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Origin and Dating of the ancient Vedas

Some of the seemingly contradicting facts about the ancient vedas (or the vedic texts) are that

  • Vedas are not of human origin
  • Veda Vyasa wrote the Vedas
  • Different vedic hymns are written by different vedic seers (Rishis)
  • RigVeda is the oldest Veda

If Veda Vyasa wrote the vedas, then how is it possible for other Rishis to write the vedic hymns? If Veda Vyasa wrote the vedas then how is it possible that one is the oldest veda and the other newer? If Vedas existed since the beginning then how can Veda Vyasa or for that matter any seers write them?

Here in this article we try to unravel this mystery about the vedas and try to obtain a picture as clear as possible.

What exactly is contained in the vedas?

“They were perhaps whispers of God, or maybe insights of the wise. They gave the world meaning and life a purpose. These chants relieved Vedana, the yearning of the restless human soul, hence became collectively known as the Veda. Those who heard them first came to be known as the Rishis” –
says Devdutt Patnaik in his book Jaya, An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata

While modern science tries to help us understand the universe from a materialistic perspective, Vedic texts help us understand the universe from a spiritual perspective. Modern Science can tell us how the universe works (to a large extent), but it cannot tell us WHY it works the way it does? It can tell us how life evolved. But science cannot tell us WHY life exists, or what is the purpose of our life. Vedas can answer these questions, along with the answers related to the purpose of the very creation of this universe.

Modern Science is Knowledge, but Vedas are Knowledge+Wisdom. The wisdom which the ancient seers discovered through their relentless efforts in discovering the truth. The truth which goes well beyond the scope of modern science. The truth which tries to find a reasoning for the existence of you, me and this entire universe. The truth which tries to answer questions like “Who am I?”, “Why am I here?”.

Coming back to the dating of the Vedas, we know almost for sure now that the famous Mahabharata war between Kauravas and Pandavas was fought in the year 3139 BCE which is more than 5000 years back! We also know that Veda Vyasa who originally documented the Mahabharata history is also said to have written down vedas in their present form.

Now going back to the days of Veda Vyasa which is the time period of Mahabharata, once there was a 14 year old drought on the banks of the Saraswati river then. River Saraswati was one of the largest rivers which flowed through the northern India in the days pre-dating Mahabharata.

As a result of this severe drought which made people more occupied in trying to find a living and find food, most of the ancient vedic hymns of knowledge and wisdom started getting erased from the memories of the Saraswati civilization. In those days the vedic hymns were the individual sets of knowledge and wisdom collected or authored by different Rishis. Now finally when the rains returned after the terrible 14 year old drought, Vyasa – the son of a fisher-woman sat down to collect all the existing vedic hymns and finally compiled these scattered hymns into four different collections – the Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda.

So there is no question of one veda being older than the other. The myth of Rigveda being the oldest of all vedas and dating it to 1500 BCE was a by-product of the mythical Aryan Invasion Theory. Each of the veda has references to other vedas, so how can then one be older than the other?

So to summarize,

  • Vedic hymns existed much before Veda Vyasa
  • Veda Vyasa is the COMPILER of the Vedas, not the author. He collected and categorized all existing vedic hymns into four collections.
  • It was Vyasa who compiled the vedas into the four collections as we know them today.
  • Since the vedas were compiled by a single person, it would be incorrect to say that one veda is older than the other.
  • Since Vyasa lived during the times of Mahabharata and since it was he who compiled the vedas, Rigveda or any other veda has to be dated to the times of Mahabharata. Hence it is incorrect to say that Rigveda was written in 1500 BCE because Mahabharata took place in around 3100 BCE

Finally, if Vedas are the words of God, then how can Rishis be called the authors of Vedic hymns ?

Well, consider quantum mechanics or relativity. We know that these are the universal laws of physics which dictate the functioning of our Universe. If God exists, then God must have created these laws. Then we have Einstein, Planck etc who discovered (NOT created) these laws. And then we today have science encyclopedias which contain these compiled findings of Einstein, Planck etc.

