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Rig Veda Samhita
(contributed by Prof. G.C.ASNANI, MSc., Ph.D. (United Nations Service, Retd)

Rig Veda is the oldest surviving religious record of the human race.  Much before the printing press came into existence, Rig Veda was transmitted from one generation to another by word of mouth.  Naturally, question would arise about interpolations and mutilations during this transmission. 

There is a true story, almost unbelievable, to answer this question of interpolations and mutilations in respect of Rig Veda.  In his book “India ¾ What can it teach us?” (1882, Second Indian Edition published in 1961 by Munshi Ram Manohar Lal, Nai Sarak, Delhi-6),  Max Muller writes :- 

Entirely by Memory :-  This may sound startling, but-what will sound still more startling, and yet is a fact that can easily  be ascertained by anybody who doubts it-at the present moment, if every MS. of the Rig-Veda were lost, we should be able to recover the whole of it- from the memory of the Srotriyas in  India.  These native students learn the Veda by heart, and then they learn it from the mouth of their Guru, never from  a MS., still less from my printed edition, - and after a time they  teach it again to their pupils. 

I have had such students in my room at Oxford, who  not  only  could  repeat these hymns, but who  repeated  them  with the  proper  accents (for the Vedic Sanskrit has accents like Greek), nay who, when looking through my printed edition of the Rig-Veda, could point out a misprint without the slightest hesitation.        

          “I can tell you more.  There are hardly any various readings in our MSS.  of the Rig-Veda, but various schools in India  have their own readings of  certain passages, and they hand down those  readings with great care.  So, instead of collating MSS., as we do in Greek and Latin, I have asked some friends of mine to collate those Vedic students, who carry their own Rig-Veda in their memory, and to let me have the various readings from these living authorities.        

            Here then we are not dealing with theories, but with facts,  which anybody may verify.  The whole of the Rig-Veda, and a great deal more, still exists at the present moment in the oral tradition of a number of scholars who, if they liked, could write down every  letter, and every accent, exactly as we find them in our old MSS.        

            “Of course, this learning by heart is carried on under a  strict discipline; it is, in  fact, considered  as a sacred  duty.   A  native friend of  mine, himself  a very distinguished Vedic scholar, tells me that a boy, who is to be  brought up as a student  of the  Rig-Veda, has to spend about eight years  in the house of his teacher.  He has to learn ten books: first, the hymns of the Rig-Veda; then a prose treatise on sacrifices, called the Brahmana; then the so-called Forest-book or Aranyaka; then the rules of domestic ceremonies; and lastly, six treatises on pronunciation, grammar, etymology, metre, astronomy, and ceremonial. “These ten books, it has been calculated, contain nearly 30,000 lines,  each line reckoned as thirty-two syllables.     

            “A pupil studies every day, during the eight years of his theological apprenticeship, except on the holidays, which are called "non-reading days".  There being 360 days in a lunar year, the eight years would give him 2,880 days.  Deduct from this 384 holidays, and  you get 2,496 working days during the eight years.  If you divide the number of lines, 30,000, by the number of working days, you get about twelve lines to be learnt each day, though much time is taken up, for practising and rehearsing what has been learnt before.  Now this is the state of things at present, though I doubt whether it  would last much longer and   I  always   impress on  my  friends  in  India,  and therefore impress  on  those  who  will  soon  be  settled  as Civil Servants in India, the duty of trying to learn all that can still be learnt from those living libraries.  Much ancient Sanskrit lore will be lost for ever when that race of Srotriyas becomes extinct”. 

            Generally, Srotriyas are Brahmins by birth and by caste. Profession used to be by birth generally and caste was by profession.  Also, caste implied certain discipline and code of conduct.  The higher the caste, the greater was the discipline required.  Through professional status, each caste used to have its own status in society in ancient times.  Now that status by birth has lost its validity.  Gradually, Hindu society is losing caste-consciousness and also related status by virtue of birth.

