About the Book
The Reader by A.A. Macdonell is meant to be a companion volume to his Vedic Grammar for Students. It contains thirty hymns selected from the Rgveda Primarily for students who, while acquainted with classical Sanskrit, are beginners of Vedic lacking the aid of a teacher with adequate knowledge of the earliest period of the language and literature of India. In conjunction with the author's Vedic Grammar, the Reader aims at supplying all that is required for the complete understanding of the selections. A copious Index has been added for the purpose of enabling the student to utilize to the full the summary of Vedic philosophy which this book contains.
Tars Reader is meant to be a companion volume to my Vedic Grammar far Students. It contains thirty hymns comprising just under 300 stanzas. These hymns have been taken exclusively from the Rigveda, not only because that Veda represents the earliest and most important phase of the sacred language and literature of India, but because the addition of specimens from the later Vedic literature with their divergences in speech and thought would tend to confuse the learner beginning the study of the oldest period. All the books of the Rigveda have been drawn upon except the ninth. The reason of this exception is that, though the whole of the ninth book practically consists of hymns addressed to Soma only, the hymn which in my opinion represents that deity best occurs in another (the eighth) book. All the most important meters are represented, though no specimens of the rare and complex strophic measures could be given because none of the hymns composed in them seemed to be suitable for the Reader. I have also considered literary merit as far as possible in making the selection. As regards subject-matter, each of the more important deities is represented by one hymn, Agni alone by two. There are besides a few hymns of a different type. One is concerned with social life (x. 34), one with magical ideas (vii. 103), two with cosmogony (x. 90. 129), and three with eschatology (z. 14. 15.185). The selection thus forms a brief epitome of the Rigveda, the earliest monument of Indian thought. The arrangement of the hymns follows their order in the text of the Rigveda as shown, together with their respective deities and subjects, in the table of contents (p. ix). As the latter list is so short, the name of the deity addressed in any selected hymn can be found at once, but it also appears in its alphabetical order in the General Index.
Unlike all Sanskrit and Vedic chrestomathies known to me, the present work is intended primarily for students who, while acquainted with Classical Sanskrit, are beginners of Vedic lacking the aid of a teacher with an adequate knowledge of the earliest period of the language and literature of India. It will moreover, I think, be found to contain much detailed information useful even to more advanced students. Hence difficult and obscure stanzas have never been omitted from any of the selected hymns, because the notes hero afford an opportunity of illustrating the methods of critical interpretation (see, for instance, pages 36, 47, 139—40, 152, 166, 175).
In conjunction with my Vedic Grammar for Students, the Reader aims at supplying all that is required for the complete understanding of the selections without reference to any other book. Each hymn is preceded by a special introduction describing briefly the deity or the subject with which it deals. The text of every stanza is printed in three different forms. The first is the Samhita text, in Devanagan characters, exactly as handed down by tradition, without change or emendation. But each Pada or metrical line is printed separately so as to exhibit to the eye the versification of the stanza. Then comes on the right half of the page the traditional Pada text in which each word of the Samhita text is given separately without Saudhi, and in which compounds and certain derivatives and case- forms are analyzed. This is an important addition because the Pada text, as nearly contemporary in origin with the Samhita text, furnishes us with the earliest interpretations, within the sphere of phonetics and word-formation, of the Rigveda. Next follows the transliterated Samhita text, in which by the removal of vowel- contractions, the resolution of semivowels, and the replacement of a, the original meter of the Rigveda is restored and, by the use of punctuation, the sense is made clearer. The translation, which follows, is close, accounting for every word of the original, and is based on the critical method of interpretation. The notes furnish minute explanations of all matters concerned with grammar meter accent syntax, and exegesis. The general introduction gives a concise account of the form and matter of the Rigveda describing in outline its arrangement its language and meter its religion and mythology besides the critical method here applied to the interpretation of its hymns. The vocabulary supplements the translation and notes by giving the derivation of every word and adding in brackets the most obvious cognates from the other Indo-European languages allied to Sanskrit especially Avestic Greek, Latin and English. I have added a copious general Index for the purpose of enabling the student to utilize to the full the summary of Vedic philology which this book contains. Any one who has worked his way carefully through the pages of the Reader ought thus to have laid a solid foundation in Vedic scholarship and to be prepared for further studies on independent Lines.