Now taking an analogy, we can consider the knowledge and wisdom in the Vedas to be eternal or divine, just like the way the laws of Physics like Quantum Mechanics, and Relativity are. We can equate scientists like Planck and Einstein with the ancient Rishis who discovered this knowledge and penned it down in the form of hymns. Now we realize that vedas are like modern encyclopedia but in a grand sense, that they have collections of these hymns categorized and organized, just like the way encyclopedia has collected knowledge on Relativity, Quantum Mechanics etc. Veda Vyasa is similar to the person who compiled this encyclopedia, there by making sure that this knowledge and wisdom remains preserved and available in a single source – the Vedas.

The way Einstein and Planck REALIZED the laws of Physics, the ancient Rishis realized the divine nature of this universe and the resultant wisdom and wrote it down in the form of hymns. Einstein or Planck did not CREATE these laws, nor did the Rishis. They just realized it through their investigations into the functioning of this Universe, the former from a materialistic (also called scientific in modern terminology) perspective and the latter from a spiritual (or philosophical) perspective.

Veda Vyasa then compiled all these hymns and published the vedas in the form of four collections as we know them today.

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  1. There is no religion called Hindu. In Vedas there is no word called Hindu. Even Adhi Sankarar had not written any word as Hindu. It was the invaders who actually named the religion practised in bharatam (India) as Hindu and the people Hindus.

  2. That’s good, but you must try reading “Tantra” as it is the highest possible knowledge known to mankind…..ii was revealed to the world through one of the great mystic known as ‘Shiva’….. but don’t try it bcoz playing with the vast energies can destroy ur life

  3. I dont comment on people whose one point agenda is conversion. Hinduism doesn’t have any missionaries or evangelists nor does it believe in any conversion. God is for every human and for every form of life and for the entire universe, no matter in what name or form we call or see God, no matter in what path we try to reach God – God is for all.

  4. exccellent article– as always Gurudev!…

    the discovery of unimaginable treasure under the grabha graha of anantha Padmanabha temple at kerala is astonishing …   it only makes me wonder how devoted man was towards god in those days….. guess  time changes everything….     

    • Yes padmini, in those days if they had not securely stored those valuables then we wouldnt be seeing them today. But see how our sickulars are reacting on the discovery saying we should spend it all to reduce poverty, provide education etc. These people have no value for this treasure apart from the materialistic value of the yellow metal in it. If it was in any other country, they would have preserved it forever for future generations to see, in a secure museum. Only in our country we have no historic, ancient, antique, archaeological, cultural value for such finds. People treat it as if the ancients had stored it for us to sell it. Feels really bad.

  5. Good one!

    Our rishi’s research methodologies seems to be different. In “Yoga sutra” – “Vibhuthi pada”, In general the characteristics of an object can be realized by doing samyama (Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi) on it. But the question is why the current generation is not able to do the same. For this if you take “Paanini Vyakaran” (more than 5000 years ago), the total sutras are around 4000 but Patanjali reduce it to 1200 because the scholars in kali yuga will not have the potential to learn 4000 sutras. So I think current and future generation will not invent some thing equal to vedas.

    • Very true, as we are becoming more technologically advanced and as we create more and more modern machines which do most of our work, the irony is that at the same time we are finding less and less time for ourselves. Actually it should have been the other way round, like in ancient times we used to spend a lot of our time doing things which are today done by machines for us, be it washing machines, computers, ATMs, fast food centers and what not, and still as each day passes by we are having less and less time for ourselves and our families!

      • Hi Guru, Thanks for your reply! Whatever you said is absolutely right. Swami Vivekanada says to attain a intellectual (spiritual purity) a person should have physical and Mental purity. As a process first Physical, second Mental and last Spiritual purity. As you said due to usage of machines a person becomes more and more lazy hence the person loses physical purity. If a person does not have physical purity it will be difficult to enter next step (mental purity). I think as much as we can we should do our work by ourself to maintain the physical purity.

