Vedas

The Vedas are ancient Sanskrit texts of Hinduism. Above: A page from the Atharvaveda.

The Vedas (-/;[1] Sanskrit: वेद veda, "knowledge") are a large body of religious texts originating in ancient India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism.[2][3] Hindus consider the Vedas to be apauruṣeya, which means "not of a man, superhuman"[4] and "impersonal, authorless".[5][6][7]

Vedas are also called śruti ("what is heard") literature,[8] distinguishing them from other religious texts, which are called smṛti ("what is remembered"). The Veda, for orthodox Indian theologians, are considered revelations seen by ancient sages after intense meditation, and texts that have been more carefully preserved since ancient times.[9][10] In the Hindu Epic the Mahabharata, the creation of Vedas is credited to Brahma.[11] The Vedic hymns themselves assert that they were skillfully created by Rishis (sages), after inspired creativity, just as a carpenter builds a chariot.[10][note 1]

According to tradition, Vyasa is the compiler of the Vedas, who arranged the four kinds of mantras into four Samhitas (Collections).[13][14] There are four Vedas: the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda.[15][16] Each Veda has been subclassified into four major text types – the Samhitas (mantras and benedictions), the Aranyakas (text on rituals, ceremonies, sacrifices and symbolic-sacrifices), the Brahmanas (commentaries on rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices), and the Upanishads (texts discussing meditation, philosophy and spiritual knowledge).[15][17][18] Some scholars add a fifth category – the Upasanas (worship).[19][20]

The various Indian philosophies and denominations have taken differing positions on the Vedas. Schools of India philosophy which cite the Vedas as their scriptural authority are classified as "orthodox" (āstika).[note 2] Other śramaṇa traditions, such as Lokayata, Carvaka, Ajivika, Buddhism and Jainism, which did not regard the Vedas as authorities, are referred to as "heterodox" or "non-orthodox" (nāstika) schools.[22][23] Despite their differences, just like the texts of the śramaṇa traditions, the layers of texts in the Vedas discuss similar ideas and concepts.[22]

Etymology and usage

The Sanskrit word véda "knowledge, wisdom" is derived from the root vid- "to know". This is reconstructed as being derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *u̯eid-, meaning "see" or "know",[24] cognate to Greek (ϝ)εἶδος "aspect", "form". This is not to be confused is the homonymous 1st and 3rd person singular perfect tense véda, cognate to Greek (ϝ)οἶδα (w)oida "I know". Root cognates are Greek ἰδέα, English wit, etc., Latin videō "I see", etc.[25]

The Sanskrit term veda as a common noun means "knowledge".[26] The term in some contexts, such as hymn 10.93.11 of the Rigveda, means "obtaining or finding wealth, property",[27] while in some others it means "a bunch of grass together" as in a broom or for ritual fire.[28]

A related word Vedena appears in hymn 8.19.5 of the Rigveda.[29] It was translated by Ralph T. H. Griffith as "ritual lore",[30] as "studying the Veda" by the 14th-century Indian scholar Sayana, as "bundle of grass" by Max Müller, and as "with the Veda" by H.H. Wilson.[31]

Vedas are called Maṛai or Vaymoli in parts of South India. Marai literally means "hidden, a secret, mystery". But the Tamil Naan Marai mentioned in Tholkappiam isn't Sanskrit Vedas.[32][33] In some parts of south India (e.g. the Iyengar communities), the word veda is used in the Tamil writings of the Alvar saints. Such writings include the Divya Prabandham (aka Tiruvaymoli).[34]