Kumara Kampana, the Vijayanagara Prince who liberated Tamilnadu from Turk’s Tyranny

In 14th century A.D. when the people of Tamilnadu were under the yoke of Muslim tyranny, two persons from Karnataka took up the responsibility of liberating them. The first one was the Hoysala king, Ballala III who in his attempt to liberate Tamilnadu from the Turkish rule lost his life and the other was Kumara Kampana who not only succeeded in his attempt but also avenged the death of Ballala III.

Kumara Kampana was the son of Bukka I (the co-founder of Vijayanagara Empire and who ruled the kingdom between 1356-77 A.D.) and queen Devayi. Kampana was so named because his enemies quaked with fear at the very mention of his name. Kampana was ruling over the region of Mulbagilu as governor when Bukka commanded him to end the Muslim rule over Tamilnadu.

Genesis of Turkish rule in Tamilnadu

After conquering Devagiri, Malik Kafur, the general of Alauddin Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi led an expedition to Dwarasamudra and Ballala III made peace with him by paying tributes. Meanwhile in Tamilnadu dispute over the throne led Sundara Pandya seek aid from Malik Kafur against his brother Vira Pandya. According to K.A.Nilakanta Sastri, Malik Kafur proceeded towards Tamilnadu (1311 A.D.) not with an intention to help Sundara Pandya but to seek booty as this is substantiated by Muslim historians, Amir Khusru and Barani who mention the sack and plunder of temples, resulting in the capture of great booty by Malik Kafur.

In 1323 Muhammad bin Tughlaq undertook an expedition to Tamilnadu and established a Muslim garrison at Madurai or Ma’bar as the Pandyan country was called by the Muslim historians and had probably appointed Jalauddin Ahsan Shah as its governor. In 1335 Jalauddin Ahsan Shah rebelled against the Delhi authorities and declared his independence and assumed the title Sultan of Ma’bar and ruled till 1340. He was followed by sultans like Allauddin Udauji (1340-41), Qutubuddin Firoz Shah (Forty days), Ghiyasuddin Dhamagani (1341-42 or 43), Naziruddin (1342 or 1342), Adil Shah (1357), Fakruddin Mubarak Shah (1359-1368) and Allauddin Sikandar Shah (1368-1378). These sultans ruled over the present Trichinopoly, Madurai and Ramnad districts of Tamilnadu.

Atrocities on Hindus

The period of the Sultanate was a period of terrible oppression and tyranny. Accounts of Ibn Batuta and inscriptions speaks of the suffering and distress endured by Hindus during the misrule of the Muhammadans in Madurai. The temples of Srirangam and Chidambaram suffered worst during their rule. According to the Madurai Sthanikar Varalaru, the Siva and Vishnu temples and the tanks (pushkarnis) were destroyed, images mutilated and temple treasures were plundered. A pathetic picture of the state of Madurai under the Muslim rule is given by Ganga Devi in her work Madhura Vijayam. She says that while staying in Kanchi after the conquest of Shambuvaraya, Kampana had a dream in which goddess of the Pandyan country appeared before him and described how in her lands, temples had fallen into neglect and become the haunt of jackals, how the worship in them had ceased, how the sacrifices and chants of the Vedas had everywhere given place to the foul roasty of the flesh and rioting of the Muslims, how the coconut trees in the garden of Madurai had been cut and their spaces covered with rows of stakes from which swung numerous human skulls strung together and how the river Tambraparni had been flowing red with the blood of slaughtered cows. The Moroccan traveller Ibn Batuta visited Madurai during the rule of Ghiyasuddin Dhamagani who was also his brother-in-law. Ibn Batuta writes in his memoirs that he had accompanied Ghiyasuddin to a forest where every Hindu found was taken prisoner and the next day, they were impaled on stakes along with their wives and children. Ibn Batuta says that this shameful act of the sultan hastened his (Ghiyasuddin) death. On another occasion Ibn Batuta says that he along with a kazi were having food with the sultan when a Hindu along with his wife and son aged seven were brought before the sultan who ordered all their heads to be cut. It was this same Ghiyasuddin who had killed, flayed the skin of Ballala III and stuffed it with straw and hung upon the walls of Madurai after capturing him. Ibn Batuta found his brother-in-law to be a cruel tyrant and observes that he was a demon in human form. In short, the occupation of south India by the Muslims created a feeling of great horror among the Hindus. It was during this state of affairs that Kampana undertook an expedition to Madurai and put an end to the atrocities heaped upon the Hindus by the Turks.

Liberated Tamilnadu from cruel clutches of the Turks

Kampana began his southern campaign by first leading an expedition against Rajanarayana belonging to Shambuvaraya family and ruling the kingdom Rajagambira rajya, comprising of Chinglepet, North and South Arcot districts of present Tamilnadu. Kampana captured his fortress Rajagambiramalai and took Rajanarayana as prisoner. However, he was released and reinstated in his original possession as a subordinate of Vijayanagara and took the title ‘Sambuvaraya Sthapanacharya’. This happened in December 1362 A.D. Kampana then subdued the Vanvyarajas (or forest kings) of the south. For some time Kampana made Kanchipuram as his capital and ruled from there as per his father’s order and gained the goodwill of the people. Meanwhile Kampana’s general Gopanna who was in charge of Gingee province attacked the Muslim chief of Srirangam who had shifted his head-quarters to Kannanur and fortified that place with the stones obtained by demolishing the outer enclosures of the Srirangam temple. This Muslim chief who had degenerated by drink and debauchery and who had become thoroughly powerless to resist an attack was defeated by Gopanna in 1370-71. Gopanna then brought the image of Ranganatha from Shingavaram and reconsecrated the idol in the temple at Srirangam. It may be recalled that as soon as the Mohammadans had reached near Srirangam, the image of Sri Ranganatha was carried away by pious Hindu and taken to Tirupati. When Gopanna then in charge of Gingee province heard about it, he brought the image to Gingee and kept it in a shrine at Shingavaram near his capital. Later Gopanna’s services were also utilized in restoring the image of Govindarajasvami at Chidambaram.

