The Vedas are the earliest known literature in India. The Vedas were written in Sanskrit and were handed down orally from one generation to the other.
The word Veda literally means knowledge. In Hindu culture, Vedas are considered as eternal and divine revelations. They treat the whole world as one human family Vasudev Kutumbakam.
There are four Vedas:
Each Veda consists of the Brahmanas, the Upanishads and the Aranyakas.
The Rig Veda, Sama Veda and the Yajur Veda are collectively known an Traji. In later years the Atharava Veda was incorporated in this group.
The Rig Veda is the earliest of the Vedas. It is a collection of 1028 hymns in Vedic Sanskrit. The prayers are largely for seeking worldly prosperity. It is believed that these recitations are the natural outpouring of Vedic rishis experiencing a mentally transcendental stage.
The prominent gods of the Rig Veda are Indra, Agni, Varun, Rudra, Aditya, Vayu, Aditi and the Ashwini twins. Some of the prominent goddesses are Usha - the goddess of dawn, Vak - the goddess of speech and Prithvi - the goddess of earth.
Along with religion, Rig Veda provides knowledge about social, political and economic condition of ancient India.
Yajur means sacrifice or worship. This Veda is concerned mostly with rites and mantras of different sacrifices. It gives directions for the performance of the yajnas. It has both poetic and prose renderings.
Being a treatise on rituals, it is the most popular of the four Vedas. There are two major branches of Yajur Veda - Shukla and Krishna Yajur Veda i.e. Vajasaneyi Samhita and Taitriya Samhita. This text reflects on the social and religious condition of India at that time.
Sama means melody or songs. This Veda consists of 16,000 ragas and raginis or musical notes. Out of total 1875 verses only 75 are original and others are from the Rig Veda. The Sama Veda prescribes the tunes for the recitation of the hymns of the Rig Veda. It is called the book of Chants (Saman). This book is an evidence of the development of Indian music during this period.
The Atharva Veda is also known as the Brahma Veda. It contains treatment for ninety-nine diseases. The source of this Veda is traced to two rishis called Atharvah and Angiras.
The Atharva Veda is of immense value as it represents the religious ideas at an early period of civilisation. It has two branches, the Paippalada and the Saunaka. This book gives detailed information about the family, social and political life of later Vedic period.