Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bhrigus of Rig Veda!

We have seen in the last article that the Atharvan’s of Bhrigu clan and Athravan’s, the fire priests of Zoroastrian religion have no connection whatsoever. Both the classes were distinct and independent of each other. We have to search for the Bhrugus elsewhere, rather in India where in most of the mythologies they are a prominent figure. Many scriptures are ascribed to them including Atharva Veda. In fact religious history of India cannot be written without mention of Bhrigus or Bhargavas as they are so overwhelmingly mentioned almost everywhere including great epic Mahabharata.

We have seen that the Bhrigu, the progenitor of the Bhrigu clan had become a distant memory in Rig Vedic times. Rather he had become a mythical figure or he was just a personification of the fire in whose name the clan was originated. He is said to have introduced Soma and Fire ritual to the mankind. But if looked carefully at the myth it will appear that it has been fabricated in later times to elevate supremacy of the Bhrigus over other seers of Rig Veda. Vedic people were pastoral community and lighting the campfire in the night for the protection and warmth would be but natural to them while on the distant grazing fields. The rituals around the fire would have been developed slowly in different camps along with the art to construct fire altars through that practice. Vedic religion did not begin suddenly, but had rudimentary tradition of ritualistic practices around fire before it evolved to the formative stage.

Who were the Bhrigus then? 

As far as Rig Veda is concerned Bhrigu and Jamdagni together has been credited for composition of hymn 65th of Ninth book. 19th hymn of tenth book is together credited to Bhrigu, Mathit and Chyavan. According to Rig Veda original Bhrigu was son of Varuna. We have seen in earlier chapters that Varuna was revered with epithet “Asura” when Vedic people maintained cordial relationship with Asura culture that was broken in later times.

In Rig Veda Bhrigu is mentioned 18 times, out of which 17 times they are mentioned in plural. There are various mythical stories about Bhrigu’s birth that appear in Aitareya, Taittiriy, Gopatha Brahmana and elsewhere including Mahabharata. According to Aitareya Brahmana he was born of Prajapati’s manly vigor, according to Gopatha Brahmana he was born of Brahma’s sweat and according to Taittiriya Brahmana he was born of Indra’s manly vigor. From Rig Vedic account we find him as Son of Varuna. Looking at the various myths, it seems that by the time compositions of Rig Veda and Atharva Veda had begun people had almost forgotten the origin of Bhrigu.

However we have other mythologies associated with Bhrigu’s and his clan as well. They suggest that the Bhrigu was an ancient and larger clan spread all over the Indian subcontinent acting in the capacity of the Shamanic warrior-priests. The Shaivait and Atharvan religion preceded Vedic religion and was related to Asura culture to which Bhrigus served as priests. In short it was the name of the priestly class.
To make this point let us have a look at the available history of the Bhrigu’s from Rig Veda.


We have seen above that there are only two hymns from ninth and tenth books have been composed by Bhrigu along with his close relatives. Both the books are considered to be younger than rest of the Rig Vedic books. Though not necessarily every book contains all the hymns chronologically from point of view of their period of composition but the classification is mostly done subject wise hence there is obvious mixing of the hymns. Some hymns might be oldest or some might be even younger even they appear in generally classified book as older.

From Rig Veda we can see the strange roles performed by the Bhrigus over the time till end of the Rig Vedic composition period. The seventh book of Rig Veda is considered to be one of the oldest. Battle of Ten Kings has been described in this book. We see in this most famous ancient war Bhrigus were assembled along with other kings as enemy of King Sudasa of Bharata clan.

Also it appears that it was Vishwamitra who allied forces against Sudasa after deserting him for his enmity with Seer Vasishtha over priesthood. It should be noted here that all the kings those had assembled against Sudasa for war were non-performers of Vedic fire rituals. (Ayajjya)

This makes it clear that the Bhrigus, who were one amongst Sudasa’s enemies, too were non-performer of Vedic fire rituals. Though the battle was won by Sudasa, we have to see the religious implications of it because the main reason behind the war was the religious conflict.

The main question I want to raise here when the battle did took place? Was it before the composition of seventh book or after the composition of third book which is attributed to Vishvamitra?

The question is pertinent because after the war Vishwamitra too was one of the vanquished. We do not get any authentic account from Rig Veda what did happen to him after the war. It was natural that King Sudasa would not entertain him again and there was no question of Bhrigus to join him as they already were his enemy. Though Rig Veda does give account of deceased soldiers of enemy in the battle, it does not speak of Sudasa’s loss. However we can imagine that the victory wouldn’t have been easy and without human loss to him.

It would be but natural to think that the Book Three was already composed or the composition had started by Vishwamitra before the war took place, making it somewhat older that Book Seven.
Still a question remains that how the compositions of his enemy would have been preserved or used in the rituals by other seers of Sudasa when Vishvamitra had deserted him to gather enemy forces? Or would it have happened that Vishwamitra carried his compositions along with him and preserved them, made further additions independently? What was his clan’s geographical location when Rig Veda was collected painstakingly by some other person of later times?

