Rigveda (ऋग्वेदः)

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The Rigveda is the oldest of the Vedas. All the other Vedas are based upon it and consist to a large degree of various mantras from it. It consists of about a thousand richas (name of the Rigvedic mantras) of different seers, arranged in suktas having an average of around ten mantras. That the Rig Veda is the oldest book in Sanskrit or any language is widely accepted by the followers of Sanatana Dharma. Its date of composition is not definite and the Vedic time period is a topic of debate among many scholars. As such it is not in the scope of this article.

Primarily the Rigveda is a treasure trove of stuti (a praise, a prayer, invocation) offered to different devatas by various rshis. It consists of respectful thoughts, praises of deeds of various deities in the form of mantras.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

The Rig Veda is the book of Mantras called Rks or Richa-s. It contains the oldest form of all the Sanskrit mantras. It is built around a science of sound which comprehends the meaning and power of each letter. Most aspects of Vedic science like the practice of yoga, meditation, mantra and Ayurveda can be found in the Rig Veda and still use many terms that come from it.

While originally several different versions or recensions of the Rig Veda were said to exist, only one remains. Its form has been structured in several different ways to guarantee its authenticity and proper preservation through time.

व्युत्पत्तिः ॥ Etymology of Rk

Rigveda is made up of mantras called as Rk (ऋक् also called as ऋचः - Rchas) according to Shabdakalpadhruma.[1]

ऋच्यन्ते स्तूयन्ते देवा अनया । (ऋच् + क्विप् ।) वेदविशेषः । ऋग्वेदः । इत्यमरः ॥

The (vaidik) devatas are offered worship and are prayed to using these Rk-s (ऋक्). Rcha means prarthana (to pray) or stuti (to praise), thus it is synonymous with praising and worshipping. Devatas are invoked using these mantras. Another name for Mantra is Rcha (ऋचः), but all mantras are not Rcha-s (ऋचः). The Purusha Sukta, in the famed Sahasra-sirsha (सहस्रशीर्षा) mantra, mentions that Rcha-s (ऋचः) were the first to arise from Parameshavara.

तस्माद्याज्ञात् सर्वहुतः ऋचः सामानि जज्ञिरे । छन्दांसि जज्ञिरे तस्माद्यजुस्तस्मादजायत । (Purusha Sukta)

A collection of Rchas is called the Rigveda Samhita. The term 'Samhita' implies a collection or group of. It was first studied by Shakala (mentioned also as Shakalya) and further by Baskala and four other (rshis).[2]

ऋचां समूह ऋग्वेदस्तमभ्यस्य प्रयत्नतः। पठितः शाकलेनादौ चतुर्मिस्तदनन्तरम्।। (Rk. Pratisakhya)

All the aspects about rigveda vargeekarana, the shakas involved and extant texts, the arrangement of the mandalas and ashtakas are given in the article Veda Vargeekarana.

ऋचां क्रमविन्यासः ॥ Arrangement of Rks (Mantras)

Several rks make a sukta and several suktas form a Mandala. Sukta is nothing by the utterance of a seer expressing a complete sense. It contains the meaning of the subject in its complete form.

There are many versions about the total number of richa-s and suktas in the Rgveda. Both ancient and modern scholars have put forth explanations about the differences in shakas of Rgveda. These differences are primarily due to the variations of the same richa-s during usage (प्रयोगकाल) and study times (अध्ययन-काल). Some richa-s have 4 padas during study but only two padas (द्विपदाः) during usage of the mantra.

In some texts, the valakhilya mantras, 80 of them at the end of the eighth mandala, are not taken into account along with the Rgveda mantras. Hence, after including the dvipada mantras and valakhilya mantras the total number of richa-s are given as 10552 in Katyayana's Rik-sarvanukramani text.[3]

Each mantra of the Rgveda is associated with a Rshi, a Chandas, and a Devata.

अथ ऋषयः ॥१॥ यस्य वाक्यं स ऋषिः ॥४॥ या तेनोच्यते सा देवता ॥५॥ यदक्षरपरिमाणं तच्छंदः ॥६॥ तिस्त्र एव देवता: क्षित्यंतरिक्षद्युस्थाना, अग्निर्वायुः सूर्य इति ॥८॥ (Rig. Ved. Katy. Sarv. 2.3)[4]

Mantras were revealed by mantra-drstha rshis. The subject matter of a mantra is the devata. The number of aksharas (syllables) in a mantra is given by the chandas. It has a definite number of syllables. There are three types of devatas belonging to kshiti (earth), antariksha, and dyu places of Agni, Vayu and Surya respectively. The list of rshis who revealed the mantras are given below in the Mandala krama table. Apart from them twenty-four mantra-drashta rshikas are also mentioned in the Rgveda.

