According to the Vishnu Purana the original Veda was divided into four parts, and further fragmented into numerous shakhas, by Vishnu in the form of Vyasa, in the Dvapara Yuga; the Vayu Purana recounts a similar division by Vyasa, at the urging of Brahma. The Bhagavata Purana traces the origin of the primeval Veda to the syllable aum, and says that it was divided into four at the start of Dvapara Yuga, because men had declined in age, virtue and understanding.

However, if we consider the order of evolution of Vedas, Mahabharata, Srimad Ramayana, etc, we can understand that Vedas were followed by Srimad Ramayana. And, after a long period Mahabharata came into existence.

So if we go by these stories, the Vedas should have been remained undivided in the Ramayana era. If we read Srimad Ramayana carefully, we will find that Vedas were already divided into 3 parts by the time Sri Rama came into existence.

  1.   Sri Hanuma approaches, at the behest of Sugreeva, Sri Rama and Lakshmana to  know the intentions of those two by their conduct, by their semblance, and by their conversation.  
       After listening to him, Sri Rama expresses his opinion on Sri Hanuma to Lakshmana as follows:

न अन् ऋग्वेद विनीतस्य न अ--यजुर्वेद धारिणः | न अ--साम वेद विदुषः शक्यम् एवम् विभाषितुम् ||

(Kishkinda Kanda 3rd Sarga 28th Sloka)

"Nay...the non-knower of Rig Veda, or the non-rememberer of Yajur Veda, or the non-scholar of Saama Veda... can possibly, or truly speak this way..."

Here, Sri Rama was saying that Sri Hanuma was well versed in Rig, Yajur, Saama Vedas. So by that time Vedas might have already been divided into 3 parts only but not 4 parts.

  1. While describing the characteristics and bodily signs of Sri Rama to Sita, Sri Hanuma says as follows:

यजुः वेद विनीतः च वेदविद्भिः सुपूजितः | धनुः वेदे च वेदे च वेद अन्गेषु च निष्ठितः || (Sundara Kanda 35th Sarga 14th Sloka)

"He got trained in Yajurveda, the sacrificial Veda. He is highly honoured by those well-versed in Vedas. He is skilled in Dhanurveda, the science of archery, other Vedas and the six limbs of Vedangas."

Sri Rama was trained in Yajurveda. So Vedas were divided in Srimad Ramayana era itself.

Then why this division of Vedas was attributed to Sage Vyasa?

  • Do you want a mythological answer as the one currently posted or a historical one? If latter, suggest you remove the 'mythology' tag from the question and instead add the 'history' tag. – sv. Jul 15 '19 at 21:25
  • I have deleted the Mythology tag. @sv. – Srimannarayana K V Jul 16 '19 at 0:25

It's because there is more than one Vyasa. Most people only know "Vyasa" as the name of the sage Krishnadvaipayana Vedavyasa, the son of Parashara and Satyavati who, in the most recent Dwapara Yuga, compiled and divided the body of the Vedic mantras into the four books we call the Vedic Samhitas. (Technically he only compiled the first Rig, Yajur, and Sama Veda; the Atharvana Veda was an independent effort by the sages Atharva and Angiras.) But as I discuss in this answer, he is not the only one who has done this.

Vyasa is actually a title, and in each Dwapara Yuga a new Vyasa does the job of compiling and dividing the Vedas. In this chapter of the Vishnu Purana, the current Vyasa's father Parashara lists the previous Vyasas of the Vaivasvata Manvantara:

