The text is organized in ten “books”, or maṇḍalas (“circles”), of varying age and length. The “family books”, mandalas 2–7, are the oldest part of the Rigveda and the shortest books; they are arranged by length (decreasing length of hymns per book) and account for 38% of the text.
The hymns are arranged in collections each dealing with a particular deity: Agni comes first, Indra comes second, and so on. They are attributed and dedicated to a rishi (sage) and his family of students. Within each collection, the hymns are arranged in descending order of the number of stanzas per hymn. If two hymns in the same collection have equal numbers of stanzas then they are arranged so that the number of syllables in the metre are in descending order. The second to seventh mandalas have a uniform format.
The eighth and ninth mandalas, comprising hymns of mixed age, account for 15% and 9%, respectively. The ninth mandala is entirely dedicated to Soma and the Soma ritual. The hymns in the ninth mandala are arranged by both their prosody structure (chanda) and by their length.
The first and the tenth mandalas are the youngest; they are also the longest books, of 191 suktas each, accounting for 37% of the text. Nevertheless, some of the hymns in mandalas 8, 1 and 10 may still belong to an earlier period and may be as old as the material in the family books. The first mandala has a unique arrangement not found in the other nine mandalas. The first 84 hymns of the tenth mandala have a structure different than the remaining hymns in it.
Hymns and prosody
Each mandala consists of hymns or sūktas (su- + ukta, literally, “well recited, eulogy”) intended for various rituals. The sūktas in turn consist of individual stanzas called ṛc (“praise”, pl. ṛcas), which are further analysed into units of verse called pada (“foot” or step).
The hymns of the Rigveda are in different poetic metres in Vedic Sanskrit. The meters most used in the ṛcas are the gayatri (3 verses of 8 syllables), anushtubh (4×8), trishtubh (4×11) and jagati (4×12). The trishtubh meter (40%) and gayatri meter (25%) dominate in the Rigveda.
Tradition associates a rishi (the composer) with each ṛc of the Rigveda. Most sūktas are attributed to single composers. The “family books” (2–7) are so-called because they have hymns by members of the same clan in each book; but other clans are also represented in the Rigveda. In all, 10 families of rishis account for more than 95 per cent of the ṛcs; for each of them the Rigveda includes a lineage-specific āprī hymn (a special sūkta of rigidly formulaic structure, used for rituals.
|Angiras||1.142||3619 (especially Mandala 6)|
|Kanva||1.13||1315 (especially Mandala 8)|
|Vasishtha||7.2||1276 (Mandala 7)|
|Vishvamitra||3.4||983 (Mandala 3)|
|Atri||5.5||885 (Mandala 5)|
|Kashyapa||9.5||415 (part of Mandala 9)|
|Grtsamada||2.3||401 (Mandala 2)|
The surviving form of the Rigveda is based on an early Iron Age collection that established the core ‘family books’ (mandalas 2–7, ordered by author, deity and meter) and a later redaction, coeval with the redaction of the other Vedas, dating several centuries after the hymns were composed. This redaction also included some additions (contradicting the strict ordering scheme) and orthoepic changes to the Vedic Sanskrit such as the regularization of sandhi (termed orthoepische Diaskeuase by Oldenberg, 1888).
As with the other Vedas, the redacted text has been handed down in several versions, most importantly the Padapatha, in which each word is isolated in pausa form and is used for just one way of memorization; and the Samhitapatha, which combines words according to the rules of sandhi (the process being described in the Pratisakhya) and is the memorized text used for recitation.
The Padapatha and the Pratisakhya anchor the text’s true meaning, and the fixed text was preserved with unparalleled fidelity for more than a millennium by oral tradition alone. In order to achieve this the oral tradition prescribed very structured enunciation, involving breaking down the Sanskrit compounds into stems and inflections, as well as certain permutations. This interplay with sounds gave rise to a scholarly tradition of morphology and phonetics.
It is unclear as to when the Rigveda was first written down. The oldest surviving manuscripts have been discovered in Nepal and date to c. 1040 AD. According to Witzel, the Paippalada Samhita tradition points to written manuscripts c. 800-1000 CE. The Upanishads were likely in the written form earlier, about mid-1st millennium CE (Gupta Empire period). Attempts to write the Vedas may have been made “towards the end of the 1st millennium BCE”. The early attempts may have been unsuccessful given the Smriti rules that forbade the writing down the Vedas, states Witzel. The oral tradition continued as a means of transmission until modern times.
