Veda Books

The core of this collection is the set of four types of books, namely Rigveda mantra Samhita, Yajurveda mantra Samhita, Sāmaveda mantra Samhita and the Atharvaveda mantra Samhita; each type having one or more recensions. These are all poems, some metrical and some non-metrical. These are the earliest books of the entire humanity. Each verse in these books is called a mantra and they collectively number more than 20,000. These mantrās are the inspired words shruti heard by the sage when they were in a super-conscient state as a result of their askesis. Veda is not man-made in the sense it is not born of human intellect, human imagination or speculation. The mantrās are the perceptions of deep spiritual truths and occult phenomena revealed to these sages. The rişhis number is more than thousand; they include several women also such as vāk ambriņi, apāla, lopamudra, sūryā etc., we will mention more details later.

Associated with each of the four mantra-samhita books, there are brāhmaņa books, āraņyaka books and the Upanishad books. Thus the sixteen types of books are divided into four groups named Rigveda, Yajurveda, Sāmaveda and Atharvaveda. Rigveda denotes the set of Rigveda Samhita books along with their associated brāhmaņa, āraņyaka and Upanishad books. Yajurveda has two major recensions, Shukla Yajurveda and the Krişhņa Yajurveda. We give below the names of the books in the major or well known recensions of the four Vedās.

Names of The Books

samhita brāhmaņa ārņyaka upanishad

Rig Veda (RV)

shākala aitareya aitareya aitareya
kaushītaki kaushītaki kaushītaki

Sukla Yajur Veda (SYV)

vājasaneyi m. shatapatha īshāvāsya
vājasaneyi k bŗhadāraņyaka

m: mādhyandina, k: kāņva

Krishna Yajur Veda (KYV)

taittirīya taittirīya taittirīya taittirīya
maitrāyaņīya maitrāyaņīya mahānarāyaņa
kaţhaka shvetāshvatara

Sama Veda (SV)

jaiminīya talavakāra kena
rāņāyanīya chhāndogya chhāndogya

Atharva Veda (AV)

shaunaka gopatha mundaka
pippalāda māndūkya

The four mantra-samhita books, characterized by their appellations Rik, Yajus, Sāma and Atharva are made up of mantrās. These are poetic verses, some of which are metrical and the remaining are not. There are three types of mantrās in the four collections namely rik or ŗk, yajus and sāma. An ancient authority characterizes the three types as follows: rik is a verse in one of the standard metres like gāyatri, anustup etc. The number of syllables in a verse defines its metre; a verse in gāyatri has 24 syllables divided into 3 pādās, lines. Sāman is a metrical verse chanted in an elaborate manner according to specific rules. The remaining verses are yajus. It is inappropriate to characterize the yajus mantrās as prose. The famous litany Shatarudrīya to the deity Rudra occurring in the chapters 16 and 18 of the shukla yajur veda or that in kānda 4, adhyāya 5, prapātţhaka 1, (4.5.1) of Taittirīya Samhita of the Krişhņa yajur veda is one such non-metrical poem.

Rigveda Samhita is a collection made up of only rik mantrās; Sāmaveda Samhita is made up of only Sāma mantrās. Both the Yajurveda Samhita and Atharvaveda Samhita contains both Rik mantrās and Yajur mantrās.

There is substantial overlap among the four Veda Samhitās. Ninety-five percent of the text of the entire Sāmaveda Samhita is in Rigveda Samhita. About 50 percent of the mantrās in Shukla Yajurveda Samhita and thirty percent of the mantrās in Atharvaveda Samhita are in Rigveda Samhita. Thus it is absurd to state that Atharvaveda Samhita is not sacred.

The total number of mantrās in the four SamhitāsRigShuklaYajurSāma and Atharva is roughly twenty thousand including repetitions.

We stated earlier that all the mantrās of the four collections are perceptions of deep spiritual truths and occult phenomena revealed to the rişhis. These verses couched their knowledge in heavy symbolism. Some moderns who do not care to understand the language of symbols label these verses as simplistic or childish.

The symbols used in these verses are of many types as will be clarified later. A majority of these symbols deal with yajna which is a Sanskrit word having several different connotations. This word is translated as rite or sacrifice. The outward ritual is only one aspect of yajna. In the vedic times, there was widespread performance of these rituals, which are fairly elaborate ranging in time over several days or even months. A typical ritual involves four types of priests, the fire-altar, the recitations from the mantrasamhita books and the physical offerings like the juice of the creeper Soma, the melted and clarified butter, ghŗta etc. Every outward ritual has a corresponding internal yajna occurring in the subtle body of the human performer of the yajna. The symbolism of the yajna will be clarified in the next two chapters. Since the Veda Samhitās frequently use the terms occurring in the yajna like the names of the four priests, the fire-altar etc., the entire Veda Samhitās are dubbed as ritualistic by persons who do not understand its symbolism. Some verses or whole hymns are recited at appropriate times in the ritual; but no one can point to the presence of the details of any ritual in a single hymn of the four Veda Samhitās. Many mantrās of the Veda Samhitās such as RV (1.1.1) explicitly declare that the priests in the yajna are not human beings, but the cosmic forces or deities like Agni, Indra; It is the deities like Mitra and Varuņa who Light the fire in the fire-altar, RV (1.36.4) etc.

