|Rig Veda Manuscript|
“Veda” means “knowledge.” The chief scriptures of the Vedic age were the four Vedas: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, and Atharva Veda. These were chiefly books of hymns that were sung or chanted during the sacrifices. They were composed in Vedic Sanskrit. Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanisads were attached to each of these Vedas later on. In the original format, the four Vedas are referred to as the Samhitas (or Collection). The Vedas are considered to have been orally passed on and put to writing only later on. The original texts of the hymns are thought to have been metrical in nature. However, with the establishment of Shakas (branches) of theological learning in various parts of Northern India, these Vedic texts were annotated with Brahmana discussions on the text. The metrical texts were also considered to have been tampered with by the application of rules of sound combination resulting in a somewhat obscure text. There have been various attempts to restore the original metrical text in recent times, one of which by Barend A. van Nooten and Gary B. Holland is made available online by the University of Texas.
Samhitas: These were collections of metrical hymns, prayers, and songs usually sung or chanted during the performance of various rites and sacrifices.
Brahmanas: These were prose commentaries and theological discussions on the meaning of the various texts, sacrifices, and ceremonies.
Aranyakas: Also known as the “forest texts”, these were, partly appended to the Aranyakas and partly independent, commentaries and meditations by hermits living in the forest on the significance of the rituals and sacrifices described in the Vedic hymns.
Upanisads: These were also usually either part of the Aranyakas or independent of them, without any absolute dividing point. For instance, The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is both an Aranyaka and an Upanishad and forms the last part of the Satapatha-Brahmana, a Brahmana of the White Yajur-Veda. The Upanishads are mystical contemplations on the meaning of the world, soul, life, death, and reality.
The four Samhitas are as follows:
Sama Veda: The collection is derived from the word Saman, meaning “melodies”; thereby, Sama Veda is the book of the “knowledge of melodies”. It is considered that the hymns in this book were mainly used during the Soma sacrifice and many of the hymns are repeated from the Rig Veda.
Yajur Veda: Yajus means “sacrificial formula”; thus, Yajur Veda gives the “knowledge of sacrificial formulas”. There are two primary versions of this, viz. the Shukla Yajur Veda (White Yajur Veda) and the Krishna Yajur Veda (Black Yajur Veda). While the White Yajur Veda focuses on liturgy, the Black Yajur Veda has more explanatory material about the rituals.
Atharva Veda is the book of the “knowledge of magic formulas” (atharvan). It is a collection of spells, prayers, charms, and hymns with “prayers to protect crops from lightning and drought, charms against venomous serpents, love spells, healing spells,” containing hundreds of verses, some derived from the Rig Veda.Following is the list of the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads appended to each Veda, as classified by A.K. Bhattacharya: