The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis

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The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis
Author Shrikant G. Talageri
Country India
Language English
Subject Aryan invasion theory
Genre History
Publisher Aditya Prakashan
Publication date
ISBN Script error: No such module "template wrapper".
OCLC 44167583
294.5/9212046 21
LC Class BL1112.56 .T35 2000
The chronological positions of some major RSis. Asterisks indicate the first RSi from whom the family originated.
River-names when the MaNDalas are arranged in their chronological order
ST RV Img22.jpg
ST RV Img23.jpg

The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis is a book by Shrikant G. Talageri. It was published by Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi (India) in 2000. It is a contribution to the "Aryan invasion debate" which was taking place in Hindu nationalism at the time. The book gives Talageri's examination and interpretation of the Rig Veda. In the eighth chapter Talageri discusses the interpretations of the Rig Veda Vedantic thinkers such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak, B. R. Ambedkar, Vivekananda, Dayananda Sarasvati and Aurobindo. In the ninth chapter he gives a critique of Michael Witzel's interpretation of the structure and the history depicted by the Rig Veda.[1] Witzel responded in a later review while the debate was reviewed by Koenraad Elst in his book "Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate" (1999; ISBN 81-86471-77-4).[2]

Talageri mentions as influences Bhargava’s book (India in the Vedic Age: A History of Expansion in India by Purushottam Lal Bhargava), Rahurkar’s book, “Seers of the Rigveda,”, F. Pargiter and others.



Talageri argues that the Indo-Iranian Airyanem Vaejah lies in Kashmir. He states that the Indo-Iranians migrated from there to the Punjab and later to Central Asia. According to Talageri, the Rigvedic Aryans lived in Haryana, from where they migrated to the Sarasvati River region, and then westward to Iran and Europe.[1]

  • The actual data in the Rigveda shows that they were in fact inhabitants of the area to the east of the Punjab, traditionally known as AryAvarta. The Punjab was only the western peripheral area of their activity.
  • In the Early period, right from pre-Rigvedic times to the time of SudAs, the Vedic Aryans were settled in the area to the east of the Punjab: MaNDala VI knows of no river to the west of the SarasvatI.
  • However, in the MaNDalas and upa-maNDalas following MaNDala VI, we find a steady movement westwards: a. MaNDala III refers to the first two rivers of the Punjab from the east: the SutudrI and the VipAS. b. MaNDala VII refers to the next two rivers of the Punjab from the east: the ParuSNI and AsiknI. c. The middle upa-maNDalas of MaNDala I contain the first reference to the Indus, but none to the rivers west of the Indus. d. MaNDala IV contains the first references to rivers west of the Indus.

The only place-name from Afghanistan that we find in the Rigveda is “GandhArI”, and this name occurs only once in the whole of the Rigveda: in the general and late upa-maNDalas of MaNDala I (I.126.7). But, the name is also found indirectly in the name of a divine class of beings associated with GandhAra, the gandharvas.... As we can see, the gandharvas are referred to in 20 verses in 16 hymns, and all except one of these references are in the very latest parts of the Rigveda: MaNDalas VIII, IX and X, and the general and late upa-maNDalas of MaNDala I. The one reference in an early MaNDala (III.38.6) is not even an exception which proves the general rule, it is in itself strong corroboration of the late provenance of the gandharvas in the Rigveda: III.38 is one of the six hymns (III.21, 30, 34, 36, 38-39) which are specifically named in the Aitareya BrAhmaNa (VI.18) as being late interpolations into MaNDala III. As we saw in an earlier chapter, these hymns have been incorporated into MaNDala III in the eight-MaNDala stage of the Rigveda, and are contemporaneous with the hymns in MaNDala VIII.

