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A hymn usually consists of three sections: an exhortation; a main part comprising praise of the deity, prayers, and petition, with frequent references to the deity's mythology; and a specific request. - EB, "Hinduism > The Vedic Period"
Hymns of the Rigveda

The verses of the Rikveda belong to the oldest literature known to men. The Rikveda is a collection of 1028 hymns (10,500 verses in all). The hymns are arranged in ten books of unequal length. Many sacred verses don't seem spiritual at first glance. Yet the Rikveda is the highest spiritual authority for orthodox Hindus. Ancient Aryans recited some of these verses (mantras) for prayer and many sorts of sacrifices, in order to get to wordly and more immaterial favours.

In the light of this and more, many verses may contain masked information, as Sri Aurobindo tells. Without carefully considering how far there could be figurate mentions in a verse we might miss essential points. Something that could amount to give advice is an "Application program" for each verse, or a bundle or series of verses, based on suitable decoding keys.

There is much else to say about the Rigveda. The Rigveda (from Sanskrit rik, "praise, verse" and veda "knowledge") are Vedic Sanskrit hymns dedicated to devas [gods, goddesses, lit. "shining ones"]. It is one of the world's oldest religious texts in continued use, and one of the oldest extant texts of any Indo-European language. Rigveda seems to have been composed in the North-Western region of the Indian subcontinent somewhere between 1700-1100 BCE, in the early Vedic period. The language and the culture the Rigveda is marked by, has similarities to the early Iranian Avesta culture of ca. 2200-1600 BCE.

The surviving form of the Rigveda is based on an early collection. It was later redacted and added to, several centuries after the hymns were composed. Exact dates are not established, but they fall within the pre-Buddhist period (500, or rather 400 BCE). The redacted text has been handed down in several versions. The Rigveda was probably not written down until the 300s to 500s CE.

The text is organized in 10 books, known as Mandalas. They are of varying age and length. Each mandala consists of hymns called suktas (literally, "well recited, eulogy"). The suktas consist of individual stanzas marked by units of verse (padas, "feet").

The most common numbering scheme is by book, hymn and stanza (and pada a, b, c . . ., if needed).

Tradition associates a rishi (seer, here: at least composer) with each rik of the Rigveda. Most suktas are attributed to single composers. In all, 10 families of rishis account for more than 95 percent of the riks.

The Rigvedic hymns are dedicated to various deities. Chief of them is Indra, a heroic god praised for having slain his enemy Vritra. Indra and Zeus and Norse Thor have common characteristics. Then there is Agni, the fire god, and Soma, the juicy god. Other prominent gods are the Adityas or Asura gods Mitra-Varuna and Ushas (the dawn). Also invoked are Savitri, Vishnu, Rudra, Pushan, Brihaspati or Brahmanaspati, and also deified natural phenomena such as Dyaus Pita (the shining sky, Father Heaven), Prithivi (the earth, Mother Earth), Surya (the sun god), Vayu or Vata (the wind), Apas (the waters), Parjanya (the thunder and rain), Vac (the word), many rivers (notably the Sapta Sindhu, and the Sarasvati River). The Adityas, Vasus, Rudras, Sadhyas, Ashvins, Maruts, Rbhus, and the Vishvadevas ("all-gods") as well as the "thirty-three gods" are the groups of deities mentioned.

The hymns mention various further minor gods, persons, concepts, phenomena and items. They also contain some references to possible historical events.

The Rigveda describes a mobile, semi-nomadic culture, with horse-drawn chariots, oxen-drawn wagons, and metal (bronze) weapons. The geography described is consistent with that of the Greater Punjab. The horse (ashva), cattle, sheep and goat play an important role in the Rigveda. There are also references to the elephant (Hastin, Varana), camel (Ustra, especially in Mandala 8), donkey (khara, rasabha), buffalo (Mahisa), wolf, hyena, lion (Simha), mountain goat (sarabha) and to the gaur in the Rigveda. The peafowl (mayura), the goose (hamsa) and the chakravaka (Anas casarca) are some birds mentioned in the Rigveda.

According to Hindu tradition, the Rigvedic hymns were collected by Paila under the guidance of Vyasa, who according to tradition formed the Rigveda Samhita as we know it.

Later Hindu authors have interpreted and commented the Vedic ritual, discussing the meanings of difficult words. In the 1300s century, Sayana wrote an exhaustive commentary (bhasya) on it.

Since the 1800s, reformers, for example Aurobindo, have sought to re-interpret the Vedas to conform to modern and established moral and spiritual norms. They have moved the original ritualistic content to a more symbolic or mystical interpretation.

