Veda (from the Sanscrit vid, "to know," literally meaning knowledge) is the general name applied to those ancient Sanskrit writings on which the early Hindu religion was based. The oldest of these works is the Rigveda; next to it are the Yajur-veda: and Sama-veda; and the latest is the Atharva- veda. The first three are called, collectively, tray, or "the threefold," and all are thought to be divinely inspired. Each of the Vedas consists of two distinct parts a Sanhita, or collection of hymns or mantras, and a Brahmnanra. A mantra (Sanskrit Nan, "to think") is a prayer, or else a thanksgiving, adoration, or praise addressed to a deity. If such a mantra is metrical and intended for recitation aloud, it is called Rich (praise); whence the name Rig-veda, or the Veda containing such metrical mantras. If it is in prose, it must be muttered inaudibly, and is called Yajus (yaj, "sacrifice"); hence the name Yjur-veda. If it is metrical and intended for chanting, it is called Sanman; hence the name Sama-veda. No special name is applied to the mantras of the Atharva-veda. The Brahmana (Brahman neuter) designates that portion in prose of the Vedas which contains either commandments or explanations, or which gives injunctions for the performance of sacrificial acts, explains their origin, and the occasions on which the mantras had to be used, by adding illustrations, legends, or philosophical speculations. The Brahmana portion of the Vedas constitutes the basis on which the Vedic ritual rests, and the source from whence the Upanishads (q.v.) and philosophical doctrines were developed.
Though Brahmanas and mantras were claimed at a later period of Hinduism to have existed from eternity it is certain that the Brahmana portion of each Veda is later than some portion, at least, of its Sanhita, for it refers to it; and, from the bulk and character of the works, they must have been the product of a considerable period of time. Tradition records that Vyasa (q.v.), after having compiled and arranged the Vedas, handed each of them to four disciples, and that these disciples taught them to their disciples, and so on down to distant ages. Thus the mantras and Brahmanas passed through a large number of schools, called sakhas, and, as a natural result, discrepancies gradually arose between these schools, both as regards the Vedic texts and the manner of interpreting them, which in the lapse of time became very great. The differences between these sakhas did not consist in their various readings of the text alone, but in the arrangement as well. The number of these sakhas was very large, as may be inferred from a statement ascribed to the ancient writer. Saunaka in which mention is made of five sakhas of the Rig-veda, eighty-six of the Yajur-veda, one thousand of the Sama-veda, and nine of the A tharva-veda. But of all thiese schools the Rig-veda is now extant only in one, the Yajur-veda in three (and partially in four), the Sama-veda in two, and the Atharva-veda: in one. The MSS. now in existence are of no great age or authority; and in cases of disputed authenticity appeal is made to the pandits of greatest repute.
For the religious ideas contained in the Vedas, SEE HINDUISM.
The social condition of the Hindus, as reflected from the hymns of the Rig- veda, is not that of a pastoral or nomadic people, but of a people somewhat advanced in civilization. Frequent allusion is made to towns and cities, powerful kings and their enormous wealth. Besides agriculture; they mention various useful arts, such as weaving, melting precious metals, fabricating cars, golden and iron mail, and golden ornaments. The employment of the needle and the use of musical instruments were known to them. The Hindus of that period were familiar with the ocean, and sometimes went on naval expeditions. They had some knowledge of medicine, had made some advance in astronomical calculation, and even employed the complicated law of inheritance. The institution of caste, however, seems at that time to have been unknown.
The only recension in which the Sanhita of the Rigveda has been preserved to us is that of the Sakala school; and the hymns are arranged according either to the material bulk or their authorship. According to the former arrangement, the whole Sanhita consists of 8 ashtakas, or eights; these are divided into 64 adhyayas, or lessons; these into 2006 vargas, or sections; and these again into richs, or verses, numbering 10,417. According to the other method, the Sanhita is divided into 10 mandalas, or circles; these into 85 anuvakas, or sections; these into 1028 suhtas, or hymns; and the hymns into richs, of the same number, of course, as in the former arrangement. The number of words is said to be 153,826 in this Sanhita.
The Brahmana portion of the Rig-vedi is preserved in two works-the Aitareya Brahmana and the Simkhayana, or Khanshitali Brahmana. The former consists of 8 panchikacs, or pentades; each of these comprising 5 adhyayas, or lessons; and the 40 adhyayas 285 khandas, or portions. The latter contains 30 adhyayas, divided into a number of khandas.
