Vedic Literature, History and Deities

Vedic Literature, History and Deities

The word Veda is derived from the Sanskrit word Veda meaning, to know orknowledge par excellence.
Vedic texts are divided between Sruti (based on hearing), which is distinct fromSmriti (based on memory).
Four Vedas and their Samhitas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads form a class of literature known as Sruti.
Rig Veda
It is divided into 10 Books or Mandalas. Books II to VII are considered theoldest. Book I, VIII and X seem to be later additions.
A collection of 1028 hymns of a number of priestly families.
Written between 1700-1500 B.C. when Aryans were still in Punjab.
Books II to VII are earliest and are also called as family books. They areattributed to Gritsamada, Visvamitra, Vasudeva. Am.
Bhardwaj, Vashishtha. Kanva and Angiras.
The IX Mandala is dedicated exclusively to Soma
The X Mandala contains the famous Purushsukta hymn that explains theorigin of four Varnas.
Yajur Veda
A ritualistic Veda.
It is divided into Shukla Yajurveda and Krishna Yajurveda.
Atharvaveda mentions beliefs and practices of non-Aryans.
In Atharvaveda, Sabha and Samiti are described as uterine sisters – the two daughters of Prajapati.
Written in prose, it deals with procedure for performance of sacrifices and containsrituals as well as hymns.
Sama Veda
Sam Veda derives its roots from Saman. which means a melody.
A collection of melodies.
A collection of 1603 hymns. Except 99, all others were derived from Rig Veda.
Atharva Veda
A collection of 711 hymns, it is divided into 20 Kandas.
It is the latest Veda.
Atharva Veda is a book of magical formula.
It contains charms and spells to ward-off evil and disease.
Its content throws light on the practices of non-Aryans.
The Upanishads
The term Upanishada indicates knowledge acquired by sitting close to the teacher. They consisted of discussions on several problems such as the creation of the universe, the nature of God. the origin of mankind etc. They are anti-ritualistic and define the doctrine of Karma (Action), Atman (Soul) and God (Brahma).
They are spiritual and philosophical in nature.
They are called the Vedanta or the end of Vedas. They advocate Jnana Marga and are anti-ritualistic in nature.
There are 108 Upanishads. Generally, the period from 800 to 500 BC is known as the period of Upanishads.
The Aitareya and Kaushitaki Upanishads belong to Rig Veda.
Chhandogya and Kena Upanishad belong to Sama Veda.
Taittiriya. Katha andSvetasvatara Upanishad belong to the Krishna Yajur Veda.
Brihadaranyaka and Isa belong to the Shukla Yajur Veda.
Prasna. Mundaka and Mundukya belong to the Atharva Veda.
The ashrama system is found mentioned for the first time in the Aitareya
Brahman a.
Meant mainly for regulating the life of the male members of the higher castes, they consisted of four stages: (a) Brahmacharin or student life; (b) Grihastha or life of thehouseholder; Vanaprastha or partial retirement and Sanyasin or complete retirement(ascetic life).
Full recognition of the fourth stage was done only in the post-Vedic period
Kalpa Sutras
These are the treatises dealing with Vedic rituals on one hand, and with customary law on the other They are written in alaboriously compressed style, sometimes approaching the structure of algebraic formulas, unintelligible without the help of authoritative commentaries. With a view to conveying to the future generations the ancient and contemporary literature, theAryan sages invented a special concise method called the Sutra style. Thus the massive Vedic texts were condensed into short,terse formulae, which could be easily remembered and transmitted orally – from father to son or from Guru to Shisya. Most of theVedic literature was handed down orally in this manner. The Sutra literature is divided into three classes: (a) Srauta Sutras -dealing with large public sacrifices. (b) Griha Sutras: dealing with rituals connected with birth, naming, marriage etc. ©Dharma Sutras – explain social and local customs. which later on became the basis of Mann Smriti.
Dharma-Shastras are the later Vedic Age or Epic Age treatises on ethical and social philosophy. They deal systematically with the proper conduct of life and describe social, ethical and religious obligations. The Dharma-Shastras are, ill fact, another name for Smritis, which arethe law books, written in the sloka meter. The chief among them are the Manav Dharma Shastra, the Vishnu Dharma Shastra. the Yajnavalkya Smriti. and the Narad Smriti. Manav Dharma Shastra or Mann Smriti is the oldest and the most famous. Its author Manu issupposed to be the first king and the first law-giver. Later on, some minor Smritis and commentaries like the Mitakshara were compiled.These books are not merely accounts of civil and criminal laws of the time but they also cover all aspects of the daily life of the individual. They throw considerable light on the social and political life of the age-the caste system, Ashramas of life, economic conditions as also state of professions, arts and crafts, architecture and the working of administration.