गोधा धोषा विश्ववाराऽपालोपनिषन्निषत् ॥ ब्रह्मजाया जुहूर्नामागस्त्यस्य स्वसादितिः ॥ इद्राणी चंद्रमाता च सरमा रोमशोर्वशी ॥ लोपामुद्रा च नद्यश्च यमी नारी च शश्वती। श्रीर्लाक्षा सार्पराज्ञी वाक् श्रद्धा मेधा च दक्षिणा ॥ रात्री सूर्या च सावित्री ब्रह्मवादिभ्य ईरिताः॥ (Rig. Ved. Shau. Anuk)[5]

Godha (गोधा), Ghosha (धोषा), Vishvavaara (विश्ववारा), Apaala (अपाला), Juhu (जुहू), Agastyasvasaa (अगस्त्यस्वसा), Aditi (अदिति), Indrani (इद्राणी), Sarama (सरमा), Romashaa (रोमशा), Urvashi (ऊर्वशी), Lopamudra (लोपामुद्रा), Nadi (नदी), Yami (यमी), Shashvati (शश्वती), Saarparaajni (सार्पराज्ञी), Vaak (वाक्), Shraddha (श्रद्धा), Dakshina (दक्षिणा), Savitri (सावित्री) are the brahmavadinis who contributed towards the mantras of the Rigveda.

छन्दस् ॥ Chandas

As mentioned in the previous sections, Rks are those mantras which are set in a shloka format (Padyatmaka) having a definite number of syllables in each pada of the mantra. Thus, they are said to be bound by the rules of Chandas. In the Rgveda although 20 different metres have been used, seven of them were used extensively. They are Gayatri (24 aksharas) Ushnik (28 aksharas) Anushtup (32 aksharas) Brhati (36 aksharas) Pankti (40 aksharas) Trishtup (44 aksharas) and Jagati (48 aksharas).

Of these kinds of chandas, four of them have been used in a large number of mantras. They are Gayatri, Anushtup, Trishtup and Jagati used in about 80% of the mantras. The other metres apart from these seven, include Atijagati (52 aksharas), Shakvari (56 aksharas) etc.

देवता ॥ Deity

According to Riksarvanukramani, a devata is defined as 'या स्तूयते सा देवता, येन स्तूयते स ऋषिः।' It means one who performs a stuti is a Rshi and to whom it is intended is a devata.[6]

In Siddhanta koumudi, term 'devata' is described as having two characteristics. In the explanation for the sutra साऽस्य देवता' (Sidd. Koum. 4.2.24) we find the following

  1. त्यज्यमानद्रव्ये उद्देश्यविशेषो देवता। which means to whom the ajya and havishya dravya are offered, they are devatas. This definition is as per Shrauta sutras. This is applicable in yajnas only.
  2. मन्त्रस्तुत्या च। which means that one who is praised (invoked) by using mantras is a devata. This definition as per Nirukta is widely used to explain the term devata.[6]

Thus, in general, a devata in the Vedic terms is defined as one to whom a stuti is performed, be it animate or inanimate. According to mantra-padadyanukramanika, 272 devatas are listed. In this list we have stutis for dana, for condemnation of gambling, and for social activities like marriage; all such materialistic matters are also treated as devatas. It should be noted that Yaska and others have determined the devata in such situations based on certain criteria. A devata is not defined simply based on fact that stuti is performed for them, they should have the capability to fulfil the wish of one who performed the stuti. This aspect is discussed in Nirukta as [6]

यत्काम ऋषिर्यस्यां देवतायामार्थपत्यमिच्छन् स्तुतिं प्रयुङ्क्ते तदैवतः स मन्त्रो भवति' (निरुक्त ७।१।१)।

To summarize this, it can be said that when a rshi utters a mantra with an intent to please a devata who can grant him a particular wish, that mantra will have that deity as the mantra-devata. That devata has an unparalleled power to fulfil the mentioned wish. In this way, the definition of devata is

अभीष्टसिद्धिहेतुदिव्यशक्तिसम्पन्नत्वे सति मन्त्रस्तुत्यत्वम्।

There is ample discussion about the number of deities given in Rigveda.

मण्डलक्रमः ॥ Mandala krama

The Rgveda samhita has 10552 mantras, grouped into 1017 suktas collected in ten mandalas of unequal length given by various rshis.[3] In the Mandala krama it is arranged into 10 mandalas, 1017 suktas and 10552[3] or 10580 (as given in Shaunaka's Anuvakaanukramani) mantras, and 153826 words[5].

