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Vedic Literature:


Vedic Literature:

  A Brief Overview

 The antiquity of the veda has been a subject of discussion and dispute. According to the ancient Indian tradition it is impossible to determine the period of the composition of the Veda. It is, however, universally acknowledged by historians that the Veda is the earliest available collection of the most ancient body of knowledge. According to one Indian historian, Shri Avinash  Chandra Das, the Veda could have been composed any time between 250 and 750 BC. According to Lokamanya Tilak, the estimated period would be any time between the forty-fifth and fiftieth centuries BC. This coincides with the view of Professor Haug,Professor Ludwig and Professor Jacobi. Professor Whitney places this period and time between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries BC, While Professor Weber places it any time between the twelfth and fifteenth centuies BC. Professor Max Muller believes that the Veda was composed during the thirteenth century BC.

            According to the Brhadaranyakopanisad, all the four Vedas, the Rg-Veda,Yajurveda, Sama-Veda and Atharva-Veda are the breath of the Supreme Lord.

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            According to Manu Smrti, the entire Veda is Iuminous with knowledge ¼loZKkue;ks fg l%½. It is believed that in its original condition the Veda was one, and it was Rishi Vyasa who divided it into four parts. For this reason, Rishi Vyasa is known as Vedavyasa. The four vedas have been divided in many ways under the categories of mandala, ashtaka, varga, sukta, anuvak, khanda, prashna, chhanda, etc. Every word of the poetic and prose composition of the Veda has been counted and fixed. The entire collection of mantras is called ‘Samhita’. According to one view, the word Veda is applicable to both the collection of mantras (inevitable expression of poetic inspiration and revelation) and the Brahmanas. The Brahmanas are supposed to be a detailed analysis and commentary on the collection of mantras. The Brahmanas again are divided into three parts: (i) Brahmanas (ii) Aranyakas and (iii) Upanisads. In the Brahmanas, there is a detailed statement and explanation of various kinds of sacrifices and their ceremonies and rituals. The Aranyakas are much more esoteric and the Upanisads expound the knowledge contained in the Vedas. The Upanisads are also called Vedanta.  At a later period, Rishi Badarayana Vyasa composed the Brahma-sutra or  Sarirak-sutra in order to present the Upanisads in an organized form. At a stillater period, the Bhagavadgita was composed as a part of the great Mahabharata and it is considered to be the quintessence of the Upanisads. The Upanisad, Brahmasutra and Bhagavadgita are collectively Prasthanatrayi.

            Vedic literature mainly consists of Mantra Samhita, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanisads. In understanding the Mantra Samhita, the study of Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanisads is considered to be essential, and the study of the Brahma-sutra and Bhagavadgita is also considered to be necessary. Vedic literature also includes six additional works which are supposed to be aids in understanding the Vedas. They are: (i) siksa, (ii) kalpa, (iii) Vyakarana, (iv) nirukta, (v) chhanda and (vi) jyotisa. Each one of them is called Vedanga.

            Connected with the rituals and ceremonies of Vedic sacrifices (Vedic karmakanda), is the Vedanga known as kalpa. The Kalpa Vedanga is in the form of a sutra, and it is thus aphoristic in character. The totality of the kalpa Vedanga and its Literature is three-fold, consisting of the Srauta-sutra, Grhya-sutra and Dharma-sutra. For each Veda there are separate systems of Srauta-sutra, Grhya-sutra and Dharma-sutra. Some of the famous Srauta-sutras are  Sankhayana, Asvalayan, Arsheya, Apastamba, Baudhayana, and Katyayana. Among the Grhya-sutras are included Sankhayana, Hiranyakesi, Apastamba, Baudhayana, Kathaka, Paraskara, Kausika, etc. Among the Dharma-sutra are included Gautama Dharma-sutra, Apastamba Dharma-sutra, Hiranyakesi Dharma-sutra, Baudhayana Dharma-sutra, Vasistha Dharma-sutra.

            In addition to these three categories of Kalpa-sutra, there is a fourth category known as Shulba-sutra which is regarded to be the origin of the ancient science of geometry. The three most famous shulba-sutras are those of Apastamba, Baudhayana and Katyayana. As in the case of Kalpa Vedanga, each of the Vedangas has further subsidiary literature. All this and much more may be regarded to constitute the vast Vedic literature. Itihasa, Puranas and Vedic systems of philosophy also are included as parts of Vedic literature.


But,as mentioned above, the core of Vedic literature consists mainly of Mantra  Samhita, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanisads.

            Among the Vedas, the Rg-Veda occupies a prominent place. The Rg-Veda consists of 10 books or mandalas and 1,017 hymns or suktas. The total number of verses in the Rg-Veda is 10,580. Even the words and letters of the Rg-Veda have been counted. The number of words in the Rg-Veda is 1,53,826 and the number of letters is 4,32,000. Some of the great poets who have received the mantras inclde Vasistha, Viswamitra, Vamadeva, Bharadwaja, Atri,  Madhuchhandas. Six each of the  mandalas or books are given to the hymns of a single rishi or family of rishis. Thus the second mandala is devoted chiefly to the suktas of Rishi Gritsamada, the third and the seventh similarly to the great Viswamitra and Vasistha, respectively, the fourth to Vamadeva, the sixth to Bharadwaja. The fifth is occupied by the hymns of the house of Atri. In each of these mandalas the sutras addressed to Agni are first collected together, followed by those of which Indra is the deity; the invocations of other gods, Brhaspati, surya, the Ribhus, Usa, etc., close the mandalas. The whole book, the ninth, is given to a single god, Soma. The first, eighth and tenth mandalas are a collection of sutras by various rishis, but the hymns of each seer are ordinarily placed together in the order of their deities, Agni leading, Indra following, the other gods succeeding.

