Karma kanda vedic literatures

There are three main sections of the Vedic scriptures. 

The four main Vedas  and Brahmanas  deals primarily with ritual and are a part of the Karma kanda   classification, meant for appeasing the gods for one’s necessities and desires, and for helping purify the mind.

The Upanishads and Aranyakas are part of the Jnana kanda section, meaning they contain knowledge meant for introspection and contemplation.

The  Upasana kanda section consists of those instructions on devotional service to God, which is found later in the Vedanta-Sutras, the Puranas and other books.

Karma Kanda

The Vedic literature is composed of many books. The oldest texts are the Rig-veda, Yajur-veda, Sama-veda, and the Atharva-veda. It is said in the Muktikopanishad that these four Vedas had 21, 109, 1000, and 50 branches respectively, with over 100,000 verses. Now, however, we can only find around 20,023 (some say 20,379) verses in total from these four Vedas.

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Rig-veda:

The Rig-veda, the “Veda of Praise” contains 1,017 hymns, or 10,522 verses, arranged in ten books or mandalas. The first eight mostly contain hymns of praise to the various demigods, such as Indra and Agni. The ninth book deals primarily with the soma ritual, which was the extraction and purification of the juice of the soma herb. The tenth book contains suktas or verses of wisdom and mantras that would cause certain magical effects to take place. The Rig-veda hymns were mainly of praise to the gods that were invoked during the Vedic ceremonies for ensuring immediate material needs. These were chanted by the four priests who conducted the Vedic rituals, namely the hota who calls the gods with the mantras from the Rig-veda; the adhvaryu who performs all the rituals of the ceremony according to the Yajur-veda; the udgata who sings the Sama-veda mantras; and the brahmana who supervises the general ceremony. However, it was usually only the brahmana priests who could be sure of chanting the mantras accurately to produce the desired result. If the mantra was chanted incorrectly by someone who was not qualified, the desired result would not take place and often something undesirable or horrible would happen instead.

The main gods in the Rig-veda were Indra (the god of heaven and rain), Agni (the fire god) and Surya (the sun god). Surya is invoked in the sacred Gayatri mantra. However, Surya is also called Surya-Narayana in the Rig-veda. So the hymns to Surya and his different forms can also be related to Narayana or Vishnu, especially those to Savitur. Vishnu is also known as the Pervader, meaning that all the Vedic gods are absorbed in Him, and thus must also emanate from Him. They would be absorbed in Him during the time of cosmic annihilation, but would also emanate from Him during the time of the creation. There were also verses to three other names and forms of the sun god, namely Savitri, Mitra and Pooshan. Other gods included Dyos (a celestial god), Varuna (god of the seas), Soma, Marut (god of air or wind called Vayu in other places), Rudra (a form of Shiva) and Vishnu. All of these gods are celestial gods, or demigods, except for Rudra and Vishnu. There is also the important Purusha Sukta hymn in the 90th chapter of the Rig-veda’s tenth mandala.

The Rig-veda is also a mystical text that contains knowledge in its abstract imagery of what the seers had realized. It has information on yoga, the spinal current and the chakras, as well as the planets and their orbits. Many aspects of this mystical knowledge are also contained in the other Vedas. The Rig-veda is said to have had 21 branches, out of which only two are still available. Much of the Shakal branch is still available, along with the Brahmana and Aranyaka of the Shankhayan branch. Although there are some stories in the Rig-veda, there are few historical records of the early Vedic kings. This has been a mistake amongst various linguists and researchers who study the Rig-veda to try to get an historical understanding of the early Vedic kingdom and Aryans.

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Yajur-veda:

The Yajur-veda is the “Veda of Rituals” and contains 1975 verse-mantras in 40 chapters, many of which are similar to those in the Rig-veda and used in rituals, usually by the adhvaryu priest. These contain different levels of knowledge and wisdom. The Yajur-veda once had 109 branches of knowledge, but now only parts of seven branches are found, of which the Vajasaneyi is prominent. The Yajur-veda, however, has two samhitas, or collections of verses, known as the White Yajur-veda (or Vajasaneyi-samhita) with the hymns and rituals, and the Black Yajur-veda (or Taittiriya-samhita) with their interpretations. These were primarily for the priests to use as a guide in performing sacred rituals, such as the ashvamedha or rajasuya, since they also contain directions or formulas that the priests use along with the verses that are sung during the ceremony.
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The Sama-veda, the “Veda of Melodies” contains 1549 verses meant to be used as songs in various ceremonies, primarily for the udgata priest. Most of them are taken from the Rig-veda and arranged according to their use as utilized in particular rituals. From the original 1000 branches of the Sama-veda, three are still available, of which the Kauthumiya and Jaiminiya are prominent.
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The Atharva-veda is the “Veda of Chants” and once had 50 branches of which we have only the Shaunak branch today. It is a book of 5977 verses in 20 chapters containing prayers, spells, and incantations which in some respects resemble magical instructions found in the Tantras and even various magical incantations found in Europe. The Atharva-veda contains a small section of verses of instruction, wisdom, descriptions of the soul and God, but the majority of it consists of rules for worshiping the planets, rules for oblations and sacrifices, prayers for averting evil and disease, incantations for the destruction of foes, for fulfilling personal desires, etc., mostly for the material needs of people.

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BRAHMANAS

Although the four principle Vedas include the concept of spiritual perfection or liberation, it is not so thoroughly developed or presented. Therefore, to help one understand what the goal of Vedic philosophy is, there are also other compositions along with the four Vedas, namely the Brahmanas, Aranyakas,  Upanishads, Itihas . Originally, the Brahmanas consisted of 1180 branches, with the same number of Aranyakas. Unfortunately, only a few of these branches remain today. The Upanishads also had 1180 branches to continue the explanation of these Vedic divisions of knowledge and practice. However, only about 200 are still available.

The Brahmanas are compositions that accompany different portions of the Veda Samhitas with additional directions and details that the brahmana priests would use when performing the sacrificial rituals, along with some of their histories. They include the Aitareya, the Shankhayan or Kausitaki, and the Shatpath and Taittariya Brahmanas that are connected to the Rig-veda. These contain such instructions as what to meditate on and how to chant the mantras while conducting the sacrifice, etc. The Brahmanas also hold cosmological legends and stories that explain the reason for performing the Vedic rituals, along with the esoteric significance of the mantras and sacrificial rituals. They also describe the verses in the main Samhitas. Furthermore, they provide the seeds of the systematic knowledge of the Sutras, and can be used by the village householders.

The Panchvinsha, Shadvinsha, and Tandya Brahmanas belong to the Sama-veda, while the Jaiminiya and Gopatha Brahmanas belong to the Atharva-veda. The Shatapatha Brahmana, a large volume of 100 chapters authored by Yajnavalkya, is said to belong to the Shukla Yajur-veda.

 

 

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Source: http://www.stephen-knapp.com/complete_review_of_vedic_literature.htm

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