Thus every verse of the Samhitās has a double meaning, the so called esoteric meaning or the deep meaning understood in these days by the rişhis and their disciples, and the external or exoteric or gross meaning understood by the commoners who attended the rituals. The commoners believed that by adoring the Gods such as Agni, Indra etc., by means of mantrās and rituals, their desires would be satisfied. The device of double meaning of the Mantra was necessary for preserving the secret knowledge from being misused by unqualified persons.

The mention of the double meaning of the Veda Mantra has a long history going back to the earliest known vedic commentator Yāska. In modern times it was Sri Aurobindo who championed the spiritual interpretation of the Veda.

RigVeda Samhita

It is a book of more than ten thousand mantrās, each in a specific metre, arranged in ten manalās. They were revealed to several sages or seers called as rişhis, more than one thousand in number. Some of them are women too like Vāk Ambŗņi, Lopamudrā, Sūryā, Apāla etc. Thus Hinduism is the only religion in which some of the earliest prophets were women also.

The spiritual meaning of some of the mantrās are transparent; the meaning of others becomes clear after understanding the underlying symbolism. We will discuss the details of symbolism in the next several chapters.

YajurVeda Samhita

It has two major recensions, Shukla and Krişhņa. They have both metrical and non-metrical poems. The Shukla Yajurveda has about sixteen hundred mantrās; about fifty percent of it is in Rigveda Samhita. It is made up of forty adhyāyās or chapters, the last one being the famous Işha Upanishad. It includes several famous hymns such as Shatarudrīya, Puruşha, Shivasankalpa etc.

We will mention here its verse (26.2), second verse in 26th chapter, which declares that all the mantrās of all the Vedās have to be taught to all persons, women or men, belonging to a high or low caste, or a stranger to the community.

Careless reading and translation have lead to the impression that Yajurveda Samhita is merely a book of physical rituals. As mentioned earlier, verses from this Samhita are recited systematically at various points in the physical ritual. At this point, we should make a clear distinction between the text of the Yajurveda Samhita and the commentaries on it by the brāhmaņa books and the sūtra books like āpastambha sūtra. Western translators like Keith or Griffith had no clue to the symbolism of the yajur veda samhita and hence they gave a ritualistic meaning for each verse based on the commentary in the brāhmaņa.

SāmaVeda Samhita

It is a book of about 2000 metrical verses, all of which are in Rigveda Samhita except for 75 of them. These verses are chanted in an elaborate way labelled udgīta. The text used for chanting is an expanded version of the basic text found in Sāma and Rigveda Samhitās, obtained by adding several syllables. The chanting notation in the written text Sāmaveda involves seven symbols, unlike the three in Rigveda Samhita. Sāmaveda Samhita is the foundation for Indian music with its basic seven notes. One of the brāhmaņa book associated with this Samhita is called Talavakāra, i.e., one who provides the beat or rhyme in the music.

AtharvaVeda Samhita

It has also names like brahma Veda suggesting its spiritual importance and bhishag Veda alluding to the many hymns in it dealing with healing in general. It has verses both metrical and non-metrical. It has about 6000 metrical verses of which about 1200 are in rig Veda Samhita also. It has a total of 731 sūktās, 80 of which have non-metrical verses or prose.

It has several interesting hymns dealing with different branches of knowledge. It gives the foundation of decimal notation for integers stating that the relation of one and ten, that of two and twenty etc., are all identical, AV (6.25.1, 2, 3; 7.4.1). It has the first definition of mathematical infinity stating that infinity is that which is left after subtracting infinity out of it, AV (10.8.29).

It has several interesting hymns dealing with society at large. It explicitly states that that society was ‘multi cultural’, i.e., it had people who belonged to different religions nānā dharmānām, and also people who spoke different languages. It calls upon people to make concord with strangers, AV (7.52.1).

It has the famous hymn to earth, bhūmi sūkta, AV(12.1), dealing with ecology. Its ideas on ecology go much beyond what the moderns have to say. It specifically notices the self-renewing nature of earth in its many aspects and calls upon human beings to act in ways which is in harmony with the general principles of earth.

It has several interesting hymns of spiritual importance such as the viewing the divine principle as a pillar skambha, AV(10.7) which supports the universe with its many planes dhāmāni, AV(10.7).

All Indian languages are full of epigrams or subhāşhitās (good-sayings) which reflect the many sided wisdom handed down by tradition. Many of these epigrams can be traced to the Atharvaveda. For instance the list of six psychological enemies ari shad varga such as lust kāma, anger krodha, greed lobha, delusion moha, arrogance mada and jealously mātsarya occurs in all languages. The Atharvaveda (8.4.22), also RV (7.104.22), explicitly refers to this list describing each quality by its associated animal or bird, the association itself being ancient. For instance the chakravāka birds denote lust, delusion by owl, jealousy by dog, destructive anger by wolf, greed by vulture and arrogance by eagle.

