With thousand testicles

The earliest divergence between the two cultures was over values: Persians went for morals, Indians went for might

Rajesh Kochhar is one of India’s foremost astrophysicists. He is also the author of a remarkable book on the Vedic people. He writes that “the institutions, customs and ways of thought of the Vedic and the Avestan people are so similar that there can be no doubt the two peoples are very closely related”. His account of how they diverged should challenge some popularly held notions:

The Rig Veda refers to a belief in a cosmic law that ensures existence in an orderly manner. This eternal law is called rta (in the Avesta, asha). It symbolises the inherent unity and regularity in the universe. There is an ethical aspect also: Rta governs human behaviour by treating virtue as part of the natural order. The Rig Veda also contains strands of a competing philosophy which glorifies might. Rta is represented by Varuna, who is called wise Asura, the wise lord (Rv 1.24.14) whereas the symbol of power is Indra, who is called sahasra-mushka, “with thousand testicles” (Rv 8.19.32).

The contrast between the ethical Varuna and the mighty Indra is beautifully brought out in Rv (4.42.1-6). Varuna declares: “I, Varuna, am the king: first for me were appointed the dignities of Asura. I let the dripping waters rise up, through rta I uphold the sky. By rta is the son of Aditi the lord who rules through rta.” Indra in his turn declares: “Men who ride swiftly, having good horses, call on me when surrounded in battle. I provoke strife, the bountiful Indra. I whirl up the dust, my strength is overwhelming…No godlike power can check me, the unassailable. When draughts of Soma, when songs have made me drunk, then both the unbounded regions grow afraid”.

In this particular hymn, the poet refuses to make any value judgement between Varuna and Indra; he appeals to both for gifts and blessings. There is however no doubt that in the Vedic heirarchy, Indra ranks supreme. He has the largest number of hymns addressed to him, nearly 250, that is one fourth of the total number. Varuna is invoked in fewer hymns than either Varuna or Agni (about 200 hymns) or Soma (over 100). But the hymns addressed to him “are more ethical and devout in tone than any others. They form the most exalted portion of the Veda.”

The point of departure between the Avestan and the Vedic religion lies in the emphasis placed by Zarathushtra on ethical conduct to the exclusion of everything else…At the same time Zarathushtra firmly and boldly rejected the worship of the warlike, materialistic Devas, that is Indra and his companions. Devas are amoral in the Rig Veda; they are branded wicked by Zarathushtra. It is only Indra who is disowned, not the Indo-Iranian heritage. [Rajesh Kochhar/The Vedic People, also available from scholarswithoutborders.in]

23 thoughts on “With thousand testicles”

  1. Yossarin,

    The book discusses chronology. From what I can remember, the take-away is that both the Rig Veda and Avesta were written over a long period of time, with the earliest parts being transmitted orally for centuries before being written down. In general, the core Rig Veda is older, and both the Avesta and the Rig (and the other) Vedas as we know it today being offshoots or departures.

    Interesting Kochhar cites Zarathushtra referring to himself as a zaotar or hotr , a Vedic priest (eg, as in agni hotri = fire priest)of the higher order.

  2. Hello Nitin,
    i would be *very* careful while reading any of Mr. Kochhar’s conjectures.

    My impression is that an underlying theme of his works is a desperate attempt to prove that the Veda is not of Indian origin – to possibly suit personal/political predilictions. And that he was a signatory to the infamous petition in the California textbook controversy just bolsters my impression.

    Sample this:
    ” The assertion that the Rgveda was composed entirely within the geographical boundaries of the Indian subcontinent neatly fitted the official view that Hinduism was the native to India while Islam came from outside. Imagine the damage to the two-nation theory that would have been caused by the assertion that the Indo-Aryans started composing the Rgveda when they were in central Asia, Iran or Afghanistan and completed it in India.”

    uh!? Talk of force-fits. The passage above has also been quoted in a nice balanced review of this book here

    Take another statement that’s been quoted in your post:
    > Zarathushtra firmly and boldly rejected the worship of the warlike, materialistic Devas, that is Indra and his companions.

    One has to first acknowledge that the Veda is of esoteric spiritual import. Fact is, the war referred to in the Veda is that of an *internal* spiritual/psychological war (i am not even getting into the term ‘warlike, materialistic Devas’). This has been amply clarified in the works of Sri Aurobindo as well as in more recent times in the works of Dr.R.L.Kashyap and Sri S.K.Ramachandra Rao – authentic Vedic scholars. Mention of war in the Veda becomes a convenient starting point for many proponents of the Aryan Invasion Theory.

    So once again, i would be *very very* careful while reading Dr. Kochhar’s conjectures.

  3. Sharan Sharma,

    Thanks for providing a context. Indeed, we should be *very* careful before believing anyone’s conjectures. The debate over the Aryan Invasion theory, however, is outside the scope of this blog.

    One thing I’m highlighting in this post—as the relative number of invocations suggests—is that morality vs power was very much a issue the ancient Indians debated. The pursuit of power and might had the upper hand.

