By Dr. Korada Subrahmanyam


Vedavyāsa divided Veda (a mass of knowledge) into four Vedas – Ṛgveda, Yajurveda, Sāmaveda and Atharvaveda. Among them Ṛgveda consists of Ṛks (hymns) which are employed to praise different deities. So no Vidhi (injunction) is denoted by a Mantra. The use of Mantras is stated in Brāhmaṇas. It is Hotā , who recites Ṛgveda during a Yāga .

The term Ṛk literally means praise (ṛca stutau) –

ऋच्यते स्तूयते अनया देवता इतत ऋक्।

ṛcyate stūyate anayā devatā iti ṛk.

Devatā = the deity, ṛcyate = stūyate = is being praised, anayā = by this, iti = therefore, ṛk = it is called ṛk.

The deity is being praised by this and therefore it is called ṛk.

Ṛgveda is the Veda which consists of a collection of Ṛks.

2. Definition

Sage Jaimini, the author of Pūrvamīmāṃsāsūtras, defines a Ṛk –

तेषाम् ऋग्यत्रार्थवशेन पादव्यवस्था (मीमाांसासूत्रम्, २.१.१॰.३५)

teṣām ṛgyatrārthavaśena pādavyavasthā (mīmāṃsāsūtram, 2

teṣām = among the Mantras, sā = the one, ṛk = is Ṛk, yatra = wherein, pādavyavasthā = division of legs, arthavaśena = following the Chandas (Prosody) such as Gāyatrī.

There are different kinds of Mantras. Among them the one that is found with Pādas (legs) following the Chandas, such as Gāyatrī, is to be identified as Ṛk.

3. Dichotomy of Veda

Veda can chiefly be put under two headings – Mantra and Brāhmaṇa –

मन्त्रब्राह्मणय ोः वेदनामधेयम् ॥ आपस्तम्बपतिभाषासूत्रम् १.३३॥

mantrabrāhmaṇayoḥ vedanāmadheyam āpastambaparibhāṣāsūtram 1.33

vedanāmadheyam = the designation “Veda” will be there, mantrabrāhmaṇayoḥ = in mantra and brāhmaṇa (combinedly)

A blend of Mantra and Brāhmaṇa portions is called Veda.

4. Mantra

Jaimini in his Mīmāṃsāsūtras, defines Mantra and Brāhmaṇa –

तच्च दकेषु मन्त्राख्या (मीमाांसासूत्रम् २.१.७.३२)

taccodakeṣu mantrākhyā (mīmāṃsāsūtram

taccodakeṣu = among the scholars, who learnt Mantras, mantrākhyā = the one that is popular as “Mantra”, is called Mantra. 3

Mantras are those, which are popularly referred to by the name “Mantras” by scholars, who learnt them.

In other words, the following is the derivative meaning of a Mantra –

मननात् त्रायते इतत मन्त्रोः।

mananāt trāyate iti mantraḥ.

mananāt = by meditating the meaning, trāyate = it protects, iti = therefore, mantraḥ = it is called Mantra.

Mantra is the one, which protects if the meaning of the same is meditated.

5. Brāhmaṇa

शेषे ब्राह्मणशब्दोः (मीमाांसासूत्रम् २.१.८.३३)

śeṣe brāhmaṇaśabdaḥ (mīmāṃsāsūtram

brāhmaṇaśabdaḥ = the term brāhmaṇa is used to denote, śeṣe = the portion other than Mantra.

The Vedic portion, other than Mantra, is called Brāhmaṇam.

The Brāhmaṇavākyas (vākyam = sentence) comment on the Mantravākyas and denote Vidhi (Injunction). Sometimes Niṣedha (Censure) is also denoted by Brāhmaṇavākyas. Mantravākyas do not rule any Vidhi.

There are many kinds of Mantras and Brāhmaṇas as well and it is not possible to catalogue all the Mantras and define each one. Some examples are offered by Śabarasvāmī and Kumārilabhaṭṭa in Śābarabhāṣyam and Tantravārtikam of Mīmāṃsādarśanam. 4

6. Fourfold division of Veda

Each Veda consists of four parts – Saṃhitā (Mantra), Brāhmaṇam, Āraṇyakam and Upaniṣat. The portion which is to be recited in Araṇya (forest) is called Āraṇyakam. In other words, a person in Vānaprasthāśrama would recite Āraṇyakas. In Āraṇyakas, there are discussions related to the use of Mantras, their cryptic meanings etc. and aspects related to Jñānam (Cognition), i.e. subject matter of Upaniṣats. So Āraṇyakas are just like a bridge between Karma and Jñānam.

