Yajnavalkya Smriti refers fourteen sources of knowledge. They are – the Vedas
(Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda), Vedangas (Shikaha, Kalpa, Vyakarana,
Nirukta, Chanda and Jyotisha), Purana, Nyaya, Meemamsa and Dharmashastra.

पुराणन्यायमीमांसा धर्मशास्त्रांग मिश्रिता:।  वेदा: स्थानानि विद्यानां धर्मस्य च चतुर्दश ॥

याज्ञवल्क्य स्मृति

A very interesting passage in Mundaka Upanishad broadly divides Vidya into two
types – Para and Apara.

द्वे विद्ये वेदितव्ये इति ह स्म यद्ब्रह्मविदो वदन्ति परा चैवापरा च ॥ 4॥ तत्रापरा, ऋग्वेदो यजुर्वेदः सामवेदोऽथर्ववेदः शिक्षा कल्पो व्याकरणं निरुक्तं छन्दो ज्योतिषमिति । अथ परा यया तदक्षरमधिगम्यते ॥ 5॥

 – मुण्डकोपनिषद्

Knowledge is dealt within Apara Vidya. The Veda-s
are scriptures and Vedanga-s are the Vedic Auxiliary Science that deal with
phonetics. Every Vedic Scripture has 4 types of texts- Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka
and Upanishad. There are special Vedic grammar rules for each Shakha known
as Pratisakhya and phonetic rules known as Shiksha. Mimansa Sutras describe
rules for interpretation of Vedic text, Nyaya & Vaisesika sutra-s (deal
with logical aspects, ontological classification, process of human understanding),
Purana-s are narrations of messages and teachings of Veda-s, Dharma Sastra-s
describe code of conduct for universal harmony.

The Vedas are the source of integral wisdom, science, tradition and culture of
a remarkable civilization. They are oral compilations of distilled wisdom of
cosmic knowledge survived from the time immemorial. They are not only identified
as scriptures, but also as the fountain head of Indian culture and human civilization.

1. Meaning of the word ‘Veda’

The word ‘Veda’ means ‘knowledge’ and is derived
from the Sanskrit root ‘vid’, means ‘to know’. It does not refer to one single
literary work, but indicates a huge corpus of literature, which arose in the
course of many centuries and has been handed down from one generation to another
generation by verbal transmission. ‘Veda’ is also called ‘Shruti’ meaning what
is heard, as opposed to the ‘Smriti’ composed by sages at a later stage recounting
the content of the Vedic texts. This referes the purely oral-aural method which
was (and is) used for it.

According to Indian traditional thoughts ‘Veda’
is regarded as revealed scripture, self-evident, and self authoritative. It
is not composed by any human authors. The Vedic hymns (Suktas) or verses (Mantras)
are seen and only spoken by the seers (Rishis). These seers are neither author
of the Mantras nor are they responsible for the contents of the Mantras. Yaska,
the oldest expositor of Veda, has distinctly said that these seers received
the sacred knowledge or knowledge was revealed to them. They then handed it
down to descendants by oral instruction. The great Vedic commentator Sayana
has given a definition of the Veda-

yo grantho vedayati  sa vedah’

It  means,  “The  scripture,  which  describes  the  divine  method  for
obtaining what is desirable and for giving up what is undesirable, is called
Veda.” This definition presents the purpose of the Veda. According to another
definition, as per the sage Apastamba  ‘the Veda is the name given to the Mantras
and the Brahmanas’.


This definition describes the form of the ‘Veda’
because it could be divided mainly into these two great divisions–the Mantras
and the Brahmanas. Accordingly, Mantra part is the main part of the Veda and
whatever is not Mantra is Brahmana. Here it is interesting to know that many  ancient  definitions  of  Veda,  showing  its  significance,  form  or
contents are given in ancient Indian texts. Generally speaking the word ‘Veda’
signifies highest, sacred, eternal  and  divine  knowledge  as  well  as  the  texts
embodying  that knowledge.

2. Importance of the Veda

The significance of the Veda is manifold.