  6. Further to my earlier comment, is there any website, from where we can read through and understand the meaning of vedas??? But I feel, the language of the Vedas would be hidden enough for a layman to understand… kindly comment…

    • Reading translations of vedas in English is useless, most people who translated them know only elementary Sanskrit and fail to see that the Sanskrit terms are contextual in nature – which is why they come to silly prejudiced conclusions like during vedic times Brahmins ate beef and so on, while what the actual text is saying is that :)
      I suggest that you learn Sanskrit from experts or read vedic interpretations in English by such experts like Aurobindo Ghosh, Bal Gangadhar Tilak etc.

  7. Hi, I have just started to follow your blogs… They are very informative, and answers quite a lot of my questions… Could you tell something about why there are 4 vedas? And a question I had been pondering over for years now… Had the rishis realized most of the answers for nature’s behaviours, where have they got lost? why are they lost? And I used to say to people that it is absurd, when they tell me Sanskrit is the closest language to understand computers, but now I also started to think whether the rishis had also realized the existence of computers? Realization cannot be any answer to all these, they might have also existed during those periods, that is what I believe, and I wonder, when all these had already been realized or discovered, why are we working from scratch now on???

  8. Nicholas Kazanas, our own contemporary greek and sanskrit scholar based in Athens has done extensive work on vedas. His scientific methods of dating the mahabharata and rig veda are very facinating. He presented a paper in 2008 at a conference in Los Angeles. Google his name to find his papers. He also concluded that the Mahabharata and Rig Veda were from before circa 3,500 BCE.

  9. Guru

    Great to see such article in blogs.

    The thought Vedas are compiled by Vyasa and not authoured by him looks to be ok.

    I understood from different quarters that Vedas are not written by anyone and it is indeed the breath of Iswara. Meaning Vedas and Iswara are one and inseperable. Vedas are called Apauresheya…without Purusha…meaning without Authour.

    Also all the Rishis and Galxy of Sages and Saints of this Divine country have grasped the Mantras from their deep meditation, hence these venerable Rishis are called Mantra Dristhas (Seers of Mantra) not Mantra Karthas (Authors of Mantras).

    From the metaphysical point of view if Vedas have authors then theylose status of eternity. Sinces Vedas equal to ISwara, THAT has be to be there always(eternal) and it is timeless, spaceless and causeless.

    Just my humble view after reading some the Mahan’s thoughts.


    • Yes Krishna, you are absolutely right – which is why I compared it to subjects like physics – Einstein did not author relativity, he only realized it – similarly the vedic Rishis only realized the secrets of the universe in the form of the chants. Just like the laws of science are equal to the universe – so are vedas equal to the divine.

  10. Hi Gurudev,

    I like your blog posts abt Veda very much. I think there is a correction needed here

    “Hence it is incorrect to say that Rigveda was written in 1500 BCE because Mahabharata took place in around 3100 BCE”

    Correct me if i’m wrong. Who says RigVeda was written in 1500 BCE? That absurd. that statement is wrong. I mean lets not try to prove something is incorrect bcoz we know quite well its incorrect.

    Hope it makes sense…

    Thanks & keep up the good work…

    • All Indian school textbooks say that Rigveda was written at around 1500 BCE and aryans invaded India, you can check out ANY textbook. Atleast that was what I read in my school :)

    • Yes Mohan, starting the school textbooks I read in my school days, all school textbooks teach 1500 BCE as the date of the Rigveda, and even I believed in it as long as I was schooling, I became educated only after I left my school :)

  11. Hello Gurudev,

    How are you? Remember me. I am long time visitor of your blog. Especially interested in the topics of Ancient Hindu History.