At the end of the age of the Samhitās the deep knowledge in these books was almost lost; however the texts themselves were carefully preserved by special methods of recitation known as aşhţa vikŗti which are in use even today. The loss of vedic knowledge is mentioned repeatedly in the later books purāņa. It is said that the Divine Being assumed the incarnation of boar and recovered the Veda books buried in the depth. This is a symbolic way of expressing a symbolic fact which we can recognize if we pay attention to the Sanskrit words. The word for boar is varāha which also has the meaning of lifting up aroha that which is sacred vara. This symbolic legend refers to the attempt at recovering the lost or buried knowledge, buried in the realms of our subconscient.

The brāhmaņa books are the result of the attempts to recover the lost knowledge. The recovery had two stages. The first stage was to record the names or details of the hymns of the Veda Samhita recited at the various steps in the outward ritual yajna and also to record the various steps of yajna. This is the content of the initial part of the brāhmaņa books. The second stage deals with the contemplations and the philosophical issues, emphasizing the subtle nature of the yajna. This stage leads to the āranyakās and Upanishads.

We will focus here on the earlier part of the brāhmaņa books. Recall that every recension of the mantra Samhita has its associated brāhmaņa book. Thus the Aitareya brāhmaņa is associated with Rigveda Samhita which has only one recension. The Vājasaneyi mādhyandina Samhita of Shukla Yajurveda has Shatapatha brāhmaņa. This brāhmaņa book contains in itself both the āraņyaka and Upanishad portions, i.e., of its 14 books kāndās, the last book, 14th, is the āranyaka. Of this book, chapters 4 through 9 constitute the famous Bŗhadāraņyaka Upanishad. This brāhmaņa gives some details of the rituals in which the hymns of the corresponding mantra Samhita, i.e., Vājasaneyi Samhita are used. It is here we find some detail of the rituals. For example the kāndās 6 through 9 deal with the construction of the bird-shaped fire-altar in the so-called agnichayana rite. These kāndās give a ritualistic explanation of the mantrās in the adhyāyās or chapters eleven through eighteen of the vājasaneyi samhita. It is important to understand that when one reads the original of these chapters 11 through 18 of the mantrasamhita book, one barely sees any mention of the fire-altar. As a matter of fact, the chapters 16 and 18 constitute the famous litany to the deity rudra or shatarudrīya.

The tenth pravargya of the shatapatha brāhmaņa is titled agnirahasya or the secret of Agni. This chapter gives the legends and the contemplations regarding the different ritual acts associated with the mystic fire Agni. Recall that these rituals are mentioned in the earlier pravargyās six through nine. This chapter views the fire-ritual as a model of the cosmos and its dynamic activities. It sets up a correspondence between the fire-altar and three planes or worlds namely the world of the physical matter bhūh, the world of the life-energies bhuvah and the world of the mental energies suvah. The correspondence is very detailed. The fire-altar is constructed of five materials namely stones, the filling earth and three types of bricks. This 10th chapter gives the correspondences for these items to those on the three cosmic realms mentioned above.

While placing a particular type of brick during the construction of the fire-altar, the chapter 16 of the mantra-samhita, the hymn to rudra, is recited. Before the commencement of this hymn, it is stated that by this recitation the bricks become dhenavah, cows. Outwardly such a statement does not make sense. However as mentioned in the mantra samhita section dhenavah is a standard symbol for spiritual knowledge. Hence the above statement interpreted in the context of a symbolic yajna occurring in the subtle body of the performer makes sense. In this inner yajna, a symbolic fire-altar is constructed and the entire altar glows with knowledge.

Thus even though the brāhmaņa books focus on the external ritual, still there are passages, here and there, to demonstrate that the deeper meaning of yajna in the inner yajna. This deeper symbolism of yajna is given in other brāhmaņa books also. For instance aitareya brāhmaņa (2.6.3) of the rig veda states, “yajamāna himself is the fire-altar”. The detailed quotation is given in later chapters.

Araņya means forest. These were the books used by persons who have retired from the active life of householder gŗhasta and stayed in the forests to carry on their spiritual pursuits. These books mention yajňa, but emphasize their symbolism, especially the inner yajňa occurring in the subtle body of the human aspirant. These books naturally provide a bridge from the brāhmaņa books to the Upanishad books.

Typically these books constitute penultimate chapters of the brāhmaņa books. Sometimes they are separate books. For example Rigveda has a separate āraņyaka called as Aitareya āraņyaka which is associated with the corresponding aitareya brāhmaņa. Some opine that they are different chapters of the same book.

Shukla Yajurveda has no separate āraņyaka text, the last chapter of the brāhmaņa book of this Veda is the shatapatha brāhmaņa whose last chapter(s) constitute the famous Bŗhadāraņyaka Upanishad.

