The Sanskrit word, veda, means "knowledge." The Vedas are also referred to by some as sruti literature, meaning “what is heard,” as opposed to other sacred smrti texts, meaning “what is remembered." In this way, they are considered to be the direct word of the Divine.
Orthodox schools of Indian philosophy take the Vedas as their spiritual authority. Other schools may not accept them as the authority, but still teach ideas that are expressed in the Vedas, such as the concept of karma.
The four books, or texts, of the Vedas are the "Rig Veda" (which is the oldest), the "Yajur Veda," the "Sama Veda" and the "Atharva Veda." They contain four types of text:
- The Samhitas - Mantras and hymns for chanting
- The Arankayas - Details of rituals and ceremonies for liturgy
- The Brahmanas - Commentaries on rituals and ceremonies
- The Upanishads - Discussion of meditation, philosophy and spiritual knowledge
The underlying philosophy, or teaching, of the Vedas is the concept that the individual is not an independent entity, but, rather, a part of the Universal Conscious.
The texts refer to many gods, including Indra, Agni and Soma. They also present many different creation stories.