Decline of Indus Civilization and Vedic Upheaval (Chapter-2)

Shamsuzzoha Manik
Articles, Articles & Essays
Decline of Indus Civilization and Vedic Upheaval (Chapter-2)

Publishers note: The series Article written by Shamsuzzoha Manik and Shamsul Alam Chanchal ]


Vedic people and the inception of religious reform movement

A careful study of the Ṛigveda reveals that the composers of the hymns of the Ṛigveda are not invaders or immigrant, rather an indigenous group of people of the north-western part of South Asia, who had a civilized and urban background. Nowhere in the Ṛigveda is mentioned that the Aryan people or Āryas are foreign to the Indus-Saraswati region, rather it mentions the areas of the riverine regions of Sindhu (Indus), Saraswati (Ghaggar-Hakra), Parushṇí (Ravi), Vipásá (Beas), Ṣatudrí (Sutlej), Drishadvatí (Chautang), Asikní (Chenab), Vitastá (Jhelum), Kubhá (Kabul) , Gomatí (Gomal), Ṣwetí (Swat),  Krumu (Kurram), Yamuná, etc. with which they are associated. These are the major rivers or their tributaries in the Indus-Saraswati plain in the north-western part of South Asia and few others are outside the plain. There are other river names like Sarayu, Ápayá, Tṛishṭámá, Susartu, Mehatnu, Marudvṛidhá, Rasá, Anitabhá and Ganga in the Ṛigveda. Excepting Ganga (Ganges) most of the rivers mentioned in the Ṛigveda demonstrate the names of the rivers encompassed by the Indus-Saraswati valley in the Harappan Civilization. It can be associated easily with the background of the priests who composed the hymns of the Ṛigveda in the same region.

The priests who composed the hymns of the Ṛigveda are familiar with the agriculture (I/117/2I, Hymn IV/57, X/101/3, etc.), craft production (IV/2/14, etc.) weaving (II/3/6, X/I06/1, etc.), metal work (VI/3/4, IX/112/2, etc.), medical science (I/117/4) and surgery (I/116/15), astronomy (I/25/8, I/164/12, I/84/15, etc.), houses with many columns [(“a mansion of a thousand columns” (V/62/6)] and doors (“vast comprehensive thousand-doored dwelling” VII/88/5), cities (I/189/2, VII/3/7, VII/15/14, etc.), boats (I/46/7, I/97/7, etc.), long distant and overseas trade [I/25/7, I/48/3, “as (merchants) covetous of gain crowd the ocean, (in vessels,) on a voyage” (I/56/2)]  and merchant (I/112/11), etc. They were also highly developed in literary and philosophical aspects in remote past.

In general, the Vedic priests introduce themselves as Āryas. However, it is interesting to note that most of the enemy names mentioned in the Ṛigveda in the Vedic war are from the same root or kinship to the Vedic Aryan names and also most of the enemy gods are the gods of the Vedic priests. The following table gives an example that shows that enemy names and the Vedic names are of same origins:

Enemy Names Vedic Names
Ahi – Enemy of Vedic people (I/102/3, II/12/11, IV/17/1) Ahirbudhnya – A Vedic god (I/186/5, II/31/6)
Ahīśuva – Indra, the Vedic god, slew him (VIII/32/2) Ahirbudhnya – Same as above
Arbuda – Indra cast down and slew him (II/11/20, II/14/4) Arbuda – A Vedic priest, composer of hymn X/94
Bṛihadratha – Indra crushed him (X/49/6) Bṛihaduktha – A priest composer of the hymns X/54 to 56
Bṛisaya – Whose offspring had been slain by Agni and Soma, the Vedic god (I/93/4) Vṛishańaśwa – A Vedic king (I/51/13)
Citraratha – Indra slew him (IV/30/18) Citra – A Vedic king (VIII/21/17-18)
Devaka –  Indra slew him (VII/18/20) Devala – A priest of the family of Kaśyapa,, composed the hymn IX/5 to 24
Jarútha – Agni consumed Jarútha with his flames (X/80/3) Jaratkarna – Agni protected him (X/80/3)
Kawaṣha – Indra drowned him in the water (VII/18/12) Kavasha – The composer of the hymns from X/30 to 34
Kṛishńa – An asura, named Kṛishńa, the black, whom Indra defeated (I/130/8); Indra destroyed the pregnant wives of Kṛishńa (I/101/1) Krishṇa – Name of the priest of the composer of hymns X/43 and X/44
Manyamāna – His son Devaka was slain by Indra (VII/18/20) Mānya – Name of a Vedic priest (I/165/14)[i]
Mṛigaya – Indra is the destroyer of the deceptive Mṛigaya (VIII/3/19) Gaya – A priest, composer of the hymns X/63 and X/64
Nṛishad – Indra sought to destroy the son of Nṛishad (X/61/13) Nṛishad – His son Kaṇwa is a Vedic sage (X/31/11)
Púru – Agni overcame him in battle (VII/8/4) Puru – Indra protected the son of Puru (VIII/3/12)
Rudhikrá – Indra destroyed him (II/14/5) Dadhikrá – A Vedic god, composer of hymns IV/39 and IV/40

