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The Vedas

Indian Visualisation of Hindu God Shiva

  • The Vedas are a group of hymns as well as other spiritual texts written in India between 1500 and 1000 BCE. They contain formulas, prayers, poems, mythological accounts, and liturgical material.

Origin and Authorship

  • The starting point of the Vedas can be traced back to 1500 BCE, when a big group of the Aryans migrated to the Indian subcontinent. It was such a large migration that it was misunderstood as an invasion. As a consequence, the Aryan language achieved predominance over the local languages in the Indian sub-continent. Sanskrit is the language of the Vedas.
  • Not much is known about the writers of these texts. In Vedic custom the emphasis is on the ideas instead of on the writers, which might allow reader to look at the message without being impressed by the writer. Vedic literature is religious and for that reason reflects the social attitudes, spiritual preoccupations, and worldview of priestly class or the Brahmans of ancient India. Originally the Vedas were written sometime around 1500-1000 BCE in the present day northwest India and Pakistan and they were passed on verbally over several generations before finally committed to writing. Parts of the Vedas were written in different eras. The Rig-Veda is the oldest, but it’s impossible to know accurate dates for its creation. The end of the second millennium BCE is believed to be the period in which the whole collection was completed.

Indian Visualisation of Hindu God Shiva

Structure and Content

  • The fundamental Vedic texts are the collections of the following 4 Vedas:
  1. Rig-Veda, for recitation.
  2. Sama-Veda, for chanting.
  3. Yajur-Veda, for liturgy.
  4. Atharva-Veda”, named after a group of priests.
  • Generally the Vedas have a clear priestly prejudice, because the priests had the monopoly for the edition as well as transmission of these types of texts.
  • The most important and largest text of the Vedic collection is the Rig-Veda. It contains 1028 hymns and is divided into ten books known as mandalas. It is not an easy text, written in a very ambiguous style and filled with allusions and metaphors which are difficult to understand for contemporary reader. The Sama-Veda contains verses which are practically completely from the Rig-Veda, but are organised in a different way. The Yajur-Veda contains advisory commentaries on how to perform sacrifices and religious rituals. The Atharva-Veda contains magical incantations and charms and has a folkloristic style.
  • A number of gods are presented by the Vedas, a majority of them associated with natural forces such as wind, fire, and storms. Many creation stories are included in Vedic texts, most of them are not consistent with each other.
  • A few elements of the religion practised by the Indian natives before Vedic times continue in the Vedas even now. The oldest known religion of India, the Pre-Vedic religion that was found in India before the migrations of Aryans, was actually totemic and animistic worship of a number of spirits residing in stars, mountains, rivers, trees, animals, and stones. A few of these spirits were good, others were wicked, and the only technique to control them was great magic skill. Vestiges of this ancient religion are still in the Vedas. For example, in the Atharva-Veda, there are spells to harm or destroy enemies, to woo sleep, to ward off evil, to prolong life, and to get pregnant.

Indian Visualisation of Hindu God Shiva

Gods and Mythological Accounts

  • In spite of the fact that the Rig-Veda deals with several gods, there are a few who get much attention. Over half the hymns pray only 3 top-rated gods: Soma (just over 100 hymns), Agni (200 hymns), and Indra (250 hymns).
  • The head of the ancient Hindu temple dedicated to all gods was Indra. The legend says that the demon-serpent Vritra kept all the waters locked in his mountain home. Indra killed the demon to release the waters.
  • This story is significant. The waters are essential for the health of human beings and agriculture is considered as the source of wealth. The serpent had prevented the spread of wealth and nutrition and had upset the natural order. Indra had no option but to fight to reestablish the balance.
  • The revered soma plant, whose juice was sacred and intoxicating to men and gods was personified by Soma. The god of fire, Agni is often referred to as the most important god in Vedic literature. Agni was perceived as a type of messenger between the realm of the dead and the realm of the living. Burial was thought to avoid the spirit of the dead from continuing among the living, and therefore believers of Agni burned their dead.
  • Varuna is another important deity, who was originally related with heaven. Eventually Varuna developed into an ideal and the most ethical deity of the Vedas, watching the world through the sun, his great eye, and was believed to know everything, to protect smooth working of the world and to administer justice. Varuna was also the initiator as well as guardian of the eternal law called Rita. It was at first the law which recognised and kept the stars in their paths; step by step it also turned into the law of right, the moral and cosmic rhythm that every human being should follow to evade the astronomical punishment. The Vedas also have a hymn to Purusha also, a primeval god who is sacrificed by the other deities: Purusha’s feet became the Earth, his head the Sky, his eyes the Sun, and his mind the Moon. In this same paragraph we have among the first signs of a caste system with its 4 main branches:
  1. The Shudras, or servants and labourers, from Purusha’s feet.
  2. The Vaishyas, or the commoners (merchants, land-owner, etc.), from Purusha’s thighs.
  3. The Kshatriyas, or warrior rulers, from Purusha’s arms.
  4. The Brahmans or priests, from Purusha’s mouth.
  • Myths are results of dogmas, and dogmas are results of experience. This tale mirrors the experiences and concerns of a society founded on agricultural way of life, where water is considered as among the most precious assets. In a number of other cultures myths with an agricultural importance are found and dragon-slaying folklores are told throughout the world, particularly in several other Indo-European ethnicities.

Indian Visualisation of Hindu Goddess Durga