Is modern Hindu dharma in agreement with the teachings of the Rig Veda?

The Rig Veda is supposedly a source text of Hindu Dharma. Yet given the archaic nature of the Rig Vedic Sanskrit and the complete absence of ancient commentaries there is confusion about what exactly the Rig Veda says. There are many claims made by scholars and many web sites about the Rig Veda. There is a campaign among certain circles that suggests that modern Hindu Dharma has taken a turn away from the Rig Vedic Dharma. I have compiled a number of Rig Vedic verses on a variety of topics that will hopefully shed light on this matter. Except for one case (Maha Mrityunjay mantra) all the Rig Vedic verses are from the Griffith translation. Some other Rig Vedic verses that are of additional interest are also included.

Visnu

16 The Gods be gracious unto us even from the place whence Viṣṇu strode
Through the seven regions of the earth!
17 Through all this world strode Viṣṇu; thrice his foot he planted, and the whole
Was gathered in his footstep’s dust.
18 Viṣṇu, the Guardian, he whom none deceiveth, made three steps; thenceforth
Establishing his high decrees.

Rig Veda I.22.16-18

Rudra

Help, thou who knowest lauds, this work, this eulogy to Rudra, him Adorable in every house.

Rig Veda I.27.10

Sūrya.

1.THE brilliant presence of the Gods hath risen, the eye of Mitra, Varuṇa and Agni.
The soul of all that moveth not or moveth, the Sun hath filled the air and earth and heaven.
2 Like as a young man followeth a maiden, so doth the Sun the Dawn, refulgent Goddess:
Where pious men extend their generations, before the Auspicious One for happy fortune.
3 Auspicious are the Sun’s Bay-coloured Horses, bright, changing hues, meet for our shouts of triumph.
Bearing our prayers, the sky’s ridge have they mounted, and in a moment speed round earth and heaven.
4 This is the Godhead, this might of Sūrya: he hath withdrawn what spread o’er work unfinished.
When he hath loosed his Horses from their station, straight over all Night spreadeth out her garment.
5 In the sky’s lap the Sun this form assumeth that Varuṇa and Mitra may behold it.
His Bay Steeds well maintain his power eternal, at one time bright and darksome at another.
6 This day, O Gods, while Sūrya is ascending, deliver us from trouble and dishonour.
This prayer of ours may Varuṇa grant, and Mitra, and Aditi and Sindhu, Earth and Heaven.

Rig Veda I.115

Role of Agni in Yajna

May we have power to kindle thee. Fulfil our thoughts. In thee the Gods eat the presented offering. Bring hither the Adityas, for we long for them. Let us not in thy friendship, Agni, suffer harm.

Rig Veda I.44.3

From thee a Bull but newly born, O Agni, the kindled everlasting flames rise upward. Aloft to heaven thy ruddy smoke ascendeth; Agni, thou speedest to the Gods as envoy.

Rig Veda VII.3.3

All Deities of one accord appointed thee their messenger; Thou, God, through hearing, hadst first claim to sacrifice.

Rig Veda VIII.23.18

On shishnadeva

No evil spirits have impelled us, Indra, nor fiends, O Mightiest God, with their devices. Let our true God subdue the hostile rabble; let not the lewd approach our holy worship.

Rig Veda VII.21.5

Comment: I have included this verse because there is some controversy about this verse. According to Radhakrishnan, Yaska thinks shisnadeva means unchaste people while many modern Sanskritists think that the word means ‘phallus worshippers’. Griffiths chose to translate it according to the ancient authority Yaska.

Soma that no one tastes

One thinks when they have brayed the plant, that he hath drunk the Soma’s juice;  Of him whom Brahmans truly know as Soma no one ever tastes.

Rig Veda X.85.3

Concealed wheel of Surya

The Brahmans, by their seasons, know, O Surya, those two wheels of thine;   One kept concealed, those who are skilled in highest truths have learned.

Rig Veda X.85.16

On temples

They deck the fleet steed for the bounteous giver; the maid adorns herself and waits to meet him. His home is like a lake with lotus blossoms, like the God’s palaces adorned and splendid.

Rig Veda X.107.10

What hath become of those our ancient friendships, when without enmity we walked together? I, Varuna, thou glorious lord, have entered thy lofty home, thine house with thousand portals.

