Breaking Down the (Rig) Vedas

World History to 1500 (115)

October 1, 2004

The Rig Veda is a collection of over 1000 hymns that contain mythology of the Hindu gods and is considered to be one of the fundamentals of the Hindu religion. While the Rig Veda is the oldest of the Vedas, there are three other Vedas. There is the Sama Veda, which is “the knowledge of chants”. There is also the Yajur Veda or “knowledge of rites”. The final Veda is the Athara Veda which represents the knowledge given by Athara who was a sage. These Vedas were passed down orally for many generations. When they were written down, they were first written in Vedic, which was an early form of Sanskrit. Around 500 BCE the Vedas were written down in the form that we have them today.

The Aryans, who entered the Indus Valley as migrants around 1500 BCE, wrote the Rig Vedas. They wrote this Veda between 1300 and 1000 BCE. There may be other influences on these works though from other civilizations. This is because the Vedas were being developed before the Aryans began to arrive.

Even though there are many Vedas written, the most important is the Rig, which contains over 1000 hymns aimed at the Gods. These hymns contain praises, blessings, sacrifices and curses. These hymns are the major way in which the Aryan people praised their Gods. As we have seen in class, this is a poetic language. The Vedas can be chanted, creating a worshipful mood in a person. When these words were chanted, some people were transported into another state of mind. A lot of times these hymns were chanted at their religious ceremonies.

At the end of the Rig and the other Vedas, the Hindu priests added a summery of the philosophy of the Vedas. For the Hindu people, they serve as a summary of all the knowledge of the Veda as well as an explanation of them.

The religion that came forth from the Vedas helped shape Indian society. The Vedas and Vedic literature were used in the progress of the caste system. The Rig Veda describes how the god Purusa sacrificed himself to himself. Each of the pieces of his body developed into a different segment of society. His mouth became the priests, his arms became the warriors, his thighs became the farmers and merchants, and his feet became the slaves and servants. Each part of society had its own role, but together still formed a single body.

As we have seen and learned the Vedas gave great insight to religion, rituals, ways of life and a sense of time. They also showed social stratification and that everybody had a specified job to do. These people also believe in Karma so they were hesitant to cause an up roar against their role in fear that they would have a reduced role in a future life.