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 Chapter VI
VEDISM


The religion of the Vedic period (also known as Vedism, ancient Hinduism, Brahmanism and Vedic Brahmanism) was the religion of the Indo-Aryans of northern India. It is a historical predecessor of modern Hinduism, though significantly different from it.

The Vedic liturgy is conserved in the mantra portion of the four Vedas, which are compiled in Sanskrit. The religious practices centered on a clergy, who called themselves as Brahmins, administering rites.
Michael Witzel of Harvard University in his ‘Autochthonous Aryans?,The Evidence from Old Indian and Iranian Texts” gives the following description of the people and their religion:
http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~witzel/EJVS-7-3.pdf

“4. Indo-Aryans in the RV

A short characterization of the early Indo-Aryans based on the text of the RV can be attempted as follows.
The Indo-Aryans (årya) spoke a variety of the Indo Iranian language, Vedic Sanskrit, and produced a large volume of orally composed and orally transmitted literature.

They form a patri-linear society with an incipient class (vara) structure (nobles, priest/poets, the 'people'), organized in exogamic clans (gotra), tribes and occasional tribal unions (Anu-Druhyu, Yadu-Turvaśa, Pūru-Bharata, the Ten Kings' coalition of RV 7.18, the Bharata-Sñjaya, etc.) The tribes are lead by chieftains (råjan), and occasional Great Chieftains, elected from the high nobility, and often from the same family. The tribes constantly fight with each other and with the non-IA dasyu, mostly about ''free space'' (loka, grazing land), cattle, and water rights: the Ārya are primarily half-nomadic cattle-herders (horses, cows, sheep, goats), with a little agriculture on the side (of barley, yava). In sport and in warfare they use horse-drawn chariots (ratha) on even ground and the vipatha (AV+) for rough off-track travel.
Their religion has a complicated pantheon: some gods of nature (the wind god Våyu, the male fire deity Agni, and the female deities of water Āpa    , father heaven/mother earth Dyau Pitå/Pthivī [Måtå], the goddess of dawn, Uras etc.). These deities, however, are not simple forces of nature but have a complex character and their own mythology. They are part of a larger system which includes the moral gods of 'law and order': the Āditya such as Varua, Mitra, Aryaman, Bhaga, and sometimes even Indra, the prototypical IA warrior; they keep the cosmic and human realms functioning and in order. All deities, however, are subservient to the abstract, but active positive 'force of truth'   Rta, similar to though not identical with the later Hindu concept of Dharma), which pervades the universe and all actions of the gods and humans. The gods are depicted as engaging in constant and yearly contest with their --originally also divine-- adversaries, the Asura, a contest which the gods always win, until next time. Zaraθuštra used this particular old IIr. concept to establish his dualistic religion of a fight between the forces of good and evil.

All gods, in the Veda especially Indra and Agni, are worshipped in elaborate rituals (e.g. the complicated New Year Soma sacrifice). The rituals follow the course of the year and are celebrated with the help of many priests; they are of a more public nature than the simple domestic (ghya) rituals or rites of passage. In these rituals, the gods are invited, in pūjå-like fashion, to the offering ground, are seated on grass next to the sacred fires, fed with meat or grain cakes and with the sacred drink of Soma (and also, the alcoholic Surå), are entertained by well-trained, bard-like poets (brahmán, i, vipra). These compose hymns (sūkta), afterlong concentration (dhī) but often also on the spot, meant to invite the gods and to praise thenobility (dånastuti), that is the patrons of the ritual. In the few philosophical hymns of the RV the poets speculate about the origin of the universe, the gods, and the humans, the forces that keep the world moving (ta, yajña, śraddhå, or poetic speech, våc).”

