The Rigveda (Sanskrit: ?gveda, from ?c "praise" and veda "knowledge") is an ancient Indian collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns along with associated commentaries on liturgy, ritual and mystical exegesis. It is one of the four sacred canonical texts (?ruti) of Hinduism known as the Vedas.
The core text, known as the Rigveda Samhita, is a collection of 1,028 hymns (s?ktas) in about 10,600 verses (called ?c, eponymous of the name Rigveda), organized into ten books (maalas). In the eight books that were composed the earliest, the hymns are mostly praise of specific deities. The younger books (books 1 and 10) in part also deal with philosophical or speculative questions, with the virtue of d?na (charity) in society and with other metaphysical issues in their hymns.
The oldest layers of the Rigveda Samhita are among the oldest extant texts in any Indo-European language, perhaps of similar age as certain Hittite texts.Philological and linguistic evidence indicates that the bulk of the Rigveda Samhita was composed in the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent, most likely between c. 1500 and 1200 BC, although a wider approximation of c. 1700-1100 BC has also been given.[note 1] The initial codification of the Rigveda took place during the early Kuru kingdom (c. 1200-900 BC).
The associated material has been preserved from two shakhas or "schools", known as kalya and Bkala. The school-specific commentaries are known as Brahmanas (Aitareya-brahmana and Kaushitaki-brahmana) Aranyakas (Aitareya-aranyaka and Kaushitaki-aranyaka), and Upanishads (partly excerpted from the Aranyakas: Bahvrca-brahmana-upanishad, Aitareya-upanishad, Samhita-upanishad, Kaushitaki-upanishad).
The text is organized in ten "books", or maalas ("circles"), of varying age and length. The text clearly originates as oral literature, and "books" may be a misleading term, the individual mandalas are, much rather, standalone collections of hymns that were intended to be memorized by the members of various groups of priests.
This is particularly true of the "family books", mandalas 2-7, which form the oldest part of the Rigveda and account for 38% of the entire text. They are called "family books" because each of them is attributed to an individual rishi, and was transmitted within the lineage of this rishi's family, or of his students.
The hymns within each of the family books are arranged in collections each dealing with a particular deity: Agni comes first, Indra comes second, and so on. They are generally arranged by decreasing number of hymns within each section. Within each such collection, the hymns are arranged in descending order of the number of stanzas per hymn. If two hymns in the same collection have equal numbers of stanzas then they are arranged so that the number of syllables in the metre are in descending order. The second to seventh mandalas have a uniform format.
The eighth and ninth mandalas, comprising hymns of mixed age, account for 15% and 9%, respectively. The ninth manadala is entirely dedicated to Soma and the Soma ritual. The hymns in the ninth mandala are arranged by both their prosody structure (chanda) and by their length.
The first and the tenth mandalas are the youngest; they are also the longest books, of 191 suktas each, accounting for 37% of the text. Nevertheless, some of the hymns in mandalas 8, 1 and 10 may still belong to an earlier period and may be as old as the material in the family books. The first mandala has a unique arrangement not found in the other nine mandalas. The first 84 hymns of the tenth mandala have a structure different than the remaining hymns in it.
Each mandala consists of hymns or s?ktas (su- + ukta, literally, "well recited, eulogy") intended for various rituals. The s?ktas in turn consist of individual stanzas called ?c ("praise", pl. ?cas), which are further analysed into units of verse called pada ("foot" or step).
The meters most used in the ?cas are the gayatri (3 verses of 8 syllables), anushtubh (4x8), trishtubh (4x11) and jagati (4x12). The trishtubh meter (40%) and gayatri meter (25%) dominate in the Rigveda.
For pedagogical convenience, each mandala is divided into roughly equal sections of several s?ktas, called anuv?ka ("recitation"), which modern publishers often omit. Another scheme divides the entire text over the 10 mandalas into aaka ("eighth"), adhy?ya ("chapter") and varga ("class"). Some publishers give both classifications in a single edition.
