Vedas and Their Divisions/Branches
The traditional abodes of the ancient rishis and sages of India were pervaded with calm and serenity; this same atmosphere pervades the Veda Vidyalaya. The Acharyas (teachers) at the Vidyalaya impart the knowledge of the Vedas to the students with complete dedication and by means of traditional methods. Students study Rigveda, Shukla Yajurveda, Krishna Yajurveda, Samaveda, Adharvana Veda and Smartha. These Vedas contain divisions like Samhita, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads; they cover the whole gamut of various karmas, systems, and other salient features of Vedic tradition.
The Compiling Of The Vedas
If the Vedas are eternal and were manifest from the Supreme, then how were they first compiled into written form?
This is how it is explained. After the creation of the universal elements, Brahma was born from Lord Vishnu, the incarnation of God who directly manifests the material ingredients. Brahma is the first living entity in the universe and helps engineer the part of the creation which includes all the different forms of humans, vegetation, insects, aquatics, planetary systems, etc.
When Brahma was first generated, he was not sure what this material world was or who he was. There was no one else to enlighten him; so, he thought about it for a long time and tried to search out the cause of his existence but came to no conclusion. This is the same result that people will come to if they try to understand this universe and who they are simply by observing things through their senses. By analyzing the world with the mind and senses, they are bound to make many mistakes in their perception of things. Even with instruments like telescopes or microscopes, mistakes will be there because such machines are simply extensions of the same faulty senses. Therefore, retiring from his searching and mental speculation, Brahma engaged in deep meditation by controlling the mind and concentrating on the Supreme Cause.
By Brahma’s meditation and practice of penance for many years, the Supreme Lord Vishnu became satisfied with him and from within Brahma’s heart there awakened all transcendental knowledge and creative power. From his spiritual realizations, Brahma manifested the gayatri mantra. He also manifested the four primary Vedas. This is confirmed in the Vishnu Purana as well as the Vayu, Linga, Kurma, Padma, Markandaya, and Bhagavata Puranas.
Lord Vishnu taught this Vedic knowledge to Brahma and Brahma in turn taught this knowledge to other great sages who became manifest, including Narada Muni, who also taught it to others. This is where the oral tradition began, and how the Vedic knowledge was spoken from one person to another for thousands of years before it was written and compiled into the original samhitas. The Vedas were taught to the great saints and mystics who had such mental capabilities that they could memorize anything by hearing it once. This should not be considered too unusual because even today there are those who have memorized large amounts of scripture. For thousands of years the Vedas were carefully handed down in this way. This is further elaborated in the Bhagavatam:
“Out of the aforesaid (AUM or om mantra) the almighty Brahma (the creator born from Lord Vishnu) evolved the alphabet, comprising Antahsthas (semi-vowels), Usmas (aspirants), Swaras (vowels), Sparsas (sibilants) and the short, long, and prolated measures of sound. With this alphabet Brahma gave expression through his mouth to the four Vedas along with the om and Vyahritis (mystical names of the three planetary systems, Bhuh, Bhuvah and Svaha) with the intention of pointing out the duties of the four priests (officiating at a sacrifice, namely Adhwaryu, Udgata, Hota, and Brahmana). He then taught them to his (mind born) sons (Marichi and others) who were brahmana sages and expert in reciting the Vedas. The latter in their turn proved to be the promulgators of righteousness and taught the Vedas to their sons (Kasyapa and others). Received from generation to generation in the course of the four yugas by the pupils of the various sages–pupils who observed the vow of (lifelong) celibacy [in order to retain the Vedas in their memory]–the Vedas were later divided by great seers at the end of the Dvapara age, starting with Srila Vyasadeva. Perceiving the men in the age of Kali-yuga to be short-lived, deficient in energy and dull-witted due to the action of time (in the form of unrighteousness prevailing in it) the brahmana seers rearranged the Vedas as directed by the immortal Lord residing in their heart. [Thus, what was an oral tradition was compiled into written form.
“Then in the twenty-eighth Dvapara-yuga, in this present age of Vaivasvata Manu, the leaders of the universe, starting with Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva, requested the Supreme Lord to save the principles of religion. That Supreme Lord, exhibiting a divine spark of a portion of His plenary portion [Vishnu], then appeared in the womb of Satyavati, wife of the sage Parashara Muni. As the son of Parashara, Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa, in the same manner that the Vedas had been arranged by Him in former ages, divided the one Veda into four distinct Vedic books, known as the Rig, Atharva, Yajur and Sama Vedas. This Vyasa was the Deity of Lord Narayana, for who else could have composed the Mahabharata?” (Bhag.12.6.48-51)
In the lists of the main avataras of the Lord, the seventeenth incarnation is cited as Srila Vyasadeva, who appeared as the son of Parashara Muni and his wife Satyavati. His mission was to divide the one Veda into various branches and sub-branches so the people who are less intelligent can more easily understand them. (Bhag.1.3.21 & 2.7.36) He then composed the more important Vedic texts, culminating in his own commentary of the Vedic writing in the form of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. In this way, the one Veda became the four main samhitas, namely the Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas. Then came the Brahmana texts, the Vedanta Sutras, the Mahabharata, and then the Puranas, of which Vyasadeva considered the Bhagavata Purana the most important and complete.