Rig Veda is one of the oldest extant texts of any Indo-European language. Philological and linguistic evidence indicate that the Rigveda was composed in the north-western region of the Indian subcontinent, roughly between 1700–1100 BC (the early Vedic period). There are strong linguistic and cultural similarities with the early Iranian Avesta, deriving from the Proto-Indo-Iranian times, often associated with the early Andronovo (Sintashta-Petrovka) culture of ca. 2200-1600 BC.  At the end of the period, these people entered into the land of the Indians in the region of Harappa and Mohenjo deira.  They brought with them their Iranian gods of nature and then added some as time went on in their new homeland. They were trained in the art of war as most of the tribes were and used horses and chariots.  This was a superiority over the Harappans who were an established urban society knowing peace for a long time. Eventually the foreign colonizers took over the area as masters displacing the citizens.  This is reminiscent of American colonization.  Those who fled from the ravage moved into the southern parts of India taking over the local residents and their land. The local residents remained as “Adi Vasies” – the early settlers.

The Vedas

There are four Vedas, the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. The Vedas are the primary texts of Hinduism. They also had a vast influence on Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

Scholars have determined that the Rig Veda, the oldest of the four Vedas, was composed about 1500 B.C., and codified about 600 B.C. It is unknown when it was finally committed to writing, but this probably was at some point after 300 B.C.  This is because Aryan language did not have any alphabets nor scripts.  In that sense they were illiterate. The Vedas are said to be orally transmitted through 1200 years and in that process many hymns are lost.  What was left was written down in the second centur BC in Avestan Sanskrit.

The Vedas contain hymns, incantations, and rituals from ancient India. Along with the Book of the Dead, the Enuma Elish, the I Ching, and the Avesta, they are among the most ancient religious texts still in existence. Besides their spiritual value, they also give a unique view of everyday life in India four thousand years ago. The Vedas are also the most ancient extensive texts in an Indo-European language, and as such are invaluable in the study of comparative linguistics.

33 gods of Rig Veda
Religion of the Vedic Aryans was a form of nature worship.
There were temples.
Deities by prominence

(List of Rigvedic deities by number of dedicated hymns, after Griffith (1888). Some dedications are to paired deities, such as Indra-Agni, Mitra-Varuna, Soma-Rudra, here counted doubly. Vishvadevas (all gods together) have been invoked 70 times.)

Indra 289
Agni 218
Soma 123 (most of them in the Soma Mandala)

The Asvins 56
Varuna 46 [1]
the Maruts 38
Mitra 28[1]
Ushas 21
Vayu (Wind) 12
Savitr 11
the Rbhus 11
Pushan 10

the Apris 9
Brhaspati 8
Surya (Sun) 8
Dyaus and Prithivi (Heaven and Earth) 6, plus 5.84 dedicated to Earth alone
Apas (Waters) 6
Adityas 6
Vishnu 6
Brahmanaspati 6
Rudra 5
Dadhikras 4
the Sarasvati River / Sarasvati 3
Yama
Parjanya (Rain) 3
Vāc (Speech) 2 (mentioned 130 times, deified e.g. in 10.125)
Vastospati 2
Vishvakarman 2
Manyu 2
Kapinjala (the Heathcock, a form of Indra) 2

Minor deities (one single or no dedicated hymn)

Manas (Thought), deified in 10.58
Dakshina (Reward for priests and poets), deified in 10.107
Jnanam (Knowledge), deified in 10.71
Purusha ("Cosmic Man" of the Purusha sukta 10.90)
Aditi
Bhaga
Vasukra
Atri
Apam Napat
Ksetrapati
Ghrta
Nirrti
Asamati
Urvasi
Pururavas
Vena
Aranyani
Mayabheda
Tarksya
Tvastar
Saranyu   

For a detailed study of the gods of Vedic Period, see my book on Development of Hinduism

 

he most popular ritual in the Vedic era was the bali - the animal sacrifice.

The Ashvamedha ritual - in which a horse is sacrificed - is described in the Rigveda, the Shukla Yajurveda, the Taittiriya Shakha of Yajurveda, the Shatapatha Brahmana and in the Srauta-sutras of the Aitareya Brahmana and in the Kaushtikati Brahmana of the Rigveda.
In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad the symbolism of the sacrifice is described, with the horse symbolising the cosmos.
In the Ramayana, Rama performed the Ashvamedha sacrifice for becoming the Chakravartin emperor. In the Mahabharata, Yudhishtra performs the Ashwamedha after winning the Kurukshetra war to become the Chakravartin emperor.      

