Samaveda is the third Veda and is said to be originated from the Sun. According to Taittiriya Samhita (तैत्तिरिय) of Yajurveda, Brahmins – the highest of the four Hindu varnas – are originated from Samaveda. Music and Vedic mantras form the foundation of Samaveda. The sacred religious texts when sung rhythmically bear special significance in various Hindu rituals and occasions. Again, a thorough explanation on singing techniques and pronunciation of Vedic mantras is given in Samaveda.

In terms of the number of mantras, Samaveda is the smallest amongst the four Vedas. But in Brihaddevata (बृहद्देवता), it is said that to acquire an in-depth understanding on the Vedas, it is all important to learn Samaveda properly.

The famous enunciation in Sanskrit –’सामानि यो वेत्ति स वेद तत्त्वम्।‘– delivers the importance of Samaveda in Vedic literature. The term ‘Sam’ is denoted in Yajurveda proving the ancientness of this musical word. At the same time, the two other Vedas namely Rigveda and Atharvaveda have also praised Samaveda to a great extent.

Meaning of Samaveda

A famous Sanskrit phrase ‘ऋचिअध्यूढम् साम।’ signifies that Samaveda is based on Ruchas or Rigveda. The word Sam (साम) means ‘favorite’. Sometimes this word refers to ‘song’; hence it means ‘a favorite song’.

Since crucial Rigvedic mantras form the basis of the Samaveda, the meaning ‘a favorite song’ carries more relevance. Hence, relating Samaveda to the singing of those mantras seems more to the point.

In Bruhadaranyaka Upanishad (बृहदारण्यकोपनिषद्) (1.3.22) it is said that

‘सा च अमश्चेति तत् साम्नः सामत्वम्।’

सा means Rucha, ‘ऋच्’ and ‘अम’ means ‘सा,रे,ग,म,प,ध,नि,सा’ i.e. Seven notes of Indian classical music. Therefore, the meaning of Sam can be derived as the singing related to Ruchas, based on musical notes.

In ancient Vedic literature, we can find specific names for Sam. Vairoop (वैरूप), Bruhat (बृहत्), Raiwat (रैवत), Gayatra (गायत्र), Bhadra (भद्र) are found in Rigveda. Rathantara (रथान्तर), Vairajya (वैराज्य), Vaikhanas (वैखानस), Vamdevya (वामदेव्य), Shakvar (शक्वर), Raiwat (रैवत), Agnishtomiya (अग्निष्टोम्य) etc. were other alternatives to Sam which originated sometime around the same period.

Samaveda and Sacrificial system

वेदो हि यज्ञार्थमभिप्रवृत्ताः। – It means Sacrifice is the main objective of Vedas. This was the firm belief of the Vedics. Ruchas, Yajus and Sams are directly related to sacrifice. The priests performing rituals in the Sacrificial system are called Rutwijas (ऋत्विज). There are many sacrificial rituals in Samaveda with various mantras. A formal sacrificial system demands Rutwijas to perform the rituals while singing Ruchas and pleasing gods. For this purpose a group of four Rutwijas, along with their leader called Udgata (उद्गाता), are appointed. The Sam or the sacred song is thus divided amongst the Rutwijas and their leader who sings the song in fine tunes and rhythm.

The five parts to be sung amongst the Rutwijas and their leader are as follows –

Prastava (प्रस्ताव) – It is sung at the starting of mantra. It starts with sound “हम्”. Amongst all the singers in the group, Prastota (प्रस्तोता) sings this part of the song.

Udgeeth (उद्गीत) – At starting of this part ‘Omkara’ is uttered. Udgata (उद्गाता) recites/sings this loudly.

Pratihar (प्रतिहार) – It is sung by joining two words. It ends with Omkara, this part is sung by Pratiharta (प्रतिहर्ता).

Upadrava (उपद्रव) – This part is recited by Udgata (उद्गाता).

Nidhan (निधान) – In this, last parts or ending words of mantras or Omkara are recited. Udgata (उद्गाता), Prastota (प्रस्तोता) and Pratiharta (प्रतिहर्ता) are entitled to recite this part.