ऋचां दश सहस्राणि ऋचां पञ्च शतानि च । ऋचामशीतिः पादश्च पारणं संप्रकीर्तितम् ॥ (अनुवाकानुक्रमणी, 43)

Each sukta in a mandala is a collection of mantras. The number of mantras in a sukta are highly variable. Given below are the mandalas, suktas, the number of mantras and the mantra-drashta rshis therein.[7][8]

Mandalas Number of Suktas Number of Mantras Mantra Drashtas
Mandala 1 191 2006 शतर्चिनः (Shatarchina), Madhucchanda, Medhatithi, Deerghatama, Agastya, Gautama, Parashara etc
Mandala 2 43 429 गृत्समदः एवं उनके वंशज (Grtsamada and his lineage)
Mandala 3 62 627 विश्वामित्रः एवं उनके वंशज (Vishvamitra and his lineage)
Mandala 4 58 589 वामदेवः एवं उनके वंशज (Vamadeva and his lineage)
Mandala 5 87 727 अत्रिः एवं उनके वंशज (Atri and his lineage)
Mandala 6 75 765 भरद्वाजः एवं उनके वंशज (Bharadvaja and his lineage)
Mandala 7 108 841 वसिष्ठः एवं उनके वंशज (Vasishta and his lineage)
Mandala 8 92 1636 कण्व अङ्गिरसः एवं उनके वंशज (Kanva Angirasa and his lineage)
Mandala 9 114 1108 ऋषिगण, विषय-पवमान सोम (Various rshis, topic - Pavamana Soma)
Mandala 10 191 1754 त्रित, विमद, इन्द्र, श्रद्धा कामायनी, इन्द्राणी, शची, उर्वशी आदि। (Trita, Vimada, Indra, Shraddha Kamayani, Indrani, Shachi, Urvashi etc)
Total 1017 10472
Valakhilya Suktas (Mandala 8) 11 80
Total 1028 10552

Some important points about the arrangement of the mantras are as follows.[8]

  • First and tenth mandalas exactly have 191 suktas. They are said to be more recent as compared to other mandalas. Analysis of the modernity of the language and chandas used, and invocations to new devatas, along with new darshanika concepts forms the basis to say that of all the mandalas the tenth mandala is the most recent having new mantras.
  • वंशमण्डल - Second to eight mandalas have complete unity in authorship. Mandalas second to sixth are have rshis Grtsamada, Vishvamitra, Vaamadeva, Atri, Bharadvaja, respectively and their families as the mantra-drashtas. The seventh mandala is given entirely by Vasishta. The eight mandala is predominantly given by rshis Kanva and Angiras.
  • पवमानमण्डल - Ninth mandala is made up of suktas addressed to Soma Pavamana; its mantra drsthas belong to rshis of different families. In this mandala the rshis belonging to the Vamsha-mandala have also contributed suktas.
  • Except in the eighth and ninth mandalas, everywhere the suktas to Agni are placed first, then those of Indra followed by those addressed to other deities are seen.
  • Simple chandas, having three or four lines of eight, eleven and twelve syllables as well as some complicated chandas are seen in Rigveda.

There are some criteria on which the arrangement of mantras is based on. They are as follows.[8]

  1. The suktas and mantras associated with rshi-families (ऋषि-परिवार) are first collected and grouped. Thus we see the vamsha-mandalas 2 to 7 are compiled first. They have only one rshi-family as the mantra-drashtas. The eighth mandala has rshis of two families as mantra-drashtas.
  2. The mantras revealed by one rshi are placed in one place to a great extent.
  3. Arrangement is organized such that there is unity of the subject matter.
  4. The subject matter about Soma (Pavamana Soma) is large hence the mantras and suktas have been compiled together even if compiled by different rshis.
  5. In arranging the suktas, the following order has been followed - Agni, Indra, Vishvedevas, Maruts, Ashvini devatas, Mitravaruna etc.
  6. The order of Chandas appears to be as follows - Gayatri, Trishtup, Jagati, Anushtup, and Pankti. These chandas have been used in the Rigveda.
  7. After this arrangement, the rshi families which have been left over are covered in the beginning or the end of the text. Additional attention has been given to place the suktas or mantras of those rshi-families which are greater in number, in the Mandala 1. Moreover, the number of suktas in Mandalas 1 and 10 have same number of suktas (192).
  8. Mandala 1 has the following rshis or their family members -
    1. Suktas 1 - 11: Madhu-chandas
    2. Suktas 12 - 23: Medhatithi-kanva
    3. Suktas 31 to 35: Hiranyasthupa Angirasa
    4. Suktas 36 - 50: Kanva or his family members
    5. Suktas 51 - 57: Savya Angirasa
    6. Suktas 58 - 64 and 74 - 93: Gautama or his family members
    7. Suktas 94 - 114: Kutsa Angirasa
    8. Suktas 116 - 126 and 140 - 164: Deerghatamas and his family members
    9. Suktas 165 - 191: Agasthya
  9. The suktas having less number of mantras have been placed at the end of the text. Hence in Mandala ten we find many rshis. Interspersed we find many suktas given by Rshikas (Brahmavadinis)[8]

The internal arrangement within a mandala places the mantras given by the father (rshi) first and followed by those given by the son. However, in a few cases the mantras given by the son are arranged earlier than the sukta of the father, because the son had given more suktas than the father.

