Overview :

The term Veda means “Knowledge”. Vedic literatures are most important sources of knowledge about Aryans and Vedic period. The literature had grown in the course of many centuries and was handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth which also called shruti.

1. Rigved :

1. Compiled around 1500-1000 BC

2. Literal meaning of the term ‘rig’ is ‘to praise’

3. A collection of hymns

4. Volumes are called Mandal

5. Mandal III contains the Gayatri Mantra which was compiled in the praise of sun god.

6. Mandal IX contains hyms called Purush Sukta from where varna system is discussed.

7. Rishi who were experts in Rigved were called hotra or hotri.

8. It has many things in common with Zend-Avesta, which is the oldest text in Iranian language.

2. Samved :

1. Collection of songs and most of the songs were taken from the hymns of Rigved.

2. Udgatri was the experts of Samved

3. Compilation laid the foundation of Indian Music

3. Yajurved :

1. Collection of sacrificial formula

2. Describes the rituals to be followed at the time of recitation of mantra.

3. Adhvaryu was the experts of the knowledge of Yajurved.

4. It contains both prose and poetry

5. It is divided into two parts- Krishna Yajurved and Shukla Yajurved

4. Atharvved :

1. Collection of charms and spells

2. Contains magical hymns to get relief from diseases

3. Indian medicinal science i.e. Ayurved has its origin from Atharvved

5. The Brahamans :

1. Contains details about the meanings of Vedic hymns, their applications, and stories of their origins.

2. Aitareya or Kaushitaki Brahmans were allotted to the Rigved for detailing

3. Tandya and Jaiminiya Brahmans to Samved for detailing

4. Taittireeya and Shatpath Brahamans to Yajurved for detailing

5. Gopath Brahamans to the Atharvved for detailing

6. The Aranyakas :

1. It means forest.

2. Written in forests for the hermits and students of the Vedas.

3. Initiated a changeover from materialistic religion to spiritual religion. Hence, they formed a tradition that culminates in the Upanishads

4. They are like a bridge between Vedas cum Brahmans and Upanishads.

7. The Upanishads :

1. The last phase of Vedic literature

2. Deals with metaphysics i.e. Philosophy

3. Also called Vedant

4. Contain subject about matter about soul, brahman, rebirth and theory of karma.

5. Emphasizes the path of knowledge

6. Literal meaning of Upanishads is ‘to sit near the feet of’

7. Important Upanishads – Chandogya Upanishads, Brahadaranyak Upanishads, Katha Upanishads, Isha Upanishads, Prashna Upanishads, Mundak Upanishads

8. Conversation of Yam and Nachiketa is the subject-matter or Katha Upanishads.

9. Satyamev Jayate in the National Emblem is taken from Mundak Upanishad.

8. Vedangs :

1. Known as limbs of Vedas

2. Compiled during Sutra period. Hence it is called Sutra literature

3. There are six in number:

A. Shiksha - Phonetics of Science of Pronunciation

B. Kalp - Rituals and ceremonies

C. Vyakaran - Grammar

D. Nirukt – Etymology (Origin of words)

E. Chand – Metrics, rules of poetic composition

F. Jyotish - Astronomy

1. Veds :

Four collections were made and came to be viewed as sacred in Hinduism. There are four Veds :

1. Rig-Ved :

Its traditional date goes back to 3000 BC, something which the German scholar Max Mueller accepted. As a body of writing, the Rig-Ved (the wisdom of verses) is nothing short of remarkable. It contains 1028 hymns (10,589 verses which are divided into ten mandals or book-sections) dedicated to thirty-three different gods. The most often addressed gods were nature gods like Indra (rain god; king of heavens), Agni (fire god), Rudra (storm god; the ‘howler’), Som (the draught of immortality, an alcoholic brew).

2. Sam-Ved :

The Sam-Ved or the wisdom of chants is basically a collection of Samns or chants, derived from the eighth and ninth books of the Rig-Ved. These were meant for the priests who officiated at the rituals of the soma ceremonies. There are painstaking instructions in Sam-Ved about how particular hymns must be sung; to put great emphasis upon sounds of the words of the mantras and the effect they could have on the environment and the person who pronounced them.