The most common numbering scheme is by book, hymn and stanza (and pada a, b, c ..., if required). E.g., the first verse is in three times eight syllables (gayatri):
Tradition associates a rishi (the composer) with each ?c of the Rigveda. Most s?ktas are attributed to single composers. The "family books" (2-7) are so-called because they have hymns by members of the same clan in each book; but other clans are also represented in the Rigveda. In all, 10 families of rishis account for more than 95% of the ?cs; for each of them the Rigveda includes a lineage-specific ?pr? hymn (a special s?kta of rigidly formulaic structure, used for rituals.
|Angiras||1.142||3619 (especially Mandala 6)|
|Kanva||1.13||1315 (especially Mandala 8)|
|Vasishtha||7.2||1276 (Mandala 7)|
|Vishvamitra||3.4||983 (Mandala 3)|
|Atri||5.5||885 (Mandala 5)|
|Kashyapa||9.5||415 (part of Mandala 9)|
|Grtsamada||2.3||401 (Mandala 2)|
The original text (as authored by the Rishis) is close to but not identical to the extant Samhitapatha, but metrical and other observations allow reconstruction (in part at least) of the original text from the extant one, as printed in the Harvard Oriental Series, vol. 50 (1994).
The surviving form of the Rigveda is based on an early Iron Age collection that established the core 'family books' (mandalas 2-7, ordered by author, deity and meter ) and a later redaction, co-eval with the redaction of the other Vedas, dating several centuries after the hymns were composed. This redaction also included some additions (contradicting the strict ordering scheme) and orthoepic changes to the Vedic Sanskrit such as the regularization of sandhi (termed orthoepische Diaskeuase by Oldenberg, 1888).
As with the other Vedas, the redacted text has been handed down in several versions, most importantly the Padapatha, in which each word is isolated in pausa form and is used for just one way of memorization; and the Samhitapatha, which combines words according to the rules of sandhi (the process being described in the Pratisakhya) and is the memorized text used for recitation.
The Padapatha and the Pratisakhya anchor the text's true meaning, and the fixed text was preserved with unparalleled fidelity for more than a millennium by oral tradition alone. In order to achieve this the oral tradition prescribed very structured enunciation, involving breaking down the Sanskrit compounds into stems and inflections, as well as certain permutations. This interplay with sounds gave rise to a scholarly tradition of morphology and phonetics. The Rigveda was probably not written down until the Gupta period (4th to 6th centuries AD), by which time the Brahmi script had become widespread (the oldest surviving manuscripts are from AD ~1040, discovered in Nepal). The oral tradition still continued into recent times.
There is a widely accepted timeframe for the initial codification of the Rigveda by compiling the hymns very late in the Rigvedic or rather in the early post-Rigvedic period, including the arrangement of the individual hymns in ten books, coeval with the composition of the younger Veda Samhitas. This time coincides with the early Kuru kingdom, shifting the center of Vedic culture east from the Punjab into what is now Uttar Pradesh. The fixing of the samhitapatha (by enforcing regular application of sandhi) and of the padapatha (by dissolving Sandhi out of the earlier metrical text), occurred during the later Brahmana period, in roughly the 6th century BC.
Several shakhas ("branches", i. e. recensions) of Rig Veda are known to have existed in the past. Of these, kalya is the only one to have survived in its entirety. Another shakha that may have survived is the Bkala, although this is uncertain.
The surviving padapatha version of the Rigveda text is ascribed to kalya. The kala recension has 1,017 regular hymns, and an appendix of 11 v?lakhilya hymns which are now customarily included in the 8th mandala (as 8.49-8.59), for a total of 1028 hymns. The Bkala recension includes 8 of these v?lakhilya hymns among its regular hymns, making a total of 1025 regular hymns for this kh?. In addition, the Bkala recension has its own appendix of 98 hymns, the Khilani.
In the 1877 edition of Aufrecht, the 1028 hymns of the Rigveda contain a total of 10,552 ?cs, or 39,831 padas. The Shatapatha Brahmana gives the number of syllables to be 432,000, while the metrical text of van Nooten and Holland (1994) has a total of 395,563 syllables (or an average of 9.93 syllables per pada); counting the number of syllables is not straightforward because of issues with sandhi and the post-Rigvedic pronunciation of syllables like súvar as svàr.
Three other shakhas are mentioned in Cara?avyuha, a pari?ia (supplement) of Yajurveda: Muk?yana, A?val?yana and ?a?kh?yana. The Atharvaveda lists two more shakhas. The differences between all these shakhas are very minor, limited to varying order of content and inclusion (or non-inclusion) of a few verses. The following information is known about the shakhas other than kalya and Bkala:
Writing appears in India around the 3rd century BC in the form of the Br?hm? script, but texts of the length of the Rigveda were likely not written down until much later,[note 2] and the oldest extant manuscripts date to AD ~1040, discovered in Nepal. While written manuscripts were used for teaching in medieval times, they were written on birch bark or palm leaves, which decompose and therefore were routinely copied over the generations to help preserve the text. Some Rigveda commentaries may date from the second half of the first millennium AD. The hymns were thus composed and preserved by oral tradition for several millennia from the time of their composition until the redaction of the Rigveda, and the entire Rigveda was preserved in shakhas for another 2,500 years from the time of its redaction until the editio princeps by Rosen, Aufrecht and Max Müller.
