INTRODUCING THE VEDAS
By Bhagyalata Pataskar
The word Veda is the collective term and hence used in plural ‘vedāḥ. When it is in plural, it comprises of four Vedas viz. Ṛgveda, Yajurveda, Sāmaveda and Atharvaveda collectively.
Each Veda has its own branches and sub branches. E.g. Yajurveda has two branches i.e. ‘Śukla and Krishna ’. They have their own mode of recitation and when question of implementing the mantra’s in the yajña comes, they differ from each other.
*(The number of branches of these two Veda’s is 101 according to Patañjali).
However the devastating force of time has destroyed many Vedic branches. In the current period, we are left with very few surviving branches of Vedas. For many Vedic branches and sub branches, known only by name, neither text of the branch is available nor the oral tradition. Nobody has a continuing live tradition and practice to perform the ritual (yajña) according to these books and to the set norms of that particular branch. Only we can find the names referred in the old literature ; so, they must have been prevalent in remote past.
Each Veda has its own extent, which is technically known as ‘Saṁhitā, Brāhmaṇa, Āraṇyaka and Upaniṣad.’ Analogically we can say that as there are literary patterns such as novels, poems, short stories, there are Saṁhitā’s, Brāhmaṇa’s etc.
Saṁhitā is the collection of mantras. The mantras are the metrical composition. The Yajurveda mantras, though not metrically composed are still rhythmic. Brāhmaṇa (priestly manual) is a type of text, which gives the explanation as well as the information about the mantras.
Brāhmaṇa’s, Āraṇyaka’s and Upaniṣad’s, unlike the Saṁhitā texts, are prose texts. The Āraṇyakas have meditative tone, where as the Upaniṣads comprise with philosophical and ontological tenets. In fact all the branches mentioned above might be having the complete set of Saṁhitā, Brāhmaṇa, Āraṇyaka and Upaniṣads. However, today with two exceptions, other existing branches in the oral and ritual tradition or in the library collection are not available. e.g. the Saṁhitā of the Aitareya Śākhā is not available, but the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa, Āraṇyaka and Upaniṣad is available.
If at all the extent of the Veda’s is to be described in terms of ‘book’ then there are 40 books that come under the term Veda. These 40 books can be called resource Vedic texts. The disciplines are called Vedāṅga (auxiliary texts to Vedas), Upaveda, Darśana (about the philosophy of the Veda), Smṛti (guidelines to the individual as well as society), Puranas are also closely related to Vedas. The Vedas are believed to be an origin of all this literature.
Two Important terms in the context of the Vedas are 1) Apauruṣeya and 2) ṛsi .
The tradition sincerely and faithfully believes that the Vedas being divine experience further transformed into knowledge are neither produced nor created by anybody. So they are apauruṣeya. Ṛsi is the one who had this divine experience and had verbalized it in form of mantras.
Introducing the Vedas
1. The Ṛgveda
The Ṛgveda means the Veda of ṛks or ṛcā-s. ṛk or ṛcā is the smallest unit of metrical composition. Analogically I would like to remind you of Gītāñjali by Ravindranath Tagore which is metrically composed and there are many poems having different subjects. Likewise there are sūktas in the Ṛgveda. The sūkta has small stanzas which is called ṛcā. In the ritualistic context the ṛk or ṛcā are called mantras also. Thus the Veda of ṛk is Ṛgveda.
Arrangement of the Ṛgveda –
The Ṛgveda is divided into 10 chapters which are called maṇḍalas. Each maṇḍala has certain number of sūktas. The stanza of the sūkta is called ṛk or ṛcā.
Thus citation to any ṛk or ṛcā cited from Ṛgveda carries three reference numbers.
E.g. Tatsaviturvareṇyaṁ bhargo devasya dhīmahi| dhīyo yo naḥ pracodayāt|| is the Rik -mantra 3-62-10.
This mantra belongs to 3rd mandala -62nd Sukta and in that it is the 10th stanza / mantra / ṛk . Hence the reference of the Gāyatrī mantra is Ṛgveda 3.62.10 i.e 3rd maṇḍala, 62nd sūkta and 10th mantra.
The 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, maṇḍalas are called gotra mandals since the sūkta’s of the ṛṣi viz. Gṛtsamada, Viśvāmitra Vāmadeva, Atri, Bhāradvāja and Vasiṣṭha are compiled in them respectively.
8th maṇḍala compiles mantras of Kaṇva and Aṅgiras. The 9th is the collection of the mantras about Soma. The 1st and 10th maṇḍalas bear complex character.
The total number of the sūktas is 1028 and the total number of mantras there in is 10,528. Technically the subject matter of the sūkta or mantra is called as devata. However, conventionally the Deities such as Agni, Mitra, Varuṇa, Indra etc. are known as the devata.
1.1- Devatas of the Ṛgveda
It is very interesting to see the ‘devatā’ phenomena in Ṛgveda. Almost all the natural objects such as Earth, Sky, Sun, Wind, Water, Dawn, and Fire are addressed and described in the Ṛgveda. The sūktas are the friendly dialogue with the nature. I think with close association with nature, the seers established the friendly relationship with it, this further led to the dialogue between the seers and that object. The personification of objects at this stage is very attractive. Then gradually the seers started realizing their power and importance. Here is the deification of those objects. In the light of some examples we can observe the friendly relationship of seers with the natural objects.
E.g. Sa naḥ piteva sūnave agne sūpāyano bhava | sacasvā naḥ swastaye|| ṚV 1.1.9 Tr.– ( Oh Agni like a father bringing gift to his son whom he loves. Be you like him and for well being stay with us.)
The seer Bārhaspatya Bharadvāja addresses the usha i.e dawn and praises her Uttevayścidvasaterapaptannaraśca ye Pitubhājau vyuṣṭau |amāsate vahasi bhūri vāmamuṣo devi dāśuṣe martyāya || ṚV. 6.64.6.( Tr. – Dawn! When you come with the light the birds fly up from their nest and men hurry up for the food. You give abundance, wealth to one who offers oblations.)
In 6.64.4 the seer directly asks the Uṣā to bring wealth to him. Another group of deities is a being living in the higher astral plane, in a subtle form such as Indra, Varuṇa, Aśvinau:-
a) Indra is the most beloved deity of the Ṛgvedic seers. His features, strength and prowess are beautifully described. Indra is strong and stout with broad face and long arms, golden beard. He is bright and handsome. His chariot is golden and has the best studs. He loves to drink soma juice. The seers seem to have very friendly relationship with Indra.
In Indrasūkta V .8.14, the seer says to Indra that, ‘if I had been Gopati I would have certainly resolved to give wealth to my friend who appreciates me’. Śikṣeyaṁ asmai ditseyaṁ śacipate manīṣiṇe | yadahaṁ gopatiḥ syāma ||2||
b) Varuṇa is the guardian of moral law. He knows the path of birds that fly through the air, also knows the path of the boats that float in the sea. He knows twelve months with their brood. He knows the path of mighty and lofty wind. He rules over entire world. Varuṇa is the wise upholder of his law. From his place he carefully observes all deeds of men. He is surrounded by the spies. Those who violates his laws, he binds them with his snares. So the seer prays him to untie his uppermost middle and the lower bonds and to set him free. (ṚV.1.25).
c) The twins Aśvinau. Aśvinau is the dual of Aśvin and are known for their prodigious deeds. The entire hymn of Ṛv.V.1.116 is a saga of the miraculous deeds of Aśvinau. Due to these miraculous events this has become one of the important hymns that made the modern researchers to envisage about the scientific progress in ancient India. The seer Auśīnasa Dīrghatamasa praises Aśvinau, describing that they carried Bhujyu who was abandoned in the ocean, safely in the boat. Aśvinaus animated the boat which could float in the air and was propelled by a hundred oars. The Aśvinau upturned Gotama’s well in such a way that its bottom went up and its mouth became oblique. The waters in it then flowed forth like those of the rivers for watering thousand thirsty cattle of Gotam. When Viśpalā’s leg was broken, the Aśvinau immediately fixed on her an iron leg with which she could run.
