Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rig Veda: Chariot, Constellations & Pole Star

Chariots are the trademarks of the Aryans. So it's very logical that everything they do would have chariots in it. Rig Veda has several references to chariots. Chariot and its spoked wheel appear in double meanings to represent multiple things. In the discussions on Rig Vedic Gods we've seen that one hymn says Indra rules over the world like the rim, nemi, of the wheel containing the spokes, ara. Even intricate parts of a wheel like dhura, the peg with which the axle pole, aksha, is fastened to the center or navel, nabha, of the wheel, appears in hymns. Almost each and every part of a spoked wheel and chariot is used in RV.

Unlike the chariots and spoked wheels constellations are not the trademarks of the Aryans. In fact the Babylonians were the first in the world, at least in the recorded history, to have stared at the night sky with bewilderment and amazement. They were surely the earliest sky gazers, predating the Aryans by at least a thousand years, if we consider the dare of RV from 1700 BC onwards. It may not be unnatural for any one to stare at the night sky and feel a profoundness within. The unending darkness sprinkled with an unending number of sparkles of stars vanishing into nowhere has always aroused lot of questions in the minds of humans. The Aryans were not unique in this regard.

Staring at the sky for hours can very easily bring out some basic facts:
  1. the sky in the shape of an inverted bowl along with millions of stars seem to revolve around you: this is nothing but the celestial sphere in astronomical terminology.
  2. the sun, moon and the visible planets always appear in a line, rather, an arc: this arc or line is the ecliptic; in astronomical lingo it's the projection of the earth's orbital plane on the celestial sphere; simplistically it signifies the plane on which earth orbits round the sun; it's also roughly the plane on which all the planets orbit round the sun.
  3. the line, on which appear the sun, moon and the planets, is marked by a number of bright fixed stars which can divide the line into several compartments - the sun, moon and the planets seem to be moving from one of these compartments to the other in a fixed cycle of time: the Babylonians were the first to study these stars, which are located close to the earth's orbital plane and which later constituted the twelve zodiac constellations; for the Rig Vedic Aryans these stars that compartmentalize the ecliptic constituted the twenty seven asterisms, nakshatras; the number twenty seven comes from the twenty seven lunar days that roughly make a lunar month - dividing the ecliptic into twenty seven compartments makes the moon appear everyday in a new compartment, which is eventually called lunar mansion.
  4. there's only one star that doesn't seem to revolve - it doesn't move, doesn't rise, doesn't set, remains at the same place as long as the night sky is visible: this is the Polestar, the star that's located exactly to the north of or above the earth's north pole; each and every star appears to be rotating around the Polestar.
It can be assumed that it didn't take much intelligence for the Rig Vedic Aryans to observe these basic things about celestial sphere, ecliptic, lunar mansions and Polestars. Incidentally almost all the ancient civilizations made the same observations. What's different in the case of the Rig Vedic Aryans is that they used these basic astronomical observations liberally in their double meanings and poetic creations.

Before proceeding further let's see how the night sky looked like around 2000 BC in Arkaim - the site of an early Aryan settlement.

Below are a number of sky-maps, all with the same legend and in the same format - the red arc is the ecliptic; the constellation boundaries are marked in green; the names of the constellations and the bright stars visible very easily with naked eyes are marked in yellow and red.

The first sky map show how the night sky looked like on 10th April, 2000 BC in Arkaim. It was just a day before the full moon nearest to Vernal Equinox. Some of the lunar mansions with very bright stars like Spica, Arcturus, Antares and Shaula are marked on the ecliptic. In 2000 BC Thuban of the Draco constellation was very close to being the Polestar (it was the Polestar around 2800 BC). Due to the precession of equinoxes, discussed in details earlier, different stars, all arranged in a circle, become Polestars at various points of time. Thuban (2800 BC), Polaris (now) and Vega (12000 BC & 14000 AD) are marked in the sky-map. On this particular day, 10th April, the moon is in the nakshatra Anuradha.

Next are the sky-maps of 9th and 8th April, 2000 BC. 9th was a full moon coinciding with the Vernal Equinox, something that happens once in roughly nineteen years. On 9th and 8th the moon was in the adjoiningnakshatras Vishakha (full moon) and Swati. These sky maps show how the moon passes from one nakshatra to another with each passing day.

Next is the sky-map at the time of sun rising on the Vernal Equinox, 9th Apr, 2000 BC, in Arkaim. The sun is in Krittika and the full moon in Vishakha. Identifying the stars during the day time is not that trivial. But it may not be tough to interpolate the nakshatras from the previous knowledge of their locations in the night. It has been observed earlier that at a place like Arkaim, where the ecliptic comes quite close to the horizon, it's quite trivial to observe the stars and map them to their respective nakshatras on ground.

