The Rigveda


Folios from the Rigvedapadapatha, preserved at Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune

Aug 14, INDIA (SUN) — Rigveda Nominated for Inscription in UNESCO’s “Memory of the World” Register 2007.

The Rigveda manuscripts from the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, have been nominated for inscription in UNESCO’s “Memory of the World” Register 2007. The programme for the Memory of the World was started by UNESCO fifteen years back to honour significant landmarks in documentary heritage and record them in its “Memory of the World Register” as world’s inheritance. The Memory of the World programme seeks to guard against collective amnesia, calling upon the preservation of valuable archival holdings and library collections all over the world, ensuring their wide dissemination.

On behalf of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, the National Mission for Manuscripts submitted the nomination of the Rigveda manuscripts to the Memory of the World programme.

So far, India has had three other nominations inscribed on the Register:

    i) The I.A.S. Tamil Medical Manuscripts Collection (1997)
    ii) Archives of the Dutch East India Company (2003) - Dutch nomination
    iii) Saiva Manuscripts in Pondicherry (2005)

The Vedas are the first literary documents in the history of humankind. Initially passed down through generations over centuries as oral tradition, this valuable treasure of the ancient world has been preserved in the form of manuscripts in different parts of India. Out of the total number of 28,000 manuscripts housed at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, the 30 manuscripts of the Rigveda form a valuable part of the collection. These manuscripts evince several unique features in terms of scripts, accentuation marks and support material used, among others. Even the pioneering Indologist, Prof. F. Max Müller, has referred to one of these Rigveda manuscripts currently at the Institute.

The material in this collection of Rigveda manuscripts was also used to prepare the well known Critical Edition of the Rigveda by the Vaidika Samshodhana Mandala, a premier institute in Pune for Vedic Studies. These manuscripts are of a high value as unique examples of the intellectual and cultural heritage not only of India, but of the world.

The Rigvedasamhita: Editions and Translations A Bibliographic Survey by Satkari Mukhopadhyaya

The National Mission for Manuscripts is pleased to announce the inclusion of thirty manuscripts of the Rigveda-Samhita and Sayanacarya’s commentary belonging to the 14th century, now preserved in the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, in the Memory of the World Register of the UNESCO.

The news of the inclusion has been well covered by the media-both print and electronic. It is no wonder that it has sparked a renewed interest in the ancient heritage of India. Therefore, it is befitting that we dwell upon the importance of this celebrated text.

The Rigveda-Samhita forms the oldest part of the corpus of the Vedic literature. Seen from various points of view its importance is unique. As with all other divisions of the Vedic corpus, the Rigveda is regarded by Indians as “revealed” scripture and, as such, the fountainhead of their religious beliefs and practices, ethical and social codes, and spiritual knowledge. In India, the Rigveda retains a continuity of more than three thousand years, recited by chanters from all over the country, transmitted from teachers to students in both oral and written forms. There exist innumerable manuscripts of the Samhita preserved in manuscript libraries and private collections that were written on various materials, and in many regional scripts. None of the known manuscripts, however, predates the 14th century C.E.

Information regarding the Rigveda reached Europe in the last decade of the 18th cent. The attention of western scholars was immediately drawn to this valuable literary text and they took up the task of studying, editing, translating and interpreting the text. The first printed edition of the first octave with Latin translation was prepared by Franz Rosen (1805-1837), to be published posthumously in 1838. This edition contains the original text in Devanagari and Roman characters, along with its translation in lucid and idiomatic Latin. It also has elaborate annotations, in Latin, which profusely quote from allied literature. This edition, unfortunately, could not proceed further due to sad and sudden demise of F. Rosen in 1837, at the young age of thirty-two.

Another edition, also incomplete, by Eduard Roeer (1805-1866), a versatile German scholar, deserves to be mentioned here. Roeer had been working as the Librarian of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and Editor of the Society’s

Bibliotheca Indica series, when he started publishing and translating into English the Rigveda-Samhita with Sayanacharya’s commentary, (referred to as Madhavacharya’s by Roeer). The project was abandoned by him, possibly upon learning that the same work was also being done by F. Max Mueller at Oxford.

F. Max Mueller (1823-1900) dedicated the best part of his life to this cause and migrated to England in 1846, for this purpose. The entire text of the Rigveda-Samhita with Shakalaya’s Padapatha or disjointed text and Sayanacharya’s commentary was known to the West through Max Mueller’s editio priceps. With financial support of the East India Company, he published his edition in six quartos, the first of which was published in 1849 when he was only 26 years of age. This project took twenty-six years and was completed in 1874. While Max Mueller’s edition was in progress, Theodor Aufrecht (1821-1907) published an edition of the Samhita text in Roman characters in two volumes (Die Hymnen des Rigveda, Berlin 1861-1863).

