Women in the Atharva-veda Samhita

by Pranab Jyoti Kalita | 2017 | 62,142 words

This page relates ‘Rites Related to Marriage’ 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.

It is a fact that human being, both male and female were born with some inborn instincts. Out of their instinct of procreation, the marriage ceremony is thought to be developed. The marriage, as quoted by Pandey,[1] is defined as “a union of the male and female which does not cease with the act of procreation, but, persists after the birth of offspring until the young are capable of supplying their own needs.”

In the Vedic period, marriage was an indispensable part of human life as they believed that every man had to pay off three debts of which the last, i.e. the debt to the manes was to be paid off by begetting offspring.[2] And it was through marriage that one could pay off one’s ancestral debt by producing children. The Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa holds that a man without a wife could not perform any Vedic sacrifice.[3] The very term patnī stands for the wife of a sacrificer. Pāṇini’s derivation of the word patnī given in the sūtra, patyurno yajñasaṃyoge is the evidence here.[4] It states that the term patnī is derived from pati by substituting the final i with na and the word so formed after adding the feminine suffix ṅīṣ, means a wife who participates in the sacrifices of her husband. Therefore, the Vedic seers regarded the wife as half of her husband.[5] Thus, during the Vedic period, a woman was entitled to participate in rituals as the wife of the sacrificer.

The marriage sacrament, in its ceremonial form, finds literary expression in the Ṛgveda[6] and in the Atharvaveda.[7] Both the Vedas record the mythical marriage of Sūryā and the Aśvins. In addition, the fourteenth kāṇḍa of the Atharvaveda gives a lot of information about marriage customs belonging to that time. However, some other references on marriage are also scattered over some other kāṇḍas of this Veda. The Kauśikasūtra has systematically furnished those practices observed in a marriage. Sāyaṇācārya has also delineated the details of the marriage rites in his introduction to the commentary on the fourteenth kāṇḍa of the Atharvaveda.

The rites and rituals related to the marriage ceremony, as described in the Atharvaveda, mark that the woman gets all the religious status of a man through her marriage. The nuptial ceremony was to be celebrated in the bride’s home.[8] At the very beginning, Ājyahoma was accomplished with the recitation of the Atharvavedic mantras, satyenottabhitā…, etc. (14.1.1-16), and pūrvāparam…, etc. (14.1.23, 24).[9] Then, the bride was given to eat a pudding of rice and sesame.[10] While doing so, the Atharvavedic hymn, ā no agna…, etc. (2.36), was to be recited.[11] Thereafter, a welladorned person,[12] associated with a servant was sent to the bridegroom with the recitation of the first half of the mantra, yuvaṃ bhagaṃ…, etc. (14.1.31).[13] Reciting the second half of the same mantra, a Brāhmaṇa was sent to the bride.[14] There, he praised the qualities of the bridegroom before the bride.[15] Then, security-guard, called pāla, possessing bows was sent to the bride’s chamber for her protection after reciting the Atharvavedic mantra, anṛkṣarā ṛjavaḥ…, etc. (14.1.34).[16] The bride had to be duly protected as special security was assigned to her which was not done in case of the bridegroom. In this context, it is provided that if the bride was above ten years, then, she had to offer an oblation of fried grains reciting the mantras, devā agra…, etc. (14.2.32-36).[17] This implies that maidens were indulged into marriage at an early age, sometimes even before they were ten years old. Nevertheless, as the provision finds place in the Daśakarmāṇi, an exegetical work, and the Saṃhitā text of the Atharvaveda and even the Kauśikasūtra have no similar reference, hence, such customs may be considered to be of later origin.

Thereafter, the hair of the bride were arranged after reciting the Atharvavedic mantra, pra tvā muñcāmi…, etc. (14.1.19 or 14.1.58),[18] which promised the bride to release her from the fetter of Varuṇa, fastened by Savitṛ. From this, it is clear that a bride was subjected to the fetter of Varuṇa. But, in case of the bridegroom, the vice versa is not recorded anywhere else. After this, the mantras, uśatīḥ kanyalā imāḥ…, etc. (14.2.52-58), were recited and the bride was bathed with warm water.[19] While doing so, she had to be in the north-eastern direction.[20] Then, she was removed from that position and then, was sprinkled with cold water, after reciting the mantras, yacca varco…, etc. (14.1.35), and yathā sindhurnadīnāṃ…, etc. (14.1.43).[21] These two mantras hint at her protection with good fortune and her mastership at her husband’s home respectively. The bride, after this, was rubbed with a garment which was, later on, given to the pāla, the security guard.[22] During this, the mantras, yat duṣkṛtaṃ…, etc. (14.2.66, 67), were recited.[23] The garment was, then, cast to a forest[24] and the bride was dressed in fine.[25] She was fastened with the vādhūyavastra, which is equated with the yajñopavīta, i.e. the sacred thread.[26] The noticeable point here is this that the bride was not entitled to wear yajñopavīta, which was worn by the bridegroom, but, to equalize her with the male counterpart the vādhūyavastra was fastened to her. This act of wearing vādhūyavastra was performed by reciting the Atharvavedic mantra, kṛtrimaḥ kaṇṭakaḥ…, etc. (14.2.68).[27]

