The Rigveda (Sanskrit: ऋग्वेद, meaning "verses of wisdom") is the oldest translatable scripture in the Hindu religion, providing the original foundation for its ever expanding corpus of sacred writings, as well as the inspiration for countless gurus and seers who enriched the subsequent growth of Vedic tradition. Written in Sanskrit, and comprised of hymns dedicated to various gods, the Rigveda is counted among the four canonical sacred texts (śruti) of Hinduism, and acceptance of these texts is the criterion of orthodoxy in all systems of Hindu philosophy.
It is one of the oldest extant texts of any Indo-European language. Philological and linguistic evidence indicate that the Rigveda was composed in the North-Western region of the Indian subcontinent, roughly between 1700–1100 B.C.E. (the early Vedic period). 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 (Sintashta-Petrovka) culture of ca. 2200-1600 B.C.E. Some of its verses are still recited in modern Hindu prayers, putting these among the world's oldest religious texts in continued use.
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. Other 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 hymns mention various further minor gods, persons, concepts, phenomena and items, and contain fragmentary references to possible historical events, notably the struggle between the early Vedic people (known as Vedic Aryans, a subgroup of the Indo-Aryans) and their enemies, the Dasa or Dasyu and their mythical prototypes, the Paṇi (the Bactrian Parna).
As with the other Vedas, the redacted text has been handed down in several versions, most importantly the Padapatha that has each word isolated in pausa form and is used for just one way of memorization; and the Samhitapatha that 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 fidelity and meaning and the fixed text was preserved with unparalleled fidelity for more than a millennium by oral tradition alone. In order to achieve this continuity, 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. The Rigveda was probably not written down until the Gupta period (fourth to sixth century C.E.), by which time the Brahmi script had become widespread (the oldest surviving manuscripts date to the eleventh century. The oral tradition still continued into recent times.
The original text (as authored by the Rishis) is close to but not identical to the extant Samhitapatha, but metrical and other observations allow one to reconstruct (in part at least) the original text from the extant one, as printed in the Harvard Oriental Series, vol. 50 (1994). There is some confusion with the term "Veda," which is traditionally applied to the texts associated with the samhita proper, such as Brahmanas or Upanishads. In English usage, the term Rigveda is usually used to refer to the Rigveda samhita alone, and texts like the Aitareya-Brahmana are not considered "part of the Rigveda" but rather "associated with the Rigveda" in the tradition of a certain shakha (Hindu theological school).
The surviving form of the Rigveda is based on an early Iron Age (c. tenth century B.C.E.) collection that established the core 'family books' (mandalas 2-7, ordered by author, deity and meter) and a later redaction, co-eval 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).
The text is organized in 10 books, known as Mandalas, 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 and account for 38 percent of the text. The eighth and ninth mandalas, comprising hymns of mixed age, account for 15 percent and 9 percent, respectively. The first and the tenth mandalas are the youngest; they are also the longest books, of 191 suktas each, accounting for 37 percent of the text.
Each mandala consists of hymns called sūkta (literally, "well recited, eulogy") intended for various sacrificial 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"). The meters most used in the ṛcas are the jagati (a pada consists of 12 syllables), trishtubh (11), viraj (10), gayatri and anushtubh (8).
For pedagogical convenience, each mandala is synthetically divided into roughly equal sections of several sūktas, called anuvāka ("recitation"), which modern publishers often omit. Another scheme divides the entire text over the 10 mandalas into aṣṭaka ("eighth"), adhyāya ("chapter") and varga ("class"). Some publishers give both classifications in a single edition.
The most common numbering scheme is by book, hymn and stanza (and pada a, b, c ..., if required). E.g., the first pada is
The major Rigvedic shakha ("branch," i. e. recension) that has survived is known as Śākala, which has 1,017 regular hymns, and an appendix of 11 vālakhilya hymns which are now customarily included in the eighth 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.
According to Hindu tradition, the Rigvedic hymns were collected by Paila under the guidance of Vyāsa, who formed the Rigveda Samhita as we know it. According to the Śatapatha Brāhmana, the number of syllables in the Rigveda is 432,000, equalling the number of muhurtas (1 day = 30 muhurtas) in forty years. This statement stresses the underlying philosophy of the Vedic books that there is a connection (bandhu) between the astronomical, the physiological, and the spiritual.
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 percent of the ṛcs; for them the Rigveda includes a lineage-specific āprī hymn (a special sūkta of rigidly formulaic structure, used for animal sacrifice in the soma ritual).
|Angiras||I.142||3619 (especially Mandala 6)|
|Kanva||I.13||1315 (especially Mandala 8)|
|Vasishtha||VII.2||1276 (Mandala 7)|
|Vishvamitra||III.4||983 (Mandala 3)|
|Atri||V.5||885 (Mandala 5)|
|Kashyapa||IX.5||415 (part of Mandala 9)|
|Grtsamada||II.3||401 (Mandala 2)|
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 of ca. 2000 B.C.E. The Rigveda's core is accepted to date around the late Bronze Age, making it one of the few examples with an unbroken tradition. Its composition is usually dated to roughly between 1700–1100 B.C.E. Several other evidences also suggest 1400 B.C.E. as the most reasonable date.
