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Somayajña And The Structure Of Rgveda

It is shown that the ten-maṇḍala structure of the ṛgveda is related to the structure and performance of the most important yajña, somayajña. The evolutionary model considers that the ‘family maṇḍala-s (maṇḍala-s II to VII)’ had been compiled earlier and existed as independent units, and the other maṇḍala-s were added subsequently; the ninth maṇḍala was carved out of the others and the tenth maṇḍala was added last. This model is challenged and it is shown that the first maṇḍala actually appears as a plan for the structure of the entire ṛgveda saṃhitā. The ninth maṇḍala instead of being a sort of ‘appendix’, according to some scholars, is in reality the ‘hub’ of the ṛgveda saṃhitā and provides the organic unity of the whole text. The present work also explains why maṇḍala -s I and X have exactly the same number of sūkta-s and that too why that number is 191. It is not very meaningful to talk about ‘earlier’ and ‘later’ maṇḍala -s in a chronological sense. The ṛgveda is the work of hundreds of ṛṣi-s and is certainly not the work of a single person. There were ancient ṛṣi -s and newer ṛṣi -s and there were those that belonged to the period in between. The arrangement of the ṛgveda into ten maṇḍala -s and the chronology of the ṛgveda are two independent aspects. The somayajña forms the basis of the arrangement and hence of the structure of ṛgveda saṃhitā. The chronology is the chronology of the ṛṣi -s who visualized the sūkta-s. Astronomical methods provide a method of ascertaining the chronology.


As is well known the ṛgveda saṃhitā is organized into ten maṇḍalas (mistranslated as ‘Books’), each maṇḍala (literally circle or cycle) consisting of sūkta –s (translated as ‘hymns’), each sūkta itself made up of several ṛca -s (translated as ‘verses’). Each sūkta, generally a prayer, is attributed to a ṛṣi and addressed to a devata, and is composed in a particular chandas. The collection of sūkta -s that we have nowṛgveda saṃhitā, has 1028 sūkta -s (including the 11 vālakhilya sūkta-s) arranged into ten maṇḍala-s. The distribution of sūkta -s into these maṇḍala -s is very uneven, with the first and the tenth each containing exactly 191 sūkta -s. The distribution is as given in table1.

Table 1.          Structure of ṛgveda

Rgveda is certainly not the work of any one single author. There are some four hundred ṛṣi-s and they belong to different times, spanning thousands of years. The sūkta-s address different deities, nominally taken as 33 in number [[i]]. It is a mystery as to what gives unity to ṛgveda and holds it together. Scholars [[ii]] have used linguistic arguments to formulate theories of development and evolution of ṛgveda with ingenuity, imagination and a lot of speculation. Many of the scholars consider that ṛgveda developed in stages; the so called ‘family books’ (maṇḍala -s II- VII) are considered ‘homogeneous’ and with each ‘book’, “looked upon as an independent unit [[iii]]” were the first to be formed. The sūkta -s contained in each ‘family-book’ are arranged according to a uniform plan differing from that of the remaining other ‘non-family Books’. The ‘non-family Books’ I, VII and X came to be compiled later. The ninth ‘Book’ is carved out of the remaining books by collecting the hymns addressed to a single deity soma at one place, while its groups are arranged according to meter. The ‘family books’ also contain groups, but each of these groups addresses a particular deity. Furthermore, there appears to be a principle of increasing number of sūkta -s among these “family” books. These facts are thought to render it probable that the ‘family books’ formed the nucleus of ṛgveda. The remaining ‘Books’ were compiled and added later. The tenth Book was the last to be compiled. This evolution model combined with the hypothesis of the so called Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) has been advanced to project a chronology around 1500 BCE for ṛgveda. Here is what F. Staal [[iv]] who documented the performance of the śrauta ritual agnicayana agnicayana in the early seventies opens his monumental work:

 “More than three thousand years ago nomads crossed the mountain ranges that separate central Asia from Iran and the Indian subcontinent. These nomads imported the rudiments of their social and religious system along with the Indo-European language which developed into Vedic and later into Sanskrit.”

