Age of the Veda.
Accurate knowledge of the Veda necessary for a study of Physical Religion.
THE survey of the Vedic literature which I endeavoured to place before you in my last lecture may seem to have occupied a great deal of our time. But for studies such as we are engaged in it is absolutely necessary to make our foundation sure. It really makes one shiver if one sees how the Veda is spoken of by some very eminent writers in their treatises on the origin of mythology and religion. First of all I hope I shall not hear the Veda any longer spoken of as the Veeda. As I explained to you before Veda means knowledge and is derived from the root vid to see which we have in Latin videre. The vowel in Veda is a diphthong consisting of a + i. This a + i is pronounced in Sanskrit like ai in aid and should properly be written ê. It is the same diphthong which in Greek is represented by ο + ι as in οȋ̓δα I know which stands for Fοîδα. Secondly though Veda ends in a it is not a feminine in Sanskrit but a masculine and I hope that French and German writers more particularly will no longer speak of the Veda as she.
It is not to be expected that every student of the science of mythology and religion should read the Veda in the original. But it is essential that they should know more than the name; that they should have a clear idea what the Vedic literature consists of how it arose when it arose where it arose how it was handed down when it was consigned to writing how it is to be interpreted and what is the reason why so much of it is still doubtful and unintelligible and why scholars so frequently differ in their translations of difficult passages. No knowledge is better than knowledge that cannot give an account of itself and I do not think that a scholarlike study of Physical Religion would be possible without a clear and accurate conception of what the Veda is which has been truly called the Bible of Physical Religion.
How to fix the Date of the Veda.
As yet the whole of the Vedic literature such as I described it to you hangs so to say in the air. There was a time not very long ago when the whole of Sanskrit literature the Veda included was represented as a forgery of the Brâhmans. It seemed too bad to be true that the language of India should be as perfect as Greek and that the mythology of Greece should have the same roots as the mythology of India. And though this uncompromising scepticism finds but few representatives at present Sanskrit is still looked upon as an unwelcome guest by many classical scholars and anything that can be said against it is welcomed by all who dislike the trouble of learning a new language.
Aryan immigration into India.
Not long ago my friend Professor Sayce stated as the result of his Babylonian researches that the migration of the Âryas towards India could not have taken place before about 600 or 700 B.C. Now consider what a complete upheaval of all our ideas on the ancient history of the Âryas in general and more especially on the growth of religious thought in India would be caused if this discovery could be maintained. Between the migration of the Âryas into the land of the Seven Rivers and the composition of hymns addressed to the rivers of the Penjâb and containing allusions even to the Ganges some time must have elapsed. We have then to find room for successive generations of Vedic poets and Vedic princes for repeated collections of ancient hymns for a period filled by the composition of the Brâhmanas written in prose and in a dialect different from that of the hymns and lastly for the rise of that philosophical literature which we find in the Upanishads. If this Upanishad literature is as I have tried to show presupposed by Buddhism and if Buddha lived about 500 B.C. what becomes of the first immigration of the Âryas into India about 600 or 700 B.C.?
Sindhu cotton mentioned 3000 B.C.
But while Professor Sayce has given us no arguments in support of this very recent date assigned by him to the first appearance of Âryas in India he has placed at our disposal some facts which if true would seem to prove that Sanskrit must have been the language of India at least 3000 B.C.
We are told1
that ‘in the copy of an old list of clothing one article is mentioned which has to be pronounced sindhu in Assyro-Babylonian and has the two ideographs “cloth + vegetable fibre.” The copy of the list now extant was made for the library of Assur-bani-pal but the original Babylonian tablet was of a much earlier date possibly as early as the age of Khammuragas say about 3000 B.C.
though this is not quite certain.’
If we trust to these facts and if as Professor Sayce suggests this vegetable fibre was cotton and was called sindhu by the Babylonians because it came from the river Sindhu i.e. from India this would prove the presence of Sanskrit-speaking Âryas in India about at least 3000 B.C.
Professor Sayce further identifies the Assyro-Babylonian word sindhu with the Greek σινδών which occurs in Homer and he thinks that the Hebrew sâtin a linen shirt mentioned in Isaiah iii. 23 was borrowed from Greek. I confess I see no similarity whether in form or meaning between the Hebrew sâtin and the Greek σινδών particularly as we have in Arabic the word sâtin meaning a covering in general. But if as he argues the Phenicians brought this word from the Sindhu the Indus and if both the Greeks and the Babylonians borrowed that word from the Phenicians the presence of Sanskrit-speaking Âryas on the shores of the Indus would go back to a far more distant antiquity than we hitherto ventured to assign to it.