  • it is, for example, significant that detailed evidence of agricultural development appears only in a late hymn of the Middle Period of the RV– i.e. post-2700 BC as per my publicized time-table – in hymn 4.58 (Talageri 2001)
  • Again, as per our theory, the Vedic Aryans were the PUrus of traditional history. While confirming this, the actual data in the Rigveda narrows down the identity of the particular Vedic Aryans of the Rigvedic period to a section from among the PUrus - the Bharatas.
  • The Vedic Aryans were not the ultimate ancestors of the different tribes and peoples found in the Sanskrit texts: they were in fact just one of these tribes and peoples. They have a definite historical identity: the Vedic Aryans were the PUrus of the ancient texts. And, in fact, the particular Vedic Aryans of the Rigveda were one section among these PUrus, who called themselves Bharatas.
  • F.E. Pargiter, the eminent western analyst of India’s traditional history, came close to making this identification when he remarked that “the bulk of the Rigveda was composed in the great development of Brahmanism that arose under the successors of king Bharata who reigned in the upper Ganges-Jumna doab and plain”.1 And when he noted, in referring to the kings identified in the PurANas as the kings of North PañcAla, that “they and their successors are the kings who play a prominent part in the Rigveda”.
  • The references to the PUrus, on the other hand, make it very clear that the PUrus, and in particular the Bharatas among them, are the Vedic Aryans, the People of the Book in the literal sense.

On the chronology of the Rigveda[edit]

Talageri gives also his views on unsettled topics like the chronological order of the Mandalas. Differing from mainstream scholars, Talageri's order for the earliest seven Mandalas is as follows: 6, 3, 7, 4, 2, 5 and 8, or: Early period – Books 6,3,7 early I: 3400 – 2600 BCE; Middle period – Books 4,2, middle 1: 2600–2200 BCE; Late period – Books 5,8,9,10, rest of 1: 2200-1400 BCE.[1]

  • Regarding the chronology of these MaNDalas, only two facts are generally recognised: 1. The six Family MaNDalas II-VII form the oldest core of the Rigveda. 2. The two serially last MaNDalas of the Rigveda, IX and X, are also the chronologically last MaNDalas in that order.
  • The chronological picture that we obtain, jointly and severally, in other words unanimously, from all these angles is that the chronological order of the MaNDalas is: VI, III, VII, IV, II, V, VIII, IX, X (The upa-maNDalas of MaNDala I covering the periods of MaNDalas IV, II, V, VIII).
  • There is a general consensus among the scholars that the six Family MaNDalas, II-VII, formed the original core of the Rigveda, and the four non-family MaNDalas, I and VIII-X, were added to the corpus later.
  • The Family MaNDalas were formulated into a text before the addition of the non-family MaNDalas, and the criterion for their arrangement was not chronology, but size: MaNDala II is the smallest of the Family MaNDalas with 429 verses, while MaNDala VII is the biggest with 841 verses. The number of verses in the six Family MaNDalas is, respectively: 429, 617, 589, 727, 765, 841.
  • The chronological order of the MaNDalas, as we saw, is: VI, III, VII, IV, II, V, VIII, IX, X, with the chronological period of MaNDala I spread out over the periods of at least four other MaNDalas (IV, II, V, VIII).
  • The family MaNDalas can be divided into Early Family MaNDalas (VI, III, VII) and Later Family MaNDalas (IV, II, V).
  • Early Family MaNDalas (VI, III, VII). The Early Period: The period of MaNDalas VI, III, VII and the early upa-maNDalas of MaNDala 1.
    • VI . MaNDala VI is the oldest of the Early Family MaNDalas, since descendants of its RSis are composers in two of the Later Family MaNDalas: IV and II.
    • III
    • VII. MaNDala VII is the latest of the Early Family MaNDalas since (unlike MaNDalas VI and III which do not have a single hymn composed by any descendant of any RSi from any other MaNDala) there are two joint hymns (VII.101-102) which are jointly composed by VasiSTha and KumAra Agneya (a member of the Agneya group of BharadvAja RSis), a descendant of BharadvAja of MaNDala VI.
  • Later Family MaNDalas (IV, II, V). The Middle Period: The period of MaNDalas IV and II and the middle upa-maNDalas of MaNDala I; as also the earlier part of the general upa-maNDalas of MaNDala I.
    • The Later Family MaNDalas have full hymns composed by direct descendants of RSis from the Early Family MaNDalas.
    • IV. MaNDala IV is older than MaNDala II because: a. It has only two hymns composed by descendants of RSis from MaNDala VI, while the whole of MaNDala II except for four hymns is composed by descendants of RSis from MaNDala VI. b. MaNDala II goes one generation further down than MaNDala IV.
    • II
    • V. MaNDala V is the latest of the Later Family MaNDalas, since it has hymns by descendants of RSis from two of the Early Family MaNDalas: III and VII. MaNDala V, as we saw, has hymns by descendants of RSis from two of the Early Family MaNDalas: III and VII. In addition, it also has a hymn by descendants of a RSi who (although not himself a composer) is contemporaneous with MaNDala VII: hymn V.24 is composed by the GaupAyanas who are descendants of Agastya, the brother of VasiSTha of MaNDala VII.
  • I. MaNDala I is later than the Early Family MaNDalas, but both earlier than as well as contemporary to the Later Family MaNDalas.
  • The Late Period:
    • a. The period of MaNDalas V and VIII and the late upa-maNDalas of MaNDala I; as also the later part of the general upa-maNDalas of MaNDala I.
    • b. The period of MaNDala IX.
  • VIII. On the other hand, not only are there close relationships between the composers of MaNDala VIII, and the composers from MaNDalas I and V, but there are also many composers in common.
  • IX. It is therefore clear that MaNDala IX is a late MaNDala, and that there was not much of “combing out” of hymns to Soma from earlier MaNDalas in the process of its compilation. The chronological position of MaNDala IX after the eight earlier MaNDalas is therefore certain.
  • The Final Period: The period of MaNDala X.

