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General Studies 1 >> Ancient Indian History

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1. Context
Taking forward the research to potentially establish a relationship between the Harappan civilisation and the people of the Vedic age, a group of archaeologists are now collaborating with Sanskrit scholars to decipher the text of the Rigveda.
2. What is Rig Veda?
  • The Rig Veda, one of the oldest and most important texts in the Hindu tradition, is a collection of ancient Indian hymns
  • The Rig Veda is one of the four Vedas, which are foundational texts in Hinduism. The other three are the Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda.
  • In Hinduism, the Rigveda is regarded as one of the four sacred Vedic texts. It was composed in an ancient form of Sanskrit around 1500 BCE in what is now the Punjab region of India and Pakistan.
  • The Rigveda Samhita reflects the depth of canonical literature, consisting of nearly a thousand hymns or sūktas and thousands of poems, organized into ten mandalas or books.
  • While the Rigveda primarily contains hymns and lyrics that praise and honor various deities, it also includes philosophical and thought-provoking content that addresses contemporary societal issues.
  • The collection remains sacred and highly significant in Hindu culture, setting the standard for future religious literature. Notably, the Purusha Sukta, which discusses the origin of the caste system, is found in the Rigveda
3. Origin of Rig Veda
  • The original Rigveda texts are in the Sharada and Devanagari scripts, written on birch bark and paper. Comprising ten mandalas (books) and 1,028 hymns, the Rig Veda is the oldest known Veda.
  • Its hymns praise deities like Agni, Indra, Mitra, Varuna, and others. It includes the famous Purusha Sukta, which explains the creation of the four varnas—Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra—from the Creator's mouth, arms, thighs, and feet, respectively.
  • The Rig Veda also contains the renowned Gayatri mantra (Savitri). The exact date of the Rigveda's first written compilation is unknown, but the oldest manuscripts, discovered in Nepal, are estimated to date back to around 1040 CE
4.Classification of Rig Veda

The Rig Veda, one of the most ancient and revered texts in Hinduism, is organized in a highly structured manner. Here is a detailed classification of the Rig Veda:


  • Mandalas (Books):

    • The Rig Veda is divided into ten mandalas or books.
    • Each mandala varies in length and content, containing hymns (sūktas) that are further divided into verses (ṛc).
  • Sūktas (Hymns):

    • There are a total of 1,028 hymns in the Rig Veda.
    • These hymns are composed in praise of various deities and natural phenomena.
  • Verses (ṛc):

    • The hymns are made up of a total of about 10,600 verses.
    • Each verse follows a specific metrical pattern and rhythm.

Types of Mandalas

  • Family Books (Mandalas 2-7):

    • These are the oldest and most significant mandalas.
    • Each of these books is attributed to a particular rishi (sage) or his family, such as the Gritsamada family for Mandala 2 and the Vasishtha family for Mandala 7.
  • Mandalas 1 and 10:

    • These are the latest additions to the Rig Veda and contain a mixture of hymns from different periods and authors.
    • Mandala 1 serves as an introductory book, while Mandala 10 contains more philosophical hymns, including the Purusha Sukta and the Nasadiya Sukta (Creation Hymn).
  • Mandalas 8 and 9:

    • Mandala 8 is diverse, containing hymns from various authors.
    • Mandala 9 is unique in that it is entirely dedicated to the Soma ritual, addressing hymns to Soma, the sacred ritual drink.

Content Classification

  1. Deity-Based Classification:

    • Hymns are primarily dedicated to different deities such as Agni (fire god), Indra (warrior god), Varuna (sky god), Mitra (god of friendship), and the Ashvins (twin horsemen).
    • Some hymns are also dedicated to natural phenomena like the sun (Surya) and dawn (Ushas).
  2. Ritual Classification:

    • Many hymns are intended for specific rituals and ceremonies, such as the Agnihotra (fire offering) and Soma sacrifices.
    • These hymns guide the performance of rituals and the invocation of deities.
  3. Philosophical and Cosmological Hymns:

    • Certain hymns explore deeper philosophical and cosmological questions, such as the origin of the universe and the nature of existence.
    • Notable examples include the Nasadiya Sukta (Hymn of Creation) and the Purusha Sukta.
  4. Secular Hymns:

    • A few hymns deal with secular themes such as marriage, travel, and the daily life of the Vedic people.

Linguistic and Metrical Classification

  • Vedic Sanskrit:

    • The language of the Rig Veda is an early form of Sanskrit known as Vedic Sanskrit.
    • It is distinct from Classical Sanskrit and includes archaic forms and structures.
  • Meter (Chandas):

    • The hymns are composed in various meters, with the most common being the Gayatri, Anushtubh, Trishtubh, and Jagati.
    • Each meter has a specific number of syllables and a unique rhythmic pattern.

