The Vedic Philosophy (ऋषिचिंतन)

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Rigveda ( ऋग्वेद ) : A Historical Analysis – 2


The Chronology of the Rigveda – 1

The first step in any historical analysis of the Rigveda is the establishment of the internal chronology of the text. 

The Rigveda consists of ten MaNDalas or Books. And, excepting likely interpolations, these MaNDalas represent different epochs of history.  The arrangement of these MaNDalas in their chronological order is the first step towards an understanding of Rigvedic history.  Regarding the chronology of these MaNDalas, only two facts are generally recognized : 

1. The six Family MaNDalas II-VII form the oldest core of the Rigveda. 

2. The two serially last MaNDalas of the Rigveda, IX and X, are also the chronologically last MaNDalas in that order. 

In this chapter, we will establish a more precise chronological arrangement of the MaNDalas based on a detailed analysis of evidence within the text.

However, the precise position of the last two MaNDalas does not require much analysis:

1. MaNDala X is undoubtedly the chronologically last MaNDala of the Rigveda.

As B.K. Ghosh puts it: “On the whole … the language of the first nine MaNDalas must be regarded as homogeneous, inspite of traces of previous dialectal differences… With the tenth MaNDala it is a different story.  The language here has definitely changed.”

He proceeds to elaborate on this point: “The language of the tenth MaNDala represents a distinctly later stage of the Rigvedic language.  Hiatus, which is frequent in the earlier Rigveda, is already in process of elimination here.  Stressed i ucannot in sandhi be changed into y w in the earlier parts, but in the tenth MaNDala they can.  The ending -Asas in nominative plural is half as frequent as -As in the Rgveda taken as a whole, but its number of occurences is disproportionately small in the tenth MaNDala.  Absolutives in -tvAya occur only here.  The stem rai- is inflected in one way in the first nine MaNDalas, and in another in the tenth; and in the inflexion of dyau-, too, the distribution of strong and weak forms is much more regular in the earlier MaNDalas.  The Prakritic verbal kuru- appears only in the tenth MaNDala for the earlier kRiNu-.  Many words appear for the first time in the tenth MaNDala… The old locative form pRitsu, adjectives likegirvaNas and vicarSaNi, and the substantive vIti do not occur at all in the tenth MaNDala, though in the earlier MaNDalas they are quite common. The particle sIm which is unknown in the Atharvaveda, occurs fifty times in the first nine MaNDalas, but only once in the tenth.  Words like ajya, kAla, lohita, vijaya, etc. occur for the first time in the tenth MaNDala, as also the root labh-.”

In fact, strikingly different as the language of the tenth MaNDala is from that of the other nine, it would in the natural course of events have been even more so: “The difference in language between the earlier MaNDalas and the tenth would have appeared in its true proportions if the texts concerned had been written down at the time they were composed and handed down to us in that written form.  The fact, however, is that the text tradition of the Rigveda was stabilized at a comparatively late date, and fixed in writing at a much later epoch. The result has been not unlike what would have happened if the works of Chaucer and Shakespeare were put in writing and printed for the first time in the twentieth century… (this) to some extent also screens the differences that mark off the languages of the earlier MaNDalas from that of the tenth.”

So much for the tenth MaNDala.

2. The chronological position of MaNDala IX is equally beyond doubt: it is definitely much earlier than MaNDala X, but equally definitely later than the other eight MaNDalas.

MaNDala IX was meant to be a kind of appendix in which hymns to Soma, ascribed to RSis belonging to all the ten families, were brought together.

An examination of the MaNDala shows that it was compiled at a point, of time when a Rigveda of eight MaNDalas was already in existence as one unit with the eight MaNDalas arranged in their present order: it is significant that the first four RSis of both MaNDala I as well as MaNDala IX are, in the same order, Madhucchandas (with his son JetA in MaNDala I), MedhAtithi, SunahSepa and HiraNyastUpa.

Hence, while we will touch occasionally upon MaNDalas IX and X, our analysis will concentrate mainly on MaNDalas I-VIII.

The main criteria which will help us in establishing the chronological order of the MaNDalas are:

1. The interrelationships among the composers of the hymns. 
2. The internal references to composers in other MaNDalas. 
3. The internal references to kings and RSis in the hymns. 

We will examine the whole subject under the following heads:

I.    Interrelationships among Composers. 
II.   Family Structure and the System of Ascriptions. 
III.  References to Composers. 
IV. References to Kings and RSis 
V. The Structure and Formation of the Rigveda.

Courtesy: Rigveda: A Historical Analysis by Shrikant G. Talageri


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