Dating and historical context

The Rigveda is far more archaic than any other Indo-Aryan text. For this reason, it was in the center of attention of western scholarship from the times of Max Müller and Rudolf Roth onwards. The Rigveda records an early stage of Vedic religion. There are strong linguistic and cultural similarities with the early Iranian Avesta,11 deriving from the Proto-Indo-Iranian times,1213 often associated with the early Andronovo culture of ca. 2000 B.C.E.14 The Rigveda's core is accepted to date around the late Bronze Age, making it one of the few examples with an unbroken tradition. Its composition is usually dated to roughly between 1700-1100 B.C.E.15 Several other evidences also suggest 1400 B.C.E. as the most reasonable date.1617

Philological estimates tend to date the bulk of the text to the second half of the second millennium. Compare Max Müller's statement "the hymns of the Rig-Veda are said to date from 1500 B.C.E."18

Writing appears in India around the third century B.C.E. in the form of the Brahmi script, but texts of the length of the Rigveda were likely not written down until much later, the oldest surviving manuscript dating to the eleventh century, while some Rigveda commentaries may date from the second half of the first millennium C.E.. While written manuscripts were used for teaching in medieval times, they were written on birch bark or palm leaves, which decompose fairly quickly in the tropical climate, until the advent of the printing press from the sixteenth century. The hymns were thus preserved by oral tradition for up to a millennium from the time of their composition until the redaction of the Rigveda, and the entire Rigveda was preserved in shakhas for another 2,500 years from the time of its redaction until the editio princeps by Rosen, Aufrecht and Max Müller.

After their composition, the texts were preserved and codified by an extensive body of Vedic priesthood as the central philosophy of the Iron Age Vedic civilization. The Brahma Purana and the Vayu Purana name one Vidagdha as the author of the Padapatha.19 The Rk-pratishakhya names Sthavira Shakalya of the Aitareya Aranyaka as its author.

The Rigveda describes a mobile, semi-nomadic culture, with horse-drawn chariots, oxen-drawn wagons, and metal (bronze) weapons. The geography described is consistent with that of the Greater Punjab: Rivers flow north to south, the mountains are relatively remote but still visible and reachable (Soma is a plant found in the high mountains, and it has to be purchased from tribal people). Nevertheless, the hymns were certainly composed over a long period, with the oldest (not preserved) elements possibly reaching back to times close to the split of Proto-Indo-Iranian (around 2000 B.C.E.)20 Thus there was some debate over whether the boasts of the destruction of stone forts by the Vedic Aryans and particularly by Indra refer to cities of the Indus Valley civilization or whether they rather hark back to clashes between the early Indo-Aryans with the BMAC in what is now northern Afghanistan and southern Turkmenistan (separated from the upper Indus by the Hindu Kush mountain range, and some 400 km distant). While it is highly likely that the bulk of the Rigvedic hymns were composed in the Punjab, even if based on earlier poetic traditions, there is no mention of either tigers or rice21 in the Rigveda (as opposed to the later Vedas), suggesting that Vedic culture only penetrated into the plains of India after its completion. Similarly, there is no mention of iron as the term ayas occurring in the Rig Veda refers to useful metal in general.22 The "black metal" (kṛṣṇa ayas) is first mentioned in the post-Rigvedic texts (Atharvaveda etc.). The Iron Age in northern India begins in the tenth century in the Greater Panjab and at the twelfth century B.C.E. with the Black and Red Ware (BRW) culture. There is a widely accepted timeframe for the beginning codification of the Rigveda by compiling the hymns very late in the Rigvedic or rather in the early post-Rigvedic period, including the arrangement of the individual hymns in ten books, coeval with and the composition of the younger Veda Samhitas. This time coincides with the early Kuru kingdom, shifting the center of Vedic culture east from the Punjab into what is now Uttar Pradesh. The fixing of the samhitapatha (by keeping Sandhi) intact and of the padapatha (by dissolving Sandhi out of the earlier metrical text), occurred during the later Brahmana period.

Some of the names of gods and goddesses found in the Rigveda are found amongst other belief systems based on Proto-Indo-European religion, while words used share common roots with words from other Indo-European languages.