Next is the sky-map on 4th October, 2000 BC - the full moon close to Autumnal Equinox. It can be recalled that the location of full moon around Autumnal Equinox is same as that of sun on Vernal Equinox and vice versa. The full moon at Vernal Equinox was in Vishakha and the sun in Krittika. Hence the full moon around Autumnal Equinox should be in Krittika - that's what is seen in the sky-map too.

These observations, which can be noticed in the night sky without much difficulty, had left deep impact in the minds of the peoples of Rig Veda. Very poetically they have merged their favorite chariots with these and composed some wonderful hymns. Let's see some of these hymns.

sapta yuñjanti ratham ekacakram eko aśvo vahati saptanāmā |
trinābhi cakram ajaram anarvaṃ yatremā viśvā bhuvanādhi tasthuḥ || 1.164.02

Seven to the one-wheeled chariot yoke the Courser; bearing seven names the single Courser draws it.
Three-naved the wheel is, sound and undecaying, whereon are resting all these worlds of being. 1.164.02

imaṃ ratham adhi ye sapta tasthuḥ saptacakraṃ sapta vahanti aśvāḥ |
sapta svasāro abhi saṃ navante yatra ghavāṃ nihitā sapta nāma || 1.164.03

The seven who on the seven-wheeled car are mounted have horses, seven in tale, who draw them onward.
Seven Sisters utter songs of praise together, in whom the names of the seven Cows are treasured. 1.162.03

The first verse talks about a single wheeled chariot, ekachakra ratha, yoked to seven horses and driven by a single horse. In the next line it stresses on the fact that the wheel is three naved, trinabhi, undecaying and strong, ajaram an
arvam, and on it rests the whole world, vishva bhuvana. It's really tempting to identify the single wheel with seven horses with the ecliptic, which is also a sort of wheel that carries the seven horses - the sun, moon and the five visible planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The stress on the point that the wheel is three naved, or with three centers, again point very simplistically to the ecliptic. The part of ecliptic that's visible to anyone during night does appear like an ellipse - with the three foci an ellipse really has three centers or naves. Another interesting thing in this verse is the term 'driven by a single horse'. Perhaps this is the first usage of an expression that means horse power - the gravitational power that drives the wheel, the ecliptic, is wonderfully and poetically referred to as the power of a single horse.

The next verse talks about seven horses, sapta ashva, driving a seven wheeled chariot, sapta chakra ratham, on which rests the Seven. This seems to be a reference to the Big Dipper asterism, the seven stars of the Ursa Major constellation representing the seven sages, Saptarshi.

In another verse there's a reference to the One that's beyond the seven sages, sapta rishi; the One that has fixed firmly, tastambha, the six regions of the sky, rajamsi; the One on whom rests the whole world, vishvani bhuvanani tasthu; the One that supports the sky as if it's the peg, dhura, with which the axle pole of the entire wheel of the sky, rajas, is affixed. The outer and simplistic identity of this One is surely the Polestar, the One that's at the center of the celestial sphere, the entire sky that rotates round it. Knowing that many natural things are used as the outer layers for something more profound and philosophic it's very likely that the Polestar, that doesn't move, doesn't rise or set, remains unchanged, unaltered and firm since ages, would be used in Rig Veda very effectively.

Indeed it's used in several verses to refer to someone who's regarded even by Vushwakarma, who's strong in mind,vimana vihaya, and who's the Maker and Disposer, dhata vidhata; someone who's sought after even by He who has made us and who knows the whole world, bhuvanani vishva; someone who has created all things that have existence, bhutani; someone who's older than the Gods and the Asuras and earlier than the earth and heaven, prithivi and diva; someone who's like the germ primeval, garbham prathamam.

The following few verses talk about this One in the typical Rig Vedic style of double meaning.

acikitvāñ cikituṣaś cid atra kavīn pṛchāmi vidmane na vidvān |
vi yas tastambha ṣaḷ imā rajāṃsi ajasya rūpe kimapi svid ekam || 1.164.06

I ask, unknowing, those who know, the sages, as one all ignorant for sake of knowledge,
What was that ONE who in the Unborn's image hath stablished and fixed firm these worlds' six regions. 1.164.06

indraś ca yā cakrathuḥ soma tāni dhurā na yuktā rajaso vahanti || 1.164.19

And what so ye have made, Indra and Soma, steeds bear as ’twere yoked to the region's car-pole. 1.164.19

viśvakarmā vimanā ād vihāyā dhātā vidhātā paramota sandṛk |
teṣām iṣṭāni sam iṣā madanti yatrā saptaṛṣīn para ekam āhuḥ || 10.82.02

Mighty in mind and power is Visvakarman, Maker, Disposer, and most lofty Presence.
Their offerings joy in rich juice where they value One, only One, beyond the Seven Ṛṣis. 10.82.02

yo naḥ pitā janitā yo vidhātā dhāmāni veda bhuvanāni viśvā |
yo devānāṃ nāmadhā eka eva taṃ sampraśnam bhuvanā yanti anyā || 10.82.03

