Monday, January 17, 2011

Scriptures of Sanatana Dharma - Vedas

Origional Script
Hinduism is referred to as Sanathana Dharma, the eternal faith. Hinduism is based on the practice of Dharma, the code of life. Hinduism has no founder.
While religion means to bind, Dharma means to hold. What man holds on to is his inner law, which leads from ignorance to Truth. Though reading of the scriptures (saastras) would not directly lead you to self-realization, the teachings of the seers provide a basis and a path for spirituality. Despite being the oldest religion, the truth realized by the seers proves that the truth and path provided by Hinduism is beyond time.
Hinduism is more a way of life than a specific religion. In Hinduism one can find all religions of the world. Various religions like Buddhism, Sikhism emerged from it. The most important aspect of Hinduism is being truthful to oneself. Hinduism has no monopoly on ideas. It is open to all. Hindus believe in one God expressed in different forms. For them, God is timeless and formless entity. Hindus believe in eternal truths and these truths are opened to anyone who seeks them, even if he or she is ignorant of Hindu scriptures or ideas. This religion also professes Non-violence - "Ahimsa Paramo Dharma" - Non violence is the highest duty. True Ahimsa implies curtsey, kindness, hospitality, humanity and love.
Most of the Hindus do not know about their scriptures. They are aware of Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavat Gita only. But we have lot of scriptures. Every Hindu must be aware of his/her scriptures. This is a small attempt to give the reader a brief knowledge about our scriptures.
The primary texts of Sanatana Dharma are
The oldest and the most important scriptures of Sanathana Dharma are the Vedas. Veda means knowledge. Vedas are apauruseya, which means they are not compilations of human knowledge. Vedic knowledge comes from the spiritual world, from Lord the Supreme Personality.
The Vedas are known as the revealed Truths. Vedas are the recordings of the revelations received through transcendental experiences of the Rishis of ancient India.
Vedic knowledge is complete because it is above all doubts and mistakes, and Bhagavad-gita is the essence of all such Vedic knowledge. Out of many standard and authoritative revealed scriptures, the Bhagavad-gita is the best. The Bhagavad-gita however is a part of the epic Mahabharata.
The humans are divided by vedas according to their orders of life namely Brahmacharya, Grihasthashram, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa and vedas teach us how a soul could be purified. To simplify the process and make them more easily performable, Maharshi Vyasa divided the Vedas into four, Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva in order to expand them among men.
1. Rig-Veda
The Rig-Veda Samhita is the grandest and oldest book of the Hindus. Its immortal mantras embody the greatest truths of existence and its priest is called the Hotri. The Rig-veda contains 10,552 verses divided into 64 chapters. Besides that it has got twenty-five branches written by several Rishis. The Rig-veda contains the most sacred Gayatri mantra.
2. Yajur-Veda
Its name is derived from the root word 'yaj' meaning worship. The term for sacrifice i.e. yajna is also derived from here. It primarily deals with the procedural details for performing different yajnas
There are two distinct Yajur Veda Samhitas, the Shukla Yajur Veda or Vajasaneyi Samhita and the Krishna Yajur Veda or Taittireya Samhita. The Krishna or the Taittireya is the older book and the Sukla or the Vajasaneyi is a later revelation to sage Yajnavalkya from the resplendent Sun God. About half of the Yajur-Veda are composed of verses taken from the Rig-Veda. They are arranged according to their importance in various rituals. The remaining part (mainly prose) deals with the formulae for performing the yajna, external as well as internal. The famous Rudra hymns belong to the Krishna Yajur Veda. The Yajur-Veda contains 1875 verses. Besides that it has got one hundred and eight branches.
3. Sama-Veda
The Sama-Veda Samhita is mostly borrowed from the Rig-vedic Samhita, and is meant to be sung by the Udgatri, the Sama-vedic priest, in sacrifices. 'Sama' means peace. Accordingly this Veda contains chants to bring peace to the mind. Many of the hymns of the Rig-Veda are set to musical notes in Sama Veda. Sama Veda is the basis of the seven notes (Sapta Swaras), fundamental to Indian classical music. The listening of the musical chants gives one a sense of universality and a mingling with the divine. The 'udgaata' or beginning ceremony before a yajna is actually a chanting of hymns from Sama Veda to ensure the grace of all the Devas. The Sama-Veda contains approximately 2000 verses. Besides that it has got one thousand branches.
4. Atharva-Veda
This Veda is named after a sage called Atharvan who discovered the mantras contained in it. It is basically a book of magic spells to ward off evil and suffering and to destroy one's enemies. It deals more with the things here and now, than the hereafter, and with the sacrifices which are a means to them. The mantras are in prose as well as verse. There also hymns addressed to devas other than the ones mentioned in the other three Vedas. There are hymns, which deal with creation also. Brahma is the representative of Atharva Veda. The Atharva Veda gives a useful insight into the rich landscape of India at the time of its composition.
The Atharva Veda contains of 5987 verses. Besides that it has got fifty branches.
Yajur-veda and Sama-veda use the hymns of Rig-Veda and Atharva-Veda and rearrange them in a manner suitable for rituals.

In all, the four Vedas have got One thousand one hundred and eighty three (1183) branches. Each Veda consists of four parts to suit the four stages in a man's life- Brahmacharya, Grihasta, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa. The four divisions are Mantra Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads.

The Mantra-Samhitas which are hymns in praise of the Vedic God for acquiring material prosperity and happiness. They are poems comprising prayers, hymns and incantations addressed to various deities. This portion also contains information about the creative process, the universal laws, about the creation and the universe in detail. It is useful to Brahmacharins.

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