Rig Veda: A Vedic Literary Scripture of Hinduism

      Rig Veda is by far the earliest evolution of religious consciousness in entire humanity. What we have here is an out pouring of poets who seems mesmerized by the immensity of this universe and never ending mysteries of human life. The composers of Rig Veda see Gods in natural phenomenon of Sun, Moon, Agni, Dayus (sky), Earth, Maruts (winds or storms), Ap (water), Usha (dawn), and Nisha (night). As a continuation, many other Gods where the areas of influence were not very transparent in the beginning were also related to natural phenomenon only. These deities included Indra, Varun, Mitra, Aditi, Visnu, Pusan, the two Asvins, Rudra and Parjanya. The last category of Gods worshipped in Rig-Veda included Gods having abstract qualities. These included Savitr (the life giver), Sradha (dedication) and Manyu (anger). In addition to Gods, Rig Veda also includes poetry for Asuras, which are meant not in any bad sense but influential characters possessing wonderful powers. It was only later that Asuras got identified with things anti-god and much later that these got mentioned as demons.

Rig Veda contains several mythological accounts of the origin of this world and hymns praising Gods and prayers for life and prosperity. These compositions are said to have composed in early Iron Age. There are multiple estimations about the period when this Veda would have been composed. But the excavations on the banks of ancient river Sarasvati, which have been conducted after 1990, throw altogether new light on Rig-Veda's compositions. The sacred river Sarasvati has now been identified as having originated from Himalayas and flowing through Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat before meeting the sea at bay of Khambat. New findings also suggest that the river got dried up at around 1900 BC due to unknown but natural reasons.
Rig Veda

      Varun is a God common to both India and Iran and is supposed to regulate the course of Sun and sequence of seasons—basically keeps the world in order. Indra is worshipped as King of Devas and is invoked during struggling situations to fight on behalf of Devas. Agni is shown as mediator between men and gods. It was understood that whatever is offered to Agni will reach Gods. Similarly; Mitra is the God of light. The Sun is supposed to have three eyes consisting of Mitra, Varun and Agni.

      Rig Veda contains several mythological accounts of the origin of this world and hymns praising Gods and prayers for life and prosperity. These compositions are said to have composed in early Iron Age. There are multiple estimations about the period when this Veda would have been composed. But the excavations on the banks of ancient river Sarasvati, which have been conducted after 1990, throw altogether new light on Rig-Veda's compositions. The sacred river Sarasvati has now been identified as having originated from Himalayas and flowing through Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat before meeting the sea at bay of Khambat. New findings also suggest that the river got dried up at around 1900 BC due to unknown but natural reasons.

      Having multiple references of Sarasvati all through Rig-Veda clearly suggest that their compositions would have been completed much before any signs of river's drying up, meaning much before 1900 BC. The approximate period by Indian historians for Rig-Veda composition is taken around 3100 BC to 2500 BC. Most of the western historians put up this period at 1500 BC to 1200 BC but that need not be even discussed as their calculations were based on assumptions which were not correct to begin with. Most of their estimates were based on the theory of Aryans being invaders from outside who came to north India from southern steppes mounted on their chariots in about 1500 BC. As per popular Western views Aryans are said to have arrived, pushed Dravidians to South, killed indigenous people, enslaved many other habitants, and composed Rig Vedas soon after their arrival on Indian soil.

      But keeping all controversies surrounding the period of its composition aside, Rig Veda is certainly the oldest text found anywhere in the world and has no parallel in entire human history. These were composed or edited by verious Sages. As mentioned earlier, historians are divided on the origin of Aryans and all sorts of theories are found to contrast each other's findings. To fully appreciate the background of Aryans composing Rig-Veda, it will be advisable to glance through at Aryans and their area of influence. There are numerous theories about Aryans and their relations with Vedic culture of ancient India.

      In Sanskrit, however, the word 'Aryan' means 'a noble man' and it is taken as a linguistic term rather than indicating to any separate ethnic group. It is generally believed by historians from western World that Aryans were not the original inhabitants of India. Historians are not on single page whether they migrated into India or they invaded India or they are originally from India and spread to rest of the world from India or they were related to Sindhu Sarasvati Civilization which popularly is also called Indus Valley Civilization or Harappan Civilization.