Ganga Devi in her Madhura Vijayam writes that it was during his stay in Kanchipuram that the Goddess of the Pandyan country appeared in Kampana’s dream and gave him the mighty sword of the Pandyan sovereignty entrusted to her by the custodian of Tamil culture, sage Agastya and extorted him to use it fearlessly for the restoration of the dharma. This was followed by Kampana’s expedition against Madurai and the defeat of its sultan. After this victory Kampana administered the Tamil country as the viceroy of Vijayanagara Empire. Thus, Kampana is represented to have restored Hindu sovereignty in the Madurai kingdom as a lawful successor of the Pandyan kings. Somappa, Gopanna, Virupaksha and Saluva Mangi were some of the famous generals who assisted Kampana in his military campaigns.

Date of conquest of Madurai

It is difficult to fix the exact date of Kampana’s invasion and conquest of Madurai. Though we get a fairly good number of coins issued by the sultans of Madurai, there is a break of about twelve years in them from 1345-1357. It has been suggested that such a long break could not have been due to a mere accident and that during period Kampana must have invaded the Madurai country and inflicted such crushing defeats on the sultans of the place that they could not have been bold enough even to mint coins. But this period (1345-1357) seems to be too early for the invasion of Madurai by Kampana and the earliest mention of Kampana in the inscriptions of southern Tamil districts is 1363-64. An inscription of Srirangam dated 1371 mentions that the idol of Ranganatha was reconsecrated by Gopanna the general of Kampana. It appears that the campaigns started by Kampana in 1361-62 in the region south of river Kaveri was completed in 1371. Father Heras thinks that Madurai could have been conquered only about 1377 on the ground that we have coins of the last sultan Alauddin Sikandar Shat dated 1377. But by that time Kampana was not alive and had died in 1374. Hence K.A.Nilakanta Sastri and T.V.Mahalingam infers that it is not necessary to hold that Kampana finished all his work of conquest in one expedition. Even after 1371 the last Muslim ruler of Madurai might not have completely disappeared from the region and therefore could have issued some unauthorised coins for a few years. But the political power of the Muslims of Madurai appears to have been broken by 1371 at the latest. and the last sultans maintained a feeble struggle against the growing power of Vijayanagara till 1377-78.

Restorer of Hindu Temples

Kampana came to Tamilnadu as a champion of Hinduism and as a preserver of south Indian temples. Hence after his victory over the Turks at Madurai, he revived worship in many temples in south India which had remained in a decadent condition during the Muslim rule. For instance, the Meenakshi temple at Madurai which had remained closed without any worship were reopened for public worship. He also revived the worship at the historic Kailasanatha temple at Kanchi by giving liberal grants. He appointed officials to look after the affairs of the temples and revived the various activities connected with the temple and settled some of the long-standing disputes among the temple servants and redressed their grievances. He renovated, repaired and remodelled a number of temples which had suffered during the Muslim rule. For instance, temples in places like Kannanur, Kuraiyur and Sadayampalayam had been converted into mosques and during Kampana’s rule were rebuild and reconsecrated with the idols. Also grants of cows, gardens, villages and vast sums of money in gold were made which helped the temples to celebrate festivals.

Patron of scholars and saints

The period of Kampana’s rule in south India witnessed great commercial activities. There were colonies of merchants both in the Tamil country and Karnataka which was known as Paradesis and Nanadesis. Periodic fairs held gave stimulation to trade and commerce. Kampana also patronised men of letters and inscriptions refer to a poet by name Bayakara Allalanath who was patronised by Kampana. His queen Ganga Devi composed Vira Kamparaya Charitam or Madhura Vijayam in Sanskrit. It was only after Kampana had established himself Tamilnadu that the great Srivaishnava saint Vedanta Desika returned to Srirangam from his retreat at Satyamangalam and praised Gopanna (who had reconsecrated the idol of Sri Ranganatha at Srirangam) in two Sanskrit verses which were engraved on the eastern wall of the first prakara of the Ranganatha temple. Kampana was the follower of the famous Kashivilasa Kriyashakti belonging to the Pashupata sect. Kampana probably died around 1374 and his son Jammanna or Empanna succeeded him as viceroy of Tamilnadu.

Incarnation of Vishnu

Kumara Kampana never deviated from the path of dharma and hence he was able to establish the Vijayanagara rule on an alien land with the willing consent of the people of the land. He won the hearts of the people and his subjects considered him as another incarnation of Vishnu and his fame spread far and wide after he established himself at Kanchi. K.Krishnaswami Pillai hails Kumara Kampana as the restorer of the indigenous culture and the preserver of the ancient religion.


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  13. S.Krishnaswami Aiyangar- South India and her Muhammadan Invaders, S.Chand and Co, New Delhi

Hoysala Ballala III, the Leader of Resistance Movement in South India

Ballala III belonging to the Hoysala dynasty, which ruled the southern parts of Karnataka during 1050 A.D. to 1346 A.D. was the first ruler of south India who launched a campaign to oust the Turks who after capturing most of north India had set their foot on south India. Of the important kingdoms in the south during that period, Devagiri (ruled by the Sevunas), Warangal (ruled by the Kakathiyas) and the Pandyan kingdom in Tamilnadu had been overrun by the Turks and only Ballala III was able to hold on the reigns of his kingdom.

