Vedas & Puranas

Vedas are probably 4000 years old. India has a long trail and riches of Historical resources. Indian Subcontinent has the oldest written form of literary sources. In this section of Ancient History, we are going to discuss the Vedas, Puranas, and Kalhan’s Rajtarangini.

The Vedas

The Vedas form the oldest literary works of the Aryans and occupy a very distinguished place in the history of world literature. Vedas have been looked upon as the revealed words of God by millions of Hindus. For many centuries, Vedas had grown up and were orally handed down from generation to generation. The Vedas were probably authored during 1800 BC and 600 BC. It consists of three successive classes of literary production.

These three classes are:

  1. The Samhitas or Mantras—are collections of hymns, prayers, charms, litanies, and sacrificial formulas.
  2. The Brahmanas—a kind of Primitive theology and philosophy of Brahmanas.
  3. The Aranyakas and Upanishads—are partly included in the Brahmanas or attached thereto and partly exist as separate works. They contain philosophical meditations of the hermits and ascetics on the soul, God, world & man.

There are four Samhitas that are different from one another.

The Rigveda Samhita


A collection of hymns. It has ten mandalas with a total of 1028 ‘Suktas’ or ‘stutis” for the worship of gods like Indra, Surya, Agni, Yama, Varuna Ashwini, Usha, etc.

Samaveda Samhita

Samveda, Vedas

A collection of songs mostly taken from Rig Veda. It contained 1549 stutis. A special class of priests known as “Udgator” was to recite its hymns.

Yajur Veda Samhita


A collection of sacrificial formulas. It has 40 mandals. There are two distinct forms of Yajur Veda namely. “Sukla Yajur Veda” and “Krishna Yajur Veda”. The “Sukla Yajur Veda” contains the genesis while the “Krishna Yajur Veda” describes the “Vasya” or the philosophy. 

Atharva Veda Samhita

Vedas & Puranas

A collection of songs and spells. It has twenty mandalas with 731 ‘stutis’. It deals with magic, hypnotism, and enslavement through mantra. It is regarded on a lower level than the other three Vedas. These four Samhitas formed the basis of four Vedas.

Every work belonging to the second and third classes of Vedic literature viz, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, and the Upanishads, is attached to one or another of these Samhitas and is said to belong to that particular Veda.

The Authorship of the Vedic Literature

The Hindus have a belief that the hymns were merely revealed to the sages and not composed by them. For this Vedas are called “apaurusheya’ (not made by man) and ‘ritya” (existing in all eternity). The ‘Rishis’ to whom they are ascribed are known as Mantradrasta’. (Who received the mantra by sight directly from the Supreme Creator).


Besides the Vedas, there is another class of works whose authorship is ascribed to human beings. They are known as Sutras or Vedangas. There are six Vedangas. They are six subjects. These are siksha (pronunciation), changes (meter) Jyotisha (astronomy), Kalpa (ritual), Vyakarana (grammar), Ninukta (explanation of words).


Folios from Bhagavata Puranas
Folios from Bhagavata Puranas

Among various sources used in the reconstruction of early Indian history, Puranas enjoy a place of great significance. Puranas are 18 in number and these were composed over a long period beginning from 2nd Century B.C. to 10th Century A.D. The Puranas provide information about both the secular & religious life of the ancient age. Their significance was immense as a source of spreading secular knowledge among the people.

The Puranas divide subject matter into 5 parts which are-

  1. Sarga – Rise
  2. Prati Sarga – Fall of dynasty
  3. Manavantra – Repetition of time
  4. Vamsa – Family / Genealogy
  5. Vamsanu Chanta – Dynastic history

Puranas have elements of historical work because the information is provided chronologically. The name of various kings & successors is given in chronological measure. Puranas deal with social life, morality, religion & philosophy. They also provide information about the distance between various places, Indian geography known to early Indians, various methods used for measurement of distance & time, etc. Some of the Puranas deal with specific dynasties-

  1. Vishnu Purana – Mauryan dynasty
  2. Matasya Purana – Satvahna dynasty
  3. Vayu Purana – Gupta dynasty

In the Ancient Age, the Puranas were the only important literacy work accessible to women & shudra. The Vedas were not accessible to them because of this Purana propagated knowledge among the majority of the Indian population. According to Banabhatta, Puranas were read in public in ancient times & the entire village used to loosen them that is why Puranas were considered as most important for spreading secular knowledge among people during the ancient age.

Kalhana’s “Rajatarangini” (1149AD)

Rajatarangini, Vedas
Kalhana’s Rajatarangini

Kalhana was a Kashmiri historian in 1200 Century AD. He wrote “a famous historical work named “Rajatarangini”. This book contains a history of India beginning from the 8th Century BC Mahabharata Age to the middle of the 12th Century AD In this book Kalhana expressed attributes of a true historian & true historical work.

According to Kalhana, a true historian shall examine various available works of previous writers critically, so that a truthful picture of the past could be reconstructed. According to Kalhana, a true historian shall have a detached mind. Historians should not get involved in the details emotionally. His task is not to interpret the past as good or bad. His responsibility is to present the past as it is.

A true historian should be without any prejudice/bias. Interpretation of the past shall be uncolored without distortion. Historians should interpret the past in light of present socio-culture, admin-political, and economic life. So that the knowledge of the past could be applied by people in their present life.

