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Veda? Vedic? What does it all mean?

Whether you've started incorporating Ayurvedic concepts into your life, dabbled with Pranic Energy Healing, took up a Yoga practice, or tried looking up your Jyotish chart... you've probably caught yourself wondering where it all came from and why they are all referred to as "Vedic sciences."


What does it even mean for something to be Vedic? What are they referring to when they say Veda? Can so-and-so be considered Vedic? Or maybe you just don't even know what to think when you hear these words among other Sanskrit terms?


Well, since you managed to find my cozy little blog in the vast depths of the internet, I'm going to assume you're just a little curious about the topic. Well long story short, you picked the right place to come and learn more because the rest of this article is going to give you a no-fluff breakdown of these seemingly new buzzwords.


I'll preface this by saying you may have moments where you think "oh great, not more Sanskrit," but fear not! I will be breaking everything down over the next couple minutes of reading- from their literal translations to to their deeper meanings and purposes... all in a much easier-to-understand way than some teachers would go about it (or so I've been told).


Now, let's just dive in already! ... and what better place to start than with the word that caught your attention in the first place- VEDA!


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What does "Veda" mean?


"Veda" is a Sanskrit word that holds many meanings depending on the context in which it is used, but it often translated to “science,” “knowledge,” “wisdom,” and even “art.” More specifically though, we are saying THE science, THE knowledge, THE wisdom, THE art.


As you will soon discover as you dive down our "What is the Veda?" rabbit hole, Veda or Vedic references the pure, unchangeable knowledge, wisdom, science, and art within a compilation of ancient texts that are considered the earliest form of written literature and record of science from humankind. And, this is why Vedic knowledge is considered ever-powerful and potent... Not only because it was the first thing that we, as humans ever wrote down, but because it is still considered unmatchable by any other scientific system or human literature tens of thousands of years later.


So what magical texts are these then? They are:

  • the four Vedas

  • the four Upavedas, and

  • the six Vedangas

Now go grab a hot drink and settle in- we're going to start with the four Vedas! And try to remember not to stress over all the Sanskrit, I got you.


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The Vedas


The Vedas are a series of four different textbooks that date back to so long ago, that they are considered the earliest record of human civilization and hold a sacred place across all indigenous cultures. The four Vedas are:

  • Rig Veda

  • Sama Veda

  • Yajur Veda

  • Atharva Veda

But instead of the Vedas being a series of texts with each one containing different wisdom, every subsequent text is a compilation or expansion on the wisdom contained in the ones preceding it. On top of that, each text acted as a more accessible and comprehendible resource, usually making the knowledge even easier to understand and implement.


The first Veda, Rig Veda, literally means the science of mantra or cosmic law, and is actually the first ever text that Yoga was mentioned in. Rig Veda a collection of hymns, songs, and rituals dedicated to various deities and natural forces. Dating back to 12,000 BCE (14,000+ years ago), it is scientifically recognized as the oldest book in any Indo-European language. Containing the earliest form of Sanskrit, it is referenced as the key to the vibratory structure of our universe on multiple levels. The wisdom found in this book is considered unparalleled in global literature and leaves researchers ope to the idea that ancient civilizations before us might have known more about the true nature of our universe than we know today.


Yajur Veda, the next text, dates back to 1200-800 BCE and translates to the science of action. Where the Rig Veda helps you talk the talk, the Yajur Veda helps you walk the walk. It improves upon all the information in the Rigveda with practical rituals and activities that can be performed both within and outside the mind/body complex. It is in this text where meditation and other spiritual rituals really come to manifest as practices. Yajur Veda was believed to have been written to meet the demands of society at the time which yearned for more ceremonial religious rites and sacrificial practices. It is described as being similar to Egypt’s Book of the Dead. In basic terms, Yajur Veda gathered all the universal and cosmic knowledge within Rig Veda and transmuted it into applicable practices for society.


The third book of the Vedas is Sama Veda, which literally translates to the science of sound. Although at its core, Sama Veda is not too different than the previous two texts, it is how it shares that wisdom that makes it special Sama Veda takes the information from Rig Veda and Yajur Veda, and it turns it into a musical form. It is believed that this was (and still is) and easier way to remember the core values of the Vedas. In every sense, Sama Veda turns all of the previous Vedic texts into a meaningful expression of their wisdom. There's a popular quote that says “if Rigveda is the knowledge, Sama Veda is its realization.” With Rig Veda, sages recorded their knowledge and in Yajur Veda, they provided ways to apply it ceremoniously, but with Sama Veda, the sages transformed it into a way of living.