It should likewise be considered that cotton is not yet mentioned in the Vedic hymns nor in the ancient Brâhman
as. It appears for the first time in the Sûtras (Âs
rauta Sûtra IX. 4) as the name of a dress made of karpâsa cotton. The other names pik
ula and tûla are certainly post-Vedic. However a cloth made of vegetable substances need not necessarily be cotton. It may have been valka the bark of certain trees which was used from a very early time in India for making cloth while in the Veda wool is the principal material used for weaving2
This discrepancy between two such dates as 600 B.C. and 3000 B.C. as the time of the migration of the Vedic Âryas into India will show at all events how necessary it is to defend every approach to the fortress of Vedic chronology and how essential for our own purposes to settle once for all the true antiquity and the really historical character of the Veda.
There are but few chronological sheet-anchors which hold the ancient history of India and we must try to fasten the floating literature of the Veda to one of them as firmly and securely as we can. In order to do that I must however first say a few words more on another class of literary compositions which form the last products of the Vedic age and which will have to serve as our hawsers to connect the ancient history of India with the terra firma of Greek chronology.
If you could read some of the Brâhmanas which I described to you in my last lecture you would easily understand why even for the purposes for which they were principally intended they proved in the long run utterly useless. I defy any one to learn the correct performance of a Vedic sacrifice from these treatises. This explains the rise of a new kind of literature in style the very opposite of the Brâhmanas in which the performance of the same sacrifices which we saw described in the Brâhmanas is explained in the shortest and the most business-like manner. These works are called Sûtra which means literally threads. Some passages occurring in the Brâhmanas and containing short rules are called by the same name and it is quite clear that these Sûtras though independent works are entirely based on ancient Brâhmanas. Their style is almost enigmatical by its terseness their grammar retains but few traces of the Vedic language though Vedic irregularities are tolerated in them while the language of the Brâhmanas is still entirely Vedic and contains many ancient forms even such as do not occur in the Vedic hymns.
The introduction of this new class of literature must have been the result of some social or religious change. The change from the careless diffuseness of the Brâhmanas to the studied brevity of the Sûtras must have had a definite purpose.
I can think of two explanations only. It is just possible that a knowledge of the art of writing which was unknown to the authors of the Brâhmanas may have reached India sooner than we know and that its inherent difficulties may have produced at first this almost lapidary style of the Sûtras. What is against this supposition is the non-appearance of any allusion to writing in the Sûtras themselves.
We are therefore driven to the other explanation that the Brâhmans themselves could no longer trust to a traditional knowledge of the different sacrifices; that the text of the Brâhmanas even if learnt by heart was no longer found sufficient to enable priests to perform their respective duties correctly and that therefore these new practical manuals were composed containing no useless speculations but simply an outline of the duties of the three classes of priests a thread of rules to be learnt by heart by the priests who had to perform the sacrifices.
These Sûtras are called Kalpa-sûtras and are divided into two classes Srauta and Smârta. Srauta is derived from sruti hearing which means revelation. Smârta is derived from smriti memory which means tradition.
Each class of priests the labouring the singing and the reciting priests have their own Sûtras as they had their own Brâhmanas and Samhitâs.
When this Sûtra-style had once become popular other subjects also were treated in it. The rules of pronunciation for instance which were at first taught in metrical form as in the Rig-veda-prâtisâkhya were afterwards reduced to the form of Sûtras. The rules of metre also were composed in Sûtras and not only does the Sûtra-style prevail in the great grammar ascribed to Pânini but the quotations from earlier grammarians also seem to indicate that they were handed down in the same short pithy sentences.
The Three Literary Periods of the Vedic Age.
We have now finished our survey of the ancient literature of India as it passes through three distinct stages each marked by its own style. We saw Vedic Sanskrit at first in the metrical hymns of the Rig-veda; we saw it afterwards in the diffuse prose of the Brâhmanas and we saw it last of all in the straitjacket of the Sûtras.
We also saw that the Sûtras presupposed the existence of the Brâhmana literature and that the Brâhmana literature presupposed the existence of the hymns as collected in the Rig-veda-samhitâ.
If now we ask how we can fix the date of these three periods it is quite clear that we cannot hope to fix a terminus a quo. Whether the Vedic hymns were composed 1000 or 1500 or 2000 or 3000 years B.C. no power on earth will ever determine.
Chronological terminus ad quem.
The question then arises can we fix on a terminus ad quern can we determine the date of the last Vedic period that of the Sûtras and then work our way back to the two preceding literary periods?
Sandrocottus died 291 B.C.