There is a widely accepted timeframe for the initial codification of the Rigveda by compiling the hymns very late in the Rigvedic or rather in the early post-Rigvedic period, including the arrangement of the individual hymns in ten books, coeval with the composition of the younger Veda Samhitas. This time coincides with the early Kuru kingdom, shifting the center of Vedic culture east from the Punjab into what is now Uttar Pradesh. The fixing of the samhitapatha (by enforcing regular application of sandhi) and of the padapatha (by dissolving Sandhi out of the earlier metrical text), occurred during the later Brahmana period, in roughly the 6th century BC.
Several shakhas (“branches”, i. e. recensions) of Rig Veda are known to have existed in the past. Of these, Śākala Shākha is the only one to have survived in its entirety. Another shakha that may have survived is the Bāṣkala, although this is uncertain.
The surviving padapatha version of the Rigveda text is ascribed to Śākala. The Śākala recension has 1,017 regular hymns, and an appendix of 11 vālakhilya hymns which are now customarily included in the 8th mandala (as 8.49–8.59), for a total of 1028 hymns. The Bāṣkala recension includes eight of these vālakhilya hymns among its regular hymns, making a total of 1025 regular hymns for this śākhā. In addition, the Bāṣkala recension has its own appendix of 98 hymns, the Khilani.
In the 1877 edition of Aufrecht, the 1028 hymns of the Rigveda contain a total of 10,552 ṛcs, or 39,831 padas. The Shatapatha Brahmana gives the number of syllables to be 432,000, while the metrical text of van Nooten and Holland (1994) has a total of 395,563 syllables (or an average of 9.93 syllables per pada); counting the number of syllables is not straightforward because of issues with sandhi and the post-Rigvedic pronunciation of syllables like súvar as svàr.
Three other shakhas are mentioned in Caraṇavyuha, a pariśiṣṭa (supplement) of Yajurveda: Māṇḍukāyana, Aśvalāyana and Śaṅkhāyana. The Atharvaveda lists two more shakhas. The differences between all these shakhas are very minor, limited to varying order of content and inclusion (or non-inclusion) of a few verses. The following information is known about the shakhas other than Śākala and Bāṣkala:
- Māṇḍukāyana: Perhaps the oldest of the Rigvedic shakhas.
- Aśvalāyana: Includes 212 verses, all of which are newer than the other Rigvedic hymns.
- Śaṅkhāyana: Very similar to Aśvalāyana
- Saisiriya: Mentioned in the Rigveda Pratisakhya. Very similar to Śākala, with a few additional verses; might have derived from or merged with it.
The Rigveda hymns were composed and preserved by oral tradition. They were memorized and verbally transmitted with “unparalleled fidelity” across generations for many centuries. According to Barbara West, it was probably first written down about the 3rd-century BCE. The manuscripts were made from birch bark or palm leaves, which decompose and therefore were routinely copied over the generations to help preserve the text.
There are, for example, 30 manuscripts of Rigveda at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, collected in the 19th century by Georg Bühler, Franz Kielhorn and others, originating from different parts of India, including Kashmir, Gujarat, the then Rajaputana, Central Provinces etc. They were transferred to Deccan College, Pune, in the late 19th century. They are in the Sharada and Devanagari scripts, written on birch bark and paper. The oldest of the Pune collection is dated to 1464. The 30 manuscripts of Rigveda preserved at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune were added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2007.
Of these thirty manuscripts, nine contain the samhita text, five have the padapatha in addition. Thirteen contain Sayana’s commentary. At least five manuscripts (MS. no. 1/A1879-80, 1/A1881-82, 331/1883-84 and 5/Viś I) have preserved the complete text of the Rigveda. MS no. 5/1875-76, written on birch bark in bold Sharada, was only in part used by Max Müller for his edition of the Rigveda with Sayana’s commentary.
Müller used 24 manuscripts then available to him in Europe, while the Pune Edition used over five dozen manuscripts, but the editors of Pune Edition could not procure many manuscripts used by Müller and by the Bombay Edition, as well as from some other sources; hence the total number of extant manuscripts known then must surpass perhaps eighty at least.
Rigveda manuscripts in paper, palm leaves and birch bark form, either in full or in portions, have been discovered in the following Indic scripts:
- Devanagari (Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Nepal)
- Grantha (Tamil Nadu)
- Malayalam (Kerala)
- Nandinagari (South India)
- Sharada (Kashmir)
The various Rigveda manuscripts discovered so far show some differences. Broadly, the most studied Śākala recension has 1017 hymns, includes an appendix of eleven valakhīlya hymns which are often counted with the eighth mandala, for a total of 1028 metrical hymns. The Bāṣakala version of Rigveda includes eight of these vālakhilya hymns among its regular hymns, making a total of 1025 hymns in the main text for this śākhā. The Bāṣakala text also has an appendix of 98 hymns, called the Khilani, bringing the total to 1,123 hymns. The manuscripts of Śākala recension of the Rigveda have about 10,600 verses, organized into ten Books (Mandalas). Books 2 through 7 are internally homogeneous in style, while Books 1, 8 and 10 are compilation of verses of internally different styles suggesting that these books are likely a collection of compositions by many authors.
