The Status Of The Atharvaveda In Vedic Literature And In Vedic
a) Status of the Atharvaveda in Vedic Literature :
In Vedic literature, the Atharvaveda is recognized as the fourth Veda.
The term trayī meaning the trio of the Vedas (vedatrayī) or three-fold
knowledge (trayīvidyā) is quite well known. There are some
controversies about the meaning of the term trayī in relation to the
Atharvaveda. A question is often asked to whether this term excludes
or includes the fourth Veda. According to some scholars trayī denotes
only the first three Vedas viz. the Ṛgveda, the Sāmaveda and the
Yajurveda. These three Vedas collectively known as trayī are related
to the śrauta performances. The Atharvaveda has no relation to the
śrauta rituals and therefore, it has no place in the trayī. The supporters
of this view provide some examples of Vedic texts where the name of
the Atharvaveda has been omitted. Thus for instance, the famous
puruṣasūkta of the Ṛgvedasaṁhitā ignores the Atharvaveda when its
seer speaks about the birth of the Vedas from the cosmic sacrifice:
tasmād yajñāt sarvahuta ṛcaḥ sāmāni jajñire /
chandāṁsi jajñire tasmādyajustasmādajāyata // 366
Similarly, this Veda has not been mentioned in Aitareyabrāhmaṇa:
…trayo vedā ajāyanta ṛgveda evāgnerajāyata, yajurvedo vāyoḥ,
sāmaveda ādityāt… etc. 367
Same is the case with the Taittirīyabrāhmaṇa which has omitted the
name of the Atharvaveda in the following passage which describes the
relation of the Sun god with the Vedas:
ṛgbhiḥ pūrbāhṇe divi deva īyate / yajurvede tiṣṭhati madhye ahnaḥ /
sāmavedenāstamaye mahiyate /vedairaśunyastribhireti sūryah // 368
According to some western scholars too the term trayī does not
include the Atharvaveda also because of the fact that the Atharvaveda
is the Veda of black magic or of popular belief and hence, it was not
recognized for a long time by the priestly class as a Veda in the truest
sense of the term
. It is believed that it must have been only at some
later period when the spells and charms were given priestly colouring
that this Veda was accepted into the fold of Vedic texts
. Veda is
Cf., Aitareyabrāhmaṇa, 18.104.22.168.
Cf., Taittirīyabrāhmaṇa, 22.214.171.124.
Cf., Winternitz, M., A History of Indian Literature, Vol. I, Delhi,
Also see, Griffith, R.T.H., Hymns of the Atharva Veda, Vol.I,
Varanasi, 1968, p.vi.
Cf., Karambelkar, V.W., The Atharvavedic Civilisation, Its Place
in the Indo-Aryan Culture, Nagpur, 1959, p. xi.
made up of two parts, viz. mantra and brāhmaṇa371. Mantras are as
one knows of three types-- ṛk, sāman and yajus. These three types of
Mantra-texts are indispensible for the performance of Vedic sacrifices
whether big or small. In this connection one may examine the
meaning of the term trayī in the light of three Sūtras372 from the
Mimāṁsā philosophy of Jaimini who has explained the terms ṛk,
sāman and yajus as follows---
a) teṣāṁ ṛgyatrārthavaśena pādavyavasthā,
b) gītiṣu sāmākhyā,
c) śeṣe yajuḥ śabdaḥ.
According to Jaimini a ṛk is a poetic composition in which the Pādas
are arranged in conformity with the sense of the mantra. The term
sāman is applied to melody i.e. the word sāman stands for Vedic
music. The rest of the Vedic compositions which are neither poetry
nor musical are known by the term yajus. In other words a yajus is a
prose passage. It may be stated that in the verse from the puruṣasūkta
viz. tasmād yajñāt etc. three types of Mantras that constitute the Veda
appear to have been referred to by using the words ṛcaḥ, sāmāni and
yajus. When considered from the point of view the word trayī seems
Cf., Jaimini Sūtra 2.1.35,36,37., Jaiminīya Sūtrārthasaṁgraha,
Ed.by, Dr. P.K. Narayan Pillai, Trivandrum, 1951.