Next to this, a yoktra, i.e. a threefold cord of Muñja grass was tied to the waist of the bride uttering the Atharvavedic mantras, āśāsānā saumanasaṃ…, etc. (14.1.42; 2.70),[28] to make her fit for the participation in further observances.

The reason for tying the woman with a yoktra is revealed in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa thus,

patnyā amedhyaṃ yad avācinaṃ nābheḥ /[29]

It is stated here that the part of woman which is below the naval is impure and therefore, with the impure lower part, she was not allowed to perform any rite. She was to be purified before her participation in ritual and for purification, a yoktra was tied to her.[30] Regarding her impurity, the Taittirīya Saṃhitā records a myth where it is stated that women agreed to share one-third of the sin of Indra, incurred due to the killing of Viśvarūpa, a Brāhmaṇa.[31] Thus, women shared Indra’s sin in the form of menstrual blood and because of this biological order, she was condemned as impure. The Aitareya Āraṇyaka, on the other hand, holds that lohita, i.e. the menstrual blood symbolizes Agni.[32]

Having been fastened up by yoktra, her hands were grasped by the bridegroom, which is called Pāṇigrahaṇa and it was accomplished by the recitation of the Atharvavedic mantras, yenāgnirasya bhūmyā…, etc. (14.1.48-52).[33] Thereafter, she was led by the bridegroom thrice round the fire with the utterance of the Atharvavedic mantra, aryamṇo agniṃ…, etc. (14.1.39).[34] Through the mantras, recited during Pāṇigrahaṇa, the groom entreated good fortune and long association of the couple in their conjugal life.

The Atharvavedic mantra, gṛhṇāmi te saubhagatvāya…, etc.,[35] which was recited by the bridegroom, clearly states that he holds firmly her hands in order to obtain good fortune. He also wishes her company till old age as because the gods Bhaga, Aryaman, Savitṛ and Purandhi had given her to him as a housewife. Thus, the bride becomes his associate in his religious activities and he himself becomes her houselord–patnī tvamasi dharmaṇāhaṃ gṛhapatistava /[36]

Reciting the Atharvavedic mantras, bhagastatakṣa…, etc. (14.1.60), and ā roha talpaṃ…, etc. (14.2.31), the bride was seated on a bed.[37] Her feet were cleansed by some of her kinsmen.[38] Then, the mantras, ahaṃ vi ṣyāmi…, etc. (14.1.57), and pra tvā muñcāmi…, etc. (14.1.58), were recited and with this, the bride was unfastened by the yoktra.[39] Further on, with the recitation of the mantras, udyecchadhvamapa rakṣo…, etc. (14.1.59), bhagastatakṣa…, etc. (14.1.60), and abhrātṛghnī…, etc. (14.1.62), she was removed from the bed.[40] With these mantras, gods, viz. Bhaga, Varuṇa, Bṛhaspati and Indra are prayed to make the bride prosperous with progeny and to be pleasant to her husband, his animals and his brother.

At the time of her departure to her husband’s home, while ascending the bridal car with her husband, the Atharvavedic verses, sukiṃśukaṃ…, etc. (14.1.61), and rukmaprastaraṇaṃ…, etc. (14.2.30), were cited so that the spouses would not have to face any obstruction on the path and the verses cited are meant to bring good fortune to the newly married couple.[41] It is observed that if an evil-hearted woman (durhārdo yuvatayo)[42] or an old lady (jaratī)[43] came to look at the bride on the car, it was regarded as an evil omen and hence, it required a special incantation for which the Atharvavedic mantra, sumaṅgalīriyaṃ…, etc. (14.2.28), was muttered in order to attain their prosperity and splendour for the bride.[44] Sāyaṇācārya holds that in case of an ugly woman (kudṛk), who came to see the bride on the car, the same mantra was to be muttered.[45]