Again Chhāndogya brāhmaņa of Sāmaveda has no āraņyaka. It has the famous and massive Upanishad Chhāndogya.

These books are clearly much later than the Samhitā books. In course of time, the outward rituals became very strong; thus the crust of ritualism almost completely enveloped the deep spiritual knowledge of the mantrās. The rişhis of a much later age (one thousand years or more) attempted to recover the spiritual knowledge independently by means of tapas. The philosophical truths and occult knowledge recovered by the rişhis are contained in the Upanishad books. The special feature is that these books are more easily understood by intellectuals than the Veda Samhitās. The Upanishads occasionally mention the Rig vedic mantrās but to use them is not their main occupation. They are concerned with establishing the supreme truth. And in the line of their endeavour, they may and do refer to these mantrās by way of illustration to find support for their own conclusions, comment on them whenever necessary and make a rightful use of them for purposes of propagation of spiritual knowledge to their disciples and truth seekers.

There is the list of 108 Upanishads compiled in the Muktika Upanishad. We are dealing here only with the famous thirteen Upanishads which are associated with a Brāhmaņa book or Āraņyaka book, typically constituting their ending chapter or chapters. They are famous because the great commentator on Upanishads, Bādarāyaņa quoted only from these 13 Upanishads in his classic sūtra book, “brahma sūtrās”. They are:

īsha, kena, kaţha, prashna, muņdaka, māndūkya, aitareya, taittirīya, chhāndogya, bŗhadāraņyaka, kaushītaki,shvetāshvatara, mahānārāyaņa.

Note that the three Upanishads mundaka, māndūkya and prashna which play a crucial role in the vedāntic interpretations are all associated with the Atharva Veda, showing the sacredness of the fourth Veda also.

The text of all the 13 Upanishads put together is one half or less that of the Rigveda Samhita alone. The two massive Upanishads, Chhāndogya and Bŗhadāraņyaka constitute eighty percent of the text of all the 13 Upanishads.

There are several passages in these two Upanishads which are couched in ritualistic terms and would sound peculiar to the ordinary rationalistic person. We can understand their depth only if we understand the symbolism behind them.

Only if we have a mastery over the symbolism of the mantrās of Rigveda Samhitā, then the inner meaning of these apparently controversial mantrās will become transparent.

Now we will consider the major traditional interpretations of all the Veda books.

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.]

The earliest explanations of the mantra Samhitās are in the Brāhmaņa books which date at least a thousand years later (i.e., around 3500 BCE). Even though the Brāhmaņa books give in general a ritualist explanation of mantrās, in places they clearly mention the spiritual interpretation. For instance Aitareya Brāhmaņa declares that “yūpa, the sacrificial altar (i.e., the altar on which the animals are sacrificed) is really the yajamāna or the performer himself”.The next commentary we have is due to Yāska (Circa 1000 BCE or earlier). He comments in detail on a hundred sūktās of Rigveda. He first vigorously answers the critics of Veda like Kautsa who declared that Veda had no meaning. He then declares that Veda has at least thrice levels of meaning namely

  1. the physical or naturalistic (ādibhautic) interpretation in which the various cosmic powers like Agni, Indra are regarded as the physical powers of nature such as fire, rain etc.
  2. the interpretation (ādidaivic) of Veda as rituals or prayers for the popular deities like Agni, Indra etc., here yajňa is viewed as external rites to please the deities who will give them favours.
  3. The spiritual, psychological interpretation (adhyātmic) in which everything both within man and cosmos is viewed as one aspect of the Supreme One.

The next commentator (later than Yāska) is Shaunaka, author of Brihad Devata which explains some verses of Rig Veda.

But the most influential person in the first millennium BCE and later is Jaimini, the famous author of Mīmāmsa sūtrās. He convinced his contemporaries and later scholars that the purpose of Veda was the performance of external rituals only. The Veda mantrās have no other meaning. This view was accepted even by the great Vedāntin Shankara Āchārya who declared that the wisdom is contained only in the Upanishad books and not in the Veda mantrās. Shankara does not mention that some of the famous mantrās of Upanishads are already in the Veda Samhitās.

The great medieval scholar Sāyaņa Āchārya (14th Century CE) wrote a voluminous commentary on all the Veda Samhitā books and several Brāhmaņa books. He focuses entirely on the rituals and gives detailed quotes from the books which give the details of the performance of rites like the Bodhayāna Shrauta Sūtrās etc. He does not deny the spiritual viewpoint, but this is not his interest. Nowadays most of the English books on the outline of Hindu scriptures such as those of Rādhakrishnan or Zehner declare blindly that mantra Samhitās deal only with rituals.

There are many other commentaries of Rigveda such as those of Venkatamadhava, Skandasvāmin, Ānandatīrtha etc., which are ignored by and large.