            We can also see a certain principle of thought development in the arrangement of the Vedic hymns. The opening mandala seems to have been so designed that the general thought of the Veda in its various elements should correctly unroll itself under the cover of the established symbols by the voices of a certain number of rishis almost all of whom rank high as thinkers and sacred singers and some of whom are among the most famous names of the Vedic tradition. It is also significant that the tenth or closing mandala gives us, with an even greater miscellaneity of authors, the last development of the thought of the Veda, and some of the most modern in the language of its sutras. It is here that we find the ‘sacrifice of Purusha’ and the great ‘hymn of the  Creation’. It is here also that modern scholars think that they discover the first origins of Vedantic philosophy, the Brahmavada.

            Sacrifice was the principal institution and symbol of the Vedic tradition and knowledge.  Sacrifice or yajna symbolizes inner submission, consecration and surrender to higher powers, gods and the Supreme. Outwardly, this submission was translated into an elaborate ritual of collecting sacrificial materials, lighting them in order to kindle the sacrificial fire and offering to that fire articles of various kinds, including clarified butter, grains and other materilas. This entire procedure was accompained by recitation of appropriate mantras or hymns, sung in a presribed methodical manner, often marked by appropriate hand movements and other gestures or mudras. The esoteric teaching of the Veda included the idea that humans life is a journey, looked upon as a journey of sacrifice to be performed with minute care and attention to discipline and self-control by means of which obstacles in the journey  can be overcome and many-sided achievements at various levels of existence can be attained. A close connection was conceived between the word, the idea and the reality, and it was supposed that words opened up the gates of ideas and ideas opened up the gates of the realization of reality. It was against this background that the ritual of yajna was perfected in great detail, and apart from the worship, great attention was paid to the performance of sacrifice. The priest who performed the entire procedure of the sacrifice was called Adhvaryu, and the mantras which were used by the Adhvaryu in the performance of yajna constituted the Yajur-Veda. The Yajur-Veda is therefore also called Adhvaryu-Veda. Yajur-Veda is principally a composition in prose.

            According to the Matsyapurana, the Yajur-Veda was the only Veda in the beginning. The same view is repeated in the Vayupurana and Visnupurana. It was Vedavyasa who arranged the four  Samhitas according to the requirements of the processes of symbolic sacrifice, and he transmitted the Rg-Veda to Paila, the Yajur-Veda to Vaishampayana, the  Sama-Veda to Jaimini, and the Atharva-Veda to Sumantu. In due course, they transmitted them to their pupils, and thereafter there developed the tradition of transmission by oral tradition from teacher to pupil. In this fashion, there came about a development of various recensions or sakhas of various Vedas.  In the Bhagavata and in several Puranas there is a detailed description of the various sakhas of the Vedas; we have a similar description in Santiparva(Chapter-342) of the Mahabharata; we also  have organized information on the sakhas of the Vedas in Caranavyuha. There are three notable books of the Caranavyuha attributed, respectively, to Shaunaka, Katyayana and Vyas.

            The total number of sakhas are believed to be 1,131, but at present only 10 sakhas remain alive. As far as the Rg-Veda is concerned, only one sakha, Shakala sakha, remains alive out of the 21 which  existed at one time. There is a claim that Sankhyayana sakha is still known to a few Vedapathis in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, but this is not certain. As far as the Yajur-Veda is concerned, Patanjali had  declared in his great Vyakarana Mahabhasya that it had 101 sakhas. But today only  5 sakhas are alive. in fact, the Yajur-Veda is classified  broadly  into Sukla Yajur-Veda and Krsna Yajur-Veda. Sukla Yajur-Veda is also Known as Vajasaneyi. The Vajasaneyi Samhita has 30 adhyayas or chapters, 303 anuvaks, 1,975 kandikas, 29,625 words and 88,875 letters. There are two extant sakhas of Sukla or Vajasaneyi Yajur-Veda, namely, Kanwa and Madhyandina. The Krsna Yajur-Veda has 5 extant sakhas, namely, Apastamba (Taittiriya), Hiranyakesi (Kapishthala),katha, Kathaka, and Kalapa or Maitrayani. The Maitrayani Samhita has 4 kandas which are subdivided into prapathakas. In this Samhita, there are 3,144 mantras, of which 1,701 are rks from the Rg-Veda. In this Samhita we have mantras and rituals of important sacrifices like Caturmasya, Vajapeya, Aswamedha, Rajasuya, Sautramani, etc. The Taittiriya Samhita has 7 kandas, 44 prapathakas and 631 anuvaks. In this Samitha we have a description of sacrifices like Rajasuya, Yajamana, Paurodasha.etc.

            Apart from Adhvaryu, there is also an Udgata in a sacrifice, who sings certain specific  mantras. The collection of mantras meants for Udgata has been callled the Sama-Veda. Both in Caranavyuha and in Patanjali Mahabhashya it is indicated that the Same-Veda has 1000 Sakhas. The  Sama-Veda is musical in character and it contains only those rks which can appropriately be sung. There are 1,549 rks in Sama-Veda, and only 75 of them are indepentent of the Rg-Veda. At present, the sama-Veda has only 3 existing sakhas, namely Kauthuma, Ranayaniya, and Jaiminiya.

            The rks are transformed into songs of Sama by appropriate additional of words or stobhas, such as ha,u,ho,i,o,hu,oh,ou,ha,etc.

