The Historical Identity of the Vedic Aryans
We have examined the chronology and geography of the Rigveda, and seen the expansion of the Vedic Aryans from their original, homeland in the east to the west and northwest.
But a basic question that remains is: who exactly were these Vedic Aryans and what was their historical identity?
According to the scholars, the Vedic Aryans were a branch of the Indo-Iranians of Central Asia; and these Indo-Iranians were themselves a branch of the Indo-Europeans of South Russia.
That is, the Indo-Europeans were originally a people in South Russia; one branch of these Indo-Europeans, the Indo-Iranians, migrated towards the east and settled down in Central Asia; much later, one branch of these Indo-Iranians, the Indoaryans, migrated southeastwards into the northwestern parts of India; and thus commenced the story of the Aryans in India.
These Indoaryans are called Vedic Aryans since they composed the hymns of the Rigveda during the period of their earliest settlements in the northwest and the Punjab, before they came into contract with other parts of India.
These Vedic Aryans were faceless and anonymous groups of people, whose only historical identity is that they were the ultimate ancestors of the different tribes, peoples, priestly families and royal dynasties found throughout the Sanskrit texts.
But all this is the version of the scholars. As we have already seen, the scholars are wrong in their fundamental proposition that the Vedic Aryans moved into India from the northwest. They are also wrong in their conclusions about the historical identity of the Vedic Aryans:
The Vedic Aryans were not the ultimate ancestors of the different tribes and peoples found in the Sanskrit texts: they were in fact just one of these tribes and peoples. They have a definite historical identity: the Vedic Aryans were the PUrus of the ancient texts.
And, in fact, the particular Vedic Aryans of the Rigveda were one section among these PUrus, who called themselves Bharatas.
F.E. Pargiter, the eminent western analyst of India’s traditional history, came close to making this identification when he remarked that “the bulk of the Rigveda was composed in the great development of Brahmanism that arose under the successors of king Bharata who reigned in the upper Ganges-Jumna doab and plain”.1 And when he noted, in referring to the kings identified in the PurANas as the kings of North PañcAla, that “they and their successors are the kings who play a prominent part in the Rigveda”.Ih?2
Unfortunately, Pargiter went off at a tangent, consciously trying to identify the presence of Aryans, Dravidians and Austrics among the tribes and dynasties in the PurANas; and thereby missed out on clinching the identification which is so crucial to an understanding. of Vedic, Indian and Indo-European history.
We will examine the evidence, identifying the PUrus, and among them the Bharatas, as the Vedic Aryans of the Rigveda, under the following heads:
I. The Kings
and Tribes in the Rigveda.
We will examine the
evidence under the following heads:
I.A. The Kings in the Rigveda
As we have seen in our chapter on the chronology of the Rigveda, the predominant dynasty in the Rigveda is the dynasty of DevavAta, one of the descendants of the ancient king Bharata.
The kings in this dynasty, as we have already seen, are:
These kings are Bharatas, but they are also PUrus: according to the PurANas, the Bharatas are a branch of the PUrus; and this is confirmed in the Rigveda, where both DivodAsa (I.130.7) and SudAs (I.63.7) are called PUrus, and where the Bharata composer Parucchepa DaivodAsI repeatedly speaks as a PUru (I.129.5; 131.4).
Some other names of kings in the Rigveda who appear in the Puranic lists as PUru kings (some belonging to the Bharata dynasty of DevavAta, and some not) are:
Incidentally, the other Veda SaMhitAs also refer to the following prominent PUru kings:
BhImasena of KASI
(Yajurveda, KAThaka SaMhitA, VII.1.8)
The only other prominent dynasty in the Rigveda is the TRkSi dynasty of MandhAtA, identifiable as a branch of the IkSvAkus of the PurANas.
The kings of this
dynasty, as we have already seen, are:
These kings are not PUrus; but they are accorded a special position in the Rigveda only because of the special aid given by them to the PUrus.
According to the PurANas, MandhAtA’s father was an IkSvAku king, but his mother was a PUru, being the daughter of a PUru king MatInAra. Moreover, the PurANas record that the Druhyus, who, in the earliest pre-Rigvedic period, were inhabitants of the Punjab, were pressing eastwards onto the PUrus. In this context, MandhAtA moved westwards, confronted the invading hordes of Druhyus, defeated them, and drove them out into Afghanistan and beyond.
