Vedas and Sastras

Frequently Asked Questions

The Vedas are the basic, fundamental authority.
Veda, in Sanskrit means that which gives knowledge.
Veda is also called Sruti.
Sruti means that which is heard (through you ears). The Vedas were originally taught by Lord Narayana to Brahma orally. From thereon the Vedas came down from the Guru to the students orally only.The Guru teaches the Vedas to the students. Thus the student hears the Veda from the teacher.
They are also called Nigama and Amnaya.
Nigama and Amnaya
  1. Nigama means a settled text or work, which is handed down from the Guru to the student from time immemorial.
  2. Amnaya means what is learnt by the student, by frequent repetition of the text; and also by frequently thinking over the same.
The Vedas have not been composed by anybody, not even by God Himself. The Vedas are eternally existent. Even God did not create or make the Vedas. Narayana has only taught the Vedas to Brahma and then down the line. Hence Vedas are called Apaurusheya - not authored or made by anyone, including God.
There are four Vedas. They are called: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.
They are actually the breath of God. That is, after each deluge (pralaya), when the world is created, God Narayana remembers the Vedas and teaches then to Brahma and then it comes down the line. That is why, we say they are not made by anybody including God, but are self-existent.
Vyasa edited the Vedas and divided them.

The Vedas were divided into four, to suit the Vedic rituals or karmas. There are four persons (Ritviks) who are prominent in the performance of rituals.
Ritviks and Connections
  1. The person, whose function is to recite praises of God and prayer to Him, sitting in one place, is called Hota. The Hota's function and Mantras are given in Rig Veda.
  2. The person, who is engaged in the actual performance of the ritual, from the beginning to the end, is called Adhvaryu. The necessary mantras and the functions of the Adhvaryu are given in Yajur Veda.
  3. The person who sings Samans (musical notes), sitting in another place, is called Udgata. The Udgata's functions and the Sama Ganas are given in Sama Veda.
  4. The general supervisor of the rituals is called Brahman. The Bhrama's functions and the Mantras are given in Atharva Veda. The vedas are also broadly divided as Mantras and Brahmanas.
The Mantras are in praise of God and prayers to God. The Yajur Mantras give detailed formulas for the rituals. The sama Mantras are only Rik Mantras, set to music.
The Rik Mantras are in poetry form. Yajur Mantras are in prose form. Sama Mantras are Riks, set to musical tones.
The Atharva Veda contains both verses (poetry) and prose. This much idea is enough for the present regarding Mantras.
The Brahmanas are in prose form. Their main aim is to prescribe the rituals in details and also praise the glory of the Devas
Brahmanas are again divided into two parts: Vidhi and Arthavada.
Vidhi portions give command to do a thing, to perform rituals. Arthavada generally praises the rituals, the glory of Devas and also points out their weaknesses. They also contain stories to illustrate the points.
Portions connected with rituals are called Karmakanda. Generally, they teach how rituals like various yagas are to be done. They are also called Purvakanda.
Portions dealing with philosophy and knowledge of Brahman are called Jnanakandra or Brahma kanda.
So, Mantras and Brahmanas come under Karmakanda. Upanishads are called Jnanakanda. But, knowledge of Brahman and Philosophy are also discussed in Mantras and Brahmanas.
Sastra in Sanskrit means that which gives teaching, instruction or command.
The Vedas are the most important sastras. There is no sastra higher than the Veda. Then we have Smiriti, Itihasa, Purana and Agama, about which we will discuss later.
Modern thinkers divide Vedas into four portions, as follows:
  • Samhita
    Samhita denotes collection of Mantras.
  • Brahmana
    Brahmanas have already been described earllier.
  • Aranyaka
    Aranyakas are texts, which were recited in hermitages in forests.
  • Upanishads
    Upanishads contain philosophical thoughts, in the form of discussions and explanations.
They talk about realisation of God, how to attain salvation. Since they speak about realising Brahman or the ultimate reality the Upanishads are called Brahma Kanda. Since they give us Knowledge about attaining salvation, they are also called Jnana Kanda.
The Upanishads are also called Veda Siras, i.e., the head of the Veda. When we say the head, we mean the most important part of the Veda.
No. Brahma is the four-faced one, who came from the lotus, out of the navel of Lord Narayana.
Brahman means one who is great and hence denotes the Supreme Being or the Ultimate Reality.
People say that there are more than a hundred Upanishads, but only some of the Upanishads are accepted authoritatively by all sections of the Hindus. The important ones are called Dasopanishad, i.e., the ten Upanishads. These ten Upanishads are accepted as authority and quoted by ancient philosophers like Sankara, Ramanuja, and Madhva.
The ten Upanishads are:
  1. Isavaya Upanishad
  2. Kena Upanishad
  3. Kata Upanishad
  4. Prasna Upanishad
  5. Mundaka Upanishad
  6. Mandukya Upanishad
  7. Taittiriya Upanishad
  8. Aitareya Upanishad
  9. Chandogya Upanishad
  10. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
We have Svetasvatara Upanishad, Kaushitaki Upanishad, Subala Upanishad, and Maha Narayana Upanishad forms part of Taittiriya Upanishad, Aitareya Upanishad, Chandogya Upanishad, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
  • Aitareya Upanishad is in Rig Veda.
  • Isavasya Upanishads, Kata Upanishads, Taittiriya Upanishad Bridhadaranyaka Upanishad are in Yajur Veda.
  • Kena Upanishad and Chandogya Upanishad are from Sama Veda.
  • Prasna Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad and Mandukya Upanishad are all in Atharva Veda.
There are six such Angas (part or limbs) of Vedas. These are
  • Siksha
  • Vyakarana
  • Chandas
  • Jyotisha
  • Nirukta
  • Kalpa.
  • Siksha explains the proper pronunciations of the Vedas.
  • Vyakarana explains the grammar of the Vedic words.
  • Chandas explains the metres of the various Riks.
  • Jyotisha helps in deciding the proper time for the performance of the various rituals.
  • Nirukta gives the meanings of difficult words in the Vedas.
  • Kalpa describes the proper method of performing the various ritual mentioned in the Vedas.

