The Vedic literature

Vedic culture – Culture represented in vedas. The word vedas is derived from ‘vidi’ which means to know. Vedas are transferred from one generation to other verbally, and therefore it is also called as shruti or Revelation.

The vedic literature is divided into 4

  • Vedas
  • Brahmanas
  • Aranyakas
  • Upanishads

The vedas: : They are divided into

  • Rigweda
  • Samaveda
  • Yajurveda
  • Atharvaveda


  • It is the Oldest religious text in the world. Also called as the first testament of mankind. It was composed during 1700 B. C. It is a collection of hymns by a number of priestly families, recited at the time of sacrificial rites. It contains 1017 hymns and is divided into 10 mandalas.the 10th mandala contains purushasukta, that explains the 4 varnas. (brahmana, kshatriya, vaishyaand shudra.


  • Has 1603 verses. These are meant to be sung at the time of soma sacrifice. It is a collection of melodies.


  • It is a ritual veda. It prescribes the ritual for performing sacrifice.
  • White yajurveda-contains mantras.
  • Black yajurveda-contains commentary in prose.


  • Latest veda. Divided into 10 kandas (books) and has 711 hymns.. It tells how to ward off evil spirits. It is also called as ‘Book of magical formula’.


Brahmanas: Explains the hymns of vedas in orthodox manner. They are written in prose and are ritualistic.

Every veda has several brahmanas attached to it.

  • For rigveda, the 2 brahmanas attached to it are Aitareya brahmana and Kausitiki brahmana. These were composed by Hotri
  • For samaveda, the brahmanas are Prandha brahmana and Chhendogya brahmana. These were composed by Udagatri
  • For yajurveda, the brahmana is Shatapatha brahmana. It is the most exhaustive and important of all the brahmanas. It recommends one hundred sacred paths. It was composed by Adhvaryu

These brahmanas are ellaborate commentaries on the various hymns in vedas.


Aranyakas: The word itself means ‘forest’. It was written for students and hermits living in the jungle.

It deals with philosophical doctrine and mysticism and not with rituals. They lay emphasis on meditation and their stess is on moral virtues.


Upanishads:  Derived from word ‘upanish’means to sit down near someone. It mainly debotes a student sitting near a guru. The treatuses prepared are called as upanishads.

These specify philosophical knowledge and spiritual learning. These are called vedanta because they denote the last phase of vedic period.

There are 108 upanishads Composed by several learned saints between 800 and 500 B. C. Some of the famous upanishads are Aitereya,Kausitki, Taittariya, Brihadasanyaka, Chhandogya and Ken. The language of upanishads is classically sanskrit.

Like aranyakas, upanishads also condemn the ceremonies and sacrifices. Upanishads are anti ritualistic. They discuss various theories of creation of universe and define the doctrine of action(karma),god(brahma) and soul(atma)as identical.

Allied vedic literature

  • Smritis: are auxillary treatises of the vedas. Literally ‘smriti’means rememberance.
  • Vedangas: 6 vedangas are Siksha, Kalpa, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Chhanda and Siksha deals with pronounciation. Kalpa deals with rituals, Vyakarana deals with grammer, Nirukta deals with etymology, Chhanda deals with metre and Jyotisha deals with astronomy.
  • Darshans: Six schools of Indian Philosophy is called as Shad-Darshana. These are Nyaya, Vaishesika, Sankya and Yoga darshanas and Purva and Uttara Mimansat. These are written in sutra style. They propogate on virtues of life and are opposed to external rituals. The Nyaya Darshana was written by Gautama, Vaishesika Darshana by Kanada Rishi, Sankhya darshana by Kapila and Yoga darshana by Patanjali.
  • Upvedas: both vedangas and darshana claim to have derived inspiration from the vedas and explain the vedic philosophy. Upvedas namely Dhanurveda deals with art of warfare, Gandharvaveda deals with architecture and Ayurveda deals with science of life. All these do not form a part of vedic literature though each of these subsidiary vedas enjoy great sanctity.