The Vedas

Harappan Civilization
Rig Veda
Sama Veda
Yajur Veda
Atharva Veda


Harappan Civilization

Although they did use some writing with pictographic symbols at Mohenjo-daro, they were not extensive nor alphabetic nor have they been deciphered yet, and the Indo-European Sanskrit which did develop in India is probably quite different. Nevertheless the Harappan civilization of the Indus Valley in what is now Pakistan did borrow many ideas from Mesopotamia and is considered the third civilization to develop. Two seals of the Mohenjo-daro type were discovered at Elam and Mesopotamia, and a cuneiform inscription was unearthed at Mohenjo-daro.

The pastoral villages that spread out east of Elam through Iran and Baluchistan prepared the way for the cities that were to develop around the Indus River particularly at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. By about 3000 BC they were building mud-brick houses; burials in the houses included funereal objects; and pottery had fine designs and the potters' marks. After 2500 BC farmers moved out into the alluvial plain of the Indus River Valley and achieved full-sized villages using copper and bronze pins, knives, and axes; figurines of women and cattle indicate probable religious attitudes.

The urban phase began about 2300 BC and lasted for about six hundred years with elaborate cities like Mohenjo-daro (called locally Mound of the Dead) which was excavated in the 1920s. This city and others not yet excavated had about 40,000 inhabitants congregated in well-built houses with private showers and toilets that drained into municipal sewer lines. Suffering from occasional flooding by the Indus, Mohenjo-daro was rebuilt seven times. The largest structures were the elevated granary and the great bath or swimming pool which was 12 by 7 meters. Around the pool were dressing rooms and private baths.

The people of the Harappan culture did not seem to be very warlike although they hunted wild game and domesticated cattle, sheep, and goats. Wheat and barley were the main food supplemented by peas, sesamum, and other vegetables and fruits, beef, mutton, pork, eggs, fish, and milk. Compared to other ancient civilizations the houses were of nearly equal size indicating a more egalitarian social structure. The potter's wheel and carts were used; children played with miniature toy carts. Cotton, perhaps first used here, and wool were used for clothing. A bronze figurine was found of an expressive dancing girl with her hand on her hip, naked except for jewelry.

The numerous figurines of the Mother Goddess indicate a likely source for what later became the Shakti worship of the feminine power in India. A male god in a yoga posture depicted with three faces and two horns has been identified with Shiva, another important figure in later Indian religion. Phallic lingams, also associated with Shiva, have been found. A civilization that endured dangerous flooding for six hundred years very likely had a strong religion to help hold people together.

With no written histories the decline of this civilization is subject to much speculation. The traditional theory, which will be discussed in the next chapter, is that the Aryans invaded from the northwest. Although this is likely, the decline of Harappan culture was quite gradual and indicates problems beyond foreign conquest. One theory is deforestation, because of all the wood needed for the kilns to make the bricks used to keep out the flood waters.

However, a more comprehensive explanation comes from an analysis of the consequences of the extensive herds of cattle that indicate overgrazing and a general degradation of the ecosystem including salinization of water supplies. This led farmers to move on to greener pastures, leaving behind abandoned villages and depopulated cities. Even though fodder was probably grown to feed the cattle, this would not have been enough, and the overgrazing by the bullocks and milk cows could have caused the surrounding land to deteriorate. By 1500 BC the Harappan civilization had faded away into a culture that was spreading throughout India with new ideas from the west. The traditional theory well documented by the ancient hymns of the Vedas is that a people calling themselves Aryans conquered the native peoples of India and destroyed their forts.

Because of language similarities these Aryans are associated particularly with the Iranians and even further back with the origins of the Indo-European language group. The general consensus seems to be that this culture must have begun somewhere in the Russian steppes and Central Asia about 2000 BC, though some have put their origin in Lithuania because of similarity to that language. The branch of these speakers who came to India under the name Aryans, which means "noble ones," is the Indo-Iranian group. In fact "Iran" derives from the Persian cognate of the word for Aryan.

Other branches spread into Greece and western Asia as Hittites, Kassites, and Mitanni. A rock inscription found at Boghaz Koi dated about 1400 BC commemorating a treaty between the Mitanni and Hittites invokes the Aryan gods Indra, Varuna, Mitra, and the twins Nasatya (Asvins).