Freedom from serious misprints is a matter of great importance in a book like this. Such freedom has I trust been achieved by the aid of my two friends Dr. James morison Librarian of the Indian Institute and my former pupil Dr. A. Berriedale Keith Regius Prof. of Sanskrit and comparative philology in the University of Edinburgh. In the course of this obliging task Prof. Keith has supplied me with a number of suggestions the adoption of which has undoubtedly improved the notes in many points of detail.
Tab Rigveda is undoubtedly the oldest literary monument of the Indo-European languages. But the exact period when the hymns were composed is a matter of conjecture. All that we can say with any approach to certainty is that the oldest of them cannot date from later than the thirteenth century B.C. This assertion is based on the following grounds. Buddhism, which began to spread in India bout 500 B.C., presupposes the existence not only of the Vedas, but is of the intervening literature of the Brahmavas and Upanishads. The development of language and religious thought apparent in the Extensive literature of the successive phases of these two Vedic periods renders it necessary to postulate the lapse of seven or eight centuries to account for the gradual changes, linguistic, religious, social, and political, that this literature displays. On astronomical grounds, one Sanskrit scholar has (cf. p. 146) concluded that the oldest Vedic hymns date from 3000 s.c., while another puts them as for back as 6000 B. C. These calculations are based on the assumption that the early Indians possessed an exact astronomical knowledge of the sun’s course such as there is no evidence, or even probability, tat they actually possessed. On the other hand, the possibility of faith extreme antiquity seems to be disproved by the relationship a the hymns of the Rigveda to the oldest part of the Avesta, high can hardly date earlier than from about 800 B.C. That ration ship is so close that the language of the Avesta, if it were own at a stage some five centuries earlier, could scarcely have differed at all from that of the Rigveda. Hence the Indians could not have separated from the Iranians much sooner than 1300 a c. 3t according to Prof. Jacobi, the separation took place before t3h ac. In that case we must assume that the Iranian and the Indian languages remained practically unchanged for the truly immense period of over 3000 years. We must thus rest content with the moderate estimate of the thirteenth century B.C. as the approximate date for the beginning of the Rigvedic period. This estimate has not been invalidated by the discovery in 1907 of the names of the Indian deities Mitra, Varuna, Indra, Nasatys, in an inscription of about 1400 mc. found in Asia Minor. For the phonetic form in which these names there appear may quite well belong to the Indo-Iranian period when the Indians and the Persians were still Indo people. The date of the inscription leaves two centuries for the separation of the Indians, their migration to India, and the commencement of the Vedic hymn literature in the north-west of Hindustan.
When the Indo-Aryans entered India, they brought with them a religion in which the gods were chiefly personified powers of Nature, a few of them, such as Dyaus, going back to the Indo European, others, such as Mitre, Varuna, Indra, to the Indo-Iranian period. They also brought with them the cult of fire and of Soma, besides a knowledge of the art of composing religious poems in several meters, as a comparison of the Rigveda and the A-vests shows. The purpose of these ancient hymns was to propitiate the gods by praises accompanying the offering of melted butter poured on the fire and of the juice of the Soma plant placed on the sacrificial grass. The hymns which have survived in the Rigveda from the early period of the Indo-Aryan invasion were almost exclusively composed by a hereditary priesthood. They were handed down in different families by memory, not by writing, which could hardly have been introduced into India before about 700 B.C. These family groups of hymns were gradually brought together till, with successive additions, they assumed the earliest collected form of the Rigveda. Then followed the constitution of the Samhita text, which appears to have taken place about 600 B.C., at the end of the period of the Brahmanas, but before the Upanishads, which form appendages to those works, came into existence. The creators of the Samhita did not in any way alter the diction of the hymns here collected together, but only applied to the text certain rules of Saudhi which prevailed in their time, and by which, in particular, vowels are either contracted or changed into semi-vowels, and a is often dropped after e and o, in such a way as constantly to obscure the meter. Soon after this work was concluded, extraordinary precautions were taken to preserve form loss or corruption the sacred text thus fixed. The earliest expedient of this kind was the formation of the Pads or ‘word’ n in which all the words of the Samhita text are separated and given in their original form as unaffected by the rules of Sandhi, and in which most compounds and some derivatives and inflected fcems are analyzed, This text, which is virtually the earliest commentary on the Rigveda, was followed by other and more complicated methods of reciting the text, and by various works called Anukramanis or ‘Indexes’, which enumerate from the beginning to the of the Rigveda the number of stanzas contained in each hymn, deities, and the meters of all the stanzas of the Rigveda. Thanks these various precautions the text of the Rigveda has been handed down for 2,500 years with a fidelity that finds no parallel in any other literature.
