The Vedas are the earliest Hindu scriptures. The large body of texts known as the Vedas was composed roughly between 1500 and 500 BCE, and was predominantly orally transmitted until around 1000 CE. The Vedas are considered Shruti (“what is heard”), meaning they were directly revealed from the divine realm and not the original work of human beings. The core of the Vedas are the Samhitas, four collections of mantras and hymns: the Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda, Yajur-Veda, and Atharva-Veda. The Brahmanas are prose commentaries on the Samhitas that detail the rituals to be performed with each Samhita mantra. The Aranyakas contain further discussion and interpretation of the rituals in the Brahmanas, along with other material. Many schools of Hindu thought have left behind much of the ritualism of the Vedas, stressing instead their philosophical teachings and using post-Vedic literature as the predominant source of scriptural authority.
The Vedas are the oldest scriptures of the Hindu tradition. The period of their composition, between the mid-second to the mid-first millennium BCE, has become known as the Vedic Period. The cultures that evolved during this period are collectively dubbed Vedic civilization, a testament to the profound influence these texts have had on the development of society in ancient India. The Vedas also determine Hinduism’s view on who is Hindu and who is not, as Hindu orthodoxy includes those sects that accept the authority of the Vedas, while those who reject them—Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs—are held as heterodox and non-Hindu.
back to top