1.2-Different types of the hymns
The scholars classify the hymns of the Ṛgveda such as secular hymns, dialogue hymns, philosophical hymns etc. This classification is definitely based on the subject matter of the sūkta.
a) Secular Hymns- Let us see the maṇḍūka and akṣa-sūkta which are said to be the secular hymns.
The maṇḍūka hymn (7.103) describes the behavior of the frogs at the first rainfall and also with the advent of the rain.
According to the traditional belief the sūkta is a rain charm. The undertone of the sūkta harmonized with the traditional belief. The light mood of the sūkta and the beautiful description of the frogs enhance the poetic value of this literary piece.
The V.10.34 graphically describes the miseries brought on to a habitual and unfortunate gambler by gambling.
This sūkta is regarded as one of the beautiful literary piece because of its clear undertone of repentance and uncontrolled yearning of the gambler towards the gambling.
b) Dialogue Hymns- The dialogue hymns also form very important portion of the Ṛgveda. In the hymns we find the dialogues between two. However, these two are to be known contextually or from the vocatives or from some key-words. The dialogue between Viśvāmitra and rivers (V.3.33), dialogue between Saramā and Paṇis (V.10.108), between Yama and his sister Yamī ( V 10.10), between Purūravas and Urvaśī (V.10.95) are some of the famous dialogues. They have dramatic value and therefore are described as the origin of the drama.
c) Philosophical Hymns –There are some hymns which contain the serious reflections about the Universe, its creation, society, human life and some such philosophical issues. There are some hymns that entirely contemplate on such topics. In addition to that a single cā or two also give such noble thoughts.
V .10.129 known as Nāsadīyasūkta is the most important creation hymn. It begins with the query about beginning.
Ṛgveda is not a scientific treatise dealing with various or one consistent theory of creation. Various seers have individually contemplated on the issue of origin of this universe. Some researcher’s feels that it is a sequence of the creation highlighting the integral and intimately related structure of the universe, or some expresses that it is a gradual process of unmanifest to manifest or from an abstract to gross. Thus the Ṛgvedic reflections on creation are contemplative.
The Language of the Ṛgveda –
The language of the Ṛgveda is bit different and also difficult as compared to classical Sanskrit. The horizontal and vertical lines on the alphabets’ stand for the accent which is very peculiar phonetic feature of the Vedic language.
Time of the Ṛgveda
The issue of the time of Ṛgveda is still unresolved despite of several scholars’ several opinions. There are two totally different and parallel tenets about the time of the Vedas in general.
A) According to the traditional belief the Veda means knowledge, they are revealed to the seers hence they are apauruṣeya and eternal. So the Vedas cannot be located on any point on the time line.
B) The historical tenet about the Vedas maintains that the Vedas are the literature. Hence there must have been somebody who has composed it and somebody might have compiled and edited it. So though difficult, still it is possible to locate the Ṛgveda somewhere on the timeline and accordingly in some place on the earth. Accordingly there are several opinions and each one is supported by evidence.
Following opinions about the time of the Ṛgveda are much more discussed.
1) Before 4000 B.C.
2) 3000 thousand B.C.
3) 2000 B.C.
4) 1500 B.C.
There are some other issues closely related with the issue of time of Ṛgveda. Such as, time of Rāmāyaṇa, and Mahābhārata, Indus Valley culture, and the theory of Indo-European linguistics.
Till something substantial comes out, let us accept time of Ṛgveda as 4000 B.C. This is a very brief sketch of the Ṛgveda, the age old heritage of the mankind.
2. The Yajurveda
The Yajus means mantras in the prose which is to be recited in the various rituals. The Yajurveda means a collection of such mantras and of some rules about the ritual.
The Yajurveda has two branches viz Śukla’ and ‘Kṛṣṇa’. Historically the Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda is older than the Śukla Yajurveda. Unlike the Ṛgveda Saṁhitā these two Saṁhitās are prose texts. The Ṛgveda Saṁhitā has a large spectrum of various subjects. But ‘Śukla and kṛṣṇa Yajurveda Saṁhitās ‘are centered on one subject matter only which is yajña.
The Śukla Yajurveda Saṁhitā has two recension viz. Vājasaneyī or Mādhyandina and Kānva in which major differences are not there. However the mode of recitation bears clear difference. The 4 recension of the Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda are available now. They are Taittirīya, Maitryāṇi, Kaṭha and Kapiṣṭhala Kaṭha.
Both these Saṁhitās deal with various details about different types of yajñas.
Let us see the arrangement and the contents of these two branches of the Yajurveda.
Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda – Between these two branches Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda is regarded as the older one. Out of two sub branches of Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda, here Taittirīya Saṁhitā is introduced since the tradition of the recitation of the text and that of ritual practice is more prevalent with this.
The Taittirīya Saṁhitā is divided among 7 Kāṇḍas. The Kāṇḍas are internally divided into prapāthakas which are further divided into anuvākas.
Unlike the Ṛgveda Saṁhitā the Taittirīya Saṁhitā bears assorted feature. It contains mantras to be recited in the yajña as well as the explanatory notes (which are technically called ‘Brāhmaṇa’) on it.
Darśapurṇamāsa, Agnyādhāna, Punarādhāna, Atirātra, Āptoryāma, Vājapeya, Rājasūya etc. are the different yajña-s described in details in the Taittirīya Saṁhitā.
As the book called Taittirīya Saṁhitā contains mantras along with the explanatory statements (i.e. Brāhmaṇa) the separate book called Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa also contains some mantras along with the explanatory statements. Because of this assorted characteristic it is regarded as ‘not pure’ i.e. neither purely mantras nor purely Brāhmaṇas. This ‘impurity’ of the text is reflected in its title Kṛṣṇa meaning black.
Many of the yajñās mentioned above are described in the Saṁhitā as well as in the Brāhmaṇa portion of the Taittirīya branch. The description contains the text of the mantras, the reference to the ritual in which they are to be recited and some accompanying actions.
Between two sub branches of the Śukla Yajurveda the Vājasaneyī being more prevalent now a days, is being introduced here. The Vājasaneyī SaJhitā runs into 40 adhyāyas, the last one of which is known as the Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad.
The mantras and ritual related to the yajñās such as Darśapurṇamāsa, Pindapitṛ, Agnihotra, Cāturmāsya, Vājapeya, Rājasūya Agnicayana and the Sautrāmani etc. are found in this Saṁhitā.
One may ask the question why same yajñas are described in two Saṁhitās? Is it the repetition? The answer lies in the fact that ‘ritualistic treatment’ given to these yajñas differ in the both Saṁhitās. Here we come to know the significance of the ‘branch’ or ‘śākhā’ of the Veda. Taittirīya Saṁhitā belongs to Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda and the Vājasaneyī belongs to the Śukla Yajurveda. Though the name and the outer structure of these yajñas are same still the sequence of the internal ritual, the mantras to be recited and the details of the ritual do differ. This difference lays in the fact that right from the beginning Śukla and Kṛṣṇa were two different and separate traditions.
Geographically the Śukla Yajurveda flourished in the north India and Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda flourished in the south India. Therefore they differ naturally. In other words disciples of these two Saṁhitās have just documented these differences in their own way.
The prose style of these two Saṁhitās is also different. The prose of Vājasaneyī Saṁhitā is more rhythmic and also lucid as compared to that of Taittirīya Saṁhitā. E.g. Dyau śāntiḥ antarikṣaṁ śāntiḥ pṛthivī śāntiḥ āpaḥ śāntiḥ oṣdhayaḥ śāntiḥ | vanaspatayaḥ śāntiḥ viśvedevaḥ śāntiḥ brahma śāntiḥ sarva śāntiḥ śāntiḥ eva śāntiḥ sā mā śāntiḥ edhi|| (36.17)
(Tr. – The sky is peace, the space is peace, the earth is peace, the water is peace, the trees are peace, the big trees are peace, all gods are peace, the brahman is peace everything is peace. Peace itself is peace. Let that peace enter me.)