But the commentary of some interest to us is that by Ānandatīrtha or Madhvāchārya (13th century CE), the founder of the dualistic school of Vedānta. His commentary in Samskŗt deals only with the first forty sūktās of Rigveda. He stresses the ādhyātmic interpretation which is expanded in the works of the disciples of his school namely Jayatīrtha and Rāghavendra Swami. Swami Dayananda Sarasvati (19th Century CE) also wrote a commentary on Rigveda upholding the idea that Veda deals with dharma. In the latter part of 19th century we have two complete translations of Rigveda namely that of Wilson (based on Sāyaņa commentary) and that of R.T.H. Griffith. Swamy Satyananda published a ten volume English translation of Rigveda based on the commentary of Dayananda.

The exegesis and translations of Sri Aurobindo focus on the spiritual and psychological interpretation. Two of his books on the Veda are ‘The Secret of the Veda’ and ‘The Hymns to the Mystic Fire’. The latter book gives the translation of most of the sūktās dedicated to Agni. Sri Aurobindo has translated over four hundred sūktās out of the thousand. His disciple T.V. Kapāli Sāstry gave a Bhāshya or commentary in Samskŗt on the first 121 suktās of Rig Veda focusing on the spiritual Interpretation. He answers in detail the questions raised both the medieval critics as well as the moderns like Professor Radhakrishna.

For the Krişhņa Yajurvedas we have Sanskrit commentary of Sāyaņa and the Bhatta Bhāskara (who is prior to Sāyaņa) and the English translation of B. Keith. All of them are ritualistic. For the Shukla Yajurveda, there are the commentaries of Uvvata and Mahidara and the English translation of R.T.H. Griffith, all of them being ritualistic. Swami Dayananda has given a Bhāshya on Shukla Yajur Veda viewing it as a book of Dharma. Devi Chand has given a summary translation of the verses of Shukla Yajur Veda based on Dayananda commentary.

There is the English translation of Sāmaveda by Stevenson and that of the Atharvaveda by Whitney.

Mention should be made also of the compilations of Vedic hymns and their translations done by Raimundo Pannikar, Abinash Bose and Macdonnel. The book of essays by Ananda Coomaraswamy entitled “An Interpretation of Veda” focuses on the spiritual meaning of the Veda and offers a vigorous critique of the some of the Western translations of Veda Samhitās. M.P. Pandit discusses the problem of Vedic interpretation in his several books. A.B. Purani in his ‘Studies in Vedic Interpretation’ gives a detailed comparison of the translations of Sri Aurobindo and those of Sāyaņa Āchārya.

Professor S.K. Ramachandra Rao has discussed the problem of Vedic interpretation in great detail in his ten volumes of ‘Rigveda Darshana’. He gives extensive Sanskrit quotations from the work of Yāska, Shaunaka, Ānandatīrtha, Sāyaņa and also lesser known works which are very interesting.

(II) SAKSI Translations of Veda

1) SAKSI has already published the entire translation of Rig Veda with 10 Mandala-s is 12 books;

The text and translation of entire Krishna Yajur Veda Mantra Samhita (Taittiriya) with seven Kanda’s has been published by SAKSI in 3 volumes. The translation of first part of Sama Veda has been published.

The translation of remaining parts of Sama Veda and Athatva Veda will be completed in 2012.

The unique feature of the SAKSI translation in that the four padas or quarters of each mantra are individually translated, in four distinct lines; the numbers 1,2,3,4 indicating the text of the 4 pada-s of each mantra match with that corresponding English translation ending in these numbers. In contrast, the currently available translations such as those of Griffith or Wilson, the translation of each mantra is one long sentence of 30 to 40 words.

Our translations are based on the writings on Veda and their translations authored by Sri Aurobindo and T.V Kapali Sastry and those of M.P. Pandit given elsewhere. See the essay6 , ‘Sri Aurobindo’s writings on the Veda’, essay 7 ‘Sri Kapali Saastri’s writings on the Veda’, and essay 8‘M.P. Pandits writings on Veda. In addition SAKSI has published over 100 books in seven Indian languages explaining specific topics in Veda such as Gods. For listings of these books, see

2) SAKSI publications focus is on spiritual/psychological meaning of the mantra-s in the framework of Sri Aurobindo’s thought. The primary aim of our translation is to make the meaning of the mantra-s accessible to all lovers of Veda from all walks of life who are not necessarily experts in English literature.

In the available books on Rig Veda, the translation of a mantra or verse is given as a single sentence with 40 to 50 words; sometimes the sentence may be divided into two parts with a semicolon. Most of the modern English prose readers are used to sentences with a word-count of 15 to 20. Long sentences are clearly a great barrier for the beginners in the Veda, since most of the readers have no idea about the depth of the vedic thought.

