Women in the Atharva-veda Samhita

by Pranab Jyoti Kalita | 2017 | 62,142 words

This page relates ‘Goddess Grahi’ 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.

The name of Grāhi, in the sense of a hostile force, occurs in the Ṛgveda[1] only for once. The Ṛgvedic mantra is repeated in the Atharvaveda[2] for two times, where some more aspects to the character of Grāhi are added.

The name Grāhi does not appear in the list of the deities, prepared by the Atharvavedīya Bṛhatsarvānukramaṇikā. Yet, she has been brought into discussion only because of the reason that the word devatā is mentioned along with her name, though as a pāpadevatā,[3] i.e. a sinful deity.

In the Atharvaveda, Grāhi is presented as a deity of sin.[4] Sāyaṇācārya[5] has called her a piśācī, a word to denote hostile forces. He[6] has interpreted the name Grāhi as grahaṇaśīlā, i.e. one who seizes. She is also called rākṣasī and brahmarākṣasī.[7] In one context, Grāhi herself is identified with pāpman, i.e. sin.[8] Again, in another reference,[9] Grāhi is presented as an epithet of Nirṛti, another goddess of misfortune. She is also called the mother of dreams.[10]

One, who is captured by Grāhi, suffers from Rājayakṣman, i.e. tuberculosis and hence, Indrāgnī are prayed to release that one from her seizure.[11] To free one from her capture, gods are prayed to destroy her with the help of certain mantras.[12] Like some other gods, as such Varuṇa, Nirṛti, etc., Grāhi also possesses certain fetter and Agni is invoked to free one from the bonds of her fetter.[13] One’s father, mother and sons are wanted to be detached from Grāhi with the help of Agni.[14] A patient Yakṣman is solaced as being freed from Grāhi.[15] As she is harmful, hence, is wanted to be killed.[16] It is stated in the Atharvaveda that when the husband of certain woman dies, Grāhi dwells in her house and to remove her from the house, the woman should take help from learned persons.[17] She is spoken of as capturing on one’s joints on the new moon day and to get rid of its evil consequences, the use of certain maṇi, i.e. amulet, prepared from ten types of plants is referred to in the Atharvaveda.[18] With the help of certain vānaspatya, she is spoken of as being overcome.[19] Sāyaṇācārya[20] has called her as tamorūpā piśācī, which implies her appearance as darkness.

But, interestingly, the Atharvavedic seers attempted to guide this evil force, i.e. Grāhi for their welfare. They lauded Apvā, another god of misfortune to injure their enemies being associated with Grāhi.[21] Thus, they directed her malignity to their enemies for the well-being of their own. Besides these, interestingly, in one mantra,[22] Grāhi is identified with one herb, which is used to prepare an ointment, especially for the eyes. There, she is implored to protect the invokers from the four fetters of Nirṛti.[23]

From the references furnished above, it is observed that Grāhi is mostly characterised by malevolent nature with a single exception, and even after that the seers utilized her malignity for their well-being through their exaltations.

Footnotes and references:


Ṛgveda, 1.161.1


Atharvaveda, 3.11.1; 20.96.6


Sāyaṇa, Ibid., 3.2.5; 6.113.1


grāhiḥ grahaṇaśīlā pāpadevatā / Sāyaṇa on Atharvaveda, 6.113.1


grāhiḥ grahaṇaśīlā piśācī / Sāyaṇa on Atharvaveda, 3.11.1


Sāyaṇa on Atharvaveda, 2.9.1; 3.11.1; 6.112.1; 113.1


yā grāhirbrahmarākṣasī / Sāyaṇa on Atharvaveda, 2.9.1


grāhiṃ pāpmānamati tāṃ ayāma … / Atharvaveda, 12.3.18


arādarātiṃ nirṛtiṃ paro grāhiṃ … / Ibid., 8.2.12 grahaṇaśīlām evaṃvidhāṃ nirṛtim / Sāyaṇa, Ibid.


vidma te svapna janitraṃ grāhyāḥ … / Atharvaveda, 16.5.1


muñcāmi tvā haviṣā jīvanāya kamajñātayakṣmāduta rājayakṣmāt / Ibid., 3.11.1


tato yadi tvā grāhirānaśe tāṃ te devā brahmaṇā nāśayantu / Ibid., 6.113.1


sa grāhyāḥ pāśān vi cṛt prajānana tubhyaṃ devā anu jānantu viśve / Ibid., 6.112.1


… pitāputrau mātaraṃ muñca sarvān / Ibid., 6.112.2


amukthā yakṣmād duritādavadyād druhaḥ pāśād grāhyāścodamukthā / Ibid., 2.10.6


Ibid., 8.2.12


grāhyāḥ gṛhāḥ saṃ sṛjyante striyā yanmriyate patiḥ / brahmaiva vidvāneṣyo ya kravyādaṃ nirādadhat // Ibid., 12.2.39


daśavṛkṣa muñcemaṃ rakṣaso grāhyā adhi yainaṃ jagrāha parvasu / Ibid., 2.9.1


vānaspatya udyato mā jihiṃsīrmā … / Ibid., 12.3.18


tamorūpayā grāhyā piśācyā / Sāyaṇa, Ibid., 3.2.5


… śākairgrāhyāmitrāṃstamasā vidhya śatrūn / Atharvaveda, 3.2.5


grāhyāḥ grahītavyā āñjanamayā oṣadhayaścaturbhyo / Sāyaṇa, Ibid., 19.45.5


caturvīraṃ naiṛtebhyaścaturbhyo grāhyā bandhebhyaḥ pari pātvasmān / Atharvaveda, 19.45.5

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