The final Veda of the four Vedas is Atharva Veda. Although listed as the fourth and final Veda in this post, Atharva Veda was written between 1500-2000BCE, making it the second Veda chronologically. I saved it for last because although it was written in the Vedic period, its content is so different than the other three Vedas that some researchers believe it could be in its own category entirely. Utilizing the wisdom within Rig Veda, Atharva Veda deeply expands upon our connection to nature, including the use of different spells, herbs, charms, and symbols to cure diseases and restore health. Credited as the first record of medical knowledge from a human and scientific perspective by modern researchers, Atharva Veda is also the first textbook mentioning Ayurveda. It is believed that this text was written at a time that society was suffering from disease and turmoil, and so the goal of Atharva Veda (much like the goal of Ayurveda), is to restore health in someone who is diseased and prevent disease in someone who is healthy.


It is believed the Vedas were originally meant for sages or highly enlightened individuals, but as society progressed and became more unhealthy and disorderly, the knowledge continued to be transmuted until it was made more easily comprehendible by four Upavedas.


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The Upavedas


Upa is a Sanskrit word that means “together with” or “little sibling of,” and therefore, acts as the little sibling or supplemental resource to the four major Vedas. To continue with that “little sibling” reference, think about how a younger sibling grows up watching their older siblings’ interactions, successes, and failures. Along the way, the younger sibling picks up on what worked and didn’t work for their older siblings, allowing them to skip those life lessons and navigate similar challenges with ease. In the same sense, by utilizing the Upavedas, we can more easily comprehend the Vedas.


Each of the four Upavedas has a specific Veda associated to it, and they are:

  • Ayurveda from Rig Veda

  • Dhanurveda from Yajur Veda

  • Gandharvaveda from Sama Veda

  • Sthapatyaveda from Atharva Veda


The first Upaveda is Ayurveda. Although it was first recorded in Atharva Veda, Ayurveda is considered an Upaveda to Rig Veda, where it takes its wisdom and turns it into a medical science that can heal and prevent all forms of disease. Ayurveda is a combination of the Sanskrit words “Ayu” or “Ayur” and “Veda.” The first half of the word Ayurveda, “Ayu,” translates to “living,” “being,” or even “universal existence,” which means Ayurveda literally translates to “the science or art of living, being, existence, etc.” In every sense of the word, Ayurveda outlines an innate and universal science for not only humans, but all walks of life, about how to avoid disease and live in harmony with the universe. (I will be posting a series of articles on this subject in detail every week over the course of the next year so make sure you are subscribed!)


The next Upaveda is Dhanurveda. Dhanur, meaning “bow,” refers to a bow and arrow, the original war weapon. As we can defer from this translation, Dhanurveda is considered the Science of Weaponry. Connected to Yajur Veda, this text narrows in on topics such as politics, economics, running a kingdom, initiating warfare, organizing a military, developing war strategy, and even training combat animals. It even goes as deep as listing specific herbs and rituals that can support a victory. Dhanurveda has even been credited for not only inspiring the creation of, but providing the science behind, inventions such as atomic bombs, spacecrafts, and other seemingly supernatural technologies. This Upaveda, ultimately, was written to provide universal rules and wisdom to protect a community or kingdom that may have been or would be susceptible to foreign invasions.


Gandharva Veda, the supplement to Sama Veda and third Upaveda is referenced as the Science of Art and Sound. Gandharva translates to skilled singer or music master, which is very fitting considering its detailed accounts of art forms such as music and poetry. It not only teaches the reader about the universal laws and methods behind practicing music such as pitches, notes, and techniques, but dives deep into how different sounds and rhythms can positively or negatively affect the living and non-living world. This Upaveda gives us a literal understanding of how to properly pronounce or vocalize the Vedas.

The final Upaveda is Sthapatyaveda, which translates to the Science of Establishment. This entire text is related to architecture, city planning, and sustainable community design. It is all about how to create and design a whole town/city/community that follows the laws of nature rather than interfering with them. In its purest sense, it provided the theory that we are a product of our environment- that there is a deep connection between our health and our surroundings. It uncovers how when someone lives and works in locations/buildings conducive to their inherent nature and the natural world around them, they are more likely to feel, act, and work harmoniously. Similar to Fung Shui, it is the concept that where we live, even our house where we work, our offense, our cars that we use, how they're designed where they're laid out, can ultimately affect our energies and our health on a deeper level. And so if it's in line with nature, it will promote positive energies positive health, but if it's out of line with nature, it can cause disharmony and disease.


In short, the Upavedas take the knowledge from the Vedas then connect all the dots for us so we can more easily understand and apply it in our daily lives. But it doesn’t end there, because every little siblings worst fear is what? Becoming the middle sibling. That’s what happens when the Vedangas, additional supplemental sources, come into play.


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The Vedangas


While the Vedangas support the Vedas and Upavedas, they do so in a way unlike any of the previous texts have done. As you can probably already imagine, it would be virtually impossible to study the Vedic system of knowledge in its entirety in a single lifetime. Therefore, where does one start? That is what the Vedangas do for us. Similar to a tutor or study guide, they focus in specific topics within the Vedas so that a student can accurately write, read, recite, and apply the text.