3. Yajur-Ved :

The Yajur-Ved or the wisdom of sacrifices lays down various sacred invocations (yajurs) which were chanted by a particular sect of priests called adhvaryu. They performed the sacrificial rites. The Ved also outlines various chants which should be sung to pray and pay respects to the various instruments which are involved in the sacrifice.

4. Atharv Ved :

The Atharv Ved (the wisdom of the Atharvans) is called so because the families of the atharvan sect of the Brahmins have traditionally been credited with the composition of the Veds. It is a compilation of hymns but lacks the awesome grandeur which makes the Rig-Ved such a breathtaking spiritual experience.

2. Shakhas :

A shakha (Sanskrit sakha, "branch" or "limb") is a Hindu theological school that specializes in learning certain Vedic texts, or else the traditional texts followed by such a school. An individual follower of a particular school or recension is called a sakhin. The term is also used in Hindu philosophy to refer to an adherent of a particular orthodox system.

A related term karna, ("conduct of life" or "behavior") is also used to refer to such a Vedic school: "although the words karna and sakha are sometimes used synonymously, yet karna properly applies to the sect or collection of persons united in one school, and sakha to the traditional text followed, as in the phrase sakham adhite, ("he recites a particular version of the Veda")". The schools have different points of view, described as "difference of (Vedic) school" (sakhabhed). Each school would learn a specific Vedic Samhita (one of the "four Vedas" properly so-called), as well as its associated Brahman, Aranyakas, Shrautasutras, Grhyasutras and Upanishads.

In traditional Hindu society affiliation with a specific school is an important aspect of class identity. By the end of the Rig Vedic period the term Brahman had come to be applied to all members of the priestly class, but there were subdivisions within this order based both on caste and on the shakha (branch) with which they were affiliated. A Brahman who changed school would be called "a traitor to his sakha" (sakharandah).

Summary of schools :

Late Vedic culture (1100-500 BCE), with shakhas shown in red. The Koshal-Magadh region was not considered part of Aryavart until after Vedic times, despite the presence of sakhas. It constituted a culturally markedly different region, which gave rise to Jainism and Buddhism.

The traditional source of information on the shakhas of each Ved is the Karna-vyuh, of which two, mostly similar, versions exist: the 49th parisista of the Atharv ved, ascribed to Shaunak, and the 5th parisista of the Sukla (White) Yajur ved, ascribed to Katyayan. These have lists of the numbers of recensions that were believed to have once existed as well as those still extant at the time the works were compiled. Only a small number of recensions have survived.

Saraswati Gangadhar's devotional poetry written in Marathi called Shri Gurucharitra describes different shakhas of 4 Vedas in 27th chapter.

The schools are enumerated below, categorised according to the Ved each expounds.

Click on the image to enlarge

Late Vedic culture (1100-500 BCE), with shakhas shown in red. The Koshal-Magadh region was not considered part of Aryavart until after Vedic times, despite the presence of sakhas. It constituted a culturally markedly different region, which gave rise to Jainism and Buddhism.

1. Rig Ved :

Saunak's Karna-vyuh lists five shakhas for the Rig Ved, the Sakal, Bhaskal, Asvalayana, Sankhayan, and Mandukayan of which only the Sakal and Bhaskal and very few of Asvalayan are now extant. The Bhaskal recension of the Rigved has the Khilani which are not present in the Shakal text but is preserved in one Kashmir manuscript (now at Pune). The Shakal has the Aitareya-Brahman, The Bhaskal has the Kausitaki-Brahman.

Shri Gurucharitra mentions 12 shakhas for the Rig Ved namely Shravak, Shravanya, Jata, Shafat, Pathkram (2), Dand, Ashvalayani, Shakhayani, Shakla, Bhaskala, and Manduka in Ovi 35 to 38.

There is, however, Sutra literature from the Asvalayana shakha, both a shrauta sutra and a grhya sutra, both surviving with a commentary (vrtti) by Gargya Naranaya. Gargya Naranaya's commentary was based on the longer commentary or bhashya by Devasvamin, written in the 11th century.