As per this model, it was the nomads, (thus uncivilized) who brought in not only the language but ‘rudiments of the social and religious system’ as well. The ‘commendable effort’ of the Western scholars based on this model also came with a baggage of colonial age prejudice. The famous scholar further declares

“The Rigveda is composed in a language so distant even from classical Sanskrit, that only Europeans who were familiar with their own classical languages could have begun to crack its forms and codes”.

This prejudice has resulted in a large number of books and articles published “to understand the Rigveda”, with a terminology borrowed from the European, with no connection to the Vedic and based on a model which proposes the evolution of ṛgveda from a primitive origin into the final fully developed state.

The present work challenges the model of the development and evolution of the maṇḍala-s to the ṛgveda saṃhitā as the compiled text currently available. There is no evidence of a time when a ṛgveda ‘of less than ten maṇḍala -s’ was known. In this work an alternative model is proposed according to which the structure and the organization of ṛgveda are influenced by its connection with the supreme Vedic ritual of all, the somayajña.

The present approach to the study of the structure of ṛgveda

The bottom-up approach of the present study starts with the idea that ṛk is the basic unit of ṛgveda saṃhitā, which is a collection of ṛca-s. A ṛk is characterized by a ṛṣi, the sage who gave expression to the revelation, a devatā the deity to whom the mantra is addressed, a chandas, the poetic meter in which it is expressed, and a viniyoga, the application or the usage of the mantra. All previous studies of ṛgveda have paid scant attention to this last aspect, viniyoga. It is the viniyoga that appears to play an important role in the organization of ṛgveda as it will be made clear later.

The present work derives inspiration from the following statement.

“A deep study of the Vedic sacrifices is essential for the proper understanding of Vedic literature, for arriving at approximately correct statements about the chronology , the development and stratification of different portions of the literature….” , writes the well- known scholar, P. V. Kane [[v]] in his History of DharmaSAstra.

It is suggested here that the arrangement of ṛgveda reflects the performance of the most important Vedic ritual, the somayajña. The somayajña provides an organic basis for the structure of ṛgveda, and also provides a link that connects all the four Vedas which form an integral entity in spite of the hundreds of ṛṣi-s and thousands of years in the making. The somayajña also suggests a basis for the astronomy based chronology of ṛgveda and, in a way the idea of an astronomical code [[vi]] in ṛgveda is rooted in this. In addition, there is an explanation given why maṇḍala -s I and X both have exactly the same number of sūkta -s and why that number is 191. Furthermore, the ninth maṇḍala far from being an “appendix”, forms the central hub where in connectivity extends to all the other maṇḍala -s. This is indicated by the “connectivity” diagram in figure 1, showing the ṛṣi -s and the strength of their connection with the ninth maṇḍala , the diagram itself is inspired by a similar diagram given by a blogger[[vii]] on the internet.

In the diagram, each maṇḍala is represented by a small circle with an inscribed number and arranged in an order. The lines are drawn on the basis of ‘connectivity’ of how the ṛṣi -s are shared among the maṇḍala -s. Consider the connectivity between two maṇḍala -s say 4 and 9.[Note the change in the notation, in using the numerals for designating the maṇḍala -s in conformity with the diagram and not the Roman numerals]. A line is drawn for each ṛṣi in 4 who contributes at least one ṛk to maṇḍala 9. As it happens there is exactly one ṛṣi namely trasadasyu of maṇḍala 4, who contributes to maṇḍala 9. Thus there is just one line connecting these two maṇḍala -s. maṇḍala 4 is not connected to any other maṇḍala. maṇḍala 3 is connected to maṇḍala s 8, 9 and 10. These connectivity lines (i.e., lines connecting two maṇḍala -s drawn such that there is one line for a ṛṣi in one maṇḍala who contributes at least one ṛk in the other maṇḍala) are drawn on the basis of extensive information about ṛṣi -s given in vol.5 of Rigveda published by the Vaidika Samshodhana Mandali [[viii]]. As can be seen the maṇḍala -s fall naturally into two groups: maṇḍala -s 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 with very few connecting lines, and maṇḍala -s 1, 8, 9 and 10 which exhibit ‘large’ connectivity. maṇḍala 9, appears to be the ‘hub of connectivity’, as it is connected to all the other maṇḍala -s, instead of being just an ‘appendix’ [[ix]]. This diagram may also explain why scholars thought that the maṇḍala -s 2-7 developed as independent units, because of the sparse connectivity. The fact that the 9th maṇḍala is entirely devoted to soma and it is the hub of connectivity suggests that the structure of ṛgveda must be understood on the basis of the ninth maṇḍala. The first maṇḍala instead of being a later addition after the “family” Books, provides the outline of the structural framework for the entire ṛgveda saṃhitā as will be shown later. This means the basis of the structure of ṛgveda is connected with somayajña.