            Apart from ‘Hota’ connected with the Rg-Veda, ‘Adhvaryu’ connected with the Yajur-Veda, ‘Udgata’ connected with the  Sama-Veda, there is a fourth priest called Brahma who is supposed to be a specialist in all the four Vedas, including the Atharva-Veda. The Rg-Veda, Yajur-Veda and Sama-Veda are collectively called Vedatrayi, although it has a significant place in the Karmakamda of the Vedas. The Atharva-Veda is also known as Atharvangirasa. The  Atharva-Veda  has two kinds of mantras, those relating to the cure of diseases and destruction of wild animals, pisacas and enemies and those relating to establishment of peace in the family and village as also those relating to health, wealth, protection and friendship with enemies. The origin of Ayurveda is to be found in the Atharva-Veda.

            The samhita of the Atharva-Veda has 20 kandas which have 34 prapathakas,111 anuvaks, 739 suktas and 5,849 mantras. About 1,200 mantras are common with those of the Rg-Veda. One-sixth of the Atharva-Veda is in prose style while the rest is poetic.

            Patanjali has indicated that the Atharva-Veda has 9 Sakhas, but today we have only 2 sakhas, namely, Paippalada and Saunaka.

            Apart from the four Vedas and their numerous sakhas, there is a vast literature of Brahmanas. The appendices of the Brahmanas which are partly in prose and partly in poetic form are called Aranyakas. Aranyakas are so called because there was a tradition to study them in forests. Some Upanisads are also included in Aranyakas; hence it is almost impossible to make a definite boundary-line between Aranyakas and Upanisads. Brahmanas contain a detailed analysis of various categories of sacrifices, their rituals and procedures. Brahmanas include collections of history, legends, anecdotes and narration of stories connected with individuals. A synonym of the word ‘Brahmanas’ is ‘Pravachana’. Pravachana means exposition; hence Brahmanas are looked upon as expositions of various aspects of the Vedas. The Brahmana literature  seems to have  been very vast but a number of Brahmanas have been lost.

            Each of the recensions of the Vedas had a separate Brahmana. Brahmana were instructed simultaneously with the different recensions of the Vedas. The Aitareya Brahmana belongs to the  Shakala sakha of the Rg-Veda, while the Kaushitaki (Sankhayana) Brahmana is connected with the  Sukla Yajur-veda, and the Taittirya Brahmana is connected with Bashkala sakha of the Rg-Veda. The Satapatha Brahmana  is connected with Sukla Yajur-Veda, while  Taittirya Brahmana and Kathaka Brahmana are connected with the Krsna Yajur-Veda, The Sama-Veda has several  Brahmanas including Jaiminiya, Arsheya, Mantra, Samavidhana, Devatadhaya Vansha, Panchavinsha Shadavinsha. The Gopatha  Brahmana belongs to the Atharva-Veda.

            Among the lost Brahmanas, the important ones are Paimgayani Brahmana, Asvalayana Brahmana, Kathava Brahmana, Galav Brahmana, Carak Brahmana, Swetashvatara Brahmana, Kathava Brahmana, Maitrayani Brahmana,  Jhabalak Brahmana,  Khandikeya Brahmana Rauraki Brahmana, Shatyayana Brahmana Talavakra, Brahmana, Aruneya Brahmana, Parashara Brahmana, and Kapeya Brahmana.

            According to many ancient scholars, the hymns of the four Vedas and their explanations in the Brahmanas both together constitute the Veda. The Brahmanas have been througout respected as the Vedas themselves. The rituals have been performed considering the Brahmanas as equal to the Vedas. In the nineteenth century, however, Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati expressed the view that the Brahmanas are not the Vedas themselves. According to him, while the Vedas were revealed, the Brahmanas were not, although they were expressed by the seers. He advanced a number of reasons to establish his viewpoint, and they deserve an impartial study. In any case, it has to be stated that the language of the Brahmanas is not similar to that of the Vedic hymns.  Some believe that Brahmanas cointain an explanation of the Veda and they are couched in the language of Pravachana. They are therefore Vedic, but not the Vedas themselves. There is, however no dispute about the fact that Brahmanas are looked upon as elucidation or interpretations of Veda, and this itself implies the superiority of the Veda as far as the question of authenticity is concerned.

            There is no doubt that the Brahmanas were much more close in time to the Vedas than any other Vedic literature; at the same time, it is well known that the Brahmanas concentrated on Karmakanda rather than on Jnanakanda. As far as Jnanakanda is concerned,we have a vast literature of Aranyakas and Upanisads.Aranyakas and Upanisad are collectively called Vedanta, since they  constitute the last part of the fundamental core of Vedic literature.

            The main subject dealt with in the Aranyakas is the esoteric meaning of sacrifices, their rituals as also the inner meaning of the conduct related to the system of Varnasrama. The Aitareya and Kaushitaki Aranyakas are related to the Rg-Veda, the Taittiriya and Sankhayayana Aranyakas are related to the Krsna Yajur-Veda, while Brhadaranyaka is related to Sukla Yajur-Veda. Talavakara Aranyaka belongs to Jaiminiya sakha of Sama-Veda; and in fact this Aranyaka is Jaiminiya-Brahmanopanisadbrahmana, and this Brahmana contains Aranyaka and Upanisad as well.

            The most important Aranyaka is the Aitareya Aranyaka of the Rg-Veda. This Aranyaka consists of 18 chapters, and each chapter is divided into a number of khandas. As mentioned earlier, Aranyakas deal with the inner meanings of various sacrifices, observances and rituals.

