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Vedic Religion

  The Vedas are the Hindu sacred Scriptures. Although interpretation has varied, their authority is unchallenged. The question of authenticity does not arise because they do not derive their authority from authorship but from their contents, and are seen as the vehicle of divine revelation.

The oldest of the Vedas is the Rig-Veda, a collection of 1,017 hymns made for the benefit of the priests responsible for invoking the gods at sacrifices. They reveal an optimistic people seeking divine favour in the form of material advance. The Sama-Veda is a collection of chants for the cantor, and the Yagur-Veda a group of rules for sacrifice. All have the Brahmanas commentary and explanation interleaved. The Artharva-Veda is completely different, being a collection of spells which may have originated from the Sudra classes.

The Vedas merge into the Upanishads via the ‘Discourses in the Forest’. Religion now becomes internalized, speculative and deeply devotional. Classic Hindu pantheism emerges. Already the late-Vedic hymns refashion older poems to give answers to burning questions. The ideas of intellect (buddhi) and of the soul emerge. (Originally soul was ‘breath’, as in the Old Testament.) The immortality of the soul is simply asserted in beautiful poetry. There are no philosophical arguments.

In later times, the Vedic gods declined, and minor gods became more important, most notably Vishnu. Almost all are male and benign. The most important Vedic gods are Varuna, the Supreme Being, the celestrial Brahman par excellence, Agni, god of fire and sacrifice (now only invoked at weddings and funerals), and Indra (god of the storm). Indra is the supreme Aryan warlord; he has Maruts, storm gods, to assist him, and prefigures Krishna with his exploits. He is king by right of conquest, and gradually takes on Varuna\'s attributes. Another Vedic god, Rudra, Lord of cattle, was later identified with Siva.

There have been various ‘Back to the Veda/Upanishads’ movements since Ram Mohun Roy ( - 1833) began translating them, but as Hinduism is not a legalistic religion, and allows much flexibility in practice, the effect is different from fundamentalism among Christians and Muslims. EMJ

Further reading G. Parrinder, The Wisdom of the Forest.



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