Rig Veda VII.88.5

Comment: Rig Veda does talk of temples although it is widely believed it does not. Radhakrishnan thinks that only Rig Veda X.107.10 talks of temples.

On Reincarnation and Karma

Burn him not up, nor quite consume him, Agni: let not his body or his skin be scattered. O Jatavedas, when thou hast matured him, then send him on his way unto the Fathers.

When thou hast made him ready, Jatavedas, then do thou give him over to the Fathers. When he attains unto the life that waits him, he shall become Deities’ controller.

The Sun receive thine eye, the Wind thy spirit; go, as thy merit is, to earth or heaven. Go, if it be thy lot, unto the waters, go, make thine home in plants with all thy members.

Thy portion is the goat: with heat consume him: let thy fierce flame, thy glowing splendour, burn him. With thine auspicious forms, o Jatavedas, bear this man to the region of the pious.

Again, O Agni, to the Fathers send him who, offered in thee, goes with our oblations. Wearing new life let him increase his offspring: let him rejoin a body, Jatavedas.

Rig Veda X.16.1-5

Ancient of days, again again born newly, decking her beauty with the self-same raiment. The Goddess wastes away the life of mortals, like a skilled hunter cutting birds in pieces.

Rig Veda I.92.10

Comment: People like Zakir Naik claim that there is no talk of Reincarnation in the Rig Veda. As the above verses show the elements of reincarnation are in fact there.

Indra recalls his previous births

I WAS aforetime Manu, I was Sūrya: I am the sage Kakṣīvān, holy singer.
Kutsa the son of Ārjuni I master. I am the sapient Uśanā behold me.

Rig Veda IV.26.1

Good karma leads to heaven and others go to worlds presided by yama

The Sun receive thine eye, the Wind thy spirit; go, as thy merit is, to earth or heaven. Go, if it be thy lot, unto the waters, go, make thine home in plants with all thy members.

Rig Veda X.16.3

May I attain to that his well-loved  mansion where men devoted to the Gods are happy. For there springs, close akin to the Wide-Strider, the well of meath in Visnu’s highest footstep.

Rig Veda I.154.5

Yama first found for us a place to dwell in: this pasture never can be taken from us. Men born on earth tread their own paths that lead them whither our ancient Fathers have departed.

Rig Veda X.14.2

Comment: The concept of Karma is there in the Rig Veda.

On Yoga

The might which Usana hath formed for thee with might rends in its greatness and with strength both worlds apart. O Hero-souled, the steeds of Vata, yoked by thought, have carried thee to fame while thou art filled with power.

Rig Veda I.51.10

Slayer of Vrtra, mount thy car, thy Bay Steeds have been yoked by prayer. May, with its voice, the pressing stone draw thine attention hitherward.

Rig Veda I.84.3

Comment: There is a persistent effort in some circles to claim that Yoga came into Hinduism from Buddhism and Jainism. However the idea that something can be yoked by thought or prayer is there in the Rig Vedas.

Unity in diversity

Aditi is the heaven, Aditi is mid-air, Aditi is the Mother and the Sira and Son. Aditi is all Gods. Aditi five-classed men. Aditi all that hath been born and shall be born.

Rig Veda I.89.10

They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, and he is heavenly nobly-winged Garutman. To what is one, sages give many a title. They call it Agni, Yama, Matarisvan.

Rig Veda I.164.46

Three concealed divisions of Speech

Speech hath been measured out in four divisions, the Brahmans who have understanding know them. Three kept in close concealment cause no motion; of speech, men speak only the fourth division.

Rig Veda I.164.45

Comment: This idea is basic in Mantra Sastra.

Atman

4 Who hath beheld him as he sprang to being, seen how the boneless One supports the bony?
Where is the blood of earth, the life, the spirit? Who may approach the man who knows, to ask it?

Rig Veda I.164.4

Two birds on the same tree

20 Two Birds with fair wings, knit with bonds of friendship, in the same sheltering tree have found a refuge.
One of the twain eats the sweet Fig-tree’s fruitage; the other eating not regardeth only.

Rig Veda I.164.20

The tree whereon the fine Birds eat the sweetness, where they all rest and procreate their offspring, – Upon its top they say the fig is luscious; none gaineth it who knoweth not the Father.

