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The Vedas
The most sacred scriptures of Hinduism are the Vedas ("Books of Knowledge"), a collection of texts
written in Sanskrit from about 1200 BCE to 100 CE. As sruti, the Vedas are regarded as the absolute
authority for religious knowledge and a test of Hindu orthodoxy (both Jains and Buddhists reject the
Vedas). "For Hindus, the Veda is a symbol of unchallenged authority and tradition." Selections from the
Vedas are still memorized and recited for religious merit today. Yet much of the religion presented in the
Vedas is unknown today and plays little to no role in modern Hinduism.
As historical and religious literature often is, the text is written from the perspective of the most powerful
groups, priests and warrior-kings. Scholars say it is therefore unlikely that it represents the totality of
religious belief and practice in India in the first millennium BCE. This perspective is especially evident in
the earlier parts of the Vedas, in which the primary concerns are war, rain, and dealing with the "slaves,"
or native inhabitants of India.
Initially, the Vedas consisted of four collections of mantras (Samhitas), each associated with a particular
priest or aspect of ritual: Rig Veda (Wisdom of the Verses); Sama Veda (Wisdom of the Chants); Yajur
Veda (Wisdom of the Sacrificial Formulas); and Atharva Veda (Wisdom of the Atharvan Priests).
Over the centuries, three kinds of additional literature were attached to each of the Samhitas: Brahmanas
(discussions of the ritual); Aranyakas ("books studied in the forest"); and Upanishads (philosophical
In these later texts, especially the Upanishads, the polytheism of the earlier Vedas has evolved into a
pantheism focused on Brahman, the supreme reality of the universe. This concept remains a key feature of
Hindu philosophy today.
While the Vedas mainly discuss religion and rituals, they also give historians vital information about
Early India. During the Vedic Age (when the Vedas were written), India was divided into many small
kingdoms, often warring with one another. It would be many years until a ruler could unite them all.
Selected verses:
Quote 1: “Truth cannot be suppressed and always is the ultimate victor."
-the Yajur Veda
Quote 2: "When the family is ruined,
the timeless laws of family duty perish;
and when duty is lost,
Chaos overwhelms the family."
-Bhagavad-gita 1:40
Quote 3: "You must learn to endure fleeting things
they come and go!"
-Bhagavad-gita 2:14
Quote 4: "Life and death, joy and sorrow, gain and loss; These dualities cannot be avoided. Learn to accept what
you cannot change."
-the Ramayana
Quote 5: "Do not be led by others,
awaken your own mind,
amass your own experience,
and decide for yourself your own path."
-The Atharva Veda
Quote 6: On this Earth do I stand,
Unvanquished, unslain, unhurt.
Set me, O Earth, amidst the nourishing strength
That emanates from thy body.
The Earth is my mother,
her child am I!
-the Atharva Veda
Quote 7: "Strive to move away from untruth towards truth.”
-the Atharva Veda
Quote 8: "An ignorant man is lost, faithless, and filled with self-doubt;
A soul that harbors doubt has no joy, not in this world or the next."
-Bhagavad-gita 4:40
Quote 9: “O Indra, destroy all
those lustful people
behaving like birds....
angry ones
behaving like wolves....
greedy ones
behaving like vultures....
enticed ones
behaving like owls.....
arrogant ones
behaivng like eagles
and the jealous ones
behaving like dogs.”
- The Atharva Veda
Quote 10: "We do not know which weight is worse to bear
our conquering them or their conquering us."
-Bhagavad-gita 2:6
Quote 11: "Now, I am become Death, Destroyer of worlds.
I am vengeful time!
All around you in battle are your enemies
But their deaths are not yours but mine!
So arise my champion, without remorse..
Bravely, even joyously defeat your foes,
for you are the most amazing archer,
but truly 'tis I who guide your arrows!"
-Bhagavad-gita 11:32 and 33
Quote 12: “The person who is always involved in good deeds experiences incessant divine happiness. ”
-The Rig Veda
1. What are the Vedas? When were they written?
2. To which religion are the Vedas considered “holy scriptures”?
3. Who wrote the Vedas?
4. What do the Vedas reveal about Ancient Indian history?
5. Which quote is your favorite? Why? Write a paragraph discussing your selected quote’s significance.