Writing appears in India around the third century B.C.E. in the form of the Brahmi script, but texts of the length of the Rigveda were likely not written down until much later, the oldest surviving manuscript dating to the eleventh century, while some Rigveda commentaries may date from the second half of the first millennium C.E.. While written manuscripts were used for teaching in medieval times, they were written on birch bark or palm leaves, which decompose fairly quickly in the tropical climate, until the advent of the printing press from the sixteenth century. The hymns were thus preserved by oral tradition for up to a millennium from the time of their composition until the redaction of the Rigveda, and the entire Rigveda was preserved in shakhas for another 2,500 years from the time of its redaction until the editio princeps by Rosen, Aufrecht and Max Müller.
After their composition, the texts were preserved and codified by an extensive body of Vedic priesthood as the central philosophy of the Iron Age Vedic civilization. The Brahma Purana and the Vayu Purana name one Vidagdha as the author of the Padapatha. The Rk-pratishakhya names Sthavira Shakalya of the Aitareya Aranyaka as its author.
The Rigveda describes a mobile, semi-nomadic culture, with horse-drawn chariots, oxen-drawn wagons, and metal (bronze) weapons. The geography described is consistent with that of the Greater Punjab: Rivers flow north to south, the mountains are relatively remote but still visible and reachable (Soma is a plant found in the high mountains, and it has to be purchased from tribal people). Nevertheless, the hymns were certainly composed over a long period, with the oldest (not preserved) elements possibly reaching back to times close to the split of Proto-Indo-Iranian (around 2000 B.C.E.) Thus there was some debate over whether the boasts of the destruction of stone forts by the Vedic Aryans and particularly by Indra refer to cities of the Indus Valley civilization or whether they rather hark back to clashes between the early Indo-Aryans with the BMAC in what is now northern Afghanistan and southern Turkmenistan (separated from the upper Indus by the Hindu Kush mountain range, and some 400 km distant). While it is highly likely that the bulk of the Rigvedic hymns were composed in the Punjab, even if based on earlier poetic traditions, there is no mention of either tigers or rice in the Rigveda (as opposed to the later Vedas), suggesting that Vedic culture only penetrated into the plains of India after its completion. Similarly, there is no mention of iron as the term ayas occurring in the Rig Veda refers to useful metal in general. The "black metal" (kṛṣṇa ayas) is first mentioned in the post-Rigvedic texts (Atharvaveda etc.). The Iron Age in northern India begins in the tenth century in the Greater Panjab and at the twelfth century B.C.E. with the Black and Red Ware (BRW) culture. There is a widely accepted timeframe for the beginning 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 and 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 keeping Sandhi) intact and of the padapatha (by dissolving Sandhi out of the earlier metrical text), occurred during the later Brahmana period.
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 words used share common roots with words from other Indo-European languages.
An author, N. Kazanas in an argument against the so-called "Aryan Invasion Theory" suggests a date as early as 3100 B.C.E., based on an identification of the early Rigvedic Sarasvati River as the Ghaggar-Hakra and on glottochronological arguments. This is in diametrical opposition to views in western academic historical linguistics, and supports the mainstream theory of Indian vedic scholars Out of India theory, which assumes a date as late as 3000 B.C.E. for the age of late Proto-Indo-European itself. Some writers based on astronomical calculations even claim dates as early as 4000 B.C.E., a date well within the Indian Neolithic.
The horse (ashva), cattle, sheep and goat play an important role in the Rigveda. There are also references to the elephant (Hastin, Varana), camel (Ustra, especially in Mandala 8), ass (khara, rasabha), buffalo (Mahisa), wolf, hyena, lion (Simha), mountain goat (sarabha) and to the gaur in the Rigveda. The peafowl (mayura), the goose (hamsa) and the chakravaka (Anas casarca) are some birds mentioned in the Rigveda.
The Sarasvati river, lauded in RV 7.95 as the greatest river flowing from the mountain to the sea is sometimes equated with the Ghaggar-Hakra river, which went dry perhaps before 2600 B.C.E. or certainly before 1900 B.C.E. Others argue that the Sarasvati was originally the Helmand in Afghanistan. These questions are tied to the debate about the Indo-Aryan migration (termed "Aryan Invasion Theory") vs. the claim that Vedic culture together with Vedic Sanskrit originated in the Indus Valley Civilisation (termed "Out of India theory"), a topic of great significance in Hindu nationalism, addressed for example by Amal Kiran and Shrikant G. Talageri. Subhash Kak has claimed that there is an astronomical code in the organization of the hymns. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, also based on astronomical alignments in the Rigveda, in his "The Orion" (1893) claimed presence of the Rigvedic culture in India in the fourth millennium B.C.E., and in his "Arctic Home in the Vedas" (1903) even argued that the Aryans originated near the North Pole and came south during the Ice Age.
