Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Vedas

The Vedas is the product of the Aryan invaders of the Indian subcontinent and their descendants, although the original inhabitants (disdainfully called d√°syus, or "slaves," in the Veda) may very well have exerted an influence on the final product. The Veda represents the particular interests of two classes of Aryan society, the priests (Brahmans) and the warrior-kings (Ksatriyas), who together ruled over the far more numerous peasants (Vaishyas). Vedic literature ranges from the Rigveda (Rgveda; c. 1400 BC) to the Upanishads (c. 1000-500 BC). This literature provides the sole documentation for all Indian religion before Buddhism and the early texts of classical Hinduism.

2- The most important texts are the four collections (Samhitas) known as the Vedas (i.e., "Books of Knowledge"): the Rigveda ("Wisdom of the Verses"), the Yajurveda ("Wisdom of the Sacrificial Formulas"), the Samaveda ("Wisdom of the Chants"), and the Atharvaveda ("Wisdom of the Atharvan Priests"). Of these, the Rigveda is the oldest.

3- In the Vedic texts following these earliest compilations, the Brahmanas (discussions of the ritual), Aranyakas (books studied in the forest), and Upanishads (secret teachings concerning cosmic equations), the interest in the early Rigvedic gods wanes, and they become little more than accessories to the Vedic rite. Polytheism begins to be replaced by a sacrificial pantheism of Prajapati ("Lord of Creatures"), who is the All.

4- Deities: One of the principal Vedic deities was Indra, the god of war and thunder; nearly one quarter of the Vedic hymns are dedicated to him. Other key deities were Varuna, the sky god who maintains cosmic order and protects moral action; Mitra, the sun god who stimulates life and brings prosperity; Rudra, the god of violence, destruction, disease, and death; and Soma, the god of intoxicating juices consumed in ritual.