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Ancient History / Vedic Civilization

Vedic Literature of India


    Vedic literature of India is that literature which was composed and compiled during the Vedic period. Vedic literature can be classified into 8 categories namely, Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads, Vedangas, Upavedas, Itihasas and Puranas. Vedic Civilization is also called Aryan Civilization. It started from 1500 BC and continued upto 600 BC. Aryan civilization can be divided into two periods. From 1500 BC to 1000 BC, it is called Early Vedic period or Rig Vedic period and from 1000 BC to 600 BC, it is called Later Vedic period. During these periods, massive literature was composed including 4 Vedas.

    Vedas

      They are 4 in number namely, Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.

    • Rig Veda - It was the earliest of the entire literature and was compiled between 1500 BC to 1000 BC. It is believed that it is not man-made but was sent by the God. It contains 1028 prayers (hymns) invoking various Gods like Agni, Indra, Varuna, etc. for gaining of some material comforts. Out of which "Gayatri Mantra" is the most sacred one and is dedicated to the goddess "Savitri". Rig Veda is divided into 10 chapters and the tenth chapter is Purusha Sukta in which one Sloka refers to the origin of caste system in India. Purusha Sukta says that Brahma created caste system from his own body, but from different organs. It says Brahmins are created from Brahma's head, Kshatriyas are created from the shoulders, Vaishyas are created from the thighs and Sudras are created from feet. It also says the current birth depends on previous birth.
    • Yajur Veda - It was compiled between 1000 BC to 600 BC. It contains rituals, a cult in which a single God is addressed. As an example, Garbhadhana ritual is meant for childless couple. Praying was to be done only through rituals. Priests would recite rituals on behalf of devotees. So, there will be no connection between the God and the devotee.
    • Sama Veda - It was compiled between 1000 BC to 600 BC. The meaning of Sama is Melody. Sama Veda mainly deals with music.
    • Atharva Veda - It was compiled between 1000 BC to 600 BC. Atharva Veda believes in superstitions. It believes that Slokas or Mantras can prevent evil spirits and diseases.

    Brahmanas

      Brahmanas also deal with various rituals but in prose form. A number of Brahmana texts were present in ancient India, of which many texts have been lost. A total of 19 Brahmanas are in existence now. Each Brahmana is connected with either one of the four Vedas and within that Veda they are associated with a particular school or shakha. Some of the Brahmanas are Aitareya Brahmana, Shatapatha Brahmana, Gopatha Brahmana, etc.

    Aranyakas

      Aranyakas are the philosophies written mainly for the forest dwelling hermits and their disciples. They are appendices (concluding portions) to Brahmanas. They can be considered as the bridge between the Brahmanas, which talk about ritual sacrifices, and the Upanishads, which talk about knowledge and spirituality.

    Upanishads

    • Upanishads talk about philosophical content like Atma (soul) and Paramatma (Cosmic soul), Karma, Birth and Rebirth, Moksha (salvation), Ahimsa, Bhakti, etc. In total there are 108 Upanishads. Some important Upanishads are Chandogya Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad from which the phrase 'Satyameva Jayate' was taken, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad which talks about transmigration of soul based on Karma, etc.
    • Regarding salvation, which is nothing but getting the soul into cosmic soul, Vedas and Brahmanas differ with Upanishads. Vedas and Brahmanas say that 16 rituals are to be performed for salvation, whereas Upanishads condemn rituals. Upanishads say that Bhakti (Mysticism) as a way for salvation. Bhakti believes in direct relationship between the God and the devotee and it is self surrender to the God.

    Vedangas

      These are limbs of Vedas and are written for how to chant Vedas properly. Vedangas are 6 in number.

      (i) Siksha, which covers phonetics (sounds)
      (ii) Nirukta, which covers etymology (origin of words)
      (iii) Chandas, which covers Metrics
      (iv) Vyakarana, which covers Grammar
      (v) Jyotishya, which covers Astrology
      (vi) Kalpa, which covers Rituals

    Upa Vedas (Subsidiary Vedas)

      They are four in number.

      (i) Ayurveda (Veda about life)
      (ii) Gandharva Veda (Veda about music)
      (iii) Shilpa Veda (Veda about architecture)
      (iv) Dhanurveda (Veda about archery and warfare)

    Itihasas (Epics)

      They are 2 in number, Ramayana written by Valmiki and Mahabharata written by Veda Vyas. Bhagavad Gita is not an epic but it is an appendix to Mahabharata.

    Puranas

      They are 18 in number. They contain mythological information. Puranas divide Ages into four Yugas. They are Krita, Treta, Dvapara and Kali Yuga. Every successor Yuga is worse than the previous Yuga. Puranas give the genealogical records (Vamshavali) of the ancient rulers of Kali Yuga. They are very much useful for studying history. Important Puranas are Vayu Purana, Skanda Purana, Matsya Purana, Vishnu Purana, etc.