The idea that ‘the Rig Veda is the oldest book of mankind’ was first stated by Max Muller in the late 19th century. Sadly, such statements have since been accepted uncritically, even within some Arya Samaj circles. It is sad because this contradicts the age-old theist Indian conviction that all four of the Vedas were revealed to mankind when humans were first created by God. Each one of the four ‘books’ were revealed to four different humans.
The founder of the Arya Samaj movement, Svami Dayanand Sarsavati, expounds on the origin of the Vedas in his book Rigvedadibhashyabhumika, at the beginning of which he explains that God did not, however, produce the Vedas in the form of books in the beginning, but that ‘He revealed them to the consciousness of Agni, Vayu, Aditya and Angirasa’. Amongst the first humans, these were four rishis of such great merit that they were the most worthy of this honour. The author further cites the Shatapatha Brahamana XI. 5-8-3: that from them, when they meditated, were produced the three Vedas, viz., from Agni was produced the Rigveda, from Vayu, the Yajurveda, and from Surya the Samaveda. God inspired their consciousness and produced the Vedas through them….God gave them knowledge in the shape of the Vedas. Dayanand stresses this point to emphasize that these four did not compose the Vedas; he further writes:
The Samhitas are called Veda because all men know all true sciences in or through them, or because all true sciences exist in them, or because all true sciences exist in them, or because men become learned by studying them. The Samhitas are called
‘Shruti’ because from the beginning of creation to the present day Brahma and others have heard all true sciences read out of them. The Vedas, having been revealed by God who has no bodily organs, were never composed by a being having a corporeal body. God used Agni, Vayu, Aditya and Angirasa as His instruments only for revealing the Vedas….The Vedas are not the products of their minds. God, being possessed of perfect knowledge, the relations between the Vedic words and their meanings also were established by Him.
Dayanand then goes on to rationalise his assertion that this act of revelation took place over 1.96 billion years ago. So, in this sense it would be partially true to say that ‘the Rig Veda is the oldest book of mankind’. Two errors in this statement, however, are that (i) it suggests that the Rig preceded the other three Vedas which – as has been explained above – is not true, for all four Vedas were revealed simultaneously and (ii) the false notion that these four samhitas began life in the form of ‘books’ of paper with ink-pen writing. Obviously, at some point in history later on, this knowledge was written down into the form of books instead of it remaining solely imprinted in the memories of humans with unimaginably powerful intellects (even today wecan find men in India who are able to recite all 20000 mantras of the Vedas orally).
A third error implicit in Max Muller’s contention is that these books were written a few thousand years ago during the so-called Vedic era of India’s history. The case for debunking this as a myth now follows.
Textbooks of history used in schools in India even today teach that the people of India originate, racially, from an invasion of ‘Aryans’ into India over 3500 years ago – this version of history being a legacy left behind by the British rule over India for over two centuries. The evidence for this theory is based mainly on the work done by European archaeologists and linguists during the time of Britain’s domination of India as its colony. The theory of Indo-Aryan migration was proposed in mid-19th century by German linguist and Sanskrit scholar Max Muller who proposed that these invaders introduced the ‘Indo-European languages’ and the caste system into India.
It is admittedly biased to summarily and contemptuously dismiss, here, these theories (which are predicated on proffering fossils of chariot technology as evidence, amongst other, of such an invasion) as being totally false. However, an author as eminent as GK Chesterton penned the following indictment of archaeology not being an exact science: the case in the 1920’s in the USA when the finding of a fossilised tooth was heralded – with much media excitement – as more proof that man had descended from apes because the tooth had characteristics of both man and ape. However, in 1927 other parts of the skeleton were found – to reveal that this tooth was not that of `Nebraska Man’ but that of a pig!
Max Muller’s work will be critiqued later. Firstly, however, Svami Dayanand’s powerful objection in his 1883 book ‘Light of Truth’ must be reiterated: In no Sanskrit book – historical or otherwise – is it recorded that the Aryas emigrated here from Iran, fought with and conquered the aborigines, drove them out, and became the rulers of the country. How can then these statements of the foreigners be true? Why, indeed, did the Aryan invaders go to such lengths as to conceal or destroy all evidence of their origin in Central Asia? An analogy would be of there being, in three thousand years time, no surviving documentary evidence whatsoever, of the people of America today having emigrated there from Europe, in both those continents! Further, such a scenario would also require no evidence to survive of the virtual genocide of the indigenous American Indians by the European invaders. Why has no evidence emanated from Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan of such a migration? Would one not expect them to present such evidence – of their exporting to India of its rich Vedic civilisation – with justifiable nationalistic pride?
Modern – Western – historians are notably silent in addressing or rebutting these objections; this silence is positively deafening in light of the allegations, by the likes of De Riencourt, of disingenuity on Dayanand’s part. Two discrepancies that become clear are (i) why is there such an enormous difference in the interpretation of the Rig Veda between today’s historians and Dayanand and (ii) why are there similar differences in the account of Indian history by Dayanand, an Indian, and the version – accepted as true today – proposed by ‘visiting’ western historians and archaeologists?