Dadhikrávan – A Vedic god (IV/40/1-4)

Sahavasu – Indra slew him (II/13/8) Prabhúvasu – A Vedic priest, composer of hymns V/35 and V/36
Śambara – Indra destroyed him (I/51/6); Indra demolished ninety-nine cities of him (I/54/6); Indra discovered him dwelling in the mountains for forty years (II/12/11) Samvaraṇa – A priest, composer of the hymn V/33
Ṣruta – Indra drowned him (VII/18/12) Śrutarya – The Vedic god Aświns saved him (I/112/9)
Triṣira[ii] – Three headed asura (X/8/8) Triśiras – The son of Twashṭṛi, is a priest, who composed the hymn X/8.
Tugra – Indra slew him (VI/26/4) Tugra – Great friend of Aświns, the Vedic gods. His son Bhujyu was saved by Aświns (I/116/3-5)
Viśvarūpa – Tvaṣṭar’s son, slain by Indra (II/11/19, X/8/9 ) Viśvakarman – A Vedic god and a priest of same name who composed the hymns X/81 and X/82)
Vṛishaṣipra – Indra and Vishṇu, the Vedic gods “baffled the devices of the slave Vṛishaṣipra,” an enemy name (VII/99/4) Vṛishabha – A king favoured by Indra in a war (VI/26/4)

Other than the names shown in the above table there are many other enemy names that can be identified as of Vedic origin or are of kinship to the Vedic names, such as, Anarṣani (VIII/32/2), Anhu (I/63/7), Anu (VII/18/13-14), Arṇa (IV/30/18), Aśna (II/14/5, II/20/5), Atka (X/49/3), Aurṇavábha (VIII/32/26), Chumuri (VII/19/4), Devaka (VII/18/20), Dhuni (VII/19/4), Dṛibhika (II/14/3), Druhyu (VII/18/12), Ilībiśa (I/33/12)[iii], Karanja (I/53/8), Kuyava (I/104/3), Kuyavácha (I/174/7), Namuchi (II/14/5), Navavástwa (X/49/6), Son of Nṛishad (X/61/13), Paṇí (I/32/11), Parṇaya (I/53/8), Piyu (II/19/7), Pipru (IV/16/13), Rauhiṇa (II/12/12), Ṣarat (VI/20/10), Sṛibinda (VIII/32/2), Śushṇa (I/11/7), Uraṇa (II/14/4), Vala (II/11/20)[iv], Vangṛida (I/53/8), Varaṣikha (VI/27/5), Varchin (IV/30/15), Vṛichívat (VI/27/5), Vṛiddha (VII/18/12), Vṛitra (I/4/8), Yudhyámadhí (VII/18/24), Vyaṁsa (IV/18/9), etc. It should be mentioned here that most of the enemy names that have been mentioned in the Ṛigveda have been mentioned in the above two lists. Now the question arises that even if the Vedic Aryans give names to the non-Aryan inhabitants of the land in some cases, how is it possible that almost all the non-Aryans bear the names of Aryan origin? Similarly it is surprising that the names of the three famous Vedic kings are Divodāsa, Sudās and Trasadasyu. But we know that in the Ṛigveda the enemies are generally called Dāsa and Dasyu that considered to be bad names.

