The Vedas are among the oldest sacred texts in the world. Composed in the dawn of human philosophy and thought, they are an integral part of humanity’s history.
Below are the links to download the 4 Vedas as PDF, in English, Hindi and Telugu. All the books are available for downloads as pdfs, and are free. However, since it takes quite an effort to scan and create some of them as ebooks, please consider making a small donation. You can enter the amount once you click on the books below.
The 4 Vedas: PDF Download in Hindi, English, Telugu
The 4 Vedas in English: Translation by RT Griffith, AB Keith and Bloomfield
Download PDF 9 MB
The 4 Vedas in Hindi
Rig Veda: Download (Google Docs. Open in browser and click download button) by Swami Divyanand (PDF 9 MB)
Sama Veda: Download PDF 19 MB by Pandit Jaydev Sharma
Yajur Veda: Part 1 (PDF 28 MB) and Part 2 (PDF 26 MB) by Pandit Jaydev Sharma
Atharva Veda: Part 1 (PDF 24 MB) and Part 2 (PDF 23 MB) by Pandit Jaydev Sharma
The 4 Vedas in Telugu
Unfortunately, I have not been able to source the Sama Veda in Telugu yet. But the other 3 Vedas can be downloaded as PDFs below.
Rig Veda: Download (PDF 13 MB)
Yajur Veda: Download (PDF 1.8 MB)
Atharva Veda: Download (PDF 1.6 MB)
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The Age of the 4 Vedas
Each of the Vedas were composed at different dates, and in fact different verses within the same Veda are themselves composed in different centuries. With the Rig Veda, we can say that the last of hymns were composed at the latest by 1500BC, which sits as the terminus ante quem. However, the earliest of Rig Vedic hymns were composed much before this date. Probable timelines for this range from 3000BC to 6000BC. The German scholar Max Mueller, who was biased by the timeline set by the Bible, chose the date of 3000BC. Certainly there are many astronomical observation within the Rig Veda that point to a time t least 7-8 millennia before the present. Whether these refer to events that were current for the composers, or whether they were applying complex astronomical calculations.
The last of the Vedas was in its final form at the very latest by 900BC, because by this date the Upanishads began to be gleaned and set apart from the Vedas. Again, it must be noted that the Vedas were essentially oral traditions, passed on from generation to generation by recitation and memorization. It is remarkable that human beings were able to memorize such huge volumes of text, maintaining the sanctity and perfection of inflexion and pronunciation involved in correct Sanskrit pronunciation. Whether they used any mnemonic devices or were trained from an early age is not known. But there are many methods available even today in the yogic processes that help enhance one’s memory and attention capabilities.
By the Mauryan Period around 300BC, the essential Vedanta involving the Vedas and Upanishads were put down in writing. Legends say that the first impetus to transfer the Vedas from oral to written came at the end of long 12-year drought, which cause a huge loss of life and thus also of knowledge. It is said that the rishis and sages of the land decided that if the Vedas were to be preserved, they should be placed in writing. It is known who intiated the porcess for the first three Vedas. All we know is that various sages from Vasishtha, to Agastya, from Marichi to Atri, and from Angiras to Vishwamitra, have hymns attributed to them in the Rig Veda. Of the Atharva Veda, it is said that Veda Vyasa (of Mahabharat fame) and Maha Atharvan, collected and put this wisdon into writing.
The Structure of the Vedic Books
The Vedas are four in number – the Rig Veda is the earliest, then the Sama Veda which is next, the Yajur Veda which is third in age, and the Atharva Veda. They are called “Shruti” thee final authority of the Aryas. They were the revelations to the Rishis in Samadhi of Brahman or Atman [which is universal]. Thus, their principles are impersonal, ever-present, and ever-lasting, and they can be realized by any person who can go into the samadhi state. The Absolute Truth of these revelations were further supported and testified by the Vedanta Sutras of the sage Vyasa and the Bhagavad Gita of Shri Krishna. So these three sets constitute the standard works of the Vedanta.
Each Veda has three divisions:
1. Collections of hymns (Suktas) used at sacrifices and offerings.
2. Brahmanas: precepts for sacrifice, praise, stories and traditions; They treat of the relation between the Suktas and ceremonies. They explain the sacrifices with the help of legends and stories
3. Upanishads: Philosophical treatises embodying Brahma Vidya. The six Darshanas or Great Systems of philosophy arc based on them. There are more than 200 Upanishads of which 12 are called Major and the rest Minor.
