Vedic Samhitas

A. Nature and Importance:

The Rigveda is the oldest and the most highly valued work of the Hindus. This Samhita (Collection) is unique in its nature. In fact, it is not a book, but a compilation composed of several books which can be individually distinguished from each other. The present from of this Samhita clearly indicates that the collection is not a single work, but consists of older and later elements. Various indications of language, style and ideas prove this point. Different hymns of this Samhita were composed long before they were systematically arranged. Being a compilation of different stages, there is something which stamps the Rigveda with an individuality of its own. It is much more natural in character and form than other Samhitas.

The Rigveda represents the earliest sacred book of India. It is oldest and biggest amongst all the four Vedas. All the features of Classical Sanskrit poetry can be traced to the Rigveda. In it we find the seeds of India’s religious and philosophical development. Thus, both for its poetry and its religious and philosophical importance, the Rigveda should be studied by one who wants to understand Indian literature and spiritual culture. The value of the Rigveda today is not confined to India, for its well-preserved language and mythology have helped a better understanding of languages, literatures and cultures of a whole world.

B. Form and Division:The whole of the Rigveda-Samhita is in form of verses, known as Rik.’Rik‘ is the name given to those Mantras which are meant for the praise of the deities. Thus the collection (Samhita) of Riks is known as Rigveda-Samhita. Only one recession or school (Shakha) of the Rigveda is available today and it is the Shaakala. The Rigveda Samhita contains about 10552 Mantras, classified into ten books called Mandalas. Each Mandala is divided into several sections called Anuvakas. Each Anuvaka consists of a number of hymns called Suktas and each Sukta is made up of a number of verses called riks. This division of the Rigveda is most popular and systematic. There are two ways of dividing the contents of the Rigveda, but today other division is uncommon among the students of the Veda.A Sukta is a group of Mantras. The number of Mantras in a Sukta is not fixed. Some Suktas have a small number of Mantras while others have a large number of Mantras. It is important to note that every Sukta has a seer i.e. Rishi, a deity i.e. Devata and a metre i.e. Chandas . The Samhita of the Rigveda comprises 10Mandalas, 85 Anuvakas, 1028 Suktas and 10552 Mantras. Usually Anuvaka is not mentioned for the reference of a Mantra of the Rigveda. For example RV 3.16.7 simply means the seventh Mantra of the sixteenth Sukta of the third Mandala of the Rigveda.Through this chart we can know the division of Mandalas, number ofSuktas in each Mandala and name of Rishis of some Mandalas.

C. Some Important Hymns:Among 1028 Suktas of the Rigveda Samhita some suktas are very popular and frequently referred by the readers of Vedas. Some of them are:1. Purusha Sukta2. Hiranya-garbha Sukta3. Dhana-anna-dana Sukta4. Aksha Sukta5. Nasadiya Sukta6. Duhsvapna-nashna Sukta7. Yama-yami-samvada SuktaBesides, there are Suktas offered to different deities, such as, Indra, Maruta, Varuna, Usha, Surya, Bhumi, Soma, Agni etc.Thus we can briefly say about the contents of Rigveda that it has various subjects, which are narrated by Vedic seers poetically, philosophically or religiously.

Yajurveda – Samhita

A. Nature and Importance:In its character Yajurveda is quite different from the Rigveda & Samaveda Samhitas. It is principally in prose form. The word ‘Yajush‘ in the Yajurveda is explained variously. But one of its definitions says –

Gadyatmako yajuh‘.

A ‘Yajuh’ is that which is in prose form’. Another definition – ‘Yajur Yajate’ talks about its relation with the sacrifice (Yajna) because both the terms are derived from the root. ‘Yaj ‘.

The Yajurveda is more pronouncedly a ritual Veda for it is essentially a guide-book for the Adhvaryu priest who had to do practically all ritualistic works in a sacrifice. His works vary from the selection of a plot of land for the sacrificial altar down to offering oblations to the sacred fires. Just as the Samaveda-Samhita is the song-book of the Udgata priest, so the Yajurveda-Samhita are the prayer-books for the Adhvaryu priest. It is solely meant for the purposes of sacrificial rituals.The Yajurveda is also important for its presentation of philosophical doctrines. It preaches the concept of Pranaand Manas also. Many times, it is quoted for depicting religious and social life of the Vedic people. It is also known for giving certain geographical data.B. Division and Samhitas:The Yajurveda is two-fold-1. The White (or Pure) Yajurveda2. The Black (or Dark) YajurvedaThe Shukla Yajurveda is related with the Aditya-school and the Krishna Yajurveda is related with the Brahma-school. In the beginning of his commentary on the Shukla-Yajurveda Samhita, a story is given by Mahidhara, about the two-fold division of the Yajurveda. Rishi Vaishampayana taught the Yajurveda to Rishi Yajyavalkya and other pupils. Once Vaishampayana got angry with Yajyavalkya and asked him to give back what he had learnt. Yajyavalkya vomited the Veda by the power of Yoga, while the other pupils at the command of his teacher swallowed up the Yajush thus vomited, assuming the form of birds called Tittiri. Thus, the Yajush became dark and was named Kishna or Taittiriya. Then Yajyavalkya prayed to the Sun, who came to him in the form of a horse i.e. Vaji ) and gave him back the Yajush. Hence this Yajurveda was named Shukla or Vajasaneyi.

