Women in the Atharva-veda Samhita

by Pranab Jyoti Kalita | 2017 | 62,142 words

This page relates ‘Goddess Kritya’ 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 use of certain black magic and witchcrafts to hinder, or to harm one’s loathed party was in vogue in the days of the Atharvaveda. As the witchcrafts or such performances are motionless and hence, cannot go to the enemies, therefore, one kind of evil entities, called Piśācīs are produced through the magical rites and these entities are called Kṛtyā.[1] In one reference of the Atharvaveda, Sāyaṇācārya[2] has interpreted Kṛtyā as an idol made from wood or soil. So, summarily it may be assumed that while performing any rite relating to black magic, an earthen or a wooden idol was made up and malign nature was imposed upon the same through due magical performances and was directed to the rival party. The performance of Kṛtyā serves twofold purposes, firstly, to harm one’s enemy and secondly, to protect oneself from the evil consequences of Kṛtyā, performed by others.

Like human beings, Kṛtyā is also assigned with certain organs like head, nose and ears.[3] She is called viśvarūpā,[4] i.e. of varied form and her multiple forms having two legs, four legs and eight legs are also presented in the Atharvaveda.[5] She is equated with a bride in her wedding.[6] She is anointed, well-adorned and smeared.[7] As the wind uproots plants, likewise, Kṛtyā is asked to crush down one’s enemy and to destroy all his cattle, horses and men, and to make him childless.[8] She is implored to return to her originator and to destroy his offspring.[9] She is questioned whatever she wants in the sacrificer’s home,[10] and is asked to go back to the performer in the same way as a daughter returns to her father’s home.[11] The witchcraft-maker is wanted to be hurled by Bhava and Śarva with the divine weapon.[12] Even, Kṛtyā is threatened of cutting her neck or feet and is wanted to be compelled to run out from one’s home.[13] Gods like Indra, Agni and Soma are entreated to protect one against Kṛtyā and to favour the same.[14]

On the other hand, Kṛtyā is beseeched not to injure the cows, horses or men of the person on whom Kṛtyā is performed.[15] This is because the slaughtering of an innocent being is heinous.[16] Leaving the innocents, she is asked to return to the performer[17] and kill the same.[18] In one reference,[19] it is stated that the witchcraft-maker has sent forth Kṛtyā to his enemy in an improper way due to his ignorance and the victimised one speaks to send back Kṛtyā to her original source in the proper manner.

Unlike other goddesses, Kṛtyā is called abhāgā,[20] i.e. the unfortunate one. The performance of Kṛtyā is accomplished on gārhapatya fire[21] or on kravyād fire.[22] The performance of Kṛtyā may be practised in various places like fields,[23] houses,[24] crematories,[25] weapons,[26] war-drums,[27] places where wind blows,[28] assemblies,[29] etc. Kṛtyā is put in a raw vessel, in the mixed grains, in raw flesh.[30] She is practised on a cock,[31] a goat,[32] a ewe,[33] an ass[34] and cows[35] and men.[36]

In the Atharvaveda, though it is stated that the Aṅgirases are well-expertised in the performance of Kṛtyā,[37] but, yet, it may be performed by the Śūdras, women and even by the king himself.[38] Besides, gods also, sometimes, perform Kṛtyā.[39]

The Atharvaveda[40] refers to three types of Kṛtyās, one is performed by the Aṅgirases, one by the Asuras and the other one is svayaṃkṛtā, i.e. the Kṛtyā who obtains the performer himself due to some mistakes on the part of the user. Of these, the first two are called together as the non-human Kṛtyā, and svayaṃkṛtā is called mānuṣyaḥ, i.e. humans’ one.[41]

However, to get rid of the evil effects of Kṛtyā and to ward off the same, the use of an amulet, called srāktya, made of the plant Tilaka is provided by the Atharvan seers.[42] Besides, the plants Apamārga,[43] Sahadevī,[44] Jaṅgiḍa[45] are also useful in repelling Kṛtyā and hence, are extolled for the same.

Thus, it is observed that Kṛtyā, the malignant entity was feared much by the Vedic people and they attempted to direct her malignity to their enemies and thus, to keep themselves safe.

