The Vedas are the oldest written text on our planet today. They date back to the beginning of Indian civilization and are the earliest literary records in the world.They are supposed to have been passed through oral tradition for over 100,000 years. They came to us in written form between 4-6,000 years ago. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (Song of God) states that the Vedas are millions of years old and that knowledge is lost and then again resurfaces the earth once again through the passage of time. Vedas are the spiritual truth, said to have been a direct revelation from God through Dev Vani - the voice of God to Rishis (self-realised saints) during their meditations. This truth was then passed on orally through an unbroken chain of a Master-Disciple relationship. Hence the Vedas are also called Shruti, which means , “the things heard”. 

There are 4 VedasRig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva Veda. The Rishis who received them, and then passed them on were:

Agni Rishi – Rig Veda, Vayu Rishi – Sama Veda,
Aditi Rishi – Yajur Veda, Angiras Rishi – Atharva Veda

The Vedas were transmitted orally all the way up to Maharishi Ved Vyasa who then wrote them down. Vedas are as old as the Universe, and are said to have been on Earth for at least 20,000 years. Rig-Veda andSama-Veda were written in verse, Yajur-Veda in prose, and the Atharva-Veda mainly in prose and partly in verse. The Vedas contain a total of more than 24,000 mantras. Rig-Veda, the oldest and most extensive, contains 10,000 mantras. The hymns of the Rig-, Yajur- and Sama-Veda are dedicated to various expressions of the Divine (deities and gods of nature) like gods of earth, fire, rain, etc., for receiving blessings of peace, happiness and prosperity. One part of the Vedas also consists of rules for interpreting Vedicceremonies and philosophical discussions about God, the soul and the afterlife. Each of the four Vedasconsists of four parts, which are called Veda-Samhita. Each Veda is characterized by a Mahavakya(maha – big, vakya – word) which transmits the essence of the teaching about the union of Jiva – the Self and Brahman – the Absolute, the Highest Self.

PRAJNANAM BRAHMA (Rig-Veda and Taittririya Upanishad)
Brahman is Pure Consciousness”

 TAT TVAM ASI (Sama-Veda and Chandogya-Upanishad)
“Thou are That” You are not the body, but the Atma.

 AHAM BRAHMASMI (Yajur Veda and Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad)
“I am Brahman” 

AYAM ATMA (Atharva Veda and Mandukya Upanishad
“I am Atma”

The Vedas are divided into four groups, Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. Each group has an original text (Mantra) and a commentary portion (Brahmana).

The Brahmana again has two portions, one interpreting ritual and the other the philosophy. The portions interpreting the philosophy of the original texts constitute the Upanishads.

There are also auxiliary texts called Vedangas. Vedic literature refers to the whole of this vast group of literature. The whole of Rgveda and most of Atharvaveda are in the form of poetry, or hymns to the deities and the elements.

Samaveda is in verses that are to be sung and Yajurveda is largely in short prose passages. Both Samaveda and Yajurveda are concerned with rituals rather than philosophy - especially Yajurveda.

The four parts of each Veda

SAMHITA – A collection of hymns and mantras of each Veda 
BRAHMANA – The second of the four parts of each Veda, brahmanas are rules for pandits, priests with instructions for rituals, sacrifices and yagyas addressed to deities. They contain very interesting and inspiring stories, deep philosophical discussions and details about Yagyas
ARANAKAS - (derived from the word aranya = forest) "Forest debates". Aranyakas are the third part of each of the Vedas. These texts contain esoteric, mystical knowledge, mostly focused on the inner meaning and effect of the Vedic ceremonies. 
UPANISHADS - Upanishad literally means "To sit at the Master's feet and listen to His words or teachings." The Upanishads form the philosophical and spiritual essence of the Vedas and transmit the highest knowledge about God, the soul and the world, as well as about the importance of ceremonies and sacrifices. They are mostly written in the form of a conversation between a disciple and his teacher (questions and answers).

The Vedas are said to reside in the rays of the Sun, which hold the Vedic mantras. The Vedas are the manifestation of solar intelligence, or the light of consciousness on Earth. The sacred syllable OM itself is the sound of the Sun and the essence of the Vedas. The Vedic mantras carry light and power both for the body and the mind.

According to the Vedas, the inner Sun is Prana or vital energy or orgone, which manifests through the breath. To increase our personal energy, both for physical health and for mental acuity, the best practice is Pranayama or breath control. Breath carries the subtle essence of speech, which is mantra.The incoming breath carries the sound 'so' and the outgoing breath carries the sound 'ha'. The natural mantra "So' ham" in Sanskrit means, "He am I," referring to the Purusha or consciousness in the Sun. Our very breath is based upon unity with the solar creator and source of life and can be used to connect with its power.

We all want to increase our intelligence, concentration, memory and capacity for information. This is the key to strength and success in the information age "Kali Yuga". The best way to do this is to harness the power of the inner Sun, which is to connect with cosmic intelligence through mantra and meditation.

Each one of us possesses a portion of the light of consciousness, a ray of the solar creator that endows us with understanding. This faculty is called 'dhi' in Vedic thought refers to the meditative aspect of the mind (dhyana manas) and 'buddhi' in later Indian thought, referring to awakened intelligence.

