The word Veda means knowledge. These are the oldest books in the world and are sacred to the Hindus. They are like roots to the Hindu religion. Vedic literature greatly influences Hindu society and religion. There are different opinions about their period of origin. However Prof Yakobi suggested the timeframe of 4000 BC, with the help of astrological references given in the Vedas. Lokamanya Tilak also drew a similar conclusion and placed the origin of the Vedas between 4000 and 6000 BC based on his study of Ushas sukta which describes the position of the stars in the universe.
The Vedas guide man towards achieving the four important objectives of human life namely Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. The Vedas direct us to follow the proper path to reach our goals as well as guide us to overcome the obstacles in our life.
Origin of the Vedas
There are many theories regarding the origin of the Vedas. One school of thought suggests that they were generated by Yadnya-Purusha even before the creation of the world. Another theory suggests that Prajapati created Prithvi, Antariskha, Swarga and also created Agni, Vayu and Surya from them. From Agni came Rigveda, from Vayu, Yajurveda and from Surya, Samaveda was formed. A few other theories also exist, however there are no proofs to confirm any particular theory.
From the description appearing in the Vedas it emerges that the early Aryans used to live in the Polar region. Description of long nights and reference to northern star in some Ruchas support this theory. Due to adverse climate conditions they migrated to regions in mid-Asia. They observed the different natural phenomena and were impressed with the regularity of natural cycles. They believed that a higher power regulated this world. They realized that these natural cycles affect our lives and believed that if we worship and praise this power, blessings will be conferred upon us. They composed some hymns as prayers to this supreme power. These prayers form the first set of Vedic mantras. As they travelled in search of more suitable places to settle down they had to fight with many native tribes. This group of Aryans comprised of Sages and warriors. These Sages composed various hymns commonly known as Suktas in praise of Lord Indra. They did so to remove the many obstacles they faced and also to be blessed with victory and prosperity. References to many battles especially in the Hindu Kush region can be found in Indra Suktas. Due to favorable climatic conditions, they settled in the Sindhu region. Their religious thoughts had developed by then. After Indra Sukta, Suktas for Surya, Varsha, Pruthvi and Ushas were composed.
Initially all the Vedas were grouped together. Later Sage Vyasa divided it into four parts. They were Rigveda which focuses on Suktas in praise of god and chanted while performing sacrifices. Yajurveda explains the reason behind performing these sacrifices. Samaveda explains the correct method of chanting the mantras stressing on proper pronunciation and intonation. The Atharva Veda has hymns which have a more diverse character than the Rig Veda.
The Structure of the Rig Veda
The Rigveda is the first of the four Vedas. Shakal divided Rigveda into Suktas and Mandalas. The Sukta is in the form of Mantras which is an expression of the desire of the Rishis. Rik means metrical composition. Many Riks together form a Sukta. The Rigveda Sanhita can be divided into two types – Ashtak Rachana and Mandal Rachana.
Ashtak Rachana – A total of eight chapters forms one Ashtak. There are sixty four chapters i.e there are eight Ashtaks in Rig Veda.
Mandal Rachana – This is a traditional type of composition which is very convenient and hence popular. Gotra and Mishra are two types of Mandalas. Suktas from the same family of Sages are grouped and divided into ten Mandalas. Within 10 Mandalas, 2nd to 8th are Gotra Mandalas, which were created by the seven Sages namely Grutsamad, Vishamitra, Vamdev, Atri, Bhardwaj, Vasishta, Kanva-Angiras and their ancestors. Mandalas 2 to 7 form the core of Rigveda. The Composition of mantras in these is very ancient. Experts are of the opinion that when the Suktas from the second to the eighth Mandalas were ready, the nineth Mandala was created for Lord Soma known as Pavaman, gathering all Suktas for Soma. After sometime the first and the tenth Mandals were added. The number of Suktas in both these Mandalas is the same i.e 191. Experts also suggest that the tenth Mandala is relatively the latest. This inference was made by the study of language, meters and advanced philosophical thoughts used in this Mandal. Even the deities praised in the tenth are different from the ones in the first nine Mandals.
