In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Vedas

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • History and Culture
  • History of Vedic Studies
  • White Yajurveda of the Vajasaneyin
  • Atharvaveda Brāhmaṇas
  • Lost Brāhmaṇas
  • Sūtras
  • Spread of Kuru Orthopraxy and Sutra Texts
  • Appendixes
  • The Appendix to the Atharvaveda, the Atharvaveda-Pariśiṣta

Hinduism The Vedas
Michael Witzel
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0146


The four Vedas are the earliest Indian texts composed orally in archaic Sanskrit during the late Bronze and early Iron Ages (c. 1400–400 BCE). They consist of religious poetry and ritual formulas, followed by text layers of explanatory prose, early philosophy, and, finally, voluminous ritual manuals. Veda means “knowledge,” that is, the fourfold knowledge of the most ancient verses (Rig Veda), of the subsequent melodies (Sāma-veda) employed, of the ritual formulas (Yajur-veda) and of the sorcery and speculative stanzas of the Atharvans and Aṅgirasas (Atharva-veda). Later text layers traditionally include the Brāhmaṇas, Āraṇyakas, and Upaniṣads, but they exclude the late Vedic ritual manuals, the sūtras. The latter exclusion was made only in post-Vedic Hindu tradition, according to which the four Vedas down to the Upaniṣads are called Śruti, “something (revealed to and) heard,” by the primordial sages (Ṛṣi), while Smṛti, “something learnt by heart,” is restricted to the Vedic sūtras that are believed to have been composed by human beings.

General Overviews

Works that broadly deal with the Vedas as literature, religion, mythology, ritual, and canonization as well as those that view its contents against a historical background, including archaeology, social set up, and political developments, include the volumes cited here. A general overview of the Vedas and their impact on later periods, though dated, is found in the small volume of Renou 1971 and in Gonda 1960. A new updated summary is badly needed. Questions of canon formation are dealt with in Patton 1994 and Witzel 1997. A description and analysis of Hinduism, including its Vedic and current forms, is found in Michaels 2004.

  • Gonda, Jan. Die Religionen Indiens. Vol. 1, Veda und älterer Hinduismus. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1960.

    NNNUseful but dated description of Vedic religion and early Hinduism. French translation: Les religions de l’Inde (Paris: Payot, 1962–1966).

  • Michaels, Axel. Hinduism: Past and Present. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

    NNNDeals with the Vedic roots of much of Hinduism (especially of Nepal), and its current forms in religious thought, ritual, and festivals. Stresses its underlying “identificatory habitus.”

  • Patton, Laurie, ed. Authority, Anxiety, and Canon: Essays in Vedic Interpretation. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

    NNNDeals, to some extent, with canonization issues related to the Vedas.

  • Renou, Louis. Vedic India. Delhi: Indological Book House, 1971.

    NNNUseful overview for students. Originally published 1957.

  • Witzel, Michael. “The Development of the Vedic Canon and Its Schools: The Social and Political Milieu.” In Inside the Texts, Beyond the Texts: New Approaches to the Study of the Vedas: Proceedings of the International Vedic Workshop, Harvard University, June 1989. By Michael Witzel, 257–345. Harvard Oriental Series, Opera Minora 2. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, 1997.

    NNNDeals with formation and canonization of the Vedic texts, from the Rig Veda down to the Vedic sūtras.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.