Sama Veda is the Earliest Human Literature on Music

sama veda

The Sama veda (Sanskrit: सामवेदः, sāmaveda, from sāman “melody” + veda “knowledge” ), is second (in the usual order) of the four Vedas, the ancient core Hindu scriptures. Its earliest parts are believed to date from 1700 BC (since all of its verses are from the Rigveda) and it ranks next in sanctity and liturgical importance to the Rigveda. It consists of a collection (samhita) of hymns, portions of hymns, and detached verses, all but 75 taken from the Sakala Sakha of the Rigveda, the other 75 belong to the Bashkala Sakha, to be sung, using specifically indicated melodies called Samagana, by Udgatar priests at sacrifices in which the juice of the Soma plant, clarified and mixed with milk and other ingredients, is offered in libation to various deities.


Sama Veda is perhaps the earliest human literature on music. It naturally incorporates music, mantra, chhanda, linguistics, and above all, a reflection of the world view of rishis who communicated in the Arsha language, precursor to the more regimented Girvan (later called Sanskrit). With the Sama Veda being reduced to a point of near extinction, we are at the brink of losing not only its unique music, but also the complete world view it presents.

This situation might have arisen from the discouragement of idol worship; this would ultimately see the demise of a culture with its unique art, craft, economics, beliefs, people, and their practices which were actually cultural givens of that era.

Out of the 13 branches of Sama Veda termed as ‘shakhas’, now we have only four, of which scholars say the Kauthumiya is a modified Ranayaniya shakha, leaving us only with three. While the modern Indian has made progress in various fields, the peicess intangible heritage of works like the Sama Veda have gone unnoticed – a great loss indeed. We have, it could be said, mindlessly pursued a line of development causing unwelcome changes to the very fabric of our culture; not very different from iconoclastic behaviour.

In spite of the fact that a large number of rich Indians possess more wealth than the world’s richest, we demonstrate such ignorance about the Vedas in general and the Sama Veda in particular. One needs to find out why the world’s oldest composite literature on religion, sciences, humanities, and spirituality attracts little public attention today.

The yajnas, apart from their religious functions, were unfortunately termed as mere ‘rituals’ even by Indian scholars and so their secular significance has been undermined. It has been shown in a premiere scientific institute in Pune that the yajna-bhasma being of the size of nano-particles had deeply positive effects on human health and the environment. Yet there is little interest being generated in the Vedas among most people. The silver lining in the dark cloud is that some top scientists are now investigating the science of Vedas.

The Sama Veda is an artistic way of communicating science. Imagine if our physics formulae were set to suitable music; we would possibly have made science more appealing, attracting more students into the science stream and the formulae would be communicated to a wider audience.

Take the case of basic Trigonometry. We were taught in school to remember the Sine, Cosine, and Tangent relationship through a simple funny English sentence; Some people have curly black turned purplish brown. Here, S, C, T are Sine, Cosine, and Tangent while H, B, and P are respectively, the hypotenuse, base, and perpendicular of a right triangle and the sentence would denote their relationship.

I think Sama Veda is a similar, but much more complex and creative, artistic, and appealing way of remembering the thousands of mantras in the Vedas. It is through the Sama Veda that the ancient liturgical world of music hascame up with a formal system of music. Senior Sama Veda researcher Wayne Howard states emphatically in his ‘Veda Recitation in Varanasi’ that what Western musicologists call “Centonisation” was ustilised in the Sama Veda Samhita and its auxiliary texts. Centonisation is, simply, grouping of musical phrases and naming each group with the help of syllables and using them in different places of a composition to create new melodies.

We see that Sama Vedic chant is not just an essential part of yajna, but is also an independent body of knowledge which needs to be separately mastered, explored, and expanded.

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