It can be surmised that the names Dāsa and Dasyu were used in the society from long before and that is why we see their use with some Aryan names. Dāsa and Dasyu were used to display negligence and hatred to the enemy in the war. Literally Dāsa means servant, slave, subjugated or captive. Whereas Dasyu means dacoit, robber, etc. It is mentioned in the Ṛigveda that Dāsas, Dasyus and demons are, “who hates (holy) prayers” (II/23/4), “irreligious” (VII/83/7), “who performs no rites” (IX/41/2), “who does not worship” (X/49/1), etc. On the other hand when the confederacy of ten tribes consisting of the same but hostile Aryan faction was defeated by the king Sudās, the priest Viśwámitra composed hymns in praising it: “The ten confederated irreligious Rájas did not prevail, Indra and Varuṇa, against Sudás: ….” (VII/83/7). It is clear from all the references mentioned above that the terms Dāsas, Dasyus and demons were not used to the people of different communities, rather to the people of the same community, which reflects a conflict within the same community of people.

The conflicts among the gods are also demonstrated in the Ṛigveda. Usha is an important goddess in the Ṛigveda. There are some hymns that describe the conflict between the gods Indra and Usha. Such hymns are:[v]

“9. Though, Indra, who art mighty, hast enriched the glorious dawn, the daughter of heaven.

“10. The terrified Ushas descended from the broken waggon when the (shower of benefits) had smashed it.

“11. Then her shattered waggon reposed (on the bank) of the Vipás’ (river), and she departed from afar.” (IV/30)

The conflict between the gods Indra and Usha also demonstrates a social conflict among the prevailing customs and rites associated with two groups of people. But we can see many hymns in the Ṛigveda saying praises of the goddess Usha and even several complete Súktas or hymns have been dedicated to her.

Similar conflict is portrayed with the god Twashtri, as: “….having overcome Twashṭṛi by his innate (vigour), and carried off the Soma juice, he drank it (deposited) in the ladles.” (III/48/4), “Indra, the protector of the virtuous, crushed the arrogant (foe), attaining vast strength; shouting, he cut off the three heads of the multiform son of Twashṭṛi (the lord) of cattle.” (X/8/9). It is interesting that the priest in the Ṛigveda also mentioned “…. Twashṭṛi (has made) thy radiant thunderbolt ….”  of Indra (V/31/4). Also, “Twashṭṛi knows the arts of fabricating (drinking vessels), the most skillful of artificers bearing the sacred drinking cups out of which the gods drink – verily he sharpens his axe of good iron, wherewith the white-complexioned Brahmaṇaspati cuts them.” (X/53/9). From these hymns it is evident that Twashṭṛi was a prominent god in the community before the inception of Vedic war.

We can also cite the example of Paṇis who are mentioned as the enemy in the Ṛigveda: “Fierce Indra, glorified by us, drink that Soma, (animated) by which though hast discovered the vast herd of cattle (stolen by the Paṇis), …” (VI/17/1). And also:

“These our grinding stones are anxious, Soma, for thy friendship: destroy the voracious Paní, for verily he is a wolf.” (VI/51/14). There are many hymns that express hatred for or enmity with the name of Paṇi.

Following hymns are interesting when the priest urge for great riches from Bṛibu, presided over high places of the Paṇis, the enemy of the Vedic Āryas:

“30. May our most elevating praise be near, Indra, to thee, and urge us to (the acquirement of) great riches.

“31. Bṛibu presided over the high places of the Paṇis, like the elevated bank of the Ganges.