Even today many temples perform this.

Over Four Thousand  animals were sacrificed in the Nepali village of Barayarpur
on November 28, 2014 to honor the Hindu goddess of power.
Gadhimai Jatra in Bara district in the south of Nepal. This festival is held once every five years.
Last time 20,000 buffaloes were killed as well as an unknown number of other animals, including rats, snakes, pigeons, chicken, ducks, goats and sheep.
The total number of animals killed in the span of just two days was estimated to be 200,000. It was these ritual sacrifices of animals that brought about the rise of Buddhism and Jainism.

Evidently the lack of the concept of a supreme God led to the development of appeasement of spirits and demons and gradually led to witchcraft and magic for all sorts ailments both physical, mental and spiritual.  This is graphically documented in the Atharvan Veda.  Just as Science developed from magic and alchemy, some of form of medical art, Ayurveda, yoga and meditation processes evolved out of Atharvic practices.

Before 2nd c. B.C. there is no historical evidence for the prevalence of Vedic worship in India. It was only by  185 BC during the Sunga Dynasty from the period of Pushyamithra, Rig Veda was written down as evidences of the prevalence of Vedic worship in India. Veda Vyasa, a Dravidian, post - Christian poet who traced these oral traditions, compiled, arranged and classified them into 'Vedas' as we know today. The Vedas  (except Rig Veda) are in classical Sanskrit and Sanskrit inscriptions are seen only in 2nd c. A.D and thereafter.

From what we can see of the Nepalese sacrifice of today, the Vedism with its emphasis on sacrificies grew up into religion of killing.  This probably was the direct outcome of a warrior people.  Same was true of the Jewish religion.  We can see the same sacrificial culture in both these people who were essentially marauders to start with.

The Ashvamedha ritual - in which a horse is sacrificed - is described in the Rigveda, the Shukla Yajurveda, the Taittiriya Shakha of Yajurveda, the Shatapatha Brahmana and in the Srauta-sutras of the Aitareya Brahmana and in the Kaushtikati Brahmana of the Rigveda. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad the symbolism of the sacrifice is described, with the horse symbolising the cosmos.

 In the Rig Veda, there are mention of animal sacrifices,

  •  such as mantras for the sacrifice of a Goat in the Rig;
  • the Jyotistoma sacrifice in which three animal-sacrifices are performed, namely, Agnisomiya, Savaniya and Anubandhya.  Agnisomiya was the simplest of all Soma sacrifices in which animal sacrifice played an important part; it required that a goat be sacrificed to Agni and Soma preceding the day of offering of nectar to the gods. In the Savaniya sacrifice, victims were offered throughout the day of offering to Agni. In the Anubandhya sacrifice either a barren cow or an ox was offered to Varuna and Mitra on the day of Soma sacrifice. 
  • The Yajurveda is considered the Veda of sacrifices and rituals, and consists of a number of animal sacrifices,
osuch as mantras and procedures for the sacrifices of a white goat to Vayu,
o a calf to Sarasvati,
oa speckled ox to Savitr,
oa bull to Indra,
oa castrated ox to Varuna and so on.

In some cases the sacrifice of a goat to Agni and Soma was replaced by Nirudha Pashu-Bandha. This form of sacrifice is described in the Aitareya Brahmana and the Rig-Vedic Brahmanas. The rite was performed by a man yearly or half-yearly before he ate meat. The goat was sacrificed to either Indra, Agni, Varuna or Prajapati while a Maitravaruna priest gave directions to a Hotṛ priest to recite the verses. The sacrificial goat had to be completely healthy and free of any disabilities.

This has brought in its reaction in the evolution of the  rationalistic religions of India- Atheistic Religions which did not practise sacrifice viz. Jainism and Buddhism.   These started as a reaction to the horror of Vedic religion and superstitions of the day.  Essentially they were rationalistic approach of life replacing superstitions of spirits that haunted the people in hills and rivers during day and night.
There was no theistic religion in the pre - Christian era in India.