      But to say that Rig Veda composers are from outsiders is completely unpalatable. The strongest argument about this is the shear fact that Rigveda talks of almost everything under the sun and its hymns carry numerous references to the life of that time, natural surroundings, social structures, geographic features of its influence area but does not talk of any land other than the land where these are composed. Had the composers come from any other land, just a couple of centuries before the compositions of such voluminous poetry, it is but natural to assume that their compositions would have talked about that other land, their original land, in the same manner as every other immigrant culture has done throughout the human history and continues to do so till this day.

      When English people came to US some five hundred years ago, they called the entire area only as New England with name of every village, town and street named after some icon from the parent country and culture. Rigveda doesn't talk of anything like this. The kind of intimacy and attachment is shown by composers with physical surroundings and landmarks of the land of compositions, it would be just unimaginable that the composers, counted in large numbers and spanned over few centuries, had their roots in some other land.

      Contents and Context of Rig Veda: Rig Veda, as it exists today; consists of a total of ten books where book number one and tenth are supposed to be compiled at comparatively later period than the remaining eight books. In totality, the Veda contains 10,521 mantras arranged under 1028 hymns. It is said that the material available today is only a small part of the mass volume, which was originally there. The hymns related to praises for the particular Gods appear in adulation and sycophancy and seek blessings for the abundance of cows, sons, and material objects for prosperity. Rigveda believes that God is only one but God is called by different people with different names. Regarding the authors and composers, there is a general agreement among experts of the subject that the hyman of Rigveda have not been composed by any one person or in any single time period. (Tirth)

      In addition to offerings praises for Gods, Rig Veda also contains poems related to almost all other important aspects of human life of that time like importance of actions for realizing Dharma, and issues like friendships, keeping good company, cooperative approach to work, high morals, commitment to practise brahmacharya, seeking knowledge from wherever available, appreciating importance of parents for giving life, protecting the physical health of the body using prana (Pranayam), mutual importance of man and women, discussing intelligent people and able administrators, analyzing relation among guru and shishya (teachers and students) etc. The depth of knowledge and impact of its language is so impressive that these look equally relevant even today. It is indeed amazing to find such intricate but critical aspects of human life getting commented at such an early stage of evolution of human civilization and the universality of the comments. Beyond doubt, Rigveda is the greatest literature of all times and provides a great feeling for everyone belonging to this culture. (Tirth)

      The hymns were composed in Vedic Sanskrit which had great importance for sounds made while speaking out. That version of Sanskrit provided higher focus on sounds of the words to the extent that it was forbidden to be reproduced in writing. Because of this strict focus on the power of words, for a long period of time Rig-Veda was preserved only orally; even until much later when writing had become popular. There were strict guidelines for memorizing it without ever referring to anything written as a text. There were restrictions even for reciting it by those remembering it by heart. For example, anyone who has eaten meat, seen blood, seen a dead body, had sexual intercourse or engaged in writing, was strictly prohibited to recite any portion of Vedas. It is said that unique sound powers of the mantra was just beyond any language to comprehend and reproduce.

      The Vedas are treated as a revealed text and hence no one was allowed to tinker with the same even in slightest possible manner. There was total ban on non-believers, women, and pariah to learn Vedas with the single objective of avoiding injury to the power of sounds of words and to avoid dilution/pollution to its divine powers. Such exclusive preservation practices ensured that the Vedas were not abused even in right hands. As such, those who learned the Rig Veda were exclusively male Brahmins. As per many Indian historians, these strict codes must have been the reason that elite of that time, involved in composing and preserving the Vedas, got called 'Aryans'.

