The Vedic Literature the most ancient product of the Aryan mind held in the highest esteem and regarded as the most sacred by the Hindus presents a panorama of the life of the ancient population of India in all its facets. The scared literature was subjected to analytical study for the first time in the recent centuries by European scholars mainly Germans the foremost among then being Herman Oldenberg His magnum opus-Die Religion des Veda first appeared in print in 1894 and in a revised edition in 1916. He made use of linguistic methods, ethnology and folklore in his exhaustive and penetrating study of the Vedic religion. This work has had a great impact on subsequent Vedic studies and has an abiding interest to the student of the Veda, as is amply evident from the fact that even after nearly a century of its first publication it continues to attract the attention of Vedic researchers and is very frequently sought for guidance and consultation by them, and here is the first ever English translation of this four classic
The work is complete in four chapter preceded by an introduction discussing in detail the source, viz, the Vedas Brahmanas and sutra. The first chapter deals with the Vedic gods and demons in general the second one with the individual gods such as Agni, Indra Vruna Mitra and others the evil demons the origin of the world and the divine and the moral worlds the third treats at length of the cult of sacrifice magic observances festivals prayer priests and the like and the fourth one of the dead, soul heaven and ell, ghosts fathers funeral rites and animism.
Hermann Oldenberg (1854-1920) is considered as one of the greatest Indologists of Germany. After studying classical and Indian philology in Gottingen ands Berlin he became university professor at Kiel and Berlin. He visited India in 1912-13. His contributions to Vedic and Buddhistic studies are vast. He translated the Dipavaqmsa rgveda and Grhyasutras into German.
Of his many books like Buddha sein Leben , sein Lehre, sein Gemeide, Die Lehre des Upanischadern und die Anfange des Buddhism Die Literature des alten Indiens among other Die Religion des Veda (1894) in most outstanding and oft-quoted work.
Shridhar B. Shrotri (b.1934) had his education at Pune. He was the first to have obtained a doctorate degree in Geman from an Indian University in 1965. He has also studies at Heideberg and Munich. He taught at rajaram college Kolhapur and M.E.S and fergusson colleges at pune before joining Karnatak University Dharwad in 1962 where he rose to the position of professor in the foreign languages Department in 1985. Dr. Shrotri has several research papers and translations to his credit.
Hermann Oldenberg (1854-1920) is no strange name to Indologists. His
outstanding contributions to the field of Buddhist and Vedic studies are
universally acknowledged and cited even today with approval by scholars.
His Die Religion des Veda. first published in 1894, became a classic, and a
second revised edition was brought out in 1916. In this conspectus of the
Vedic religious belief and its cult practices and customs, Oldenberg has
brought to bear on the subject not merely the weighty apparatus of critical
scholarship, but also his intimate knowledge of ethnology, folklore and
philology. With pioneering spirit, he seeks to unravel the various links bet-
ween the Vedic Zeitgeist and prehistoric times, links which extend beyond
the common existence of the Indo-European peoples but have become blurred
with the march of time.
Strangely enough, Oldenberg's classic has remained inaccessible till now
to scholars not familiar with German. This endeavour to fill that lacuna was
prompted largely by the encouragement given to me by the noted Vedic
scholar Shri Sham Ba Joshi, winner of the Sahitya Academy award 1970,
and by late Shri Sundarlal Jain, grandfather of the present publisher, Shri
N. P. Jain.
In translating this work, I was hampered a great deal by my lack of familia-
rity with Indological studies, and not to an inconsiderable extent by the
ponderous, laboured syntax, so typical of nineteenth century German dons.
Ironically enough, Oldenberg who accuses the Vedic poets of delighting in
secret-mongering and obfuscatory phraseology, almost invites the same
charge himself. In my attempt to decode his deep structures, I have refrained
from excising many a reduntant turn of phrase, mainly with a view to fidelity
to the text.
My thanks are due to Dr. V. N. Deshpande, Dr. S. H. Ritti, Dr. C. Venu-
gopal and Mr. Arya Acharya for helpful suggestions and to the editors of
the Bibliographisches Institut, Mannheim, for clarifications.
And last but not the least, I wish to acknowledge the unstinting help
received from Dr. B. Subramanian who read and revised my manuscript
thoroughly in the light of the original.