Methods for singing Samaveda

Methods of singing Samaveda had been developed over the years by great sages using Samyoni (सामयोनी) mantras. Four types of singing Samyoni mantras include –

1.   Gramgeyagan (ग्रामगेयगान), also known as Prakritigan (प्रकृतिगान) or Veyagan (वेयगान).

2.   Aaranyakgan (आरण्यकगान)

3.   Uhagan (उहगान)

4.   Uhyagan (उह्यगान), also called Rahasyagan (रहस्यगान)

There are six types of alterations possible while shaping and transforming Samyoni (सामयोनी) mantras in the form of a song favorable for music.

1.   Vikar (विकार), or change – Change in word e.g. “ओग्ना” for “अग्ने”

2.   Vishleshan (विश्लेषण), or dissection – The word is divided e.g.“वीयये” becomes “वो यि तो या” etc.

3.   Vikarshana (विकर्षण) – A vowel note is restricted for long time differently e.g. “ये” is “या 2 3 यि”

4.   Abhyas (अभ्यास), or repetition – A word is repeated again and again.

5.   Viram (विराम), or halt – Pausing for a moment in between for convenience e.g. “गुणानोह व्यदातये”

6.   Stobh (स्तोभ) – Pronunciation of vowels, convenient for singing.

While singing Sam, the Ruchas are repeated in Sukta and is called ‘Stom’ (स्तोम). Generally in Sam singing form, three Ruchas are repeated thrice. Simultaneously, the number of Stotras to be recited completely depends on the number of time the Ruchas would be repeated.

Nine types of Stom (स्तोम) are mentioned in Tandya Brahmin (ताण्ड्य ब्राह्मण). These are Trivrut (त्रिवृत्), Panchdash (पञ्चदश), Saptadash (सप्तदश), Ekvimsh (एकविम्श), Trinav (त्रिणव), Trayastrimsh (त्रयस्त्रिम्श), Chatustrimsh (चतुस्त्रिम्श), Chatushchatvarimsh (चतुश्चत्वारिम्श), and Ashtachatvarimshat (अष्टचत्वारिम्शत्).

In Samgans (सामगान), musical notes are denoted by putting 1 to 7 numbers upon the words. Generally many Sams (साम) have five notes. Sams having six notes are rare and with seven notes are extremely rare. These seven notes in Samaveda are related with flute notes.

Samgan Notes (सामगान) Flute Notes
प्रथम मध्यम
द्वितीय गान्धार
तृतीय रिषभ
चतुर्थ षड्ज
पञ्चम निषाद
षष्ठ धैवत
सप्तम पञ्चम

Vinat (विनत), Pranat (प्रनत), Utswarit (उत्स्वरित) and Abhigeet (अभिगीत) are additional four notes. While reciting the notes, a special Udgata (उद्गाता) note is indicated by touching the thumb to fingers.

Branches of Samaveda

Patanjali has said “सहस्रवर्त्मा सामवेदः” and this indicates that in past around thousand branches of Samaveda were in existence. But in Rishitarpan (ऋषितर्पण) we can get thirteen names of these branches. Ranayan (रानायन), Satyamugra (सत्यमुग्र), Vyasa (व्यास), Bhaguri (भागुरी), Autundi (औतुण्डी), Gaulgulavi (गौलगुलावी), Aupamanyava (औपमन्यव), Karati (कराती), Mashakgavgya (मशकगाव्य), Varshgavya (वर्षगव्य), Kauthum (कौथुम), Shalimotra (शालिमौत्र) and Jaimini (जैमिनी). In course of time four of them were destroyed and nine remained. Amongst them only three are available at present. They are –

1st – Kauthum (कौथुम) – in Gujarat,

2nd – Ranayaniya (रानायनीय) – in Maharashtra and

3rd – Jaiminiya (जैमिनीय) – is used in Kerala and Tinebelli regions

Kauthum (कौथुम) Branch – This branch is quite popular amongst the sages and Brahmins alike. Tandya (ताण्ड्य) is named as the sub-branch of Kauthum. Shrimarchi (श्रीमर्ची), Nagar (नागर), and Vangiya (वनगीय) Brahmins follow the Kauthum branch. It has two parts –

i.             Purvarchik (पूर्वार्चिक) and

ii.            Uttararchik (उत्तरार्चिक)

i.             Purvarchik (पूर्वार्चिक) Branch – It is known as Chhanda (छन्द), Chhandasi (छन्दासी) or Chhandasika (छन्दसिका). In terms of the subject matter it has four divisions – Aagneya (आग्नेय), Aindra (ऐन्द्र), Pawaman (पवमान), and Aaranyak (आरण्यक). Purvarchik divisions are also known as Parva (पर्व). There are six chapters and every chapter has two Khanda (खण्ड). Each Khanda (खण्ड) contains around ten Ruchas called Dashati (दशति).