Figure 1 Connectivity of the ṛṣi-s with the ninth maṇḍala

The outline of the paper is as follows. A brief outline of somayajña and its performance is first given. This is then related to the structure of ṛgveda. Thus the main thesis of this paper that the structure of ṛgveda is modeled on somayajña is developed and is followed by discussion and conclusions..

The institution of somayajña

Yajña in the simplest terms involves the tyāga (the giving up) of some dravya (material possession) of the yajamāna (the sacrificer) to the devatā (deity) through the medium of agni (fire) to the accompaniment of recitation of mantra -s. There are three groups of yajña –s, depending on the type of offering made to fire in the ritual: (a) haviryajña (b) pākayajña and (c) somayajña.

Each of these in turn consists of seven subgroups of yajña-s. somayajña-s in which the offering is the juice of the crushed soma plant made to the deity soma are further divided into seven types:

agniṣṭoma, atyagniṣṭoma, ukthya, ṣoḍaśin, vājapeya, atirātra and aptoryāma.

All these are already well known in the ṛgveda, which refers to the twenty one yajña-s mentioned above:

“teno ratnāni dhattana trirā sāptāni sunvate | ekamekaṃ suśastibhiḥ ||” RV(I.20.7)

“Confer therefore, (ṛbhu-s), moved by our praises, the three-fold riches one by one upon our yajamāna , who performs the thrice seven-fold yajña -s.”

The details of performance of all the twenty one yajña -s are described in the brāhmaṇa texts.

Our main concern here is the agniṣṭoma. agniṣṭoma is considered the basic or the fundamental one prakṛti, and the remaining six are its variants, vikṛti. In agniṣṭoma, there is one yajamāna (sacrificer), and sixteen ṛtvik -s (priests). The ṛtvik -s belong to four varga -s (groups) of four each, specializing different aspects of the somayajña:

  • hotṛ varga: hotā, maitrāvaruṇā, acchāvāka and grāvāstut, reciters of ṛk mantra -s.
  • adhvaryu varga: adhvaryu, pratiprastotā, neṣṭā and unnetā, the director of the ceremony and his assistants specializing in the yajuṣmantra-s
  • udgātṛ varga: udgātā, prastotā, pratihartā, and subrahmaṇya, singers of sāmamantra -s.
  • brahma varga: brahmā, brāhmaṇācchāṃsi, agnīdhra, and potā. brahmā with his group oversees the whole ritual to make sure that the entire ritual is carried out without a hitch.

Thus all the four Vedas are involved in the performance of somayajña.

agniṣṭoma forms an integral part of jyotiṣṭoma, which lasts for five days.During the first four days preliminary ceremonies such as selection and appointing of the ṛtvik-s(priests), the rituals dīkṣāyaṇīya iṣṭi, and dīkṣā, prāyaṇiya iṣṭi or the opening iṣṭi, the buying of soma, ātithyeṣṭi, the ceremony to welcome soma, and the rituals pravargya and upasad are carried out. There are very strict rules of conduct regarding food, mating etc., to be followed in performing these rituals. The fifth day, the day of soma pressing, is also called sutyā; the soma squeezing, offering and drinking of soma juice is done at three great libations, prātassavana in the morning, mādhyandina savana, the midday pressing and tṛtīya savanna, in the evening. These are followed by the concluding udayanīya iṣṭi and the ablution, avabhṛta

This is a very brief outline of the ceremonies. The elaborate ceremonies of the first four days are only introductory, but absolutely necessary; for without them no one is allowed to complete the sacrifice and drink the soma juice. The somayajña ceremony is the holiest ritual, which symbolically transforms the earthly yajamāna into a celestial one. The details are given in the brāhmaṇa texts such as the aitareya and śatapatha. The ceremony itself is very ancient, details are described in taittirīya saṃhitā and an occasional reference to particular ceremonial steps is given in ṛgveda saṃhitā. The whole ceremony is carried out with the singing the sāmaṛca-s, (stotras) and recitation of thousands of ṛca -s from the ṛgveda saṃhitā (including śastra -s).