There are, for example, 30 manuscripts of Rigveda at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, collected in the 19th century by Georg Bühler, Franz Kielhorn and others, originating from different parts of India, including Kashmir, Gujarat, the then Rajaputana, Central Provinces etc. They were transferred to Deccan College, Pune, in the late 19th century. They are in the Sharada and Devanagari scripts, written on birch bark and paper. The oldest of them is dated to 1464. The 30 manuscripts of Rigveda preserved at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune were added to UNESCO's Memory of the World Register in 2007.
Of these 30 manuscripts, 9 contain the samhita text, 5 have the padapatha in addition. 13 contain Sayana's commentary. At least 5 manuscripts (MS. no. 1/A1879-80, 1/A1881-82, 331/1883-84 and 5/Vi? I) have preserved the complete text of the Rigveda. MS no. 5/1875-76, written on birch bark in bold Sharada, was only in part used by Max Müller for his edition of the Rigveda with Sayana's commentary.
Müller used 24 manuscripts then available to him in Europe, while the Pune Edition used over five dozen manuscripts, but the editors of Pune Edition could not procure many manuscripts used by Müller and by the Bombay Edition, as well as from some other sources; hence the total number of extant manuscripts known then must surpass perhaps eighty at least.
The various Rigveda manuscripts discovered so far show some differences. Broadly, the most studied kala recension has 1017 hymns, includes an appendix of eleven valakh?lya hymns which are often counted with the 8th mandala, for a total of 1,028 metrical hymns. The Bakala version of Rigveda includes eight of these v?lakhilya hymns among its regular hymns, making a total of 1025 hymns in the main text for this kh?. The Bakala text also has an appendix of 98 hymns, called the Khilani, bringing the total to 1,123 hymns. The manuscripts of kala recension of the Rigveda have about 10,600 verses, organized into ten Books (Mandalas). Books 2 through 7 are internally homogeneous in style, while Books 1, 8 and 10 are compilation of verses of internally different styles suggesting that these books are likely a collection of compositions by many authors.
The first mandala is the largest, with 191 hymns and 2,006 verses, and it was added to the text after Books 2 through 9. The last, or the 10th Book, also has 191 hymns but 1,754 verses, making it the second largest. The language analytics suggest the 10th Book, chronologically, was composed and added last. The content of the 10th Book also suggest that the authors knew and relied on the contents of the first nine books.
The Rigveda is the largest of the four Vedas, and many of its verses appear in the other Vedas. Almost all of the 1,875 verses found in Samaveda are taken from different parts of the Rigveda, either once or as repetition, and rewritten in a chant song form. The Books 8 and 9 of the Rigveda are by far the largest source of verses for Sama Veda. The Book 10 contributes the largest number of the 1,350 verses of Rigveda found in Atharvaveda, or about one fifth of the 5,987 verses in the Atharvaveda text. A bulk of 1,875 ritual-focussed verses of Yajurveda, in its numerous versions, also borrow and build upon the foundation of verses in Rigveda.
Altogether the Rigveda consists of:
In western usage, "Rigveda" usually refers to the Rigveda Samhita, while the Brahmanas are referred to as the "Rigveda Brahmanas" (etc.). Technically speaking, however, "the Rigveda" refers to the entire body of texts transmitted along with the Samhita portion. Different bodies of commentary were transmitted in the different shakhas or "schools". Only a small portion of these texts has been preserved: The texts of only two out of five shakhas mentioned by the Rigveda Pratishakhya have survived. The late (15th or 16th century) Shri Guru Charitra even claims the existence of twelve Rigvedic shakhas. The two surviving Rigvedic corpora are those of the kala and the Bkala shakhas.