The Rigveda itself records (I.63.7; VI.20.10) that Indra, through Purukutsa, rendered help to the PUrus in a war against the DAsa tribes; and VII.19.3 refers to Indra aiding the PUrus, through Trasadasyu, in “winning land and slaying foemen”. IV.38.1, likewise, thanks Mitra and Varuna for the help which Trasadasyu, “the winner of our fields and ploughlands, and the strong smiter who subdued the Dasyus”, rendered to the PUrus.
It may be noted that most scholars, on the basis of these references, even go so far as to classify Purukutsa and Trasadasyu themselves as PUrus.
The only other kings of identifiable dynasty who are classifiable as heroes in the Rigveda (as distinct from kings who are merely praised in dAnastutis on account of liberal gifts given by them to the RSis concerned: such liberal donors or patrons include DAsas and PaNis, as in VIII.46.32 and VI.45.31) are AbhyAvartin CAyamAna and VItahavya.
AbhyAvartin CAyamAna is an Anu king, and he clearly appears as a hero in VI.27. However, it is equally clear that this is only because he is an ally of the Bharata king SRnjaya: his descendant Kavi CAyamAna who appears (though not in Griffith’s translation) in VII.18.9 as an enemy of the Bharata king SudAs, is referred to in hostile terms.
VItahavya is a Yadu, and he is referred to in VI.15.2, 3 and VII.19.2 (and also in the Atharvaveda VI.137.1). However, nothing more is known about him in the Rigveda; and it may be noted that he is associated in VI.15 with BharadvAja, the priest of the Bharata king DivodAsa, and again remembered in passing (though not in Griffith’s translation) in the context of the Bharata king SudAs’ battle with the ten kings.
Clearly, the only kings that really matter in the Rigveda are the kings of the PUrus (and, in particular, of the Bharatas); and the only non-PUru kings who matter are those closely aligned with the PUrus or those to whom the PUrus as a race are deeply indebted.
I.B. The Tribes in the Rigveda
Traditional history knows of many different streams of tribes or peoples, but the two main streams are of those belonging to the Solar Race of the IkSvAkus, and those belonging to the Lunar Race of the AiLas. The AiLas are further divided into five main branches: the Yadus, TurvaSas, Druhyus, Anus and PUrus.
The Rigveda is little concerned with the IkSvAkus as a people, inspite of the fact that the second most important dynasty in the Rigveda (but only, as we have seen, because of the aid given by the kings of this dynasty to the PUrus) is that of the TRkSis, a branch of the IkSvAkus.
The word IkSvAku itself occurs only once in the Rigveda as a name of the Sun (X.60.4).
The word TRkSi occurs only twice, once in a list of enumeration of tribes or peoples (VI.46.8), and once as an epithet of Trasadasyu’s son (VIII.22.7).
The Five branches of the AiLas, however, are referred to much more frequently.
Some of these references are those in which various tribes or peoples are merely enumerated (or in which the tribes serve as pointers of direction):
a. I.108.8: Yadus,
TurvaSas, Druhyus, Anus, PUrus.
But the other references to these five peoples, more concrete in nature, are quite conclusive in establishing the identity of the Vedic Aryans with the PUrus:
Anus and Druhyus
The Anus and Druhyus
(apart from the above-mentioned enumerations of tribes or peoples) are
referred to only in a few verses:
It is significant that most of these references are hostile references, in which Anus and Druhyus feature as enemies: VI.62.9: VII.18.6, 12-14.
Only two verses (both refering to the Anus) are more ambiguous:
a. In V.31.4, the Anus are described as manufacturing a chariot for Indra. The reference is clearly to the BhRgus who (as we have already seen in earlier chapters, and will see in greater detail in the chapter on the Indo-Iranian homeland) were the priests of the people who lived to the northwest of the Vedic Aryans: i.e. of the Anus, who lived to the northwest of the PUrus. Griffith himself puts it as follows in his footnote: “Anus: probably meaning BhRgus who belonged to that tribe.”
This identity of the Anus and BhRgus is clear in VII.18: verse 14 refers to the Anus and Druhyus, while verse 6 refers to the BhRgus and Druhyus.
Likewise, while V.31.4 describes the Anus as manufacturing a chariot for Indra, IV.16.20 refers to the BhRgus as manufacturing a chariot for Indra.
b. VIII.74.4 refers to Agni as Agni of the Anus: this again is probably a reference to the fact that the BhRgus are credited with the introduction of fire.
The verse in question, in any case, does not refer to any Anu king or person, it refers to the PUru king Srutarvan, son of RkSa.
It is clear from these references that the Anus and Druhyus are not identifiable with the Vedic Aryans.