            The spiritual meaning of the Veda is largely to be found in Upanisads. The word Upanisad really means the secret teaching that enters into the ultimate truth. This secret is normally transmitted and received when the disciple sits close to the teacher, and when the consciousness of the teacher and pupil vibrates in harmony, so that even in silence the secret truth can be transmitted and received. Among the Upanisads the following 10 are considered to be most important: Isha, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittirya, Chhandogya, Aitareya, and Brhadaranyaks. Sankaracarya has also referred to 5 other Upanisads in his commentaries, and these  5 also have been given prominence as far as the spiritual knowledge of the ultimate reality is concerned. They are: Swetashvatara, Mahanarayana, Maitrayani, Kausitaki, and Nrisimhatapini.

            In the Muktopanisad, it is mentioned that the total number of  Upanisads is 108, and they are derived from the four Vedas as follows:(i) Rg-Veda: 10 Upanisads,(2) Sukla Yajur-Veda: 19 Upanisads,(3) Krsna Yajur-Veda: 32 Upanisads, (4) Sama-Veda: 16 Upanisads, and (5) Atharva-Veda: 31 Upanisads. The Muktopanisad also lays down that the process of the realization of Brahman, the ultimate reality, begins with Brahmajijnasa, aspiration to know Brahman, and it continues through the hearing of the Upanisads, reflection on the Upanisads and dwelling on the Upanisads.

            Isha, Kena, Katha, Manduka, Swetasvatara and Mahanarayana are poetic compositions and they have great literary merits. The Atharva-Veda has many Upanisads, and among these Upanisads there are some which are even non-Vedic, in the sense that they have connection with the Puranas and Tantra. If the entire Upanisadic literature is taken into

account, there are at least 250 Upanisads.

            The important Upanisads and their connections with the Vedas may briefly be stated as follows:

            Aitareya, Mandukya and Kaushitaki are related to the Rg-Veda;

Taittiriya, Katha, and Swetasvatara are connected with the Krsna Yajurveda;

Kena and Chhandogya are related to the Sama-Veda; and Prasna and Manduka are related to the Atharva-Veda.

In spite of the fact that the  Upanisads are not as remote as the Veda in respect of language and symbolism, they are extremely difficult to understand. The Upanisads should be looked upon as vehicles of illumination and not of instruction; they were composed for seekers who already had a general familiarity with the ideas of Vedic and Vedantic seers and even some personal experience of the truths on which they were founded. This is why they dispense in their style with expressed transitions of thought and  the development of implied or subordinate notions. Very often one single word or sentence reposes on a number of ideas implicit in the text but nowwhere set forth explicitly. The reasoning that supports conclusions is often suggested by words but is not expressly conveyed to the intelligence. The reader, or rather the hearer, was supposed to proceed from light to light, confirming his intuition and verifying by his experience, not submitting the ideas to the judgements of logical reason. As a result, the Upanisads demand a good deal of patience, quietude and concentration, if we are to understand them properly. Even then it is difficult to penetrate into the inner meaning of the Upanisads.

There have been numerous commentators, and during the middle ages, there have been sharp differences of opinion even, as to the fundamental principles of the philosophy of the Upanisads. This has given rise to at least five major schools of Upanisadic interpretation, These are: Advaitavada or the Monism of Sankaracarya, Visistadvaita or the Qualified Monism of Ramanujacarya, Vishnuddhadvaita or the Pure Monism of Vallabhacarya, Dvaitadvaitavada or the Dualism-non-Dualism of Nimbarkacarya, and Dvaitavada or the Dualism of Nimbarkacarya, and Dvaitavada or the Dualism of Madhawacarya. The commentaries of these great Acaryas are commentaries on Brahma-sutra which was composed by Badarayana(Vyasa Rishi) in which the secret of the Upanisads was expounded aphoristically. The commenraries of the Acaryas have been further commented upon by their disciples and there have been commentaries on commentaries. The Bhagavadgita is also considered to be an organized exposition of the essence of Upanisadic teaching; but the Bhagavadgita also has been interpreted different by different Acaryas, and there have been a number of commentaries on the Bhagavadgita. The commentary literature on the Upanisads, Brahma-sutra, and Bhagavadgita is continuing to develop even in our own times.        


Vedic literature includes in its comprehensive sense Vedanga  literature as well. Vedanga literature began to develop even before  the Upanisads. Mundaka Upanisad mentions six Vedangas as follows; (i) Siksa ,(ii) Kalpa, (iii) Vyakarana, (iv) Nirukta, (v) Chhanda, and (vi) Jyotisa. Each Vedanga takes up one aspect of the Veda and an attempt is made to explain it.

            Siksa is related to sound, letters, pronunciation, the method of teaching and learning of these basic elements. Every Veda has its own peculiar pronunciation of certain letters, and each one of them has its specific modes and speed of recitation. A book called Siksa Sangraha contains a collection of 32 system of Siksa . These system relate to different sakhas of the Four Vedas. The most important among the books relating to Siksa  is the famous Paniniya Siksa . Another important book is  Yajnavalkiya Siksa in Vasishthi  Siksa we have a detailed account of the differences between the mantras of the Rig-Veda and Yajur Veda. Both Yajnavalkiya  Siksa and Vasishthi Siksa are related to the Vajasaneyi Samhita. The other important works are: Katyayani Siksa, Parashari Siksa, Madhyandini Siksa, Keshavi Siksa and Manduki Siksa. In Naradiya Siksa, which is related to the Sama-Veda, there is supposed to be the knowledge of the secret of different sounds.

