It seems that the rituals, customs, deities, methods of worship etc. in Hinduism today are mainly based on various Puranas and not the Vedas. Even the Vedic Gods are not worshiped in temples. Very few Hindus perform Yagnyas or Agnihotras. Do any sects of Hindus still follow Vedic traditions?
Hinduism is almost always Vedic, even if the customs, method of worship, etc. change. It is true that performance of Vedic Yajna, rituals, etc. have decreased, but that's only obvious for this age of Kali. However, this doesn't mean that Vedic traditions have been forgot. Veda mantras constitute three kandas or sections (kanda trayatmika veda). They are:
- Karma Kanda 2. Upasana Kanda and 3.Jnana Kanda
The yajna and rituals for various gods are basically part of Karma Kanda. The purva mimansa school of thought deals with the ritualistic karma kanda portion. So it is the following of karma kanda portion that has decreased because doing those correctly are difficult in this age of Kali.
But the jnana kanda portion generally contains the upanishdas upon which the uttara mimansa or Vedanta school of thought is based. And there are many Vedanta schools of thought starting from Advaita Vada of Adi Shankara to Achintya Bhedabheda Vada of Shri Chaitanya. Those schools of thought are still active today and hence they are following the teachings of Vedas as outlined by their respective Acharyas.
So in a nutshell, Vedas are still followed today in Hinduism, but the karma kanda rituals have reduced. Apart from the fact that doing them correctly fulfilling all their requirements is difficult today, performance of them leads only to heaven and doesn't give liberation. So because those Vedic rituals deal with the three modes of material nature, it is generally suggested to avoid them if one wants liberation:
trai-guṇya-viṣayā vedā nistrai-guṇyo bhavārjuna
nirdvandvo nitya-sattva-stho niryoga-kṣema ātmavān [BG - 2.45]
The Vedas deal mainly with the subject of the three modes of material nature. O Arjuna, become transcendental to these three modes. Be free from all dualities and from all anxieties for gain and safety, and be established in the self.
But one may ask, if this is so then why does the Vedas contain those things? So the Bhagavatam says:
phala-śrutir iyaṁ nṝṇāṁ na śreyo rocanaṁ param
śreyo-vivakṣayā proktaṁ yathā bhaiṣajya-rocanam [SB - 11.21.23]
Those statements of scripture promising fruitive rewards do not prescribe the ultimate good for men but are merely enticements for executing beneficial religious duties, like promises of candy spoken to induce a child to take beneficial medicine.
We also know that how in Satya Yuga mode of attaining God was meditation and later on it become Yajna and worships in Treta Yuga and now in this age of kali, because people are not spiritually advanced and interested, remembering and taking of God's names is suggested in scriptures. Also following puranas makes Hinduism Vedic because purana and itihasa have been accepted as the 5th Veda (itihāsapurāṇaḥ pañcamo vedānāṃ - Chg. Up. - 7.1.4). Also in many rituals prescribed by the puranas, mantras of the Vedas are used. So regardless of whether we are following the puranas or the rituals of the Vedas, the core of Hinduism is still and will always be Vedic.
Now regarding the agnihotra and Yajnas, the followers of arya samaj possibly do agnihotra daily and I have heard there is a Gayatri Pariwar community who perform Yajna daily. Also from time to time many different organisations organise and perform Yajnas which are basically based on the karma kanda rules of Vedas.
Yes, still there are many Hindus who follow Vedic traditions (might not be following with 100% accuracy but still they follow). I myself know few people who do Nitya Agnihotra, read Vedas daily, perform Sandya Vandana and try to lead their life as said in Vedas. I am not able to give references as they are not popular people
To answer your question, I would differentiate between Vedic religion as the one followed by vedic people and Hinduism as what is followed presently.
Do any sects of Hindus are still following vedic traditions?
Yes, there is a group called Arya Samaj who strictly follow the authority of Vedas disregarding idol worship.
What was different in Vedic times?
- There were no temples, since lifestyle was more nomadic
- Yagna was the most important ritual
- Vedic Gods were primarily forces of nature eg. Agni, Vayu, Indra, Surya, etc instead of deities
As the lifestyle became less nomadic, the yagna was replaced by a more personal Puja.
The style of worship changed i.e. instead of invoking Gods, Gods were appeased.
However the ultimate motive of both remains the same - the desire to cope with existence
The present day Hinduism is Puranic based but having its roots in Vedas.
Hinduism can be divided in three phases:
- Age of Rituals (Karma Kanda), Vedic era - focuses on execution of rituals (mechanical)
- Age of Speculation (Gyan Kanda), Upanishadic era - focuses on a deeper understanding of destiny (Intellectual)
- Age of Worship (Upasana Kanda), Bhakti era focuses on appeasement of deities (Emotional)
The reason for the transformation between phase 1 to phase 2 has been explained in this account as mentioned in the Gita by Krishna himself. It is to be noted that the Vedas were written at a time when there was no other religion. Thus there was another transformation from phase 2 to phase 3 which was more of an effort by the rishis to propel Hinduism further and save it from Buddhism and Jainism as explained here.
In a nutshell, Hinduism has evolved but the core has always been the Vedas