The best mantra for awakening the higher mind is the Gayatri mantra, which is a mantra to the solar light of consciousness to awaken our meditative mind (dhi). It brings us the Divine solar power of consciousness, love and prana—the supreme light of truth. At the same time it has been said that the reward, which a man obtains in the Krita or Satya Yuga by abstract meditation, in the Treta by sacrifice, in the Dwapara by adoration, he receives it in the Kali Yuga by merely reciting the names of God.

Although Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, there is still one great quality about this age: simply by chanting the names of God one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom."
In the Srimad Bhagavatam we even find that the age of Kali is actually considered the best of all ages. Though the age is full of sins and faults, it remains the best of all ages by virtue of the yuga-dharma being so powerful:
kalim sabhajayanty arya guna jnah sara-bhaginah yatra sankirtanenaiva sarva-svartho 'bhilabhyate
"Those who are actually advanced in knowledge are able to appreciate the essential value of this age of Kali. Such enlightened persons worship Kali-yuga because in this fallen age all perfection of life can easily be achieved by the performance of sankirtana (chanting of the Lord's names)."

According to the Kali-santarana Upanishad, the Hare Krishna mahamantra is the taraka-mantra for this age. It is the great mantra of deliverence for all, and anyone may take to its chanting regardless of birth, caste, religion or qualification.
The Upanishad instructs us as follows:
hare krishna hare krishna krishna krishna hare hare hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare ity shodashakam namnam kali-kalmasha-nashanam natah parataropayah sarva-vedeshu drishyate

"The Hare Krishna maha-mantra, composed of 16 names and 32 syllables, is the only means to countract the evil-effects of Kali-yuga. In all the Vedas it is seen that to cross the ocean of nescience there is no alternative to the chanting of the Lord's holy names."

That is why mantras are essential and much needed to vibrate and release our minds from the ill effects of this Yuga called Kali. 

The Upanishads

The Upanishads teach that in the whole Universe there is only one reality, and that is God. Everything that ever existed, exists and will exist in the Universe originates from Him, and disappears back into Him, in the eternal cycle of creation, maintenance and destruction. He is the sun, the moon and the stars, the planets, every living being, all living and non-living matter and every virtue, every vice, all the good and the bad, every thought, every feeling and every act. He is time and space and all that exists in the Universe. . He is eternal within the Universe and simultaneously He transcends it. He is unformed, eternal, boundless and omnipotent. He is saguna(manifest) and nirguna (unmanifest). He is manifest in His creation and is unmanifest when all that is created disappears in Him. The highest and purest principle of God is His unmanifest existence, when the whole Universe disappears in Him, when the sun, the moon, the stars, the planets, all animate and inanimate ceases to exist, and time and space disappear. This unmanifest essence is the only existing reality. The Upanishads contain one of the highest ideas about God and His relationship with human beings and the Universe. Rightly they are given the highest place among the great religious philosophies of the world. The great philosopher Schopenhauer said: "In the whole world, there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. They were my comfort in life and will be my consolation in death."

There are 108 most widely known Upanishads. Some of the most famous are Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chandogya Upanishad, Taittiriya Upanishad, Kena Upanishad, Iso Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad, Svetasvatara Upanishad and Mandukya Upanishad. Each of these major Upanishads is connected to one of the four VedaSamhitas. The idea ofthe one, unformed and infinite God, as the true reality of the Universe, inseparable, and at the same time beyond everything, is based on the philosophical discussions from the Upanishads. The teachings about the immortal soul, the law of karma, the consequences of actions and the law of evolution of living beings through the process of rebirth according to their own karma or actions, are based on the Upanishads.


Yagya - the essence of the Vedic culture

The yagya comes from the Sanskrit word yagya which means sacrifice, worship. Sacrifice and surrender through service, both internal and external is one of the basic principles of Hinduism. One of the forms of this principle is yagyaThe yagya involves ritual offerings of oblations into the fire like grains, flowers, ghee - clarified butter, milk, spices, wood ... Yagya is performed by pandits who prepare the space, perform the oblations and chant mantras, ie. the Vedic hymns. In order for yagya to be performed properly it is necessary to follow the detailed and precise instructions from the Vedas, which pundits are learning from early childhood and who dedicate their whole life to learning Vedas and performing Vedic ceremonies. There are two basic types of yagya - srautaperformed by pandits and grihya ceremony performed by the householder, along with his wife. Srautaceremonies are more detailed, richer and more complicated, and their goals extend far beyond the well-being of a household. Srauta yagya includes the participation of four pandits. They are known as hotradhvaryuudgatr and brahmin, each of which performs a strictly defined part of the ceremony: one prepares a place for the rite according to the instructions of the Vedic science about space - Vastu Shastra, the second sings mantras, the third performs the ritual, and the fourth oversees the correctness of the above and corrects errors with special mantras. The performance of the yagya itself consists of four main parts, which are present in each ceremony. In the first part a fireplace is created (depicted, built and richly decorated), which is also a mandala that at this stage does not contain life or pran-shakti. In the second part this character is filled with life energy, hence this level is called prana pratistha. The third part is called upacar, and that is the part during which the evoked energy intensifies and increases. The fourth part is called parayan or prasthan - the energy release, in which yagya culminates.

Saraswati, Goddess of Knowledge, music, arts and science. .

Subpages (1): Vedas