Are the Vedas three or four in number? The Western scholars basing their arguments on the Purusasukta and the word abhicara meaning sorcery and charms have concluded that the Vedas are three and Atharvaveda does not belong to the main body as it deals with black magic. This conclusion is wrong; for the Atharvaveda deals with all those evils that have plagued mankind from the dawn of creation and suggests remedies in the form of medicines and prayers. From the point of view of usefulness, the Atharvaveda is the best for man, as it has prayers for his well-being, longevity, progeny and happy domestic life.
Devi Chand's translation is based on Swami Dayananda's interpretation. He has also made use of the commentaries of eminent Indian and foreign Vedic scholars. He has spared no pains to bring home the message of the Atharvaveda to contemporary man. The notes, index and the introduction add to the value of the book. All those interested to find solutions to the myriad problems that afflict them everyday shall find this book highly useful.
Of the Vedas, the Atharvaveda being the last, that is fourth in order, is sometimes regarded as of lesser importance than the other Vedas. Modern scholars with outlook conditioned by the Western learning even witnessed in it, primitive and so called non-Aryan elements especially in the hymns connected with charms and incantations. According to the tradition Atharvaveda is mainly a contribution of sages Atharvana and Angira, but an Indian writer of modern times V.M. Apte views the fourth Veda from a different angle as would be clear from the under noted passage:
'The oldest name of the AV in Vedic literature is Atharvangirasah, that is, "the Atharvans and the angirasah." The two words denote two different species of magic formulae: atharvan is "holy magic bringing happiness" and angiras is "hostile or black magic." The former includes curses against enemies, rivals, malicious magicians, etc. These two kinds of magic formulate then form the chief contents of the AV, but these ancient magic songs which were originally popular poetry appear in the Samhita in a Brahmanized form because of the priestly outlook of the compilers, which betrays itself in the similes and epithets. The gods are the same as in the RV, Agni, Indra, etc. But their characters have become quite colorless, all being invoked as "demon-destroyers," and their natural basis is utterly forgotten. The theosophical and cosmogonic speculations of the AV indicate a later stage of development than that in the RV. It contains more theosophic matter than any other Samhita. The philosophical terminology is of an advanced type, and the pantheistic thought is practically the same as in the Upanishads. There is, of course, a magical twist given to the philosophical hymns. For example AV, 19.6 employs the conception of asat, "the non-existent," as a spell to destroy enemies, demons, magicians, etc.
Above all, the principal aim of the Atharvaveda is to appease (the demons), to bless (friends), and to curse and as such it did not find much favour with the priesthood, who excluded it from the sacred triad - the threefold lore. This was, however, a later development. At their origin, magic and cult both have an identical aim - the control of the transcendental world. They have this essential unity of purpose. There soon comes a time, however, when the priest who pays homage to the gods parts company with the magician who is in league with the demons. It is remarkable fact, however, that in spite of this aversion to the Veda of magic, the ritual texts which describe the great sacrifices do incorporate exorcism - formulas and magic rites whereby the priest can destroy "the enemy whom he hates and who hates him," and the law-book of Manu sanctions the use of exorcism against enemies.
The statement of Apte does not appear to contain the proper assessment of Atharvaveda, based on objectivity, but is conditioned by over a century old European outlook and models, with an under-current of Christian ideas. Often the development of religion in Western terminology, which has now assumed a global character, is traced strictly in a unilineal succession from 'magic' which itself is regarded to be less evolved, from the stand point of the growth of civilization and of primitive origin. Such deductions were made on the basis of anthropological studies of tribal societies which were regarded to be less advanced economically and metally, being older representatives of human species, by earlier generation of Western scholars.
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