These six angas of the Vedas help in a proper understanding of the Vedas. They also help in the performance of the various rituals or the yagas (yagnas), prescribed by the Vedas.

They can be divided into two groups:
  1. Those which are connected with the text of the Vedas – Siksha, Vyakarana, Chandas.
  2. Those which are connected with the meaning of Vedas – Jyotisha, Nirukta, Kalpa.
Next comes Smriti. Smriti helps us in understanding the various injunctions and truths propounded in the Vedas.
The Smritis are many in number and even an exact definition of Smriti is perhaps not available. Many of the Smritis are also not available now and are lost to humanity.
The more important Smritis are : Manu Smriti, Parasarra Smriti, Yagnavalkya Smriti, Harita Smriti ans Sandilya Smriti. Some say there are 20 Smritis and some others say that there are 57 Smritis.
The Smritis describe the codes of conduct for mankind in day-to-day life; how they should conduct themselves; and for any wrong doings, what are the punishments or atonements (prayaschitta) to be undergone. The Smritis can be considered as elaborating or explaining the Karma Kanda of the Vedas.
Ramayana and Mahabharata are called Itihasas.
They are considered as sacred as the Vedas themselves. The Mahabharata is called the Fifth Veda.
There are 18 Puranas.
These are sub-divided into three sets or groups.

  • The first set of six Puranas are authoritative, sacred. These are called Sattvika Puranas.
  • The second set of six Puranas are of medium quality, i.e. the whole thing cannot be accepted as true. These are called Rajasa Puranas.
  • The third set of six puranas cannot be taken as perfectly valid. Only some portions of them, which are not opposed to Vedas, can be taken as authoritative. These are called Tamasa Puranas.

The first set of six Puranas which are most sacred (Sattvika Puranas) are as follows:

  • Vishnu Purana
  • Bhagavatam
  • Narada Purana
  • Padma Purana
  • Varaha Purana
  • Garuda Purana

The second set of six Puranas, which are not wholly authoritative, (Rajasa Puranas) are:

  • Vamana Purana
  • Brahma Purana
  • Markandeya Purana
  • Bhaavishya Purana
  • Brahmanda Purana
  • Brahma Vaivarta Purana

The last set of six Puranas, which are not very authoritative (Tamasa Puranas) are:

