The Tree of Vedic Literature

Table of Vedas and their branches


Rig Veda

Krishna Yajur Veda

Sukla Yajur Veda


Atharva Veda

No.of original






Available Recensions or Shakas







Aitaraya, Kaushitiki (or Shankhyayana)

Taittireeya (Samhita)














Shrouta Sutras






Grihya Sutras






Dharma Sutras










Part 1: The SrutisThe four Vedas and their sub divisions – The Mantra Samhitas – The Brahmanas and the Aranyakas – The Upanisads -The UpaVedas -The Vedangas -The Smritis or Dharma Sastras- The Itihasas (history): The Valmiki Ramayana, The Yogavasishtha, The Mahabharata, The Harivamsa – The Puranas – The Agamas – The six Darsanas

Part 2: The Vedas, the Upanisads, the Puranas, Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Mimamsa, Brahma Sutras, Sankhya, Yoga, Smritis or Dharma, Sastras, the Upavedas, the Kalas



Sanskrit literature can be classified under six orthodox heads and four secular heads.The six orthodox sections form the authoritative scriptures of the Hindus. The Four secular sections embody the latter developments in classical sanskrit literature.

The six scriptures are: 1) Srutis 2) Smritis 3) Itihasas 4) Puranas 5) Agamas 6) Dharsanas

The four secular writing are: 1) Subhashitas 2) Kavyas 3) Natakas 4) Alankaras

The constitute the entirety of Sanskrit Literature-Sacred and Secular. The Sruti is Root- the Smritis, Ithihasas and Puranas are the trunk-the Agamas and Dharsanas are the Branches -and the Subhashitas, Kavyas, Natakas and Alankaras are the flowers of the Tree of India’s Culture!

The Sritis,the Itihasas,The Puranas, the agamas and the Dharsanas are only the development of the Vedas.Their ultimate source is the Veda, their one common aim is to enable man to anihilate his ignrance and attain perfection, freedom, immortality and the eternal bliss through knowledge of God or the Eternal. Their purpose is to make man like God and one with Him.

The Vedas

The holy scriptures of India, as is well known consist of Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, Atharva Veda and the exegetical texts, the six Vedangas Viz (Siksha, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Chandas, Jyotisha and Kalpa) and their four supplements Viz, Purana, Nyaya, Mimansa and Dharma Shastra)

The Upanishads (the 12 principal Upanishads)

Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya, Brihadaraynyaka, Swetaswatara and Kaushitiki

The Vedangas ( the six Limbs of Vedas):

 Siksha (phonetics), Kalpa (pronunciations ans the usage of mantras)-Vyakarana (grammar), Nirukta (etymology of the words), Chandas(prosody) and Jyotisha (atrology and astronomy)

Puranas are 18 in number :

Nyaya (logic),

Vaiseshika (also logic),

Mimama Sastra is of two kinds:

1. the karma or actions, or Poorva Mimamsa

2. Sharirika, or Uttara Mimansa, or Vedanta, or Knowledge

Brahma Sutras

 The Object of Mimamsa Sastra (including Brahma Sutras) is to explain the process of realising he idnentity of Jiva (individual soul) with the Brahman (supreme reality)


The Goal of life according to this Sastra is to get absolute freedom from the three kinds of miseries


The Yoga system explains the practical side of Sankhya,sage Patanjali is the author f the text on this branch. Control of character by control of body,mind(emotions),intellect etc,forms the subject matter of the eight-fold steps taught in this Sastra, also known as Raja Yoga.

The Dharma Sastras

These are in the nature of the texts prescribing or codifying social and religious norms during different stages of evolution of the society. Dharma Sastras or Smritis are the 4 supplementary Anga of the Vedas. A number of Smritis are known to exist some of them are the Manusmriti, Vishnu, Angirasa, Daksha, Shatatapa, Gautama, Yagnavalkya, Yama, Vasistha, Samvarta, Parasara, Shanka etc. Although popularly known as epics, the Ramayana of Valmiki ant the Mahabharata of Vyasa may be classified under the head Dharma Sastras for the purpose of this survey. THe famous Bhagavad Gita is a portion of the Mahabharata.

The 4 Upavedas

Ayurveda (the science of life and health,including medicine), Dhanurveda(the science of archery), Gandharva Veda(the science of music and dance), Artha Sastra( dealing with the acquisition of material things like wealth by righteous means, under this head nitisastra, shilpasastra, the 64 kalas and also other physical and metaphysical are included.)

Two special items: Pashupata Yoga, here, the Jiva or effect is called Pashu and God or Karana, Pashupati. Pancharatra Tantra deals with the worship of Vishnu.

The Kalas

The first that calls for mention is the encyclopaedic Sastra which goes by the name of Akshara-Laksha, all kinds (352 to be excact)of matheatics including modern geometry, algevra, trigonometry, physics or applied mathematics-minerology,hydels-the method of measuring air, heat and even electricity-geography etc. are said to have been treated.