It is also explained that the Bhagavata Purana is the literary incarnation of God, which is meant for the ultimate good of all people, and is all-blissful and all-perfect. Sri Vyasadeva offered it to his son after extracting the cream of all Vedic literature. This Bhagavata Purana is as brilliant as the sun, and has arisen just after the departure of Lord Krishna to His own abode. Persons who have lost their vision due to the dense darkness of this age of Kali can get light from this Purana. (Bhag.1.3.40-43)
To explain further about Srila Vyasadeva, Jiva Gosvami quotes the Vishnu Purana (3.4.2-5) in his Tattva-sandarbha (16.2) that a different empowered jiva soul takes the position of Vyasadeva in each incarnation as a shaktyavesha-avatara. However, in this particular divya-yuga, or cycle of the four ages, Lord Narayana Himself appears as Srila Krishna-Dvaipayana Vyasa to divide the Vedic literature into various branches, and is not simply an empowered living entity.
This is the basic story of how the Vedas appeared and were then divided. However, Srimad-Bhagavatam also explains: “In Satya-yuga, the first millennium, all the Vedic mantras were included in one mantra–pranava (om), the root of all Vedic mantras. In other words, the Atharva-veda alone [some say the Yajur-veda, the point being there was originally only one all-inclusive Veda] alone was the source of all Vedic knowledge. The Supreme Personality of Godhead Narayana (an expansion of Krishna) was the only worshipable Deity; there was no recommendation for worship of the demigods. Fire was one only, and the only order of life in human society was known as hamsa [the swanlike sages who were all spiritually self-realized].” (Bhag.9.14.48)
This indicates that originally there was no need for expanding the Vedic literature because everyone was self-realized. In Satya-yuga, the age of purity and peace, everyone knew the ultimate goal of life and they were not confused about this as people are today. There was only one Veda (which was unwritten until Vyasadeva compiled the Vedic literature at the end of the Dvapara-yuga), one mantra, one process of spiritual self-realization, and one form of worship. But as time passed and unrighteousness began to spread, things changed and there was a need for further elaboration of Vedic knowledge. Other processes of self-realization were also presented to accommodate the various levels of consciousness of the people. Thus, the primary purpose of the Vedas, which was the worship of the Supreme Lord for material liberation, changed and began focusing on the worship of demigods for the attainment of various material rewards through the performance of detailed rituals, as can especially be seen from the verses in the Rig and Sama Vedas.
To explain further, in Satya-yuga, which lasts 1,728,000 years, people live a very long time and the process for self-realization is meditating on Narayana. In the next age, Treta-yuga, which lasts 1,296,000 years, the spiritual tendency of the people declined by twenty-five percent, and the process for self-realization was the performance of ritualistic sacrifice, which the early Vedas fully describe. In the next age, Dvapara-yuga, which lasts 864,000 years, people engaged in opulent temple worship as the prescribed process for spiritual self-realization, but the religious inclination of people again declined by another twenty-five percent. In the present age of Kali-yuga, which lasts 432,000 years and started 5,000 years ago, people are all short-lived and exhibit almost no interest in self-realization or spiritual topics. For this reason, the Vedas were expanded and put into written form so that less intelligent people could more easily understand them. This is confirmed in the Bhagavatam in its description of the different incarnations of God who appear in this world:
“Thereafter, in the seventeenth incarnation of Godhead, Sri Vyasadeva appeared in the womb of Satyavati through Parasara Muni, and he divided the one Veda into several branches and subbranches, seeing that the people in general were less intelligent.” (Bhag.1.3.21)
Here we also find that Vyasadeva was in fact an incarnation of the Supreme who appeared with the purpose of establishing the Vedas in writing. The Vedas had previously been passed down through an oral tradition, but now there was a need for them to be written. How exactly Vyasadeva divided the Vedas is nicely told in Srimad-Bhagavatam in the following story:
“Once upon a time he (Vyasadeva), as the sun rose, took his morning ablution in the waters of the Sarasvati and sat alone to concentrate. The great sage saw anomalies in the duties of the millennium. This happens on the earth in different ages, due to the unseen forces in the course of time. The great sage, who was fully equipped with knowledge, could see, through his transcendental vision, the deterioration of everything material, due to the influence of the age [of Kali]. He could see also that the faithless people in general would be reduced in duration of life and would be impatient due to lack of goodness. Thus he contemplated for the welfare of men in all statuses of life.” (Bhag.1.4.15-18)
Srila Vyasadeva could see that in the future men would be very short-lived, quarrelsome, impatient, easily angered, and their memory would be very inefficient. So, there was now the need to put the Vedic sound vibration into writing. Otherwise, people would never be able to remember it as they had in the past, what to speak of studying and understanding it.