The following are the Major Upanishads: Aitereya Kaushitaki, Taittiriya, Katha, Shvetasvatara, Brihadaranyaka, Isha, Kena, Chandogya, Mandukya, Mundaka and Prashna. Of these Mandukya, Katha, Mundaka, Kena and Prashna, and Maitri of the minor are highly philosophical. They represent the Vedas as shown below:
Krishna Yajur Veda has Taittiriya, Katha and Shvetasvatara.
Shukla Yajur Veda has Brihadaranyaka and Isha.
Sama Veda has Kena and Chandogya.
Atharvaveda has Mandukya, Mundaka and Prashna.
The Muktitopanishad has the list of 108 Upanishads.
Thus, it will be noticed that samhita or the books of hymns do not alone form the Veda. Many persons on reading the hymns do not find the exposition of the Vedanta philosophy in them and are greatly surprised. The Vedas are summed up in the Gayatri Mantra. The Gayatri in the Pranava and Pranava or Udgitha are the expressions of Brahman.
Rig Veda Samhita — It is a collection of mantras which are mostly prayers to and invocation of the Devas. It treats also of the existence of One Absolute Brahman and of the laudatory verses (Richas) to be read aloud at the time of the sacrifice by a Hota or a priest.
Yajur Veda Samhita — It consists of the invocations and prayers offered in sacrifices in the preparation of the materials, the altar, the bricks, the stakes etc. So it is the knowledge of the sacrifices required for the conductor.
Sama Veda Samhita — It gives the knowledge of songs. Its hymns are chanted by the Udgata at the time of sacrifices.
Atharva Veda Samhita — It treats of the knowledge of Brahman which bestows Moksha.
Brahmanas — They contain the rules for the employment of mantras at various sacrifices. They are eight in number according to Vajaseneyinvas below:—
Itihisa (story) “Bhrigu, the son of Varun approached his father” and so on
Prana (cosmogony): they treat of primary and secondary creations (Sarga and Pratisarga) “That from winch all these creatures are born.”
Vidya Or Upasana: Contemplations upon world luminaries, knowledge, progeny, soul etc.
Upanishad — Instruction in secret Wisdom. Esoteric Samhita.
Shloka – Verses for quotations
Sutra (aphorism) such as “The knower of Brahman approaches the Supreme.
Anuvyakhyan ( short gloss ) — In this the words of a Sutra are succinctly explained, ex: “ Reality, Knowledge and Eternity is Brahman.”
Vyakhyan — It is the clear and exhaustive exposition of the point of Anuvyakhyan.
The six Angas and Darshanas of the Vedas are described in Mundaka as follows:—
1. Shiksha (method of study)—it treats of phonetics.
2. Kalpah (method of ritual)—to this belong the Shrauta Sutras, explanatory of the ritual sacrifices in three fires,
3. Shulba Sutras, geometrical measurements for laying out the sacrificial area.
4. Grihya Sutras, relating to domestic life.
5. Dharma Sutras, treating of customs and lairs.
The Six Darshanas form in their entirety one great scheme of philosophic truth. They are arranged in pairs: Nyaya, Vaisheshika and Sankhya; Yoga, Mimansa Vedanta. The objective of all is the same: Salvation of men from bondage and consequent union with the Supreme. This is referred to as moksha or mukti.
The Vedas Place in Hindu Philosophy
Ancient Hindu Philosophy divides itself, broadly speaking, into three periods :—(1) the Vedic, (2) the Upanishadic and (3) the post-vedic —which may be also called (1) the cosmological, (2) the metaphysical and (3) the systematic —representing three stages in the gradual intellectual evolution of the Hindu Scriptures.
1 The Vedic Period. By the Vedic, we mean the period of the samhitas and the Brahmanas, especially of the Rig Veda Samhita. The philosophy of the Veda is rather a loose term, in-as-much as there is no philosophy proper in the Veda. The first philosophy of a people is its religion. And the Rig Vedic religion is quite transparent, though developed, chiefly consisting of the personification of natural forces and natural phenomena. Aside from the fact that Vedic Sanskrit is quite different from the later Sanskrit of Panini and Patanjali, the most striking features of the Vedic religion are :—
Firstly—It is practical and utilitarian in nature, in that the hymns, though highly poetic and inspired in character, are most of them at the same time incidental to the sacrifice. Give and take is the simple law which is applicable to the dealings between men and gods; and 4 reciprocity, frank unconditional reciprocity becomes an accepted motive.’