In order to understand the Vedic Literature, it was necessary to learn-Vedangas or the limbs of Vedas. These are treatises onscience and arts. They are:
a. Shiksha (Phonetics)
b. Kalpa (Ritual)
c. Vyakarana (Grammar)
d. Chhand (Metrics)
e. Nirukta (Etymology)
I. Jyotisha (Astronomy)
Yaska’s Nirukta (5th century BC) is the oldest Indian linguistic text.
Panini wrote Ashtadhyayi (4lhCentury BC) on Vyakaran,

There were four Upvedas-
Ayurveda dealing with medicine
Dhanurveda dealing with the art of the warfare
Gandharvaveda dealing with music
Shilpaveda dealing with art and Literature
Mahabharata is older compared to Ramayana and possibly reflects the state of affairs from 10th Century BC to 4th Century . AD.
Originally Mahabharata consisted of 8800 verses and was called Jayasamhita’.These were raised to 24000 and came to be known as Bharata. The final compilation brought the number of verses to 100,000 and came to be known as Mahabharata.
The Ramayana of Valmiki originally consisted of 6000 verses which were raised to12000 and finally to 24.000
Composition of Ramayana started in 5th century BC. It passed through several stages and attained its present form as late as 12th century AD.
Six System of Philosophy
1 Nyaya (Analysis) Gautam
2 Vaisesika (Atomic Characteristic) Kanada
3 Sankhya (Enumeration) Kapila
4 Yoga (Application) Patanjali
5. Purva Mimansa (Enquiry) Jaimini
6. Uttar Mimansa (Vedanta) Vyasa

 Later Vedic Religion
Towards the end of the Vedic Age, a section of society began to resent priestlydomination. The Upanishads criticised the cult of rituals and sacrifices and laid stresson Right Belief and Right Knowledge.
They emphasised that knowledge of self (Atman) should be acquired and relation of Atman with Brahma (God) should be properly understood.
Deeds of one life affected the next. This gave the theory of Karma.
The strikingly varied nature of the contents of Puranas seems to be the result of diverse materials: tales, anecdotes, songs and ballads, traditional lore etc. These include mythology, cosmogony, various legends, genealogical accounts, folk beliefs, law codes and miscellaneous topics. The Puranic literature is thus a unique outcome of the ever-continuing synthesis of various socio-economic formations operative between the 5th century BC and the 12th century AD. Every addition in the Puranic literature brought in its trainnumerous new deities with images and temples, pilgrimages and vows, sects etc. The change in the mode of worship (from sacrifice to worship of idols), visual appeal of the denies as against the worship of ideas, the fact of idol worship being more satisfying than yajna or sacrifice, revulsion to the violence and bloodshed involved in animal sacrifices-all these explain the socio-religious-economic transformations taking place in the Aryan society. The Puranas may be regarded as a unique record of the outcome of continual clash and friction, readjustment and mobilization, conservatism and the accommodating spirit of the Indian society. keen to come to terms with its evolving ethos.
Ancient India
The Prehistoric Period

