Indian tradition, however, has held the Vedas all along in the highest reverence, it has invested them with the authority of a revealed scripture, Books of Wisdom. Notwithstanding all the centuries-old efforts at such debunking, the Vedas stand firm as a rock towering like the snow-capped peaks of Kailas overtopping and overlooking the vast panoramic expanse below, drawing its nourishment every moment from the ceaseless streams that flow from above-the huge and hoary expanse of Indian life and culture. What is the secret that has enabled the Vedas to hold the pre-eminent position they have occupied from the beginnings of time in this country? Is there anything in them which is valuable for man as to exact respect and reverence to the extent they have done? And if the Vedas are really so valuable and so sacred, why is it that they have become the targets of so much criticism? Why is it that the Vedas are today so much enveloped in misunderstanding and condemnation that they are in danger of being completely lost to sight?
And what, in the first place, is the Veda?
The Vedās are the only extant records of the lives and expressions of our forefathers of an age upon the time-limits of which scholars and historians have been unable to agree with any degree of finality. Indian scholars like Tilak and Europeans like Jacobi are inclined to date the period from Four to Six millenniums before the Christian era while other Western scholars have a strong tendency to advance the date to as near the Christian era as possible. Be that as it may, it is the songs and chants of these fathers of the race—purve pitarah—, it is their hymns that form the starting point and the kernel for the vast literature that has flowed from and developed round them and goes by the name VEDA. At some period of their history, very likely at the close of the epoch during which the hymns were first sung and celebrated, it was found necessary to collect and compile all the available hymns current at that time. The necessity for the compilation may have arisen in order to prevent their loss inevitable with the passage of time and also to preserve them in the form in which they were chanted. Tradition has it that they were compiled under the direction of that Master compiler of the Great Age—Vyasa. Certainly what have been compiled do not exhaust all the hymns that must have been current; the compilations represent the remnants that had survived the ravages of time and were still extant at the time of the compilation. These hymnal texts had been handed down from mouth to mouth and it was inevitable that they must have suffered diminution in quantity with each generation.
The hymns were collected and arranged in four different compilations, Samhitās, each collection being governed by different considerations about the nature of the hymns, the purpose for which they were compiled, etc. Thus hymns which were largely in the nature of prayers and dedications to Gods were collected—says the tradition—by Paila under the guidance of Vyasa, and went to form the Rik mantra Samhita. Hymns which were particularly chanted during religious and social functions of the community were compiled by Vaishampayana under the title Yajus mantra Samhita. Jaimini is said to have collected hymns that were set to music and melody—Saman. There is also the fourth collection of hymns and chants ascribed to Sumantu, known as Atharva Samhita. We need not dwell upon the subject of the Atharva mantra Samhita and the controversy around it but recognize the Vedic tradition as has come down to us which includes all the four Samhitās in its fold.
Each of these Samhitās was followed gradually by explanations and dissertations in prose and in verse for elucidating the meanings, allusions, legends, etc. of the hymns and their application. These portions are known as Brāhmaņās. The concluding portions of these or the portions attached to them are discussions and speculations of a philosophical and spiritual import based certainly on the ideas and texts found in the Hymns. They are called the Āraņyakās and Upanishads. Each Veda thus comprises the Mantra Samhita, the Brāhmaņās, the Āraņyakās and the Upanishads.
Every mantra of the four Vedās numbering twenty thousand or more was revealed to a human being called as a rişhi or rişhika when he/she was in a superconscient state. In the Rigveda, Sāmaveda and Atharvaveda, the names of the rişhis or rişhikās associated with the mantrās in the sūkta or hymn are listed in the heading along with the names of the metres associated with the mantrās and also the names of the associated cosmic powers, God (devi) or Goddess (devī).
It is not correct to state that rişhis composed the mantra. RV (1.164.39) declares that “the riks abide in the immutable supreme ether (parame vyoman) where are seated all the Gods (deva)”. The rişhi or rişhikā received the revelation of wisdom from this plane and transcribed it into verses or mantrās with appropriate words and metres. The process of transformation of the revelation into the verse is mentioned in many mantrās of Rig Veda. “They chanted the mantrās carved out of the heart RV (1.67.2)”; “O seers, the hymn-composer (mantra kŗtam ŗşhe) Kashyapa manifested (udvardhayan) the revelation (giraĥ) into the lauds (stomaiĥ), RV (9.114.2)”. See also the section on mantra for more details.
We may recall that Rig Veda Samhita has ten mandalās. Of them, the mantrās of six mandalās are associated with six great rişhis and their disciples: Mandala 2 with seer Ghŗtsamada, mandala 3 with the seer Vishvāmitra, mandala 4 with the seer Vāmadeva, mandala 5 with the seer Atri, mandala 6 with the seer Bhāradvāja and mandala 7 with the seer Vasişhţha. Garga Bhāradvāja is a seer of sixth mandala whose daughter is the famous Gārgi.
The sūktās in the remaining four mandalās are composed by several rişhis or rişhikās. The 191 sūktās of first mandala are composed by rişhis or rişhikās numbering roughly a hundred.
The first ten suktās are associated with the name of rişhi Madhuchhandas, disciple of the great seer Vishvāmitra. The eleventh sūkta is associated with Jeta, a disciple of Madhuchhandas.
Some of the names of the rişhis associated with first mandala are Romashā Brahmavādinī, Shunahshepa Ajigarti, Gotama Rahūgaņa, Agastya Maitrāvaruņaĥ, Dīrghatamas Auchitya, Praskaņva Kāņva, Kutsa Angirasa, Medhātithi Kāņva, Parāshara Shāktyaĥ, Paruchchhepa Daivodāsiĥ known for his use of the long metre atyaşhţi with 68 syllables and others. Typically the name of the rişhi along with his lineage is mentioned. For instance the seer Gotama belonged to the school of Rahūgaņa. Associated with the mandala 8 are Manur Vaivasvata, Medhatitiĥ Kāņva, Jamadagni Bhārgava, Pragatha Ghaura Kāņvaĥ, Matsyaĥ Sāmmadaĥ, Apālā Ātreyī, Sukakşha Āngīrasa etc. Associated with mandala 9 are Hiraņyastūpa Āngīrasa (whose name appears in mandala one also), Avatsāra Kāshyapaĥ, Shatam Vaikhānasaĥ, Renur Vaishvāmitra, Kakşhivān Dairghatamasa (who appears in mandala one also). The tenth mandala begins with the mantra of Trita Aptya; Some other rişhis or rişhikās there are Yamī Vaivasvatī, Aditi Dākşhāyinī, Vāg Ambhriņī, Savitrī Sūryā (rişhikā), Bhudaĥ Saumyaĥ, Mudgala Bhārmyashvaĥ, Yajnaĥ Prājāpatyaĥ, Prajāpati Parameşhţhī, Paulomī Shachī, Sarparājňī etc. The last hymn of the Rig Veda is by Samvanana Āngirasaĥ delineating universal harmony. We do not mention Sāmaveda separately since most of mantrās are in Rigveda and the same rişhis follow.
The entire Shukla Yajurveda was revealed to the seer Yājňavalkya.
Recall that the famous Vyāsa divided the single collection of mantrās into four Samhitās. The persons who carried out the compilation are Paila (Rigveda), Vaishampāyana (Yajurveda), Jaimini (Sāmaveda) and Sumantu (Atharvaveda). Note that Vyāsa and these other four persons did not have revelations of mantra. They are all compilers. Hence they are kāndarşhis.
Note that the Krişhņa Yajurveda has both rik mantrās and yajur mantrās. Every rik mantra has a metre, whereas the yajus is a rhythmic prose passage not bound by a metre. Krişhņa Yajurveda has about 700 mantrās from Rig Veda Samhita and their names are well known. The seers of the other mantrās from Krişhņa Yajurveda are not known with any degree of finality. Conjectures are there. The sages mentioned with Krişhņa Yajurveda are Vaishampāyana, Tittiri, Ātreya, Yāska etc., are all kāndarşhis.
The name of a rişhi indicates a psychological quality. Gotama means ‘most radiant’, Gavisthira means ‘steadfast in the light’. Bharadvāja means ‘those who are full of plenitude (vāja)’. Atri means ‘traveler or a destroyer of foes’, Vasişhţha is ‘one who is most oplent’, Vishvāmitra is ‘one who is friend of all etc.
RV is the only scripture among those of all religions in which the Divine Truths are revealed to women sages also and some of these hymns describing the revelation find a prominent place in the Rig Veda Samhitā like the hymn (10.125) (tenth mandala, 125 sūkta or hymn) attributed to the woman sage Vāk Ambriņi. There are more than thirty women sages in RV with specific hymns associated with them. In all the Semitic religions like Christianity, Islam etc., there is no mention of any revelation to women and no woman is listed among the prominent disciples of the founders or prophets of those religions.
There are numerous hymns in the Rig Veda indicating the high status accorded to women in the vedic society. RV (10.27.12) explicitly states that the practice of a lady choosing her own husband was in vogue. The hymn (10.85), the marriage hymn, explicitly states that the daughter-in-law should be treated as a queen, sāmrajni, by all the family members especially the mother-in-law, husband, father-in-law. See the box below where the bride was exhorted to address the assembly;
10.85.26: . . . . Become the house-hold’s mistress; Ruler of the home, you will address the religious assembly.
To be asked to address the assembly was regarded as an honour by most of the sages. Thus the statement that, “women were oppressed in Hindu society even from the vedic times”, made orally and in popular writings by some moderns is nothing but patent falsehood. Some of the quotations given by these critics are from the period of the sūtra books which are dated more than two thousand years later than the Rig Veda. Naturally these critics suppress quotations which speak of the high status of women in the society of Rig Vedic period and the period of Upanishads.
Even today, some orthodox persons deny the right of chanting the Veda to women. However, they cannot cite any authoritative scripture to support their views. Any book in Sanskrit cannot be accepted as a scripture or divine revelation. When the famous poet, Sanskrit scholar and spiritual savant, Vāsishta Gaņapati Muni, the foremost disciple of Sri Ramaņa Maharshi, challenged these orthodox persons to provide evidence to support their claims, no evidence was forth coming.
Epithets for women in Veda
It is noteworthy that in the Vedic literature although a woman’s prime role is portrayed as a wife only, yet several other aspects of feminine form are also suggested by various names and epithets used to denote a woman. It is quite interesting to derive the exact meaning of these words because it may help in giving a better idea of different roles of woman in home and in society. For instance, a woman as wife is denoted by three words; jāyā, jani and patni. Of these, jāyā is the woman who gives birth to one’s progeny, jani is the mother of children and patnī is the co-partner in the religious duties.
Similarly woman is designated as:
- Aditi, because she is not dependent (Nirukta, 4/22)
- Aghnyā, for she is not to be hurt (Y.V. 8/43)
- Bŗhatī, for she is large hearted (Y.V. 11/64)
- Chandrā, because she is happy (Y.V. 8/43)
- Devakāmā, since she is pious. (A.V. 14/1/47)
- Devī, since she is divine (A.V. 14/1/45, Y.V. 4/23)
- Dhruvā, for she is firm (Y.V. 11/64)
- Havyā, because she is worthy of invocation (Y.V. 8/43)
- Idā, for she is worshippable (Y.V. 8/43)
- Jyotā, because she is illuminating, bright (Y.V. 8/43)
- Kāmyā, because she is lovable (Y.V. 8/43)
- Kshamā, for she is tolerant/indulgent /patient (A.V. 12/1/29)
- Mahī, since she is great (Y.V. 8/43)
- Menā, because she deserves respect (Nirukta 3/21/2)
- Nārī, for she is not inimical to anyone (A.V. 14/1/59)
- Purandhih, for she is munificent, liberal (Y.V. 22/22)
- Rantā, because she is lovely (Y.V. 8/43)
- ŗtāvarī, ŗtachit, for she is the preserver / forester of truth (R.V.2/41/18)
- Sanjayā, since she is victorious (R.V. 10/159/3)
- Sarasvatī, since she is scholarly (Y.V. 20/84)
- Simhī, since she is courageous (Y.V. 5/12)
- Shivā, for she is benevolent (A.V. 14/1/64)
- Shivatamā, since she is the noblest (R.V. 10/85/37)
- Strī, since she is modest (R.V. 8/33/9, Nirukta 3/21/2)
- Subhagā, because she is fortunate (Y.V. 8/43)
- Subhdhā, for she is knowledgeable (A.V. 14/2.75)
- Sumangalī, since she is auspicious (A.V. 14/2/26)
- Sushevā, for she is pleasant (A.V. 14/2/26)
- Suvarchā, since she is splendid (A.V. 14/4/47)
- Suyamā, since she is self – disciplined. (A.V. 14/2/18)
- Syonā, for she is noble (A.V. 14/2/27)
- Vīriņī, since she is mother of brave sons (R.V. 10/86/9, 10)
- Vishrutā, since she is learned (Y.V. 8/43)
- Yashasvatī, for she is glorious (R.V. 1.79.1)
- Yoşhā, because she is intermingled with man, she is not separate (Nirukta 3/15/1)
[Indian Feminism in Vedic perspective, by Shashi Prabha Kumar Reader, Univ. of Delhi, Delhi 110007; Journal of Indian studies, Vol. 1, 1998]
Women ŗşhis (ŗşhikā) in the Rig Veda Samhitā
(one or more mantra was revealed to each ŗşhikā)
|goshā kākshīvatī||10.39, 10.40|
|Shikhandinyava psarasau kāshyapan||9.104|
(The list is not exhaustive)
“I believe that Veda to be the foundation of the Sanātana Dharma; I believe it to be the concealed divinity within Hinduism – but a veil has to be drawn aside, a curtain has to be lifted. I believe it to be knowable and discoverable. The Vedās and Upanishads are not only the sufficient fountain of the Indian Philosophy and religion, but of all Indian art, poetry and literature.”
“Since our earlier ages the Veda has been the bedrock of all our creeds, ….Our Darshana, Tantra and Puraņa, our Shaivism, Shaktism and Vaishņavism, our orthodoxy, heresy and heterodoxy have been the imperfect understandings of one Vedic Truth . . . Our greatest modern minds are mere tributaries of the old rişis… ”
“If Indians hardly understand the Vedās at all, the Europeans have systematised a radical misunderstanding. Their materialist interpretations, now dominant in cultivated minds, translated into modern tongues, taught in our universities . . .has been more fatal to Vedic Truth than our reverential ignorance…”
“By the Vedās, the Hindus mean the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times… The discoverers of these laws are called ŗşis, and we honor them as perfected beings…and some of the very greatest of them were women.”
The collection of books, Vedas, Vedāh, is the holiest for the Hindus. They are in vedic Sanskrit. They were preserved orally for a long time before they were committed to writing about two thousand years ago or earlier.
The core of all these books are the hymns or sūktās. In the beginning it was a single collection. It was later divided into four collections or samhitās.
The four Veda Samhitās contain more than twenty thousand mantrās or verses. It is moreover exquisite poetry. There is no real poetry without extensive symbolism and Rigveda is no exception. However the moderns completely ignore the symbolism and write all sorts of essays on it portraying it as silly and devoid of wisdom. They often quote a mistranslation of a small number of verses to support their dubious contentions.
The questions raised by its critics can be broadly divided into two categories:
(i) Some of the short comings of the modern Hindu Society can be supposedly traced to the Rig Veda since it is its earliest scripture. Hence how can it be relevant now?
(ii) Easily understandable Hindu scriptures like Srimad Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads are praised by all. Why bother to read Rig Veda at all and try to understand its symbolism?