A meaningful prayer is yet another feature of the Vājasaneyī Saṁhitā. The following mantra was regarded as the Vaidika national anthem and did ignite many minds during freedom fight.
Ā Brahman brāhmaṇo brahmavarcasī jāyatāṁ ā rāṣṭre rājanyaḥ śūra iṣavyaḥ ativyādhī mahāratho jāyatāṁ dogdhrī dhenuḥ voḍhānaḍvānāśūḥ saptiḥ purandhiryoṣā jiṣṇū ratheṣṭhāḥ sabheyo yuvāsya yajamānsya vīro jāyatāṁ nikāme nikāme naḥ parjanyo varṣtu phalavatyo na oṣadhayḥ pacyantāṁ yogakṣemo naḥ kalpatāṁ||22.22
(Tr.- O Brahman! let the Brāhmaṇa be shine with his spiritual radiance in this nation, the Kshatriya be brave archer and great warrior. In this nation let the cow be milky, the bull be strong, the horse be speedy, woman be alert, a warrior be winner, a youth be very good speaker, let a son of this yajamāna be brave. Let there be rain when needed. Let the trees bear fruit. Let our living be happy and prosperous).
The strong undertone of patriotism is found in the Vājasaneyī as well as in the Taittirīya Saṁhitā, especially in the context of Rājasūya.
The Yajurveda is important from historical point of view. Several trades, crafts, businesses, arts were mentioned in connection with the yajña, which shed light on the social and economical life then. The Yajurveda is important from the view point of history of religion also. Prajāpati, Visnu and Rudra come on the frontier rather than other deities that enjoyed supreme position in the time of Ṛgveda. Later on, these deities form the triad of Brahmā, Visnu and Śiva of the Hindu religion. It is the yajña that kept the entire society engaged, active, enthusiastic and optimistic. It is reflected in the Yajurveda strongly.
Though ritualistic details of the Yajurveda one may feel are boring and uninteresting, the Yajurveda maintains the important position from view point of history of language style, theology and religion.
3. The Sāmaveda
The Sāman/Sāma means a melody or the song. Just for our understanding one can say that as there is lyric there are cā-s of the Ṛgveda and as there is a song composed by the musician, there are Sāmans. As one lyric can be sung or composed differently by different singers, one group of cā-s may have different gānas.
At present 3 branches of Sāmaveda exist namely Kauthuma, Rāṇāyanīya and Jaiminīya. Out of these three, the Raṇayanīya is prevalent in Maharashtra. (Kauthuma in Gujrath and Jaiminīya in Tamil Nadu).
Here we will concentrate on Rāṇāyanīya branch of the Sāmaveda.
The book of the Sāmaveda of the Rāṇāyanīya branch is divided into two parts. Part one is Pūrvārcika and part two is called Uttarārcika.
In the Pūrvārcika, there are 4 subchapters (Kāṇḍa) viz, Āgneya Kāṇḍa Aindra Kāṇḍa, Pāvamāna Kāṇḍa and Āraṇyaka Kāṇḍa. These four chapters are followed by 10 separate mantras which are called Mahānāmnī. Each Kāṇḍa including Mahānāmnī contains certain number of ṛcā-s. The number of the ṛcā-s altogether is 650. Most of this ṛcā-s are borrowed from the Ṛgveda. E.g. The Ṛgveda ṛcā 6.16.10 Agna ā yāhi vītaye gṛṇāno havyadātayā| Ni hotā satsi barhiṣi|| the first ṛcā of the Sāmaveda. When it is adopted in the Sāmaveda only the accent marks are changed. The ṛcā-s taken in Sāmaveda are called yonī, since they provide the base for the gānas.
The Uttarārcika is also a collection of ṛcā-s, but holds bit difference from the first one. In the Uttarārcika there are triads of the ca-s. Normally the first of the triad is from the Pūrvārcika. However the sequence of the ca-s in Pūrvārcika is not maintained in the Uttarārcika. E.g.
2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 2 3 1 2
A gna ā yāhi vī ta ye gṛ ṇā no ha vya dātayā|
1 2 3 1 2
Ni hotā satsi ba rhi ṣi ||1||
The triad beginning with this ṛca is found in the Uttarārcika which is as follows –
2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 2 3 1 2
A gna ā yāhi vī ta ye gṛ ṇā no ha vya dātayā|
1 2 3 1 2
Ni hotā satsi ba rhi ṣi ||1||
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2
Ta tvā sa mi dbhiraṅgiro ghṛ te na vardhayāmasi |
3 1 2
Bṛ ha cchocā yaviṣṭhya ||2||
1 2 3 2 3 2 3 1 2
Sa naḥ pṛ thu a vā yya ma cchā deva vivāsasi |
3 1 2 3 1 2
Bṛ ha dagne sū vī ryaṁ ||3||
This is the triad number 4 in the Uttarārcika. The number of triads in Uttarārcika is 287. A point to be noted is that some groups contain 2 ṛcā-s also.
The first one of all 287 triads is not found as the independent ṛcā in the purvārcika. The arrangement of the triads in the Uttarārcika is governed by the devatā of the triad.
Thus the Sāmaveda means a collection of the cā-s prepared with the purpose of singing them in the Somayāga.
The accents in the Ṛgveda are shown with vertical and horizontal lines. Whereas in the Sāmaved though the same ṛcā-s is borrowed, still the accents are shown with numbers (1 for udātta, 2 for svarita and 3 for anudātta).
Thus the book of Sāmaveda in fact is the collection of the ṛcā-s which are meant for singing and not of the actual songs with musical notations. The seers such as Gauama, Kaśyapa etc have composed the songs i.e. Sāmans (gānas) with these -s. These gānas or the songs with their notations are collected under the title grāmageya, araṇyageya, ūhagāna and uhyagāna. In the Somayajña these gānas which are traditionally called as Sāmans were sung. This Sāmans were named after the seers who have set the cā-s on tunes. These Sāmans have their names such as Parka, Bārhiṣa, Rathantara, Gāyatra, Brhat etc. When one particular type of song is composed or set on tunes by two different seers, then that song is counted twice after the name of each of them E.g. We have just seen that the Ṛgveda ṛcā V.6.16.10 is taken as it is in the Sāmaveda as the first mantra of the Sāmaveda. In the context of Sāmaveda it is called yonimantra (a source mantra for the song). Gautama and Kaśyapa have set the songs on this cā which are as follows –
4 2 1 2 _ 1 _ 1 2 1 _ 1 1
Ognāi | āyāhī ∫3| voitoyā∫2 i| toyā∫2 i| gṛṇānā ha | vyadātoyā∫2 i|toyā∫2 i| nāi
2 1 ^ 3 5 3
hotāsā∫ 23 | tsā∫2 i|bā∫234| ohovā| hī ∫234 ṣī ||
The same mantra is sung differently by Kaśyapa who calls it Bārhi,a Sāma. The notation of this Bārhi, a Sāma of Kaśyapa is as follows –
4 5 4 5 4 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 ^
Agna āyāhi vī | tayā i|gṛṇāno havyadātā∫23 yāi | ni hotā satsi barhā ∫23 iṣī | barhā∫2
3 5 2 ^ 1111
iṣā∫234 au ho vā | barhī∫3 ṣī 2345 ||
These notations will give the idea where the difference lies between two songs despite of the fact that they are based on one and the same ṛcā.
The following changes take place when certain ṛcā is transformed into song or at the time of setting the ṛcā on tunes.
1. The original form of a word is changed. E.g. agne the first word of the ṛcā is uttered as ognāī in the Sāma of Gotama Parka.
2. Sometimes the letters in the word are split and new elements are added to them. E.g. The same Gotama Parka Sāma utters vītaye as voyi toyā2yi.
3. A letter is stretched. E.g. ye of havyadātaye is uttered as yā∫2 i.
4. Certain element is repeated.
5. A pause is taken inside a word. E.g. havyadātaye in the source mantra is uttered as ha | vyadāto… etc.
6. Some sounds which are not in original ṛcā are inserted to facilitate the tunes E.g. auhovā.
These changes are called six sāmavikāras i.e. six phonetic changes in the cā to facilitate its singing. The strength of the Sāmans lies in their singing at the time of the ritual. The group of 4 priests who sings the Sāmans is called udgātr gana. Actual singing is divided into five parts.