Vedic Worship
Regarding the Vedas, it is generally thought that they are very ancient and are the basis for the development of Saivism and Vaishnavism. Before 2nd c. A.D. the languages that are seen in the inscriptions in India are Tamil, Pali, Arthamakathi, Greek, Aramaic... but not Sanskrit. The inscriptions of Ashoka were also in Greek, Aramaic... but not in Sanskrit.
Since the Vedas are in Sanskrit (though it may be archaic or classical Sanskrit), the earliest Sanskrit inscription is seen only in the 2nd c.A.D. and thus the period of the Vedas cannot be ascribed to the pre - Christian era. The basic doctrines of Saivism and Vaishnavism are not found in the Vedas.

None of the Rig Vedic gods survived and entered into the Hinduism of today. 

Indra 289
Agni 218
Soma 123 (most of them in the Soma Mandala)

The Asvins 56
Varuna 46 [1]
the Maruts 38
Mitra 28[1]
Ushas 21
Vayu (Wind) 12
Savitr 11
the Rbhus 11
Pushan 10

the Apris 9
Brhaspati 8
Surya (Sun) 8
Dyaus and Prithivi (Heaven and Earth) 6, plus 5.84 dedicated to Earth alone
Apas (Waters) 6
Adityas 6
Vishnu 6
Brahmanaspati 6
Rudra 5
Dadhikras 4
the Sarasvati River / Sarasvati 3
Yama
Parjanya (Rain) 3
Vāc (Speech) 2 (mentioned 130 times, deified e.g. in 10.125)
Vastospati 2
Vishvakarman 2
Manyu 2
Kapinjala (the Heathcock, a form of Indra) 2

Minor deities (one single or no dedicated hymn)

Manas (Thought), deified in 10.58
Dakshina (Reward for priests and poets), deified in 10.107
Jnanam (Knowledge), deified in 10.71
Purusha ("Cosmic Man" of the Purusha sukta 10.90)
Aditi
Bhaga
Vasukra
Atri
Apam Napat
Ksetrapati
Ghrta
Nirrti
Asamati
Urvasi
Pururavas
Vena
Aranyani
Mayabheda
Tarksya
Tvastar
Saranyu

What happened?

To give the effective timeline of the developement of Vedic Religion of 33 gods to the final declaration of “Brahman” as the only reality, I give the following quotes from  http://san.beck.org/EC7-Vedas.html
Literary Works of Sanderson Beck

“The hymns of the Rig Veda are considered the oldest and most important of the Vedas, having been composed between 1500 BC and the time of the great Bharata war about 900 BC. More than a thousand hymns are organized into ten mandalas or circles of which the second through the seventh are the oldest and the tenth is the most recent” 

“Between about 900 and 700 BC the Brahmanas were written in prose as sacerdotal commentaries on the four Vedas to guide the practices of the sacrifices and give explanations often mythical and fanciful for these customs. However, their limited focus of justifying the priestly actions in the sacrifices restricted the themes of these first attempts at imaginative literature. Nevertheless they do give us information about the social customs of this period and serve as a transition from the Vedas to the Aranyakas and the mystical Upanishads”

“The term Upanishad means literally "those who sit near" and implies listening closely to the secret doctrines of a spiritual teacher. Although there are over two hundred Upanishads, only fifteen are mentioned by the philosophic commentator Shankara (788-820 CE). These fifteen and the Maitri are considered Vedic and the principal Upanishads; the rest were written later and are related to the Puranic worship of Shiva, Shakti, and Vishnu. The oldest and longest of the Upanishads are the Brihad-Aranyaka and the Chandogya from about the seventh century BC.”  We should remember that none of the Upanishads were written down untill well in CE since they are in Classical Sanskrit and not in Persian Vedic.  We are assuming these dates as correct as given by the early British Scholars and the continued use of those dates by the modern Hindus.

The scriptures of Hindu Religion are written in Sanskrit, and epigraphic evidence clearly shows that  they  could  not  have  been  written down  before  the  second  century  A.D.  So here again there is an oral transmission period of nearly 500 years.  When it was finally put down in writting both the jewish and christian writtings were in existence all over India for over 300 years which may have seriously influenced the scripted versions.