The question in (i) is based on a false premise. Some of the untoward aspects in modern Hindu Society persist because of ignoring the high ideals mentioned in the Rigveda, its earliest book. The society pictured in Rig Veda had high regard for women including their right for choosing their mates, high regard for the concepts of freedom and equality, respect for sceptics and unbelievers, respect for knowledge coming from all quarters etc. All these ideals are very much relevant and necessary today. In no other religious text do we find mention of such high ideals. Moreover in all religions, there is a wide gap between precept and practice.
The question in (ii) is handled in detail in the section on Upanishads, and that on psychology. It is worthwhile to note that the three yogas of Bhagavad Gita namely yoga of knowledge, yoga of works and yoga of devotion and surrender, personal relation to the deities can be traced to Rig Veda directly. The specific yogic methods developed in the Vedās are unique and highly effective.
Message of the Rig Veda: The aim of both the Rishi-s and the deva-s or Gods is to systematically lead every human being to higher and higher levels of perfection. This journey never stops till it culminates in all round perfection of every person, not only at an individual level but also at the level of interaction between human beings and at the level of society. Even to imagine such a condition of all round perfection is hard. To illustrate, many of us have familiarity with several professions say cooking, computer software, animal handling, health and healing, several physical sciences, electronic gadgets for audio and video etc. The experts in each field can suggest various changes for improvement. We can envision integrating all these changes. This is only a step towards perfection. There are many more steps which cannot be envisioned. The Seers realised that such a radical goal of all round perfection cannot be intellectually described. According to them there already exists the plane of satyam rtam brhat–the Truth, the Right, the Vast–which incorporates in itself the seed of the all-round perfection to come. To attain this state, we have to get in touch with the consciousness in that plane, Truth-Consciousness (rta chit). Rig Veda Samhita gives detailed hints about the paths to be followed so that each one of us can become perfect and achieve this state of consciousness and the status of a Rishi (RV 1.164.40; 7.41.4,5). Such a great task cannot be achieved by human effort only. In every human task the Gods are the collaborators who do actually most of the work.
Every time a human being does a task with some consciousness, he can see or feel the collaboration of the Divine Powers. The human journey towards perfection is compared to climbing a mountain from peak to peak (RV 1.10.2) or to a journey in the uncharted waters of the ocean in a boat. After a certain stage, the human being feels that all the work is being done by the Gods themselves.
There are also adverse cosmic powers in nature which pose obstacles in the path of the human seeker after perfection. These are the forces of darkness and falsehood called as Dasyu, Vrtra, Ahi, Vala etc. The Veda has numerous references to the symbolic battles between the Forces of Light headed by Indra and Agni and the forces of darkness. The victory of the Gods is celebrated by the Rishi-s with hymns to the deities.
Finally Rig Veda has several references to the realization of the Supreme One which encompasses everything in the universe. Upanishads describe some sadhana-s or vidya-s using mantra-s which are also in the Rig Veda Samhita . Even though most Indologists and Indian Philosophers writing in English declare that, “Upanishads are expressions of revolt against the ritualism of the Vedas’, no such statements are found in the major Upanishads. On the contrary, ancient Upanishads like Chandogya quote Rig Vedic mantra-s to support their intuitions .
This is the first, the central teaching: the central aim is the seeking after the attainment of the Truth, Immortality and Light. There is a Truth higher and deeper than the truth of the outer existence, there is a Light greater and higher than the Light of human understanding which comes by extraordinary and transhuman sight, hearing. There is an Immortality towards which the human soul has to rise. We have to find our way to that and get into touch with that Truth and Immortality. We have to be newborn into the truth, to grow in it, to ascend in spirit into the World of Truth and live in it. Such a realization alone is to pass from mortality to Immortality, to unite with the supreme Godhead.
Here is the second doctrine of the Mystics: There is an inferior truth of this world because it is mixed with much falsehood. There is another higher truth, the Home of Truth, The Truth, the Right, the Vast as taught in the mantrās. True knowledge there is termed ŗta-chit, Truth-Consciousness. And there are other worlds, but the highest is the World of Truth and Light. This is the World celebrated as the svar, the Great Heaven.
And this is the substance of the third Doctrine: In the world-journey our life is a battlefield of the devās and asurās; the Gods dev are the powers of Truth, Light and Immortality and the asurās, the powers of the opposing Darkness. These are Vŗtra, Vala, the Paņis, the Dasyus and their kings. We have to call in the aid of the Gods devāh to destroy these powers of Darkness who cover the Light. We have to invoke the Gods devāh in the inner sacrifice by the voice potent with the power of the mantra. To them offering of whatever is ours is made; receiving all that is given by them in return, we shall be enabled and competent to ascend the path towards of the goal of all round perfection and bliss.
Finally, this is the supreme secret of the vedic rişhis: At the summit of all the mystic teaching is ‘The One Reality’, ‘That One’ which later became the central goal of the rişhis of the Upanishads, taught with explanation in detail.
Max Muller records an interesting incident. Freidrich Rosen was a noted German scholar, one of the pioneers of western students who turned to Vedic studies in the early years of the last century. It appears one day when he was busy in the British Museum copying out the hymns of the Rig Veda, Raja Rammohan Roy—the leading light of the Indian Renaissance—came in and was surprised, disagreeably, at the work Rosen was engaged in. He admonished the scholar not to waste any time on the Vedas and advised him to take to the Upanishads instead. We do not know if Rosen swallowed the advice at all obviously not. For he was still engaged in the Veda at the time of his death and his edition of the First Book of the Rig Veda with Latin translation did appear later. The incident is noteworthy for the light it sheds on the mental attitude of the cultured and educated Indians of the time towards the Veda. The outlook of the educated section of our countrymen as regards the Vedic hymns has undergone little change even after more than a century today. And this is no wonder. For they have but dutifully followed all along in the footsteps of the European professors who have, as a class, studied and regarded the Vedas, more as specimens of antiquarian and philological interest than as records of any sustaining value. To them the Vedas are study-worthy not for anything intrinsically significant but for the side-lights they throw on the social and other conditions of their times. By themselves the Vedic hymns are ‘singularly deficient in simplicity, natural pathos or sublimity’, they have ‘no sublime poetry as in Isaiah or Job or the Psalms of David’. They are primitive chants where ‘cows and bullocks are praised in most extravagant expressions’ as among the ‘Dinkas and Kaffirs in Africa whose present form of economics must be fairly in agreement with that of the Vedic Aryan’. Even such a famous scholar as Oldenburg must needs note that here is ‘the grossly flattering garrulousness of an imagination which loves the bright and the garish’, while Winterneitz records, with approval evidently, that Leopold Von Schroder finds similarity between some of these hymnal chants and ‘notes written down by insane persons which have been preserved by psychiatrists’.
Not all from the West, however, have reacted in the manner noted above. Some have brought to bear a more sympathetic and closer understanding on their studies of the Veda and have confessed to a remarkable widening of the vistas of their higher mental horizons after their study of these Books. There is Brunnhofer, for instance, who is constrained to exclaim: ‘The Veda is like the lark’s morning trill of humanity awakening to the consciousness of its greatness.’
Before we discuss the probable range of dates for the Rigveda based on the massive multi disciplinary evidence collected in the last twenty years, we will give the dates given in text books of Indian history authored by Indians and others.
Max Muller assigned the period 1500 BCE to 500 BCE for Rigveda Samhita. One of the reasons given is that beginnings of human kind cannot be earlier to 4000 B.C.E. Since the evidence was flimsy, he recanted his earlier assignment near the end of his life. However, many Indian historians still believe in this assignment. According to these persons, all the Veda Samhitās were not composed in India. They were composed by members of tribes, the so called Aryans, who invaded India from the Northwest, destroyed the old civilisation in the Indus Valley, supposedly Dravidian, and drove out these original inhabitants to the south of India and other parts. The ruins of this early Indus Valley civilisation dated 3000 BCE are at Harappa and Mohenjadaro which are dated 3000 BCE or earlier. This Aryan invasion theory was proposed by the British archaeologist Wheeler around the early part of the twentieth century.