Father who made us, he who, as Disposer, knoweth all races and all things existing,
Even he alone, the Deities' narne-giver,him other beings seek for information. 10.82.03

ta āyajanta draviṇaṃ sam asmā ṛṣayaḥ pūrve jaritāro nabhūnā |
asūrte sūrte rajasi niṣatte ye bhūtāni samakṛṇvan imāni || 10.82.04

To him in sacrifice they offered treasures,—Ṛṣis of old, in numerous troops, as singers,
Who, in the distant, near, and lower region, made ready all these things that have existence. 10.82.04

paro divā para enā pṛthivyā paro devebhir asurair yad asti |
kaṃ svid garbhaṃ prathamaṃ dadhra āpo yatra devāḥ samapaśyanta viśve || 10.82.05

That which is earlier than this earth and heaven, before the Asuras and Gods had being,—
What was the germ primeval which the waters received where all the Gods were seen together? 10.82.05

tam id garbhaṃ prathamaṃ dadhra āpo yatra devāḥ samaghachanta viśve |
ajasya nābhāv adhi ekamarpitaṃ yasmin viśvāni bhuvanāni tasthuḥ || 10.82.06

The waters, they received that germ primeval wherein the Gods were gathered all together.
It rested set upon the Unborn's navel, that One wherein abide all things existing. 10.82.06

Here it's worth mentioning that the Seven Sages of Saptarshi, the Big Dipper asterism, made a perfect circle around the Polestar Thuban during the timeline of Rig Veda (~ 1700 BC). But now the stars of Big Dipper don't make a tight circle around the current Polestar Polaris. The term 'beyond the seven sages' surely made much more sense when the Polestar was really at the center.

The following sky-map shows how the Big Dipper stars revolved round the Polestar Thuban forming a perfect circle in 2000 BC. The dotted lines show the locations of the asterism at different times of the same night.

The next sky-map shows the locus of the Big Dipper asterism as seen now. Had Rig Veda been written now the Saptarshi stars might not have been so important - it no longer makes a proper circle around the current polestar Polaris.

Finally let's see how the ideas about these constellations impacted the calendar system in India. It's worth mentioning that a very precise and scientific calendar system has been in place in India since the Rig Vedic times.

Let's recall the following diagram we've seen in the discussions on Surya's Bridal. It depicts the scenario during 3000 BC - sun is in Mrigashira on Vernal Equinox and Uttara Phalguni on Summer Solstice. From a few verses of RV it can be deduced that one of the beginnings of year during Rig Vedic times is this Summer Solstice when the sun is in Uttara Phalguni. On the other hand another name of Mrigashira is Agrahayana, which means the commencement of a year. This means that the Vernal Equinox is also a beginning of year. In fact one or more of the four cardinal points - the two equinoxes and two solstices - have been considered beginnings of year in RV.

From the circular arrangement of the nakshatras we can identify that the nakshatra diametrically opposite to Mrigashira on the ecliptic is Mula - that's the location of sun on Autumn Equinox and that of full moon close to Spring Equinox. A lunar month in India is named after the nakshatra where the moon resides on the central full moon of that month. So the month of Vernal Equinox around 3000 BC is Mula. The word mula in Skt. means root, or the lowest part of anything. With respect to a year the 'root' month is nothing but its first month. So this again corroborates that Vernal Equinox is also a beginning of year. In fact later Vedic texts start the list of nakshatraswith Krittika, the location of sun on a Vernal Equinox around 2000 BC. The present enumeration of nakshatrasstarts with Ashvini. The sun was in Ashvini on Vernal Equinox around 500 BC. That's the time line of Surya Siddhanta, the astronomical treatise based on which the present list has been derived.

Now let's see the circular arrangement of the nakshatras in another format. The location of each nakshatra in the ecliptic, in terms of the longitudinal degrees it comprises, is specified starting from 0 degree for Ashvini. Along with the nakshatras, which divide the ecliptic equally into twenty seven compartments or lunar mansions, is given the location of the twelve zodiac constellations.

There's a difference between the Zodiacs (or Indian Rashis) and the Zodiac constellations. The former divides the ecliptic into twelve equal regions, very much like the nakshatras. But the constellations are the actual boundaries of the groups of stars that comprise them. While Zodiacs are all of the same length the constellations are quite different - the constellation Libra is smaller than half of Virgo. The sky maps presented earlier show the boundaries of the constellations. The constellations roughly along the ecliptic, shown in a read arc, are the Zodiac constellations. During the time frame of Surya Siddhanta (the centuries following 500 BC and more precisely the years around 0 AD), when the Western and the Indian astronomies both took proper shapes, the constellation Aries, the Indian nakshatra Ashvini and the zodiac/rashi Aries/Mesha all started at the same point - the point of the Vernal Equinox or, more correctly, the position of sun on the Vernal Equinox at that time.

