Everything You Want to Know About Rig Vedas – The Oldest Veda

Rigveda, one of the oldest texts of the Indo-Aryan Civilization still extant, is an ancient Indian collection of Vedic hymns. Two Sanskrit words Rig and Veda constituting it, translates to ‘praise or shine’ and ‘knowledge’ respectively. A collection of 1,028 hymns and 10,600 verses in all, organized into ten different Mandalas (or the books; Sanskrit), it is the principal and oldest of the four Vedas; the other three being the the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda, the sacred texts of the Hindu dharma.


The cultural linguistic records; mainly the variation in form of Sanskrit used (from present day) point out the origin of the Rig Veda to have been around 1600 BCE, though a wider approximation of 1700–1100 BCE has also been given by experts. The initial written Rig Veda dates back to 1st millennium BCE although the extant ones today date back only to somewhere in between 11th and 14th century; primarily due to the ephemeral nature of the manuscript materials which were either palm leaves or birch barks. Vedas, before the initial codification of which took place were generationally handed over by the rich oral literary tradition, which was then a precise and elaborate technique. The earliest texts of the Rig Veda were composed in thegreater Punjab (Northwest India and Pakistan), and the more philosophical later texts were most likely composed in or around the region of Haryana (Modern-day State of India).

Like the other three Vedas, the believers of the Hindu dharma regard the Rig Veda too as Apauruṣeya; meaning, not of a man or impersonal and also not belonging to a particular author. The hymns and the verses were written by the Rishis (or the Sages) and as the ardent believers of the Hindu dharma claim the revered Lord himself taught the Vedic hymns to the sages, who then handed them down through generations by word of mouth.

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Rig Veda has been sub-classified into four major text types – the Samhitas or the hymns that sings the praises of the Rig Vedic deities, some of whom are Indra, a heroic diety and the king of the highest heaven called Saudharmakalpa who slained his enemy Vatra, Agni- the sacrificial fire, Soma, the sacred potion or the plant  which was a fundamental offering of the Vedic sacrifices and Ishwara, the supreme god-just to mention a few; the Aranyakas which constitute the philosophy behind ritual sacrifice, the Brahmanas which in-turn has the commentary of the ancient sacred rituals and the Upasanas, the one that focuses on worship.

The Mandalas of the Rigveda which are ten in number and were composed by poets from different priestly groups over a period of several centuries is structured based on clear principles – the Veda begins with a small book addressed to Agni, Indra, and other gods, singing the praises of the Lord. As the text progresses, the hymns meticulous with meters from jagati and tristubh to anustubh and gayatri reveal the history of the Vedic priod; hinting to the primitive slash and burn agriculture, cattle raising and horse-racing, deeply asthetic society practicing henotheism (with substantial differences from monotheism) where they believed one God but the accepted its manifested deities, vividly evident from the central thought of the followers of the Hindu dharma ‘Brahma is everywhere, God inside everybody.’


But what is truly worth speculating is the pre-dominant discussions about cosmology, mystic forces, the existence of Universe and other metaphysical issues bringing the central theme of metaphysics ‘not about what exists, but about what it is to exist’. Shifting from the praises from the early Mandalas of Nasadiya to the latter ones such as in the Sukta, philosophical or speculative questions about the origin of the universe and the nature of god, the virtue of dāna (charity) and rituals which are said to be the religious duties of a human are raised. Speculation reaches its epitome when questions such as ‘Do even Gods know the answer’ are raised; clearly religious scriptures should be the last place to doubt the in-depth knowledge of God, but in the Vedas it seems it ain’t.

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Rigveda, in contemporary Hindu dharma, has been a reminder of the ancient cultural heritage and point of pride for Hindus, with some hymns still in use in major rites of passage ceremonies, but to some experts the literal acceptance of most of the textual essence is long gone. Louis Renou wrote that the text is a distant object, and “even in the most orthodox domains, the reverence to the Vedas has come to be a simple raising of the hat”. Musicians and dance groups celebrate the text as a mark of Hindu heritage, and these have remained popular among the Hindus for a long time. However, the contemporary Hindu beliefs are distant from the precepts in the ancient layer of Rigveda samhitas.