A Vedic Reader (Excerpts)

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Excerpts from

For Students
By Arthur Anthony Macdonell (1854-1930)
Scanned at August 31, 2000.

THE Rigveda is undoubtedly the oldest literary monument of the Indo-European languages. But the exact period when the hymns were composed is a matter of conjecture. All that we can say with any approach to certainty is that the oldest of them cannot date from later than the thirteenth century B.C. This assertion is based on the following grounds. Buddhism, which began to spread in India about 500 B.C., presupposes the existence not only of the Vedas, but also of the intervening literature of the Brahmanas and Upanishads. The development of language and religious thought apparent in the extensive literature of the successive phases of these two Vedic periods renders it necessary to postulate the lapse of seven or eight centuries to account for the gradual changes, linguistic, religious, social, and political, that this literature displays. On astronomical grounds, one Sanskrit scholar has (cf. p. 146) concluded that the oldest Vedic hymns date from 3000 B.C., While another puts them as far back as 6000 B.C. These calculations are based on the assumption that the early Indians possessed an exact astronomical knowledge of the sun's course such as there is no evidence, or even probability, that they actually possessed. On the other hand, the possibility of such extreme antiquity seems to be disproved by the relationship of the hymns of the Rigveda to the oldest part of the Avesta, which can hardly date earlier than from about 800 B.C. That relationship is so close that the language of the Avesta, if it were known at a stage some five centuries earlier, could scarcely have differed at all from that of the Rigveda. Hence the Indians could not have separated from the Iranians much sooner than 1300 B.C. But, according to...