            The development of Siksa as a Vedanga and as a science demonstrates the profundity and vast scope of research that was undertaken in respect of pronunciation in ancient India. It is because of this Vedanga that the system of Vedic recitation has remained  intact right from the ancient times to the present day. A given sakha is recited in the same way all over the country, and Vedapathis  of the same sakha, belonging to different parts of India, pronounced mantras with the same intonation, speed and strength and force and even the same hand movements. If the Vedanga system of pronunciation has remained so uniform in the country and if the tradition has remained so powerful, it is because of the degree of perfection that was achieved in respect of Siksa.

            Vedic religion involves complex ritualistic Karmakanda (system of prescribed acts and sacrifices) . A detailed understanding of this Karmakanda became necessary in due course of time, and this gave rise to a vast literature of Kalpsutra. Kalpa means that which is understood or justified in respect of sacrifices and other prescribed acts and rituals. Karmakanda is three-fold: Srauta-sutras, which are connected with sacrifices laid down in Sruti or Veda; Grhya-sutras, which are related to various rituals connected with the life of the householder, and various samskaras which are laid down for important occasions of life starting from birth up to death; and Dharma-sutras which are related to social, political and other benevolent duties. The entire Kalpa literature is sutra  literature, since it is composed aphoristically. There is also a fourth category of Kalpa-sutra, which is known as Shulba-sutra, and which is related to the science of geometry and architecture connected with the construction of sacrificial altars, fire-vessels and other related structures.

            Corresponding to each Veda there are various Srauta-sutra. Sankhyayana and  Aswalayana pertain to the Rig-Veda; Arsheya (or Mashaka), Lahyayana and Drahyayana belong to the Sama-Veda; Apastamba, Hiranyakeshi, Baudhayana, Bharadwaja and Vaikanasa are related to the Taittiriya sakha of the Krsna Yajur-Veda; Manava Srauta-Sutra is related to Maitrayani sakha of Krsna Yajur-Veda (this Sutra is believed to be the basis of the famous Manu Smrti); Katyayana Srauta-Sutra is related to the Sukla Yajur-VedaVaitana Sutra is  related to the Atharva-Veda, and this Sutra is also related to Gopatha Brahmana and Katyayana Srauta- sutra of Yajur-Veda.

            The Sacrificial priest needs to have appropriate Knowledge of all the Srauta-sutras connected  with the four Vedas. In some of the sacrifices, as many as 16 priests are required. There are 14 kinds of sacrificial acts, of which 7 are Havir yajna and 7 are Soma yajna. Of the Havir yajna  the important  sacrifices are those of Darshapoornamasya and Chaturmasya . In Soma yajna the important ritual is that of Agnistoma . Soma Yajnas are of the three kinds, those which are for one day (ekaha), those of twelve days (dwadashaha), and those of many days (anekaha). Agnicayana connected with Soma yajna continues for one complete year.

            Grhya-sutras, which come after Srauta-sutras, also belong to different Vedas. Sankhayayana Grhya-sutra are related to the Rig-Veda; Gomila and Khadira belong to Sambavya Grhya-sutra, and Aswalayana Grhya-sutra Sama-Veda; Apastamba, Hiranyakesi, Baudhayana, Manava, Kathaka, Bharadwaja and Vaikhanasa belong to Krsna Yajur-Veda, while Paraskara belongs to Sukla Yajur-Veda, Kausika Grhya-sutra belongs to Atharva-Veda.

            The various rituals described in Srauta-sutra require three different kinds of Agnikundas (fire-vessels) which are called Garhapatya,  Ahavaniya and Daksina, while in the Deva yajna prescribed by Grhya-sutra only one Agnikunda is required.

            Among the Dharma-sutras, Gautama Dharma-sutra is related to Sama-Veda and Apastamba, Hiranyakeshi, and Baudhyayana are related to Krsna Yajur-Veda. But Dharma-sutras such as Gautama, Vasistha, Manava, Vaikhanasa and Visnu are not related to any specific Veda sakha.

            The word ‘dharma’ has been used in various senses in Indian literature. According to Manu Smrti, dharma is characterised  by what is contained in the Veda, in the Smrti, and in what is involved in the conduct of good and noble people as also what is good for the one’s inner soul. In Sanskrit literature, the word ‘dharmasastra’ is largely connected with all the Smrtis beginning with Manu and Yajnavalkya and which is in conformity with the Vedas. The Dharma literature begins with the Dharma-sutra of Gautama, Baudhayana and Apastamba which appear to belong to the seventh to fourth centuries BC. In due course, the Dharma literature flourished extensively and as many as 100 Smrtis seem to have been composed; some of them are in prose, but many are in poetic form. Among the authors of the Smrtis , Manu is the foremost, and there have been a large number of commentaries on the Manu Smrti . Among these commentaries, the prominent ones are those of Medhatithi , Govindaraja, Kullukabhatta, Narayana, Raghavananda, Nandana and Ramachandra.

            The subject of dharma has also been dealt with in some detail in the Bhagavadgita  which is the greatest gospel of Karmayoga and in which  we find the greatest ancient synthesis of Karma, jnana and bhakti. The Bhagavadgita recognizes an evolutionary system of dharma, by means of which the individual and the society can be helped in their evolutionary and progressive development towards perfection.  In the course of this development, there are also important concepts of svadharma and svakarma. And in the culminating chapter of the Gita,we find Lord Krsna asking Arjuna to renounce all dharmas and to surrender to the Supreme Divine.

