By Andre Haralyi
The word ‘Veda’, from the Sanskrit root √vid, to know, means knowledge or sacred wisdom. The Vedas are referred to as śruti (what is heard or revealed), in contrast to other religious texts, which are referred to as smṛti (what is remembered).
There are four Vedas: the Ṛg-veda, the Yajurveda, the Sāmaveda and the Atharvaveda. Together they represent the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. Each contains four distinct sections consisting of:
- Saṃhitās: collection of hymns, prayers, benedictions, sacrificial formulas and litanies
- Brāhmaṇas: treatises discussing the significance of sacrificial rites and ceremonies
- Āraṇyakas: texts on rituals, ceremonies, sacrifices and symbolic-sacrifices
- Upaniṣad: commentaries on spirituality and philosophy
The Ṛg-veda (3,000 – 1,500 B.C.E.) is the oldest of the four Vedic collections. Most of its content explored the evolution of spiritual consciousness revolving around the immensity of the universe, its creation, and the mystery of life itself. It is mainly composed of songs of praise.
The Yajurveda (1,200 – 1,000 B.C.E.) is a compilation of sacrificial formulas describing the correct performance of sacrifice to which is attributed the whole control of the universe. This text is broadly grouped into two parts — the “black” (Krishna) Yajurveda and the “white” (Shukla) Yajurveda. The term “black” implies “the un-arranged, unclear, motley collection” of verses in contrast to the “white” which implies the “well arranged and clear.”
The Sāmaveda (1,200 – 1,000 B.C.E.) represents the tradition and the creative synthesis of music, sounds, melodies, meaning and spirituality.
The Atharvaveda (1,500 – 1,000 B.C.E.) is considered one of oldest surviving records of the evolutionary practices of religious medicine. Many books of the Atharvaveda are dedicated to rituals, spells, herbs, natural potions, and magic formulas traditionally used as medicine.