Sage Vyasa divided the Vedas into four parts, he taught Rigveda to his disciple Pail. Pail divided it into two branches. The first was handed over to Bashkala while the other was given to Indrapramti. These two branches were then further transferred to other Sages, who in turn developed many new branches. Patanjali in his Vyakaran Mahabhashya, has mentioned twenty one branches of the Rigveda. Shakala, Bhashkala, Ashwalayana, Shankhayana and Mandukayana are some of the famous branches among them. Shakala has five and Bashkala has four sub branches.
Katyayana has studied Rigveda thoroughly. He has referred to 4,32,000 letters, 1,52,826 words, 10,580 mantras and 1017 Suktas. There are 11 additional Suktas called Valakilya. Thus in total, there are 1028 Suktas in Rigveda. He also mentions that the Sages in the first Mandal are known as Shatarchin (meaning composers of 100 Mantras) while the Sages in the last Mandal are known as composers of Kshudrasukta and Mahasukta. The Sages in the second to nineth Mandals are called Madhyamas.
There are roughly 109 Sages who have contributed through their compositions in Rigveda. Seven hundred and twenty four Sukthas mention their composer’s name while three hundred and twenty four Sukthas have two or more sages as composers.
Thirteen different Meters are used in Rigveda such as Trishtup, Gayatri, Jagati, Anushtup, Pragath, Ushnik, Dwipadavirat, Pankti, Atyashti, Mahapankti, Astarpankti, Bruhati, and Virat. In addition there are other 656 Meters and 372 Mishrachhanda.
The Content of the Rig Veda
The Rigveda consists of description, praise and prayers to deities. It is interspersed with small, beautiful poems that exhort us to improve and progress as we go through this journey of life besides stressing on a life of peace in harmony with nature. It also gives us a deep insight into the philosophy of the early Aryans based on their practical experiences.
The Sukthas deal with a variety of subjects.
1. Deity Suktas – Here many deities such as Indra, Agni, Varun, Surya, Savita, Vayu, Usha, Poosha, Aap, Ashwin, Rudra, Bhag, Vishnu, Marut, Vishwedeva, Sawaswat, Vak, Dyava Prithvi etc. are praised.
2. Druvpada Sukta – When a single line of a stanza is repeated throughout all stanzas, that specific line is called Dhruvpada. Nearly 100 Suktas are of such type in the Rigveda. Marudbhiragna aa gahi (1.19), Marutwantam sakhyay havamahe (1.101), Sa janas Indraha (2.12), Mahadadevanamasuratvamekam (3.55), Bhadra Indrasya Ratayaha (8.62)
3. Katha Sukta –Stories from ancient times are distributed throughout the Rigveda. Using these strands, short, narrative stories are presented in the Brahmanas. For instance, in the tenth Mandala there is a very short dialogue between Pururavas and Urvasi in the 95th Sukta. This has been woven into a beautiful tale in Shatapath Brahmin (11.5. –5). Nabha Nedishta Sukta (10.68) is also one such story written in Aitareya Brahmin (5.14). The story of Shunah-shep appears suddenly in the first Mandal but is very well elaborated in Aitareya Brahmin. The Vishnu Sukta, in the first Mandal has provided the subject of the Vaman Avatar story in Shatapath Brahmin (188.8.131.52 – 7). Sukanya chavan is also a very good example of Katha Sukta. There are 16 such Katha Suktas in Rigveda.
4. Samvada Sukta – Some Rigvedic Suktas are also composed in the form of poetry and drama. These are known as Samvada Suktas. There are 20 such Suktas in Rigveda like Agasthya Lopmudra, Yama Yami, Indra Indrani Vrusha Kapi, Urvashi Pururava and Sarama Pani etc. Experts have voiced their doubts about the nature of these Suktas. Accordingly to Prof Oldenburg, initially these were in the form of Prose and Poetry. However the poetic part is better than the prose. In course of time, the Prose was omitted and only the poetic parts remained. These Suktas contain the remaining portion of the ancient tales. Prof. Silvalevi, Prof Shroder and Prof Hurtel maintain that these Suktas are the remaining portions of ancient dramas. These dramas were performed by actors at the time of sacrifice along with music. Prof Winternitz says these Samvada Suktas are a good example of ancient folk songs. They have a good mixture of story and metaphor. In the course of time, epics and dramas originated from these Suktas. They have a very important place in Hindu literature.