The Rashis or the Indian zodiacs are still at the same locations as they were in the past. Due to the precession of equinoxes the Vernal Equinox no longer aligns with the start of Aries. But the Western Zodiacs have drifted in such a way that the start of Aries is still aligned with the Vernal Equinox (2000 AD). In fact Indian Zodiac is called sideral, relative to the fixed nakshatras, and Western tropical, relative to the drifting equinoxes. The positions of the nakshatras, Zodiac constellations and Rashis are fixed. The positions of Vernal equinoxes with respect to these fixed entities are shown in the above diagram.

The Western Zodiac has an offset against the Indian Rashis. The offset is around twenty four degrees - that's the amount by which the equinox has precessed over the past two thousand years.

Next let's see the scenario around 0 AD, the time when the Western Zodiac and the Indian Rashi began their reckoning and were aligned to each other. Vernal Equinox is at the beginning of the zodiac Mesha, Aries, and thenakshatra Ashvini. The sun enters into the zodiac Karka, Cancer, on Summer Solstice. Like wise the sun enters into the zodiac Makara, Capricornus, on Winter Solstice.

If Spring Equinox is taken as the beginning of the year then the year starts precisely when the sun enters into the zodiac Mesha, Aries. Though Vernal Equinox is no longer at the beginning of Mesha, still, even now, half of India (north, east, Tamil Nadu) celebrates new year when sun enters into Mesha, sometime around 14th April - it's called Vaishakhi. The rest of India (Maharashtra, Gujarat, south), celebrates new year on the new moon day just after the Vernal Equinox, sometime in late March or early April - it's called Ugadi. Beginning of a month on a new moon day has been the tradition in India since long. In fact that's the most logical thing to do for a lunar or a luni-solar calendar. In a luni-solar calendar the twelve lunar months totaling to roughly 356 days are synced up with solar year of roughly 365 days by adding an extra or intercalary thirteenth month from time to time. Rig Veda has reference to intercalary month.

A lunar month generally starts and ends with a new moon. Even the ancient Roman calendar, the predecessor of Julian and Georgian calendars, had lunar months. An interesting trivia is that in ancient Roman Kingdom the first day of the month, the new moon day, used to be announced loudly to the people. That's why in Latin a new moon or the first day of the month was called kalendae, coming from PIE root kale, meaning to shout, and akin to Skt.krand and Greek kalein. No points for guessing that the word calendar comes from the Latin kalendae.

Referring to the above diagram, the sun entered into Makara zodiac on a Winter Solstice. Passage of sun into a zodiac is called samkranti in Sanskrit and Makara Sankranti refers to sun's entry into Makara zodiac. Today the Winter Solstice is no longer on a Makara Samkranti, but still this is the only Samkranti that's celebrated in India with much veneration. A closer look will reveal why this is such an important day. In a tropical country like India, where winters are not at all dreadful, a winter solstice may not evoke any special feeling. But if we consider that the Rig Vedic Aryans actually came from a much colder northern Steppes we can understand why the day, which heralds the end of winter and beginning of longer days, is so important to them. It's possible that the Rig Vedic Aryans remembered their ancestors' veneration for the winter solstice. Much later, in historical times, when astronomy, astrology and rituals were being codified and given proper shapes in India this ritual of celebrating the winter solstice was retained. As it coincided with Makara Samkranti the latter name would have remained. Even later, when winter solstice no longer coincided with Makara Samkranti other significances were added the ancient ritual was retained for ever in India in its various later avatars.

It's worth remembering that the biggest festival of the Kalash peoples of the HIndukush is Choumos, celebrated around winter solstice.

India in 1100 BC: Atharva Veda & Iranian Avesta

Vedic India in Iron Age

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

Two versions of the Yajur Veda, Shukla (White) and Krishna (Black), have remained till date in various recensionsor Sakhas or theological schools specialized in learning various Vedic texts.

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 stresses about an all expanding growth of mankind "spreading with a hundred branches" in absolute harmony with the nature. It's very obvious that the crisis of natural resources, that we see today, shouldn't have been a matter of concern some 3000 years ago, when the population was sparse and resources plenty. When the people were settling down in newer places across India they were cutting down forests, which were just everywhere, to setup habitats. But still some where in their mind they did have this concern about the vices of exploiting the natural resources. It's indeed quite incredible to find that all the thoughts that we see today towards eco-friendliness, preserving forests and any natural resources and the stress on a greener way of living did come to the minds of our ancestors. These thoughts were considered so important that they were included in the religious manuals to be reminded to everyone during the practice of rituals.

Shukla Yajur Veda: 5.43

dyaammaa lekheerantarikshammaa himseeh prithivyaa sambhava |

ayam hi tvaa svadhitistetijaanah praninaaya mahate saubhaagaaya |

atastvandeva vanaspate shatavalsho viroha sahasravalshaa vi vayam 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 in Taittiriiya Samhita of Krişhņa Yajur Veda (4.4.11 and 7.2.20), 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 purnafrom purna you're still left with purna.

