THE Atharvaveda has been looked upon as the Veda of secret and occult knowledge. It contains numerous mantras, which are common to the Rigveda, Yajurveda and Samaveda. The Atharvaveda has 20 Kandas, which have 34 prapathakas, 111 anuvakas, 739 suktas and 54,849 mantras. About 1200 mantras are common with those of the Rigveda. The one-sixth of the Atharvaveda is in prose, while the rest is poetic.
There is a legend in Gopatha Brahmana about Atharvan and Angiras, after whom the fourth Veda has been named. According to this legend. Brahman undertook intense tapas for the creation of the universe. Consequently, two streams of sweat began to flow on his body. From one of the streams emerged Bhrigu Rishi, who came to be known as Atharvan; from the other emerged Angiras Rishi. The collection of niantras in the Atharvaveda is also known as Atharvangirasa.
The Atharvaveda has two kinds of mantras:
(i) those relating to the cure of diseases and destruction of wild animals, pishachas and adverse forces; and
(ii) those relating to establishment of peace in the family and village as also those relating to health, wealth, protection and friendship with enemies.
Apart from these two categories of mantras, the most important ones relate to the nature of the Ultimate Reality, Time, human personality, death and immortality.
According to Patanjali, Atharvaveda had nine shakhas, but today only two shakhas are available/ namely, Paippalada and Shaunaka.
The Atharvaveda is believed to be the origin of Ayurveda, the Indian science of medicine. It recognises a number of diseases, and it attributes them not only to physical causes but also, and more importantly, to psychological causes, including Karma and influence of adversary forces. A series of mantras are related to practices designed to cure fever, nightmare, haemorrhage, toothache, serpent bite and madness. There are also prayers addressed to medicinal plants. There are mantras concerning birth and death also.
The Veda looks upon human life as a journey beset with difficulties and adverse forces; human life is, therefore, a battle in which human soul is connected with the physical and supra-physical worlds. In the battle, the Veda requires human beings to know how these worlds are interrelated, and how the forces of these worlds, gods and demons influence them as helpers or adversaries. The Veda does not teach escape from life and its problems, but analyses issues of life meticulously and reveals knowledge needed to deal with them so that the goal of fulfilment and immortality is attained. It is against this background that the
Atharvaveda's references to the issues of human life can be rightly understood.
According to one view, the Atharvaveda is a later composition, later than the Rigveda, the Yajurveda and the Samaveda. In support of this view, it has been pointed out that the Vedic knowledge has been referred to as triple knowledge, trayi vidya, consisting of Rigveda, the Yajurveda, and the Samaveda. According to another view, the phrase triple knowledge refers to Rik, Yajus and Saman mantras, and since they are to be found not only in the Rigveda, the Yajurveda and the Samaveda but also in the Atharvaveda, "triple knowledge" includes the Atharvaveda also. At the same time, it has been noted that the Atharvaveda presents a geographical and cultural picture of life, which is somewhat different from the one found in the Rigveda. But merely on this ground or similar other grounds, it is difficult to declare that the Atharvaveda is later than the Rigveda.
A very important hymn of the Atharvaveda is related to the earth. It is called "prithivi sukta", and is directly relevant to the contemporary concern for environmental harmony. Apart from physical aspects of the earth, this sukta also declares that the stability of the earth and of physical consciousness is rooted in the superconscient, which is characterised by satyam, ritam and brihad, the true, the right and the vast. The prithivi sukta underlines the supra- physical basis of the physical. Let us study a few selected verses of this sukta:
सत्यं बृहदृतमुग्रं दीक्षा तपो ब्रह्म यज्ञ पृथिवीं धारयन्ति।
सा नो भूतस्य भवयस्य पत्न्युरु लोकं पृथिवी नः कृणोतु॥ 12.1.1
Great truth, formidable right, consecration, penance, Brahman and sacrifice sustain the earth; let that Earth, the mistress of what is and what is to be, and make for us wide room (loka).
