Veda means "knowledge". The Vedas formed the earliest segment of Vedic literature.
The Vedic literature had been evolved in the course of many centuries and was handed down from generation to generation by the word of mouth.
The Vedas are the collection of hymns, prayers, charms, litanies, and sacrificial formulae.
Vedas are four in number, namely −
Rig Veda − It is the oldest Veda. It is a collection of hymns.
Samveda − it is a collection of songs, which are mostly taken from Rig Veda.
Yajurveda − It is a collection of sacrificial formulae.
Atharvanaveda − it is a collection of spells and charms.
The Brahmanas are prose texts. It describes about the meaning of Vedic hymns, their applications, and stories of their origins in details. Besides, it also explains the details about rituals and philosophies.
Aranyakas and Upanishads exemplify philosophical meditations of the hermits and ascetics on soul, god, world, etc. These are partly included in the Brahmanas or attached, and partly exist as separate works.
They, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, and the Upanishads are attached to one or the other of the four Vedas.
Compositions of the hymns are credited to Hindu Rishis (monks) of divine origin.
The Vedas are called ‘apaurusheya’ (not created by man) and ‘nitya’ (existing in all eternity) while the Rishis are known as inspired seers who received the mantras from the Supreme deity.
The origin of the earth goes back to about 4,600 million years and the origin of humans themselves goes back to about 4.2 million years (ago).
Max Muller gives arbitrarily the date of composition of Rig Veda to be around 1,200 to 1,000 B.C.
W. D. Whitney negated and criticized Muller for using totally arbitrary, unscientific, and un-academic method in assigning the dates.
On the analogy of the language of Avesta, some scholars opined that the date of Rig Veda may be 1,000 B.C.
Some of the Vedic gods namely Indra, Varuna, Mitra, and the two Nasatyas were mentioned in Boghaz-Koi (Asia Minor) inscription of 1,400 B.C., which proves that Rig Veda must have come into existence much before the date described by some of the foreigner scholars.
The Boghaz-Koi inscription records a treaty between the Hittite and the Mitanni Kings and the gods (mentioned in the above point) were cited as witnesses to this treaty. Even today, exactly in the same way, the oath is taken in the courts and on an assumption of a public office (in the name of god).
Bal Gangadhar Tilak, on astronomical grounds, dated Rig Veda to 6,000 B.C.
Harmon Jacobi held that Vedic civilization flourished between 4,500 B.C. and 2,500 B.C. and the Samhitas were composed in the latter half of the period.
Famous Sanskritist, Winternitz felt that the Rig Veda was probably composed in the third millennium B.C.
R. K. Mukerjee suggested that "on a modest computation, we should come to 2,500 B.C. as the time of Rig Veda".
G. C. Pande also favors a date of 3,000 B.C. or even earlier.
Rig Vedic people called themselves ‘Aryans’. They had detailed knowledge of the geographical area in which they lived. Name and location and pattern of geographical features such as rivers and mountains mentioned in Rig-Veda suggest location of the regions of the geographical area of their habitat.
The Nadi-sukta hymn of the Rig Veda mentions 21 rivers, which include the Ganga in the east and the Kubha (Kabul) in the west.
The pattern of rivers is given in a definite order from the east to west i.e. from the Ganga in the east to the Kubul in the west. The rivers like Yamuna, Saraswati, Sutlej, Ravi, Jhelum, and Indus are situated between Ganga and Kabul.
The mountain namely the Himalayas and the Mujavant (as mentioned in the Veda) are located in the north.
The Ocean i.e. ‘Samudra’ is mentioned in connection with rivers Sindhu and the river Saraswati had been falling into the ocean. Ocean has been also mentioned in the context of foreign trade.
The geography of Rig Vedic period covers present-day western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, the whole of Pakistan, and the south of Afghanistan.
The battle of ten kings, mentioned in the Rig Veda, gives names of ten kings who participated in a war against Sudas who was Bharata king of Tritsus family. It illustrates that the territory known to Vedic people was divided into a number of states-republics and monarchical (kingdoms).
The battle was fought on the bank of Parushani (Ravi) river and Sudas emerged as victorious.
‘Bharatvarsha’ was the name used for the whole country. It was given by the most important people of the Rig Veda. They were ‘Bharatas’ who were settled in the region between the rivers Saraswati and Yamuna.
The Rig Veda also gives the location of other people, such as Purus in the region of Kurukshetra; the Tritsus east of Ravi; the Alinas, the Pakhtas, the Bhalanas and the Sibis west of Indus (up to Kabul river) and so on.