“Their recitations must be very ancient…A closer examination of them will throw much light on the history of the composition of Vedic hymns”[[x]].

Recitations on the sutyā day

The soma juice is pressed and offered three times on the sutyā day. Each of the offerings is accompanied by the recitations of a large number of ṛcas as indicated in Table 2.

Table 2   The recitations at the three times of soma pressing:

There are twelve stotras (mantra -s from sāmaveda saṃhitā) sung by the udgātṛ group on the day of soma pressing. For each stotra, the hotṛ group recites a set of ṛca-s from ṛgveda called śastra-s. Thus there are twelve śastra-s in agniṣṭoma. Of these, there are four ājya śastra s, four niṣkaivalya śastra-s together with pra ugamarutvatīyavaiśvadeva and agnimārutta śastra -s making up the required 12 number. pra uga śastra is recited together with four ājya śastra -s in the morning; marutvatīya and marutvatīya śastra -s in the afternoon pressing, and the vaiśvadeva and agnimārutta śastra -s are recited at the time of the evening pressing. The table 2 above gives the distribution of the various recitations at the three libations. The number of stotra -s and śastra-s increase for the variants of somayajña, for example the required number for atirātra is 28.

The ceremonies for the soma pressing begin sometime after midnight of the fourth day. On the direction of the adhvaryu, the hotṛ begins reciting the prātaranuvāka, the mantra-s which are appropriate to be recited for the morning session of soma pressing. This morning ritual is divided into three parts. The first part is called āgneyakratu, the prayer for agni. The āśvalāyana śrauta sūtra (4.13.6-4.15.3) gives the details of the particular sūkta -s and ṛca -s that have to be recited, which must contain mantra -s in each of the seven chandases: gāyatrī, anuṣṭubh, triṣṭup, bṛhatī, uṣṇik, jagatī, and paṅkt all directed to agni. There is a minimum of at least 100 ṛca -s that are to be recited. If all the sūkta-s and ṛca-s specified in the āśvalāyana śrauta sūtra are recited, it would amount to reciting a total of 1324 ṛca-s for the āgneyakratu part alone of which 320 mantra -s are in gāyatrī and 591 in triṣṭup. This part of the recitation also includes one sūkta, RV (V.6) containing ten ṛca-s and is in paṅktī meter.

The second part is called uṣasyakratu and is directed to the deity uṣas and the third part is called āśvinakratu and is directed to aśvinī deities. Each of these parts in turn consists of ṛca-s in the same seven meters described for āgneyakratu. For example, uṣasyakratu must have 250 mantra-s, whereas āśvinakratu requires 407 mantra-s in the same seven meters listed earlier. Thus the prātaranuvāka alone requires the recitation of some 2000 ṛca-s, roughly the fifth of the contents of the whole of ṛgveda [[xii]].

The pra uga śastra is the recitation appropriate to the seven deities vāyu, indravāyu, mitrāvaruṇa, aśvinī, indra, viśvedevāḥ, and sarasvatī, the so-called pra uga devatā -s. The recitation consists of three ṛca -s in gāyatrī chandas for each of the seven deities, for a total of 21 separate mantra-s. After some associated activities, the soma juice is pressed and filled into cups, and offerings are made, all done to the accompaniment of recitation of more required mantra-s.

The mid-day libations, mādhyandina savana are directed to indra and the recitations involve ṛca-s of triṣṭup chandas exclusively. The recitations of marutvatīya followed by four niṣkaivalya śastra -s are done according to the prescriptions laid down for example in the aitareya brāhmaṇa.

