Atharva Veda

Created by Jijith Nadumuri at 26 Jun 2011 08:35 and updated at 20 Jul 2011 11:55

Atharva Veda is the fourth Veda in the usual order of enumeration after Rig Veda, Yajur Veda and Sama Veda. However the historical analysis of Atharva Veda shows that it is as old as Rig Veda. Some of the Atharva Veda hymns are suspected to be older than the oldest Rig Vedic hymns while most of its hymns are younger to the youngest Rig Vedic hymns. Atharvaveda is second only to Rig Veda in size. Comparing the number of verses in Rig Veda and Atharva Veda, we have 10552 verses in Rig Veda and around 5987 verses (varies slightly based on recessions) in Atharva Veda. Thus Atharva Veda is a little more than half the size of Rig Veda. Still it is three times bigger than Yajur Veda or Sama Veda.

Besides being half the size of Rig Veda, the vocabulary (number of unique nouns) in Atharva Veda is almost equal (1300 plus) to that of Rig Veda. Many of these nouns are different from those in Rig Veda. Strange historical circumstances has made it to be numbered fourth in the order.


From the analysis it is clear that Atharva Veda emerged as a Vedic tradition that ran parallel to Rig Vedic tradition. It is difficult to tell precisely, which tradition started first. Researchers are still to precisely tell whether it was an Atharva Vedic hymn or a Rig Vedic hymn that emerged first, and even if a precedence is established, it is even difficult to tell how much significant temporal gap exist between the formation of these hymns. However it can be told with certainty that Atharva Veda continued to grow even after Rig Veda was frozen. Hence we find mention of Sama Veda (Sama, Saman, Samans) and Yajur Veda (Yajus) in Atharva Veda. We also find in it the mention of the epics (Itihasa) and the Puranas (Purana). It also contains passing reference of a city named Varanavati which is mentioned extensively in Mahabharata as a Kuru city. Thus we can safely conclude that Atharva Veda continued to grow during the period when the composition of the Epics and Puranas were initiated.

Relationships with other Vedas

Vedas, though distinct, were never isolated from each other in their development and thus had several inter relationships. The civilization that produced all of them, though having distinct traditions was one and the same and exhibited a unity in diversity.

Sama Veda and Yajur Veda have their basis upon Rig Veda, while Atharva Veda stays independent of Rig Veda. Atharva Veda has some hymns (some says 1 out of 5) found in Rig Veda and at least one hymn in Rig Veda (describing the couples Lopamudra and Agastya) seems to have characteristics of Atharva Veda. Nine out of ten hymns in Sama Veda are derived from Rig Veda and one out of four hymns in Yajur Veda are derived from Rig Veda. Yajur Veda contains some (1 out of 20) hymns derived from Atharva Veda.


Generally Vedas were not considered as authored by any single individual. This is even so regarding the ancient Indian Epics and the Puranas. These were the result of a civilization and not that of any individual, much like language and mathematics. In other words, these texts arose organically through the activities of the collective human consciousness or the collective human mind of the civilization. This is also the meaning of the word Apaurusheya, meaning not the work of a human individual, an attribute often used to describe the authorship of the Vedas. This attribute is often misunderstood to mean that they are the works of God as most people do not comprehend that there are many things that are greater than a human individual but not yet the all encompassing God, such as, societies, tribes and civilizations.

Sage Atharvan

In spite of this, the authorship of Atharva Veda is sometimes attributed to a certain sage named Atharvan, much like the authorship of Mahabharata is attributed to sage Vyasa. Mahabharata of 100,000 verses was not completely authored by Vyasa (he authored only its core called Jaya with 8000 verses). Similarly Atharva Veda was not completely authored by the sage Atharvan. He authored only some core hymns and created a tradition which made it to grow.

Sage Atharvan is mentioned in Rig Veda as an ancient figure. He is mentioned as a bringer of fire or the one who knows how to create or ignite fire. Creation and preservation of fire is among the ancient technologies of the pre-historic people. Atharvan is mentioned to be as old as, if not older than Bhrgu and Angirasa. Rig Veda also indicates that 'Atharvan' is a surname and it can be applied to many people who lived at different times.

