Sources of Ancient Indian History: Vedic Literature

Indian Subcontinent, from the very ancient times saw many invasions. So, because of these invasions the most important ancient scriptures of India got destroyed. Though we have only a dilapitated scriptures remaining with us. But any invasion and destruction was not able to harm the soul of the Indian Scripture.

So, the soul of all the scriptures is alive now too. We also follow the more or less same pattern in our tradition and rituals that we were following in ancient ages. As we have discussed Vedic Period Society, Political Structure, Economy and Religion. So, here in this post, we will have a look on the most Ancient Scripture of India, i.e. Vedic Literature.

Vedic Literature
Vedic Literature

Vedic Literature

The most ancient literature of the Indian History is the Vedic Literature. Shruti and Smriti are the main division of the Vedic Literature.

Classification of Vedic Literature
Classification of Vedic Literature

Shruti

The Vedas are traditionally regarded as Shruti, which is a Sanskrit word meaning heard or revealed texts. So, these words said to be uttered by the God Brahma in the ears of the First Man i.e. Manu. A great antiquity and sanctity associated with Shrutis.

Smriti

Post-Vedic Literature is also known as Smriti, which is also a Sanskrit word means memorised i.e texts that memorised 1st and then written. So, Great Sages composed these Smritis. Like Vishwamitra, Vashishtha, Valmiki etc. Though they do not enjoy the same sanctity as of Shrutis but they are authoratative in their own rights.

Vedic Literature: Religious Literature

Most Ancient Indian texts contain religious themes. These are known as Vedas. This is a Sanskrit word whose origin word is Vid, literally mean ‘to know’. So, Veda means knowledge. They are assigned to 1500-500 BCE. Vedas are earliest known literature.

In Sanskrit, part of the linguistic group called Indo-European to which also along French, German, Latin, Persian and several others. The Vedas are traditionally regarded as Shruti. They are oral literature par excellence.

Early Vedic Literature

Early Vedic Literature includes Mandal II to VII of the Rigveda Samhita, believed to be composed between 1500 and 1000 BCE.

Later Vedic Literature

Later Vedic Literature includes Mandal I, VIII, IX and X of the Rigveda Samhita. All other parts of the Rigveda and the other three Veda i.e. Yajurveda, Samveda and Atharvaveda. Vedas composed In between 1000 and 500 BCE. The early Aryans did not know the art of writing. The compilation of Vedas took place later on. The addition, deletion and distortion, therefore, was obvious.

Each Veda has four parts. These are

Samhita

A collection of verses/ hymns or Suktas.

Brahmana

A collection of Mantras or ritual formulae.

Aranyaka

These are forest books containing philosophical speculations.

Upanishad

The Vedanta or end part of the Vedas that contains mystical discussions on the nature of the soul and of creation etc.

Rigveda

Rigveda is the most ancient scripture of the Indian History. So, it is the valuable source to know the geographical extent of early Aryans. It also mentions about the societal, political, economic and religious structure of the Vedic people. The Rigveda has divided into X Mandals. Mandals further divided into the Astakas and Suktas.

Rigveda Comprises of 1028 hymns. The following are the Mandals of the Rigveda,

  • II and VII Mandal of Rigveda are Family text.
  • The III Mandal of Rigveda comprises of Gayatri Mantra. Vishwamitra is the composer of the Gayatri Mantra.
  • IV Mandal of Rigveda consists of reference of agricultural work (Vedic Period). The VI Mandal refers to the word Haryupia means Loved by Hari or God.
  • XI Mandal mentions about Soma, an intoxicating drink.
  • X Mandal, Purushsukta describes the Varna i.e. Four Varna.

Rigveda has two important Brahmana Aiterya and Kausitaki.

Samveda

Samveda, it literally means ‘to sing’. The Samveda deals with musical hymns. Except for 78 hymns, all the other hymns of this Veda have been taking from Rigveda. Panchvish Brahmana is an important Brahmana of Samveda.

Yajurveda

It informs about the rituals of sacrifice. It has divided into two parts Shweta and Shyam. The first one i.e. Shweta is poetry and the second one i.e. Shyam is prose. Shatpath Brahmana related with Yajurveda describes Aryans extension in the Gangetic Valley. Katha Upanishad of Shyam Yajurveda describes the story Yama and Nachiketa.

Atharvaveda

Atharvaveda is a book of Non-Aryans. It had composed in the eastern region of India. Atharvaveda deals with charms and spells. It also informs us about the changing belief system of Aryans and Non-Aryans. The Atharvaveda is less orthodox than the other texts.

As it deals with themes like evil influences, diseases, omens, amulets and magical spells among other things. Mandukopanishad of Atharvaveda depicts Satyamev Jayate. The Brahmana of Atharvaveda is Gopath Brahmana.

This was a brief description of Vedic Literature Vedas. The next important ancient literature is Upanishad.

Vedic Literature: Upanishad

Upanishad literally means ‘to sit down near someone (Guru)’. So, exactly it means to sit down near the person who embodies the philosophical meditations. In a real sense, the Upanishads reflect the religious thoughts of Aryans.

So, the Upanishads contains philosophical doctrine on Atma and Paramatma. We also call Upanishads as Vedanga literally means a simple description of Vedas. Upanishads revolve around Soul and Brahma. There are 108 Upanishads in total.

Vedangas

The Vedangas intended to help the understanding of the Vedic text especially Vedas. There are six Vedangas.

  1. Shiksha (Phonetics)
  2. Kalpa (Ritual)
  3. Jyotish (Astrology)
  4. Vyakarana (Grammer)
  5. Nirukta (Etymology)
  6. Chhanda (Metrics)

This was all about the very ancient Indian Vedic Literature. In the next coming post, we will discuss the two most important Epics of Hindu Mythology i.e. Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Thank you so much. 🙂 Stay Connected. 🙂