H. H. (Horace Hayman) Wilson.

Rig-Veda-Sanhitá. A collection of ancient Hindu hymns (Volume 1) online

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By H. H. WILS0:N", ma., F.R.S.

■"mher of the Soyal Asiatic Society, of the Asiatic Societies of Calcutta and Paris, and of the

Oriental Society of Germany; Foreign Member of the National InstittUe of France ;

Member of the Imperial Academies of Petersburgh and Vieima, and of the Royal

Academies of Miinich and Berlin; Ph.D. Breslau; M.D. Marburg, 4-c.,

and Boden Professor of Sanskrit in the University of Oxford.

.listed ttnkr tjip ptrnnagc nf iliE Cnurt nf itrprtnrs nf ifiB iast-lniia Cninpani}.








When the liberal patronage of the Court of Direc-
tors of the East-India ComjDany enabled Dr. Max
Miiller to undertake his invaluable edition of the
Rig-Veda^ a wish was expressed, that its appearance
should be accompanied, or followed, with all conve-
nient despatch, by an English translation. As I had
long contemplated such a work, and had made some
progress, in its execution, even before leaving India,
I readily undertook to complete my labours and pub-
lish the translation.

It might, else, have been thought scarcely necessary
to repeat a translation of the first AsMaka^ Ogdoad,
or Eighth book, of the Rig- Veda ; as that had been,
already, more than once accomplished ; partly, in
English, by the Eev. Mr. Stevenson and Dr. Eoer,
and fully, in Latin, by the late Dr. Eosen. A trans-
lation in Erench, also, by M. Langlois,, extending
through four Ashtakas, or half the Veda, has been re-
cently published at Paris ; but I was not aware, when
I engaged to publish an English translation, that such
a work had been commenced. At the same time, these
translations do not seem to preclude, entirely, the use-
fulness of an English version. The earliest publication,


the work of the Eev. Mr. Stevenson, extends only to
the three first hymns of the third lecture, or section,
out of the eight which the first book, or AsMaJca^
consists of: Dr. Eoer's translation is equally limited,
stopping with two sections, or thirty-two hymns.
Both translations were printed in India, and are pro-
curable, with some difficulty, in this country. Dr.
Eosen's translation of the first book is complete,
as to the text ; but his premature death interrupted
his annotations. Although executed with profound
scholarship and scrupulous exactitude, and every way
deserving of reliance, as an authentic representative
of the original, the Sanskrit is converted into Latin
with such literal fidelity, that the work scarcely ad-
mits of consecutive perusal, and is most of value as
a reference. The translation is, in fact, subordinate to
an edition of the text which it accompanies on the
same page ; and the work is designed less for general
readers than for Sanskrit scholars and students of the
Veda. The principle followed by M. Langlois is the
converse of that adopted by Dr. Eosen ; and he has
avowedly sought to give to the vague and mysterious
passages of the original a clear, simple, and intelligi-
ble interpretation. In this it may be admitted that
he has admirably succeeded ; but it may be, sometimes,
thought that he has not been sufficiently cautious in
his rendering of the text, and that he has diverged
from its plii-aseology, ci?pecially as interpreted by the
native Scholiast, more widely than is advisable. The
real value of the original lies not so much in its merits
as a literary composition, as in the illustration which


it supplies of the most ancient Hindu system of reli-
gious worship and social organization ; and, unless its
language be preserved as far as may be consistent
with intelligibility, erroneous impressions of the facts
and opinions of primitive Hinduism may be produced.
It is, also, to be observed, that M. Langlois has made
his translation from manuscript copies of the Veda
and its commentary, which, whilst it has greatly
enhanced the difficulty and labour of the task, and, so
far, adds to the credit of the translator, suggests less
confidence in the genuineness of the original — as the
manuscripts are, all, more or less defective, — than if
the version had been made from a carefully collated
edition. The present translation possesses, at least,
the advantage, over its predecessors, of an accurate
text ; and it will be the fault of the translator, if he
does not benefit by it. In converting the original
into English, it has been his aim to adhere as strictly
to the original Sanskrit as the necessity of being
intelligible would allow.

