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atharva veda--a pakShi-vIkShaNam--bird's eye view

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Since the first post of this thread is here, I have not repeated it:

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
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