Sometime around 2000 B.C.E. and following, pastoral people living on the steppes of western Asia - roughly in the area that lies north of the Caucasus Mountains, between the Black and Caspian Seas - began to migrate out of their traditional grazing lands and, in successive waves, wandered into Europe, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Iran, and India. These bronze-armed nomads spoke a variety of related languages that shared a common origin in a prehistoric tongue scholars call proto-Indo-European. Through their migrations, these people eventually spread their family of languages from Central Asia to the British Isles. The fact that Aryan, Eire (the Gaelic name for the Republic of Ireland), and Iran derive from the common archaic root word aryo, which means "lord," eloquently attests to the extent of the ancient Indo-European wanderings and settlements.<BR> Among the many significant waves of Indo-European newcomers were the Aryans, who spoke Sanskrit, and the Achaeans, who spoke an early form of Greek. The Sanskrit speakers moved eastward across the Hindu Kush mountain range and into the fertile Indus valley, where they encountered Harappan civilization. The Greek speakers moved westward into the Balkans, absorbing or displacing the native agricultural people they encountered.<BR> Life Death, and the Gods in Aryan India
THE RIG VEDA It is unclear whether the Aryans conquered and destroyed a vigorous Harappan civilization or, what seems more likely, took over a society already in eclipse. Whatever the case, by 1500 B.C.E. the Aryans were ruling northwest India as an illiterate warrior aristocracy, and the Harappan arts of writing and state craft had 9<BR> disappeared. India would not reemerge into the light of recorded history until around 600 B.C.E. Because the early Aryans were a pre-literate people, what little we know about them we derive from their oral tradition, which survives chiefly in four great collections of priestly hymns, chants, incantations, and ritual formulas known as the<I> Vedas</I>. <I>Veda</I> means "wisdom" or "knowledge,and the Aryans accepted these collections of sacred poetry as the eternal word of the gods. The most celebrated and earliest of the four is the<I> Rig Veda</I>, a collection of 1,028 songs, which probably was compiled for the most part between 1200 and 900 B.C.E., although it contains many elements that stretch back to a time long before the Aryans arrived in India. This Sanskrit masterpiece remains, even today, one of the sacred books of Hinduism. It is also the earliest extant major work of literature in an Indo-European tongue, predating by several centuries the Homeric Greek epics.<BR> As is common in pre-literate societies, Aryan priests, known as Brahmins, were trained to perform prodigious feats of memory. Generation after generation, they sang these songs and passed them on to those who followed. As a result, although the Vedas would not be written down until long after 1000 B.C.E., many of the songs reflect the religious, social, and political realities of Aryan life around 1500 B.C.E. or earlier. Conversely, other vedic hymns were the products of much later centuries and mirror the more sophisticated culture of an emerging Indo-Aryan civilization.The following three poems illustrate the evolution of Indo-Aryan religious thought. The first celebrates the victory over <I>Vitra</I>, the dragon of drought, by Indra the <I>Rig Veda's</I> chief deity. A lusty god of war, Indra was noted for imbibing large amounts of <I>Soma</I>, a sacred hallucinogenic drink reserved for the gods and their priests, and his military victories over the Dasas (the slaves), the indigenous people of northern India whom the Aryans were subduing. In this particular hymn, however, Indra conquers another foe, Vritra, known as the Encompasser, and liberates the universe, which Vritra has swallowed. In his conquest Indra releases life-giving monsoon rains, irrigating waters that were vital to the Aryans, who were now settling down and farming the land. As the Aryans were absorbed into the rich cultural fabric of India, their forms of religious expression also changed. Indra, whose worship was the central reality of early vedic religious life, largely fell out of favor as a major deity in post-Vedic India, becoming simply the god of weather. Our second hymn hints at the change in religious perception that was taking place in later Indo-Aryan society as some Aryans even dared to doubt the very existence of this ancient god of battle. As this second hymn also indicates, the Aryans had originally envisioned Indra as the creator god. Our third hymn, which is clearly one of the last vedic songs to be crafted, presents another vision of creation. In this poem the gods create the universe (and themselves) by sacrificing Purusha, the Primeval Man, to himself. The paradoxical view of reality presented in this hymn would become a hallmark of classic Hindu thought.<BR>
I will declare the manly deeds of Indra, the first that he achieved, the thunder-wielder. He slew the dragon, then disclosed the waters, and cleft the channels of the mountain torrents. He slew the dragon lying on the mountain: his heavenly bolt of thunder Twashtar' fashioned. Like lowing cows in rapid flow descending, the waters glided downward to the ocean. Impetuous as a bull, he chose the Soma, and quaffed in threefold sacrifice the juices. Maghavan' grasped the thunder for his weapon, and smote to death this firstborn of the dragons. When, Indra, you had slain the dragon's firstborn, and overcome the charms of the enchanters. Then, giving life to sun and dawn and heaven, you found not one foe to stand against you. Indra with his own great and deadly thunder smote into pieces Vritra worst of Vritras. As trunks of trees, what time the axe has felled them, low on the earth so lies the prostrate dragon. He, like a mad weak warrior, challenged Indra, the great impetuous many-slaying hero. He, brooking not the clashing of the weapons, crushed - Indra's foe - the shattered forts in falling, Footless and handless still' he challenged Indra, who smote him with his bolt between the shoulders. Emasculated yet claiming manly vigor, thus Vritra lay with scattered limbs dissevered.... Nothing availed him Lightning, nothing, nor thunder, hailstorm or mist which he had spread around him. When Indra and the dragon strove in battle, Maghavan gained the victory for ever... Indra is king of all that moves and moves not, of creatures tame and horned, the thunder-wielder. Over all living men he rules as sovereign, containing all as spokes within a rim.
