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Does samhitas have any variants ? How many old copies do we have and do they match exactly or if not how do they differ.

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Yes, Samhitas do have variants as per Shakha.

Originally as per Mahabhasya of Patanjali there were 21 Shakhas of RigVeda, 101 Shakhas of Yajurveda, 1000 Shakhas of SamaVeda and 9 Shakhas of Atharvaveda. Thus total 1138 Shakhas of total Vedas.

Now, we have only about 12 Shakhas of Four Vedas Surviving.

Only one Shakha of RigVeda called Shakala Shakha is alive. Another Shakha Baskala is uncertain.

Out of 1000 Shakhas of Samaveda only three Shakhas are surviving. Kauthuma Shakha, Jaiminiya Shakha and Rananiya Shakha.

Out of 9 Shakhas of Atharvaveda, only two are surviving; Paipplada Shakha and Shaunikiya Shakha.

Out of 101 Shakhas of Yajurveda only 6 are alive upto now. Shukla Yajurveda has two Surviving Shakhas called Kanva and Madhyandiya. And Krishna Yajurveda has four surviving Shakhas called Taittariya, Maitrayani, Kathaka and Kapisthala.

Each Shakha of Veda has one Samhita of its own, at least one Brahmana and one Aranyaka of each. As each Shakha has their own Samhita so we have lost more than 1126 Samhitas itself.

But Samhitas differ by little only. They are Very much similar. But still we have lost many parts of Samhitas itself.

Let's take example of Hymn called Sri Rudram, from Yajurveda. It is also called Sata Rudriya because it is found in all 101 Shakhas of YajurVeda.

Let's compare the verses of Sri Rudram from Taittariya Samhita, Vajasaneyi Samhita and Maitrayani Samhita:

4.5.1 to 4.5.11 of Taittariya Samhita is SataRudriya and it starts with:

नमस्ते रुद्र मन्यव उतोत इषवे नम:।
नमस्ते अस्तु धन्वने बाहुभ्यामुत ते नम:॥   १

namaste rudra manyava utota iṣave nama:।
namaste astu dhanvane bāhubhyāmuta te nama:॥

16th chapter of Vajasaneyi Samhita is SataRudriya and it starts with:

नमस्ते रुद्र मन्यव उतोत इषवे नम:। बाहुभ्यामुत ते नम:॥   १
namaste rudra manyava utota iṣave nama:। bāhubhyāmuta te nama:॥

2.9.2 of Maitrayani Samhita is the Satarudriya and the corrresponding verse is :

नमस्ते रुद्र मन्यव उतोत इषवे नम:।
नमस्ते अस्तु धन्वने बाहुभ्यामुत ते नम:॥  

namaste rudra manyava utota iṣave nama:।
namaste astu dhanvane bāhubhyāmuta te nama:॥

17th chapter of Kathaka Samhita is SataRudriya and it starts with:

नमस्ते रुद्र मन्यव बाहुभ्यामुत ते नम:। उतोत इषवे नम:।।
namaste rudra manyava bāhubhyāmuta te nama:। utota iṣave nama:।।

Thus we can see some minor variants above. There are also some major Variants like:

Taittariya Samhita verse 2 of Sri Rudram and Maitrayani Samhita also contains this verse:

यात इषुः शिवतमा शिवं बभूव ते धनुः ।
शिवा शरव्या या तव तया नो रुद्र मृडय ॥

yāta iṣuḥ śivatamā śivaṃ babhūva te dhanuḥ । śivā śaravyā yā tava tayā no rudra mṛḍaya ॥

However we do not find this verse in Vajasaneyi Samhita.

Similarly Maitrayani Samhita verse 54 of Sri Rudram contains this verse:

अघोरेभ्यो अथ घोरेभ्यो घोरघोरतरेभ्य ।
सर्वत शर्वशर्वेभ्यो नमस्ते रुद्ररुपेभ्यो नमः ।।

aghorebhyo atha ghorebhyo ghoraghoratarebhya ।
sarvata śarvaśarvebhyo namaste rudrarupebhyo namaḥ ।।

Actually this mantra is taken to the PanchaBrahmana mantras found in Taittariya Aranyaka and Mahanarayaniya with minor variations.

However we do not find this mantra in Vajasaneyi and Taittariya Samhita

Thus from above we can guess that other PanchaBrahmana mantras like Sadyojata mantras, Tatpurusha , Ishana mantras were also from Samhita parts. But they are not avaliable now as we have lost thousands of Shakhas.

Another example is 14.3 of Atharvaveda Paipplada Samhita is NilaRudra Upanishad or Nilarudriya. However we do not find NilaRudriya in Atharvaveda Shaunikiya Samhita.

Thus we have lost many texts of Samhitas itself. However we can't do anything for those lost texts. We can just wish and pray that some divine beings or Gods come to earth and revive the lost Shakha.

There is not such thing as Old Copies. Vedas came as Shruti or sounds (not written) from Guru to Shishya. Recitations or Sound based preservation was based on this method.

  • for those who are not familiar with Madhyandina shakha of shukla yaju it is rare and has hand movements along with the chanting (hasta chalana) for indicating the swaras in kanva shakha there is only vertical hand movements but in madhyandina there are both horizontal and vertical movements. this can be seen in the documentary videos youtube.com/user/pranavmuley89/… – Rakesh Joshi Feb 13 '17 at 13:16

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