Sukla Yajurveda has two Samhita available today:

1. Madhyandina Samhita2. Kanva Samhtia

Krishna Yajurveda has four Sanhitas available today:

1.Taittiriya Samhita2. Kathaka Samhita3. Kapishthala Samhita4. Maitrayani Samhita

C. Contents :

We find detailed description of sacrifices in the Samhita of Yajurveda. The Vajasaneyi-Samhita gives a vivid description of many important sacrifices such as – Darsha-purnamasa, Agnihotra, Somayaga, Chaturmasya, Agnihotra, Vajapeya, Ashvamedha, Sarva-medha, Brahma-yajya, Pitrimedha, Sautramani, and so on. For a general idea the contents can be divided into three sections. The first section comprises the Darshapurnamasa, the second section deals with the Somayaga and the third section comprises the Agnicayanas. The last section of the Vajasaneyi-Samhita contains the popular Ishavasya-Upanishad. It is important to know that the first eighteen Adhyayas of the Vajasaneyi- Samhita are completely given, word for word, and explained in the Shatapatha Brahmana of the white Yajurveda. On the basis of this point few scholars think that the last sections of this Samhita are of a later date.

Samaveda – Samhita

A. Nature and Importance:

The Samaveda is shortest of all the four Vedas. It is closely connected with the Rigveda. It is important to note that the Samhita of the Samaveda is an independent collection (Samhita), yet it has taken many verses, a large number indeed, from the Samhita of Rigveda. These verses are chiefly derived from the eighth and the ninth Mandalas of the Rigveda. The Samaveda is compiled exclusively for ritual application, for its verses are all meant to be chanted at the ceremonies of the Soma-sacrifice. In the ritualistic tradition, these verses are sung at those sacrifices in which Soma- juice with other ingredients is offered to various deities. The Samaveda is, therefore, specially intended for the Udagata priest, who chants psalms at the sacrificial ritual. Its stanzas assume their proper character of musical samans or chants only in the various song-books called Ganas.Traditional the Vedas are spoken as ‘Trayi‘, the three fold knowledge because they deal with Jnana, Bhakti andKarma. The Rigveda underlines the path of Jnana or knowledge, the Yajurveda that of Karma or action and the Samaveda that of Bhakti or devotion. Among the four Vedas, the Samaveda is regarded as the foremost. In the Bhagavadgata, Lord Krishna has declared “Among the Vedas I am Samaveda”- Vedanama Samavedosmi (Gita, 10.22). It is the Veda of devotion basically. Here Indra, Agni and Soma deities are mainly invoked and praised but most of the time these prayers seem to be the invocations for the Supreme Being. In the spiritual sense Soma represents All-pervading, Glorious Lord and Brahman, Who is attainable only through devotion and musical chanting. Thus major theme of the Samaveda can be regarded as worship and devotion (Upasana).Samagana is considered the best way to please gods. Here hymns are mostly addressed to Agni, Soma and Indra. In this Veda the element of devotion predominates over all other aspects. By devotion, an aspirant achieves higher spirituality, grace of the gods, and merges with the cosmic reality.B. Form and Division:The term Saman means a ‘chant’ or ‘melody’ and it signifies the entire Samaveda-Samhita, because it is metrical composition set to music. According to the Jaiminiya Sutra – ‘Melody is called Saman.’

Gitishu saamakhya.

The Samaveda is the Veda of songs and chanting based on Riks. Element of melody is an essential feature of the Samaveda. Yaska has given the etymology of the word ‘Saman‘ as Sam + Ma, meaning’measuring harmoniously with a Rik‘.According to the ancient tradition, told by Patanjali, the Samaveda had 1000 recessions (Shakhas). But at present there are only three recessions. These are – (1) Kauthuma, (2) Jaiminiya, (3) Ranayaniya. But today, Kauthuma Shakha is known more prominently. The Samaveda- Samhita of Kauthumas, consists of two parts – the Purvarcika, and the Uttararcika. First part contains four parts:1. Agneya – 114 verses for Agni2. Aindra – 352 verses for Indra3. Pavamana – 119 verses for Soma Pavamana4. Aranya – 55 verses for Indra, Agni, Soma etc. (And Mahanamni Mantras -10)This part consists of 650 verses.The Uttararcika, the second part of the Samaveda-Samhita, consists total number of 1225 verses. So the total number of verses in the Samaveda-Samhit is 1875. Amongst these 1771 Verses are from the Rigveda Only 99 verses of this Samhita are not found in the Rigveda- Samhita and thus are generally regarded to be of Samveda itself.