In the fifth Mandala translation, we have taken a major step in increasing the case of readability, without ignoring the vedic tradition. Every mantra of the Rig Veda is in one of several metres (chhandas), the most popular being the Triṣhṭup. Nearly forty percent of all Rig Veda mantrās are in this metre. This metre has 44 syllables (akhara-s) and the associated verse (mantra) is divided into 4 parts, each having 11akhara-s. A mantra is a divine revealation received by a rishi who expressed it in a metrical form with four parts (pāda or feet) almost independent of one another as for as meaning is concerned. In the ancient days, it was not uncommon for a person to chant the mantra, pāda by pāda and recapitulate the meaning of each pāda as it was being recited. For verses in shorter metres like Gāyatri with 24 syllables, there are only 3 pāda, each of 8 akhara-s.

Thus in fifth mandala, the text of each mantra in Samskrit is given in the Devanāgari script in three or four parts, each part corresponding to a pāda, using the pāda-patha of mantra wherever necessary. The translation of each mantra is given in 4 separate lines, each numbered with 1,2, etc. Thus each line of the translation has only six to twelve words making it easily readable.

The shorter sentences clearly help us to focus on their meaning. Many of the lines indicate wisdom needed in the spiritual practice. These gems are easily lost in the summary translations of the mantra-s produced in the earlier times.

To illustrate the differences between the four-part translation expressing the psychological point of view and the summary translation of each verse by Wilson (or Griffith), we give two examples. We give only the translations, which are in the Section V Of fifth mandala translation.

Mantra (5.66.1)

Wilson’s translation:

Man, endowed with intelligence, (adores) the two deities, the performers of good deeds, the destroyers of foes; offer (oblations) to the adorable accepter of (sacrificial) food, to Varuṇa, whose form is water.

Our translation:

O mortal who wakes to knowledge (chikitana) (1),

call the two godheads who are perfect in will (sukratu) and destroyers of your enemy (2),

Direct your thoughts to Varuṇa of whom Truth is the form (3).

(Direct your thoughts) to the great Delight (4).

In our translation, the essence of the mantra is clear. It is meditation. The mantra implies that since they (Mitra and Varuṇa) are perfect in will, they have the power of giving the will-power to the human seeker. We translate kratu everywhere as ‘will’ unlike Sāyaṇa or Wilson who give a dozen meanings for it in the translations of different mantra-s.

Note that the clear instruction in the lines 3 and 4 of our translation have escaped the attention of Wilson. It is true that if one reads the translation of Wilson, one feels that Veda is pedestrian, devoid of wisdom. But the fault lies in the translation, not in the original text.

We will give another example.

Mantra (5.66.2)

Wilson’s translation:

In as much as you two are possessed of irresistible and asura-subduing strength, therefore has holy sacrifice has been established among men as the sun (has been placed) in the sky.

Our translation:

When they (Mitra and Varuṇa) manifest their entire mightiness (2),

and their undistorted force (1),

then shall the humanity become as if the workings of these gods (3).

It is as if the visible heaven of light were founded (in the humanity) (4).

The translation of Wilson is vague, to say the least. There appears to be no connection between the two halves of the sentence; the analogy of the Sun and sacrifice is again vague. The words, ‘svara‘ and ‘ṛta‘ are arbitrarily translated by him as ‘Sun’ and ‘holy sacrifice’. For ta occurring in other places, he assigns twenty other meanings following Sāyaṇa. For details see Purani [21].

In contrast our translation is coherent. We translate svaras the ‘visible heaven of light’, svar having the meaning of heaven. The word in parenthesis ‘humanity’ in line 4 is not inserted arbitrarily. In line 3, humanity (manusham) is explicitly mentioned. Clearly it is implicit in line 4 also. In Sri Aurobindo’s translation, tahas the fixed meaning of Right, the Truth-in-movement in all its thousand and more occurrences in the Veda.

Unlike Sāyaṇa Ācharya, we do not resort to Puraṇic legends to explain the mantra-s. We just give two examples of Sūkta 5.2 and 5.61 to show that the connection between the Sūkta-s and the associated legends is tenuous.

3) Principles Behind this Translation


We give below the 14 principles which guide our translation. More details are in the SAKSI book, ‘Semantics of Rig Veda’.P1: The Sanskṛt of Veda mantrās:

The Sanskṛt of the mantrās of Rig Veda is substantially different from the classical Sanskṛt of Kālidāsa or the Sanskṛt of Mahābhārata or even that of the Brāhmaṇa books. In the Rig Veda, the sandhi rules are not enforced with any rigidity; the meanings attached to the various vibhaktis of nouns are flexible; they are not as rigid as in the classical Sanskṛt. These points have been recognised by the great grammarian Patanjali.

Many words widely used in Rig Veda such as vāja, tam find no place in classical Sanskṛt. Words like patra (leaf), phala (fruit), puhpa (flower), toyam (water), pūja (worship) widely used in classical Sanskṛt are absent in Rig Veda. Two words close to puhpa, namely puhpiṇī and puhpavatī appear in the ‘Hymns of Oshadhis’ (RV 10.97). The current meanings to popular words such as ghta (ghee), gau (or go) (the animal cow) do not seem to be valid in many of their occurrences in Veda. The word samskritam appears with the meaning of perfection (5.76.2). The word bhakti popularly used to signify ‘devotion’ means ‘enjoyment’ in Rig Veda. It only occurs 3 or 4 times. Summing up, the words in the Veda have to be studied with a fresh look.

