To avoid confusion on this point, I will abandon transliteration when using the latter sense of the word and use "Brahmanas" to refer to the texts and "Brahmins" to refer to the people. To make matters worse, there is another word that is synonymous with Veda in the collective sense: sruti. Sruti or "heard" texts, unlike those of the smrti or "remembered" variety, are apauruseya , that is, "without human [authorship]," and thus the ultimate and unquestionable authority over men and even gods, at least according to some schools of thought.
Though the texts have no authors per se, they were revealed, through ecstatic states brought on by the ingestion of the sacred soma juice, to Vedic priest-poets who then memorized them and passed them along orally. An array of ingenious mnemonic devices aided the oral transmission of knowledge in ancient India and kept the integrity of the texts remarkably intact.
As proof, Indologists have discovered separate oral traditions hundreds of miles apart that have maintained the same text word for word over a period of centuries without losing or changing a syllable. The Vedic scholar Michael Witzel has called the Vedic oral tradition, "something like a tape-recording of ca. The Veda is a sprawling multiplicity of oral traditions comprising primary texts and commentaries of many different Vedic lineages, some still extant, some lost to time.
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This vast body of texts is divided into four classes or layers. The first, as we have seen, consists of the Samhitas or the Vedas proper, which are themselves divided into four: the aforementioned Rg, Sama, Yajur which is further divided into Black and White branches , and Atharva.
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The Rg Veda is the largest, comprising poetic hymns celebrating the exploits of the Vedic gods, which were recited at the community's rituals. The Yajur is made up of prose mantras to be chanted at specific points in the rituals and the Sama is a collection of Vedic hymns presented in complex metrical forms, all but seventy-five of which are also found in the eighth and ninth books of the Rg.
The Atharva is the youngest Veda and is characterized by its collection of magic spells and charms. The earliest stratum of the Vedas generally agreed to be books two through seven of the ten books of the Rg Veda dates to sometime between and B. The language and culture of the Vedic people belong to a larger linguistic and cultural family called the Indo-European, which also includes the ancient cultures of Greece, Rome, Scandinavia, and Central Europe. The Vedic language and culture are most closely related to those of ancient Iran, leading some scholars to speak of an "Indo-Iranian" subgroup.
By around B.
Brahmin priests were at the top. Below them was the martial and royal Ksatriya class. The agricultural and mercantile Vaisya class was below the Ksatriya, and at the bottom were the Sudras, or slaves. This well-ordered picture, of course, comes to us from the very Brahmin-centered world of the textual tradition and should be taken with a grain if not a five-pound bag of salt.
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Recent evidence from the study of population genetics indicates that people in India were mixing across every conceivable ethnic and class barrier until around the second century C. Indologists refer to the period of social upheaval that gave rise to this class ideology as the Second Urbanization, the First Urbanization being the pre-Vedic Harappan civilization that thrived between and B. Wealthy patrons sponsored elaborate rituals performed by dozens of Brahmins, sometimes working for days on end.
And as they became more established as the class with the exclusive right to perform the sacrifice, Brahmin lineages began to develop their own commentarial traditions to make sure that the rites were performed properly and to elucidate the oft enobscure Vedic hymns with mythical and proto-philosophical explanations.
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These commentarial texts were the Brahmanas, the second class of Vedic literature, and each one developed into a "branch" connected to one of the four Vedas and with its own commentarial tradition in the form of the more esoterically inclined Aranyakas and Upanisads, which comprise the third and fourth classes of Veda, or are sometimes combined into a single third class. As the final layer, the Upanisads or the Aranyakas and Upanisads together are frequently referred to collectively as the repository for the philosophical body of knowledge called the Vedanta or "The End of the Veda.
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To the four Samhitas Rg, Sama, Yajur , and Atharva and other three classes of Vedic literature Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanisads , we should also add the Sutras, technical explanations of the Vedic rituals contained in the Yajur Veda , which are not granted the status of Veda themselves but are considered smrti, or "remembered. The ones that we will be concerned with are the Sutras, the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics, and the Puranas encyclopedic compendia that are the sources of classical Indian mythology.
Having had a cursory glance over the massive body of Hindu scripture, we now come to the regrettably unavoidable question of whether or not the term "Hindu" has any coherent meaning that would justify looking at such a wide array of material as expressions of a whole.
As many scholars have pointed out, "Hinduism" is an English word with no real counterpart in any Indian language. More than that, it doesn't appear anywhere in print before the nineteenth century. With this in mind, there are at least two reasons both of which have merit why some scholars, many of them influenced by the Islamicist Wilfred Cantwell Smith notorious critic of the category of "Religion" , argue that Hinduism is a colonial or scholarly construction that does not correspond to any coherent religious tradition.
First there is the postcolonial critique with its imperative to unmask any and all ideas presented as self-evident and examine the power structures and inequalities that produced them. This critique has revealed the political uses of the term "Hinduism" to legitimize certain forms of political order in the colonial period. Second is the sometimes-bewildering multiplicity of distinct practices and sects that are all lumped together in the category of Hinduism, which begs the question of whether we ought not consider them as separate traditions.
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