Sources of Ancient History - Literary Sources (RELIGIOUS LITERATURE)

अपडेट किया गया: 4 नव. 2019

Literary Sources


(i) Brahmans and Vedic literary Source

The Vedas

The word ‘veda’ originated from the root ‘vidi’, i.e. to know, signifying knowledge. It is also known as Shruti (to hear). There are four vedas - the Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and



The Rigveda is the oldest one, and therefore, is also known as ‘the first testament of mankind’. It must have been composed around 1700 B.C. The first three vedas are known as ‘Trayi’. It has 1017 hymns (Sukta) and is divided into ten mandalas. After the addition of the eleven Bal Khilya Sutra the total no. of hymns becomes 1028. The tenth mandala, said to have added later as its language differs from the other nine mandalas, contains the famous Purushasukta explaining the four varnas (Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra) born from the mouth, arms, thighs and feet of the creator. Thus, the Rigveda has 10 Mandalas, 1028 Suktas and 10,580 Richas. The 7th and 2nd Mandalas were the very first composition, later on the other mandalas were composed. The 7th and 2nd Mandalas are called ‘Vansha Mandal’; the handwritten script of 8th mandal is called ‘Khila’ and the 1st and 10th are known

as ‘Kshepak’.


It has 40 chapters and 2000 hymns. It is a ritual veda and has two main texts: Krishna Yajurveda and Shukla Yajurveda. It is also called the book of sacrificial prayers. Krishna Yajurveda contains mantras (hymns) and the Shukla has commentary in prose. Kasthak, Kapishthal, Maitrayani, Taittiriya and Vajasneyi are the five branches of Yajurveda in which the first four are related to the Krishna Yajurveda and the last one is to Shukla Yajurveda. Yajurveda is a good collection of hymns composed in both prose and poetry. Ishopanishad, the last chapter of Yajurveda, is philosophical and metaphysical whereas the rest of all parts of Yajurveda’s subject matter is the law and legislation of various yajanas.


The Samaveda is a collection of melodies. It has 1549 Shlokas (richas) but except 78 all the rest of the hymns have been borrowed from the Rigveda. These were meant to be sung at the time of soma sacrifice. Samaveda has two parts: Purvarchika (having six subdivisions called ‘Apathaka) and Uttrarchika (having nine subdivisions called ‘Prapathaka). To the historical point of view the Samaveda has less importance.


It is the latest of the four. It describes the popular beliefs and superstitions of the humble folk. It is divided into 20 books volumes. It contains 731 hymns and 5,987 mantras. About 1200 Mantras have been taken from the Rigveda. The hymns of Atharvaveda tell how to over come the evil spirit. Shaunk and Pippalad are the two available branches of this veda. The Atharvaveda is also known as Brahmaveda or Atharvagirasveda. For a very long time it was not considered in the category of the Vedas. It is a book of magical formulae.

The Brahmanas

The Brahmanas were composed after the vedas to explain the hymns of the vedas. Every veda has several Brahmanas attached to it. Kausitiki and Aitareya are the Brahmans books of the Rigveda composed by Hotri priests. Aitareya has 40 chapters. Kausitiki is also called Sankhyayan Brahman. ‘Taittiriya is the Brahman of Krishna Yajurveda and Shatpath is attached to shukla Yajurveda composed by Adhvaryu priest Yagyavalka. It narrates the progress of culture from Kuru- Panchal to Videha. The one hundred chapters of Shatpath are divided into 14 sections which are very exhaustive and important of all the Brahmanas. The Samaveda has three Brahmanas i.e. Tandayamaha Brahman, Khadvisha Brahmana and Jaiminiya Brahman were composed by Udgatri priests.

The Gopath Brahman is attached to the Atharvaveda. In his Mahabhashya, Patanjali has described thousands of branches of Samveda but only three branches, i.e. Kauthum, Ranayaniya and Jaimaniya are available. The name of Rishabha and Arishtanemi (Jaintirthankar) are found in the Rigveda environment of jungles were called Aaranyak (the word aranyak means ‘the forest’). They deal with philosophical doctrines and mysticism to answer the various complex questions, related to human life. In fact, these are the concluding portion of the Brahmanas.

There are seven Aranyakas, i.e. Aitareya, Sankhyayana, Taittiriya, Maitrayani, Madhyanandin, Talvakar and Jaiminiya. These books are opposed to sacrifices and rituals and lay emphasis on meditation and moral virtues to form a bridge between the Karma Marga (way of work) and the Gyan Marga (way of knowledge).

The Upanishads

The word upanishad is a combined form of the two sanskrit word, i.e. upa and nishad which means to sit down near someone (here, the Guru) and get the secret knowledge by him. There are 108 upanishads, e.g. Jesh, Kath, Ken, Mandukya, Brihadaranyka, Mundaka, Chhandogya, Taittiriya, Aitareya and Kaushitiki are some important upanishads. The Upanishads are anti-ritualistic discussing the theories of creation of the universe and defining the doctrine of action with the goal to attain salvation through meditation and self-control. The Upanishads were composed by several learned saints between 800 and 500 B.C. The famous doctrine of Adwaitavad is ascertained in the Upanishads. The famous national statement ‘Satyameva Jayate’ has been taken from the Mundaka Upanishad.