अष्टकक्रमः ॥ Ashtaka krama

In the Ashtaka krama, eight ashtakas, each ashtaka has 8 adhyayas thus a total of 64 adhyayas, 2006 vargas are present. Here vargas are the collection of mantras compiled in this arrangement to facilitate convenience while studying. The number of mantras in a varga are not definite, but containing at least 5 mantras in a varga. In the end of the Samhita, we find the Rk Parishista in which 36 suktas are collected.[3] Given below are the number of vargas and mantras according to the Ashtaka krama.[7]

Ashtakas Number of Suktas Number of Vargas Mantra
Ashtaka 1 121 265 1370
Ashtaka 2 119 221 1147
Ashtaka 3 122 225 1209
Ashtaka 4 140 250 1289
Ashtaka 5 129 238 1263
Ashtaka 6 124 313 1650
Ashtaka 7 116 248 1263
Ashtaka 8 146 246 1281
Total 1017 2006 10472
Valakhilya 11 18 80
Total 1028 2024 10552

Rgveda Samhitas

Charanavyuha of Saunaka enumerates five principle shakas of the Rigveda, namely, Shakala, Baskala (Vaskala), Ashvalayana, Shankhayana and Mandukeya. Each of which had a sutra of its own. The extant and available samhita of Rgveda belongs to the Shakala shaka. It is the only available samhita of Rgveda. It is popular from ancient times which preserved the best tradition of this veda. Bashkala, Ashvalayana, Shankhyayana, Mandukayana, shaka samhitas are not available in present times. Rigveda is also called Bahvrcha, for many rks are incorporated in it.

शाकल संहिता Shakala Samhita

Shakalya (शाकल्यः)

Padapatha of Rgveda samhita was given by Shakalya (शाकल्यः). In the Brhdaranyaka Upanishad (Adhyaya 4) we find a debate between Shakalya and Yajnavalkya in Janaka's sabha. According to the Puranic evidences, it was this same Shakalya who composed the Rgveda Padapatha. In the Brahmanda Purana we find the following

शाकल्यः प्रथमस्तेषां तस्मादन्यो रथीतरः ।। बाष्कलिश्च भरद्वाज इति शाखाप्रवर्त्तकाः ।। ३४.३२ ।। देवमित्रस्तु शाकल्यो ज्ञानाहंकारगर्वितः ।। जनकस्य स यज्ञे वै विनाशामगमद्द्विजाः ।। ३४.३३ ।। (Brahmanda. Pura. Purv. 2.34.32-33)[9]

Reference to Shakalya has also been found in Nirukta and Rk-Pratisakhya. It has been shown that Shakalya's padapatha has not been accepted by Yaska in his Nirukta. For example in Nirukta (5.21) "अरुणो मासकृद् वृकः" has been mentioned. Yaska interpreted मासकृत् as one word in the sense of "मासो का कर्ता" or one who makes a month. Shakalya considered it as two padas or words as मा and सकृत्. Thus we see how Yaska and Shakalya differed in their interpretations.[10]

विषयविवेचन ॥ Contents of Rgveda

Rgveda is a vast collection of stotras, where many devatas are praised and eulogized by various rshis and their family using beautiful comparisons and emotional expressions, both to please the devatas as well as to achieve their wishes. We find numerous references to geography, descriptions about the three worlds (पृथ्वी or the earth, अन्तरिक्षम् or द्युलोकः referred to as the outer space including the atmosphere and स्वर्गः refers to the higher worlds loosely translated as heaven) the devatas, rivers and oceans, countries, asuras or dasyus, and socio-economic conditions of people, the society, marriage, lifestyle, occupations, construction of villages and cities, rulers of countries and wars, dialogue suktas such as that of Sarama and Pani, and the darshanika suktas to name a few.[3]

The tenth mandala includes mantras of miscellaneous character that covers a wide range of topics from cosmology, philosophical speculations, burial rites, samvada suktas, weddings to spells and incantations.

Thus, we have many topics discussed in the Rgveda, however, some are debated in the recent centuries. One such topic is the geographical point concerning Bharatavarsha that is surrounded by four oceans or very large water bodies. The other being the existence of river Sarasvati. The presence of four seas has been clearly mentioned only in the Bharatiya vaidika sahitya and rarely discussed in other ancient world literatures. Many scholars, both western and the traditional scholars have given their perspectives interpreting those Rgvedic mantras relating them to the "Aryan settlements" along the banks of the rivers in the northwestern region of India. With the myth of the Aryan Invasion debunked, we see new research evolving lately regarding the geographic aspects given in the Rigveda.[11]

Thus we find interesting discussions about the astronomical, geographical, and geological aspects of importance along with description of nature, socio-economic aspects and darshanik aspects that are valid in the present day society.

