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The Vedas

The Vedas (vid= Sanskrit “ knowledge”)

The Vedas are the oldest scriptures not only of Hinduism but of the world. The Vedas are written in the form of hymns or mantras in an archaic form of Sanskrit. This body of ancient literature consists primarily of four collections of hymns, detached poetical portions, and ceremonial formulas. According to Sanskrit authorities Hindu scriptures have four major divisions:

  • Srutis – Those that were begotten from divine revelation
  • Smritis – Those that were begotten from memory, based on revelations in the srutis.
  • Ithisas – Historical texts
  • Darshanas – Philosophical writings

Sruti (=what is heard) describes the never changing, eternal basic principles of Hinduism. These works span the Vedas and the 108 Upanishads.

Smriti (=what is remembered) describes the social and moral behaviour codes in ancient India society. It is also known as the Laws of Manu.

Sruti contains:

  • Veda’s
  • 108 Upanishads

Smriti contains:

  • Puranas
  • Upa-veda
  • Dharmasastra’s en dharmasutra’s
  • Agamas
  • Ithasas (Ramayana)
  • Mahabharata within the Bhagavad Gita
  • Afstammelingen zoals Boedisme en Jainisme

There are four Vedas in all:

The Rig Veda :
The Rig Veda derives its name from “Rik” which means “Worship”. It contains hymns that are meant mainly for recitation and chanting during worship and other religious functions. The Rig-Veda contains more than 1000 hymns (Sanskrit rig), composed in various poetic meters and arranged in ten books. It was used by the hotri, or reciters, who invoked the gods by reading its hymns aloud.

The Yajur Veda :
Deze gaat over verering en staat aan basis van de klassieke Indiase muziek.
Het behandelt muziek en gezang ter begeleiding van de offers.

Yajur Veda :
The Yajur Veda derives its name from “Yaj” which also means “Worship”. The hymns in the Yajur Veda are mainly to instruct in the rituals of sacrificial worship and are recited in accompaniment of such rituals by the Athvaryu priest. They are mostly in prose and supplement the hymns of the Rig Veda.

The Sama Veda :
The Sama-Veda contains verse portions taken mainly from the Rig-Veda. It was used by the udgatri, or chanters, who sang its hymns, or melodies (Sanskrit sama).

The Atharva Veda :
The fourth Veda, The Atharva Veda, which was added on in the later Vedic period, deals with more practical matters of human existence. The Atharva Veda consists almost exclusively of a wide variety of hymns, magical incantations, and magical spells.
The Yajur Veda is divided into two parts:
The Sukla Yajur Veda.
The Krishna Yajur Veda.

The first three Vedas are primarily ritual handbooks that were used in the Vedic period by three classes of priests who officiated at ceremonial sacrifices. The Rig Veda, The Yajur Veda and the Sama Veda comprise “Trayi Vidya” or “Threefold Knowledge”. The Atharva Veda was added later on to complete the series of four. The Rig Veda is divided into 21 sections, the Yajur into 109, the Sama into 1,000 and the Atharva into 50. In all the Vedas are divided into 1,180 sections.

Each Veda consists of four parts:

The Samhitas which are the oldest portion, consist of prayers in metrical hymns calledmantras or hymns.

The Brahmanas are written in prose and explain the hymns and their rituals

The Aranyakas or ‘forest books’ are treatises for hermits and saints who concentrate on meditation and asceticism, after having retired to the forest

The Upanishads are philosophical treatises with information on the mystical aspects of the Vedas.

In the Vedic sacrifice a god or gods are invoked by the hymns or mantras. Offerings of food, butter, or soma are prepared and offered to the fire, which as an intermediary god conveys these to the other gods. The actual performance of the sacrifice is done by four priests.

The Rig Veda hymns are recited by the Hotri priest during a sacrifice.

The Yajur Veda hymns are recited by the Athvaryu priest during a sacrifice.

The Sama Veda hymns are sung in accompaniment to musical instruments at times of religious ceremonies by the Udgatri priest. The Brahma priests are to correct or cleanse mistakes made by the other three sacrificial priests.

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