The world ‘Veda’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘vid’, which among many other meanings also means knowledge. Vedas have been created as a veritable storehouse of knowledge. According to ancient belief God made the Vedas, and it is mentioned in the Vedas itself that they were breathed into existence by God. Badrayana’s statement also upholds the same view.
Veda is mainly divided into two parts. These are mantra and brahman and it is these two taken together which are addressed conjointly as Vedas. The mantra part of the Veda is known as sanhita, the sanhita being nothing more than a collection of mantras. The complexity of the thought and statements found in Brahman texts has been rendered in simple and less involved language. Brahmans emphasize only the rituals and ritualistic practice. Brahmans are divided into three parts. (1) Brahman, (2) Aaranyaka, (3) Upanisad. If the subject matter of the Vedas is kept in mind, it is possible to effect a simpler classification of them into two parts- the ritualistic and that of knowledge, the karmakanda and gyanakanda.
It has been pointed out that the vedic statements have been collected in the sanhitas. The term manakanda is used for that intonation, which was employed by the Aryans in their prayers. Etymologically, the term mantra means the sentence which manifests the processes of actions. Sanhita is the name, given to the collection of such sentences. It is believed that the sanhitas were four in number: (1) Rig, (2) Yajur, (3) Sama, (4) Atharva.
The oldest of the four sanhitas mentioned is the Rig sanhita. The entire samaveda is composed out of the Rig sanhita. It is also more important than the others on account of its language and meaning. Rig sanhita has been divided into 10 mandals or parts and the mantras that are included in each mandal are given the prefix ‘sukta’. Thus we have the nasadiya sukta, purusha sukta etc. There are 1028 suktas in the Rigveda. It provides almost complete information concerning the old vedic civilization. It contains picture of the oldest Aryan civilization and culture, their religion, way of life, thought and modes of behaviour.
Samaveda contains some 1549 mantras of which only 72 are new, while the rest have all been derived from the Rigveda. There are two parts to this veda. There are six kandas in the first and nine in the latter part. Each kanda has numerous smaller kandas which are also called ‘sukta’. There are 459 such small kandas. Sama means songs or singing. In the samaveda everything is sung. This sanhita has been divided into two parts: the purvarchika and the uttararchika.
Etymologically the term yajurvada means knowledge concerning yagya. It contains 40 chapters in which there are 2000 couplets. This veda has two forms: the shukala yajurvada and the Krishna yajurvada. In the yajurveda one finds graphic descriptions of the difference between the caste and the varna systems. There is mention of mixed castes also, along with descriptions of handicrafts, science, trade etc. This proves that this particular veda is succession to the other Vedas.
In trharva veda there are 20 kandas, 24 prapathaka, 111 Anuvaka, 731 kuktas and 1849 mantras. 1200 of the richas have been taken from the Rigveda. In the Atharva veda little attention has been paid to the technique or mode of yagya. Other names of the Atharva veda are Atharvangirasa and Bhargava-angirasa.
At many places in the Upanisads and Gita the Vedas have been referred to as trayi, and the veda contains a mantra which means that the Vedas were created. The same thought has been expressed in the Gita through the use of the world traividy indication that it was previously believed, that the Vedas were 3 in number and the 3 vedas are the Rig, Yajur and the Sama veda. On the basis of which the fourth, the Atharva veda, was created. It is on this basis that the Vedas have been named.