Upaniṣat or Vedānta (end of Veda) is that portion of Veda which deals with the important aspect of Jñānam, that directly leads one to Mokṣa.

According to Mīmāṃsā Veda consists of two parts (dvairāśyam), viz. Mantra (Saṃhitā) and Brāhmaṇam, which means Āraṇyakam and Upaniṣat are included in Brāhmaṇam.


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7. Dichotomy of Veda

Following the purpose, viz. Karma and Jñānam, Veda is divided into two parts – Karmakāṇḍa, which consists of Mantra, Brāhmaṇa and Āraṇyaka; and Jñānakāṇḍa, i.e. Upaniṣats.

8. Aparāvidyā and Parāvidyā

According to Muṇḍakopaniṣat (1.1.5, 5) of Atharvaveda, the earlier parts of Vedas, or Karmakāṇḍa, along with Vedāṅgas is called Aparāvidyā, and the Upaniṣats are called Parāvidyā. The Karmakāṇḍa which deals with a number of rituals, is useful in attaining 5

Cittaśuddhi (cleansing of mind) through which one would achieve Jñānam with the help of Upaniṣats.

9. Structure of Ṛgveda

According to authentic records, such as Mahābhāṣyam of Patañjali, there were twenty one Śākhas (Branches) of Ṛgveda. Presently only two Śākhas, viz. Aitareya and Kauṣītaki (Śāṅkhāyana), are available. So far as the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā is concerned it is a single text called Śākalapāṭha and it is not much different from Śāṅkhāyanaśākha. Śākalapāṭha means the text organized by Śākala.

Ṛgveda has got the following Brāhmaṇam, Āraṇyakam and Upaniṣat –

i. Aitareyabrāhmaṇam ii. Kauṣītakibrāhmaṇam

i. Aitareyāraṇyakam ii. Śāṅkhāyanāraṇyakam

i. Aitareyopaniṣat ii. Kauṣītakyupaniṣat

The available Ṛgvedasaṃhitā has got two kinds of division –

i. Maṇḍala-Sūkta-Mantra

This division was done by sage Śākala (also by Śaunaka). Maṇḍalam is a group of Sūktas and Sūkta is a group of Mantras. Sūktam (su + uktam) means a good-saying. Sūktam has got four categories –

a. Ṛṣisūktam: The Sūktam (group of Mantras) that was perceived by a single Ṛṣi (sage) is called Ṛṣisūktam. Veda is a mass of Śabda, which is immutable. So the entire Veda was recited and is there. Some Ṛṣis, who were considered as Jñānam personified and


had had Divyadṛṣṭi (clairvoyance) could, through their Tapaśśakti (capacity attained through ascetic life), perceive the Vedic Sūktas / Mantras / Chapters and propagated in the world for the benefit of common people. Such Sūktas etc. are named after them and became popular in their name. Since Vedas are Apauruṣeya (non-human) Ṛṣis were not the authors of those Sūktas / Mantras etc. This aspect is discussed by Jaimini in Pūrvamīmāṃsā and touched by Pāṇini in Vyākaraṇam.

b. Devatāsūktam: The group of Mantras that are related to a single Devatā (deity) is called Devatāsūktam.

c. Chandassūktam: The group of Mantras having the same Chandas (prosody) is called Chandassūktam.

d. Arthasūktam: Artha means meaning or purpose. If a single sense or purpose is served by a group of Mantras it is called Arthasūktam.

Ṛksaṃhitā is divided into ten Maṇḍalas and there are one thousand and seventeen Sūktas in total. In eighth Maṇḍala there are eleven Vālakhilyasūktas, which are considered as khila (appended later and not considered as the regular text). Sāyaṇācārya did not comment on this portion but we find reference to Vālakhilya in Taittirīyāraṇyakam-Aruṇaprapāṭhaka, 1-92, which vouches to the fact that Vālakhilyasūktas are authentic. If Vālakhilyasūktas are also taken into account, then the total number of Sūktas in Ṛgveda is one thousand and twenty eight. The number of Ṛks in the said Sūktas is ten thousand five hundred and fifty two. The above division of Ṛgveda is traditional and finds mention in Ṛgvedabrāhmaṇam.

ii. Aṣṭaka-Adhyāya-Sūkta-Varga-Mantra 7

In this second categorization, Ṛksaṃhitā is divided into eight Aṣṭakas (groups of eight) and sixty four Adhyāyas (chapters). The number of Sūktas, Vargas (groups) and Mantras varies from Aṣṭaka to Aṣṭaka. But the number of Ṛks (Mantras) is the same.