Twenty-eight times have the Vedas been arranged by the great Rishis in the Vaivaswata Manwantara in the Dwápara age, and consequently eight and twenty Vyásas have passed away; by whom, in their respective periods, the Veda has been divided into four. In the first Dwápara age the distribution was made by Swayambhu (Brahmá) himself; in the second, the arranger of the Veda (Veda-vyása) was Prajápati (or Manu); in the third, Uśanas; in the fourth, Vrihaspati; in the fifth, Savitri; in the sixth, Mrityu (Death, or Yama); in the seventh, Indra; in the eighth, Vaśisht́ha; in the ninth, Sáraswata; in the tenth, Tridháman; in the eleventh, Trivrishan; in the twelfth, Bharadwája; in the thirteenth, Antaríksha; in the fourteenth, Vapra; in the fifteenth, Trayyáruńa; in the sixteenth, Dhananjaya; in the seventeenth, Kritanjaya; in the eighteenth, Rińa; in the nineteenth, Bharadwája; in the twentieth, Gotama; in the twenty-first, Uttama, also called Haryátmá; in the twenty-second, Veńa, who is likewise named Rájaśravas; in the twenty-third, Somaśushmápańa, also Trińavindu; in the twenty-fourth, Riksha, the descendant of Bhrigu, who is known also by the name Válmíki; in the twenty-fifth, my father Śakti was the Vyása; I was the Vyása of the twenty-sixth Dwápara, and was succeeded by Jaratkáru; the Vyása of the twenty-eighth, who followed him, was Krishńa Dwaipáyana. These are the twenty-eight elder Vyásas, by whom, in the preceding Dwápara ages, the Veda has been divided into four. In the next Dwápara, Drauńi (the son of Drońa) will be the Vyása, when my son, the Muni Krishńa Dwaipáyana, who is the actual Vyása, shall cease to be (in that character).

Now the Vyasa of the twenty-fourth Dwapara Yuga of the Vaivasvata Manvantara was the sage Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana. The reason I single him out is that Rama was born in the twenty-fourth Mahayuga of the Vaivasvata Manvantara, as I discuss in my answer here. The Ramayana took place in the transition between the Treta Yuga and the Dwapara Yuga of that Mahayuga.

So to sum up, it is the sage Valmiki's edition of the Vedas, not Krishnadwaipayana Veda Vyasa's division, that Rama and Hanuman are referring to.

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    @srimannarayanakv Well, the thing is that detailed accounts of what events happened in what Yuga and Manvantara are what Puranas or histories are for. Now I could easily give you quotes from the Mahabharata which say that Parashara's son Vyasa compiled the Vedas. And I could give you a Mahabharata quote that talks about Ashwatthama's plans to study under the current Vyasa, which is how he'll become the next Vyasa. But for lists of previous Vyasas we have to turn to the Puranas, just as we have to turn to the Puranas for lists of previous Indras. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 6 '15 at 14:44
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    @srimannarayanakv The 8800 verses are known as the Jaya, and they constitute the dialogue between Sanjaya and Dhritarashtra. Then Vyasa composed the 100,000 verse Mahabharata to provide the larger context for the Jaya. In any case, like I said I fully agree with you that the Puranas have some interpolations. But we should take a passage from the Puranas as Sabda Pramana until we have good reason to doubt that particular passage. In any case, do you want me to give you the Mahabharata quotes I was referring to? – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 6 '15 at 16:50
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    OK chapter 60 of the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata says "And the illustrious one developed by his will alone his body as soon as he was born, and mastered the Vedas with their branches, and all the histories. And he readily obtained that which no one could obtain by asceticism, by the study of the Vedas, by vows, by fasts, by progeny, and by sacrifice. And the first of Veda-knowing ones, he divided the Vedas into four parts." And Adi Parva chapter 105 says "That illustrious Rishi having by his ascetic power divided the Vedas into four parts hath come to be called on earth by the name of Vyasa" – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 6 '15 at 17:13
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    @srimannarayanakv The 8800 verses of the Jaya begin in the Bhishma Parva and end in the Sauptika Parva - they constitute Sanjaya's narration to Dhritarashtra based on the divine vision he was given by Vyasa. The rest of the Mahabharata is based on Vyasa's own divine vision. Now as to whether it's possible that the quotes I gave could be later insertions into the text, it's possible that all of Hindu scripture is just later insertions! But when examining our sacred scriptures, the best approach to take is "innocent until proven guilty" - assume it's authentic until you have reason to doubt it. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 6 '15 at 17:36
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    @srimannarayanakv Vyasa did not "bring out" the 8800 verses of the Jaya. The Jaya is just Sanjaya's narration of the war to Dhritarashtra, it's not meant to be a free-standing work. Vyasa used Sanjaya's account of the war as a starting point for a 24,000-verse poem about the life stories of the Pandavas and Kauravas, called the Bharata. Then to provide additional context, he composed a larger poem called the Mahabharata by adding Upakhyanas or episodes unconnected to the Pandavas and Kauravas. The Yudhishthira-Bhishma dialogues are not part of an Upakhyana, so they were part of the Bharata. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 7 '15 at 4:37

Then, why is the division of Vedas attributed to Sage Vyasa?

