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The Rig Veda - translated by Wendy Doniger


The Rig Veda is an anthology of 108 separate, complete hymns. The Vedas means "Sacred Knowledge". They have been passed down by oral tradition and compiled by Veda Vyasa. The Rig Veda is the oldest of the four Vedas which are Rig Veda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda. The Rig Veda is known as the knowledge of hymns. It is a collection of 1028 hymns, each about 10 verses. It consists of 10 books which are called Mandalas. Full of symbolism. metaphors, paradoxes and enigma's, the hymns are meant to be riddles that we cannot understand. Instead, they follow the age old tradition of stilling the mind to go beyond it or to humble the mind.


The Rig Veda consists of many theories on the creation of the universe, many of them contradictory. In one of the hymns, Prajapati in the form of a golden egg is credited to the creation of the universe. When the egg breaks, the sky, earth and the sun are formed. This can also be a symbol for a creation that is contained within itself. Similar to a seed, it contains within itself its own creation. The creator is the creation. We also have the story of a creation through sacrifice, in which the dismemberment of "Purusa" a giant creates the world. However even in this case, Purusa is both the object and subject of the sacrifice. This again creates a paradox, there is no external being/object for creation.

The most notable hymn on creation is in Mandala (or section) 10 of the Rig Veda. Hymn 129, Hymn of creation is also called the Nasadiya Sukta which means not the non – existent. The hymn begins with the line - In the beginning there was no existence or non-existence. It speaks of a world beyond duality. No death nor deathlessness. Existence came out of non-existence. However, paradoxically there is also description of one thing, other than which there was nothing. According to the hymn, first to arise was heat, then desire which is described as the seed. In the Rig Veda, the gods are created after the creation on the cosmos. Therefore, even the gods do not know the origin of the universe. There is a creator to the universe whether he intentionally created or not he knows or maybe even he does not know this. The creator cannot be understood and maybe even he does not understand himself.

The Gods

Yama is one of the significant characters of the Rig Veda. Known for being the king of the dead, the first person who went into the afterlife, Yama is also the first son of the sun and the first mortal man. Soma, the sacrificial drink to make one immortal is given to Yama. There are many places that the soul can go to upon death. On death, man can reappear either in heaven or on earth and rejoice with a perfect body. The soul can also go to different worlds. The below hymn is to offer safety and happiness to those who have already passed and to give life back to those whose time has not yet come.

"Open up, earth ; do not crush him. Be easy for him to enter and to burrow in. Earth, wrap him up as a mother wraps a son in the edge of her skirt".

"I shore up the earth all around you; let me not injure you as I lay down this clod of earth. Let the fathers hold up this pillar for you; let Yama build a house for you here."

"When you have gone, wiping away the footprints of death, stretching further your own lengthening span of life, become pure and clean and worthy of sacrifice, swollen with offspring and wealth"

The first hymn in the Rig Veda is address to Agni. Agni is the God of fire, one of the most significant gods apart from Indra. Agni plays a role in purifying the body and getting the corpse ready to send it to the ancestors. The body is asked to be cooked to perfection by Agni. it also leads those who have died to Yama. Agni is born of the waters and it is there that he once hides when he is afraid of perishing. Indra persuades him saying that they would give him a life free of old age and that he will not be harmed. Agni drives grief away. As well as relate the hymns to the gods, acting as a messenger.

"The wise speak of what is one in many ways; they call it Agni, Yama, Matarisvan."

Indra and Soma are closely linked. Indra is the Lord of Soma and its drinker. Drinking Soma juice provides him with immortality. Indra's weapon is the lightening bolt which he uses to fight against drought. Indra is the Lord of Thunder. The hymns dedicated to him strengthen him for his acts. Indra is also frequently connected with the sun.

Indra's mother hides him from his father in her womb for many years. However, she forsakes him once he is born, either for the reason that he will grow up to kill his own father or to save him, it is not known. Indra's first heroic feat is killing the dragon, Vrtra using his thunderbolt. This feat releases the waters and also enables the creation of the world from the dragon. Indra also breaks free the cows who are imprisoned in a mountain. Indra also saves Manu from the water.

Soma is the elixir of immortality that is guarded by demons. An eagle carries Indra to steal Soma and bring it to the men and gods. Manu is the ancestor of human - kind and the Soma is brought to him. Soma appears in many forms in the hymns. It is sometimes considered a god and at other times a liquid. It is a plant as well as a moon in one of the hymns. Soma is also a hallucinogenic drug that causes a feeling on immense expansion after being drunk.

"King Soma, do not enrage us ; do not terrify us ; do not wound our heart with dazzling light".

The hymns for the God, Rudra are in the form of a request to not harm us, where as to the other gods the hymns are a praise.

" Do not slaughter the great one among us or the small one among us, nor the growing or the grown. Rudra, do not kill our father or our mother, nor harm the bodies dear to us".

There are also healing hymns are a form of blessing for the man with the illness and are also directly addressed to the herbs to be effective in their healing :

"Do not harm the man who digs you up, nor him for whom I dig you up; let all our two-footed and four - footed creatures be without sickness."


The Rig Veda can be difficult text to read and understand, given the period that it was written in and the fact that it is deliberately incomprehensible. However, it can give rise to meaningful discussion on the nature of reality and the purpose of life.

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