  4. Nitin,

    I guess Vedic Hymns taken out of context can prove anything. If one starts with the premise (or bias)that Aryans (or Indo-Aryans)”were” aggressive, then unsrprisingly that premise will be proven.

  5. Nitin, if you start from an incorrect premise, or primary source, your conclusions will be flawed. Best to leave Kochhar in the trashcan, read the Vedas on your own, and come to your own conclusions.

  6. Akash,

    That’s neither practical nor even necessary. We didn’t need to read Principia to learn the laws of motion, or The Wealth of Nations to understand free market economics. Except for specialist scholars, much of the wisdom we gain is second-hand, third-hand…n-th hand. If you disagree with Kochchar, please do point us to works, or links that present reasoned arguments.

    Gaurav,

    It’s reasonable to conclude that the number of invocations is an indicator of the relative importance accorded to the various gods. Besides, he is just reporting Zarathushtra’s views, not making his own conclusions.

    Why is it difficult for us to digest that the ancient Persians might have perceived ancient Indians to be materialistic and pre-occupied with power? That’s the point in this excerpt. You can be on any side of the Aryan invasion debate but the point is still valid.

  7. Nitin,

    For the simple reason that Aryan Invasion (and by extension discussion on vedas)had less to do with history and scholarship and more to do with colonialism and politics, so may be it will be better to stick with primary references.

    By the way how do you know he is “reporting” as opposed to “manufacturing” ?

  8. Sharan Sharma,

    Good catch. Of course there are many theories floating around and everyone seem to have an authentic claim on Indian history because they think the British historians had no agenda or found a word out of place in some ancient thesis, but these motley fools – those who signed on to demean Hindu religious teachings to impressionable 8th grade kids in a foreign country – are especially dangerous and decisive.

  9. > ….as the relative number of invocations suggests—is that morality vs power was very much a issue the ancient Indians debated. The pursuit of power and might had the upper hand.

    Not sure, Nitin.

    1) I did not get into this aspect in my earlier comment but I do not believe that a count of the number of riks/suktas devoted to a certain Deva tells us anything. To even attempt to follow this line of reasoning would first mean assuming that each invocation has the same ‘weight’ which leads one into troubled waters. For example, the Gayatri mantra is just a single mantra in the Veda but is considered the most important mantra in the Veda.

    2) For a moment let me assume that the Veda speaks of a real physical war (as opposed to the spiritual war that the Veda actually speaks of) and there are more invocations about it than that on ethics. I could then argue that the lesser number of invocations about ethics shows that these were taken for granted – they were so ingrained that there was no need of many invocations!

    3) Statements such as the following are outright wrong:
    > The Rig Veda also contains strands of a competing philosophy which glorifies might.

    Note use of word ‘competing’. As if you can either be ethical or powerful – not both. This is completely against the spirit of the Veda.

    To reduce the Veda to some kind of a counting exercise and deduce something out of it is really forcing issues.

  10. Sharan,

    For a moment let me assume that the Veda speaks of a real physical war (as opposed to the spiritual war that the Veda actually speaks of) and there are more invocations about it than that on ethics. I could then argue that the lesser number of invocations about ethics shows that these were taken for granted – they were so ingrained that there was no need of many invocations!

    That’s a good point and can be offered as a reasonable argument to the invocation count argument.

    Taken in isolation, which of the two conclusions you arrive at depends on your subjective belief in India’s ethos and values. If you accept that the Vedic people could have been amoral, then the hymn count helps arrive at that conclusion. If you believe that they were moralists, then your implicitness argument supports the view.

  11. Nitin,

    I concur with Sharan Sharma, et al. Plainly put, Kochar is a fraud with no real understanding of either the Rg Veda or for that matter, Vedic Sanskrit.

    It’s good that you mentioned Kocchar’s book. I had an opportunity to read that book but put it away after reading a few pages. Now that you’ve read it, I suggest you also read Frawley’s Gods, Sages and Kings for a DETAILED treatment of the same subject. I do not want to bias you, but please read Frawley’s book and come to your own conclusions.

    When I’m relatively free, I shall post a detailed rebuttal to the excerpts you’ve raised in your entry.

  12. Sandeep,

    Yes, please do. This blog subtitled the education of the opinionated mind for nothing. Personally, I’m not so much interested in the origins of the Indian people, as much as I’m interested in their attitude towards political power and foreign policy. I’ve seen quotations from the Bhishma parva of the Mahabharata, and the Gita as indicative of a well-developed school of Realism. It does not bother me if these were composed 3000 years ago, or 4000 years ago, in Afghanistan, Balochistan or Punjab. Whenever, wherever this was developed, it is still remarkable.

  13. Nitin,

    Does sound a bit weird. There is hardly anything in common that we have with Iranians (even the ancient ones). Doesnt quite gel. Seems like cooked up by Kochar. Agree with Yossarin on the chronological discrepancies. But then, note that the Hindu devas were evil 🙂

  14. In their book In Search of the Cradle of Civilization Georg Fuerstein, Subhash Kak and David Frawley dismiss the dates suggested by Thapar, A. L. Basham and Max Muller. According to them, the Rig Veda mentions the river Saraswati which disappeared in 1900 BCE and so it has to be at least eight centuries older than the Max Muller’s arbitrary date of 1200 BC. Vedic literature is considered older than Avestan literature by 500 – 1000 years though the dating of both is speculative.