I believe this is possible. You know that the sheet-anchor of ancient Indian chronology is the date of the contemporary of Alexander the Great Sandrocottus who is the Kandragupta of Indian history. You may also know that this Sandrocottus who died 291 B.C. was the grandfather of Asoka who reigned from 259 to 222 B.C. and whose inscriptions we possess engraved on rocks and pillars in numerous places in India. This Asoka tolerated or even accepted the religion founded by Buddha and it was during his reign that the second great Buddhist Council was held at Pâtaliputra.
On the strength of the information contained in the Buddhist Canon as settled at the Council under Asoka we are enabled to place the rise of Buddhism at about 500 B.C. and the death of its founder at 477 B.C.
These are dates as certain in the eyes of the general historian as we can ever expect to extract from the extant literature of India.
Buddhism a reaction against the Vedic Religion.
Now Buddhism is not a completely new religion. On the contrary it represents a reaction against some other already existing religion and more particularly against some of the extravagant theories of the Brâhmans. In one sense it may really be said to be a practical carrying out of the theories proclaimed for the first time in the Âranyakas and Upanishads. While the Brâhmans allowed members of the three upper castes to retire from the world after they had performed all the duties of their youth and manhood the Buddhists allowed everybody to become a Bhikshu a mendicant whether he had passed this previous apprenticeship or not. Again while the Brâhmans reserved the right of teaching to themselves Buddha who belonged to the caste of the nobles claimed that right for himself and for all who were ‘enlightened’ i.e. buddha. These are two essential points of difference between Brâhmans and Buddhists and orthodox Brâhmans constantly harp on them as proving the heterodoxy of Buddha.
But we can not only show that Buddhism was a kind of Protestantism as compared with Brâhmanism we can point out also a number of words and thoughts the growth of which we can watch in the periods of Vedic literature and which were taken over bodily by the Buddhists though sometimes with a change of meaning.
The word Upanishad.
For instance the very name of Upanishad can have been formed and can have grown up towards the end of the Brâhman
a period only. Its original meaning was a sitting (sad) below (ni) towards (upa) the teacher3
. It became the recognised name of the attitude assumed by the pupil when listening to his teacher. It then was fixed as the name of the teaching itself and at last conveyed the meaning of secret doctrine (âdes
a). In that sense which it had slowly acquired in the Brâhman
a and Sûtra periods we find it used again in the sacred canon of the Southern Buddhists who use upanisâ in the sense of secret and cause. The Northern Buddhists also knew the word upanishad4
. We may safely conclude therefore that this title and what it signified must have existed previous to the rise of Buddhism that is previous to 500 B.C.
The word Sûtra.
The same applies to the word Sûtra. We do not know exactly why Sûtra should have become the name of those short sentences to which the scholastic knowledge of the Brâhmans was finally reduced. But that word must have assumed the more general meaning of teaching or lesson before the Buddhists could have employed it as they do namely as the name of the long sermons delivered by Buddha and collected in one of the three divisions of their sacred canon the Sutta-pit
I could mention other words more or loss technical which have their history in the Brâhmanas and Sûtras and which in that form and with that meaning which they had gradually assumed among the Brâhmans of the Vedic period were taken over by the Buddhists. But even these two words Upanishad and Sûtra will suffice for it is beyond the limits of probability to suppose that such technical terms as these could have been formed twice and independently one from the other. They were formed by the Brâhmans and accepted by the Buddhists though often with a slightly modified meaning.
Relation of Buddhism to Brâhmanism.
Nor must we forget that though Buddhism as a religious social and philosophical system is a reaction against Brâhmanism there is an unbroken continuity between the two. We could not understand the antagonism between Buddhism and the ancient religion of India unless the Vedic religion had first reached that artificial and corrupt stage in which we find it in the Brâhmanas. Buddha himself as represented to us in the canonical writings of the Buddhists shows no hostility to the Brâhmans in general nor does he seem to have been fond of arguing against Brâhmanism. If the prevailing religion of India at his time had consisted of the simple Vedic hymns only Buddha's position would become quite unintelligible. He does not argue against the Vedic gods. He tolerates them in that subordinate capacity in which they were tolerated by the authors of the Upanishads after they had discovered the higher truth of Brahman and the identity of their own self with the Highest Self the Paramâtman. What he attacks is the Brahmanic sacrifice as it had been developed in the Brâhmanas the privileges arrogated to their caste by the Brâhmans and the claim of a divine revelation set up for the Veda particularly for the Brâhmanas. It is curious to see how a modern reformer. Dayânanda Sarasvatî takes a very similar position. He admits the hymns of the Veda as divinely inspired but he insists on the Brâhmanas being the works of men.
