What are the Vedas?   Vedic Text
Time Magazine

Adapted from “Readings in Vedic Literature”

by Satsvarupa Das Goswami



Madhva, one of the principal teachers of Vedic philosophy, commenting on the Vedänta-sütra (2.1.6), quotes the Bhaviñya Puräëa as follows:

åg-yajuù-sämärtharväç ca bhärataà païcarätrakam
müla-rämäyaëaà caiva veda ity eva çabditaù

puräëäni ca yänéha vaiñëaväni vido viduù

"The Åg Veda, Yajur Veda, Säma Veda, Atharva Veda, Mahäbhärata [which includes the Bhagavad-gétä], Païcarätra, and the original Rämäyaëa are all considered Vedic literature.... The Vaiñëava supplements, the Puräëas, are also Vedic literature." We may also include corollary literatures like the Saàhitäs, as well as the commentaries of the great teachers who have guided the course of Vedic thought for centuries.


Some scholars say that only the original four Vedas-Åg, Atharva, Yajur, and Säma-are genuine Vedic literatures. The Vedas themselves, however, do not support this view, nor do the most prominent Vedic teachers, including Çaìkara, Rämänuja, and Madhva. The Chandogya Upaniñad (7.1.4) mentions the Puräëas and Itihäsas, which are generally known as histories, as the fifth Veda: itihäsa-puräëaù païcamaù vedänäà vedaù. And Bhägavata Puräëa (1.4.20) confirms, " The historical facts and authentic stories mentioned in the Puräëas are called the fifth Veda. The historical facts and authentic stories mentioned in the Puräëas are called the fifth Veda."


In any case, to be accepted as Vedic, a literature must maintain the same purpose as the original Vedic texts. The Vedic scriptures (çästras) comprise a harmonious whole with a harmonious conclusion (siddhänta). Consequently, we may accept as a bona fide Vedic writing any work that expands on the Vedic siddhänta without changing its meaning, even if the work is not one of the original scriptures. In fact, the Vedic tradition necessitates further authoritative works that convey the Vedic message according to time and place. However, to be genuine, these extensions of Vedic literature must strictly conform to the doctrines of the Vedas, the Puräëas, and the Vedänta-sütra.