The Rigvedic hymns are dedicated to various deities, chief of whom are Indra, a heroic god praised for having slain his enemy Vrtra; Agni, the sacrificial fire; and Soma, the sacred potion or the plant it is made from. Equally prominent gods are the Adityas or Asura gods Mitra-Varuna and Ushas (the dawn). Also invoked are Savitr, Vishnu, Rudra, Pushan, Brihaspati or Brahmanaspati, as well as deified natural phenomena such as Dyaus Pita (the shining sky, Father Heaven), Prithivi (the earth, Mother Earth), Surya (the sun god), Vayu or Vata (the wind), Apas (the waters), Parjanya (the thunder and rain), Vac (the word), many rivers (notably the Sapta Sindhu, and the Sarasvati River). The Adityas, Vasus, Rudras, Sadhyas, Ashvins, Maruts, Rbhus, and the Vishvadevas ("all-gods") as well as the "thirty-three gods" are the groups of deities mentioned.
Of the Brahmanas that were handed down in the schools of the Bahv?cas (i.e. "possessed of many verses"), as the followers of the Rigveda are called, two have come down to us, namely those of the Aitareyins and the Kaushitakins. The Aitareya-brahmana and the Kaushitaki- (or Sankhayana-) brahmana evidently have for their groundwork the same stock of traditional exegetic matter. They differ, however, considerably as regards both the arrangement of this matter and their stylistic handling of it, with the exception of the numerous legends common to both, in which the discrepancy is comparatively slight. There is also a certain amount of material peculiar to each of them.
The Kaushitaka is, upon the whole, far more concise in its style and more systematic in its arrangement features which would lead one to infer that it is probably the more modern work of the two. It consists of thirty chapters (adhyaya); while the Aitareya has forty, divided into eight books (or pentads, pancaka), of five chapters each. The last ten adhyayas of the latter work are, however, clearly a later addition though they must have already formed part of it at the time of Pini (c. 5th century BC), if, as seems probable, one of his grammatical sutras, regulating the formation of the names of Brahmanas, consisting of thirty and forty adhyayas, refers to these two works. In this last portion occurs the well-known legend (also found in the Shankhayana-sutra, but not in the Kaushitaki-brahmana) of Shunahshepa, whom his father Ajigarta sells and offers to slay, the recital of which formed part of the inauguration of kings.
While the Aitareya deals almost exclusively with the Soma sacrifice, the Kaushitaka, in its first six chapters, treats of the several kinds of haviryajna, or offerings of rice, milk, ghee, etc., whereupon follows the Soma sacrifice in this way, that chapters 7-10 contain the practical ceremonial and 11-30 the recitations (shastra) of the hotar. Sayana, in the introduction to his commentary on the work, ascribes the Aitareya to the sage Mahidasa Aitareya (i.e. son of Itara), also mentioned elsewhere as a philosopher; and it seems likely enough that this person arranged the Brahmana and founded the school of the Aitareyins. Regarding the authorship of the sister work we have no information, except that the opinion of the sage Kaushitaki is frequently referred to in it as authoritative, and generally in opposition to the Paingya--the Brahmana, it would seem, of a rival school, the Paingins. Probably, therefore, it is just what one of the manuscripts calls it--the Brahmana of Sankhayana (composed) in accordance with the views of Kaushitaki.
Each of these two Brahmanas is supplemented by a "forest book", or Aranyaka. The Aitareyaranyaka is not a uniform production. It consists of five books (aranyaka), three of which, the first and the last two, are of a liturgical nature, treating of the ceremony called mahavrata, or great vow. The last of these books, composed in sutra form, is, however, doubtless of later origin, and is, indeed, ascribed by Hindu authorities either to Shaunaka or to Ashvalayana. The second and third books, on the other hand, are purely speculative, and are also styled the Bahvrca-brahmana-upanishad. Again, the last four chapters of the second book are usually singled out as the Aitareya Upanishad, ascribed, like its Brahmana (and the first book), to Mahidasa Aitareya; and the third book is also referred to as the Samhita-upanishad. As regards the Kaushitaki-aranyaka, this work consists of 15 adhyayas, the first two (treating of the mahavrata ceremony) and the 7th and 8th of which correspond to the 1st, 5th, and 3rd books of the Aitareyaranyaka, respectively, whilst the four adhyayas usually inserted between them constitute the highly interesting Kaushitaki (Brahmana-) Upanishad, of which we possess two different recensions. The remaining portions (9-15) of the Aranyaka treat of the vital airs, the internal Agnihotra, etc., ending with the vamsha, or succession of teachers.