Ballala III, son of Narasimha III came to throne in 1291 A.D. Soon after coming to power he united the Hoysala kingdom which had been partitioned into two by his grandfather Someshvara between his sons; Narasimha III (who was to govern from Dwarasamudra) and Ramanatha (who was to rule from Kannanur). It was during his period that south India saw the first turkish invasion under Alauddin Khilji who in 1294 defeated the Sevuna ruler Ramachandra and extracted rich booty from him. After his accession to the throne at Delhi, Alauddin sent an expedition in 1303 against Warangal; but its ruler Prataparudra defeated the Delhi army led by Nasrat Khan. As Ramachandra had failed to remit tributes, in 1306-7 Alauddin sent Malik Kafur to Devagiri to reduce him to submission. The next year Malik Kafur was sent to reduce Warangal and the Kakatiya ruler Prataparudra was forced into submission. The next target of the Sultan was Dwarasamudra and according to Amir Khusrau and Isami, Malik Kafur was asked by Alauddin Khilji to lead the expedition to the south to spread Islam. Malik Kafur came with a big army and reached Dwarasamudra on February 1311. On the way he devasted Ballala’s dominions and spread panic in the country side though attempts were made to check his advance. Two inscriptions; one at Hosahalli 70 miles of Dwarasamudra and dated February 1311 refers to one Bommaya Nayaka who died fighting against the Turks. Another at Dudda in Hassan district record the death of a chief in a battle with the Turukas who were advancing on Dwarasamudra. The battle mentioned in these epigraphs must have been a skirmish. Ballala appealed to Pandya princes for help and Vira Pandya responded and sent an army of horse and foot. On reaching Dwarasamudra Malik Kafur gave several options to Ballala; to accept Islam or pay jaziya or else face death.

Preferred people’s welfare to personal glory

Ballala III was a clear-sighted monarch who knew he could not resist the might of Delhi. Hostility would bring ruin to himself and his people. The country would be plundered and temples destroyed. Submission would involve loss of his wealth and war material, but would leave him in his possession of his kingdom and his people would escape the horrors of Muslim invasion. Ballala preferred the happiness of his people to the shadow glory which he might acquire by an unsuccessful fight with the invader and hence made peace. Ballala agreed to surrender all his property but was not willing to forsake his religion. Ballala was forced to accompany Malik Kafur in his expedition against the Pandyan kingdom. After reaching Kanchipuram on the midnight of 15th March 1311, Malik Kafur ordered the massacre of its sleeping inhabitants, smashed the idol at the temples and plundered the golds and gems. The devotees who came to protect their deity were killed and the temple razed to ground. Later he went to Madhurai and set fire to the temple. With rich booty he departed to Delhi.

After the departure of Malik Kafur from south Ballala probably repudiated his subordination to the Sultan of Delhi and withheld the payment of tribute. Hence during the rule of Mubaraq Shah a Muslim force was sent to Dwarasamudra. But one of the officers of Ballala, Katari Saluva Raseya Nayaka inflicted a defeat on the Muslims and forced them to retire.

Refused shelter to Garshasp

After Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq ascended the throne he sent his son Ulugh Khan in 1321 to annex Warangal whose ruler Prataparudra had repudiated his vassalage to the Sultan of Delhi. Ulugh Khan failed in his first attempt but succeeded in his second attempt in 1323. A Muslim garrison was also established at Madhura with Jalalluddin Ahsan Shah as governor. After the death of Ghiyasuddin his son Ulugh Khan ascended the throne under the title Muhammad Tughlaq. Soon he had to face the revolt of his cousin Bahauddin Garshasp, the governor of Sagar near Gulbarga. An expedition under Malik Zada was sent against him and Garshasp took shelter in the kingdom of Kampili whose ruler later sent him to Dwarasamudra. Ballala knew that he had to face disaster if he offered protection to Garshasp and hence to protect his kingdom, he handed over Garshasp to Malik Zada and acknowledge the supremacy of Delhi Sultan.

Rebellion against religious tyranny

The departure of Muhammad bin Tughlaq to the north hastened the starting of a movement for the liberation of south India from the hands of the Muslims. The causes of the rebellion were more cultural than political. The Hindus attached greater importance to the preservation of their religion and culture than to their political freedom. As long as an invader confined himself to the establishment and maintenance of his power and the government of the realm, the Hindus did not challenge his authority but they shook off their apathy if he displayed a tendency to interfere with their religion and social institution.

Unlike the other conquerors of India, Mussalmans were not content with the acquisition of mere political power. They wanted to spread their religion and therefore after establishing themselves they set about systematically to force their religion upon the people and subvert the old social and religious institutions of the country. On refusal to convert the Hindus were subjected to inhuman tyranny; they could not dress well, live well and appear prosperous. Vexatious taxes were imposed on them, their seats of learning were destroyed, their temples plundered and demolished and the images of the gods whom they adored were defaced and smashed and used for building mosques. Inspite of these the Hindus remained loyal to the faith of their forefathers and declined to change it at the point of sword. The people of south India especially in Karnataka and Telangana were during that period under the influence of various egalitarian and militant Shaiva sects like Pashupatas, Kapalikas and Lingayats and would not tolerate the religious tyranny of the Muslims and rose in rebellion.

