Hymns of The Atharva Veda


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I. The names of the atharva-veda and their meanings.

The compound stem atharvangiras.

The fourth Veda is known in Hindu literature by an unusually large number of appellations. Of these the dvandva plural atharvangirasah is old, occurring AV. X,7, 20; it is the name found at the head of the Atharvan MSS. themselves. The appearance of this name in a given text has not unfrequently been made the basis–partly or entirely–for estimating the relative chronology of that text. But this criterion can claim only negative value, since the designation occurs in a text as late as the Ausanasa-smriti, Ill, 44. It is found in a great variety of texts of the Vedic literature, as may be seen in the subsequent account of the attitude of Hindu literature towards the fourth Veda (p. xxviii ff.), but at no period does it positively exclude other designations.

The locative singular of this same compound occurs in a passage not altogether textually certain, Mahabh. Ill, 305, 20=17066, where the Bombay edition has atharvangi-rasi srutam, but the Calcutta, atharvasirasi srutam. The locative singular (apparently neuter) of the stem atharvangi-rasa occurs rarely, Yagnav. I ,319 (kusalam atharvangirase). A specimen of a derivative adjective from the compound may be seen at Manu XI, 33, atharvangirasih srutih; cf. Mahabh. VIIl, 40, 33 = 1848, krityam atharvangirastim.

Meaning of each of the terms atharvan and angiras.

The name atharvan, with a great variety of derivatives, is employed growingly as the designation of the Veda; the name angiras by itself is so rare as to arrest attention when it is met. At TS. VII, 5, I I, 2 = Kathaka Asvamedhagrantha, V, 2, occurs the formula angirobhyah svaha, preceded by rigbhyah, &c. svaha: it is, as far as is known, the solitary occurrence of this designation of the Atharvaveda in a Vedic text. Quite frequently, however, the members of the compound atharvangirasah are separated so that each is mentioned by itself, but always in more or less close conjunction with one another. This shows that the compound is not a congealed formula, but that the texts are conscious of the fact that each has a distinct individuality, and a right to separate existence. In other words, the AV. actually consists of atharvan and angiras matter, and the question arises what elements in the make- up of this Veda these terms refer to. The answer, I believe, may now be given with a considerable degree of certainty: the term atharvan refers to the auspicious practices of the Veda, the bheshagani (AV. XI, 6, 14), those parts of the Veda which are recognised by the Atharvan ritual and the orthodox Brahmanical writings, as santa, 'holy,' and paushtika, ‘conferring prosperity;’ the term angiras refers to the hostile sorcery practices of the Veda, the yatu (Sat. Br. X, 5, 2, 20), or abhikara, which is terrible (ghora).

In an article entitled, ‘On the position of the Vaitana-sutra in the literature of the Atharva-veda,’ Journ. Amer. Or. Soc. XI, 387 ff., I pointed out that the above- mentioned distinction is clearly made at Vait. Su. 5, 10, where two lists of plants are differentiated, one as atharvanyah, the other as angirasyah. The same distinction is maintained at Gop. Br. I, 2, 18. The former refers to the list of plants catalogued at Kaus. 8, 16, and there distinctly described as santah, 'holy;' the second list is stated at Vait. Su. 5, 10 itself to be angirasa, in the obscure terms, kapurviparva- rodakavrikkavatinadanirdahantibhir angirasibhih. These names are in general unknown, the text is not quite certain, but the designation of the last, nirdahanti, shows that the list is designed for unholy sorcery practices (abhikarika). The adjective angirasa is in general in the ritualist texts of the AV. equivalent to abhikarika. Thus sambhara angi-rasah, Kaus. 47, 2, means ‘utensils for sorcery;' danda angirasah, Kaus. 47, 12, means 'staff for sorcery;' agnir angirasah, Kaus. 14, 30, means ‘sorcery-fire.’ The fifth kalpa of the AV., usuaIly known as Angirasa-kalpa, bears also the names Abhikara-kalpa, and Vidhana-kalpa, 'text- book of sorcery ;' see ibid. XI, 376 ff.

The term angiras in non-Atharvan texts.

It is worth while to follow out this specific use of the term angirasa in non-Atharvan texts, lest it be suspected of being an Atharvanic refinement. The Rig- vidhana IV, 6, 4, has the following sloka: ‘He against whom those that are skilled in the Angirasakalpas practice sorcery repels them all with the Pratyangirasakalpa .’ The term pratyangirasa is the exact equivalent of pratyabhikarana, ‘counter-witch- craft’ (AV. II, 11, 2), and the lo-krityapratiharanani, Ath. Paris. 32, 2 (cf. Kaus. 39, 7, note). The texts of the sort called atharvanapratyangirakalpam (!see Ind. Stud. I,469) deal with the same theme, as does the Yagur- vidhana (Agni-purana, 259, 10) in the expression pratyangireshu (sc. karmasu). Cf. also the titles of works, pratyangiratatva, pratyangirapankanga, and pratyangirasukta, mentioned in Bohtlingk's Lexicon, as probably dealing with the same theme. We may connect with this pejorative use of the word angirasa the fact that the Vishnu-purana (Wilson's translation, V, 383) and the Bhavishya-purana count the Angirasa as one of the four Vedas of the Parsis (Maga), the other three, Vada, Visvavada, and Vidut, also conveying thinly veiled disparagement of the religious books of an exotic religion; cf. Wilson in Reinaud's Memoire sur l'Inde, P.394; Ind. Stud. I, 292, note; Weber, Ind. Lit., p.164, note.

We may then regard it as certain that the words angiras and angirasa are reflected by the ceremonial literature in the sense of abhikara and abhikarika. Far more important is the evidence of certain texts of greater antiquity, and higher dignity, which have occasion to mention the Atharvan incidentally, and enunciate clearly this twofold character of the Veda. They make the very same distinction between atharvan and angiras that appeared above in the ritualistic passage, Vait. Su. 5,10 (Gop. Br. I, 2, 18). At Sankh. Sr. XVI, 2, I ff., on the occasion of the horse-sacrifice, recitations are made from the ordinary Vedic classes of literature, the rikah, yagumshi, samani, and also the remoter literary categories which the Brahmanas and Sutras report, with great unanimity and considerable variety, as having been in existence in their time: the itihasa (akhyana), purana, sarpavidya, &c. The Atharvan figures immediately after the Rik and Saman, and that too twice, in its double character as Atharvan and Angiras, and, what is more important, bheshagam, i. e. remedial charms, are recited from the Atharvan; ghoram, i.e. sorcery, abhikarikam, from the Angiras. The commentator regards bheshagam and ghoram as distinct works, bheshagagranthasya tharvani-kanam... ghoram atharvano granthah. The same subject is treated in almost identical terms in Asv. Sr. X, 7, I ff.: again atharvano vedah and angiraso vedah are treated individually, and again the former is correlated with bheshagam, the latter with ghoram. Once more this theme is handled by the Sat. Br. XIII, 4, 3, 3 ff.: here also atharvan and angiras are recognised individually; the correlation with bheshagam and ghoram is wanting, but the individuality of the two categories is clearly implied in the behest to recite on the third and fourth days respectively one section each of the Atharvans and the Angiras, each of which are distinctly said to be a Veda.