Astronomical aspects

In the Aitareya Brahmana (3.44) we find the concept that Sun (Surya) never raises or sets but it only flips at the end of daylight and returns with the bright side up on the next day. On reaching the end of the day, the sun flips such that the dark night side faces us. This concept was agreeable in the Rgveda suktas also (1.115.4 and 5.81.4). And that the earth was circular like a discus was known to the people in those times.[2]

Geological aspects

According to Dr. Kapil Dev Dwivedi[12] many interesting geological aspects are revealed during the study of Rgveda. It was long known to ancient people that the earth has 7 strata (Rgveda 1.22.16), and that the movements within both the earth and in the paramanus (atoms) are regulated by Vishnu.

Rgveda (10.1.6) states that the core of the earth is filled with Agni covered by a brilliant cloak.

स तु वस्राण्यध पेशनानि वसानो अग्निर्नाभा पृथिव्याः ॥ (Rg. Veda. 10.1.6)

The concept of fire and its tejas (तेजोमय वस्त्र) the brilliant cloak or garment is expressed in many mantras. Yajurveda also states that prthvi or earth is the center (yoni) of agni and it is due to this central Agni that causes the movement of the earth. Atharvaveda states that Agni is present in the Earth, अग्निवासाः पृथ्विवी (Atha. Veda. 12.1.21) and hence prthvi is called Agnivaasas (अग्निवासस्). That the rivers and ocean waters contain Agni is also expressed in the Rgveda. Agni is present in all living beings and the same is said to spread into the waters of rivers and oceans.

यो अग्निः सप्तमानुषाः श्रितो विश्वेषु सिन्धुषु ॥ (Rg. Veda. 8.39.8)

In the above mantra Sindhu (सिन्धु) indicates both the rivers and oceans. It is said that Agni exists in the waters and it is well known that by the churning of the river water electricity is generated. Rigveda clearly mentions the presence of Ratnas (gems) and treasures of gold etc which are the cause of prosperity, in the earth.

रियं त इन्द्र पृथिवी बिभर्ति ॥ (Rg. Veda. 3.55.22) पुरू वसूनि पृथिवी बिभर्ति ॥ (Rg. Veda. 3.51.5)

Nature in Rgveda

The main part of Rigveda belongs to suktas related to nature and natural forces. The Vedic deities are explained in different ways by the scholars of India and West, but speaking generally, the suktas addressed to deities (Devata) are under the influence of the most impressive phenomenon of nature and its aspects. The word Devata means divine, divinity which is bright, strong, donor, and powerful. In these suktas we find prayers for certain natural elements such as air, water, earth, sun, rain, dawn etc. The glorious brightness of the sun, the blaze of the sacrificial fire, the sweep of the rain-storm across the skies, the recurrence of the dawn, the steady currents of the winds, the violence of the tropical storm and other such natural energies, fundamental activities or aspects are glorified and personified as divinities (Devata).

The interaction with nature resulted in appreciation and prayer but, indeed, after a good deal of observation. Attributes assigned to deities fit in their natural forms and activities, as Soma is green, fire is bright, air is fast moving and sun is dispenser of darkness. The characteristics of these forces described in the mantras prove that Vedic seers were masters of natural science. All powers, aspects or activities of nature are generally regarded as deities because they are helpful, beneficial and essential for our life. Rivers, mountains, earth, air, water, plants, trees, forest, fire, rain, cloud, Sun, Moon etc, all are deities in Vedic mythology. In Rigveda the names of major deities are, such as Agni, Indra, Vayu, Earth, Soma, Varuna, Vishnu, Aditya, Usha, Aditi, Parjanya, etc. They are indeed the natural instruments of wealth - the inner earth crust, Surya and the other grahas, medicinal plants, oceans and rivers, water bodies such as waterfalls and forests.

इन्द्राय द्याव ओषधीरुतापो रियं रक्षन्ति जीरयो वनानि ॥ (Rig. Veda. 3.51.5)

Darshanika Tattva

In the 10th mandala of Rigveda we find many suktas portraying darshanika aspects of Bharatiya tattvajnana. In fact they are seen as the precursor to the siddhantas laid out in the Shad Darshanas. The darshanika aspect, according to some scholars, also supports the fact that the 10th mandala is a more recent addition to the Rgveda as it is very contrary to the stuti-presentation given in the rest of the mandalas. The two most important references are the Nasadiya Sukta and Purusha Sukta. Purusha sukta propounds Sarveshvara-vada (the all-pervading characteristic) which is considered as a modern thought process, a concept which discusses an all-permeating image or form (Saakara, aakruti) of the Supreme Self in the universe. According to some western scholars, spiritual development has the following course - Bahudevata-vada, Ekadevata-vada and Sarveshvara-vada. The oldest times witness worship of many deities, which later led to worship of one deity (Prajapati or Hiranyagarbha). This further led to development of faith in all-pervading deity, a more recent concept.[3]

