Composed much before the Ramayana, the Rig Veda is a collection of over 1,000 Sanskrit hymns directed to the Gods, and is considered one of the cornerstones of the Hindu faith. It is the oldest of the four Vedas (the Sam Veda, Yajur Veda and the Atharva Veda being the other three). It was composed over a period of three centuries by the Aryan tribes who had infiltrated the Indus Valley. The Rig Veda is organised in the form of ten books known as mandalas, of varying length and form.
In Discovering the Rigveda the author GNS Raghavan has traced the evolution of Indian society through the Rigvedic prism, with all its inherent orthodoxies and dogmas and its successive corruption through Brahmanical rituals. The Rig Veda is more than simply a paean to the gods however; its songs embrace the whole of humanity through its divine melody. The Rigvedic rishis placed a great emphasis on ethics, and believed that a caring and sharing attitude along with truthfulness constituted an ideal life.
The author contends that natural religion, which is a seminal component of the Rig Veda, has inspired some of the most moving literature of all times. The Rigvedic influence has been seen in the poetry of William Wordsworth, Walt Whitman and also in the writings of Mahatma Gandhi. According to the author, the credit for reviving the Rig Veda goes to Shankaracharya, ‘who wrote a monumental commentary, which was a virtual translation, providing the meaning of every word, phrase and verse as well as his interpretation of the mythological references.’ The Rig Veda was later popularised through the translations of such scholars as Max Mueller, who made it accessible to the English-speaking populace.
The author has also discussed the softening of rigid Brahminism through the influence of the Upanishads, the rational Charvaka thinkers and through the teachings of Mahavira and the Buddha and the Bhakti movement. These influences paved the way for the transformation of Brahminism into modern Hinduism, as we know it today.
In a society which has lost its cultural moorings and which looks to the west for inspiration in every field, Discovering the Rig Veda comes as a breath of fresh air, a testimony to the fact that Indian cultural tradition is very much alive and that the Vedic rituals hold the same relevance today as they did 3,000 years ago.
(Kalpaz Publications, C-30, Satyawati Nagar, Delhi-110 052)