The precise date of the composition of the Rig-vedac much the oldest of the Vedas, is not known. By the methods of modern criticism, an approximate date has been assigned. Internal evidence, based upon a comparison of the older with the later portions, and coupled with such facts as the dispersion of the Aryan race and the historical rise of Buddhism, leads to the conclusion that the mantras of the Rig-veda were composed by a succession of poets between the 15th and 12th centuries B.C.
The Sama-veda was compiled chiefly for the performance of those sacrifices of which the juice of the Somia plant is the chief ingredient; and of these sacrifices the Jyotishtoma is the most important. At the performance of such Soma sacrifices the verses of the Satma-veda were chanted; and there are special books which teach the proper manner of chanting them. The Sanhita of the Scama-veda is preserved in-two recensions, and consists of two parts-the Chhandograntha, or Archika, or Purvarchika, and the Staubhikut, or Uttaragnrantha, or Uttararchika. The first part consists of fifty-nine dasati, or decades, which are divided into prapathakas, or chapters; and these again into ardhaprapathakas, or half chapters; the entire part containing 585 verses. The second portion is divided in a similar manner, and contains 1225 verses. The number of Brahmanas relating to this Veda is probably ten, including one of the Up aniahads and a later Brahmana.
There are two Yajur-vedas, resulting from a. dissension between its schools, known as the Black and the White. The Black Yajur-veda is the older of the two and lacks that complete separation of the Sanhita and Brahmana portions which exists in all the others; but this defect is remedied in the White Yijur-veda. The contents of both are similar in many respects. The text of the Sanhita of the Black, Yajur-vedas is extant in two recensions, one of which. consists of 7 khandas, or books, comprising 44 prapathakas, or chapters, subdivided into 651 anuvakas, or sections, and containing 2198 khandikas, or portions. The Sanhita of the White Yajur- vedas exists also in two recensions, and contains 40 acdhyayas, divided into 303 anuvakas, and subdivided into 1975 khandikas.
The object of the Atharva-veda is to teach how to appease, to bless, to curse, etc. Prof. Whitney (Journal of the Amer. Orient. Soc. 3, 308) says, "The most prominent characteristic feature of this Veda is the multitude of incantations which it contains; these are pronounced either by the person who is himself to be benefited, or, more often, by the sorcerer for him, and are directed to the procuring of the greatest variety of desirable ends. Most frequently, perhaps, long life, or recovery from grievous sickness, is the object sought; then a talisman, such as a necklace is sometimes given; or, in very numerous instances, some plant endowed with marvelous virtues is to be the immediate external means of the cure; further, the attainment of wealth or power is aimed at, the downfall of enemies, increase in love or in play, the removal of petty pests, and so on, even down to the growth of hair on a bald pate." The adherents of this Veda attach great importance to it. They claim that the other Vedas enable a man to fulfill the dharma, or religious law, but that the Atharva-veda helps him to attains moksha, or eternal bliss. The text of this Veda is preserved only in the Saunaka school. The Sanhita portion consists of twenty khandas, or books, some of which are divided into chapters, containing, in all, one hundred and ten sections.
Of all the Vedas the Rig-veda is by far the most important, and carries the greatest weight of authority.
The literature of the Vedas is quite extensive. The text of the Rig-veda has been edited in Roman characters by Prof. Aufrecht (Berlin, 1861); in Sanscrit, with the commentary of Sayana (A.D. 1400), by Max Muller (1849-62); the text of the Saan-veda by Dr. J. Stevenson (Lond. 1842-43) and Prof. Benfey (Leips. 1848); the text of the Yajir-veda by Prof. A. Weber (Berlin, 1852); the text of the Atharca-veda by Profs. L. Roth and W. D. Whitney (ibid. 1856). The first complete translation of the Rig-veda was made by Prof. H. H. Wilson (Lond. 1850-56, 4vols.). See Roth, ZursLiteratur und Geschichte des Weda (Stuttgart, 1846); Weber, Akademische Vorlesungen iiber indische Literaturgesch. (Berlin;1852); Miller, Hist. of Ancient Sanscrit Literature (Lond. 1859)' id. Chips from a German Workshop (N. Y. 1870); Whitney, Oriental and Linguistic Studies (ibid. 1872); 'Muir, Original Sanscrit Texts (1867-72, 5 vols.); Kaegi, Der Rsgveda (Zurich, '1878). For additional references, SEE HINDUS I.