Though it seems that the bride was to be protected from an evil eye, yet, it discloses another fact that old age of a woman or her having an ugly appearance was not treated amiably, rather, it was treated as a mark of misfortune. At the end of her journey, warm welcome was accorded to the spouses with the utterance of certain Atharvavedic mantras.[46] Aryaman, Bhaga, both the Aśvins and Prajāpati were lauded so that she may get plenty of progeny.[47] The birth of a male child was very much emphasized and for that, symbolically, a Brāhmaṇa boy, possessing a good name was seated on the lap of the bride uttering the Atharvavedic mantra, sujyaiṣṭhyo…, etc. (14.2.24),[48] which states, ‘Mount thy hide; sit by fire; the god slays all the demons; here give birth to progeny to this husband; may this son of thine be of good primogeniture.’[49]

Thereafter, the boy was removed from her lap with the Atharvavedic mantra, vi tiṣṭhantāṃ…, etc. (14.2.25), which is meant for bringing plenty of progeny to the couple.[50]

Then, another rite called Caturthikākarman was performed after three days of the wedding ceremony.[51] This rite was mainly aimed at the nuptial cohabitation of the couple. In this rite, firstly, the nuptial bed was touched by the bride and the groom, as asked by the priest, uttering the Atharvavedic mantra, mahīmūṣu…, etc. (7.6.2).[52] Then, they climbed it with the recitation of the mantra, ā roha talpaṃ…, etc. (14.2.31).[53] The bride was then seated over it with the utterance of the Atharvavedic mantras, tatropaviśya…, etc. (14.2.23), and devā agre…, etc. (14.2.32),[54] and then the coition took place with the recitation of the Atharvavedic mantras, amohamasmi…, etc. (14.2.71), and janayanti…, etc. (14.2.72).[55] The recitation of all these mantras hints at the couple’s prosperity with progeny. Through the address of the bridegroom to the bride, made with the Atharvavedic mantra, janayanti..,etc., where the bridegroom is compared to the Heaven the bride to the Earth, has raised their relationship to a spiritual plane.

Thereafter, an expiation was to be performed for the bride. The bridegroom placed one kind of grass, called Śaṣpa at the parting line of the bride’s hair reciting the Atharvavedic mantra, bṛhaspatiḥ prathamaḥ…, etc. (14.1.55, 56).[56] Grains of barley and rice were also kept there without uttering any mantra.[57] Then, the parting line was touched with a bundle of Darbha grass[58] and the hair were, thereafter, pinned with a piece of Śaṇa plant.[59] Thus, the bride was expiated. Noticeably, the groom was exempted from expiation.

Footnotes and references:


Pandey, R., Hindu Saṃskāras, Socio-religious Study of the Hindu Sacremants, p.156


jāyamāno vai brāhmaṇastribhirṛṇvān jāyate brahmacaryeṇa ṛṣibhyo yajñena devebhyaḥ prajayā pitṛbhyaḥ / Taittirīya-saṃhitā,


ayajñīyo vā eṣa yo’patnikaḥ / Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa,


atho arddho vā eṣa ātmanaḥ yatpatnī / Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa,


Ṛgveda, 10.85


Atharvaveda, 14.1, 2


sa kumāryāḥ pitṛgṛhe / Sāyaṇa in his Introduction to the commentary on Atharvaveda, 14


satyenottabhitā pūrvāparamityupadadhīta / Kauśika-sūtra, 75.6


āgamakṛśaraṃ kumārīmāśayati / Sāyaṇa in his Introduction to the commentary on Atharvaveda,


ā no agna iti sūktena āgamakṛśaram saṃpātyābhimantrya kumārībhattaṃ prāśayati / Daśakarmāṇi and Atharvapaddhati on Kauśika-sūtra, 75.7 Vide, Bloomfield, M. (ed.), Op.cit., p.200


ardharcena śobhanamalaṃkṛtaṃ puruṣaṃ saṃcarahastaṃ sānucaraṃ prahiṇoti / Atharvapaddhati on Kauśika-sūtra, 75.8 Vide, Bloomfield, M. (ed.), Op.cit., p.200


yuvaṃ bhagamiti saṃbhalaṃ sānucaraṃ prahiṇoti / Kauśika-sūtra, 75.8


brahmaṇaspata iti brahmāṇam / Ibid., 75.9


ardharcena brahmāṇaṃ preṣayati kumārīsamīpe varasya guṇān kathayati / Daśakarmāṇi, Ibid. Vide, Bloomfield, M. (ed.), Op.cit., p.200


anṛkṣarā iti kumārīpālaṃ prahiṇoti/ Kauśika-sūtra, 75.12 kumārīrakṣārthe dhanurdharaṃ puruṣaṃ prahiṇoti/ Atharvapaddhati, Ibid. Vide, Bloomfield, M. (ed.), Op.cit., p.201


