The Rigveda (Sanskrit ऋग्वेद ṛgveda, a compound of ṛc "praise, verse" and veda "knowledge") is an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns dedicated to the gods ( devas). It is counted among the four canonical sacred texts ( śruti) of Hinduism known as the Vedas, and is revered by Hindus around the world. Its verses are recited at prayers, religious functions and other auspicious occasions, putting it among the world's oldest religious texts in continued use.
Philological and linguistic evidence indicate that the Rigveda was composed in the Sapta Sindhu (a land of seven great rivers), which is the region around present-day Punjab, roughly between 1700–1100 BCE (the early Vedic period). This makes it one of the oldest texts of any Indo-European language. There are strong linguistic and cultural similarities with the early Iranian Avesta, deriving from the Proto-Indo-Iranian times, often associated with the early Andronovo culture of ca. 2000 BCE.
The Rigveda is organized in 10 books, known as Mandalas. Each mandala consists of hymns intended for various sacrificial rituals, called sūkta ( su- ukta, literally, "well recited, eulogy"), which in turn consist of individual stanzas called ṛc ("praise"), plural ṛcas, which are further analysed into units of verse called pada (" foot").
The Mandalas are not of equal length or age. The "family books", mandalas 2-7, are the oldest part of the Rigveda and the shortest books; they are arranged by length and account for 38% of the text. RV 8 and RV 9, comprising hymns of mixed age, account for 15% and 9%, respectively. RV 1 and RV 10 are both the latest and the longest books, accounting for 37% of the text.
The text in its surviving form was redacted, many centuries after the composition of the earliest hymns, in the Iron Age (c. 9th to 7th century BC), about co-evally with the redaction of the other Vedas. This compilation or redaction included orthoepic changes to the Vedic Sanskrit, such as regularization of sandhi (called by Oldenberg orthoepische Diaskeunase). From the time of its redaction, the text has been handed down in two versions: The Samhitapatha has all Sanskrit rules of sandhi applied and is the text used for recitation. The Padapatha has each word isolated in its pausa form and is used for memorization. The Padapatha is, as it were, a commentary on the Samhitapatha. The original text as reconstructed on metrical grounds (viz. "original" in the sense that it aims to recover the hymns as recorded by the Rishis) lies somewhere between the two, but closer to the Samhitapatha.
This fixed text was preserved with unparalleled fidelity for more than a millennium by oral tradition alone and was probably not put in writing until the Gupta period.
Two major shakhas ("branches", i. e. schools or recensions), Śākala and Bāṣkala have survived, which are practically identical.
The Śākala recension has 1,017 regular hymns, and an appendix of 11 valakhīlya hymns which are now customarily included in the 8th mandala (as 8.49–8.59), for a total of 1028 hymns. The Bāṣakala recension includes 8 of these vālakhilya hymns among its regular hymns, making a total of 1025 regular hymns for this śākhā. In addition, the Bāṣakala has its own appendix of 98 hymns, the Khilani.
The Aitareya-Brahmana and the Kausitaki-Brahmana are associated with the Śākala and the Bāṣkala recensions respectively.
The most common numbering scheme is by book, hymn and stanza (and pada a, b, c ..., if required). E. g. the first pada is
- 1.1.1a agním īḷe puróhitaṃ "Agni I laud, the high priest"
and the final pada is
- 10.191.4d yáthāḥ vaḥ súsahā́sati "for your being in good company"
Each Book (Maṇḍala) is divided into Anuvākas which some modern publishers often omit (each Anuvākas contains many hymns or suktas).An alternative scheme is into Aṣṭaka (eighths), Adhāyaya (chapter) and Varga (class). Some publishers give both classifications in a single edition.
The entire 1028 hymns of the Rigveda, in the 1877 edition of Aufrecht, contain a total of 10,552 ṛcas, or 39,831 padas. The Shatapatha Brahmana gives the number of syllables to be 432,000, while the metrical text of van Nooten and Holland (1994) has a total of 395,563 syllables (or an average of 9.93 syllables per pada); counting the number of syllables is not straightforward because of issues with sandhi. Most ṛcas are jagati (padas of 12 syllables), trishtubh (padas of 11 syllables), viraj (padas of 10 syllables) or gayatri or anushtubh (padas of 8 syllables).
