Origin of Vedas, Their Inspiration, and Authority


Written by Ibn Muhammad

How and where the Vedas originated are subjects of much debate amongst Hindu circles. The opinions are divergent. Some believe that the Vedas are millions of years old while others consider them to be not more than five thousand years old. When I read through the many articles written on this subject by Hindus themselves, I found that almost all of them assumed the Vedas to be eternal. Hence, the question of the origin of Vedas is never dealt with properly. Those Hindus who addressed this question trivialized it, knowing well the amount of contradictory opinions within Hindu texts. I will attempt to bring together whatever information we get from authoritative Hindu texts regarding this issue.

Conflicting Reports

1. The Vedas were produced from deities Agni, Vayu and Surya

Chandogya Upanishad says

“1. Prajapati brooded over the worlds, and from them thus brooded on he squeezed out the essences, Agni (fire) from the earth, Vayu (air) from the sky, Aditya (the sun) from heaven.

2. He brooded over these three deities, and from them thus brooded on he squeezed out the essences, the Rik verses from Agni, the Yagus verses from Vayu, the Saman verses from Aditya.” [Chandogya Upanishad- Adhyay 4, Khanda 17, Mantras1 and 2]

The same view is expressed in Shatpath Brahman 11:5:8:1,2. This reference clearly mentions that Agni, Vayu and Aditya are not the names of any Rishis but are demi gods. Note that only three Vedas are mentioned here. There is no mention of Atharvaved. However, Gopath Brahman (1:49), which is the specific Brahman of Atharvaveda, mentions its deity to be the Moon.

2. The Vedas are the breathings of the Great Being

Shatapath Brahman (14:5:4:10) and Brihadaranyak Upanishad (2:4:10) says,

“As clouds of smoke proceed by themselves out of a lighted fire kindled with damp fuel, thus, verily, has been breathed forth from this Great Being what we have as Rig-veda, Yagur-veda, Sama-veda, Atharvangirasas, Itihasa (legends), Purana (cosmogonies), Vidya (knowledge), the Upanishads, Slokas (verses), Sutras (prose rules), Anuvyakhyanas (glosses), Vyakhyanas (commentaries)’. From him alone all these were breathed forth.”

Mr. Agniveer has used this verse from Shatapath Brahman to prove that Vedas have emanated from God. He says,

Shatpath Brahman states that Ishwar, who is present even beyond the Akash/Sky created the Vedas. The way breath goes out of body and then comes in, during inception of creation, Ishwar creates the Vedas and illuminates the world, and in the phase of dissolution (Pralay), Vedas no more remain in world. However just as a sapling remains inside the seed, Vedas still remain in knowledge of Ishwar, unchanged.

The interpretation that he tries to put on this verse is unfounded. If he uses this verse as proof of Vedic origin, then he cannot brush aside the fact that even the Puranas, Itihasas, etc are on the same level as the Vedas. He simply gives the reference and his own meaning without quoting the exact verse for fear that his own ideology might be undermined. Anyway, let us move on with other opinions.

3. The Vedas were scraped off from Brihadaranyak Upanishadas being his hair and his mouth

Atharvaveda (10:7:20) says,

“Declare who is that Skambha, from whom they cut off the Rik verses; from whom they scraped off the Yajush; of whom the Saman verses are the hairs, and the verses of Atharva and Angiras the mouth”

4. Shvetashvatara Upanishad 6: 18 says,

“Seeking for freedom I go for refuge to that God who is the light of his own thoughts, he who first creates Brahma and delivers the Vedas to him”

5. Mundak Upanishad 1:1:1,2 says,

“1. BRAHMA was the first of the Devas, the maker of the universe, the preserver of the world. He told the knowledge of Brahman, the foundation of all knowledge, to his eldest son Atharva.

2. Whatever Brahma told Atharvan, that knowledge of Brahman Atharvan told to Angir; he told it to Satyavaha Bharadvaga, and Bharadvaga told it in succession to Angiras.”