Intermingling of castes in Hindu society and hence irrelevance of caste-status by birth had been recognised  in India even some 5,000 - 8,000 years back from today.  The date of the Mahabharata is placed  some  3,000  -  6,000  years  before  Christ  i.e. 5,000 - 8,000 years back from today.  In Mahabharata, the   eldest    brother   amongst    the   five   Pandavas,

Yudhisthira, was asked by Yaksha to give correct answer to his question, if the former wanted his brothers back to life.  Yaksha’s question was,Is caste-status by birth or by conduct ?” Yudhisthira’s answer was on the following lines:  “In ancient times, there was purity of blood and hence caste, profession and status, by birth.  Subsequently, intermingling of blood has taken place by intercaste marriages to such an extent that caste, profession and status  by birth have no meaning now.  One’s caste and status are by one’s conduct and not by birth. A Brahmin’s conduct is characterised by truthfulness, charity, forgiveness, nobleness, benevolence, observance of appropriate rites and mercy.  If these qualities are not present in one who is born in a Brahmin family, then he is not a Brahmin.  If, on the other hand, these qualities are present in one who is born in a Sudra family, then he is a Brahmin”.  (Ref : Mahabharata, Vana Parva, Section 179).

Caste and Social Status by birth have no religious    support   in   Hinduism   now.    It   is   the conduct, not birth, which should command respect, according to the principles of Hindu religion.  This idea is emphasised in “Manusmriti” also.  This meant discipline of body, mind and intellect, from childhood onwards, generation  after  generation,  for  more  than 200  generations    among  a  class   of   Hindus   who preserved   this   Vedic  heritage  for  us  up to the present century.   Is this  a joke?  Can we even comprehend what  all this means?  Caste system produced and preserved this sacred and brilliant tradition of professional specialization.  Undoubtedly, over many past centuries, there have crept in, aberrations of the caste system in the Hindu Society and interpolations in some Hindu Scriptures, but aberrations are not to be found in the basic principle of caste system.  We must respect and accept what is right and unequivocally  reject what is wrong.  

            Again, it must be emphasized that it is Hindu society itself which has been fighting against the aberrations of caste-system, and Hindu society itself has largely eliminated the same.  What have non-Hindu critics of caste system contributed?   They have mostly contributed abuses on  Hinduism and attempted to destroy Hinduism itself, without recognizing its merits, saying that Hinduism has caste system.

No human community ever existed in the past, nor  does  it   exist  now  which  does  not   have  caste system in one form or the other.  Let non-Hindu critics talk anything claiming casteless and classless society of their own religions.  We know a little of every religious community making such claims.  Information Technology has thrown light on the goings on inside every non-Hindu community.  Sitting in glass houses, let no one  throw stones at Hindu community.

Is Hinduism other-worldly  ? 

            At many places, Rig-Veda Samhita reflects the attitudes,  aspirations, and  prayers  of  Hindus living their normal life.  That is the Hindu view of life.  In Hindu view of life, there are four objectives of a successful human life :-

1.  Dharma :  Righteousness. 2.  Artha :  Wealth; prosperity. 3.  Kama :   Fulfilment of normal worldly desires. 4.  Moksha  :   Liberation from worldly desire  attainment of enlightenment; God-realization; Self-realization. The life of an ideal Hindu is divided into four stages, each for a period of a quarter century:

1.  Brahamacharya :   Unmarried Studentship.

2.  Grihasta :   Married householder’s life.

3.  Vanaprasta  : Living in a forest as a  recluse, along  with one’s spouse.

4.  Sanyasa  :   Renunication of all family conn-ections, and moving from place to place as an ascetic.  (This type of Sanyasa appears to have got introduced at a later stage in the History of Hinduism.  Most ancient Rishis were living in the forests along with their spouses).  

            There are several variations, particularly of the last two stages ¾ Vanaprasta and  Sanyasa. Normally, Vanaprasta  and  Sanyasa  stages of life  have  to  be   embraced  by  a  person  after  going through the  stage of Grihasta.   As such, the teachings of a recluse were firmly rooted in his experiences, aspirations and prayers as a house-holder, a citizen who had actively participated in the life of society in various capacities including even having functioned as the ruler of an empire.  This class of men and women had passed through the battlefield of life, had tasted all pleasures and pains of life and then taken to solitary contemplative life.  Their teachings and compositions in prose or poetry, bear a stamp of wisdom born out of real experience of life and then deep contemplation.   