Horace Hayman Wilson was the first to make a complete translation of the Rig Veda into English, published in six volumes during the period 1850-88. Wilson's version was based on the commentary of Sayana.

In 1889, Ralph Thomas Hotchkin Griffith published his translation as The Hymns of the Rig Veda, in London. Later edition/reprint: The Hymns of the Rgveda: Translated with a Popular Commentary by Ralph T. H. Griffith; Edited by Jagdish Lal Shastri. Revised and enlarged ed. 2 Vols. (Dehli: Motilal Banarsidass, 1999). There is also a reprint of the first volume at Kessinger, Whitefish, MT, 2006).

David Frawley Making Sense

Dr David Frawley (1998) uses such as etymology and cultural history to get to multiple meanings of words that are used in the Rigveda, and he arrives at sets of meanings. Examples:

[T]he case of the famour Vedic cow, "Gau." Its range of meaning is so great, we have nothing even close. Gau is symbolically a cow. Generally, it is anything that comes from a cow, is made from a cow or is somehow cow-like. From the cow as the basic wealth of the ancients, it meant wealth, nourishment and value generally. Yet even this is only the beginning. It means a ray of light; the rays as the cattle of the Sun, its wealth and nourishing force. As such, it more generally means light (which is the best equivalent for it most of the time). Light for the seers was also consciousness. . . .

The Cow is the soul that is the being of perception whose field is that of the senses. The Cow is the Divine Word - Wisdom at the heart of the soul which yields all boons. As such, the cow is the Goddess, who is inwardly consciousness and outwardly the sky, the dappled cow being the night sky with its stars. Or the cow in the masculine tense can be a general term for the Gods as powers of light and the wisdom-word. The variegated cow is the Sun and its manifold rays [etc.]. (Frawley 1998, 48)

"Where does he get that from?" one may ask. Well -

Anyone familiar with the Sanskrit of the text knows the variability of the language, its broad and, by our sense, sometimes bizarre metaphors, the multiple meanings of single words and the apparent large number of synonyms. There is nothing definitive or authoritative about any Vedic translation . . . It is possible to show word by word, according to grammar and etymology, the meanings set forth here . . . (I have done this elsewhere for more specialized publications). To this end I have included a glossary of key Sanskrit terms and their range of meanings.

The basic method I have employed is to go to the etymological meaning of the root in both its abstract and concrete senses and set forth aspects of each for an integral comprehension with, however, the more inner, abstract sense predominating over the outer, concrete connotation. . . .

It is not enough merely to translate their terms into our terms. (Ibid. 50)

The ancient language appears primitive at first with its endless references to cows and horses and solicitations for food and wealth. However, as we get to know it better, we find a wealth of deeper associations emerging, multiple meanings of words justified by manifold word plays in the hymns themselves. We find these terms used with abstract and cosmic connotations we would never associate with them. Finally, we reach a point where the ancient language spreads its wings for us and we find an inexhaustible depth of meaning, etymological associations of vast proportions moving on multiple levels. After this, we find the English language to be a much poorer, more rigid and less expressive tongue. (Ibid. 51)

There are references to other Frawley books.

May this be added:

India has a magnificent tradition of religious literature stretching over three and a half millennia, with a vast range of styles and subjects - from almost impersonal reflections on the mysteries of the cosmos, the divine, and humankind's relation to them to deeply intimate expressions of worship. This literature is justly celebrated, not only within the religious traditions that gave rise to the various works but around the world among people with no ties to those religious traditions. The Rigveda is the first of these monuments, and it can stand with any of the subsequent ones. (Jamison and Brereton 2014, 2)

So far (2019) Jamison and Brereton have translated the complete Rigveda in three volumes and put online a solid number of notes to eight of the ten mandalas (parts).

Cow and Light, Gods and Demons

After returning to India from studies at Cambridge in England, Sri Aurobindo (1872–1950) eventually moved to Pondicherry and interpreted Rigvedic and other passages.