            This vast and complex teaching of the Gita seems to be inherent in the teaching of the Veda, which is also the original synthesis of Karma, jnana and bhakti. The master concept of the Veda from which the concept of dharma developed in the later period is that of ritam. Ritam and satyam seem to be interchangeable, but there is a certain distinction between the two in so for as satyam may be regarded to be truth and ritam to be right. In fact, the full formula of perfection as defined in the Veda is satyam, ritam, and brhat . Brhat or the vast is the fundamental perspective of the truth. Where there is limitation, there is partiality and there is imperfection or distortion  of truth. It is only in the context of the vast infinitude that truth can be apprehended, comprehended and known, and it is only when truth is known that right action can proceed. This is the significance of the trinity of satyam, ritam and brhat.

            If we keep firm on this original meaning of ritam, we can appreciate the entire development of the concept of dharma in Indian literature. Dharma is that which holds us, which gives us cohesion and which keeps us fixed on the progressive path of development and growth. In this context, there cannot be a static dharma, and there cannot not be one uniform dharma for all human beings and for all levels of life. What is right for a tamasika (dull) being cannot be right for the rajasika (passionate or dynamic), and what is right for the rajasika cannot be right for the sattwika (pure and luminous). And since sattwika is still not the highest, what is right for the sattwika cannot be binding on the one who transcends even the golden fetters of the sattwa. The one who transcends the chain of  tamas, rajas and sattwa and enters into the infinitude, the Brhat of the Veda, he becomes capable of transcending all dharmas which are appropriate to lower developments through tamas, rajas and sattwa. He is liberated from egoistic limitations, he becomes capable of total surrender to the Supreme, and in a state of comprehension of the truth , satyam, he becomes capable of the right action, ritam.

            It is against this background of the concept of ritam and dharma that we can better appreciate the entire history of the Dharmasastra in India where there has been strict insistence on adherence to social law and yet complex and flexible application of it, and even a supervening tendency to preach transcendence of all good and evil and all the binding chains of dharma.

            We come next to Nirukta . Nirukta is a kind of commentary on Nighantu which is a collection of difficult word of the Veda. Nighantu is supposed to have been composed by Prajapati Kashyap. In the first two chapters Nighantu provides a collection of those words which have one meaning, and in the fourth chapter, it gives a collection  of those words which have several meanings. In the fifth chapter, the names of Vedic gods have been collected. there have been many commentaries on Nighantu, but it is the commentary of yaska which has found its place as one of the Vedangas, and this Vedanga is known as Nirukta. Nirukta is not confined only to meanings of words; it traces the words to their originals, and it indicates how different similar or dissimilar words arose from those origins . The principle that all names originated from verbs is an important principle of Nirukta, and even modern linguists accept this principle. It is believed that yaska lived some time between the tenth and eighth centuries BC. Prior to yaska also, there were many methods and systems of Vedic interpretation, such as Adhi-daivata, Adhyatma, Akhyana-Samaya, Aitihasika, Naidana, Parivrajaka, Yajnika, etc. By the time we come to Yaska, the original meanings of many words had become obscure, and he mentions several words where there is no certainty of their meanings.

            According to a belief propounded by Kautsa, Vedas have no meaning. Yaska opposed this belief and he said:

            LFkkuqj; Hkkjgj % fdykHkwr~A v/khR; osnku~ u fotkukfr ;ks · FkeZ~A

        ;ks · FkZK br~ ldya HknzeJqrsA ukdesfr Kkufo/kwrikIekAA

        He has thus compared him who does  not know the meaning of the Veda, to an inter bearer of Veda. According to him, one who attains to the knowledge of meaning becomes free from sin and proceeds towards heaven .

            There have  been several commentaries on Nirukta such as those of Durgacharya, Skanda Maheshwara and Vararuchi.

             Nirukta deals with various subjects which are very close to grammar or vyakarana, and therefore Nirukta is often considered to be a part of vyakarana. However, vyakarana is considered to be a principal part of the six Vedangas. vyakarana is looked upon as the mouth among the Vedangas. According to the ancient tradition, Brahma was the first to expound vyakarana, and he was followed by grammarians like Brhaspati, Indra, Maheshwara, etc. The most  celebrated author of vyakarana is Panini, who has himself mentioned several great names of the great grammarians. Panini’s famous book is Ashtadhyayi, in which he has discussed both Vedic and non-Vedic words. There have been numerous grammarians who followed Panini from first century BC up to fourteenth century AD. Some believe that Panini belonged to seventh century BC, while others place him in the fourth century AD. According to Yudhishthira Mimansaka, Panini belonged to 2900 years before the beginning of the Vikram Era, which is supposed to be 200 years after the Mahabharata war.

            One of the greatest commentaries on vyakarana is that of Patanjali. This is supposed to be the most authentic book on Panini’s vyakarana . The authenticity of Patanjali’s commentary is so great that wherevre  there is a difference of opinion between Sutra, Varttika and  Mahabhashya, the verdict of the Mahabhashya of Patanjali is regarded to be ultimately  acceptable. According to Western scholars, Patanjali belonged to second century  BC. According to Yudhishthira Mimansaka, Patanjali belonged to 2000 or 1200 years before the Vikram Era.

            In Sixteenth century AD, the method of the study of grammar propounded by Panini began to be replaced to some extent by the tradition of Katantra. In that tradition, Siddhanta Kaumudi of Bhattoji Dikshit and Prakriya Sarvasa of Narayana Bhatta are most prominent. Vyakarana developed also in the field of philosophy, and this was initiated by Bhartrihari who belonged to the sixth century AD.