Mr. Agniveer makes yet another error on this issue. He claims that Brahma learned the four Vedas from the Rishis. However, according to these references from Svetashvatara and Mundak Upanishads, Brahma was directly taught by God and he in turn taught the other Rishis.  An interesting point to be noted here is that in the same Khanda,  verse 5, Angiras calls the four Vedas as ‘lower knowledge’  (Apra) and says that God cannot be known through the Vedas.

From the above given passages it is clear that there is no clear understanding of the origin of Vedas. The texts mutually contradict. Numerous other Hindu texts have still more variant views about the origin of Vedas. I will summarily mention those views also:

  1. According to Taittiriya Brahman (2:39:1) ‘Vedas are the hair of Prajapati’s beard’.
  2. According to Bhagavat Puran (3:12:34-37) ‘Vedas issued from the four mouths of Brahma’.
  3. Vishnu Puran says that ‘Vedas were produced from Gayatri’.
  4. Vishu Puran also says that ‘the Vedas are Vishnu’.
  5. According to Mahabharata, Shanti Parv, ‘Saraswati was the mother of Vedas’.

Rishis as the authors of Vedas

A Rishi is a poet of the Vedas. The meaning of the word Rishi (ऋषि ) as given in Nirukt is Rishidarshanat (ऋषिर्दार्शनात), which means ‘seer’. The famous quote of Yask Muni states that  यस्य वाक्य मस ऋषि, meaning ‘Rishi is the one whose quote itself is the mantra’. This is suffient to show that Rishis were the ones who made up the mantras. This is backed up by Taittiriya Brahman (2:8:8:5) which states

“Wise Rishis are the makers of mantras”

The assumption that Vedas are eternal makes many Hindus to say that Rishis were given the Vedas. Of this there is not the slightest proof. This Rishis again and again claim to have composed the hymns themselves just as a carpenter makes objects. In some hymns they express no consciousness whatever of deriving assistance from any supernatural source.

How many Rishis?

A.   4 Rishis

Arya Samaj/agniveer claims that Vedas were reaveled to four Rishis, viz, Agni, Vayu, Angira and Surya. However, the reference I gave earlier from Chandogya Upanishad (4:17:1-2) disproves this assertion. This reference clearly calls these four ‘persons’ as Devatas or deities, and not Rishis. The imaginary Rishis of Arya Samaj are nowhere to be found in authoritative Hindu texts. If they were real Rishis we would certainly have their biographies.

B.   414 Rishis

Another view about the Vedic authorship is that Vedic mantras are the works of 414 Rishis, whose names are to be found in Anukarmani. When we read the Vedas, we find the name of a Rishi mentioned with every Sookt (hymn), who can be considered as the author of that particular Sookt. However, Arya Samaj scholars opine that these Rishis are not the ones who conjured up the mantras. Rather, they were the people who comprehended the meaning of the hymns by their meditation. This opinion is false due to the following reasons:

  • The Rishis whose names are borne at the beginning of the Sooktas, many times their names appear even inside the Sooktas. What is the name of a Rishi doing inside a Vedic Mantra? For example, Vishwamitra JI is the Rishi of the third Mandal (Book) of Rigveda. His name appears in Rigveda 3:53:7,9

“Bounteous are these, Angirases, Virupas: the Asura’s Heroes and the Sons of Heaven. They, giving store of wealth to Visvamitra, prolong his life through countless Soma-pressings.

8 Maghavan weareth every shape at pleasure, effecting magic changes in his body, Holy One, drinker out of season, coming thrice, in a moment, through fit prayers, from heaven.

9 The mighty sage, God-born and God-incited, who looks on men, restrained the billowy river.When Visvamitra was Sudas’s escort, then Indra through the Kusikas grew friendly.”

Also, Rishi Kanva is the Rishi of the major part of the 8th Mandal of Rigveda. His name occurs some fifty times within the Mantras of Mandal 8.

