|Vedanta Spiritual Library|
"The Vedas (knowledge) are a large body of texts originating in ancient
India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of
Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism.
The class of "Vedic texts" is aggregated around the four canonical Samhitas or Vedas proper (turiya), of which the first three (traya) are related to the performance of yajna (sacrifice) in historical Vedic religion:
The Rigveda, containing hymns to be recited by the hotr;
The Yajurveda, containing formulas to be recited by the adhvaryu or officiating priest;
The Samaveda, containing formulas to be sung by the udgatr.
The fourth is the Atharvaveda, a collection of spells and incantations, apotropaic charms and speculative hymns.
The Rig Veda manuscripts have been selected for inscription in UNESCO's "Memory of the World" Register 2007.
According to Hindu tradition, the Vedas are apauruseya "not of human agency", are supposed to have been directly revealed, and thus are called sruti ("what is heard"). The Vedas are said to be written down by Ved Vyas during Dvapara Yuga, about 5,300 years years ago. The four Samhitas are metrical (with the exception of prose commentary interspersed in the Krishna Yajurveda). The term samhita literally means "composition, compilation". The individual verses contained in these compilations are known as mantras. Some selected Vedic mantras are still recited at prayers, religious functions and other auspicious occasions in contemporary Hinduism.
The various Indian philosophies and sects have taken differing positions on the Vedas. Schools of Indian philosophy which cite the Vedas as their scriptural authority are classified as "orthodox" (astika). Other traditions, notably Buddhism and Jainism, which did not regard the Vedas as authorities are referred to by traditional Hindu texts as "heterodox" or "non-orthodox" (nastika) schools. In addition to Buddhism and Jainism, Sikhism and Brahmoism, many non-Brahmin Hindus in South India do not accept the authority of the Vedas. Certain South Indian Brahmin communities such as Iyengars consider the Tamil Divya Prabandham or writing of the Alvar saints as equivalent to the Vedas. In most Iyengar temples in South India the Divya Prabandham is recited daily along with Vedic Hymns.
In English, the term Veda is often used loosely to refer to the Samhitas (collection of mantras, or chants) of the four canonical Vedas (Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda). The Sanskrit term veda as a common noun means "knowledge", but can also be used to refer to fields of study unrelated to liturgy or ritual, e.g. in agada-veda "medical science", sasya-veda "science of agriculture" or sarpa-veda "science of snakes" (already found in the early Upanishads); durveda means "with evil knowledge, ignorant".
The Vedas are among the oldest sacred texts. The Samhitas date to roughly 1500-1000 BCE, and the "circum-Vedic" texts, as well as the redaction of the Samhitas, date to c. 1000-500 BCE, resulting in a Vedic period, spanning the mid 2nd to mid 1st millennium BCE, or the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age.
Transmission of texts in the Vedic period was by oral tradition alone, preserved with precision with the help of elaborate mnemonic techniques. A literary tradition set in only in post-Vedic times, after the rise of Buddhism in the Maurya period, perhaps earliest in the Kanva recension of the Yajurveda about the 1st century BCE; however oral tradition predominated until c. 1000 CE." - Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedas