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The Vedas are the four principal texts from which the Brahminical tradition within Hinduism developed. The word 'veda' means 'knowledge'. The four books grew up as collections of the sacred information required to perform ritual tasks. Each book was appropriate to distinct groups performing different ritual functions within early Hindu culture. The Vedas are perhaps the oldest consistent and complex body of knowledge detailing astrology, astronomy, ritual practice, and how these relate to the spiritual life of humanity. There are four Vedas: the Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda. Each Veda is in turn divided into four sections. The orginal text is called the Samhita. Explanatory ritual commentary is referred to as the Brahmana. More speculative interpretations form the Arayokas. Philosophical discussion at the end is called the Upanishad. Within orthodox Hinduism all these sections are deemed to be divinely inspired, having been 'overheard' rather than created by their ancient authors.

The Upanishads are assumed to be of a much later date than the original Samhitas. In fact it is a thought that more than a thousand years may separate the oldest and newest portions of the Vedas. The oldest and most important of the four Vedas is the Rigveda, or 'knowledge of praising', a long collection of short hymns devoted to the praise of the gods. It details the earliest form of Hinduism, sometimes referred to as the 'Vedic' or Aryan stage of the religion, which is closely tied to the pre-Zoroastrian Persian religion.



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