Friday, June 12, 2009

Beginning of Iron Age, Atharva Veda: 12century BC

Later Vedas

Like the Rig Veda, the only sources for the post Rig Vedic history of India are the later three Vedas - Yajur, Sama & Atharva Veda. There is no concrete proof of the timelines of these three Vedas. Commonly accepted chronology is that Yajur Veda and Sama Veda, composed perhaps between 1400 BC and 1100 BC, are older than Atharva Veda which was composed perhaps between 1100 and 900 BC. The present forms of all the four Vedas didn't take place for sure within these time frames. It had taken several more centuries before they would have arrived to the present forms. Yajur Veda has reference to fully developed caste systems, considerable advances in art, handicrafts, trade and occupation, which are evidently of much later date of early first millennium.

The four Vedas Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva are the earliest literatures of mankind. They also form the basis of the way of life that gradually metamorphosed into a religion, commonly and also erroneously at times, known as Hinduism. At their core the four Vedas are just books of knowledge and enlightenment as realized by the learned people of the time and presented in forms of manuals for rituals - mostly worship of natural forces. Rig Veda is the Knowledge of Recited Praise, Yajur Veda the Knowledge of Sacrifice, Sama Veda the Knowledge of Chanted Hymns and Atharva Veda the Knowledge of Prayers, Charms and Spells. Apart from Yajur Veda, all the other three were composed as perfect metrical verses. Many verses of Rig Veda are reused in various forms in all the other three later Vedas.

Almost all the ancient civilizations were worshipers of nature and natural forces. So it's nothing extraordinary or exceptional for the Indians to worship fire, water, sky, wind and earth - the five basic natural forces. At the dawn of civilization, when the human race was still under the spell of the powers and mysteries of the nature, it's very natural that most of her rituals would be centered around pleasing these mysterious forces. Metaphorically each of these forces was given a shape and form of super humans or Gods. All the knowledge, be it about philosophy or environment or mathematics or governance were packaged into the widely respected ritual manuals. Though the Vedas are regarded as religious books, still they have wealth of valuable information and knowledge and tremendous literary value. None other religious books in any other religion has such great value beyond the dogmatic significance. Most of the content in Vedas are relevant even now. That's precisely what makes the Vedas so unique. Most importantly the history of ancient India is impossible to construct without the Vedas.

Yajur Veda

It's quite fascinating to know that some 3000 years ago Indians were equally concerned about the harmony between man and nature. Yajur Veda speaks about being "in accordance with the earth". It also talks about an all inclusive growth of mankind "spreading with a hundred branches".

Shukla Yajur Veda: 5.43

dyaammaa lekheerantarikshammaa himseeh prithivyaa sambhava |

ayam hi tvaa svadhitistetijaanam praninaay mahate saubhaagaaya |

atastvandeva vanaspate shatavalsho viroha sahasravalshaa vi vayan ruhema |

Graze not the sky. Harm not mid-air. Be in accordance with the earth.

For this well-sharpened axe hath led thee forth to great felicity.

Hence, with a hundred branches, God, Lord of the Forest, grow thou up.

May we grow spreading with a hundred branches.

The following verses from Shukla Yajur Veda mention the numbers upto ten raised to the power of 12 in steps of powers of 10, namely ayuta(10 raised to the power 4, or 10K), niyuta(100K), prayuta(1million), arbuda(10 million), nyarbuda(100 million), samudra(1billion), madhya(10 billion), anta (100 billion) and parardha(1trillion).

Shukla Yajur Veda: 17.2

imaa me'agna'ishtakaa dhenavah santvekaa cha dasha cha dasha cha shatancha shatancha sahasrancha sahasranchaayutanchaayutancha niyutancha niyutancha prayutanchaarbudancha nyarbudancha samudrashcha madhyanchaantashcha paraadheshchaitaa me'agna'ishtakaa dhenavah santvamutraamushmilloke

O Agni, may these bricks be mine own milch kine: one, and ten, and ten tens - a hundred, and ten hundreds - a thousand, and ten thousand - a myriad, and a hundred thousand, and a million, and a hundred millions, and an ocean middle and end, and a hundred thousand millions, and a billion. May these bricks be mine own milch-kine in yonder world and in this world.

A similar list is available inTaittiriiya Samhita[Krişhņa Yajur Veda] (4.4.11) and (, Maitrāyaņi Samhita 2.8.12, Kathaka Samhita (17.10) etc. The Atharvaveda Samhita (6.25.1 thru 6.25.3, 7.4.1) specially emphasizes the common relationship between one and ten, three and thirty, five and fifty, nine and ninety, clearly indicating that the persons of the Vedic age had a good grasp of the basics of decimal system for positive integers.

The number four three two (four hundred and thirty two) million occurring frequently in
Sanskrit works occurs in Atharva Veda (8.3.21).

Yajur Veda also has the first reference to numeric infinity (purna or fullness) stating that if you subtract purna from purna you're still left with purna.

It's quite a unique development in the filed of science and mathematics on the part of the Indians compared to all their contemporaries. At the same time it's quite confusing to know that the same people, who had such in depth knowledge about mathematics lacked the knowledge of technology. The people of Indus Valley Civilization might not have know such level of mathematics, but they were masters in technology of town planning, navigation, ship building and many others.

Sama Veda

Sama Veda is the first book of songs known to mankind. It forms the earliest foundations of Indian Classical Music. It also sets the earliest legacy of using songs as a form of worship, which over the ages has been proved to be the most popular form of worship in all religions. Music and sound not only play an important role in spirituality, but also in our normal lives. Sama Veda uses the sound, lyrics and music in a wonderful way to create the right aura and ambiance for spirituality and divinity.

Sama Veda:

namah sakhibhyah poorvasadbhyo namah saakannishebhyah |

yunje vaacham shatapadeem ||

yunje vaacham shatapadeem gaaye sahasravarttani |

gaayatram traishtubham jagat ||

gaayatram traishtubham jagadvishvaa rupaani sammritaa |

devaa okaamsi chaktrire ||

Praise to the friends who sit in front! to those seated together, praise

I use the hundred-footed speech speech.

I use the hundred-footed speech, I sing what hath a thousand paths,

Gayatra,Trishtup, Jagat hymn.

Gayatra, Trishtup, Jagat hymn,the forms united and complete,

Have the Gods made familiar friends.

Atharva Veda

Atharva Veda, the last of the four Vedas, is often criticized for dealing with super naturals. But philosophically it's perhaps much more deeper than the other three Vedas. It, no doubt, deals with topics more complex in nature.

It's the first Vedas that speaks about medicine and physiology. The first book of Atharva Veda speaks of the following:

Hymn 2: A charm against dysentery

Hymn 3: A charm against constipation and suppression of urine

Hymn 4: To the waters, for the prosperity of cattle

Hymn 5: To the waters, for strength and power

Hymn 6: To the waters, for health and wealth

Hymn 11: A charm to be used at child-birth

Hymn 22: A charm against jaundice

Hymn 23: A charm against leprosy

Hymn 24: A charm against leprosy

Hymn 25: A prayer to fever, as a charm against his attacks

Hymn 26: A charm to obtain invisibility

The following verses speak about the importance of Sabha and Samiti, the two popular forms of meetings during the Vedic Age. It's again an early example of argumentativeness of the Indians. The main purpose of these meetings was to discuss things of relevance openly in a common forum. The importance of such meetings is great in the proper governance of a country. It's clear from this verse that these meetings were taken quite seriously by the people. It's being pointed out that everyone should be fair in their words and every man should respect every other man in these meetings.

Atharva Veda: 7.12.1

sabhaa cha maa samitishchaavataan prajaapaterduhitarau sanvidaane |

yenaa samgachchhaa upa maa sa shikshaanchaaru vadaani pitarah sangateshu ||

In concord may Prajapati's two daughters, Gathering and Assembly, both protect me.
May every man I meet respect and aid me. Fair be my words, O Fathers, at the meetings.

The following verse speaks about atoms as the smallest unit of any object.

Atharva Veda: 12.1.26

shilaa bhumirashmaa pamsu saa bhumih samdhrita dhrita |

tasyai hiranyavakshase prithivyaa akaram namah ||

Rock earth, and stone, and dust, this Earth is held together, firmly bound.

To this gold-breasted Prithivī mine adoration have I paid.

Here 'atoms' (Pāṃsu) are described forming the stone, the stones agglutinating to form the rocks and the rocks held together to form the Earth. This is quite a unique realization made by the Indians some 3000 years back.

Most importantly Atharva Veda refers to Iron as a metal for the first time, thus heralding the start of the Iron Age and the end of Bronze Age sometime around 1100BC.

Atharva Veda: 11.3.5, 6, 7

ashvaa kanaa gaavastandulaa mashakaastushaah ||5||

kabru faleekaranaah sharo'bhram ||6||

shyaamamayo'sya maamsaani lohitamasya lohitam || 7||

Horses are the grains, oxen the winnowed ricegrains, gnats the husks. (5)

Kabru is the husked grain, the rain cloud is the reed. (6)

Grey iron is its flesh, copper its blood. (7)

The above hymn is in glorification of Odana or the boiled rice, a staple diet for most Indians even now. It glorifies Odana metaphorically in many ways by saying that Brihaspati is its head, Brahma the mouth, Heaven and Earth are the ears, the Sun and Moon are the eyes, the seven Rishis are the vital airs inhaled and exhaled, and so on.

Atharva Veda mentions the Kuru King Parikshita. The Kuru dynasty would have been an important one in northern India around 1100 BC.

Around the World

Early Vedic Age is contemporary to 18-20th dynasties of New Kingdom of Egyptian Empire. Around 1100 BC Greek City States, Troy being one of the most important ones, came to a spectacular end. The Homeric Trojan War is also believed to have occurred sometime in the 12th century BC.

In west Asia the Kassites have been ruling in Babylon since 16th century BC. Their rule came to an end in 1155 BC when it fell to
Elam (Iran). Finally after five centuries Babylon was conquered back by native ruler Nebuchandrezzar I in 1125 from the Kassites. Around the same the Hittites (Turkey) were
declining and the
Assyrians becoming more and more powerful. The first Assyrian Empire was established around the same time. Also Israel was getting formed.

Reference and Useful Links


sfauthor said...

Nice posting. Do you know about these Samhita texts?

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