Each hymn of the Rigveda is traditionally attributed to a specific rishi, and the "family books" (2-7) are said to have been composed ("heard") by one family of rishis each. The main families, listed by the number of verses ascribed to them are:
- Angirasas: 3619 (especially Mandala 6)
- Kanvas: 1315 (especially Mandala 8)
- Vasishthas: 1267 ( Mandala 7)
- Vaishvamitras: 983 ( Mandala 3)
- Atris: 885 ( Mandala 5)
- Bhrgus: 473
- Kashyapas: 415 (part of Mandala 9)
- Grtsamadas: 401 ( Mandala 2)
- Agastyas: 316
- Bharatas: 170
The chief gods of the Rigveda are Indra, a heroic god who is praised for having slain his enemy Vrtra, Agni, the sacrificial fire, and Soma, the sacred potion, or the plant it is made from. Other prominent gods are Mitra- Varuna and Ushas (the dawn). Also invoked are Savitr, Vishnu, Rudra, Pushan, Brihaspati, Brahmanaspati, as well as deified natural phenomena such as Dyaus Pita (the sky), Prithivi (the earth), Surya (the sun), Vayu (the wind), Apas (the waters), Parjanya (the rain), Vac (the word), many rivers (notably the Sapta Sindhu, and the Sarasvati River). Groups of deities are the Ashvins, the Maruts, the Adityas, the Rbhus, the Vishvadevas (the all-gods). It contains various further minor gods, persons, concepts, phenomena and items, and fragmentary references to possible historical events, notably the struggle between the early Vedic people (known as Vedic Aryans, a subgroup of the Indo-Aryans) and their enemies, the Dasa.
- Mandala 1 comprises 191 hymns. Hymn 1.1 is addressed to Agni, and his name is the first word of the Rigveda. The remaining hymns are mainly addressed to Agni and Indra. Hymns 1.154 to 1.156 are addressed to Vishnu.
- Mandala 2 comprises 43 hymns, mainly to Agni and Indra. It is chiefly attributed to the Rishi gṛtsamda śaunohotra.
- Mandala 3 comprises 62 hymns, mainly to Agni and Indra. The verse 3.62.10 has great importance in Hinduism as the Gayatri Mantra. Most hymns in this book are attributed to viśvāmitra gāthinaḥ.
- Mandala 4 consists of 58 hymns, mainly to Agni and Indra. Most hymns in this book are attributed to vāmadeva gautama.
- Mandala 5 comprises 87 hymns, mainly to Agni and Indra, the Visvadevas (gods of the world), the Maruts, the twin-deity Mitra-Varuna and the Asvins. Two hymns each are dedicated to Ushas (the dawn) and to Savitr. Most hymns in this book are attributed to the atri family.
- Mandala 6 comprises 75 hymns, mainly to Agni and Indra. Most hymns in this book are attributed to the bārhaspatya family of Angirasas.
- Mandala 7 comprises 104 hymns, to Agni, Indra, the Visvadevas, the Maruts, Mitra-Varuna, the Asvins, Ushas, Indra-Varuna, Varuna, Vayu (the wind), two each to Sarasvati (ancient river/goddess of learning) and Vishnu, and to others. Most hymns in this book are attributed to vasiṣṭha maitravaurṇi.
- Mandala 8 comprises 103 hymns to different gods. Hymns 8.49 to 8.59 are the apocryphal valakhīlya. Most hymns in this book are attributed to the kāṇva family.
- Mandala 9 comprises 114 hymns, entirely devoted to Soma Pavamana, the plant of the sacred potion of the Vedic religion.
- Mandala 10 comprises 191 hymns, to Agni and other gods. It contains the Nadistuti sukta which is in praise of rivers and is important for the reconstruction of the geography of the Vedic civilization and the Purusha sukta which has significance in Hindu tradition. It also contains the Nasadiya sukta (10.129), probably the most celebrated hymns in the west, which deals with creation.
Dating and historical context
The Rigveda is far more archaic than any other Indo-Aryan text. For this reason, it was in the centre of attention of western scholarship from the times of Max Müller. The Rigveda records an early stage of Vedic religion. There are strong linguistic and cultural similarities with the early Iranian Avesta, deriving from the Proto-Indo-Iranian times, often associated with the early Andronovo culture of ca. 2000 BCE. The Rigveda's core is accepted to date to the late Bronze Age, making it the only example of Bronze Age literature with an unbroken tradition. Its composition is usually dated to roughly between 1700–1100 BC. The text in the following centuries underwent pronunciation revisions and standardization ( samhitapatha, padapatha). This redaction would have been completed around the 7th century BC.
Writing appears in India around the 5th century BC in the form of the Brahmi script, but texts of the length of the Rigveda were likely not written down until much later, the oldest surviving manuscript dating to the 11th century. While written manuscripts were used for teaching in medieval times, they were written on bark or palm leaves, which decomposed quicker in the tropical climate, until the advent of the printing press from the 16th century. The hymns were thus preserved by oral tradition for up to a millennium from the time of their composition until the redaction of the Rigveda, and the entire Rigveda was preserved in shakhas for another 2,500 years from the time of its redaction until the editio princeps by Müller.
