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PREFACE The Vedas are the main scriptural texts of Hinduism, also known as the Sanatana Dharma, and are a large corpus of texts originating in Ancient India. The Vedas, regarded as Aaruti that which is heard , form part of an oral tradition in the form of an ancient teacher-disciple tradition. As per Hindu tradition the Vedas were revealed to the Rishis referred to in the texts, not composed or written by them. Even though many historians have tried to affix dates to the Vedas there is as yet no common consensus as there is for the scriptures of other religions. The Vedas are arguably the oldest surviving scriptures in the world. The Vedanta and Mimamsa schools of Hindu philosophy assert that the Vedas are apaurusheya unauthored , that is, they have neither human nor divine origin, and are eternal in naturo. As per Hindu tradition, the sage Vedavyasa divided the Vedas into Rig-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sama-Veda and Atharva-Veda at the beginning of the Kali Yuga. The element of nature-worship is a marked feature in most of the hymns, with are invocations of different deities. The value of the great collection as presenting the earliest record of the mythology of an Indo-European people is apparent. Several of the gods go back to the time of Indo-Iranian unity, e.g. Yama the Avestan Yima , Soma haoma , Mitra the later Persian Mithra . Some of the divinities, especially the higher ones, still exhibit the attributes which enable us to trace their origin to the personification of natural phenomena. Thus Indra personified thunder, Agni fire, Varuna the sea, Surya the sun, Ushas the dawn, the Maruts the storm, and others were of a somewhat similar character. Indra was the favourite god of the Vedic Aryans almost one fourth of all the hymns in the Rig-
Veda are addressed to him and they are among the best in the collection. Next to Indra stands Agni. Many hymns are in honour of Soma. Other gods invoked are the two Ashins, somewhat resembling the Diocsuri of ancient Greece, the terrible Rudra, Parjanya the rain-god, Vayu the wind-god, Surya the sun-god, Pushan the protector of roads and stray kine. Prayers are also addressed to groups of divinities like the Adityas and the Vishve Devas all the gods . Only a few hymns sing the praise of Vishnu and of Shiva in his earlier form as Rudra, though these two deities became later the chief gods of the Hindu pantheon. Goddesses play a small part, only Ushas, the goddess of dawn, has some twenty hymns in her honour these poems are of exceptional literary merit.
Contents Preface 1. Vedic Mythology An Overview