An author, N. Kazanas23 in an argument against the so-called "Aryan Invasion Theory" suggests a date as early as 3100 B.C.E., based on an identification of the early Rigvedic Sarasvati River as the Ghaggar-Hakra and on glottochronological arguments. This is in diametrical opposition to views in western academic historical linguistics, and supports the mainstream theory of Indian vedic scholars Out of India theory, which assumes a date as late as 3000 B.C.E. for the age of late Proto-Indo-European itself. Some writers based on astronomical calculations even claim dates as early as 4000 B.C.E.,24 a date well within the Indian Neolithic.25

The horse (ashva), cattle, sheep and goat play an important role in the Rigveda. There are also references to the elephant (Hastin, Varana), camel (Ustra, especially in Mandala 8), ass (khara, rasabha), buffalo (Mahisa), wolf, hyena, lion (Simha), mountain goat (sarabha) and to the gaur in the Rigveda.26 The peafowl (mayura), the goose (hamsa) and the chakravaka (Anas casarca) are some birds mentioned in the Rigveda.

The Sarasvati river, lauded in RV 7.95 as the greatest river flowing from the mountain to the sea is sometimes equated with the Ghaggar-Hakra river, which went dry perhaps before 2600 B.C.E. or certainly before 1900 B.C.E. Others argue that the Sarasvati was originally the Helmand in Afghanistan. These questions are tied to the debate about the Indo-Aryan migration (termed "Aryan Invasion Theory") vs. the claim that Vedic culture together with Vedic Sanskrit originated in the Indus Valley Civilisation (termed "Out of India theory"), a topic of great significance in Hindu nationalism, addressed for example by Amal Kiran and Shrikant G. Talageri. Subhash Kak has claimed that there is an astronomical code in the organization of the hymns. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, also based on astronomical alignments in the Rigveda, in his "The Orion" (1893) claimed presence of the Rigvedic culture in India in the fourth millennium B.C.E., and in his "Arctic Home in the Vedas" (1903) even argued that the Aryans originated near the North Pole and came south during the Ice Age.

Ancillary Texts

The authors of the Brāhmana literature discussed and interpreted the Vedic ritual. Yaska was an early commentator of the Rigveda by discussing the meanings of difficult words. In the fourteenth century, Sāyana wrote an exhaustive commentary on it. Other Bhāṣyas (commentaries) that have been preserved up to present times are those by Mādhava, Skandasvāmin and Veńkatamādhava.

Rigveda Brahmanas

Of the Brahmanas that were handed down in the schools of the Bahvṛcas (i.e. "possessed of many verses"), as the followers of the Rigveda are called, two have come down to us, namely those of the Aitareyins and the Kaushitakins. The Aitareya-brahmana27 and the Kaushitaki- (or Sankhayana-) brahmana evidently have for their groundwork the same stock of traditional exegetic matter. They differ, however, considerably as regards both the arrangement of this matter and their stylistic handling of it, with the exception of the numerous legends common to both, in which the discrepancy is comparatively slight. There is also a certain amount of material peculiar to each of them. The Kaushitaka is, upon the whole, far more concise in its style and more systematic in its arrangement features which would lead one to infer that it is probably the more modern work of the two. It consists of 30 chapters (adhyaya); while the Aitareya has 40, divided into eight books (or pentads, pancaka), of five chapters each. The last ten adhyayas of the latter work are, however, clearly a later addition though they must have already formed part of it at the time of Panini (ca. fifth c. B.C.E.), if, as seems probable, one of his grammatical sutras, regulating the formation of the names of Brahmanas, consisting of 30 and 40 adhyayas, refers to these two works. In this last portion occurs the well-known legend (also found in the Shankhayana-sutra, but not in the Kaushitaki-brahmana) of Shunahshepa, whom his father Ajigarta sells and offers to slay, the recital of which formed part of the inauguration of kings. While the Aitareya deals almost exclusively with the Soma sacrifice, the Kaushitaka, in its first six chapters, treats of the several kinds of haviryajna, or offerings of rice, milk, ghee, etc., whereupon follows the Soma sacrifice in this way, that chapters 7-10 contain the practical ceremonial and 11-30 the recitations (shastra) of the hotar. Sayana, in the introduction to his commentary on the work, ascribes the Aitareya to the sage Mahidasa Aitareya (i.e. son of Itara), also mentioned elsewhere as a philosopher; and it seems likely enough that this person arranged the Brahmana and founded the school of the Aitareyins. Regarding the authorship of the sister work we have no information, except that the opinion of the sage Kaushitaki is frequently referred to in it as authoritative, and generally in opposition to the Paingya-the Brahmana, it would seem, of a rival school, the Paingins. Probably, therefore, it is just what one of the manuscripts calls it-the Brahmana of Sankhayana (composed) in accordance with the views of Kaushitaki.