            The composition of hymns of the Rig-Veda was done by Hindu recluses, ascetics, Rishis and Sages rooted in the realities of life inside the society.  Vedic hymns  were  not  composed  by  cowherd boys and shepherds while they were grazing their flocks of cattle, cows and sheep in the grass fields. The  hymns  are couched in  chaste  Sanskrit of their times, observing strict rules of grammar and metre.  Some scholars have deciphered these Vedic hymns as capsules containing, in cryptic form, formulae of various branches of mathematics, astronomy, chemistry and other sciences.  The hymns of these Vedas appeared before ancient sages of the Hindu race after their prolonged period of strict discipline, austerity and deep contemplation.  The ideas locked inside these Vedic hymns are supposed to be divine revelations to these Sages, Rishis of yore.  The names of the 407 Rig-Vedic Sages or Rishis (men as well as women) who  composed   particular Hymns  or  to whom  the same were revealed, are faithfully recorded in the original texts.  

            For the same reason, feelings and aspirations expressed in the vedic hymns are regarded as divinely approved and consistent with the Laws of Nature; the observance of these Laws in one’s life will bring the fulfilment of the four religiously sanctioned objectives of human life, viz. Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha. Hymns are classified as “SHRUTI¾ the “Heard” ones-as heard by the Rishis, the Sages, in state of deep contemplation, and transmitted for the good of society.  For example,  the desire  for  material prosperity, good health  and  honoured long life of 100 years so often  seen in  Vedic hymns  is  not  to  be  regarded as unworthy of an elevated person; such aspirations are consistent with the Laws of Nature and should be respected.  Genuine renunciation will come and a pilgrim on the path of religious life will make solid, substantial and sound progress when, through experience accompanied by thoughtful analysis and contemplation, he feels an inner urge for retiring from the pursuit of worldly pleasures.  Otherwise, pre-mature renunciation with worldly ambitions still lurking in the mind of a religious pilgrim will result in downright hypocrisy, that will bring blockades in the pilgrim’s progress on the path of God-realization.  Not only  an   individual   himself    but   also   his    family, community and his country will come to grief when the noble principles of renunciation and selflessness are proclaimed on the public platforms or exhibited through one’s dress but an under-current of selfishness and narrow-minded worldly aspirations are dragging the man or the woman in the opposite direction.  We have to get our desires for worldly pleasures and possessions  washed out clear before we walk on the path of renunciation.

In rare exceptional cases, skipping the householder’s stage of life and going straight into the life of sanyas is permitted but not encouraged. 

4. Worship of God in many forms :

            The reading of the hymns of Rig-Veda Samhita will show that a Hindu has inherited the following view of worship of God :-  A Hindu believes in one and only one God, but he does not believe in one and only one form of manifestation of God.  A Hindu sees and adores God in a hundred, thousand and many more forms.  He sees and worships God in everything, particularly where there is manifestation of life, energy, beauty, strength and valour.  He worships the Sun, the Moon, the Earth, the Sky, the Rivers, the Stars, the Days, the Nights, the Forests, the Animals, the Plants and what not, as manifestations of one and only one God. 

This has been sometimes mis-understood and even mis-construed that Hindus do not believe in one God but in many Gods; this is wrong and misleading.  It must be emphasised that Hindus believe in one and only one God, but having manifestations in millions of forms, shapes and even in abstract qualities and emotions.  For example, a mother’s  love  for  a  child  is  a  manifestation  of   God  Himself;  devotion  of   a chaste wife to her husband in the face of difficulties and dangers is the manifestation of  divinity  in  a  woman;  art  of  exquisite dance  and music  during  worship  of  God  is  a  manifestation of divinity.  The Sun, the Moon, the Stars, the Rivers, the Ocean, the Rocks, the Trees, everything is worshipped by a Hindu as a manifestation of God.  A Hindu accepts Omnipresence of God and does not deny His presence anywhere.  God is also Omniscient;  hence He sees the sincerity  of  Worship of  a devotee in whichever form the devotee worships Him. 

