Vedas are profound and are revealed by Aryan Rishis before thousands of years. Vedas are beginningless; it came to common knowledge only after the Rishis revealed it. Vedic literature is very sacred; it gives a clear picture of the religious thought of the Aryans. Veda is derived from the Sanskrit word “Vid” (to know). Veda means knowledge. The Rishis passed on the Vedas generations after generations by oral rendition. Vedas are also known as ‘Srutis’, because they are memorized by the Vedic students. Vedas are believed to be the vibrations in space, and the Rishis during meditation were able to trace these vibrations and reveal them to the world as Vedas. Many Rishis, including women were involved in bringing out the Vedas.
Brahman is a state of quietude, a state without vibration. When the manifestation began a stream of energy and vibration of different frequencies manifested out of that pure state. The world is created by these vibrations. Vibrations of similar frequencies combined together to take a form. Forms like stone, soil are mere matter and they emanate very low frequency vibration, whereas a divine person emanates high frequency vibration. When we understand about these vibrations, we can understand the whole creation. These vibrations are very subtle in space and an ordinary person cannot grasp it. When an individual produces the vibration with a certain frequency, its corresponding effect is received. As we know, vibrations can create, preserve and destroy the world. Major portion of the Vedas are Veda mantras. Veda mantras also produce vibrations of different frequencies. When the Veda mantras are recited with certain rhythm, to produce necessary vibration, then they will produce the corresponding effect. The Rishis had the knowledge about the vibrations; they knew which mantra is suitable for getting the required effect. To produce the needed vibration, some sound of the words has to be in high chromatic scale, some in middle or low chromatic scales. The Veda mantras should be uttered with correct accent, intonation and pronunciation. If any one of the above is wrong, it will lessen the intended effect and will affect the emotional response and the cosmic forces. We can even utter the mantras mentally without producing sound, but it needs high concentration power. Some Vedic rites like yagna, needed the mantras to be uttered loudly to produce the required effect. Veda mantra works like telepathy, when a Veda mantra is uttered with correct pitch, modulation, pronunciation etc., then the vibrations emanated from that person will attract similar vibrations in space, and this will give the desired effect. When we utter a word, the life breath is allowed to pass through the gaps in the throat, tongue, lips, etc., only then the sound will be audible. Vibrations are caused in the nerve centers situated in these areas through which the breath passes to produce the sound. Each nerve center produces a certain emotion in the mind, and also a corresponding vibration. Uttering Veda mantras produce the necessary emotions in the mind and the vibrations produced by it ensures the well being of the person reciting it, as well as his surroundings. It is for this reason the Veda mantras are learnt by oral rendition. Only the Rishis and the Guru know the exact way of rendering a mantra.
Vedas deal extensively with many subjects. The main portions of the Vedas are mantras for the performance of the Vedic rituals like Yagna and Homa. It also gives details about the welfare work beneficial to the community like, construction of shelters, digging wells, conduct of marriage ceremonies, funeral rites, details about good governance, the way to conduct oneself in a learned assembly etc. Apart from Yagnas and method of worship, Vedas also mention many methods of meditation and prayer. It also mentions about the way the Athma enters and leaves the body. Vedas also deal with various kinds of medical treatment to ensure health, method to pacify the enemies and to avert the harm contemplated by them. Vedas give details about almost everything concerned with the well being of a person and the society. One will be surprised to find the details given in the Vedas. The goal of the Vedas is to realize Brahman. The Vedas prescribe the above community services so that by selfless service the mind will be purified and this will help to realize Brahman through a disciplined path. Vedic rituals and mantras make the mind more matured and turn inwards to realize Brahman. The aim of the Vedas is to lead the mind to Vedanta(Advaita philosophy). Agni is used extensively in the Vedas, which denote the awakening of the soul. The supreme purpose of the Vedas is to make us realize by our own experience, that all is Brahman and thus leads us to a state of supreme intelligence.
The Vedas altogether has more than 20500 mantras. Apart from the mantras, it has many sections of prose regarding the details of the mantras, philosophy, and much more detailed information. In that period, the Vedas were not separate. The Vedas were in a conglomerate state like flood waters. Only the ancient Rishis had the capacity to grasp that Veda. The Vedas were in a mixed state till the end of Dwapara Yuga. At the end of Dwapara Yuga, a Maharshi by name Krishna, felt that the people of Kali Yuga may not be able to study Veda, if it were in that mixed state. Since Maharshi Krishna was born in an Island(Dweepa) , he was known as Krishna Dvaipaayana. He was also known as Baadaraayana. Maharshi Krishna Dvaipaayana codified the Vedas, which was till then in the oral form. He classified the Vedas and arranged them subject wise. Since Krishna Dvaipaayana codified and classified the Vedas, he was known as Veda Vyaasa. Vyaasa in Sanskrit means to deal with matter and classify it suitably. He classified the Veda into 1180 Veda saakhas(branches). He again divided these 1180 saakhas into four parts as Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Saama Veda and Atharva Veda.