P2: Riṣhis: All the mantrās are associated with persons known as Riṣhis, who are great poets, men and women of great tapas. Please see the essay 8 in the attached book, ‘The Basics of Rig Veda’ for more details on Rishi. Hence if a translation of a verse does not make any sense, the fault should lie with the translator who has assigned wrong meanings to the words. The translator may have completely ignored the symbolism of the verses.

P3: Veda can be understood only with the help of Veda.

We cannot blindly assign a meaning to a word in Rig Veda based on classical Sanskṛt or based on the assumption that RV deals with rites or is dealing with myths.

The obvious way to fix the meaning of a word is to study all the mantrās in RV where a particular word occurs and to assign the meaning which is suitable in most of these verses. This suggestion was made by Max Muller. Neither he nor his associates pursued this approach. The difficulties are obvious. The topic is discussed in great detail in the SAKSI publication, ‘Semantics of Rig Veda’.

P4. The test of validity of the assigned meanings of the words is that all mantrās having those words should have coherent meanings.

P4 is a consequence of our belief that the Riṣhis, the poets of these mantrās were highly sophisticated and wise, dedicated to the goal of all-round perfection.

P5. The statements made by the Rig Veda book itself regarding the meanings of words and the secrecy in it should not be overlooked or ignored.

For instance, RV (10.85.3) states, ‘what wise persons regard as Soma cannot be eaten or drunk’, i.e., Soma is not a mere herb. Again (10.85.2) adds, ‘The Sun is strong by Soma, the earth is vast by Soma, . . .’’ The whole of Maṇḍala 9 with about 1100 mantrās gives numerous epithets to Soma clearly indicating its non-physical nature. Inspite of all this evidence, it is hard to explain why translators like Griffith render it only as a herb.

P6: Most of the words in the Veda have only one general meaning. Different occurrences of this word have only minor variants of this basic meaning.

P7. A small number of words, especially names of ceṛtain animals and some inanimate objects, may require more than one basic meaning. In such cases, one should clearly understand the contexts in which the different meanings are valid; then one should clarify the contexts in which each meaning is valid.

For example the English word, ‘force’ has at least 3 meanings in three different contexts:

Physics: ‘The force was not sufficient to drive the nail into the wall.’

Battle: ‘The force was not sufficient to relieve the garrison’.

Psychological pressure: ‘She could not force her views on the committee’.

P8: Consider the compound words which are functionally related to each other. Their meanings should also be related.

To illustrate, consider the word ghta, which occurs about 110 times in RV. Its common meaning is ghee or clarified butter. The use of this meaning does not make any sense in many places. Hence Sāyaṇa gives a variety of meanings for the same word including, ‘water’, ‘shining or luminous’ etc., presumably to have some local consistency. Even the assigned meaning often does not make any sense. In (1.13.5), we have ghta pṛṣhham meaning dripping or coated with ghee. However, the context is ‘seats’. The phrase, ‘seats dripping with ghee’ does not make any sense. In (1.14.6) the same phrase occurs in the context of steeds. Again, ‘ghee dripping from the horses’ is incoherent. In (1.85.3), (1.87.2) ghta itself is translated as heavenly waters. For all the words with ‘ghta’ as a prefix, ghta can only be light.

P9. The nouns beginning with ‘a’ should not automatically be assigned meanings interpreting ‘a’ as a negative particle. The negation meaning is valid only if the corresponding sound without the negation particle is commonly occurring.

The above rule common to several languages must be applicable to Sanskṛt of Veda mantrās also. For example, the word Diti and its variants occur exactly three times in the entire Veda where as Aditi with its variants occurs more than 150 times. It is illogical to derive the meaning of Aditi from Diti with ‘a’ as the negation particle. Exactly the same comment is valid for the pairs asura, sura; ashva, shva; adhva, dhva. Moreover asura, ashva and others are all Key words. amita (immoṛtality) is supposed to be derived from mita (moṛtality) by adding the negation particle ‘a’. There is already another word amam (1.66.6), ame (1.67.2), standing for strength, so amita, amura, are all derived from am and not by adding ‘a’ to mita etc.

Note ‘an’ is also used as a prefix to indicate ‘negation’. See the words anāga and anindra in chap. 9. Some other examples are: anarvāam, anavadya, anādhṛṣha, anāyudha, anānata (one who never bows, 7.6.4); many more are there.

P10. To fix the meanings of ceṛtain key words beginning with (a), we have to consider related words beginning with (ā).

Example: arya, ari, ārya, āryāma;

another related group: apa, āpa.

P11. Sometimes the ordinary meanings of the words suggest their more abstract esoteric meanings.

