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From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

The Sāmaveda or the Sāmaveda samhitā is the third in the traditional list of the four Vedas. It comprises mostly of the Ṛgvedic mantras or ṛks 1504 to be specific set to the saptasvara system,[1] to be sung at appropriate places in a sacrifice. It is the udgātṛ[2] along with his three assistants[3] that does this. The total number of ṛks in this Veda as per one calculation is 1875. It is noteworthy that this Veda has been eulogized highly in the other Vedas also.[4][5][6][7][8][9] Kṛṣṇa while describing his special aspects, says in the Bhagavadgītā[10] that he is Sāmaveda among the Vedas.

Meaning of Sāma[edit]

The etymological meaning of the word sāma is ‘that which destroys sorrow by its sweetness; a song’. The Bṛhadāranyaka Upaniṣad defines the sāma as a ṛk[11] set to various tunes of music.[12][13] Thus the sāmas are those mantras of the Ṛgveda which had been set to the tunes as prescribed by the special treatises like the Nāradīyaśiksā. However, the same ṛk can be sung in different tunes thus producing different sāmas. The number of such sāmas vary from one to eighteen. According to one calculation, there are 1875 ṛks and 2639 sāmas in the presently available Sāmaveda texts.

Śākhās of Sāmaveda[edit]

Like three other Vedas, the Sāmaveda also has several Śākhās.[14] Though some traditional works like the Caraṇa-vyuha[15] mention that there are a thousand śākhās in the Sāmaveda, only thirteen names have been discovered so far. They are the names of the teachers who were responsible for re-editing the text and starting their own śākhās. Nevertheless, only three such śākhās are extant now. They are:

  1. Jaiminīyaśākhā
  2. Kauthumaśākhā
  3. Rānāyaniyaśākhā

The last two have many similarities like equal number of mantras. The first one has 182 mantras less than the other two.

Internal Divisions[edit]

The Sāmaveda has two sections called Purvārcikā and Uttrārcikā.[16] The Purvārcikā has several prapāṭhakas or chapters containing few daśatis.[17] The daśatis are comprised of ṛks. The Uttarārcikā has nine prapāṭhakas. These are divided into khaṇḍas, each of which consists of a large number of ṛks.

In the Purvārcikā, the mantras taken from the Ṛgveda have been regrouped according to the devatā or the deity praised. The first prapāṭhaka contains mantras connected with Agni and hence called Āgneyakānda. Prapāthakas 2 to 4 are known as Aindrakānda since they are devoted to Indra, the king of gods. The fifth prapāṭhaka contains mantras dedicated to the god Soma-Pavamāna and hence called Pavamānaparva in which most of these mantras have been taken from the ninth maṇdala of the Ṛgveda which is entirely devoted to that deity.

The ṛks of these five prapāṭhakas are known as veyagāna or grāmagāna or grāmegeya, because they are to be sung in grāmas or villages and towns. The other terms by which they are known are:

  1. Chandārcikā
  2. Prakṛti
  3. Prakṛtisamhitā
  4. Ṛk

These mantras are used more in brahmayajña,[18] upākarma and certain other rituals. Their use in Vedic sacrifices is limited. The sixth prapāṭhaka is called Araṇyakānda or Āraṇyakaparva. These mantras have to be chanted in an araṇya or forest, since they are conducive to contemplation.

The ten ṛks appearing at the end of this section are known as Mahānāmnī like an appendix to the Purvārcikā. They are known also as Śakvaryah. Their deity is Indra and generally used on the 5th day of the sacrifice. Since these mantras are addressed to Indra as the mahān[19] God, they have come to be known as Mahānāmnī. In the Uttarārcikā, there are nine prapāṭhakas. Each prapāṭhaka has several khaṇḍas like the daśatis of the Purvārcikā which contain the ṛks. The chanting or singing of these ṛks is divided into two groups:

  1. Uhagāna - The basic model for this is the grāmagāna.
  2. Uhyagāna or rahasyagāna - The basic model for this is the araṇyagāna.

There is a repetition of 267 mantras of the Purvārcikā in this. The mantras of this section are used in stoma[20] in yajñas or sacrifices. The following tables give an idea of the two arcikās as extant now.