Rig Veda had 21 saakhas
Yajur Veda had 109 saakhas. Yajur Veda was later divided in to two as Sukla Yajur Veda – 15 saakhas, Krishna Yajur Veda – 94 saakhas.
Saama Veda had 1000 saakhas
Atharva Veda had 50 saakhas
He selected four of his disciples and handed over one Veda to each, to propagate and spread it further. He gave
Rig Veda saakhas(21) to Muni Paila
Yajur Veda saakhas(109) to Muni Vaisampaayana
Saama Veda saakhas(1000) to Muni Jaimini
Atharva Veda saakhas(50) to Muni Sumanthu
Unfortunately, in today’s time only 8 or 9 Veda saakhas are available( a great lose to humanity). At present only Rig Veda – 1 saakha, Yajur Veda(sukla- 2, Krishna – 2), Saama Veda – 3, Atharva Veda – 1 are available. In ancient period, people used to study almost all the saakhas, but today it is a great achievement, if a person completes atleast one saakha.
Each saakha consists of Samhita, Braahmana, Aaranyaka and Upanishad.
Samhita is full of mantras, which has to be memorized by a Vedic student.
Braahmana has details and procedures of Yagnas(sacrifice), that has to be performed with the help of the mantras.
Aaranyaka explains the inner and the philosophical meaning hidden in the mantras. This section enlightens us about the importance of each yagna and karma; it also gives the guidelines for performing the Vedic rites.
Upanishad means “sitting near”, meaning sitting near the guru to get the knowledge about the creator and the created individuals. It is the end portion of the Aaranayakas and it is also the philosophical portion of the Vedas. Whole existence is described in the Upanishads. Upanishad has mantras of philosophical thoughts, when recited the vibration of the mantra makes us realize our divine nature and the truth. When we perform Vedic rituals, it makes the mind mature and prepare the mind to grasp the philosophy of the Upanishad. The Upanishad portion is called Vedanta.
It is said that there were originally 1180 Upanishads revealed by various Rishis, out of which 200 were codified and at present 108 are available, among them Adi shankara wrote commentary for 10, which are considered to be very old. The Upanishads do not present a consistent system of philosophy; it contains the opinion and lessons of many men who knew philosophy and religion. The two conceptions, Brahman and Athma are united in the philosophy of the Upanishad. This secret knowledge is communicated only to students worthy of it.
At first a student of Veda has to memorize the mantra in the samhita portion of the saakha, then he has to study Braahmana portion of the saakha , so that he can perform the Vedic rituals by using the mantras he studied in the samhita portion. The procedure, rules and regulations of the performance of the Vedic rituals are given in the Braahmana portion. Then the student has to study the Aaranyaka portion of the saakha. It contains the meaning and guidelines for the performance of the Vedic rituals. At a later age the student has to study the Upanishads, by that time the student’s mind will be purified by the performance of the Vedic rituals and will be matured enough to understand the profound philosophical thoughts of the Upanishad. Thus this four sections form a saakha and many such saakha’s are present in one Veda. Each saakha contains that measure of mantras, rituals and philosophical instructions as would enable a common man to achieve liberation.
Rik means a verse or mantra. Each verse or mantra will be of 2 to 4 lines length. A group of Rik or mantras is called Sukta. In English a Sukta is called a Hymn. Rig Veda has 10552 Riks(mantras) and 1028 Suktas in Rik samhita. One of the famous Sukta( group of mantras) in Rig Veda is known as Purusha Suktam. The famous Gayatri mantra is a verse in this Purusha Suktam. A Rik gives detail about the nature of God, meditation procedures, relevant metaphors etc. The Riks explain both the form and formless nature of God. Rig Veda is the most ancient Veda among the four Vedas. It has mainly mantras related to the performance of various kinds of sacrifices. The other two Vedas(Yajur and Saama) are related to Rig Veda.
Yajur Veda is divided into two in the later stage as Sukla Yajus and Krishna Yajus. It has more than 2000 mantras. Rishi Yaajnavalkya is believed to have brought Sukla Yajur Veda to the knowledge of the world, after learning it from the Sun God. In the Krishna Yajur Veda, the distinction between the Samhita and Braahmana portions are conjoined in some places. Even though Yajur Veda contains mantras, most of its portions are in prose form, explaining the details and procedures of the Vedic rituals.
Many mantras in Rig Veda are set to music in Saama Veda. Saama Veda has a set of mantras with lengthened musical notes. In Yagnas, the Udgaata priest chants the Saama Veda. It has nearly 2000 mantras.