After their composition, the texts were preserved and codified by a vast body of Vedic priesthood as the central philosophy of the Iron Age Vedic civilization. The Brahma Purana and the Vayu Purana name one Vidagdha as the author of the Padapatha. The Rk-pratishakhya names Sthavira Shakalya of the Aitareya Aranyaka as its author.
The Rigveda describes a mobile, nomadic culture, with horse-drawn chariots and metal (bronze) weapons. The geography described is consistent with that of the Punjab: Rivers flow north to south, the mountains are relatively remote but still reachable ( Soma is a plant found in the mountains, and it has to be purchased, imported by merchants). Nevertheless, the hymns were certainly composed over a long period, with the oldest elements possibly reaching back to times close to the split of Proto-Indo-Iranian (around 2000 BC) Thus there is some debate over whether the boasts of the destruction of stone forts by the Vedic Aryans and particularly by Indra refer to cities of the Indus Valley civilization or whether they hark back to clashes between the early Indo-Aryans with the BMAC in what is now northern Afghanistan and southern Turkmenistan (separated from the upper Indus by the Hindu Kush mountain range, and some 400 km distant). In any case, while it is highly likely that the bulk of the Rigvedic hymns were composed in the Punjab, even if based on earlier poetic traditions, there is no mention of either tigers or rice in the Rigveda (as opposed to the later Vedas), suggesting that Vedic culture only penetrated into the plains of India after its completion. Similarly, it is assumed that there is no mention of iron although the term ayas (metal) occurs in the Rig Veda. The Iron Age in northern India begins in the 12th century BC with the Black and Red Ware (BRW) culture. This is a widely accepted timeframe for the beginning codification of the Rigveda (i.e. the arrangement of the individual hymns in books, and the fixing of the samhitapatha (by applying Sandhi) and the padapatha (by dissolving Sandhi) out of the earlier metrical text), and the composition of the younger Vedas. This time probably coincides with the early Kuru kingdom, shifting the centre of Vedic culture east from the Punjab into what is now Uttar Pradesh.
Some of the names of gods and goddesses found in the Rigveda are found amongst other belief systems based on Proto-Indo-European religion as well: Dyaus-Pita is cognate with Greek Zeus, Latin Jupiter (from deus-pater), and Germanic Tyr; while Mitra is cognate with Persian Mithra; also, Ushas with Greek Eos and Latin Aurora; and, less certainly, Varuna with Greek Uranos. Finally, both Latin ignis and Russian ogon, are cognate with Agni - meaning "fire" .
N. Kazanas in a polemic against the " Aryan Invasion Theory" suggests a date as early as 3100 BC, based on an identification of the early Rigvedic Sarasvati River as the Ghaggar-Hakra and on glottochronological arguments. Being a polemic against mainstream scholarship, this is in diametrical opposition to views in mainstream historical linguistics, and supports the controversial Out of India theory, which assumes a date as late as 3000 BC for the age of late Proto-Indo-European itself. Some writers based on astronomical calculations even claim dates as early as 4000 BC, a date well within the Indian Neolithic..
The horse ( ashva) and cattle play an important role in the Rigveda. There are also references to the elephant ( Hastin, Varana), camel (Ustra, especially in Mandala 8), buffalo (Mahisa), lion (Simha) and to the gaur in the Rigveda. The peafowl (mayura) and the chakravaka (Anas casarca) are birds mentioned in the Rigveda.
According to Indian tradition, the Rigvedic hymns were collected by Paila under the guidance of Vyāsa, who formed the Rigveda Samhita as we know it. According to the Śatapatha Brāhmana, the number of syllables in the Rigveda is 432,000, equalling the number of muhurtas (1 day = 30 muhurtas) in forty years. This statement stresses the underlying philosophy of the Vedic books that there is a connection (bandhu) between the astronomical, the physiological, and the spiritual.
The authors of the Brāhmana literature described and interpreted the Rigvedic ritual. Yaska was an early commentator of the Rigveda. In the 14th century, Sāyana wrote an exhaustive commentary on it. Other Bhāṣyas (commentaries) that have been preserved up to present times are those by Mādhava, Skaṃdasvāmin and Veṃkatamādhava.