The prehistoric period in the history of mankind can roughly be dated from 200000 BC toabout 3500-2500 BC, when the first civilisations began to take shape. The history of India is no exception. The first modern human beings or the Homo sapiens set foot on theIndian subcontinent anywhere between 200000 BC and 40000 BC and they soon spreadthroughout a large part of the subcontinent, including peninsular India. Theycontinuously flooded the Indian subcontinent in waves after waves of migration fromwhat is present-day Iran. These primitive people moved in groups of few ‘families’ andlived mainly on hunting and gathering.
Stone Age
The age when the prehistoric man began to use stones for utilitarian purpose is termed as the Stone Age.The Stone Age is divided into three broad divisions — Paleolithic Age or the Old Stone Age (fromunknown till 8000 BC), Mesolithic Age or the Middle Stone Age (8000 BC-4000 BC) and the NeolithicAge or the New Stone Age (4000 BC-2500 BC) on the basis of the specialization of the stone tools, whichwere made during that time.
Paleolithic Age
The human beings living in the Paleolithic Age were essentially food gatherers and depended on nature for food. The art of hunting and stalking wild animals individually and later in groups led to these people making stone weapons and tools. First, crudely carved out stones were used in hunting, but as the size of the groups began to increase and there was need for more food, these people began to make “specialized tools” by flaking stones,which were pointed on one end. These kind of tools were generally used to kill small animals and for tearing flesh from the carcass of the hunted animals. The basic technique of making these crude tools was by taking a stone and flaking its sides with a heavier stone. These tools were characteristic of the Paleolithic Age and were very rough. By this time, human beings had come to make and use fire.
Mesolithic Age
In the Mesolithic Age, the stone tools began to be made more pointed and sharp. To ensure a life that had abundance of food and clothing, the stone tools began to appear in increasingly specialized way. The simple handheld stone tools were now attached to thick branches from trees with rope made from animal skin and sinew.These tools are known as hand axes, which could be flung at fast-moving animals from a distance. Apart from hand axes, they also produced crude stone-tipped wooden spears, borers, and burins. This period also saw the domestication of animals and graving of wild varieties of crops. Because of farming, small settlements began to take shape. Archaeological excavations have unearthed Mesolithic sites in the Chotta Nagpur area of centralIndia and the areas south of the Krishna River. The famous Bhimbetka caves near Bhopal belong to theMesolithic Age and are famous for their cave paintings. The exact dale of these paintings is not certain, but some of the paintings are as old as 12,000 years. The prehistoric artist used natural white and red pigments in depicting the various themes,which were close to his heart and sustenance.
Neolithic Age

The Neolithic Age (4000 BC-2500 BC) or the New Stone Age was the last phase of the Stone Age andischaracterized by very finely flaked, small stone tools, also known as blades and burins. The NeolithicAge also saw the domestication of cattle, horses, and other farm animals. which were used for dairy andmeat products. An important invention of this time was the making of the wheel. The Neolithic Agequickly gave way to a number of small “’cultures” that were highly technical. These people used copperand bronze to make a range of utilitarian tools. This phase or period is termed as the Chalcolithic Age’(1800BC-I000BC).
Chalcolithic Phase
Towards the end of the Neolithic period, metals like bronze and copper began to be used. This was theChalcolithic phase (1800 BC to 1000 BC). Chalcolithic cultures extended from the Chotanagpur plateau tothe upper Gangetic basin. Some of the sites of this era are Brahmgiri (near Mysore) and Navada Toli on theN armada.
Indus Valley Civilization
(2500 BC • 1500 BC)
From the beginning of the 4th millennium BC, the individuality of the early village cultures began to be replaced by a more homogenous style of existence. By the middle of the 3rd millennium, a uniform culture had developed at settlements spread across nearly 500,000 square miles, including parts of Punjab, UttarPradesh, Gujarat, Baluchistan, Sindh and the Makran coast. It was a highly developed civilization andderived its name from the main river of that region— Indus.The cities were far more advanced than their counterparts in prehistoric Egypt, Mesopotamia or anywhere else in Western Asia.
Vedic Age

