Lecture tag: Atharvaveda

Medical Ritual in the Veda and Ayurveda (MT 14)

Shivdasani Seminar

It is well-known that the medicine in the Atharvaveda is predominantly a pre-scientific medicine and is considered to be the forerunner of the Indian system of scientific medicine, known as the Āyurveda ‘science of longevity’. Scholars have attempted to find roots of the Āyurveda in the medical charms of the Atharvaveda and the remedies against various diseases prescribed in the ritual texts in the tradition of that Veda. These charms and practices of the Atharvaveda were subsequently replaced by the therapeutics of Āyurveda. However, the magic practices for the cure of diseases continued despite the growth of scientific medicine. The classical Āyurvedic texts give due recognition to the medical charms and the practices mentioned in the tradition of the Atharvaveda. This kind of treatment is called daivavyapāśraya ‘(the treatment based on) the recourse to the divine’ and is prescribed for the cure of varieties of certain diseases that are supposed to have been caused by sinful deeds, curse of enemies, witchcraft or possession by demons. It involves recitation of mantras and certain acts that are similar to those found in the tradition of the Atharvaveda. The Āyurvedic texts also prescribe mantras that are to be recited during the preparation of certain drugs. This tradition survived not only in India, but spread to other countries, particularly to Tibet along with the Āyurveda and is still followed by the practitioners of Tibetan medicine (sowa-rigpa). It is possible to infer however that some of the notions found in the so-called ‘scientific’ medicine were caused by beliefs and superstitions. A survey of this material points to the fact that while the Āyurvedic texts prescribe medical charms and practices, they do not necessarily prescribe the mantras of the Atharvaveda. On the contrary, the mantras and the practices mentioned in the Āyurveda are similar to those prescribed in the Atharvavedic texts, but are not Atharvavedic. It appears that the tradition of the medical charms and the rites, elaborated in the Atharvaveda tradition, was replaced by post-Vedic religious traditions that influenced the Āyurvedic texts. Even in the tradition of the Atharvaveda, we do not find the prayogas or priestly manuals for the medical ritual mentioned in the Kauśika-Sūtra, a major ritualistic manual of the Atharvaveda and elaborated in the commentaries on that text. The tradition of the Atharvavedic medical ritual must have been disappeared long ago; what we find in the later texts is the post-Vedic mantra material mostly influenced by local traditions.

Professor S. S. Bahulkar has been teaching undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Sanskrit for more than 30 years, during which time he has been engaged in a wide variety of research projects. Both his research and teaching focus on Vedic Studies, Buddhist Studies, Ayurveda and Classical Sanskrit Literature. He has guided 14 students for their M. Phil. and Ph. D. Degrees. He has edited and written ten books and about sixty articles in English, Marathi and Sanskrit. After having done his M. A. and Ph. D. in Sanskrit from the University of Pune (1972 & 1977), he conducted his post graduate research at the Nagoya University, Japan. He worked in the Deccan College, Pune (1979-81), the Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, Pune (1981-1993; 1995-2006; 2009) and the Central University of Tibetan Studies, Sarnath (1993-95; 2006-2009; 2010-2012). He has visited a number of foreign countries in connection with teaching, research and conferences. He has also worked as Visiting Professor at the University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada (1993), Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany (1998-99) and Harvard University, Cambridge, U. S. A. (2010). He was instrumental in recording as many as six Veda Śākhās in India, for a research project funded by the Danish Government (1983-84). He has participated in the organization of a number of regional, national and international seminars and conferences, including the 5th International Vedic Workshop, held in September 2011 in Bucharest, Romania and the 6th held at Kozhikode (Calicut), Kerala in January 2014. Presently he is Adjunct Professor at the Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Pune and the K. J. Somaiya Centre for Buddhist Studies, Mumbai. He is Chairman, Executive Board, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute and Editor of the Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

From Myth to Ritual: The Horse of Pedu and the Remedy for Removing Snake’s Poison (MT 14)

Shivdasani Lecture

The Atharvavedic hymn (AVŚ X.4 = AVP XVI. 15, 16, 17) is a charm against snakes and their poison. It mentions Paidva, a slayer of snakes. The word paidva-, literally meaning of Pedu, is derived from the word pedu- that occurs in the ṚV as a proper name (ṚV 117.9; 118.9; 119.10). In the Ṛgvedic hymns, addressed to Aśvins, it is mentioned that Aśvins gave a white horse to Pedu. The word paidva- thus refers to the horse. This horse is said to have possessed the power to destroy snakes. The Ṛgvedic hymns in question mention the snake-destroying horse; however, they have no connection with the remedy for removing snake’s poison. On the contrary, the Atharvavedic hymn (AVŚ X.4) does not mention Aśvins and their gift to Pedu; but mentions paidva that kills various kinds of snakes. In the ritual context of the Atharvaveda, paidva is to be employed in the remedy for removing snakes poison, prescribed in the Kauśika-sūtra (32.20-25), the major ritual text of the Atharvaveda. It is obvious that paidva, mentioned in the rite of the Kauśika-sūtra, is not the mythical horse of the Ṛgveda. The Atharvavedic tradition simply uses the connection of the mythical horse of Pedu with the snake-killing power for the purpose of the ritual in which the main rite is to be performed as the remedy for removing snake’s poison. It is difficult to identify paidva of the Atharvaveda. The commentators of the Kauśika-sūtra identify it as an insect. It appears that there existed a remedy in the tradition of the Atharvaveda for removing the snake’s poison and that the insect or some other substance to be used for that purpose was given the name paidva in order to connect it with the mythical horse known for its snake-killing power.  The relevant myth and the ritual connected with the myth will be discussed in detail.


Attempts towards Preservation and Revival Atharvaveda (MT 14)

Shivdasani Seminar

The Śaunaka Śākhā of the Atharvaveda has been regarded to be the most prominent school of the Atharvaveda, being studied mostly in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. This Veda, although considered to be inferior to other three Vedas, was studied for the purpose of performing śāntika, pauṣṭika and ābhicārika rites in the tradition of that Veda. The followers of that Veda migrated to various parts of India, on invitations from kings and rich people. It has been observed however that the tradition of study of the Atharvaveda began to decline in the course of time. Having realized the necessity of preserving that tradition, the followers of that Veda as well as those belonging to other three Vedas made various attempts to preserve the tradition. Moreover, they endeavoured to revive the tradition of the study of the Veda, and to some extent, that of the performance of the rituals prescribed in that tradition. There was a good interaction between the Atharvavedins living in parts of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. They sent their students to the knowledgeable Vedamūrtis in order to acquire proficiency in the recitation of that Veda. The teachers as well as the students did not necessarily belong to the Atharvaveda. Some of the Vaidikas attempted to compose ritualistic digests or prayogas in order to revive the ritualistic tradition. There was genuine faith in the tradition of that Veda as well as a professional need that prompted those Vaidikas to preserve the tradition. It is interesting to see how the tradition of the study of that Veda is being revived in India in recent years.