1st two chapters are regarding Agni (आग्नेय).

3nd to 4th belong to Indra (ऐन्द्र).

5th chapter has deity Pawaman (पवमान), Somsuktas from 9th mandala of Rugveda are also mentioned in this chapter.

6th chapter is Aaranyaka (आरण्यक), it is a different deity and is arranged meter wise. However, content wise Aaranyaka is much similar to other chapters.

Amongst the above six, first five are known as Gramgaan (ग्रामगान) – meaning those which can be sung in a group. But the last chapter i.e. Aaranyaka is recited only in the forest by sages. At the end of the sixth chapter ten extra Ruchas are given, and in addition to these ten extra, the total number of Ruchas in Purvarchik (पूर्वार्चिक) comes to 650.

ii.  Uttararchik (उत्तरार्चिक) Branch – There are nine chapters in the Uttararchik branch. Amongst them the first five have two Khanda (खण्ड) and last four have three Khanda (खण्ड).

Uttararchik chapters can be divided into seven parts according to their subjects. These are Dashraatra (दशरात्र), Samvatsara (सम्वत्सर), Ekah (एकाह), Ahin (अहिन), Satra (सत्र), Prayashchitta (प्रायश्चित्त) and Kshudra (क्षूद्र).

In Uttararchik there are in total 1225 mantras. And the number of mantras together in Purvarchik (पूर्वार्चिक) and Uttararchik (उत्तरार्चिक) is 1875. Although in Uttararchik some of the Ruchas are from Rigveda, but many of them are new and not even present in Shakalsamhita (शाकलसम्हिता).

Out of all, 267 mantras in Purvarchik (पूर्वार्चिक) are repeated in Uttararchika (उत्तरार्चिक), 1504 Ruchas in Rigveda while 99 are completely new.

Ranayaniya (राणायणीय) Branch – Mantras of the Ranayaniya branch are same as in Kauthum (कौथुम) branch, but the recitation method is different e.g. where the follower of Kauthum would say हा,उ,वा,अ,आ and इ ,the follower of Ranayaniya would say हा,वु,वा,,या and यी.

Sub–branch of the Ranayaniya (राणायणीय) is Satyamugri (सत्यमुग्री). The recitation method of Satyamugri is even different then above two methods. In Satyamugri, the recitation of ए and ओम्कार are emphaized very shortly (ह्रस्व).

Jaiminiya (जैमिनीय) Branch – Samhita (सम्हिता), Brahmin (ब्राह्मण) and Shraut Sutraare (श्रौतसूत्र) are available especially in this branch. Jaiminiya has 1687 mantras which are less than Kauthum branch by 182. Ample amount of text differences are found in Jaiminiya in comparison to other branches. Saamgaans (सामगान) for this branch are more than Kauthum by 1000.

Brahmins of Samaveda

Tandya (ताण्ड्य), Mahabrahmin (महाब्राह्मण), Shadwimsh (षड्विम्श), Jaiminiya (जैमिनीय), Vamsh (वम्श), Aarshey (आर्षेय), Mantra (मन्त्र) and Saamvidhan (सामविधान) are the Brahmins of Samaveda.

Amongst all, Tandya is most ancient and huge in content.

Upanishads of Samaveda

Chahandogya (छान्दोग्य), Ken (केन), Gaiminiya (जैमिनीय)/Talavakar (तलवकार) are the Upanishads of Samaveda.

Gandharvaveda (गान्धर्ववेद) is said to be the Sub Veda of Samaveda, but no book is available to establish the claim.

Thus although being smallest amongst the four Vedas, Samaveda has a special significance in Vedic literature. Methods of reciting mantras are the important contribution of Samaveda. The proper recitation of sacrificial mantras leads to the fulfillment of the sacrifice.

That is why even Lord Sri Krishna honors Samaveda by saying

‘वेदानाम् सामवेदोsस्मि’ – Bhagvad Gita (भगवद्गीता) 10.42.

Meaning ‘Among the Vedas I am the Samaveda.’