An attempt to expound the Vedic Religion necessarily presupposes extensive excursions in the domain of the Vedic mythology. To draw a precise dividing line between them and to exclude at the very outset facts and questions of the purely mythological order would amount to attempting the impossible and such as it has not contemplated at all. However a selection has been made from amongst the Vedic myths, and only the most work striking ones have found a place in the present study. The very nature of this work forbids the inclusion fragment or also those whose interpretation appears to be ever and again despairingly unsatisfactory.
I did not find any reason in principles to modify this book which was published in 1894. But here and there my further research and the work of other scholars have understandably unearthed new material in this vast field of research; old views have been either corrected or refuted. Accordingly, I have taken pains to improve upon my edition and to enlarge it.
Ancient India and the Rgveda
Characteristics of the people in ancient India
The Vedic Indian whose beliefs and cults are to examined here, settled on the banks of the river Indus and in the Punjab during the period in which the oldest texts were composed. According to very rough estimates –and we can go by only rough estimates-this period is around 1500 to 1000 bc. The Vedic Indians were divided into numerous small tribes was the priestly nobility which formed a closed caste like group even at that time. They lived in villages there of no trace of cities breeding was much more predominately significant than agriculture: a condition whose effect is to be noted even in the religious sphere. The art of witting was as yet not development but was compensated by the achievement of the astonishing power of memory cultivated by the priestly schools.
The immigration of these tribes to India from the north west and their separation from the Indo European sister tribes of the Iranians, with whom they had remained one for a very long time are remote events even for the Vedic Indians if one were to go by the extant literary documents of this period However the remoteness of this period has to be judge on a much humbler scale than say the tremendous intervals of Egyptian or Babylonian history. The separation of the Indians from the Iranians meant fir the migrating south-east a complete dissociation, if not the last step towards dissociation from participating in that great rivalry amongst the nations out of which the healthy manliness of the western nations emerged. In the abundant peace of their new home the Aryans, brother of the eminent nation of Europe, mixed with the dark-skinned primitives of India and acquired more and more the characteristics of the Hindus. The immigrant Aryans who grew up in the moderate climate zones of the earth became slack through the tropical climate- a climate not congenial to their likes and which could not cause grave damages to them, after easy victories over their unequal opponents i.e the primitives incapable of any resistance. They were further rendered passive by the absence of great challenges; the harsh suffering and the grim necessities of life that steal the spirit were missing. The intellectual work done by these people lacks traces of that difficult struggle that alone can plumb the farthest depths of reality and help mould their own inner world amidst joyful vigor. With playful light heartedness they surrounded the upper surface of things with images that emanated mostly from their fantasy sometimes graceful sometimes strangely adorned rich in colors but wanting in firm energetically drawn-put lines now blending together, now distinguishing themselves and interlacing themselves again and again into new shapes.
The first signs of this passivity are manifest in the oldest document of Indian literature and religions, the hymns of the Rgveda in the sacrificial of Indian litanies with which the priests of the Vedic Aryans invoked their gods to the temple less sacrificial places of sacrificial fire surrounded by grass. Barbaric priest invoked barbaric gods who came through the celestial realms astride steeds and in chariots to feast upon the sacrificial cake butter and meat and to invigorate themselves with courage and divine strength with the intoxicating Soma-juice.
Before setting out to survey the source of our knowledge regarding the ancient Indian religion we must first of all examine the special nature of the poetry of the Rgveda.