The Sankhayan shakha has been recently rediscovered in Banswada in Rajasthan where two septuagenarians are the last surviving practitioners.

2. Yajur Ved :

Saunaka's Karna-vyuh lists forty-two or forty-four out of eighty-six shakhas for the Yajur Ved, but that only five of these are now extant, with a sixth partially extant. For the Yajur Ved the five (partially in six) shakhas are the (Vajasaneyi Madhandina, Kanva; Taittiriya, Maitrayani, Carak-Katha, Kapisthal-Katha).

The Yajurvedin shakhas are divided in Shukla (White) and Krishna (Black) schools. The White recensions have separate Brahmans, while the Black ones have their(much earlier) Brahmanas interspersed between the Mantras.

Shukla Yajurved
Vajasaneyi Samhita Madhyandina (VSM), Vajasaneyi Samhita Kanva (VSK) : Shatpath Brahman (ShBM, ShBK)
Krishna Yajurved
Taittiriya Samhita (TS) with an additional Brahman, Taittiriya Brahman (TB), Maitrayani Samhita (MS), Carak-Katha Samhita (KS), Kapisthal-Katha Samhita (KapS).

Shukla :

Shakha Samhita Brahman Aranyaka Upanishad
Madhyandina (VSM)
Currently recited by all over North Indian Brahmins and by Deshastha Brahmins
Madhyandina Shatpath (SBM)
survives as Shatpath XIV.1-8, with accents.
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad = SBM XIV. 3-8, with accents, Ishavasya Upanishad = VSM 40
Kanva (VSK)
Currently recited by Utkal Brahmins, Kannad Brahmins, some Karhade Brahmins and few Iyers
Kanva Shatapatha (SBK)(different from madhyandina)
survives as book XVII of SBK
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad=SBK,with accents, Ishavasya Upanishad = VSK 40

Krishna :

Shakha Samhita Brahmana Aranyaka Upanishad
TS, Present all over South India and in Konkan
Taittiriya Brahmana (TB) and Vadhula Br. (part of Vadhula Srautrasutra)
Taittiriya Aranyaka (TA)
Taittiriya Upanishad (TU)
MS, Recited by few Brahmins in Nasik
virtually same as the Upanishad
Maitrayaniya Upanishad
Katha Aranyaka (almost the entire text from a solitary manuscript)
Kathak Upanishad, Katha-Shiksha Upanishad
KapS (fragmentary manuscript, only first sections accented), edited (without accents) by Raghu Vira.

3. Sam Ved :

Saunak's Caran-vyuha lists twelve shakhas for the Sam Ved out of a thousand that are said to have once existed, but that of these only one or perhaps two are still extant. The two Samved recensions are the Jaiminiya and Kauthum.

In Ovi 203 to 210 of chapter 27, Shri Gurucharitra mentions 8 of the thousands of shakhas namely asurayaniya, vasurayaniya, vatantareya, pramjali, rjñagvainavidha, pracina yogyasakha, jñanayoga and ranayaniya. Of these ranayaniya has 10 shakhas namely ranayaniya, sankhyayani, sathya, mugdal, khalval, mahakhalval, langal, kaithuma, gautam and jaimini.

The Kauthum shakha has the PB, SadvB, the Jaiminiya shakha has the Jaiminiya Brahman.

Shakha Samhita Brahmana Aranyaka Upanishad
edited,Recited by all over North and in South India[citation needed]
edited (8 Brahmans in all), no accents
None. The Samhita itself has the ‘Aranyaka’.
Chandogya Upanishad
Manuscripts of Samhita exist.Recited by Gokarna,and Deshastha Brahmins[citation needed]
Same as Kauthum with minor differences.
None. The Samhita itself has the ‘Aranyaka’.
Same as Kauthuma.
Samhita edited.Recited by Nambudiris and choliyal of Tamil nadu[citation needed] Two distinct styles of Saman recitation, partially recorded and published.[citation needed]
Brahman published (without accents) – Jaiminiya Brahman, Arsheya Brahman
Tamil Nadu version of Talavakara Aranyaka (=Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana) published[citation needed]
Ken Upanishad

4. Atharv Ved :

Only one shakha of an original nine is now extant for the Atharvved. The nine sakhas were Paippalad, Taud, Maud, Shaunakiya, Jajal, Jalad, Brahmavad, Devdarshan and Chaaran-Vaidya. In Ovi 217 to 219 of chapter 27, Shri Gurucharitra mentions 9 shakhas namely paippal, dant, pradamta, stota, auta, brahmad yasad, saunaki, veddarshan and caranvidya.

The Shaunak is the only shakha of the Atharvved for which both printed texts and an active oral tradition are known to still exist.

For the Atharvved, both the Shaunakiya and the Paippalad traditions contain textual corruptions, and the original text of the Atharvved may only be approximated from comparison between the two.

Shakha Samhita Brahmana Aranyaka Upanishad
AVS, edited and recited by all over North India and South India
Fragmentary Gopath Brahman (extant and published), no accents.
Mundak Upanishad (?) published.
AVP; recited by Utkal Brahmins as samhita patha only. otherwise, two manuscripts survive: Kashmiri (mostly edited) and Oriya (partly edited, by Dipak Bhattacharya and others, unaccented)
lost,similar to that of Gopath Brahman
Prashna Upanishad, Sharabh Upanishad etc. – all edited.[citation needed]

The Paippalad tradition was discontinued, and its text is known only from manuscripts collected since the 20th century. However some Orissa Brahmins still continue the tradition of Paippalad. No Brahman is known for the Shaunak shakha. The Paippalad is possibly associated with the Gopath Brahman.

3. Upanishads :

The term Upanishad (‘upa’ near; ‘ni’ down; ‘sad’ to sit) means sitting down near; this implies the students sitting down near their Guru to learn the big secret. In the splendid isolation of their forest abodes, the philosophers who composed the Upanishads contemplated upon the various mysteries of life and its creation – whether common, or metaphysical. The answers were however not open to all, but only for select students. The reason for this was simple: not everyone can handle knowledge.

It is said that the Upanishads were written to counter the growing influence of Buddhism in India. There is no exact date for the composition of the Upanishads. They continued to be composed over a long period, the core being over 7th -5th centuries BC. The Upanishads were originally called Vednta, which literally means the conclusion to the Veds.The composition of the Upanishads marks a significant and stride forward in the direction of knowing the mystery of earth’s creation and one comes tantalizingly close to the answers. Through episodes, commentaries, stories, traditions and dialogue, the Upanishads unfold the fascinating tale of creation, life, the essence of life and of that beyond to the seeker of truth. In the Upanishads, views about Brahman (the Absolute, or God) and atman (one’s true self) were proposed.

There are 18 principal Upanishads viz. :

1. Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad :

The Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad is widely accepted to be the most important of all Upanishads. It has three khands or parts. The madhu khand contemplates on the relationship between the individual and the Universal self. The muni khand or yajnavalkya is a debate which goes on to give the philosophical backing to the earlier teaching. The khila khand tackles various rituals of worship and meditation.

2. Chandogya Upanishad :

This Upanishad is a part of the Sam-Ved. The name comes from the singer of the songs (Samns) who is called Chandoga. The initial chapters of the Upanishad, discuss the ritual of sacrifice. The others debate the origin and profundity of the concept of Om, among other things.

3. Aitareya Upanishad :

This one forms part of the Rig-Ved. The purpose is to make the reader understand the deeper meaning of sacrifice and to take him away from the outer trappings of the actual act.

4. Taittriya Upanishad :

A part of the Yajur-Ved, this Upanishad is divided into three sections or vallis. The siksa valli deals with the phonetics of the chants, while the others, brahmanand valli and bhrgu valli deal with self-realization.

5. Isha Upanishad :

Also called the Ishavasya Upanishad, this book deals with the union of God, the world, being and becoming. The stress is on the Absolute in relation with the world (parmeshvar). The gist of the teachings is that a person’s worldly and otherworldly goals need not necessarily be opposed to each other.