Rigveda Aranyakas

Each of these two Brahmanas is supplemented by a "forest book," or Aranyaka. The Aitareyaranyaka is not a uniform production. It consists of five books (aranyaka), three of which, the first and the last two, are of a liturgical nature, treating of the ceremony called mahavrata, or great vow. The last of these books, composed in sutra form, is, however, doubtless of later origin, and is, indeed, ascribed by Hindu authorities either to Shaunaka or to Ashvalayana. The second and third books, on the other hand, are purely speculative, and are also styled the Bahvrca-brahmana-upanishad. Again, the last four chapters of the second book are usually singled out as the Aitareyopanishad, ascribed, like its Brahmana (and the first book), to Mahidasa Aitareya; and the third book is also referred to as the Samhita-upanishad. As regards the Kaushitaki-aranyaka, this work consists of 15 adhyayas, the first two (treating of the mahavrata ceremony) and the seventh and eighth of which correspond to the first, fifth, and third books of the Aitareyaranyaka, respectively, whilst the four adhyayas usually inserted between them constitute the highly interesting Kaushitaki (brahmana-) upanishad, of which we possess two different recensions. The remaining portions (9-15) of the Aranyaka treat of the vital airs, the internal Agnihotra, etc., ending with the vamsha, or succession of teachers.


There are 30 manuscripts of Rigveda at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, collected in the nineteenth century by Georg Bühler, Franz Kielhorn and others, originating from different parts of India, including Kashmir, Gujarat, the then Rajaputana, Central Provinces etc. They were transferred to Deccan College, Pune, in the late nineteenth century. They are in the Sharada and Devanagari scripts, written on birch bark and paper. The oldest of them is dated to 1464. The 30 manuscripts were added to UNESCO's "Memory of the World" Register in 2007.28

Of these 30 manuscripts, nine contain the samhita text, five have the padapatha in addition. Thirteen contain Sayana's commentary. At least five manuscripts (MS. no. 1/A1879-80, 1/A1881-82, 331/1883-84 and 5/Viś I) have preserved the complete text of the Rigveda. MS no. 5/1875-76, written on birch bark in bold Sharada, was used by Max Müller for his edition of the Rigveda with Sayana's commentary.

Max Müller used 24 manuscripts, while the Pune Edition used over five dozen manuscripts, but the editors of Pune Edition could not procure many manuscripts used by Max Müller and by Bombay Edition, as well as from some other sources; hence the total number of extant manuscripts must surpass perhaps 80 at least.29


  • Editio princeps: Friedrich Max Müller, The Hymns of the Rigveda, with Sayana's commentary, London, 1849-1875, 6 vols., 2nd ed. 4 vols., Oxford, 1890-1892.
  • Theodor Aufrecht, 2nd ed., Bonn, 1877.
  • Sontakke, N. S., ed. (1933-1946, reprint 1972-1983.), Rgveda-Samhitā: Śrimat-Sāyanāchārya virachita-bhāṣya-sametā (First ed.), Vaidika Samśodhana Maṇḍala . The Editorial Board for the First Edition included N. S. Sontakke (Managing Editor), V. K. Rājvade, M. M. Vāsudevaśāstri, and T. S. Varadarājaśarmā.
  • B. van Nooten and G. Holland. Rig Veda, A Metrically Restored Text, Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England, 1994.