The Vedic Sanskrit text of the redacted version of the Rig Veda was transmitted remarkably unchanged, preserving, apart from certain prosodic changes (the systematic application of sandhi rules) the linguistic stage of the Late Bronze Age. Because of the faithful preservation of the text, the language was no longer immediately understandable to scholars of Classical Sanskrit by about 500 BC, necessitating commentaries interpreting the meaning of the text of the hymns. The Brahmanas contain numerous misinterpretations, due to this linguistic change, some of which were characterised by Sri Aurobindo as "grotesque nonsense."
The earliest text were composed in greater Punjab (northwest India and Pakistan), and the more philosophical later texts were most likely composed in or around the region that is the modern era state of Haryana.
Philological estimates tend to date the bulk of the text to the second half of the second millennium.[note 3]
Being composed in an early Indo-Aryan language, the hymns must post-date the Indo-Iranian separation, dated to roughly 2000 BC. A reasonable date close to that of the composition of the core of the Rigveda is that of the Mitanni documents of c. 1400 BC, which contain Indo-Aryan nomenclature. Other evidence also points to a composition close to 1400 BC.
The Rigveda's core is accepted to date to the late Bronze Age, making it one of the few examples with an unbroken tradition. Its composition is usually dated to roughly between c. 1500-1200 BC.[note 4]
The Rigveda is far more archaic than any other Indo-Aryan text. For this reason, it was in the center of attention of western scholarship from the times of Max Müller and Rudolf Roth onwards. The Rigveda records an early stage of Vedic religion. There are strong linguistic and cultural similarities with the early Iranian Avesta, deriving from the Proto-Indo-Iranian times, often associated with the early Andronovo culture (or rather, the Sintashta culture within the early Andronovo horizon) of c. 2000 BC.
The Rigveda offers no direct evidence of social or political system in Vedic era, whether ordinary or elite. Only hints such as cattle raising and horse racing are discernible, and the text offers very general ideas about the ancient Indian society. There is no evidence, state Jamison and Brereton, of any elaborate, pervasive or structured caste system. Social stratification seems embryonic, then and later a social ideal rather than a social reality. The society was pastoral with evidence of agriculture since hymns mention plow and celebrate agricultural divinities. There was division of labor, and complementary relationship between kings and poet-priests but no discussion of relative status of social classes. Women in Rigveda appear disproportionately as speakers in dialogue hymns, both as mythical or divine Indrani, Apsaras Urvasi, or Yami, as well as Ap?la ?trey? (RV 8.91), Godh? (RV 10.134.6), Gho K?kvat? (RV 10.39.40), Roma (RV 1.126.7), Lop?mudr? (RV 1.179.1-2), Vi?vav?r? ?trey? (RV 5.28), ?ac? Paulom? (RV 10.159), ?a?vat? giras? (RV 8.1.34). The women of Rigveda are quite outspoken and appear more sexually confident than men, in the text. Elaborate and esthetic hymns on wedding suggest rites of passage had developed during the Rigvedic period. There is little evidence of dowry and no evidence of sati in it or related Vedic texts.
The Rigvedic hymns mention rice and porridge, in hymns such as 8.83, 8.70, 8.77 and 1.61 in some versions of the text, however there is no discussion of rice cultivation. The term "ayas" (metal) occurs in the Rigveda, but it is unclear which metal it was. Iron is not mentioned in Rigveda, something scholars have used to help date Rigveda to have been composed before 1000 BC. Hymn 5.63 mentions "metal cloaked in gold", suggesting metal working had progressed in the Vedic culture.
Some of the names of gods and goddesses found in the Rigveda are found amongst other belief systems based on Proto-Indo-European religion, while words used share common roots with words from other Indo-European languages.
The horse (ashva), cattle, sheep and goat play an important role in the Rigveda. There are also references to the elephant (Hastin, Varana), camel (Ustra, especially in Mandala 8), ass (khara, rasabha), buffalo (Mahisa), wolf, hyena, lion (Simha), mountain goat (sarabha) and to the gaur in the Rigveda. The peafowl (mayura), the goose (hamsa) and the chakravaka (Tadorna ferruginea) are some birds mentioned in the Rigveda.
The Vedas as a whole are classed as "shruti" in Hindu tradition. This has been compared to the concept of divine revelation in Western religious tradition, but Staal argues that "it is nowhere stated that the Veda was revealed", and that shruti simply means "that what is heard, in the sense that it is transmitted from father to son or from teacher to pupil". The Rigveda, or other Vedas, do not anywhere assert that they are apauru?ey?, and this reverential term appears only centuries after the end of the Vedic period in the texts of the Mimamsa school of Hindu philosophy. The text of Rigveda suggests it was "composed by poets, human individuals whose names were household words" in the Vedic age, states Staal.