It is said that the battles between Indra and Dasyus in the Rigveda are really the battles between the Aryans and the native Dravidians of the Indus Valley. Rigveda has no mention of the word dravida. It has a word anaāsa noseless referring to the demons or dasyus. Some scholars identify these dasyu with the Dravidians since Dravidians supposedly do not have prominent noses!
The motivation for the British administrators in India to include the invasion theory in history books should be clear. Indians who descended from the Aryans should not complain against the British rule since they themselves are immigrants and hence they have no more Right than the British to rule India.
This theory has several major drawbacks. First of all ārya in the Veda means a noble person, not the name of a tribe. RV (9.63.5) states, “make all of us in the universe ārya, noble”. As observed earlier, the battles in the Rigveda do not occur on earth, but in the atmosphere or the subtle planes; they are battles of the devās, the powers of Light versus the demons, the Dasyus, the powers of ignorance. To regard these battles as between two different human tribes, we have to eliminate ninety percent of the Rigveda which contains detailed description of the devās as supraphysical forces of Light and those of Dasyus as the forces of ignorance.
Finally all the modern archaeologists like Shaffer declare that there is no archaeological evidence for such an invasion; the invasion is a myth propagated by historians. Thus the suggested date 1500 BCE-500 BCE has no support at all.
Now we will discuss the date of Rigveda from all the available multidisciplinary evidence, some of which were collected in the last decade, some others known earlier.
Let us first consider the satellite photography studies of the Indus Valley. The Sarasvati described in Rigveda is a massive river, located between Yamuna and Shutadrī (Sutlej) flowing into the ocean. The satellite studies indicate this river as completely dried up by the date 1750 BCE. The Satellite study cannot refer to the Sarasvati (Haraquiti) river in Afghanistan since it is a small river that dries up in the desert. Thus the lower bound for the Vedic civilisation is 1750 BCE. It is more ancient than this date because Rigveda does not mention any desert; it is mentioned in the Brāhmaņa books – Shatapatha Brāhmaņa – which is at least 500-1000 years later than Rigveda Samhita.
The knowledge of mathematics in Rigveda and related texts is another important evidence. Rigveda not only mentions the decimal number system for integers but also the infinity. It mentions in detail the spoked wheel with arbitrary number of spokes (1.164.13,14,48). Clearly such verses would imply that these authors knew the associated mathematical properties of circle and square. The algorithm for circling the square needed for making the spoked wheel is given in the Baudhāyana Shulba Sūtra which is the oldest of the Shulba Sūtrās, ancient mathematical texts dealing with the methods for the construction of altars needed in Vedic rituals and other related mathematical topics. These books are later than the Rigveda Samhita. Even though Dutta made a detailed study of these books around 1930 and showed that the theorem attributed to Pythogoras is contained in these books in a more general form, the western indologists like Keith (or Whitney earlier) did not pay much attention since they were convinced, without any proof, that all the sciences in ancient India – mathematics, astronomy etc., were borrowed from Greeks or Egyptians. It was in 1962 that the American mathematician Seidenberg showed that, “the elements of ancient geometry found in Egypt and Babylonia stem from a ritual system of the kind found in Shulba Sūtrās.” The Shulba Sūtrās contain the algorithm for building the pyramid shaped funeral altar (smashāņa chit). Recall that the Egyptian pyramids are used as tombs for the dead. There is no ancient Egyptian literature for the detailed construction of these pyramids. Hence it is more than likely that their source is the Shulba Sūtrās. This piece of evidence fixes the date for the Baudhāyana Shulba Sūtra which gives a lower bound date for Rigveda.
Next let us consider the astronomical evidence. Rigveda and all other ancient books contain several statements of astronomical significance like the position of Sun in the Zodiac on the two equinoxes, vernal or spring equinox and autumn equinox. Indian Astronomy is based on sidereal Zodiac. The Zodiac is divided into 27 roughly equal segments, all are measuring 130 20′ of arc. The seventh mandala of the Rigveda records the vernal equinox in Mrigashira Constellation pointing to a date around 4000 BCE – a fact noted by Jacobi and Tilak. Again several Shulba Sūtrās declare that a pole star is visible. Since a visible pole star occurs only at certain epochs, such a citation gives a normal range of dates for that event. There is much more information beyond the scope of this paper.
Next we consider the Harappa culture. Findings tested with calibrated C-14 methods show that, “the Harappa culture should be dated to the period 2700-2000 BCE with a terminal date not lower than 1900 BCE, a date suggestively close to the drying up of Sarasvati”. It was a fashion for the historians to declare that the Harappa Culture had no connection with the culture of the Vedic era. Now things are beginning to change. In one of the seals of the Harappa period, there is a picture of a bull with one horn. It was called as a unicorn. But the Sanskrit epithet, eka shŗngaĥ, one with a single horn, is a common epithet for Lord Shiva in the Veda Samhitās [RV 7.19.1] and the bull is always associated with Shiva. There is a seal of a meditating person in a sitting lotus pose in the Harappa seals. On the Harappan seals, there are inscriptions in a script which was not deciphered for a long time. Recently N.K. Jha has suggested a deciphering approach which is very promising. The language is syllabic like all Indian languages, the script seems to be close to old Brahmi. The researcher Jha has identified the inscriptions on several seals, which appear to be words from the lexicon of Vedās, nighantu published by Yaska, the first commentator on Rigveda and a lexicographer. So Harappa civilisation presents the end of the Vedic period.
Again Rigveda does not mention either silver or cotton. Since the date of cotton is well established, again we get a lower bound on the Rig Vedic date.
Now the evidence can be summed up and some range of dates can be given. Rigveda repeatedly refers to ancient sages and modern sages as in (1.1.2). The age associated with these ancient sages can be called as the high Rig Vedic period which is declared to be 3100 BCE or early. This period 3700-3800 BCE is the closing of the Rig Vedic age, especially the Mandalas seven and third associated with the sages Vasişhţa and Vishvāmitra. The Shulba Sūtrā texts of Baudhāyana, Ashvalāyana etc., can be dated 3100-2000 BCE; 1900 BCE is the drying up of Sarasvati and the end of Vedic age. The Vedic civilisation ended, as indicated by the Harappa ruins, due to ecological causes, draughts and desertification. There was no invasion by any one.
Creation: Essence of Vedic and Tantrik Teachings
Those of us who have some exposure to the scriptures like Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita have trouble with some statements in them such as the indifference of God to the created world in general, the relevance or otherwise of Devotion, the idea that creation took place because of the unfulfilled desire of Brahman, etc. What exactly are the views of SA on creation? Are Brahman and Supreme Person different? If so how and why?
Sri T.V. Kapali Sastry recognised the problem and offered a solution in the form of a poem in Sanskrit called as Tatvaprabha. In its 70 verses, it gives the essentials of the thought of Sri Aurobindo on Creation and allied essential topics. Sri Aurobindo read the book and approved it for publication as an appendix to the book of translation in Sanskrit “The Mother’, an important book of SA, meant for the sadhaks or aspirants.Here I will give an abridged form of the book by TVK
The Topic of Creation
- The Lord (Ishvara) presiding over the Supreme Shakti manifests himself. That Shakti is the consciousness of the Lord; this world is the product of consciousness. This is the essence of all Vedic and Tantrik teachings. [Consciousness is usually defined as self-awareness while dealing with human beings. But in the context of Cosmic Creation, Consciousness is Intelligence. Consciousness is not limited to mind. It is everywhere. Also it is quite different from conscience which is associated with the intention to do morally good acts. Shakti is not a blind force, it is Intelligence.]
- The First Cause or supreme essence or meaning is Para-Brahman; the Word is said to be his Shakti. The Truth of both is the One indivisible, Eternal. [‘meaning’ is same as ‘artha‘. The word and its meaning, shabda and artha are the same truth.]