The first mandala is the largest, with 191 hymns and 2006 verses, and it was added to the text after Books 2 through 9. The last, or the 10th Book, also has 191 hymns but 1754 verses, making it the second largest. The language analytics suggest the 10th Book, chronologically, was composed and added last. The content of the 10th Book also suggest that the authors knew and relied on the contents of the first nine books.
The Rigveda is the largest of the four Vedas, and many of its verses appear in the other Vedas. Almost all of the 1875 verses found in Samaveda are taken from different parts of the Rigveda, either once or as repetition, and rewritten in a chant song form. Books 8 and 9 of the Rigveda are by far the largest source of verses for Sama Veda. Book 10 contributes the largest number of the 1350 verses of Rigveda found in Atharvaveda, or about one fifth of the 5987 verses in the Atharvaveda text. A bulk of 1875 ritual-focussed verses of Yajurveda, in its numerous versions, also borrow and build upon the foundation of verses in Rigveda.
Altogether the Rigveda consists of:
- the Samhita (hymns to the deities, the oldest part of the Rigveda)
- the Brahmanas, commentaries on the hymns
- the Aranyakas or “forest books”
- the Upanishads
In western usage, “Rigveda” usually refers to the Rigveda Samhita, while the Brahmanas are referred to as the “Rigveda Brahmanas” (etc.). Technically speaking, however, “the Rigveda” refers to the entire body of texts transmitted along with the Samhita portion. Different bodies of commentary were transmitted in the different shakhas or “schools”. Only a small portion of these texts has been preserved: The texts of only two out of five shakhas mentioned by the Rigveda Pratishakhya have survived. The late (15th or 16th century) Shri Guru Charitra even claims the existence of twelve Rigvedic shakhas. The two surviving Rigvedic corpora are those of the Śākala and the Bāṣkala shakhas.
See also: Rigvedic deities
The Rigvedic hymns are dedicated to various deities, chief of whom are Indra, a heroic god praised for having slain his enemy Vrtra; Agni, the sacrificial fire; and Soma, the sacred potion or the plant it is made from. Equally prominent gods are the Adityas or Asura gods Mitra–Varuna and Ushas (the dawn). Also invoked are Savitr, Vishnu, Rudra, Pushan, Brihaspati or Brahmanaspati, as well as deified natural phenomena such as Dyaus Pita (the shining sky, Father Heaven), Prithivi (the earth, Mother Earth), Surya (the sun god), Vayu or Vata (the wind), Apas (the waters), Parjanya (the thunder and rain), Vac (the word), many rivers (notably the Sapta Sindhu, and the Sarasvati River). The Adityas, Vasus, Rudras, Sadhyas, Ashvins, Maruts, Rbhus, and the Vishvadevas (“all-gods”) as well as the “thirty-three gods” are the groups of deities mentioned.
- Mandala 1 comprises 191 hymns. Hymn 1.1 is addressed to Agni, and his name is the first word of the Rigveda. The remaining hymns are mainly addressed to Agni and Indra, as well as Varuna, Mitra, the Ashvins, the Maruts, Usas, Surya, Rbhus, Rudra, Vayu, Brhaspati, Visnu, Heaven and Earth, and all the Gods. This Mandala is dated to have been added to Rigveda after Mandala 2 through 9, and includes the philosophical Riddle Hymn 1.164, which inspires chapters in later Upanishads such as the Mundaka.
- Mandala 2 comprises 43 hymns, mainly to Agni and Indra. It is chiefly attributed to the Rishi gṛtsamada śaunahotra.
- Mandala 3 comprises 62 hymns, mainly to Agni and Indra and the Vishvedevas. The verse 3.62.10 has great importance in Hinduism as the Gayatri Mantra. Most hymns in this book are attributed to viśvāmitra gāthinaḥ.
- Mandala 4 comprises 58 hymns, mainly to Agni and Indra as well as the Rbhus, Ashvins, Brhaspati, Vayu, Usas, etc. Most hymns in this book are attributed to vāmadeva gautama.
- Mandala 5 comprises 87 hymns, mainly to Agni and Indra, the Visvedevas (“all the gods’), the Maruts, the twin-deity Mitra-Varuna and the Asvins. Two hymns each are dedicated to Ushas (the dawn) and to Savitr. Most hymns in this book are attributed to the atri clan.
- Mandala 6 comprises 75 hymns, mainly to Agni and Indra, all the gods, Pusan, Ashvin, Usas, etc. Most hymns in this book are attributed to the bārhaspatya family of Angirasas.
