What is Veda? Explains Justice Katju

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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What is Veda?

What is Veda? Explains Justice Katju
What is Veda? Explains Justice Katju

By Justice Markandey Katju

About 80% of the 1400 million people of India are Hindus, and the Vedas are the most sacred of the Hindu religious books. Yet if any Hindu is asked what is Veda hardly anyone will be able to answer. So I may explain.

The Veda consists of 4 parts viz (1) Samhita or Mantra (2) Brahmanas (3) Aranyakas, and (4) Upanishads. These 4 collectively are known as Veda, and these are the most sacred books in Hindu religion. The Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas, etc, though highly respected, are not part of the Vedas, and therefore not as sacred as the former.

The Samhita, which means collection (of hymns) consists of 4 books, viz Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda. Of these, the main book is the Rigveda, which consists of 1028 richas or poems dedicated to various nature gods, e.g. Indra, Agni, Surya, etc, the most important being Indra, to whom the largest number of richas are dedicated.

The Samaveda is almost entirely the Rigveda set to music (except about 75 richas which are not in the Rigveda).

The Yajurveda, too, has about two third of its richas borrowed from the Rigveda. It is of 2 kinds, the Shukla (white) Yajurveda, which is used more in north India, and the Krishna ( black ) Yajurveda used more in south India.

The Atharvaveda was at one time not regarded as Veda at all, and the Veda was called ''Trayi Vidya'. However, later it, too, was accepted as part of Veda.

The Samhitas, though originally written, were later passed on orally, and had to be memorised entirely in a gurukul.

The second part of the Veda is called the Brahmana books ( not to be confused with Brahman caste ). These are books in prose ( unlike the Samhitas which are in poetry ), and they give the method of performing various yagyas, e.g. Shatapath Brahman, Aitareya Brahman, Taitareya Brahman, etc, each attached to some Samhita, as given in this link

It may be mentioned that the Hindu religion of ancient times was very different from the Hindu religion of today.

Today the Hindu religion consists of going to temples of Rama, Krishna, Shiva, Hanuman, Kali, Murugan, etc. But in ancient times there were no temples, no idols, etc and no Ram, Krishna, Hanuman, etc.

The ancient Hindu religion consisted of performing the yagya before the sacrificial fire, and the gods were Indra, Agni, Surya, etc. There is no mention of Ram, Krishna, Hanuman, etc in the Rigved.

There were several yagyas for various purposes. Some, called nitya yagyas, were for religious purpose and were compulsory e.g. agnihotra, darshapaurnamas, etc. Others, called kamya yagyas, which were optional, were for some material benefit, e.g. putra kameshti yagya ( for getting a son ). Mughal Emperor Akbar performed the Vajpayee yagya, which was for rejuvenation.

The Brahmana books were very important at that time because they prescribed the method of performing the yagyas, and, as mentioned before, in ancient times the Hindu religion consisted entirely in performing the yagya.

To interpret the Brahman books a system of interpretation known as the Mimansa system was created, about which I have written a book ( see on google ). This system of interpretation was important because the yagya had to be performed exactly as prescribed in the Brahmana books, otherwise it would lose its efficacy, and the Brahmana books had many obscurities, ambiguities, etc.

The third part of the Veda, and the least important part, are the Aranyakas ( or forest treatises ), which contain only the germs of later philosophy developed in the fourth part, i.e. the Upanishads. Just as each Brahmana is attached to some Samhita, so also each Aranyak is attached to some Brahmana, and each Upanishad is attached to some Aranyaka.

This fourth part of the Veda consists of various Upanishads, and are the basis of the subsequent Vedanta philosophy, developed by Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhavacharya, and other thinkers.

I can tell more details about the Vedas, but this should suffice to begin with

(Justice Katju is a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India. These are his personal views.)

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