Echoes of the Stonehenge in the Rig Veda?

Does the Rig Veda echo events that lead to the creation of the Stonehenge and the rituals that were practiced there? If it does, that would mean the people of the Rig Veda or at a minimum their ancestors have to be placed at the same time and place as the Stonehenge – 2500 BC in Salisbury, England. Now this is highly unlikely, however, it is entirely plausible that the ancestors of the Vedic people and the ancestors of those who came to settle in Britain, were part of the same flock and participated in the construction of Stonehenge prototypes and the rituals conducted there. Tall claim? Ludicrous claim? Let’s find out…

How was the Stonehenge built and why?

First, let us examine how the Stonehenge was built and what its purpose might have been. The following text is loosely based on the findings of Archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson of England’s University of Sheffield and his team, made available in 2008 and now available on DVD titled “Stonehenge Decoded”.

According to the findings, Stonehenge was just half of a vast religious complex and part of a grand vision. Stonehenge was built to house the spirit of the dead and was linked to another mysterious sacred monument and a prehistoric city lost for 4500 years.

Located at Salisbury Plain, England, the outer circle was completed around 2,500 BC, the same time as the pyramids were being built in Egypt. Some of the outer stones – Sarsen stones – weighed as much as 45 tons and were moved across rough and undulating terrain from as many as 40 kilometres away. The project was undertaken BEFORE the wheel was used in the region and must have required thousands of people, working for hundreds of years to complete.

At a certain time of the year, thousands traveled to the area to take part in rituals such as the cycle of life and death. They took their dead to join their ancestors at Stonehenge and in return received from their ancestors the gift of life and fertility.

A human settlement, two and half kilometres away from the stone circle has been found – Durrington Walls – which has well over a thousand Neolithic houses. The ancients who came to Durrington were farmers, but there are no signs of farming activity. The people who came to the settlement came for short periods of time. For just a few weeks in the year, thousands gathered there from across Britain.

A journey of transporting these huge stones, totaling 1000 tons across 40 kilometres or so would have tested the engineering capabilities of any generation and must rank as spectacular as the construction of the pyramids. It was not just the technical challenges but the logistics – route to be selected, rock to be selected, food and medical supplies – that would have been a nightmare as well.

They came to celebrate an important day in their calendar – the longest day of the year the mid summer solstice. At dawn people gathered at Stonehenge and that was the beginning of a very important day. The farmers gathered there to thank their ancestors for bringing life back to the land and making it fertile once more.

On this day, Stonehenge aligns with the rising sun – The sun’s rays pass through the standing stones placed on the perimeter and directly through a vast central arch now known as the great trilithon. This sunrise ritual was just the start of the mid-summer celebrations.

A wooden circle built around the same time and similar to Stonehenge was also excavated in the same complex. It aligned to the setting sun in the west and the people would walk from the Stonehenge to this complex in time for the setting sun to pay their respects and celebrate life, thank the ancestors for fertility, crops, animals and so on.

Some of those who came stayed back for the continuous construction which must have taken several hundreds of year to complete.

Thousands also returned to the Durington settlement for the mid winter solstice celebration. This was the second great gathering in winter – around 9 months after the first one and confirmed based on pig bone findings (teeth/jaws killed after 9 months). This is the time the entire society would have been pre-occupied with death. Everything is heading towards death – the land has less grain, the sun itself appears to be dying and the people now wait for the crucial moment when everything can be restarted at the mid winter solstice.

On the shortest day of the year, thousands would have assemble at dawn inside the wooden circle at the Durington settlement. Like Stonehenge, the circle’s posts are precisely positioned to frame the rising sun which they would have seen rise accompanied by loud chanting and roaring. At the mid winter solstice the upright pillars of the trilithon of the Stonehenge, were perfectly framed for the setting sun. The people gathered there would have asked the ancestors to accept the spirit of those that have died in the past year.

After the sunset, the celebration would have begun, as this day forward, the sun will grow stronger, days longer, till the next summer solstice.