A brief digression is warranted here. The explanation offered by the Occident for the paucity of historical documents to be found in India is that, somehow, a peculiar characteristic of the Indian psyche is to have no need or interest in history! Max Muller was not the first German to suggest this. One far more eminent, none other than the great German philosopher Hegel, remarked: ‘Its strikes everyone in beginning to form an acquaintance with the treasures of Indian literature, that a land so rich in intellectual products and those of the profoundest order of thought, has no History; and in this respect contrasts most strongly with China….’ [The fascinating fascination that Germany discovered for India 200 years ago is another story that Indians of today must reflect upon]. Amaury de Riencourt, in his 1960 book The Soul of India further develops this – quite preposterous – notion as elaborated on page 9 of that book – ‘With the arrival of the Aryan war bands, all historical evidence vanishes; script disappeared, and the wooden structures of the Aryans rotted away in time without leaving any traces. From the very first, the invaders manifested the most remarkable trait of Indian psychology: a complete, instinctive indifference to history and the preservation of historical records. The Aryans in India had no memory. And instead of historical treatises such as the Chinese have left to posterity , the Aryans left us myths – the transmutation of time-bound historical events into timeless tales in which fact and fancy are almost inextricably mixed.’
So, there we have it: Indians not only have a peculiarity in their make-up that precludes them from having a penchant for their own – or anyone else’s – history but are also asked to accept that it is necessary for foreigners to teach it to them.
Why, then, did Svami Dayanand devote well over a hundred pages in Chapter XI of the Light of Truth, a book primarily devoted Vedic theology and philosophy, to an examination of the history of India? Why were as many as six of the 50-odd lectures he delivered in Pune in 1875 devoted to history? One of these began: ‘Today’s topic is history. I shall talk about history in an orderly sequence. Itihaasa means itihaaso naama vrittam, that is, it is a narration of past events. It started since the creation and it continues today.’ What were the sources he used – or is it inferred that a man revered for his colossal integrity fabricated his version?
De Riencourt finds it necessary to disparage Dayanand’s book as a ‘bird’s-eye view of world history’ and describes his interpretation of the Vedas as ‘his narrow-minded superficial metaphysics’. Not mentioned at all is Dayanand’s simple explanation as to why the historical records in India have been decimated, that is, that they were destroyed by successive hostile ‘colonisers’ of India over a period of two millenia – beginning with the Buddhists and ending with the Islamic Mughals (and as is well-known today the British also seized literary records, amongst other things).
In debating which translation (Dayanand’s or Max Muller’s) of the Vedas should be believed, the starting point is that the Western world – and thus Indian text-books of history – accepts Max Muller’s contention that the compilation of the Vedas was started during the invasion of India by the Aryans circa 1500 BC and that their hymns, in the words of De Riencourt, ‘undoubtedly reflect the feelings of victorious and warlike barbarians.’
Dayanand translated (i) Rig Veda’s mantra 5:82.5 (Aum vishvaani deva savitur….) and (ii) God’s injunction in Rigveda 8-49-2 as follows:
(i) O, Omnipresent and benevolent Creator, disabuse us of our vices. Secure in us that which is for our betterment [God, O all-pervading kindest Creator, take away our evils (and) inculcate goodness in us].
(ii) Acquire duly the Dharma preached by me, which is quintessentially devoid of bias and partiality, and is truthful by definition.
Come together to give up all conflict, so that the best of your happiness may increase and all suffering may be destroyed.
Having met together, hold discussions; ask questions and answer them, lovingly. Avoid perverse reasoning such as sophistry, prejudiced and untrue arguments, so that noble qualities and true knowledge may forever increase amongst you.
Acquire wisdom to enable your minds to become replete with knowledge and always be filled with joy. Always follow Dharma and never practice Adharma. You should follow the same Dharma as has always been followed by learned, wise and impartial men -whether of past times or of the present age, that is, whether dead or living – maintaining a love for the preaching of the Divine Dharma.
They worshipped me as the Almighty and adorable God and followed the Dharma laid down by me. You also must do the same, so that you may know the Dharma inculcated by the Vedas and have no doubts about it.
Can these examples, indeed, be the work of Aryan savages? Is the quality of this wisdom not, at least, on a par with the highest echelons of European metaphysics? Alternatively, is it not far more plausible that Dayanand was correct in, echoing the message of India’s great ancient sages such as Patanjli, that God revealed the Vedas to the first humans He created?
An affirmative answer to that question, that is that the Vedas are of Divine Authorship and not the work of Aryan ‘bards’ imagined by the European colonist-missionary axis of the 18th and 19th centuries ,requires the presentation of further evidence to expose the notion of an Aryan invasion of India as being a fiction.
Vidhu Mayor, August 2014, Birmingham, UK.