The Vedas: Hinduism's Sacred Texts

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  • 0:01 The Four Vedas
  • 0:55 Historical Background
  • 1:58 Rig-Veda
  • 2:42 Lesser Vedas
  • 4:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explore the ancient Hindu texts known collectively as the Vedas. It will stress the importance of the Rig-Veda, while also explaining the roles of the three lesser Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas.

The Four Vedas

Throughout time, people of faith have elevated certain texts to positions of inspired power and reverence. We see it as Jews hold to the Torah, while Muslims elevate the teachings of the Quran. Like these faiths, Hinduism has their own sacred texts known collectively as the Vedas.

Today we'll take a look at these sacred Hindu texts. As we do this, some of us from the more Western frame of mind may find some of the names and different nuances of the texts a bit confusing. To make things as simple as possible, I'll try to link the different texts to familiar things within our paradigm. Your job will be to keep these two main things in mind. First, the Vedas are broken down into four collections. Second, the Rig-Veda is usually considered the most important of the four Veda collections.

Historical Background

With this in mind, let's get down some history. For starters, many believe the Vedas to be the oldest literary works of the Indus River Valley civilization. Some even go as far as to say they are the oldest sacred texts of mankind. However, since the ancients weren't really known for their exact record keeping, this claim is rather hard to prove. For our purposes of study, we'll go with the traditional dating of over 1000 years before Christ.

No matter when they were actually composed, Hindus believe the Vedas to be of divine origin, not authored by man. This is similar to the Christian belief that the Bible was inspired by God alone.

Written in Sanskrit, the ancient language of the Indus River Valley and the Indo-Aryan people, Hindu scholars still study the Vedas in this original language. So sacred are these texts, they are not to be translated into any other form. This is in sharp contrast to the Bible, which has been translated and shared in languages across the globe.

Rig-Veda

With this history in mind, let's take a look at the four collections of the Vedas. Since the Rig-Veda is usually considered the most important of the four, we'll start with it.

The Rig-Veda is believed to be the oldest of the four collections. Again, many consider it the oldest scriptures or sacred texts in the world. In short, it is a collection of religious poetry and hymns, which reflect the devotion of the early Hindu followers. Not only were these poems and hymns religious, they also included some social and political content. To help us remember the importance of this sort of king of the Vedas, we'll use some alliteration, calling it the 'royal Rig-Veda!'

Lesser Vedas

The next two Vedas we'll cover are the Yajur-Veda and the Sama-Veda. Not given as much prestige as the royal Rig-Veda, some scholars consider them almost as appendages of the Rig-Veda rather than stand-alone texts.

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