  • Not only the names of Rishis but also the names of their contemporary rulers and rishis appear in the Vedic Mantras. For example, Rishi Vashishtha is the Rishi of the 7th Mandal of Rigveda. This Mandal is thus also called as Vashishtha Mandal. Vashishtha was a contemporary of Rishi Vishvamitra and the Purohit (priest) of Raja Ramchandra. His name occurs 45 times.
  • When the Sookta bears the name of a male Rishi, the genders used in the hymn are always masculine. When the Sookta bears the name of a female Rshika, all the genders used in the Mantras of that Sookt are feminine. This phenomenon is certain proof that the Sookt has been produced by that very Rishi or Rishika. For example, see the Yama-Yami Sookt (Rigveda 10:10), where Yama and Yami both are having a dialogue.
  • Many Sooktas contain similar dialogues between a man and a woman. They have been assigned as that Sooktas Rishi and Rishika. For example, the dialogue between Indra and his wife, Indrani (Rigveda 10:86)
  • In some Sooktas, the Devata (deity) of one mantra is the Rishi of next mantra and vice versa. This type of Sookta is known as a dialogue between a Rishi and the Deity. Now, if the Rishi  was only a seer of the mantras, how is it possible that in a particular Sookt, the Rishi becomes a Devata  in one mantra and a Devata becomes a Rishi in another? For example see Rigveda 10:51, where a dialogue is going on between Agni Sauchik and the Devata. Here, in mantras 1,3,5,7 and 9 Agni Sauchik is the Devata while in mantras 2,4,6,and 8 he is the Rishi.
  • We may ask has Swami Dayanand Ji really understood any portion of the Vedas. If yes, then why is his name not mentioned in the Vedas?
  • Not even one Sookt in the entire Vedas bears the names of Sri Ram, Sri Krishna, Sri Vyas Ji, who are the stars of Indian literature. Does this imply they never understood the Vedas?
  • Vedas also contain the mention of the family trees, varnas (Brahmin, Kshatriya,etc) of some Rishis. If the Rishis were only seers, how come did the tales of their mutual conflicts find their way into Vedic Mantras? For example, Vedas inform us about 22 Rishis of Kanva family,  36 Rishis of Atri family, 11 Rishis of Vashishtha family, etc.

Opinions of Rishis concerning the origin of Vedic Hymns

As I have already said that the names of the Rishis of each hymn are found in the Anukarmani. It is a record of the number of verses, name and family of Rishis, names of deities, etc.

In later times when the Vedas were claimed to be eternal, it was pretended that these Rishis were only the ones by whom hymns “were seen” or to whom they were communicated.  However, there is no proof for this.

Now what is the opinion of the Rishis themselves regarding the origin of Vedas. Following points make it clear:

[a] In the very second mantra of Rigveda is it mentioned

“Worthy is Agni to be praised by living as by ancient seers. He shall bring. hitherward the gods.”

[b] Rigveda 10:54:6 ascribes the making of hymns to a Rishi

“An acceptable and honorific hymn has been uttered to Indra by Brihaduktha, maker of hymns”

[c] Again it is mentioned in Rigveda 7:22:9

“Among all Rsis, Indra, old and recent, who have engendered hymns as sacred singers, Even with us be thine auspicious friendships.  Preserve us evermore with blessings.”

[d]  Who prepares the hymns? Rigveda 5:2:11 says,

“As a skilled craftsman makes a car, a singer I, Mighty One! this hymn for you have fashioned. If you, O Agni, God, accept it gladly, may we obtain thereby the heavenly waters.”

[e] Rigveda 4:16:21 says,

“Now, Indra! lauded, glorified with praises, let power swell. high like rivers for the singer. For you a new hymn, Lord of Bays, is fashioned. May we, car-borne, through song be victors ever.”

[f] Rigveda 7:35:14

“So may the Rudras, Vasus, and Adityas accept the new hymn which we now are making. May all the Holy Ones of earth and heaven, and the Cow’s offipring hear our invocation.”

[g] Rigveda 6:34:1 says,

“FULL Many songs have met in you, O Indra, and many a noble thought from you proceed. Now and of old the eulogies of sages, their holy hymns and lauds, have yearned for Indra.”