Rig Veda I.164.22

Comment: This idea is there in the Upanishads.

Prayer for race of Bharatas

12 Praises to Indra have I sung, sustainer of this earth and heaven. This prayer of Viśvāmitra keeps secure the race of Bharatas.

Rig Veda III.53.12

24 These men, the sons of Bhārata, O Indra, regard not severance or close connexion.
They urge their own steed as it were another’s, and take him, swift as the bow’s string, to battle.

Rig Veda III.53.24

Memorising hymns useless

39 Upon what syllable of holy praise-song, as twere their highest heaven, the Gods repose them,—
Who knows not this, what will he do with praise-song? But they who know it well sit here assembled

Rig Veda I.164.39

Gayatri Mantra

Om bhoor bhuvah svah;

tat savitur varanyam;

bhargo dayvasya dheemahi;

dhiyo ya nah prachoda-yat;

Rig Veda III.62.10

Maha Mrityunjay Mantra

We worship the Father of the Three Worlds (Tryambaka), the granter of prosperity. As a cucumber from it’s stem, so may I be liberated from Death, not deprived of Immortal Life.

Rig Veda Vii.59.12

Ganga

Brbu hath set himself above the Panis, o’er their highest head. Like the wide bush on Ganga’s bank.

Rig Veda VI.45.31

Comment: If Aryans migrating from outside India had only reached Punjab when these songs appeared then how can Ganga be mentioned?

Pratima Puja

In every figure he hath been the mode; this is his only form for us to look on. Indra moves multiform by his illusions; for his Bay Steeds are yoked, ten times a hundred.

Rig Veda VI.47.18

Comment: Basic elements of Murti or Pratima Puja is there in the Rig Veda itself. The idea that a Devata can enter every figure and has many forms allows one to do Murti puja.

Virtue

Bonds of the sinner, they bear many nooses; the wicked mortal hardly may escape them. Varuna-Mitra, may your path of order [truth] bear us o’er trouble as a boat o’er waters.

Rig Veda VII.65.3

Puja or worship

Famed for thy radiance, worshipped well this juice is shed for they delight. Thou art invoked, Akhandala!

Rig Veda VIII.17.12

Vak

10 When, uttering words which no one comprehended, Vāk, Queen of Gods, the Gladdener, was seated,
The heaven’s four regions drew forth drink and vigour: now whither hath her noblest portion vanished?
11 The Deities generated Vāk the Goddess, and animals of every figure speak her.
May she, the Gladdener, yielding food and vigour, the Milch-cow Vāk, approach us meetly lauded.

Rig Veda VIII.89.10-11

I breathe a strong breath like the wind and tempest, the while I hold together all existence. Beyond this wide earth and beyond the heavens I have become so mighty in my grandeur.

Rig Veda X.125.8

Comment: Goddess as Vak appears in the Rig Veda itself.

Man-consuming birds

22 Bound fast to, every tree the cow is lowing, and thence the man-consuming birds are flying,
Then all this world, though pressing juice for Indra and strengthening the Ṛṣi, is affrighted.

Rig Veda X.27.22

Nadi Stuti (Praise to Rivers)

5 Favour ye this my laud, O Gangā, Yamunā, O Sutudri, Paruṣṇī and Sarasvatī:
With Asikni, Vitasta, O Marudvrdha, O Ārjīkīya with Susoma hear my call.
6 First with Trstama thou art eager to flow forth, with Rasā, and Susartu, and with Svetya here,
With Kubha; and with these, Sindhu and Mehatnu, thou seekest in thy course Krumu and Gomati.

Rig Veda X.75.5-6

Existence from Nonexistence

  1. LET US with tuneful skill proclaim these generations of the Gods,
    That one may see them when these hymns are chanted in a future age.
    2 These Brahmaṇaspati produced with blast and smelting, like a Smith,
    Existence, in an earlier age of Gods, from Non-existence sprang.
    3 Existence, in the earliest age of Gods, from Non-existence sprang.
    Thereafter were the regions born. This sprang from the Productive Power.

