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VOL. I. a






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F. MAX M tj L L E R.






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"XTTHEN some twenty years ago I decided on
undertaking the first edition of the two texts
and the commentary of the Rig-veda, I httle ex-
pected that it would fall to my lot to publish also
what may, without presumption, be called the first
translation of the ancient sacred hymns of the
Brahmans. Such is the charm of deciphering step
by step the dark and helpless utterances of the
early poets of India, and discovering from time to
time behind words that for years seemed imintelli-
gible, the simple though strange expressions of
primitive thought and primitive faith, that it Re-
quired no small amount of self-denial to decide
in favour of devoting a life to the publishing of
the materials rather than to the drawing of the
results which those materials supply to the student
of ancient language and ancient religion. Even
five and twenty years ago, and without waiting
for the publication of Sayana's commentary, much
might have been achieved in the interpretation of
the hymns of the Rig-veda. With the MSS. then


accessible in the principal libraries of Europe, a
tolerably correct text of the Sanhita might have
been published, and these ancient rehcs of a primitive
rehgion might have been at least partially deciphered
and translated in the same way in which ancient
inscriptions are deciphered and translated, viz. by
a careful collection of all grammatical forms, and
by a complete intercomparison of all passages in
which the same words and the same phrases occur.
When I resolved to devote my leisure to a critical
edition of the text and commentary of the Rig-
veda rather than to an independent study of that
text, it was chiefly from a conviction that the
traditional interpretation of the Rig-veda, as em-
bodied in the commentary of Saya^^a and other
works of a similar character, could not be neglected
with impunity, and that sooner or later a complete
edition of these works would be recognized as a
necessity. It was better therefore to begin with the
beginning, though it seemed hard sometimes to spend
foi-ty years in the wilderness instead of rushing
straight into the promised land.

It is well known to those who have followed
my literary publications that I never entertained
any exaggerated opinion as to the value of the
traditional interpretation of the Veda, handed down
in the theological schools of India, and preserved
to us m the great commentary of Saya^ia. More
than twenty years ago, when it required more
courage to speak out than now, I expressed my


opinion on that subject in no ambiguous language,
and was blamed for it by some of those who now
speak of Sayana as a mere drag in the progress
of Vedic scholarship. A drag, however, is some-
times more conducive to the safe advancement of
learning than a whip ; and those who recollect the
history of Vedic scholarship during the last five
and twenty years, know best that, with all its
faults and weaknesses, Saya^ias commentary was a
sine qua non for a scholarlike study of the Rig-
veda. I do not wonder that others who have more
recently entered on that study are inclined to speak
disparagingly of the scholastic interpretations of
Saya^ia. They hardly know how much we all owe
to his guidance in effecting our first entrance into
this fortress of Yedic language and Vedic religion,
and how much even they, without being aware of
it, are indebted to that Indian Eustathius. I do
not withdraw an opinion which I expressed many
years ago, and for which I was much blamed at
the time, that S^ya?ia in many cases teaches us
how the Veda ought not to be, rather than how it
ought to be understood. But for all that, who
does not know how much assistance may be derived
from a first translation, even though it is imperfect,
nay, how often the very mistakes of our predeces-
sors help us in finding the right track ? If we
can now walk without Saya^ia, we ought to bear
in mind that five and twenty years ago we could
not have made even our first steps, we could never,


at least, have gained a firm footing, without his
leading strings. If therefore we can now see
further than he could, let us not forget that we
are standing on his shoulders.