It's quite a unique development in the field of science and mathematics on the part of the Indians compared to their contemporaries. At the same time it's quite confusing to learn that the same people, who had such in depth knowledge about mathematics lacked the knowledge of technology and engineering. The people of Indus Valley Civilization might not have known 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 foundation of Indian Classical Music. It also sets the foremost 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.

The text for the songs of Sama Veda are taken mainly from Rig Veda. The original Rig Vedic verses are altered a bit to fit into lyrical forms of Sama Veda. Many syllables are further modified and even added, where ever needed, to suit singing. Even a notation is also followed, though it is textually represented much later when the Vedic texts are first written. This is no doubt the first instance of notated music in the world. The text of Sama Veda, without modification and additions of syllables, is known as the Sama Veda Samhita. The song book has two variants - Gramagya, containing songs meant for singing (geya) in villages (grama) , & Aranyageya, containing songs meant for singing in the forest (aranya).

Sama Veda (Samhita):

namah sakhibhyah poorvasadbhyo namah saakannishebhyah |

yunje vaacham shatapadeem ||

yunje vaacham shatapadeem gaaye sahasravarttani |

gaayatram traishtubham jagat ||

gaayatram traishtubham jagadvishvaa rupaani sambhritaa |

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 samitishchaavataam 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 paamsu 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 much before the concepts of atoms and molecules in modern science came into existence.

Most importantly Atharva Veda refers to Iron as a metal for the first time, thus heralding the start of theIron 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 kingdom, or the confederation of tribes, would have been an important one in northern India around 1100 BC. The first reference of Anga is found in the Atharva Veda along with the Magadha (referred to as Kikata in Rig Veda), Gandhara (present day Kandahar region in Afghanistan) and Mujavat (perhaps an ancient non Aryan settlement beyond the Himavat, the Himalayas, and the Hindukush in the Pamir region), apparently as lands of despised people. Champa, capital of Anga was one of the biggest cities and ports in Ancient India with trade links with far off places like Thailand (perhaps referred to as the mythical Suvarnabhumi) and Vietnam. Chedi, mentioned in Rig Veda, was also another important kingdom. All of these early kingdoms later became Mahajanapadas, or Great Kingdoms, over the next few centuries.


Perhaps the most important thing contemporary to Atharva Veda is Gatha, the earliest Zoroastrian text, believed to be composed by Prophet Zarathushtra Himself. Like the Vedas the timeline of Gatha too is shrouded in mystery. The actual dating of Zarathushtra and his first sermons in the form of Gatha is a matter of debate and controversy. Here also we'll stick to one particular view point that appears more logical than the others. We'll consider 1100 BC as the timeline of Atharva Veda, Zarathushtra and Gatha.

Gatha is a very important part of the Zoroastrian scripture known as Yasna. It's a collection of highly philosophic and profound hymns considered most sacred by the Zoroastrians. It's like the Bhagavat Gita that's inserted in Mahabharata and forms the crux of Hindu spirituality and philosophy.

First let's take a look into the language of Gatha. The Zoroastrian scriptures are called Avesta and the language Avestan. The language of Gatha is an early form of Avestan. Following is a verse from the second hymn of Gatha. It's presented in Devanagari script, transliterated by Jatindra Mohan Chatterji.

Gatha 2, Yasna 29.2

Now let's see the Rig Vedic translation of the verse. It will show how close the two languages - Gathan Avesta (Av.) and Rig Vedic Sanskrit (Skt.) - are. Each and every word in Gatha has a very close Rig Vedic cognate. The cognates sound so similar that entire texts in Gatha can be translated to Rig Vedic Sanskrit by simply transliterating each word.

Avestan Rig Vedic

Adâ tashâ gêush peresat ashem Ada tasa goh aprisat asham
Kathâ tôi gavôi ratush | Katha te gave ratus |
Hyat hîm dâtâ kshayañtô hadâ Yah him dhata kshayat sada
Vâstrâ gaodâyô thwakshô | Vastra godhah tvakshah |
kêm hôi ushtâ ahurem Kam asya ushatha asuram
Yê dregvôdebîsh aêshemem vâdâyôit || Yah drugvadbhi ishmam vadhayayet ||

  • Skt. tasa, Creator - related to the root tvaksh and Av. thwaksh meaning creation
  • Skt. go and gava, cow, cattle - used here in the sense of people, signifying the world.; godha is used in the sense of sustainer (coming from Skt. root dha) of the world (go)
  • Av. asha, arsh, eresh, arta come from Skt. rita meaning divine law, truth in general, righteousness; Skt.rita --> Av. arta --> arsha --> asha; Like the RV rita the Avestan asha is also a very important concept; ratu, a related word, is used in the sense of Prophet, apostle, someone who stands for righteousness and truth
  • Skt. vastra, coming from root vas meaning to remain, to live, to shine, is used in the sense of active
  • Skt. kshayat, powerful, dominant - comes from root kshi
  • Skt. asura and Av. ahura - God
  • Skt. and Av. dru, meaning enemy - drugvadbhi comes from dru, used in the sense of wicked.