Prapathaka Kaṇda Daśati Rks
1 Agneyakāṇḍa 10 96
2 Aindrakāṇḍa 10 97
3 Aindrakāṇḍa 10 99
4 Aindrakāṇḍa 10 98
5 Pavamānaparva 10 96
6 Araiiyakaparva 9 99
7 Araṇyakāṇḍa 5 55
8 Mahānāmnī - 10
- Total 64 650


Prapathaka Kaṇḍa Rks
1 12 124
2 12 111
3 14 145
4 13 144
5 21 172
6 15 182
7 12 128
8 13 144
9 8 111
Total 120 1261

Methods of Sāmagana[edit]

Classification of Sāma[edit]

There are four groups of sāmas:

  1. Grāmageya
  2. Āraṇyaka
  3. Uha
  4. Ṅhya.

The first two are the prakṛtis[21] and the last two are the vikṛtis.[22]

Sāmagana as per Nāradiyaśiksā[edit]

Any mantra taken from the Ṛgveda,[23] when set to music as per the system of svaras or notes of the Sāmaveda, becomes a sāma. This system has been explained in the famous work Nāradiyaśiksā. According to it, there are 7 svaras,[24] 3 grāmas,[25] 21 murchanas[26] and 49 tānas.[27] The seven notes of sāmagāna are the equivalents of the seven notes of Indian music as shown in the following table:

No. Sāmasvara Sañgīta Svara
1. Prathama Madhyama Ma
2. Dvitīya Gāndhāra Ga
3. Tṛtīya Rṣabha Ri
4. Caturtha Saḍja Sa
5. Pañcama or atisvārya Niṣāda Ni
6. Saṣṭha or mandra Daivata Da
7. Saptama or kruṣta Pañcama Pa

Modifications while Singing of Sāma[edit]

While singing the ṛks as sāma,[28] certain changes are effected in the letters of the text to facilitate singing. They are listed as follows:

No. Name Action Example
1. Vikāra Changing the letter or the word ‘agne’ becomes ‘ognāyi’
2. Viślesana Separating a word ‘vītaye’ is changed as ‘voyi toyā 2 yi’
3. Vikarsana Lengthening and varying a note ‘ye’ is sung as ‘yā 23 yi’
4. Abhyāsa Repetition of a word ‘toyāyi’ which is sung twice
5. Virāma Stopping near a word for slight rest ‘gṛṇāno havyadātaye’, stopping before ‘ha’
6. Stobha Certain letters used to embellish singing au, hovā and hāvu

The numbers like 2, 23 etc., indicate the mātrās or time-units needed for chanting at that place.

Basic Principles While Singing of Sāma[edit]

There are five fundamental steps in the singing of every sāma. They are:

  1. Prastāva - This is the beginning of the mantra. The prastotṛ priest begins with the sound ‘hum’.
  2. Udgītha - The main priest udgātṛ sings this, beginning it with Om.
  3. Pratihāra - Sung by the priest pratihartṛ, this part generally expresses a sense of dedication to the deity to whom it is addressed.
  4. Upadrava - This is sung by the udgātṛ priest.
  5. Nidhana - Comprising the last part of the mantra, sometimes including the Om also, this is sung by all the three priests mentioned above, bringing it to a close.

Ṛks sung as sāma[edit]

Some more information may now be adduced here about the sāmas for further elucidation. The mantras of the Purvārcikā are prakṛtis or basic role models. Each of the ṛks generally has only one sāma, though there are exceptions where the number of sāmas can go up to 18. All the sāmas on the ṛks are already fixed by tradition. Some ṛks may not have any sāma at all. Again, the ṛks sung as sāma may be in any of the well-known metres like:

  1. Gāyatrī
  2. Anuṣṭubh
  3. Triṣṭubh
  4. Jagatī

Sometimes, the same ṛk can be sung as a sāma in all the four groups beginning with veyagāna.

Sāmas with Different Nomenclature[edit]

Some ṛks like punānah soma dhārayā[29] have as many as 61 sāmagānas. The sāmas[30] have been grouped in different ways and have been given different nomenclatures. The prakṛti[31] has seven types of gānas. They are:

  1. Gāyatragāna - based on the famous gāyatrīmantra
  2. Āgneyagāna - containing ṛks pertaining to Agni
  3. Aindragāna - with ṛks on Indra in several metres
  4. Pavamānagāna - with ṛks on Soma-Pavamāna
  5. Parvatrayagāna - containing ṛks on Arka couplets called dvandva and vratas
  6. Śukriyagāna - with ṛks on Śukra or sun
  7. Mahānāmnī - explained already

Other Sāmas[edit]

The names of some of the other sāmas are:

  1. Amṛtasamhitā
  2. Ariṣṭavarga
  3. Pavitra-varga
  4. Pitṛsamhitā
  5. Skandasamhitā
  6. Vaināyakasamhitā
  7. Etc.

Sāmas as per Upaniṣads[edit]

Bṛhatsāma, Rathantarasāma, Vairāja-sāma, Vāmadevyasāma these are a few of the other sāmas mentioned in works like the Upaniṣads.

