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This table lists the Vedas and their extant śākhās under the Saṃhitā column. My question has to do with the śākhās.

vedas
Note that the bracketed terms in the Saṃhitā column are names of the different śākhās, which are versions or recensions of the same texts. Terms in parenthesis indicate synonymous titles.
Source: hinduismtoday.com


What is the need for Vedas to have śākhās? Why isn't there just one true copy/branch for each of the four Vedas?

Were the śākhās created by their founder sages because the Vedas were revealed to them a little differently?

Do followers of each śākhā believe their version to be the true copy/revelation? If yes, does it make all Vedas of all śākhās apauruṣeyā (authorless)?

Now this chapter of the book Hindu Dharma: The Universal Way of Life says:

Krsna Dvaipayana came to be called "Vedavyasa" for having divided the Vedas into four and then having subdivided them into 1,180 recensions. "Vyasa" literally means an "essay" or a "composition". Classifying objects is also known as "vyasa".

Is the claim that Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana himself divide the four Vedas into various śākhās true? If yes, why did he divide them further?

  • are u aware of any other table like this? if yes, pls let me know... the linked pdf says "This is not a complete list of all Veda texts"... – YDS Jan 5 at 5:14
  • No, not aware of any other tables like this. This is the first one I encountered which neatly arranges the different parts of Vedas including the śākhās @YDS – sv. Jan 7 at 23:41
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Q-2. why did he divide them further?

It's explained at Sakhas now Studied!:

Krsna Dvaipayana knew all the 1, 180 sakhas( recensions) of the Vedas revealed to the world by various sages. They were mingled together in one great stream. Being remarkably gifted, our ancestors could memorise all of them. For the benefit of weaker people like us, Vyasa divided them into four Vedas and subdivided each into sakhas. It was like damming a river and taking the water through various canals....

Considering that people in the age of Kali would be inferior to their forefathers, Krsna Dvaipayana thought that it should be sufficient for them to learn one sakha of any one of the four Vedas. It was the Lord that put this idea into his head....

According to Krsna Dvaipayana's arrangement, though it is obligatory for a person [ that is a Brahmin] to learn only one recension, it does not mean that there is a bar on learning more. The intention is that at least one sakha must be studied. Even after Vyasa's time, there have been examples of panditas mastering more than one sakha from the four Vedas....

We have scriptural base for the claim:

Q-1. Is the claim that Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana himself divide the four Vedas into various śākhās true?

Yes, according to Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana that Vedavyasa divided Vedas and his Shishyas further divided them into various Shakhas. You can read further verses of Srimad Bhagvatam to that followed by I mentioned in this answer i.e. 12.6.52 to 12.6.60 and 12.6.74 to 12.7.4

I could have quoted the text of above mentioned verses as it is but I thought it would be better if it's graphically represented. So, I've prepared tree/structure charts narrating division for each of Veda:

Division of Veda into four:

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Division of Rigveda:

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Division of Yajurveda:

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Division of Atharvaveda

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Note: Whenever there is explicit mention of division of Samhitas into number of Shakas, number are mentioned. You may click on image to magnify; created using LibreOffice Draw; maintained IAST.

  • "For the benefit of weaker people like us, Vyasa divided them into four Vedas and subdivided each into sakhas" - you are quoting from the same book/chapter I referenced in the question and that line doesn't make any sense. The way I see it, more śākhās means more confusion. Vyasa could've written an original commentary on the Vedas for the 'weaker people'. – sv. Jan 4 at 17:46
  • For example a book is further divided in chapters and each chapter has different topic explained. śākhās can be similar concept I think... @sv. – TheLittleNaruto Jan 4 at 18:17
  • @TheLittleNaruto I think śākhās are more like Northern/Southern/Eastern recensions of Valmiki Ramayana. Because the original VR which was passed down orally, over time, it suffered from minor additions and deletions. It's possible the same thing happened with the Vedas. Also, check this question. – sv. Jan 4 at 18:29
  • @sv. Thanks I remember reading that answer post. – TheLittleNaruto Jan 4 at 18:37
  • @sv. "he way I see it, more śākhās means more confusion." All people have to do nowadays is remember just one shakha of the Vedas. In previous yugas, they had to remember the entire 4 Vedas and all its shakhas. – Ikshvaku Jan 5 at 22:27
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Vedic mantras, or the words of the Vedas, are traditionally understood to be infinite and endless, meaning that there are an innumerable number of Vedic mantras.