I do not regret in the least the time which I
have devoted to the somewhat tedious work of
editing the commentary of Savana, and editing it
according to the strictest rules of critical scholar-
ship. The Veda, I feel convinced, will occupy
scholars for centuries to come, and will take and
maintain for ever its position as the most ancient
of books in the library of mankind. Such a book,
and the commentary of such a book, should be
edited once for all ; and unless some unexpected
discovery is made of more ancient MSS., I do not
anticipate that any future Bekker or Dindorf will
find much to glean for a new edition of Saya^ia,
or that the text, as restored by me from a col-
lation of the best MSS. accessible in Europe,
will ever be materially shaken '''\ It has taken

* Since the publication of the first volume of the Rig-veda,
many new MSS. have come before me, partly co2)ied for me,
partly lent to me for a time by scholars in India, but every
one of them belonged clearly to one of the three families which
I have described in my introduction to the first volume of the
Rig-veda. In the beginning of the first Ash^aka, and occasionally
at the beginning of other Ash^akas, likewise in the commentary
on hymns which were studied by native scholars with particular
interest, various readings occur in some MSS., which seem at
first to betoken an independent source, but which are in reality
mere marginal notes, due to more or less learned students of


a long time, I know ; but those who find fault
with me for the delay, should remember that few
scholars, if any, have worked for others more than
I have done in copying and editing Sanskrit texts,

these MSS. Thus after verse 3 of the introduction one MS.
reads : sa praha nripati^^i ra^an, sayanaryo mamanur/a/i, sarva^/t
vetty esha vedanawi- vyakhyatvitvena yu(/yatam. The same MS.,
after verse 4, adds : ityukto madhavaryena virabukkamahipatiA,
anvasat saya^za^arya?^ vedarthasya j^rakasane.

* I had for a time some hope that MSS. written in Grantha
or other South-Indian alphabets might have preserved an in-
dependent text of Sayav^a, but from some specimens of a
Grantha MS. collated for me by Mr. Eggeling, I do not think
that even this hope is meant to be realised. The MS. in
question contains a few independent various readings, such as
are found in all MSS., and owe their origin clearly to the
jottings of individual students. When at the end of verse 6,
I found the independent reading, vyutpannas tavata sarva ri/i;o
vyakhyatum arhati, I expected that other various readings of
the same character mi^ht follow. But after a few additions
in the beginning, and those clearly taken from other parts of
Sayana's commentary, nothing of real importance could be
gleaned from that MS. I may mention as more important
specimens of marginal notes that, before the first punaA kidrisam,
on page 44, line 24, this MS. reads : athava ya^/nasya devam
iti sambandhaA, ya^nasya prakasakam ityartha/i, purohitam iti
p?'ithagviseshanam. And again, page 44, line 26, before puua/i
kidrisam, this MS. adds : athava ritvi^am ritvigvid (vad) yar/na-
nirvahaka??i hotaram devanam ahvataram; tatha ratnadhatamam.
In the same line, after ratnanam, we read ramarayadhananam va,
taken from page 46, line 2. Various readings like these, however,
occur on the first sheets only, soon after the MS. follows the usual
and recognized text. For the later Ash^akas, where all the MSS.
are very deficient, and where an independent authority would be
of real use, no Grantha MS. has as yet been discovered.


and that after all one cannot give up the whole
of one's life to the collation of Oriental MSS. and
the correction of proof-sheets. The two concluding
volumes have long been ready for Press, and as
soon as I can find leisure, they too shall be printed
and published.

In now venturing to publish the first volume
of my translation of the Rig-veda, I am fully
aware that the fate which awaits it will be very
different from that of my edition of the text and
commentary. It is a mere contribution towards
a better understanding of the Vedic hymns, and
though I hope it may give in the main a right
rendering of the sense of the Vedic poets, I feel con-
vinced that on many points my translation is liable
to correction, and will sooner or later be replaced by
a more satisfactory one. It is difficult to explain to
those who have not themselves worked at the Veda,
how it is that, though we may understand almost
every word, yet we find it so difficult to lay hold
of a whole chain of connected thought, and to dis-
cover expressions that will not throw a wrong
shade on the original features of the ancient words
of the Veda. We have, on the one hand, to avoid
giving to our translations too modern a character,
or paraphrasing instead of translatmg ; while, on
the other, we cannot retain expressions which, if
literally rendered in English or any modern tongue,
would have an air of quaintness or absiu-dity totally
foreign to the intention of the ancient poets. There


are, as all Vedic scholars know, whole verses which,
as yet, yield no sense whatever. There are words
the meaning of wliich we can only guess. Here,
no doubt, a continued study will remove some of
our difficulties, and many a passage that is now
dark, will receive light hereafter from a happy
combination. Much has already been achieved by
the efforts of European scholars, but much more
remains to be done ; and our only chance of seeing
any rapid progress made lies, I believe, in com-
municating freely what every one has found out
by himself, and not minding if others point out
to us that we have overlooked the very passage
that would at once have solved our difficulties,
that our conjectures were unnecessary, and our
emendations wrong. True and honest scholars
whose conscience tells them that they have done
their best, and who care for the subject on which
they are engaged more than for the praise of
benevolent or the blame of maHgnant critics, ought
not^o take any notice of merely frivolous censure.
There are mistakes, no doubt, of which we ought
to be ashamed, and for which the only amende
honorable we can make is to openly confess and
retract them. But there are others, particularly
in a subject like Vedic interpretation, which we
should forgive, as we wish to be forgiven. This
can be done without lowering the standard of true
scholarship or vitiating the healthy tone of scien-
tific morality. Kindness and gentleness are not


incompatible with earnestness, — far from it! — and
where these elements are wanting, not only is
the joy embittered which is the inherent reward
of all ho7id jide work, bnt selfishness, malignity,
aye, even untruthfulness, gain the upper hand, and
the healthy growth of science is stunted. While
in my translation of the Veda and in the remarks
that I have to make in the course of my commen-
tary, I shall frequently differ from other scholars,
I hope I shall never say an unkind word of men
who have done their best, and who have done
what they have done in a truly scholarlike, that
is, in a humble spirit. It would be unpleasant,
even were it possible within the limits assigned, to
criticise every opinion that has been put forward
on the meaning of certain words or on the con-
struction of certain verses of the Veda. I prefer,
as much as possible, to vindicate my own transla-
tion, instead of examining the translations of other
scholars, whether Indian or European. Sdya^^a's
translation, as rendered into English by Professor
Wilson, is before the world. Let those who take
an interest in these matters compare it with the
translation here proposed. In order to give readers
who do not possess that translation, an opportunity
of comparing it with my own, I have for a few
hymns printed that as well as the translations of
Langlois and Benfey on the same page with my
own. Everybody will thus be enabled to judge
of the peculiar character of each of these transla-


tions. That of S^ya^ia represents the tradition of
India ; that of Langlois is the ingenious, but
thoroughly uncritical, guess-work of a man of taste ;
that of Benfey is the rendering of a scholar, who
has carefully worked out the history of some
words, but who assigns to other words either the
traditional meaning recorded by Sayan a, or a con-
jectural meaning which, however, would not always
stand the test of an intercomparison of all passages
in which these words occur. I may say, in general,
that Saya7ias translation was of great use to me
in the beginning, though it seldom afforded help
for the really difficult passages. Langlois' trans-
lation has hardly ever yielded real assistance, while
I sincerely regret that Benfey's rendering does not
extend beyond the first MaT^ciala.

It may sound self-contradictory, if, after confessing
the help which I derived from these translations,
I venture to call my own the first translation of
the Eig-veda. The word translation, however, has
many meanings. I mean by translation, not a mere
rendering of the hymns of the Rig-veda into
English, French, or German, but a full account of
the reasons which justify the translator in assign-
ing such a power to such a word, and such a
meaning to such a sentence. I mean by translation
a real deciphering, a work like that which Burnouf
performed in his first attempts at a translation
of the Avesta, — a traduction raisonnee, if such an
expression may be used. Without such a process.


without a running commentary, a mere translation
of the ancient hymns of the Brahmans will never
lead to any solid results. Even if the translator
has discovered the right meaning of a word or
of a whole sentence, his mere translation does not
help us much, unless he shows us the process by
which he has arrived at it, unless he places before
us the pieces justificatives of his final judgment.
The Yeda teems with words that require a justi-
fication ; not so much the words which occur but
once or twice, though many of these are difficult
enough, but rather the common words and particles,
which occur again and again, which we understand
to a certain point, and can render in a vague way,
but which must be defined before thev can be trans-
lated, and before they can convey to us any real
and tangible meaning. It was out of the question
in a translation of this character to attempt either
an imitation of the original rhythm or metre, or to
introduce the totally foreign element of rhyming.
Such translations may follow by and by : at present
a metrical translation would only be an excuse for
an inaccurate translation.

While engaged in collecting the evidence on
which the meaning of every word and every sen-
tence must be founded, I have derived the most
important assistance from the Sanskrit Dictionary
of Professors Boehtlingk and Eoth, which has been
in course of publication during the last sixteen
years. The Yedic portion of that Dictionary may,



I believe, be taken as the almost exclusive work of
Professor Eotli, and as such, for the sake of brevity,
I shall treat it in my notes. It would be ungrate-
ful were I not to acknowledge most fully the real
benefit which this publication has conferred on
every student of Sanskrit, and my only regret is
that its publication has not proceeded more rapidly,
so that even now years will elapse before we can
hope to see it finished. But my sincere admiration
for the work performed by the compilers of that
Dictionary does not prevent me from differing, in
many cases, from the explanations of Vedic words
given by Professor Roth. If I do not always criti-
cise Professor Roth's explanations when I differ from
him, the reason is obvious. A dictionary without a
fuU translation of each passage, or without a justifica-
tion of the meanings assigned to each word, is only
a preliminary step to a translation. It represents
a first classification of the meanings of the same
word in difierent passages, but it gives us no
means of judging how, according to the opinion
of the compiler; the meaning of each single word
should be made to fit the general sense of a whole
sentence. I do not say this in disparagement,
for, in a dictionary, it can hardly be otherwise ;
I only refer to it in order to explain the difficulty
I felt whenever I differed from Professor Eoth, and
was yet unable to teU how the meaning assigned
by him to certain words would be justified by the
author of the Dictionary himself. On this ground
VOL. I. b


I have throughout preferred to explain every step
by which I arrived at my own renderings, rather
than to write a running criticism of Professor E^oth^s
Dictionary. My obHgations to him I like to express
thus once for all, by statmg that whenever I found
that I agreed with him, I felt greatly assured as
to the soundness of my own rendering, while when-
ever I differed from him, I never did so mthout
careful consideration.

The works, however, which I have hitherto men-
.tioned, though the most important, are by no means
the only ones that have been of use to me m
preparing my translation of the Rig-veda. The
numerous articles on certain hymns, verses, or single
words occurring in the Rig-veda, published by Vedic
scholars in Europe and India during the last thirty
years, were read by me at the time of their publica-
tion, and have helped me to overcome difficulties,
the very existence of which is now forgotten. If I
go back still further, I feel that in grappling with
the first and the greatest of difficulties in the study
of the Veda, I and many others are more deeply
indebted than it is possible to say, to one whose
early loss has been one of the greatest misfortunes
to Sanskrit scholarship. It was in Burnouf^s lectures
that we first learnt what the Veda was, and how
it should form the foundation of aU our studies.
Not only did he most liberally communicate to
his pupils his valuable MSS., and teach us how
to use these tools, but the results of his own


experience were freely placed at our service, we were
warned against researches which he knew to be
useless, we were encouraged in undertakings which
he knew to be full of promise. His minute ana-
lysis of long passages of Sayaiia, his independent
interpretations of the text of the hymns, his com-
parisons between the words and grammatical forms,
the thoughts and legends of the Veda and Avesta,
his brilliant divination checked by an inexorable
sense of truth, and his dry logical method enlivened
by saUies of humour and sparks of imaginative
genius, though not easily forgotten and always
remembered with gratitude, are now beyond the
reach of praise or blame. Were I to criticise what
he or other scholars have said and written many
years ago, they might justly complain of such
criticism. It is no longer necessary to prove that
Nabhanedish^^a cannot mean ' new relatives,' or that
there never was a race of Etendhras, or that the
angels of the Bible are in no way connected with
the Angiras of the Vedic hymns ; and it would,
on the other hand, be a mere waste of time, were
I to attempt to find out who first discovered that
in the Veda deva does not always mean divine,
but sometimes means brilliant. In fact, it could
not be done. In a new subject like that of the
interpretation of the Veda, there are certain things *
which everybody discovers who has eyes to see.
Their discovery requires so little research that it
seems almost an insult to say that they were dis-



covered bv this or that scholar. Take, for instance,
the j)ecuhar pronunciation of certain words, rendered
necessary by the requirements of Vedic metres. I
believe that my learned friend Professor Kuhn was
one of the first to call general attention to the fact
that semivowels must frequently be changed into
their corresponding vowels, and that long vowels
must sometimes be pronounced as two syllables. It
is clear, however, from Rosen^s notes to the first
Ash^aka (i. i, 8), that he, too, was perfectly aware
of this fact, and that he recognized the prevalence
of this rule, not only with regard to semivowels
(see his note to Rv. i. 2, 9) and long vowels which
are the result of Sandhi, but hkewise with regard
to others that occur in the body of a word. *Ani-
madverte,' he writes, *tres syllabas postremas vocis
adhvara7iam dipodise iambicse munus sustinentes,
penultima syllaba prseter iambi prioris arsin, thesin
quoque sequentis pedis ferente. Satis frequentia
sunt, in hac praesertim dipodise iambicse sede,
exempla syllabae natura longse in tres moras pro-
ductae. De qua re nihil quidem memoratum
invenio apud Pmgalam aliosque qui de arte
metrica scripserunt : sed numeros ita, ut modo
dictum est, computandos esse, taciti agnoscere
videntur, quum versus una syllaba mancus non
eos offendat."

Now this is exactly the case. The ancient gram-
marians, as we shall see, teach distinctly that where
two vowels have coalesced into one according to


the rules of Sandhi, they may be pronounced as
two syllables ; and though they do not teach the
same with regard to semivowels and long vowels
occurring in the body of the word, yet they tacitly
recognize that rule, by frequently taking its effects
for granted. Thus in Sutra 950 of the Pratis^khya,
verse ix. iii, i, is called an Atyash^i, and the first
pMa is said to consist of twelve syllables. In order
to get this number, the author must have read,

aya twJc^ hari7iy4 pun^naA.

Immediately after, verse iv. i, 3, is called a Dhriti,
and the first pMa must again have twelve syllables.
Here therefore the author takes it for granted that
we should read,

sakhe sakhayam abhy a vavritsva '^.

No one, in fact, with any ear for rhythm, whether
/Saunaka and Pingala, or Eosen and Kuhn, could
have helped observing these rules when reading the
Veda. But it is quite a different case when we
come to the question as to which words admit of
such protracted pronunciation, and which do not.
Here one scholar may differ from another according
to the view he takes of the character of Vedic

* See also Sutra 937 seq. I cannot find any authority for the
statement of Professor Kuhn (Beitrage, vol. iii. p. 114) that accord-
ing to the Rik-pratisakhya it is the first semivowel that must be
dissolved, unless he referred to the remarks of the commentator
to Sutra 973.


metres, and here one has to take careful account
of the minute and ingenious observations contained
in numerous articles by Professors Kuhn, BoUensen,
Grassmann, and others. With regard to the inter-
pretation of certain words and sentences, too, it may
happen that explanations which have taxed the
inofenuitv of some scholars to the utmost, seem to
others so self-evident that they would hardly think
of quoting anybody's name in support of them, to
say nothing of the endless and useless work it would

Online LibraryF. Max (Friedrich Max) MüllerRig-Veda-Sanhita : the sacred hymns of the Brahmans (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 29)