10. Trayī

It means a group of three and this word denotes the three Vedas, viz., Ṛgveda, Yajurveda and Sāmaveda. These three Vedas are used in Yāgas along with Atharvaveda.

11. A General Survey of Ṛgvedasaṃhitā

The speciality of Ṛgveda is that for every Sūktam the Ṛṣi (sage), Devatā (deity) and Chandas (prosody) are mentioned in the beginning itself. Knowledge of the above aspects is very important to understand the significance of the division of Maṇḍalas. And one should mention the Ṛṣi, Devatā and Chandas during the teaching of Ṛgveda, Pārāyaṇa (recitation), Japa (repetition of Mantra), Homa (worship of fire) etc.

Among the deities described in Ṛksaṃhitā, Indra occupies an important role – one fourth of the Sūktas of Ṛgveda are related to Indra. He is praised as the God in the skies, lord of water, lord of war etc.

Agni is praised in two hundred Sūktas of Ṛgveda. Indra and Agni are twins. The first Mantra of Ṛgveda describes Agni as Purohita (priest) –

अतिमीळे पुि तितम्। यज्ञस्य देवमृतिजम्। ि तािां ित्नधातमम्॥

agnimīḷe purohitamyajñasya devamṛtvijamhotāraṃ ratnadhātamam ॥ 8

īḷe = I praise, purohitam = the priest, agnim = fire; devam = who brightens, yajñasya = the ritual; ṛtvijam = who performs yāga during spring (Vasanta) etc.; hotāram = who invites other deities or who produces the holy fire for worship; ratnadhātamam = who offers good wealth.

I praise the priest Agni, who brightens the ritual, performs Yāga during Spring, invites other deities or produces the holy fire for worship and who offers good wealth.

Soma, Aśvinau, Marutaḥ, Varuṇa, Uṣas, Sūrya, Savitā, Pūṣā, Viṣṇu, Bṛhaspati, Rudra, Yama and Dyāvāpṛthivī – are some of the other deities described in Ṛgveda. In spite of the fact that the Saṃhitās are related to Karma, rather than Jñānam, we come across a number of Sūktas / Mantras that deal with Jñānam. The following is a Ṛk (1-164-20) that is loaded with philosophical meaning and the same Mantra is there in Śvetāśvataropaniśat (4-6) and Muṇḍakopaniṣat (3-1). (It is there in Paiṅgirahasyabrāhmaṇam or Paiṅgyupaniṣat of Ṛgveda – the book is not available – and Brahmasūtraśāṅkarabhāṣyam 1-2-12 and 1-3-7). Śaṅkarācārya while commenting on this, in both, Śvetāśvatara and Muṇḍaka, rules that his Mantra is a Sūtram (aphorism) meant to help decide the very purport –

द्वा सुपणाथ सयुजा सखाया समानां वृक्षां पतिषस्वजाते ।

तय िन्योः तपप्पलां स्वाद्वति अनश्नन्नन्य ऽतभचाकशीतत ॥

dvā suparṇā sayujā sakhāyā samānaṃ vṛkṣaṃ pariṣasvajāte

tayoranyaḥ pippalaṃ svādvatti anaśnannanyo’bhicākaśīti

Primary Meaning – There are two birds, which fly beautifully, always stay together, have the same cause of exhibition, which have resorted to a tree. One of them consumes the sweet fruits of the tree while the other looks on, without eating. 9

Suggested Meaning / Purport – Here the tree is nothing but the body. The first and second birds are Vijñānātmā or the Jñānātmā (individual soul) with body (Śarīram) and Paramātmā (universal soul). The first is consuming the sweet fruits, i.e. facing the karmaphalam (the nemesis or the result of good and bad karmas), i.e. comfort and misery. The second one is just there looking at the first one but does not get affected.

