from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Veda (also Weda ) or the Vedas ( Sanskrit , m., वेद, veda, "knowledge", "holy teaching") is a collection of religious texts in Hinduism that was initially passed down orally and later written down . Many Hindu currents transmit a basic authority of the Veda. The core of the Veda is the oral tradition of the Shruti , these are chants "heard" by Rishis (sages), that is, revelations .

Map shows the regions of "Vedic India" during the Iron Age . The presumed distribution areas of the individual Shaka (schools) are shown in green

Since this is a tradition of Vedic chants, the exact recitation of which was important, they were passed down orally with great accuracy. The knowledge was originally only allowed to be passed on to "twice-born" ( dvija ) after an initiation rite ( upanayana ). From around the 5th century AD, individual verses were presumably also recorded in writing, but were still regarded as secret Brahmanic knowledge. The Brahmins remained skeptical of the book printing of Vedic traditions right up to modern times. Even today there are Brahmins who have mastered the Vedas by heart .

There are four Vedas: Rigveda , Samaveda , the white and black Yajurveda and the Atharvaveda . (The agamas , from which the tantra teaching developed, are sometimes referred to as the fifth Veda.)

The terms "Veda" and "Vedic" are used in India in a broader sense with the meaning "knowledge" and refer not only to the tradition of Vedic chants, but to religious and secular knowledge par excellence (see also Vedic language ).

The tradition of Vedic chants was included by UNESCO in the Collection of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003, and in 2008 it was included in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity .

Chronological order

Early Vedic period

After the immigration of the Aryans ( Arya ) around 1500 BC The early Vedic period (1500–1000 BC) began in the northern river plains of the Indus and Ganges . It followed the Indus cultures (approx. 3000–1800 BC; Amri , Nal , Quetta , Kulli and the most important, the Harappa culture). A peasant culture prevailed, with individual farms, herds of cattle and hardly any grain cultivation. Around 1200-1000 BC The first oral Sanskrit tradition was the Rigveda , later the Sama , Yajur and Atharvaveda . Rita , Varuna , Mitra , Indra and the natural forces Ushas , Agni and Surya were worshiped . The main victim was the Soma victim . There was a belief in resurrection with life after death.

Late Vedic period

In the late Vedic period (800–600 BC) the Indo-European culture of the Aryans, which came from the northwestern grass steppes , spread in the Ganges region. It penetrates into the area of ​​today's Delhi. Indo-Aryan principalities and tribes fight among themselves for supremacy. The Vedas are interpreted by Brahmins as "pre-scientific science" in the oral ritual literature (Brahmanas). In the mystical tradition of the oral Upanishads (from 800) the Vedas are interpreted by brahmins and lay people. The Upanishads have a relationship with the Brahmanas and later lead to yoga . A sacred caste order has been established consisting of Kshatriyas (warriors), Brahmins (priests), Vaishyas (peasants), Shudras (subject) and Parias (casteless).

Layers of tradition

Rigveda in Sanskrit, manuscript from the 19th century

Early Vedic period

Samhita stratum

The oldest layer (approx. 1200 BC to 900 BC) of the Veda are the four Samhitas (collections). They form the actual core of the Veda:

  • the Rigveda -Samhita, (hymns)
  • the Samaveda -Samhita, (songs)
  • the Yajurveda -Samhita, with Vajasaneyi-Samhita (belongs to the white Yajur Veda ), Maitrayani-Samhita (belongs to the black Yajur Veda), (sacrificial formulas)
  • the Atharvaveda -Samhita, (magical formulas)

Late Vedic period

Brahmana stratum

The next Vedic layer (approx. 800 BC to 600 BC) are the Brahmanas (ritual texts, interpretations):

  • z. B. the Aitereya Brahmana (part of the Rigveda)
  • z. B. Shatapatha Brahmana (belongs to white Yajurveda)
Aranyaka stratum

Then there are the Aranyakas ("forest texts"):

  • z. B. the Kaushitaki aranyaka (part of the Rigveda)
  • z. B. the Taittiriya-Aranyaka (belongs to the black Yajurveda)
Upanishad stratum

Another layer (approx. 700 BC to 500 BC) are the Upanishads (philosophical, mystical teachings). However, not all Upanishads are counted as part of the Veda.