Secondly—As a consequence, it is essentially a religion of priests, a hieratic religion.
Thirdly—It is a religion of the upper classes who are well-to-do, presupposing an established household of considerable extent, a wealthy and liberal householder, elaborate and expensive materials, and many priests.
Fourthly—It is essentially optimistic. It is not immortality or heaven, but a long life for a full hundred years, prosperity, warlike offspring, in short all the blessings of this life, that the worshipper or the householder asks for. It is a spirit of healthy joy in the life we live that dominates; while such pessimistic ideas as that life is uncertain and unsubstantial, that death is nature while life is only an accident, are conspicuous by their absence.
Fifthly—It is characterised by what may be described as Arrested Personification. The Vedic poets while personifying the power of nature into gods, never allow this nature worship to be stiffened into mere admiration, fear and adulation of personal f^ods, and never become forgetful of the origin from which sprang the gods.
Sixthly—It shows a tendency to raise the particular god to whom the worshipper is addressing prayers for the time being, to the most exalted position, so that all other gods are subordinated to him for the moment,-a form of religion which has been called Kathenotheism.
The Content of the 4 Vedas
Notwithstanding the religious character of the Vedic thought in general, there are frequently found references to ideas more abstract and philosophical, which may be regarded as the germs of the later Upanishad-thoughts. As in the Vedic religion the mythological element prevailed, and the moral element, the personified natural forces being considered as the power that creates, maintains and controls what man feels in himself as constituting the moral law, opposed to the egoistic tendencies natural to man, though present, was not sufficiently assertive and the way was gradually paved for doubt and contempt of gods.
Besides, the mere technique of the sacrificial ritual, in the course of time, must have ceased to satisfy the minds both of the patron and the priest, so that more philosophic food was required, and questions and answers regarding the origin of the world and similar topics must have been discussed , giving rise to what are called Brahmodyas. So also the old mythological gods in strong flesh tints must have begun to disconcert them and faith must have been gradually lost; so that abstract and symbolic embodiments of the divine idea then took the place of the gods of nature. And just as the Rishis thought that the several natural phenomena had some divine forces behind them which were personified into so many gods, in the same way they advanced one step further and came to think that all three were aspects of one and the same all- pervading divine force which manifested itself in the different phenomena. Thus the thought gradually progressed from many gods to one being and from the simple give-and-take religion to abstruse speculations regarding the beginning and origin of all things.
Thus already in certain hymns of the Rig Veda, there emerges the thought with which philosophy begins — the conception of the unity of the world — which later rose up to Monism, perceiving through the veil of the manifold, the unity which underlies it. In this connection may be particularly noticed the hymn X. 121, where the Hiranyagarbha is described as existing in the beginning of the creation, the sole lord of beings, supporting heaven and earth; X. 90 where the whole world is conceived as one being, the Virat-purusha who having pervaded it from all sides, still remained over and above it; X. 82 where the waters are spoken of as being the first substance or prime cause; X. 81, addressed to Viswakarman who combines in his person the characters of a primeval divine sacrificer and of a creator, in which the cosmological significance of the divine sacrifice finds particular expression, and question like ‘What was the place whereon he took his station? what was it that supported him? How was it? ( Verse 2 ),’ are boldly asked; X. 125 where Vak is represented as the companion and upholder of the gods and as the foundation of all religious activity and its attendant boons; and X. 129, which is quite typical in character and remains unsurpassed in its noble simplicity and in the loftiness of its philosopical vision, as it attempts to explain the presence of the world and its contents, beyond the point of mere individual experience or analysis through empirical knowledge, by putting forth a fundamental principle without personality.
A cursory glance at these hymns will show that the general trend of thought is principally cosmological rather than metaphysical in the proper sense of the word, and hence we may call this period cosmological. One thing to be noticed in connection with this early philosophy of the Vedas, however, is the absence of pessimism and metempsychosis, which are the distinguishing traits of later Indian philosophy.
The Vedas and Upanishads
(2) The Upanishadic Period — The second period of Indian Philosophy, that of the Upanishads, is quite distinct in character from the first, though it is but the natural result of it. If the thought during the first period was mainly religious and cosmological, with only a trace here and there of philosophy proper, the second period was mainly philosophical, though not in the narrow sense of the word, i. e. having a cut and dry system of philosophy. The elaborate and mechanical system of worship that had grown up round the Vedic gods, and the speculations as regards the appropriateness of the rules and modes of worship and their efficacy for man’s good in this world and the next, which prevailed in the Brahmanas, no longer satisfied the religious spirit of the people. The overdoing of the sacrificial cult brought on its own downfall; and people’s thoughts were naturally drawn to subjects of a more spiritual character, such as problems about God, man and the world, and a variety of solutions was arrived at.
