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21 March 2011, 08:44 PM
Highlights of the Atharva veda

Here is a small compilation of some of the highlights of Atharva veda.

01. Out of the four Rtvijas, the principal Rtvija BrahmA is directly related to this very Veda (i.e., Atharva veda). The place of BrahmA among the Rtvijas of Council of offering is at the top; i.e. he is chairperson. The responsibility assigned to BrahmA is to supervise the methods of offerings and rectify the errors. He can only handle such particular liability when all Vedas are well learnt to him. He should also possess a strong will power too.

02. It has been stated in the Gopatha brAhmaNa 1.3.2 of the Atharva veda that

"Only a part of offering is processed by application of the three Vedas. The second part of it, is processed by BrahmA through the application of mind or mental power."

(GBr_1,3.2a) prajapatir yaj˝am atanuta
(GBr_1,3.2b) sa ?caiva hautram akarod yaju?adhvaryava? samnaudgatram atharva?girobhir brahmatvam_
(GBr_1,3.2c) ta? va eta? mahavadya? kurute yad ?caiva hautram akarod yaju?adhvaryava? samnaudgatram atharva?girobhir brahmatvam_
(GBr_1,3.2d) sa va e?a tribhir vedair yaj˝asyanyatara? pak?a? sa?skriyate
(GBr_1,3.2e) manasaiva brahma yaj˝asyanyatra? pak?a? sa?skaroti_

03. Aitareya brAhmaNa 5.33 of the Rig Veda states:

In the sacrifice there are both, speech and mind, required. By means of speech the three priests of the three-fold science perform one part (assigned to vAk); but the BrahmA priest performs his duty by the mind only...

Just as a man who walks with one foot only, or a carriage which has one wheel only, falls to the ground, in the same manner the sacrifice falls to the ground (bhreshan nyeti), and if the sacrifice has fallen, the sacrificer falls after it too (if the BrahmA priest talks during the time they ought to be silent).

04. Actually, Atharva veda describes the application of both types of ceremonies viz. Peaceful affirmation and the witchcraft (AbichArikA) ceremonies... The king requires performing the shAntika-pauShTika deeds and talApuruSha mahAdAna etc. (purohitaM yathA atharva-mantra-brAhmaNaM pAragam--mantra puShpam).

The priest should be expert in application of Atharva hymns and BrAhmaNa. It has been mentioned in the Atharva-parishiShTa (4.6, bhAShya of SAyaNa) that the nation where resides the priest, expert in ShAntikarma and well learned in Atharva veda, attains accession to without any fear of invasions and disturbances. "Hence, it is necessary for a king that he should honour daily with pray, donation and respect to the priest well learned to Atharva veda and commander of his memory organs.

05. A certain number of AchAryas have accepted it as the first veda on the premise of this very significance that Atharva veda holds. Jayanta BhaTTa in his nyAya manjarI (page 237-238) has accepted it as the first veda among the total four vedas.

06. nAgara khaNDa too submits while accepting it as the first veda: "As Atharva is mainly used for the accomplishments of all worldly sects, it is called the first veda."

07. AchArya SAyaNa observes in the introduction of this veda that the three earlier vedas are for spiritual ends while the fourth and last Atharva veda is for both worldly and higher purpose. *02

ऐहिकामुष्मिक फलम् चतुर्थम् व्यासि कीर्शति

aihikAmuShmika phalam chaturtham vyAsi kIrshati

"The various sukha-samRtti phalas relating to this and the other worlds are spoken only in the fourth veda which is the AtharvaNa Veda."

08. In the same way, in the descriptions and details of yajnas too, this remains in competition with the other Vedas. In the Rg Veda itself from the mantras such as: *02

ते हि प्रजाया अभरन्त वि श्रवो बृहस्पतिर् वृषभः सोमजामयः ।
यज्ञैरथर्वा प्रथमो वि धारयद् देवा दक्षैर् भृगवः सं चिकित्रिरे ॥ १०.०९२.१० ॥

te hi prajAyA abharanta vi shravo bRuhaspatir vRuShabhaH somajAmayaH |
yaj~jairatharvA prathamo vi dhArayad devA dakShair bhRugavaH saM chikitrire || 10.092.10 ||

10.092.10 Inasmuch as Br.haspati, the showerer (of benefits) and the kindred of Soma (the Visvedeva_s), bestow food (for the support) of people, Atharvan was the first to invigorate (the gods) with sacrifices; with strength the gods and Bhr.gus discovered (the cattle). [With strength: i.e., with the strength acquired from the sacrifice which they had eaten; having gone to the sacrifice made by Atharvan, they discovered the cattle; cf. RV 1.83.5].--Tr.H.H.Wilson