- The Supreme One, the Lord of the vibrant Word, being powerful, incubates, increases and releases these worlds, inseparable from himself. Thus many worlds are born. Thus the Manifold birth subsists in the One. The relation between the One unborn and the many worlds born of him is real and incessantly operative, even though the worlds have imperfection.
- Because of this relation, the manifested worlds have Intelligence (consciousness) for their guide and are not led by the blind. The universal movement has meaning.
- There is a Will in the Godhead using the creative principle; this Will carries with it Intelligence; therefore there is no question of indifference on the part of God. [The Godhead is said to be indifferent (samatva) in some books. This is denied here.]
- It is incorrect to say that creation comes out of the unfulfilled desire of God. God, the Full, has no desires. This creation can be conceived as the outflow of the Delight of Existence, ¡nanda which is Full. In Sanskrit ¡nanda indicates rich and fullness, samriddhi and all-embracing joy. [In some books, Creation is said to occur because of unfulfilled desire. This is denied here.]
- By dint of tapas (self-contained conscious force) a part is taken out from the Full which assumes the shape of the world. The Supreme Lord is Full and takes delight in the creation along with the eternal power, nitya shakti.
[The consciousness as Force (chit-shakti ) works out the world-existence as mentioned earlier in 1. The same Force is called as Tapas. Tapas is not penance or austerity.]
[Usually any creative activity is described as having two causes, the material cause and the efficient cause. The standard example is the making of a clay-pot. Here the clay is the material cause. The human potter is the efficient cause. These two causes are clarified for the activity of the creation of the world in the next few verses.]
- The One-alone known as Sat-Chit-Ananda is the Lord of world-creation; He is both the material and efficient cause. The material cause is called Prakriti, same as the Body of Brahman, also known as Akasha or Aditi. The efficient cause of creation is the consciousness-force, indicated by tapas. The Supreme One sustains the creation by these two.
[The One atman is triple in its aspects namely sat-chit-ananda. He exists (sat), is conscious and powerful (chit) and full of bliss (ananda). Or it may be put in terms of the Impersonal It, that whatever is exists, sat; consciousness exists; delight exists.]
- Aditi, Prakriti, Tapas, Maya refer to the same thing. Maya is so called because she measures the immeasurable. She is called Aditi since she is indivisible. Prakriti is the substance of what exists. [Note that Maya is regarded as illusion in some schools of Vedanta.]
- The transcendent and Supreme One sustains the creation by both prakriti, the substance and chit-shakti, that which dynamises the substance.
- Maya is called by some as the power by which the Supreme person measures out himself, the immeasurable. For us, Maya is the Force of Tapas.
- The Supreme lord manifests the Sole Self as many selves. Where are they manifested? He does so in his own portions that were previously released and thrown as seeds in the creative movement that has produced the world-system.
The Seven Planes and Worlds
- The consciousness of the Supreme Lord shines as planes, each plane having a type or grade of consciousness. Corresponding to each plane, there may be one or more worlds or structures involving the particular grade of consciousness.
[This series of planes starts from the supreme and are framed like a ladder in ordered steps. At the bottom is the plane of matter. This ladder can be ascended by human aspirants starting from the plane of matter which is at the bottom.]
- The seven planes (bhumika) (beginning from top) are:
- Plane of Existence : sat
- Plane of Consciousness : chit
- Plane of Delight : ananda
- Plane of Super Mind : vijnana
- Plane of Pure Mind : mana
- Plane of Pure Life : prana
- Plane of Pure Matter : anna
- Corresponding to each plane, there is a world or structure known as loka.Corresponding to the three planes sat-chit-ananda there are the three worlds Jana, Tapas and Satya. These worlds are eternal since they are part of the Lord. This is mentioned in Vishnu Purana (2.7.19-20).
[The Mahanarayana Upanishad does mention the three, Jana, Tapas and Satya, as a part of the extended Gayatri mantra. However Vishnu Purana explicitly mentions that the upper three are eternal, whereas the lower four are created (krtaka).]
- Corresponding to the plane of Matter is the world of Matter known as Bhuh. Corresponding to the Plane of Life is the world Life, known as Bhuvah. Corresponding to the plane of Mind is the world of Mind known as svar. These three worlds are said to be created or non-eternal. In between the upper three worlds which are eternal and the lower three which are non-eternal is the world Mahas.
- For the eternal world Jana-loka (in the upper triple), the soul principle is Delight. Hence it is called Jana (delight). The world with the consciousness having the aspect of Force (consciousness-force, chit-shakti) is called Tapas. Atman, the sat, existence is the world of Satya (truth).
- Those who know the fundamental principles of the One know the One to be Sat-Chit-Ananda. Those who know the position of the world-systems know the One to be Jana, Tapas and Satya.
- Between the upper triple and lower triple is the Link-world, Mahas, also known as turiya, the fourth. It is manifested directly by the One.
- The lower triple world of ours is an effect of the Mahas. The Mahas shines manifesting the Glory of the One and the Many. It is here that the harmony of the One and the Many is established.
- In the absence of the fourth world or link world, this lower triple world known as aparardha would be absolutely cut off from the Supreme Lord. The higher triple is called parardha.
- Between the two halves, their shines the Supreme Person, Purushottama, the Lord of the Mahas world. The wise call him as the supramental person or Vijnanamaya Purusha.
[Note that this fourth world is also created. Purushottama is different from the Supreme Brahman, known as Delight or as sat-chit-ananda. The Lord of Mahas is Uttama Purusha, the Supreme Person who can be contacted by human efforts such as aspiration, surrender etc. The Uttama Purusha is not indifferent to the activities in the lower triple worlds. But the Supreme Brahman, lord of sat-chit-ananda, is indeed directly separated from the lower triple and thus He can be considered to be indifferent to the activities of the world.]
- The knowledge that pertains to the lower triple is called the Pure Mind, manah, of the nature of svar. Prana, Life, is of the nature of Bhuvar loka. Its nature is activity that pertains to the lower half. Annamaya loka, the world of matter is of the nature of Bhu loka. It is blind and inconscient, the downward limit of the descending hierarchy of consciousness.
- The creation of the lower triple worlds is due to the Supramental person, the Lord of Mahas.[ Sri Aurobindo titles the chapter 14 of LD as ‘ The supermind as the creator’. A verse of Vishnu Purana is the epitaph here.]
- Every Jiva here is a spark or Ray of the Supreme person and under his final control. Similarly, the triple instruments of matter, life and mind in a human being are under the control of the worlds of the Matter, Life and Mind.
- Of the one self (atman), many forms are manifested; each one of these forms is called a jiva. The essential part of every being is He on the fourth plane.
- Under the supramental gaze of the Lord, beings that are his forms are born.
- The life-force of the embodied being is active from the Bhuvarloka through the modifications on the body caused by desire for enjoyment.
- Mind in him is of the svar world; it is born of the splendour of svar world. Here earthly man holds in himself the principles of knowledge and action.
- Similarly the next higher principle, vijnana, supermind comes from the mahas-world into the embodied soul for organised functioning in life.
- All living beings, jiva-s have their source in the Lord of Mahas. It is his power, shakti, that manifests Him and throws out the world movement. Hence she is said to be the Mother, Creatrix and the leader of worlds.
- Just as the blossoming of Life from matter is seen in trees, even so the blossoming of Mind in mankind is also clear.
- Next will be the flowering of the Vijnana, the supermind for us on earth. When this is accomplished, the divinizing of man, his attainment of all around perfection is also accomplished.
- This is called as the New creation. It could be accomplished by the Supreme Shakti even when man lives on Earth.
[The rishi-s of the Rig Veda had the experience of the Vijnana. However they do not appear to have considered the possibility of bringing down this power into the Earth, like the power of Mind. This insight is due to Sri Aurobindo.]