Vedanga comes from Veda and “Anga,” a word or a suffix that typically translates as “limb.” In the most literal sense, Vedangas are the limbs of the Veda and provide us with simpler prerequisites and a clearer path to working with the Vedas. Another classical text known as the Upanishads actually compare the Vedangas to the limbs of a human as follows:


“We have Chandas, Kalpa, Jyotish, Nirukta, Shiksa, and Vyakarana. Chanda is the two feet, Kalpa the two arms, Jyotish the eyes, Nirukta the ears, Shiksa the nose, and Vyakarana, the mouth. So what are all of these six.”

Shiksa, as referenced as the nose in that last quote, is the discipline of phonetics, phonology, and pronunciation. It focuses on the Sanskrit alphabet, focusing on how to properly speak it- basically how to use the right accent, quantity, stress, melody, rules. It gives you everything you need to know to properly recite a Vedic line. And it also tells you what that recitation does to your psychic energies in your health. If you have ever asked yourself “Am I saying this right?” Shiksa would be the science you refer to when it comes to the Sanskrit language.

The next Vedanga is Kalpa- the two arms. This Vedanga explains how to properly apply Vedic wisdom ceremoniously in ritual. It creates standards and procedures for different rites of passage like birth, marriage, deaths, and many others. It also lists the proper conduct and duties that are expected of us at different stages of our life- from childhood to adult and householder to elderly. It even gave instructions on how to offer sacrifices.

Vyakarana is a discipline regarding the rules of grammar and linguistics. This is represented by the mouth of the Veda. Unfortunately, the classical texts on them are lost, destroyed, or hidden. (We will cover that in the next blog post- History of Ayurveda and Yoga. Subscribe to our newsletter to be notified when it’s published!). While we still have some technical grammar and linguistic tools from other texts, this particular text on the discipline is inaccessible to the public.

After that, we have the Nirukta- the ears of the Veda. This Vedanga deals with analyzing the linguistics of the words and helping to establish the proper meaning of the word. In other words, it helps us break down a complex word into smaller root words in efforts to determine the word’s varied meanings depending on context. The most powerful thing about Nirukta is that it can be applied to any ancient text with an unclear meaning, Sanskrit or not.


The next Vedanga, Chandas, are the two feet of the Veda. This limb narrows in on the science behind poetic meters, syllables, and verses. It not only outlines how to properly use a mantra, but details the purpose and context in which the mantra should be used. It is also known as “the error corrector,” because before the wisdom was recorded in the Vedas, is was passed down verbally. The science of Chandas assured that the content, now written down, continued to be verbalized correctly when said out loud.

The final Vedanga, Jyotish, is the considered the eyes. Translated as the science of light or shining objects, Jyotish provides information on astrology, astronomy, and keeping time- all of which are extremely important when it comes to planning and performing ceremonies and rituals. Jyotish outlines how the placement of the planets and the stars affects earth and its inhabitants. We have all these texts about the science behind ritual, how to do the rituals, how to speak them, and now, with Jyotish, when to do them. The beautiful thing about Jyotish is that it takes an individual’s birth into account and can explain different events that occur throughout their life based on their alignment in those cosmos.


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Conclusion


Together, the 4 Vedas, 4 Upavedas, and 6 Vedangas are considered timeless and eternal truths. They provide us with the universal laws that are present everywhere and in everyone. Written in Sanskrit, in the form of prose and poetry, the Vedas content can contain the greatest amount of wisdom about religion, philosophy, and social customs from both scientific and spiritual perspectives. And beyond that, it gives a blueprint for allowing these different aspects of life to work together in harmony.


Because of this, Vedic science is said to have mothered hundreds of thousands of other ancient indigenous disciplines over time, from chemistry, surgery, Medicine, botany to agriculture and ecology, mathematics, physics, technology, architecture, Alchemy, philosophy, language, grammar, politics, government, humanities, social sciences, philosophy, psychology, cultures, moralities, massage, you name it, the Vedas probably have roots within that knowledge.


And the greatest thing is even under intense scrutiny, the eternal truth and pure wisdom within the Veda, is repetitively proven true and accurate, and oftentimes is credited for a lot of new scientific discoveries.


For as long as it has been around, Vedic wisdom has never had to change based on a new finding that it had not already accounted for. Because it encompasses all aspects of life, living, and being- it touches on any topic our minds can fathom.


And that’s their beauty- that when we say Vedic, we refer to that pure eternal wisdom within the Vedas.


 

Dying to know how Yoga and Ayurveda fit into this system? In the next post of our Yoga/Ayurveda 101 series, we're going to give a brief run-down of the history of Yoga and Ayurveda.


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