If then the very origin of the Buddhistic reform in India would be unintelligible without the latest phase of the Vedic religion if Upanishads and Sûtras must have existed if the word Upanishad must have come to mean secret doctrine before it could be used in the sense of secret and cause as it is in Buddhism and if the word Sûtra must have assumed the general meaning of teaching before it could have been applied to Buddha's sermons we have found a terminus ad quem for our Vedic literature. It must have reached its final shape before the birth of Buddha that is about 600 B.C. Before that date we must make room for three whole periods of literature each presupposing the other.
Here no doubt our chronology becomes purely constructive. We can no longer build on solid rock but must be satisfied to erect our chronological structure like the palaces of Venice on piles carefully driven into the shifting sands of historical tradition. If then we place the rise of Buddhism between 500 and 600 B.C. and assign provisionally 200 years to the Sûtra period and another 200 years to the Brâhmana period we should arrive at about 1000 B.C. as the date when the collection of the ten books of the ancient hymns must have taken place. How long a time it took for these hymns some of them very ancient some of them very modern in character to grow up we shall never be able to determine. Some scholars postulate 500 others 1000 or even 2000 years. These are all vague guesses and cannot be anything else. To us it suffices that the Brâhmanas presuppose the Rig-veda as we have it including even such very late hymns as the Vâlakhilyas in the eighth Mandala. It is possible that further critical researches may enable us to distinguish between the present collection of hymns and an older one on which our Rig-veda was founded. But even our Rig-veda such as it is with every Mandala and every hymn with every verse and every word counted must have existed so far as we know at present about 1000 B.C. and that is more than can be said of any work of any other Aryan literature.
We have thus thrown our bridge from our own MSS. say 1000 A.D.
to the first arch represented by the collected Vedic hymns in 1000 B.C.
It is a bridge that requires careful testing. But I can honestly say I see no flaw in our chronological argument and we must leave it as it is for the present. But I should not be honest towards myself or towards others if I did not state at the same time that there are hymns in the Rig-veda which make me shiver when I am asked to look upon them as representing the thoughts and language of our humanity three thousand years ago. And yet how to find a loophole through which what we should consider modern hymns might have crept into the collection of older hymns I cannot tell. I have tried my best to find it but I have not succeeded. Perhaps we shall have to confess that after all our ideas of what human beings in India ought to have thought 3000 years ago are evolved from our inner consciousness and that we must learn to digest facts though they do not agree with our tastes and our preconceived ideas6
Character of the Veda.
I should like now to give you an idea of what the general character of the Vedic hymns is such as we find them collected in the Rig-veda-samhitâ and commented upon in the Brâhmanas in the Prâtisâkhyas in the Nirukta and later works. But this is extremely difficult partly on account of the long period of time during which these hymns were composed partly on account of the different families or localities where they were collected.
Simplicity of Vedic Hymns.
The Vedic hymns have often been characterised as very simple and primitive. It may be that this simple and primitive character of the Vedic hymns has sometimes been exaggerated not so much by Vedic scholars as by outsiders who were led to imagine that what was called simple and primitive meant really what psychologists imagine to have been the very first manifestations of human thought and language. They thought that the Veda would give them what Adam said to Eve or as we should say now what the first anthropoid ape confided to his mate when his self-consciousness had been roused for the first time on his discovering that he differed from other apes by the absence of a tail or when he sighed over the premature falling off of his hair which left him at last hairless and naked as the first Homo sapiens. These expectations have no doubt been disappointed by the publication of the Rig-veda. But the reaction that set in has gone much too far. We are now told that there is nothing simple and primitive in the Vedic hymns nay that these verses are no more than the fabrications of priests who wished to accompany certain acts of their complicated sacrifices with sacred hymns.
Let us consider each of these objections by itself. If one class of scholars maintain that they find nothing simple or primitive in the Veda they ought to tell us first of all what they mean by simple and primitive. Surely we may call primitive what requires no antecedents and simple what is natural intelligible and requires no explanation. Of such thoughts I still maintain as strongly as ever that we find more in the Rig-veda than in any other book Aryan or Semitic.
I call many of the hymns addressed to the Dawn the Sun the Sky the Fire the Waters and Rivers perfectly simple. If Devas or so-called gods had once been recognised—and this as language teaches us must have been the case before the Âryas separated—we require no explanation why human beings should have addressed the sun in the morning and evening asking him to bring light and warmth on which their very life depended deprecating his scorching rays which might destroy their harvest and kill their cattle and imploring him to return when he had vanished for a time and had left them helpless in cold and darkness. The phases of the moon too might well excite in an observant mind thoughts fit for expression particularly as we know that it was the moon who first helped men to reckon time without which no well-regulated social life was possible. Lastly the return of the seasons and the year would likewise turn the thoughts of husbandmen hunters or sailors to powers above them who controlled their life and its occupations but who themselves could not be controlled either by force or cunning though they like animals or men might be softened they thought by kind words and kind deeds.