The first published translation of any portion of the Rigveda in any Western language was into Latin, by Friedrich August Rosen (Rigvedae specimen, London 1830). Predating Müller's editio princeps of the text, Rosen was working from manuscripts brought back from India by Colebrooke.

H. H. Wilson was the first to make a complete translation of the Rig Veda into English, published in six volumes during the period 1850-1888.30 Wilson's version was based on the commentary of Sāyaṇa. In 1977, Wilson's edition was enlarged by Nag Sharan Singh (Nag Publishers, Delhi, 2nd ed. 1990).

In 1889, Ralph T.H. Griffith published his translation as The Hymns of the Rig Veda, published in London (1889).31

A German translation was published by Karl Friedrich Geldner, Der Rig-Veda: aus dem Sanskrit ins Deutsche Übersetzt, Harvard Oriental Studies, vols. 33-37 (Cambridge, Mass.: 1951-7).32

Geldner's tranlsation was the philologically best-informed to date, and a Russian translation based on Geldner's by Tatyana Yakovlena Elizarenkova was published by Nauka 1989-199933

A 2001, revised edition of Wilson's translation was published by Ravi Prakash Arya and K. L. Joshi.34 The revised edition updates Wilson's translation by replacing obsolete English forms with more modern equivalents, giving the English translation along with the original Sanskrit text in Devanagari script, along with a critical apparatus.

In 2004, the United States' National Endowment for the Humanities provided funding to Joel Brereton and Stephanie W. Jamison as project directors for a new original translation to be issued by Oxford University Press.35

Numerous partial translations exist into various languages. Notable examples include:

  • Arthur Anthony Macdonell. Hymns from the Rigveda (Calcutta, London, 1922); A Vedic Reader for Students (Oxford, 1917).
  • French: A. Langlois, Rig-véda, ou livre des hymnes, Paris 1948-1851 ISBN 2720010294
  • Hungarian: Laszlo Forizs, Rigvéda - Teremtéshimnuszok (Creation Hymns of the Rig-Veda), Budapest, 1995 ISBN 9638534915

Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty issued a modern selection with a translation of 108 hymns, along with critical apparatus. A bibliography of translations of the Rig Veda appears as an Appendix that work.36

New German translations of books one and two were presented in 2007 by Michael Witzel and Toshifumi Goto (ISBN 9783458700012 ISBN 9783458700013).

A partial Hindi translation by Govind Chandra Pande was published in 2008 (by Lokbharti Booksellers and Distributors, Allahabad, covering books 3-5).


The importance of the Rigveda in Hinduism cannot be underestimated: This text not only provided the original foundation for the entire corpus of sacred writings in the Hindu tradition, but also is considered to be the primordial sounds of the universe itself, which echoes the cosmic heartbeat of the supreme Brahman. Additionally, the Vedas collectively serve as the paragon and criterion for orthodoxy in Hindu philosophy thereby reflecting their central importance in the Hindu tradition. The Rigveda has also been called the oldest recited book in the world, which is especially evident in the Gayatri mantra from chapter three that forms an important part of daily Hindu prayer.37 Its contexts laid the scriptural foundation for one of the greatest religions of the world, Hinduism, which continues to inspire millions of people today.

Since the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, some reformers like Swami Dayananda, founder of the "Arya Samaj" and Sri Aurobindo have attempted to re-interpret the Vedas to conform to modern and established moral and spiritual norms. They approached the original ritualistic content of the Rigveda from a Vedantic perception to give a more symbolic or mystical interpretation of the text. For example, instances of animal sacrifice were not seen by them as literal slaughtering, but as transcendental processes.