Hinduism does not recognise existence of anything outside God, anything without God; even Satan does not exist outside God.  There cannot be God and a Satan outside God. 

            Einstein’s Equation     E = mc2

expresses that mass is made up of energy.  How many shapes and forms of mass do we see?  solids, liquids, gases, yellow, red, green, heavy, light, etc.  These are all manifestations of one and the same energy; so also are infinite number of forms of one and the same God.            

Einstein and other scientists penetrated through diverse forms of mass and brought us into the realm of  one energy.  Still space-time continuum remained separately.  The Sages of the Vedas had penetrated deeper than the realm of energy, space and time.  They had discovered the deeper realm of ONE REALITY with quality of Consciousness, Spacelessness, Timelessness and Blissfulness, in which the entire universe exists, although having the appearance of vast diversity, multiplicity and opposites.  The path traversed by the Rishis, the Sages, the Mystics was not one of modern physics, but one of deep  contemplation and  experience.  This  experience of blissfulness at the bottom of everything seen in Nature is expressed through their Hymns given in the Vedas.  Many of them, at various times and places, have declared :  “I have seen THAT”.  Some have gone further and declared “I AM THAT”. 

            Descriptions given by different Rishis at different times and at different places are tallying, one with the other.  This  confirms the objectivity of these subjective experiences.  We cannot just dismiss these away as fictions of mind.  We must face and acknowledge the Truth and give credit where it is due.  This is the wonderful treasure we have all inherited as members of this blessed human race on this Earth.  Let us appreciate it, live it and spread joy and blissfulness all around.

A Hindu does not confine limitless God within the walls of a temple or a church.  A Hindu does not accept the authority of any person on the earth-in the past, at present or at any future instant of time-as the sole exclusice authority  and mouth-piece of God.  A Hindu is free to think, to feel, to believe, to disbelieve.  

Even in respect of religious Scriptures, a Hindu is supposed to listen to and contemplate on what is written in the Shruti (Vedas), Smritis (Coded laws of life), Itihas (History of great men), but finally he should  follow  the  dictates of  his  own conscience.  This  is  the  freedom  given  to a Hindu by the very Scriptures  which  he  is  to  follow.  This  is the uniqueness,   the    broadminded  open-ness  of Hinduism.  That   is    why   Hindu   religion   has survived  and shall  survive as  long  as human race survives on this sacred Mother Earth.  

How many of the Scriptures of other religions of the world give this freedom to their followers ?  

5.  Worship of NATURE :  A Hindu is particularly fond of worshipping NATURE.  At the time of daybreak, the twilight of the Dawn sends a Hindu into raptures of ecstacy.  What a beauty! What a grandeur! The Sages who composed the hymns to the  Dawn  seem to  be  swimming  and  dancing in the river of ecstatic joy.  You see this, you feel this, when you read the Hymns addressed to the Dawn.  The compiler of this collection has exihibited his weakness for this grandeur by giving a large number of verses under “Dawn”.   So also his weakness for Clouds, Winds and Rain; he is a meteorologist who has enjoyed the sight and lessons learnt from viewing the clouds in the sky.  

The Sun evokes a feeling of joy, strength, valour and heroism.  The moon is the personification of sheer beauty.  The rivers nourish the land.  The rains are  a nectar  poured  from the heaven.  Clouds are the Chariots of Wind god.   Words fail to correctly convey the joy and feelings expressed by the Hindu Rishis and Sages when they saw the wonders of Nature, the wonders  of  LIFE.  They  had  a  joyful,  healthy  and positive  outlook   on  life.   The reading  and  repeated recitation  of these hymns will pump life, strength and courage into any one who cares to read and/or recite the same.  These constitute the precious heritage bequeathed by the Hindu Rishis and Sages to the whole human race for the good of the whole human society on this earth.       