WHO IS INDRA? The god who had insight the moment he was born, the first who protected the gods with his power of thought, before whose hot breath the two world-halves' tremble at the greatness of his manly powers - he, my people, is Indra. He who made fast the tottering earth, who made still the quaking mountains, who measured out and extended the expanse of the air, who propped up the sky - he, my people, is Indra. He who killed the serpent and loosed the seven rivers, who drove out the cows that had been pent up by Vala, who gave birth to fire between two stones, the winner of booty in combats - he, my people, is Indra. He by whom all these changes were rung, who drove the race of Dasas down into obscurity, who took away the flourishing wealth of the enemy as a winning gambler takes the stake - he, my people, is Indra. He about whom they ask, 'Where is he?,'or they say of him, the terrible one, 'He does not exist,' he who diminishes the flourishing wealth of the enemy as a gambler does-believe in him! He, my people, is Indra. He who encourages the weary and the sick, and the poor priest who is in need, who helps the man who harnesses the stones to press Soma, he who has lips fine for drinking he, my people, is Indra. He under whose command are horses and cows and villages and all chariots, who gave birth to the sun and the dawn and led out the waters, he, my people, is Indra. He who is invoked by both of two armies, enemies locked in combat, on this side and that side, he who is even invoked separately by each of two men standing on the very same chariot, he, my people, is Indra. He without whom people do not conquer, he whom they call on for help when they are fighting, who became the image of everything, who shakes the unshakeable - he, my people, is Indra. He who killed with his weapon all those who had committed a great sin, even when they did not know it, he who does not pardon the arrogant man for his arrogance, who is the slayer of Dasyus, he, my people, is Indra. He who in the fortieth autumn discovered Sambara living in the mountains, who killed the violent serpent, the Danu, as he lay there, he, my people, is Indra. He, the mighty bull who with his seven reins let loose the seven rivers to flow, who with his thunderbolt in his hand hurled down Rauhina as he was climbing up to the sky, he, my people, is Indra. Even the sky and the earth bow low before him,and the mountains are terrified of his hot breath; he who is known as the Soma-drinker, wit his thunderbolt in his hand, with the thunderbolt in his palm, he, my people, is Indra. He who helps with his favor the one who presses and the one who cooks, the praiser and the preparer, he for whom prayer is nourishment, for whom Soma is the special gift, he, my people, is Indra. You who furiously grasp the prize for the one who presses and the one who cooks, you are truly real Let us be dear to you, Indra, all our days, and let us speak as men of power in the sacrificial gathering.
A thousand heads had Purusha; a thousand eyes, a thousand feet. He covered earth on every side, and spread ten fingers' breadth beyond. This Purusha is all that yet has been and all that is to be. The lord of immortality which waxes greater still by food. So mighty is his greatness; yea, greater than this is Parusha. All creatures are one-fourth of him, three-fourths eternal life in Heaven. With three-fourths Purusha went up: one-fourths of him again was here. Thence he strode out to every side over what eats not and what eats. From him Viraj was born; again Purusha from Viraj was born. As soon as he was born he spread eastward and westward over the earth. When gods prepared the sacrifice with Purusha as their offering, its oil was spring, the holy gift was autumn; summer was the wood. They balmed as victim on the grass Purusha born in earliest time. With him the deities and all Sadhyas and Rishis sacrificed. From that great general sacrifice the dripping fat was gathered up. He formed the creatures of the air, and animals both wild and tame. From that great general sacrifice Richas and Samahymnswere born: There from the meters were produced,the Yajus; had its birth from it. From it were horses born, from it all creatures with two rows of teeth: From it were generated cows, from it the goats and sheep were born. When they divided Purusha how many portions did they make? What do they call his mouth, his arms? What do they call his thighs and feet? The Brahmin' was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rajayana made. His thighs became the Vaisya,from his feet the Sudra'9 was produced. The Moon was gendered from his mind, and from his eye the Sun had birth; Indra and Agni from his mouth were born, and Vayu from his breath. Forth from his navel came mid-air; the sky was fashioned from his head; Earth from his feet, and from his ear the regions. Thus they formed the worlds. Seven fencing-logs had he, thrice seven layers of fuel were prepared, When the gods, offering sacrifice, bound, as their victim, Purusha. Gods, sacrificing, sacrificed the victim: these were the earliest holy ordinances. The mighty ones attained the height of heaven, there where the Sadhyas, gods of old, are dwelling.