Research in the field of the Atharvaveda

Prof. Vinaya Kshirsagar,

Sanskrit and Lexicography,

Deccan college, Pune .

Research in the field of the Atharvaveda (AV) have been carried out since the 19th century. Most of it contained the preparation of the critical editions of its texts and the ancillary literature belonging to this Veda. These include various branches of this Veda, Ṥaunaka and Paippalᾱda, in various recensions, one from Kashmir, another from Orissa, edited by many eminent scholars. The texts of the Ancillary literature of the AV consist of the Kauṥika Sṻtra (KauṥS), Vaitᾱna  Sṻtra, Pariṥiṣṭas(AVPari) and also the Prᾱtiṥᾱkhyas. Some studies related to the Religion and Philosophy of the AV, ritual regarding some of the hymns are carried out by next generation of scholars; despite this there remains a lot to be done as regards the linguistic philosophical and interpretative aspects and also ritualistic studies with reference to this Veda. Therefore, in this paper, an attempt is made to point out some features of this type of research, with reference to some particular example.

There are many facets of the study of the AV. It is said that any hymn in the Vedas should be learnt only after knowing the Seer, the metre, the deity and the employment there of, otherwise it will be futile 1.* Employment of the hymn throws light on the tenor of that particular hymn and helps, to a certain extent towards the interpretation of it. It is worth-noting that the Atharvavedic hymns speak out for the action or ritual they are used for. Such transparency of meaning is the salient feature of the hymns of the AV and it is further enhanced by the KauṥS by prescribing them in various rituals, sometimes even other than the gṛhya rites, and never in the śrauta  sacrifices. Hymns of the other  Vedas are prescribed mostly in the śrauta rites and gṛhya rituals. KauśS is called as the Samhitā- Vidhi text of the AV, because it prescribes various rites for the hymns of the AV, following their order as in the Saṁhitᾱ. Moreover, according to the contents of the hymns, it has classified them or grouped together, sometimes giving them some designations. If we observe these groups of the gaṇas as they are called, they provide various type of information besides their employment as a group in a particular ritual. Many times it is observed the Pariṥiṣṭas also provide some information about the employment of the hymns of the AV. These hymns are used in various rituals collectively and also isolatedly. A keen study of these hymns will reveal many facts. Study of such hymns has been carried out by new researchers, still many other await the scholarly attention as there are many aspects that can be considered through such studies. Study of such hymns has been carried out by some new scholars, still many other hymns await the scholarly attention .  this study is dependent on some stages such as 1- observing the contents of them and understanding the ideology of them, 2-finding out the mythological traitsand new notions in this field, 3- noting the ritualistic information actually contained in these expressions and 4- comparison of it with the ritualistic performances wherein these hymns are employed. This study can further be enhanced by observing the linguistic and grammatical peculiarities along with the observations of new philosophical notions, at times. Such study will certainly demand persistent  research and hard-work on a larger scale, but it will present a large picture of totally different and a novel style of the life of a common man facing the life in all its crude and bare aspects and also many emotional turmoils!

Let us take up the hymn AV. 4.13 for consideration of its employment. About this hymn we notice that it is employed variously in different rituals or ceremonies, and also is counted in two different groups of hymns. It is counted in the Śantātīya Gaņa, thus it is referred to in the KauśS, but not referring to its opening verse-2* and is also reported by Sāyaņa. It is reported as having the deity Candramas and the Viṥve devas, and as seen by the seer Ṥantᾱti- 3*. Dārila, the commentator of the KauśS makes it clear what is meant by Śantātīya. He says uta devā iti Śantātīyam. Sāyaņa also says that as this hymn contains the word Śantātī , it gets this nomenclature. This hymn does contain the word  Śantātī, but in the 5th mantra, and not in the opening; normally the hymns are given designations according to their opening verses. The Gaņa, referred to by KauśS  9.4 is called Laghu ( Śānti) gaņa, by later authorities like AVPari (32.27).  Ātharvaņī Paddhaati also refers to it as Laghuśāntīgaņa. If the word śantātīya would be considered as a derivative of Śantātī, the name of a seer,  and to mean as seen by the sage of the same name, we can find that there are as many as twenty hymns that are said to be seen by this sage -4*. All of them are not considered as Śantātīya hymns. If, on the other hand, it is to be considered so as containing the word Śantātī, following Sāyaņa, there is yet an another hymn , i.e. AV 19.44 which contains this word , in vocative form ( as Śantāte) ; but this hymn is never referred to as Śanātīya. On the contrary it may be observed that this mantra is not cognized by the KauśS. In the AVPari 32.27, many hymns are grouped together under the heading Śantātīya Laghuśānti Gaņa, wherein are collected, some such hymns that are not seen by sage Śantāti.  Then what is meant by this word is a real problem.