- Mandala 7 comprises 104 hymns, to Agni, Indra, the Visvadevas, the Maruts, Mitra-Varuna, the Asvins, Ushas, Indra-Varuna, Varuna, Vayu (the wind), two each to Sarasvati (ancient river/goddess of learning) and Vishnu, and to others. Most hymns in this book are attributed to vasiṣṭha maitravaruṇi.
- Mandala 8 comprises 103 hymns to various gods. Hymns 8.49 to 8.59 are the apocryphal vālakhilya. Hymns 1–48 and 60–66 are attributed to the kāṇva clan, the rest to other (Angirasa) poets.
- Mandala 9 comprises 114 hymns, entirely devoted to Soma Pavamana, the cleansing of the sacred potion of the Vedic religion.
- Mandala 10 comprises additional 191 hymns, frequently in later language, addressed to Agni, Indra and various other deities. It contains the Nadistuti sukta which is in praise of rivers and is important for the reconstruction of the geography of the Vedic civilization and the Purusha sukta which has been important in studies of Vedic sociology. It also contains the Nasadiya sukta (10.129) which deals with multiple speculations about the creation of universe, and whether anyone can know the right answer. The marriage hymns (10.85) and the death hymns (10.10–18) still are of great importance in the performance of the corresponding Grhya rituals.
See also: Brahmanas
Of the Brahmanas that were handed down in the schools of the Bahvṛcas (i.e. “possessed of many verses”), as the followers of the Rigveda are called, two have come down to us, namely those of the Aitareyins and the Kaushitakins. The Aitareya-brahmana and the Kaushitaki- (or Sankhayana-) brahmana evidently have for their groundwork the same stock of traditional exegetic matter. They differ, however, considerably as regards both the arrangement of this matter and their stylistic handling of it, with the exception of the numerous legends common to both, in which the discrepancy is comparatively slight. There is also a certain amount of material peculiar to each of them.
While the Aitareya deals almost exclusively with the Soma sacrifice, the Kaushitaka, in its first six chapters, treats of the several kinds of haviryajna, or offerings of rice, milk, ghee, etc., whereupon follows the Soma sacrifice in this way, that chapters 7–10 contain the practical ceremonial and 11–30 the recitations (shastra) of the hotar. Sayana, in the introduction to his commentary on the work, ascribes the Aitareya to the sage Mahidasa Aitareya (i.e. son of Itara), also mentioned elsewhere as a philosopher; and it seems likely enough that this person arranged the Brahmana and founded the school of the Aitareyins. Regarding the authorship of the sister work we have no information, except that the opinion of the sage Kaushitaki is frequently referred to in it as authoritative, and generally in opposition to the Paingya—the Brahmana, it would seem, of a rival school, the Paingins. Probably, therefore, it is just what one of the manuscripts calls it—the Brahmana of Sankhayana (composed) in accordance with the views of Kaushitaki.
Rigveda Aranyakas and Upanishads
Each of these two Brahmanas is supplemented by a “forest book”, or Aranyaka. The Aitareyaranyaka is not a uniform production. It consists of five books (aranyaka), three of which, the first and the last two, are of a liturgical nature, treating of the ceremony called mahavrata, or great vow. The last of these books, composed in sutra form, is, however, doubtless of later origin, and is, indeed, ascribed by Hindu authorities either to Shaunaka or to Ashvalayana. The second and third books, on the other hand, are purely speculative, and are also styled the Bahvrca-brahmana-upanishad. Again, the last four chapters of the second book are usually singled out as the Aitareya Upanishad ascribed, like its Brahmana (and the first book), to Mahidasa Aitareya; and the third book is also referred to as the Samhita-upanishad. As regards the Kaushitaki-aranyaka, this work consists of 15 adhyayas, the first two (treating of the mahavrata ceremony) and the 7th and 8th of which correspond to the first, fifth, and third books of the Aitareyaranyaka, respectively, whilst the four adhyayas usually inserted between them constitute the highly interesting Kaushitaki (Brahmana-) Upanishad, of which we possess two different recensions. The remaining portions (9–15) of the Aranyaka treat of the vital airs, the internal Agnihotra, etc., ending with the vamsha, or succession of teachers.
Dating and historical context
The Rigveda’s core is accepted to date to the late Bronze Age, making it one of the few examples with an unbroken tradition. Its composition is usually dated to roughly between c. 1500 BC – 1200 BC. According to Asko Parpola, the Rigveda was systematized around 1000 BCE, at the time of the Kuru kingdom.