यार्णवेऽधि सलिलमग्र आसीत् यां मायाभिरन्वचरन् मनीषिणः
यस्या हृदयं परमे व्योमन्त्सत्येनावृतममृतं पृथिव्याः।।
सा नो भूमिस्त्विषिं बलं राष्ट्रे दधातृत्तमे।।
She who in the beginning was water (salila) in the ocean (arnava); whom the skilful (manisin) moved after with their devices (maya); the earth whose immortal heart covered with truth is in the highest firmament (vyoman)— let that earth (bhumi) assign to us brilliancy and strength, in the highest royalty.
यत् ते मध्यं पृथिवि यच्च नभयं यास्त ऊर्जस्तन्वः संबभूवुः।
तासु नो धेह्यभि नः पसस्व माता भूमिः पुत्रो अहं पृथिव्याः।
पर्जन्यः पिता स उ नः पिपर्तु।।
What is thy middle, O earth, and what thy navel, what refreshments (urj) arose (sam-bhu) out of thy body–in them do thou set us; be purifying (pu) towards us, earth (bhumi) is mother, I am earth's son; Parjanya is father-let him fulfil(pr) us.
यत् ते भूमे विखनामि क्षिप्रं तदपि रोहनु।
मा ते विमृग्वरि या ते हृदयमर्पिपम्।।
What of thee, O earth (bhumi), I dig out , let that quickly grow over; let me not hit thy vitals nor thy heart, O cleansing one.
यस्यां पूर्वे भूमकृत ऋषयो गा उदानृचुः।
सप्त सत्रेण वेधसो यज्ञेन तपसा सह।।
(Thou art the one) for whom the seven illuminedRishis formed the words of light by means of orderly metheds combined with sacrifice and concentrated force of consciousness.
निधिं विभ्रती बहुधा गुहा बसु मणिं हिरण्यं पृथिवी ददातु मे।
वसूनि नो वसुदा रासमाना देवी दधातु सुमनस्यमाना।।
Bearing treasures in various secret ways, let the earth give
me the stuff of being, jewel, gold; giver of good, bestowing good things on us, let the divine mother earth shower all this with her mind filled with grace.
जनं बिभ्रती बहुधा विवाचसं नानाधर्माणं पृथिवी यथौकसम्।
सहस्रं धारा द्रविणस्य मे दुहां ध्रुवेव धेनुरनपस्फुरन्ती।।
Let the earth, bearing variously people of different speech, of diverse laws of development, (dharman), appropriate to their homes, yield (duh) to me a thousand streams of prosperity, like a steady (dhruva) unresisting milch-cow.
These verses bring out the Vedic adoration of the earth and the immense value that the Veda attaches to the intimate relationship between the earth and the human fulfilment.
The hymns of the Atharvaveda can be classified into the following ten groups:
1. Remedial hymns for curing diseases, physical and mental. These are called bhaishajyani mantras.
2. Prayers for health and long life. These are called ayushyani mantras.
3. Spells to secure harmony in a family, assembly, village/ etc. These are called sammanasyani mantras.
4. Hymns to secure happiness and prosperity. These are called paushtikani mantras.
5. Hymns pertaining to women, love and marriage. These are called strikarmani mantras.6. Hymns to be used for royal ceremonies and for the welfare of the king. These are called rajakarmani mantras.
7. Hymns to deal with enemies. These are called abliicharikani mantras.
8. Word-formulations or mantras, repetition of which
can counter the occult formations employed by the enemy. These are called krityapariharanani mantras.
9. Mantras for expiating sin and defilement. These are called prayaschittani mantras.
10. Cosmogonic and theosophic hymns. These are called adhyatmikani mantras.
It may also be added that the Atharvaveda is called kshatri, because it contains the largest number of hymns to be employed at royal ceremonies like the rajasuya, vajapeya and indramahotsava. We also find hymns addressed to horses and elephants.
Finally, it would be important to note that of all the Vedas, the Atharvaveda contains the largest number of mantras connected with the themes of creation of the universe and of the nature of the Brahman, the Ultimate Reality, and Its relation with the universe, creatures and human beings. The Atharvaveda is, therefore, also called Brahmaveda.