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The Atharvaveda (Sanskrit: अथर्ववेदः, atharvaveda, a tatpurusha compound of Atharvan, an ancient Rishi, and veda, meaning "knowledge") is a sacred text of Hinduism and one of the four Vedas, often called the "fourth Veda". According to tradition, the Atharvaveda was mainly composed by two groups of rishis known as the Atharvanas and the Angirasa, hence its oldest name is Ātharvāṅgirasa. In the Late Vedic Gopatha Brahmana, it is attributed to the Bhrigu and Angirasa. Additionally, tradition ascribes parts to other rishis, such as Kauśika, Vasiṣṭha and Kaśyapa. There are two surviving recensions (śākhās), known as Śaunakīya (AVS) and Paippalāda (AVP).
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The Atharvaveda is less predominant than other Vedas, as it is little used in solemn (Shrauta) ritual. The largely silent Brahmin priest observes the procedures of the ritual and "heals" it with two mantras and pouring of ghee when a mistake occurs. An early text, its status has been ambiguous due to its ritualistic character.
- paippalāda, regions south of the Narmada River
- śaunakīya, regions north of the Narmada River
Of these, only the Śaunakīya (AVS), present in Gujarat and Benares, from where it has been modestly spreading again in recent decades, and the Paippalāda (AVP) recension in coastal Odisha have survived. Both have some later additions, but the core Paippalāda text is considered earlier than most of the Śaunakīya. Often in corresponding hymns, the two recensions have different verse orders, or each has additional verses not in the other. Saṃhitāvidhi, Śāntikalpa and Nakṣatrakalpa are some of the five kalpa texts adduced to the Śaunakīya tradition and not separate schools of their own. There is a large, 72 section Parishishta, of various time periods, much of it epic-puranic.
Two main post-Samhita texts associated with the AV are the Vaitāna Sūtra and the Kauśika Sūtra. The Vaitanasutra deals with the participation of the Atharvaveda priest (brahmán) in the Shrauta ritual, while the Kauśikasūtra contains many applications of Atharvaveda mantras in healing and magic. This serves the same purpose as the vidhāna of the Rigveda and is of great value in studying the application of the AV text in Vedic times. Several Upanishads also are associated with the AV, but appear to be relatively late additions to the tradition. The most important of these are the muṇḍaka and the praśna Upanishads. The former contains an important reference to Śaunaka, the founder of the Shaunakiya shakha, while the latter is associated with the Paippalāda shakha.
It is conjectured that the core text of the Atharvaveda falls within the classical Mantra period of Vedic Sanskrit at the end of the 2nd millennium BCE - roughly contemporary with the Yajurveda mantras, the Rigvedic Khilani, and the Sāmaveda.
The Atharvaveda is also the first Indic text to mention iron (as krsna ayas, literally "black metal"), so that scholarly consensus dates the bulk of the Atharvaveda hymns to the early Indian Iron Age, corresponding to c.1000 BC, or the early Kuru kingdom.
Tradition suggests that Paippalāda, one of the alleged early collators, and Vaidharbhī, one of the late contributors associated with the Atharva text, lived during the reign of prince Hiranyanabha of the Ikshvāku dynasty.
Divisions and issues of note
- The Shaunakiya text is clearly divided into four parts: Kāṇḍas 1-7 deal with healing and general black and white magic that is to be applied in all situations of life, from the first tooth of a baby to regaining kingship. Kandas 8-12 constitute early speculation on the nature of the universe and of humans as well as on ritual and are thus predecessors of the Upanishads. They continue the speculative tradition of some Rigvedic poets. Kandas 13-18 deal with issues of a householder's life, such as marriage, death and female rivalry, as well as with the ambiguous Vratyas on the fringes of society and with the Rohita sun as an embodiment of royal power. Kanda 19 is an addition, and Kanda 20 is a very late addition containing Rigvedic hymns for the use of the Atharvanic Brahmanacchamsin priest as well as for the enigmatic Kuntapa ritual of the Kuru kingdom of Parikshit. The Paippalada text has a similar arrangement into four parts (Kandas 1-15, 16-17, 18, 19-20) with roughly the same contents.
- The Paippalada text begins with shan no devir abhistaye, the most common brahmayajna mantra. The Shaunakiya text begins with ye trishapt, which is in the second sukta in the Paippalada Samhita.
