An article by
Sri Swami Sivananda, the founder of Divine Life Society
Sanskrit literature can be classified under six orthodox heads and four secular
heads. The six orthodox sections form the authoritative scriptures of the
Hindus. The four secular sections embody the latter developments in classical
The six scriptures are: (i) Srutis, (ii)
Smritis, (iii) Itihasas, (iv) Puranas, (v) Agamas and (vi) Darsanas.
The four secular writings are: (i) Subhashitas,
(ii) Kavyas, (iii) Natakas and (iv) Alankaras.
The Srutis are called the
Vedas, or the Amnaya. The Hindus have received their religion through
revelation, the Vedas. These are direct intuitional revelations and are held to
be Apaurusheya or entirely superhuman, without any author in particular.
The Veda is the glorious pride of the Hindus, nay, of the whole world!
The term Veda comes from the root 'Vid',
to know. The word Veda means knowledge. When it is applied to scripture, it
signifies a book of knowledge. The Vedas are the foundational scriptures of the
Hindus. The Veda is the source of the other five sets of scriptures, why, even
of the secular and the materialistic. The Veda is the storehouse of Indian
wisdom and is a memorable glory which man can never forget till eternity.
The Vedas are the eternal truths
revealed by God to the great ancient Rishis of India. The word Rishi
means a Seer, from dris, to see. He is the Mantra-Drashta, seer of
Mantra or thought. The thought was not his own. The Rishis saw the truths or
heard them. Therefore, the Vedas are what are heard (Sruti). The Rishi did not
write. He did not create it out of his mind. He was the seer of thought which
existed already. He was only the spiritual discoverer of the thought. He is not
the inventor of the Veda.
Glory of the
The Vedas represent the spiritual
experiences of the Rishis of yore. The Rishi is only a medium or an agent to
transmit to people the intuitional experiences which he received. The truths of
the Vedas are revelations. All the other religions of the world claim their
authority as being delivered by special messengers of God to certain persons,
but the Vedas do not owe their authority to any one. They are themselves the
authority as they are eternal, as they are the Knowledge of the Lord.
Lord Brahma, the Creator, imparted the divine
knowledge to the Rishis or Seers. The Rishis disseminated the knowledge. The
Vedic Rishis were great realised persons who had direct intuitive perception of
Brahman or the Truth. They were inspired writers. They built a simple, grand and
perfect system of religion and philosophy from which the founders and teachers
of all other religions have drawn their inspiration.
The Vedas are the oldest books in the library
of man. The truths contained in all religions are derived from the Vedas and are
ultimately traceable to the Vedas. The Vedas are the fountain-head of religion.
The Vedas are the ultimate source to which all religious knowledge can be
traced. Religion is of divine origin. It was revealed by God to man in the
earliest times. It is embodied in the Vedas.
The Vedas are eternal. They are without
beginning and end. An ignorant man, may say how a book can be without beginning
or end. By the Vedas, no books are meant. Vedas came out of the breath of the
Lord. They are not the composition of any human mind. They were never written,
never created. They are eternal and impersonal. The date of the Vedas has never
been fixed. It can never be fixed. Vedas are eternal spiritual truths. Vedas are
an embodiment of divine knowledge. The books may be destroyed, but the knowledge
cannot be destroyed. Knowledge is eternal. In that sense, the Vedas are eternal.
The Veda is divided into four
great books: the Rig-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, the Sama-Veda and the Atharva-Veda.
The Yajur-Veda is again divided into two parts, the Sukla and the Krishna. The
Krishna or the Taittiriya is the older book and the Sukla or the Vajasaneya is a
later revelation to sage Yajnavalkya from the resplendent Sun-God.
The Rig-Veda is divided into twenty-one
sections, the Yajur-Veda into one hundred and nine sections, the Sama-Veda into
one thousand sections and the Atharva-Veda into fifty sections. In all, the
whole Veda is thus divided into one thousand one hundred and eighty recensions.
Each Veda consists of four parts: the Mantra-Samhitas
or hymns, the Brahmanas or explanations of Mantras or rituals, the Aranyakas,
and the Upanishads. The division of the Vedas into four parts is to suit
the four stages in a man's life.