Atharva Veda has 6000 mantras, which were brought to light by Rishi Atharvan. This contains many mantras to ward off evil and hardship, and to destroy enemies. It helps and protects a person from danger and enemies. It also has mantras extolling the greatness of God.
To put the above written matter in a nutshell, there are four Vedas, Rik, Yajur, Saama and Atharva Veda. Each Veda has a number of saakhas and each saakha has four sections. They are Samhita, Braahmana, Aaranyaka and Upanishad. Major part of the Vedas is mantras, but it also has prose section, where many details about the Vedic rituals and other useful information are given. All these constitute the Vedas.
Yagna is the performance of Vedic rituals with the aid of Agni(sacrificial fire) and Veda mantras. It is one of the important aspects of the Vedas. Yagna requires many substances to be consigned to Agni along with the chanting of the mantras. This kind of offering is called ‘Homa’. In Yagna when we chant a mantra to a particular Deva(God), the vibrations of the mantra will attract the vibrations of that particular Deva. When we give oblations to that Deva through Agni, the Agni converts that oblation to a subtle state and offers it to that Deva, who is also in a subtle form. All these functions happen in a subtle state and in vibration mode. A spiritually evolved person can view clearly the happenings in the subtle state. It is the Veda mantras that make these transformations by its powerful vibrations. The Veda mantras uttered during the Yagna help to improve the power of the Devas, the Devas in turn help the persons involved in the Yagna.
Vedas say that, the Supreme power is manifested through many divinities. Vedas say that, till we obtain the knowledge of Advaitam, we should believe in Dvaitam and perform Vedic rites. When the spiritual awakening occurs and when one gets the direct experience of Brahman, the need to propitiate the Devas separately ceases to exist.
To study the Vedas, we need the help of six Vedasngas, else we will not be able to study the Vedas. The six Vedangas are Siksha, Vyaakarana, Chandas, Niruktam, Jyotisha and Kalpa.
Each letter of the Veda mantra must be uttered correctly within the duration of time, as per rule. This is called syllable purity(akshara shuddhi). There are also rules for the pitch of the sound – high, medium or low. If the pitch is perfect, then the sound of the mantra will have tonal purity. Mantras will yield benefit only when the syllable and tonal purity are fully satisfied. The pronunciation, accent and pitch are more important in the mantra than its meaning. Siksha lays down the rule of phonetics. It gives even the minute details as how the breath has to originate from the pit on the stomach and touch many points, twist and roll in different ways, before it escapes through the mouth. This ensures the purity of the sound. In short, Siksha gives all the details to chant the Veda mantra, so that it produces the desired vibration.
Vyaakarana gives details about the Sanskrit grammar. Since Vedas are written in Sanskrit language, it is impossible to study the Vedas without knowing the Sanskrit grammar. The most used grammar text is the Vyaakarana of Sage Paanini. It is in the form of aphorisms with elaborate commentary.
It is the metric composition of the Vedas. The Veda mantras in the form of poetry are called Chandas. Chandas refers to the meter or rhyme of poetic expression. Chandas gives a form for the mantras. There are rules regarding steps to be in each stanza, the number of letters in each line etc. Chandas defines the boundaries of metrical composition.
It is the Vedic dictionary. Each word is broken into syllable wise indicating the root from which it is derived, and the meaning of each syllable is indicated. This is the Nirukta sastra, which is called etymology in English. It gives the precise meaning of rare and uncommon words used in Vedas; it also gives the meaning with usage.
It is mainly intended to calculate the most favorable time for performing the Vedic rites. Its calculations are based on planetary positions. It exactly calculates the location and time for the performance of the Vedic karmas. Jyotisha exactly calculates the effect of the far away planets on the individuals. It tells the past life and exactly predicts the future of a person. Since Jyotisha involves calculations, mathematics is also included as the auxiliary of the Vedas. Vedic mathematics includes Algebra, Geometry and Equations. Vedic mathematics is an advanced science.
Kalpa sastra gives the details about the performance of the rituals, mantras used for rituals, required materials, the number of priests to be employed, the size and shape of the vessels to be used in the rituals etc. It also deals with Vaastu Lakshana( the rules for building sacrificial altars and other buildings).
Vedas are very vast, only a part of the Vedas is revealed. Veda mantras protect the person who chants it and his surroundings, regardless of the caste, creed or religion. Vedas are common to all people, provided it should be practiced perfectly. The dedicated and devoted effort of many Rishis made the Vedas accessible to us. Humanity has to understand the importance of the Vedas and use it accordingly to attain liberation.
Vedas existed even before our birth; it is in use in our period; it will exist even after our life time. It is our intelligence to use it for our goodness. Vedas are immortal.
Mahajan, V .D., History of India: From beginning to 1526 AD, New Delhi, S.Chand & company Ltd, 1977
Pujyasri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, The Vedas, Mumbai, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2011