“He (Vyasadeva) saw that the sacrifices mentioned in the Vedas were means by which people’s occupations could be purified. And to simplify the process he divided the one Veda into four, in order to expand them among men. The four divisions of the original sources of knowledge (the Vedas) were made separately. But the historical facts and authentic stories mentioned in the Puranas are called the fifth Veda.” (Bhag.1.4.19-20)
How the one Veda was divided into four is explained more fully in the following quote from the Vishnu Purana: There was but one Veda (in the oral tradition), the Yajur Veda. The first Veda in four parts consisted of 100,000 stanzas, in which there were ten kinds of sacrificial rituals. Dividing it into four parts, Vyasa instituted the sacrificial rite that is administered by four kinds of priests, in which it is the duty of the Adhvaryu priests to recite the prayers (Yajush, or direct the ceremony); of the Hotri priests to repeat the hymns (Richas); of the Udgatri to chant other hymns (Sama); and of the Brahmana priests to pronounce the formula called Atharva. Then the great Muni, having collected together the hymns called the Richas complied the Rig Veda. With the prayers and directions termed the Yajushas he formed the Yajur Veda. With those called the Sama, he formed the Sama Veda. And with the Atharvas he composed the rules of all the ceremonies suited to kings, and the function of the Brahmana agreeably to practice in the Atharva Veda. This was the original tree of the Vedas, having been divided by him into four principal stems, soon branched out into an extensive forest of knowledge. (Vishnu Purana, Book Three, Chapter Four)
Once these were divided into the four basic samhitas, Vyasadeva called forth four of his disciples and first taught Paila Rishi the Rig Veda, calling it Bahvricha. He taught Vaishampayana Rishi the Yajur mantras, called Nigada. He taught the Sama Veda mantras, called Chandoga-samhita, to Jaimini, and the Atharva Veda to Sumantu. (Bhag.12.6.53 andVishnu Purana, Book Three, Chapter Four)
The Srimad-Bhagavatam continues: “After the Vedas were divided into four divisions, Paila Rishi became the professor of the Rig-veda, Jaimini the professor of the Sama-veda, and Vaisampayana alone became glorified by the Yajur-veda. The Sumantu Muni Angira, who was very devotedly engaged, was entrusted with Atharva-veda. And my (Suta Gosvami’s) father, Romaharsana, was entrusted with historical records [the Puranas]. All these learned scholars, in their turn, rendered their entrusted Vedas unto their many disciples, grand-disciples, and great grand-disciples, and thus the respective branches of the followers of the Vedas came into being. Thus, the great sage Vyasadeva, who is very kind to the ignorant masses, edited the Vedas so they might be assimilated by less intellectual men.” (Bhag.1.4.21-24)
Veda means “knowledge” in Sanskrit, is the most ancient sacred literature of Hinduism, or individual books belonging to Hindu literature. This body of ancient literature consists primarily of four collections of hymns, detached poetical portions, and ceremonial formulas. The collections are called the Rig-Veda, the Sama-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, and the Atharva-Veda. They are known also as the Samhitas.
2.Sama – Veda
3.Yajur – Veda
4.Atharva – Veda
The Rig Veda was composed between 1500 and 1200 BC, the period of Aryan conquest and consolidation. It is the oldest religious scripture in the world. It is a collection of 1,028 hymns to the gods. It is composed in various poetic meters and arranged in ten books. It was used by the hotri, or reciters, who invoked the gods by reading its hymns aloud.
The Sama -Veda contains verse portions taken mainly from the Rig-Veda. It was used by the udgatri, or chanters, who sang its hymns, or melodies (Sanskrit sama).
The Yajur-Veda, which now consists of two recensions, both of them partly in prose and partly in verse and both containing roughly the same material (although differently arranged), contains sacrificial formulas (Sanskrit yaja,”sacrifices”). It was used by the adhvaryu, priests who recited appropriate formulas from the Yajur-Veda while actually performing the sacrificial actions.
The fourth Veda, the Atharva-Veda (in part attributed by tradition to a rishi named Atharvan), consists almost exclusively of a wide variety of hymns, magical incantations, and magical spells. Largely for personal, domestic use, it was not originally accepted as authoritative because of the deviant nature of its contents. Scholars believe that it dates from a later time and that it may have been derived mainly from the remnant of the indigenous pre-Aryan culture. Eventually it was acknowledged as one of the Vedas, especially after its adoption as a ritual handbook by the Brahmans, the fourth and highest class of priests officiating at the
“Sarve Janah Sukhino Bhavantu”
(Peace and Happiness to all)