The ancient writings of the Persian Avesta and the Hindu Vedas share many gods and beliefs. Eventually they must have split, causing later authors to demonize the divinities of their adversaries. In early Hindu writings the asuras were respected gods, but later they became the demons most hated, while Ahura Mazda became the chief god of the Zoroastrians. (Persian often uses an h where Sanskrit uses an s, such as haoma for soma.) On the other hand the Hindu term for divinities, devas, was used by Zoroastrians to describe the devils from which even our English word is derived. Some scholars have concluded that the ancient Hindus did not want to admit that they came from Iran, and therefore the origin of the Aryans is never mentioned in the ancient texts although they frankly boast of their conquest over the indigenous Dasas or Dasyus in India.

The word Veda means knowledge, and the Vedas are considered the most sacred scripture of Hinduism referred to as sruti, meaning what was heard by or revealed to the rishis or seers. The most holy hymns and mantras put together into four collections called the Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas are difficult to date, because they were passed on orally for about a thousand years before they were written down. More recent categories of Vedas include the Brahmanas or manuals for ritual and prayer, the Aranyakas or forest texts for religious hermits, and the Upanishads or mystical discourses which will be discussed in the next chapter.

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Rig Veda

The hymns of the Rig Veda are considered the oldest and most important of the Vedas having been composed between 1500 and the time of the great Bharata war about 900 BC. More than a thousand hymns are organized into ten mandalas or circles of which the second through the seventh are the oldest and the tenth is the most recent. The Hindu tradition is that even the Vedas were gradually reduced from much more extensive and ancient divine revelations but were perverted in the recent dark age of Kaliyuga.

As the only writings from this ancient period of India they are considered the best source of knowledge we have, but the ethical doctrines seem to have improved from the ancient hymns to the mystical Upanishads as we shall see. Essentially the Rig Veda is dominated by hymns praising the Aryan gods for giving them victories and wealth plundered from the local Dasas through warfare.

The Aryans apparently used their advances in weaponry and skill in fighting to conquer the agricultural and tribal peoples of the fading Harappan culture. Numerous hymns refer to the use of horses and chariots with spokes which must have given their warriors a tremendous advantage. Spears, bows, arrows, and iron weapons are also mentioned. As a nomadic and pastoral culture glorifying war they established a new social structure of patriarchal families dominated by warriors and, eventually with the power of the Vedas themselves, by priests also.

The Rig Veda does mention assemblies, but these were probably of the warrior elite which may have had some controlling influence on the kings and the tribal priest called a purohita. The gods worshipped resemble the Indo-European gods and were headed by the powerful Indra who is often credited with destroying ninety forts. Also popular was Agni the fire-god who was considered a messenger of the gods. Varuna and Mitra, the gods of the night and day sky have been identified with the Greek Uranos and the Persian Mithras respectively. Dyaus, who is not mentioned nearly as often, has been correlated with the Greek Zeus. Surya the sun-god is referred to as the eye of Varuna and the son of Dyaus and rides through the sky on his chariot led by his twin sons the Asvins who represent his rays; Ushas the dawn is his wife or daughter. Maruts are storm-gods shaped by Rudra, who may have been one of the few indigenous deities adopted by the Aryans. Like the Iranian Avesta, the Rig Veda refers to the thirty-three gods.

Generally the hymns of the Rig Veda praise the gods and ask them for worldly benefits such as wealth, health, long life, protection, and victory over the Dasa peoples.

He, self-reliant, mighty and triumphant,
brought low the dear head of the wicked Dasas.
Indra the Vritra-slayer, Fort-destroyer,
scattered the Dasa hosts who dwelt in darkness.
For men hath he created earth and waters,
and ever helped the prayer of him who worships.
To him in might the Gods have ever yielded,
to Indra in the tumult of battle.
When in his arms they laid the bolt,
he slaughtered the Dasyus
and cast down their forts of iron.1

They call upon Brihaspati or Brahmanaspati, who has been related to a Hittite thunder-god, to avenge the sinner and protect them from the deceitful and wicked man. The Aryans did have a concept of eternal law called rita, which the immortal Agni in serving the gods is said to never break (Rig Veda III:3:1).

In Rig Veda III:34:9 Indra killed the Dasyus and "gave protection to the Aryan color." Not only did the Aryans shamelessly pray for booty in war but they based their militarily won supremacy on the lightness of their skin color compared to the dark colors of the native Dasyus. They arrogantly proclaim, "Let those who have no weapons suffer sorrow." (Rig Veda IV:5:14.)