Vedantic and Hindu reformist views
Since the 19th and 20th centuries, some reformers like Swami Dayananda, founder of the " Arya Samaj" and Sri Aurobindo have attempted to re-interpret the Vedas to conform to modern and established moral and spiritual norms. They moved the Vedantic perception of the Rigveda from the original ritualistic content to a more symbolic or mystical interpretation. For example, instances of animal sacrifice were not seen by them as literal slaughtering, but as transcendental processes.
The Sarasvati river, lauded in RV 7.95 as the greatest river flowing from the mountain to the sea is sometimes equated with the Ghaggar-Hakra river, which went dry perhaps before 2600 BC or certainly before 1900 BC. Others argue that the Sarasvati was originally the Helmand in Afghanistan. These questions are tied to the debate about the Indo-Aryan migration (termed " Aryan Invasion Theory") vs. the claim that Vedic culture together with Vedic Sanskrit originated in the Indus Valley Civilisation (termed " Out of India theory"), a topic of great significance in Hindu nationalism, addressed for example by Amal Kiran and Shrikant G. Talageri. Subhash Kak has claimed that there is an astronomical code in the organization of the hymns. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, also based on astronomical alignments in the Rigveda, in his "The Orion" (1893) claimed presence of the Rigvedic culture in India in the 4th millennium BC, and in his "Arctic Home in the Vedas" (1903) even argued that the Aryans originated near the North Pole and came south during the Ice Age.
Of the Brahmanas that were handed down in the schools of the Bahvṛcas (i.e. "possessed of many verses"), as the followers of the Rigveda are called, two have come down to us, viz. those of the Aitareyins and the Kaushitakins. The Aitareya-brahmana and the Kaushitaki- (or Sankhayana-) brahmana evidently have for their groundwork the same stock of traditional exegetic matter. They differ, however, considerably as regards both the arrangement of this matter and their stylistic handling of it, with the exception of the numerous legends common to both, in which the discrepancy is comparatively slight. There is also a certain amount of material peculiar to each of them. The Kaushitaka is, upon the whole, far more concise in its style and more systematic in its arrangementfeatures which would lead one to infer that it is probably the more modern work of the two. It consists of thirty chapters (adhyaya); while the Aitareya has forty, divided into eight books (or pentads, pancaka), of five chapters each. The last ten adhyayas of the latter work are, however, clearly a later addition though they must have already formed part of it at the time of Panini (ca. 5th c. BC), if, as seems probable, one of his grammatical sutras, regulating the formation of the names of Brahmanas, consisting of thirty and forty adhyayas, refers to these two works. In this last portion occurs the well-known legend (also found in the Shankhayana-sutra, but not in the Kaushitaki-brahmana) of Shunahshepa, whom his father Ajigarta sells and offers to slay, the recital of which formed part of the inauguration of kings. While the Aitareya deals almost exclusively with the Soma sacrifice, the Kaushitaka, in its first six chapters, treats of the several kinds of haviryajna, or offerings of rice, milk, ghee, &c., whereupon follows the Soma sacrifice in this way, that chapters 7-10 contain the practical ceremonial and 11-30 the recitations (shastra) of the hotar. Sayana, in the introduction to his commentary on the work, ascribes the Aitareya to the sage Mahidasa Aitareya (i.e. son of Itara), also mentioned elsewhere as a philosopher; and it seems likely enough that this person arranged the Brahmana and founded the schcol of the Aitareyins. Regarding the authorship of the sister work we have no information, except that the opinion of the sage Kaushitaki is frequently referred to in it as authoritative, and generally in opposition to the Paingya — the Brahmana, it would seem, of a rival school, the Paingins. Probably, therefore, it is just what one of the manuscripts calls it — the Brahmana of Sankhayana (composed) in accordance with the views of Kaushitaki.
Each of these two Brahmanas is supplemented by a "forest book", or Aranyaka. The Aitareyaranyaka is not a uniform production. It consists of five books (aranyaka), three of which, the first and the last two, are of a liturgical nature, treating of the ceremony called mahavrata, or great vow. The last of these books, composed in sutra form, is, however, doubtless of later origin, and is, indeed, ascribed by Hindu authorities either to Shaunaka or to Ashvalayana. The second and third books, on the other hand, are purely speculative, and are also styled the Bahvrca-brahmana-upanishad. Again, the last four chapters of the second book are usually singled out as the Aitareyopanishad, ascribed, like its Brahmana (and the first book), to Mahidasa Aitareya; and the third book is also referred to as the Samhita-upanishad. As regards the Kaushitaki-aranyaka, this work consists of 15 adhyayas, the first two (treating of the mahavrata ceremony) and the 7th and 8th of which correspond to the 1st, 5th, and 3rd books of the Aitareyaranyaka, respectively, whilst the four adhyayas usually inserted between them constitute the highly interesting Kaushitaki (brahmana-) upanishad, of which we possess two different recensions. The remaining portions (9-15) of the Aranyaka treat of the vital airs, the internal Agnihotra, etc., ending with the vamsha, or succession of teachers.