In the AVPari, this hymn is referred  to by the pratīka or the opening words as the symbol. In the KauśS. also this hymn is referred to elsewhere by the pratīka and not as Śantātīya. At 58.3, and 58.11, it is enumerated with a group of hymns and is prescribed for recitation on some ominous indications by actions like sound in ear or throbbing of eye. This group is called Āyuşya Gaņa in the AVPari 34.4, which is not referred to by Sāyaņa while giving the viniyoga of this hymn. Moreover, he reports that this hymn is counted in the Aṁholinga gaņa and accordingly should be employed in all those medicating rites wherein is employed this particular group. As regards the Aṁholinga gaņa, KauśS. refers to these hymn or ŗks (?) at three places as Aṁholingābhiḥ(32.27), Aṁholingānām *(52,16&58.24) but nowhere gives the list of the hymns, which is later provided by the AVPari in the Gaņamālā, i.e. 32.31. Here in this list, we do not find the hymn AV 4.13, opening with uta devāḥ which Sāyaņa refers to as counted in the Amholinga gaņa. Thus we can note one fact that as regards the employment, i.e. the tenor, connotation of the hymn varies according to different authorities and by the progressing time new aspects are added. In this way, we can say that the focus of the ritualistic practices and the view point behind the employment of the hymns get additional aspects. Therefore, comparative study of these various authorities in context of certain groups will certainly bring to forefront such interesting and variegated features of the Ātharavaņic ritual and the practices that were supported or intended by them. By the time of Sāyaņa, i.e. the 14th or 15th century, the utility of this hymn got multiple dimensions, to which he also has to add. Thus a graph of the development of points of view and accordingly of the interpretation can be presented with the help of such a study.

We have already seen that the Kauś S. refers to some designations like Aṁholinga but does not enlist these hymns. It is very unique with this Samhitāvidhī text. Perhaps the author wants to keep this group open or dependent on the interpretation of the employer. On the other hand, groups of some particular hymns are referred to in the KauśS at more than one places. This cluster of hymns is the same at all places, but is not given any designation. This terminology is provided by the AVPari., we can refer to the example of Āyuşya Gaņa. A mention can be made here about the hymns Śāntiyuktāni, the term occurring at Kauś.S.9.6. These hymns are enlisted in 9.4 and they are stated as ** in A.V.Pari. 34.27 and the enumerated in the Kauś.S. 9.1 and 2 are noted in the AV Pari as Kauṥikokta bṛhacchānti gaņa  and also it counts all the hymns that are stated in the KauśS. The term Śāntigaņa   does not occur in the KauśS. It is very interesting to note that AV Pari  32.20 notes one more group of the hymns as Śantātīya Laghu Śāntigaņa.  Thus we get variations regarding the designations and also the enlisting or counting of hymns. With reference to the hymn in discussion i.e. 4.13, we can note that it is prescribed in the ceremonies for long life which are to follow the initiation of a student in the Vedas, Kauś.S. 58.3-4. Also it is to be recited by the teacher touching the body of the newly initiated student 58.11. This activity is completely in congruence with some mantras of this hymn (4 to7), especially the Seventh, which clearly speaks for the action of touching. It runs as – hastābhyam dasasakhabhyam jihva vacah purogavi/ anamayitnubhyam hastabhyam tabhyam tabhimrsamasi. ‘with the (two) hands, having ten branches, with the tongue, the forerunner of speech, and with the hands, not causing disease, with them we touch you.) This verse expresses a wish that this touching would bring diseaselessness to the student an aspect of prosperity or weal. Perhaps with the same intension, this hymn is prescribed by the Vaitāna Sūtra (38.1) in a healing ceremony for a sacrifice who falls ill, in the middle of the performance -5*.  Whole of the hymn expresses the same tenor a desire for wellbeing. Gods are requested to bring up whatever is put down and enliven him who commits an āgas (mistake/wrong?). Two winds are referred to in the second mantra (which blow from a river and from distance) . One of them is prayed to bring in dakşa (skill) and the other to blow away what is rapas (translated as ‘complaint ‘) (eventually it may be noted that the noun rapas is counted in the Pāpanam,in Nighaņtu; cf.Nir.4.21). The wind is requested to bring /blow in medicine or healing (bheşaja) and blow away the rapas as he is the messenger of the gods and is viṥvabheşaja,  all healing. In the verse 4, reference is made to some person with and  he is addressed directly as tvā. Gods are prayed to protect him, also the troops of Martus and all beings as we are requested to protect him so that he should be without /free from rapas (yathāyam arapā asat.) He is assured that singer has come with Śamtāti and arişţa-tāti (uninjuredness) (both used in plural), the yakşma is driven away from him and dakşa  is brought to him. The hand with shich the singer or recite touches is said to possess more bhaga, prosperity. It is medicinal- viśvabheşja as well as driving away rapas,  āgas and yakşma. Keeping this in mind, this hymn is employed in the rites related to medication and Ayuşya gaņa also. Still it is rather remotely related to the  Amholinga hymns, which have the word amhas as their indicatory mark.