By the period of Puranic Hinduism, in the medieval period, the language of the hymns had become "almost entirely unintelligible", and their interpretation mostly hinged on mystical ideas and sound symbolism.
According to Hindu tradition, the Rigvedic hymns along with the other Vedas, the Mahabharata and the Puranas were compiled by sage Vy?sa. According to the ?atapatha Br?hmana, the number of syllables in the Rigveda is 432,000, but the surviving Rigveda does not confirm this number. The Rigveda does have embedded numerical patterns such as 10,800 stanzas, which corresponds to 30 times 360, and a fourth of 432 that appears in many Hindu contexts (108 Upanishads). The Shatapatha Brahmana claims that there are 10,800,000 stars in the sky. According to Thomas McEvilley, an Art Historian and academic who compared Greek and Indian literature, the numbers such as 432 and 108 may be of significance to the Hindus, but many numerology claims do not verify and the "believer is left with the consolation of thinking that the missing" are there "but unmanifest".
The authors of the Br?hmana literature discussed and interpreted the Vedic ritual. Yaska was an early commentator of the Rigveda by discussing the meanings of difficult words. In the 14th century, S?yana wrote an exhaustive commentary on it.
A number of other commentaries (bhyas) were written during the medieval period, including the commentaries by Skandasvamin (pre-Sayana, roughly of the Gupta period), Udgitha (pre-Sayana), Venkata-Madhava (pre-Sayana, c. 10th to 12th centuries) and Mudgala Purana (after Sayana, an abbreviated version of Sayana's commentary).[full ]
In the 19th- and early 20th-centuries, some reformers like Swami Dayananda Saraswati - founder of the Arya Samaj, Sri Aurobindo - founder of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, discussed the Vedas, including the Rig veda, for their philosophies. According to Robson, Dayanand believed "there were no errors in the Vedas (including the Rigveda), and if anyone showed him an error, he would maintain that it was a corruption added later".
Dayananda and Aurobindo interpret the Vedic scholars had a monotheistic conception. Aurobindo attempted to interpret hymns to Agni in the Rigveda as mystical. Aurobindo states that the Vedic hymns were a quest after a higher truth, define the Rta (basis of Dharma), conceive life in terms of a struggle between the forces of light and darkness, and sought the ultimate reality.
Rigveda, in contemporary Hinduism, has been a reminder of the ancient cultural heritage and point of pride for Hindus, with some hymns still in use in major rites of passage ceremonies, but the literal acceptance of most of the textual essence is long gone.Louis Renou wrote that the text is a distant object, and "even in the most orthodox domains, the reverence to the Vedas has come to be a simple raising of the hat". Musicians and dance groups celebrate the text as a mark of Hindu heritage, through incorporating Rigvedic hymns in their compositions, such as in Hamsadhvani and Subhapantuvarali of Carnatic music, and these have remained popular among the Hindus for decades. However, the contemporary Hindu beliefs are distant from the precepts in the ancient layer of Rigveda samhitas:
The social history and context of the Vedic texts are extremely distant from contemporary Hindu religious beliefs and practice, a reverence for the Vedas as an exemplar of Hindu heritage continues to inform a contemporary understanding of Hinduism. Popular reverence for Vedic scripture is similarly focused on the abiding authority and prestige of the Vedas rather than on any particular exegesis or engagement with the subject matter of the text.-- Andrea Pinkney, Routledge Handbook of Religions in Asia
While the older hymns of the Rigveda reflect sacrifical ritual typical of polytheism, its younger parts, specifically mandalas 1 and 10, have been noted as containing monistic or henotheistic speculations.
There was neither non-existence nor existence then;
Neither the realm of space, nor the sky which is beyond;
What stirred? Where? In whose protection?
There was neither death nor immortality then;
No distinguishing sign of night nor of day;
That One breathed, windless, by its own impulse;
Other than that there was nothing beyond.
Darkness there was at first, by darkness hidden;
Without distinctive marks, this all was water;
That which, becoming, by the void was covered;
That One by force of heat came into being;
Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it?
Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?
Gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
Who then knows whence it has arisen?
Whether God's will created it, or whether He was mute;
Perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not;
Only He who is its overseer in highest heaven knows,
A widely-cited example of such speculations is hymn 1.164.46:
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.