                        The composition of the Vedas indicates consummate development of the knowledge of the poetic meter, chhandas . The First discussion on Vedic meters is to be found in the Sankhyayana Srauta-sutra. But the classical work on meters is that of Maharshi Pingal . Meters or chhandas have been studied by Pingal in the eighth chapter of his book chhandah-sutra. In this book, he has taken into account not only Vedic meters but also others . There are mainly seven Vedic Meters namely, Gayatri, Ushnik, Anushtubh, Brhati, Pankti, Trishtubh and Jagati. According to Katyayana, the highest number of mantras in the Rig-Veda are to be found in Trishtubh. This number is 4253. Gayatri has 2467 mantras; Jagati has 1350 mantras; Anushtubh has 855 mantras, Ushnik has 341 mantras, Pankti has 312 mantras, and Brhati has 181 mantras. Although there are numerous meters, we find only 50 meters in the Sanskrit literarure.

            Prior to Pingalacharya, there were several great teachers of Chhanda Sastra , such as Koshtuki, Yaska, Kashyapa and Mandavya. There have been several commentaries on the Chhanda-sutra of Pingalacharya. In fact, there has been a continuous development of books on Chhanda Sastra in Sanskrit  literature.

            The development of musical science also owed a great deal to Chhanda Sastra. It is well known that the Sama-Veda is meant  to be sung. Although the method of singing the Sama is different from that of classical music, the seven tunes namely, shadja, rishabha, gandhara, madhyama, panchama, dhaivata, and nishada are used in Sama in the same way as in classical music. In the Chhandogyopanisad which is based upon the Sama_Veda five types of musical renderings of the Sama have been indicated, namely, Himkara, Prastava , Udgitha, Pratihar and Nidhan. It is noteworthy that Vedic literature refers also to several musical instruments, including the veena. In social life, too ,because of the close connection between religious rites and music, various melodies developed , particularly six melodies corresponding to the six seasons. Closely connected with music was the development of dance and drama. Among the important works in Sanskrit regarding music, dance and drama the most important one is Natya-Sastra of Bharat Muni. There are two Samhitas on Natya-Sastra, namely, dwadasha sahasri and shat sahasri. The traditions established by Bharat Muni remained pravalent for more than a thousand years even in the book Sangeet Ratnakar of sharagadveya of thirteenth century AD, the authority of Bharat Muni has been acknowledged. Thereafter also there has been a vast literature on music, dance and drama . In fact music, dance and drama received royal patronage throughout the ages, and some of the great king of the north south were themselves great musicians.

            Closely connected with Siksa Chhanda and Vyakarana, there is a body of literature known as pratisakhya. For each Veda and for each sakha there are certain specific rules, and these rules deal with various subject connected with pronunciation , meters and other grammatical matters. The meaning of the Veda is also indicated in the Pratisakhya, and it is therefore considered to be an aid to the study of the concerned Veda. The Rk Pratisakhya deals with the Saishiriya Upasakha of the Sakala sakha of the Rig-Veda. Maharshi Shaunaka is the author. The great commentator Uvat has written a commentary on this Pratisakhya. It is believed that the Rk Pratisakhya was compassed between fifth and sixth centuries AD.

            Vajasaneyi Pratisakhya was compossed by Katyayana who belongs to a period earlier than that of Panini. Uvat and Anantabhatta have written, respectively, Matriveda and Padarthiprakashaka to elucidate the Pratisakhya of Katyayana. Taittiriya pratisakhya is related to the Taittiriya Samhita of the Krsna Yajur-Veda. The commentary has been written by Mahishi, which is known as Padakrmasadana .

            Pushpasutra and Riktantra are the two Pratisakhyas  on the Sama-Veda. The author of Pushpasutra is supposed to be Vararuchi and the author of Riktantra is supposed to be Shakatayana.

            The Caturadhyayika is the oldest Pratisakhya, of the Atharva-Veda Kautsa is supposed to be the author of this Pratisakhya which is also known as Kautsa Vyakarana.

             The sixth Vedanga relates to Jyotisa-astronomy and astrology. Jyotisa is considered to be the science of light, and it is looked upon as the eyes among the Vedangas. Vedic knowledge had discovered an inner rhythm cosmic movement, and this rhythm seems to correspond with periodic developments and seasons of human life. Time was conceived as a succession of movements that measure growth, development and fulfilment of human  aspirations. Since human aspirations and sacrifice were closely connected with each other, the determination of the time  of the beginning and the end of sacrifices assumed great importance. As a result, the transit of planets, calculation of days and  nights and the determination of various seasons were closely studied. The science of Jyotisa described planets, constellations, comets and also the rotations and revolutions of various luminous objects of the heavens. Corresponding to the movements of planets there were also predictions in regard to fortunate or unfortunate results in human life. This is at the root of astrology.

            Rig-Veda Jyotisa Vedanga has been attributed to Lagadhacharya . It consists of 36 verses. There is also a Jyotisa related to the Yajur-Veda and another related to Atharva-Veda. Yajur-Veda jyotisa consists of 34 verses, and it has been attributed to shoshacharya. Atharva-Veda Jyotisa has 14 chapters and 102 verses. It is supposed to be a dialogue between Pitamaha who was the speaker and Kashyapa who was the listener.

            Among the greatest astronomers and astrologers of India, the most celebrated name is that of Varahamihira. His famous book, Pancha Siddhantika speaks of five systems of jyotisa: Pitamaha Siddhanta, Vasistha Siddhanta, Romaka Siddhanta, Poulisha Siddhanta and Surya Siddhanta. In due course, jyotisa inspired the development of various sciences including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, astronomy and astrology. Bhaskaracharya of twelth century AD is regarded as the first among the mathematicians and astrologers of the middle ages. Jyotisa is even today prevalent all over India, and it is even now a developing Science. The Panchanga, which gives detailed information regarding the tithi, vara, nakshatra, yoga and karana is commonly used in most Indian homes; and the annuals of the Panchanga are constantly consulted by astronomers, astrologers and many individuals in day-to-day life.