Rig Veda X.72.1-3

Liberality

  1. THE Gods have not ordained hunger to be our death: even to the well-fed man comes death in varied shape.
    The riches of the liberal never waste away, while he who will not give finds none to comfort him.
    2 The man with food in store who, when the needy comes in miserable case begging for bread to eat,
    Hardens his heart against him-even when of old he did him service-finds not one to comfort him.
    3 Bounteous is he who gives unto the beggar who comes to him in want of food and feeble.
    Success attends him in the shout of battle. He makes a friend of him in future troubles.
    4 No friend is he who to his friend and comrade who comes imploring food, will offer nothing.
    Let him depart-no home is that to rest in-, and rather seek a stranger to support him.
    5 Let the rich satisfy the poor implorer, and bend his eye upon a longer pathway.
    Riches come now to one, now to another, and like the wheels of cars are ever rolling.
    6 The foolish man wins food with fruitless labour: that food -I speak the truth- shall be his ruin.
    He feeds no trusty friend, no man to love him. All guilt is he who eats with no partaker.
    7 The ploughshare ploughing makes the food that feeds us, and with its feet cuts through the path it follows.
    Better the speaking than the silent Brahman: the liberal friend out yalues him who gives not.
    8 He with one foot hath far outrun the biped, and the two-footed catches the three-footed.
    Four-footed creatures come when bipeds call them, and stand and look where five are met together.
    9 The hands are both alike: their labour differs. The yield of sister milch-kine is unequal.
    Twins even differ in their strength and vigour: two, even kinsmen, differ in their bounty.

Rig Veda 10.117

Comment: Christian missionaries and western scholars have claimed that Hindus never developed the idea of helping others. The idea that one must serve others is there in the Rig Veda itself.

Hiranyagarbha, Lord of Death

  1. IN the beginning rose Hiranyagarbha, born Only Lord of all created beings.
    He fixed and holdeth up this earth and heaven. What God shall we adore with our oblation?
    2 Giver of vital breath, of power and vigour, he whose commandments all the Gods acknowledge -.
    The Lord of death, whose shade is life immortal. What God shall we adore with our oblation?
    3 Who by his grandeur hath become Sole Ruler of all the moving world that breathes and slumbers;
    He who is Lord of men and Lord of cattle. What God shall we adore with our oblation?
    4 His, through his might, are these snow-covered mountains, and men call sea and Rasā his possession:
    His arms are these, his are these heavenly regions. What God shall we adore with our oblation?
    5 By him the heavens are strong and earth is stedfast, by him light’s realm and sky-vault are supported:
    By him the regions in mid-air were measured. What God shall we adore with our oblation?
    6 To him, supported by his help, two armies embattled look while trembling in their spirit,
    When over them the risen Sun is shining. What God shall we adore with our oblation?
    7 What time the mighty waters came, containing the universal germ, producing Agni,
    Thence sprang the Gods’ one spirit into being. What God shall we adore with our oblation?
    8 He in his might surveyed the floods containing productive force and generating Worship.
    He is the God of gods, and none beside him. What God shall we adore with our oblation?
    9 Neer may he harm us who is earth’s Begetter, nor he whose laws are sure, the heavens’ Creator,
    He who brought forth the great and lucid waters. What God shall we adore with our oblation?
    10 Prajāpati! thou only comprehendest all these created things, and none beside thee.
    Grant us our hearts’ desire when we invoke thee: may we have store of riches in possession.

Rig Veda X.121

Creation

  1. THEN was not non-existent nor existent: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it.
    What covered in, and where? and what gave shelter? Was water there, unfathomed depth of water?
    2 Death was not then, nor was there aught immortal: no sign was there, the day’s and night’s divider.
    That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was nothing whatsoever.
    3 Darkness there was: at first concealed in darkness this All was indiscriminated chaos.
    All that existed then was void and form less: by the great power of Warmth was born that Unit.
    4 Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire, the primal seed and germ of Spirit.
    Sages who searched with their heart’s thought discovered the existent’s kinship in the non-existent.
    5 Transversely was their severing line extended: what was above it then, and what below it?
    There were begetters, there were mighty forces, free action here and energy up yonder
    6 Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation?
    The Gods are later than this world’s production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?
    7 He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,
    Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.

Rig Veda X.129

Muni

The Munis. girdled with the wind, wear garments soiled with yellow hue. They, following the wind’s swift course go where the Gods have gone before.

