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Of Vedas and hymns

Tarapada Chowdhury
The consist of and Brahmanas. Mantras are of four varieties - three mainly concerned with the sacrifice (Yajna), viz. (i) verses for recital (Richa), (ii) verses for chanting (Saman), and (iii) prose formulae (Yajus), and the last (iv) Atharvangirasah, formally indistinguishable from either (i) or (iii), with magical and sacramental rites.

A settled collection of each of these presenting normal euphonic features is a Samhita, (Rig-Veda-Samhita, Sama-Veda-Samhita, Yajur-Veda-Samhita and Atharva-Veda-Samhita). The Brahmanas, dependent on these, are prose treatises elaborating and eulogizing sacrifices. They are attached to one or the other of the Samhitas and are considered to include the mystic and philosophical Aranyakas and Upanisads. Each of the Samhitas, and some Brahmanas, developed different canonical recensions in course of time.

Indian tradition lost all count of the age and authorship of the Vedas, persistently crediting them, as it does, with eternity and impersonality. The accredited seers (Rishis) are no more than media of revelation at the beginning of each aeon. Max Muller's was the first attempt to fix the period of composition, on purely arbitrary grounds, as between 12oo-6oo B.c. Curiously enough, this view has found favour with most scholars who have since, spared no pains to offer corroborative  arguments and fought tooth and nail, if anybody had the temerity to challenge its authenticity.

From astronomical references in the texts Tilak in his Orion (Bombay, 1893), and Jacobi in a paper in Festgruss an Rudolf von Roth (Stuttgart, 1893), ((simultaneously and independently of each other," arrived at 4500-2500 B.c. (the former pleading, further, for the maximum limit of 6ooo B.c. for some of the earliest hymns). Patient scrutiny discloses the essential soundness of their conclusion which has been further confirmed through various other articles by Jacobi.

Many deities were worshipped by the Vedic people and their worship consisted mainly of offering of hymns, obeisances and oblations. Although, later, these appear only as parts of the Yajna, there is evidence to indicate that independent value was once attached to the first two acts, separately or conjointly. At the Yajna, before one or more fires ceremonially kindled, favorite articles of food-milk, honey, melted butter, grains, and their preparations, flesh, and the stimulating juice of the plant soma were offered with the utterance of Yajuses, recital of Richas and chanting of Samans according to set rules and conventions.

Great sacrifices called Srauta-Yajnas required the specific services of several priests, but the sacramental domestic rites (Grihya Karman) could be performed by the householder and his wife with or without the assistance of any officiating priests. The fire-god Agni is asked to carry the oblations, committed to his care, to the gods, or to fetch the latter to receive them. The Yajna, originally conceived to secure the goodwill of the gods granting mundane happiness and a delectable heavenly life after death, developed endless varieties and was clothed with ever-increasing mysticism with the march of time. It became an independent means of achieving any object and usurped to itself reverential faith (Shraddha) at the cost of the gods, who had been its primary recipients. Accordingly, the gods themselves and even Prajapati, the Creator, appear frequently in the as sacrificers. The became mystically equated with Prajapati, Vishnu, or death.

The Mantras, too are invested with similar mystic powers even in the earliest and hence called Brahman, like the mysterious power of the gods. A purely devotional tone, however, shorn of any consciousness of compelling power, runs through innumerable hymns. Terms of endearment, fondly addressed to the gods, also bear this out. Meditation on the nature and glory of the gods is emphasized in Rig Veda. Powers and efficacy of austerity (tapas) are also celebrated in Rig Veda. It also dilates upon the mystic and superhuman character of the hairy anchorite (muni), who, naked or clad in brown dirt, "moving in the haunts of the Gandharvas, the Apsaras and the deer," enjoys communion with the gods. Ethics permeated all these religious activities.

Totemism and animism as such do not occur, but animism prompted by the sense of the immanence of God is abundantly in evidence. Beside this picture is to be set that of the widespread popular belief in the potency of charms, spells and magic. Although stray references are scattered throughout Vedic literature, it is the special province of the Atharva-Veda and its ritual work, the Kausika-sutra, which thus anticipate the Tantras. The charms are directed mostly against demons and sorcerers, diseases and accidents, as also towards securing welfare, peace and harmony, but a few are certainly designed to secure advantage over rivals or even to injure enemies. Here, too, the gods are the friends and the demons the enemies of the Vedic people and black magic is condemned as strongly in the Atharva Veda as in the other Vedas.
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