This was followed by a second edition issued by Max Mueller between 1890-1892, with the financial support of H.H. the Maharaja of Vizianagram Sir Pasupati Ananda Gajapati. We know from his autobiography that Max Mueller planned to bring out a complete English translation of the Rigveda-Samhita. Towards this he translated some forty-nine hymns chiefly on the Maruts, which were published from Oxford in 1869. A second edition was published as volume XXXII of the Sacred Books of the East. The translation however was discontinued thereafter. The entire commentary by Sayana remains un-translated to this date, though a small portion of it have been translated by Peter Peterson and a little more by Sitanath Pradhan.

The work of editing the Samhita along with its commentary has also been attempted by some notable Indian scholars. Among these are MM. Rajarama Shastri Bodas and Shivaram Shastri Gore, who published an edition in nine volumes, containing the Samhita , the Pada text and Sayana’s commentary (1888-1890).

Also important is the edition of the Rigveda-Samhita (which includes the Samhita and the pada texts) together with Sayana’s commentary which was brought out by Manmatha Nath Dutt Shastri. This is an incomplete series which ends at VIII.2.30 and was brought out by the Society for the Resuscitation of Indian Literature, Calcutta, in 1906-1912. An excellent edition was started in Calcutta by the Indian Research Institute in 1933. This ambitious project had MM. Sitaram Shastri working on editing the text and Sayana’s commentary with his own Sankrit tika while Sitanath Pradhan worked on translating the text and its commentary, along with elaborate and scholarly annotations. This edition was also accompanied by a Bengali translation. This project too, was unfortunately discontinued, after the publication of six fascicules, due to sudden death of the founderpatron of the Institute.

One of the most accurate and authentic editions of this text is the one by Sripad Damodar Satvalekar, which was published by the Swadhyay Mandal, Paradi. In terms of critical editions of the text, the one published by the Vaidika Samsodhana Mandala, Pune, under the editorship of N. S. Sontakke and C. G. Kashikar (5 vols. 1933- 1951) ranks among the best.

The significance and popularity of the Rigveda-Samhita can be gauged by the vast range of its translations in Indian and foreign languages. The first translation of the Rigveda into English was by J. Stevenson, according to available information. The first part of this translation was published as early as 1833, but remained incomplete. We do not know how much of the text was covered by this translation. The first complete translation of the Rigveda was produced by Horace Hayman Wilson (1786-1860), who had been the Principal of the Sanskrit College, Calcutta and later became the first incumbent of the Boden chair for Sanskrit at Oxford. His translation, which adhered to Sayanacharya’s commentary, was published in six volumes from London, in 1850-1888.

Wilson’s translation was followed by the lucid English translation, with a popular commentary, of Ralph T. H. Griffith (1826-1906) published from Banares, in 1889-1892. The continued popularity of this translation is proven by the fact that it is still being reprinted in India. Manmatha Nath Dutt Shastri’s edition of the Rigveda has already been referred to; he also published a prose translation of the Rigveda in four volumes, also incomplete upto IX.49.3, in 1906-1912.

A complete English translation, by Swami Satya Prakash Saraswati and Satyakam Vidyalankar has recently been published by Veda Pratishthan, New Delhi, in 1977. This translation closely follows the interpretation of Swami Dayananda Saraswati. Some other incomplete translations of the text also deserve mention here. Max Mueller’s translation of forty-nine hymns, published as the first volume of Vedic Hymns has been mentioned earlier in this article. This scheme was continued by Hermann Oldenberg in the second volume of Vedic Hymns, published in 1897, which formed the XLVI volume of the Sacred Books of the East. Oldenberg selected one hundred thirty suktas or hymns from the first to the fifth mandalas, or books of the Rigveda. His selection contains the Apri suktas (hymns) and others dedicated to Indra and Agni. The noted British Sanskritist, A.A. Macdonell brought out a selection of Rigvedic hymns in excellent versified translation titled Hymns from the Rigveda, from Oxford in 1922.

He had earlier translated thirty Rigvedic hymns in prose in A Vedic Reader for Students, published from Oxford in 1917. Versified translations of select mantras of the Rigveda were also prepared by Raimundo Panikkar along with extracts from other Vedic texts, in his Vedic Experience-Mantramanjri , published by Motilal Banarsidass, in 1983.

There are several translations of the Rigveda in the German language. Theodor Benfey (1809- 1881) from Goettingen was a versatile scholar, better known for his edition and translation of the Samaveda and Panchatantra studies. He translated one hundred thirty hymns of the Rigveda (I.1-130) into German, which were published in two journals in the years 1862- 1864. These have been quoted by Max Mueller in his Vedic Hymns.

Hermann Grassmann (1809-1877), another German scholar, was basically a mathematician and scientist. He took up Sanskrit, especially Vedic studies ‘for recreation’ and as a pastime. The entire Rigveda was translated by him in German verse, which was published in two volumes from Leipzig in 1876-1877. This translation became very popular and created a great deal of interest in this subject among general public in Germany. Almost simultaneously, Alfred Ludwig (1831-1912) of Austria started publishing his German prose translation of the Rigveda. This translation was published from Prague in six volumes, from 1876 to 1888. Along with the translation Ludwig also added his commentary and articles on several issues. The technical terms in this translation were retained in the Sanskrit original making his style difficult to read and access. In spite of this, German scholars preferred Ludwig’s complex translation for its accuracy to the smooth rendering of Grassmann, Who also rearranged the hymns in the order of deities.