5. Tattvadnyan Suktas –Upon careful study, one can trace the roots of Hindu philosophy as explained in the Upanishads in these Suktas. There are many deities in Rigveda, so one can easily conclude that the Vedic religion believes in many gods. If we observe carefully however, we can see many Ruchas express that the supreme power is only one. For instance, the 164th Sukta of the first Mandal describes a divine bird with beautiful wings, the only one of its kind but called variously by many names like Indra, Agni, Varun etc. He is the only one and intelligent people worship him by various names. It is said, Ekamsat vipraha bahuda vadanti. Nasadiya Sukta in the 10th Mandal, Purusha Sukta, Hiranya garbha Sukta and Vak Sukta are famous for their extraordinary insight.
6. Samskar Suktas – Although Vedas are created for performing sacrificial rituals, some Suktas are also used in various Sanskaras even today. The eighty fifth Sukta in the tenth mandala is about the marriage ceremony of Surya. Many mantras from that Sukta are used in wedding rituals even today. Similarly Snan-Marjan Sukta (10.9), Upanayan Sukta(10.19 & 62),Garbhadhan Sukta(10.184), Shraddha Prayog Sukta (10.15) are such other Suktas which are used even today to perform specific rituals.
7. Mantriki Suktas– In the Rigveda, there are some Sutras which are chanted to protect against diseases, bad dreams, bad forces as well as ghosts. These are named as Mantriki Suktas.
8. Laukik Suktas– Some Suktas guide us in our day to day life. These are Laukik Suktas. For example the 173rd and 174th Suktas in the tenth Mandal explain the concepts of Vedic Aryans, describe the ideal King and his duties towards his subjects. In Pururava- Urvashi Samvad (10.95) the nature of women is discussed. There is yet another Sukta on Gambling which falls under this category. It says that a gambler never likes anything other than gambling and troubles his wife. Nobody respects him or cares much about him, even his parents leave him. But his wife suffers a lot. He knows that gambling is not a good thing to do but still he cannot give it up. He does not hesitate even to steal to sustain his evil habit. This description of a gambler is so real and relevant even today. Yam –Yami Samvada reflects upon the relationship between men and women. Sarama-Pani Sukta is a good example of the loyalty of a servant. Once, the Panis who were a class of demons, stole the cattle of Lord Brihaspati. Indra sends his servant Sarama to fetch them. Sarama reaches where the cattle are, but the Panis try to bribe her to stay with them. But honest Sarama ignores their request and comes back to her Master. Anna-Dana Sukta explains the significance of offering food. It says that the one who offers food to the hungry pleases the gods. The rich should share with the less fortunate. One’s wealth goes wasted if he does not share it with the needy. No one should be proud of his wealth because in this world, one who is poor today may become rich the next day while a rich man could lose his wealth due to his laziness. (10.117.6)
9. Aapri Suktas– These Suktas are sung at the time of Animal Sacrifice. A Sacrifice named Prayaja is performed before the animal sacrifice when some Ruchs called Yaajya are sung. This bunch of 11-12 mantras is called Apri Suktas. Ten Apri Suktas are in Rigveda. Every Mandala has an Aapri Sukta except 4, 5 and 6 but they are told to follow the Aapri Suktas of Jamdagnya Gotra.
10. Koot Suktas-These Suktas are used in main sacrifices. The Sages must have used them to exhibit their intelligence or might have used them to refresh their own knowledge.
The Vedic Deities
As mentioned before the Vedic sages praised many deities in order to attain wealth, health, good fortune etc. Nearly ninety deities are mentioned in Rig Veda. They are present in the three realms, on earth, in space and in heaven. A few important ones among them are described below.