The Rigveda consists of 1,017 or, counting eleven others of the eight Book which are recognized as later additions, 1,028 hymns. These contain a total of about 10,600 stanzas, which give an average ten stanzas to each hymn. The shortest hymn has only one az.za. while the longest has fifty-eight. If printed continuously like prose in Roman characters, the Samhita text would fill an octave ri2me of about 000 pages of thirty-three lines each. It has been calculated that in bulk the RV, is equivalent to the extant poems Homer.
There is a twofold division of the RV. into parts. One, which is purely- mechanical, is into Astakas or ‘eighths’ of about equal length, each of which is subdivided into eight Adhyttyas or ‘lessons’, while each of the latter consists of Vargas or ‘groups’ of five or six stanzas. The other division is into ten Mandalas or ‘books’ (lit. ‘cycles’) and Suktas or ‘hymns’. The latter method is an historical one, indicating the manner in which the collection came into being. This system is now invariably followed by Western Scholars in referring to or quoting from the Rigveda.
Six of the ten books, ii to vii, are homogeneous in character. The hymns contained in each of them were, according to native Indian tradition, composed or ‘seen’ by poets of the same family. Which handed them down as its own collection. The tradition is borne out by the internal evidence of the seers’ names mentioned in the hymns, and by that of the refrains occurring in each of these books. The method of arrangement followed in the ‘family books’ is uniform, for each of them is similarly divided into groups addressed to different gods. On the other hand, Books i, viii, and x were not composed each by a distinct family of seers, while the groups of which they consist are constituted by being the hymns composed by different individual seers. Book ix is distinguished from the rest by all its hymns being addressed t0 one and the same deity, Soma, and by its groups being based not on identity of authorship, but of meter.
Family books,—In these the first group of hymns is invariably addressed to Agni, the second to Indra, and those that follow to gods of less importance. The hymns within these deity groups are arranged according to the diminishing number of stanzas contained in them. Thus in the second Book the Agni group of ten hymns begins with one of sixteen stanzas and ends with one of only six. The first hymn of the next group in the same book has twenty-one, the last only four stanzas. The entire group of the family books is, moreover, arranged according to the increasing number of the hymns each of those books, if allowance is made for later additions. Thus the second Book has forty-three, the third sixty-two, the sixth seventy- five, and the seventh one hundred and four hymns. The homogeneity of the family books renders it highly probable that they formed the nucleus of the RV., which gradually assumed its final shape by successive additions to these books.
The earliest of these additions appears to be the second half of Book i, which, consisting of nine groups, each by a different author, was prefixed to the family books, the internal arrangement of which it follows. The eighth is like the family books as being in the main composed by members of one family, the Kanvas; but it differs from them in not beginning with hymns to Agni and in the prevalence of the strophic metre called Pragatha. The fact of its containing fewer hymns than the seventh book shows that it did not form a unit of the family books; but its partial resemblance to them caused it to be the first addition at the end of that collection. The first part of Book i (1—50) is in several respects like Book viii: Kanvas seem to have been the authors of the majority of these hymns; their favorite strophic metre is again found here ; and both collections contain many similar or identical passages. There must have been some difference between the two groups, but the reason why they should have been separated by being added at the beginning and the end of an older collection has not yet been shown.
The ninth book was added as a consequence of the first eight being formed into a unit. It consists entirely of hymns addressed to Soma while the juice was ‘clarifying’ (pavamana); on the other hand, the family books contain not a single Soma hymn, and Books i and viii together only three hymns invoking Sona in his general character. Now the hymns of Book ix were composed by authors of the same families as those of Books ii to vii, as is shown, for instance, by the appearance here of refrains peculiar to those families. Hence it is to t assumed that all the hymns to Soma Pavamuna were removed from Books i to viii, in order to form a single collection belonging to the sphere of the Udgatr or chanting priest, and added after Books i—viii, which were the sphere of the Hotr or reciting priest. The diction and recondite allusions in the hymns of this hook suggest that they are later than those of the preceding books; but some of them may be early, as accompanying the Soma ritual which goes back to the Indo- Iranian period. The hymns of the first part of this book (1—60) are arranged according to the decreasing number of their stanzas, beginning with ten and ending with four. In the second part (61—114), which contains some very long hymns (one of forty-eight and another of fifty-eight stanzas), this arrangement is not followed.
The tow parts also differ in metre the hymns of the first are excepting four stanzas composed in Gayatri while the second consists mainly of groups in other meters thus 68-84 form a Jagati and 87-97 a tristubh group.
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