Then the Creator of the world asked Asha, "Where is thy Prophet for the world who, capable, world-forester and vigorous, would sustain her always? Whom do you intend as her Lord, as one who can thwart the violence of the wicked?" -- Translated by Jatindra Mohan Chatterji, 1967

Upon this the Creator of the Kine (the holy herds) asked of Righteousness: How (was) thy guardian for the Kine (appointed) by thee when, as having power (over all her fate), ye made her? (In what manner did ye secure) for her, together with pasture, a cattle-chief who was both skilled and likewise energetic? Whom did ye select as her (life's) master who might hurl back the fury of the wicked? -- Translated by L. H. Mills, 1898

Then the Ox-Creator asked of the Right: "Hast thou a judge for the Ox, that ye may be able to appoint him zealous tendance as well as fodder? Whom do ye will to be his lord, who may drive off violence together with the followers of the Lie?" -- Translated by C Bartholomae

Let's see another hymn from Gatha. This is from Yasna 28.8.

Yasna 28.8

Avestan Rig Vedic

Vahishtem thwâ vahishtâ ýêm Vasishtham tvâm Vasishthah ayam

Ashâ vahishtâ hazaoshem | Ashâya Vasishthâya sujoshâm |

Ahurem ýâsâ vâunush Asura yâse vanvânah

Narôi Ferashaoshtrâi maibyâ câ | Nare Prishoshtrâya mahyam cha |

Yaêibyas câ ît rånghanghôi Yemyah ca rasasi
Vîspâi ýavê vanghêush mananghô || Vishvaya yavaya vasoh manasah ||

  • Skt. Vasishtha & Av, Vahishta, means most excellent, the superlative of Skt. vasu & Av. vohu - come from the Skt. root vas, meaning to shine, to grow bright; The Persian behest, meaning heaven and the Englishbest come from Av. vahishta; Vasishtha is a composer of RV and very famous personality in Hinduism;
  • Skt. sujosham, Av. hazaoshem come from the Skt. root jush and Av. zaosha, meaning to be delighted, enjoy, love, cherish - used in the sense of divine love and enjoying divine delight - I, the best, will enjoy You, the best, with Asha, the best
  • Skt. vanvana, meaning loving - comes from root van, akin to Eng. win and Lat. venus; winning by physical means of hurting and injuring is transformed into winning by means of love; another example of simplistic physical meanings getting transformed into something more profound philosophic; more such cases discussed here
  • Skt. rarasi, meaning bestowing - comes from root ra
This one (myself), being at his best (Purity), would realize You, the best (Deity), with Rectitude, the best (faculty). I, beloving, would worship Ahura, for manly Frashoshtra, and for me, as well as for those, to whom You consign Conscience, for all time. -- Chatterji

The best I ask of Thee, O Best, Ahura (Lord) of one will with the Best Asha, desiring (it) for the hero Frashaostra and for those (others) to whom thou wilt give (it), (the best gift) of Good Mind through all time. -- Mills

The similarities in the languages indeed mean that the composers of Gatha and those of Rig Veda were very closely associated. In the Aryan Trail we've mentioned that a group of Indo Aryans stayed back in Central Asia and Afghanistan while the others entered India. For a very long time the Indo Aryans of India and Afghanistan had a very good relation, practiced almost the same religion and followed the same tradition. Around the timeline of Atharva Veda there seems to be an intellectual conflict between two groups of Aryans that leads to their separation. One group continues to stay in Afghanistan and very soon comes in close contact with the Iranian peoples coming from the steppes (Timber Grave Culture) and settling in various parts of Iran. We may call this group of people proto Avestan as their language gradually moves away from the Rig Vedic Sanskrit and takes the shape of Avesta. Zarathushtra, one of them, eventually founds the Zoroastrian religion. As the Avestans stay close to the Iranians - their kins, being members of the same Indo Iranian peoples - their language starts picking up more Iranian components. It's not a surprise that Avestan, despite the strong Rig Vedic connection, is classified as an Iranian language.

The other group of Indo Aryans, who separates from the proto Avestan peoples, move towards India and stay connected to the culture and religion of the Aryans of India.

Now if we assume that the proto Avestan peoples stayed in Central Asia and Afghanistan for a long time then we should expect the reference to places from this region in their texts. In fact they are better than the Rig Vedic peoples in this respect. The first chapter of Vendidad, a later Avestan text, is about sixteen perfect lands created by Ahur Mazda, the Highest God of the Zoroastrians.

The Vendidad starts with:

Ahura Mazda spake unto Spitama Zarathushtra, saying:

"I have made every land dear (to its people), even though it had no charms whatever in it: had I not made every land dear (to its people), even though it had no charms whatever in it, then the whole living world would have invaded the Airyana Vaeja."

