So first let me say, the word “Veda” is a very meaningful word, it is a word which has a meaning, etymologically. The word “Veda’ is a Sanskrit word. I know that some of you started learning Sanskrit, recently. There is a root word in Sanskrit called “wid” — to know. So, the book which is known as Veda is so called, because it is claimed to be the book of knowledge. Veda means “knowledge”. Now many of you might not have even seen the book “Veda”. One day there might be an exhibition here, where we can present the Vedic literature, and you can have the first hand perception, at least a visual perception. And the first think that you will see will be four books.
Veda, as it is known, consists of four books, and these four books have each one a separate name. The most important and most ancient of these four is called “Rig Veda”, the second book is called “Yajur Veda”, the third book is called “Sama Veda”, and the fourth book is called “Atharva Veda”. These are the four books. Don’t try to memorise these names, because I will come to them so often that even without an effort you will be able to remember these four names: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, Atharva Veda. Now each Veda is called Samhita. This is another, Sanskrit word: Samhita. Samhita, means collection, anthology. I do not know if you have seen anthologies of poets, anthology of many writers, fiction writers, and prose writers. You know when you make a selection from a large body, and put them together, collect together in a collection — that is called Samhita, is an anthology. So each book is an anthology. In another words, none of the four books is a complete book, it is only an anthology. It is said that there was a time, a very ancient time, how ancient one doesn’t know. Let’s say five thousand years ago, six thousand years ago, ten thousand years ago, one doesn’t know, there is a lot of speculation about it, and we do not go into the speculation. We can say? In very ancient times there happened to be a number of poets. It is a great historical event that there happened to be a number of poets who lived in India and they composed some of the most marvelous poems. And there were plenty of poems, plenty of them. It seems, as it were, a great flood of poetry. And a number of poems were written and composed. Then a time came when it was felt that that whole flood was vanishing that flood of poetry. Fewer and fewer people were now composing poems, and it seemed as it were — because at that time there were no written words or things were not written down — it was felt that there should be an anthology. A great man called Vyasa, this is one name you should remember, Vyasa. He himself was a great poet, and he felt that before this poetry is lost, (because most of the communications were done orally only, not by written words but by oral tradition) Vyasa felt that there should be at least a selection out of such a huge literature which was available orally. Some of the most important things should be put together. And he made these four collections. Therefore Vyasa is also called Veda Vyasa: Vyasa who put all the Vedas into the present form. So these four books are only incomplete books, in the sense that they don’t contain all the literature that was available at that time. Actually it is said: Vedah Anantah that is in Sanskrit: ‘Vedas are limitless’. The Vedas which are available now in the books are only a selection. But this selection was done by a very wise poet. So, you can expect that this collection will contain the most essential ideas, and they will give us an insight into what the ancients thought, what they discovered. The Rig Veda is the largest collection. Sama Veda is the smallest collection.
Rig Veda consists of ten thousand verses. I have got one edition of Rig Veda which is in twelve volumes, ten thousand verses printed in twelve volumes, that is in itself a large, large amount. Even to glance at twelve volumes is a very big work, not many people have been able, even to browse through these twelve volumes.
Atharva Veda has six thousand verses, and Yajur Veda and Sama Veda have a smaller number. I shall come to this aspect of quantity later on; I am just now touching only at the fringes, some of the important ideas regarding these Vedas.