Rsis, Chandas and Devatās[edit]

Anyone wishing to study the Vedic mantras, or even recite them, must know three things about them. They are:

  1. Ṛṣi - the sage to whom it was revealed
  2. Chandas - the metre in which it is composed
  3. Devatā - the deity to whom it is addressed

Since the mantras of the Sāmaveda have been taken mostly from the Ṛgveda it can be presumed that the ṛṣi is the first sage to whom the sāma-pattern was originally revealed. The following are some of the ṛṣis and the number of sāma-mantras revealed to them given in terms of daśatis:

  1. Bhāradvāja - 29
  2. Gotama - 20
  3. Jamadāgni - 13
  4. Kaṇva - 29
  5. Medhātithi - 29
  6. Praskaṇva - 13
  7. Saubhari - 18
  8. Śunaśśepha - 17
  9. Vāmadeva - 36
  10. Vasiṣṭha - 43
  11. Viśvāmitra - 29

Though chandas means the metre etymologically, it is interpreted as something that covers and hence protects, and also gives joy. A knowledge of the chandas is necessary for the knowledge of the padapāṭha[32] which is very important in this Veda. The following are the Vedic metres used here:

  1. Anuṣṭubh
  2. Bṛhatī
  3. Jagatī
  4. Paṅkti
  5. Triṣṭubh
  6. Uṣṇik

The devatās or the presiding deities of the various Sāmavedic mantras are:

  1. Agni
  2. Indra
  3. Prajāpati
  4. Soma
  5. Varuṇa
  6. Tvaṣṭā
  7. Aṅgirasa
  8. Puṣā
  9. Sarasvatī
  10. Indrāgnī

Subsidiaries of the Sāmaveda[edit]

Apart from the Samhita, every Veda has three more parts:

  1. Brāhmaṇa
  2. Araṇyaka
  3. Upaniṣad

To facilitate its study, the help of the Vedāṅgas is also necessary. A list of these are as follows:


  1. Ārseya Brāhmana
  2. Devatādhyāya Brāhmana
  3. Praudha Brāhmana, also known as Tāndya Mahābrāhmana and Pañcavinśa Brāhmana
  4. Sadvimśa Brāhmana
  5. Sāmavidhāna Brāhmana
  6. Sarhhitopanisad Brāhmana
  7. Talavakāra Brāhmana
  8. Upaniṣad Brāhmana
  9. Vanśa Brāhmana

The Tāndya Mahābrāhmana is the most important of these. A Jaiminiya Brāhmana is also available but only in parts. However it also is considered important.


There is only one Āraṇyaka available called Talavakāra Āranyaka. It is a part of the Talavakāra Brāhmana.


The Chāndogya and the Kena or Talavakāra Upaniṣads are the major Upaniṣads of the Sāmaveda. Other Upaniṣads, considered as minor ones, are:

  1. Aruṇopaniṣad
  2. Jābāladarśanopaniṣad/Jābālyupaniṣad
  3. Mahopaniṣad
  4. Vāsudevopaniṣad


The Vedāṅgas dealing exclusively with the Sāmaveda can be listed as follows:

  1. Pāninlya Śikśā\Nāradīya Śikśā
  2. Gautama Sikśā
  3. Lomaśa Sikśā
  4. Puśpa-sutras
  5. Ṛktantra

Nidānasutra of Patañjali and Anupādasutra of Gārgya deal with the chandas or metres of the Sāmavedic mantras.


The Śrautasutras of Sāmaveda are:

  1. Drāhyāyana Śrautasutras
  2. Jaiminiya Śrautasutras
  3. Lātyāyana Śrautasutras

Gobhila Gṛhyasutras and Jaiminīya Gṛhyasutras belong to the gṛhyasutra group of the Sāmaveda. As regards the dharmasutras of the Sāmaveda, the Gautama Dharmasutras is the only ancient work that is extant now. Quite a few other ancient and medieval works dealing with the subjects of the Sāmaveda are also available.