Yadus and TurvaSas
The Yadus and TurvaSas (apart from the verses which enumerate tribes or peoples) are referred to in many verses (often together):
Yadus and TurvaSas:
But these references make it very clear that the Yadus and TurvaSas are not identifiable with the Vedic Aryans:
a. The two peoples appear to be located at a great distance from the land of the Vedic Aryans: they are described as coming “from afar” (I.36.18; VI.45.1), from “the further bank” (V.31.8) and “over the sea” (VI.20.12). Some of the verses refer to the Gods “bringing” them across flooded rivers (I.174.9; IV.30.17).
b. The very fact, that inspite of being two distinct tribes of the five, they are overwhelmingly more often referred to in tandem, is evidence of the fact that their individuality is blurred and they are thought of as a pair. This is definitely a measure of their distant location from the Vedic Aryans.
Even among the six verses which refer to only one of the two, VI.27.7 refers to the TurvaSas alongwith the VRcIvans, who are Yadus (cf. VRjinIvant of the traditional dynastic lists).
c. Four of the references to the Yadus and TurvaSas are definitely hostile ones, in which they figure as enemies of the Vedic Aryans: VI.27.7; VII.18.6; 19.8; IX.61.2.
d. Although there are so many references to the Yadus and TurvaSas, the majority of them refer to just two historical incidents in which (as in the case of Purukutsa and Trasadasyu) the Yadus and TurvaSas appear to have come to the aid of the Vedic Aryans (thereby making it clear that they were not always enemies of the Vedic Aryans; unlike the Druhyus, and, to a slightly lesser extent, the Anus).
The first incident is clearly a very old one, in which Indra is credited with bringing the Yadus and TurvaSas safely over flooded rivers: I.174.9; IV.30.17; V.31.8; VI.20.12; 45.1.
The second incident, in which the Yadus came to the aid of the KaNvas in fighting their enemies, in response to an appeal contained in I.36.18 (in which they are called “from afar” to come to the aid of KaNva), is referred to in I.36.18; 54.6; VIII.4.7; 7.18; 9.14; 45.27; X.49.8.
e. All the other references (apart from the hostile references and the references to the two historical incidents) are merely references in dAnastutis (and, as we have seen, even DAsas and PaNis are praised in such circumstances) in VIII.1.31; 4.19; 6.46, 48; X.62.10.
The references to the PUrus, on the other hand, make it very clear that the PUrus, and in particular the Bharatas among them, are the Vedic Aryans, the People of the Book in the literal sense.
The Bharatas are referred
to in the following verses:
The references are very clear:
a. In many verses, even Gods are referred to as Bharatas: Agni in I.96.3; II.7.1, 5; IV.25.4, and VI.16.9; and the Maruts in II.36.2.
b. In other verses, Agni is described as belonging to the Bharatas: III.23.2; V.11.1; VI.16.45; VII.8.4.
c. In the other references to the Bharatas (III.33.11, 12; 53.12, 24; V.54.14; VII.33.6) it is clear that they are the unqualified heroes of the hymns.
There is not a single reference even faintly hostile to the Bharatas in the whole of the Rigveda.
The PUrus (apart from the
verses which enumerate tribes or peoples) are referred to in the following
The references make it very clear that the PUrus are being referred to in a first-person sense:
a. The Vedic Gods are clearly identified as the Gods of the PUrus:
Agni is described as a “fountain” to the PUrus (X.4.1), a “priest” who drives away the sins of the PUrus (I.129.5), the Hero who is worshipped by the PUrus (1.59.6), the protector of the sacrifices of the PUrus (V.17.1), and the destroyer of enemy castles for the PUrus (VII.5.3).
Mitra and Varuna are described as affording special aid in battle and war to the PUrus, in the form of powerful allies and mighty steeds (IV.38.1, 3; 39.2).
Indra is identified as the God to whom the PUrus sacrifice in order to gain new favours (VI.20.10), and for whom the PUrus shed Soma (VIII.64.10). Indra gives freedom to the PUrus by slaying VRtra (IV.21.10), helps the PUrus in battle (VII.19.3), and breaks down enemy castles for the PUrus (I.63.7; 130.7; 131.4).
Indra even speaks to the PUrus and asks them to sacrifice to him alone, promising in return his friendship, protection and generosity (X.48.5.). In a Biblical context, this would have been a testimony of “God’s covenant” with the People of the Book.
b. It is generally accepted by the scholars that the SarasvatI represents the geographical heartland of the Vedic Aryan civilization. SarasvatI is invoked (alongwith two other Goddesses who, as we have seen in our chapter on the Geography of the Rigveda, were deities of places close to the banks of the SarasvatI) in the AprI-sUktas of all the ten families of composers of hymns in the Rigveda.
