव्रतैः), handed down the Vedas by tradition to subsequent generations. By maharshis in the Dvarapara yuga the vedas were rearranged.
महर्षिवेदव्यासेन संहितीकरणम् ॥ Codification by Maharshi Vedavyasa
It is believed that the potency of the Vedas started decaying towards the end of Dvapara Yuga, as men have decreasing lifespan, less energy, and poorer intellect. At the behest of Brahma, Rudra and other deities, to protect Dharma, MahaVishnu descended in the form of the son of Maharshi Parashara and Satyavati, and He divided the Veda into four parts. He was considered as an amsha (part) of Shri Vishnu himself for fulfilling a specific purpose in this world. Bhagavata Purana and Vayu Purana extol as follows.
पराशरात्सत्यवत्यामंशांशकलया विभुः अवतीर्णो महाभाग वेदं चक्रे चतुर्विधम् ॥ ४९ parāśarātsatyavatyāmaṁśāṁśakalayā vibhuḥ avatīrṇo mahābhāga vedaṁ cakre caturvidham ॥ 49 (Bhag. Pura. 12.6.49)
अस्मिन् युगे कृतो व्यासः पाराशर्यः परन्तपः। द्वैपायन इति ख्यातो विष्णोरंशः प्रकीर्तितः ।। ६०.११ (Vayu. Pura. 1.60.11)
asmin yuge kr̥to vyāsaḥ pārāśaryaḥ parantapaḥ। dvaipāyana iti khyāto viṣṇoraṁśaḥ prakīrtitaḥ ।। 60.11
In the Kali Yuga (कलियुगम्) 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 Vedavyasa (वेदव्यासः), the son of Maharshi Parashara (पराशरः). He was known as Dvaipayana (द्वैपायनः) as he was born in an island (द्वीपः ॥ Dvipa).
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 (in Vaivasvata Manvantara) 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)
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|
|अथर्ववेदः || Atharvaveda||सुमन्तुः ॥ Sumantu|
वेदवर्गीकरणम् ॥ Classification of Vedas
There are four Vedas as compiled by the Maharshi Veda Vyasa :
- ऋग्वेदः || The Rigveda
- यजुर्वेदः || The Yajurveda
- सामवेदः || The Samaveda
- अथर्ववेदः || The Atharvaveda.
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 yajnas (Yajurveda), and chanting songs (Samaveda).
Some modern scholars opine that there are only three Vedas - Veda Trayi (Rig veda, Yajurveda and Samaveda) and later the Atharva Veda was added and thus Vedas are four in number. Such opinions are based on some instances as mentioned in Shatapatha Brahmana. However, embedded into the three types of writing style are the four vedas.
- सैषा त्रय्येव विद्या तपति... (Shat. Brah. 10.3.6.2)
- त्रयी वै विद्या... (Shat. Brah. 22.214.171.124)
Vedas have been broadly divided into two parts - mantras and Brahmanas. आम्नायः पुनर्मन्त्राश्च ब्राह्मणानि (Kau. Sutr. 1.3) Apastamba also mentions the veda lakshana similarly as मन्त्रब्रह्मणयोर्वेदानामवधेयम्। Vedas are to be understood as consisting of mantras and brahmanas.
पादेनार्थेन चोपेता वृत्तबद्धा मन्त्रा ऋचः। गीतिरूपा मन्त्राः सामानि। वृत्तगीतिवर्जितत्वेन प्रश्लिष्टपठिता मन्त्रा यजूंषि।
Mantras are of three types - those having a structured chandas ( are called Richa-s, those mantras lacking in chandas and song format (प्रश्लिष्टपठिता) are called Yajus, those which can be sung like a song are called Sama. The Atharva-angirasa mantras are also present in the style similar to richas, namely, padyatmak, thus is included as a Veda.