The Rigveda is far more archaic than any other Indo-Aryan text. For this reason, it was in the center of attention of western scholarship from the times of Max Müller and Rudolf Roth onwards. The Rigveda records an early stage of Vedic religion. There are strong linguistic and cultural similarities with the early Iranian Avesta, deriving from the Proto-Indo-Iranian times, often associated with the early Andronovo culture (or rather, the Sintashta culture within the early Andronovo horizon) of c. 2000 BC.
The Rigveda offers no direct evidence of social or political system in Vedic era, whether ordinary or elite. Only hints such as cattle raising and horse racing are discernible, and the text offers very general ideas about the ancient Indian society. There is no evidence, state Jamison and Brereton, of any elaborate, pervasive or structured caste system. Social stratification seems embryonic, then and later a social ideal rather than a social reality. The society was semi-nomadic and pastoral with evidence of agriculture since hymns mention plow and celebrate agricultural divinities. There was division of labor, and complementary relationship between kings and poet-priests but no discussion of relative status of social classes. Women in Rigveda appear disproportionately as speakers in dialogue hymns, both as mythical or divine Indrani, Apsaras Urvasi, or Yami, as well as Apāla Ātreyī (RV 8.91), Godhā (RV 10.134.6), Ghoṣā Kākṣīvatī (RV 10.39.40), Romaśā (RV 1.126.7), Lopāmudrā (RV 1.179.1–2), Viśvavārā Ātreyī (RV 5.28), Śacī Paulomī (RV 10.159), Śaśvatī Āṅgirasī (RV 8.1.34). The women of Rigveda are quite outspoken and appear more sexually confident than men, in the text. Elaborate and esthetic hymns on wedding suggest rites of passage had developed during the Rigvedic period. There is little evidence of dowry and no evidence of sati in it or related Vedic texts.
The Rigvedic hymns mention rice and porridge, in hymns such as 8.83, 8.70, 8.77 and 1.61 in some versions of the text, however there is no discussion of rice cultivation. The term “ayas” (metal) occurs in the Rigveda, but it is unclear which metal it was. Iron is not mentioned in Rigveda, something scholars have used to help date Rigveda to have been composed before 1000 BC. Hymn 5.63 mentions “metal cloaked in gold”, suggesting metal working had progressed in the Vedic culture.
Some of the names of gods and goddesses found in the Rigveda are found amongst other belief systems based on Proto-Indo-European religion, while most of the words used share common roots with words from other Indo-European languages. However, about 300 words in the Rigveda are neither Indo-Aryan nor Indo-European, states the Sanskrit and Vedic literature scholar Frits Staal. Of these 300, many – such as kapardin, kumara, kumari, kikata – come from Munda or proto-Munda languages found in the eastern and northeastern (Assamese) region of India, with roots in Austro-Asiatic languages. The others in the list of 300 – such as mleccha and nir – have Dravidian roots found in the southern region of India, or are of Tibeto-Burman origins. A few non-Indo-European words in the Rigveda – such as for camel, mustard and donkey – belong to a possibly lost Central Asian language. The linguistic sharing provide clear indications, states Michael Witzel, that the people who spoke Rigvedic Sanskrit already knew and interacted with Munda and Dravidian speakers.
The earliest text were composed in northwestern regions of the Indian subcontinent, and the more philosophical later texts were most likely composed in or around the region that is the modern era state of Haryana.
The text is a highly stylized poetical Vedic Sanskrit with praise addressed to the Vedic gods and chieftains. Most hymns, according to Witzel, were intended to be recited at the annual New Year Soma ritual. The text also includes some nonritual poetry, fragments of mythology, archaic formulas, and a number of hymns with early philosophical speculations. Composed by the poets of different clans, including famed Vedic rishis (sages) such as Vishvamitra and Vasishtha, these signify the power of prestige therewith to vac (speech, sound), a tradition set in place. The text introduced the prized concepts such as Rta (active realization of truth, cosmic harmony) which inspired the later Hindu concept of Dharma. The Rigvedic verses formulate this Rta as effected by Brahman, a significant and non-self-evident truth. The text also contains hymns of “highly poetical value” – some in dialogue form, along with love stories that likely inspired later Epic and classical poets of Hinduism, states Witzel.
According to Nadkarni, several hymns of the Rigveda embed cherished virtues and ethical statements. For example, verses 5.82.7, 6.44.8, 9.113.4, 10.133.6 and 10.190.1 mention truthful speech, truthful action, self-discipline and righteousness. Hymn 10.117 presents the significance of charity and of generosity between human beings, how helping someone in need is ultimately in the self-interest of the helper, its importance to an individual and the society. According to Jamison and Brereton, hymns 9.112 and 9.113 poetically state, “what everyone [humans and all living beings] really want is gain or an easy life”, even a water drop has a goal – namely, “simply to seek Indra”. These hymns present the imagery of being in heaven as “freedom, joy and satisfaction”, a theme that appears in the Hindu Upanishads to characterize their teachings of self-realization.