अयँ लोक ऋग्वेदः। (Shad. Brah. 1.5)[13]

According to Shadvimsha Brahmana, Rgveda is said to be the bhuloka and Agni is the important devata. In the same Brahmana, Yajurveda is said to have Vayu as the important devata (of the Antariksha loka) while Surya is the important deity of Samaveda (of Dyuloka).[8] Manusmrti reinforces this point as mentioned below.

अग्निवायुरविभ्यस्तु त्र्यं ब्रह्म सनातनम। दुदोह यज्ञसिध्यर्थमृग्यजुः सामलक्षणम्॥ (Manu. Smrt. 1.13)[14]

Meaning: From Agni, Vayu and Surya, was milked the eternal Rigveda, Yajurveda and Samaveda respectively for the performance of yajnas. Rigveda involves the Vaktattva or speech aspects (including knowledge and contemplation), Yajurveda involves Manastattva or psychological aspects (personality, action, nature), and Samaveda includes Pranatattava or energy balance aspects (strength, cooperation). A coordination of the three tattavatas leads a person to attain Brahman.

ब्रह्म वा ऋक् । अमृतं वा ऋक् । (Kous. Brah. 7.10) प्राणो वा ऋक्। (Jaim. Brah. 1.112)

Above such references in various brahmanas portray the darshanik aspects (philosophical) of Rigveda. We find information about Brahman, Vak (Speech), Prana (energy), Amruta (eternity), Veerya (propagation) etc. Thus, we find the description about attaining Brahman, the shabda Brahman (vaktattva), Prana or the energy, means to attain Amaratva (eternity), and magnificence by practicing Brahmacharya.[8]

Important Suktas of Different Kinds

In the Rigveda we find Suktas of different kinds based on the subject matter. They include topics such as manovijnana (science of the mind or psychology) and bhashavijnana (science of language) along with srsthi-utpatti (the origin of creation), ayurveda (science of health), darshanika tattva (philosophy), adhyatmika tattva (spirituality) etc. Apart from topic based suktas, we have samvada suktas based on conversation between two characters (deities, rshis etc).[8] The suktas are placed under the following heads.

(1) देवस्तुतिपरकसूक्त - Suktas primarily in praise and worship of devatas, example - Agni Sukta

(2) दार्शनिक सूक्त - Suktas describing the philosophical tattvas, example - Purusha Sukta

(3) लौकिक सूक्त - Suktas describing the worldly affairs, example - Vivaha Sukta

(4) संवाद सूक्त - Suktas where there is a conversation between two beings may or may not have an associated legend, example - Sarama Pani Samvada Sukta

(5) आख्यान सूक्त - Suktas which narrate a legend, example - Shyavashva Sukta

Important darshanika suktas found in the Rigveda include[8]

  1. Nasadiya Sukta (नासदीयसूक्तम्) - 10.129
  2. Purusha Sukta (पुरुषसूक्तम्) - 10.10
  3. Hiranyagarbha Sukta (हिरण्यगर्भसूक्तम्) - 1.121
  4. Vak Sukta (वाक् सूक्तम्) - 10.125
  5. Asya-vamiya Sukta - 1.164
  6. Shraddha Sukta - 10.151

Important laukika Suktas found in Rigveda include[8]

  1. Sajnana Sukta - 10.191
  2. Danastuti Sukta - 10.107 and 117
  3. Aksha Sukta - 10.34
  4. Vivaha Sukta - 10.85

Important Akhyana suktas found in Rigveda include[8]

  1. Vishnu Sukta (Trivikrama) - 1.154
  2. Soma Suryaa vivaha Sukta - 10.85
  3. Shyavashva Sukta - 5.61
  4. Manduka Sukta - 7.103
  5. Indra Vrtra Yuddha Sukta - 1.80 and 2.12

Important Samvada suktas found in Rigveda include[8]

  1. Pururava Urvashi Samvada (पुरुरवा-ऊर्वशी संवादः) - 10.95
  2. Yama Yami Samvada - 10.10
  3. Sarama Pani Samvada - 10.108
  4. Vishvamitra Nadi Samvada - 3.33
  5. Indra Marut Samvada - 1.165
  6. Agasthya Lopamudra Samvada - 1.179
  7. Vasishta Sudas Samvada - 7.83
  8. Indra Indrani Vrshakapi Samvada - 10.86