Manuscript Tradition

  • Sharada and Devanagari Scripts:

    • The Rig Veda has been preserved in various scripts, primarily Sharada and Devanagari.
    • Manuscripts are written on birch bark and paper.
  • Oldest Manuscripts:

    • The oldest known manuscripts of the Rig Veda were found in Nepal and date back to around 1040 CE
5. Major Hymns of Rig Veda

The Rig Veda, one of the oldest and most revered texts in Hinduism, contains numerous hymns dedicated to various deities and natural phenomena. Here are some of the major hymns of the Rig Veda:

Purusha Sukta (Hymn of the Cosmic Being)

  • Found in Mandala 10, Hymn 90, the Purusha Sukta is one of the most famous hymns of the Rig Veda.
  • It describes the cosmic sacrifice of Purusha, the primal being, from whose body the universe is said to have been created.
  • The hymn provides a cosmological explanation of the origins of the universe and the varna system (social classes).

Nasadiya Sukta (Hymn of Creation)

  • Also known as the Hymn of Creation, it is found in Mandala 10, Hymn 129.
  • This hymn explores the mystery of creation, questioning the origins of the universe and the forces that brought it into existence.
  • It presents a philosophical inquiry into the nature of reality and the limitations of human understanding.

Agni Sukta (Hymn to Agni)

  • Agni, the god of fire, is a prominent deity in the Rig Veda, and numerous hymns are dedicated to him.
  • The Agni Sukta praises Agni's various forms and attributes, highlighting his importance in Vedic rituals and as a mediator between humans and the gods.

Indra Sukta (Hymn to Indra)

  • Indra, the king of the gods and the god of thunder and rain, is celebrated in several hymns of the Rig Veda.
  • The Indra Sukta extols Indra's heroic deeds, his victory over the demon Vritra, and his role as a protector of the cosmos.

Surya Namaskara (Hymn to the Sun)

  • The Rig Veda contains hymns dedicated to Surya, the sun god, praising his life-giving warmth and illumination.
  • The Surya Namaskara hymn expresses reverence for the sun and acknowledges its central role in sustaining life on earth.

Vishnu Sukta (Hymn to Vishnu)

  • Vishnu, one of the principal deities of Hinduism, is mentioned in several hymns of the Rig Veda.
  • The Vishnu Sukta glorifies Vishnu's divine qualities and his cosmic role as the preserver and sustainer of the universe.

Saraswati Sukta (Hymn to Saraswati)

  • Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, music, and the arts, is venerated in the Rig Veda for her wisdom and creative powers.
  • The Saraswati Sukta praises Saraswati's blessings and invokes her guidance for seekers of knowledge and inspiration.
6.Rig Veda Facts for UPSC Exam
  • The Rig Veda is one of the oldest known texts in the world, dating back to around 1500 BCE to 1200 BCE.
  • It originated in the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent, particularly in the area that is now Punjab, India, and parts of Pakistan.
  • The Rig Veda is written in an early form of Sanskrit known as Vedic Sanskrit.
  • The text is preserved in two major scripts: Sharada and Devanagari.
  • The Rig Veda is organized into ten mandalas or books.
  • It contains a total of 1,028 hymns (suktas) and approximately 10,600 verses (ṛc).
  • The hymns of the Rig Veda are primarily dedicated to various deities and natural forces, including Agni (fire god), Indra (warrior god), Varuna (sky god), and Surya (sun god).
  • The Rig Veda also contains philosophical hymns, such as the Purusha Sukta (Hymn of the Cosmic Being) and the Nasadiya Sukta (Hymn of Creation).
  • The Rig Veda is one of the foundational texts of Hinduism and is considered sacred by Hindus worldwide.
  • It serves as the basis for many religious rituals, prayers, and philosophical concepts in Hinduism.
  • The hymns of the Rig Veda continue to be recited and studied for their spiritual and literary significance.
  • While the Rig Veda was initially transmitted orally through generations, it was later written down in manuscripts.
  • The oldest known manuscripts of the Rig Veda were discovered in Nepal and are estimated to date back to around 1040 CE.
  • The Rig Veda provides valuable insights into the social, cultural, and religious practices of ancient Vedic society.
  • It has influenced various aspects of Indian culture, including language, literature, music, and philosophy.
For Prelims: Rig Veda, Indus Valley Civilisation, Samaveda
Source: The Hindu

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