Agni– A Very important deity in Rigveda. After Indra, Agni has the highest number of Suktas dedicated to him. He is related to our daily life. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Agni is the most beneficial and useful deity amongst all. Sages have praised him in one hundred and seventy five Suktas with love and devotion. Any religious ritual cannot be completed without Agni, he is the intermediary between man and God. His upward rising flames take the sacrificial offering to the specific deity, so he is called Havya Vahanaha (1.36.10)
While Indra symbolizes the great Warrior, Agni is like a priest for a householder. There are many mantras tracing the birth of this deity. He is said to be the son of sky, water, space, earth or a plant. He is as bright as the Sun in appearance, having a hair of Flames. He is said to be beautiful in all aspects. He is described as having three heads, three legs, and four horns (4.58.3). Sometimes Agni is also personified as an ox or a Falcon (4.58.3) (7.15.4). He is very young and has become strong by having Ghee, he is undefeatable, he lives everywhere, and sitting on a golden chariot he goes everywhere. Agni is the leader of men and the representative of Gods. Nobody can defeat him, he, who is the Guardian of this world. The Sages have praised and prayed to Agni for wealth, happiness, food and long life.
Agni has been given different names for different purposes e.g. the Agni used for sacrificial rituals is known as Traitagni , the one which takes Havi for deities is called as Havya-Vahana, and the one which carries food to forefathers is called Kavya-Vahan .
Ashwinikumar– The Twin Gods- A total of fifty seven Suktas are in praise of them. They are the twin sons of Vivaswan and Saranyu. One is called as Nasatya and the other is called as Dasra. These twins are brave, generous, scholarly, wealthy, and auspicious. They travel in all the three worlds. Their chariot is golden, and it has three wheels and three pillars (1.118.2). They come after dawn and before sun rise (4.45.2) and are husbands of Goddess Usha (4.43.6). These two are very good doctors and have removed the diseases of many (8.18.8).They have repaired the broken limbs of Sage Rebha (1.117.4). They have given youth hood to Sage Chyawana (1.117.13). The Ashwinikumars have also fixed a horse’s head on Sage Dadhichi (1.117.22). They even replaced the broken leg of King Khel’s wife Vishpala. Thus they have helped many during their calamities. They are very compassionate Gods. So the sages have always prayed to them for good fortune, medicine and happiness.
Indra– The most favorite God of the Vedic Sages, they always prayed to him for help and he would grant them victory at all times. Indra is the son of Kashyap and Aditi. He is very strong and handsome, youthful and eternal (5.33.6). He is intelligent, courageous (1.62.12), brave as well as valorous (8.90.4; 9.57.2), very generous but short tempered (9.54.6). Somarasa is his favorite drink and according to the sages this drink gives him strength. He is described as Somrasa in the stomach, strength in the body, the weapon Vajra in the hand and intelligence in the brain. Because of all these qualities he has become the emperor of this world. He is the King of all worlds (3.32.8).His rules are strict and they can never be overruled. With his famous weapon Vajra, Indra has won many battles. It was designed by Twashta. This weapon is so powerful that when it was thrown on Vrutrasura, Dyava-Prithivi was shaken. Indra’s chariot is very sturdy and runs faster than even the mind (10.112.2). Apart from these heroic deeds Indra has helped in many other ways. He created the Sun (2.19.3). He has made mountains steady (2.17.5). He released water from heaven and brought it to Earth (2.17.5) He even provided support to earth (2.17.5).Whenever there was a battle among Demons and Gods, Indra was always chosen as the leader (6.17.8).
He defeated Vrutrasura (1.174.2) and brought the demon Ahi out of water and killed him. The demon Dasyu was also killed by him. He helped King Sudas in Dashradnya battle .Thus, with his help the Vedic Aryans were able to settle down and establish their power in India. No other deity has been loved and respected as Indra. This is precisely why Indra is the most prominent deity in the Vedic domain.
Varun– Varun is the deity who is said to be the protector of religion and manages this world. He keeps an account of the merits and sins of human beings and rewards and punishes them accordingly. Although the Suktas for him are very few in number, he matches Indra in ability, strength and importance. He is the God of water. He catches criminals using his three cords i.e. Paash and punishes them, so the Aryans believed. But he is very kind to his devotees, who follow all his rules. He is described as the son of Aditi, the Sun is his eye and the wind, his soul. He is praised and sought by the Vedic sages to be freed from all sins, to escape from his three cords and also to be blessed with a long and easy life.
