The Early Conflicts

Mandala VI, Hymn 25 provides ample evidence of the early conflicts the Arya tribes were involved in. The antiquity of this hymn and the events it describes may be inferred from the usage of words such as chiefs instead of kings and also the manner in which the battles were fought.

Hymn 25 is re-produced in its entirety (based on the translation of Ralph Griffith)

  1. WITH thine assistance, O thou Mighty Indra, be it the least, the midmost, or the highest,-
    Great with those aids and by these powers support us, Strong God! in battle that subdues our foemen.
  2. With these discomfit hosts that fight against us, and check the opponent’s wrath, thyself uninjured.
    With these chase all our foes to every quarter: subdue the tribes of Dasas to the Arya.
  3. Those who array themselves as foes to smite us, O Indra, be they kin or be they strangers,-
    Strike thou their manly strength that it be feeble, and drive in headlong flight our foemen backward.
  4. With strength of limb the hero slays the hero, when bright in arms they range them for the combat.
    When two opposing hosts contend in battle for seed and offspring, waters, kine, or corn-lands.
  5. Yet no strong man hath conquered thee, no hero, no brave, no warrior trusting in his valour.
    Not one of these is match for thee, O Indra. Thou far surpassest all these living creatures.
  6. He is the Lord of both these armies’ valour when the commanders call them to the conflict:
    When with their ranks expanded they are fighting with a great foe or for a home with heroes.
  7. And when the people stir themselves for battle, be thou their saviour, Indra, and protector,
    And theirs, thy manliest of our friends, the pious, the chiefs who have installed us priests, O Indra.
  8. To thee for high dominion hath been for evermore, for slaughtering the Vrtras,
    All lordly power and might, O Holy Indra, given by Gods for victory in battle.
  9. So urge our hosts together in the combats: yield up the godless bands that fight against us.
    Singing, at morn may we find thee with favour, yea, Indra, and e’en now, we Bharadvajas.

The hymn must have been composed around the time the Arya were having their initial conflicts with the Dasa tribes. This can be inferred from verse 2 where Indra is asked to “subdue the tribes of Dasas to the Arya”.

Verses 4, 6 and 7 indicate conflicts between two opposing hosts or armies. My initial interpretation was that the two opponents were the Arya and the Dasas. However, it seemed strange that the Bharadvaja priests would refer to the Dasas as “hosts”. The Dasas, according to the Bharadvaja were godless, and therefore unlikely to host priests and certainly not those of their rival tribes.

It then occurred to me that the two opposing hosts had to be rival chiefs within the Arya tribe. If this surmise is correct, then verse 4 is a vivid description of combat between rival, intra-Arya clans. Note, the absence of mention of arms or weapons and instead the usage of words such as limbs and arms that suggest raw physical combat between opponents. Commanders call their men into conflict (verse 6) and men stirred themselves into battle, in response to the call (verse 7).

The conflicts as mentioned in verse 4 were for “seed (progeny, not agricultural)  and offspring, waters, kine (meaning cattle), or corn-lands”.

Verse 7 reveals an interesting insight into the power equations that may have existed during the time this hymn was composed – Indra is implored to protect the “chiefs (of the Arya tribe) who have installed us priests”.  It was perhaps a time when, the Bharadvajas were not yet a power centre unto themselves.

The frustration of the Bharadvaja composer of this hymn, over the infighting amongst the Arya clans is apparent in the last verse. Indra is urged to bring the opposing hosts together, so they can as a combined force cause the godless (in this context, should mean the Dasas) to yield.

In summary, this hymn, has clear evidence of conflicts between Arya clans, reasons for those conflicts and a reminder that the real enemy of the Arya were the Dasas and that the Arya chiefs would be better served in joining forces to subdue their main enemy.

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One Response to The Early Conflicts

  1. Rohiniprija says:

    Dear Yatin,
    Great, but I can’t refrain from following my own line of thought. I have read Talageri’s book, and I mostly agree with this argumentation. Mandala VI is chronologically the oldest, yes.But the basic idea is that the Arya tribes had lived by and around river Sarasvati, only later did they spread/migrate Eastwards. How is it then that VI.45.31 mentions river Ganga?
    As for hymn VI.25, I really do not see your problem with the word “host.” Hosts mean not only persons who invite others for a sacrifice or for a simple dinner. E.g. the term hosts of heavens means the angels. Hosts are not else than groups of people/gods/angels or whatever.
    VI.25.4 has seed AND cornland, also seed to sow and raise crops.
    But if this is really the oldest Mandala, then it is not likely that the Arya tribes were involved in much agriculture. They were pastoral people, and lived from cattle-keeping. It is indeed difficult to imagine cattle-herders or “cowboys” to sow and to reap – that must have come later on.
    By the way, I find it striking that the Puranas never mention e.g. Sudas and the battle of the ten kings. There are protracted descriptions about Vrtra, but nothing about Sudas. Also Divodasa is portrayed in a totally different light in later texts. Any suggestions?

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