Renowned is he when conquering and when slaying:
'tis he who wins cattle in the combat.
When Indra hardens his indignation
all that is fixed and all that moves fear him.
Indra has won all kine, all gold, all horses, -
Maghavan, he who breaks forts in pieces;2

Indra is praised for killing thousands of the abject tribes of Dasas with his arrow and taking great vengeance with "murdering weapons." (Rig Veda IV:28:3-4) One hymn mentions sending thirty thousand Dasas "to slumber" and another hymn sixty thousand slain. A hymn dedicated to the weapons of war (Rig Veda VI:75) refers to a warrior "armed with mail," using a bow to win cattle and subdue all regions, "upstanding in the car the skillful charioteer guides his strong horses on whithersoe'er he will." The arrows had iron mouths and shafts "with venom smeared" that "not one be left alive." Hymn VII:83 begins, "Looking to you and your alliance, O ye men, armed with broad axes they went forward, fain for spoil. Ye smote and slew his Dasa and his Aryan enemies."

Only occasionally did the authors of these hymns look to their own sins.

Free us from sins committed by our fathers,
from those wherein we have ourselves offended.
O king, loose, like a thief who feeds the cattle,
as from the cord a calf, set free Vasishtha.
Not our own will betrayed us, but seduction,
thoughtlessness, Varuna! wine, dice or anger.
The old is near to lead astray the younger:
even sleep removes not all evil-doing.3

A hymn to the frogs compares the repetitions of the priests around the soma bowl to the croaking of the frogs around a pond after the rains come. (Rig Veda VII:103)

The basic belief of the prayers and sacrifices is that they will help them to gain their desires and overcome their enemies, as in Rig Veda VIII:31:15: "The man who, sacrificing, strives to win the heart of deities will conquer those who worship not." Some awareness of a higher law seems to be dawning in the eighth book in hymn 75: "The holy law hath quelled even mighty men of war. Break ye not off our friendship, come and set me free." However, the enemies are now identified with the Asuras and still are intimidated by greater weapons: "Weaponless are the Asuras, the godless: scatter them with thy wheel, impetuous hero." (Rig Veda VIII:85:9)

Many of the hymns refer to the intoxicating soma juice which is squeezed from the mysterious soma plant and drank. All of the hymns of the ninth book of the Rig Veda are dedicated to the purifying soma which is even credited with making them feel immortal, probably because of its psychedelic influence. The first hymn in this book refers to the "iron-fashioned home" of the Aryans.

In the first book of the Rig Veda the worshipers recognize Agni as the guard of eternal law (I:1:8) and Mitra and Varuna as lovers and cherishers of law who gained their mighty power through law (I:2:8). In the 24th hymn they pray to Varuna, the wise Asura, to loosen the bonds of their sins. However, the prayers for riches continue, and Indra is thanked for winning wealth in horses, cattle, and gold by his chariot. Agni helps to slay the many in war by the hands of the few, "preserving our wealthy patrons with thy succors, and ourselves." (Rig Veda I:31:6, 42) Indra helped win the Aryan victory:

He, much invoked, hath slain Dasyus and Simyus,
after his wont, and laid them low with arrows.
The mighty thunderer with his fair-complexioned friends
won the land, the sunlight, and the waters.4

Control of the waters was essential for agricultural wealth. Indra is praised for crushing the godless races and breaking down their forts. (Rig Veda I:174)

In the tenth and last book of the Rig Veda some new themes are explored, but the Dasyus are still condemned for being "riteless, void of sense, inhuman, keeping alien laws," and Indra still urges the heroes to slay the enemies; his "hand is prompt to rend and burn, O hero thunder-armed: as thou with thy companions did destroy the whole of Sushna's brood." (Rig Veda X:22)

One unusual hymn is on the subject of gambling with dice. The speaker regrets alienating his wife, wandering homeless in constant fear and debt, envying others' well-ordered homes. He finally warns the listener not to play with dice but recommends cultivating his land. (Rig Veda X:34) Hymn 50 of this most recent last book urges Indra to win riches with valor "in the war for water on their fields." Now the prayer is that "we Gods may quell our Asura foemen." (Rig Veda X:53:4) A wedding ceremony is indicated in a hymn of Surya's bridal, the daughter of the sun. (Rig Veda X:85)

The first indication of the caste system is outlined in the hymn to Purusha, the embodied human spirit who is one-fourth creature and three-fourths eternal life in heaven.

