chapter six



The Vedic religion was the religion of the Indo-Aryans,  and existed in northern India from c. 1750 to CE.  The Indo-Aryans were a branch of the Indo-European language family, which originated in the Kurgan culture of the Central Asian steppes. The Indo-Aryans were pastoralists ( Witzel, Michael (1995) ), "Early Sanskritization: Origin and Development of the Kuru state", EJVS vol. 1 no. 4 (1995)) who migrated into north-western India after the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization, bringing with them their language  and religion. They were closely related to the Indo-Aryans who founded Mitanni kingdom in northern Syria  (ca.1500-1300 BCE). Both groups were rooted in the Andronovo-culture  in the Bactria-Margiana era, in present northern Afganistan,  and related to the Indo-Iranians, from which they split-off around 1800-1600 BCE.


 The Aryan invasion/migration theory has been challenged by some researchers,  due to a lack of archaeological evidence and signs of cultural continuity, hypothesizing instead a slow process of acculturation or transformation. Nevertheless, linguistic and archaeological data clearly show a cultural change after 1750 BCE, with the linguistic and religious data clearly showing links with Indo-European languages and religion.  According to Singh, "The dominant view is that the Indo-Aryans came to the subcontinent as immigrants."


The Vedic beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era were closely related to the hypothesised Proto-Indo-European religion,  and the Indo-Iranian religion.  According to Anthony, the Old Indic religion probably emerged among Indo-European immigrants in the contact zone between the Zeravshan River (present-day Uzbekistan) and (present-day) Iran. It was "a syncretic mixture of old Central Asian and new Indo-European elements",  (Anthony, David W. (2007), The Horse The Wheel And Language. How Bronze-Age Riders From the Eurasian Steppes Shaped The Modern World, Princeton University Press ) which borrowed "distinctive religious beliefs and practices"  from the Bactria–Margiana Culture. 

 There are indeed no references to reincarnation in the Rig Veda. Or for that matter in the other Vedas (Sama, Yajur and Atharva).  Reincarnation, or transmigration of the soul, was also known as metempsychosis (Latin through Greek: ‘meta’-after, ‘empsuhkos’- having a soul inside). There are several clear dates and times that will help us determine when this idea appeared. It is very clear that this was a developed idea by the time of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha).

(Wyatt Robertson)


In the Rig Veda the soul of the dead is carried aloft by the fire-god, Agni, who consumes the material body at cremation, to the heavenly worlds where it disports itself with the gods in perfect, carefree bliss. There will be eating and drinking of heavenly food and drink, reunion with father, mother, wife and sons.

Evidently by the time of Buddha, the idea of incarnation was popular at least in the North India.   Even in the Greco-Roman world  it was develop later and as a science rather than religious philosophy.  Thus even in the Rig Veda except in the mandalas One and Ten which were writter late, the idea do not appear.  Until then though concepts of material and non-material worlds did exist with life forms in both worlds, those that has Jada (non-gods - Asura) and those that has non-material bodies named devas.  Evidently Chapters one and ten has indirect references. 

For example in chapter 10 we have:

“May your spirit return again, to perform pure acts for exercising strength, and to live long to see the sun.” Rig Veda

"Each death repeats the death of the primordial man (purusa), which was also the first sacrifice" (RV 10:90).

 Another excerpt from the Rig Veda states (10: 16. 1-4):

"Burn him not up, nor quite consume him, Agni: let not his body or his skin be scattered.
O Jatavedas, when thou hast matured him, then send him on his way unto the Fathers...
 Let thy fierce flame, thy glowing splendour, burn him with thine auspicious forms,
O Jatavedas, bear this man to the region of the pious.......
O Agni, to the Fathers send him who, offered in thee, goes with our oblations.
Wearing new life let him increase his offspring, let him rejoin a body, Jatavedas."

However the other three Vedas Yajur and Atharvan contains more reference.  This is also true of the later Brahmanas and Aranyakas.

 Shukla Yajur Veda (Shukla) states:
The sun God grants bodies in different births, according to your deeds,
providing a happy or unhappy place on this earth. 
May radiant beams prove helpful to you
Yajur Veda 35.2

 “…having exhausted whatever works he did in this world,  he comes again from that world to this world…”
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad,  4.4.6

The texts of Brahmanas (900 BC) also do not contain the doctrine of transmigration. In these texts too, the atman longs for the world of the fathers, for immortality, as in Rig Veda.


Dr Koenraad Elst thus says (http://www.hinduhumanrights.info/does-the-rig-veda-mention-reincarnation-or-not-part-1/) : "The concept of reincarnation is first explained in the Chandogya Upanishad.......   the core doctrine of the Upanishads is not dependent on a theory of the afterlife, such as the theory of reincarnation. .....   In Hinduism, by contrast, it is merely the factual situation that most people believe in reincarnation, but the core doctrine in its original form is not dependent on it. The goal of Buddhist meditation may be conceived as stopping the wheel of reincarnations, but the goal of Hindu meditation is not so defined. Check Patanjali, who mentions knowledge of past lives in passing, but doesn’t define the goal of yoga in terms of the reincarnation cycle. It is simply, technically, the isolation (Kaivalya) of consciousness from its field of objects in which it is mostly entangled, regardless of what happens to the conscious subject before birth or after death....... That’s it for the Rg-Veda. The other quotes which the reader gives, are taken from the younger Yajur- and Atharva-Veda. They were partly contemporaneous with the older Upanishads, and it is not unreasonable if we come across reincarnation beliefs there. " .

In the later Vedas the concept of reincarnation is indeed present and Dr Koenraad Elst asserts:

 "In Yajurveda 19.47, however, the reincarnation doctrine may indeed be implied:

“There are two paths for the soul.
One path Pitryana provides birth again and again through union of father and mother,
                                                                 good and bad deeds, happiness and sorrow.
The other path of Devayana frees the soul from cycle of birth and death
                                                                 and provides bliss of salvation.
The whole world reverberates with both these paths.
And after both, the soul again takes birth as progeny of father and mother.”

This is the same concept enunciated repeatedly in the older Upanishads:

  • that either we can go to heaven (way of the gods) or
  • we can come back here (way of the ancestors).

This doctrine has the same origin as the doctrine of the old Upanishads, where indeed it is introduced as an innovation."


But these are of much later origin  even well into the Christian Era when classical Sanskrit became predominant.