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 fourteenth century, Sāyana wrote an exhaustive commentary on it. Other Bhāṣyas (commentaries) that have been preserved up to present times are those by Mādhava, Skandasvāmin and Veńkatamādhava.
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. The Kaushitaka is, upon the whole, far more concise in its style and more systematic in its arrangement features which would lead one to infer that it is probably the more modern work of the two. It consists of 30 chapters (adhyaya); while the Aitareya has 40, divided into eight books (or pentads, pancaka), of five chapters each. The last ten adhyayas of the latter work are, however, clearly a later addition though they must have already formed part of it at the time of Panini (ca. fifth c. B.C.E.), if, as seems probable, one of his grammatical sutras, regulating the formation of the names of Brahmanas, consisting of 30 and 40 adhyayas, refers to these two works. In this last portion occurs the well-known legend (also found in the Shankhayana-sutra, but not in the Kaushitaki-brahmana) of Shunahshepa, whom his father Ajigarta sells and offers to slay, the recital of which formed part of the inauguration of kings. 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.
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 Aitareyopanishad, 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 seventh and eighth 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.
There are 30 manuscripts of Rigveda at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, collected in the nineteenth 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 nineteenth century. They are in the Sharada and Devanagari scripts, written on birch bark and paper. The oldest of them is dated to 1464. The 30 manuscripts were added to UNESCO's "Memory of the World" Register in 2007.
Of these 30 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 used by Max Müller for his edition of the Rigveda with Sayana’s commentary.
Max Müller used 24 manuscripts, while the Pune Edition used over five dozen manuscripts, but the editors of Pune Edition could not procure many manuscripts used by Max Müller and by Bombay Edition, as well as from some other sources; hence the total number of extant manuscripts must surpass perhaps 80 at least.
The first published translation of any portion of the Rigveda in any Western language was into Latin, by Friedrich August Rosen (Rigvedae specimen, London 1830). Predating Müller's editio princeps of the text, Rosen was working from manuscripts brought back from India by Colebrooke.
H. H. Wilson was the first to make a complete translation of the Rig Veda into English, published in six volumes during the period 1850-1888. Wilson's version was based on the commentary of Sāyaṇa. In 1977, Wilson's edition was enlarged by Nag Sharan Singh (Nag Publishers, Delhi, 2nd ed. 1990).
In 1889, Ralph T.H. Griffith published his translation as The Hymns of the Rig Veda, published in London (1889).
A German translation was published by Karl Friedrich Geldner, Der Rig-Veda: aus dem Sanskrit ins Deutsche Übersetzt, Harvard Oriental Studies, vols. 33–37 (Cambridge, Mass.: 1951-7).
Geldner's tranlsation was the philologically best-informed to date, and a Russian translation based on Geldner's by Tatyana Yakovlena Elizarenkova was published by Nauka 1989-1999
A 2001, revised edition of Wilson's translation was published by Ravi Prakash Arya and K. L. Joshi. The revised edition updates Wilson's translation by replacing obsolete English forms with more modern equivalents, giving the English translation along with the original Sanskrit text in Devanagari script, along with a critical apparatus.
In 2004, the United States' National Endowment for the Humanities provided funding to Joel Brereton and Stephanie W. Jamison as project directors for a new original translation to be issued by Oxford University Press.
Numerous partial translations exist into various languages. Notable examples include:
Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty issued a modern selection with a translation of 108 hymns, along with critical apparatus. A bibliography of translations of the Rig Veda appears as an Appendix that work.
A partial Hindi translation by Govind Chandra Pande was published in 2008 (by Lokbharti Booksellers and Distributors, Allahabad, covering books 3-5).
The importance of the Rigveda in Hinduism cannot be underestimated: This text not only provided the original foundation for the entire corpus of sacred writings in the Hindu tradition, but also is considered to be the primordial sounds of the universe itself, which echoes the cosmic heartbeat of the supreme Brahman. Additionally, the Vedas collectively serve as the paragon and criterion for orthodoxy in Hindu philosophy thereby reflecting their central importance in the Hindu tradition. The Rigveda has also been called the oldest recited book in the world, which is especially evident in the Gayatri mantra from chapter three that forms an important part of daily Hindu prayer. Its contexts laid the scriptural foundation for one of the greatest religions of the world, Hinduism, which continues to inspire millions of people today.
Since the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, some reformers like Swami Dayananda, founder of the "Arya Samaj" and Sri Aurobindo have attempted to re-interpret the Vedas to conform to modern and established moral and spiritual norms. They approached the original ritualistic content of the Rigveda from a Vedantic perception to give a more symbolic or mystical interpretation of the text. For example, instances of animal sacrifice were not seen by them as literal slaughtering, but as transcendental processes.
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