Among all the German translations of the Samhita, the best produced, is the translation by Karl Friedrich Geldner, the celebrated scholar of the Vedas and the Avesta. The first volume of Geldner’s Der Rigveda appeared in 1923 in Goettingen. The complete translation was published in three volumes, as volumes thirtythree - thirty-five of the Harvard Oriental Series, published from Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1951. This was augmented by an Index volume(HOS, 36, 1957), compiled by Johannes Nobel. Geldner believed that the Rigveda should not be explained on the basis of linguistic methods alone but also should take into account Indian tradition of interpretation.

There is some indication that Hermann Oldenberg had also started a project of translating the Rigveda into German; however the progress on this project is not known to us, with access only to his introductory volume, Metrische und textgeschichtliche Prolegomena, published in Berlin, in 1888. Alfred Hillebrandt also published some hymns in German translation from Goettingen, in 1913.

We come across two French translations of the Rigveda. The first is a complete prose translation of the text by M. Langlois, in four volumes, published from Paris in 1848-1851. The second translation by Paul Regnaud contains the original text of the ninth Book only, known as Soma Book, in Roman and French translation. This edition, Le Rigveda: text et traduction, Neuvieme mandala, le cult vedique du Soma, published from Paris in 1900 contains valuable exegetical notes. Only one Italian translation of the Rigveda has been traced by us- this is an extensive selection produced by Valentino Pappeso in two volumes from Bologna, in 1929-1931.

To the best of our knowledge, there exist Bengali, Hindi, Marathi, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam translations of the Rigveda with regard to translations of the text in Indian languages. The first complete Bengali translation was a contribution of the noted civilian and illustrious Bengali novelist Ramesh Chandra Dutt (1848-1909). He toiled for several years on this task with support from Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar and Bankim Chandra Chatterji. The translation was published in Calcutta in 1885- 1887. Dutt’s translation still stands unsurpassed. Besides several reprints, one revised edition with an introduction by Hiranmay Banerji has been issued by Haraf Publications in recent years.

The next important work on the Rigveda was the multi-volume edition of the Rigveda by Durgadas Laheri (1851-1929) who published similar editions of other Samhitas. His edition contains a Bengali translation and commentary - all in the Bengali script. Dr. Paritosh Thakur, a noted Vedic scholar from Calcutta has initiated a series on the interpretation of the Rigveda . Each part contains Bengali translation as well. There are several translations of the Samhita in Hindi. The first Hindi translation was incorporated into the edition of the Rigveda published by the Arya Samaj in the last quarter of the 19th Century. The translation is based on the Sanskrit commentary by Swami Dayananda himself (completed by one of his disciple).

The second Hindi translation, which is rather explanatory, is a part of an edition of the text by Shivnath Ahitagni and Shankardatta Shastri. The publication was brought out in nine volumes in 1904. Ram Govind Tripathi brought out another edition with a literal Hindi translation, now available in a Chowkhamba reprint of 1991. The most avid and continual scholarship on Vedic studies comes from the state of Maharashtra. We know of three Marathi translations of the Rigveda. The oldest known is by Keshav Vaman Lele, published in 1911. The second is by R. V. Patawardhan and the most recent translation is by M. M Siddheshwar Shastri Chitrav, in 1968.

In Kannada, a translation prepared by a group of scholars led by H. P. Venkata Rao, and sponsored by the ruler of Mysore, H. H. Jayachamarendra is well known. This edition of the Rigveda comprises the text, the Padapatha and Sayana’s commentary - all in Kannada script. The work was published in thirty parts. Bankupalli Mallaiah Shastri produced two translations of the Rigveda in Telugu. The first one, in prose with the text, was published in 1950. The second one, in verse, was published by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams. There are three Malayalam translations of the Rigveda. The most well known of these is the one that is translated by the illustrious Malayalam poet Mahakavi Vallathol Narayana Menon, also an erudite Sanskrit scholar. He brought out one edition of the Rigveda with Malayalam translation. The second Malayalam translation is by Mavelikara Achyuthan. The third, by O. M. C. Narayanan Nambudiripad is an excellent edition of the Rigveda with a very lucid Malayalam translation, published in eight volumes by Vadakke Matham Brahmaswam, Trissur from 1981.

It is to be noted that the above list of the Rigveda translations is in no way exhaustive: it is intended as an indication of the vast scholarship that the Rigveda has inspired.

Satkari Mukhopadhyaya is former Co-ordinator, Kala Kosa, IGNCA, New Delhi. Source: Kriti Rakshana, National Mission for Manuscripts.


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