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CHAPTER IV. The Status Of The Atharvaveda In ... CHAPTER IV. The Status Of The Atharvaveda In Vedic Literature And In Vedic Studies a) Status of the Atharvaveda in Vedic Literature

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    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


    Cf., Ṛgveda.X.90.9.

  • 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 369

    . 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 370

    . Veda is


    Cf., Aitareyabrāhmaṇa, 368

    Cf., Taittirīyabrāhmaṇa, 369

    Cf., Winternitz, M., A History of Indian Literature, Vol. I, Delhi,

    2003, p.114.

    Also see, Griffith, R.T.H., Hymns of the Atharva Veda, Vol.I,

    Varanasi, 1968, 370

    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., mantrabrāhmaṇayorvedanāmadheyam, Apastambaparibhāṣāsutra, 1.33. 372

    Cf., Jaimini Sūtra 2.1.35,36,37., Jaiminīya Sūtrārthasaṁgraha,, 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 /

    etc. 373

    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.622 374

    Cf., RV., X.71.11. 375

    Cf., AB.,5.3.3

  • 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 378

    . Although in the Taittirīyabrāhmaṇa379 has not

    been mentioned, the existence of Mantras were not unknown to this


    Cf., Nirukta, 1.8. 377

    Cf., Kātyāyanaśrautasūtra, 4.9.586. Also see Karkabhāṣya on Ibid., sūtra, 6. 378

    Cf., Sastri, Gaurinath, A History of Vedic Literature, Kolkata,

    2006, p.25. 379

    Cf., TB.,

  • text. For in the very preceding passage one comes across the

    following statement:

    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,

  • 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

    vidvānatharvāṅgiraso’haraḥ svād

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