The Rig Veda derives its name from the sanskrit root – “Rik“. What we now refer to as shlokas, stanzas, hymns was in the past referred to as “Rik“. The whole of the Rig Veda is in hymn form, hence the name.
Although we refer to the vedas as four in number, it is important to note here that there are several “Shakas” or branches or schools usually on the basis of different methods of chanting / recitation. These Shakas are like the adventitious (stilt) roots of the large Banyan tree with the four vedas being the 4 main branches.
Modern researchers talk about the Rig Veda being the oldest but within the Vedas themselves or amongst practitioners this is given little credence because the Vedas as we saw in post-1 are “Timeless” – “Anaadi” and Apourusheyam (not authored by humans).
This can be further confirmed by the fact that the Rig Veda itself makes reference to the Saama and Yajur Veda at many places. The famous “Purusha Sooktha” which appears in the 10th Mandala of the 90th hymn of the Rig Veda refers to both the Saama and Yajur Veda. See the shloka below:
तस्माद्यज्ञात्सर्वहुत ऋचः सामानि जज्ञिरे ।
छन्दांसि जज्ञिरे तस्माद्यजुस्तस्मादजायत ॥९॥
Tasmaad-Yajnyaat-Sarvahuta Rucahs Saamaani Jagnyire |
Chandaamsi Jagnyire Tasmaad-Yajus-Tasmaad-Ajaayata
From the Complete Offering of His (The Virata Purusha; the primeval being) Yagya (Sacrifice of Creation) was born the Rig Veda and Saama Veda,
The Chandas (Vedic Meters) too were born from Him, and so also the Yajur Veda.
This shloka debunks the theory of researchers who claim that the Rig Veda was the first of the Vedas and all other vedas came later.
Each Shaka is further classified into 3 portions – Samhita, Braahmana, and Aaranyaka. When we talk of Veda Adhyayana we actually refer to the Samhita portion of the Vedas – recitation/chanting. The word Samhita means collection, “put-together”. The Braahmanas can be seen as “explanatory notes” in prose form of the “Samhita mantras”. The Aaranyakas as the name signifies, refers to a “forest” and therefore consist of that portion of the Vedas that need to be studied/reflected upon in the forest – they are less ritualistic and were born probably based on the difficulties of conducting rituals in a forest-setting. The contents of the Aaranyakas include Brahma Vidya, Upasana, and Prana Vidya and could be considered to be a bridge between the Karma-Kaanda portion of the Vedas (Samhita and Braahmanas i.e. Rituals) and the Jnana Kaanda portion of the Vedas (Vedanta or Upanishads, i.e. Spirituality).
The Aaranyakas mark a definite shift from the religions to the spiritual with the culmination occurring in the esoteric and supreme truths presented in the Vedantas or Upanishads.
The whole of the Rig Veda Samhita is in “Rik” or “hymn” form. Several “Riks” together constitutes a “Sooktha”. For example the Purusha Sooktha is a compilation of several Riks.
The Rig-Samhita contains 10,170 Riks and 1028 Sookthas arranged into 10 Mandalas and 8 Ashtakas. It begins with an Agni Sooktha and ends also with an Agni Sooktha.
Many commentators have interpreted this as “Fire Worship” but according to the Kanchi Paramacharya Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi this has to be seen and interpreted as worship of the “light of the soul’s consciousness (Atma Chaitanya)“
The Rig Veda contains hymns to all major Devatas. It also details the marriage of Surya’s daughter and marriage rites of Hindus are broadly fashioned on the basis of the details given here.
The Rig Veda occupies the pride of place amongst the Vedas – the rituals and call to action in the Yajur Veda and the musical recitation of Saama Veda emerge from the basic “Riks” of the Rig Veda. The exceptional poetry of the Rig Veda is considered to be masterpieces of poetic beauty.