Another popular Ṛk from first Maṇḍalam says that the Śabda / Vāk (it can be anything – Phoneme, Morpheme, Word, Sentence, Discourse etc. and hence untranslatable) is of four types – Nāma (noun), Ākhyāta (verb), Upasarga (Prefix) and Nipāta (readymade word pronounced by the author of Grammar) or Parā, Paśyantī, Madhyamā (Sphoṭa) and Vaikharī. A Brahmajñānī alone would know the first three kinds of Śabda. The fourth type of Śabda is being employed by human beings –

चिाति वाक्पतितमता पदातन तातन तवदुब्राथह्मणा ये मनीतषणोः।

गुिा त्रीतण तनतिता नेङ्गयति तुिीयां वाच मनुष्या वदति ॥

catvāri vākparimitā padāni tāni vidurbrāhmaṇā ye manīṣiṇaḥ

guhā trīṇi nihitā neṅgayanti turīyaṃ vāco manuṣyā vadanti

(Ṛgveda, 1-164-45; Atharvaveda 9-10-27; Taittirīyabrāhmaṇam 2-8-8-5, Satapathabrāhmaṇam 4-1-3-17)

In the first Maṇḍala itself there is a Mantra, which is the essence of Vedas. It rules that there is one and only one deity called Brahman and he only is called by different names by different scholars –

इन्द्रां तमत्रां वरुणमतिमाहोः अर् तदव्योः स सुपणो गरुत्मान्।

एकां सतद्वप्रा बहधा वदति अतिां यमां माततिश्वानमाहोः ॥ १.१६४.४६ ॥

indraṃ mitraṃ varuṇamagnimāhuḥ atho divyaḥ sa suparṇo garutmān

ekaṃ sadviprā bahudhā vadanti agniṃ yamaṃ mātariśvānamāhuḥ1-164-46॥ 10

There is one and only one – ‘sat’ or Brahman and Brāhmaṇas (those who have got Brahmajñānam) call it by different names – Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa, Agni, Garutmān, Yama and Mātariśvā).

In the second Maṇḍalam, Īśvara is praised for universal good (2-21-6) – give us wealth, remind us our duty, join us, give us health, good speech and make every day a good day. Bṛhaspati is also worshipped for killing inner enemies and providing Jñānam (2-23-4, 5, 6, 7).

In the third Maṇḍalam, Agni (fire) is praised as a provider of everything (3-1-15). Duṣṭaśikṣaṇa (punishing the wicked) and Śiṣṭarakṣaṇa (protecting the noble) by God is mentioned here (3-30-17).

In the fourth Maṇḍalam, a Ṛk says that the Brahman entered the human beings in the form of Śabda, which is called Śabdabrahman by Vaiyākaraṇas (grammarians) –

चिाति श्रुङ्गा त्रय अस्य पादा द्वे शीषे सप्त िस्तास अस्य।

तत्रधा बद्ध वृषभ ि िवीतत मि देव मर्त्ाथनातववेश ॥

catvāri śruṅgā trayo asya pādā dve śīrṣe sapta hastāso asya

tridhā baddho vṛṣabho roravīti maho devo martyānāviveśa

With four horns – the four kinds of classes of Śabda, viz. nāma, ākhyāta, upasarga and nipāta; three feet – being the three kinds of times, viz. past, future and present; two heads – sups (nominal case-endings) and tiṅs (verbal case-endings); seven hands – the seven vibhaktis (cases), viz. prathamā, dvitīyā, tṛtīyā, caturthī, pañcamī, śaṣṭhī and saptamī; tied in three places, i.e. chest, throat and palate (the places of production of Śabda), the Vṛṣabha 11

(called so, because it rains (varṣaṇam) boons) that the great Śabdabrahman is entered the bodies of humans, while roaring.

In the fifth Maṇḍalam, the significance of Paramātmā and Īśvara (5-44-14, 15) is described. The sixth Maṇḍalam advocates Śravaṇam (listening to the virtues of God), Saṃkīrtanam (reciting God’s name) and Pādasevanam (prostrating before God), i.e. surrender to God; with these one would attain the bliss of Brahmasākṣātkāra (perceiving Brahman). It also asserts (6-75, 9-19) that one should live for the society, protect the orphans, abide by Dharma, and have helping nature. Nothing can be achieved by foolishness, violence and terrorism.

In the seventh Maṇḍalam (7-4, 7-8) the misery of debts is discussed – the wealth that makes one free from debts is discussed. We should become lords of endless wealth. The one without debt feels comfortable.

A prayer to Lord Viṣṇu (7-99, 7-100-1,2) in this Maṇḍalam is interesting – we want your perennial mercy, one, who gets the asylum of Viṣṇu, would get freedom from worries, service to Viṣṇu is service to people, pray Viṣṇu give us the best cognition and the capacity to offer selfless service to people.

In the eight Maṇḍalam God preaches (8-100-4) – open your eyes – I am before you, every “thing” in the Universe is within me, those who can perceive the truth describe my form only, providing Jñānam I am only protecting them.

