The Vedas are the most ancient books in the World and so stand for the foundation of Hinduism. Veda means knowledge with no beginning or end. The ancient seers accepted that knowledge of the reality of the universe could never be completely accommodated in a treatise and there would be new things to discover. Hindu tradition regards the Vedas as uncreated, eternal and being revealed to sages. The Vedas are considered as ‘Śruti’, or revealed texts. They were not given by a prophet but heard by many different sages or Rishis during deep meditation. These were combined in poetic form. VID in Sanskrit means “to know”. The fundamental belief is that the Vedas are ‘sanātan’ or eternal and ‘apaurusheya’ or not composed by a human entity.
The Vedas are believed to be compiled by the great sage, Krishna Dwipayana, during the Dwāpara Yuga. Based on the teachings passed on, he compiled them into four Vedas- the Rig, Yajur, Sāma and Atharva. He then became known as Veda Vyāsa, which means “Compiler of the Vedas”. Paila arranged the hymns of the Rig Veda. Those that were chanted during religious and social ceremonies were compiled by Vaishampayana, under the title, “Yajus Mantra Samhita”. Jaimini is said to have collected hymns that were set to music and melody, entitled “Sāman”. The fourth collection of hymns and chants known as the “AtharvaSamhita” was collected by Sumanta. The Rigveda, the oldest, consists of 1028 hymns. The Sāmaveda is more of a rearrangement of the Rigveda in a musical way. The Yajurveda contains sacrificial prayers and the Atharvaveda gives charms, incantations and magical guidelines.
The next categories of texts are the Brāhmanās. These are ritual texts that describe the sacrifices in which the Mantras are to be used, with meanings. The Aranyakās and Upanishads are philosophical or spiritual interpretations of the Vedas, and are considered their essence, thus known as Vedānta, ‘the end of the Vedas’. The Vedas are neither polytheistic nor pantheistic. While there is evidence that everyone was equally allowed to study the Vedas and many Vedic “authors” were women, the later Dharmaśāstrās [Sutra age], held that women were not required to study the Veda. The ‘Upavedas ‘are derived from the Vedas and are specific applications of the teachings of the Vedas. The main Upavedas are:
i. Āyurveda (Medical system) – Living with nature instead of fighting it;
using preventive, instead of corrective medicine; using herbs for cure.
ii. Dhanur Veda (Martial arts, archery, defensive arts ) – These utilize
andenhance Prāna (Life Force/ Energy).
iii. Stahapatya Veda -Architecture, sculpture and geomancy [for Temple design]
iv. Gandharva Veda- Music, poetry and dance [Nātya Veda]
v. JyotiśaŚāstra- (Indian Astrology),
vi. Tantra- (derived from the Purānas which are in turn based on Vedas),
vii. Grammar and pronunciation or Vyākarana andŚikśa are also based on theVedas.
Hindu Tantra is sometimes conceived as being antithetical to views in the Vedas. This is not so at all. In fact, a famous proverb speaks of ‘Tantra’ and ‘Veda’ as the two human eyes that together contribute to the ‘vision’. The ascribing of esoteric meaning and symbolism to the Vedas is commonplace in the Tāntric tradition. Tāntric concepts are said to be reflected in myths, secretly hidden to the uninitiated. The esoteric (tāntric) interpretation often takes the form of meditational instruction, where the body and its processes have a microcosmic correspondence with the macrocosm. Tripura Rahasya, one of the central texts of ŚāktaTantra, says that this text has been created by summarising the teachings of the Vedas, Purānas and other Scriptures.