From this we come to know that instead of the hymns being eternal, or of an infinite age, they are composed by the Rishis themselves. The Rishis explicitly speak of ancient and new hymns. The Rishis entertained the idea that the gods would be more highly gratified if their praises were celebrated in new, and perhaps more elaborate and beautiful compositions, than if older prayers had been repeated.

Panini openly states the fact that there are old and new Brahmanas; whereas according to the doctrine of later times, the brahmanas are neither old nor new, but eternal and of divine origin. He rests his opinoin as to the difference of dates on the evidence of language. One argument of the eternity of Vedas is that sound is eternal. To any person of common sense the simple statement of this proof, is its refutation. The same argument would prove every book to be eternal.

Some Hindus might respond that by the new Rishis and Hymns are meant the Rishis and Hymns of the present life, while the old Rishis and Hymns are of the previous life. This view is far from logical. According to the belief of Arya Samaj, if these are the same Vedas that have always been. then classifying the Hymns into old and new is meaningless. This is because the Hymns that would be new would also be old.

Internal evidence of the authorship of Vedas

When a deed is produced in court, which is affirmed to have been written many hundred years ago, there are often means of judging from the document itself as to its age. Suppose, for example, it contained the names of Einstein, Gandhi or Hitler, it could at once be known that it could not be older than last century. If it were asserted that these referred to other persons of the same name who lived long before or that they were prophecies, the conclusion would be that it was an attempt to support one falsehood by another. If the Vedas are eternal, why are the names of so many persons mentioned in them who lived in comparatively recent times?

The hymns of the Rigveda themselves supply us with numerous data by which we can judge of the circumstances to which they owed their origin, and of the manner in which they were created. They afford us very distinct indications of the locality in which they were composed.  The Indus is the great river; the Ganges is only twice mentioned; the Sarasvati was the eastern boundary.

The hymns show us Aryan tribes living in a state of warfare with surrounding enemies (some of them, probably, alien in race and language), and gradually, as we may infer, forcing their way onward to the east and south. They supply us with numerous specimen of the particular sorts of prayers, viz., for protection and victory, which men circumstanced would naturally address to the gods whom they worshipped as well as of the more common applications which men in general offer up for the various blessings that constitute the sum of human welfare.

The following hymn to Indra, asking him to destroy the Dasyus, the aborigines, and give food and a camp with running water, bears internal evidence that it was composed at a time when the Aryans were invading India:

1 GLAD you: your glory has been quaffed, Lord of Bay Steeds, as ’twere the bowl’s enlivening mead.
For you the Strong there is strong drink, mighty, omnipotent to win.
2 Let our strong drink, most excellent, exhilarating, come to you,
Victorious, Indra bringing gain, immortal conquering in fight,
3 You, Hero, winner of the spoil, urgest to speed the car of man.
Burn, like a vessel with the flame, the lawless Dasyu, Conqueror!
4 Empowered by your own might, O Sage, you stole Sarya’s chariot wheel.
You bare Kutsa with the steeds of Wind to Susna as his death.
5 Most mighty is you rapturous joy, most splendid is your active power,
Wherewith, foe-slaying, sending bliss, you art supreme in gaining steeds.
6 As you, O Indra, to the ancient singers wast ever joy, as water to the thirsty,
So unto you I sing this invocation. May we find strengthening food in full abundance.

Conclusion as to the authorship of the Vedas

Quotations have been given from Hindu sacred books containing many different opinions as to the origin of Vedas. In opposition to these, the authorship of many of the hymns is distinctly claimed by persons whose names are given. The hymns themselves demonstrate that they were composed when the Aryans were entering India, when they had not advanced much beyond the border, and were engaged in constant wars with the natives.

Victory in battle was often ascribed to the virtue of a hymn. Thus in Rigveda 7:33:3,

“So, verily, with these he crossed the river, in company with these he slaughtered Bheda. So in the fight with the Ten Kings, Vasisthas! did Indra help Sudas through your devotions.”

Such hymns were considered unfailing spells, and became the sacred war-songs of the whole tribe. They were handed down from the father to son as the most valuable heirloom.

The legitimate conclusion is that the Vedic hymns were written by the authors whose names they bear, and they are not eternal.

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