Atharvan also appear in Arabian polytheist pantheon as Athar, a (male) personification of the planet Venus, much like Usana / Usanas / Sukra, a (male) personification of the planet Venus, in Indian tradition

Sage Angiras

Sage Angiras too is credited with the authorship of Atharva Veda. Angiras / Angirasa / Angirasas, apart from being the name of its founder sage, is also as a surname / tribal-name / gotra-name and there were many sages who used that surname. Angirasa too is often associated with fire along with Atharvans and Bhrigus. The dual compound Atharvangirasa (Atharva-Angirasa) is used as an alternate name for Atharva Veda. In later periods of pre-history, the name 'Atharvangirasa' reduced to 'Atharva'. It is possible that the Angirasa sages dissociated themselves with Atharva Veda during the later periods of prehistory. Consequently it was maintained by the Bhrigu sages during its later part of development.

There is also a speculation that the name 'Atharvangirasa' indicated a single person who belonged to the Angirasa branch of the Atharvan sages. It is possible that the two branches viz. that of the Bhrigus and that of the Angirasas, originated from the single tribe of the Atharvans. Hence it is possible that an Atharvan of Angirasa branch initiated the tradition of Atharva Veda, which was later abandoned by the Angirasa sages and took over by the Brighu sages.

Sage Bhrigu

As per the Gopatha Brahmana text (a later-Vedic text) Atharva Veda's authorship is attributed to Bhrigu and Angirasa. Thus here we see Bhrigu standing for Atharvan. This too indicates that the ancestry of both the Bhrigus and the Angirasas, the two major ascetic lineages of ancient India, was derived from the much ancient Atharvan sages. Thus the ancient Bhrigus and ancient Angirasas were both Atharvans. In later stages we see the Angirasas distancing themselves from their Atharvan ancestry while the Bhrigus continuing with their ancestral Atharvan traditions such as Atharva Veda.


Atharva Veda (Samhita, Saunaka recension) contains 20 books or volumes. Each book contains several hymns. Each hymn contains several verses. Total number of hymns is 731 and total number of verses is 5987. Its structure resembles Rig Veda, with its 10 books, 1028 hymns and 10552 verses. The middle books from 8 to 18 contains lesser number of hymns. These hymns however are comparatively larger hymns containing 50 to 60 verses.

Table shown below describes the number of hymns in each book. This structure indicates that book 6 and 7 were the last books for one half of Atharva Veda (book 1 to 7) while book 19 and 20 served as the last books of the other half (book 8 to 20). It is possible that these two halves followed two distinct Atharvavedic traditions which was later merged together to form the single text. First half seems to be older than the second part.

Book Hymns
1 35
2 36
3 31
4 40
5 31
6 142
7 118 433
8 10
9 10
10 10
11 10
12 5
13 4
14 2
15 18
16 9
17 1
18 4
19 72
20 143 298
Total 731

Content, Subject and Focus

The contents or the subject and focus of Athara Veda is extremely varied as it acted as the basis for all the aspects of a parallel religion. It contains topics dealing with great philosophical questions like those in Rig Veda, inquiring about the nature of the universe and the ecosystem and yet it also contain topics dealing with magic and incantations used against opponents during rivalries. It is the oldest text dealing with medicine and has its own germ theory. It contains details of the rites performed by royalty from birth till coronation. It also has hymns describing a house holder's life and the rites performed in a house hold.


Atharva Veda contains mantras for white magic (defensive magic) as well as black magic (offensive magic). It deals with rivalries between women in relationship with the same man, rivalries between two men, attracting /seducing a man by a woman or a woman by a man and suggests incantations that can be used in such situations.


Atharva Veda describes several diseases, disease causing agents and the cures for these diseases. Cure includes herbal medicines / drugs used along with the specific mantras or incantations. The medicine system described in Atharva Veda is older than that found in Ayur Veda. Atharva-Vedic system of medicine is based on the theory of external disease causing agents and discusses little about the internal body mechanisms that works against diseases. In Ayurveda, on the other hand, we finds the emergence of a trihumoral theory, which describe the imbalance of three humors in the body leading to diseases, and seeks to restore this balance. However Ayurveda acknowldges that one of the several causes for humoral imbalances are the external agents which is described extensively in Atharva Veda. Thus there is no doubt Ayur Veda is developed on top of the Atharva Vedic system of medicine.