From the point of the linguistic peculiarities also, this hymn is very interesting. Forms cakruşam(from kŗ-) and jīvayathā (tha in the Padpāţha) in the first mantra are peculiar. It has the same vocative four times, with varying accents, twice it has no accent and twice it is initially accented, indicating beginning of a new sentence. Sāyaņa Explains these usages variously. Firstly he says that since there are four vocations, there are four different sentences, and later on says or else the first and latter hemistiches are two different sentences, and there in each, one devaśabda is secondary and another is a designation -6*. But going by accent, we have  to consider each sentence separately, the second and the fourth complementary to the first and third, that do not possess any verb! This is a stylistic expression. In the second verse the particle or prefix ā is used variously. In the first half     it, occurring twice, is accented and indicates the limit(according to Sāyaņa) or the source or starting point, Whitney takes the second to mean ‘as far as ‘(the distance). In the second half it is used as a prefix and loses its accent, giving to the verb with whichit is affixed. This accent is explained as antithetical one and therefore justifiable.(cf. Whitney) -7*. This prefix ā occurs again in third verse, separated from the verb vāti and accented; this verb gets another prefix vi also in the second quarter. Throughout the hymn, there appears to be some rhythmic and counter-balancing construction. In the first mantra word devās is uses in every quarter; in the fourth mantra the verb trāyantām  is used with every god/s that is/are prayed for protection. Also the accent of the compound arapās is noteworthy. It is a nan-bahuvrīhi compound, so the accent occurs on the second member, giving its natural/original accent. In the fifth mantra again we find balancing construction in the second hemistich, along with the use of rhyming words dakşaand yakşma. The sixth and seventh verse  refer to the hand and they have also a ritualistic bearing, by which they are directly connected to the ritual wherein this hymn is employed.

One more feature to be noted in regard to this hymn is that it occurs in the Ŗegveda, the Taittirīya Āraņyaka and one verse (the second)in the Maitrāyaņī Samhitā also. Another recension of the AV i.e. the Paippalālada Samhitā contains this hymn, with some changes in the order of the mantrs. In the Ŗegveda, this hymn occurs as 10.137 and does not contain verse 6 of this Avedic hymn; it occurs as 10.60.12. Moreover, the order of the verses 4 and 5, is changed and the Taittriya Brahmana ( and  Taittiriya Āranyaka ( have the verses 2 and 3, again their order changed. Not only this change in order is observed, but these Samhitās read the text also with some variances. It is very interesting and important to study these variant readings carefully as they throw light on the aspect of the developing concepts and also help in understanding and interpreting the Avedic ideology. Study of these hymns in other texts with the changed order and some verses at other places will help us to understand the nature of the hymns and also the uniformity of thought expression. These two topics can form the subject of separate discussions, as they require a keen study at length; therefore, they are not taken up here in this discussion. In addition to this point, one more point should be considered for study, and that is Sāyaņa’s bhāşya on the hymn. Sāyaņa is that authority who helps us in the interpretation of the Avedic words by  explaining the words from grammatical point of view, and also to understand ritualistic purport of the hymn by providing useful information with the help of authorities in this field. Thus with Sāyaņa we find interpretative and ritualistic information provided by the tradition, within the reference- frame of Sāyaņa’s period, and can trace the evolutions and development in these areas. Sometimes it also proves useful to compare his commentary on the parallel passages occurring in other texts and the comments of the other authorities on these texts. It is possible that we may get various outlooks or standpoints representing differing tradition of different Samhitās or schools while explaining the words in the hymns and the thought presented there, these commentators have various outlooks like ritualistic, etymological, grammatical andalso philosophical. These help is deciding the exact meaning of doubtful words, and ultimately understanding the contention of the hymn.

Thus there are various points of views from which the study can be undertaken regarding the hymns of the Atharaveda. They will certainly enhance the study and facilitate the clear understanding on a larger scale, which is still a desideratum.


Notes :

1.     cf. the saying : aviditvā rsim chandam devatam yogameva ca …

2.     Cf. AV Brhatsarvanukarmani 2.17.

3.     KauśS 9.4 has ambayo yanti…. ṥantatiyam ṥiva nah … iti.

4.     Cf. AV Brhatsarvanukarmani, the list of Rsis.

5.     Vaitana Sutra 38.1 atha bhaisajyay yajamanam … uta devah.

6.     Sāyaņa : yad va purvottarardhe dve vakye, tatra ekaiko devasabdo gaunah/ aparah samjna.

Whitney’scomment on verse 2.