Launched war of National independence

With the extinction of all major Hindu kingdoms in the south Ballala realised the need to establish unity and peace among the Hindu chiefs. He travelled from place to place to mobilize forces and enlist the sympathy and assistance of the numerous principalities. Old age did not prevent Ballala from taking to arms himself and to free himself from administrative responsibilities he gave greater rights and sometimes even partial independence to his ministers, generals and feudatories as long as they did not abuse their power. Ballala placed Harihara in charge of his northern territory as its governor and permitted him to enjoy an almost independent status free to act according to exigencies. He helped Kapayanayaka fight against Malik Maqbul the governor of Telangana and the latter fled to Delhi leaving Telangana free from Muslim rule and this happened in 1336. Soon after Kapayanayaka and Ballala together entered the northern district of Ma’bar, the area known as Tondaimandalam and ousted the Muslim garrisons from the forts of that country and entrusted the task of its administration to a scion of the line of Shambuvarayas, the native rulers of the region at that time.

Victim of treachery

In 1341 the Sultan of Madhurai, Alauddin Udauji invaded Tiruvannamalai where Ballala had stationed himself. Ballala was on the verge of defeat when an arrow shot by an unknown person struck and killed Udauji and Ballala converted the defeat into victory and for a time it looked like the end of the Sultanate of Madhurai. But the nobles at Madhurai placed Udauji’s son-in-law and on his death, Ghiyasuddin Damghani on the throne. Meanwhile Ballala besieged the fort of Kannanur (which earlier belonged to the Hoysalas) and the siege lasted for six months. The besieged forces opened negotiation and wanted a truce of fourteen days so that they could seek the opinion of their Sultan on the terms of surrender. Ballala committed a folly by allowing the garrison to get into touch with Ghiyasuddin Damghani where they deliberated and realized that if Kannanur was lost, Madhurai itself would be endangered. Hence, they marched against Ballala with a large army which took him and his forces by surprise and being ill prepared the Hoysala army was routed and Ballala himself taken captive. Ballala was killed and skinned and his skin was stuffed with straw and hung on the walls of Madhurai. Such was the lamentable end of the great Ballala at the ripe age of eighty years.

Martyred for the Hindu cause

Ballala III is credited for launching the great war of national independence in south India. Ballala is described as the greatest hero in the dark political atmosphere prevailing in south India. His indefatigable zeal in thwarting the Muslim power in south India was commendable. According to P.B.Desai, Ballala bent before the superior might of the aggressor but did neither prostrate nor succumb. The military leadership of the Hindu confederacy which Ballala had so ably wielded devolved apparently on the Vijayanagara kings after his death.


J.Duncan.M.Derret- The Hoysalas, Oxford University Press, 1957

William Coelho- Hoysala Vamsa, 1950

B.R.Gopal- Political condition in Karnataka before the establishment of the Vijayanagara Empire, G.S.Dikshit, Edited- Early Vijayanagara- Studies in its History and Culture, B.M.S.Foundation, Bangalore

K.A.Nilakanta Sastri- A History of South India, Oxford University Press, 1958

S.Krishnaswami Aiyangar- South India and her Muhammadan Invaders, S.Chand and Co, New Delhi

N.Venkataramanyya- The Early Muslim Expansion in South India, University of Madras, 1942

Soma cult, the popular cult of Ancient India

The gods in the Vedic religion are classified under three spheres namely aerial, celestial and terrestrial. Of the popular gods of the Vedic religion, Indra belonged to the aerial or atmospheric sphere, Varuna to the celestial sphere and Soma to the terrestrial sphere. In the Vedas the word Soma has two meanings, God and plant/juice. After Indra and Agni, Soma has the highest number of hymns addressed to him and the ninth mandala of Rig Veda has about 114 hymns addressed exclusively to Soma. These hymns were composed by rishis most of them who figure as authors in other mandalas as well but a majority of the hymns of Soma were composed by the rishi family of Kashyapas who probably were specialists in the Soma cult. He is also praised in other mandalas.

The Soma cult was one of the oldest cults in the Vedic religion existing even prior to the Indra cult. Soma is described as the father of Indra and other Vedic gods and Indra is described to be an enthusiastic worshipper of Soma. In the Rig Veda Soma sacrifice is described as the oldest and anterior to all sacrifices and the Soma juice as the favourite drink of the gods from ancient times. As a deity Soma was a wise seer, a poet who stimulates thoughts and inspires hymns. He is the lord of plants or the lord of woods (Vanaspathi). Soma is said to be divine, immortal and had the power to confer immortality to gods and men. Being connected with Indra in his conflict with Vrtra, Soma is described as a great fighter, the most heroic of heroes and a slayer of the wicked. He is also called the treasure or the wealth of gods and bestower of all the wealth of heaven and earth.

The Pre-eminence of Soma

In the pantheon of Vedic gods, the sun occupies the most prominent place. The ancient Vedic people greeted this god with hymns of praise and offering of Soma juice. The Vedic people were divided into various clans and each clan had a special name for sun and worshipped him in that name. One clan recited hymns in praise of Varuna, another in praise of Indra and another in praise of Vayu, but the Soma juice remained a common offering for every clan and it created a bond that linked the diverse clans. The word Soma was first used to mean a creeper, then it meant juice of the creeper Soma. As juice is water Soma meant water and then rain and as it is the sun responsible for rain, Soma came to be identified with sun. Later the Vedic people began to worship Soma in place of other solar deities and Soma reigned as the Supreme God.