Knowledge and not mere ceremonial is the way to happiness/ that is the keynote of the literature of this period. The Upanishads, unsurpassed in their freedom and comprehensiveness and grandeur of thought, are simply marvellous, and nowhere else can we find such a simplicity and naivete of style combined with profundity and depth of idea, a circumstance which makes them untranslatable.
On the question as to what the Upanishads teach (or in other words what is the nature of the philosophy of this period), there are so to speak, two views, though one of them is gradually becoming the more prevalent one. Many eminent scholars, along with the orthodox people especially about Maharashtra, hold that the Vedanta of Adi Shankara represents the true teaching of the Upanishads; and that the other so-called orthodox systems as well as the other schools of Vedanta, while they lay claim to be based on the Upanishads, are all so many developments by a kind of degeneration of the original doctrine (of the Upanishads).
Brahman and Atman in Vedas
Thus, according to these people, the main idea of at least the oldest of the Upanishads (i.e. the Brihadaranyaka, the Chandogya, the Mundaka and the Katha) can be summed up in the equation, Brahman=Atman=the world, taken in the strictest and most literal sense, from which it follows that the Atman is the only reality, that it is the metaphysical unity which is manifested in all the empirical plurality, all plurality thus by implication reducing itself to Maya, that it is the knowing subject within us and, as the knowing subject, is itself unknowable, t Thus though the expression ‘Maya,’ in the strict sense of ignorance, or Avidya or illusion, may be of a later date, still the doctrine that the universe is illusory was taught by the Upanishads, and the older the texts of the Upanishads are, the more uncompromisingly and expressly do they maintain this illusory character of the world of experience. The exponents of this view further add, that this bold and absolute idealism (as taught, for instance, in the so-called Yajnavalkya chapters of the Brhad. Upa.) later degenerated first into pantheism, then into theism and last into materialism.
For, the denial of the existence of the world as it appears to us, implied by the idealism of the old Upanishads, could not be maintained in the face of the reality of the world, which forced itself upon people’s minds.Thus the attempt to reconcile the two, i. e. the bold idealism and the reality of the world, led to Pantheism, according to which the world is real and yet the Atman is the only reality, for the world is Atman. Thus the equation that the world is equal to Atman led to the theory of causality, to cosmogonism, according to which, the Brahman itself entered into the creation as the individual soul. This Pantheism has to be distinguished from Theism which is the characteristic feature of certain later Upanishads like the Svetasvatara.
The absolute identity of Brahman and Atman, though perfectly true from the metaphysical standpoint, remains incomprehensible for the empirical view of things, which distinguishes a plurality of souls different from each other and from the Highest Spirit, the creative power of the Universe. This is theism. According to it there are three entities, a real world (achid), at man (chid) and Brahman of which the chid and achid form the body. But in the course of time the necessity of Brahman apart from Atman ceased to be felt and its creative power was attributed to Prakriti, non-intelligent but at the same time independent of any intelligent being, which led to the materialistic dualism of the Samkhya doctrine later on.
An impartial consideration of the Upanishads taken as a whole will, however, show that this view about the teaching of the Upanishads is not tenable; nor is the order in the evolution of thought satisfactorily demonstrable. The Upanishads are nothing but free and bold attempts to find out the truth without the slightest idea of a system; and to say that any one particular doctrine is taught in the Upanishads is unjustifiable in the face of the fact that in one and the same section of an Upanishad, we find passages one following the other, which are quite opposed in their purport. Bold realism, pantheism, theism, materialism are all scattered about here and there, and the chronological order of the Upanishads has not been sufficiently established on independent grounds, so as to justify us in claiming that one particular view predominating in a certain number of Upanishads (granting that this is possible) represents the teaching of the Upanishads.
Hinduism, Buddhism & Vedas
And to say that idealism represents the real teaching of the Upanishads because it is contained in a certain Upanishad which is relatively old and that the Upanishad is relatively old because it contains a view of things with which philosophy should commence, is nothing but a logical see-saw. It may be true that if one insists on drawing a system from the Upanishads, replete as they are with contradictions and divergences, Shankara has succeeded the best, because his distinction of esoteric and exoteric doctrines like a sword with two edges can easily reconcile all opposites such as unity and plurality, assertion of attributes and their negation, in connection with one and the same being; but this is one thing and to say that the Upanishads taught Shankara’s doctrine is quite another thing.