This is explained by K. M. Shembavnekar in The Veda-Vyāsa Myth:

Vyāsa, the author of the grand Epic [Mahābhārata] and the Gītā, naturally came to be covered with a glory which may justly be called divine. But perfectly divine it could not be unless the sage-author were associated with the holy Vedas. In all probability, it was with this aim in view that the school of Sūta and Romaharṣaṇa–the founders of the Veda-Vyāsa myth–invented the legend about the division of the original Veda into four books, properly designated and diligently assigned to his four disciples, by the venerable guru, "Vyāsa." That they aimed at making him the fountain of all knowledge–past, present and future–is evident from the several claims which are so eloquently put forth on his behalf in the Epic and outside it: 'yadihāsti tadanyatra yannehāsti na kutracit', 'vyāsocchiṣṭaṃ jagatsarvaṃ', 'aṣṭadaśapuraṇānāṃ kartā satyavatīsutaḥ', etc. But the Veda is eternal, and a rigid adherence to it is enjoined by the ancient sages who look upon it as the only sovereign source of all 'dharma' i.e., Law and Knowledge.

The originators of the Veda-Vyāsa myth, therefore, could not be content with making him only the author of a 'Fifth Veda' [Mahābhārata] but fathered upon him even a higher distinction, viz., the title to the division of the original one Veda into four, and the distribution of the different Śākhās among his disciples.

In doing so, however they completely perverted the earlier and genuine Vedic tradition as has been already shown above. Secondly, their bold attempt in creating this myth detracts, in a considerable degree, from the antiquity of the whole Vedic literature. And thirdly, and lastly, the statement is a source of clear self-contradictions and glaring anachronisms.

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  • Good inputs. Up voted. I will wait for other responses before accepting it. – Srimannarayana K V Aug 3 at 18:08
  • My answer is incomplete as I haven't answered the more difficult title question (Who divided the Vedas?) so it'd be premature to accept this answer. @srimannarayanakv – sv. Aug 3 at 20:36

The Veda was available only 3 parts, ie., Rig, Sama and Yajur at the time of composition of Ramayana by Sage Valmiki. That was why Sage Valmiki mentioned it so.

A mention as made in the 2nd sloka of 15th Sarga of Bala Kanda about atharvashIrsha - अथर्वशिरसि.

इष्टिं तेऽहं करिष्यामि पुत्रीयां पुत्रकारणात् | अथर्वशिरसि प्रोक्तैर्मन्त्रैः सिद्धां विधानतः || १-१५-२

"I will procedurally conduct the ritual contained in the preamble of atharva-veda with procedural hymns, called <>putra kaameSTi i.e., the ritual that bestows sons, for your benefit."

However, as this sloka was mentioned as a preamble to putrakAmeshthi yagna, which is an interpolated story in Ramayana, this sloka is also an interpolated one.

Thus, by the time Ramayana was composed, there were only 3 Vedas.

If we go through the Manu Smriti, we can find that it mentions about 3 Vedas only.

षट् त्रिंशदाब्दिकं चर्यं गुरौ त्रैवेदिकं व्रतम् । तदर्धिकं पादिकं वा ग्रहणान्तिकमेव वा ॥ १ ॥

ṣaṭ triṃśadābdikaṃ caryaṃ gurau traivedikaṃ vratam | tadardhikaṃ pādikaṃ vā grahaṇāntikameva vā || 1 ||

Duties relating to the Three Vedas should be observed under the Preceptor for thirty-six years, or for half that period, or for a quarter, or precisely till they have been got up.

Let us consider what text from other way of faith Buddhism say about the number of Vedas.

The Sutta Nipāta 1026 (P.303) mentions about 3 vedas only.

His age is a hundred and twenty years, by clan he is a Bāvarī, upon his body appear three signs, Three Vedas he has mastered all.