[The 34 items here are extracted from the Sanskrit poem “Tatvaprabha” in 70 verses authored by T. V. Kapali Sastry. The original work was read and approved by Sri Aurobindo and published by Ashram in 1942. An English translation of the work done by author along with an extensive commentary on each verse was published in the journal “Advent”, in 1950, with the title, “Light on the Fundamentals”. Now it is available as a separate book; it is also in the volume 2 of his Collected Works. The author calls this work as an extract from the teachings of Sri Aurobindo implying that he has used not only “The Life Divine” but also the Secret of the Veda and others. TVK states in p. 111 of the second volume that, “I had a system formed long ago in my mind that could be based on the traditional wisdom of the ancient mystics from the Rig Vedic times traversing the scriptures of an earlier age, followed by the Upanishads and Agamas of the different sects and purana-s down to our own times. The formation of such a system was felicitated by Sri Aurobindo’s references to the vedic, vedantic and tantric teachings”. Thus the book was published by Ashram as an appendix to the Sanskrit work, “Four Powers of the Mother”, which is the Sanskrit rendering done by TVK, of the well-known work, “The Mother” by Sri Aurobindo.]
SAKSHI Translations: External Reviews
- External reviews of the Rig Veda Translation
- External Reviews of the Yajur Veda Translation
Other Translations and Commentaries
- Sāyaṇa Ācharya
- The other commentaries in Sanskṛt
- Translations in English
- Translations in Indian languages such as Kannada and others
This essay briefly reviews the translations and commentaries, available in India today for purchase, or easily accessible. It is divided into 4 sub parts.
It is easy to criticize any translation such as that of SAKSI on various grounds. However I know how much effort is needed in bringing out a complete translation. Therefore my remarks will be constructive and aim to help the readers to find the material not covered in my translations. Note that we should study commentaries, but not raise them to the level of Veda. Every bhāshya appeals to some persons.
The earliest complete commentary on Rig Veda mantra Samhita is due to Sāyaṇa Ācharya in the fourteenth century CE. It was done with the patronage of the kings of the Karnataka Empire with its capital in Vijayanāgar.
There are two complete English translations of RV done in the nineteenth century namely the 7-volumes of H.H. Wilson (1850-1858 CE) and that of R.T.H. Griffith (1896 CE) in a single volume.
There are two complete translations of Rig Veda done in the twentieth century. The first is the 30 volume edition done in (1947-1955) in Kannada language by H.P. Venkata Rao with the patronage of Maharaja of Mysore. This is mentioned in section 4.4.
The 13 volume translation in English, was produced by Veda Pratiṣhṭhāna of New Delhi in the period 1977-1984. It is discussed in section 4.3.
All other translations and commentaries cover only a part of Rig Veda. I cover some of them also. I will not dwell on the great Sanskṛt commentary of Kapāli Sastry on the first 121 sūktās and also his illuminating Bhūmika since these have been discussed in earlier SAKSI books.
- Sāyaṇa Ācharya and the scope of his work
Sāyaṇa Ācharya (1315-1387 CE) was the only person to write (or edit) a commentary on all the five Veda mantra Samhita books and also the relevant Brāhmaṇa books. He is the only one to write a commentary on the entire Rig Veda Mantra Samhita. All lovers of Veda must be grateful to him for these works and the luminous introductions to these works. A brief look at his life and the times in which he lived will be very useful for us to appreciate the range of his efforts.
A study of his life and his times gives ample clues towards understanding the scope of his work or the boundaries set by Sāyaṇa for his work. Recall that he studied in the monastery associated with the great Vedānta teacher Shankara, under his guru Swami Vidyatirtha, who was its head at that time. Naturally he completely accepted the teachings of Shankara in toto, assigning the Veda mantrās to karmakānda. Only the Upanishads were regarded as the repository of wisdom. It is the common idea prevailing even today in many so-called places of learning mathas, in India.
Recall that Sāyaṇa was not a fulltime Pandit. He was a successful prime minister of the vast empire of Karnataka with its capital in Vijayanāgar and also participated in battles. He with Hukka and others was instrumental in bringing together many small kingdoms to form a single kingdom, known as the Karnataka empire, so as to withstand the Islamic onslaughts. The Karnataka empire was restored so as to bring resurgence of all aspects of Indian culture. Sāyaṇa , being its prime minister and one of its founders, could not afford to be partial to any group. In India, all ideas are traced to Veda in the minds of ordinary people. Specifically it was felt:
(i) Veda had the knowledge of rituals whose performance gives prosperity.
(ii) The basis of Purāṇās with all their anecdotes was Veda.
(iii) The grammarian scholars of the empire felt that every word in the Veda can be traced to its roots as suggested by the great Panini.
(iv) Most of the Hindus went to temples where elaborate worship was performed to the deities Viṣhṇu, Shiva etc. These people wanted to know the connection of the mantrās of Veda to these deities.
(v) The ordinary people used several Veda mantrās in their sandhya worship; they wanted to know their meaning and their context.
(vi) Among Hindus, the natural phenomena such as rainfall or dawn are associated with the divine powers. Persons wanted to know what Veda has to say on the natural phenomenon.
Thus, Sāyaṇa , assisted by numerous pandits, wrote this magnificent commentary to satisfy the aspirations of a variety of Hindus. Sāyaṇa in his commentary on RV (1.164) states that he is aware of the spiritual interpretation of some mantrās. However he feels that the discussion of the spiritual interpretation is outside the scope of his book. For the clarification of the word, ‘spiritual’, see the note in page (ix).
To understand the contribution of Sāyaṇa , we have to study carefully his five bhūmikās (introduction) for the five Veda Mantra Samhitas. All these bhūmikās along with a wealth of information both in English and Sanskṛt is in the book, ‘Veda Bhashya Bhūmika Samgraha’, by Padma Vibhushan Baladeva Upadhyaya, originally published in 1934 in Benares.
Many (but not all) western indologists are highly appreciative of Sāyaṇa ’s commentary. The translator H.H. Wilson states: ‘‘although the interpretation of Sāyaṇa may be, occasionally, questioned, he undoubtedly had a knowledge of his text far beyond the pretensions of any European scholar, and must have been in possession, either through his own learning, or that of his assistants, of all the interpretations which had been perpetuated, by traditional teaching, from the earliest times.’’
We give here two other interesting estimates of Sāyaṇa’s work. Both Professors Benfey and Cowell do not accept the statement that Sāyaṇa ’s commentary represents the complete Indian tradition from the time of composition of the hymns to his time.
Professor Benfey notes: ‘‘Everyone who has carefully studied the Indian interpretations is aware that absolutely no continuous tradition extending from the composition of the veda to their explanation by Indian scholars can be assumed; that, on the contrary, between the genuine poetic remains of vedic antiquity and their interpretations, a long continued break in the tradition must have intervened; out of which, at most, the comprehension of some particulars may have been rescued and handed down to later times by means of liturgical usage and words, formulae, and perhaps also poems connected therewith’’. ‘‘This last work of rescue is exactly what Sāyaṇa ’s commentary represents’’ (KS).
Another western scholar, Professor Cowell remarks, in his preface to one of the volumes of Wilson’s translations that, ‘‘This work does not pretend to give a complete translation of the Rig Veda, but only a faithful image of that particular phase of its interpretation which the mediaeval Hindus, as represented by Sāyaṇa , have preserved. This view is in itself interesting and of a historical value; but far wider and deeper study is needed to pierce to the real meaning of these old hymns. Sāyaṇa ’s commentary will always retain a value of its own—even its mistakes are interesting—but his explanations must not for a moment bar the progress of scholarship’’. KS adds, ‘‘we appreciate the balanced and judicial statement of this Western scholar, for uttering these words of caution and wisdom, that Sāyaṇa ’s commentary represents a faithful picture of a particular phase of Vedic interpretation.’’
The shortcomings of the commentary by Sāyaṇa are well-documented by SA and also by KS, in his book, ‘‘A New Light on the Veda’’ published by SAKSI. I will focus here on only one aspect. For words such as vāja or ritam, which occur in more than 500 mantrās, he assigns twenty or more arbitrary meanings in different places to force the ritualist meanings. For details, see the book by A.B. Purani, ‘Studies in Vedic Interpretation’.