It becomes clear, in VII.96.2, that the SarasvatI was a PUru river, and it flowed through PUru lands. The river is addressed with the words: “The PUrus dwell, Beauteous One, on thy two grassy banks.”
c. The identity of the PUrus with the Vedic Aryans is so unmistakable, that the line between “PUru” and “Man” is distinctly blurred in the Rigveda:
Griffith, for example, sees fit to translate the word PUru as “Man” in at least five verses: I.129.5; 131.4; IV.21.10; V.171.1; X.4.1.
The Rigveda itself, in no uncertain terms, identifies the PUrus in VIII.64.10 with “mankind”: PUrave… mAnave jane.
In fact, the Rigveda goes so far as to coin a word PUruSa/PuruSa (descendant of PUru) for “man”, on the lines of the word manuSa (descendant of Manu).
While the word ManuSa for “man” is representative of a general Indo-European word with counterparts in other Indo-European branches (Germanic, as in English “man”), the word PUruSa/PuruSa is purely Rigvedic in origin: the word is found in the Rigveda in 28 verses, of which 17 are found in the late MaNDala X. Of the 11 verses in the other nine MaNDalas, 9 are by the priests of SudAs and his descendant Somaka (i.e. by ViSvAmitra, VasiSTha, Kutsa and VAmadeva). The word, therefore, was clearly coined during the period of SudAs, and gained increasing currency during the period of composition of the Rigvedic hymns.
d. There are two verses in which the PUrus are referred to in hostile terms: VII.8.4; 18.3.
Far from disproving the general scenario, however, these references only further confirm the point that the Bharatas, themselves a branch of the PUrus, were the particular Vedic Aryans of the Rigveda: both the verses refer to conflict between the Bharatas and the other PUrus.
In VII.8.4. “Bharata’s Agni” is described as conquering the PUrus in battle.
In VII.18.3, VasiSTha, speaking on behalf of the Bharata king SudAs, addresses Indra with the plea: “May we, in sacrifice, conquer (the) scornful PUru(s).”
As we have seen, the Rigveda, by way of its ten AprI-sUktas, recognizes ten families of RSis or composers. The AprI-sUktas are therefore a key to an understanding of some of the basic aspects of the system of priestly families in the Rigveda.
Two basic points which become apparent from the AprI-sUktas are of great importance in identifying the Bharatas, among the PUrus, as the particular Vedic Aryans of the Rigveda:
1. Nine of the ten families recognized in the Rigveda are identifiable with the seven primary and two secondary families of RSis recognized in Indian tradition: the seven primary families are the ANgirases, BhRgus, ViSvAmitras, VasiSThas, Agastyas, KaSyapas and Atris, and the two secondary families are the Kevala-ANgirases (KaNvas in the Rigveda) and Kevala-BhRgus (GRtsamadas in the Rigveda).
But the Rigveda also recognizes a tenth family, the Bharatas. This family does not figure as a separate family in later priestly traditions, which place kings who became RSis among either the ANgirases or the BhRgus.
This special treatment shows that to the Vedic Aryans, there were nine families of priestly RSis, but only one family of royal RSis; and, by implication, the tribal identity of these royal RSis is also the tribal identity of the Vedic Aryans.
2. There are three Great Goddesses invoked in the ten AprI-sUktas. One of them is BhAratI, who, as the very name suggests, was the tutelary deity of the Bharatas.
An examination of the references to this Goddess in the AprI-sUktas brings out a significant state of affairs: the ten AprI-sUktas fall into three distinct categories in line with our classification of the periods of the Rigveda into Early, Middle and Late.
As per our chronology, five families of RSis originated in the Early Period of the Rigveda: the ANgirases, BhRgus, ViSvAmitras, VasiSThas and Agastyas. All these five families refer to the Three Goddesses in a particular order of reference: BhAratI, ILA, SarasvatI (I.142.9; X.110.8; III.4.8; VII.2.8; I.188.9).
Two families originated in the Middle Period of the Rigveda, when the heyday of the Bharatas was waning, but the Rigveda was still a Bharata book: the KaSyapas and GRtsamadas. Both these families still refer to the same Three Goddesses, but in changed order of reference: The KaSyapas change the order to BhAratI, SarasvatI, ILA, (IX.5.8); and the GRtsamadas to SarasvatI, ILA, BhAratI (II.3.8).
