Monday, March 03, 2003

The Vedas.

Many Hindus fondly believe Vedas existed from time 'immemorial'. Some liberals are comfortable with dating them at around 6000 BC. The logic seems to be "The older, the more mystical they become" This unfortunately does not stand up to scientific scrutiny.
Scholars generally agree the Rig Veda, the mother of all Vedas can be dated to around 1200 BC

Support comes from the following facts :

Historians have enough evidence to support the theory that migrant Aryans from Iran composed the vedas

PArts of Rig Veda bear close resemblance to the Avesta which is dated to around 800 BC
In 1907 of the names of the Indian deities Mitra, Varuna, Indra, Nasatya,was found in an inscription dated 1400 B.C. found in Asia Minor. The phonetic form suggests the Indians and the Persians were still one people, linguistically. Scholars believe this also suggests a gap of two centuries for the separation of the Iranians, their migration to India, and the commencement of the Vedic literature.

Indo-Aryans brought with them the religion of worshipping nature in the form of Mitra, Varuna, Indra. They glorified cult of fire and of Soma and the art of composing religious poems in several metres, as a comparison of the Rigveda and the Avesta shows.

These hymns was to propitiate the gods by praises accompanying the offering of ghee poured on the fire and of the juice of the Soma plant.

The earliest Rig veda hymns seem to have been composed exclusively by exclusively composed by different families of a hereditary priesthood. They were handed down by memory, not by writing, as writing came into India by around 700 BC. The collections of these family groups form the core of the Rigveda.

At around 600 BC, after around 700 years of the composition of the earliest hymns, scholars applied to the vedic text certain rules of Sandhi which polished up the text ( vowels are either contracted or changed into semi-vowels, and a is often dropped after e and o). Soon after this work was concluded, extraordinary precautions were taken to preserve the form of the vedas.

After writing came into India at around 700 BC, The Pada or text form of vedas was compiled and it listed down numerous versions, listing down various ways of reciting the hymns. Works called Anukramanis ('Indexes'), listed from the beginning to the end of the Rigveda the number of stanzas contained in each hymn, the deities, and the metres of all the stanzas of the Rigveda.

These precautions ensured the text of the Rigveda has been handed down for 2,500 years with almost no corruption. This is no mean achievement and has no parallels in any other body of literature.

The Rigveda consists of around 1000 hymns, approx ten stanzas to a hymn. The shortest hymn has only one stanza, while the longest has fifty-eight. The Rig veda would look as thick as a Michael Crichton novel.

It is convenient to divide the Rig Veda into ten Mandalas( Cycles) or 'books' and Suktas ('hymns' ) This indicates the manner in which the collection came into being. This is the system scholars use in referring to or quoting from the Rigveda.

Books 2 to 7 are homogeneous in character. This implies these are composed by members of the same family as each of them is similarly divided into groups addressed to different gods.

Books 2, 8, and 10 were not composed by a distinct family of seers, as their groupings are not by Gods but by the composers. Book 9 stands separate with all its hymns addressed to one and the same deity, Soma.

In the Family books, the first group of hymns is invariably addressed to Agni, the second to Indra, and those that follow to gods of less importance. The hymns within these deity groups are arranged in the descending order based on the stanzas.The family books are arranged in an ascending order of the hymns each have. The second Book has forty-three, the third sixty-two, the sixth seventy-five, and the seventh one hundred and four hymns. These form the nucleus of the Rig veda.

Some additions to these family books arose later. The eighth book is like the family books as being in the main composed by members of one family, the Kanvas; but it differs from them in not beginning with hymns to Agni. Its metre is also different. It also has lesser hymns than the 7th book.

The first part of Book 1 (1-50) is in several respects like Book 8. Kanvas seem to have been the authors of the majority of these hymns; their favourite metre construction is again found here; and both collections contain many similar or identical passages.

It is still unclear why a part of the Kanva hymns became Book 1 while the rest became book 8.

The ninth book is a collection of hymns addressed to Soma. None of the family books contain a single Soma hymn. However, by the writing style, it can be seen that the soma book was composed by authors of the same families as those of Books 2 to 7. So it is logical to assume that all the soma hymns were removed from Books 1 to 8 and formed as a separate book.

The tenth book is later in origin than the other book as its authors were familiar with them. It also lists some hymns of the old which were 'lost' or overlooked in earlier collections. We also see the introduction of magical conceptions.

The rig vedic hymns were written 900 years before Panini codified sanskrit grammar(in 300 BC) .

The Rig veda exhibits a much greater variety of forms than Sanskrit does.It differs a great deal from classical sanskrit. Its accent, like that of ancient Greek, is of a musical nature, depending on the pitch of the voice

All hymns of the RV without exception are metrical. They contain on the average ten stanzas, generally of 3/4 or 5 verses or lines ( Pada)

The line forms the metrical unit, usually consists of eight, eleven, or twelve syllables. A stanza is, as a rule, made up of lines of the same type;

There are about fifteen metres, with about seven very common ones. The most common are the Tristubh (4 x 11 syllables), the Gayatri (3 x 8), and the Jagati (4 x 12).


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