Soma’s identification with other Gods

According to Hillebrandt at the beginning of the Agnistoma sacrifice Soma is treated as Varuna and a considerable amount of Vedic literary and ritualistic evidence shows that in the mind of the Vedic thinkers Soma and Varuna were quite identical. Dandekar opines that it was a conscious attempt on the part of the later Soma priests to glorify Soma by bringing him into contact with Varuna, the world sovereign. Similarly, effort was made to bring Soma and Pusan together though the Pusan cult was an independent cult promoted by the rishi family of Bharadvajas.

In subsequent time however the Soma creeper could not be procured and people in course of time forget about it and hence in post-Vedic literature one misses the word Soma altogether and, in its place, we find the word Savitri, which was accepted as Soma’s substitute. Soma was also identified with the moon.

Soma and Haoma ceremony

Rig Veda mentions Soma as a plant/oushadhi (a species of Ephedra) which was grown on Mujavat mountains around the Sharyanavat lake and on the Rjika mountains. The juice of this plant was extracted by pressing its shoots. It was then mixed with milk or curds or barley water and offered as libation in fire sacrifice. Just as the Vedic literature describes the Soma sacrifice, the Zend Avesta, the holy book of Zoroastrian religion, (an off-shoot of the Vedic religion) describes the Yasna ceremony where the Haoma juice is prepared. As we have seen Soma in Vedic literature has two meaning, god and plant while in Avesta the word Haoma has four connotations- Haoma the prophet, the plant, the hero and probably the person who performed the Haoma sacrifices. How is that the Soma offering unique to the Vedic religion was adopted by the Zoroastrian religion? According to R.N.Dandekar, in the beginning of the Vedic religion Varuna was the supreme God who was latter challenged by Indra. Later there was a compromise between the followers of Varuna cult and Indra cult. But some followers of Varuna who could not accept the supremacy of Indra probably migrated to Iran and the Varuna cult evolved into a new religion later known as Zoroastrianism. In its new avatar Zoroastrianism retained many old rituals of the Vedic religion like worship of fire (Agni), offering of Soma (Haoma) and probably Varuna who had the epithet Asura was now worshipped as Ahura Mazda, the supreme God in Zoroastrian religion.


  1. R.N.Dandekar- Vedic Mythological Tracts, Ajanta Publications, Delhi, 1979
  2. Abinas Chandra Das- RGVedic India, Calcutta, 1927
  3. C.G.Kashikar- Identification of Soma– Research Series No.7, Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, Pune, 1990
  4. Swami Sankaranand- RGVedic Culture of the Pre-historic India, Vol-II, Ramakrishna Vedanta Math, Calcutta, 1944
  5. V.G.Rahurkar- The Seers of the RGVeda, University of Poona, 1964
  6. W.J.Wilkins- Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic, 1913
  7. A.A.Macdonell – Vedic Mythology, 1897
  8. R.C.Majumdar Edited- History and Culture of the Indian People, The Vedic Age, 1951

Atharva Veda, the Veda of the Masses

The Atharva Veda is a collection of 730 hymns divided into twenty chapters. This Veda is associated with mythic fire priests of prehistoric antiquity, Atharvan and Angiras and later Bhrigu resulting in this Veda being named Atharvangirasah and Bhrgvangirasah. As about half of its hymns is attributed to sage Atharvan this Veda is also known by the name Atharva Veda. In the matter of the total number of mantras and suktas compiled in the four samhitas, the Atharva Veda stands next only to Rig Veda. S.N.Dasgupta presumes that a good number of Atharvanic hymns were composed even before the composition of Rigvedic hymns as never probably in the history of India was there any time when people did not take to charms and incantations for curing diseases or repelling calamities and injuring enemies; the main subject of Atharva Veda. However, by the time the Atharva Veda was compiled in its present form some new hymns were incorporated with it, the philosophical character of which does not tally with the outlook of the majority of the hymns.

Authors of the Atharva Veda

Unlike the three Vedas of the Trayi which derive their names from the nature of the composition, Atharva Veda derive the name from their authors, namely Atharvan, Angirasa and Bhrigu.

The name Atharvan occurs about fourteen times in the Rig Veda. He generally appears in the character of an ancient priest. He appears as the first enkindler of fire and also as the founder of the cult of sacrifice. The Atharvans also probably initiated the Soma sacrifice. In the Atharva Veda, the Atharvans are referred to as medicine men.

Sage Angiras is often referred to in the Vedas by the seers as their ancient father. He is closely connected with the production of fire and the inauguration of the fire cult. The word Angiras occurs about ninety times in the Rig Veda and sometimes occurs as an epithet of Agni or of Indra. Angiras was a great and enthusiastic religious reformer. He preached the doctrine of tirtha yatra (journey to sacred places) and upavasa (fasting) as easier substitute for the cumbrous Vedic sacrifices.

The Bhrigus or Bhargavas claim descent from the primeval rishi Bhirgu. The earliest Bhrgu mentioned in the Puranas are Chyavana and Shukra, the latter being the guru of the Asuras. The members of Angiras and Bhrigu families originally formed a single unit and were great philosophers, leaders and religious teachers. The Atharvanic texts represents an attempt of the Brahmanic orthodoxy led by the Angirasas and Bhrigus to enlist the sympathy of the masses whose beliefs and traditions are faithfully recorded in the Atharva Veda. The Bhrigus and Angirasas were jointly responsible for the final redaction of the Mahabharata and supported the Vaishnava religion and used the Mahabharata as a vehicle of instructing the people in the new and simplified forms of the Vedic religion devised by them.

