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Vedic Literature

The Vedas (Sanskrit véda वेद, "knowledge") are a large body of texts originating in ancient India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism.   The Vedas are apaurueya ("not of human agency").   They are supposed to have been directly revealed, and thus are called śruti ("what is  heard"),  distinguishing them from other religious texts, which are called smrti  ("what is remembered"). In Hindu tradition, the creation of Vedas is credited toBrahma.   The Vedic texts or śruti are organized around four canonical collections of metrical material known as Saṃhitās, of which the first three are related to the performance of yajna (sacrifice) in historical Vedic religion:

The Rigveda, containing hymns to be recited by the hotar, or presiding priest;
The Yajurveda, containing formulas to be recited by the adhvaryu or officiating priest;
The Samaveda, containing formulas to be sung by the udgatar or priest that chants;
The Atharvaveda, a collection of spells and incantations, apotropaic charms and speculative hymns.

The individual verses contained in these compilations are known as mantras. Some selected Vedic mantras are still recited at prayers, religious functions and other auspicious occasions in contemporary Hinduism.

The various Indian philosophies and sects have taken differing positions on the Vedas. Schools of Indian philosophy which cite the Vedas as their scriptural authority are classified as "orthodox" (āstika). Other traditions, notably Buddhism and Jainism, which did not regard the Vedas as authorities are referred to by traditional Hindu texts as "heterodox" or "non-orthodox" (nāstika) schools.  In addition to Buddhism and Jainism, Sikhism and Brahmoism  many non-Brahmin Hindus in South India do not accept the authority of the Vedas. Certain South Indian Brahmin communities such as Iyengars consider the Tamil Divya Prabandham or writing of the Alvar saints as equivalent to the Vedas.

 Four Vedas

The canonical division of the Vedas is fourfold (turīya) viz.,
Rigveda (RV)
Yajurveda (YV, with the main division TS vs. VS)
Samaveda (SV)
Atharvaveda (AV)

Of these, the first three were the principal original division, also called "trayī vidyā", that is, "the triple sacred science" of reciting hymns (RV), performing sacrifices (YV), and chanting (SV).] This triplicity is so introduced in the Brahmanas(ShBABr and others), but the Rigveda is the older work of the three from which the other two borrow, next to their own independent Yajus, sorcery and speculative mantras.
Thus, the Mantras are properly of three forms:

1. Ric, which are verses of praise in metre, and intended for loud recitation;
2. Yajus, which are in prose, and intended for recitation in lower voice at sacrifices; 3. Sāman, which are in metre, and intended for singing at the Soma ceremonies.

The Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda are independent collections of mantras and hymns intended as manuals for the AdhvaryuUdgatr and Brahman priests respectively.

The Atharvaveda is the fourth Veda. Its status has occasionally been ambiguous, probably due to its use in sorcery and healing. However, it contains very old materials in early Vedic language. 

Manusmrti, which often speaks of the three Vedas, calling them trayam-brahma-sanātanam, "the triple eternal Veda". The Atharvaveda like the Rigveda, is a collection of original incantations, and other materials borrowing relatively little from the Rigveda. It has no direct relation to the solemn Śrauta sacrifices, except for the fact that the mostly silent Brahmán priest observes the procedures and uses Atharvaveda mantras to 'heal' it when mistakes have been made. Its recitation also produces long life, cures diseases, or effects the ruin of enemies.

Each of the four Vedas consists of the metrical Mantra or Samhita and the prose  Brahmana  part,  giving discussions and directions for the detail of the ceremonies at which the Mantras were to be used and explanations of the legends connected with the Mantras and rituals. Both these portions are termed shruti (which tradition says to have been heard but not composed or written down by men). Each of the four Vedas seems to have passed to numerous Shakhas or schools, giving rise to various recensions of the text. They each have an Index or Anukramani,  the principal work of this kind being the general Index or Sarvānukramaṇī.

The Rigveda Samhita is the oldest extant Indic text  It is a collection of 1,028 Vedic Sanskrit hymns and 10,600 verses in all, organized into ten books (Sanskrit: mandalas).  The hymns are dedicated to Rigvedic deities.   The books were composed by poets from different priestly groups over a period of several centuries, commonly dated to the period of roughly the second half of the 2nd millennium BCE (the early Vedic period) in the Punjab (Sapta Sindhu) region of the Indian subcontinent.  There are strong linguistic and cultural similarities between the Rigveda and the early Iranian Avesta, deriving from the Proto-Indo-Iranian times, often associated with the Andronovo culture; the earliest horse-drawn chariots were found at Andronovo sites in the Sintashta-Petrovka cultural area near the Ural Mountains and date to c. 2000 BCE.  Rigveda manuscripts were selected for inscription in UNESCO's Memory of the World  Register in 2007.

The Yajurveda Samhita consists of archaic prose mantras and also in part of verses borrowed and adapted from the Rigveda. Its purpose was practical, in that each mantra must accompany an action in sacrifice but, unlike the Samaveda, it was compiled to apply to all sacrificial rites, not merely the Somayajna. There are two major groups of recensions of this Veda, known as the "Black" (Krishna) and "White" (Shukla) Yajurveda (Krishna and Shukla Yajurveda respectively). While White Yajurveda separates the Samhita from its Brahmana (the Shatapatha Brahmana), the e Black Yajurveda intersperses the Samhita with Brahmana commentary. Of the Black Yajurveda four major recensions survive (Maitrayani, Katha, Kapisthala-Katha, Taittiriya).

The Samaveda Samhita (from sāman, the term for a melody applied to metrical hymn or song of praise) consists of 1549 stanzas, taken almost entirely (except for 78 stanzas) from the Rigveda.  Like the Rigvedic stanzas in the Yajurveda, the Samans have been changed and adapted for use in singing. Some of the Rigvedic verses are repeated more than once. Including repetitions, there are a total of 1875 verses numbered in the Samaveda recension translated by Griffith. Two major recensions remain today, the Kauthuma/Ranayaniya and the Jaiminiya. Its purpose was liturgical, as the repertoire of the udgāt or "singer" priests who took part in the sacrifice.

The Artharvaveda Samhita is the text 'belonging to the Atharvan and Angirasa poets. It has 760 hymns, and about 160 of the hymns are in common with the Rigveda. Most of the verses are metrical, but some sections are in prose. It was compiled around 900 BCE, although some of its material may go back to the time of the Rigveda, and some parts of the Atharva-Veda are older than the Rig-Veda though not in linguistic form.  The Atharvaveda is preserved in two recensions, the Paippalāda and Śaunaka. According to Apte it had nine schools (shakhas).  The Paippalada text, which exists in a Kashmir and an Orissa version, is longer than the Saunaka one;  it is only partially printed in its two versions and remains largely untranslated.  Unlike the other three Vedas, the Atharvanaveda has less connection with sacrifice.  Its first part consists chiefly of spells and incantations, concerned with protection against demons and disaster, spells for the healing of diseases, for long life and for various desires or aims in life.   The second part of the text contains speculative and philosophical hymns.  The Atharvaveda is a comparatively late extension of the "Three Vedas" connected to priestly sacrifice to a canon of "Four Vedas". This may be connected to an extension of the sacrificial rite from involving three types of priest to the inclusion of the Brahman overseeing the ritual.  The Atharvaveda is concerned with the material world or world of man and in this respect differs from the other three vedas. Atharvaveda also sanctions the use of force, in particular circumstances and similarly this point is a departure from the three other vedas.

(Source : Wikipedia)

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