Max Muller notably introduced the term "henotheism" for the philosophy expressed here, avoiding the connotations of "monotheism" in Judeo-Christian tradition. Other widely-cited examples of monistic tendencies include hymns 1.164, 8.36 and 10.31, Other scholars state that Rigveda includes an emerging diversity of thought, including monotheism, polytheism, henotheism and pantheism, the choice left to the preference of the worshipper. and the Nasadiya Sukta (10.129), one of the most widely cited Rigvedic hymns in popular western presentations.
Examples from Mandala 1 adduced to illustrate the "metaphysical" nature of the contents of the younger hymns include: 1.164.34: "What is the ultimate limit of the earth?", "What is the center of the universe?", "What is the semen of the cosmic horse?", "What is the ultimate source of human speech?"; 1.164.34: "Who gave blood, soul, spirit to the earth?", "How could the unstructured universe give origin to this structured world?"; 1.164.5: "Where does the sun hide in the night?", "Where do gods live?"; 1.164.6: "What, where is the unborn support for the born universe?"; 1.164.20 (a hymn that is widely cited in the Upanishads as the parable of the Body and the Soul): "Two birds with fair wings, inseparable companions; Have found refuge in the same sheltering tree. One incessantly eats from the fig tree; the other, not eating, just looks on.".
The first published translation of any portion of the Rigveda in any European language was into Latin, by Friedrich August Rosen (Rigvedae specimen, London 1830). Predating Müller's editio princeps of the text by 19 years, Rosen was working from manuscripts brought back from India by Colebrooke. H. H. Wilson was the first to make a complete translation of the Rig Veda into English, published in six volumes during the period 1850-88. Wilson's version was based on the commentary of S?ya?a. Müller's Rig Veda Sanhita in 6 volumes Muller, Max, ed. (W. H. Allen and Co., London, 1849) has an English preface The birch bark from which Müller produced his translation is held at The Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, India.
The Rigveda is the earliest, the most venerable, obscure, distant and difficult for moderns to understand - hence is often misinterpreted or worse: used as a peg on which to hang an idea or a theory.-- Frits Staal, Discovering the Vedas: Origins, Mantras, Rituals, Insights
Like all archaic texts, the Rigveda is difficult to translate into modern language, "There are no closely contemporary extant texts, which makes it difficult to interpret."  and early translations contained straightforward errors. Another issue is the choice of translation for technical terms such as mandala, conventionally translated "book", but more literally rendered "cycle".
Some notable translations of the Rig Veda include:
|Rigvedae specimen||Friedrich August Rosen||1830||Latin||Partial translation with 121 hymns (London, 1830). Also known as Rigveda Sanhita, Liber Primus, Sanskrite Et Latine (ISBN 978-1275453234). Based on manuscripts brought back from India by Henry Thomas Colebrooke.|
|Rig-Veda, oder die heiligen Lieder der Brahmanen||Max Müller||1856||German||Partial translation published by F.A. Brockhaus, Leipzig. In 1873, Müller published an editio princeps titled The Hymns of the Rig-Veda in the Samhita Text. He also translated a few hymns in English (Nasadiya Sukta).|
|?ig-Veda-Sanhit?: A Collection of Ancient Hindu Hymns||H. H. Wilson||1850-88||English||Published as 6 volumes, by N. Trübner & Co., London.|
|Rig-véda, ou livre des hymnes||A. Langlois||1870||French||Partial translation. Re-printed in Paris, 1948-51 (ISBN 2-7200-1029-4).|
|Der Rigveda||Alfred Ludwig||1876||German||Published by Verlag von F. Tempsky, Prague.|
|Rig-Veda||Hermann Grassmann||1876||German||Published by F.A. Brockhaus, Leipzig|
|Rigved Bhashyam||Dayananda Saraswati||1877-9||Hindi||Incomplete translation. Later translated into English by Dharma Deva Vidya Martanda (1974).|
|The Hymns of the Rig Veda||Ralph T.H. Griffith||1889-92||English||Revised as The Rig Veda in 1896. Revised by JL Shastri in 1973.|
|Der Rigveda in Auswahl||Karl Friedrich Geldner||1907||German||Published by W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart. Geldner's 1907 work was a partial translation; he completed a full translation in the 1920s, which was published after his death, in 1951. This translation was titled Der Rig-Veda: aus dem Sanskrit ins Deutsche Übersetzt. Harvard Oriental Studies, vols. 33-37 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: 1951-7). Reprinted by Harvard University Press (2003) ISBN 0-674-01226-7.|