The Philosophy of the Sāmaveda[edit]

Since the Sāmaveda contains only the mantras of the Ṛgveda set to music, it has no philosophy of its own, but that of the Rgveda itself. However, quite a few of the sāmas bespeak a high kind of bhakti or devotion. Some of these sentiments summarized are as follows:

  • God is brilliant light. May he light up our hearts.[33]
  • O God! Please accept the offerings of our good deeds.[34]
  • You are our dear friend, respected guest. You take us in the path of bliss and auspiciousness. I pray to you.[35]
  • O Lord! All speech, hymns of praise, hymns describing your greatness will ultimately merge in your holy feet.[36]
  • May the spiritual aspirant think of the Supreme Lord, the Being of Light, in his own heart, thereby gaining in faith and the strength to do good deeds.[37]
  • God as Agni destroys our sins and ignorance and enlightens us.[38]
  • O God as Agni! The yogi realizes your greatness through divine wisdom. 0 singers of the sāmas! Praise the all-powerful God, the destroyer of all sins!
  • We too will eulogize him, the omniscient Lord, the dear friend of all! O Effulgent God! The ever youthful, the brilliant, the compassionate one! Please shine in our hearts! O Supreme Lord! You have two forms, one of brilliant splendor and the other of great peace, fit for contemplation.
  • You are the gracious protector of the universe. We have infinite faith in that creator of the world, who is the dispeller of all sorrow, the best of leaders, the eternal, the all-pervading, the giver of light and the great protector as also the omniscient.
  • None can vanquish that devotee of God who has surrendered himself to him. O God! Give us all that we need for our welfare here and destroy all fear brought out by our wrong decisions. May the all-knowing God, the destroyer of all our troubles, the in-dweller in the hearts of all, the all-merciful one, lead us in the straight path.

Commentators of the Sāmaveda[edit]

The Vedas are difficult to comprehend not only because of their archaic language but also because of their close association with the system of yajña or sacrifice. Hence, the help of bhāṣyas or commentaries by those scholars, who also have an intimate knowledge of the Vedic traditions, is invaluable. The following are the commentators on the Sāmaveda whose works are available even now, though some of these are still in the form of manuscripts:

  1. Mādhava Paṇḍita - He lived in A. D. 630.
  2. Guṇaviṣṇu - He lived in 12th century A. D.
  3. Bharatasvāmin - He lived in A. D. 1300.
  4. Mahāsvāmin - He lived in 13th century A. D.
  5. Sāyaṇa - He lived in A. D. 1315-1387.
  6. Śobhākara Bhaṭṭa - He lived in circa A. D. 1400.
  7. Suryadaivajña - He lived in circa A. D. 1502.


Comparatively speaking, the Sāmaveda is a smaller work than the other Vedas, it has endeared itself to all by its sweet music, high literary value as an excellent poetry and noble sentiments of devotion. It is undoubtedly the origin of Indian classical music, though very difficult to master. It definitely needs more effective propagation and the sāmagas, singers of the sāmas, greater encouragement.


  1. Saptasvara means the seven basic notes of Indian music.
  2. Udgātṛ means the third of the four major priests.
  3. These three assistants are prastotṛ, pratihartṛ and subrahmaṇya.
  4. Ṛgveda 1.107.2
  5. Ṛgveda 2.43.2
  6. Ṛgveda 5.44.14
  7. Atharvaveda 2.7.24
  8. Atharvaveda 7.54.1
  9. Atharvaveda 10.7.20
  10. Bhagavadgītā 10.22
  11. It means Ṛgvedic mantra.
  12. Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 1.3.25
  13. Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 1.3.22
  14. Śākhās means branches or recensions.
  15. It is an appendix to the Atharvaveda.
  16. Arcikā means a group of ṛks.
  17. Daśatis means decads, though sometimes the number of ṛks is either more or less than ten.
  18. Brahmayajña means reciting and teaching the Vedas.
  19. Mahān means supreme or great.
  20. Stoma is a kind of repetitive prayer.
  21. Prakṛtis means basics.
  22. Vikṛtis means derivatives.
  23. It is also called as a ṛk.
  24. Svaras means musical notes.
  25. Grāmas means scales of music lower range, middle range and top range, respectively called mandrasthāyī, madhyamasthāyī and tārasthāyī.
  26. Murchanas means variation of the notes in an orderly manner.
  27. Tānas means protracted notes.
  28. Sāma means set to music.
  29. Sāmaveda 511
  30. They are the mantras of the Sāmaveda.
  31. Prakṛti means the first two sections of the purvārcikā.
  32. Padapāṭha means breaking the words of the sentences and the compound words.
  33. Sāmaveda, Āgneyakānda 1.1
  34. Sāmaveda, Āgneyakānda 1.2
  35. Sāmaveda, Āgneyakānda 1.5
  36. Sāmaveda, Āgneyakānda 1.2.13
  37. Sāmaveda, Āgneyakānda 1.2.19
  38. Sāmaveda, Āgneyakānda 1.4
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore