About Hindu Scriptures
By Swami Sivananda
The Six Categories
Another method is to classify all scriptures in six categories:
1) scriptures which have been divinely revealed,
2) scriptures which have been composed,
3) sacred epics,
4) sacred legends and history,
5) manuals of divine worship, and
6) the six philosophical systems.
This is the classification that we will examine presently.
Shruti means “heard”, i.e. divinely revealed scriptures. The shrutis are also known as prabhu-samhitas (“Commanding Treatises”). They refer to the four Vedas only.
All religions trace their scriptures to the revelation given by God to a single chosen messenger… except in Hinduism. The Vedas were not revealed to a single prophet. They existed in a subtle form before creation began, and were gradually revealed to a number of sages or rishis (over 800 of them, according to some calculations) in the depth of their meditation. Each Vedic mantra is dedicated to a particular deity (devata), and set in one of 19 possible meters (chhandas).
The word veda itself come from the Sanskrit root vid, “to know.”
The four Vedas number all together over 20,500 mantras.
1. Rig Veda
It was revealed to Paila Rishi and dedicated to Agni, the fire god. It is presided by the planet Guru (Jupiter).
It is divided in ten books (mandalas), made of 1028 hymns (suktas), which comprise 10,552 mantras in total.
The Rig Veda originally had twenty-one recensions (shakhas), only five of which are still extant. It contains hymns on gods, soul, social life.
It contains the Aitareya and Kaushitaki Upanishads.
2. Yajur Veda
It was revealed to Vaishampayana Rishi and dedicated to Vayu, the wind god. It is presided by the planet Shukra (Venus).
It is divided in 40 parts (skandas), which comprise 1975 mantras in total.
It is divided in: 1) the Krishna (“Black”) Yajur Veda book (the oldest), and 2) the Shukla (“White”) Yajur Veda book (a later revelation to Sage Yajñavalkya, nephew of Sage Vaishampayana)
The Yajur Veda originally had 102 recensions (85 for the Black, 17 for the White) only four of the Black and two of the White are still extant today. It is a manual on rituals and sacrifices.
The Black contains the Taittiriya and Katha Upanishads, while the White contains the Isha and Brihadaranyaka Upanishads.
3. Sama Veda
It was revealed to Jaimini Rishi and dedicated to Aditya, the sun god. It is presided by the planet Mangal (Mars).
It is divided in:
1) Purvarcika, made of four parts (skandas), containing 585 mantras.
2) Uttararcika, made of 21 parts (skandas), containing 964 mantras.
Of the total of 1549 mantras, all but 75 of them come from the Rig Veda.
The Sama Veda originally had 1000 recensions, only three of which are still extant today. It contains devotional hymns, music, prayers for peace.
It contains the Chhandogya and Kena Upanishads.
Note: in the matter of Vedic sacrifices, the prayoga (operative) mantras are taken from the Rig Veda, adhwaryu (priestly) from the Yajurveda and the audgatra (singing) from the Samaveda.
4. Atharva Veda
It was revealed to Sumanthu Rishi and dedicated to Aditya, the sun god. It is presided by the planet Budha (Mercury).
1) Purvadha (“first half”), made of various discourses.
2) Uttarardha (“second half”), comprising the critical appreciation of rituals, etc.
The Atharva Veda is divided in four books (prapathakas), totaling twenty chapters (skandas) and includes 6,077 mantras.
It originally had 9 recensions, of which only two are still extant today.
It contains hymns to deities, creation stories, mantras to ward off evil and enemies, magic and tantra.
An astounding total of 93 Upanishads are found in the Atharva Veda, among which the famous Prashna, Mundaka, and Mandukya Upanishads.