Example: Consider adri, hill. Its hardness and immobility suggests the alternate meaning ‘the psychological force of inertia’. With its many peaks and plateaus, it also suggests ‘existence’.

The mantra (1.7.3) given in chap. 10 states: ‘‘with the rays (knowledge), Indra smashed the hill (adrim)’’.

Take the word ashva, whose ordinary meaning is horse. Horse itself suggests something having excessive life-energy. Ashva is a key word; its word-family with its repetitions has about 200 members.

P12. All the different word-groups belonging to the same word-clan have closely related meanings.

As an instance, members vāja, vāje, vjāi, vājī etc. must have closely related meanings, similarly adhva, adhvara, adhvaryu; similarly ghta, ghṛṇa, ghhva.

Note that the basic vowel sound ṛ has a tendency to change into the vowel-consonant sound ar. Thus the sound vṛ is close to var, k to arka. The above rule should include this similarity also. For instance, the vrika, vritra and Varua etc., begin with the same basic sound vṛ and hence are related in their meanings. Note that var in Varuṇa is a transformation of v, common for roots ending with the vowel ṛ.

P13: Word groups: One cannot fix the meaning of a word in isolation. Any systematic method for assigning meanings to words must recognise the group of closely related words and make distinctions in their meanings. For example, take the key words such as manas, manīha, medhas, prachetas, praketa, all connected with mental operations and consciousness. As pointed out earlier, in the translations of G, manas is rendered in various ways such as mind, spirit, wisdom etc., manas in the Veda has a fixed meaning.

We can divide words into 2 broad groups namely:

A. Words connected with human beings, their psychological attributes, artifacts and environment.

B. The cosmic powers, known as gods and the demons.

Words in group A can be further divided into 10 subgroups whose names are given below. The number associated with each title such as A1 indicates the number of words in each category like A1 which are discussed at some length in the book, ‘Semantics of Rig Veda’.

A1: Mental operations and consciousness related words (75)

A2: Mantra related words (18)

A3: Yajna related words (27)

A4: Happiness, bliss and bhakti related words (24)

A5: Secrecy Words (5)

A6: Groups of human beings and their vocations (61)

A7: Animal names (13)

A8: Words about inanimate aspects (25)

A9: The various cosmic worlds (24)

A10: Words associated with Perfection (24)

Readers who have read in current translations that ‘Rig Veda is ritualistic’ are surprised to find that RV has at least 75 distinct words dealing with mental operations and consciousness. These are in the section A1 mentioned above.

P.14: Technological devices such as computers, aeroplanes, telephones etc., were unknown in Vedic age. Hence we do not render the Sanskṛt words such as vimāna as aeroplane. Vedic culture was opulent in beauty and harmony without being cluttered by technological devices.

Saligrama Ramachandra Rao: He has written many books. We focus only on his ‘Rig Veda Darshana’ with seventeen volumes. He quotes extensively the commentaries in Sanskrit due to Madhvacharya, Raghavendra Swamy Yaska, Sayana and the book Brhad Devata.

List of books by Sri S.K.Ramachandra Rao:

Vol-1: Rig Veda-Darsana – Introduction
Vol-2:          ”                    – Interpretations
Vol-3:          ”                    – Gayatri Mantra
Vol-4:          ”                    – Purusha-Sukta
Vol-5:          ”                    – Vishnu- Suktani (Part-1)
Vol-6:          ”                    – Vishnu- Suktani (Part-2)
Vol-7:          ”                    – Development of Rig Vedic Thought (Part-1)
Vol-8:          ”                    – Development of Rig Vedic Thought (Part-2)
Vol-9:         ”                     – Vishnu Suktani (Part-3)
Vol-10:        ”                    – Sri-Sukta
Vol-11:        ”                    – Rgarthasara
Vol-12:        ”                    – Rgarthasara (Part-2)
Vol-13:        ”                    – The First Hymn to Agni
Vol-14:        ”                    – Sayana’s Rgbhashya-Bhumika
Vol-15:        ”                    – Sri Rudra-Bhashyam of Abhinava – Sankara
Vol-16:        ”                    – Yaska’s Nirukta
Vol-17:        ”                    – To be added

His two books on veda are:

(i) Studies in Vedic Interpretation; Published by Chowkhamba, Sanskrit series, 1963.

It compares the interpretation of Sri Aurobindo with those of Sayana and yaska. He undertook the task of translating all the riks having key words such as rtam and showed how the meaning assignment of Sri Aurobindo was approved. In contrast Sayana gives twenty one different meanings in different verses. Similarly he discussed words such as ‘Satya’‘gau’‘Urvasi’, Sarasvati. He compares two in detail the interpretations of Sayana, Yaska and Auroindo for about fifty Rig Veda Mantra-s.

(ii) Sri Aurobindo Vedic Glossary: Based on the translations of Sri Aurobindo, he assigned meanings for about 7500 words. He also gives the grammatical notes given by Sri Aurobindo for about 500 words occurring in Veda