The GRtsamadas reverse the order and place BhAratI last; but, in another hymn, they make amends for it by naming all the Three Goddesses in the original order: BhAratI, ILA, SarasvatI (II.1.11). This, incidentally, is the only hymn, apart from the AprI-sUktas, to refer to the Three Goddesses by name.
Three families originated in the Late Period of the Rigveda, when the predominance of the Bharatas (of the particular branch whose ruling dynasty was descended from DevavAta) was practically a thing of the past: the Atris, KaNvas, and the Bharatas themselves. Not one of the three refers to BhAratI at all.
The Atris and KaNvas replace the suggestive name of the Goddess BhAratI with the more general name MahI (which is an epithet of the Goddesses in I.142.9 and IX.5.8) and change the order to ILA, SarasvatI, MahI (V.5.8; I.13.9).
The Bharatas, caught in a bind, since they can neither refer to the Goddess as BhAratI, nor replace her name with another, follow a safe path: they refer to Three Goddesses, but name only one: ILA. (X.70.8).
All this proves one more thing contrary to general belief: according to the scholars, the AprI-sUktas were late compositions. On the contrary, it becomes clear that each new family of RSis, soon after it came into being and became a party to the performance of ritual sacrifices, composed its own AprI-sUkta. The AprI-sUkta, therefore, depicts the situation prevailing close to the time of the birth of the family (which, of course, does not apply to the two ancient pre-Rigvedic families, the ANgirases and BhRgus, whose antecedents go back deep into the pre-Rigvedic past).
It must be noted that any RSi performing a particular sacrifice was required to chant verses appropriate to that particular sacrifice, regardless of the family identities of the composers of those verses. It is only at the point where an AprI-sUkta was to be chanted, that he had to chant the particular AprI-sUkta of his own family. Hence, the composition of an AprI-sUkta, if no other hymn, was a must for any family, for a RSi belonging to that family to be able to participate in certain sacrifices.
This, incidentally, also explains why the AprI-sUkta of the Agastyas, whose other hymns were certainly composed in the Middle and Late periods of the Rigveda, clearly shows that it was composed in the Early period of the Rigveda.
The Bharata-PUru factor is vital to an understanding of the very presence of the different families of RSis in the corpus of the Rigveda:
1. The ANgirases and VasiSThas are two families which are fully and militantly affiliated to the Bharatas throughout the Rigveda.
2. The ViSvAmitras are a partially affiliated family: they were fully and militantly affiliated to the Bharatas in the period of MaNDala III, and, moreover, the ViSvAmitras were themselves descended from a branch of PUrus (a different branch from that of DivodAsa and SudAs, but possibly descended from DevavAta) who also called themselves Bharatas.
However, their close affiliation with the Bharatas of the Rigveda ceased after the ViSvAmitras were replaced by the VasiSThas as the priests of SudAs.
3. The KaSyapas and GRtsamadas are two families which are associated with the Bharatas, but not militancy affiliated to them.
Their association is based on the fact that the provenance of these two families was in the Middle Period of the Rigveda, which was still the (albeit late) period of the Bharatas.
The two families were more concerned with religious subjects (nature-myths and rituals), and hardly at all with politics or militancy; but the only kings referred to by the KaSyapas (as patrons) are the PUru or Bharata kings Dhvasra and PuruSanti (IX.58.3), and the only prominent king remembered by the GRtsamadas is DivodAsa (II.19.6).
4. The BhRgus and Agastyas are relatively neutral families in the Rigveda, both being basically aloof from the Vedic mainstream:
The BhRgus were, in fact, the priests of the people (the Anus) who lived to the northwest of the Vedic Aryans, and therefore generally on hostile terms with the Vedic Aryans and their RSis. However, one branch of the BhRgus, consisting of Jamadagni and his descendants, became close to the Vedic RSis; and these are the BhRgus of the Rigveda.
The Agastyas are traditionally a family of RSis whose earliest and most prominent members migrated to the South, away from the area of the Vedic Aryans, at an early point of time in their history.
Both these families owe their presence in the Rigveda to two factors:
a. Agastya and Jamadagni, the founders of these two families, were closely related to, and associated with, two other prominent eponymous RSis: Agastya was VasiSTha’s brother, and Jamadagni was ViSvAmitra’s nephew.
b. The two families were not affiliated to, or even associated with, the Bharatas, but nor were they affiliated to, or associated with, any other tribe or people.
Both the families, nevertheless, gained a late entry into the corpus of the Rigveda: even the oldest hymns of the BhRgus are found in the late MaNDalas; while the hymns of the Agastyas are, anyway, late hymns by RSis belonging to a later branch of the family.
