Women in the Atharva-veda Samhita

by Pranab Jyoti Kalita | 2017 | 62,142 words

This page relates ‘Importance of the Atharvaveda in the Vedic Literature’ of the study on women in the Vedic society reflecting the Atharva-veda Samhita in English. These pages discusses the social aspects of women, education, customs of marriage, practices of polyandry and polygamy, descriptions of female deities and various rites and rituals. It is shown how women earned much praise in ancient Indian society. Included are Sanskrit text and references of the Atharvaveda and commentary by Sayana-Acharya.

6. Importance of the Atharvaveda in the Vedic Literature

The confusions and suspicions in regard to the recognition to the Atharvaveda as a Veda proper have already been hinted earlier, with reference to the views of some scholars. Amongst the denotative terms of Veda, trayī is read. But, whether the term brings the Atharvaveda under its coverage, or embraces only the first three Vedas is a controversy. The Atharvaveda finds no place in the Ṛgvedic reference where the origination of the Vedas has been spoken of from the cosmic sacrifice.[1] The Aitareyabrāhmaṇa[2] also omits this Veda while explaining the divine origin of the other three Vedas. The Taittirīyabrāhmaṇa[3] has also dropped the name of the Atharvaveda and mentions only the other three Vedas, when it describes the relation of the Sun god with the Vedas. Even more, the Atharvaveda[4] itself, in some references, drops its own name, and mentions only Ṛk, Yajus and Sāman. Karambelkar,[5] in this regard, holds that the Atharvaveda is rather shy in indulging in self-glorification. But, noticeably, in many other references,[6] the Atharvaveda mentions itself under different names.

The distinct character of the Atharvaveda is, thus, apparent. For its being the repository of witchcraft and other sorcery practices are perhaps the reason behind the hesitation to place the Atharvaveda in the same row with the other Vedas. In fact, it is observed in the non-Atharvanic tradition of the Vedas that sorcery was censured,[7] and often the Atharvanic priests were even feared.[8] A Brāhmaṇa, skilled in the Atharvaveda is regarded as a hiṃsaka, i.e. injurious in the lexicographical treatises.[9] Such sort of observations, in case of the Atharvaveda, has its impact in present time also. In the words of Gonda,[10] “Even in modern times, there have been brahmins who refused to recognize the authority of the promulgators of the fourth Veda, because of a certain prejudice prevailing against it. Even today brahmins of the other Vedas do not dine or marry with the Atharvanic Brahmins (paippalādins) of Orissa.” As it has been pointed out by Winternitz,[11] the Atharvaveda is not included by the term trayī, because of the fact that the Atharvaveda is the Veda of black magic, or of popular believes and therefore, the priestly class hesitated to recognize it as a Veda in the truest sense of the term. In this context, reference may be made to Jaimini, who has explained the terms ṛk, sāman and yajus. According to Jaimini, ṛk means that type of mantra, where pādas are arranged in conformity with the sense of the mantra.[12] The term sāman, again, stands for the mantras, which are chanted.[13] The rest of the Vedic compositions are known by the term yajus.[14] Thus, it is quite apparent that the terms ṛk, sāman and yajus do not represent three Vedas, but, three types of mantras. From this point of view, it seems that the term trayī refers to these three types of mantras, and if it is so, then the Atharvaveda should become enumerated by the term trayī, as because, the threefold character of the mantras is seen in the Atharvaveda too.

Jayantabhaṭṭa,[15] in this context, observes thus,

atharvavedastu trayātmaka eva, tatra hi ṛco yajuṃṣi sāmāni iti trīṇyapi santi tena brahmatvaṃ kriyamāṇaṃ trayyā kṛtaṃ bhavati /

Thus, it appears that the Atharvaveda does not only deserve its position just as one of the four Vedas, but, as a Veda, which comprehends the other three Vedas also. In the Gopathabrāhmaṇa,[16] it is stated that Brahmā, the priest, well-versed in the Atharvaveda should be considered to be versed in all. In the Nirukta[17] also, Brahmā is regarded as sarvavid. This shows the significance of the Atharvaveda. So far the references, where the Atharvaveda has not been mentioned along with the other three Vedas, are concerned, the words of Bali[18] may be quoted here, ‘… if some mantras do not mention Atharvaveda then it will only suffice to supplement that it is neither inevitable nor necessary for any mantras of any of the four Vedas to mention together all the four names of the Vedas wherever there is an occasion to make such a mention.’

That the Atharvaveda is reckoned at the fourth position in some Upaniṣadic references has already been mentioned earlier. The Muṇḍakopaniṣad[19] also, in the same tune, counts the Atharvaveda as the fourth Veda. The works of post-Vedic literature also, such as the Mahābhārata,[20] the Rāmāyaṇa,[21] the Purāṇas,[22] have referred to the Vedas being four. In the Aṣṭādhyāyī[23] too, the Atharvaveda appears in its confirmed position as the fourth Veda.

In spite of its being the fourth Veda, the Atharvaveda holds a significant place in the Vedic literature. Its importance has been advocated by some scholars of both ancient and modern period on the basis of various grounds. Sāyaṇācārya,[24] at the very beginning of his introduction to the commentary on the Atharvaveda, states that unlike the other three Vedas, which are meant for the next world, the Atharvaveda promises to fulfil both the worldly and otherworldly desires. He further refers to the functions of Brahmā, the priest, who has superiority over the other priests, and who represents the Atharvaveda in the Vedic sacrifices. Unless the representation of the Atharvaveda, Brahmā’s role in the sacrifice keeps no value and this makes the sacrifice fruitless.[25] With reference to certain Vedic texts, Sāyaṇācārya[26] observes that half of the work in a sacrifice is performed with the help of the threefold Vedas and the remaining half is accomplished by the Atharvaveda. From this point of view, the Atharvaveda deserves a place of importance. This Veda, according to the Gopathabrāhmaṇa,[27] having originated from penance, is the best of all the Vedas. Elsewhere, Sāyaṇācārya[28] has stated that the Atharvaveda is the essence of all the Vedas and hence, is the best one.

In some of the Purāṇic scriptures also, the Atharvaveda has been offered an exalted position. In the Skandapurāṇa,[29] it is stated that one achieves all the good consequences, described in an Atharvavedic mantra if the same is muttered with due veneration. The Viṣṇupurāṇa,[30] again, throwing light on the pauṣṭika aspect of the Veda, speaks thus, paurohityaṃ śāntipauṣṭikāni śajñām atharvavedena kārayed brahmatvaṃ ca, i.e. a King’s appeasing and priestly rites should be performed with the Atharvaveda. In the Matsyapurāṇa,[31] it is said that a priest should be versed in the mantra and brāhmaṇa portion of the Atharvaveda. That a king, initiated with the mantras of the Atharvaveda, rules over the Earth, is recorded in the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa.[32] The kingdom, where, an expert of the Atharvavedic śānti mantras stays, becomes prosperous without any obstacle and hence, a king should pay due honour to such priestly persons.[33]

The Gopathabrāhmaṇa[34] glorifies the Atharvaveda by stating that a person, initiated by the non-Atharvavedic injunctions is not eligible to study the Atharvaveda, but, if it is done according to the Atharvavedic injunction, he can study the other Vedas. Furthermore, the Gopathabrāhmaṇa, laying emphasis on the significance of the Atharvaveda, holds that the Atharvaveda, unlike the other three Vedas, has no limitation of any kind.

From the above discussion, it is clear that the Atharvaveda has been accorded a place of great importance in Vedic as well as post-Vedic literature.

Footnotes and references:


tasmādyajñāt sarvahuta ṛcaḥ sāmāni jajñire / chandāṃsi jajñire tasmādyajustasmādajāyata // Ṛgveda, 10.90.9


… trayo vedā ajāyanta ṛgveda evāgnerajāyata yajurvedo vāyoḥ sāmaveda ādityāt … / Aitareya-brāhmaṇa,


cf., Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa,


cf., Atharvaveda, 7.54


Vide, Karambelkar, V. W., Op.cit., p.220


cf., Atharvaveda, 10.7.20; 11.6.14; 19.54.5


cf., Ṛgveda, 8.104.15-16; Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa,


cf., Kāṭhapa-saṃhitā., 16.16; Kauṣitaki-brāhmaṇa, 30.6


Vide, Apte, V. S., The Student’s Sanskrit-English Dictionary, p.639; under the word hiṃsaka.


Vide, Gonda, J., Op.cit., p.268


Vide, Winternitz, M., A History of Indian Literature, Vol. I, p.114 Also vide, Griffith, R.T.H. (ed. & trans.), Hymns of the Atharvaveda, Vol. I, p.vi


teṣāṃ ṛgyatrārthavaśena pādavyavasthā / Jaimini-sūtra, 2.1.35


gītiṣu sāmākhyā / Ibid., 2.1.36


śeṣe yajuḥ śabdaḥ / Ibid., 2.1.37


eṣa ha vai vidvān sarvavid brahma yad bhṛgvaṅgirovid / Gopatha-brāhmaṇa, 1.4.11


brahmā sarvavidyaḥ / Nirukta, 1.8


Vide, Bali, S. Kāṭhapa-saṃhitā (ed.), Op.cit., p.41


tatrāparā ṛgvedo yajurvedaḥ sāmavedo’tharvavedaḥ … / Muṇḍaka-upaniṣad, 1.1.5


cf., Mahābhārata, 7.51.22; 9.41.3, 4


cf., Rāmāyaṇa, 2.26.21


cf., Matsyapurāṇa, 144.11; Viṣṇupurāṇa, 3.3.20


cf., Aṣṭādhyāyī, 4.3.13; 6.4.174


vyākhyāya vedatritayamāmuṣmikaphalapradam / aihikāmuṣmikaphalaṃ caturthaṃ vyākariṣyati // Sāyaṇa in his Introduction to the commentary on Atharvaveda Vide, Gaud, R. S. (ed. & trans.), Op.cit., Vol. I, p.3


ṛgvedena hautrameva pratipādyate yajuṣā ādhvaryavam sāmnā audgātram iti vedatrayasya pratiniyataprayogapratipādanaparatvāt avaśiṣṭabrahmakartavyatāpratipādakaścaturtho vedo vyāruyeyaḥ tadabhāve yajñaśarīrasya aniṣpatteriti / Sāyaṇa in his Introduction to the commentary on Atharvaveda Vide, Gaud, R. S. (ed. & trans.), Op.cit., Vol. I, p.5


ata eva vāṅmanasinirvartyamānasya yajñaśarīrasya ardhameva tribhirvedairniṣpādyate / arthāntaraṃ tu atharvavedenaiveti śrūyate / Sāyaṇa in his Introduction to the commentary on Atharvaveda Vide, Gaud, R. S. (ed. & trans.), Op.cit., Vol. I, p.7


śreṣṭho hi vedastapasodhi jāto brahmajñānāṃ hṛdaye saṃbabhūva / Gopatha-brāhmaṇa, 1.9


ata eva sarvasāratvād ayaṃ vedaḥ śreṣṭhaḥ / Sāyaṇa in his Introduction to the commentary on Atharvaveda Vide, Gaud, R. S. (ed. & trans.), Op.cit., Vol. I, p.13


yastatrātharvaṇān mantrān japecchraddhāsamanvitaḥ / teṣām arthodbhavaṃ kṛtsnaṃ phalaṃ prāpnoti sa dhruvam // Skandapurāṇa, Kamalālayakhaṇḍa as quoted by Sāyaṇa in his Introduction to the commentary on Atharvaveda Vide, Gaud, R. S. (ed. & trans.), Op.cit., Vol. I, p.14


As quoted by Sāyaṇa in his Introduction to the commentary on Atharvaveda Vide, Gaud, R. S. (ed. & trans.), Op.cit., Vol. I, p.15


purohitaṃ tathātharvamantrabrāhmaṇapāragam / Matsyapurāṇa as quoted by Sāyaṇa in his Introduction to the commentary on Atharvaveda Vide, Gaud, R. S. (ed. & trans.), Op.cit., Vol. I, p.16


abhiṣiktotharvamantrairmahīṃ bhuṃkte sasāgarām / Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa as quoted by Sāyaṇa in his Introduction to the commentary on Atharvaveda Vide, Gaud, R. S. (ed. & trans.), Op.cit., Vol. I, p.16


yasya rājño janapade atharvā śāntipāragaḥ / nivasatyapi tad rāṣṭraṃ vardhate niripadravam // tasmād rājā viśeṣeṇa atharvāṇaṃ jitendriyam / dānasaṃmānasatkārairnityaṃ samabhipūjayet // Atharvapariśiṣṭa, 4.6 as quoted by Sāyaṇa in his Introduction to the commentary on Atharvaveda Vide, Gaud, R. S. (ed. & trans.), Op.cit., Vol. I, pp.16-17


bhṛgvaṅgirovidā saṃskṛto’nyān vedānadhīyīta, nānyatra saṃskṛto bhṛgvaṅgiraso’dhīyīta / Gopatha-brāhmaṇa, 1.1.29

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