The Hymns give energy and power which should also be handled with suitable care and discipline.  Just as nuclear energy or the nuclear fission material should be handled and used with appropriate restrictions and discipline, so should the Vedic Hymns be. 

6. Samhitas and Upanishads :

There have been some variations in nomenclature about what constitutes a Veda, e.g. Veda Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads, etc.  are sometimes all taken together to constitute a Veda.  However, it is generally accepted that Samhita is the principal component while other components are specialised treatises to elaborate specific ideas which are contained in the Samhitas; e.g. Brahmanas give    ritualistic    procedures   for    worship    (yajna, sacrifice); Upanishads elucidate the philosophical ideas contained in the Samhitas.  During the last two centuries, the Vedas have been   introduced  to  the  western   world  particularly through the medium of German and English languages.  In the western world, the Upanishads have received maximum acceptance and appreciation.  However, it may be stated that the philosophy expounded in the Upanishadas  is  contained  in  the   inspired,  revealed,  mystic  poetry of  the  Samhita.  One may even venture to suggest an analogy that Samhitas are the milk; taken to the forest, this milk ferments and turns to form curd  (Yoghurt); the Rishis churned the curds and separated butter from the buttermilk.  The

milk, the curds, the butter as well as the buttermilk are beneficial for the body system of the society.  For convenience and with some sort of  justification, the Upanishads may be considered as  the butter. For brevity, however, we shall refer to the Rig-Veda Samhita as Rig-Veda. 

7.   Positive Attitude towards Human Birth on the Earth.

Reading of Rig Veda gives a very clear impression of a buoyant, vigorous and joyful attitude towards life on this earth.  The Hindu Society appreciated, enjoyed and aspired for a full life of   100   years,  lived   with    righteousness,   honour, prosperity and austerity.  The same impression is carried through Valmiki’s Ramayana as well as Mahabharata.  

When  we  come  to  Hindu  literature of  later times, we find a marked tilt towards attitude of pessimism, negativism.  Aspiration for honour and prosperity came to be regarded as a sort of undesirable worldly weaknesses and inferiority of mind.  The spirit of strength and valour started declining, giving place to a sort of  disgust with life, ready and even anxious to quit this earth, harping on miseries on the earth, transitoriness of worldly things, praying to God never to  give  us  another  birth on  this earth,  etc.  Political history of later times also shows marked socio-political deterioration.  The country  which  was  once  buoyant and bold, became weak, meek and miserable; consequently, the Hindus started getting beatings from many sides; their prayers also started showing attitude of helplessness and disgust for life.  

When we do not value and respect the beauties and bounties so abundantly given to us by NATURE, from sunrise to sunset and during the night, and also from season to season, year after year, how can we  expect to  be  happy on this Earth?  Let us respect and appreciate elements of NATURE, the very manifestations of God in a hundred thousand forms, as did  our  ancient  Sages  who  sang  the  songs of  Rig-Veda, filled with ecstacy and adoration, bursting with energy and enthusiasm for  life, and aspiring to fill the whole surface of the earth and space around us, with vigour and  joyfulness, health and prosperity, long life  and desire  to live and  be  born again and again on this Sacred Mother Earth.  To regain the lost glory and vigour, prosperity and happiness, to fulfil our destined role of spreading real joy and spirituality in the whole human race,  let us sing with the Rishis of Rig Veda :

Tell me, amongst so many immortal divinities of the universe, who is the Self-radiant, and whose glory we should meditate on? And after having lived a full life, who will deliver us back to this living world so that we  may  be  born  again  to  see  a   father  and a mother?”  (1.24.1)   The supreme God, the foremost adorable, whose auspicious name we meditate on, will deliver us back to this world so that we may be born again to see a father and a mother”.  (1.24.2) 


The selections are made from Rig Veda Samhita.  These are based mostly on 13 volumes published by Veda Pratishthana, New Delhi, on behalf of  Narendra Mohan Foundation, Pusa Road, New Delhi, India. 






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