It seems, some of the practitioners of Atharva Vedic medicine also became experts in making poisons that were used in warfare. It was a practice to apply snake poisons and poisons derived from some plants on arrows which are then used in battles. Such arrows were often called Nagastras (snake arrows), or poisonous arrows. Such arrows occupied the collection of different types of arrows in the quiver of an accomplished archer.

Glimpses of Atharva Vedic Geography

From the preliminary analysis of the text, it is revealed that Atharva Veda was centered around the northern Saraswati region and later became the text of the shamans in the Kuru kingdom which got established to the east of Saraswati (in Hariyana). The Kuru city named Varanavati is mentioned in Atharva Veda. Most of its adherents belonged to the Brhigu line though it was originated when the Bhrigus and Angirasas were one family viz. the Atharvan family. Many verses describing about the curing of diseases end up in asking the disease causing germs to depart from the patient and infect people in the east (Magadhas, Angas) and in the west (Gandharis, Mujavans, Bahlikas). The Magadhas and Angas were found to be in Bihar in the east and the Gandharis (north-western Pakistan), Mujavans (Punjab and subsequently Afganistan) and Bahlikas (Punjab and subsequently Balkh, Afganistan) in the west. This clearly gives away the geography of the Atharva Veda (at least its middle and late period) as Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

Atharva Veda and Shamanism

Many of the hymns in Atharva Veda containing invocations to cure diseases or to ward of diseases and magical incantations to defend against evils done by enemies or to proactively attack evil-doers indicates a religion and philosophy which has its parallels in the Shamanic traditions in the whole world. Since Atharva Veda is the oldest text describing these practices and since it is still preserved without much modification, it is possible that Shamanic traditions worldwide have their origins in the Atharva Vedic religion. This could mean that the Shamaic traditions in Europe such as those in Ireland, Belgium etc could have its origins in the Atharva Vedic-homeland in Saraswati-Ganga basins. Similar traditions are also found in the southern India and in various pockets of central and eastern India.

This situation however can also be explained without a migration scenario. It is possible that the Shamanic traditions well preserved in Atharva Veda was one important part of the global Shamanic traditions that had already spread through out Asia, Africa and Europe during the early days of awakening of the human civilization.

Atharva Veda and Rig Veda

Comparing Atharva Veda and Rig Veda we find that the Rig Vedic religion was an advancement or a diversion from the Atharva Vedic religion and that its foundation was the Shamanic traditions described in Atharva Veda. Though initially part of the Atharva Vedic traditions, the Angirasa sages like the Bharadwajas and the Gautamas later focused more on Rig Veda and distanced themselves from Atharva Veda, while the Bhrigu sages continued their Atharva Vedic traditions. In a period of pre-history, when the Angirasas were dominant Vedic scholars, they positioned Atharva Veda as the fourth Veda, behind Rig Veda and its two associates viz the Yajur Veda and the Sama Veda.


In this site the frequency spectral analysis of Atharva Vedic nouns is done. A wiki for Atharva Veda, similar to those created for Rig Veda and Sama Veda is being constructed. A total of 1300 plus unique nouns in Atherva Veda is identified. This number is nearly equal to the number of nouns in Rig Veda. Thus, despite being half the size of Rig Veda, the vocabulary of Atharva Veda is as big as that of Rig Veda. The extend of divergence of Atharva Veda from Rig Veda also will be studied. This will give tremendous insight to the study of development of the Vedas, and as a result, to the study of the development of the human thought in its earliest stages.

Further Reading

Internal Articles

  1. Introduction to Atharva Veda
  2. Atharva Veda Nouns
  3. Atharva Veda Nouns-Part 2
  4. Atharva Veda Frequency Spectrum
  5. Atharva Veda Wiki
  6. Rig Veda
  7. Sama Veda
  8. Yajur Veda

External Sources

  1. Atharva Veda Sanskrit Unaccented Text - GRETIL
  2. Atharva Veda Sanskrit Accented Text - GRETIL
  3. Atharva Veda, English - Griffith (sacred-text) - Complete
  4. Atharva Veda, English - Bloomfield (sacred-text) - Incomplete
  5. Atharva Veda MP3 Audio - Astrojyoti - Best Quality, Complete
  6. Atharva Veda MP3 Audio - Gatewayforindia - Moderate Quality, Complete
  7. 19th Century Analysis of Atharva Veda
  8. Ancient Middle Eastern Religions

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