It continues:

Asanghãmca shôithranãmca vahishtem frâthweresem azem ýô Ahurô Mazdå

The best (vahishtem) lands and countries which I, Ahura Mazda, created (frâthweresem, from the Av. root thwaksh)

Then it gives the list of the sixteen best Aryan countries:
  1. the Airyana Vaeja
  2. the plain which the Sughdhas inhabit, gâum ýim Sukhdhô-shayanem - modern Sughd Province in Tajikistan and ancient Sogdiana
  3. the strong, holy Mouru, Môurum sûrem ashavane - ancient Margiana, areas around modern day Mary/Merv in Turkmenistan. Mouru may be a cognate of Skt. maru meaning desert and also mountain.
  4. the beautiful Bakhdhi with high-lifted banner, Bâxdhîm srîrãm eredhwô-drafshãm - Balkh in Afghanistan and ancient Bactria, Skt. Vahlika
  5. Nisaya, that lies between the Mouru and Bakhdhi, Nisâim ýim añtare Môurumca Bâxdhîmca - as mentioned, it's a place between Merv & Balkh.
  6. the house-deserting Haroyu, Harôyûm ýim vish-harezanem - area around Herat in Afghanistan, Skt. Sarayu, Persian Harirud River.
  7. Vaekereta, of the evil shadows, Vaêkeretem ýim dûzhakô- sayanem - probably some place in north east Iran.
  8. Urva of the rich pastures, Urvãm pouru-vâstrãm - area around Hamum Lake in Iran
  9. Khnenta which the Vehrkanas inhabit, Xneñtem ýim Vehrkânô- shayanem - Gorgan in Iran, Skt. Vrika
  10. the beautiful Harahvaiti, Harahvaitîm srîrãm - Vedic Saraswati, modern Arghandab, Greek Arachosia, a tributary of Helmand.
  11. the bright, glorious Haetumant, Haêtumañtem raêvañtem hvarenanguhañtem - Helmand River in Afghanistan. Though Arghandab matches etymologically with Saraswati, but Helmand basin is generally identified with Saraswati.
  12. Ragha of the three races, Rakhãm thrizañtûm - modern Rai, south of Tehran
  13. the strong, holy Chakhra, Caxrem sûrem ashavanem - a place by the name Carx in the ancient Khorasan in Central Asia (Northern Iran)
  14. the four-cornered Varena, Varenem ýim cathru-gaoshem - Bannu, Skt. Varnu
  15. the Seven Rivers, Hapta Heñdu - Skt. Sapta Sindhu or the land of the Seven Rivers, that's the Punjab.
  16. the land by the sources of the Rangha, where people live who have no chiefs, upa aodhaêshu Ranghayå ýô asârô aiwyâxshayeiñti - Rangha or Rasa, a mythical river in Rig Veda with strong Indo European connections, may be one of the unexplored or lesser explored northern tributaries of Indus in Hindukush region.
Ahura Mazda is the Supreme God of the Zoroastrians and Zarathushtra is His Prophet. Av. Ahura is akin to Skt.Asura, which, we've seen in Aryan Trail, means both God and demon in Rig Veda. Mazda is akin to Skt. medha, which means intellect. So Ahura Mazda stands for divine intellect. Opposite to Ahura Mazda is the devil Angra Mainyu. Each of the sixteen verses that define the sixteen holy lands of the Aryans end with a reference to the devil, 'Thereupon came Angra Mainyu, who is all death, and he counter-created Winter, a work of the Daevas'.

Av. Mainyu is surely a cognate of Skt. manu, mind and Angra may refer to the Rig Vedic Angirasa - here also Av. Angra and Skt. Angirasa seem to be cognates. This is the clue to the conflict between the two groups of Aryans in Afghanistan. This conflict finally leds to the separation of the two.

We've argued in the Aryan Trail that the Dasa peoples, the first lot of Indo Aryans to arrive in Central Asia in BMAC around 1900 BC, used to call their Gods Asura. The Rig Vedic Aryans, the later lot of Aryans appearing in BMAC around 1700 BC, first fought with the Dasa peoples and later came to a truce. The term Asura meaning demon and then being elevated to the status of God may be an indication of the animosity and eventual truce between the two groups of Aryans. The word Asura means supreme spirit and in Rig Veda is generally said of Varuna, one of the oldest Indo European Gods. We've seen in many discussions that Varuna is the upholder of truth and law (satyam-ritam); He stands for wisdom and discernment (putadaksham); He stands for perfected intellect (dhiyam ghritachim). So the Avestan Ahura Mazda (Skt. asura medha), which stands for divine intellect and is associated with Asha (Skt. rita), is very likely none other than Varuna.

Varuna being the oldest God the cult of Varuna worship can be very well called the path leading to the elders, thepitris, or pitriyana. Both Rig Veda and Atharva Veda mention Pitriyana.