Nor could the profound and unvarying order that pervades and sustains the whole of nature escape even the most careless observers. It was perceived by the Vedic poets in the return of day and night in the changes of the moon the seasons and the years. They called that order Rita and they soon began to look upon their gods as the guardians of that order (rita-pa) while they suspected in storms and floods and other convulsions of nature the working of powers opposed to their gods. The order of nature and belief in their gods were so intimately connected in the minds of the early poets that one of them said (Rv. I. 102 2) ‘Sun and moon move in regular succession in order that we may sec and believe.’
The moral relation between men and the Devas or gods was also in its origin of the simplest character. We meet in the Vedic hymns with such homely phrases addressed to their gods as ‘If you give me this I shall give you that’ or ‘As you have given me this I shall give you that.’ This was a mere barter as yet between men and gods and yet the former sentiment might grow in time into a prayer the latter into a thank-offering. Sometimes the poet expostulates with the gods and tells them that ‘if he were as rich as they are he would not allow his worshippers to go begging.’
Surely nothing can be more simple and more natural than all this provided always that we are dealing with men who had elaborated a perfect language not with missing links between brute and man.
Even when sacrificial offerings came in they consisted at first of nothing but some kinds of food relished by men themselves such as water milk butter oil grains and berries prepared in different ways as puddings cakes etc. Of sacrificial animals we find goats sheep oxen; for later and greater sacrifices horses and even men. There are dark traditions of human sacrifices but in the recognised ceremonial of the Veda a man is never killed. Incense also is mentioned and in some sacrifices an intoxicating beverage the Soma is very prominent and must have been known before the Zoroastrians separated from the Vedic people because it forms a very prominent feature in both religions.
Childish Thoughts in the Veda.
As to almost childish thoughts surely they abound in the Veda. It is rather hard to have to pick out childish and absurd thoughts in order to prove the primitive and unsophisticated character of the Veda. But if it must be done it can be done. The Vedic poets wonder again and again why a dark or a red cow should give white milk7
. Can we imagine anything more primitive? Yet that thought is not peculiar to India and some people might feel inclined to refer it to a period previous to the Aryan separation. There is a common saying or riddle in German which you may hear repeated by children to the present day
‘O sagt mir doch wie geht es zu
Dass weiss die Milch der rothen Kuh.’
‘Tell me how does it happen
That the milk of the red cow is white.’
There is perhaps more excuse for their wondering at another miracle. In I. 68 2 we read ‘that men were pleased with the power of Agni that he should be born alive from a dry stick’ ất ít te vísve krátum gushanta súshkât yât deva gîváh gánishthâh.
Again can anything be more primitive than the wonderment expressed by Vedic poets that the sun should not tumble down from the sky? Thus we read Rv. IV. 13 5
‘Unsupported not fastened how does he (the sun) rising up not fall down?’
Ánâyatah ánibaddhah kathấ ayám nyãṅ uttânáh áva padyate ná.
Other nations have wondered why the ocean should receive all the rivers and yet never overflow (Eccles. i. 7). The Vedic poet too discovers signs of the great might of what he calls the wisest Being in that
‘The bright inpouring rivers never fill the ocean with water’ (Rv. V. 85 6).
My object in quoting these passages is simply to show the lowest level of Vedic thought. In no other literature do we find a record of the world's real childhood to be compared with that of the Veda. It is easy to call these utterances childish and absurd. They are childish and absurd. But if we want to study the early childhood if not the infancy of the human race; if we think that there is something to be gained from that study as there is from a study of the scattered boulders of unstratified rocks in geology then even these childish sayings are welcome to the student of religion welcome for the simple fact that whatever their chronological age may be they cannot easily be matched anywhere else.
More exalted Ideas.
These childish ideas however this simple wonderment at the commonest events in nature soon led on to more exalted ideas. One poet asks (Rv. X. 88 18)
‘How many fires are there how many suns how many dawns and how many waters? I do not say this O fathers to worry you; I ask you O seers that I may know it.’
‘What was the wood and what was the tree from which they have cut out heaven and earth?’
(Rv. X. 31 7; 81 4.) Kím svit vánam káh u sáh vriksháh âsa yátah dyấvâprithivî́ nih-tatakshúh.
