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The Atharvaveda: A Study
SWAMI HARSHANANDA
other three being hota, adhvaryu and udgata,
connected with the first three Vedas in that order. In a more general sense it can also mean
the Veda that helps in the attainment of Brahman.
The two names BhaUjajyaveda and K~attra­
veda have obviously been derived from the
subject matter of the Veda, which contains
quite a bit of material on bhaUjajya (medicines
and treatment) and k~attra (the warrior class
known as the k~attriyas).
The Atharvaveda has some special features because of which it stands a little apart
from the other three Vedas, especially the
~gveda. It deals more with the things here and
now than the hereafter, and the sacrifices
which are a means to it. A major portion of this
Veda is concerned with diseases and their
cure, rites for prolonging life, rites for fulfilling one's desires, building construction, trade
and commerce, statecraft, penances and propitiatory rites and black magic, though high
philosophical ideas-much nearer to the
thought pattern of the Upanif?ads-are also
found. Even the literary style is more sophisticated. Hence some scholars believe that this
work had not been admitted into the comity of
Vedic literature for a long time. It was perhaps
considered a 'scripture of the masses', not fit
enough for admission into the 'elite group'.
And its sheer popularity might have forced
the leaders of the society into admitting it as
the fourth Veda and giving its priests also an
honourable place in sacrifices.
For the same reasons, it is opined that this
Veda is chronologically later than the other
three Vedas. Some modern scholars like C V
Vaidya (vide History of Vedic Literature, p. 156)
assign to it the period 3000 to 2500 Be. But Vedic chronology is a rather hazardous subject
and it is very difficult to fix the periods pre-
he most ancient and basic scriptures of
Hinduism are known as the Vedas.
Derived from the root vid ('to know'),
they represent a vast body of religio-spiritual
knowledge transmitted orally from generation to generation over millennia. Hindu tradition ascribes to the sage Krf?l].a-Dvaipayana,
better known as Vyasa, the systematization
and editing of the vast Vedic literature with a
view to preserving it for the posterity. He is
said to have divided the Vedas into four parts
and taught them to his four chief disciplesPaila, Vaisampayana, Jaimini and Sumanta.
These four Vedas are well known as ~gveda,
Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda (vide
Mahabharata, 'Adi Parva', 60.5; Bhagavata,
12.6.50).
The Atharvaveda, the last in the series, has
also been called by several other names:
Atharva1}aveda, Atharvairgirasa, Airgirasa,
Bhrgvairgirasa, Brahmaveda, BhaUjajyaveda and
Ksattraveda.
The word atharvan, probably derived
from athar, an obsolete word for fire, might
mean 'the priest of fire'. So, Atharvan may be
the name of an ancient sage who 'brought fire
down from heaven' and started the sacrificial
rites on the earth.
In the Hindu mythology, he is described
as a son of Brahma, the Creator, who introduced fire-rituals with soma and other materials. He is identified with Angiras and also
called Atharvangirasa. It is also possible that
the r~is of the clans of Atharvan, Angiras,
Bhrgu, Atharvangirasa and Brahman were the
dra~taras of this Veda, that is the sages to
whom the various hymns of this Veda were
revealed. Hence the other names of this Veda.
The title Brahmaveda could have been derived from the fact that it was related to the
priest brahma, the fourth of the four priests, the
T
PB-MARCH 2002
48
The Atharvaveda: A Study
cisely.
From the ancient times, 9 sakhas or
branches of the Atharvaveda (Samhita) are
known to have existed. However, only two of
them are extant: Pippalada and Saunaka. Of
these, it is the latter that is available in a complete form.
This Veda is divided into 4 prapathakas,
comprising 20 kaf}qas. Each kaf}qa is again subdivided into suktas, and these suktas into
mantras. This gives us 6077 mantras in 736
suktas spread over 20 kaf}qas in 4 prapathakas.
However, due to the different methods
adopted in grouping or classifying, the number of suktas given by various scholars have
varied from 598 to 759. But there is no difference in the number of the mantras.
The last kaf}qa, the 20th, has borrowed
heavily (to the tune of 90%) from the ~gveda
Samhita. It is opined that the kaf}qas 19 and 20,
sometimes termed 'Khilakal].~a', are later additions to this Veda.
Coming to the subject matter of the
samhita of this Veda, we find that there is no
systematic division of the subject in the first 12
kaf}qas. The last two again deal with miscellaneous topics. A brief summary of the contents
may now be attempted, under eight subject
headings:
189
caused by germs, violation of the laws of nature, anger of deities and malevolent spirits,