What is the Rigveda?

Mary McMahon

The Rigveda is an ancient Sanskrit text which is considered sacred to followers of the Hindu religion. This text is part of a larger family of religious texts known collectively as the Vedas; together, the Vedas form the cornerstone of Hindu belief, explaining the mythology of the religion, the roles of the assorted Hindu gods, and detailing various rituals which should be performed by pious Hindus. Several things make the Rigveda remarkable, both as a religious text and within the framework of Hindu belief.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Religious scholars believe that the Rigveda may be the oldest religious text in continual use in the world. The first written version appears to have emerged around 1500 BCE, with most scholars arguing that the Rigveda was passed down orally for centuries before it was written. The fact that the Rigveda takes the form of a series of hymns strongly supports this idea, suggesting that it was organized in a way which would be easy to recite and pass down.

All told, the Rigveda contains 1,028 hymns to various Hindu gods. Many of these hymns were designed to be sung during specific religious rituals, especially sacrifices, and they contain stories about the deeds of the Hindu gods. Hindus believe that the Vedas were not composed by people, but rather directly revealed.

The Rigveda is the oldest of the Vedas. All of the Vedas were composed during a period in Indian history which is known as the Vedic Period. Dating of the Vedic Period varies, but it is generally defined as lasting between 1500 BCE and 184 BCE. Studies on the type of Sanskrit used in the Rigveda strongly support the assertion that it is the oldest of the Vedas, as it has a number of distinctive features which clearly indicate that it was composed long before the other Vedas, and it was probably complete by the start of the Vedic Period.

Verses from the Rigveda are recited at weddings, religious ceremonies, and other events in Hindu society. Numerous translations have been published, for people who would like to read the Rigveda in other languages, and many of these translations have attempted to retain the original poetry of the Rigveda. Some museums have manuscripts of the Rigveda on display; some of these manuscripts are lavishly and ornately illustrated, demonstrating the full flower of Indian culture in the Vedic Period and beyond.

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