Selections from Hindu Texts

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Selections from Hindu Texts

Introduction

The Rig Veda, consisting of 1,028 hymns, is the oldest of the four collections of the Vedas, from the Sanskrit word vid (to know). The other Vedas are the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda, and the Arthava Veda. Each of the four Vedas consists of two parts, the Saṃhitā, consisting of hymns and incantations used in rituals and sacrifices, and the Brāhmaṇa, offering exegeses on ritual. The Rig Veda, composed over several centuries by generations of poets, marks the beginning of Hindu religious–philosophical thought. From the worship of many gods such as Usha and Indra, the concept of monism—as represented by the Upanishads—arises. Hinduism offers guidance to every aspect of life and for every stage of life. The special characteristic of Hinduism is the concept of the transmigration of souls. Doing one's duty is the key to living a virtuous life and this can be expressed in devotion to god. These ideas are expressed in the readings that follow.

The poems dedicated to the Goddess Usha, the Goddess of Dawn, are among the most beautiful in the Vedas. She is the subject of twenty hymns and her name is invoked 300 times in the Saṃhitā. In Rig Veda I:48 she is referred to as "Daughter of the Sky, the Lady of Light." She was also called the mother of the gods. She tends to everything, rouses man and animals to activity, encourages them, and assures them of her largess. She drives away bad dreams and opens the gates of darkness. In another hymn, Rig Veda VI:6,7 Usha delivers men from the power of curses. She is a young maiden dressed gaily and reveals her bosom to mortals. The sun follows her as a lover and she is known as the wife and beloved of Sūrya, the sun god. The lovely goddess brings wealth, long life, fame, and glory.