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Vedic

literature, period, veda, india, knowledge and ceremonies

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VEDIC (va-c111c or vedlIc) LITERA TURE, the literature of the Vedas or sacred books of India. The language and literature of the Aryan invaders of India falls into two periods, the Vedic and the Sanskrit. Vedic is the English adjective formed from the noun veda, the native name for the literature. This word means °knowledge° (vid seen in Greek Fitt/Lev lEwe know* Latin videre, Gothic tvitum, know,' English wit), which special izes in the sense of °the knowledge par excel lence,' sacred knowledge° in a way com parable with our designation of our sacred Scriptures as athe book,' the Bible. This fact indicates at once the character of the literature. It is a religious literature, composed to meet the various needs of a complex religious sys tem, and is consequently practical, not artistic in purpose.

The people among whom this literature originated were Indo-Europeans, who had en tered the peninsula of India from the north west. At the beginning of the Vedic period they were settled on the Indus and in the Pun jab, and throughout the period the course of their conquests can be followed eastward across the Jumna to the valley of the Ganges. Ow ing to the uncertainty of all Indian chronology it is rarely possible to give exact dates to any monument of its literature. For the Vedic period this is especially true, the best that can be done is to fix the relative succession of cer tain classes of writings. The oldest works are collections of material, the composition of which must have extended over several cen turies. For the oldest of these, the Rig Veda, the estimates of competent scholars vary from 4000 to 1000 s.c.— about 2000 B.C. being a con servative estimate. The close of the Vedic period may be approximately given as shortly before the beginning of our era.

These people were worshippers of the vari ous phenomena of nature, of which their chief deities were anthropomorphic precipitates (for details see Hopkins, 'The Religions of India,) Boston 1898, and the literature there cited). To these gods they offered sacrifices that they might give in return prosperity — rain, wealth in cattle and in sons, health, long life and finally safe escort to the kingdom of the dead where ruled Yama, the son of Vivasvant. They

conceived also the idea that these material gifts could be made more acceptable to the gods, if accompanied by songs of praise and invocations that extolled the might of the gods and told of their wondrous works; that for mulae of magic potency were also employed is but natural. The very form of the invocations implies the existence of mythological legends, and it is inconceivable that so elaborate a ritual as existed at the time of the Rig Veda and even earlier in the Indo-Iranian period, could have been introduced and maintained without some tradition of the reasons for its existence, and directions for its proper performance. In short, in this earliest period we have existing side by side all the germs which developing at a later period and crystallizing at various times precipitated themselves in the three great types of Vedic literature, the Sathhitis, Brahmanas and Sutras.

The religion had two aspects, a hieratic and a popular side. The first comprised the greater Vedic ceremonies, the so-called cruuta-sacrifices and centred about the oblation of the intoxi cating drink soma; the second comprised be sides the rites connected with the home life the grhya rites— (from grha, °a house', the practices that were more distinctly magical in nature, whose objects were to bless and to curse. It remains to be noted that with the growing power of the priesthood, their influ ence reached out over this sphere also and gave to these originally popular ceremonies a quasi hieratical character. From this follows the partition of the Vedic literature into two main subdivisions, on the one hand the trayi vidya, the knowledge* of the hymns of praise, the Rig Veda, of the chanted songs, the Siena Veda, and of the sacrificial verses and formulae, the Yajur Veda, with their Soma sacrifices, and on the other, the Atharva Veda, and the house ceremonies.

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