Vedic Literature

The literature of ancient India is divided into two parts: Shruti and Smriti (Samhita). Shruti literature consists of the four Vedas, while Samhita literature includes Brahamans, Aranyakas, Upanishads, the six vedangas, and four upvedas.

Shruti Literature

  • The Rig Veda: The Rig Veda is the first and most important of the Vedas and the first text in world literature. It is also the first specimen of writing in Indo-European languages. It consists of 1028 verses, divided into 10 chapters. Its main theme is prayer and defines India as Bharat and Jambudweepa. The Hotri is the priest who recites the verses of the Rig Veda.
  • The Sam Veda: The Sam Veda deals with chchendus (metre or volume) and is composed in the form of ragas. Thus, it became the basis of Indian music tradition (sangeet shastra). It is recited by priests called udgatar.
  • The Yajur Veda: The Yajur Veda deals with rituals and ceremonies. It is composed in prose form. It is divided into two parts called Sukola or white Yajur Veda which deals with Aryan ceremonies and black Yajur Veda which deals with non-Aryan ones. The Adhvaryu is the priest who recites the Yajur Veda.
  • The Atharva Veda: For a long time, the Atharva Veda was not considered a Veda at all. It’s completely the work of non-Aryans and deals with witchcraft, magic and invoking evil spirits. However, Indian medicine (ayurveda), mathematics (ganita shastra) and geometry (rekha ganita) were part of the Atharva Veda. No priest is associated with this Veda.

Smriti Literature Smriti literature consists of Brahamans, Aranyakas, Upanishads, the six vedangas, and four upvedas. Brahamans and Aranyakas literature are portions attached to the Vedas – chapters, sub-chapters and commentaries. The Brahamans deal with ceremonies and rituals. Aranyakas deal with forest life. Upanishads are the last portion and so are also called the Vedanta. They deal with metaphysics. They are 108 in number and are the richest source of Indian philosophy.

Important Upanishads:

  • Katho Upanishad deals with the subject of death. It is a dialogue between student Nachiketa with the lord of death.
  • Essa Upanishad deals with creation. The slogan Satyamev Jayetey is a part of the Mundoko Upanishad.
  • Svetasvatra Upanishad describes Shiva for the first time.
  • Keno Upanishad talks about Uma and Parvati for the first time.
  • Chandogya Upanishad refers to Krishna for the first time and says that he was the disciple of Ghora and Agnirasa and Sandipani.

Six Vedangas:

  • Niryukta: deals with the origin of words.
  • Shiksha: Phonetics teaches the art of pronunciation.
  • Chchendus: discusses metre or volume.
  • Vyakarna: teaches grammar.
  • Kalpa: talks about rituals.
  • Jyotisha: discusses Astronomy. Of the six vedangas, Kalpa is the most important, full of formulae and is divided into three parts.

Four Upvedas

  • Ayurveda: deals with medicine
  • Gandharva Veda: deals with music
  • Silpa veda: deals with sculpture
  • Dhanur Veda: deals with archery

The literature of ancient India is rich and diverse, consisting of the four Vedas and other texts that deal with various aspects of life such as philosophy, religion, music, medicine, and more. The Vedas, in particular, are considered to be the most sacred texts in Hinduism and have had a profound influence on Indian culture and civilization. The Upanishads, in particular, are an important source of Indian philosophy and continue to be studied and revered to this day. Overall, the literature of ancient India is a testament to the wisdom and spiritual insights of its people and continues to be an important source of inspiration and guidance for many.

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