The Rituals of Atharva Veda

While trayi is connected with srauta ceremonies with oblation of Soma, the Atharva Veda is about rites where oblation other than Soma was poured into the fire. The rituals of the Atharva Veda fall broadly under four classes namely-

  • Shantika– rituals performed for mitigating evil and creating an atmosphere of good.

  • Paushtika– rituals performed for the attainment of plenty and prosperity.

  • Adbhuta– rituals performed for warding off evils from unseen agencies and

  • Abhicharika– rituals performed for warding off evils from enemies.

The rituals of the first and second classes are performed with the aid of mantras. The rituals of the third and fourth classes are intended for special use under special circumstances.

Contents of Atharva Veda

With regards to the contents, the Atharva Veda presents a remarkably rich variety of contents from subtle philosophical speculation to refreshing medicinal references. According to S.C.Banerji, the Atharva Veda is an inestimable source of knowledge of the actual popular religion of ancient India. The Atharva Veda has information on astronomy, agriculture, polity and about the habits, customs and culture of the people of that times. It has medicinal charms to cure diseases and possesses a knowledge of anatomy. Hence Sushruta says that Ayurveda (the science of life) is an upanga of the Atharva Veda, while Vagbhatta the elder speaks of Ayurveda as a upaveda of Atharva Veda. This is because both the texts deal with the curing of diseases and attainment of long life; the Atharva Veda by incantations and charms and the Ayurveda by medicines. As Atharva Veda provides a good deal of information on statecraft and kingship it is considered as a base for Dandaniti. According to Lalan Prasad Singh, the Atharva Veda deals with the Tantric cult and covers all the branches of Tantrism. It is a compendium of Vidya Tantra which propagates the philosophy of Brahma Vada and Upavidya Tantra which deals about charms and sorceries. The Atharva Veda also contains much material in the form of worldly wisdom and in the Raghuvamsha, Kalidasa speaks of Vasishta as the receptacle of Atharva (wisdom). Here the wisdom has relation to finding out remedies for misfortune. The Atharva Veda is specially connected with the avoidance of sufferings.

Reluctance to accord Vedic status

Even up to the times of Ramayana or even Kalidasa, Vedatrayi referred to Rig Veda, Yajur Veda and Sama Veda and Atharva Veda was discarded from the group. For a long time, the followers of trayi had scant regard for Atharva Veda and its followers did not recognise the Atharvan text as a Veda. Even among the trayi, gradation was made in orthodox circles and the first place of importance was given to the Rig Veda. But Sayana was of the opinion that in sacrifices it is the Yajur Veda which stands prominent. But in the case of Atharva Veda all agreed that it is inferior to other three Vedas. The reason for meting out such a treatment to the Atharva Veda is that while the other three Vedas contain in them prayers and sacrificial formulae used in sacrifice, the Atharva Veda contains in it hymns which are devoid of all sacrificial utility. Another reason was because Atharva Veda contained matter of the nature to bless and to curse and to cure and cause diseases and hence its character was not wholly holy. Atharva Veda contains mantras to effect good as well as bad to the people and it was not regarded as a purely sacred text. Also, as the name of the seers who composed the Atharva Veda did not figure in the traditional lists of the Vedic seers (anukramanis), it was denied the status enjoyed by the trayi.

Attains the status of fourth Veda

To make their text a part of the Vedas, the Atharvans resorted to a two-fold strategy. First as in Yajur Veda and Sama Veda, they added hymns from the Rig Veda to their text. For instance, chapters like 14 and 18 of the Atharva Veda contains mantras from the tenth mandala of Rig Veda and chapter 20 contains complete hymns (borrowed from Rig Veda) addressed to Indra and relates to the Soma ritual, which is entirely foreign to the spirit of the Atharva Veda. Secondly, they began to glorify their text as Sarvavidya and tried to prove Atharva Veda superior to all other Vedas both in holiness and comprehensiveness. The Atharvavedis claimed that the Atharva Veda provides fruit in this world and also in the other world whereas the other three Vedas provide fruit only in the other world. Also, they claimed that the followers of trayi will reach the highest heaven whereas the Atharvans and Angirasas go beyond the great world of the Brahma. The Vaitana Sutra, the ritual text of Atharva Veda advises that only a person well versed in Atharva Veda be chosen as Brahman (the supervising priest in Vedic sacrifices) and he is given precedence over the hotr, adhvaryu and udgatr priests. Later under the influence of Atharva texts like Kaushika Sutra, the kings began to appoint priest (a wise Brahmin) as his councillor/adviser and he was an Atharvavedin as they were well versed in the art of charms and incantation and could protect the king and his people from all kinds of evils. These factors finally led Atharva Veda to be accorded the status of fourth Veda.

Popularity of Atharva Veda

The sacrificial rites of the Rig Veda were expensive and only the moneyed people could afford to perform them. Also, the Rig Vedic rites could not be expected to cure a man from jaundice, heart disease or fever. The Atharvanic priest brought the sacrificial technique within the reach of the people by simplifying its procedure. They introduced Sava sacrifices which were less elaborate, less expensive and were manageable by single individual and which gave the same fruit as the old Vedic sacrifices. According to Sayana the Atharva Veda was indispensable to kings for warding off their enemies and securing many other advantages and the royal priests had to be well versed in the Atharvanic practices. As these practices were mostly for the alleviation of the troubles of an ordinary householder, the grhya sutras drew largely from them. The Atharvavedis evolved and popularised the worship of the pitrs (manes) and through a special rite known as Vratyastoma, admitted the Vratyas (followers of a non-Vedic cult) into the Vedic fold.

