The four vedas – The Rig Veda

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 VidyaUpasana, 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)

Image Credit: Image copyright rests with the original creator. This image is not used for any commercial purpose.

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.


  1. The Vedas – Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi; Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan; 2014.

The Vedas are the authoritative texts of Sanatana Dharma (1)

What is the authoritative book on which your religion is based? If this question was posed to a Christian, he/she would say “The Bible”, a muslim “The Koran”; a parsi “The Zend Avesta”; a Buddhist “The Dhammapada”; a Jew probably “The Torah” or “The Tanakh” or “The Hebrew Bible”; a Sikh “The Granth Sahib”

If we were to pose this question to a practitioner of Sanatana Dharma (erroneously referred to as the Hindus) what would his/her answer be? In all probability we would not receive one standard answer – some would say Bhagavad Gita, someone else the Ramayana, someone the Upanishads and so on.

The reason for this is very simple – Sanatana Dharma is the only religion in the world where parents of children do not provide even a basic foundation or grounding in the tenets and principles of their own “Dharma”. I choose not to use the word religion because the word does not capture the true essence of Sanatana Dharma – This “Dharma” was, is, and never will be a religion

Religion means rituals whereas “Dharma” refers to those principles one must follow in life to be CONTENTED and HAPPY. This is probably the reason why even the Supreme Court of India observed that Hinduism is a way of life. This is one major difference between Sanatana Dharma and all other religions.

Besides this, there is one other major difference between Sanatana Dharma and all other religions – All other religions are “Pourusheyam” i.e. “Revealed Texts” – there is one founder or Prophet, or Saint whose commandments form the core of that religion’s beliefs, principles, and practices. Sanatana Dharma however is “Apourusheyam” i.e. not revealed by any one “purusha” or human being – they are timeless, limitless “Truths” that have existed before the time of creation itself and will do so forever.

Therefore, if one were to look for a book or rather a single source of authority in the ocean of Sanatana Dharma then one must look for a book that is truly “Dharma-Pramana” (that which establishes the TRUTH). If this be the criterion, then the Vedas alone pass muster – the Bhagavad Gita is but a small speck in the ocean of Sanatana Dharma – it derives from the Vedantas (Upanishads) and is not even a commentary on the vedas in their entirety.

The Kanchi Paramacharya Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi in the second volume of his “Deivathin Kural” (The voice of God) uses the two quotes below (in Tamizh) to establish what constitutes “The Vedas” (Translation appears below the image)


The Vedas are four (4) in number (Rig, Yajur, Sama, Atharva), then the six (6) Vedangas – angas or limbs or divisions of the vedas (more about each of these in subsequent posts), followed by Mimamsa (vedic interpretations), Nyaya (logic), Puranas (Mythology), and Dharmashastras (Codes of Conduct) making it Fourteen (14) in total. To these 14 may be added the 4 Upa-angas (ancillary limbs) namely Ayurveda (Science of Life), Artha-Shastra (Science of Wealth and Economics), Dhanur-Veda (Science of weapon-making and warfare) and Gandharva-Veda (Writings and treatises on the fine arts including music, dance, drama) bringing it to a grand total of 18 – these form the “Vidya-Sthanas” – “…that in which knowledge and wisdom are enshrined”

I will conclude this post with a beautiful conversation between Hanuman (representing the embodied Atman) and Rama (representing the Supreme Divinity – Paramatman) that appears in the beginning of the Muktiko-Upanishad of Sukla Yajurveda which epitomizes the great vastness of the Vedas…

Hanuman asks Rama: “Tell me Raghava, how many are the vedas, and how many their branches and how many the Upanishads?”

Rama replies: “The Vedas are four (4), their branches many and so also the Upanishads – The Rig Veda has 21 branches, the Yajur Veda 109, the Sama Veda a 1,000 and the Atharvana Veda 50 – each of these branches has its own Upanishad (Vedanta)…

Subsequent posts will look at other aspects of the Vedas.


  1. Deivathin Kural Volume-2; Vanathi Publications; 2016 edition/Reprint
  2. Thirty Minor Upanishads – Translated by K. Narayanaswmi Aiyar; 1914 edition. Printed by Annie Besant, Vasanta Press; Adayar; Madras.