As regards the relative order of doctrines in the march of philosophic thought, we may as well say that the first stage is represented by materialism, which is innate in us, which is peRishistently forced on us by our daily experience, and which very few can get rid of in practice, though there may be a few more who deny it in theory. Thus we start with plurality, and difference, ascend through difference and non-difference and qualified unity until at last we reach the highest top, i. e. absolute unity.
Thus the other view regarding the teaching of the Upanishads according to which the Upanishads teach not one but many systems of doctrines regarding the nature of God, man and the world and the relations between them is more reasonable and is being more and more accepted. The germs of all the later systems, whether orthodox or heterodox, can be found in them, as is evident from the fact that all the religio-philosophic systems of later times can quote a certain number of passages from them in their support. But when the exponents of those systems try to show that theirs is the only system taught by the Upanishads and attempt to explain passages, even when directly opposed in tenor to their doctrine, in a manner so as to favour their doctrine, the artificiality and the unsatisfactory character of the attempt is at once evident. For the Upanishads represent a large floating mass of speculations of old seers, clothed in words and handed down orally—speculations depending on the mood of the thinker and the point of view from which he looked at things.
In spite of this free and unfettered character of the Upanishads, however, it must be admitted that they are on the whole more favourable to the Uttara Mimamsa or Vedanta (taken in its larger sense) than to any other system, and that we find there some ideas which stand out more conspicuously than others,—such as for instance the immortality of the soul, its metempsychosis and transmigration, including the ‘way of the fathers’ for the performers of sacrifices and virtuous actions, the ‘way of the gods’ for the possessors of knowledge, and the third place for the doers of evil deeds, the superiority of knowledge and meditation to action as means of attaining liberation, above all, a constant striving after the reconciliation of unity and plurality, of idealism and realism.
Such is, in general, the character of the second or Upanishad period of Indian philosophy, which we have also called metaphysical to distinguish it from the first, since it concerned itself also with speculations about man and his inner soul, his inner activities and the processes of his thought and will, and not merely with questions about nature, cosmic matter etc. ( as was the case with the first period ), in brief since it saw the beginnings of the psychological, ethical and metaphysical problems.
Next we come to the post-vedic or systematic period, which saw the development of the so called six darshanas or orthodox systems, as well as of the heterodox systems such as offered by Gautama the Buddha, and Mahavira the founder of Jainism etc. As said above, the germs of all these systems were already present in the Upanishads; and what these systems did was to take up particular parts of the Upanishads and deduce from them a cut-and-dry system, conniving at or explaining away in a far-fetched manner those parts which did not suit the particular system. This systematic period may be supposed to have begun with the collections of sutras which are regarded as the foundations of the several systems and the dates and authors of which have not yet been determined with precision and accuracy.
God in the Vedas
The intervening stage between the Vedas and the Upanishads, on the one hand, and the sutras, on the other, is represented by the philosophical portions in the Mahabharata, as for instance, the Bhagavad gita, the Sanatsujatiyaparvan, the Moksa-dharma etc., (portions of which have formed the common basis of Buddhism and Samkhya), which were, however, as far from containing a systematic doctrine as the Upanishads themselves; and terms like Samkhya and Yoga, frequently to be met with there, do not signify the names of the later systems called by those names, but mean merely reflection and concentration, in which sense they are used also when they first occur in the Svetasvatara Upanishad. Here we across the doctrine of karma, after-life and teh cycle of life and death.
As for what distinguishes the orthodox from the heteredox or Nastika and Astika schools, it is generally believed to be the want of belief in God as the creator of the world; and in this sense the beginnings of Indian atheism can be traced back to the Vedic period even. In the Rig Veda, the God Indra is derided in JV. 24.10, X. 119; and in II. 12.5, VIII. 100-3, we read of people who absolutely denied his existence even in these early days. We have here the first traces of that naive atheism which is so far from indulging in any philosophic reflection that it simply refuses to believe what it cannot visualise, and which was later known as the Charvaka or Lokayata system. As distinguished from it, there is the philosophical atheism of the Buddhists and the Jains, according to whom there is no eternal, supreme God, creator and lord of all things, and the so-called gods are only more highly organised and happier beings than men — an atheism which can go hand in hand with a religious system and cannot prevent it from being one of the most influential religions in the world.