to refer to these three types of Mantras. If this be so, the Atharvaveda
should become included in the trayī for this Veda consists of Mantras
which are Ṛks interspersed with prose passages and Sāmans. This
view finds support in the following passage from Nyāyamañjarī
where Jayantabhaṭṭa says :
atharvavedastu trayātmaka eva, tatra hi ṛco yajuṁṣi sāmāni iti
trīṇyapi santi tena brahmatvaṁ kriyamānaṁ trayyā kṛtaṁ bhavati /
Furthermore the Vedic priest brahmā who acts as the supervisor of
śrauta rituals, belongs to the Atharvaveda. The important status of
brahmā has been recognized in the Ṛgveda374 itself. In the
Aitareyabrāhmaṇa, brahmā has been hailed as trayīvidyaḥ. The priest
who is an authority on the three kinds of Mantras becomes eligible to
act as the brahmā priest: atha kena brahmatvaṁ kṛyata iti, trayyā
vidyayā iti375. Because of his superior knowledge he was recognized
as superior to the other three priests viz. hotā, udgātā and adhvaryu
who were attached respectively to the Ṛk, Sāma and Yajurveda.
Having taken note of this fact, Yāska says – brahmā sarvavidyaḥ
Cf., Jayantabhaṭṭa, Nyāyamañjarī,
Atharvavedaprāmānyanirupaṇam, Ᾱhnika 4, Ed. By, K.S.
Varadacarya, Maysore, 1969, p.622
Cf., RV., X.71.11.
sarvaṁ veditumarhati, brahmā parivṛḍhaḥ śrutataḥ376. Commenting
on this statement Skandasvāmin says-- anye ṛtvija ekavidyāḥ, brahmā
tu trayīvidyaḥ ataḥ sa tebhyaḥ parivṛdhaḥ śrutataḥ.
The primary duty of the brahmā-priest was to detect and rectify the
mistakes committed by the Yajurvedic, Ṛgvedic and the Sāmavedic
priests, in course of the performance of a śrauta sacrifice. It is also
interesting to note that in certain rituals like ādhāna and sautrāmaṇi,
singing of Sāmans was carried out by the brahmā priest377.
The reason behind attaching a priest like brahmā to the Atharvaveda
may be due to the fact that this Veda consists of all the three types of
The concept of vedatrayī and the status of the Atharvaveda as the
caturthaveda need not be exclusive of each other. The actual
compilation of the Mantras which are known to posterity as
Atharvavedic might have been done at a period when the three
separate collections of ṛk, yajus and sāman Mantras have already
come into existence
. Although in the Taittirīyabrāhmaṇa379 has not
been mentioned, the existence of Mantras were not unknown to this
Cf., Nirukta, 1.8.
Cf., Kātyāyanaśrautasūtra, 4.9.586.
Also see Karkabhāṣya on Ibid., sūtra, 6.
Cf., Sastri, Gaurinath, A History of Vedic Literature, Kolkata,
Cf., TB., 126.96.36.199.
text. For in the very preceding passage one comes across the
ṛcāṁ prācī mahati digucyate / dakṣiṇāmāhuryajuṣāmapārām /
atharvanāmāṅgirasāṁ praticī / sāmnāmudīcī mahati digucyate // etc.
The implication of this passage may also be that it stands testimony of
the fact that by the period of the Brāhmaṇa texts Atharvaveda came to
be recognized as one of the Vedas. While in the afore stated passage,
Atharvanic Mantras are mentioned right after the Sāmans, in yet
another passage of the Taittirīyabrāhmaṇa viz.3.12.8. Atharvanic
Mantras are mentioned next to the Sāmans. It appears from a passage
from the Taittirīyasaṁhitā that the Atharvanic Mantras were known to
this Yajurvedic Saṁhitā as the fourth collection of Vedic Mantras.
The passage under reference runs as follows :
puṣṇo vaniṣṭhurandhāhessthūragudā sarpāngudābhir ṛtūnpṛṣṭībhir-
divaṁ pṛṣṭhena vasūnāṁ prathamā kīkasā rudrāṇāṁ
dvitīyā’’dityānāṁ tṛtīyā’ṅgirasāṁ caturthī sādhyānaṁ pañcamī
viśveṣāṁ devānāṁ ṣaṣṭhī / 380
In this context one may also take into account the status of the
Atharvaveda in brahmayajña. In the Śatapathabrāhmaṇa the
recitation of Atharvanic mantra in brahmayajña has been equated to
Cf., Taittirīyasaṁhitā, 188.8.131.52.
the offerings of animal fat to the gods, an offering which is
particularly enjoyed by the gods:
meda āhutayo ha vā etā devānām yadatharvāṅgirasaḥ, sa ya evaṁ