In our book, the word vāja has only one meaning namely plenitude; ṛtam means the ‘Right’ or ‘Truth in movement’. svadha is Self-law, the law within the self which supports each entity. However, I have extensively utilised the work of Sāyaṇa .
Other Sanskṛt Commentators: Mādhwācharya and Ānanda Tirtha (1238-1317) was the founder of a school in Vedānta known as Dvaita. The centre of his activities was Udupi in Karnataka. He was a great logician also and author of numerous books and commentaries on several scriptures like Brahma Sutra, Upanishads etc. He does not accept the Karma Kāṇḍa, Jnāna Kāṇḍa division of Shri Shankara. He regards Veda mantrās such as RV Samhita as divinely inspired like the Upanishads. He believes that Veda is monotheistic with the supreme god as One who is all pervading. Since Viṣhṇu means all-pervading, he regards Viṣhṇu as the Supreme God in RV. There is no point in labelling him as fanatic etc., for this choice. He commented only on the first 40 sūktās of Rig Veda. He traces the words in RV to their roots to fix their meanings. He uses extensive logic. His disciple Jayatirtha wrote a detailed commentary (tippaṇi) on his work. A very interesting book in this tradition is the ‘Mantra Artha Manjari’ by Sri Raghavendra Tīrtha (1623-71 CE). It has a detailed discussion on how the meanings of the words get fixed.
Even though the Sanskṛt work of Anandatirtha was printed in 1892, its first English translation appeared only hundred years later, in 1996 due to Prof. Narasimhan, a professor of Mathematics. This feature is an indicator of the pall of inertia covering the Hindu consciousness in the last thousand years or more.
Swāmi dayānanda (1824-1883 CE)
He was a great reformer. He felt that Hinduism had several drawbacks which prevented the progress of Hindus. First, is the worship of the multiple gods and the second is the worship of idols in temples. The movement started by him is known as Arya Samaj. Swami D felt that Hindus should make Veda their main scripture since it taught only monotheism. He wrote a commentary in Sanskṛt on several maṇḍalaof RV. He also wrote an extensive Bhūmika (introduction) in a question-answer format. A complete English translation of the Bhūmika done by Paramanand is very interesting. Like Sāyaṇa , D gave different meanings for the same word occurring in different places so as to get the meanings of the mantrās he wanted. Some meanings assigned by him in RV (1.116.6) are:
ashvins: water and fire,
vaji: a car moving at very high speed,
havya: worth having,
(See P.259 in the Paramanand’s book)
He believed that all the technological devices such as aeroplane, telegraphy, steam-driven ships etc., were known to the people of Vedic times. For instance, he translates the word ‘tarutāram’ in (1.119.10) as ‘telegraph’. He feels that the entire Veda is of nonhuman origin and it has no starting date. See the box in p. 400.
Translation of Rig Veda in English
The earliest translation in English is due to H.H. Wilson, his first volume was published in 1850. He had high respect for Sāyaṇa ’s work and his translation follows the Sanskṛt commentary of Sāyaṇa without the grammatical details.
A new edition of his translation, prepared by Nag Publishers (1989) in 7 volumes, has also the mantrās in Devanāgari, the notes and several indices. The editor of this series, Prof. Dayanand Bhargava states, ‘my teachers always taught me Sāyaṇa ’s commentary even when they had to teach the ‘Vedic Reader’ by A.A. Macdonnell; my own experience of teaching for the last 20 years has shown that they were correct’’.
The work of R.T.H. Griffith, published in 1897 has only summary translations of all the mantrās of RV. His book has no text of the mantra. Griffith makes several rude comments on Rig Veda and its seers. He assumed that the poets of Rig Veda were nomads or engaged in primitive agriculture. For a detailed comparison of the translation of Griffith and that done by (SA), see the SAKSI book ‘Semantics of Rig Veda’. However it is good to remember that this was the only book easily available for Hindus for knowing the meaning of Rig Veda in English for over a hundred years, till the appearance of the edition of Nag publishers.
Note that for almost all Indologists, the battles in the Rig Veda are actual physical events between different tribes or clans, the so called devas and the dasyus. For a detailed rebuttal of the claims of these authors, see ‘The problem of Aryan invasion’, by K.D. Sethna. This book includes a chapter entitled, ‘Sri Aurobindo’s symbolic interpretation of Veda’.
Veda Pratiṣhṭhāna, in New Delhi has brought out a complete English translation of Rig Veda in thirteen volumes in the period (1977-84). The translators, Swami Satyaprakāsh Sarasvati and Satyakam Vidyālankar are admirers and followers of Swāmi dayānanda’s thought. Not unexpectedly, they strongly criticize the commentary of Sāyaṇa stating, ‘‘Sāyaṇa ’s interpretation of the Vedas, instead of bringing credit to the race and culture, brought a disregard and disrepute, and damaged more than did any good to the reputation they deserved . . ‘‘ (p. 104, volume 1). According to them, ‘‘Aurobindo treads on dangerous grounds as much as his mysticism may lead to the worst kind of superstition . .’’ (p.129, volume 1).
However if one takes a close look at their English translation, several sentences closely resemble the sentences in the translation by H.H. Wilson. It appears that they began their work with a copy of Wilson’s translation and replaced words connected with deities such as Agni, Indra, Ashvin etc., and related words like Rākṣhasās etc., by other words. For instance, Rakshasa is replaced by ‘wicked’. Agni is replaced by ‘fire-divine’ or ‘leader of men’. Indra by ‘commentator of army’ or other epithets connected with human beings.
For instance take (10.87.1)
‘‘I offer clarified butter to the powerful fire-divine, the destroyer of the wicked. I approach the friendly (fire-divine) for obtaining comfort. Enkindled, sharpened (and thus aroused) by our pious devotees, may the fire divine guard us from evils, by day and by night.’’ (Veda Pratiṣhṭhāna)
The translation of Wilson of the same mantra is:
‘‘I offer clarified butter to the powerful Agni, the slayer of Rākṣhasās; I approach the most spacious dwelling, the friend (of the worshippers); Agni sharpening (his flames) is kindled by pious men; may he guard us from malignant spirits by day and by night’’ (Wilson).
Another Example (10.63.2):
‘‘O divine powers, all your appellations and names are worthy of adorations, praise and reverence; whether you have come forth from heaven, or from firmament or from earth, may you hear our invocations on this occasion’’ (Veda Pratishthan).
Wilson’s Translation: All your appellations, gods, are to be revered and praised and worshipped, and whether you are sprung from heaven or from the firmament or from earth, hear at this (solemnity) my invocation’’. (Wilson)
Nowhere in their 13 volumes do these authors mention that they depend on Wilson’s translation. These authors abuse Sāyaṇa without realising that the translation of Wilson which they copy closely follows the work of Sāyaṇa . How has their translation, ‘brought credit to their race and culture’?
Most Hindus are highly appreciative of Max Muller for his stupendous work in getting the text of Rig Veda in Devanāgari printed along with Sāyaṇa ’s commentary in the latter part of nineteenth century, a work spanning over 20 years. This work and the work of Western indologists, often critical of the Hindu thought, jolted the Hindus out of the pall of inertia hanging on their psyche. Some persons began to study Rig Veda with some seriousness. But they uncritically accepted the views of the Western Indologists because of their lack of questioning spirit and their inability to fully understand the basic texts in Sanskṛt and the commentaries in Sanskṛt.