The first part (called prastāva technically) is the beginning which is sung by the priest designated as prastotr with uttering `lz loudly at the beginning. The second part (udgītha) is sung by priest designated as udgātā uttering g loudly at the beginning. The third part (pratihāra) is sung by the priest designated as pratehartr . He utters g as the concluding sound of his part. The fourth part (upadrava) is again sung by the udgāta priest.
The fifth and the last part is sung by 3 priests together. Most of the Sāmans are sung with 5 musical notes. Very few are sung with 6 and even fewer are sung with 7 musical notes.
It is believed that listening to certain Sāmans creates particular effect on the mind. E.g. Vāmadevya Sāman has the power to pacify the mind.
Mere ṛcās are recited but the Sāmans are sung with different musical notes. Hence the Sāmaveda is aptly called the fountain of Indian music.
4. The Atharvaveda
The Atharvaveda is also named as Atharvāṅgirasa Veda after the seer of this Veda Atharvan, belonging to Angīras family. Presently available two sub branches of Atharvaveda are Śaunaka and Paippalāda, with not very striking differences.
Focusing on Śaunaka Saṁhitā we will see the internal and external features of the Atharvaveda. The Atharvaveda is divided into 20 kāṇḍas. Each kāṇḍa contains some sūktas. The number of the sūktas varies. Each sūkta has mantras just like a poem has stanzas. 1/5th portion of the Atharvaveda is borrowed from the Ṛgveda. The special linguistic feature of Atharvaveda is that the fifteenth and sixteenth kāṇḍas are prose, which is the first prose composition having natural rhythmic small sentences.
The Atharvaveda being the origin of Āyurveda is important from the point of view of medicinal history also. Several references to fever, leprosy, and tuberculosis are found along with their detail descriptions in this Veda. The arteries and veins are referred to with different names, which imply the sound knowledge of their functioning. According to the Atharvaveda various disorders are caused by the germs, microbes that are living inside the body and also somewhere in the nature. E.g. see the following sūkta from Atharvaveda (2.2.31).
Anvāntryaṁ śīrṣṇya1matho parṣṭiyaṁ krimīn |
Avaskavaṁ vyadhvaraṁ krimīn vacasā jaṁbhayāmasi ||4||
Ye krimayaḥ parvateṣu vaneṣu auṣadheṣu paśusvapsan1ntaḥ |
Ye asmākaṁ tanva∫māviviśuḥ sarvaṁ taddhanmi janima krimīṇāṁ ||5||
(Tr. 4. The worm along with entrails, the worm in the head, likewise the worm in the ribs, the avaskava, the vyadhvara – the worms we grind up with our spell.
5. The worms that are in the mountains, in the woods, in the herbs, in the cattle, within the waters, that have entered our selves – that whole generation of worms I smite).
According to the Atharvavedic belief mantra, ritual and talisman are the curing measures. E.g. the following mantra is recited while curing the broken foot.
Saṁ te majjā majñā bhavatu samu te paruṣā paru |
Sa te mānsasya visrastaṁ samasthyapi rohatu ||
majjā majñā sandhīyataṁ carmaṇā carma rohatu |
Asṛk te asthi rohatu mānsam mānsena rohatu ||
Loma lomnā saṁ kalpayā tvacā saṁ kalpayā tvacaṁ |
Asṛk te asthi rohatu cchinnaṁ saṁ dhehyoṣadhe || 4.12.3-5||
(Tr. 3. Let thy marrow come together with marrow and thy joint together with joint. Let what at thy flesh fallen apart, together let thy bone grow over
4. Let marrow be put together with marrow. Let skin grow with skin. Let thy blood,bone grow; let flesh grow with flesh.
5. Fit thou together hair with hair; fit together skin with skin. Let thy blood, bone grow; put together what is severed, O herb!)
There are several sūktas that are traditionally recited at the time of birth day, of domestic rituals and on auspicious occasions in the family. E.g.
Paśyema śaradaḥ śataṁ| jīvema śaradaḥ śataṁ| budhyema śaradaḥ śataṁ| rohema śaradaḥ śataṁ | pūṣema śaradaḥ śataṁ| bhūyasīḥ śaradaḥ śataṁ| ( 19.67)
(Tr.- May we see a hundred autumns. May we live a hundred autumns. May we wake a hundred autumns. May we ascend a hundred autumns. May we prosper a hundred autumns. May we be a hundred autumns. May we adorn a hundred autumns. More autumns than a hundred).).
The references and the information about the diseases, their causes, the treatment to those diseases, health, and the concept of physiology are much more advanced in the Atharva veda. ‘Rājadharma’ or kingly duties is an important subject matter the Adharvaveda deals with. The mantra 3.4.2 (Tvā viśo vṛṇatāṁ rājyā∫ya) says, “Let the people choose you for the kingdom”. This implies selection of the king by the people. The Atharvaveda discusses the duties of the king, the administration in detail. Sabhā and Samitī were two bodies helping the king in his administration, legal matters and making and implementing the policies. The Atharvaveda 7.13 mentions the prayer by a king as ‘Sabhā ca mā samitiścāvatāṁ…’ etc.(Tr. – Let both Sabhā and Samitī favour me).
If at all there is any concept of political philosophy, the Atharvaveda can be esteemed for its pioneering work in the field.
The family depicted in the Atharvaveda is the stable and happy family. (3.30.2, 3).
There are few philosophical thoughts scattered over the 40 kā a-s of the Atharvaveda. The contemplation about Brahman, Yajña, mrutyu, is there .Life was not developed to the extent that they would come up with consistent philosophy. However the philosophical streams in the Atharvaveda do seem stronger and prominent in the later Upaniṣads.
The dominant feature of the Atharvaveda is the frequent references to the black magic. In fact the Atharvaveda is known for that. The Atharvavedic seers strongly believe that various diseases are caused because of the different types of evil spirits. Several rituals and prayers were performed to ward off these evils. The Atharvaveda also reveals the popular beliefs about spirits, imps, ghosts etc.
The Atharvaveda is sociologically significant since it sheds light on the faiths and practices of the society. It bears sound knowledge of medication and treatments. Philosophically it is important because it contains several concepts in rudimentary form. It also depicts the initial stage in the history of the religion.
Other Vedic literature:
5. The Brāhmaṇas(Ritual section)
The term ‘Brāhmaṇa’ connotes a type of a text in the bulk of the Vedic literature. It has always the context of the Saṁhitā type of text. In fact traditional definition of the Veda is ‘Mantrabrāhmaṇayorvedanāmadheyaṁ’ (Tr. – The term Veda stands for mantra and Brāhmaṇa together). Mantra here signifies the Sahhitā text. Thus the Brāhmna type of text forms very important part of the Vedic literature.
Brahman/Brahma in Ṛgveda means mantra. So something about the mantra is Brāhmaṇa; it is a literal meaning of the word which further means an explanation of a mantra. In brief the Brāhmaṇa text is the explanatory text. In simple word Brāhmaṇa is a commentary on the mantra text or on the Saṁhitā.
The corollary of the statement becomes that when there are many Saṁhitās there are many Brāhmaas. The following chart will give the idea of the interrelation of Saṁhitās and Brāhmaṇas.
Ṛgveda:- Aitareya and Kauśītakī (also called śāṅkhāyana)
Śukla Yajurveda:- Śatapatha
Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda:- Taittirīya
Sāmaveda:- Pañcavimsa (also called Tandya) sadvimsa,
vamsa, Jaiminiya Samavidhana, Arsheya,
Daivata, Chandogya, Samhitopanisad.
Atharvaveda:- Gopatha Brāhmaṇa.