09. and the following, it is mentioned that the yajna-karma relates to the atharvan (who practises this veda). *02

त्वाम् अग्ने पुष्कराद् अध्य् अथर्वा निर् अमन्थत ।
मूर्ध्नो विश्वस्य वाघतः ॥ ६.०१६.१३ ॥

tvAm agne puShkarAd adhy atharvA nir amanthata |
mUrdhno vishvasya vAghataH || 6.016.13 ||

6.016.13 The sage, Atharvan, extracted you from upon the lotus-leaf, the head, the support of the universe. [tvam pus.kara_d adhi atharvo nirmanthata, murdhno vis.vasya va_ghatah: pus.kara_dadhi = pus.karaparn.e, lotus-leaf; pus.kara parn.e praja_patir bhu_mim aparthayat = upon the lotus-leaf praja_pati made manifest the earth, a probable acount of the creation in Manu; since it supported the earth, it may be termed the head, mu_rdhan, or the bearer, va_ghata for va_haka, of all things; atharvan means pra_n.a, vital air extracted fire or animal heat from the water, pra_n.a udakasaka_s'a_d Agnim nis'es.an.a mathitava_n; va_ghata = r.tvij, the ministrant priest; so the sentence is explained: all the priests churned you out of the head or top of the wood of attrition].--Tr.H.H.Wilson

10. In vedic literature, Atharva veda has other names: AmRta veda, Atma veda, Amgiro veda, AtharvAngirasa, BrgvAngirasa, kSAtra, BhaiShajya, and Chando-veda, etc. The Atharva veda presents its own name as AtharvAngirasaH.

11. While interpreting the term 'atharva', nirukta of Yaska 11.2.18 states: "tharva root is applied in the meaning of rudeness, curvy, dynamically, violence etc. Hence the term atharva is meant by attainment of the stability of mind with exercising modesty and non-violence."

12. Atharva veda is also addressed as Brahma veda after BrahmA, the chairperson of the yajna-samsada--Offering Council. BrahmA should be well learned with four vedas, with outstanding knowledge in Atharva veda. (gopatha brAhmaNa 1.5:15)

13. ChAndogya upaniShad 3.1.1 to 3.4.2 has this simile about the four vedas:

• Aum, the onder sun is indeed the honey of the gods. Of this honey, heaven is the cross-beam, the sky is the honeycomb, and (the water particles in) the rays are the eggs.

• The eastern rays of that sun are its eastern honey-cells; the Rks are the bees (te ritual of) the Rgveda is the flower and those waters are the nectar.

• And its souther rays are its souther honey-cells. The Yajus verses are the bees. The Yajurveda is the flower and those waters are the nectar.

• And its western rays are its western honey-cells. The SAman verses are the bees. The SAmaveda is the flower; and those waters are the nectar.

• And the northern rays are its northern honey-cells. The mantras of the Atharvaveda are the bees. The ItihAss and the PurANa are the flower; and those waters are the nectar.

14. One more thing is to be noted that the hymns of Atharvan are with the deeds of peace and confirmation, and the hymns of Angiras are witchcraft (AbhichArikA). Since they take this order, the veda is known as AtharvAngirasa veda.

15. The name BRgu in the name BRghvAngirasa veda stands for BRgu RShi, a disciple of Angirasa, who popularised the Atharva Veda (go.brAh.1.3.4)

16. Some other names of the Atharva Veda, which are not much known are:

• In ChandAmsi-Atharva 11.7.24, it is addressed as Chandoveda and RchAH sAmAa yajurmahI--AV 10.7.14, as mahIveda.

• In shatapatha brAhmaNa 14.8.14, it is kSAtra veda and in AV 11.6.14, it is addressed as bhaiShajya veda.

17. With all such names, why only the name Atharva veda came into vogue?

Here Dr.Karmabelkar gives the scholarly statement that "This title is abbreviated term of the oldest and original title AtharvAngirasaH which with probability, not only includes the names of the two ancient mythical sages but also represents their very characteristic representations and contributions. In the later period, BRgu replaced the name Atharvan and the title was shortened to the convenient and handy title Atharva veda."

18. Of course, the name Atharvan, Angiras and BhRgu also occur in the Rg Veda many times but there they designate only some mythic personages, nowhere do they refer to any kind of literary composition.