5. The Atris and KaNvas are also relatively neutral families, but in a different sense from the BhRgus and Agastyas.
These two families, in fact, are not only not affiliated to the Bharatas in particular or the PUrus in general, but they are more often associated with non-PUrus (IkSvAkus, Yadus, TurvaSas, Anus). This association is basically mercenary: the Atris and KaNvas appear to have officiated as priests for, and composed dAnastutis in praise of, any king (irrespective of his tribal identity) who showered them with gifts. This more catholic or cosmopolitan nature of these two families is also recognized (in the case of the Atris) in I.117.3, where Atri is characterised as pAñcajanya (belonging to all the five tribes).
The KaNvas are even associated with the Yadus and TurvaSas in the con text of a battle, in which the Yadus and TurvaSas came to their aid in response to an appeal by the KaNvas.
All this raises a question: if the PUrus alone, among the five tribes, are to be identified with the Vedic Aryans, and the Rigveda itself is a PUru book, what is the explanation for the presence of these two families in the Rigveda?.
The answer is simple:
a. These two families originated in the Late Period of the Rigveda, when the predominance of the Bharatas had ended, and the PUrus in general had become more catholic and cosmopolitan in their attitudes.
b. Tradition testifies that both these priestly families were themselves of PUru origin:
According to the VAyu PurANa (1.59), the earliest Atri RSi was PrabhAkara, who married the ten daughters of a PUru king BhadrASva or RaudrASva, and had ten sons from whom all the Atri clans are descended.
As for the KaNvas, “all the authorities agree that they were an offshoot from the Paurava line”.3
c. While the Atris and KaNvas (though descended from PUrus) were generally catholic or cosmopolitan in their associations, the most important Atri and KaNva RSis in the Rigveda are closely associated with the PUrus:
Among the Atris, SyAvASva Atreya is closely associated with the PUrus: according to SAyaNa’s interpretation of V.54.14, SyAvASva was himself a Bharata. He is also the only Atri to pay homage to the memory of SudAs (V.53.2).
Among the KaNvas, PragAtha KANva and Sobhari KANva are closely associated with the PUrus: PragAtha identifies himself as a PUru directly in VIII.64.10, and also indirectly in VIII.10.5 (where he asks the ASvins to abandon the other four tribes, who are named, and come to the PUrus, who are not directly named). Sobhari is the only KaNva RSi to pay homage to the memory of DivodAsa (VIII.103.2) and to call him an Arya.
Sobhari KANva and SyAvASva Atreya are also two RSis associated (VIII.19.32, 36; 36.7; 37.7) with Trasadasyu, whose importance in the Rigveda is due to the help given by him to the PUrus.
It is significant that these three RSis are perhaps the most important Atri and KaNva RSis in the Rigveda:
SyAvASva Atreya has the largest number of hymns and verses (17 hymns, 186 verses) among the Atris in the Rigveda, more than those ascribed to the eponymous Atri Bhauma (13 hymns, 126 verses). Apart from these two Atris, all the other Atri RSis have one, two, three, or at the most four hymns.
PragAtha KANva does not have the largest number of hymns among the KaNvas in the Rigveda, but, MaNDala VIII, associated with the KaNvas, is called the “PragAtha MaNDala”, and the dominant form of metre used in this MaNDala is also named after PragAtha.
These three RSis are the only RSis, belonging to the Atri and KaNva families, whose descendants have a place in the Rigveda: AndhIgu SyAvASvI (IX.101.1-3), Bharga PrAgAtha (VIII.60-61), Kali PrAgAtha (VIII.66), Haryata PrAgAtha (VIII.72) and KuSika Saubhara (X.127).
The presence of the Atris
and KaNvas in the Rigveda is therefore fully in keeping with the PUru
character of the Rigveda.
One word which the scholars are unanimous in treating as a denominative epithet of the Vedic Aryans in the Rigveda is, beyond any doubt, the word Arya: according to them, Arya in the Rigveda refers to the Vedic Aryans (and, by implication, words like DAsa and Dasyu, contrasted with the word Arya, refer to people other than the Vedic Aryans).
This is a perfectly logical understanding of the use of the word Arya in the Rigveda (although scholars opposed to the Aryan invasion theory balk at this interpretation of the word, in the mistaken belief that this interpretation somehow symbolises the concept of invader Aryans and native non-Aryans).
But the actual connotation of this fact must be made clear. The Vedic Aryans called themselves Arya in the Rigveda, the Iranians called themselves Airya in their texts, the Irish called themselves, or their land, Eire, in their traditions: all these different Indo-European peoples were each, individually and separately, calling themselves by this particular name. But it does not follow that they would also be calling each other by the same name.