It may be almost superfluous to apprise the reader,
that the oldest, and, nominally, the most weighty,
authorities of the Brahmans, for their religion and
institutions, are the Vedas, of which works four are
usually enumerated : the Eic/i^ or Riff- Veda ; the
Yaj'ush, or Yajur- Veda ; the Sdman^ or Scima- Veda ;
and the JHharvana, or Atharva-Vcda. Many passages
are to be found in Sanskrit writings, some in the
Vedas themselves, which limit the number to three;"

* Colcbrooke on the Vedas. — Asiatic liesearches, Vol. viii., p. 370.


and there is no doubt that the fourth, or Atharva-
Veda, although it borrows freely from the Bichj has
little in common with the others, in its gene;ral cha-
racter, or in its style : the language clearly indicates
a different and later era. It may, therefore, be allow-
ably regarded rather as a supplement to three, than
as one of the four, Vedas.

Of the other three Vedas, each has its peculiar
characteristics, although they have much in common ;
and they are, apparently, of different dates, although
not separated, perhaps, by any very protracted interval.
The Rig- Veda consists of metrical prayers, or hymns,
termed Sicktas, — addressed to different divinities, — each
of which is ascribed to a Eishi, a holy or inspired
author. These hymns are put together with little
attempt at methodical arrangement, although such as
are dedicated to the same deity sometimes follow in
a consecutive series. There is not much connexion
in the stanzas of which they are composed; and the
same hymn is, sometimes, addressed to different divi-
nities. There are, in the Veda itself, no directions
for the use and application of the Suktas, no notices
of the occasions on which they are to be employed, or
of the ceremonies at which they are to be recited.
These are pointed out, by subsequent writers, in
Sutras, or precepts relating to the ritual ; and, even
for the reputed authors of the hymns, and for the deities
in whose honour they are composed, we are, for the
most part, indebted to independent authorities, espe-
cially to an AnuJcramanikd, or index, accompanying
each Veda. The Yajiir- Veda differs from the Rich in


being, more particularly, a ritual, or a collection of
liturgical formulse. Tlie prayers, or invocations, wlien
not borrowed from tlie Rich, are, mostly, brief, and
in prose, and are applicable to the consecration of the
utensils and materials of ceremonial worship, as well
as to the praise and worship of the gods. The Sdma-
Veda is little else than a recast of the Rich, being
made up, with very few exceptions, of the very same
hymns, broken into parts, and arranged anew, for the
purpose of being chanted on different ceremonial
occasions. As far, also, as the Atharva-Veda is to be
considered as a Veda, it will be found to comprise
many of the hymns of the Rich." From the extensive
manner, then, in which the hymns of the Rig-Veda
enter into the composition of the other three, we must,
naturally, infer its priority to them, and its greater
importance to the history of the Hindu religion. In
truth, it is to the Rig-Veda that we must have re-
course, principally, if not exclusively, for correct no-
tions of the oldest and most genuine forms of the
institutions, religious or civil, of the Hindus.

These remarks apply to what are termed the San-
hitds of the Vedas, — the aggregate assemblage, in a
single collection, of the prayers, hymns, and liturgic
formulce of which they are composed. Besides the
Sanhitds, the designation Veda includes an extensive
class of compositions, entitled, collectively, Brdhmana,

"■ "By the followers of the A'tkarvaiia, the Richas, or stanzas of
the Rig- Veda, are numerously included in their own Sanhitd (or col-
lection)." — Smjaria Achdrya, Introduction, Miiller's edition, p. 2.


which all Brahmanical writers term an integral portion
of the Veda. According to them, the Veda consists
of two component parts, termed, severally, Mantra and
Brdhmafia ;^ the first being the hymns and formulae
aggregated in the Sanhitd ; the second, a collection of
rules for the application of the 3Iantras, directions for
the performance of particular rites, citations of the
hymns, or detached stanzas, to be repeated on such
occasions, and illustrative remarks, or narratives, ex-
planatory of the origin and object of the rite. Of the
Brdkmana portions of the Rig-Veda^ the most inter-
esting and important is the Aitareya Brdhmaiia, in
which a number of remarkable legends are detailed,
highly illustrative of the condition of Brahmanism
at the time at which it was composed. The Aitareya
Aranyalca, another Brdhmana of this Veda.^ is more
mystical and speculative than practical or legendary ;
of a third, the KaiisJiitaJci, little is known. The Brdh-
mana of the Yajur-Veda, the S'atapatha^ partakes more
of the character of the Aitareya Brdhmaiia : it is of
considerable extent, consisting of fom*teen books, and
contains much curious matter. The Brdhmaiias of the
Sdma and Atharva Vedas are few, and little known ;
and the supplementary portions of these two Vedas are,
more especially, the metaphysical and mystical treatises

* As in the Yajna Parihhdshd of Apastamha, quoted by Sdyana,
" The name Veda is that of both the Mantra and the Bruhmana ;^^
and, again, in the M'lmdnsd, " The Brdhmana and the Mantra are
the two parts of the Veda : that part "which is not Mantra is
Brdhmaiia :^' this constitutes the definition of the latter. — Introduc-
tion, p. 4 and p. 22.


termed Upanishads, belonging to an entii'ely different
state of the Hindu mind from that which the text
of the Vedas sprang from and encouraged. Connected
with, and dependent upon, the Vedas generally, also
are the treatises on grammar, astronomy, intonation,
prosody, ritual, and the meaning of obsolete words,
called the Veddngas. Eut these are not portions of
the Veda itself, but supplementary to it, and, in the
form in which we have them, are not, perhaps, alto-
gether genuine, and, with a few exceptions, are not of
much importance. Besides these works, there are the
Prdtisdlchyas^ or treatises on the grammar of the Veda,
and the Sutras^ or aphorisms, inculcating and describ-
ing its practices ; the whole constituting a body of
Vaidik literature the study of which would furnish
occupation for a long and laborious life. A small
part only is yet in print. ISTone of the Brdhmanas
are published ; neither are the Sutras or Prdti-
sdkhyasJ' The Upanisliads have been more fortunate
in finding editors.^ The texts of the Sanhltds of the
Veda are in progress ; as, besides the present edition
of the Rich^ an edition of the Vdjasiineyi portion of

* Part of the first KdnSta of the Satapatha Brdhnaiia has heen
printed by Dr. Weber, concurrently with his edition of the text of
the Yajur- Veda ; and it is his intention to complete it.

^ Some of the shorter Upanishads were printed, with translations,
by llammohun Roy ; and five of those of the Yajush have been pub-
lished by M. Poley: Berlin, 1844. The Brihaddraiiyalca has been
printed by the Asiatic Society of Calcutta, under the editorship of
Dr. Eoer, in their Bibliothcca Indica; and the Chhdndogya Upani-
shad has been begun in the same series.


the Yajur- Veda has been commenced, — by Dr. "Weber,
at Berlin, — the publication of which has been, also,
liberally aided by the Court of Directors.

The text of the Sanhitd of the Sdma- Veda, and a
translation by the Eev. Mr. Stevenson, were published,
some years since, by the Oriental Translation Fund ;
and a more carefully elaborated edition of the same,
with a translation in German, and a copious glossary
and index, has been recently published by Professor
Benfey, of Gottingen. In time, therefore, we shall
be well supplied with the Mantra portion of the Veda :
but there is yet but a partial and distant prospect of
our having the Brd/imana printed, and being, thus,
enabled, from adequate materials, to determine how
far the whole may be legitimately considered as a
constituent part of the Veda.

From a careful examination of the Aitarejja Brdh-
mana, with an excellent commentary by Sayana
Aclidrya, it is sufficiently evident, that this work, at
least, is of a totally distinct description from the col-
lection of the Mantras, or the SanJiitd, of the JRig-Veda.
Although, no doubt, of considerable antiquit}^, it is,
manifestly, of a date long subsequent to the original
Suktas, or hymns, from the manner in which they are
quoted, — not systematically, or continuously, or com-
pletely, but separately, unconnectedly, and partially;
a few phrases only being given, forming the beginning,
not even of an entire hymn, but of an isolated stanza,
occurring in any part of the hymn, or in any part of the
Sanhitd ; consequently proving, that the Sanhitd must
have been compiled, and widely circulated, and gene-


rally studied, before such mutilated citations could be
recognized, or verified, by those to whom the Brdhmana
was presented. It is evident, also, that the great
body of the Brahmanical ritual must have been
sanctioned by established practice, before the Brdh-
mana could have been compiled; as its main object
is the application of the detached texts of the SanJiitd
to the performance of the principal ceremonies and
sacrifices of the Brahmans, enforcing their necessity
and efiicacy by texts and arguments, and illustrating
their origin and consequences by traditional narratives
and popular legends, the invention and currency of
which must have been the work of time,— of a very
long interval between the Sanhitd^ in which little or
nothing of the kind appears, and the Brdhmana, in
which such particulars abound. Again, we find, in
the Brdhmana, the whole system of social organization
developed, the distinction of caste fully established,
and the Brdhmana, Kshattriija, Vai'sya, and S'udra re-
peatedly named by their proper appellations, and
discriminated by their peculiar offices and relative
stations, as in the code of Manu. A cursory inspec-
tion of the S'atapatha Brdhmana, as far as j)ublished,
and of some of its sections in manuscript, shows it to
be of a character similar to the Aitarejja ; or it may
be even, perhaps, of a later era : and we may venture
to affirm, in opposition to the consentient assertions
of Brahmanical scholars and critics, that neither of
these works has the slightest claim to be regarded as
the counterpart and contemporary of the Sanhitd, or
as an integral part of the Veda; understanding, by


that expression, the primitive record of the religious
belief and observances, and of the archaic institutions,
of Hindu society.

Whilst acknowledging, with occasional exceptions,
the early date of the Brdlwimias, and accepting them
as valuable illustrations of the application of the
primitive hymns and texts of the Sanhitd, we must
look to the latter alone, as a safe guide, in our inquiries
into the most ancient condition of the Hindus; and we
must endeavour to convey a more precise notion of
what is meant by the designation, as it is exemplified
in the Veda which has been taken as the text of the
following translation, and which, as has been shown,
may be regarded as the source and model of the other
works similarly named.

According to the credible traditions of the Hindus,
the Siiktas, the prayers and hymns — now collected as
a Sanhitd, — had existed, in a separate and individual
form, long before they were assembled and arranged
in the order and connexion in which they are now
met with. In the Biff- Veda the number of SuJctas is
something above a thousand, containing rather more
than ten thousand stanzas. They are arranged in two
methods. One divides them amongst eight Khancias
(portions), or AshhJcas (eighths), each of which is,
again, subdivided into eight Adhydyas, or lectures.
The other plan classes the SuJctas under ten Maridalas,
or circles, subdivided into rather more than a hundred
Anuvd/cas, or sub-sections. A further subdivision of
the Sulctas into Vargas, or paragraj)hs, of about five
stanzas each, is common to both classifications. The


hymns are of various extent : in one or two instances, a
Sukta consists of a single stanza ; in some, of a number
of stanzas ; but the average number, as follows from the
above totals of one thousand hymns and ten thousand
stanzas, is, of course, about ten. The hymns are
composed in a great variety of metres, several of
which are peculiar to the Vedas, and the variety and
richness of which evince an extraordinary cultivation
of rhythmical contrivance. In general, a hymn is ad-
dressed to a single deity, but, sometimes, to two ; and,
occasionally, the verses are distributed among a greater
number. The divinities are various ; but the far larger
number of the hymns in this first book of the Etch, and,
as far as has been yet ascertained, in the other books,
also, are dedicated to Agni and Indea, the deities, or
personifications, of Fire and the Firmament. Of the
one hundred and twenty-one hymns contained in the
first Ashiaka^ for instance, thirty-seven are addressed
to Agni alone, or associated with others ; and forty-five,
to Indra : of the rest, twelve are addressed to the
Maetjts, or Winds, the friends and followers of Indea;
and eleven, to the Aswins, the sons of the Sun ;
four, to the personified dawn; four, to the Yiswa-
DEVAS, or collective deities ; and the rest, to inferior
divinities; — an appropriation which unequivocally
shows the elemental character of the religion. In
subsequent portions of the Veda, a few hymns oc-
cur Avhicli seem to be of a poetical, or fanciful,
rather than of a religious, tendency ; as one, in which
there is a description of the revival of the frogs, on
the setting in of the rainy season; and another, in


wliich a gamester complains of his ill success : but we
shall better appreciate the character of such seeming
exceptions, when we come to them. Each Sukta has,
for its reputed author, a Ilishi, or inspired teacher, by
whom, in Brahmanical phraseology, it has been origin-
ally seen, that is, to whom it was revealed ; the Vedas
being, according to later mythological fictions, the un-
created dictation of Brahma. For the names of the
Eiskis, except when incidentally mentioned in the
hymn, we are indebted, as above remarked, to an
index of the contents of the Veda, which also specifies
the metre and the number of stanzas of each hymn,
and the deity worshij)ped. It is an old book, and of
high authority ; but, inasmuch as it is of later compo-
sition than the text, it may not, always, be regarded as
of unquestionable correctness. Most of the Rishis are
familiar to the legends of the Purdiias, as Gotama,
Kanwa, Bharadwaja, Vasishtha, Viswamitra, and
others. To some of these a number of hymns are at-
tributed ; to others, of less note, and, perhaps, only of
imaginar}^ existence, one or two only are ascribed. The
arrangement of the Suktas by AsMakas does not seem
to depend upon any fixed principle. Of that by Maii-
&alas, six out of the ten " circles" comprise hymns by
the same individual, or by members of the same family :
thus, the hymns of the second Maiiclala are ascribed
to Gritsamada, the son of S'unahotra, of the family
of Angiras; those of the third, to Viswamitra and
his sons, or kinsmen ; of the fourth, to Vamadeva ;
of the fifth, to Atri and his sons, who are of rather
equivocal nomenclature ; of the sixth, to Bhara-


DWAJA ; and, of the seventh, to Yasishtha and his
descendants. The Rishis of the first and the three
last Mandalas are more miscellaneous ; the hymns of
the ninth Circle are, all, addressed to Soma, the Moon-
plant, or its deified impersonation. This arrangement
has been considered as the older and more original
of the two ; the distribution into Asht'alcas being
intended for the convenience of instruction ; forming,
through their subdivisions, — Adhjdyas and Vargas^ —
so many lectures, or lessons, to be learned by the
scholar. The inference is not improbable; but we
are scarcely yet qualified to come to any positive con-
clusion. The more usual division of the manuscripts
is that into AsMaJcas; and in neither case is the prin-
ciple of classification so unequivocally manifested as
to suggest reasonable grounds for a departure from
the established practice.

The absence of any obvious dependency of the
SuJdas upon one another is sufficiently indicative of
their separate and unsystematic origin. That they
are the compositions of the patriarchal sages to whom
they are ascribed is, sometimes, apparent from allu-
sions which they make to the name of the author or
of his family : but these indications are of unfrequent
recurrence ; and Ave must trust, in general, to tradition,
as preserved by the AniikramaniJcd, for the acciu-acy of
the appropriation. Their being addressed to the same
divinity is a less equivocal test of community ; and they,
probably, were composed, in many instances, by the
heads of families, or of schools following a similar form
of worship, and adoring, in preference, particular dcifi-


cations. Besides the internal evidence afforded by
difference of style, the hymns^ not nnfrequently, avow a
difference of date ; and we find some ascribed to ancient
Ihishis, while others admit their being of netv or newest
composition. The great variety of metres employed
shows, also, a progressive development of the j)owers
of the language, which could have been the effect only
of long and diligent cultivation. There can be little
doubt, therefore, that they range through a consider-
able interval ; although, as far as respects their general
purport, they belong to the same condition of belief,
and to a period during which no change of any im-
portance took place in the national creed. The same
divinities are worshipped in a similar strain, and, with
one or two doubtful exceptions, — which are, possibly,
interpolations, or which may admit of explanation, —
offer nothing that is contradictory or incongruous.
This is the more remarkable, as there can be little
doubt that the hymns were taught, originally, orally,
and that the knowledge of them was perpetuated by
the same mode of tuition. This is sufficiently ap-
parent from their construction: they abound with
elliptical phrases ; with general epithets, of which the
application is far from obvious, until explained ; with
brief comparisons, which cannot be appreciated with-
out such additional details as a living teacher might
be expected to supply ; and with all those blanks and
deficiencies which render the written text of the
Vedas still unintelligible, in many passages, without
the assistance of the Scholiast, and which he is alone
enabled to fill up by the greater or less fidelity Avith


which the traditional explanations of the first viva
voce interpreters, or, perhaps, of the authors of the
hymns themselves, have come down to his time. The
explanation of a living teacher, or of a commentator,
must have been indispensable to a right understanding
of the meaning of the Siiktas, in many passages, from
the moment of their first communication : and the
probability is in favour of an oral instructor, as most
in harmony with the unconnected and unsystematic
currency of the hymns; with the restricted use of

Online LibraryH. H. (Horace Hayman) WilsonRig-Veda-Sanhitá. A collection of ancient Hindu hymns (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 26)