While the older hymns of the Rigveda reflect sacrificial ritual typical of polytheism, its younger parts, specifically mandalas 1 and 10, have been noted as containing monistic or henotheistic speculations.
There was neither non-existence nor existence then;
Neither the realm of space, nor the sky which is beyond;
What stirred? Where? In whose protection?
There was neither death nor immortality then;
No distinguishing sign of night nor of day;
That One breathed, windless, by its own impulse;
Other than that there was nothing beyond.
Darkness there was at first, by darkness hidden;
Without distinctive marks, this all was water;
That which, becoming, by the void was covered;
That One by force of heat came into being;
Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it?
Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?
Gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
Who then knows whence it has arisen?
Whether God’s will created it, or whether He was mute;
Perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not;
Only He who is its overseer in highest heaven knows,
Only He knows, or perhaps He does not know.
—Rigveda 10.129 (Abridged, Tr: Kramer / Christian) This hymn is one of the roots of Hindu philosophy.
A widely cited example of such speculations is hymn 1.164.46:
They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, and he is heavenly nobly-winged Garutman.
To what is One, sages give many a title they call it Agni, Yama, Matarisvan.— Rigveda 1.164.46, Translated by Ralph Griffith
Max Müller notably introduced the term “henotheism” for the philosophy expressed here, avoiding the connotations of “monotheism” in Judeo-Christian tradition. Other widely cited examples of monistic tendencies include hymns 1.164, 8.36 and 10.31, Other scholars state that Rigveda includes an emerging diversity of thought, including monotheism, polytheism, henotheism and pantheism, the choice left to the preference of the worshipper. and the Nasadiya Sukta (10.129), one of the most widely cited Rigvedic hymns in popular western presentations.
Ruse (2015) commented on the old discussion of “monotheism” vs. “henotheism” vs. “monism” by noting an “atheistic streak” in hymns such as 10.130.
Examples from Mandala 1 adduced to illustrate the “metaphysical” nature of the contents of the younger hymns include: 1.164.34: “What is the ultimate limit of the earth?”, “What is the center of the universe?”, “What is the semen of the cosmic horse?”, “What is the ultimate source of human speech?”; 1.164.34: “Who gave blood, soul, spirit to the earth?”, “How could the unstructured universe give origin to this structured world?”; 1.164.5: “Where does the sun hide in the night?”, “Where do gods live?”; 1.164.6: “What, where is the unborn support for the born universe?”; 1.164.20 (a hymn that is widely cited in the Upanishads as the parable of the Body and the Soul): “Two birds with fair wings, inseparable companions; Have found refuge in the same sheltering tree. One incessantly eats from the fig tree; the other, not eating, just looks on.”.
Reception in Hinduism
The Vedas as a whole are classed as “shruti” in Hindu tradition. This has been compared to the concept of divine revelation in Western religious tradition, but Staal argues that “it is nowhere stated that the Veda was revealed”, and that shruti simply means “that what is heard, in the sense that it is transmitted from father to son or from teacher to pupil”. The Rigveda, or other Vedas, do not anywhere assert that they are apauruṣeyā, and this reverential term appears only centuries after the end of the Vedic period in the texts of the Mimamsa school of Hindu philosophy. The text of Rigveda suggests it was “composed by poets, human individuals whose names were household words” in the Vedic age, states Staal.
Medieval Hindu scholarship
By the period of Puranic Hinduism, in the medieval period, the language of the hymns had become “almost entirely unintelligible”, and their interpretation mostly hinged on mystical ideas and sound symbolism.
According to the Puranic tradition, Ved Vyasa compiled all the four Vedas, along with the Mahabharata and the Puranas. Vyasa then taught the Rigveda samhita to Paila, who started the oral tradition. An alternate version states that Shakala compiled the Rigveda from the teachings of Vedic rishis, and one of the manuscript recensions mentions Shakala.
The authors of the Brāhmana literature discussed and interpreted the Vedic ritual. Yaska was an early commentator of the Rigveda by discussing the meanings of difficult words. In the 14th century, Sāyana wrote an exhaustive commentary on it.
A number of other commentaries (bhāṣyas) were written during the medieval period, including the commentaries by Skandasvamin (pre-Sayana, roughly of the Gupta period), Udgitha (pre-Sayana), Venkata-Madhava (pre-Sayana, c. 10th to 12th centuries) and Mudgala (after Sayana, an abbreviated version of Sayana’s commentary).
