Vedas – Dr. VR, Lecture Series #1 – Introduction to Vedas

Introduction to Vedas – Rig and Atharva Veda

Meaning of Veda

The word वेद Veda is derived from the sanskrit root Veda “विद् ज्ञाने” | √ Vid means “to know”. Veda indicates knowledge. The word Veda is defined in the Vedic Text of Brahmanas as “श्रेष्ठोहि वेद तपसा अधिजातः ब्रह्मज्ञानां हृदये संबभूव” | Veda is Knowledge par excellence – श्रेष्ठोहि वेद | It was not written by individuals. It was acquired through revelations when they were in a state of transcendental meditation during their austerities or Tapas – तपसा अधिजातः प्राप्तः | At the state of that Transcendental Meditation, this truth establishes itself in the hearts of those who know the Supreme Truth or Brahman, ब्रह्मज्ञानां हृदये संबभूव | ब्रह्म जानाति इति ब्रह्मज्ञः | ब्रह्म सत्यम् इति अर्थः |

The Rishis were able to see the truth through their inner eye (अन्तश्चक्षुः) which is different from the external physical eye.  As they saw the truth, the Rishis who have given us the Vedic Mantras are called द्रष्टारः or मन्त्रद्रष्टारः | तेन मनसा श्रुतः अतः ते श्रोतारः or मन्त्रश्रोतारः | The Vedas are called Shrutis  श्रुतिः  | So the Rishis to whom the mantra was revealed are called Shrotas.   The Veda Purusha – the person who is well versed in the Vedas is called श्रोत्रियः or श्रोत्रियब्राह्मणः | Those who are born in a Brahmin clan are just Brahmins by birth – जन्मना ब्रह्मणः | Only the person who is well versed in the Vedas वेदाध्ययनसंपन्नः is regarded as श्रोत्रियब्राह्मणः |

[ Side Note: Charity is done during rituals to these Shrotreeya Brahmana only as they are aware of the procedure to please the अधिदेवः for specific deity being worshipped. During his Sandhyavandana, on behalf of the person who made the offerings, this Brahmana would pray to Gayatri or the Supreme Universal Energy which represents all the Gods like Shiva or Vishnu. Only this Brahmana is capable of transferring the Karma of the person who made the offering to the appropriate deity and ensure that the benefit of the Kriya performed is enjoyed by the Yajamaan. The same principle works during the ceremony done for the deceased ancestors. ]

The Rishis realized the futility of the temporary worldly pleasures. They realized the supreme power and proclaimed “वेदाहमेतं पुरुषं महान्तम्” – “एतं महान्तं पुरुषम् अहं वेद |” meaning “I know the supreme Purusha”. Only the Supreme Brahman or the Paramaatma is addressed as Purusha or the man. Having experienced the supreme bliss, the sage calls out to others to “Arise and Awake” – “उत्तिष्ठत जाग्रत प्राप्य वरान् निबोधत|” They called everyone else to share the knowledge and to make them also enjoy the bliss that they were experiencing.

Shaakaas or Branches

There are different branches or शाखाः shaakaas like आपस्तम्भशाकाद्यायि | Many Rishis who realized the supreme truth, taught their disciples through oral medium the knowledge that they gained. Each Rishi’s gurukula became like a present-day university. For millions of years, the knowledge was passed on to the next generation through this oral medium (मौखिक-प्रयोगः). Thus the followers of specific Rishi and his disciples were said to belong to that shaakaa.

Over the years, the concentration was lost. Some people were drawn in material pursuits. Differences between the different shaakaa started to arise. Thus we ended up with numerous branches with some differences between the branches even within the same Veda.

The 3 main aspects considered for the mantras in the Veda are Rishi, Devatha and Chandas.  Rishi is that sage to whom this mantra was revealed. Note that he is not considered as the author of the mantra. The Devatha is the deity like Gayatri or Surya or Lakshmi who is worshipped by this mantra. The 33,000 Gods are to be understood as different Power-Points of the Supreme Power with specific portfolio being managed by them.  And the Chandas is the Vedic meter with specific arrangement of syllables to which the mantra is set. The Swara or the pronunciation is very important for the Vedic mantras.

The Four Vedas

Vyasa, who is considered as the incarnation of Vishnu Himself, took up the task of consolidation. Vyasa classified this vast mass of literature – विद्या स वेदान् इति व्यासः | The purpose of classification was for easy understanding, easy learning, and preservation. वि व्यास – re-arranged, re-classified. He classified into four parts namely Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.

Nature of the contents of Atharva Veda and its impact

Atharva Veda included some scientific aspects which were useful for the material world including scientific information on subjects like Metallurgy.  It also deals with the care of the physical body, the human relationships and also the spirits that leave the body after death. The followers of this Veda found that they could get some benefits if certain rituals were performed to satisfy certain deities. As they ventured into such activities and obtained benefits, they started doing more and more of such rituals, penances and sacrifices. Once they started controlling the spirits and using it for personal gains, the followers of the other Vedas banned this Veda.