The word is used in the sense of “We, the Noble”. When an Iranian, for example, used the word Airya, he undoubtedly meant an Iranian, or even perhaps an Iranian belonging to his own particular tribe or community. He would never have dreamt of refering to a Vedic Aryan or an Irishman by the same term.
The use of the word Arya in the Rigveda must be understood in this sense: the Vedic Aryans used the word Arya in reference to Vedic Aryans as distinct from other people, and not in reference to Indo-European language speaking people as distinct from non-Indo-European language speaking people. All other people, Indo-Europeans or otherwise, other than themselves, were non-Aryas to the Vedic Aryans.
Therefore, also, in order to identify the Vedic Aryans, it is necessary to identify the people who are referred to as Arya in the Rigveda.
The word Arya is used 36 times in 34 hymns in the Rigveda:
I.51.8; 59.2; 103.3;
117.21; 130.8; 156.5;
But the word has an individual-specific connotation only in the case of three persons:
a. In three hymns (I.130.8; IV.26.2; VIII.103.1) DivodAsa is clearly the person referred to as an Arya.
b. In one hymn, the word refers to DivodAsa’s father VadhryaSva (X.69.6).
c. The word occurs in all the three DASarAjña hymns pertaining to SudAs’ great Battle of the Ten Kings (VII.18, 33, 83).
In the tribal sense, the word is used only in reference to the PUrus:
a. In I.59.2, Agni is said to have been produced by the Gods to be a light unto the Arya. In the sixth verse, it is clear that the hymn is composed on behalf of the PUrus.
b. In VII.5.6, again, Agni is said to have driven away the Dasyus and brought forth broad light for the Arya. In the third verse, the deed is said to have been done for the PUrus.
An examination of the family identity of the RSis who use the word Arya clinches the identification of the PUrus (and particularly the Bharatas) as the Aryas of the Rigveda: of the 34 hymns in which the word is used, 28 hymns are composed by the Bharatas, ANgirases and VasiSThas.
The situation stands out in extraordinary clarity if we examine the number of hymns, which refer to the Aryas, from a statistical viewpoint: the Bharatas themselves, for example, use the word Arya in three hymns. The Bharatas have a total of 19 hymns out of 1028 hymns in the Rigveda: this amounts to 1.85% of the total number of hymns in the Rigveda. And they have 3 hymns which use the word Arya, out of 34 such hymns in the Rigveda: this amounts to 8.82% of the total number of such hymns in the Rigveda. The frequency rate of Arya-hymns by the Bharatas is therefore 8.82 divided by 1.85, which comes to 4.77.
The following table shows how, when the same test is applied to all the ten families of RSis in the Rigveda, they fall into four distinct categories in line with their relationship to the Bharatas (the standard frequency rate being 1). (Table on next page.)
The frequency rate of Arya-hymns by the Bharatas is 4.77. The only other families with a frequency rate above one are the priestly families of the Bharatas. The general associates and partial affiliates of the Bharatas have a frequency rate below one. The neutral families have a frequency rate of zero, except for the KaNvas, who appear to constitute an exception to the rule.
However, this is an exception which proves the rule loudly and clearly. The two references by the KaNvas establish beyond any doubt that the PUrus, and particularly the Bharatas, are the Aryas of the Rigveda:
a. In VIII.51.9, SruStigu KANva refers to Indra as the “Good Lord of Wealth… to whom all Aryas, DAsas, here belong”.
b. In VIII.103, Sobhari KANva identifies DivodAsa as an Arya.
VIII.51.9 is the only reference in the whole of the Rigveda in which Aryas and DAsas are both specifically mentioned together in an equally benevolent sense: Indra is declared to be a God who is close to both Aryas and DAsas.
The KaNvas, like the Atris, are a priestly family with patrons from all the different tribes: the IkSvAkus, Yadus, TurvaSas, and even the Anus (in VIII.1.31; 4.19; 5.37; 6.46, 48; 19.32, 36; 65.12, etc.) more than the PUrus. This family is therefore neutral between the PUrus (i.e. the Aryas) and the non-PUrus (i.e. the DAsas); and the use of the word Arya, in VIII.51.9, is made in order to express this neutrality. It is made, moreover, in the context of a reference to a patron RuSama PavIru, who is clearly a non-PUrus (DAsa).