            Apart from this Vedanga, there are also four other sciences and arts which have come to be known as Upavedas. The Upaveda of the Rig-Veda is Ayurveda, the Upaveda of the Yajur-Veda is Dhanurveda, the Upavedaof the Sama-Veda is Gandharvaveda, and the Upaveda of the Atharva-Veda is Arthaveda. Ayurveda is related to the secret of life and the science and art of sustenance, protection and maintenance of long life. The originator of Ayurveda is supposed to the Dhanwantari. Apart from him, other prominent names are Aitareya, Kashyapa, Harit, Agnivesha and Bhedamuni. At present, three  important books of Ayurveda are: Chakra Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and Vagbhatta Samhita. These three books are collectively called Brihat-trayi.

            Dhanurveda seems to be a very ancient science dealing with weapons of war and art of warfare. In the Ramayana and Mahabharata a good deal of light is thrown upon this science and art, particularly in the descriptions of battles. The most ancient books of Dhanurveda are not available, but some of the known books are Dhanurvidhi, DraunaVidya, Kodanda Mandana and  Dhanurveda Samhita. According to the tradition, the originator of Dhanurveda is Lord  Shankara himself. Parashurama is supposed to have learnt Dhanurveda from Lord Shankara. Dronacharya learnt this science from Parshurama and Arjuna learnt it form Dronacharya. Sattyaki is supposed to have learnt this science and art from Arjuna.

Gandharvaveda is the science of music, derived from the Sama-Veda and we have already dealt with this subject briefly, while dealing with the Vedanga of Chhanda.

Arthaveda is the Upaveda of the Atharva-Veda, which deals with social, economic, and political systems. It also deals  with architecture and various arts. According to Shukraniti there are a number of arts but 64 are considered to be more prominent. In later literature we find that 64 arts or kalas were expected to be cultivated by a cultured lady. These included the art of cooking, skill in the use of body ointments and paints for the teeth, etc., music, dancing,  garland-making, floor decoration, preparation of the bed, proper use and care of dress and ornaments, sewing, elementary carpentry,  repair of household tools and articles, readings, writing and understanding different languages, composing poems, understanding dramas, physical exercises, recreation from utilizing leisure hours, and the art of preparing toys for children.

The most famous book  of Arthashastra  is  that of  Kautilya.  This book has  remained  authoritative,  and many  books  which have been  written thereafter  on  Arthashastra rely upon that book. Prior to Kautilya,  we have also the  famous enunciations of Bhishma and Vidura.


For a  proper understanding  of the Veda, not only  Veangas but also Itihasa  and Puranas  have been recommended. From the point of view of history (itihasa), the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas are consulted. But in Indian literature the word ‘itihasa’ refers mainly to Mahabharata. Maharshi Valmiki is the author of the Ramayana and Mahabharata was composed by Maharshi Vedavyasa. According to the tradition , the word purana is so called because it is supposed to refer to the most ancient  Knowledge, even though the most ancient   composition is that of the Veda. It is said  that Brahma had received the knowledge containing the Puranas from the Supreme Divine; Brahma transmitted it to his four mind-born sons, including Sanat Kumara. Narada received this knowledge from Sanat Kumara, and   he transmitted it to Krsna Dwaipayana Vedavyasa. Vedavyasa composed that knowledge in 18 books, each one of them is called a Purana.

The name of these Puranas are given in the following table along with the number of verses mentioned against each. 


Number of verses

Brahma Purana


Padma Purana


Vishnu Purana


Shiva Purana


Bhagavata Purana


Narada Purana


Markandeya Purana


Agni Purana


Bhavishya Purana


Brahmavavarta Purana


Linga Purana


Varaha Purana


Skanda Purana


Vamana Purana


Koorma Purana


Matsya Purana


Garuda Purana


Brahmanda Purana



            There are also a number of Upapuranas, such as Narasimha,  Nandi, Bhargava etc.

            The Puranas have been composed to explain the meanings of Vedas to the common masses of people so as to evoke in them sensitivity in their being towards Divine knowledge and to inspire in them devotion for the Supreme  Reality. The Puranas describe the creation of the universe, development of the universe, and the dissolution of the universe. In Several Puranas, there is a good deal of description of the earth and its geography and apart from many legends. there is also a description of secret knowledge relating to birth, death and the condition of the soul after the death  of the body. We also find in them questions and answers dealing with philosophic and yogic matters. Most importantly, the Puranas are related to great deities, particularly Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva .The Bhagavata Purana is considered to be the most valuable book on Lord Krsna , and it is looked upan as an unparalleled composition on the them of Shri Krsna and devotion to Shri Krsna. The Puranas are also related to several other deities and great rishis of the past. An important contribution of the Purana is related to the concept of avatara and the description of various avatara of the Supreme Divine.

            Purana literature is very vast and it has made a great impact on the religious and spiritual mind of India.

            The tradition of philosophy in India goes back to very early times, and based  upon the veda, several  systems of philosophy  have  flourished. These  systems are: Nyaya, Vaisesika,  Sankhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara  Mimamsa. All these systems of philosophy accept the authority of the Veda, and although there are differences among them, attempts have also been made to bring about a synthesis of these systems of philosophy The literature on these systems is to be found in the Sutras attributed to great philosophers such as Gautama, Kanada, Kapila, Patanjali Jaimini and Badarayana, and in copious commentaries and commentaries on commentaries. In fact, even in the modern period there are expositions and commentaries on these systems of philosophy.