    ==============

    Nitin,

    This is from the varnam blog. I have always doubted the intentions of Romila Thapar, she seems to be a typical marxist inspired historian.
    So the chronological glitch still holds. And holds very strong.

  15. Shadows,

    What glitch? Kochhar does not deny that the Rig Veda is older than the Avesta. In fact, this is what he uses to support his case.

    You can continue to doubt the intentions of Romila Thapar (actually, that may actually be beyond doubt), but it’s not what we are discussing here.

  16. Much has been debated here, but let me point everyone to the most authoritative source on the debate, Michael Witzel’s Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, EJVS, more specifically to volume 7 issue 3, also referred to as EJVS 7-3 of May 2001. I have my reservations with Witzel but the dominant viewpoint today that most historians veer towards are based on Witzel’s hypthoses.

    Kocchar is not ecactly breaking new ground. In EJVS 7-3 michael witzel responds to saffronite re-writing of history more specifically on the origin of Indo aryans and the chronology. My problem with Witzel is that he relies purely on linguistics and negative evidence to make his case. It does the same to establish the timing of Rig Veda and Zarathustra, witzel has 2 separate sections in EJVS 7-3 on this. The rest of EJVS 7-3 makes for interesting reading as well.

    Anyways the RV is timed for somewhere between 14th and 12th centuries BC while zarathustra has a much wider band of 14th to alomost 7th and some even believe 5th century BC. Witzel’s only argument in favor of 14th is linguistics, which is almost like saying Murali Manohar Joshi could be a couple of centuries older than advani because his hindi is more ancient 🙂

    Kocchar is wrong to hold Zarathustra as the point of deviation between Indo-Aryans and Indo-Iranians. That deviation had already occured before zarathustra’s time as is evident from witzel. Zarathustra was a refinement of the ancient avestan gathas which had more of a peer relationship to RV. The second problem I see is the conclusion tha persians went for morals and indians fir might for it completely ignores how Rta evolved into Dharma and how Dharma forms the basis for a just society and a moral compass to the philosopher king much like the way Plato put its it many centuries later.

    There is an interesting english transliteration of Plato’s Republic, when you read it you cant help but notice the striking similarity to the discussion on the nature of dharma from mahabharatha when yudhistra enters the magic pond and has to answer Yama’s questions to get out of the pond alive.

    Anyways one can go crazy over history, have wasted many hours to resolve the AIT versus autochtnous debate of the origin of Vedic Aryans in my own mind.

    The conclusion i have come to is that the AIT hypothesis while being the dominant one relies far too much on linguistics and negative evidence (EJVS 7-3) to make its case and hence is not the final word on this debate, we just have not found enough positive evidence to resolve this beyond reasonable doubt one way or the other. Hence must move on, there are more questions than answers as we dig history.

    But then there is only so much one must probe history for. Across the vedas, the upanishads and everything else that this land has produced there is enough of a moral compass to articulate a vision and a philosophy for the future. Gandhi did that very well by turning towards the Gita and applying it.

    I must confess I held biases similar to most Indians on Gandhi a right of center one at that. Started seriously looking at him after 7-11 last year to get a sense of how Gandhi would have viewed responses to terrorism. Found Gandhi’s writings on Gita very insightful. Had a written a post on it (link). Would point everyone to GANDHI For 21st Century Edited by
    Anand T. Hingorani which had extensive excerpts on the THE TEACHING OF THE GITA by M. K. GANDHI, this available online for.

    So with Gandhi and the Gita ended my quest to resolve historical questions.

  17. While discussing chronology of the Rgveda and its relation to Avesta, a clear distinction needs to be made between the time of composition and the time of the culture represented in the text.( Munshi Prem Chand has written a story Shatranj ke Khiladi, which deals with a period older than the writer’s).Rv may contain material or references that are as much as 1000 years older than the date of the hymn.( Pururava ,e g , is mentioned in Rv as an ancient king.)
    Avesta selectively rejects the “philosophy” articulated in the Rv. For exam,ple, Indra is demonized , but his title vrtrahana appears in the Avestan equivalent as a god . The Soma/Haoma cult is the same in the two texts.
    The oldest part of Avesta , the Gathas attributed to Zarathushtra himself, must be as as old as Rv.
    It must be kept in mind that it is impossible to make any firm statement about chronology of amncient texts. ( The oldest firm date in the Indian context is as recent as AD499, of the Aryabhatiya.)
    The key point I am making is that the rituals , mythology etc , of which we learn from Rv/Avesta, can be , must be , older than the date of composition of the hymn , whatever that be.

  18. Why don’t they take genographic studies to establish ethnic origins of the poeple’s of India? That would discredit the Aryan Invasion theory wouldn’t it?

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