Translations in Indian languages such as Kannada
The most extensive translation and commentary on Rig Veda was produced in Mysore during 1945-1955; it involves a total of 25,000 pages in thirty volumes in the edition of large size (1/4 demy, 22cms x 28cms). Its chief Patron was His Highness Sri Jaya Chamaraja Wodeyar, the Maharaja of Mysore. Its spiritual patron was the saint Shilpasiddhanti Shivayogi Shri Siddhalingaswami belonging to the Lingayat (Basaveshvara) lineage. This book is in Kannada language and Kannada script. Note that the Kannada language has all the vowels and consonants of the Sanskṛt with some more vowels. Hence the Veda mantrās can be written in Kannada script with perfect clarity (This is true of Telugu, but not of Tamil). For each mantra, the book gives the text, meaning for every word in it following Sāyaṇa ’s commentary, the grammar and ritual aspects in Sāyaṇa ’s commentary. In addition it gives extensive quotations from the Brāhmaṇa books, Nirukta of Yāska, Brihaddevata, Purāṇās and epics and also some comments of Western Indologists. The entire work was done by Asthana Vidwan H.P. Venkata Rao assisted by a team of scholars for providing the details on Mīmamasa, Brāhmaṇa books etc. In addition, 5 more books were added dealing with Nirukta and Aitareya Brāhmaṇa; the last volume, the 36th, has several indices.
Outside of Karnataka, very few have heard about the book. Even within, some persons in the Vedic circles mention its name, but very few have read even a single volume, in some detail. The period (1950-1980) can be regarded as the period in which the Upanishads became known as the books of knowledge; hence there was little interest in studying the Veda which was regarded as dealing with rites. Consequently this great work was ignored.
I am not aware of any complete translation of all the Rig Veda mantrās in any other Indian languages. I have heard about the translation of Rig Veda in Hindi done by the great scholar Satavalekar. And those done by Pundits under the direction of Swāmi dayānanda are not complete. Of course, there are translations of selected hymns of Rig Veda in several Indian languages. For instance Jambunathan has done this in Tamil. Note that in Tamil Nadu, the text of Veda mantra is in the Grantha script.
Sri Aurobindo: Writings on Veda
(i) ‘Hymns to the Mystic Fire’, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, (1946), 1972, indicated as HMF.
(ii) ‘The Secret of the Veda’, (1956), 1972 indicated as SV
(iii) Upanishads, 1971.
HMF has translations with text of many Sukta-s (hymns) from Rig-Veda, dedicated to the mystic deity agni. The book has as excellent Foreword of about 20 pages, an overview of Rigveda entitled, ‘The Doctrine of the mystics’, a detailed commentary on some mantra-s, and an extensive and illuminating essay on the meanings of the various key words appearing in the Rig Veda and related issues.
The book SV is divided into 4 parts. The first part with 23 chapters(200 Pages) indicates the various secrets in the Veda supported by the relevant quotations from Rig Veda, given as translation along with transliteration of the Sanskrit . The second part contains translation and extensive commentary on 13(thirteen) Sukta-s of Rigveda. There is a wealth of information here. This website in essay 12, entitled ‘Gods: More Details’ has all these essays in detail. Part III gives the translation only of the 28 hymns to Agni from Mandala 5 along with the meaning of some words in them. It also contains the text and translation of the 11 suktas (hymns 62-72) dedicated to Mitra-Varuna. In addition, it has an interesting foreword to the Mandala 5, running to 5 pages. It has also extensive essays on the deities Agni, Surya, Divine Dawn, Savitar, Mitra,Varuna, Bhaga Aryaman.The fourth section has translation of several hymns and a long essay entitled ‘ The origins of the Aryan speech’. This topic is discussed also in the vol.27 of collected works of SA, pp163-185. The Journal: ‘Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Archers and Research’ has published the incomplete translations of several hymns, not contained in above hymns.
Summing up Sri Aurobindo has translated in detail at least three hundred suktas of Rigveda out of the 1028.
T V Kapali Sastry: Writings on Veda
In the collected works of Kapali Sastry edited by Sri M.P. Pandit, the volumes one, four, five, six and ten, deal with Rig Veda. His major work on the Veda is Siddhanjana in Sanskrit. This book has a long introduction (bhumika) highlighting the main ideas of Rig Veda, and also responding to the criticisms of the spiritual interpretation of the Veda. The Sanskrit work and its translation are in volume 4 of the collected works. The remaining part of Siddhanjana has a detailed commentary with word-word meaning of the first 121 Suktas of Rigveda (First Mandala).The Sanskrit part is in volumes 4 and 5.
The English translation with word to word meanings of the first 32 Sukta-s is in volumes 4 and 6. The summary translation of the hymns 33-121, based on the Siddhanjana is in volume 10 of CW. SAKSI has brought out a new edition of the English translation of the introduction, entitled, ‘A New Light on the Veda’, in a user friendly format.
Volume 1 of CW has essays dwelling on the various aspects of the esoteric meaning of Veda.
Professor Saligrama Ramachandra Rao has Published, Veda gudartha bodha Suktani’ containing 30 aphorisms in Sanskrit detailing the Secret in the Veda using Kapali sastry’s own language. It was originally prepared as a part of long foreword written to the ‘Rig Veda Samhita, Mandala one’ authored by Dr. R.L. Kashyap and published by SAKSI in 2001. The aphorisms appear as an appendix in latest edition of book published in 2009.
SAKSI has published a compilation of the writings of Sri.T.V.Kapali Sastry in English entitled, ’Unveiling the light in the Veda’ edited by Dr. R.L. Kashyap. It is published by ‘Sri Sat Guru Publication: A division of Indian Books Centre. Several essays in this book have been modified into essays in this website.
Printed Texts of Mantra Samhitas
The Vedās were written on palm-leaves and birch-barks. The earliest manuscripts are dated very roughly around 800 CE and the first person to do so was Vishukra as quoted in Al-hind of Al-Baruni (born in 973 CE) [translation of Al-hind by Edward Sachau entitled ‘Alberuni’s India’, Pub. in 1888 CE; reprinted in 2002]. The earliest printed text of the Rigveda mantra Samhita with the Bhāshya of Sāyaņa was brought out during (1848-1874) by Friedrich Max Muller (1823-1900). Dr. A Weber published the text of Vājasaneyi Samhitā of Shukla YajurVeda in 1852 and the Taittirīya Samhitā of Krişhņa Yajur Veda in 1871; Dr. L. Von Schroeder published the text of Maitrāyaņi Samhitā in (1881-86) and Kaţhaka Samhitā in (1900-11). Professor Stevenson published the text of the Rāņāyanīya Sāmaveda Samhitā with English trnaslation in 1842; Eugene Burnouf (1801-52) produced the German translation of “Kauthumīya Sāmaveda Samhitā in 1848. Roth and Whitney (1827-94) published the Atharva Veda Samhitā.
The critical edition of the Rigveda Samhitā with Sāyaņa’s commentary was brought out by the Vaidic Samshodhan Mandala in (1933-1951). Pandit Damodar Satvalekar (1867-1968) has brought out the texts of all the Veda Samhitās with good introductions in Sanskrit Hindi and Marathi beginning in 1918.
[The above information was obtained from the booklet “An Introduction to the Vedās” by K.S. Srinivasacharya published by the Alliance Company.]
M P Pandit: Writing on Veda
The great contribution of Sri. M.P. Pandit is the compilation and publication of the 12 volumes of the collected works of his teacher, Kapali Sastry.
His own books on the Veda are:
- Mystic Approach to the Veda and the Upanishad.
- Aditi and other deities in the Veda
- Key to Vedic Symbolism
- Gems from the veda; also titled as ‘Wisdom of Veda’
Books on Upanishads
- The Upanishads
- Gleaning from the Upanishads
- Essence of the Upanishads
- Guide to the Upanishads
The selected works of Sri.M.P.Pandit in five volumes are edited by Rand Hicks and published by Integral Knowledge Study California, USA.
The fifth volume entitled ‘Traditions’ contains excerpts from his works such as, approach to Veda, Vedic Deities, Upanishads, Gems from the Veda, Thoughts on the Gita, Light on the Tantra-s, Gems from the Tantra, Traditions in mysticism, Traditions in Sadhana, Traditions in Occultism and other books.