[T]he Vedic cow was an exceedingly enigmatical animal and came from no earthly herd. The word go means both cow and light and in a number of passages evidently meant light even while putting forward the image of the cow. This is clear enough when we have to do with the cows of the sun – the Homeric kine of Helios – and the cows of the Dawn. Psychologically, the physical Light might well be used as a symbol of knowledge and especially of the divine knowledge. But how could this mere possibility be tested and established? (Aurobindo 1998, 43)

Keys to gods and demons

Sri Aurobindo:

The gods I found to be described as children of Light [and] increasing man, bringing him light . . . leading him against all attacks to the great goal, the integral felicity, the perfect bliss. Their separate functions emerged by means of their activities, their epithets, the psychological sense of the legends connected with them, the indications of the Upanishads and Puranas, the occasional side-lights from Greek myth. On the other hand the demons who opposed them, are all powers of division and limitation . . . as their names indicate, powers that work against the free and unified integrality of the being. (Ibid. 46)

How Sri Aurobindo understands the term yajna, sacrifice

We find in the Gita the word yajna, sacrifice, used in a symbolic sense for all action, whether internal or external, that is consecrated to the gods or to the Supreme. Was such symbolic use of the word born of a later philosophical intellectuality, or was it inherent in the Vedic idea of sacrifice? I found that in the Veda itself there were hymns in which the idea of the yajna or of the victim is openly symbolical, others in which the veil is quite transparent. The question then arose whether these were later compositions developing an incipient symbolism out of old superstitious practices or rather the occasional plainer statement of a sense which is in most hymns more or less carefully veiled by the figure [of speech]. (1998, 41)

Sri Aurobindo on the value of drinking lots of wine

Much in the ancient Rigveda tells of soma (mead), drinking it and get intoxicated. How to explain it as something else than that? Sri Aurobindo tells:
Brahman . . . is the Blissful One. . . . through Indra, through Agni, through Soma. (Aurobindo 1998, 353)

Soma is the Lord of the wine of delight, the wine of immortality [and] is found in the plants, the growths of earth, and in the waters . . . Soma is simply described as flowing in a river of delight to the seat of the Gods, to the home of Immortality. [Moreover, a] human being is imaged as the jar of the Soma-wine. . . (Ibid. 354)

Received, sifted, strained, the Soma-wine of life turned into . . . the touch and exultation of . . . Ananda [Joy, Bliss]. (Ibid. 355).

The Lord of the Ananda . . . gives us the splendours of the Truth and the plenitudes of the Vast. (Ibid. 358)

From it all we may gather: The Veda speaks to people on many levels.

◦Jamison and Brereton's backup material of 8 out of 10 Rigveda books (parts) by 9 June 2019

About Vedic gods


Rigveda songs or poems, Rikvedic hymns, Literature  

Aurobindo, Sri. 1998. The Secret of the Veda. Pondicherri, IN: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust. ⍽▢⍽ Sri Aurobindo (above) considers various texts or passages as figurative, at least in part. His outlook is substantiated by the fact that Upanishads took off from the rituals with similar figurative aspects built into them.

Doniger, Wendy. 1981. The Rig Veda: An Anthology. London: Penguin Classics, 1981. ⍽▢⍽ Selected hymns with introductory explanations.

Frawley, David. 1992. Wisdom of the Ancient Seers: Mantras of the Rig Veda. Salt Lake City, UT: Passage Press. ⍽▢⍽ Many translation problems are exposed. Dr Frawley also tries to analyse the words that are used, so as to arrive at divergent meanings. Example:

The Cow is the soul that is the being of perception . . . The Cow is the Divine Word - Wisdom at the heart of the soul which yields all boons. As such, the cow is . . . the night sky with its stars. Or . . . The variegated cow is the Sun and its manifold rays. (etc.) (p. 48)

Griffith, Ralph Thomas Hotchkin, tr. 1889.The Hymns of the Rig Veda. London. ⍽▢⍽ Later edition/reprint: The Hymns of the Rgveda: Translated with a Popular Commentary by Ralph T. H. Griffith; Edited by Jagdish Lal Shastri. Revised and enlarged ed. 2 Vols. (Dehli: Motilal Banarsidass, 1999). There is also a reprint of the first volume at Kessinger, Whitefish, MT, 2006). Griffith (1826-1906) based his Rig Veda translation on F. Max Müller's six-volumed Sanskrit edition.

Jamison, Stephanie W. and Joel P. Brereton, trs. 2014. The Rigveda: The Earliest Religious Poetry of India. Vols 1-3. New York: Oxford University Press. ⍽▢⍽ This new, accessible and scholarly translation of the complete Rigveda into English incorporates the results of research of the last century on the language and the ritual system of the text. The focus is on the poetic techniques and structures used by the seer-poets and on how the poetry "intersects with and dynamically expresses the ritual underpinnings of the text." - By 9 June 2019: ◦Jamison and Brereton's backup material to 8 out of 10 Rigveda books (parts) .

Staal, Frits. 2013. Discovering the Vedas: Origins, Mantras, Rituals, Insights. Digital ed. New Delhi: Penguin Books India. ⍽▢⍽ "Not it, but about it" - that is to say, "Not a transliteration or translation, but information about the work."

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