Characteristics of Rgveda Poetry The bards of the Rgveda who hail from certain families that are the point of forming caste like independent unit compose poems in traditional style for celebrations of sacrifice. Above all for that sacrifices where poets get the richest reward namely for the great and the gorgeous Soma-sacrifices. Therefore they do not want to talk about the god they celebrate but to praise him. They are not interested in human listeners their listeners is the god himself whom they call upon to accept the offerings mercifully. So they vie with one another with untiring and pedantic zeal in heaping upon the god in prayer and in song all superlative epithets at the command of a blandishing plump eloquence endowed with a fantasy which is fond of the loud and the garish. Of course there is no god at whose wink no immortal head at whose nod the height of Olympus tremble. Yet there is a long series of gods amongst whom every one like the other is called ‘very great’ beautiful to look at the very generous to the pious.’ The gods exterminates all enemies shatters the citadels of the enemies he has secured the ends of the earth with his might and stretched the heaven above. Everywhere superlatives abound no restraint and no form. The contours emerge rather unobtrusively in the common glow of light that envelops the gods outlining one figure from the other. However in this glorification of the gods’ one chief effect is the play with mysterious. It would be however an exaggeration to say that there is preference for this sort of a play throughout the whole of the Rgveda many a song rather a series of sing speaks of Usas the ruddy light of dawn sparkling with lovely charm of indra the omnipotent destroyer of foes of demons and monsters of Agni the kindly shining guest of the human dwellings all in a language from which the breath of fresh simple nature has not yet vanished. But besides these there is a vast number of hyms imbued with another spirit. If the song is to be beautiful it is said in order to please the god it should be artistic. But that poem above all is artistic which is devised by the learned and is intelligible only to the learned which through veiled hints half-reveals the thought and half-canceals it. Poetry of this type could be created only in a closed circle of priest-technicians of the sacrifices. Posing and solving spiritual riddles was a favorite pastime amongst these priest and even the gods influenced by priestly nature seemed to favour it. The gods love so goes a repeated saying in the later Vedic texts, the hidden and hate mercy when flattered. The poets therefore repeat again and again the old intelligible or unintelligible allusion paradoxes and riddles and chase new ideas to surpass what already existing. Catchwords abounding in mystical ambiguities play a confusing game with profound and at times not so profound ideas. Thus one speaks of the navel of immortality of the mysterious names of cows, of the first born of the righteousness and of the highest heaven of speech. One reveals in pursuing the being the god to be hailed through his manifold manifestation and living places usually hinted at with great fondness as the highest secret adobe of god. Milk libations are called cows and a wooden vessel forest the substance present in the product of which is made is referred to in artificial allusions. One discovers in the world of the gods father who are the sons of their sons or sons who are the fathers of their fathers and daughter or sisters who are at the same time consorts or beloveds. The age old tendency of the myth towards the motif of incest receives as it were added substance from this fancy for the mysterious intricacies of blood relationship Monstrosities intended absurdities and riddles of this sort fill many songs completely and are juxtaposed without break.
The priestly master song which speaks of gods and divine things, can also be said not to possess the rhythm and the music in what it has to say about human souls and human fate; it also lacks the eloquence of suffering; we rarely hear the tunes from which speak the warmth and the depth the soft trembling of a pious heart. This poetry knows little of the abysses of misery and guilt. Here speak only the fortunate and the wealth who by performing sacrifices appeal to the gods for acquisition of cattle and horses for longevity and progeny. More often it is the sacrifices who speak but the professional bards in their employ. These bards who have succeeded in securing lucrative assignment against competition from their intriguing rivals now practice their professional art with sober virtuosity for the sacrifice whose overwhelming intricateness must of its accord retard all vigour and momentum. From where then should emerge the real deep strains of the within and the subtle insight into the orderliness for happening? From where can rise amidst these narrow and shallow circumstances concerning their petty dynastic at rivalry with one another the sobriety gravity and pride of the great national consciousness illumining their culture?
The outward from given by the singers of the Rgveda to their poems had the character of simplicity. Which was not in contradiction to the basically native artificiality of the contents. The language relied on nothing more than the elementary basic from of a sentence structure which did not have the finesse to express complicated movements of thoughts with their side currents and counter currents. Also the narrow scale of the verses almost uniformly ending in a sentence namely the verses measure of Gayatri with its 3*8 syllables made the formation of a great thought structure difficult. They did not posses the art of forming and mastering the organization of such thought structure. The one was put in sequence with the other with continuous repetitions as chance allowed it. The individual structure mostly in eulogistic vein was not developed fully. Where the poetic language once left its simplicity of expression it would lose itself rather in a confused and unclear sinuosity than elevate itself to versatility. The frequent comparisons touching all the fields of human experience from a welcome interruption from the monotonously alternating eulogies and obscure mysteries; the shining sun and the canopy of the sky decorated with stars the never tiring wind the river with the surging waves of its waters hurrying into the depths the shepherd driving his cows the virgin going to a rendezvous or sprucing herself up for a marriage the blameless wife loved by her husband the father caring love and the son. Who touches the seam of his father shirt it is of this that these brief similes speak. Their simplicity is not quite different from the rich poetic developments manifest in those similes which adorn later the spiritual sayings and hymns of the Buddhist.
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