    Very Good Article on the dating of Vedas.
    For quite few days, I have been researching on few things. Could you do some research (or even write an article) on this:

    This is regarding the population of the Indian Subcontinent, in the Ancient Ages (vis-a vis the known world). I have recently gone through an article of Bojil Kolarov (a renowned scholar on Indic Studies).In this at one place; he has given the population estimates at the time of Emperor Ashoka (232 BC) as:
    Indian Subcontinent – 140 million
    China – 60 million
    Europe – 30 million
    Whole Known World – 250 million.

    If this is indeed true, it can throw open many implications:
    • India had got more than, half of the population of the known world (more than double of China).
    • India then must be very rich, as well as most powerful (militarily as well as economically), even more powerful than the rest of the world combined.
    • It will also give credibility to the assertion , initially at the time of Mahabharata War (3139 BC), major population of the World lived in Indian Subcontinent , and only very few outside it.
    • I have also read somewhere, that Chinese are considered descendents of Lunar Dynasty king Ayu (Ancestor of Kauravas).
    • It means the assertion was correct (of Greek Writers) that, had Emperor Ashoka wanted, he could have conquered the Entire world with the might of his arms.

    I just could not think of anybody, other than you who could do perfect research on this and quench my thirst. Please consider my request.
    Ashish Savya Sachi

    • Hi Ashish, Yes I remember you very much :)

      That’s right, India being one of the oldest civilizations – was a very active hub and the center of power in the ancient world – the entire Europe was taking exports from India – ancient Indian universities like Nalanda, Takshashila etc were knowledge hubs like modern IITs and MITs – and students from all over the world used to come here to study – greeks got most of their knowledge from India – American continent was discovered because of India – Indian kings had trade relationships with even far east – so even Indian culture got exported to places as far as Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia etc – and naturally people migrated to India in those days just like people go to Europe and US today.

      And so the population of the Indian subcontinent has always been high throughout the history – banks of Ganges have most of the concentration of this population – Varanasi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world – and to those who say India was never united before British came to India – here is the map of the Mauryan empire of Ashoka – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Maurya_Dynasty_in_265_BCE.jpg

      Also to those who say that India was never united before British came – were all other countries united the way they are today ever since the dawn of history? Today’s Britain not so long ago was fighting as Scotland and England and Ireland – there were civil wars in US before it became one country – China was also ruled in parts in different times by different dynasties – but Indian kingdoms had formed in the ancient times what modern Europe is trying to form today in the form of European Union. So let us not take the credit away from ancient India :)

      Will definitely write a detailed blog on this sometime.

    • Good one Kaushik, the difference though exists between Brahman and Brahma, Brahman being the universal consciousness (timeless and spaceless), Brahma being the physical universe we live in. Narayan or Vishnu represents the Brahman, so the symbolism is Brahma springing out of the navel of Vishnu (Brahman).

  12. Hi Guru,

    As always, EXCELLENT and EYE-OPENING !
    Thanks for the nice article.
    Besides, In the beginning of the article, i found mentioned a reference to the book by title “Iaya, An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata” by Devdutt Pattanaik . However, the search on amazon and flipkart threw up the following one:
    Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling Of The Mahabharata
    by Devdutt Pattanaik.
    So, is the book “Laya” or “Jaya”?. Pls clarify and help me buy the book soon :-)

    Umesh Raichur

    • Oops! Sorry Umesh and thank you very much for your comments and identifying the spelling mistake :)
      Yes, the book is Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling Of The Mahabharata – written from a perspective of telling Mahabharatha to children and also narrating many little known sides of Mahabharatha. Its a good read.

  13. Hi Gurudev,

    This is a really good article. I would just like to add a few comments here.

    Firstly, Vedas were not written down or “published” anywhere. Our tradition has always been of a Guru-Sishya (Teacher-Student) lineage. Therefore, these hymns were not penned at all until a particular time period. But they were passed down from teacher to student through the oral tradition.