Atharvaveda – Samhita

A. Nature and Importance:The Veda of the Atharvan is the Atharvaveda. Atharvan denotes directions and Mantras especially in connection to ward off evil and hardship. ‘Atharvan‘ originally means ‘priest’ and the Mantras in the Atharvaveda-Samhita were brought to light by Rishi Atharva.According to the etymology of the Nirukta, Atharvan is the name given to a stable-minded person who is immovably firm i.e., Yogi. We also find a number of hymns in this Veda which describes Atman, Brahman and Brahma-Vidya. The oldest name, however, by which this Veda is known in Indian literature is ‘Atharvagirasa-Veda’, that is the ‘Veda of the Atharvans and the Angiras’. Angiras too were a class of fire-worshippers. Some other names for the Atharvaveda are – Angirasaveda, Kshatraveda, Bhaishajyaveda, Chandoveda, Mahiveda etc.According to Patanjali, Atharvaveda had nine recessions or Shakhas, but the Samhita of the Atharvaveda is today available only in two recessions – the Shaunaka and the Paippalada. It is the Shaunaka-Samhita that is usually meant when the Atharvaveda is mentioned in ancient and modern literature. It is a collection of 730 hymns containing 5987 Mantras, divided into 20 books (Kandas). Some 1200 verses are derived from the Rigveda. About one sixth of the text of the Atharvaveda including two entire books (15 and 16) is written in prose, similar in style and language to the Brahmanas, the rest of the text is in poetic verses.The pride of this Veda was Brahma Ritvika who used to supervise the process of Yaga or sacrifice. In sacrificial ceremonies he was supposed to know all the three Vedas, but usually he used to represent the Atharvaveda. Due to his association, the Atharvaveda is also named ‘Brahmaveda‘, the Veda of Brahma priest.The Atharvaveda is the oldest literary monument of Indian medicine. It is believed to be the origin of Ayurveda, the Indian science of medicine. There are a series of Mantras related to cure various physical and mental diseases. Another class of hymns includes prayers for protection from the bite of snakes or injurious insects. We find mention and application of medicines and medicinal herbs. This feature distinguishes the Atharvaveda from the rest of the Vedas.Philosophical portions of this Samhita present a fairly high development of metaphysical thought. The chief ideas of the Upanishads, the conception of a highest god as creator and preserver of the world (Prajapati), and even the ideas of an impersonal creative principle, besides a number of philosophical terms such as Brahman, Tapas, Asat, Prana, Manas must have been the common property of large circles – at the time when these hymns originated. Therefore, the study of the philosophical ideas, revealed in the Atharvaveda, is important to understand the development of Indian Philosophical thought.Atharvaveda is the only Veda which is related to worldly happiness and spiritual knowledge. Vedic commentator Sayana has praised this for fulfilling both ends – this world and the other world. Further, it appears to be an interesting text for a general reader of the Vedic literature.

B. Contents:The Atharvaveda is looked upon as the Veda of varied knowledge. It contains numerous Mantras, which according to their subject-matter, can be broadly divided into three categories: 1. Related to the cure of diseases and destruction of adverse forces. 2. Related to establish peace, protection, health, wealth, friendship and long life. 3. Related to the nature of Supreme Reality, time, death and immortality.Bloomfield has divided the subject of Atharvaveda into many categories, such as Bhashijya, Paushtika, Prayashtita, Rajkarma, Stikarma,Darshana, Kuntapa etc. Here some Important and famous Suktas of Atharvaveda are listed to have a general view its subject:1. Bhumi-Sukta (12.1)2. Brahmacarya-Sukta (11.5)3. Kala-Suktas (11.53, 54)4. Vivaha-Sukta (14th Kanda)5. Madhuvidya-Sukta (9.1)6. Samanasya-Sukta (3.30)7. Rohita-Sukta (13.1-9)8. Skambha-Sukla (10.7)So, the Atharvaveda is an encyclopedia of many subjects. It reflects the life of the Vedic people. Their thoughts related to philosophical, social, educational, political, agricultural, scientific and medical matters are found in this Samhita.

Finally, we can say that the Samhita literature of Veda is considered important for its nature, form and contents. This is the main part of Vedic literature consisting five famous Samhitas.By Dr.Shashi Tiwari (Retd.), Sanskrit Department, Delhi University

Image from Agnicayana Project
Image from Agnicayana Project