The evening libations are directed to viśvedevāḥ and are in jagatī chandas. The recitations include the vaiśvadeva and agnimārutta śastra -s which follow the sāma stotra-s. This last stotra to agni is called agniṣṭoma sāman, and because of it the entire somayajña itself is named agniṣṭoma. The entire ritual is concluded by performing the udayanīya iṣṭi and finally the ablution, avabhṛta.

The important point to note is the complexity of the ritual and the staggering number of ṛca -s required for recitation during the ritual. It is no exaggeration to say that when all the different variations of the somayajña are taken into account, most of the ṛca -s of ṛgveda, if not all, are recited during the performance of this most important of the yajña-s.

The somayajña and the framework for ṛgveda saṃhitā

According to Oldenberg, the maṇḍala s II-VII consist of a series of hymns grouped according to their deities, every time an Agni-series occurs first and is followed by an Indra-series. The books on the whole are arranged according to the descending order of the number of the hymns, and where the number of hymns in the two series is the same it is the number of stanzas (in the descending order) which is decisive. When the number of stanzas is the same it was the length of the meter that was decisive (jagatī, triṣṭup, anuṣṭubh, gāyatrī , not to mention the rare meters). These rules were considered infallible, that any deviation was sought to be explained in terms of interpolations, later additions etc. and even some modifications were suggested to the text of ṛgveda itself.

In explaining the structure of maṇḍala I, the scholars recognize the grouping of the 191 sūkta -s into fifteen upamaṇḍala -s as described in the anukramaṇi texts. However, they consider the 191 sūkta-s to be divided into two major divisions: first group consisting of sūkta-s I.1 to I. 50 is thought to be similar to that of maṇḍala VIII and the second group of sūkta-s I. 51 to I. 191, is considered to correspond in all essentials with the arrangement found in the maṇḍala -s II-VII, in that the rules based on the descending order of hymns, stanzas and the length of the meter hold. Based on these similarities they have concluded that maṇḍala I was compiled later after the maṇḍala -s II-VII were compiled.

On closer examination, the situation appears to be different. The first maṇḍala is simply a plan for the organization of ṛgveda and is probably the first to be compiled (if an order of the maṇḍala-s is deemed necessary) and not among the last. The other remaining maṇḍala-s, II-VIII simply follow the plan. This idea is based on the performance of the somayajña and the ṛca -s required in the recitations. It is very likely that the entire body of mantras comprising all of the Veda existed and the ṛgveda was compiled at one time just as the tradition says.

Somayajña is one of the most important sacrificial rituals. It is also very complex and very ancient. It is in fact traced to manu who brought this to the earth from heaven. Somayajña is to be performed by anybody who is desirous of attaining svarga. While the whole of maṇḍala IX is devoted to the sūkta -s addressed to the single deity soma, the entire ṛgveda appears to be a manual for the performance of this most important ritual and the organization of ṛgveda is a reflection of it and the first maṇḍala provides the plan for the entire saṃhitā.

For example, consider the statement that the arrangement of sūkta-s 1-50 of maṇḍala I is similar to that of maṇḍala VIII [[xiii]]. This statement is not correct as the first sūkta of maṇḍala VIII is addressed to Indra, whereas the first sūkta of maṇḍala I is addressed to Agni. In fact, the first ten sūkta -s of maṇḍala I, attributed to madhucchandas, son of viśvāmitra, contain the ṛca-s to be recited during the ceremony of prātassavana, the morning pressing of soma juice. The very first sūkta is a ājya sūkta and forms the principal part of the first śastra of the āgneyakratu, explained earlier. The second and the third sūkta -s constitute the pra uga śastra in all its particulars. The pra uga śastra consists of mantra -s addressed to each of the following deities: vāyu, indravāyu, mitrāvaruṇa, aśvinī, indra, viśvedevāḥ, and sarasvatī. For each of the deities, a sequence of three ṛca -s, called tṛca, is to be recited. Thus seven tṛca -s, (for a total of twenty one ṛca -s) are to be found in the sūkta -s 2 and 3

sūkta-s 4-9 of maṇḍala I all celebrate Indra. In the abhiplavaṣaḍāha ceremony, which is a variation of the somayajña lasting for six days, these six sūkta -s are to be recited at the time of prātassavana, the morning pressing of soma. The sūkta-s 10-11 also celebrate Indra and are to be recited appropriately. For example, 11 is to be recited at the time of niṣkaivalya śastra in the mahāvrata ceremony. These are technical terms associated with the various prātassavana ceremonies and have to be understood with help of brāhmaṇa and sūtra texts.