    Secondly, Veda Vyasa compiled the Vedas and taught each of the divisions to his 4 students. Even today, some dvijas (twice-borns) can actually tell which lineage they come from (Rg Veda, or Yajur Veda or Sama Veda or Atharva Veda). So the 4 students each received one kind of division. It was then passed down orally.

    Thirdly, Rg Veda may not be the oldest but it is always regarded specially compared to the other 3 divisions. Mostly because the other Vedas too have some portions of the Rg Veda (be it either the rituals, upasanas or the philosophy).

    You have really helped me to think more about this subject of the Vedas and its revelation to the Rishis. One thing I have to say is that there were around 400 rishis and rishikas who got the revelation, and all their revelations had no contradictions.

    Thanks for such a really good blog. Keep up the good work :)

    • Thanks Priya. Yes, and also vedic scholars used to get their last name based on how many vedas they knew like Dvivedi (a person who knew two of the four vedas) , Trivedi (a person who knew three of the four vedas) , Chaturvedi (person who knew all the four vedas). But nowadays these terms have become family sur names, probably their ancestors knew so many vedas.
      Yes you are right that based on the organization of the vedic mantras Rigveda forms the core knowledge, yajurveda is the generic application of this knowledge, sama veda is the realization of the knowledge in Rigveda, and Atharva veda is a more serious application of the vedic knowledge.

    • Yes vedic hymns definitely predate Mahabharata for Veda Vyasa only compiled them into the present form of four vedas. Some vedic hymns talk about incidents when Vega was the pole star and as per astronomical dating vega was the pole star the last time during 10500 BCE! Even in Ramayana we have numerous references to Veda and also to vedic hymns. It looks like Vedic hymns in ramayana period were broadly classified into Brahamveda and Kshatraveda. For instance in one place Valmiki says that the great warrior sage Vishwamitra was well versed in both Brahma veda and Kshatra veda – Brahmaveda vidam sreshta, Kshatraveda vidaam api

      When we look at the references in Ramayana, it looks like veda is a general term used for all form of ancient knowledge which the sanathana dharma had and followed. Even Ramayana calls veda as apaurusheya meaning without human authors and yet we have vedic hymns attributed to different rishis (both male and female). So what could this mean then? As I said, it is like saying general relativity is apaurusheya or not created by humans, but still calling general relativity as written down by Einstein because he discovered it. The same applies to vedas – they are called apaurusheya because knowledge is not human created, we only find it and the Rishis being the researchers and scientists of the vedic period did it for us. Ramayana says that vedas contain both Jnaana and Vijnaana – which again means the same. Then you have vedangas like vyakarana, jyotishya yajnya, etc which are applications of vedic knowledge, the same way we have technology today which is the application of our scientific knowledge. Ravana was said to be an expert in the vedas, so it is not surprising that he had developed extremely sophisticated weaponry and defense systems.

      Ramayana even mentions the names of the rishis who wrote different vedic hymns like Hotr (wrote some rigveda hymns), Advaryu (wrote some yajurveda hymns), Udgatar (wrote some samaveda hymns), etc. So it is quite clear that the vedic hymns pre-date even Ramayana and have existed ever since the dawn of the great vedic civilization. During the preiod of Vyasa probably lots of those hymns were lost or forgotten and he collected them all back and gave them the current classification. Even the classification might have been of the original form itself and vyasa only probably republished them again.

  14. guru, just at the time i was thinking something similar in these lines your article comes in as a thirst quencher to me. thanks for it.

    i have few things here that sounds logical to me:

    1. if vedas were the absolute truths, then the concepts in it must have gone through severe analysis by great scholars who must have spent several generations exploring the truths. its not something that just happened in short time.