We are raising questions here because the same applies to Bhrigus. Sudasa was enemy of Bhrigus in whose clan it is supposed the entire Rig Veda was composed through many generations. But desertion of Vishvamitra in early times makes this assumption doubtful. We get the list of some Rig Vedic kings, friendly and enemy to the Sudasa clan, but obviously is incomplete and chronology is not certain. Vishvamitra might have joined as priest to one of the ten kings those fought the battle against Sudasa. Almost 11 kings from Bharata clan are mentioned in Trig Veda including Sudasa.

Now let us look at the approximate period that might have taken to compose whole Rig Veda. It is clear that over three hundred fifty seers have contributed to Rig Veda of Ten prominent seer families. The most ancient are Angira, Rahugana and Kushika in whose name just one or two verses are recorded. We do not know what the ritualistic practices were when Rig Vedic religion was under early formation. We also do not know for sure what religion Bharatas were practicing before they founded Vedic religion!

We need to deal with those questions because Vedic religion has a beginning, though we as yet have not closed the issue of its period. It might have taken 250 to 350 years because it doesn’t seem that the compositions were consecutive. There are intermittent lapses and re-continuations of the compositions of Rig Veda.

When the battle of ten kings took place? We have seen that the Bhrigus were at the enemy side of the Sudasa. The entry of Bhrigus or Bhargavas does seem about closing period of Rig Vedic compositions. So we can safely deduce that after lapse of the 12 to 15 generations from the date of the battle of ten kings, Bhrigus entered the Vedic tradition.  Staunch enemy of Bharatas and especially Rig Vedic religious practices, Bhrigus, entering into Rig Vedic tradition may seem surprising prima facie but through myths we can get an idea why some Bhrigus would have abandoned their traditional phallic worship practices.

Prominently mentioned Bhargavas in Rig Veda are Bhrigu, Chyavana and Jamdagni. We should not confuse here with the identical names appearing in mythologies. The Bhrigu here is not obviously progenitor of Bhrigu clan but his one of the descendents or a person bearing the same name. Jamdagni here is not the same whom we also know as father of Parshuram. Over the generations same name adopted or given is a common practice throughout the world. There are other Bhargavas too, like Bharga Praghata, Bhriguvaruni, Syumarashmi, Ita, Kavi, Nema, Somahuti and Vena those have contributed to Rig Veda.

Unfortunately we do not get a hint from Rig Veda of their genealogy except Anukramani, a composition of later times. We are not sure how reliable it is, still we will discuss on it in the next chapter.

However we can identify these names with the Bhrigu or later known as Bhargava clan. After lapse of so many generations it is quite possible that the some of the Bhrigu’s entered Rig Vedic stream, contributed to it. This does mean that the some of the later Bhrigu’s had almost forgotten the ancient enmity over the religious issue and rather had embraced Rig Vedic faith or these Bhargava’s could be from another branch not minding ancient enmity.

By this time the clan of Sudasa was at decline. The last generations of Rig Vedic seers had to depend on the alms and donations from the Panis and Dasyus to whom Rig Vedic seers of early ages carried sever animosity and condemned them immensely at every given occasion. The Danastuti’s (Praises of Donor’s) mention various kings and magnates like Trasadasyu, Ribhu. Bubu, Balavatthu etc. from whom Rig Vedic seers received various kinds of donations. It also appears from this that the Vedic seers like Atri, Kanva etc. had started to conduct sacrificial rituals for fees during this period

It was not that the Non- Vedic people had abandoned their own ritualistic culture, i.e. phallic worship. They stuck to it but out of secularist thought of those times, or may be at the behest of those Bhrigus who had joined Rig Vedic stream.

In earlier period, the enmity between two religious groups was so severe that these phallic worshipers would destroy the fire sacrifices. (RV 7/21/5 and 10/21/3). In all probabilities all the kings those fought against Sudasa too belonged to the phallic worship religion including Bhrigus.

But the decline of Sudasa clan or the previous patron and entry of Bhrigu’s could not be a just coincidence. It was essential for the Rig Vedic priests of that period to find new patronage and they found it amongst Das/Dasyu and Panis. We do not know for sure what the reasons behind Sudasa clans decline were. We also are not sure in absence of sufficient proofs that whether all seers continued to compose Rig Veda under patronage of a single royal clan or more those had embraced Rig Vedic faith. However it is clear from the Danastuti they had lost previous patronage and had to find new. And it seems those were Bhrigus who came to their rescue.

Let us not forget here that the Bhrigus and Atharvans were already established priestly class of Asura kings and magnates. Their original ritualistic practices were entirely different and essentially centered around idolatry, unlike Fire Sacrifice rituals of Vedic people.

The Bhrigu including Atharvan clan was the largest and spread all over Indian sub-continent in the capacity of warrior priests. They maintained their own armies and castles and even participated in wars. Even so their entry in Rig Vedic stream is startling. We need to find out why some Bhargavas embraced Vedic faith. In next chapter we will go through their non-Vedic history and try to solve a great riddle…

How Rig Vedic religion spread in India?

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