Early Veda



I. Creation Myths in the Early Vedas


Cosmogony:  explanation of how things got started; tell us something about the living nature of the world; a form of asking and answering philosophical questions


Three creation myths (and there are many more): 


1.    Indra slays Vrtra:

a.    Early Vedic religion was polytheistic yet strove for deeper understanding of the world

b.    The categories of “non-existence” and “existence” – primordial, undifferentiated, inertia, passive state of potential (chaos) / differentiated, active and creative process of becoming (order)

c.    Vrtra: darkness and bondage, keeps the waters trapped in his belly (or within a mountain around which he is wrapped).  Water as primordial condition.  Indra: powers of existence, creation, order in the world

d.    Indra overcomes Vrtra:  Reaching to the heart of creative potential to release it into activity and order.

e.    The cosmogony is a myth about the first time.  But not the one and only time.  It is also about the ongoing and dynamic nature of the world.  Moving from “non-existence” to “Existence,” from passive to active and back again.

f.     Central concern in the early Veda: How to maintain the world in its ongoing process of becoming.

2.    The Hymn of Origins

a.    Philosophical speculation embodied in narrative form: Wondering about the ultimate nature and source of all things: what lies beyond ordinary experience?

b.    The One behind the Many:  India’s question: What is the relationship between absolute unity and  infinite and creative multiplicity.

3.    Purusha Sukta

a.    A Sacrifice (yajna)

                                                            i.         As microcosm

                                                          ii.         As creative paradigm of all existence

                                                         iii.         As means of maintaining the worlds creative and ordered processes via connections between the world and the elements of the sacrifice

b.    Rta: principles of order and process that govern the world



II. The Vedic Texts


1.    Two uses of the word “Veda”:  whole body of revealed texts; earliest layers of Vedic literature (Samhita).  Veda = cognate of English “wisdom” or “wit”

2.    Sruti and Smrti: two categories of sacred text

a.    Sruti: Directly revealed

b.    Smrti: Divinely inspired

3.    From oral traditions to text.

a.    An ancient system of double-checking:  the texts learned and recited in two forms (with sandhi, without sandhi)

4.    The Four Samhitas:

a.    Rigveda: hymns of praise (ric).  1028 hymns, ten divisions or books.  Composed in Sanskrit, early as 1200 BCE.

b.    Samaveda: collections of songs (samans) based on Rigveda with instruction on recitation

c.    Yajur Veda (white and black): incantations (yajuses) and verse recited during ceremony, declaring purpose and meaning of each act.

d.    Artharvaveda (Artharvans, medical practitioners): hymns and incantation for spells and magic formulas  Ritual function: mantra (verses used in liturgy) and brahmana (ritual exegesis)

e.    Each constitutes a branch (shakha) to which all subsequent Vedic texts attach




1.    Purusha Sukta

2.    Hymn of Origins

3.    Veda

4.    Vrtra

5.    Indra

6.    Agni

7.    Samhitas (all 4)

8.    Shakhas

9.    Brahmanas





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