|Structure||वृत्तबद्धा (Padya)||प्रश्लिष्टपठिता (Gadya)||गीतिरूपा (Geya)|
|Mantras||Rcha-s (ऋचः)||Yajus (यजूंषि)||Samans (सामानि)|
The parts containing the mantras are compiled into what are termed as Samhitas since ancient times. It is this Samhita literature that is arranged into Pada-patha, Krama-patha and other vikriti-pathas. The mantra consisting Samhita is recited and used in the yajnas. Acharya Shri. Karapatri Swami ji also added the perspectives of darshanas and yajnas into the definition of Vedas and presented the viewpoint of ancients as
"शब्दातिरिक्त शब्दोपजीविप्रमाणातिरिक्तं च यत्प्रमाणं तज्जन्यप्रमितिविषयानतिरिक्तार्थको यो यस्तदन्यत्वे सति आमुष्मिकसुखजनकोच्चारणकत्वे सति जन्यज्ञानाजन्यो यो प्रमाणशब्दस्तत्त्वं वेदत्वम्" इति च प्राचीनस्तल्लक्षणमुक्तम् ।
The apaurusheya shabdarashi (large amounts of literature which was not composed by any person) which shows the path to achieve both the worldly and beyond materialistic (alaukika) results, and which has both the mantra and brahmana parts, that shabdarashi is termed Veda.
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 –
- संहिता || Samhita (mantras)
- ब्राह्मणम् || Brahmana (commentaries on rituals, ceremonies and yajnas)
- आरण्यकम् || Aranyaka (method of conducting rituals, ceremonies, yajnas and symbolic-yajnas)
- उपनिषद् || Upanishad (discussion about meditation, philosophy and adhyatmik knowledge).
Some scholars add a fifth category namely उपासना || Upasana (worship).
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 astika (आस्तिकाः or orthodox). Other traditions, such as Lokayata (लोकायतम्), Charvaka (चार्वाकः), Ajivika (आजीविकाः), Buddhism and Jainism, which did not regard the Vedas as authority are referred to as nastika (नास्तिकाः meaning heterodox or non-orthodox) schools. Despite their differences, just like the texts of shramana (श्रमणपरम्परा) 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 Atma or the self (आत्मन् ॥ Atma). The subjects of atma, parabrahma (परब्रह्म) and the ultimate purpose of life being moksha (मोक्षः) (loosely translated as liberation) are extensively discussed in the latter part of Vedas namely the Upanishads. Hence they are called Vedanta (वेदन्तः). 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 yajna to symbolic yajna, and of adhyatmikita in the Upanishads.
Adi Shankaracharya (आदिशङ्कराचार्यः) classified each Veda into karma-kanda (कर्मकाण्डम्) or action/ritual-related sections and jnana-kanda (ज्ञानकाण्डम्) or knowledge/adhyatmikita-related sections.
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. 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)
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.
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 (yajnika 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).
The chief overseer who would recite the mantras of अथर्ववेदः ॥ Atharvaveda and was considered as the supervisor over the whole process of yajna.
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 authors (मन्त्रकर्तारः) of mantras or drastas (मन्त्रद्रष्टारः) to whom the Vedas were revealed to, needs to be understood clearly. Only when historicity needs to be verified does dating of vedas becomes important. It has to be stated that dating of the Sanatana Dharma texts is beyond the scope of this article. We do not have the exact facts about this topic and believe in the timelessness of many issues related to Sanatana Dharma. However, given below are some views of the scholars. The dates and times given below are not verified.
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 the 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 Suta (सूतः) and Shaunaka (शौनकऋषिः) rishis, with the establishment of the various shakhas (शाखाः) all over Bharatavarsha which was as far as Afghanistan 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.
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 proven 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
- 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. 126.96.36.199)
- 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)
Mahabharata as Panchamaveda
Shabdakalpadhruma quotes the Bhavishyapurana sloka
विष्णुधर्म्मादिशास्त्राणि शिवधर्म्माश्च भारत ॥ कार्ष्ण्यञ्च पञ्चमो वेदो यन्महाभारतं स्मृतम् । (Bhav. Pura. 1. 4. 87)
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.  Mahabharata which covers numerous topics related to human relationships is considered as the "Fifth Veda".
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