The two qualifying features of a Hindu are faith in one Supreme God and belief in the authority of the Vedas and following the principles enshrined in them. The Vedas are accepted by everyone in Hindu dharma. The Vedas are ancient shastras taken as direct revelations by God to the enlightened rishis of India. As such, they have not originated at a particular time in history and are believed to be eternal and of divine origin. The Vedas are also known as the Shruti Shastras. Shruti means ‘that which is heard,’ i.e., the divine utterances revealed to the rishis by Bhagwan.
The Vedas consist of over 100,000 verses with additional prose. There are four Vedas: Rig Veda, Sãm Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda. Each of the four Vedas are comprised of four parts: Samhitã (hymns), Brãhman (manual of rites and rituals), Ãranyak (forest treatises), and the Upanishads (enlightened teachings that contain the essence of Hindu philosophy dealing with the nature and relation of God, jiva, maya, and moksha). In past centuries, students would devote their entire lives to learning the Vedas orally from their gurus, passing on this knowledge for generations. The shlokas would be recited during the performance of a yagna, a common form of the early Vedic religion. Students would recite them as they were written, some would recite them backwards, and yet others would recite them in different patterns to make sure that each mantra was accurately passed down word for word. These methods have ensured the consistency and credibility of the Vedas through the centuries of their existence.