  1. It has been universally acknowledged that the Veda is the earliest available
    literature of humanity.
  2. The Veda in the form of prose and poetry in Sanskrit language, has been
    regarded as authoritative knowledge. Its authority seems to have remained
    unquestioned for several millennia, and it has been considered the last tribunal
    in matters of dispute whether in religion or philosophy or social customs.
    The term ‘Astika’ is used for those systems of Indian philosophy, which have
    faith on the authority of the Veda and the term ‘Nastika’ is used for those
    systems of Indian philosophy which do not have faith on the authority of
    the Veda.
  3. The religion and culture of the Hindus are rooted in the Veda. Till date,   their   worship,   sacrifice,   rites   and   attitudes   are
    influenced by the Veda.
  4. The Veda contains the highest spiritual knowledge (Para vidya) as well
    as the knowledge of the world (Apara vidya).  Thus, apart from philosophy,
    we find here descriptions of various aspects of the different subjects such
    as sciences, medicine, political science, psychology, agriculture, poetry,
    art, music etc.
  5. The Veda is unique in its purity and sanctity. The text of the Veda is
    preserved in its pure and original form without any alteration  or  interpolation  even  after  thousands  of  years.  The
    Veda is the only unadulterated treasure house of true knowledge. So much
    so that even UNESCO declared it as part of the Intangible cultural heritage
    of humanity. (
  6. The   Vedic   language   is   marked   by   extreme   economy   of expression.
    Many times it seems to carry some deep hidden meanings indicating mystical
    truths. Often it makes symbolic impression. The wise souls, from the immediate
    successors of the Vedic seers right down to our times, have searched for
    and discovered the revelation of the deepest truth in the Vedic texts differently.
    That is the reason many commentaries and reference- books are written by
    the ancient and modern scholars for understanding the Veda and the Vedic
    concepts. This vast reference material further establishes the importance
    of the Vedic texts.

3. Preservation of the Veda (Veda Patha)

Despite being oldest, the Vedas have been preserved
in their true form up till now. Even Max Muller, a renowned European scholar,
has admitted that, the text of the Vedas has been handed down to us with such
accuracy and care that there is hardly any change in the words, or there is
any uncertain aspect in the whole of Vedas.

The credit for this goes to Vedic seers (Rishis)
who devised means of protecting and preserving the text of Vedas letter by
letter, with all their accessories. Vedic mantras have accents (Swara) which
preserve its original form of word- construction.

There are three Prakriti Pathas for memorizing
Mantras most commonly known as:

  1. Samhita-Patha –   in which Mantra remains in its true form.
  2. Pada-Patha-   in which each word of a Mantra is separately spoken.
  3. Krama-Patha-  in which two words of a Mantra are spoken jointly as  Ka-kha,

There were eight ways i.e., Vikritis of memorizing
Vedas. These are

  1. Jatapatha
  2. Malapatha
  3. Shikhapatha
  4. Rekhapatha
  5. Dhvajapatha
  6. Dandapatha
  7. Rathapatha
  8. Ghanapatha

Among them Ghana  Patha  is most difficult and
the longest.

Another step was to prepare treatises known as
Anukramanis in which the names of Rishi, Devata, Chandas  are mentioned in
reference to each hymn of the Vedas. Chandas means meter which also helps in
avoiding loss of content by enforcing number of syllables.  A.A. Macdonell  has
rightly observed in his ‘History  of Sanskrit  Literature’ – ’since that remote
time, the text of the Vedas has suffered no change whatsoever with such a care
that history has nothing to compare with’.

4. Eternity (Apaurusheyata) of the Veda

As has been told earlier according to Hindu conception
the Veda is not the creation of any human being. It is divine and only visualized
by the ancient seers, and that is why it is called Apaurusheya . All
other works or words of great luminaries fall under the category of Paurusheya  and
that is why they are known by their respective names. The Rigveda describes
the Veda as eternal and Apaurusheya

Vachaa virupa nityataa’ – Rigveda 8.76.6

Likewise the Upanishad says that the Vedas are
just like expiration (Nihshvaasa) of that great ‘Brahman’. They are ‘breathed
out’ by the Brahman. So the Veda is eternal just as Brahman.