yadi vā daśavarṣādhikā kanyā tadā devā agre pañcabhiḥ kumārī ekāmāhutīṃ lājāṃ juhoti / Daśakarmāṇi on Kauśika-sūtra, 75.12 Vide, Bloomfield, M. (ed.), Op.cit., p.201


pra tvā muñcāmīti veṣṭaṃ vicṛtati / Kauśika-sūtra, 75.23 kumārīṃ keśān veṣṭayati / Daśakarmāṇi, Ibid. Vide, Bloomfield, M. (ed.), Op.cit., p.202


saptabhiruṣṇāḥ saṃpātavatīḥ karoti / Kauśika-sūtra, 75.25 uśatīriti saptabhiḥ / Daśakarmāṇi and Atharvapaddhati, Ibid. Vide, Bloomfield, M. (ed.), Op.cit., p.202


īśānakoṇe tiṣṭhantyāḥ kumāryā uṣṇodakena āplāvanam / Sāyaṇa in his Introduction to the commentary on Atharvaveda, 14


yacca varco yathā sindhurityutkrāntāmanyenāvasiñcati / Kauśika-sūtra, 75.27 tasya sthānādutkrāntāmanyasthāne śītodakenāvasiñcati / Atharvapaddhati, Ibid. Vide, Bloomfield, M. (ed.), Op.cit., p.202


yadduṣkṛtamiti vāsasāṅgāni pramṛjya kumārīpālāya prayacchati / Kauśika-sūtra, 76.1




tadvana āsajati / Ibid., 76.3


Ibid., 76.4


yajñopavītavadvādhūyaṃ vastraṃ badhnāti / Sāyaṇa in his Introduction to the commentary on Atharvaveda, 14


Kauśika-sūtra, 76.5


āśāsānā saṃ tvā nahyāmityubhayataḥ pāśena yoktrena saṃnahyati / Ibid., 76.7 kaṭipradeśe badhnāti / Daśakarmāṇi, Ibid. Vide, Bloomfield, M. (ed.), Op.cit., p.206


mekhalayā yajamānaṃ dikṣayati yoktreṇa patnīm / Taittirīya-saṃhitā,


Ibid., 2.5.1


tad yad etat strīyāṃ lohitaṃ bhavatyagnestadrūpaṃ / Aitareya-āraṇyaka, 2.3.7


yenāgniriti pāṇiṃ grāhayati / Kauśika-sūtra, 76.19 vareṇa pāṇigrahaṇam / Sāyaṇa in his Introduction to the commentary on Atharvaveda, 14


aryamṇa ityagniṃ triḥ pariṇayati / Kauśika-sūtra, 76.20


gṛhṇāmi te saubhagatvāya hastaṃ mayā patyā jaradaṣṭiryathāsaḥ / bhago aryamā savitā puraṃdhirmahyaṃ tvādurgārhapatyāya devāḥ // Atharvaveda, 14.1.50


Ibid., 14.1.51


ā roha talpaṃ bhagastatakṣeti talpa upaveśayati / Kauśika-sūtra, 76.25


upaviṣṭāyāḥ suhṛtpādau prakṣālayati / Ibid., 76.26


ahaṃ vi ṣyāmi pra tvā muñcāmīti yoktraṃ vicṛtati / Ibid., 76.28


udyachadhvaṃbhagastatakṣābhrātṛghnīmityekaikayotthāpayati / Ibid., 76.32


sukiṃśukaṃ rukmaprastaraṇamiti yānamārohayati / Ibid., 77.1


Atharvaveda, 14.2.29




sumaṅgalīriti vadhvīkṣīḥ prati japati / Kauśika-sūtra, 77.10


vadhvīkṣanārthaṃ kudṛkṣu strīṣvāgatāsu tāḥ prati japati/ Sāyaṇa in his Introduction to the commentary on Atharvaveda, 14


Atharvaveda, 14.1.47; 2.12, 19


Ibid., 14.1.50


sujyaiṣṭhya iti kalyānanāmānaṃ brāhmaṇāyanamupastha upaveśayati / Kauśika-sūtra, 78.8


Vide, Whitney, W. D. (ed. & trans.), Atharva-Veda-Saṃhitā, Vol. II, p.758


Kauśika-sūtra, 78.9


atha caturthikā karma ucyate tisṛṇāṃ rātrīṇāṃ vyatītāyāṃ / Atharvapaddhati on Kauśika-sūtra, 79.1 Vide, Bloomfield, M. (ed.), Op.cit., p.208


Kauśika-sūtra, 79.3


ā roha talpamityārohayati / Ibid., 79.4


Ibid., 79.5, 6 tatra tāmupaveśayati / Sāyaṇa in his Introduction to the commentary on Atharvaveda, 14




Ibid., 79.14






Ibid., 79.15

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