Or again X. 81 2:
‘What was the stand on which he rested which was it and how from whence the All-maker the all-seeing created the earth and spread out the sky by his might?’
Kím svit âsît adhishthấnam ârámbhanam katamát svit kathấ âsît yátah bhû́mim ganáyan visvákarmâ ví dyấm aúrnot mahinấ visvákakshâh.
We see here how difficult it would be to draw a line between what we call childishness and what we call wisdom from the mouths of babes. If it is true that il n'y a qu'un pas du sublime au ridicule it would seem to be equally true that il n'y a qu'un pas du ridicule au sublime. A childish question may call forth an answer full of profound wisdom. But to say that we look in vain for simple and primitive thoughts in the Veda is to set up a standard of simplicity and primitiveness that would apply to cave-dwellers rather and prehistoric monsters and not to people who as long as we know them were in full possession of one of the most perfect of Aryan languages. No doubt there are in the Veda thoughts and sentiments also that might have been uttered in the nineteenth century. But this only serves to show how large a period is covered by those ancient hymns and how many different minds are reflected in it.
The Sacrificial Character of the Vedic Hymns.
Another view of the Veda first advanced by Professor Ludwig has of late been defended with great ingenuity by a French scholar M. Bergaigne a man whose death has been a serious loss to our studies. He held that all or nearly all the Vedic hymns were modern artificial and chiefly composed for the sake of the sacrifice. Other scholars have followed his lead till at last it has almost become a new doctrine that everywhere in the world sacrifice preceded sacred poetry. Here again we find truth and untruth strangely mixed together.
It is well known that in several cases verses contained in hymns totally unconnected with the sacrifice were slightly changed in order to adapt them to the requirements of the sacrificial ceremonial. The first verse for instance of the dialogue between Yama and Yamî (Rv. X. 10 1) is
ó kit sákhâyam sakhyấ vavrityâm
‘May I bring near the friend by friendship.’
In the Sâma-veda X. 340 the same verse appears as
ấ tvâ sákhâyah sakhyấ vavrityuh
‘May the friends bring thee near by friendship’
that is ‘May the priests bring the god to the sacrifice8
That many Vedic hymns however contain allusions to what may be called sacrificial customs no one who has ever looked into the Veda can deny. Some of the hymns and generally those which for other reasons also would be treated as comparatively late presuppose what we should call a highly developed system of sacrificial technicalities. The distinction for instance between a verse (rik
) and a song (sâman) and a sacrificial formula (yag
us) the distinction on which as we saw rests the division of the Veda into Rig-veda Sâma-veda and Yag
ur-veda is found in one of the hymns X. 90 and there only. But curiously enough this very hymn is one of those that occur at the end of an Anuvâka and contains several other indications of its relatively modern character. Many similar passages full of sacrificial technicalities have been pointed out9
in the Rig-veda and they certainly show that when these passages were composed the sacrifice in India had already assumed what seems to us a very advanced or if you like a very degraded and artificial character.
But there are other passages also where the poet says ‘Whosoever sacrifices to Agni with a stick of wood with a libation with a bundle of herbs or with an inclination of his head.’ he will be blessed with many blessings (Rv. VIII. 19 5; 102 19).
This whole question so hotly discussed of late whether sacrifice comes first or prayer whether the Vedic poets waited till the ceremonial was fully developed before they invoked the Dawn and the Sun and the Storms to bless them or whether on the contrary their spontaneous prayers suggested the performance of sacrificial acts repeated at certain times of the day of the month of the year is impossible to solve because as it seems to me it is wrongly put.
‘Sacrifice’ as Grimm remarked long ago ‘is only a prayer offered with gifts.’ We nowhere hear of a mute sacrifice. What we call sacrifice the ancients called simply karma an act. Now in one sense a simple prayer preceded by a washing of the hands or accompanied by an inclination of the head may be called a karma an act10
. On the other hand a man who in lighting the fire on the hearth or in putting one log on the smouldering ashes bows his head (namas) raises his arms (uttânahastah
Rv. VI. 16 46) and utters the name of Agni with some kind epithets (yag
us) may be said to have addressed a hymn of praise to the god of fire. Prayer and sacrifice may have been originally inseparable but in human nature I should say that prayer comes always first sacrifice second.
That the idea of sacrifice did not exist at a very early period we may gather from the fact that in the common dictionary of the Aryan nations there is no word for it while Sanskrit and Zend have not only the same name for sacrifice but share together a great many words which refer to minute technicalities of the ancient ceremonial.
Yag to sacrifice.