The Brahman was his mouth,
of both his arms was the Rajanya made.
His thighs became the Vaisya,
from his feet the Sudra was produced.5

The Brahman caste was to be the priests and teachers; the Rajanya represents the king, head of the warrior or Kshatriya caste; Vaisyas are the merchants, craftsmen, and farmers; and the Sudras are the workers. In hymn 109 the brahmachari or student is mentioned as engaged in duty as a member of God's own body.

The hymn to liberality is a breath of fresh air:

The riches of the liberal never waste away,
while he who will not give finds none to comfort him.
The man with food in store who,
when the needy comes in miserable case
begging for bread to eat,
Hardens his heart against him -
even when of old he did him service -
find not one to comfort him.6

But later we realize that the priests are asking for liberality to support their own services, for the "plowing makes the food that feeds us," and thus a speaking (or paid) Brahman is better than a silent one.

The power of speech is honored in two hymns.

Where, like men cleansing corn-flour in a cribble,
the wise in spirit have created language,
Friends see and recognize the marks of friendship:
their speech retains the blessed sign imprinted.7

In hymn 125 of the tenth mandala Vak or speech claims to have penetrated earth and heaven, holding together all existence.

A philosophical hymn of creation is found in Rig Veda X:129. Beginning from non-being when nothing existed not even water nor death, that One breathless breathed by itself. At first this All was concealed by darkness and formless chaos, but by heat (tapas) that One came into existence. Thus arose desire, the primal seed and germ of Spirit. Sages searching in their hearts discovered kinship with the non-existent. A ray of light extended across the darkness, but what was known above or below? Creative fertility was there with energy and action, but who really knows where this creation came from? For the gods came after the world's creation. Who could know the source of this creation and how it was produced? The one seeing it in the highest heaven only knows, or maybe it does not.

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Sama Veda

The Sama Veda contains the melodies or music for the chants used from the Rig Veda for the sacrifices; almost all of its written verses are traceable to the Rig Veda, mostly the eighth and ninth books and most to Indra, Agni, or Soma. These are considered the origin of Indian music and probably stimulated great artistry to make the sacrifices worthwhile to their patrons who supported the priests. The Sama Veda helped to train the musicians and functioned as a hymnal for the religious rites.

The animal sacrifices did not use the Sama chants, but they were used extensively in agricultural rites and in the soma rituals for which the plant with inebriating and hallucinogenic qualities was imported from the mountains to the heartland of India. By this time the priests were specializing in different parts of the sacrifices as professional musicians and singers increased. The singing was like the strophe, antistrophe, and epode of the Greek chorus and used the seven tones of the European scale. By the tenth century BC the Aryans had invaded most of northern India and once again trade resumed with Babylon and others in the near east. As the sacrifices became more complex, the priestly class used them to enhance their role in the society. Many considered this musical portion the most important of the Vedas.

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Yajur Veda

Though also following many of the hymns of the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda deviates more from the original text in its collection of the ritual formulas for the priests to use in the sacrifices, which is what yaja means. It explains how to construct the altars for new and full-moon sacrifices and other ceremonies. The Yajur Veda has two collections or samhitas called White and Black, the latter being more obscure in its meanings.

By this time (10th century BC and after) the Aryan conquest has proceeded from the northwest and Punjab to cover northern India especially the Ganges valley. The caste system was in place, and as the warriors settled down to ruling over an agricultural society, the role of the priests and their ceremonies gained influence and justified the Aryan ways to the native workers who labored for the farmers, merchants, craftsmen who in turn were governed by their kings and priests. Land and wealth were accumulated in the hands of a few ruling families, and with food scarce the indigenous people were enslaved or had to sell their labor cheap to the ruling classes.

By instituting more elaborate sacrifices for their wealthy patrons, the priests could grow both in numbers and wealth as well. The famous horse sacrifice was not celebrated often but was used by a king to show his lordship over potential adversaries who were invited to acknowledge this overlordship in the ritual. The parts of the horse symbolize different aspects of the universe so that tremendous power is symbolized. The complicated and obscure rituals were presided over by the priests, the three symbols of the lotus leaf, the frog (for rain), and the golden man (for the sun) representing the Aryan dominance over the land and waters of India and the natural powers that sustain agriculture.

The soma sacrifice was the most important and could last up to twelve years. Since the soma plant was imported from distant mountains, it had to be purchased. A ritual drama re-enacted this business and aggressive Aryan history by showing the buyer snatching back the calf which was paid for the soma plant after the transaction occurs. The soma plant was then placed in a cart and welcomed as an honored guest and king at the sacrifice. Animals were slain and cut up in the rites before their meat was eaten. After various offerings and other ceremonies the soma juice is poured and toasted to different gods, and finally the text lists the sacrificial fees, usually goats, cows, gold, clothes, and food.

Coronation ceremonies supported the inauguration of kings. The priests tried to keep themselves above the warrior caste though by praising soma as king of the Brahmins. Waters are drawn from various rivers to sprinkle on the king and indicate the area of his kingdom, and he strides in each direction to signify his sovereignty. The king is anointed by the royal priest, gives some water to his son, the designated prince, and ritually enacts a raid against a kinsman's cattle, once again re-enacting their history of conquest. The booty is taken and divided into three parts for the priest, those who drank, and the original owner. A ritual dice game is played, which the king is allowed to win. The king then rides out in his chariot and is publicly worshipped as a divine ruler.

Agricultural rites were common and regular, and chariot races were no doubt popular at some of the festivals. The Purusha (person) sacrifice symbolized human sacrifice, which may refer back to the time when a hunting and pastoral people did not allow their enemies to live because of the shortage of food. However, in an agricultural society more labor was needed and could produce surplus food. The Purusha sacrifice recognized 184 professional crafts and guilds.

Finally the highest sacrifice was considered to be the Sarvamedha in which the sacrificer offers all of his possessions as the fee at the end of the ceremony. The last chapter of the Yajur Veda is actually the Isha Upanishad expressing the mystical view that the supreme spirit pervades everything.

This society was highly patriarchal, and the status of women declined, especially as men often married non-Aryan women. Women did not attend public assemblies and could not inherit property on their own. Polyandry was discouraged, but polygamy, adultery, and prostitution were generally accepted except during certain rituals. A sacrificer was not allowed to seek a prostitute on the first day of the sacrificial fire, nor the wife of another on the second day, nor his own wife on the third day.

The priests placed themselves at the top of the caste system as they supervised a religion most of the people could not understand without them. After the Atharva Veda was accepted, each sacrifice required at least four priests, one on each side of the fire using the Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas, plus their assistants and so on. After the wars of conquest were completed and the warrior caste settled down to rule, the priests were needed to sustain social stability. Yet in these times the caste system was much more flexible, as it is indicated that one should not ask about the caste of a learned man. The Brahmins, as the priest caste was called, had three obligations or debts to pay back in life: they paid back the seers by studying the Vedas, the gods by offering sacrifices, and their fathers by raising a family.

Like their European ancestors the Aryan warriors considered themselves above laboring for food and so organized society that food would be provided for them. One ethical duty later found in the epics was that of taking care of refugees, probably because as marauding raiders they had often been refugees themselves. The priests assured their livelihood by making sure that penance through religious ritual was a prime social value.

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Atharva Veda

The latest and fourth Veda is in a different category. For a long time many referred to only three Vedas, by which complete ceremonies could be conducted with the Rig hotr reciting, the Sama udgatri singing, and the Yajur adhvaryu performing the ritual. Even later the Atharvan Brahman's part was often performed unaccompanied by the other three priests. Also much of it draws from the customs and beliefs of pre-Aryan or pre-Vedic India. The Atharva Veda is much longer than the Sama and Yajur and only about a sixth of it is from the Rig Veda.

The Atharva Veda is primarily magical spells and incantations. The line between prayer and magic and between white and black magic is usually drawn by ethical considerations. The bheshajani are for healing and cures using herbs to treat fever, leprosy, jaundice, dropsy, and other diseases. The Aryans looked down on doctors and medicine, probably because the natives were more skilled in these than they. Other more positive spells were for successful childbirth, romance, fecundity, virility, etc.

The negative or bewitching spells were called abhichara and attempted to cause diseases or harm to enemies; often they are aimed at serpents and demons. The sorcery is ascribed to one of the authors, Angiras, whose name is related to Agni (Cf. Latin ignis), the divine messenger and possibly a distant cognate of the Greek word for messenger, angel. Another author, Atharvan, derives from the old Iranian root, atar, meaning fire. The third author, Bhrigu, was the name of a tribe which opposed Sudas in the battle of ten kings in the Rig Veda, and his name has also been related to a Greek word for fire. The fourth author is Brahman, the name which was given to the Atharvan priest, which eventually became so sacred that it was used as a name not only for the priestly caste but even for God the Creator.

In addition to physicians the Vedic Aryans also held in contempt Atharvan astrologers as well as magic, but from this came not only astrology but also the beginning of Ayurvedic medicine. Like most ancient peoples they also believed that the main cause of disease was evil spirits, possession, or what we would call psychological factors. The magical elements, particularly the abhicara, and the subjects of healing, herbs, and cooking, which were mostly in the woman's domain, made the Atharva Veda obnoxious to many Vedic priests. However, these rituals were very popular, and the brahman priest's share of the fees soon became equal to the other three priests' combined. Eventually this shamanic tradition had to be incorporated into the Vedic religion, especially later when it faced the new challenges of Jainism and Buddhism.

The Brahmin caste became even stronger, and their wealth can be seen by the belief that the cow by right belonged exclusively to them. Taxes were collected probably by the warrior Kshatriya caste from the vaisya artisans, farmers, and merchants. The Sudra workers were too poor to be taxed, and the Brahmins were exempt. One verse (Atharva Veda 3:29:3) describes heaven as "where a tax is not paid by a weak man for a stronger."

Marriage ceremonies are included. Here is a brief example:

I am he; you are she.
I am song; you are verse.
I am heaven; you are earth.
Let us two dwell together here;
let us generate children.8

According to the Atharva Veda (5:17:8-9), a brahman could take a wife from the husband of any other caste simply by seizing her hand. Book 18 contains only funeral verses. There are coronation rites for kings, though the prayer is that the people will choose the king usually already selected by heredity or the council. Philosophy and abstraction are creeping in, as there are two hymns to the deity of time, and kama (love, desire, pleasure) is praised as "the first seed of the mind" that generated heaven. (Atharva Veda 19:52)

Let us conclude this section on the Atharva Veda with some selections from its beautiful hymn to the Earth as a sample of the more positive expression of the Vedas:

High Truth, unyielding Order, Consecration,
Ardor and Prayer and Holy Ritual
uphold the Earth, may she, the ruling Mistress
of what has been and what will come to be,
for us spread wide a limitless domain.

Untrammeled in the midst of men, the Earth,
adorned with heights and gentle slopes and plains,
bears plants and herbs of various healing powers.
May she spread wide for us, afford us joy!

On whom are ocean, river, and all waters,
on whom have sprung up food and plowman's crops,
on whom moves all that breathes and stirs abroad -
Earth, may she grant to us the long first draught!

To Earth belong the four directions of space.
On her grows food; on her the plowman toils.
She carries likewise all that breathes and stirs.
Earth, may she grant us cattle and food in plenty!

On whom the men of olden days roamed far,
on whom the conquering Gods smote the demons,
the home of cattle, horses, and of birds,
may Earth vouchsafe to us good fortune and glory!

Bearer of all things, hoard of treasures rare,
sustaining mother, Earth the golden-breasted
who bears the Sacred Universal Fire,
whose spouse is Indra - may she grant us wealth!

Limitless Earth, whom the Gods, never sleeping,
protect forever with unflagging care,
may she exude for us the well-loved honey,
shed upon us her splendor copiously!

Earth, who of yore was Water in the oceans,
discerned by the Sages' secret powers,
whose immortal heart, enwrapped in Truth,
abides aloft in the highest firmament,
may she procure for us splendor and power,
according to her highest royal state!

On whom the flowing Waters, ever the same,
course without cease or failure night and day,
may she yield milk, this Earth of many streams,
and shed on us her splendor copiously!

May Earth, whose measurements the Asvins marked,
over whose breadth the foot of Vishnu strode,
whom Indra, Lord of power, freed from foes,
stream milk for me, as a mother for her son!

Your hills, O Earth, your snow-clad mountain peaks,
your forests, may they show us kindliness!
Brown, black, red, multifarious in hue
and solid is this vast Earth, guarded by Indra.
Invincible, unconquered, and unharmed,
I have on her established my abode.

Impart to us those vitalizing forces
that come, O Earth, from deep within your body,
your central point, your navel, purify us wholly.
The Earth is mother; I am son of Earth.
The Rain-giver is my father; may he shower on us blessings!

The Earth on which they circumscribe the altar,
on which a band of workmen prepare the oblation,
on which the tall bright sacrificial posts
are fixed before the start of the oblation -
may Earth, herself increasing, grant us increase!

That man, O Earth, who wills us harm, who fights us,
who by his thoughts or deadly arms opposes,
deliver him to us, forestalling action.