  1. ↑ K. Meenakshi (2002). Indian Linguistic Studies: Festschrift in Honor of George Cardona. Motilal Banarsidass, 235. ISBN 8120818857.
  2. ↑ B. van Nooten and G. Holland, Rig Veda. A metrically restored text. Cambridge: Harvard Oriental Series, 1994
  3. ↑ H. Oldenberg, Prolegomena, 1888 Engl. transl. New Delhi: Motilal 2004
  4. ↑ Mantras of "khila" hymns were called khailika and not ṛcas (Khila meant distinct "part" of Rgveda separate from regular hymns; all regular hymns make up the akhila or "the whole" recognised in a śākhā, although khila hymns have sanctified roles in rituals from ancient times).
  5. ↑ Hermann Grassmann had numbered the hymns 1 through to 1028, putting the vālakhilya at the end. Griffith's translation has these 11 at the end of the 8th mandala, after 8.92 in the regular series.
  6. ↑ cf. Preface to Khila section by C.G.Kāshikar in Volume-5 of Pune Edition of RV (in references).
  7. ↑ These Khilani hymns have also been found in a manuscript of the Śākala recension of the Kashmir Rigveda (and are included in the Poone edition).
  8. ↑ equalling 40 times 10,800, the number of bricks used for the uttaravedi: the number is motivated numerologically rather than based on an actual syllable count.
  9. ↑ In a few cases, more than one rishi is given, signifying lack of certainty.
  10. ↑ Talageri 2000, 33
  11. ↑ Oldenberg 1894 (tr. Shrotri), p. 14 "The Vedic diction has a great number of favourite expressions which are common with the Avestic, though not with later Indian diction. In addition, there is a close resemblance between them in metrical form, in fact, in their overall poetic character. If it is noticed that whole Avesta verses can be easily translated into the Vedic alone by virtue of comparative phonetics, then this may often give, not only correct Vedic words and phrases, but also the verses, out of which the soul of Vedic poetry appears to speak."
  12. ↑ Mallory 1989 p. 36 "Probably the least-contested observation concerning the various Indo-European dialects is that those languages grouped together as Indic and Iranian show such remarkable similarities with one another that we can confidently posit a period of Indo-Iranian unity… "
  13. ↑ Bryant 2001:130-131 "The oldest part of the Avesta… is linguistically and culturally very close to the material preserved in the Rgveda… There seems to be economic and religious interaction and perhaps rivalry operating here, which justifies scholars in placing the Vedic and Avestan worlds in close chronological, geographical and cultural proximity to each other not far removed from a joint Indo-Iranian period."
  14. ↑ Mallory 1989 "The identification of the Andronovo culure as Indo-Iranian is commonly accepted by scholars."
  15. ↑ Oberlies (1998:155) gives an estimate of 1100 B.C.E. for the youngest hymns in book 10. Estimates for a terminus post quem of the earliest hymns are far more uncertain. Oberlies (p. 158) based on 'cumulative evidence' sets wide range of 1700-1100
  16. ↑ Rajesh Kochar, The Vedic People: Their History and Geography, (Sangam Books Ltd., 2000, ISBN 8125013849)
  17. ↑ On the Identity and Chronology of the Rigvedic River Sarasvati Retrieved February 13, 2009.
  18. ↑ Irene U. Chambers, Michael S. Roth, "Veda and Vedanta," in India: What Can It Teach Us: A Course of Lectures Delivered Before the University of Cambridge, World Treasures of the Library of Congress.
  19. ↑ The Shatapatha Brahmana refers to a Vidagdha Shakalya without discussing anything related to the Padapatha.
  20. ↑ minority opinions name dates as early as the fourth millennium B.C.E.; "The Aryan Non-Invasionist Model" by Koenraad Elst. Retrieved February 13, 2009.
  21. ↑ There is, however, mention of ApUpa, Puro-das and Odana in the Rigveda, terms that, at least in later texts, refer to rice dishes, see Talageri (2000).
  22. ↑ The term "ayas" (=metal) occurs in the Rigveda, usually translated as "bronze," although D.K. Chakrabarti, The Early Use of Iron in India (1992) Oxford University Press argues that it may refer to any metal. If ayas refers to iron, the Rigveda must date to the late second millennium at the earliest.
  23. ↑ N. Kazanas, A new date for the Rgveda Philosophy and Chronology, (2000) ed. G C Pande & D Krishna, Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research (June, 2001). Retrieved February 13, 2009.
  24. ↑ summarized by Klaus Klostermaier in a 1998 presentation. Retrieved February 13, 2009.
  25. ↑ e.g. Michael Witzel, The Pleiades and the Bears viewed from inside the Vedic texts, EVJS Vol. 5 (1999), issue 2 (December); Elst, Koenraad (1999). Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate. Aditya Prakashan. ISBN 8186471774. ; Bryant, Edwin and Laurie L. Patton, 2005, The Indo-Aryan Controversy, Routledge/Curzon.
  26. ↑ among others, Macdonell and Keith, and Talageri 2000, Lal 2005
  27. ↑ Edited, with an English translation, by M. Haug (2 vols., Bombay, 1863). An edition in Roman transliteration, with extracts from the commentary, has been published by Th. Aufrecht (Bonn, 1879).
  28. ↑ Rig Veda in UNESCO's 'Memory of the World' Register Retrieved February 13, 2009.
  29. ↑ cf. Editorial notes in various volumes of Pune Edition, see references.
  30. ↑ H. H. Wilson, Ṛig-Veda-Sanhitā: A Collection of Ancient Hindu Hymns. 6 vols. (London, 1850-1888); repring: Cosmo Publications (1977)
  31. ↑ reprinted Delhi 1973, reprinted by Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers: 1999. Complete revised and enlarged edition. 2-volume set. ISBN 8121500419
  32. ↑ reprint: Harvard Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies Harvard University Press, 2003. ISBN 0674012267
  33. ↑ extended from a partial translation Rigveda: Izbrannye Gimny, published in 1972.
  34. ↑ Ravi Prakash Arya and K. L. Joshi. Ṛgveda Saṃhitā: Sanskrit Text, English Translation, Notes & Index of Verses. (Parimal Publications: Delhi, 2001, ISBN 8171101387) (Set of four volumes). Parimal Sanskrit Series No. 45; 2003 reprint: ISBN 8170200709
  35. ↑ Joel Brereton and Stephanie W. Jamison, The Rig Veda: Translation and Explanatory Notes. (Oxford University Press ISBN 0195179188)
  36. ↑ See Appendix 3, O'Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. The Rig Veda. (Penguin Books, 1981 ISBN 0140449892)
  37. ↑ Brodd, Jefferey (2003). World Religions. Winona, MN: Saint Mary's Press. ISBN 9780884897255.