The contribution of Brāhmaṇas towards the science of interpretation lies in their peculiar type of interpretation of the mantras. The Brāhmaṇas interpreted the mantras from view point of karman or yajña ritual E.g. There are the mantras in the Ṛgveda Saṁhitā ‘Agnirmukhaṁ prathamo devatānāṁ’ Aitareya Brahman 1.4.8 and ‘Agniśca viṣṇo tapa uttamaṁ mahaḥ’ (ibid) The Aitareya Brāhmn-a comments that these mantras should be recited by the priest (called hotr ) while offering the oblation in the small ritual of the Dīksianayishti).
Thus the Brāhmaṇas interpreted the mantras just by associating some ritual (here it is ‘reciting while offering the oblation) to the mantra. The passage from Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa 18.104.22.168 prescribes how and where the utensils required for the yajña are to be placed. Such prescriptions of the Brāhmaṇa texts are called ‘vidhi’ or ‘vidhi vākyas’. The Brāhmaṇa texts further justify these prescriptions by giving some myths, by giving the etymology of certain word, by praising that particular ritual or revealing the purpose behind it. Thus, everything related to what, when, who, where and how about the yajña forms the central theme of the Brāhmaṇas.
The topics covered by all the Brāhmaṇa texts are as follows –
Different types of yajñas E.g. the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa describes the yajñas called Agniṣṭoma, Agnihotra and Rājasūya. The Kauśītakī Brāhmaṇa describes Agnyādhāna, Agnihotra, and some small and simple yajñas called istis. The special reference needs to be made to the vrātya stoma yajña which bears purificatory characteristics. This is described in the Pañcavimśa or Tāndya Brāhmaṇa. The Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa describes the Puruṣamedha yajña where almost every person of the society is needed as the yajñiya object. They are brought together and then left away uttering the name of the deity for whom they are meant. The Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa deals with various types of rituals such as Agnicayana (piling the bricks in the particular shape for the fire alter), upanayana (initiation ceremony), Svādhyāya, after death ritual, Aśvametdha, Sarvamedha, Pravargya ritual of Somayajña.
The Brāhmaṇa of particular Veda prescribes the rituals to the priest belonging to that particular Veda. E.g. the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa of the Ṛgveda mainly prescribes mantras which are to be recited by the hotr priest at different occasions in the yajña. The Śatapatha and Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa prescribe several duties to be performed by the adhvaryu. The Brāhmaṇas of Sāmaveda mention several Sāmans to be sung by the udgātā priest at particular occasion in the Soma-yajña.
The importance of the Brāhmaṇa texts lies in several geographical references we find there in. Such as mention of the Kuru, Pāñcala regions and of Āryāvarta. The Brāhmaṇa texts give lots of myths, which apart from being interesting are a source of historical and social information. E.g. the story of Śunaśśepa (Aitareya Brāhmaṇa 7.13.18) sheds light on the social importance of the male child in the family, the story of Vāk in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (3.2.4) hits the point why women are attracted towards singing and pleasing words.
The creation myths of the Brāhmaṇas are centered on Prajāpati. The importance of these myths is that Prajāpati desired to create and he created everything with tapas. Almost all the myths give some sequence in the creation. E.g. First fire, wind and sun then cow. Another myth (Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa 11.1.6) gives sequence as follows. First water, then an egg, followed one by one by Prajāpati, earth, space, sky, five seasons, gods, demons, with gods and demons days and nights were created.
The Brāhmaṇas are important from view point of general cultural history of India which is centered on the yajña. Several wooden instruments used for the yajña, several types of oblations, the list of the people in the Purushamedha yajña reveal the activities, business and arts prevalent then. The etymologies provided by the Brāhmaṇas contain the rudimentary form of grammar. The insistence for particular time when the yajña is to be performed further prompted the development of astrological study in India. From view point of history of language the Brāhmaṇas are important since they have preserved later stages of the prose style (prior stages are found in Atharvaveda, Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda and in the Śukla Yajurveda).
Thus the Brāhmaṇa texts mark the important stage in the history of Indian culture in general and in the Sanskrit literature in particular.
6. The Āraṇyakas
A further development of the Brāhmaṇa is represented by the Āraṇyakas. The Āraṇyakas are the concluding portions of or appendix to the Brāhmaṇas. Thus Aitareya Āraṇyaka is attached to the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa. The Kausītakī or Śānkhāyana Āraṇyaka belongs to the Kaushītakī / Śānkhāyana Brāhmaṇa. The last book of the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa forms the Brhad-Āranyaka. The Taittirīya Āraṇyaka of the Taittirīya Śākhā and the Katha Āraṇyaka of the Katha Śākhā are the Āraṇyakas available today.
The Āraṇyakas contain a natural transition to the Upaniṣads. Therefore it is held that the Āraṇyakas constitute a connecting link between the Brāhmaṇas and the Upaniṣads. The Āraṇyakas have idiom and the ideology from the Brāhmaṇans but at the same time they share the theme and the subject matter with the Upaniṣads.
The Āraṇyakas follow the path laid down by the Brāhmaṇas as regards the ritualistic descriptions. They have two main features of the Brāhmaṇas, namely vidhi and arthavāda i.e. prescribing some ritual and justifying it by praising it. E.g. the Taittirīya Āraṇyaka II.8 prescribes the Kūsmānda ritual. The Kaṭha Āraṇyaka and Taittirīya Āraṇyaka IV.V prescribe
the pravargya ritual. The Aitareya Āraṇyaka (I.4) and the Śānkhāyana Āraṇyaka (I.2) deal with the Mahāvidhi. The subject matter of the Taittirīya Āraṇyaka (I) is Ārunaketuka cayana and (Cāturhotraciti and Brahmayajña (ibid II)). However meditation than the actual performance is the spirit of their teaching.
These texts are called Āraṇyakas since they used to be studied in the forest. Instead of giving the contents of the each Āraṇyaka I would like to submit my general observations about the contents, which further lead to the history of Indian philosophy which reflects in the Āraṇyakas.
I find one more important aspect of the Āraṇyakas, which I call that they focus on the intrinsic values of the ritual. This is the contribution of the Āraṇyakas to the history of Indian Philosophy. Here I would like to present a few points.
(a) The yajña we find in the Brāhmaṇa is in gross form, depending on the external material. It is Āraṇyakas that visualized macro and micro aspect of the yajña. It should be specially noted that the Atharvaveda which is on the periphery of the Śrauta yajña has no Āraṇyaka although the Atharvaveda Saṁhitā has philosophical hymns and number of the Upaniṣads belonging to Atharvaveda are considerably higher. To me it seems that when there is minimum ritual there is no scope for the inwardization of the ritual.
(b) The idea of philosophizing of the yajña is the novel one that gave new dimension to the concept of the yajña i.e. a complex of intimately interrelated things functioning smoothly and yielding good results. To perceive the yajña differently, is the contribution of the Āraṇyakas, on which we find the philosophy of Karmayoga.
(c) The Āraṇyaka with the strength of the meditative power de-contexttualized the yajña from the fire alter, fire, oblation, chandas of mantra and extended scope of yajña upto adhyayana, dāna etc. (cf. brahmayajña, bhūtayajña, manu yayajña, pitr yajña and devayajña). The very concept that any act serving a noble cause can be yajñaized is the contribution of the Āraṇyakas, which influenced the culture and philosophy of India.
(d) It is the Āraṇyakas that has proved that it was not running away from the ritual or being fed up of the ritual or as a replacement of a ritual,but the philosophy of the Upaniṣad developed rather it is the deep heartfelt sincere association that resulted into the contemplation that naturally turned into the development of philosophy.
(e) The Āraṇyakas have provided the models for meditation where there are a lots of equations and several interlinking patterns. e.g. Katha-Āraṇyaka establishes the functional relation among a dik, a deity, a meter and a season. The inevitable conclusion of this thought process is the realization that there thrives one and only one principle in all the things which was verbalized by the Upaniṣadic seers as ‘sarvam khalu idam brahma’.
(f) Thus envisaging the yajña internally has indirectly led to the philosophy of advaita.
Thus these free deliberations held in the forest on multifarious matters, speak about their unique and independent status in the realm of Vedic literature.