Some of these mantras, from the infinite set of mantras, are revealed to Rishis.

Vedic mantras are of 3 types: Rk, Yajus, or Saman.

The Purva Mimamsa Sutras give a definition for each type of mantra.

Definition of Rk:

enter image description here

Definition of Saman:

enter image description here

Definition of Yajus:

enter image description here

Definition of Atharva:

The Atharva Veda actually consists of a combination of all 3 mantra types. There is no mantra type "Atharva."

Why did the one Veda split into four?

So, now we've established that there are an infinite number of Rk mantras, infinite number of Yajus mantras, and an infinite number of Sama mantras, and a select number of each type of mantra are revealed to Rishis.

Before Kali yuga, all the different mantras types were jumbled into one Veda, and people had to remember the entire Veda. But at the end of Dwapara Yuga, Vedavyasa put all the Rk mantras into one group, the Yajus mantras into one group, and the Saman mantras into one group. The group of Rk mantras is known as Rigveda, the group of Yajus mantras as Yajurveda, and the group of Saman mantras as Samaveda.

Srimad Bhagavata Purana:

Text 46: In this way, throughout the cycles of four ages, generation after generation of disciples — all firmly fixed in their spiritual vows — have received these Vedas by disciplic succession. At the end of each Dvāpara-yuga the Vedas are edited into separate divisions by eminent sages.

Text 47: Observing that people in general were diminished in their life span, strength and intelligence by the influence of time, great sages took inspiration from the Personality of Godhead sitting within their hearts and systematically divided the Vedas.... In this form, named Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana Vyāsa, he divided the one Veda into four.

Text 50: Śrīla Vyāsadeva separated the mantras of the Ṛg, Atharva, Yajur and Sāma Vedas into four divisions, just as one sorts out a mixed collection of jewels into piles. Thus he composed four distinct Vedic literatures.

Why do different Shakhas (recensions) exist for each Veda?

The reason is because Vedavyasa taught his sishyas each Veda, and each sishya further taught only a part of the Veda to his sishyas. For example, assuming I have 1000 Rk mantras, I will teach 500 of those 1000 mantras to one disciple, and the other 500 to another. Now, you have 2 Shakhas of the Rig veda, named after each Rishi or sishya who learned and propagated the recension he learned.

So, a Shakha is a part of the mantras of a revealed Veda.

Srimad Bhagavata Purana:

Rig Veda shakhas:

Text 51: The most powerful and intelligent Vyāsadeva called four of his disciples, O brāhmaṇa, and entrusted to each of them one of these four saṁhitās.

Texts 52-53: Śrīla Vyāsadeva taught the first saṁhitā, the Ṛg Veda, to Paila and gave this collection the name Bahvṛca. To the sage Vaiśampāyana he spoke the collection of Yajur mantras named Nigada. He taught the Sāma Veda mantras, designated as the Chandoga-saṁhitā, to Jaimini, and he spoke the Atharva Veda to his dear disciple Sumantu.

Texts 54-56: After dividing his saṁhitā into two parts, the wise Paila spoke it to Indrapramiti and Bāṣkala. Bāṣkala further divided his collection into four parts, O Bhārgava, and instructed them to his disciples Bodhya, Yājñavalkya, Parāśara and Agnimitra. Indrapramiti, the self-controlled sage, taught his saṁhitā to the learned mystic Māṇḍūkeya, whose disciple Devamitra later passed down the divisions of the Ṛg Veda to Saubhari and others.

Text 57: The son of Māṇḍūkeya, named Śākalya, divided his own collection into five, entrusting one subdivision each to Vātsya, Mudgala, Śālīya, Gokhalya and Śiśira.

Text 59: Bāṣkali assembled the Vālakhilya-saṁhitā, a collection from all the branches of the Ṛg Veda. This collection was received by Vālāyani, Bhajya and Kāśāra.

Text 60: Thus these various saṁhitās of the Ṛg Veda were maintained through disciplic succession by these saintly brāhmaṇas

Yajur Veda shakhas:

Texts 64-65: Yājñavalkya, the son of Devarāta, then vomited the mantras of the Yajur Veda and went away from there. The assembled disciples, looking greedily upon these yajur hymns, assumed the form of partridges and picked them all up. These divisions of the Yajur Veda therefore became known as the most beautiful Taittirīya-saṁhitā, the hymns collected by partridges [tittirāḥ].