The second KaNva use of the word Arya is even more significant: the KaNvas refer to numerous IkSvAku, Yadu, TurvaSa and Anu kings as patrons (as mentioned above), and, in many other verses (I.36.18; VIII.4.7; 7.18; 9.14; 39.8; 40.12; 45.27; 49.10) they even refer to a historical incident in which the Yadus and TurvaSas came to their aid in battle. But not one of these kings is referred to as an Arya.
DivodAsa is referred to only once in the KaNva hymns, in VIII.103.2, and he is called an Arya in the previous verse.
Therefore, it is clear that even the neutral families of RSis used the word Arya in the Rigveda only in reference to the Bharatas in particular or the PUrus in general.
Incidentally, Purukutsa and Trasadasyu are eulogised to the skies by the priestly families affiliated to the Bharatas, for their rescue-act performed for the PUrus. A VAmadeva even calls Trasadasyu an ardhadeva or demi-god (IV.42.8, 9). But nowhere is either Purukutsa or Trasadasyu called an Arya.
The connotation of the word Arya in the Rigveda is therefore clear and unambiguous.
But there is more: there is a circumstance in the Rigveda, in connection with the word Arya, which is the subject of debate and controversy: the word Arya is used, in nine of the thirty-four hymns which refer to Aryas, in reference to enemies of the Vedic Aryans. In eight of these nine, the verses refer to both Arya and DAsa enemies together.
The exact implication of this should be understood: there are two entities being referred to: Aryas and DAsas. In these nine references, both the Aryas and DAsas are referred to as enemies. So who are these people (the protagonists of these nine hymns): are they Aryas, are they DAsas, or are they a third group of people different from both Aryas and DAsas?
The consensus among all serious scholars, fortunately, is a logical one: it is accepted that the protagonists of these nine hymns are definitely Aryas themselves, although their enemies in these cases include both Aryas and DAsas (non-Aryas).
These references become meaningful only in one circumstance: the PUrus are the Aryas of the Rigveda; the Bharatas (the predominant branch of the PUrus through most of the Rigveda) are the protagonist Aryas of the Rigveda; and these references refer to Bharata conflicts with other Aryas (other PUrus) and non-Aryas (non-PUrus).
This conclusion is fully confirmed by an examination of the references:
1. There are nine hymns which refer to Arya enemies in the Rigveda (of which the first one does not refer to DAsa enemies as well):
All these nine references are either by the Bharatas themselves (X.69.6; 102.3), or by the ANgirases (IV.30.18; VI.22.10; 33.3; 60.6) and VasiSThas (VII.83.1; X.38.3; 83.1).
2. The idea expressed in these nine hymns is also expressed in another way: there are eight other references which refer to the Arya and DAsa enemies as “kinsmen” and “non-kinsmen” (“strangers” in Griffith’s translation) enemies.
The following seven references refer to these enemies as jAmi (kinsmen) and ajAmi (non-kinsmen):
One of the above verses (X.69.12) is in the same hymn as a verse (X.69.6) which refers to Arya and DAsa enemies, thereby confirming that the same situation is referred to.
All these seven references are either by the Bharatas themselves (X.69.12) or by the ANgirases (I.100.11; 111.13; IV.4.5; VI.19.8; 25.3; 44.17).
The eighth reference uses different words to express the same idea: it refers to sanAbhi (kinsmen) and niSTya (non-kinsmen) enemies.
This reference, X. 133.5, is composed by a Bharata in the name of SudAs himself
3. In case any more uncertainty could possibly remain about the exact identity of the protagonist Aryas in all the above references, it is cleared by the ViSvAmitras, who express the same above idea in more specific terms.
The ViSvAmitras were fully and militantly affiliated to the Bharatas under SudAs, in the period of MaNDala III. Their association with SudAs is detailed in two hymns: III.33 and 53. Of these, hymn 53 alone refers to SudAs by name (III.53.9, 11) and describes the aSvamedha performed by the ViSvAmitras for SudAs and the Bharatas.
The last verse of this hymn tells us: “These men, the sons of Bharata, O Indra, regard not severance or close connexion. They urge their own steed, as it were another’s, and take him, swift as the bow’s string, to battle” (III.53.24).
The Bharatas, in short, are the protagonist Aryas of the Rigveda who disregard both severance (apapitvam: i.e. non-relationship with the ajAmi, niSTya, DAsas, non-kinsmen, non-PUrus) as well as close connexion (prapitvam: i.e. relationship with the jAmi, sanAbhi, Aryas, kinsmen, PUrus) when they set out to do battle.
In short, the PUrus alone
were the Vedic Aryans, the Aryas of the Rigveda; and the non-PUrus were the
DAsas of the Rigveda.
3IVA, p. 179.