The ninth Maṇḍalam is called Pavamānamaṇḍalam as all the Sūktas here address Pavamānasomadevatā (the deity called Pavamānasoma, 9-36-28, 9-100-27 . . .) –

O! Soma with a holy form! all the beings have emerged from you only, you are the lord of this universe, you only built this world and body for us to 12

reside, you only are purifying all people, give us wealth that is indestructible in this and the other world, just like a cow in its new born calf, all the people are enjoying with love in you.

In the tenth Maṇḍalam there is reference to gambling (10-34, 1-140) –

A gambler’s wife and mother are subjected to unending misery, debts in all directions, having turned into a pauper, the gambler is trying to commit thefts by entering others’ houses, the gambler is envying the rich couple, having lost everything, he declares to the winner with raised hands, that he is a pauper. O! gambler! Stop gambling, do cultivation, be contended with the wealth you got through that, this is the judgment delivered by God, it is a message; O! Gods! be friendly and protect us, let us not become slaves of dice again.

Also there is a philosophical warning (10-82-7) –

You are not able to know the Creator of this universe; there is gulf of difference between you and the Parabrahman, due to the layer of fog in the form of Ajñānam (nescience); you are saying a lot but fail to recognize the Brahman.

Caution against the growing difference between rich and poor is also there in this Maṇḍalam (10-117, 1, 9).

“Mahāsauram” is a collection of Ṛks related to Sūrya and is very popular with people who wish to maintain good health. It consists of sixty and half Ṛks.

The Nāsadīyasūktam, which describes the Creation is here in Ṛgveda (10-129) – 13

1. Earlier to Creation there was neither Asat nor Sat. Neither earth nor sky. What is it that looks like an enclosure? Where is it? Who would experience the comfort and misery? Was this impassable and profound deluge then?

2. Then there was no death nor immortality. No sign of day or night. The Brahman that was without breath, breathed with the capacity within. Except that Brahman there was nothing beyond.

3. Earlier to Creation, darkness was engulfed by darkness. It was a complete deluge and nothing can be identified. The Brahman, who got the universe embedded within himself, who was covered by vacuum and who was alone, got exhibited himself through his capacity of Tapas (ascetic way of life).

4. The first seed of mind, i.e. the desire, was born in the first place. The sages, who were searching through mind, discovered, through clairvoyance, the relation between Sat and Asat.

The last Mantra of Ṛgveda (10-191-4) deals with equality among human beings –

समानी व आकूततोः समाना हृदयातन वोः।

समानमस्तु व मन यर्ा वोः सुसिासतत ॥ १॰-१९१-४ ॥

samānī va ākūtiḥ samānā hṛdayāni vaḥ

samānamastu vo mano yathā vaḥ susahāsati 10-191-4

Let the desires of all of us be the same.

Let the hearts of all of us be the same.

Let the thoughts of all of us run on the same rope.

Let all of us unite and become good friends. 14

Āyurveda is an Upaveda (sub-Veda) of Ṛgveda and it has got eight (just like Yoga) Aṅgas (parts) – Śalya – Śālākya – Kāyacikitsā – Bhūtavidya – Kaumārabhṛtya – Agada – Rasāyana. Carakasaṃhitā, Suśrutasaṃhitā, Vāgbhaṭa’s Aṣṭāṅgahṛdaya, Śārṅgadharasaṃhitā, Mādhavanidāna and Bhāvaprakāśa are famous works of Āyurveda.


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Ṛgarthasāra, Dinakarabhaṭṭa, Vol. I, The Sanskrit Academy, Hyderabad, 1959.

Ārṣavijñānasarvasvamu (Telugu), Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, Tirupati, 1993.

Vedabhāṣyabhūmikāsaṅgrahaḥ, Sāyaṇācāṛya, Chowkhamba, Varanasi, 1985.

Pūrvamīmāṃsādarśanam, Ed. Vasudeva Abhyankar, Ambadas Joshi, Anandasrama Samskrita Granthavali, Poona, 1976.

Śuklayajurvedasaṃhitā, Gaṅgaviṣṇu, Lakshmivenkateswara Steam Press, Bombay, 1857.

Kṛṣṇayajurveda-taittirīyasaṃhitā, Ed. Kasinatha Sastri, Anandasrama Samskrita Granthavali, Poona, 1978.

Āpastambaparibhāṣāsūtra, Ed. by A. Mahādeva Śāstri, Government Branch Press, Mysore, 1893.