5. Age of the Veda

No one now doubts that the Rigveda is the most
ancient document of the human beings, but fixing the age of the Rigveda or
the Veda is most difficult task. This issue has many problems, such as-

  1. There is no outside evidence available as inscription, seals etc.
  2.  Dates are not mentioned in the Vedic texts.
  3. The doctrine of ‘Apaurusheyata‘ proves the Veda as eternal.
  4. Vedic astronomical accounts found in Vedas are not very clear.
  5. View of the Indian and Western scholars differ on this subject.

On the question of the age of the Veda, the only
source that remains is the literary evidence on which are based the so-called
literary or linguistic theories. Other theories are based upon some assumptions
which have yet to be proved conclusively. Max Muller has rightly exclaimed
in his book ‘Physical  Religion‘ (P.18), “Whether the Vedic hymns
were composed in 1000 or 1500 or 2000 or 3000 year B.C., no power on each could
ever fix.”Certainly Vedic knowledge is beyond age and time as it is eternal
and universal. When we talk of the age of the Vedas, we mean to determine the
period of arrangement and composition of the main Vedic texts. Boghazkoi inscription
(1400 B.C.) found in Asia Minor refers to four Vedic deities, so we may consider
the latest limit of the Vedic age before 1400 B.C. But the final word has yet
to be said on the age of the Vedas.

Here some of the important views held on the subject are presented briefly in
a chart to show the complexity of the problem:

Name of the scholar Source Age of the Vedas
1.Swami Dayananda Sarswati Veda-mantras Beginning of the Creation
2. Dinanath Shastri Astronomy 3 lakhs years back
3.AvinashChandraDas Geology 25000 B.C.
4. Balgangadhar Tilak Astronomy 6000 B.C.
5. R.G. Bhandarkar Vedic- mantras 6000 B .C.
6. Shankar Balkrishna Dikshit Astronomy 3500 B.C.
7. H. Jacobi . Astronomy 4500 B.C
8. M. Winternitz Boghazkoi 2500 B.C.
9. F.Maxmuller Buddhist Literature 1200 B.C.


6. Classification of the Vedic Literature

Broadly speaking the whole of the Vedic literature
(Apara vidya) can be put into two categories:

  1. The Vedas
  2. The Vedangas

‘Veda’ is a collective term indicating the four
Vedas –

  1. Rigveda,
  2. Yajurveda,
  3. Samaveda and
  4. Atharvaveda.

On account of these four different Vedas, one
often speaks of ‘the Vedas’ in the plural.The four Vedas consist of four different
classes of literary works. To each of these classes belongs a greater or a
smaller number of separate works, of which some have been preserved in their
true form but also many lost in time. These four classes are:

  1. Samhitas
  2. Brahmanas
  3. Aranyakas
  4. Upanishads

Sometimes, the Aranyakas and Upanishads are treated
as part of  Samhitas/Brahmanas and not separately.The Vendangas consists of
the six knowledge streams required for understanding of the Vedas. They are:

  1. Shiksha
  2. Kalpa
  3. Vyakarana
  4. Nirukta
  5. Chanda, and
  6. Jyotisha

In addition, each of the veda consists of a secondary
knowledge source (called upveda). They are:

  1. For Rigveda – Ayurveda
  2. For Yajurveda – Dhanurveda
  3. For Samaveda – Gandharvaveda and
  4. For Atharvaveda – Arthashastra

The Vedas are mainly for performing the Yajna
(rituals). As quoted

वेदा हि यज्ञार्थमभिप्रवृत्ता कालानुपूर्व्याभिहिताश्च यज्ञाः I तस्मादिदं कालविधानशास्त्रं यो ज्योतिषं वेद स वेद यज्ञम् II


-वेदांग ज्योतिष

Yajnas are divided into two major class

  1. Havir Yajna, and
  2. Soma Yajna

An attempt has been made under the project for
understanding of the Vedic wisdom through the lenses of the modern scientific
knowledge specially in the field of Sciences, Mathematics, Medicine, Astronomy,
Architecture, Legal Systems, Metallurgy, Philology, Environmental Studies,
Aeronautics, Astrology, Rituals etc. Recordings of some of the experts with
their publications has been integrated under this project to attract the younger

Major part of the Article contributed
by Dr. Shashi Tiwari (Retd.), Sanskrit Department, Delhi University