  • Gonda, J. 1975. Vedic Literature: Saṃhitās and Brāhmaṇas. A History of Indian literature, Vol. 1. Veda and Upanishads. ISBN 9783447016032.
  • Santucci, J. A. 1976. An Outline of Vedic Literature. Scholars Press for the American Academy of Religion.
  • Shrava, S. 1977. A Comprehensive History of Vedic Literature-Brahmana and Aranyaka Works. Pranava Prakashan.
  • Bandhu, Vishva and S. Bhaskaran Nair Bhim Dev (eds.). 1963-1965. Vaidika-Pāda-Nukrama-Koṣa: A Vedic Word-Concordance. Vishveshvaranand Vedic Research Institute, Hoshiarpur, (1963-1965) revised edition 1973-1976.
  • Bloomfield, M. 1907. A Vedic Concordance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.
  • Apte, Vaman Shivram. 1965. The Practical Sanskrit Dictionary, 4th revised & enlarged ed., Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 8120805674.
  • Avari, Burjor. 2007. India: The Ancient Past. London: Routledge, ISBN 9780415356169
  • Bryant, Edwin. 2001. The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195137779
  • Flood, Gavin. 1996. An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521438780
  • Flood, Gavin (ed.). 2003. The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism. Malden, MA: Blackwell, ISBN 1405132515
  • Michaels, Axel. 2004. Hinduism: Past and Present. Princeton University Press, ISBN 0691089531
  • Monier-Williams, Monier (ed.). 2006. Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary. Nataraj Books, ISBN 1881338584.
  • Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli and Charles A. Moore, (ed.). 1957. A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, 12th ed. Princeton University Press, ISBN 0691019584.
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External links

All links retrieved July 28, 2019.

  • in Devanagari and IAST - (
  • metrically restored - (Linguistics Research Center, U. Texas) Romanized, in Unicode
  • mp3 audio download - ( North Indian style, i.e., without meter or same meter, yeha swara
  • The Rig Veda - Ralph Griffith's translation, 1895, full text, (online at
  • pdf ascii, with diacritics - by Keith Briggs