Rig Veda X.136.2

Comment: Munis wearing saffron cloth are mentioned in the Rig Veda. This contradicts the claims made by modern scholars that monks arose from the Shramanic, (i.e. Buddhist and Jaina) tradition.

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3 Replies to “Is modern Hindu dharma in agreement with the teachings of the Rig Veda?”

  1. Vedas are full of symbolism. Rg-Vedas use four languages of Asat, Sat, Yajna (images & sacrifices) and embodied (Rta) vison (Dhih). In Vedas we see war between chaos and cosmos and also a way to achieve transcendental harmony. In short Vedas gives us architecture/blue print for continuity and innovation at individual, social, cultural and various other levels to attain goal to know ‘The One Reality’. ‘That One’ which later became the central goal of the teaching of Upanishad, Bhagavat Gita. All these teaching starting from Vedas are for humanity to achieve blissfulness, freedom while creating new harmonious world.

    I believe as per Hindu Dharma spiritual life is not different from one’s social, cultural, individual, economic, political etc. Do we see movement to sort of sat(truth) from asat (chaos) and using concept of sacrifice (yajna) to achieve harmony with creative imagination using principles of Rta which also means Dharma?

    We all know that our individual, social, cultural life is neither perfect nor complete but Hindu dharma is equated with changing things?

    Who is a Hindu is identified as someone other than who is not a Hindu based on rituals, culture etc?

    Regards,
    Raju

  2. Here are some additional explanations as I understand how Hindu Dharma though in agreement had deviated from the principles of Rig-Veda the past. In modern times Sri Ramakrishna -Swami Vivekananda Movement is bringing back the Hindu Dharma that is in tune with spirit and principles of Rig-Veda.

    Sri Ramakrishna -Swami Vivekananda Movement:

    Sri Ramakrishna practiced Bhakati, Tantraic, Advatic methods and attained realization. He also practiced Christian discipline and Sufi discipline that put two on the firm pedestal of absolute authenticity. He was alien to no spiritual tradition and sincere followers of every cult, religion, sect and philosophy find in him a teacher and friendly guide to their own persuasion.

    Swami Vivekananda purified and perfected various yoga. There is both conservation and preservation of older principles. Here are some examples

    Janana yoga in older formulations was coupled with sannyasa and renunciation. He accepted the principles but breathed into sannyasa a fresh, positive meaning. It was not mere renunciation but renunciation and service.

    New version of Karama yoga no longer signified ritual action or mere conformity to the conventional code of morals. The concept of Svadharma was extracted from conservative varanadharma based on mere birth and tradition. Karama in its new significance means humanitarian action in accordance with one’s aptitude and ability and disinterestedness becomes the criteria for evaluating inherited customs and traditions. Karama no longer means uncomplaining submission to the existing social order.

    Similarly, the essence of Bhakti yoga is love sublime. But in the past, it had degenerated into fanaticism, sectarianism, cults. It had also become sentimentalism and emotionalism giving rise to self-abasement. In Swami Vivekananda’s formulations of Bhakti movement all its intensity is maintained but there is a liberating universality as object of devout adoration is conceived in utmost catholicity of spirit.

    Raja-yoga was earlier got mixed up with occultism and mystery mongering and had become the arena of superstitions and miracles. Swami Vivekananda set forth its principles in all their scientific and philosophical purity and demonstrated its supreme function in practical spirituality.

    He lays down the principal that reason must not be contradicted in Vedanta. Reason the principal pathway of philosophy. We owe to him the thunderous deceleration “As long as there is a single dog starving, the whole of my spirituality lies in finding for it’

    Adapted from: Vedanta A New Interpretation by Prof S S Raghavachar, Sri Ramkrishna Math

    Hindu Dharma vs Hindu Panth:
    The word ‘secular’ was explicitly inserted into the preamble of the Constitution through the 42nd amendment, care was taken to translate it in its Hindi version not as ‘Dharma-nirpeksha’, but ‘Panth-nirpeksha’: this is because in Indian linguistic usage, the term ‘dharma’ stands not for a religious doctrine, dogma or faith system, but for the ‘inherent nature’ of things, or for law.

    Regards,
    Rajendra

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