VEDAS: The Way We Were And Still Are

[First of the three-part series.]

Bt Dr. Suresh Kurl

 “Before the discovery of the Indus Valley civilization, the Vedas were supposed to be the earliest records we possess of Indian culture,” writes Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru in his Discovery of India. These ancient Indian scriptures are not only a mine of information about the people of India they are the ultimate authority on our religion and philosophy. They detail our spiritual, religious and cultural properties and practices we have lived by and have continued to live by to this day.

There are four Vedas: Rig-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sama-Veda and Atharva-Veda. Each of the Vedas has two distinct parts: Mantra and Brahmana.  The Mantra contains chants and prayers addressed to deities for wisdom, health, wealth, long life, cattle, offspring, victory in battles, and forgiveness for sins. The Brahmana gives directions for the details of the ceremonies at which Mantras are chanted. Brahmana explains the legends connected with the Mantras.

The Vedas are called Shruti; something that had been revealed and listened to and not read. All Holy Scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are believed to have been revealed.  Therefore, they could also be called Shruti. A belief about the Holy Quran is that it had been revealed by angle Gabriel to Muhammad Sahib, while he was meditating in a mountain cave called, Ghar Hira.

The word Veda, not only represent the four scriptures, but it also means sacred knowledge. Etymologically, the root of the word Veda is ‘Vid,’ which means to know.

Chronologically speaking, the Rig-Veda comes first. Then comes Yajur-Veda followed by Sama-Veda. The Atharva-Veda is the last. Sage Veda -Vyasa is regarded the original compiler of these Vedas.

As in the monotheistic form of the Hinduism, GOD is THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH, there is no difference between Hinduism and the Abrahamic religions — meaning we all have the same theological DNA and therefore have reason to treat ourselves as members of one and the same human family –

Vasudhaiva kutumb-kam, the entire world is our family!  [Mahopanishad VI; 71-73.]

 What is RIG-VEDA?

Rig Veda is a composition of 1028 Hymns. Each hymn is a Richa. A Richa refers to a couplet or mantra. The etymological origin of “richa” is the Sanskrit word, “rich” meaning to praise. Therefore, Rig Veda is considered a Veda of praises, happiness and celebrations. The most famous mantra expressing praise, happiness, health and wisdom is known as the Gayatri mantr. It comes from the Rig Veda.

“Om bhoor bhu vah svah tat savitur varenyam, Bhargo devasya dhi mahi, dhiyo yo nah prach dayat”

                                                                                                [Rig Veda; (Mandala 3.62.10)]

“Let us adore the supremacy of that divine sun, the god-head, who illuminates all, who recreates all, from whom all proceed, to whom all must return, whom we invoke to direct our understandings aright in our progress toward his holy seat.”                                                      [Sir William Jones (1807)]

Rig Veda personifies and glorifies nature; such as the description of Agni (fire) below:

“She hath shone brightly like a youthful woman, stirring to motion every living creature.

Agni hath come to feed on mortals’ fuel, she hath made light and chased away the darkness.”

[Rig Veda; VII: 77; translated by Professor H. Daniel Smith; Selections from Vedic Hymns; pg: 2]

Rig Veda is a storehouse of cosmic mysteries. The following example is indicative of abstract-thinking of the Vedic sages and the mysterious chaos that existed before creation:

“Then even nothingness was not, nor existence. There was no air then, nor the heavens beyond it.

What covered it? Where was it? Was there then cosmic water, in depths unfathomed?”


                                                                 [Professor A.L Basham’s book The Wonder that was India, pg.247.]

 If I have to assign a personal attribute to the Rig Vedas, I will say, Rig Veda is Satyam, as it defines GOD as THE ONLY TRUTH: “Ekam Sad.”                                                    [Rig Veda 1.164.46]

However, despite its great qualities, Rig Veda is non-secular and elitist. It is a collection of hymns for use at the sacrifices performed by the aristocratic Aryan cult, writes Professor A.L. Basham in his The Wonder that was India; page 232. It divides society on the basis of skin pigmentation, their levels of cognitive achievement and capabilities of performance. Though the constitution of India promotes secularism, the majority of people there still continue to live by these classifications. And that is sad!

To be continued…

Dr. Suresh Kurl is a South Asian Community Activist, a former university professor, retired Registrar of the BC Benefits Appeal Board (Govt. of B.C.) a former-Member of the National Parole Board (Govt. of Canada), a writer and public speaker.


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