- The popular Gopala Tapini Upanishad, among Nimbarka Sampradaya and Gaudiya Vaishnavism, belongs to Paippalada Samhita.
- Jain and Buddhist texts are considerably more hostile to the Atharvaveda (they call it Aggvāna or Ahavāna Veda) than they are to the other Hindu texts.
- The AV is the first Indic text dealing with medicine. It identifies the causes of disease as living causative agents such as the yatudhāna, the kimīdin, the krimi or kṛmi and the durṇāma. The Atharvans seek to kill them with a variety of incantations or plant-based drugs in order to counter the disease (see XIX.34.9). This approach to disease is quite different compared to the trihumoral theory of Ayurveda. Remnants of the original Atharvanic thought did persist, as can be seen in Suśruta's medical treatise and in (Garuḍa Purāṇa, karma kāṃḍa - chapter: 164). Here, following the Atharvan theory, the Purāṇic text suggests germs as a cause for leprosy. In the same chapter, Suśruta also expands on the role of helminths in disease. These two can be directly traced back to the Atharvaveda saṃhitā. The hymn AV I.23-24 describes the disease leprosy and recommends the rajani auṣadhi for its treatment. From the description of the auṣadhi as a black, branching entity with dusky patches, it is very likely that it is a lichen with antibiotic properties. Thus the AV may be one of the earliest texts to record uses of the antibiotic agents.
- The Atharvaveda also informs about warfare. A variety of devices, such as an arrow with a duct for poison (apāskambha) and castor bean poison, poisoned net and hook traps, use of disease-spreading insects and smoke screens find a place in the Atharvaveda saṃhita (e.g., hymns IX.9 and IX.10, the trisaṃdi and nyārbudi hymns). These references to military practices and associated Kṣatriya rites were what gave the Atharvaveda its reputation. In the Mahabharata, there is a frequent comparison between weapons and the mantras of the heroes.
- Several regular and special rituals of the Aryans ārya are a major concern of the Atharvaveda, just as in the three other Vedas. The major rituals covered by the AV are marriage in kāṃḍa - XIV and the funeral in kāṃḍa - XVIII. There are also hymns that are specific to rituals of the bhṛgu-aṅgirasas, vrātyas and kṣatriyas. One peculiar rite is the Viṣāsahi Vrata, performed with the mantras of the XVII kāṃḍa in a spell against female rivals. The Vrātya rituals were performed by individuals who took on a semi-nomadic way of living and were generally roaming about in neighboring tribal territories to gain wealth in cattle by putting pressure on householders grihastha. Finally, there are some rituals aimed at the destruction of the enemies (Abhicārika hymns and rites), particularly found in chapters 1-7. While these support traditional negative views on the AV, in content, they are mirrored by several other hymns from the Rig as well as the Yajuṣes. Moreover, Abhicārika rites were an integral part of Vedic culture, as is amply attested in the brāhmaṇa literature. Thus, the Atharvaveda is fully within the classic Vedic fold, though it was more specific to certain Brahmán clans of priests. The development of the Abhichārika rites to their more "modern" form is clearly seen in the vidhāna literature. The author of the ṛgvidhāna provides passing reference to the development of similar rites in the AV tradition (the references to the Āṅgirasa Krityās). These rites reached their culmination in the Kauśika Sutra and in some of the Pariśiṣṭas (appendices) of the Atharvan literature.
- Philosophical excursions are found in books 8-12. One of the most spectacular expressions of philosophical thought is seen in the hymn XII.I, the Hymn to goddess Earth or the Pṛthivī Sūkta used in the Āgrayana rite. The foundations of Vaiṣeśika Darśana is expressed in the mantra XII.1.26 in which the atoms (Pāṃsu) are described forming the stone, the stones agglutinating to form the rocks and the rocks held together to form the earth. Early pantheistic thought is seen in the hymn X.7 that describes the common thread running through all manifest and non-manifest existence as the skaṃbha. This skaṃbha is described as what poured out of the Hiraṇyagarbha that was the precursor of the complex world in a very simple form (X.7.28). (Hiraṇyagarba = "The golden womb from which the Universe was formed.") This Skambha is Indra, and Indra is the Skambha which describes all existence. The hymn also describes a pantheistic nature of the Vedic gods (X.7.38): skaṃbha is the heat (tapaḥ) that spreads through the universe (Bhuvana) as waves of water; the units of this spreading entity are the gods even as branches of one tree. This theme is repeatedly presented in various interpretations in later Hindu philosophies.