sūkta-s 12-23 contain more comprehensive aspects of the recitations at the somayajña. sūkta 12 is addressed to agni, and contains a pravara, nigada and devāvahanaṃ, the request to agni to bring the gods. The thirteenth is a āprīsūkta. sūkta-s 16-19 contain ṛca -s appropriate for midday libation, while sūkta -s 20-22 address the deities for the evening libation.

sūkta-s 44-50 of the first maṇḍala contain all the ṛca -s with the deities and the required meters for the aśvinaśastra. The deities in proper order for this śastra are agni, uṣas, aśvinī, sūrya and indra. The sūkta-s mentioned so far deal mainly with the morning and the midday libations. The morning libation ceremonies involve only the ṛca -s in gāyatrī chandas . The midday and the evening libation ceremonies require triṣṭubh and jagatī ṛca -s

The rest of the sūkta-s in the first maṇḍala namely sūkta -s 51-191, serve precisely this purpose. As has been found by Gonda, the arrangement of upamaṇḍala-s in this section “corresponds in all essentials with the arrangement (of the sūkta -s) found in the books II-VII.” Here Gonda is referring to the arrangement of the sūkta -s according to deities addressed (agni,first and then followed by those addressing indra, etc.) and according to decreasing number of ṛca -s in each subgroup et cetera. In actuality the first maṇḍala lays out a plan for the recitations at the three savanas of the somayajña and the maṇḍala-s II-VIII reflect that plan. The ninth maṇḍala of course celebrates the deity somapavamāna. There is no evidence of the maṇḍala -s II to VII having been compiled first and the ninth carved out of these. The ‘family’ maṇḍala -s could not have had an independent existence, for it would not have been possible to perform a somayajña, for no single ‘family book’ would contain the requisite number of ṛca -s for all the three soma pressings. Even if all the ‘family books’ were taken together, they would not contain the required number of ṛca-s in kind (i.e., in different meters). Moreover, the performance of somayajña requires the knowledge of all the four saṃhitā -s [[xiv]].somayajña is an ancient institution and has been there since the time of manufor his were the first performances. The evolutionary model fails to account for the performance of somayajña. The conclusion is that there existed a body of 25000 or so of mantra-s and they were compiled into the various saṃhitā-s at one time. It also follows that the structure and the organization of the text of ṛgveda saṃhitā mirrors the performance of the somayajña in so far as the required ṛca -s are concerned.

The total number of stotra verses in agniṣṭoma

aitareya brāhmaṇa states:

tasya samstutasya navatiśataṃ stotriyāḥ । (AB 14. 3. 4)

that the total number of stotriya ṛca-s in agniṣṭoma amounts to 190. This count arises in the following way. During the prātassavana, bahiṣpavamāna stotra is sung by the udgātṛ. This stotra consists of trivṛt stoma, which contains nine ṛca-s. The bahiṣpavamāna stotra is followed by four ājya stotra-s as indicated in Table 2. Each of these ājya stotra-s is a pañcadaśastoma and has fifteen ṛca-s, for a total of 60 ṛca-s . Thus in the prātassavana there are a total of (9+4×15) = 69 ṛca -s.

In the mādhyandina savana, there is mādhyandina pavamāna stotra ( a pañcadaśastoma) followed by four prasthā stotra -s (Table 2.). Each of these four stotra -s is a saptadaśastoma and has seventeen ṛca-s. Thus in the mādhyandina savanna, there are a total of (15+4×17) = 83 ṛca-s.

In the tṛtīya savanna, arbhava pavamāna which is also a saptadaśastoma, is sung. There is also a yajñāyajñīya stotra, which is a ekaviṃśatistoma. Thus there are (17+21)=38 ṛca-s in the third pressing. Thus the total number of ṛca-s for agniṣṭoma is (69+83+38) =190.