We should remember that that Gautama, the Buddha took birth in a Hindu family only. He studied the prevalent literature , observed the prevalent customs and practices , got vexed with the degraded form of spiritual aspects in his times, adopted his own method and finally reached the stage SAT, which Veda described in RV 1.164.46.

Bhagavad Gita is a part of Mahabharata. While explaining the various aspects, Sri Krishna says in the "Rajavidya Rajaguhya Yoga" as follows:

पिताऽहमस्य जगतो माता धाता पितामहः। वेद्यं पवित्रमोंकार ऋक् साम यजुरेव च।।9.17।।

I am both the father and the mother of the universe, I am the Maintainer, the Grandsire, the object of all knowledge, the purifier, the syllable oµ and I am the Rig Veda, Såma Veda and the Yajur Veda.

Srimad Bhagavad Gita was narrated to Arjuna by Sri Krishna, almost at the end of Dwapar Yuga. Even at time also, the vedas were 3 parts only, but not 4.

The Atharvana Veda is missing.

Now, coming to the question part - Who divided the Vedas?, we have to take a holistic look to understand the issue.

  1. The Rig Veda, composed by various sages at different times, was/is/will be the source of Dharma, for attaining SPIRITUAL heights, for talking anything about Sanatana Dharma.

  2. Sama is Rasa or essence of Rig-Veda i.e. That is most essential part.

  3. The Yagnas mentioned in Rig Veda are mostly mind related, but misunderstood by many and interpreted them to be physical. That is why the Yajur Veda contains physical yagnas.

Even in Ramayana, we can find the importance of Yajur Veda. Sri Rama was described as यजुः वेद विनीतः - trained in Yajurveda.

यजुः वेद विनीतः च वेदविद्भिः सुपूजितः | धनुः वेदे च वेदे च वेद अन्गेषु च निष्ठितः || ५-३५-१४

"He got trained in Yajurveda, the sacrificial Veda. He is highly honoured by those well-versed in Vedas. He is skilled in Dhanurveda, the science of archery, other Vedas and the six limbs* of Vedangas."

No body divided Vedas into parts. The Sama and Yajur vedas evolved from Rig Veda.

Sama Veda

The Sama Veda, divided into two major parts, first to include the four melody collections, or the Saman, the songs and the latter the Arcika, or the verse books a collection (Samhita) of hymns, portions of hymns, and detached verses. A liturgical text, relating to public worship, all but 75 verses of the total 1875 is derived from the Rig Veda.

Yajur Veda:

The earliest and most ancient layer of Yajur Veda, Samhita includes about 1,875 verses, that are distinct yet borrowed from and built upon the foundation of verses in Rigveda.

The middle layer includes the Satapatha Brahmana, one of the largest Brahmana texts in the Vedic collection and The youngest layer of Yajur Veda text includes the largest collection of primary Upanishads six in number, influential to various schools of Hindu philosophy. These include the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Isha Upanishad, the Taittiriya Upanishad, just to name a few.

For example: The Purusha Suktam appears both in Rig Veda and Shukla Yajurveda

Now the question of attributing the division of the Vedas to Sage Vyasa crops up.

This was attributed by subsequent writers to Sage Vyasa, narrating him to be an incarnation of Vishnu. Attributing authorship of Puranas might have been done by subsequent writers, in order to give authority to Puranas on par with the Vedas.

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  • 'No body divided Vedas into parts. The Sama and Yajur vedas evolved from Rig Veda.' - can you add a reference for this claim? – sv. Aug 5 at 17:59
  • I have updated my answer please @sv. – Srimannarayana K V Aug 6 at 2:42
  • So was there a time when only Rigvedic hymns were used to conduct sacrifices? When were the roles hotṛ, adhvaryu, udgātṛ, etc. created? (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedic_priesthood#Chief_priests) after the division of Vedas or before? – sv. Aug 6 at 12:55
  • Rig Vedic hymns, indicating Yagnas, are esoteric in sense. As far as I understood, the subsequent generations could not grasp the esoteric meaning of Rig Vedic Hymns and evolved physical Yagnas. During that point of time all these physical posts might have been evolved. @sv. – Srimannarayana K V Aug 6 at 13:11

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