(Last Updated on : 09/09/2014)
Atharva Veda is the fourth and last of all the Vedas .It contains 6000 Mantras. It is a compilation of popular spells and incantations. Atharva Veda is considered by many to be a dark and mystic science, pertaining to the spirits and the afterlife is completely different from the other three Vedas and is next in importance to the Rig Veda
with regard to history and sociology. 'Atharva Veda' means 'the Veda of the Atharvan' or the knowledge of 'magic formulas.' Originally, however, the world Atharvan
meant a fire-priest, and it is probably the oldest Indian name for priest in general, for the word dates back to the Indo- Iranian period. According to the legendary tradition, two clans of fire priest known as the Bhrigus
(also called Atharvans) and Angirasas had composed Atharva Veda. The concept of Atharva Veda is an amalgamation of Aryan and non-Aryan ideals. The existence of demons and God is believed by the Atharva Veda and to induce the negative forces to abstain from doing harm they are offered homage.
Origin of Name
The Athravans or "fire- people" of the Avesta correspond to the Indian Atharvans. The fire cult played no less a part in the daily life of the ancient Indians than of the ancient Persians, so often designated as "fire-worshippers." The priests of this very ancient fire-cult, however, were still, priest and wizard combined in one person, the ideas of wizard and priest are merged together. Thus we can understand that the name Atharvan designated also the "incantations of the Atharvan or the wizard-priest," that is, the spells and magic formulas themselves.
The oldest name, however, by which this Veda is known in Indian literature
, is Atharvangirasah, i.e., "the Atharvans and the Angiras." The Angiras, similarly, are a class of prehistoric fire-priests, and the word also, like the word Atharvan, attained the meaning of "magic formulas and spells." The two expressions Atharvan and Angiras, however, designate two different species of magic formulas : atharvan is "holy magic, bringing happiness," while Angiras means "hostile magic, black magic," Among the Atharvans, for example, are the formulae for the healing of diseases, while among the Angiras are the curses against enemies, rivals, evil magicians, and such like. The first is medicine and the second is witchcraft, and the two are mixed up in the concept of Atharva Veda. The old name Atharvangirasah thus means these two kinds of magic formulae, which form the chief contents of the Atharvaveda. The later name Atharva Veda is merely an abbreviation of "Veda of the Atharvans and Angiras."
Content of Atharva Veda
Atharva Veda consists of spells and charms prevalent at its time, and portrays a clearer picture of the Vedic society. Additionally, it also includes composition of certain other Indo-Aryan clans such as the Kaushikas, Vasishthas and Kashyapas. The modernity of Atharva Veda again cannot be denied as it is the very first Indo-Aryan text dealing with medicine. It identifies the causes of the disease that is the causative agent such as the Yatudhanya, the Kimidi, the Krimi and the Durnama. The Atharvans seek to kill them with a variety of drugs in order to counter the disease. This approach of treating the disease is sufficiently advanced and therefore Atharva Veda is regarded as one of the earliest texts to record uses of the antibiotic agents.
The Atharva Veda also informs about warfare. A variety of devices such as the arrow with a duct for poison (Apaskambha) and castor bean poison, poisoned net and hook traps, use of disease spreading bugs and smoke screens find a place in the Atharva Veda Samhita. This reference to military practices and associated Kshatriya
rites were what that had given Atharva Veda its recognition. Several regular and special rituals of the Aryans are a major concern of the Atharva Veda, just as in the three other Vedas. The major rituals covered by the Atharva Veda are marriage in Kamda - XIV and the funeral in Kamda - XVIII. Along with these there are some rituals aimed at the destruction of the enemies (Abhicharika hymns and rites) particularly using the closing mantras of the XVIth Kamda. It also provided the ritual for the worship of late evolving popular deities like Kumara and Ganapati to capture the mainstream Hindu ritual. They are also hymns specific to the rituals of the Bhrigu Agnirasas. Therefore undoubtedly it belongs to the core Vedic body.