|Hymns from the Rigveda||A. A. Macdonell||1917||English||Partial translation (30 hymns). Published by Clarendon Press, Oxford.|
|Series of articles in Journal of the University of Bombay||Hari Damodar Velankar||1940s-1960s||English||Partial translation (Mandala 2, 5, 7 and 8). Later published as independent volumes.|
|Rig Veda - Hymns to the Mystic Fire||Sri Aurobindo||1946||English||Partial translation published by NK Gupta, Pondicherry. Later republished several times (ISBN 9780914955221)|
|RigVeda Samhita||Pandit H.P. Venkat Rao, LaxmanAcharya and a couple of other Pandits||1947||Kannada||Sources from Saayana Bhashya, SkandaSvami Bhashya, Taittareya Samhita, Maitrayini Samhita and other Samhitas. The Kannada translation work was commissioned by Maharaja of Mysore HRH Jayachama Rajendra Wodeyar. The translations were compiled into 11 volumes.|
|Rig Veda||Ramgovind Trivedi||1954||Hindi|
|Études védiques et pinéennes||Louis Renou||1955-69||French||Appears in a series of publications, organized by the deities. Covers most of Rigveda, but leaves out significant hymns, including the ones dedicated to Indra and the Asvins.|
|Hymns from the Rig-Veda||Naoshiro Tsuji||1970||Japanese||Partial translation|
|Rigveda: Izbrannye Gimny||Tatyana Elizarenkova||1972||Russian||Partial translation, extended to a full translation published during 1989-1999.|
|Rigveda Parichaya||Nag Sharan Singh||1977||English / Hindi||Extension of Wilson's translation. Republished by Nag, Delhi in 1990 (ISBN 978-8170812173).|
|Rig Veda||M. R. Jambunathan||1978-80.||Tamil||Two volumes, both released posthumously.|
|Rigvéda - Teremtéshimnuszok (Creation Hymns of the Rig-Veda)||Laszlo Forizs (hu)||1995||Hungarian||Partial translation published in Budapest (ISBN 963-85349-1-5)|
|The Rig Veda||Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty||1981||English||Partial translation (108 hymns), along with critical apparatus. Published by Penguin (ISBN 0-14-044989-2). A bibliography of translations of the Rig Veda appears as an Appendix.|
|Pinnacles of India's Past: Selections from the Rgveda||Walter H. Maurer||1986||English||Partial translation published by John Benjamins.|
|The Rig Veda||Bibek Debroy, Dipavali Debroy||1992||English||Partial translation published by B. R. Publishing (ISBN 9780836427783). The work is in verse form, without reference to the original hymns or mandalas. Part of Great Epics of India: Veda series, also published as The Holy Vedas.|
|The Holy Vedas: A Golden Treasury||Pandit Satyakam Vidyalankar||1983||English|
|?gveda Sa?hit?||HH Wilson, Ravi Prakash Arya and K. L. Joshi||2001||English||4-volume set published by Parimal (ISBN 978-81-7110-138-2). Revised edition of Wilson's translation. Replaces obsolete English forms with more modern equivalents (e.g. "thou" with "you"). Includes the original Sanskrit text in Devanagari script, along with a cristical apparatus.|
|?gveda for the Layman||Shyam Ghosh||2002||English||Partial translation (100 hymns). Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi.|
|Rig-Veda||Michael Witzel, Toshifumi Goto||2007||German||Partial translation (Mandala 1 and 2). The authors are working on a second volume. Published by Verlag der Weltreligionen (ISBN 978-3-458-70001-2).|
|Govind Chandra Pande||2008||Hindi||Partial translation (Mandala 3 and 5). Published by Lokbharti, Allahabad|
|The Hymns of Rig Veda||Tulsi Ram||2013||English||Published by Vijaykumar Govindram Hasanand, Delhi|
|The Rigveda||Stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton||2014||English||3-volume set published by Oxford University Press (ISBN 978-0-19-937018-4). Funded by the United States' National Endowment for the Humanities in 2004.|
The Vedic texts were orally composed and transmitted, without the use of script, in an unbroken line of transmission from teacher to student that was formalized early on. This ensured an impeccable textual transmission superior to the classical texts of other cultures; it is, in fact, something like a tape-recording of ca. 1500-500 BC. Not just the actual words, but even the long-lost musical (tonal) accent (as in old Greek or in Japanese) has been preserved up to the present. On the other hand, the Vedas have been written down only during the early second millennium ce,...