There are 30 manuscripts of Rigveda at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, collected in the 19th century by Georg Bühler, Franz Kielhorn and others, originating from different parts of India, including Kashmir, Gujarat, the then Rajaputana, Central Provinces etc. They were transferred to Deccan College, Pune, in the late 19th century. They are in the Sharada and Devanagari scripts, written on birch bark and paper. The oldest of them is dated to 1464.
Of these 30 manuscripts, 9 contain the samhita text, 5 have the padapatha in addition. 13 contain Sayana's commentary. At least 5 manuscripts (MS. no. 1/A1879-80, 1/A1881-82, 331/1883-84 and 5/Viś I) have preserved the complete text of the Rigveda. MS no. 5/1875-76, written on birch bark in bold Sharada, was used by Max Müller for his edition of the Rigveda with Sayana’s commentary.
Max Müller used 24 manuscripts, while the Pune Edition used over five dozen manuscripts, but the editors of Pune Edition could not procure many manuscripts used by Max Müller and by Bombay Edition, as well as from some other sources ; hence the total number of extant manuscripts must surpass perhaps eighty at least
- editio princeps: Friedrich Max Müller, The Hymns of the Rigveda, with Sayana's commentary, London, 1849-75, 6 vols., 2nd ed. 4 vols., Oxford, 1890-92.
- Theodor Aufrecht, 2nd ed., Bonn, 1877.
- Sontakke, N. S., ed. (1933-46,Reprint 1972-1983.), Rgveda-Samhitā: Śrimat-Sāyanāchārya virachita-bhāṣya-sametā (First ed.), Pune: Vaidika Samśodhana Maṇḍala. The Editorial Board for the First Edition included N. S. Sontakke (Managing Editor), V. K. Rājvade, M. M. Vāsudevaśāstri, and T. S. Varadarājaśarmā.
- B. van Nooten und G. Holland, Rig Veda, a metrically restored text, Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England, 1994.
The first published translation of any portion of the Rigveda in any Western language was into Latin, by Friedrich August Rosen (Rigvedae specimen, London 1830). Predating Müller's editio princeps of the text, Rosen was working from manuscripts brought back from India by Colebrooke.
H. H. Wilson was the first to make a complete translation of the Rig Veda into English, published in six volumes during the period 1850-88. Wilson's version was based on the commentary of Sāyaṇa. In 1977, Wilson's edition was enlarged by Nag Sharan Singh (Nag Publishers, Delhi, 2nd ed. 1990).
In 1889, Ralph T.H. Griffith published his translation as The Hymns of the Rig Veda, published in London (1889).
A German translation was published by Karl Friedrich Geldner, Der Rig-Veda: aus dem Sanskrit ins Deutsche Übersetzt, Harvard Oriental Studies, vols. 33–37 (Cambridge, Mass.: 1951-7).
Geldner's tranlsation was the philologically best-informed to date, and a Russian translation based on Geldner's by Tatyana Yakovlena Elizarenkova was published by Nauka 1989-1999
A 2001 revised edition of Wilson's translation was published by Ravi Prakash Arya and K. L. Joshi. The revised edition updates Wilson's translation by replacing obsolete English forms with more modern equivalents, giving the English translation along with the original Sanskrit text in Devanagari script, along with a critical apparatus.
In 2004 the United States' National Endowment for the Humanities funded Joel Brereton and Stephanie W. Jamison as project directors for a new original translation to be issued by Oxford University Press.
Numerous partial translations exist into various languages. Notable examples include:
- A. A. Macdonell. Hymns from the Rigveda (Calcutta, London, 1922); A Vedic Reader for Students (Oxford, 1917).
- French: A. Langlois, Paris 1948-51 ISBN 2-7200-1029-4
- Hungarian: Laszlo Forizs, Rigvéda - Teremtéshimnuszok (Creation Hymns of the Rig-Veda), Budapest, 1995 ISBN 963-85349-1-5 Hymns of the Rig-Veda
Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty issued a modern selection with a translation of 108 hymns, along with critical apparatus. A bibliography of translations of the Rig Veda appears as an Appendix that work.
A new German translations of books 1 and 2 was presented in 2007 by Michael Witzel and Toshifumi Goto ( ISBN 978-3-458-70001-2 / ISBN 978-3-458-70001-3).