All creatures, born from you, move round upon you.
You carry all that has two legs, three, or four.
To you, O Earth, belong the five human races,
those mortals upon whom the rising sun
sheds the immortal splendor of his rays.

May the creatures of earth, united together,
let flow for me the honey of speech!
Grant to me this boon, O Earth.

Mother of plants and begetter of all things,
firm far-flung Earth, sustained by Heavenly Law,
kindly and pleasant is she. May we ever
dwell on her bosom, passing to and fro!...

Do not thrust us aside from in front or behind,
from above or below! Be gracious, O Earth.
Let us not encounter robbers on our path.
Restrain the deadly weapons!

As wide a vista of you as my eye
may scan, O Earth, with the kindly help of Sun,
so widely may my sight be never dimmed
in all the long parade of years to come!

Whether, when I repose on you, O Earth,
I turn upon my Right side or my left,
or whether, extended flat upon my back,
I meet your pressure from head to foot,
be gentle, Earth! You are the couch of all!

Whatever I dig up of you, O Earth,
may you of that have quick replenishment!
O purifying One, may my thrust never
reach Right into your vital points, your heart!

Your circling seasons, nights succeeding days,
your summer, O Earth, your splashing rains, your autumn,
your winter and frosty season yielding to spring---
may each and all produce for us their milk!...

From your numberless tracks by which mankind may travel,
your roads on which move both chariots and wagons
your paths which are used by the good and the bad,
may we choose a way free from foes and robbers!
May you grant us the blessing of all that is wholesome!

She carries in her lap the foolish and also the wise.
She bears the death of the wicked as well as the good.
She lives in friendly collaboration with the boar,
offering herself as sanctuary to the wild pig....

Peaceful and fragrant, gracious to the touch,
may Earth, swollen with milk, her breasts overflowing,
grant me her blessing together with her milk!

The Maker of the world sought her with oblations
when she was shrouded in the depth of the ocean.
A vessel of gladness, long cherished in secret,
the earth was revealed to mankind for their joy.

Primeval Mother, disperser of men,
you, far-flung Earth, fulfill all our desires.
Whatever you lack, may the Lord of creatures,
the First-born of Right, supply to you fully!

May your dwellings, O Earth, free from sickness and wasting,
flourish for us! Through a long life, watchful,
may we always offer to you our tribute!

O Earth, O Mother, dispose my lot
in gracious fashion that I be at ease.
In harmony with all the powers of Heaven
set me, O Poet, in grace and good fortune!9

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Between about 900 and 700 BC the Brahmanas were written in prose as sacerdotal commentaries on the four Vedas to guide the practices of the sacrifices and give explanations often mythical and fanciful for these customs. However, their limited focus of justifying the priestly actions in the sacrifices restricted the themes of these first attempts at imaginative literature. Nevertheless they do give us information about the social customs of this period and serve as a transition from the Vedas to the Aranyakas and the mystical Upanishads.

The caste system based on color (varna) is now established, though not as rigidly as it became later. The essential difference is between the light-skinned Aryans who made up the top three castes of the priestly Brahmins, warrior kshatriyas, and artisan Vaisyas, and the dark-skinned Dasas who were the servant Sudras. Sudras, like women, could not own property, and only rarely did they rise above service positions. The Vaisyas were the basis of the economic system of trade, crafts, and farming. The Vaisyas were considered inferior by the Brahmins and kshatriyas, and a female was generally not allowed to marry below her caste though it was common for a male to do so. Even a Brahmin's daughter was not supposed to marry a kshatriya.

The rivalry for prestige and power was between the Brahmins and the kshatriyas or rajanyas. Brahmins often held debates on Brahman and other religious issues. Janaka, a rajanya gained knowledge and defeated some Brahmins in discussion. So some Brahmins suggested a symposium on Brahman to prove who was superior, but since Brahmins were expected to be superior on these issues, Yajnavalkya prudently replied, "We are Brahmins; he is a rajanya. If we win whom shall we say that we have defeated? But if he defeats us they will say a rajanya has defeated Brahmins; so let us not convene this symposium."10

Kings were consecrated by Vedic rites and ruled with the help of the assembly (sabha) that met in a hall to administer justice; women were excluded. Ordeals were used, such as making a suspected thief touch a hot ax to see if his hand burned, which might be the origin of the saying, "being caught red-handed." Politics and legislation took place in a larger council (samiti). Taxes were collected to support these institutions and the army.

