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The Atharva Veda (Sanskrit: अथर्ववेद, Atharvavedaḥ from atharvāṇas and veda, meaning "knowledge") or Atharvana Veda (Sanskrit: अथर्वणवेद, Atharvaṇavedaḥ is the "knowledge storehouse of atharvāṇas, the procedures for everyday life". The text is the fourth Veda, and is a late addition to the Vedic scriptures of Hinduism.
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The Atharvaveda is sometimes called the "Veda of magical formulas", a description considered incorrect by other scholars. In contrast to the 'hieratic religion' of the other three Vedas, the Atharvaveda is said to represent a 'popular religion', incorporating not only formulas for magic, but also the daily rituals for initiation into learning (upanayana), marriage and funerals. Royal rituals and the duties of the court priests are also included in the Atharvaveda.
The Veda may be named, states Monier Williams, after the mythical priest named Atharvan who was first to develop prayers to fire, offer Soma, and who composed "formulas and spells intended to counteract diseases and calamities". The name Atharvaveda, states Laurie Patton, is for the text being "Veda of the Atharvāṇas".
The ancient Indian tradition initially recognized only three Vedas. The Rigveda, the verse 18.104.22.168 of Taittiriya Brahmana, the verse 5.32-33 of Aitareya Brahmana and other Vedic era texts mention only three Vedas. The acceptance of the Atharvanas hymns and traditional folk practices was slow, and it was accepted as another Veda much later than the first three, by both orthodox and heterodox traditions of Indian philosophies. The early Buddhist Nikaya texts, for example, do not recognize Atharvaveda as the fourth Veda, and make references to only three Vedas. Olson states that the ultimate acceptance of Atharvaveda as the fourth Veda probably came in the 2nd half of the 1st millennium BCE. However, notes Max Muller, the hymns of Atharvaveda existed by the time Chandogya Upanishad was completed (700 BCE), but were then referred to as "hymns of Atharvangirasah".
Frits Staal states that the text may be a compilation of poetry and knowledge that developed in two different regions of ancient India, the Kuru region in northern India and the Pancalas region of eastern India. The former was home to Paippalāda, whose name was derived from the sacred fig tree named Pippala (Sanskrit: पप्पल). This school's compositions were in the Rigvedic style. The Pancalas region contributions came from composer-priests Angirasas and Bhargavas, whose style was unlike the metric Rigvedic composition, and their content included forms of medical sorcery. The Atharvaveda editions now known are a combination of their compositions.
The core text of the Atharvaveda falls within the classical Mantra period of Vedic Sanskrit, during the 2nd millennium BC - younger than the Rigveda, and roughly contemporary with the Yajurveda mantras, the Rigvedic Khilani, and the Sāmaveda. There is no absolute dating of any Vedic text including the Atharvaveda. The dating for Atharvaveda is derived from the new metals and items mentioned therein; it, for example, mentions iron (as krsna ayas, literally "black metal"), and such mentions have led Michael Witzel to the estimate that the Atharvaveda hymns were compiled in the early Indian Iron Age, at, or slightly after, c. 1200/1000 BCE. corresponding to the early Kuru Kingdom.
The priests who practised the Atharvaveda were considered to be the lowest tier of Brahmins, in comparison to the priests who practised the Rigveda, Samaveda, or Yajurveda. The stigma against Atharvaveda priests has continued in Odisha well into the modern day.
The Atharvaveda is a collection of 20 books, with a total of 730 hymns of about 6,000 stanzas. The text is, state Patrick Olivelle and other scholars, a historical collection of beliefs and rituals addressing practical issues of daily life of the Vedic society, and it is not a liturgical Yajurveda-style collection.
The Caraṇavyuha, a later era Sanskrit text, states that the Atharvaveda had nine shakhas, or schools: paippalāda, stauda, mauda, śaunakīya, jājala, jalada, brahmavada, devadarśa and cāraṇavaidyā.
The Atharvaveda Samhita originally was organized into 18 books (Kāṇḍas), and the last two were added later. These books are arranged neither by subject nor by authors (as is the case with the other Vedas), but by the length of the hymns. Each book generally has hymns of about a similar number of verses, and the surviving manuscripts label the book with the shortest hymns as Book 1, and then in an increasing order (a few manuscripts do the opposite). Most of the hymns are poetic and set to different meters, but about a sixth of the book is prose.
