The Vedas are a collection of ancient Indian texts that form the basis of Hinduism. They include the four Vedas – the Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharveda – and their respective commentaries and supplements.
The Vedas are the oldest surviving texts in any Indo-European language and are thought to date back to around 1500 BCE. The Vedas were originally transmitted orally and were only written down around 500 BCE. They are in Sanskrit, the oldest and most important of the Indo-European languages.
The Vedas were compiled over centuries and were eventually codified in the form we know them today around 1000 BCE. The Vedas are sacred texts and are revered by Hindus. They are used as a source of religious authority and guidance and are also studied for their philosophical and literary value.
The best and most practical way to start reading Vedas is by start reading the commentaries of Swami Dayananda Saraswati. He has critically analyzed nearly all of the sects of Hinduism as well as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, etc in Satyartha Prakash. In addition, he has written RigvedadiBhashyaBhumika and commentaries on Vedas.
Method 1: The Ultimate way to understand Vedas:
This is the method followed by rishis. To understand Vedas you’ll need to learn and understand 6 Vedangas.
- Shiksha: This is the study of phonetics and pronunciation. This teaches you how different akshara(letters) are pronounced, the right way to pronounce them, etc.
- Chandas: This is the study of poetic meters i.e. syllables, etc
- Vyakarana(Grammar): This is the study of rules of grammar and linguistics.
- Nirukta: This is the study of etymology i.e. How words are made and how they get their meaning.
- Kalpa: Study of ritualistic part, what do they mean? what’s their significance? Why and how should one perform them. This deals with the practical part in contrast to the theoretical understanding in 5 other parts.
- Jyotisha: Study time calculation and timekeeping NOT fortune-telling, etc.
But as most do not have this much time, money, and expertise. There is NOT a single place in the world that follows this pattern now.
As this tradition got disrupted a long time back. People with half-baked knowledge started making meanings of Vedas text based on Grammar alone which played havoc on the understanding of Vedas.
Sayanacharya, Acharya Mahidhar falls in this category. Specifically, Acharya Sayana has a distorted meaning of Vedas a lot. All the vulgarity of having intercourse with animals(horses) in Putrayesthi Yagya and then sacrificing(killing) those horse’s next day or Sacrificing(killing) a pregnant cow for Yagya. All of this can be attributed to him. Of course, this doesn’t mean that he’s the one who started all this. There must have been a tradition that used to follow such practices. This all happened because they didn’t have the correct knowledge of 6 Vedangas and no Tapas(austerity)
But to his advantage, he is the only one who has one of the most comprehensive commentaries on Vedas that is still available. British who wanted to convert Indians to Christianity took advantage of these translations and pushed them. All of the translations done by western scholars are based on Sayanacharya and Mahidhar’s work.
The foremost among them are Ralph T.H. Griffith’s and Max Muller’s translations.
Method 2: Read commentaries by scholars:
As we have already seen, this can be a double-edged sword and make you hate your religion rather than make you feel proud. In modern times, the only scholar that we have who attempted commentaries on Vedas is Swami Dayananda Saraswati of Arya Samaj.
You can start with Satyarth Prakash ==> RigvedadiBhashyaBhumika ==> Commentaries on Vedas by Dayananda Saraswati
All of these books were published by Dayanand Saraswati. All of his life was dedicated to Vedas and the knowledge system of Vedas.
The main point that works to his advantage:
- He was a great scholar of Sanskrit, far exceeding the capabilities of all of the 19th-century European scholarship put together.
- Learned all of the 6 Vedangas and then studied Vedas under another great scholar named Virjananda.
- He was the contemporary of many European scholars who had or were in the process of translating Vedas with their motives. So he was aware of their misadventures.
- He was proficient with all of the Six Vedic Darshanas.
- He was a cultural insider i.e. born and brought up in Vedic civilization. A cultural outsider is bound to make mistakes while understanding subtle meanings.
Where to learn Vedas in India?
There are many gurukuls in India being run by various traditions in various parts of India. but the most famous ones are run by Arya Samaj in the states of Rajasthan, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh.
There is no Gurukul in India that teaches Vedas the way it used to be done in ancient India. But still, some gurukuls follow the same pattern.
How long will it take to learn Vedas?
It is usually said that Vedas take 36 years to learn. But it also depends on the capabilities of the individual.
How do I start studying Vedas?
Find a guru and start reciting.
Who Cannot learn Vedas?
There is a big misconception that a particular group of people can’t study Vedas which is completely false. Everyone is entitled to study Vedas provided they have the capability.
Learn Vedas online
There are many online resources as well which can help you in studying Vedas. Some of the more prominent ones are given below:
- Gurukul Online teaches Vedas online
- Learn Veda also teaches Vedas. It is situated in Kerala
- Patanjali’s Yoga courses online
- Bhisma school of Indic studies
- Veda gurukulam Karalmanna
- Veda Classes Online
- Vedas Online
Read our List of Vedic Gurukuls that teach Vedas, Vedangas, and Darshans, or find out more about Gurukul education of ancient India.