The next Science of importance is Sabda Sastra which deals with sounds, echoes of moving and non-moving objects in creation. It is also deals in five chapters with capturing or mechanically reproducing sounds, measuring their pitch, velocity, etc.

Lakhana Sastra or science of determining the sex in animate nd inanimate creation.

Shilpa Sastra consists of 22 chapters, 307 varieties of Shilpas including 11 types of constructions like temples, palaces, halls etc.

Supa Sastra deals with the science of cooking.

Malinee Sastra consists of flower arrangements.

The science of Kala, or Time, was written by Lord Karttikeya. It’s division into definite periods, their classification into auspicious and inauspicious moments:


Science of alchemy

Science of poisons

Fine arts

Science of gymnastics

Parakaya pravesha (i.e., entering into one body from anaothe body)

Science of horses and elephants

Ratna Pariksha or testing of gems (precius stones). His analysis shows 24 characteristics of gems.

Mahendrajala or the science of magic. Artha Sastra cosisting of three chapters, in which he teaches 82 ways of earning money, even while leading a righteous life.

Shakti Tantra consisting of 8 chapters in which Mulaprakriti, Maya etc., and 64 kinds of external Shaktis of bodies like those of the sun, moon and air, fire etc., are explained.

Science called Soudamini Kala by which alla phenomena could be attracted through shadows and even ideas.

Science which treats of the clouds

In a work on Yantras by Bharadwaja, he explains about 339 types of vehicles useful in travelling on land, 783 kinds of boats and ships to be used in water and 101 varieties of airships.

The Vedas according to Legend

Knowledge about Brahman, the Supreme Being and Dharma is the subject and object of all Hindu scriptures.These scriptures in the Sanskrit language, which are of the nature of revelations, have beeb handed down from master to disciple and thus from one generation to the next, in this hierarchy of literature. The Vedas are the first to be revealed, the others being evolved from them.

Towards the end of the last Kalpa, there was a great deluge or Pralaya; Rudra, as the then presiding deity, created as part of his duty, a new Brahma for Swetavaraha Kalpa, the present Kalpa. It is said his choice fell on this Brahma by virtue of his tapas (austerity) in the previous Kalpa, Rudra then commissioned him to create a new universe ans disappeared.

As he started to work, Brahma realised to his consternation that he had comletely forgotten the order of Creation, as a result of course, of the enormous lapse of time, Brahma, therefore, performed an austere penance. As a result of it, Rudra appeared before him (now called Prajapati) and taught him once again the technique and the order of Creation.

Prajapati meditated as directed by God; the Lord almighty appeared before him in the form of Pranava (AUM), Brahma prayed for Knowledge when the Vedas manifested themselves and surrounded Brahma like a million suns. Dazzled, Brahma appealed to the Lord and the Lord piched out the 4 Vedas and taught them to Brahma who thereupon created the Universe.

The Lord ideated from Pranava the Vedas- the Rig Veda ut of its letter “A” , Yajur Veda from the letter “U”, Sama Veda from the letter “M” and Atharva Veda from the Ardhamatra.

Esoterically, the birth of the Vedas is explained in this manner: By joining of the Lord’s Mind which is Pure Light with its Vritti (Motion), Vak (speech) was produced which by further mutation with Prana (breath), became successively Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari – forms of Vak. From out of the last form (Vaikhari), the Vedas manifested themselves.

 From Atharva Veda, 9-10-27 : ” Vak was divided into 4 categories. The learned ones know them. Three of them were hidden. Ordinary man can use the fourth category only and that is the word.”

The word Veda means Holy Knowledge. The other names for the Vedas are Sruti, that which is “Heard” or “Revealed” and Amnaya, that which has come down by tradition. The Vedas are “Apurusheya”(of super-human origin).


The Holy scriptures of India, as well known consist of the Rig Veda,Yajur Veda, Sama Ved and Atharva Veda and the excegetical texts, the 6 Vedangas (siksha, vyakarana, nirukta, chandas, jyotisha, kalpa ) and their 4 supplements viz., purana, nyaya, mimamsa and dharma sastra.

In the arragement, Upa-puranas form part of the Puranas; Vedanta forms part of Mimamsa, the Mahabharata, Ramayana, as well as Sankhya, Patanjala, Pasupata and Vaishnava, form part of the Dharma Sastra.

Besides these, there are 4 Upavedas (Ayurveda, Dhanurveda, Gandharva Veda and Artha Sastra), the respective appendages to the Vedas.

From another point of view, the contents of the Vedas can be broadly divived into 2 sections: Karma Kanda(work section) and Jnanakanda(knowledge section). The first is said to be oriented towards the attainment of Swarga (Heaven) and the second towards Immortality. Textually, the Vedas are divided into what are called Mantra portion, used for propitiating different deities and Brahmana portion, which are in the nature of commentaries on the Mantras.