According to Louis Renou, the Vedic texts are a distant object, and “even in the most orthodox domains, the reverence to the Vedas has come to be a simple raising of the hat”. According to Andrea Pinkney, “the social history and context of the Vedic texts are extremely distant from contemporary Hindu religious beliefs and practice”, and the reverence for the Vedas in contemporary Hinduism illustrates the respect among the Hindus for their heritage.
Arya Samaj and Aurobindo movements
In the 19th- and early 20th-centuries, some reformers like Swami Dayananda Saraswati—founder of the Arya Samaj, Sri Aurobindo—founder of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, discussed the Vedas, including the Rig veda, for their philosophies. According to Robson, Dayanand believed “there were no errors in the Vedas (including the Rigveda), and if anyone showed him an error, he would maintain that it was a corruption added later”.
Dayananda and Aurobindo interpret the Vedic scholars had a monotheistic conception. Aurobindo attempted to interpret hymns to Agni in the Rigveda as mystical. Aurobindo states that the Vedic hymns were a quest after a higher truth, define the Rta (basis of Dharma), conceive life in terms of a struggle between the forces of light and darkness, and sought the ultimate reality.
The Rigveda has been referred to in the “Indigenous Aryans” and Out of India theory. These theories are controversial.
The first published translation of any portion of the Rigveda in any European language was into Latin, by Friedrich August Rosen (Rigvedae specimen, London 1830). Predating Müller’s first printed edition (editio princeps) of the text by 19 years, Rosen was working from manuscripts brought back from India by Colebrooke. H. H. Wilson was the first to make a translation of the Rig Veda into English, published in six volumes during the period 1850–88. Wilson’s version was based on the commentary of Sāyaṇa. Müller published the most studied edition of the Rig Veda Samhita and Padapatha in 6 volumes Muller, Max, ed. (W. H. Allen and Co., London, 1849). It has an English preface The birch bark from which Müller produced his translation is held at The Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, India.
Karl Friedrick Geldner completed the earliest scholarly translation of Rigveda in 1920s, in German. This was published in 1951. Louis Renou completed the first French translation between 1955 and 1969, while Elizarenkova completed a Russian translation between 1989 and 1999. Griffith’s English translation came earlier, in 1892. However, Griffith’s philology was outdated even in the 19th-century and questioned by scholars. H.D. Velankar’s translations published over the 1950s and 1960s were significant improvements over Griffith’s translation. Translations of shorter cherrypicked anthologies have been published by Wendy Doniger in 1981, and by Walter Maurer in 1986. According to Jamison and Brereton, these anthologies “tend to create a distorted view of the Rigveda”.
The Rigveda is the earliest, the most venerable, obscure, distant and difficult for moderns to understand – hence is often misinterpreted or worse: used as a peg on which to hang an idea or a theory.— Frits Staal, Discovering the Vedas: Origins, Mantras, Rituals, Insights
Like all archaic texts, the Rigveda is difficult to translate into modern language, “There are no closely contemporary extant texts, which makes it difficult to interpret.” and early translations contained straightforward errors. Another issue is the choice of translation for technical terms such as mandala, conventionally translated “book”, but more literally rendered “cycle”. In 1994, Barend A. van Nooten and Gary B. Holland published the first attempt to restore Rigveda in its entirety in the poetic form. They identified elements that appeared to them as inappropriate combinations and obscuring the meaning of the text. They reconstructured the text into a poetic form.
Some notable translations of the Rig Veda include:
|Rigvedae specimen||Friedrich August Rosen||1830||Latin||Partial translation with 121 hymns (London, 1830). Also known as Rigveda Sanhita, Liber Primus, Sanskrite Et Latine (ISBN 978-1275453234). Based on manuscripts brought back from India by Henry Thomas Colebrooke.|
oder die heiligen Lieder der Brahmanen
|Max Müller||1856||German||Partial translation published by F. A. Brockhaus, Leipzig. In 1873, Müller published an editio princeps titled The Hymns of the Rig-Veda in the Samhita Text. He also translated a few hymns in English (Nasadiya Sukta).|
A Collection of Ancient Hindu Hymns
|H. H. Wilson||1850–88||English||Published as 6 volumes, by N. Trübner & Co., London.|
ou livre des hymnes
|A. Langlois||1870||French||Partial translation. Re-printed in Paris, 1948–51 (ISBN 2-7200-1029-4).|