      A good reading of this Veda will reveal to its reader there was no rigid hereditary system of castes in place. The class system mentioned was based on occupation of the person and a son is commented to have a profession different than his own father. But this picture got changed in subsequent Vedas. In the initial parts of Rig Veda, one comes across references to just two classes (yarnas), firstly; the very own of them, Arya, and secondly, all the rest called Dasas. But in the later part of the Veda, there is a story about dismembered Primeval Man found by Gods at a sacrifice — his mouth became the priest (Brahmin), His arms were the Raja (Kshatriyas); his thighs, the commoner (Vaishyas) and his feet, the lowest and dirtiest part of his body—the servants (Shudras) which was basically to include all other classes.

      As per Rig Veda, people were not classified separately based on their class or practices but also by their social or anti-social behaviour and by their inclinations for addictions also. Indulging in wine drinking, games of dices, sex outside prescribed limits and hunting have been identified as behaviours pulling down any one to lower class irrespective of their origin. These are strong signs to suggest that 'class' of a person was not based by birth or by occupation alone but any one found diluting his personal practices by indulging in prescribed vices, carried the risk of getting his class reduced from higher to lower. This goes to suggest an auto corrective system, which promotes those who followed good practices and punished those violating it. No one need to argue with such dynamic class segregation, which is fair and transparent.

      Rig Veda is a text dominated by men of the world dominated by men and treats women at best as objects. A Vedic man gave equal importance to two of his prized possession, his cattle and his wife. It was only in later portion of Vedas that some importance was given to women, as the wife was required to be present when the husband was to perform a Vedic sacrifice.

      Vedas are to be taken as a base on to which many more things were to be added in due course with much wider influence from all inhabitants of the area in which these were composed and preserved. With evolution of time, new ideas and new narratives got added to the basic theme of Vedas, which resulted in new practices involving larger contents and traditions.

      On the philosophical level, the Rig Veda seers admitted their inability to clearly comprehend all the creation of this visible world. They were satisfied looking at these creations as matters of surprise and were contended with the fact that it was not possible for them to be sure of many things which lie so far beyond the human knowledge. All the scientific advancements made until date fail to change the so-called perception of the seers. Even today there are so much more which is yet to be conceived by human capabilities. But they applied logic to conclude that the attributes of creation and governance of this universe could be granted to one single Being. This concept result is Vedas advocating the concept of Monotheism. This monistic emphasis led the Vedic thinkers to look upon a Deity as a different name or aspect of the One Universal God, the Supreme, and looking at a single deity as representing some essential aspect of the divine Being.

      The seers of Rig Veda did not see any disconnect in a person worshipping many deities as they assumed these deities as just a reflection of one and only one God. This unique tradition later became a basic foundation for Hinduism, which consciously provided space to a single worshipper to choose any form for his worship of the God. Rigveda also raises the question of human Self and suggested that there remains an unborn part of every human which survives death and which works like a controller of the body during the entire life. This so called unborn aspect was looked as being different from individual soul. In one of the hymn there is a mention that "two birds live in the single body where one enjoys the fruits of the action of the body while the other is just a passive spectator". These concepts were to be further enlarged by subsequent thinkers to evolve in full-fledged doctrines and became foundations of Hinduism as a religion.

      Some people also call Rig Veda as Mantra Yoga. The mantras of Vedas have been believed to have special power when pronounced using Vedic Sanskrit, a language which was called the language of cosmic mind. The significance of the mantras sound effect was beyond any language to capture. Learned teachers will vouch that even Classical Sanskrit failed to capture those sound significance so all other modern languages need not even be mentioned capable of reproducing those magical sound impacts. In yet another impressive contemplation, Rig-Veda suggested that a human could become a Devta, a Deity; by one's own deeds. Infact, the ultimate objective of the knowledge given by Rig-Veda can be said to encourage each individual soul to become universal soul by way of worship and following a moral life.

      At this stage it will not be out of place to look at the Rigveda from the perspective of Max Muller, a German born philologist and orientalist who was one of the founders of Western academic field of Indian Studies and an authority on comparative religion, and he said:

"As long as man continues to take interest in its history and as long as we collect in libraries and museums the relics of former ages, the first place in that long row of books will belong for ever to Rigveda. Without shadow of any doubt, it is but the oldest book of the entire world."

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