Each village was administered by a Gramani, a Vaisya who functioned like a mayor with civil rather than military authority. The Gramani and the royal charioteer (Suta) were considered the kingmakers. This latter privileged position was not merely the driver of the king, but also his chief advisor and perhaps storyteller as well. The royal priest or Purohito was also supposed to advise the king in peace and protect him in war. The season of dew after the monsoons ended was considered the time for "sacking cities," as ambitious kings came into conflict with each other in wars.

In addition to the discussions of sacerdotal matters, the Brahmanas do contain some stories meant to explain or rationalize their religious practices. Some of these are quite imaginative, though the usual pattern is for the hero to discover a rite to perform or a chant to intone which miraculously solves whatever problem is pressing to give a happy ending.

Wendy O'Flaherty has translated some stories from the Jaiminiya Brahmana illustrating how they dealt with the fears of death, God, the father, wives, and demonic women; many of these stories are sexually explicit, indicating that these people were not afraid of discussing their sexuality. However, since the usual way of handling these fears was to use a sacrificial ritual, the solutions probably had only limited social and psychological value.

The most famous of these stories and the best in my opinion is the tale of Bhrigu's journey in the other world. Bhrigu was the son of Varuna and devoted to learning, and he thought that he was better than the other Brahmins and even better than the gods and his own father. So Varuna decided to teach him something by stopping his life breaths, causing Bhrigu to enter the world beyond where he saw someone cut another man to pieces and eat him, a second man eating another who was screaming, a third who was eating a man who was silently screaming, another world where two women were guarding a treasure, a fifth where a stream of blood was guarded by a naked black man with a club and a stream of butter provided all the desires of golden men in golden bowls, and a sixth world where flowed five rivers of blue and white lotuses and flowing honey with wonderful music, celestial nymphs dancing and singing, and a fragrant odor.

When Bhrigu returned, his father Varuna explained to him that the first man represented people who in ignorance destroy trees who in turn eat them; the second are those who cook animals that cry out and in the other world are eaten by them in return; the third are those who ignorantly cook rice and barley, which scream silently and also eat them in return; the two women are Faith and non-Faith; the river of blood represents those who squeeze the blood out of a Brahmin and the naked black man guarding is Anger, but the true sacrificers are the golden men who get the river of butter and the paradise of the five rivers.

To me this myth is a clear warning against the harmful actions of deforestation and meat-eating, and even the eating of living vegetables is to be done in silent respect. It shows an intuitive understanding of the principle of karma or the consequences of action as well as the growing importance of the concept of faith in addition to the usual theme of the sacrifice.

The power of the word is increasing, as the sacrifices are glorified and given power even over the Vedic gods. Japa or the practice of chanting a mantram like Aum practiced ascetically with the sacrifices is believed to produce all one's desires. At the same time knowledge is beginning to be valued. In one exchange mind says that speech merely imitates it, but speech emphasizes the importance of expression and communication; however, Prajapati decides that mind is more important even than the word.

This new god, Prajapati, is said to have given birth to both the gods and the demons. The ethical principle of truth appears as the gods are described as being truthful and the demons as being false. However, realizing the ways of the world many complain that the demons grew strong and rich, just as cattle like salty soil; but by performing the sacrifice the gods attain the whole truth and triumph, as, analogically I might add, people will eventually realize that cattle as well as salt ruins the land.

Prajapati not only was the first to sacrifice but is considered the sacrifice itself. He practices tapas to create by the heat of his own effort, and this heat is also related to cosmic fire and light as well as the to the warmth of the body and breath. Another concept of energy associated with the breath is prana; it also is identified with goodness, as the texts imply that as the life force it cannot be impure or bad. Prajapati not only creates but enters into things as form and name, giving them order. Eventually Prajapati will be replaced by Brahman who is identified with truth and will become the Creator God in the trinity that will include Vishnu, a sun-god who becomes the Preserver, and Shiva, who is derived from the indigenous Rudra, the Destroyer. With all the mental activity going on analyzing the rites and their explanation, abstractions are increasing in the religion.

A judgment after death using a scale to weigh good against evil is described in the Satapatha Brahmana, an idea which may have been transported from Egypt by merchants. This text recommends that the one who knows this will balance one's deeds in this world so that in the next the good deeds will rise, not the evil ones. Belief in repeated lives through reincarnation is indicated in several passages in the Brahmanas. A beef-eater is punished by being born into a strange and sinful creature. As knowledge rivals the value of ritual, this new problem of how to escape from an endless cycle of rebirth presents itself.

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Source :-Sanderson Beck 

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