(1500 BC-1000 BC)
It is generally agreed that Aryans originally lived somewhere in Steppes stretching from southern Russia to central Russia. The consensus of opinion is that originally they lived somewhere in the East of Alps. On their way to India, Aryans first appeared in Iran and a little later than 1500 BC they appeared in India. Kassite Inscription of about 1600 BC and Mittani Inscription of 1400 BC found in Iraq bear some Aryannames, which suggest that from Iran a branch of Aryans moved towards west. The Rig Veda has many things in common with the Avesta – the oldest text in Iranian language. Rig Veda is the earliest specimen of any Indo-European language. According to Rig Veda, early Aryans first settled in the region called ‘Sapta-Sindhava’ or the land of seven rivers encompassing the present East Afghanistan, Punjab and Western UP Early Aryans were semi-nomadic and kept large herds of cattle. As they settled down in villages, they also became cultivators. using ox to draw their ploughs. They were ruled by warriors, who depended upon priests to perform the rituals to protect their crops and cattle, and insure victory in war. The Indian sub-continent got its name Bharat Varsha after the Bharata tribe, which was the strongest one. During the later Vedic phase, the Aryans moved away.
The Aryans were a wild, turbulent people and had few of the taboos prevalent in later India. They were much addicted to inebriating drinks, of which they had at least two, soma and sura. Soma was drunk at sacrifices and its use was sanctified by religion. Sura was purely secular and more potent, and was disapproved by the priestly poets. The Aryans loved music, and played the flute. lute and harp, to the accompaniment of cymbal and drums. People also delighted in gambling. They enjoyed chariot races.
The Sun Gods

Surya – Similar to that of the Greek God Helios.
Savitri – The famous Gayatri mantra is addressed to Savitri.
Pusan – His main function was that of guarding of roads, herdsmen and cattle.
Vishnu – A relatively minor God at that time.
Rig vedic Gods
The early Vedic religion was naturalistic. Evidently, there were neither temples nor idols. The mode of prayer was recitation of mantras. Sacrifice was offered for Praja (children). Pasu (cattle) and Dhana (wealth)and not for spiritual upliftment or misery.
250 hymns are attributed to India.
He was the Aryan warlord and also controlled the weather.
Has been called Purandhar or destroyer of forts.
He was the proverbial Rain God (prajanya),responsible for causing rainfall.
He was associated with thunder and storm and bore the thunderbolt (Vajra),with which he destroyed his He has been addressed by various names -Ratheshtha, Jitendra, Somapa, Purandra, Vritrahan and Maghayan.
He was the upholder of Rta or cosmic order and whatever happened in the world was thought to be reflection of his desire.
As an administrator of the cosmic law (Rta), he regulated all activities in the world. It is he who has spread out the earth and set the sun in motion.
He is therefore called the world sovereign and is also regarded at the of human morality.
His worship gives the earliest signs of Bhakti.
In every hymn for Varuna. there is an appeal for forgiveness.
About 200 hymns on the Rig Veda are attributed to Agni.
He was the intermediary between Gods and men. He consumed the sacrificial offerings and carried them to Gods.
He dwelt in heaven in the form of lightning. On earth he existed in many forms.
He dwelt in the domestic hearth.
A sort of Adam – The first man to die, who became the guardian of the world of dead.
The God of plants. An intoxicant drink was also named Soma. The Soma sacrifice was an important Vedic rituals.
He is the special God of Brahamans, who referred to him as their patron deity.
Later Vedic Gods
Indra and Varuna lost their previous importance and Prajapati attained the Supreme position.
Rudra and Vishnu became more important than before.
Pushan became the God of Shudras.
Brahmin monopoly over divine knowledge was established.
An elaborate system of Yajnas developed. Among the important ones were— Rajasuya, Ashvamedha and Vajapeya.

Other Gods

Vayu – Wind God
Dyaus – Father of Heaven
Aditi – Mother of Surya
Morals – Storm spirits
Gandharvas – Divine musicians
Ashvins – Healers of diseases and experts in surgical art
Ribhus – Gnomes
Apsoras – Mistresses of Gods.
Rudra – An archer God, who arose brought the first disease to man, (jvara) fever

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