The Shaunakiya text was edited by Rudolf Roth and William Dwight Whitney (Berlin, 1856), Shankar Pandurang Pandit in the 1890s (Bombay) and by Vishva Bandhu (Hoshiarpur, 1960–62). Translations into English were made by Ralph Griffith (2 vols., Benares 1897), D. Whitney (revised by Lanman, 2 vols, Cambridge, Mass. 1905), and M. Bloomfield (SBE Vol XLII); also see Bloomfield, "The Atharvaveda" in "Grundriss der Indoarischen Philologie", II (Strasburg, 1899).
The bulk of the Paippalāda text was edited by Leroy Carr Barret from 1905 to 1940 (book 6 by F. Edgerton, 1915) from a single Kashmirian Śāradā manuscript (now in Tübingen). This edition is outdated, since various other manuscripts were subsequently discovered in Odisha. Some manuscripts are in the Odisha State Museum, but many manuscripts are in private possession and are kept hidden by their owners.
In 1959 Durgamohan Bhattacharyya Professor at Sanskrit College, Calcutta could collect many manuscripts of the Paippalāda-Saṃhitā and its ancillary literature like the Āṅgirasakalpa after painstaking search over years in Odisha and southern West Bengal. Durgamohan Bhattacharyya’s discovery of a living tradition of the Paippalāda-Saṃhitā, unknown till then, was hailed in the Indological world as epoch making. Ludwig Alsdorf went so far as to say that it was the greatest event in Indology. Bhattacharyya died in 1965 leaving his edition of the text incomplete. This task was completed by Dipak Bhattacharya whose critical edition of the first 18 kāṇḍas published by the Asiatic Society, Calcutta came out in three volumes in 1997, 2008 and 2011.
Timeline of editions since the discovery of the Odisha tradition:
- 1964–1970 edition of books 1-4 by Durgamohan Bhattacharyya, Sanskrit College, Calcutta (Odisha text only)
- 1997: edition of books 1-15 by Dipak Bhattacharya
- 1999: edition and translation into German of book 2 by Thomas Zehnder
- 2000: edition and translation into English of books 13 and 14 by Carlos A. Lopez
- 2002: edition and translation into English of book 5 by Alexander Lubotsky
- 2008: edition of book 16 by Dipak Bhattacharya
- 2009: edition and translation into English of books 6 and 7 by Arlo Griffiths
Recitation style of the Atharvaveda
The current recitation style of this Veda mostly resembles the Rigvedic one.
The Shaunaka Shakha of the Atharvaveda is recited in western Saurastra, at Benares, Gokarna and, after a recent introduction from Benares, also in South India (Tirupati, Chidambaram, etc.). The Gokarna version follows the northern style, which resembles the way the Maharashtrians recite the Rigveda Samhita. In Varanasi, which derives its style from Gujarat, the way of recitation is little different. Similarly in South India, the Shaunaka Shaka is recited using the Rig Veda as a base, with minute variations in Kampa Svara.
The Paippalada Shakha of the Atharvaveda is recited in Odisha in samhita-patha, however not with typical Vedic svara ,, and in south Jharkhand districts by some migrants of Utkala Brahmins, while its Kashmir branch has been extinct for some centuries.
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- Modak (1993) p.15 (footnote 8)
- Ralph Griffith, The Hymns of the Atharvaveda 1895-96, full text
- Maurice Bloomfield, Hymns of the Atharva-veda, Sacred Books of the East, v. 42 (1897), selection
- Alexander Lubotsky, Atharvaveda-Paippalada, Kanda Five, Harvard College (2002).
- Thomas Zehnder, Atharvaveda-Paippalada, Buch 2, Idstein (1999).
- Dipak Bhattacharya, Paippalada-Samhita of the Atharvaveda, Volume 2, The Asiatic Society (2007).
- B.R. Modak, The Ancillary Literature of the Atharva-veda, Rashtriya Veda Vidya Pratishthan, New Delhi (1993), ISBN 81-215-0607-7.