The hold of the Atharvanic charms on the mind of the people was probably very strong since they had occasion to use them in all their daily concerns. Even now when the Rigvedic sacrifices have become extremely rare, the use of Atharvanic charms and of their descendants, the Tantric charms of comparative later times, is very common amongst all classes of Hindus. A very large part of the income of the priestly class is derived from the performance of auspicious rites (svastyayana), purification penance (prayashcitta) and oblations (homa) for curing chronic and serious illness, winning law suit, alleviating sufferings, securing a male issue to the family, cursing an enemy and the like. Amulets are used almost as freely as they were three or four thousand years ago and snake charms and charms for dog bite and others are still in vogue.

Status of Atharva Veda at present

The Atharva Veda existed in nine recensions namely Paippaladah, Staudah, Maudah, Shaunaka, Jaladah, Jajala, Brahmavada, Devadarsha and Caranavaidya. At present Atharva Veda is not widely followed by any section of people in India except in some pockets in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh who are the followers of Shaunaka text while that of Paippalada text has followers in Odisha. Even present-day Brahmins regard the Atharvavedis inferior to themselves and do not dine with them. A report in The Hindu dated 3rd October 2015 mentions that there are just around ten qualified scholars and 100 to 120 learners of Atharva Veda in India and reports about a patashala in Tiruchanur in Andhra Pradesh where only Atharva Veda is taught.


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  9. C.L.Prabhakar- Contents and Importance of Atharva Veda, QJMS, vol-75 (4) 1984

  10. Lalan Prasad Singh- Tantra- Its Mystic and Scientific Basis, Concept Publishing Company Pvt Ltd, New Delhi, 2010

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  17. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/exclusive-school-for-atharva-veda/article7717315.ece

Vyasa the Literary Genius of Ancient India

To Him who is Brahma, but without four faces;

To Him who is Vishnu, but with two hands:

To Him who is Shankara, but without the third eye,

To Vyasa in the form of Vishnu and Vishnu in the form of Vyasa:

To Him, Vasishta’s heir, the Self realised, I bow.’

With these words Hindus pay homage to Vyasa every year on the full moon day of the month of ashada (July) which is celebrated as Guru Poornima or Vyasa poornima. Vyasa is one of our revered gurus in our Guru Parampara, namely Narayana, Brahma, Vasishta, Shakti, Parashara, Vyasa, Shuka, Gaudapada, Govinda Bhagavatpada and Shankaracharya. Vyasa was known as Krishna Dvaipayana as he was dark in complexion and born in an island in river Yamuna. As he performed penance under a Badara tree, he is referred as Badarayana and as he is said to have classified the Vedas, he is known as Veda Vyasa. He is said to have spent his whole life living in an hermitage first at Badari and later on the banks of river Saraswati pursuing spiritual and literary activities.

Progenitor of Pandavas and Kauravas

Vyasa was born to sage Parashara and Satyavati. Later Satyavati married Shantanu the Kuru king of Hastinapura and had two sons, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Chitrangada who ascended the throne after the demise of Shantanu lost his life in a battle with the Gandharvas and his place was taken by his brother Vichitravirya. He had married Ambika and Ambalika, but died due to illness before having any heirs. Satyavati then requested Vyasa to impregnate Ambika from whom was born Dhritarashtra and Ambalika from whom was born Pandu.

Composer of Mahabharata

Vyasa is considered as the star of the first magnitude in the literary horizon of Bharatavarsha. Apart from classifying the Vedas, Vyasa is credited with the composition of the epic Mahabharata and the Puranas. He is also said to have written the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavata which some scholars beg to differ. With regards to Mahabharata It is mentioned that Vyasa composed Mahabharata in three years working day and night and the name given to the original epic by Vyasa was ‘Jaya’ or Triumph and it consisted of 8800 verses. He taught this to Vaishampayana, Jaimini, Paila, Sumantu and Shuka and all of these rishis are called as Bharatacharyas or the editors of Bharata by Ashwalayana. On the occasion of the sarpayaga organised by Janamejaya, Vyasa’s pupil Vashampayana recited the whole story before the assembled sages and warriors in the forest hermitage of Naimisha. Now the text was called Bharata and consisted of 24000 verses. The epic attained the name Mahabharata when Sauti narrated the same to sage Saunaka and it consisted of one lakh verses. According to R.K.Mukerjee, the original work of Vyasa was called Bharata and consisted of 24,000 stanzas. Handed down by the bards, it was later expanded into the Mahabharata by the Bhrigus who incorporated into its various myths and legends, as well as moral and religious materials. Ashvalayana a pupil of Shaunaka is said to be the final redactor of the epic.

Heralded a Renaissance

The Mahabharata is the glorification of a united India brought under the imperial authority of Yudhisthira as a chakravartin with his capital in the holy land, once celebrated for Vedic learning and culture. The popularity of Mahabharata is such that even today the stories of Mahabharata are recited, dramatized and refashioned according to modern cultural needs over a vast section of south and east Asia. According Meera Chakravorty during the age of Mahabharata a galaxy of meritorious personalities, their thoughts and action gave rise to such doctrines, notions and practices which created a renaissance that directly and indirectly influenced people, their lives, literary genres and their consciousness over the years. This was possible only because Vyasa who was a witness to this renaissance was able to document it in the form of Mahabharata.

Composer of the Puranas

The Puranas occupy a unique position in the sacred and secular literature of the Hindus, being regarded as next in importance only to the Vedas. Along with Mahabharatha they are considered as the fifth Veda, the Veda of the masses. According to Vishnu Purana, Vyasa compiled a Purana Samhita with tales, anecdotes, songs and ancient lore that had come down from the ages. The Purana Samhita is divided into four padas namely

  • Prakriya Pada– consisting of 300 sholkas which gives a description of the creation of the universe.