7. The Upaniṣads
The Upaniṣads stand last in the sequence of the Vedic literature. Therefore they are called Veānta. i.e. the end portion of the Veda. The term ‘anta’ also means essence. So the Upaniṣads being Vedānta also contain the essence of the Vedas.
The term ‘Upaniṣad’ itself is very meaningful. It means sitting near (the teacher). Upa has two meaning ‘near’ or ‘lower’ as compared to ‘upper.’ Hence the term connotes sitting near and at the low level. It goes without saying that this sitting is with the Guru i.e. with the preceptor and it is with the purpose of listening the secret knowledge by the Guru about the brahman, the absolute principle. Thus the Upaniṣad means the secret knowledge about the absolute principle revealed by guru and also the book containing this knowledge.
A point will be clear from the above discussion that each Veda has Upaniṣad as the last part of its strata. The following chart will make clear the mutual relationship of the Veda and Upaniṣads.
Rig- Veda Aitareya
Śukla Yajurveda Īśa, Brhadāranyaka
Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda Taittirīya, Katha
Sāmaveda Kena, Chandogya
Atharvaveda Praśna, Mundaka, Māndukya
These ten Upaniṣads are the oldest ones which are traditionally enlisted in a verse. (Iśa kena kaṭha praśna muṇḍak māṇḍukya tittiriḥ| chāndogya aitareyaṁ ca bṛhadāraṇyakaṁ tathā||) However Nrsimhatāpinī, Śvetāśvatara, Kaushītakī and Maitrī are also the old Upaniṣads which along with the ten conventionally form the oldest strata of the Upaniṣads. Rest is regarded as the later ones. In later period we find the tendency that any philosophical treatise is called Upaniṣad to maintain its sanctity and authenticity. Thus the number of the works with the title Upaniṣad goes up to 200+.
Instead of seeing the contents of some Upaniṣads let us see the main topics dealt with by these Upaniṣad which would give us the idea of Upaniṣadic philosophy.
The important query prompted these Upaniṣads is ‘Kasminnu khalu bhagavo vijñāte sarvamidaṁ vijñātaṁ bhavati’ (Muṇḍaka Up. 1.1.3). What is that principle? When it is known? If everything is known? Then started the journey in the quest of knowledge. The seers are pretty sure that this principle is ‘one’ and ‘only one’. Once the ‘oneness’ is accepted then the corollary of the statement becomes that it is all pervading and is a source, sustaining force and merging point of all.
Thus the Taittirīya Upaniṣad defines this principle as follows-
Yato vā imāni bhūtāni jāyante yena jātāni jīvānti yatprayānti abhisaṁviśanti| tadvijijñāsasva tad brahmeti | ( Taittirīya Up. 3.1) (Tr. That is Brahman, where from all these beings are born; because of which the existent ones sustain and to which they approach and merge in. Try to know it).
The word bhūmā is also used for this principle. However the established and the popular word is Brahman.
This Brahman is described as: Satyaṁ jñānaṁ anantaṁ brahma|( Taittirīya Up. 2.1) (Tr. – The Brahman is truth, it is knowledge and it is eternal). Satya here means which never changes. The gold remains gold with all its qualities; despite of the different shapes it takes as per the ornaments. The gold here is called satya. Similarly the Brahman remains unchanged.
Such entity Brahman is naturally beyond the range of perception as well as of the words. One can describe the things that are perceived by the sense organs. The Brahma being unperceivable is of course inexplicable. Therefore we find both positive and negative terms describing Brahma. E.g.
Tadejati Tannaijata tadu sarvasyāsya bāhyataḥ ||
Iśāvāsya 5.(Tr. – It moves, it doesn’t move. It is far, it is also near. It is inside everything and it is outside everything).
‘Etadvai tadakṣaraṁ gārgi brāhmaṇā abhivadanti asthūlamanaṇu- ahrasvaṁ-adīrgaṁ- alohitaṁ- asnehaṁ- acchāyaṁ- atamaḥ- avāyu- anākāśaṁ- asaṅgaṁ- arasaṁ- agandhaṁ- acakṣuṣkaṁ- aśṛotraṁ- avāk- amanaḥ- atejaskaṁ- aprāṇaṁ- amukhaṁ- agātraṁ- anantaraṁ- abāhyaṁ|na tadaśnāti kiñcan| na tadaśnāti kaścan|’( Bṛhadāraṇyaka Up. 3.8.8). (Tr.- O Gārgi, this is the imperishable one. The knower’s of Brahman describe it as not big, not small, not short, not long, not colorful, not oily, not having shadow, not darkness, not wind, not sky, not sticky, not essence, not fragrance, not having eyes, not having ears, not having speech, not having mind, not having brightness, not having breath, not having face, not having any family. It is not inside and is not outside. It doesn’t consume anything, nobody consumes it).
Māndūkya Upaniṣad (7) says, Nāntaḥprajñaṁ na bahiṣprajñaṁ nobhayataḥprajñaṁ na prajñānaghaṁ na prajñaṁ nāprajñaṁ|(Tr.- It is neither consciousness inside, nor the consciousness outside, nor the consciousness both sides. It is not consciousness mere, it is not consciousness only and it is not non-consciousness also).
The Mundaka Upaniṣad (1.1.6) describes it in the following terms- Anirdeśyaṁ (could not be pointed out), Agrāhyaṁ (could not be understood), Agotraṁ (it does not belong to any family or group), Avarṇaṁ (does not belong to any social class), Acakṣuśrotraṁ (doesn’t have eyes, ears), Apāṇipādaṁ (doesn’t have hands and feet), Nityaṁ (eternal), Sarvagataṁ (all pervading), Vibhuṁ (omnipotent), Susūkṣmaṁ (very subtle), Avyayaṁ (imperishable), Bhūtayoniṁ (birth place of all beings).
The term ātmā / ātman are used with the same meaning in some passages. E.g. Tameva viditvā∫timṛtyumeti nānyaḥ panthā vidyate∫yanāya | (śvetāśvatar Up. 2.8) (Tr.- One goes beyond this world, only knowing the ātman. There is no other way for liberation than this).
The BrhadĀraṇyaka Upaniṣad 4.4.5 says,
‘Sa vā ayamātmā barhma vijñānamayo manomayaḥ prāṇamayaścakṣurmayaḥ śrotramayaḥ pṛthivīmayaḥ āpomayo vāyumaya ākāśamayastejomayo∫tejomayaḥ kāmamayo∫kamamayaḥ krodhamayo∫krodhamayo dharmamayo∫dharmamayaḥ sarvamayaḥ| tad yad etad idaṁmayo∫domayaḥ | iti|‘ (Tr.- This ātmā is brahma. Ātmā is consciousness, is mind, is breath, is eyes, is ears, is earth, is water, is wind, is sky, is brightness and is not brightness. Atmā is desire and is not desire, is anger and is not anger, is dharma (sustaining force) and is not dharma.)
However, most of the times the term ātmā stands for the individual soul, the very essence of one’s existence. Thus says Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad,
Yasabhūteṣu cātmānaṁ tato na vijugupsate ||6||
(Tr.- One who sees all the beings in himself and sees himself in all beings, never feels disgust or contempt for anybody).
This type of mantra and quotations like this from other Upaniṣads also hit the integrity among all the things / objects in this world. This concept that all the things in this world are interrelated forming the entire world as a beautiful and well arranged design, is the important contribution of the Vedic literature particular to the Indian philosophy.
What is the relationship between this ultimate principle and the world in which we live? The story of Bhṛgu and his father Varuṇa reveals the answer of this question.
With arduous penance Bhṛgu realizes that it is the Brahman wherefrom this world manifested the beings and because of it they sustain and at last they approach to it and merge into it. (Taittirīya Upaniṣad 3.1) Thus the relationship between the Brahman and the ‘being’ is that which is between the source and the things come out of it. In other words universe is the manifestation of the Brahman. The Universe is not ‘created’ or ‘produced’ by anybody, but it is the manifestation which lasts for certain time and gets merged into its source. The story of Śvetaketu and his father in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad (6th adhyāya) also stresses the same point. The father asks the son to bring a fruit of a Pipal tree. Then he asks him to cut it, further he asks him to break the seed of the fruit and asks what he sees inside. The son answers ‘nothing’. Then the father explains that if there is nothing then how the tree comes out of it! This implies that the tree is there in the seed but in invisible form. When time comes the tree gets manifested from the seed. Finally it is the seed in which the tree remains. This manifestation theory is one of the important theories of Upaniṣads. This implies that each and every being around us is the divine manifestation.