6. Ken Upanishad :

The name of this Upanishad comes from the first word ken, or by whom. It has two sections of prose and two of poetry. The verses deal with the supreme spirit or the absolute principle (brahman) and the prose talks of ishvar (god). The moral of the story is that the knowledge of ishvar reveals the way to self-realization.

7. Katha Upanishad :

Also called the Kathakopanishad, this Upanishad uses a story (katha) involving a young Brahmin boy called Nachiketa to reveal the truths of this world and the other beyond the veil.

8. Prashna Upanishad :

Prashna literally means question, and this book is part of the Athrav Ved. It addresses questions pertaining to the ultimate cause, the power of Om, relation of the supreme to the constituents of the world.

9. Mundak Upanishad :

This book also belongs to the Atharv Ved. The name is derived from ‘mund’ or to shave, meaning that anyone who understands the Upanishads is s(h)aved from ignorance. This book inscribes the importance of knowing the supreme brahmaana, only by which knowledge can one attain self-realization.

10. Mandukya Upanishad :

The Mandukya is an exquisite treatise which expounds on the principle of Om and its metaphysical significance in various states of being, waking, dream and the dreamless sleep. The subtlest and most profound of the Upanishads, it is said that this alone will lead one to the path of enlightenment.

11. Svetasvatar Upanishad :

The name of this Upanishad is after its teacher. It comments on the unity of the souls and the world in one all-encompassing reality. The concept of there being one god is also talked about here. It is dedicated to Rudra, the storm god.

12. Kausitaki Brahman Upanishad :

The Upanishad has come down to us in bits here and pieces there. The core of the text is dedicated to illustrating the fact that the path to release is through knowledge.

13. Maitri Upanishad :

This is a comparatively later Upanishad as it has references to the Trinity of Hindu Gods (Shiv, Vishnu and Brahma) which is a later development, and plus references to the world being illusory in character reflects Buddhist influence.

14. Subal Upanishad :

Belonging to the Yajur-Ved, this Upanishad puts down a dialogue between the sage Subal and Brahma, the creator of the Hindu Trinity of Gods. It discusses the universe and the absolute.

15. Jabala Upanishad :

Belonging to the Athrav Ved, this Upanishad addresses some questions pertaining to renunciation.

16. Paingal Upanishad :

The Paingal is again a dialogue, this between Yajnavalkya, the sage mentioned the Brhad-aranyaka’s muni khand and Paingal, a student of his. It discusses meditation and its effects.

17. Kaivalya Upanishad :

This Upanishad delves into the state of kaivalya or being alone.

18. Vajrasucika Upanishad :

Belonging to the Sam-Ved the Vajrasucika reflects on the nature of the supreme being.

The core of the teachings of the Upanishads is summed up in three words: tat tvam asi… you are that.

4. Puran :

The Purans are consisting of narratives of the history of the universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of kings, heroes, sages, and demigods, and descriptions of Hindu cosmology, philosophy, and geography.

Purans usually give prominence to a particular deity, usually written in the form of stories related by one person to another. Brahmin scholars read from them and tell their stories, usually in Katha sessions (in which a traveling Brahmin settles for a few weeks in a temple and narrates parts of a Puran).

The different Puranas are :

1. Agni (15,400 verses) – Contains details of Vastu Shastra and Gemology.

2. Bhagavat (18,000 verses) – The most celebrated and popular of the Purans, telling of Vishnu’s ten Avatars. Its tenth and longest canto narrates the deeds of Krishna, introducing his childhood exploits.