All the works referred above are known as shrutis, which means ‘revelation’. The word shruti means ‘hearing’ and refers to the rhythms of the infinite hearing by the soul.


The six vedangas - Shiksha, Kalpa, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Chhanda and Jyotisha were composed in the later Vedic period.

  • Shiksha deals with the appropriate pronunciation of the Mantras.

  • Kalpa is related to rituals, duties and sanskara.

  • Vyakarana deals with grammar and the science of language,

  • Nirukta with etymology. Yaskacharya’s Nirukta is very famous.

  • Chhanda deals with rhyming scheme. Chhandasutra was composed by Aacharya Pingle.

  • Jyotish deals with astronomy in which we find the proper calculation of the right position of the sun and the moon and various heavenly bodies to perform rituals and ceremonies. Jyothish vedanga is a famous book for it in which we get as many as 400 slokas.


Kalpasutra is quite famous among Sutra Literature. It has three parts - Srauta, Grihya and Dharma.

  • Srauta Sutra explains the subjects of rituals and various types of yajnas ceremonies. Sankhyanan, Aashvakayan, Latkayan, Kattyayana and Bodhayan are the chief compositions of Sutra literature.

  • Griha Sutra deals with various sanskaras and the four Ashramas, i.e. Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanprastha and Sannyasa of human life.

  • Dharmasutra deals with the social life of the Vedic era in which various code of conduct and religious matters are explained. Besides these we have Kaushiki sutra (Medical science and remedies) and Sulva sutra.


Smriti means ‘remembrance’. Smiritis, the auxiliary treatises of the vedas, are regarded as a part of the revelation. There are six famous smiritis:

  • Manu smriti (of pre-Gupta period)

  • Yajnvalkya smriti (of Pre-Gupta period)

  • Narad smriti (of Gupta period)

  • Parashara smriti (Gupta period)

  • Brihaspati smriti (Gupta period) and

  • Katyayana smriti (Gupta period)


The ‘Purana’ means ‘the old’. There are 18 ‘Puranas’ in which the Matsya purana is the oldest puran. These puranas describe the genealogies of various royal dynasties, i.e. Maurya, Andhra, Shishunag, Gupta, etc.

The name of puranas are: Brahma, Padma, Vishnu, Shiva, Bhagvat, Narad, Markandey, Agni, Bhavishya Brahma-vaivartya, Linga Varah, Skanda, Vaman, Kurma, Matsya, Garur and Brahmand. Besides these there are 19 Upapuranas. Lomharsha or his son Ugrashrava is said to be the compiler of puranas.

Mahakavya (Epics)

There are two Mahakavyas (Epics), i.e. the Ramayana (Valmiki) and the Mahabharata (Ved Vyasa).

The Ramayana the oldest epic of the world, is known as ‘Adi Kavya’. It consists of 24,000 shlokas divided into 07 Kandas (Bal Kand, Ayodhya Kand and Aranya Kand, Kishkindha Kand, Sundar Kand, Lanka Kand and Uttar Kand). The 1st and 7th Kand were the latest additions to the Ramayana. The Ramayana is said to be composed in 5th century B.C. Originally it had only 6, 000 verses. Later on it became 12,000 and finally it has 24,000 shlokas.

The Mahabharat of Ved Vyasa is the longest epic of the world consisting of 1,00,000 shlokas in 18 parvans or chapters in which shanti parvan is the largest parvan. The Bhagavad Gita is extracted from the Bhishma Parvan of the Mahabharata.

The Mahabharata is said to be composed between 400 B.C. to A.D. 400. Originally it had only 8,800 shlokas under the name of Jay Samhita, later on it was called chaturvinshati sahastri

samhita or Bharat consisting of 24,000 shlokas and finally it became Mahabharata or Shatasahastri Samhita with 1,00,000 shlokas. It is also called ‘Panchamveda’.


Like Smritis, Vedangas and Upvedas, Darshans are also the auxiliary treaties of the vedas. There are six schools of Indian philosophy known as Shad-Darshans. These are Sankhya

(Kapil), Yoga (Patanjali), Nyaya (Akshapad Gautam), Vaishesika (Uluka Kanada), Purva Mimansa (Jaimini) and Vedanta or Uttar Mimansa (Badarayana).

Prelims Special...

  • In Rigveda we have 40 rivers and the Saraswati river is called the mother of rivers.

  • The name of four oceans found in the Rigveda are Apar, Purva, Saraswat and Sharyajavat.

  • 6 mandals from 2nd to 7th of Rigved are called Gotra Vamsha Mandalas (Kula Grantha)

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