Chapters of Atharva Veda
The Atharvaveda Samhita is a collection of seven hundred and thirty-one hymns, which contain about six thousand verses, in the recension which is best preserved. It is divided into twenty books. The twentieth book was added quite late, and the nineteenth book, too, did not originally belong to the Samhita. The twentieth book is almost entirely composed of hymns which have been taken literally from the Rig Veda Samhita. Besides this, about one-seventh of the Atharva Veda Samhita is taken from the Rig Veda. Moreover more than half of the verses which the Atharva Veda has in common with the Rig Veda are to be found in the tenth hook, most of the remaining verses in the first and the eighth book of the Rig Veda.
The arrangement of the hymns in the eighteen genuine books is according to a definite plan, and shows fairly careful editorial activity. On the whole it may be said that the first section of the Samhita (Books I to VII contains the short hymns of miscellaneous contents, the second section (Books VIII to XII) the long hymns of miscellaneous contents, while Books XIII to XVIII are almost entirely uniform as to their contents. Thus Book XIV contains only marriage prayers and Book XVIII only funeral hymns.
Language and Metre of Atharva Veda
The language and metre of the hymns of the Atharva Veda are in essentials the same as those of the Rig Veda Samhita. Yet in the language of the Atharva Veda we find some decidedly later forms and some more popular forms: also the metre is not nearly so strictly handled as in the Rig Veda. Apart from Book XV, which is wholly composed in prose, and Book XVI, the greater part of which is in prose, we occasionally find also other prose pieces among the verses; and frequently it is not easy to distinguish whether a piece is composed in lofty prose or in badly-constructed verses. In certain cases, indeed, the facts of language and metre indicate that we are dealing with later pieces. In general, however, no conclusions can be drawn from the language and the metre with regard to the date of the composition of the hymns, still less with regard to the date of the compilation of the Samhita.
Context of Atharva Veda
The text of the Atharva Veda Samhita is later than that of the Rig Veda Samhita. The geographical and cultural conditions show us that the Vedic Aryans have now penetrated further to the South-east and are already settled in the Ganges country. The tiger, native to the marshy forests of Bengal appears in the Atharva Veda already as the mightiest and most feared of all beasts of prey (whereas tigers had been unheard of in the Rig Vedic times) and the king, at his consecration, steps upon a tiger-skin, the symbol of kingly power.
Brahmanising in Atharva Veda
The Atharva Veda knows not only the four castes- Brahmin
- but in a number of hymns, the highest privileges are already claimed (as later happens more and more frequently) by the priestly caste, and the Brahmins are already often called the "gods" of this earth. The songs of magic in the Atharva Veda, which, according to their main contents, are certainly popular and very ancient, have no longer even their original form in the Samhita, but are Brahmanised. These old charms and formulas, whose authors are equally unknown as the authors of the magic incantations and formulas of other peoples, and which originally were just as much "popular poetry" as the poetry of magic everywhere have already in the Atharva Veda Samhita partly lost their popular character. At every step, the collection was made by priests, and many of the hymns were also composed by priests. This priestly outlook of the compilers and partly also of the authors of the hymns of the Atharva Veda, reveals itself in occasional comparisons and epithets, as for instance, when, in a charm against field-vermin, it is said that the insects are to leave the corn untouched "as the Brahian does not touch unfinished sacrificial food." A whole class of hymns of the Atharva Veda is concerned only with the interests of the Brahmins, the feeding of priests, the fees for the sacrifice, and such like, and they are, of course, the work of priests.
Gods in Atharva Veda
Though the Gods of the Rig Veda are mentioned here as well, their character had quite faded, they hardly differ from each other, their original signification as natural beings is, for the greater part, forgotten, and as the magic songs deal mostly with the banishment and destruction of demons, they have all become demon-killers.
Thus, discussed above is the ancient Indian text of the Atharva Veda.