  • Anusanga Pada– consisting of 1600 shlokas it narrates the history of the dynasties of the kings and rishis of the early manavantaras.

  • Upodghata Pada– consisting of 2600 shlokas it records the history of Vaivasvata manvantara with information on ancient Indian tribes and the geneologies of dynasties of kings and rishis.

  • Upasamhara Pada– consisting of 125 shlokas it gives an account of the destruction of the universe or pralaya.

Vyasa taught this Purana Samhita to his disciple Suta Lomaharsana who in turn taught it to six of his disciples. There were four recessions of the Purana Samhita, those of Suta Lomaharsana and three of his disciples; of which three of them is in narrative form and the remaining one in the form of a dialogue and is known as Shamshapayanika Samhita. Probably out of these recessions evolved the present 18 Puranas.

Classification of the Vedas

In ancient times Vedas meant only one collection of all the mantras numbering about twenty-five thousand or more. Later for the purpose of study and preservation, the single collection was divided by Veda Vyasa into four overlapping collection of mantras as Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda and taught one each to his disciples, Paila, Vaishampayana, Jaimini and Sumantu respectively. Though the epic and puranic traditions unanimously and repeatedly declare that the Veda was arranged by Vyasa, the Vedic literature is remarkably silent about him. According to Suryakant Bali on the basis of some internal evidences, which are corroborated by tradition and literary testimony, it has been observed that the Vedas were compiled four times in all and the present shape of the samhita represent the fourth and final compilation. The first compilation was done in the realm of king Shruta of Ayodhya, the second compilation was undertaken at the instance of king Shrutaayu of Videha; the third during the time of king Brahmadatta of Dakshina Panchala and the fourth by Vyasa and his team. At each compilation some mantras might have been discarded and some more mantras might have been included. This was also the view of Pargiter who says that much earlier to Vyasa, two Brahmins, Kandarika (or Pundarika) and Subalaka (or Galava), ministers of Brahmadatta, the king of sourthern Panchala classified the Vedas about 150 years before the Mahabharata War and Vyasa might have added all the hymns that were incorporated later and completed the canon.

Bhagavata Purana

The Bhagavata or Bhagavata Purana is the most popular of all Puranas and it is held in the highest esteem by the Vaishnavas in all parts of India. The Padma Purana devotes a chapter to the worship of this Purana and calls it the most exalted of all the Puranas and the book is actually worshipped in many Hindu homes. According to traditional accounts once Vyasa sat in a lonely place on the banks of the river Saraswati and was pondering over the cause of his inner dissatisfaction of not yet realizing the essential nature of the Self. At that time sage Narada came to him and asked him to write about the greatness of Lord Vishnu and the result was the compilation of Bhagavata Purana by Vyasa. However according to S.N.Dasgupta there is no reference to Bhagavata Purana before the 10th century A.D. and even Ramanuja had not mentioned its name. But by the time of Madhvacharya it had become famous. As the Bhagavata Purana makes references to the Alwars who have probably never been referred to by any writers in north or upper India, Dasgupta feels that the Bhagavata Purana was composed by a southerner.

Compiled the Brahma Sutras

As the Upanishads do not have ready-made consistent system of thought there arose the necessity of systematizing the thought of Upanishads which resulted in the composition of Brahma Sutras, the authorship of which is attributed to Vyasa. The Brahma Sutra itself refers to other schools of Vedanta like Audulomi, Kasakristna, Badari, Jaimini, Karshnajini, Asmarathya and others with its own followers. This shows that Brahma Sutras was not the only systematic work in the Vedanta school though it was probably the last and the best. Shankaracharya in his commentaries on the Brahma Sutras refers to Vyasa as the author of Mahabharata and Badarayana as the author of the Brahma Sutras. Perhaps to him these two personalities were different. According to R.D.Karmarkar even tradition is against the view that one and the same Vyasa was the compiler of both the Gita and the Brahma Sutras. While Veda Vyasa is the compiler of Mahabharata, the author of Vedanta Sutras or Brahma Sutras is Badarayana Vyasa. The Gita looks upon Samkya and Yoga as two important ways leading to the same goal and is permeated through and through with the doctrines of these two systems of philosophy. The Vedanta Sutras on the other hand seem to be using all their energy in refuting the Samkya doctrine and as many as nineteen sutras being clearly reserved for this task. Hence Karmarkar says that the Gita and Vedanta Sutras could not have been written by one and the same person.

A National Integrator

Vyasa was a seer, ascetic and prophet. According to Skanda Purana, Vyasa had married Vatika the daughter of rishi Jabali and Shuka was born to them. His wife’s name is given as Arani by Pargiter. Vyasa was responsible for expounding Krishna Bhagavatism or the new Pancharatra creed in such a manner that it did not became a heresy like Jainism and Buddhism but was on the contrary fully assimilated into the general trend of Upanishad thought. Further Vyasa stressed an eclecticism and spirit of tolerance towards Shaivism and Shaktism that has since became a leading characteristic of popular Hinduism. Vyasa was a national integrator and a universal man too. Not only did he write voluminously about our culture but also instituted the order of sanyasis dedicated to the general welfare and the practice of pilgrimages to the holy places spread out through the whole of our country. At Ramnagar palace in Varanasi there is a shrine dedicated to Vyasa and at the Varadaraja temple in Kanchi we find his sculpture.


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