If a count of 1 is added for the yajamāna, the count becomes 191. This is exactly the number of sūkta-s in the first maṇḍala which lays out the plan for the recitations at all the three savanna-s.

Agniṣṭoma is endless

The fifth khaṇḍa of the fourteenth अध्याय of aitareya brāhmaṇa is very important for establishing the universal nature of अग्निष्टोम and the recursive principles involved.

sa vā eṣo:’pūrvo:’naparo yajñakraturyathā rathacakramanatamrvaṃ yadagniṣṭomastasya yathaiva prāyaṇaṃ tathodayanaṃ ॥ (AB 14.5.4)

“This (agniṣṭoma) is a sacrificial performance which has no beginning and no end. agniṣṭoma is like the wheel of a carriage, endless. The beginning iṣṭi (prāyaṇīya) is the same as the concluding iṣṭi, (udayanīya), hence they cannot be distinguished. Therefore, it is endless.”

tadeṣābhi yajñagāthā gīyate | yadasya pūrvamaparaṃ tadasya yadvasyāparaṃ tadvasya pūrvaṃ|

aheriva sarpaṇaṃ śākalasya na vijānanti yataratparastāditi ॥ (AB 14.5 5)

“About this there is sung a ‘yajñagāthā’. What is the beginning (of agniṣṭoma) is its end. What is its end is its beginning. Just as the śākala serpent, it moves in a circle so that no one can distinguish its first part from its last, for the opening is also its conclusion.” This is illustrated in figure 2.

Figure 2. śākala serpent ending on itself. Notion of ananta

The tenth maṇḍala has exactly the same number of sūkta -s as the first maṇḍala, namely 191. Hence the beginning and the end are indistinguishableṛgveda is therefore endless, it is a maṇḍala.


It is shown that the somayajñaagniṣṭomaforms the basis for the structure and organization of ṛgveda saṃhitā which mirrors the performance of agniṣṭoma. The first maṇḍala lays out the plan for the entire saṃhitā and the maṇḍala-s II- VIII reflect that plan. The entire ten maṇḍala saṃhitā is one unit and compiled at one time. The ninth maṇḍala forms the ‘nābhi’ of the samhita. In ṛgveda the tenth maṇḍala has exactly the same number of sūkta -s as the first maṇḍala, namely 191. Hence its beginning and end are indistinguishable. ṛgveda is therefore endless, it is a maṇḍala.

[i] However, note ekaṃ sadviprā bahudhā vadanti । RV(I.164.46)

[ii] Macdonnell, A.A.(1963) The Vedic Mythology, Indological Book House (reprint) , Varanasi.

[iii] Oldenberg, H (1990) Prolegomena on Meter and Textual History of the Rgveda, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers , Delhi

[iv] Staal, F (2010) Agni , Motilal Banarsidass Publishers , Delhi

[v] Kane, P. V., (1990) History of Dharmashastra, ( ) p. 976, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona

[vi] Kak, S. (2000) The Astronomical code of the RgVeda, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, New Delhi.


[viii] Vaidika Samshodhana Mandali, vol.5 of Rigveda, Poona

[ix] Talageri, S.G.,(2000) The Rigveda, Aditya Prakashan, Delhi

[x] Haug, M (2003) śrī aitareya brāhmaṇam,(Re edited by Jain, S), New Bharatiya Book Corporation, Delhi. Vol 1, p. lviii

[xi] It is because of this sāman, the somayajña is called agniṣṭoma

[xii] Kane ,P. V. (1994) History of Dharmashastra, vol II part II, p1163.

[xiii] Gonda J(1975) Vedic Literature, Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden.

[xiv] In a somayajña,both sāma and ṛk mantra -s must be recited. It is in fact declared “ayajñovā eṣayoasāmā.” yajuṣ mantra-s are required for the very performance. Initially all ‘veda’ was one single entity.

The paper was originally presented at Waves 2018 and has been republished with permission.

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(This article was published by IndiaFacts in 2018)

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