Avoidance of Atharva Veda

Thus the study of Atharva Veda was discouraged and the Shtrotreeya Brahmins were required to learn only the other 3 Vedas. The person who knows Atharva Veda was being feared by everyone as he could cause harm to them. [ Side Note: In Chanakya’s times, the enemies of Chandragupta tried to send spirits to harm Chandragupta and Chanakya also in turn does rituals to harm the enemy king, Amaatya Raja. ]

Trayee – त्रयी – Excluding Atharva Veda

There was a period, after the time of Veda Vyasa, when only the 3 vedas were considered leaving the 4th one. During this time, the Vedas were referred to as “Trayee” indicating they are three in number. Due to its misuse, the Atharva Veda was prohibited. The followers of Atharva Veda had to bring it back to the fold, they includes a few mantras from the other 3 Vedas also. Thus they changed the impression that Atharva Vedis are black-magicians doing Tantric practices. Then it was included back as a part of the Vedas.

[Side note: It is also said that the Vedas were classified based on the types of the mantra like Rig, Yajus and Saama. Since there are only three types of mantras, the Vedas are called as Trayee. Atharva Veda does not contain any new type of mantra. It includes only the 3 types of mantras seen in the other Vedas].

अनुबन्ध-चतुष्टयम् of Vedas

विषय, अधिकारी, संबन्धः, प्रयोजन अथवा उद्धेषः | प्रयोजं नोद्धिश्य मदोऽपि न प्रवर्तते | विषय – Knowledge of material world and the spiritual life. वेदयति प्रकाशयति सर्वम् इति वेदः | सर्वम् = लौकिक, आद्यात्मिक च | The purpose or objective is to obtain knowledge – ज्ञानप्राप्तिः | अधिकारी – Whoever is interested in knowing. What is the प्रामाण्य for Vedas? Self-validated knowledge स्वतप्रामाण्यं वेदाः |

Mantra – मन्त्र

The four parts of Vedas is मन्त्र, ब्रह्मणा, आरण्यक, उपनिषद् | मन्त्र = संहिता | अपौरुषेयम् | There is no author for the mantra – it is the revealed portion of the Veda. Samhita is the soul of the Vedas.  Each Veda has its associated Brahmanas, Aaranyakas and Upanishads.

Brahmana – ब्रह्मणा

While putting the Samhita to use, these scriptures called Brahmanaas were created. ब्रह्म = ज्ञान (ब्रह्मणि चरति इति ब्रह्मचारी)

[Side Note: In Oxford University, there is a huge collection of Aithereya Brahmanaas in the Vedic section in their library.]

The huge sacrifices were performed by the Monarchs, conducted by Brahmin priests. The Yagnas used to be performed for a period of 12 years or more. Camps will be setup near the banks of some river. The entire community used to shift there with their family members. All facilities were made there to cater to people of all ages. The disciples of Vyasa used to perform the Yaagaas during the day time. During the evening times, to entertain the people, they used to give speeches on various topics – it could be mythology, archaeology, science, physics, chemistry, history, geography, etc. All this knowledge on various subjects was put into writing and captured as collective works called Brahmana. As this knowledge was based on the Vedic knowledge, these were also considered as a part of the Veda. The purohits would have knowledge about various practical aspects. There were great scientists. The span of their knowledge was so wide that they would know from building the yagna kunda right till the bathroom facilities that were required for the community. For example, the cleanliness of the place had to be maintained and so the information related to chemistry was included based on the instructions given by the seers. The people would spend some time watching the stars and thus, the science of astronomy, astrology or Jyothisha came. Thus the Brahmanic texts kept on growing based on the knowledge shared by the students of Vyasa during the course of the Yaaga, which lasted for over 12 years. Hence there is a mixture of different branches of information. Necessity being the mother of invention, the knowledge in different subjects evolved during this period.


After a certain age, the elderly couple would mutually voluntarily agree to separate from the family, leaving their attachment to the family. They would go to the ashrams in the forests where they would guide the students there and they would be taken care of by the inmates of the ashram.  The elders would merge with the society and in turn it was the responsibility of the society to take care of them. Only in the later period, the concept of children taking care of their parents came up. Earlier, the entire community was considered as one family – वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम | The Aaranyaka is also referred to as Forest texts.  The Aranyakas are the ritual sacrifice part of the ancient Indian texts, the Vedas.


Upanishads are the Vedanta part. This is the stage in life where the seekers take to sanyaasa. These texts include the knowledge about the self.

Rig Veda

Rig Veda is a mirror of the vedic culture or samskriti of those days. It explains how the people conducted their life with specific responsibilities at different stages of life. It includes information about the relationship of the soul and the god, how the prayers are to be peformed, what is to be prayed for, the need for saatvik livelihood, etc. The vedas bring out the system of 4 ashrams – Brahmacharya, Grihasta, Vaanaprasta and Sanyaasa. The contents of Rig Veda is not merely spiritual knowledge. It is bubbling with enthusiasm. According to the Rig Veda, life is a celebration. One should not feel sorrow. Life has to be enjoyed. Management of time and energy in one’s life is beautifully given in the Rig Veda. Dharma = duties = karthavya is elaborated in that.

Arrangement of Rig Vedic Hymns

There are different types of classification of the Rig Vedic Hymn. In one classification referred as Mandala Krama, the contents of the Rig Veda is arranged in Mandalaas. In another classification of Sukta Krama, it is arranged in Suktas based on the different dieties to which the prayer is being offered like Agni, Varuna, Indira, etc.

Period of Rig Veda

There is no specific date for the Rig Veda. It is the eternal knowledge. It always existed. There is no origin or termination for the Saanaatana Dharma. We consider Rig Veda to be created 10 thousand years. Foreigners like Max Muller consider it to be 5 or 6 thousand years old. It is the knowledge of the universe.


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