Mantras are of different kinds. The first is the Rik type which are made up of Padas, which are composed in metres like Gayatri, consisting of 24 syllables, Ushnig 28 syllables, Anushtubh 32 syllables etc. These Mantras when set to the musical scale are called Sama Mantras. Music in the Vedas admits of the 7 notes. There is a third category of Mantras which does not fall under any of the above two. They are the Yajur Mantras.

The Brahmanas also are of three different varieties depending upon their content: Vidhi, Arhtavada and Vedanta Vakyas.

Vidhis are of three kinds. Those that deal with the nature of Karma or a ritual, are of one kind. Those that explain the results of those karma, sacrifices etc. belong to the second type, The composite body of these three types is known by the name Shrauta Kalpa.

The Upanishads

The closing portions of the Brahmanas are the Upanishads, of which 120 are known to us. Aranyakas too, are taken along with the Upanishads.

Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya, Brihadaraynyaka, Swetaswatara and Kaushitiki are the 12 principal Upanishads and they set the highest deal for man.

The Rig-Vedic seers (Rishis) were poets of great vision. They are the original founders of Indian civilisation. Their religion was poetic religion. Herosim and positive living appear to be the keynotes of most of the Rig-Vedic stories.

It is a common knowledge that in the matter of Vecid sacrifices, the Prayoga (operative) Mantras are taken from the Rig-Veda, Adhwaryu (priestly) from the Yajur Veda and Audgatra (singing) from the Samaveda.

The word Rik from which Rig -Veda is derived means “praise”. The Rig Veda consists of 1017 hymns addressed to varius Gods, Grouped in the 10 “mandalas” and each hymn being called a Sukta. The hymns are composed in a variety of metres from those consisting of 24 syllables to those consisting of 104 syllables. Originally there were 21 Sakhas(recensions) for this Veda, but only 6 are prevalent now (Sakala, Bashkala, Ashwalayana, Sankayana, Mandukayana and Aitereya).

The Yajur Veda, as the name implies, is purely devoted to the use in rites and rituals.It as 2 branches, the Krishna Yajur Veda (black) and Shukla Yajur Veda (white). There are 101 recensions for the Krishna YajurVeda and 17 for the Shukla Yajur Veda. There are a few extant recensions of the former (Taittiriya, Kathaka, Maitrayani, Kapishthala Sakhas)

In Shukla YajurVeda tere are 2 recensions called Madhyandina and Kanva Sakhas. The main difference between Krishna and shukla is that in the former explanatoty portions are included whereas the latter consists only of the mantras. This Veda contains some prose passages also.

The Sama Veda is ritualistic in content and highly poetic in form. Only a small portion is original, the bulk being selected from the rig Veda, grouped together for ritualistin purpose, being meant t be sung in certain tunes at the time of sacrifices and rituals. It consists of 2 sections (Purvaarchika and Uttaraarchika). Two recensions of this Veda, the Gautama and jaimineeya are prominent.

The Atharva Veda explains, for the most part, rituals connected with Shantika, Paushtika and Abhicharaka vidyas i.e. ,for curing diseases, acquiring wealth etc.; in other words, for specific purposes in material life. There are also some exqouisite philosophical and poetic passages, This Veda cosnsists of about 6000 verses constituting 731 hymns grouped into 20 books. Some of the hymns are common to the other three Vedas.

There were originally 9 recensions for this Veda of which the Pippalada and Saunaka Sakhas are available now.

The Grand tradition about propagation of the Vedas is that Vedas Vyasa codified the 4 Vedas and taught them to his four disciples (Paila, Vaisampayana, Jaimini and Sumanta). These disciples taught their knowledge to their disciples, thus the Vedas came down to later generations. In this process, as the Vedas spread throughout the world, certain peculiarities (depending upon geography and environment) caused slight variations in pronunciation and diction. This gave rise to what are called Sakhas (recensions). All the same, there was no material change in the contents.

It follows that each Sakha in order to be perfect must jave the following complements: The Samhita, Upanishads, Sutras and Aranyakas. (See above)

The five ways of reciting the Vedas are Mula, Pada, Krama, Jata and Ghana. In the first, the mantras are recited continuously. In the second they are split word by word. In the third, the Padas are joined as 1.2, 2.3, 3.4. etc. In the fourth, again Padas are joined and in textual order then in reverse order and once again in textual order as 1.2, 2.1, 1.2, 2.3, 3.2, etc. In the last, more complicated combinations like,, 1.2.3, etc are used.

Source: Swami Shivananda (The Divine Society of Rishikesh), Sri V.A.K.Ayer


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Atma Jñani (Sarva Devata Svarupini)

Visionary, Seer, Yogini, Komyo Reiki Do Ocuden, Peaceful way-shower-lightworker, High Priestess, optimist oriental dancer and tribal fusion lover, Fashion designer-stylist, arts+crafts addict, a secret kitchen witch, always in love with him<3

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