Footnotes and references:


kṛtyāḥ abhicārakarmabhirutpāditāḥ piśācyaḥ / abhicārakarmāṇi jaḍatvāt svayameva śatrusamīpam āgatya na nighnanti kiṃ tu hiṃsikāḥ piśācīrutpādayanti / Sāyaṇa, Ibid.,19.9.9


kṛtyā nāma mṛddārvādinā nirmitaputtalyādi / Sāyaṇa on Atharvaveda,19.34.2


śīrṣaṇvatī nasvatī karṇinī kṛtyākṛtā saṃbhṛtā viśvarūpā / Atharvaveda, 10.1.2




yadyeyatha dvipadī catuṣpadī kṛtyākṛtā saṃbhṛtā viśvarūpā / setoṣṭāpadī bhūtvā punaḥ parehi ducchune // Ibid., 10.1.24


yāṃ kalpayanti vahatau vadhūmiva … / Ibid., 10.1.1


abhyaktāktā svaraṃkṛtā sarvaṃ bharantī dūritaṃ parehi / Ibid., 10.1.25


vāta iva vṛkṣān ni mṛṇīhi pādaya mā gāmaśvaṃ puruṣamucchiṣa eṣām / kartṛṛn nivṛtyetaḥ kṛtye prajāstvāya bodhaya // Ibid., 10.1.17


tadetu yata ābhṛtaṃ tatrāśva iva vi vartatāṃ hantu kṛtyākṛtaḥ prajām / Ibid., 10.1.19


… kimihecchasi / Ibid., 10.1.20


jānīhi kṛtye kartāraṃ duhiteva pitaraṃ svam / Ibid., 10.1.25


bhavāśarvāvasyatāṃ pāpakṛte kṛtyākṛte / duṣkṛte vidyutaṃ devahetim // Ibid., 10.1.23


grīvāste kṛtye pādau cāpi kartsyāmi nirdrava / Ibid., 10.1.21


cf., Ibid., 10.1.21, 22


anāgohatyā vai bhīmā kṛtye mā no gāmaśvaṃ puruṣaṃ vadhīḥ / Ibid., 10.1.29




taṃ kṛtyebhinivartasva māsmāniccho anāgasaḥ / Ibid., 10.1.7


pratyak pratiprahiṇmo yathā kṛtyākṛtaṃ hanat / Ibid., 10.1.5


apathenā jabhāraiṇāṃ tāṃ pathetaḥ pra hiṇmasi / Ibid., 5.31.10


Ibid., 5.31.11


yāṃ te cakrurgārhapatye pūrvāgnāvuta duścitaḥ / Ibid., 5.31.5


yāṃ te cakruḥ puruṣāsthe agnau saṃkasuke ca yām / Ibid., 5.31.9


yāṃ kṣetre cakruryāṃ … / Ibid., 10.1.4


chadmani kṛtyāṃ yāṃ cakruḥ … / Ibid., 5.31.8


yāṃ te kṛtyāṃ kūpevadadhuḥ śmaśāne vā nicakhnuḥ / Ibid., 5.31.8


… yāṃ cakruriṣvāyudhe / Ibid., 5.31.7


… dundubhau kṛtyāṃ yāṃ … / Ibid.


… yāṃ vā te puruṣeṣu / Ibid., 4.18.5


yāṃ te cakruḥ sabhāyāṃ … / Ibid., 5.31.6


yāṃ te cakrurāme pātre yāṃ cakrurmiśradhānye / āme māṃse kṛtyāṃ yāṃ cakruḥ punaḥ prati harāmi tām // Ibid., 5.31.1


yāṃ te cakruḥ kṛkavākāvaje vā yāṃ kurīriṇi / avyāṃ te kṛtyāṃ yāṃ … // Ibid., 5.31.2






gardabhe kṛtyāṃ yāṃ … / Ibid., 5.31.3


goṣu yāṃ … / Ibid., 10.1.4


… puruṣeṣu / Ibid.


pratīcīna āṅgirasodhyakṣo naḥ purohitaḥ / Ibid., 10.1.6


śūdrakṛtā rājakṛtā strīkṛtā brahmabhiḥ kṛtā / Ibid., 10.1.3


yadi vāsi devakṛtā … / Ibid., 5.14.7


yāḥ kṛtyāḥ āṅgirasīryāḥ kṛtyāḥ āsurīryāḥ kṛtyāḥ svayaṃkṛtā yā u cānyebhirābhṛtāḥ / Ibid., 8.5.9


āṅgirasyaḥ āsuryaśca amānuṣyaḥ ekā koṭiḥ svayaṃkṛtā anyaiḥ kṛtāśca mānuṣyaḥ / Sāyaṇa, Ibid.


cf., Atharvaveda, 8.5


cf., Ibid., 4.19.6


cf., Ibid., 4.18.4-5


cf., Ibid., 2.4.6; 19.34.2, 4

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