The usual word for sacrificing in Sanskrit is YAG
Zend yaz from which yagñ
a sacrifice yag
-us sacrificial formula yag
âmi I sacrifice yâg
ya to be worshipped. This yâg
ya has been compared with Greek ἅγιος sacred though this is not certain11
. Why yag
should have taken that meaning of sacrificing or giving to the gods we cannot tell12
for it is impossible to trace that root back to any other root of a more general meaning.
Hu to sacrifice.
Another Sanskrit root which has frequently to be translated by sacrificing is HU. In this case we can clearly see the original intention of the root. It meant to pour out and was chiefly applied to the act of throwing barley and oil and other substances into the fire13
. It afterwards took a more general meaning not so general however as to be applicable to animal sacrifices. From it we have in Sanskrit havis havya sacrifice â-hâva a jug g
uhû a spoon ho-tri
priest homa and âhuti libation. In Greek χυ or χεF
means simply to pour out χύ-τρα an earthen-ware pot14
. Θύειν to sacrifice might phonetically be traced back to the same source but its meanings cause difficulty.
A third word for sacrifice in Sanskrit is adhvara which is generally though I doubt whether correctly explained as a compound of the negative a and dhvara flaw. From it adhvaryu the name of the officiating priest.
Stress is frequently laid on the sacrificial offering being without a flaw or free from any blemish. This may account for the meaning of the English holy which is the AS. hâlig derived from hâl that is. hale and whole. The Greek ἱερός sacred holy had a similar origin. It is identical with the Sk. ishira which means alive strong vigorous a meaning still perceptible in the Greek of Homer who speaks of ἱερὸς ἰχθύς (Il. ii. 407) a lively fish ἱερὸν μένος a vigorous mind while in later Greek ἱερός means sacred only and ἱερεύς a priest like adhvar-yu.
This is all that we can discover as to the original conception of a sacrifice among some of the Aryan nations. The equation of yag
to sacrifice with Greek ἅζομαι to stand in awe is difficult if not impossible on account of the difference of meaning. Nothing in fact justifies us in supposing that the idea of a sacrifice in our sense of the word existed among the Âryas before they separated. The concept of gods or devas had no doubt been elaborated before their final separation. Words also for metrical language (kh
an das = scandere s
as-man = carmen in casmena) existed. Such expressions as dâtấras vásûnâm or vásuâm in the Veda dâtârô vohunâm and dâta vaṅhvâm in Zend and δοτῆρες ἐάων (i.e. F
οων) in Homer would seem to show that the idea of the gods giving gifts to men had been fully realised15
though not yet the idea of men giving gifts to the gods. If in δοτῆρες ἐάων and dâtấras vásuâm we may recognise as Kuhn suggested a phrase that had become fixed and idiomatic before the Aryan nations separated it would have to be kept as a perfect gem in our linguistic museums.
Prayer better than Sacrifice.
In spite of the preponderance which the sacrifice has assumed in India it is important to observe that the Vedic poets themselves were strongly impressed with the feeling that after all prayer was better than sacrifice. Thus we read Rv. VIII. 24 20:
dásmyam vákah ghritất svấdîyah mádhunah ka vokata
‘Utter a powerful speech to Indra which is sweeter than butter and honey.’
Rv. VI. 16 47:
ấ te agne rikấ havíh hridấ tashtám bharâmasi té te bhavantu ukshánah rishabhấsah vasấh utá.
‘We offer to thee O Agni an oblation made by the heart with a verse let this be thy oxen thy bulls and thy cows16.’
Rv. I. 109 1:
Ví hí ákhyam mánasâ vásyah ikkhán
Índrâgnî gñâsáh utá vâ sagâtấn
Ná anyấ yuvát prámatih asti máhyam
Sáh vâm dhíyam vâgayántîm ataksham.
‘I looked about in my mind. O Indra and Agni wishing for wealth among acquaintances and kinsfolk. But there is no guardian for me but you therefore did I compose this song for you.’
Rv. III. 53 2:
Pitúh ná putráh síkam ấ rabhe te
Índra svấdishthayâ áirấ sakîvah.
‘With the sweetest song I lay hold of the hem of thy garment O Indra as a son lays hold of his father's garment O helper.’
The gods are quite as frequently invoked in the hymns to hear as to eat and to drink and hymns of praise are among the most precious offerings presented to the gods.
The Primitive Sacrifice.
But sacrifices certainly occupy a very prominent part in the Vedic hymns. Only we must distinguish. When we hear of sacrifices we cannot help thinking at once of sacred and solemn acts. But the very names and concepts of sacred and solemn are secondary names and concepts and presuppose a long development. In Sanskrit a sacrifice is simply called an act karma though in time that name assumed the technical meaning of a sacred and solemn act. We must never forget that many of the ancient sacrifices were indeed nothing but the most natural acts and that some of them are found with slight variations in the most distant parts of the world and among people entirely unrelated and unconnected.