Most of the hymns of Atharvaveda are unique to it, except for the one sixth of its hymns that it borrows from the Rigveda, primarily from its 10th mandala. The 19th book was a supplement of a similar nature, likely of new compositions and was added later. The 143 hymns of the 20th book of Atharvaveda Samhita is almost entirely borrowed from the Rigveda.
The hymns of Atharvaveda cover a motley of topics, across its twenty books. Roughly, the first seven books focus primarily on magical poems for all sorts of healing and sorcery, and Michael Witzel states these are reminiscent of Germanic and Hittite sorcery stanzas, and may likely be the oldest section. Books 8 to 12 are speculations of a variety of topics, while Books 13 to 18 tend to be about life cycle rites of passage rituals.
The Srautasutra texts Vaitāna Sūtra and the Kauśika Sūtra are attached to the Atharvaveda Shaunaka edition, as are a supplement of Atharvan Prayascitthas, two Pratishakhyas, and a collection of Parisisthas. For the Paippalada edition of Atharvaveda, corresponding texts were Agastya and Paithinasi Sutras but these are lost or yet to be discovered.
The Atharvaveda is sometimes called the "Veda of magical formulas", an epithet declared to be incorrect by other scholars. The Samhita layer of the text likely represents a developing 2nd millennium BCE tradition of magico-religious rites to address superstitious anxiety, spells to remove maladies believed to be caused by demons, and herbs- and nature-derived potions as medicine. Many books of the Atharvaveda Samhita are dedicated to rituals without magic and to theosophy. The text, states Kenneth Zysk, is one of oldest surviving record of the evolutionary practices in religious medicine and reveals the "earliest forms of folk healing of Indo-European antiquity".
The Atharvaveda Samhita contains hymns many of which were charms, magic spells and incantations meant to be pronounced by the person who seeks some benefit, or more often by a sorcerer who would say it on his or her behalf. The most frequent goal of these hymns, charms, and spells were long life of a loved one or recovery from some illness. In these cases, the affected would be given substances such as a plant (leaf, seed, root) and an amulet. Some magic spells were for soldiers going to war with the goal of defeating the enemy, others for anxious lovers seeking to remove rivals or to attract the lover who is less than interested, some for success at a sporting event, in economic activity, for bounty of cattle and crops, or removal of petty pest bothering a household. Some hymns were not about magic spells and charms, but prayer qua prayer and philosophical speculations.
The spirit of the two collections [Rigveda, Atharvaveda] is indeed widely different. In the Rigveda there breathes a lively natural feeling, a warm love for nature; while in the Atharva there prevails, on the contrary, only an anxious dread of her evil spirits and their magical powers. In the Rigveda we find the people in a state of free activity and independence; in the Atharva we see it bound in the fetters of the hierarchy and superstition.
Jan Gonda cautions that it would be incorrect to label Atharvaveda Samhita as mere compilation of magical formulas, witchcraft and sorcery. While such verses are indeed present in the Samhita layer, a significant portion of the Samhita text are hymns for domestic rituals without magic or spells, and some are theosophical speculations such as "all Vedic gods are One". Additionally, the non-Samhita layers of Atharvaveda text include a Brahmana and several influential Upanishads.
The Atharvaveda includes mantras and verses for treating a variety of ailments. For example, the verses in hymn 4.15 of the recently discovered Paippalada version of the Atharvaveda, discuss how to deal with an open fracture, and how to wrap the wound with Rohini plant (Ficus Infectoria, native to India):
Numerous hymns of the Atharvaveda are prayers and incantations wishing a child or loved one to get over some sickness and become healthy again, along with comforting the family members. The Vedic era assumption was that diseases are caused by evil spirits, external beings or demonic forces who enter the body of a victim to cause sickness. Hymn 5.21 of the Paippalāda edition of the text, for example, states,
Several hymns in the Atharvaveda such as hymn 8.7, just like the Rigveda's hymn 10.97, is a praise of medicinal herbs and plants, suggesting that speculations about the medical and health value of plants and herbs was an emerging field of knowledge in ancient India. The Atharvavedic hymn states (abridged),
The contents of Atharvaveda have been studied to glean information about the social and cultural mores in Vedic era of India. A number of verses relate to spells for gaining a husband, or a wife, or love of a woman, or to prevent any rivals from winning over one's "love interest".