What should be the ultimate aim of human life? To this the answer of the Upaniṣads is, ‘Atmā vā aredrṣṭvyaḥ śrotavyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavyo maitreyi|atmano vā are darśanena śravaṇena matyā vijñānenedaṁ sarvaṁ viditaṁ’ (Bṛhadāraṇyaka Up. 2.4.5.) (Tr.- O Maitreyī, Ātmā should be known, should be heard about from the preceptor, should be pondered over and should be meditated upon again and again. Once Ātmā is known through thinking, hearing, pondering over and meditating upon, everything is known).
The Katha Upaniṣad also holds the same view. To know the ‘self’ is to know one’s origin, to realized one’s origin is the aim of human life. Realization here means to be one with it. According to the Upaniṣads realization is the stage where the ‘knower-known’ relation doesn’t exist.
The Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad is the smallest and most thought provoking one among all the Upaniṣads. It directly shows the path towards this ultimate goal of life. The Upaniṣads starts with the following mantra
Īśāvāsyamidaṁ sarvaṁ yatkiñca jagatyāṁ jagat|
Tena tyaktena bhuñjithāḥ mā gṛdha kasyasvid dhanaṁ||1||
(Tr.- Whatever is in this world is pervaded by īśa i.e. the ultimate power. Therefore, you consume but after giving to others. Do not greed of anybody’s wealth).
The first line provides us the viewpoint of looking towards the world. This can be described as a ‘divine world view’ and can be called Upaniṣadic contribution towards understanding the world and interacting with it. The second line is the guideline for us to live life significantly and peacefully.
This Upaniṣad also stresses the ‘karma ‘i.e work. The idea is that we have no other option than to do the karma in our life. Considering karma’s nature and power of binding, the Upaniṣadic guideline ‘Tena tyaktena bhuñjithāḥ:’ is very important.
Apart from that, the theory of rebirth is also found in rudimentary form.
Generally the language of Upaniṣad is simple. There are repetitive passages, very apt analogies, myths, dialogues etc.
As such the Upaniṣads deal less with Gods and rituals to propitiate them, but they deal more with the speculations, arguments and postulations about what is the ultimate absolute reality, at the root of universe as also about individual soul. Therefore the Upaniṣads mark the revolutionary era in the history of philosophy.
Other aspects of Vedic Era:-
8. Society in the Vedic Period
From historical view point if the literature is arranged chronologically, Ṛgveda Saṁhitā will stand at the beginning and Upaniṣad literature at the end. Keeping aside the controversial views about the internal sequence, one can very well say that the entire bulk of the Vedic literature falls in extent of 6 centuries and that too from the beginning of 3000 B.C. onwards. Thus the social situation reflected in the Vedic literature, depicts society, developing at least through 6 centuries i.e. during 3000 B.C. to 2400 B.C.
The social life reflected in the Vedic literature can be analyzed from following view points:
a) Family, b) Position of women c) Four varnas d) Education e)Food, drinks f) Dress and decoration g) means of entertainment
2) Economic condition
a) Family: The family was taken as the most important social unit. The father had absolute control over the family that is why the father decides to offer his son to Varuṇa (as per the story of Śuna śepa). Despite of this instance the relation between father and son was warmer.
The agni (The Fire) is prayed by an affectionate father with a belief that it will bring gifts to his sons. Agni is frequently called (atithi) a guest, which shows that affection and great respect is generally being shown to the guests.
The use of the term ‘Kula’ in the later Vedic literature, suggest a system of individual family consisting of several members, under the headship of a father or an elder brother.
The hospitality which was natural feature in the Rgvedic age, is later elevated to mahāyajña (great sacrifice), where guest-offering became an integral part of the daily ritual of the household. Frequent references to the co-wives clearly hits at the polygamy then.
b) Position of women: The position of women seems to be sound, satisfactory and secure, as per the references to ornaments and festivals, marriage customs etc. As per the Ṛgveda Saṁhitā, the age of marriage seems to be after puberty. The Rgvedic story of Vimada carrying Purumitra’s daughter shows rudiments of the marriage-form, which was later on called gāndharva or rākasavivāha.
The marriage hymn described most respected position of a woman as the mistress of her new household. This throws light on the esteemed position of the women in the family. The Ṛgveda 9.112.2 mentions the mother doing the work of pounding the grains as the profession. Another reference is about a woman who performs dance; it means the women were socially free to choose their profession which ever they want. There is passing reference to sati and to the remarriage of a widow.
In polygamy the wives were having different status. Patni is one who equally participates in the sacrificial ritual, whereas Jāyā refers only to her conjugal position.
c) Four varnas / Caste system: Brāhmaṇa, Rājanya, Vaiśyas and Śūdra are the words used in the Purushasūkta ( Ṛgveda Saṁhitā X.90). They can be taken as the rudimentary evidences of the ‘varna’ system but certainly not as evidence of the caste-system. The Purushasūkta is admittedly late hymn. The term ‘Brāhmaṇa’ denotes a priest by profession only in some passages, elsewhere it means any person who was distinguished by genius or virtue or one who was deemed to be especially receptive of the divine inspiration. The term ‘Kshatriya’ occurs rarely. In later Vedic literature, viz. Yajurveda Saṁhitā and the Brāhmaṇa text, we find the clear picture of the ‘varna ‘system established in the society, where ‘ Brāhmaṇa’ is priest by profession, not ‘Rājanya’ but ‘Kshatriya’ is a warrior class, ‘Vaiśyas’ is trader and the ‘Śudra’ is always out of the frame-work of the above three. The ‘varnas’ here were not based on the birth but mostly were on the professions and skills to do the work.
Along with their functions and duties, the privileges and status of the four castes were being differentiated, minutely in the religious and social sphere. The Taittirīya Brāhma-a prescribes different seasons for Agnyādhāna (a ritual establishing the fire) for Brāhmaṇa, Kshatriya and Vaiśyas.
d) Education: The frog-hymn ( Ṛgveda Saṁhitā 7.103) gives us the idea of the educational system, that the Vedic texts was memorized by the students with method of ‘santhā’ i.e. a teacher dictates a verse and the students follow him in chorus and this exercise happens repeatedly. The prayers for the sharpening of the intellect throw light on the urge for and importance to the knowledge.
The later Vedic literature gives the picture of the advanced educational system. The Atharvaveda (X. 1.5) refers to the Brahmacārin gathering fuel for fire-worship and bringing alms for his teacher, which means that the student used to stay with the teacher for his study. The word ‘antevāsin’ for the student is enough to shed light on the relationship between the teacher and the student.
The Tandya Brāhmaṇa, mentions the subjects of the study, some of which are arithmetic and prosody. The assembly of the learned in the court of Janaka (BrhadĀraṇyaka Upaniṣad) shows that debates were often held under the royal auspices.
e) Food – drinks: Apūpa, Odana, Yavāgu and Karambha are frequently mentioned in the earlier texts. The apūpa is the cake made of rice or barley and mixed with ghrta (ghi – clarified butter). The odana is made of grain cooked with milk. Special varieties of the odana were made by adding water, ghi, sesame, beans or meat.
The Karambha means porridge made by grains like barley or sesame unhusked, slightly parched or kneaded. The Yavāgu is barley gruel. Fried rice, grains and decoctions of other grains were also known.
Meat eating seems to be fairly common in the Rgvedic age. Meat was eaten on some occasions. However its eating was forbidden during the observance of vow. Normal meat-diet consisted of the flesh of sheep, goat and ox.
