Literary Sources of Ancient Indian History

  • History is derived from the word historia, meaning “inquiry,ie knowledge acquired by investigation”.
  • Herodotus is known as the ‘Father of History’ because he was the first of the classical writers to organise his writings in a logical order and also attempted to verify the veracity of what he was writing.
  • The ancient Indians knew their country as Bharatavarsha (the land of Bharata). It was said to be a part of a larger unit called Jambu-dvipa (the continent of the Jambu tree )
  • Among the literary sources of Ancient Indian history, the foremost are the four Vedas, namely Rig Veda, Sama Veda,Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda.
  • The term Veda was derived from the Sanskrit word vid,which means ‘to know’.
  • Vedas are also called Apaurusheya (not made by man)and Nitya (eternal).
  • Besides, the Vedas are also known as Shruti, meaning“to hear”. These have been passed on from onegeneration to another through oral transmission.
  • Vedas are basically hymns and prayers offered to God by different groups of people.
  • They are also called Samhitas.
  •  It is a collection of hymns.
  • It is the oldest of all the Vedas.
  • It contains 1017 Suktas.
  • It contains 11 Balakhilya, thus making the total no. of Suktas 1028.
  • It contains 10 Mandalas.
  • The oldest Mandalas II, III, IV, V, VI and VII are known as family books on account of their composition being described to various families of sages.
  • Mandala IX is completely devoted to the Vedic God Soma.
  • Mandala IX contains the famous Purushsukta hymns that explain the origin of the four Varnas (Chaturvarna theory — Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra)
  • Gayatri mantra is the most sacred hymn of the Rig Veda.
  • It is mentioned in the third Mandala and is written by Viswamitra. This mantra is addressed to the Sun.
  • Famous Upanishads of the Rig Veda
     Aitareya Upanishad
     Kaushitaki Upanishad
  • The hymns of the Rig Veda were recited by the priest known as Hotri.
  • It is a collection of rituals for performing different sacrifices.
  • It has been divided into two parts Krishna (Black) Yajur
    Veda (commentary in prose) and Shukla (White) Yajur
    Veda (sacrificial formulae and rituals).
  • Famous Upanishads of Yajur Veda
     Brihdaranyaka Upanishad
     Katha Upanishad
  • Taittiriya Brahmana — Related with Krishna Yajur Veda.
  • The hymns of the Yajur Veda were recited by the priest known as Aahwariyu.
  • The science of music originated from the Sama Veda.
  • It was sung by a particular type of priests known as Udgatari.
  • It is known as the Book of Chants.
  • famous Upanishad of the Sama Veda  1.  Chhandogya Upanishad (describes Lord Krishna)  2.  Kena Upanishad
  • It is a collection of charms, magic and spells.
  • The term Atharva means magical formula.
  • No Brahmanas belong to the Atharva Veda.
  • Upanishad of the Atharva Veda
    The hymns of the Atharva Veda are meant for warding off evils and demons, winning over friends and gaining material success.
  • Mundaka Upanishad, wherein Satyamev Jayate has been mentioned.


  • They are elaborate prose texts.
  • Contain explanation of the hymns, prayers, charms andsacrificial formulae.
  • Satapatha Brahmana is the most famous Brahmana.
  • The literal meaning of Aranyaka is forest.
  • They are also known as forest books.
  • They deal with mysticism, moral values and philosophical doctrines.
  • The most famous Aranyaka is Vrihadaranyaka.
  • The term Upanishad literally means “to sit down near someone to learn”.
  • They are also known as Vedanta, meaning “the end of the Vedas”, for they denote the last phase of the Vedic period and reveal the ultimate aim of the Vedas.
  • They are 108 in number.
  • Upanishads deal mainly with Atma, Paramatma and salvation.

The Vedangas were considered important for understanding the Vedas but they are not included in Vedic literature.
They are six in number:
i) Siksha Pronunciation
ii) Chhandas Metre (Pingal wrote Chhanda shastra)
iii) Vyakarana Grammar (Panini wrote Astadhyayi)
iv) Nirukta Etymology (Yaksha wrote Nirukta)
v) Jyotisha Astronomy
vi) Kalpa Sacrificial rituals