19. In the period of the BrAhmaNa literature, the position of the Atharva appears to have swung in a bewidering manner, for sometimes it is referred to while at other times it is neglected. At one place shatapatha brAhmaNa, omits the name of this veda, but at some other places this text speaks for this veda by its very name-- Besides this, some of the shrauta sUtras also mention a name of this veda: shAngkhAyana 16.2.2 and AshvalAyanIyaM 10.7.1.

20. taittirIya samhitA says:

parimitA vA RchaH parimitAni sAmAni
parimitAni yajumShi atha etasyaiva
anto nAsti tat brahma

The Rks are limited (parimita), the sAmans are limited, and the yajuShes are limited, but for the topics dealt with in the Atharva veda, there is no limit.

Here, the term 'brahma' indicates the Atharva veda *02, as known from the following AtharvaNa mantra:

tam Rchas cha sAmAni cha yajumShi cha
brahma chAnuvyacalan | [8]

01. 'Atharva veda samhitA' Tr. by W.D.Whitney and SAyaNa bhAShya, ed. K.L.Joshi

02. Dr.V.Gopalan, retired professor of Sanskrit, who researched the kaushika gRhya sUtram of the atharva veda for his doctrate, in a brief introductory Tamizh book on this veda published by the famous KaDalangguDi Publications, Chennai says this among other things about the importance of the Atharva Veda.


More learned members may discuss the pros and cons on the individual points above.

22 March 2011, 04:37 AM
Nice article sri Saidev,

Please continue.

All the best

23 March 2011, 09:05 AM
atharva veda--a pakShi-vIkShaNam--bird's eye view

Here is an overview about the composition and contents of the Atharva veda, compiled from a few sources listed at the end.

Nature of the Vedas

• In his commentary on the taittirIya samhitA of the kRShNa-yajur veda, SAyaNAchArya defines the nature of an entire Vedic text as below:

इष्ट प्राप्ति अनिष्ट परिहारयोः अलौकिकम् उपायं यो ग्रन्थो वेदयति स वेदः

iShTa prApti aniShTa parihArayoH alaukikam upAyaM yo grantho vedayati sa vedaH

The entire Veda is engaged in revealing--vedayati, those means to obtaining the desired (good)--iShTa prApti, and getting rid of the undesired (evil)--aniShTa parihArayoH, by transcendental means--alaukikam upAyaM, where they are not revealed by perception, that is, direct sensory experience--pratyakSha, and inference--anumAna.

Composition of the Atharva veda

• Atharva veda is compiled in twenty kANDas--books, comprising 750 sUktas--Vedic hymns, which in turn have about 6,000 mantras. About one-sixth of these mantras are in prose, the rest in the various Chandas related to the Vedas.

• Unlike the other three Vedas which indicate their contents by their very names (Rg--praise, yajus--worship through sacrifices, sAma--musical chants), Atharva veda cannot do so, since it deals with various subjects. This is one reason that Atharva veda has many names that give an idea of that specific kind of content. For example, its name bheShajAni indicates the subject of medical remedies.

• According to viShNu purANam (sec.3,ch.6), Atharva veda has five divisions:

01. nakShatra kalpa..contains God BrahmA's works
02. veda kalpa.......contains rites associated with brahmA, the AV ritvik
03. saMhitA kalpa....contains mantra vidhi--rules
04. AngIrasa kalpa...contains AbhichAra
05. shAnti kalpa.....contains taming of horses, elephants, etc.

• Here is a list of the kinds of mantras in AV and their uses:

01. surparNastava--sarpa-bAdhA-nivAraNam--Getting rid of serpents and snake poison.
02. indreNadatta--sarva-kAma-siddhi--Fulfilment of all desires.
03. imA devI--sarva-shAnti-karma--Attainment of peace.
04. devamAruta--sarva-shAnti-karma--Attainment of peace.
05. yamasyAlokAt--dursvapna-shamana--Prevention of bad dreams.
06. indras-chandrashcha-pancha-vaNija--vANijya-lAbha--Prosperity in commerce and business.
07. kAmojevAji--strI-saubhAgyam--Enjoyment of women.
08 tubhyamevaja-vima--Ayuta-homa-tulyam--Equal to thousand sacrifices.
09. Agnegobhinna--buddhi-vRddhi--Strengthening of the intellect.
10. dhruvaMdhru-vena--sthAna-lAbha--Attainment of posts of honour.
11. AlaktajIva--KRShi-lAbha--Profit from agriculture.
12. ahan te bhagna--Prosperity in general.
13. ye me pASha--bandhana-vimukti--Freedom from imprisonment.
14. zapathvaha--Shatru-nAsham Destruction of enemies.
15. tvamuttama--yasho-vRddhi--Enhancement of fame.
16. YathAmRgavati--strI-saubhAgyam--Enjoyment of women.
17. Yenapehadisha--grabha-lAbha (garbha lAbha?)-- Birth of children.
18. ayante yoniH--putra-lAbha--Getting sons.
19. shivazhivAbhiH--saubhAgya-vRddhi--Prosperity in general.
20. bRrhaspatirnaH pari pAtu--mArga-mangala--Blessings.
21. munjchAvitva--mRtyu-nivAraNa--Warding off death.