Āmīk ā is the clotted curd. Dadhi is sour milk. Navanīta is fresh butter. Payasyā is curds consisting of a mixture of a sour milk and hot or cold sour milk. Prsadājya is butter mixed with sour milk. Phānta is creamy butter or first clotted lumps produced by churning. Vājina is a mixture of hot fresh milk with sour milk.
Surā is intoxicating liquor known to Rgvedic age. Māsara is beverage, made by mixing rice and Śyāmaka with grass and parched barley. Madhu being adjective (and meaning sweet) denotes any sweat food or drink, such as Soma or milk.
Soma juice is basically the sacrificial offering, seems to be much liked and precious drink. However, real Soma plant was difficult to obtain even in the Brāhmanic period.
f) Dress and decoration: Vasana or vastra is the word for garment. The Ṛgveda refer to vāsas (lower garment) and adhivāsas (upper garment). The Maruts wore deer-skins and a muni is clad in skins or soiled garments. The often mentioned garment is drāpi, which means a sort of mantle or cloak. Peśas is a kind of embroidered garment, used by female dancers. Vādhūya is a special garment worn by bride at the marriage ceremony. The Maruts are described wearing mantles adorned with gold. The words suvāsas and suvasana suggest that it might have been the fashion for dressing well.
Several ornaments are mentioned in the Ṛgveda. An ear-ornament of gold was used by the men. The kurira, was some kind of golden head-ornament worn by the females, specially brides. Nyochanī was one more special bridal ornament. Khādi was a kind of ring worn as an armlet or an anklet. Niska was a gold ornament worn on the neck. Rukma was an
ornament worn round the neck. Aśvins are described as the lotus wreathed which indicates that the garlands were often worn by men with a desire to look attractive.
The hairs were kept combed. The plaits worn by women in dressing the hairs is indicated by the word opaśa. There are references to the custom of wearing the hair in braids and plaits. A maiden had her hair made in four plaits. Even the men wore their hair plaited and braided is known from the description of Rudra and Marut. The Vasisthas were noted for wearing their hair in plait or coil on right side. The beard and mustache are mentioned. However shaving was also practiced.
Sthāgara, probably means an ornament made of a fragrant substance. The Śankha or a conch-shell is used as an amulet. Pearl and jewel are mentioned. The pra-kāśa offten mentioned in the Brāhmaṇas, means either an ornament of metal or a metal mirror. The Atharvavedic pravarta, perhaps means an ear- ornament. A niska of silver.
g) Means of entertainment: The vocal and instrumental music was well-known. Vīnā, vāna and drum are the instruments mentioned. The dancing of the maiden is mentioned. The chariot-race was a favorite sport and a source of entertainment. Gambling was the popular game.
In the later Vedic literature a variety of musicians are mentioned such as lute-players, flute-players etc. Śailu a probably means an actor or a dancer. Racing was deeply entered into the popular scheme of entertainment. In addition to the chariot-racing, horse-racing was also popular in later days. Dicing was another popular amusement. Vamśa-nartin i.e. pole-dancer or an acrobat is mentioned in the Yajurveda.
Economic condition: This can be seen under following heads –
a) Agriculture and cattle, b) Trade and Commerce c) Occupations and Industries
d) House-building and Means of Transport
a) Agriculture and cattle: Yava is the grain frequently referred to and used to be cultivated largely. Krusi the word used for agriculture, which originally is related to plowing. Different activities related to agriculture were known to. The Rgvedic people (Aryans) were basically pastoral people and cows and bullocks were their most valued possession. In the later literature we find the highly developed form of the agriculture. The large and heavy plough, Yoked with six, eight or twelve oxen are mentioned. The furrow (sītā) is often mentioned. The Vājasaneyī Saṁhitā refers to several types of grains in addition to the yavas (barley), such as māsa, godhūma, śyāmāka, nīvāra etc. Different words for a bull indicate that the bulls were used for different purpose, out of which plowing and carrying was common which helped in the agriculture growth. Detailed descriptions of plough and mention of dung (śakrt) and dry cow-dung (karisa) and that of different words related to cultivation of the grains strengthen this inference of development of agriculture and cattle raring.
b) Trade and Commerce: References are there which indicates trading in distant lands was done for profit. Cow was regarded as a unit of value. Niska is one more unit of value, which was very important. One of the sources of wealth to the state is booty which consisted of flocks and herds.
The actually used word ‘nau’ in the story of Bhujyu, who was fallen in the sea and was rescued by giving a boat with hundred oars, is enough to infer the sea-voyage.
c) Occupations and Industries: The four ‘varṇa’s themselves suggests the occupations they used to do. Apart from the cattle breeding, fashioning the chariots for war
and race and also making the instruments for agriculture and transport seems to be an honored profession.
The utensils were made of the metal, but the earthen wares and the wooden vessels were also used. The use of hide was also well-known. The ox-hide was used to manufacture bowstrings, thongs, reigns and a lash-whip. Sewing and weaving of cloth were also some professions mentioned. Dancing was one more professional.
d) House-building and Means of Transport: The word pur occurs frequently in the Ṛgveda might mean an earth work fortification protected by a stone wall.
In the later literature the word harmya occurs for house, which indicates its larger size to accommodate not only a joint family but also the pens for the cattle, ship and even the fire places for three fires (viz gārhapatya, daksinam,and āhavanīya). The door with fastener is mentioned. An Athervavedic reference to patnīnām sadanam indicates special quarter for the wives.
Among means of transport we find anas, ratha and nau. The prayer is often done to the deity pūsan to protect the pathways and make the paths wide and thorn-less. This indicates that the travelling was fairly common.
The words kulyā and khanitrimā āpa indicate some sort of irrigation system.
As a general rule monarchy was the system of government prevailing in the Rgvedic age. The dānastuti hymns praying the king and a war between the king Sudās and other 10 kings indicate the small kingdoms. However according to the scholars the references to the ganas and the ganapatis indicate the non-monarchical constitution. The kingdoms were small in extent and were units of single tribes.
Two assemblies called sabhā and samiti formed an essential feature of the government. The sabhā often mentioned in the Ṛgveda denotes, ‘the people in conclave’ and the hall as their meeting place. The samiti means an assembly. The king is frequently accompanied by the purohita, who also used to accompany him in the battlefield. The protection of the people was the sacred duty of the king. The balibhrt suggests that the kings might have been receiving tributes in kind from the subjects.
A bow and an arrow were the main weapons. The arrows were tripped with points of metals or with poison.
The number of kingdoms raised with a change in the social structure and with the power and prestige of the king also. We also find the well-developed concept of the kingship in the later age. The Aitareya Brāhmaṇa says that the kings in the east are called samrāt, those in the south bhoja, those in the north virat, and that in the middle are called rājanya. There are hymns in the later Saṁhitās to celebrate the return of the exiled king. Also there is a sacrifice mentioned, which was to be performed by the Brāhmaṇas and Vaiśyas with the purpose to destroy the king. This means the people had enough power to banish the unfavorable king .
Even in the later period the two assemblies’ sabhā and samiti continued to exert their power on the king. In addition to the purohita the functionaries of the king include senānī (an army chief), spaśa (a spy) and a dūta (messenger). We have very few data for the administration of the justice or a code of a law. However the word dharman used, seems to cover, these ideas roughly.
The development of the administrative systems in the later age is indicated by different terms related to the royal office, such as grāmani (a head of a village), senānī, dūta, purohita, bhāgadugh (a collector of taxes), sūta (charioteer), sangrahīt (a treasurer), the aksāvāpa (a superintendent of dicing), sthapati (chief judge) etc.
This is very brief out sketch of the society depicted in the Vedic texts. The picture of the society would remain incomplete if we fail to mention the yajña. Several types of yajñas, the micro details of the rituals there in, their time specifications, various purposes associated to yajña indicate that yajña seemed to be the life style and also the aim of life. The arts such as singing, dancing playing the instruments ,the archery etc. originated and developed in the context of the yajña. Because of the yajña the life then was dynamic and enthusiastic.
Thus the developed and prosperous society of the late Vedic period is the contribution of yajña which was the basic element of Vedic Era.
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