|Der Rigveda||Alfred Ludwig||1876||German||Published by Verlag von F. Tempsky, Prague.|
|Rig-Veda||Hermann Grassmann||1876||German||Published by F. A. Brockhaus, Leipzig|
|Rigved Bhashyam||Dayananda Saraswati||1877-9||Hindi||Incomplete translation. Later translated into English by Dharma Deva Vidya Martanda (1974).|
|The Hymns of the Rig Veda||Ralph T.H. Griffith||1889–92||English||Revised as The Rig Veda in 1896. Revised by J. L. Shastri in 1973.|
|Der Rigveda in Auswahl||Karl Friedrich Geldner||1907||German||Published by Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart. Geldner’s 1907 work was a partial translation; he completed a full translation in the 1920s, which was published after his death, in 1951. This translation was titled Der Rig-Veda: aus dem Sanskrit ins Deutsche Übersetzt. Harvard Oriental Studies, vols. 33–37 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: 1951–7). Reprinted by Harvard University Press (2003) ISBN 0-674-01226-7.|
|Hymns from the Rigveda||A. A. Macdonell||1917||English||Partial translation (30 hymns). Published by Clarendon Press, Oxford.|
|Series of articles in Journal
of the University of Bombay
|Hari Damodar Velankar||1940s–1960s||English||Partial translation (Mandala 2, 5, 7 and 8). Later published as independent volumes.|
|Rig Veda –
Hymns to the Mystic Fire
|Sri Aurobindo||1946||English||Partial translation published by N. K. Gupta, Pondicherry. Later republished several times (ISBN 9780914955221)|
|RigVeda Samhita||Pandit H.P. Venkat Rao, LaxmanAcharya and a couple of other Pandits||1947||Kannada||Sources from Saayana Bhashya, SkandaSvami Bhashya, Taittareya Samhita, Maitrayini Samhita and other Samhitas. The Kannada translation work was commissioned by Maharaja of Mysore Jayachama Rajendra Wodeyar. The translations were compiled into 11 volumes.|
|Rig Veda||Ramgovind Trivedi||1954||Hindi|
|Études védiques et pāṇinéennes||Louis Renou||1955–69||French||Appears in a series of publications, organized by the deities. Covers most of Rigveda, but leaves out significant hymns, including the ones dedicated to Indra and the Asvins.|
|ऋग्वेद संहिता||Shriram Sharma||1950s||Hindi|
|Hymns from the Rig-Veda||Naoshiro Tsuji||1970||Japanese||Partial translation|
|Rigveda: Izbrannye Gimny||Tatyana Elizarenkova||1972||Russian||Partial translation, extended to a full translation published during 1989–1999.|
|Rigveda Parichaya||Nag Sharan Singh||1977||English / Hindi||Extension of Wilson’s translation. Republished by Nag, Delhi in 1990 (ISBN 978-8170812173).|
|Rig Veda||M. R. Jambunathan||1978–80.||Tamil||Two volumes, both released posthumously.|
|Rigvéda – Teremtéshimnuszok
(Creation Hymns of the Rig-Veda)
|Laszlo Forizs (hu)||1995||Hungarian||Partial translation published in Budapest (ISBN 963-85349-1-5)|
|The Rig Veda||Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty||1981||English||Partial translation (108 hymns), along with critical apparatus. Published by Penguin (ISBN 0-14-044989-2). A bibliography of translations of the Rig Veda appears as an Appendix.|
|Pinnacles of India’s Past: Selections from the Rgveda||Walter H. Maurer||1986||English||Partial translation published by John Benjamins.|
|The Rig Veda||Bibek Debroy, Dipavali Debroy||1992||English||Partial translation published by B. R. Publishing (ISBN 9780836427783). The work is in verse form, without reference to the original hymns or mandalas. Part of Great Epics of India: Veda series, also published as The Holy Vedas.|
|The Holy Vedas: A Golden Treasury||Pandit Satyakam Vidyalankar||1983||English|
|Ṛgveda Saṃhitā||H. H. Wilson, Ravi Prakash Arya and K. L. Joshi||2001||English||4-volume set published by Parimal (ISBN 978-81-7110-138-2). Revised edition of Wilson’s translation. Replaces obsolete English forms with more modern equivalents (e.g. “thou” with “you”). Includes the original Sanskrit text in Devanagari script, along with a critical apparatus.|
|Ṛgveda for the Layman||Shyam Ghosh||2002||English||Partial translation (100 hymns). Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi.|
|Rig-Veda||Michael Witzel, Toshifumi Goto||2007||German||Partial translation (Mandala 1 and 2). The authors are working on a second volume. Published by Verlag der Weltreligionen (ISBN 978-3-458-70001-2).|
|ऋग्वेद||Govind Chandra Pande||2008||Hindi||Partial translation (Mandala 3 and 5). Published by Lokbharti, Allahabad|
|The Hymns of Rig Veda||Tulsi Ram||2013||English||Published by Vijaykumar Govindram Hasanand, Delhi|
|The Rigveda||Stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton||2014||English||3-volume set published by Oxford University Press (ISBN 978-0-19-937018-4). Funded by the United States’ National Endowment for the Humanities in 2004.|