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Vedic Literature–10


There is just one Brahmana attached to the Atharva Veda: The Gopatha Brahmana.

Having gone through the list of Brahmanas, let us look at some of their contents.

As noted earlier, they provide descriptions of sacrificial rituals, and explain their symbolism. Among the sacrifices described are the agnihotra and pravargya, along with the numerous Soma sacrifices. The vajapeya and rajasuya, the royal consecration sacrifices are also described. Among the stories are those about  Manu, Harishchandra, Pururava and others. There are numerous creation myths, with Manu, Prajapati, or someone else, being named as the creator. Some of the Sama Veda Brahmanas comment on the samans [Sama Veda verses], their efficacy and the deities involved, as well as on the ganas or songbooks. The Gopatha Brahmana attached to the Atharva Veda has two parts, the first praising the Atharva and its rishis,  while the second includes descriptions of sacrifices and stories of Atharva Veda rishis. Some Brahmanas also contain Upanishads within their texts, but these will be described separately.

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Vedic Literature–9

The Brahmanas–3

The Brahmanas which form the second category of Vedic texts, are attached to each of the Vedic Samhitas. Those attached to the Sama Veda are:

Tandya or Panchavimsha Brahmana;

Shadvimsha Brahmana [an addition to the Panchavimsha]1636_CE_Samaveda,_Sadvimsha_Brahmana_(Pañcaviṃśabrāhmaṇa_supplement),_Benares_Sanskrit_college,_Edward_Cowell_collection,_sample_i,_Sanskrit,_Devanagari;

Samavidhana Brahmana;

Arsheya Brahmana;

Devadhyaya Brahmana;

Chhandogya or Mantra Brahmana;

Samhitopanishad Brahmana;

Vamsha Brahmana;

Jaiminiya or Talavakra Brahmana;

Jaiminiya Upanishas Brahmana;

Jaiminiya Arsheya Brahmana.

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Vedic Literature–8

The Brahmanas—2


The Brahmanas, are the second category of Vedic texts. Those that are attached to the Yajur Veda are:

To the Krishna Yajur Veda:

Taittiriya Brahmana;

Vadhula Brahmana: This is actually part of the Vadhula Shrauta Sutra [more on the Shrauta Sutras later].

To the Shukla Yajur Veda:

Shatapatha Brahmana. This is known in two different recensions and is an extraordinary long text. The Madhyandina recension has fourteen kandas [sections] subdivided into 100 adhyayas [subsections]. Part of it forms a commentary on the Yajur descriptions of sacrificial rituals.

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Vedic Literature–7

The Brahmanas–1

The second category of texts included in Vedic literature are the Brahmanas.

Several Brahmanas are known. Each is attached to one of the Vedic Samhitas.

Their date in their present form is considered later than the Vedic Samhitas, but they contain some very ancient elements.

The Brahmanas contain explanations and rules for conducting sacrificial rituals, along with a number of stories.

They are written mainly in prose.

The contents in each Brahmana have some similarity.

Brahmanas attached to the Rig Veda are:

Aitareya Brahmana;

Kaushitaki Brahmana;

Shankayana Brahmana [almost the same as the Kaushitaki].

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Vedic literature–6


The Atharva Veda is the fourth Vedic samhita.

Two main versions of the Atharva Veda are known, the Shaunakiya and the Paippalada [named after rishis Shaunaka and Pippalada].

The Shaunaka version consists of 751 hymns containing about 6000 verses.

It is later than the Rig Veda in its present form, and is somewhat different from the other samhitas.

It contains both verse and prose.

About one-seventh of its hymns are from the Rig Veda, and it has some prayers to Rig Vedic deities.

It also has verses or hymns on a number of other topics.

There are some highly philosophic hymns.

There are many verses related to curing diseases, and to the herbs used to cure them.

There are magical chants for better health, and for various ailments.

The Atharva Veda can be called the earliest text on medicine in India.


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Vedic literature–5


The Sama Veda is the third Vedic samhita.

It is later than the Rig Veda, but  closely related to it. A number of different shakhas of this Veda are known, which provide slightly different versions of the text.

It has approximately 1800 riks or verses [numbers vary in different shakhas] divided into two sections, Purvarchika and Uttararchika.

Almost all its verses can be traced to the Rig Veda. But the verses, and even single lines, are rearranged and modified for chanting.

The Sama Veda chants are specially arranged for the Soma rituals or sacrifices.

The method of chanting too, is provided.

The gods are the same as in the Rig Veda, but the main gods are Indra, Agni, and Soma.

Song books [Ganas] are attached to the Sama Veda. They indicate how the verses are to be sung or chanted and also add other songs.

There are four song books divided into two groups, Purvagana and Uttaragana.

In the Sama Veda and the Ganas we find the earliest record of music in India.

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Vedic literature–4

The Yajur Veda is the second samhita.

It is later than the Rig Veda. It may be dated around 1000 BCE or earlier.

While the Rig Veda has references to rituals and ritual sacrifices, the Yajur Veda was specially composed for rituals. It has both verses and prose passages specially arranged for recitation during yajnas [sacrifices]. They are known as yajus.

Many verses from the Rig Veda are found in the Yajur Veda but they are arranged differently.

The Yajur Veda has several shakhas or branches with different versions of the text. The two main versions are the  Shukla [White] Yajur Veda and the  Krishna [Black] Yajur Veda. Even these have variants.

The Vajasaneyi Samhita is the text we have of the Shukla Yajur Veda. The two variants or shakhas of the Vajasaneyi Samhita that are known today are the Kanva and Madhyandina.

The Vajasaneyi Samhita has forty to forty-one adhyayas [sections or chapters]. These are subdivided into khandikas. Each khandika contains a prayer or mantra.

The Krishna Yajur Veda contains the prayers of the first half of the Vajasaneyi Samhita. It adds to these with explanations.

There are many variants of the Krishna Yajurveda. Among them is the Taittiriya Samhita. The Taittiriya Samhita has seven kandas or sections, subdivided into prapathakas, which are again subdivided into anuvakas for recitation.

In the Yajur Veda the gods are the same as those in the Rig Veda.

The sacrificial rituals described are many. They include the agni or fire sacrifices, the chaturmasya or four-monthly sacrifice, the ashvamedha and other animal sacrifices, and the Soma sacrifices.

More will be added later on the elaborate sacrificial rituals that developed.

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Vedic literature–3

Out of the four Vedic Samhitas, the Rig Veda is the most important, and the base for the other three samhitas.

The Rig Veda is written in an ancient version of Sanskrit, different from later classical Sanskrit.

It is the earliest text known in India.

It is generally dated to 1500 BCE, but it could be earlier. A broad time frame of 4000-1500 BCE seems reasonable.

The Rig Veda has 1028 suktas [hymns or songs] with a total of 10,552 riks [verses].

The suktas are arranged in ten mandalas or sections.

The text includes prayers to deities, such as Indra, Agni, Soma and Surya [ gods of war, fire, a divine drink, and the sun] as well as several others.

There are also some philosophical suktas.

It has additional information on wars, battles, tribes and clans, places, rivers, animals and nature.

A detailed analysis of the text indicates that the rivers, tribes and clans can be located between Afghanistan and the river Yamuna in India.

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Vedic literature–2

The second part of the series on Vedic literature.

Out of the four main groups which form part of Vedic literature: Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads, the most important are the Samhitas.

Samhita means ‘a collection’.

The four Vedic Samhitas are:

The Rig Veda

The Yajur Veda

The Sama Veda

The Atharva Veda.