- The Rig Veda is the most important and the oldest and it is divided into 10 books with a total of 1028 hymns in praise of various deities. It also contains the famous Gayatri mantra and the prayer called the Purusha Sukta (the story of Primal Man).
- The Yajur Veda is a priestly handbook for use in the performance of yajnas (sacrifices).
- The Sama Veda consists of chants and melodies to be sung during worship and performance of yajna.
- The Atharva Veda contains hymns, mantras and incantations, largely outside the scope of yajna.
Within each of these 4 books there are 4 types of composition or divisions:
- The Samhitas are literally “collections”, in this case of hymns and mantras.
- The Brahmanas are prose manuals of ritual and prayer for guiding priests. They tend to explain the Samhitas.
- The Aranyakas are literally “forest books” for hermits and saints. They are philosophical treatises.
- The Upanishads are the books of philosophy and are also called “Vedanta”, the end or conclusion of the Vedas.