The process of formation of the Rigveda took place in four stages.

  • 1. The Six-MaNDala Rigveda: The Family MaNDalas.
  • 2. The Eight-MaNDala Rigveda: MaNDalas I-VIII.
a. Major interpolations: III.21, 30, 34, 36, 38-39.
b. Minor interpolations: References to TRkSi Kings in older MaNDalas.
c. Introductions: Old BhRgu hymns included in the Rigveda in MaNDala VIII.
  • 3. The Nine-MaNDala Rigveda: MaNDalas I-IX.
Major interpolations: The VAlakhilya hymns VIII. 49-59.
  • 4. The Ten MaNDala Rigveda: MaNDalas 1-X.
a. Minor interpolations: (not specifiable here)
b. Minor adjustments: Splitting and combining of hymns to produce symmetrical numbers (191 hymns each in MaNDalas I and X) or astronomically or ritually significant numbers and sequences
  • And the chronological and geographical picture Witzel reconstructs from this data places the six Family MaNDalas in the following order: II, IV, V, VI, III, VII. Among the non-family MaNDalas, he counts MaNDala VIII among the early MaNDalas, probably after MaNDala IV or MaNDala VI, but definitely before MaNDalas III and VII. The chronological order of the MaNDalas, according to Witzel, is thus: II, IV, VIII, V, VI, III and VII.

Contents and Outline[edit]

  • Preface
  • I. The Rigveda
    • 1. The Anukramanis
    • 2. The composers of the Rigveda
    • 3. The chronology of the Rigveda
    • 4. The geography of the Rigveda
    • 5. The historical identity of the Vedic Aryans
  • II. Beyond the Rigveda
    • 6. The Indo-Iranian homeland
    • 7. The Indo-European homeland
  • III. Appendices
    • 8. Misinterpretations of Rigvedic history
    • 9. Michael Witzel—an examination of western Vedic scholarship
    • 10. Sarama and the Panis—a mythological theme in the Rigveda


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 as published in two articles in G. Erdosy (ed.) The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia. Berlin/New York 1995
  2. WESTWARD HO !, Michael Witzel, Harvard University

External links[edit]

Talageri - Witzel controversy