Veda and Upaveda – Introduction

By Dr. Regina Antony
Vedas are ancient religious texts written in Sanskrit language. These texts constitute the oldest work of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism.


These texts are considered to be Apaurusheya, which means that which is superhuman or authorless.
The Vedas are different from other religious texts in the fact that they were heard (sruti) and not remembered (smriti).
Read related: Aptopadesha Pramana – Features, Description

According to tradition, Vyasa is the compiler of Vedas who arranged the four kinds of Vedic hymns (mantras) into four different collections.

There are four Vedas –
1. Rigveda
2. Yajurveda
3. Samaveda
4. Atharvaveda

Each Veda has been sub-classified into four major text types –
The Samhitas – hymns,
The Aranyaka – text on rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices,
The Brahmanas – commentaries on rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices and
The Upanishads – texts discussing meditation, philosophy and spiritual knowledge.

The word Veda in Sanskrit means perception of knowledge / true and sacred knowledge / wisdom.
It is derived from the root word ‘Vid’ which means ‘to know’.

The four Vedas

‘Rik’ means ‘praise’ and ‘Veda’ means ‘knowledge’.
Rigveda is an ancient Indian collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns along with associated commentaries. It was likely composed between 1700–1100 BCE, making it one of the world’s oldest religious texts. It was preserved over centuries by oral tradition alone and was probably not put in writing before the Early middle ages.

The core text, known as the Rigveda Samhita, is a collection of 1,028 hymns in 10,600 verses, organized into ten books known as mandalas. The hymns in Rigveda are mostly in praise of specific deities. Some of its verses continue to be chanted during Hindu celebrations and prayers, even today.

The term Yajurveda comes from Sanskrit word, yajus, meaning “worship” or “sacrifice,” and veda, meaning “knowledge.”
Yajurveda is an ancient Vedic Sanskrit text which is a compilation of prose hymns that are chanted by a priest while performing religious rituals before the fire. The exact century of composition of Yajurveda is unknown, and estimated by scholars to be around 1200 to 1000 BCE.

Yajurveda is broadly grouped into two –
the “black” or “dark” (Krishna) Yajurveda and
the “white” or “bright” (Shukla) Yajurveda.
The term “black” implies “the un-arranged, unclear collection” of verses in Yajurveda, in contrast to the “white” which implies the “well arranged, clear” collection of verses of Yajurveda.

The most important feature of the Yajur Veda is that it supplies the formulae for the entire sacrificial ceremony. There are two ways of performing the prayers –
Quietly muttering the prayer which is called yajus and
Chanting the prayers loudly which is called nigada

The word Samaveda originates from two words ‘Sama’ meaning ‘song’ and ‘Veda’ meaning ‘knowledge’. This is one among the four Vedas and consists of melodies and chants. The text consists of 1,549 verses but 75 verses are references from from  Rigveda.

The Samaveda text contains notated melodies. The musical notation is written immediately above, sometimes within the line of Samaveda text, either in musical or a number form depending on the Samavedic school.

Samaveda has two major parts.
The first part includes musical collections and
the second part includes verse books. 

The Atharva Veda is the “knowledge storehouse of Atharvanas, the procedures for everyday life”. The text is the fourth Veda, but has been a late addition to the Vedic scriptures of Hinduism.

Atharvaveda is composed in Vedic Sanskrit, and it is a collection of 730 hymns with 6,000 mantras, divided into 20 books.

In contrast to the other three Vedas, Atharvaveda incorporates not only formulas for magic, but also the daily rituals for initiation into learning (upanayana), marriage and funerals. Royal rituals and the duties of the court priests are also included in Atharvaveda. It is also known as Brahmaveda.

There is no fixed date of any Vedic text including the Atharvaveda but scholars estimate that the Atharvaveda hymns were compiled in 1200 to 1000 BC.

Atharvaveda deals with the following:
Diseases and their cure
Rites for prolonging life
Rites for fulfilling one’s desires
Building construction
Trade and commerce
Management of state affairs
Propitiatory rites

Read related: How Ancient Seers Developed The Science Of Ayurveda

Upaveda – Applied / secondary knowledge

Four Upavedas have been mentioned, which originated from the Vedas. They are –
Archery (Dhanurveda) – associated with Yajurveda
Architecture (Sthapatyaveda) – associated with Atharvaveda.
Music and sacred dance (Gandharvaveda) – associated with Samaveda
Medicine (Ayurveda) – associated with either Rigveda or Atharvaveda.

The origin of Ayurveda is attributed to Atharva Veda where several diseases with their treatments are mentioned. Ayurveda is considered to be an Upaveda (secondary knowledge) of Atharvaveda.
Read related: What Is Ayurveda? 5 Dimensions Of The Ancient Indian Health Wisdom!

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