Text 74: From these countless hundreds of mantras of the Yajur Veda, the powerful sage compiled fifteen new branches of Vedic literature. These became known as the Vājasaneyi-saṁhitā because they were produced from the hairs of the horse’s mane, and they were accepted in disciplic succession by the followers of Kāṇva, Mādhyandina and other ṛṣis.

Sama Veda shakhas:

Text 75: Jaimini Ṛṣi, the authority of the Sāma Veda, had a son named Sumantu, and the son of Sumantu was Sutvān. The sage Jaimini spoke to each of them a different part of the Sāma-veda-saṁhitā.

Texts 76-77: Sukarmā, another disciple of Jaimini, was a great scholar. He divided the mighty tree of the Sāma Veda into one thousand saṁhitās. Then, O brāhmaṇa, three disciples of Sukarmā — Hiraṇyanābha, the son of Kuśala; Pauṣyañji; and Āvantya, who was very advanced in spiritual realization — took charge of the sāma-mantras.

Text 78: The five hundred disciples of Pauṣyañji and Āvantya became known as the northern singers of the Sāma Veda, and in later times some of them also became known as eastern singers.

Atharva Veda shakhas:

Text 1: Sūta Gosvāmī said: Sumantu Ṛṣi, the authority on the Atharva Veda, taught his saṁhitā to his disciple Kabandha, who in turn spoke it to Pathya and Vedadarśa.

Text 2: Śauklāyani, Brahmabali, Modoṣa and Pippalāyani were disciples of Vedadarśa. Hear from me also the names of the disciples of Pathya. My dear brāhmaṇa, they are Kumuda, Śunaka and Jājali, all of whom knew the Atharva Veda very well.

  • "For example, assuming I have 1000 Rk mantras, I will teach 500 of those 1000 mantras to one disciple, and the other 500 to another." - You sure? So the śākhās should be distinct from one another? But according to this answer, there's many similarities and differences between śākhās. E.g., that answer says "Hymn called Sri Rudram, from Yajurveda. It is also called Sata Rudriya because it is found in all 101 Shakhas of YajurVeda" - this makes your example incorrect. – sv. Jan 7 at 16:57
  • @sv. The division may not be so distinct; I just used it as a simple example. But there are 2 possible reasons for similarities between shakhas: 1) The acharya could've taught many of the same mantras to both his sishyas, and then some different ones to each sishya. OR 2) The sishya would learn from other sishyas of the same teacher some new mantras, incorporate them into his own learning, and then spread his teachings under his own shakha name. – Ikshvaku Jan 7 at 17:48
  • "I just used it as a simple example" - I was expecting a more concrete/realistic example. "The acharya could've taught many of the same mantras to both his sishyas" - what's point of such a division where you teach same mantra to multiple disciples? What is the guru's intention by doing so? One of your blockquote says "Bāṣkali assembled the Vālakhilya-saṁhitā, a collection from all the branches of the Ṛg Veda" - why divide into śākhās, then rejoin them to make the original? Why isn't there an original master Veda - the source of all śākhās? – sv. Jan 7 at 17:58
  • @sv. The puranic passages above give historic examples. "what's point of such a division where you teach same mantra to multiple disciples?" Because some mantras and passages are very important, such as the Purusha Sukta, which is found in all Vedas and shakhas. "why divide into śākhās, then rejoin them to make the original?" Good question, and I don't think he remade the original, but rather incorporated mantras from other shakhas into his own. Acharyas may do this because they find some mantras and passages very important, so they create new recensions with those mantras. – Ikshvaku Jan 7 at 18:56
  • @sv. "Why isn't there an original master Veda - the source of all śākhās?" The original master Veda would be the all the Vedic mantras revealed before the Kali yuga. Vedavyasa split the one jumbled Veda into 4 based on mantra type at the end of Dwapara yuga. He split it so that the people of Kali yuga can learn just one Veda, based on his priestly role in the Yajna. Like the Adhvaryu would learn just the Yajus mantras, Udgatr would learn just the Saman hymns, etc. – Ikshvaku Jan 7 at 18:58

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