The Akhyana and Samvada suktas in the Rigveda are said to be the seed material of the later day Itihasa, Kavyas, Mahakavyas (poetics), and natakas (drama). The information found in seed form in the Rigveda is supported and elaborated, similar to a fruit-bearing tree, in the Brahmana and Aranyaka literature. In this way the Akhyana and Samvada suktas have significant role in defining the Bharatiya Laukika Sahitya. The concepts found ground and developed further in the Itihasa and Purana literature. According to the traditional views, it is said that dramaturgy (the art of dramas) originated from the Vedas. Mahamuni Bharata the author of Natyashastra, describes that Brahma composed the "Natyaveda or Panchamaveda" as the essence of the four vedas upon request of the devatas. For this purpose, the essence of Pathya (including the Samvadas and anecdotes) was taken from the Rigveda, that of Sangeeta (music) from Samaveda, Abhinaya (action) from Yajurveda, and Rasa (aesthetics) from Atharvaveda.[8]

मंत्रार्थ प्रस्तुति शैली ॥ Presentation style of Mantra meaning

There are many akhyanas or anecdotes in Rgveda. A few are famous and are found in Brahmana and other texts such as Brhaddevata.[3][8] However, Akhyana style of explaining the purport of the mantras is one way of presenting the meaning of a mantra. Nirukta indicates that there are at least three ways of giving out the meaning of Rigveda mantras as follows[15]

  1. आख्यान शैली ॥ Akhyana style of presentation - In the reference 10.10 of Nirukta, Yaska explains "ऋषेर्दृष्टार्थस्य प्रीतिर्भवत्याख्यानसंयुक्ता" which means that the rshis who are tattvadrashtas in a few instances express the meaning of their mantras in the Akhyana style. The meaning of the mantra is presented by embedding it in a creative story. While the mantras in the veda contain a part or section of the whole legend, Brahmanas, Brhaddevata or Sarvanukramanika usually contain the complete story. Indra sukta (Rigveda. 2.12) is one such example.
  2. ऐतिहासिक शैली ॥ Aitihasika style of presentation - Yaska further uses the term "इत्यैतिहासिकाः" at the end his commentary for many mantras. It indicates that the meaning of the mantra is conveyed by the Aitihasika style of writing. For example, तत्को वृत्रः मेघ इति नैरुक्ताः, त्वष्ट्रोऽसुर इत्यैतिहासिकाः etc, meaning "Who is Vrtra, he is Megha as said by Nairuktakaras, he is Tvatshtra (son of Tvashta) an asura as said by the Aitihasikas (one who expound Itihasa)." Here we see that by the aitihasika style of presentation Vrtra is described as an asura and son of Tvashta.
  3. नैरुक्त शैली ॥ Nairukta style of presentation - Here the meaning of the mantras are presented as per the directions of Niruktakaras, where words have to be interpreted grammatically, thus they become derived meanings. So according to Nairuktakaras, Vrtra does not refer to an asura and son of Tvashta but to वृणोतेर्वर्धतेवा where 'one that circles and grows' applies to Megha or clouds. Thus Vrtra also refers to a Cloud. The sense in which the root or dhatus (without the prakrti and pratyaya) are expressed is used to drive the derived meanings. In the same way, Vishvamitra refers to "Sarvamitra". In such style of presentation, no particular person is referred to but the person or things associated to a meaning so derived bear importance.

Niruktakara, Acharya Yaska alludes to Akhyanasamya (आख्यानसमयः), Aitihasika (ऐतिहासिकाः) and Naidanaa (नैदानाः) styles of presentation of a context. All the three styles only differ slightly. Acharya Vararuchi in his commentary on Nirukta clarifies as follows [16]

औपचारिको मन्त्रेष्वाख्यानसमय इति नैरुक्तानां सिद्धान्तः ।

Meaning: Akhyanas (legends) and Itihasa (accounts of former events) described in the mantras are usually figurative or metaphorical according to Nairukta siddhanta.

On an in-depth exploration one finds that the description of an event is of three types - extraordinary (असम्भव), probable (सम्भवासम्भव) and possible (सम्भव). In the Vedic literature mostly we find extraordinary (चमत्कारकवाचक) and generic (जातिवाचक) usages for describing events. Here a person, river, city or place in particular (व्यक्तिवाचक) are used metaphorically and are used to convey an underlying natural, social, spiritual, or a philosophical message. However, in the Brahmana and Puranic literature we find descriptions which appear probable and possible, which is very rare in the Vedas. For example, the akhyana of Vishvamitra and Menaka is described in an extraordinary way in the Vedas. Elsewhere we find that Dushyanta and Shakuntala are described as normal human personalities but their progeny, Bharata is associated with Indra; both of them being extraordinary characters. In this state, calling Vishvamitra and Menaka (of the Vedas) as the ancestors of Dushyanta and Bharata (of the Puranas) creates a confusion in the minds of the reader. In the Vedic mantras, one does not find human-like description (मानुषीवर्णन) of Vishvamitra and Menaka, nor does vaidik Bharata (who approaches Indra) appear to have any relation with the laukika Bharata. Many misinterpretations arise as the storyline borrowed from the earlier literature gets digested with their new modifications in modern laukika sahitya. Thus a careful consideration of vaidika akhyanas is required to discern between the historical and poetic parts of the literature.[16]

Pravachanakaras of Rgveda

One may classify the Samskrit commentators of the Rgveda into the following five main categories : [17]

  • those commentators whose commentaries are now available in full in published form; Sayanacharya (1316-1388) alone can be cited as an example in this category. His commentary on Rgveda is called Vedarthaprakasa.
  • those commentators who can be reasonably presumed to have written commentaries on the entire Rgveda but only some portions of whose commentaries have become available so far; Skandaswamin (around 600 AD). He named his commentary as Rgarthaagamasamhrti. Venkatamadhava (1100 AD) composed Rgarthadipika. According to Venkatamadhava Skandaswamin, Narayana and Udgitha together composed the Rgbhashya respectively, i.e., the first part was by Skandaswamin, the middle part by Narayana and the ending was given by Udgitha.[3]
  • स्कन्दस्वामी नारायण उद्गीथ इति ते क्रमात् । चक्रुः सहैकमृग्भाष्यं पदवाक्यार्थगोचरम् ।।
  • those persons who are known to have written commentaries only on certain specific mantras of the Rgveda; commentators. Haradatta (9th century A.D.) wrote the commentary called Asvalayana-mantra-patha-bhashya. Anandatirtha (Madhavaacharya) has written a commentary on Rgveda1.1-40 (except 1.34.7-12). Atmananda (around 13th Century) has commented on only one sukta namely 1.164. Dinakara Bhatta in his Rgarthasara has given his commentary on 207 mantras of the Rgveda.
  • those persons who are directly or indirectly referred to in literature as commentators of the Rgveda but no portions of whose commentaries have become available so far; Narayana and Udgitha
  • the Rgveda-commentators of the modern times.

Most commentators have interpreted Rgveda mainly in the light of the Vedic rituals.


  1. Shabdakapadhruma (See under Rik)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Pt. Upadhyaya, Baldev. (2012 Second Edition) Samskrit Vangmay ke Brihad Itihas, Vol 1, Veda. Lucknow: Uttar Pradesh Sanskrit Sansthan. (Pages 94 to 127)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Upadhyaya, Baldev (1958) Vaidik Sahitya
  4. Rgveda Samhita, Katyayana Sarvanukramanika (2011 Reprint edition) Varanasi: Choukhambha Samskrit Pratisthan (Page 809)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Rgveda Samhita, Shaunaka Anukramanika (2011 Reprint edition) Varanasi: Choukhambha Samskrit Pratisthan (Page 828)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Vedom mein devata tattva. Ved-katha Kalyan Ank, Gorakhpur: Gita Press (Pages 317-323)
  7. 7.0 7.1 Rgveda Samhita (2011 Reprint edition) Varanasi: Choukhambha Samskrit Pratisthan (Page 767)
  8. 8.00 8.01 8.02 8.03 8.04 8.05 8.06 8.07 8.08 8.09 8.10 8.11 8.12 Dvivedi, Kapil Dev. (2000) Vaidika Sahitya evam Samskrti (Vedic Literature and Culture). Varanasi: Vishvavidyalaya Prakashan. (Pages 44-61)
  9. Brahmanda Purana (Purvabhaga, Pada 2, Adhyaya 34)
  10. Pt. Baldev Upadhyaya (1958) Vaidik Sahitya for M.A. Students. Kashi: Sharada Mandir. (Pages 41-42)
  11. Das, A. C. (1920) Rgvedic India, Cultural History of India as depicted in the Rgveda. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications (Page 10 - )
  12. Dwivedi, Kapil Dev. (2004 Second Edition) Vedon mein Vijnana (Positive Sciences in the Vedas). Jnanpur (Bhadohi): Vishvabharati Anusandhan Parishad. (Pages 283-294)
  13. Shadvimsha Brahmana (Adhyaya 1)
  14. Manu Smriti (Adhyaya 1)
  15. Shastri, Jwalanth Kumar. (2009) Ved aur vedarth Rajasthan: Sri Ghudhmal Prahladkumar Arya Dharmarth Nyasa. (Pages 58-59)
  16. 16.0 16.1 Shastri, Jwalanth Kumar. (2009) Ved aur vedarth Rajasthan: Sri Ghudhmal Prahladkumar Arya Dharmarth Nyasa. (Pages 257-258)
  17. R. N. Dandekar, Commentators of the Rgveda, A Recapitulation.