3. Bhavishya (14,500 verses)

4. Brahma (10,000 verses) – Describes about Godavari and its tributaries.

5. Brahmand (12,000 verses) – Includes Lalita Sahastranaam, a text some Hindus recite as prayer.

6. Brahmavaivart (17,000 verses) – Describes Worshipping protocols of Devis, Krishna and Ganesh.

7. Garuda (19,000 verses) – Most hallowed Puran regarding the death and its aftermaths.

8. Harivamsh (16,000 verses) – More often considered itihas.

9. Kurma (17,000 verses)

10. Ling (11,000 verses) – Staunch Shaiv Theological Puran

11. Markandeya (9,000 verses) – The Devi Mahatmya, an important text for the Shaktas is embedded in it

12. Matsya (14,000 verses)

13. Narad (25,000 verses) – Describe the greatness of Ved and Vedangs.

14. Padma (55,000 verses) – Describe the greatness of Bhagavad Gita. Also known as Geeta mathmya.

15. Shiv (24,000 verses)

16. Skand (81,100 verses) – The longest Puran, it is an extraordinarily meticulous pilgrimage guide, containing geographical locations of pilgrimage centers in India, with related legends, parables, hymns and stories. Many untraced quotes are attributed to this text.

17. Vaman (10,000 verses) – Mostly describes about North India and areas around Kurukshetra.

18. Varah (24,000 verses)

19. Vayu (24,000 verses)

20. Vishnu (23,000 verses)

The Upapuranas are ancillary texts. They include: Sanat-kumar, Narasimha, Brihan-naradiya, Shiv-rahasya, Durvasa, Kapil, Vaman, Bhargav, Varun, Kalik, Samba, Nandi, Surya, Parashar, Vashishth, Devi-Bhagavat, Ganesh, Mudgal, and Hamsa.

The Ganesh and Mudgal Purans are devoted to Ganesh. The Devi-Bhagavat Puran, which extols the goddess Durga, has become (along with the Devi Mahatmya of the Markandeya Puran) a basic text for Devi worshipers.

5. Ved - Shakha - Upnishad Association :

Ved Recension Shakha Principal Upanishad
Rig Ved Only one recension Shakal Aitareya
Sam Ved Only one recension Kauthum Chandogya
Jaiminiya Ken
Yajur Ved Krishna Yajur Ved Katha Katha
Taittiriya Taittiriya
Hiranyakeshi (Kapishthal)  
Shukla Yajur Ved Vajasaneyi Madhyandina Isha and Brhadaranyaka
Kanva Shakha  
Atharv Ved Two recensions Shaunak Mandukya and Mundaka
Paippalad Prashna Upanishad

Rigved 10 Aitareya, Kausitaki Atmabodh, Mudgal Nirvan Tripura, Saubhagya-lakshmi, Bahvrca
Aksmalik Nadbindu
Samved 16 Chandogya, Kena Vajrasuchi, Maha, Savitri Aruni, Maitreya, Brhat-Sannyas, Kundik (Laghu-Sannyas)
Vasudev, Avyakt Rudraksa, Jabali Yogchudamani, Darshan
Krishna Yajurved 32 Taittiriya, Katha, Svetasvatar, Maitrayani Sarvasar, Sukarahasya, Skand, Garbh, Sariraka, Ekaksar, Aksi Brahma, (Laghu, Brhad) Avadhut, Kathasruti Sarasvati-rahasya Narayan, Kali-Santaran Kaivalya, Kalagnirudra, Dakshinamurti, Rudrahrdaya, Panchbrahma Amrtabindu, Tejobindu, Amrtanad, Ksurik, Dhyanabindu, Brahmavidya, Yogtattva, Yogsikha, Yogkundalini, Varah
Shukla Yajurved 19 Brhadaranyak, Isha Subal, Mantrika, Niralamb, Pingal, Adhyatma, Muktik Jabala, Bhikshuk, Turiyatitavadhut, Yajñavalkya, Satyayaniya
Advayatarak, Hamsa, Trisikhi, Mandalbrahmaha
Atharvved 31 Mundak, Mandukya, Prashna Atma, Surya, Pranagnihotra Ashram, Narad-parivrajak, Paramhamsa, Paramahamsa parivrajak, Parbrahma Sita, Devi, Tripuratapini, Bhavana Nrsimhatapani, Mahanarayan (Tripad vibhuti), Ramrahasya, Ramtapani, Gopaltapani, Krishna, Hayagriv, Dattatreya, Garud Atharvangiras, Atharvasikha, Brhajjabala, Sarabh, Bhasma, Ganpati Sandilya, Pasupat, Mahavakya
Total Upanishads 108