Usha– The Usha Suktas are some of the most aesthetic and poetically lyrical verses in the Rig Veda. This beautiful deity is praised in twenty Suktas as well as mentioned in many others .This Daughter of Dyuloka (1.48.1) wears bright clothes of light, she is the auspicious one who removes the darkness of the night and gives life to the whole world early in the morning (1.113.7-12). She is very kind and generous and lights up this world (1.92.9). The Vedic Sages pray to her for cattle, healthy food and wealth as well as for good luck.
Surya– He is the favorite deity of the sages. He is termed as the beautiful face of the gods, with eyes of Varun, Mitra and Agni. He monitors this entire world. He removes darkness and bad dreams and also eliminates the diseases of heart, cough and Jaundice as well.
Savita– There are nine Suktas dedicated to this deity. Although Savita is synonymous with the Sun in the present age, he is described differently in the Rig veda. Yaskacharya refers to the sun before sunrise as Savita and then from sunrise till sunset, he is called the Sun. The famous Gayatri Mantra is in praise of this deity. He awakens the world and helps it retire for the night. No one dares to break his rules.
Rudra– There are three Suktas for this God. The one who makes enemies and criminals cry is known as Rudra. He is very angry by nature, so he is propitiated for his blessings. This God gained much respect and importance in the post Vedic Era.
Vishnu– He is a very important deity in Hindu tradition today, has got three Suktas in praise of him in the Rig Veda. The story of his avatar as Vamana appears unexpectedly in the first Mandala.
Marutganas– These are the Gods who always live in a group and are sons of Rudra and Prishni. They are very generous and shower this earth with plenty of water. They also helped Indra at the time of Vrutra Vadha.
Along with these above mentioned deities we can see many paired deities in Rig veda like Dyava-Prithivi, Mitra-Varuna, Agni-Soma.
Thus there are many Gods who were praised by the Vedic Aryans to ensure their wellbeing, the above mentioned being prominent amongst them.
Enemies of Vedic Aryans
When Aryans arrived in the Sindhu Region they had to fight with local tribes to settle there. Dasyua or Daas and Pani were the main tribes which troubled them a lot. Dasyus were very cruel, and atheists who always used to fight with Aryans by stealing their cattle, blocking water etc. Ahi, Chumuri, Namuchi, Pipru, Varchin, Shamber, Vrutra, were leaders of Dasyus. Pani is another tribe which lived on the banks of Rasa River. They used to steal the wealth of the Aryans. Indra defeated both Dasyus and Panis. Rakshasa is another category of enemies who had some supernatural powers and who used it to trouble the Aryans. Agni destroyed the Rakshasas.
Society and Culture
The Aryans managed to have economic stability when they came to the Sindhu region. Agriculture and cattle-farming were their main occupations. Metal works and finished goods supplemented their income. Animals were viewed as assets. Many descriptions of cattle and prayers for having plenty of cattle are mentioned in the Rig Veda. The region consisting of Sindhu, Punjab and the rivers Ganga and Yamuna was rich with grass fields and ideal for cattle farming.
Gold coin called Mana was the currency used at that time. Boats and horse chariots were the means of transport. Two wheeled bullock carts were also used. (1.116, 3.53, 2.39, 8.91)
Carpentry was another popular occupation and the expertise of the early Aryans finds mention in the Rig Veda. Deity Twashta represents this work. He designed the weapon Vajra for Indra, as well as made a wooden leg for the wife of King Khel. Vedic women were very good in knitting (5.29). Metals like gold and silver were also very popular. People used to wear ornaments made of them and used silver and gold ornaments during sacrifice. Vedic society was also very advanced in linguistic as well as mathematical studies. Dashank System and Zero are important contributions in Mathematics by them.
Rigveda is an auspicious scripture which portrays the life of the sages who praised and prayed to deities for their own well-being, asked for protection from calamities, and also thanked them for bestowing their blessings on them. It also gives insights into the developed and progressive culture of the Aryans with their advanced skills in war, science including astrology, transportation, use of metals etc. It also reveals the great minds of the seers and sages who have passed on their knowledge through these compositions to future generations most of which is relevant to this day too.
Bharathiya Sanskruti kosh – Khanda ek
Rugveda Darshan – R.G. Kolangade, Yogishwar Publications