Though Varuna is an older God still Indra seems to have more authority among the Rig Vedic Aryans. He is the chief of all the deities, deva. Like the epithet asura, which is associated with Varuna, deva is associated with Indra. So the cult of Indra worship may be called devayana.

We've seen that Indra is the power of mind and intellect, impelled by thoughts and driven by the illumined thinker,dhiyeshita viprajuta. When the intellect, the thought is further perfected and enriched we see the power of profound knowledge, wisdom and consciousness that's represented by Varuna. But going by the double meaning in Rig Veda Indra is always represented by a physical strength that destroys and kills enemies. He stands for generus heroism. In contrast Varuna is the more lofty and spiritual one. The following verse from Rig Veda depicts the popular image of Indra and Varuna:

Vṛtrāṇyanyaḥ samitheṣu jighnate vratānyanyo abhi rakṣate sadā |
Havāmahe vāṃ vṛṣaṇā suvṛktibhir asme indrāvaruṇaā śarma yachatam || 7.83.9

One of you Twain destroys the Vṛtras in the fight, the Other evermore maintains his holy Laws.
We call on you, ye Mighty, with our hymns of praise. Vouchsafe us your protection, Indra-Varuṇa.

We can very well assume that going by the popular images of Indra and Varuna their worshipers - the devayanistsand the pitriyanists - would surely be two different lots. There are references to devayana and pitriyana in Rig Veda and Atharva Veda. Following is one instance from Atharva Veda.

Anrina asmin anrinah parasmin tritiye loke anrinah syama |
Ye devayanah pitriyanah ca loka sarvan patho anrina a kshiyema || 6.117.3 (Atharva Veda)

May we be free in this world and that yonder, in the third world may we be unindebted.
May we, debt-free, abide in all the pathways - the devayana and pitriyana.

It's not unlikely that these two groups of people - the devayanists and pitriyanists, the worshipers of Indra and Varuna - would have intellectual conflicts between them because at a very low level their Gods are so very different - one stands for lofty spirituality and the other for heroism. With passage of time the deeper meanings and inner significances of Indra and Varuna might have been superseded by the simplistic and more popular aspects. The breakup of the two groups of Aryans in Afghanistan might have been due to this conflict. The proto Avestan group are surely the pitriyanists, the worshipers of Varuna, Who eventually becomes Ahura Mazda.

Now let's again shift our focus to Atharva Veda. The term atharvan is derived from an obsolete word athar, which means fire. Atharvan literally means fire priests and Atharva Veda is the book of hymns of the Fire Priests, the Atharvans. In Avestan too atar means fire. The Avestan cognate for Atharvan is Athravan and Zarathushtra, the founder of Zoroastrianism, Himself is an Athravan. He is said to be a descendant of someone called Spitama. As the Avesta and Zarathushtra are so closely associated with the Fire Priests Atharvan (and in turn the Atharva Veda) let's find out the identity of Spitama and his connection to the Atharvans.

Gopatha Brahmana, a later Vedic text refers to Atharva Veda as Bhrigu Angirasi Samhita, the samhita or the book written by Bhrigu and Angiras. But now only Angiras is associated with the Atharva Veda. Both Bhrigu and Angiras are no doubt fire priests. The term Bhrigu and Angiras refer to the individuals Bhrigu and Angiras and also to the peoples, the descendants or the followers of the Bhrigu and Angiras. The word angiras comes from the root ang orag and directly means fire. Bhrigu comes from the root bhraj, which means to shine, sparkle and glitter, and the mythical Bhrigu race is closely connected with fire in Rig Veda. The name Spitama, the ancestor of Zrathushtra, seems to be a cognate of svetatama, meaning brightest and surely an epithet for Bhrigu. So it may not be illogical to deduce that Zarthushtra Himself is one of the Bhrigu antharvans, having descended from Spitama, also a Bhriguatharvan.

So now we know that the Avestan peoples are pitriyanists, worshipers of Varuna, their Ahura Mazda, while the other group of Aryans are devayanists. We also know that Zarathushtra descends from Spitama, one of the Bhriguatharvans. If we correlate these two points we can say that the Bhrigus, the ancestors of the Avestans, arepitriyanists and the Angirasas devayanists. We can also infer that the aforementioned two conflicting groups of Aryan peoples in Afghanistan were the Bhrigus and the Angirasas, who eventually break up from each other around the time frame of Atharva Veda - the Angirasas of India are then associated with the Atharva Veda in India and the Bhrigus with the Avesta in Afghanistan. So the Bhrigu-Angirasa Samhita mentioned in Gopatha Brahmana may refer to the parallel development of Atharva Veda and Avesta by the Angirasas and Bhrigus. It also finds credence in Angirasa being referred to in Avesta as a devil, Angra Mainyu, in contrast to Bhrigu, Spitama.

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.

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