“32. Of whom, prompt as the wind, the liberal donation of thousands (of cattle) has been quickly given to (me) soliciting a gift.” (VI/45)

The translator of the Ṛigveda, H.H. Wilson writes Panis to mean as traders or merchants, a greedy trafficker, who gives no offerings to the gods, no presents to the priests: hence he is come to be identified with an asura, or enemy of the gods.[vi]

Ārya means kind, favorable, true, devoted, dear, excellent, master, lord, etc.,[vii] which is referred for the noble or respectable person in the society. It was also associated with prestige and honor. It is reasonable that during the Vedic war the prestigious and qualitative term Ārya was being used by the Vedic priests to identify the people who were performing Vedic rites and thereby forming the Vedic religious community amongst the Indus people. From the same consideration the disrespectful or abusive words such as Dāsa, Dasyu, Demon or Rákshasa are being used for the enemies by the Vedic priests. That Ārya is a qualitative name is obvious from the hymn, which can be deprived of for someone, as: ” … As Śuṣṇa’s slayer I brandished the dart of death: I gave not up the Āryan name to Dasyu foes.” (X/49/3)[viii] The enemies also claimed themselves as Ārya, can be understood from the priest’s requests to Indra in the hymn: “Discriminate between the Āryas and those who are dasyus: restraining those who perform no religious rites, compel them to submit to the performer of sacrifices: be thou, who art powerful, the encourager of the sacrificer. … ” (I/51/8). There is no relation with the complexion associated with the Vedic ally as well as with the enemy. A careful and unprejudiced study of the Ṛigveda makes it clear that the conflict it narrates was that occurred between the two groups of people in the Indus Saraswati Valley who were both essentially Āryas.

From the Ṛigveda the conflict and civil war within the Ārya society indicates a religious conflict, which also reflects the social division and changes that happened in the Indus-Saraswati region. It can be surmised that in the context of protracted crisis and contradictions in the society ultimately a faction split out from the mainstream religion in order to organize movements against the established religion and the ruling class. Thus the hymns of the Ṛigveda are not composed without any social impetus or impulsion. If the case were not such, then the hymns would have been forgotten soon after their composition. It is no doubt that after the victory of the Vedic forces in the war, the victorious priests deliberately preserved the hymns and made them as the foundation of a new religion, which is known as Vedic religion.

All other religious reform movements in the history that ultimately led to the emergence of new religions happened in a similar manner from within the society and from within the existing religious and mythological context, in a situation of social crisis and decadence or upheaval of new social forces. No religious reform in history is caused by the foreign invaders or intruders to the society, as can be learned from the history of the emergence of Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Sikhism or any other religion.

[i] The Hymns of the Ṛgveda, Translated by Ralph T.H. Griffith, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, New Delhi, Reprinted 2004.

[ii] In Vedic language it is mentioned as “triṣirsháṇaṃ,” which means three headed. However, both Wilson and Griffith translated it as “three headed (Asura).” Ṛig-veda Sanhitá, translated by H.H. Wilson and The Hymns of the Ṛgveda, translated by Ralph T.H. Griffith.

[iii] Griffith used this translation.

[iv] Griffith used the spelling “Vala”, but Wilson used both “Vala” and “Bala”.

[v] All English quotations from the Ṛigveda in the article are used from: Ṛig-veda Sanhitá, translated by H.H. Wilson, (1) The First Ashṫaka, or Book, Second Edition, N. Tubner and Co., London, 1866; (2) The Second  Ashṫaka, or Book, Wm. H. Allen and Co., London, 1854; (3) The Third and Fourth Ashtakas, or Books, Wm. H. Allen and Co., London, 1857; (4) The Fifth Ashṭakas, or Books, N. Tubner and Co., London, 1866; (5) Sixth and Part of the Seventh Ashṭaka, or Book, Trübner & Co., 1888; (6) Part of the Seventh and the Eighth Ashṭaka, Trübner & Co., 1888; unless otherwise mentioned. (Available from internet)

[vi] H.H. Wilson has mentioned it at the footnote in the pages 490-491 of Ṛig-veda Sanhitá, The Third and Fourth Ashtakas, or Books, Wm. H. Allen and Co., London, 1857. (Available from internet)

[vii] Monier Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, Delhi, Reprint 1995, p. 93.

[viii] This translation is used from: The Hymns of the Ṛgveda, Translated by Ralph T.H. Griffith.


To be continue…

Shamsuzzoha Manik. He is a Bangladeshi translator, writer, editor, and publisher who was arrested on February 15, 2016 after a religious extremist group warned of violent protests over one of his books. The police shut down Manik’s stall at the...

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