  • Matsya Purana
  • Kurma Purana
  • Agni Purana
  • Linga Purana
  • Siva Purana
  • Skanda Purana
The basic rule is that the Vedas are the Ultimate authority or Pramana. So, in the Puranas, whichever does not conflict or contradict the Veda, can be taken as authority,
The Agamas accept the authority of Vedas. The Agamas prescribe idol worship in the place of rituals like Yagas, mentioned in the Vedas. They prescribed the methods of idol worship.
The Agamas are predominantly divided into Saiva, Sakta and Vaishnava Agamas. Agamas mainly talk about construction of temples; the rules for installation and consecration of the deities in the temples; and the methods of performing pujas in the temples.
The Vaishnava Agamas identify Brahman as Vasudeva. We will discuss this further later.
The Vaishnava Agamas are : Pancharatra Agama and Vaikhanasa Agama
Some temples follow Pancharatra Agama and some temples follow Vaikhanasa Agama. This is only by tradition and custom.
It is so called, because it was first taught by Vikhanas rishi to a group of disciples. Sage Vikhanas is stated to have been created by Lord Narayana Himself. It is also stated that he was created by Brahma.
Lord Narayana taught this Agama for five nights to five rishis. Hence, it is called Pancharatra Agama (Pancharatra means five nights)
These are divided into Samhitas.
There are more than 100 Samhitas. Sattvata Samhita, Paushkara Samhita, Jayakhya Samhita. These three are considered more important and are called three gems (Ratna traya).
We have also Ahirbudhnya Samhita, Padma Samhita, Parameswara Samhita and Lakshmitantra.
The Mimamsa consists of two parts. The first part is called Purva Mimamsa or Karma Mimamsa.
The second part is called Uttara Mimamsa or Brahma Mimamsa.
Karma Mimamsa is dealt with by Jaimini in 16 chapters or Adhyayas. They contain short statements or aphorisms. They clarify doubts regarding rituals mentioned in the Vedas and also clarify doubts about the general conduct. They interpret the Vedic texts in Karma Kanda.
Brahma Mimamsa is dealt with in Brahma Sutras. This is propounded by Sage Badarayana or Vyasa.
This contains short statements or aphorisms, clarifying doubts in the Vedic text. Brahma Mimamsa interperts the Vedic text of Jnana Kanda or Brahma Kanda.
Brahma Sutra is considered very sacred and important. It helps in clarifying and explaining difficult passages in the Upanishads.
This being one of the most important texts, many philosophers have written detailed commentaries. We have the commentaries by Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, besides many others like Nimbarka and Vallabha.
We have four chapters or Adhyayas in the Brahma Sutra. Each of the four chapters consists of four parts or padas. There are 545 Sutras or aphorisms.
The first chapter shows that Brahman is the sole cause of:
  1. creation of this world.
  2. sustenance of this world
  3. destruction of this world.

The second chapter discusses some of the objections in this regard put forth by other schools and proves that Brahman is both the material cause and the instrumental cause of this world. (We will discuss this in detail later)
The third chapter talks of salvation: what is meant by salvation and the glory of salvation.

There are three texts or books which explain the Vedanta philosophy and so they are called Prasthana Traya. They are:
  1. Upanishads
  2. Brahma Sutra
  3. Bhagavad Gita

These are the most sacred texts. All philosophers have written commentaries on these, trying to prove that these three books support their therory.

The Purusha Sukta is the most important.
Manu Smriti is considered the most important.
The Vishnu Purana is considered most sacred and important of the Puranas. It is called Puranaratna
Bhagavad Gita is the most important.
The systems of philosophy in India can be broadly divided into Nastika Schools and Astika Schools.
The Nastika School does not accept the authority of Vedas. They only adopt logic and reasoning.
The Astika school accepts the authority of Vedas primarily and also uses reasoning and logic.
These are Charvaka system, Buddhism and Jainism.
We have Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Mimamsa, besides the Vedanta system.
There is no specific single system of philosophy called the Vedantic system. Dvaita are the most well-known of the Vedantic systems.
These are:
  1. Charvaka system
  2. Jainism
  3. Buddhism
  4. Sankhya system
  5. Yoga system
  6. Nyaya system
  7. Vaiseshika system
  8. Mimamsa system
Buddhism was propounded by Gautama Buddha and Jainism by Mahavir Jain. The Vaiseshika system was propounded by Kanada and the Yoga system by Brahma. However, modern belief is that the yoga system was founded by Patanjali. The Sankhya System was propounded by Kapila: the Nyaya system by Gautama or Akshapada. The Mimamsa system was advocated by Jaimini.

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