The Mantra-Samhitas are hymns in praise of the
Vedic God for attaining material prosperity here and happiness hereafter. They
are metrical poems comprising prayers, hymns and incantations addressed to
various deities, both subjective and objective. The Mantra portion of the Vedas
is useful for the Brahmacharins.
The Rig-Veda Samhita is the grandest book of
the Hindus, the oldest and the best. It is the Great Indian Bible, which no
Hindu would forget to adore from the core of his heart. Its style, the language
and the tone are most beautiful and mysterious. Its immortal Mantras embody the
greatest truths of existence, and it is perhaps the greatest treasure in all the
scriptural literature of the world. Its priest is called the Hotri.
The Yajur-Veda Samhita is mostly in prose and
is meant to be used by the Adhvaryu, the Yajur-Vedic priest, for
superfluous explanations of the rites in sacrifices, supplementing the Rig-Vedic
The Sama-Veda Samhita is mostly borrowed from
the Rig-Vedic Samhita, and is meant to be sung by the Udgatri, the Sama
Vedic priest, in sacrifices.
The Atharva-Veda Samhita is meant to be used by
the Brahma, the Atharva-Vedic priest, to correct the mispronunciations
and wrong performances that may accidentally be committed by the other three
priests of the sacrifice.
The Brahmana portions guide people to perform
sacrificial rites. They are prose explanations of the method of using the
Mantras in the Yajna or the sacrifice. The Brahmana portion is suitable for the
There are two Brahmanas to the Rig-Veda-the Aitareya
and the Sankhayana. "The Rig-Veda", says Max Muller, "is
the most ancient book of the world. The sacred hymns of the Brahmanas stand
unparalleled in the literature of the whole world; and their preservation might
well be called miraculous."
The Satapatha Brahmana belongs to the
Sukla-Yajur-Veda. The Krishna-Yajur-Veda has the Taittiriya and the Maitrayana
Brahmanas. The Tandya or Panchavimsa, the Shadvimsa, the Chhandogya, the Adbhuta,
the Arsheya and the Upanishad Brahmanas belong to the Sama-Veda. The Brahmana of
the Atharva-Veda is called the Gopatha. Each of the Brahmanas has got an
The Aranyakas are the forest books, the
mystical sylvan texts which give philosophical interpretations of the rituals.
The Aranyakas are intended for the Vanaprasthas or hermits who prepare
themselves for taking Sannyasa.
The Upanishads are the most important portion
of the Vedas. The Upanishads contain the essence or the knowledge portion of the
Vedas. The philosophy of the Upanishads is sublime, profound, lofty and
soul-stirring. The Upanishads speak of the identity of the individual soul and
the Supreme Soul. They reveal the most subtle and deep spiritual truths. The
Upanishads are useful for the Sannyasins.
The subject matter of the whole
Veda is divided into Karma- Kanda, Upasana-Kanda and Jnana-Kanda. The
Karma-Kanda or Ritualistic Section deals with various sacrifices and rituals.
The Upasana-Kanda or Worship-Section deals with various kinds of worship or
meditation. The Jnana-Kanda or Knowledge-Section deals with the highest
knowledge of Nirguna Brahman. The Mantras and the Brahmanas constitute
Karma-Kanda; the Aranyakas Upasana-Kanda; and the Upanishads Jnana-Kanda.
The essence of
Live in the spirit of the
teachings of the Vedas. Learn to discriminate between the permanent and the
impermanent. Behold the Self in all beings, in all objects. Names and forms are
illusory. Therefore sublate them. Feel that there is nothing but the Self. Share
what you have,-physical, mental, moral or spiritual,-with all. Serve the Self in
all. Feel when you serve others, that you are serving your own Self. Love thy
neighbour as thyself. Melt all illusory differences. Remove all barriers that
separate man from man. Mix with all. Embrace all. Destroy the sex-idea and
body-idea by constantly thinking of the Self or the sexless, bodiless Atman. Fix
the mind on the Self when you work. This is the essence of the teachings of the
Vedas and sages of yore. This is real, eternal life in Atman. Put these things
in practice in the daily battle of life. You will shine as a dynamic Yogi or a
Jivanmukta. There is no doubt of this.