The word Veda comes from the root ‘Vid’, which means to know. The word “Veda” in Sanskrit means “wisdom” or “knowledge”. The Vedas are considered the oldest and the most sacred scriptures in Hinduism. These are a vast body of Sanskrit poetry, ritual treatises, dialogues and philosophical discourses and were composed over a period of many centuries by inspired sages or rishis. The truths in the Vedas were directly reveled to these ancient seers in their deep meditations. According to Sri Chinmoy,
“The Vedas have the eternal wisdom. Each Vedic seer is a poet and a prophet. In case of an ordinary poet, his poems are quite often based upon imagination. Imagination gives birth to his poetry. In the case of the Vedic poets, it was intuition that gave birth to their poems. This intuition is the direct knowledge of Truth. As regards prophets, very often we see that an ordinary prophet’s prophecy is based on a kind of unknown mystery. But in case of the Vedic prophets, it was not so. Their prophecies were based on their full and conscious awareness of direct and immediate Truth. They brought to the fore this dynamic Truth to operate in the cosmic manifestation.
The Vedic teachings are universal. The Vedas are for all. In the Vedic church no one is superior, no one is inferior; all are equal, all are children of God. These children of God can live in the heart of Truth and become the veritable pride of God.
Whether others believe it or not, the lovers of the Vedas know perfectly well that the Vedas are a significant contribution to the world literature. The Vedas house the earliest poetry and prose literature of the searching, striving and aspiring human soul. These sublime literary scriptures are not just of national interest, for they offer international inspiration and universal aspiration. Just because they are international and universal, they fascinate and illumine sincere seekers in different countries at all times.
There are two words in the Vedas, which are as important as the Vedas themselves. These two words are satya and rta, eternal Truth and eternal Law. Realization and Truth embody each other. Manifestation and Law fulfill each other. If we do not live the Truth, we cannot reach the Goal. If we do not follow the Law, we cannot grow into the Goal.”
Each Veda consists of four sections:
1) Samhita – hymns to deities or mantras.
2) Brahmana – description of rituals or the commentary portion.
3) Aranyaka – “forest texts” dealing with philosophy.
4) Upanishad – interpreting the philosophy of the original texts.
There are four Vedas: the Rig Veda, the Sama Veda, the Yajur Veda and the Atharva Veda. The Yajur Veda has two major branches i.e. the Krishna Yajurveda or simply the Yajur Veda (which dominates India south of the Vindhyas) and the Shukla Yajurveda. The Shukla Yajurveda branched off from the Yajurveda at the time of the Rishi Yajnavalkya, who was a student of Vaishampayana maharishi. It is said thatYajnavalkya had a falling out with his preceptor who forbade him from taking the Yajurveda that Yajnavalikya had learned from him. Undaunted, Yajnavalkya re-learned the Yajurveda from Surya (the Sun God). This association with Surya caused this branch of the Yajurveda to be called “Shukla” or “bright”.
The Rig Veda has 10,552 mantras or hymns, the Sama Veda has 1,875 mantras, the Yajur Veda has 2,086 and the Atharva Veda has 5,987. A number of the Rig Vedic hymns are also found in the other three Vedas. Most of the mantras in the Vedas are in the form of lucid poetry, except for some that are written in thought-invoking and rhythmic prose.
The Rig Veda is a collection of hymns in a set meter. This is the oldest of all the Vedas, and it largely contains hymns to the elements of nature such as Agni (fire). The Rig Veda has:
One Samhita – RK Samhita.
Two Brahmana – Kaushitaki Brahmana and Aitareya Brahmanas.
Two Aranyakas – Kaushitaki Aranyaka and Aitareya Aranyakas.
Two Upanaishads – Kaushitaki Upanishad and Aitareya Upanishads.
The Yajur Veda (Krishna) consists of extensive descriptions of rituals and sacrifices. It has:
Three Samhitas – Taittriya, Kathaka, and Maitrayaniya Samhitas.
Two Brahmanas – Taittriya and Katha Brahmanas.
Two Aranyakas – Taittriya and Katha Aranyakas.
Three Upanishads – Taittriya, Katha and Maitri Upanishads.
The Yajur Veda (Shukla) has:
One Samhita – Vajasaneyi Samhita.
One Brahmana – Shatapatha Brahmana.
Two Upanishads – Isa and Brihadaranyaka Upanishads.
The Sama Veda is musical in content, and has to be sung. It represents the earliest form of music known to humankind. The Sama Veda has:
One Samhita – Jaiminiya Samhita.
Three Brahmanas – Tandya, Sadvimsa, Jaiminiya Brahmanas.
Two Upanishada – Chhandogya and Kena Upanishads.
The Atharva Veda was composed by a group of sages called the Atharvans. It is the least common of all the Vedas. It has highly mystical poetry, incantations and spells. The Athaeva Veda has:
One Samhita – Atharva Veda Samhita.
One Brahmana – Gopatha Brahmana.
Upanishada – Mundaka, Mandukya and all later Upanishads.