    2. and why in the entire world, vedas exist only in india? probably these cosmic scholars, living in different parts of the world, could connect with each other over period time by whatever means, and converged near river saraswathi to consolidate their researches. and thereby put their thoughts into ‘churning’ among other scholars. i believe this process would have been possible since we know vedas were always open to questioning.

    3. its possible to think that there must have been lakhs of them coming together, setting up their life here. of these, even if 50% of them were able to discover the absolute truths, you have so many truths already! possibly, as you rightly said, it was not yet organized into the 4 vedas which was finally done by vyaasa. so its most likely that they chose to research in different fields and yet compare notes with other researches. something like, math and astrology co-relating, math and architecture relationship, chemistry and ayurveda etc.

    4. and then once they achieved their purposes, they probably went back to their homelands to spread their knowledge. maybe this process of migration is confused with people actually coming from other places to India, and the return is probably not counted. very visibly the effects of vedic learning is evident in asian countries, like Thailand and Cambodia for example.

    5. since india was the epicenter of this learning, its obvious to see that most of them probably remained in india and spread from north to south, east to west, various people from various ethnic backgrounds. this may have resulted in contrasting characteristics within regions of india. possible?

    6. and lastly, there must have been a reason for these great scholars to have chosen india as their spiritual destination. being cosmic, they know the spirituality of this land (relate to vaastu.)

    my 6 paisa :)

    • Yes Suchin, For one thing India has remained a spiritual capital of the world ever since the beginning of civilization with numerous foreign scholars and travelers coming to India to have a glimpse of the richness of this civilization and to experience the spiritual uplifting of their souls. And going by the records of great ancient universities like Takshashila and Nalanda, India was also a knowledge capital in the ancient world. The Himalayan base, the surrounding nature and the energy if the tapasya of ancient rishis in this region is powering the civilization here even today against all the odds. As you rightly said a lot of scholars who came to learn here stayed back here and those who went back to their homeland spread the knowledge they earned here. Pythagoras visiting India is a classic example of a scholar who learnt geometry here and went back to his native greek to spread that knowledge there.

      Today we see that due to the dominance of English in science and technology world’s most languages have terminologies borrowed from English into those languages. Going by the same reasoning it is quite obvious that the reason for the Sanskrit origin of a lot of English words through greek and latin is because Sanskrit was the dominating language in knowledge in the ancient world and hence all other languages borrowed sanskrit terms into their languages in those days.

      The reason India was chosen those days is the same as the reason for students today to chose MIT and Harward :) By the way wrote an article on the Origin and Dating of the Vedas

    • Hi Suchin

      I am sure in ancient era there was no India as we know it today or river saraswati. Land as we know it today is irrelevant to ancient texts and time too, as Guru mentions this on other posts. So the question is –  do the contenders of the vedas reveal similar facts. Let’s look at the two oldest cultures (one is dead) Egyptology and Vedantism both 4000 to 6000 years old (so they say but these time scales are toddlers if put in the perspective of universal time itself) both rely on astrology/astronomy and both have symbolic texts, both have similar concept of gods, ok Akhnaten brought in monotheism and sun worship but so did Vedas in the form of vishnu and we sun worship in form of the source of energy. Ok Vishnu knowledge is bit more extensive – we are looking at parallel universe ideas, expansion of the universe and so on so vedas a scientific in nature therefore ancient scholars had not ruler, no boundaries they must have been independent explorers who found and connected through their mental universe – Kybalion concept.

  15. Good article Gurudev!

    I believe Einstein, Planck or any Great Scientist saw what they saw through higher cognition and that differentiates a Scientist from a common man. As you rightly put they did not create/invent anything..Only that which exists can be found! They were successfully able to use their insight, which is bestowed upon every Human soul to access information that we fail to do!

    • Yes Divya, you are absolutely right in this. Genius Scientists like Einstein and many quantum physicists discovered the secrets of the universe more by their thought process than by physical experiments, Einstein is famous for his Thought Experiments which finally led to the formulation of both special and general theories of relativity.


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