By reading true historical work, the picture of the past should appear in front of the reader. True historian work contains lessons for the future. By studying the history of previous people, wise people should be in a position to foresee the future. A true historian must not incorporate personal values and beliefs in his works.

Previous Year Questions for UPSC Prelims

Ques 1: Consider the following statements regarding the source of Vedic Civilisation:
I.    The most important source of Vedic Civilisation is the Vedas.
II.    The Vedas are neither any individual religious work nor a collection of a definite number of books compiled at a particular time.
III.    It consists of three successive classes of literary creations.

Which of the following statement(s) is/are correct?
a.    Only I
b.    I and II
c.    II and III
d.    All of the above

Answer: Option D

Explanation: The Vedas represent the most significant source. Veda translates as “knowledge.” The Vedas are neither a single religious text nor a set of texts that were compiled at a specific period of time.

Vedic literature had developed over many years and was passed down orally from one generation to the next. There are three progressively more complex categories of literary works. Some of these still remain, but many of them are irretrievably lost.

Ques 2: Consider the following statements regarding the four Vedas
I.    Rig-Veda is a collection of hymns
II.    Samveda is a collection of songs mostly taken from Rig Veda
III.    Atharvaveda is a collection of sacrificial formulae

Which of the following statement(s) is/are correct?
a.    Only I
b.    I and II
c.    II and III
d.    All of the above

Answer: Option B

Explanation: The Vedas: A collection of hymns, prayers, charms, litanies, and sacrificial formulae. There are four Vedas, namely:

  • RigVeda – a collection of hymns
  • Samveda – a collection of songs mostly taken from Rig Veda
  • Yajurveda – a collection of sacrificial formulae
  • Atharvaveda – a collection of spells and charms

The Vedas formed the earliest segment of Vedic literature and amongst the Vedas, Rigveda is the oldest.

Ques 3: As per the pious Hindus who have always laid stress upon their divine origin, which of the following was not created by man?
a.    Rig Veda
b.    Samveda
c.    Atharveda
d.    None of the above

Answer: Option D

Rishis are credited with writing the Vedic hymns, and devout Hindus have traditionally emphasized their heavenly provenance. Because of this, the Vedas are said to as apaurusheya (not made by man) and Nitya (living forever), and the rishis are known as inspired seers who received the mantras from the Supreme deity.

Ques 4: Consider the following statements regarding the Boghaz-Koi inscription:
I.    Boghaz-Koi is an inscription of 1400 B.C. which prove that Rig Veda must have come into existence much before that date.
II.    Boghaz-Koi mentions the names of Vedic gods Indra, Varuna, Mitra, and the two Nasatyas.
III.    The BoghazKoi inscription records a treaty between the Hittite and the Mitanni Kings and these gods are cited as witnesses to this treaty

Which of the following statement(s) is/are correct?
a.    Only I
b.    I and II
c.    II and III
d.    All of the above

Answer: Option D

Explanation: Some academics suggested that the Rig Veda may have been written around 1000 B.C. based on the Avestan language’s analogies. Rig Veda must have existed considerably earlier than that, as evidenced by the fact that some of the Vedic gods, including Indra, Varuna, Mitra, and the two Nasatyas, are named in the Boghaz-Koi (Asia Minor) inscription from 1400 B.C.
The Hittite and Mitanni Kings signed a pact that is described in the BoghazKoi inscription, and these gods are listed as witnesses to the treaty in the same way as oaths are still sworn in court and before taking public office in the name of god.

Quick Questions on Vedas & Puranas for UPSC Preparation

The Vedas, a substantial collection of religious writings written in Vedic Sanskrit, are frequently cited as the earliest Hindu scriptures. The Puranas are a sizable body of Indian literature that include a variety of subjects, including folklore and tales.

First of all, the Vedas, which were written between 1500 and 500 BC, are much older than the Puranas. They were reportedly put together by Veda Vyasa. The puranas were most likely written between the third and tenth centuries. These are known to have come from a Veda Vyas follower, Lomaharshana, and three other people.

Key Hindu teachings about the Divine are presented in a collection of hymns known as the Vedas, which is Sanskrit for “knowledge.” The Vedas, which are considered eternal truths, were transmitted orally for hundreds of years prior to Veda Vyasa’s alleged compilation of them in writing.

The Rigveda (Knowledge of the Verses), the Yajurveda, the Samaveda, and the Atharvaveda are the four Vedas. Rig, Yajur, and Sama, the first three Vedas, are referred to as the trayi-vidya (“threefold knowledge”).

One of the eighteen main Puranas, or Mahapuranas, the Matsya Purana is among the puranic literature of Hinduism’s earliest and best surviving periods.

The later Puranas, which started to be written around 350 A.D. and continued until around 1500 A.D., followed the middle period of Vedic thinking, which involved the writing of the interpretative Brahmanas and Upanishads, the latter of which were mostly philosophical discussions.

The Atharva Veda’s original name is Atharvangirasa because it is believed that two groups of rishis known as the Atharvanas and the Angirasa were primarily responsible for its composition. It is credited to the Bhrigu and Angirasa in the Late Vedic Gopatha Brahmana.

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