  • z. B. the Aitereya Upanishad (part of the Rigveda)
  • z. B. the Chandogya Upanishad (belongs to the Samaveda )
  • z. B. the Taittiriya Upanishad (belongs to the black Yajurveda)
  • z. B. the Mundaka Upanishad (belongs to the Atharvaveda)

It must be taken into account that these layers were not always really separate, as they were oral traditions that were only fixed as texts much later (from the 5th century AD). The name Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad makes it clear that this very important text contains an Aranyaka and an Upanishad. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is in turn part of the Shatapathabrahmana . Especially with Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads there is strong overlap: the Chandogya Upanishad z. B. is part of the Chandogya Brahmana .


The Samhitas are handed down in an early form of Sanskrit , the Vedic named after the Veda . They mainly contain verses that were spoken or sung by the priests of the Vedic religion during the sacrificial ceremony . The later Upanishads use Sanskrit.

The Riksamhita ( Rig Veda ) contains 1028 hymns in ten song circles ( “ Mandalas ”) with a total of over 10,000 verses (“ric”, hence the name), the Samaveda ( saman = “melody”) includes almost exclusively verses from the Rig Veda , the are arranged differently according to liturgical aspects. The Yajurveda is handed down in two versions, the "black" ( krishna ) and the "white" ( shukla ) Yajurveda. It is in prose and mainly contains mantras ( yajus = "sacrificial proposition"). The Atharvaveda passed on both old and younger material than the other Vedas, in it there are many spells and magical hymns.

According to Indian tradition, the first three Vedas are also referred to as “threefold knowledge”, trayi vidya , the Atharvaveda was only later equated with them. According to western estimates, this might have happened in the 3rd century BC. When the Atharvaveda-Samhita received its solid form. The three other Vedas were canonized earlier; the Rig Veda is believed to have originated around 1200 BC. Until 900 BC Adopted. In Hinduism , however, it is believed that the texts are several thousand years older.


The four Samhitas are followed by other texts that also belong to Shruti (and thus to Veda in the broader sense). The Brahmanas are ritual verses written in prose, which develop a sacrificial rule. Not infrequently, the Brahmanas also contain an Aranyaka and an Upanishad.


The aranyakas ("forest texts") are mystical secret teachings that were not taught in the village but in the forest. They contain sacrificial symbolism and priestly philosophy. Originally it was mostly about individual chapters of the Brahmanas, which were intended as a study for the third stage of life, the Vanaprastha (people living in the solitude of the forest), and later became independent works for the Brahmanic schools.


The Upanishads (literally: “to sit around (the teacher)”) are spiritual realizations and “secret teachings” that were imparted in direct exchange between teacher and student. These are likely between 700 and 500 BC. BC. In the Upanishads the basis of what determined the philosophy and religion of India centuries later was formulated: the teaching of Atman and Brahman , samsara and karma . In particular the 10 mukhya upanishads (main Upanishads) shaped later Hinduism.

Vedic chants

The tradition of singing Vedic hymns was added to the UNESCO list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003. An example: "Go to the mother, go to the earth, the far-stretched, broad, blessed ... Open yourself, earth, do not harm him, receive him kindly and with loving greetings." (Quote from a Vedic chant from: Helmuth von Glasenapp , Hans Heinrich Schaeder : In memory of R. Otto Franke. In: Carl Diesch (Hrsg.): Königsberg contributions. Ceremony for the four hundred year jubilee of the State and University Library in Königsberg Pr. Gräfe & Unzer, Königsberg / Pr. 1929, p. 104-124).

Other texts

Sometimes texts of the Smriti (“remembered”, texts belonging to the secular tradition) are added to the Veda (like the Mahabharata ), but there is no consensus here.

Finally, the Vedangas (“members of the Veda”) belong to the Smriti , these are auxiliary sciences for the understanding and the correct transmission of the Veda. These include phonetics , metrics , grammar , etymology , astronomy, and ritual .

See also


Web links

References and comments

  1. Axel Michaels : The Hinduism. History and present. 2nd, revised edition of the special edition. CH Beck, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-406-54974-8 .
  2. Some Indologists such as Georg Feuerstein move the origins back in time, Georg Feuerstein: Die Yoga Tradition. History, literature, philosophy & practice. Yoga Verlag, Wiggensbach 2009, ISBN 978-3-935001-06-9 , pp. 125-135; 186.
  3. ^ Official homepage of UNESCO: Tradition of Vedic chanting
  4. a b Hermann children; Werner Hilgemann: Dtv-Atlas Weltgeschichte , orig. Edition, special edition. [of the two-volume edition] .. Edition, Ger. Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 2001, ISBN 3423030003 , pp. 42–43.