When these mantras are chanted several oblations are made to the sacrificial fire. Substances like chamata (samidh?), ghee, rice, milk are thrown into the fire as offerings. (agni purANam, ch.262).

About Atharvan and Angiras RShis

• Atharva RShi--Atharvan, seen in the Rg veda, is said to be the author of the Atharva-veda. After learning brahmavidya from God BrahmA, it was this Atharva, who first brought fire to the earth from heaven. Atharva had two wives named ShAnti and Chitti. This Atharva was the same person as AtharvaNa, the son of VasiShtha maharShi. (BhAgavatam, sk.4,ch.1).

• Angiras RShi--was the second of the six mAnasa-putras--mind-born sons, of God BrahmA, the other five being MarIchi, Atri, Pulastya, Pula and Kratu. He was also among the sixteen prajApatis who God BrahmA created for creation of the universe.

Atharva veda shAkhAs

• Patanjali maharShi in his vyAkaraNa mahAbhAShya says 'navatAtharvaNo vedaH', giving also the names of the nine shAkhAs--schools, this Veda is done-vibhAgam-into--distributed. These nine shAkhAs are: paippalAda, stauda, mauda, shaunakIya, jAjala, jalada, brahmavada, devadarsha and chAraNavaidyA.

• Of these nine shAkhAs, only two are in practice today: shaunakIyam and paippalAdam. Of these two only the shaunakIyam is the shAkhA that is available in-saMpUrNam--completely. Therefore this is now considered as the core Atharva veda. The paippalAda shAkhA is apUrNam--incomplete, and has been published without the vedic svara marks.

• The shaunakIya shAkhA is recited in western Saurastra, at Benares, Gokarna and, after a recent introduction from Benares, also in South India (Tirupati, Chidambaram, etc.). (Wiki)

• The paippalAda shAkhA is recited in Orissa in samhita-patha, however not with typical Vedic svara, and in south Jharkhand districts.


• The saunakIya shAkhA was first published by Rudolf Roth and William Dwight Whitney (Berlin, 1856). Later it was translated into English by Ralph Griffith (1897) and W.D.Whiteney in two volumes (1905).

• Shankar Pandurang Pandit published it with the SAyaNa bhAShyam in 1895-96 (NirNayasAgar Press).

• Ramachandra Sarma in 1929, published it uner the publication of 'SanAtana Dharma YantrAlaya', MoradAbAd (U.P.).

• Vishvabandhu during 1960-64, published it under 'VishveshvarAnandA vaidika shoda samastAna press'.

• The paippalAda shAkhA was published by Bloomfield and Richard Carbe in 1901.

• The Publication of W.D.Whiteney with the bhAShya of SAyaNAchArya, edited and revised by R.L.Joshi has been currently published under three volumes by 'Parimal Publications', Delhi under their 'Parimal Sanskrit Series no.55'. (This book is available at 'Jayalakshmi Indological Book House', Mylapore, Chennai.)

Atharva vedAnga texts

• brAhmaNas: gopatha, paippalAda. upaniShads: 32 in number which include: muNDaka, mANDukya, prashna, gaNapati atharvashIrsha and nRusiMha tApani.

• prAtishAkhyas: atharva, shaunakIya chaturAdhyAyIkA and atharvaveda prAtishAkhya sUtra. (prAtishAkhyas are texts which deal with the manner in which the Vedas are to be enunciated).

• Other texts: mANDUkI shikShA (phonetics and phonology), vaitAna shrauta sUtram and kaushika gRhya sUtram. The kaushika gRhya sUtram is an important text in the Atharva veda sAhitayam, since it deals with the prayogas--application, of the AV mantras for various occasions. Bloomfield published it in 1890.

01. 'Atharva Veda' by Dr.V.Gopalan
02. 'Puranic Encyclopaedia' by Vettam Mani
03. Internet resources