Morning and Evening Meal.
A morning and evening offering for instance is met with among Semitic quite as much as among Aryan nations. It was originally the morning and evening meal to which in many places a third offering was added connected with the midday meal. Throwing a few grains of corn on the fire pouring a few drops of their own drink on the altar whether in memory of their departed parents or with a thought of the sun the giver of light and life as he rose and culminated and set every day was the beginning of the daily sacrifice among the Âryas. These two or three libations in the morning in the evening and at noon were quite familiar to the poets of the Rig-veda. For instance Rv. IV. 35 7:
Prâtáh sutám apibah haryasva
Mấdhyandinam sávanam kévalam te
Sám ribhúbhih pibasva ratnadhébhih
Sákhîn yấn indra kakrishé sukrityấ.
‘O Indra thou hast drunk what was poured out in the morning the midday libation is thine alone; drink now with the liberal Ribhus whom thou hast made friends for their good deeds17.’
The name savana libation occurs in the Veda; but the technical term trishavana the threefold libation is not yet found in the hymns of the Rig-veda.
Lighting and keeping of the Fire.
Another most simple and natural act which in time came to be called a sacrifice consisted in the making up of the fire on the hearth at sunrise and sunset also at noon. It was a useful and necessary act and would probably soon have to be sanctioned by habit or enforced by law. It was the beginning of what afterwards became the solemn Agnihotra or fire-sacrifice. Thus we read Rv. IV. 2 8:
Yáh tvâ doshấ yáh ushási prasámsât
Priyám vâ tvâ krinávate havíshmân.
‘He who praises thee Agni in the evening or at dawn Or who makes thee pleased with his oblation.’
Or again IV. 12 1:
Yáh tvấm agne inádhate yatásruk
Tríh te ánnam krinávat sásmin áhan.
‘He who lights thee O Agni stretching forth his spoon he who gives thee food three times on the same day.’
But while the simple act of the making-up of the fire and pouring some fat on it to make it flare up is often mentioned the technical term of the Agnihotra sacrifice is not yet met with in the hymns of the Rig-veda.
New and Full Moon.
Again the observation of the phases of the moon which was essential in order to remember the months the fortnights and the seven days nay without which no well-regulated social life was possible is clearly presupposed by the hymns. But the technical name of the New and Full-moon sacrifice Darsa-pûrna-mâsa does not occur in the hymns.
The Three Seasons.
Another probably very primitive sacrifice was the Four-monthly sacrifice marking the three most important seasons of the year. Here again the technical name Kâturmâsya is later than the hymns of the Rig-veda.
In all these acts whether they lasted one moment only or a whole day or even many days we can still discover a simple and natural purpose. They are not sacrifices in our sense of the word. They prove no more than the existence of festive gatherings in a family or a village to commemorate and impress on the mind of the young the important divisions of the year or to make sure of the regular performance of certain essential household duties. After a time what was natural became artificial what was simple became complicated; and there cannot be the slightest doubt that in many of the Vedic hymns the poets show themselves already well acquainted with the later complicated phases of the sacrifice in India. Many priests are mentioned with their technical titles; the times and seasons for certain sacrifices are accurately fixed; sacrificial offerings have received their special names they are restricted to certain deities18
and the original purpose of the sacrifice is often completely lost in a mass of ritual that seems perfectly meaningless.
The meaning of Solemn.
But what I wish to make quite clear is this that there is a growth or a natural development in all this. The mere fact that these simple offerings or these festive gatherings were repeated every day or every month or every year imparted to them a sacred and solemn character. Language itself teaches us that lesson. For how did we get the idea of solemn? How did we come to call anything solemn? Simply by regular repetition. Solemn the Latin sollennis was derived as the Romans themselves tell us from sollus whole and annus for amnus year. It meant therefore originally no more than annual and then by slow degrees came to supply the new idea of solemn.
I should say then that we are perfectly justified whenever we find in the Veda hymns full of allusions to minute ceremonial technicalities to class such hymns as secondary or tertiary. But there remains the fact and in spite of all efforts I do not see how we can escape from it—that all the 1017 hymns and even the eleven Vâlakhilya hymns in which these technicalities occur must have been collected not later than about 1000 B.C. Can any other Aryan literature match this? If anybody can break through the net of our chronological argument let him do so. No one would rejoice more than myself. But until that is done we must learn to bear the slavery of facts.