Echoes in Mandala VI

Now let us examine the Rig Veda, particularly Mandala VI for verses that reflect either the creation of a structure such as the Stonehenge and/or the rituals held there.

Mandala VI contains the earliest and probably the simplest version of the Vala myth – Indra’s setting free the Sun and Ushas (Dawn) from the caves of Vala.

RV 6.017.05, RV 6.017.06 and RV 6.039.02 variously mention Indra having a) burst the firm enclosures or b) unbarred the firm doors or c) broke the never-broken ridge of Vala.

RV 6.017.05
Gladdened whereby, bursting the firm enclosures, thou gavest splendour to the Sun and Morning.
The mighty rock that compassed in the cattle, ne’er moved, thou shookest from its seat, O Indra.

RV 6.017.06
Thou with thy wisdom, power, and works of wonder, hast stored the ripe milk in the raw cows’ udders
Unbarred the firm doors for the kine of Morning, and, with the Angirases, set free the cattle.

RV 6.039.02
Craving the kine, rushing against the mountain led on by Law, with holyminded comrades,
He broke the never-broken ridge of Vala. With words of might Indra subdued the Panis.

In all three verses above, we either have a mountain or a firm (rock/stone) enclosure that Indra either burst or smashed to release the Sun. Could this have been a misinterpretation of the actual events the composers heard from their ancestors, the Angirases, who were physically present at the event? Could these verses have intertwined both the actual construction of a Stonehenge like site and the rituals that were held there? Is it possible that “The mighty rock that compassed in the cattle, ne’er moved, thou shookest from its seat” in RV 6.017.05 in some way refers to the superfeat of moving huge stones across vast distances?

RV 6.018.05
Be this our ancient bond of friendship with you and with Angirases here who speak of Vala.
Thou, Wondrous, Shaker of things firm, didst smite him in his fresh strength, and force his doors and castles.

From RV 6.01.05 is it clear that the Bharadvajas have learnt of the Vala events from their ancestors, the Angirasas. In the same verse, Indra is referred to as the “Wondrous, Shaker of things firm”. Is this not a refrain of the stupendous task undertaken in the construction of a structure similar to the Stonehenge?

For me the conclusive verse is RV 6.022.06. The verse is categorical – Indra has shattered with swift thought the Parvata, i.e. mountain and rent in pieces things that were firmly fixed and never shaken – i.e. the shaping and moving of large stones used for construction.

RV 6.022.06
Strong of thyself, thou by this art hast shattered, with thought-swift Parvata, him who waxed against thee,
And, Mightiest! roaring! boldly rent in pieces things that were firmly fixed and never shaken.

No wonder he is referred to as the “Caster of Stone” in at least two verses.

RV 6.045.09
Lord of Strength, Caster of the Stone, destroy the firm forts built by men,
And foil their arts, unbending God!

RV 6.046.02
As such, O Wonderful, whose hand holds thunder, praised as mighty, Caster of the Stone!
Pour on us boldly, Indra, kine and chariotsteeds, ever to be the conqueror’s strength.

The ritual inside the Stonehenge – as the people waited pre-dawn and greeted the bursting of the shaft of sunlight piercing through the trilithon amid loud chanting and roaring, is perhaps best expressed in RV 6.032.01. I interpret the “brightened the Parents” to mean ancestors, which further buttresses my basic point of the closeness with the Stonehenge ritual.

RV 6.032.02
Amid the sages, with the Sun he brightened the Parents: glorified, he burst the mountain;
And, roaring with the holy-thoughted singers, he loosed the bond that held the beams of Morning.

And finally, the actual meaning of the word Vala, i.e. enclosure, can be directly related to what every Stonehenge is – an special enclosure with a outer fence/bank and an inner ditch.

So do these echoes resonate in any way or do they fail to make any connection? I will let you the reader decide. If they do, the ramifications are major – this co-relation augments the case for a shared ancestry and geography of the Indo-European stock, memories of which the Vedic people carried with them via one of their ancestral threads – the Angirasas.

Final note: In later Mandalas, the Vala myth evolves and moves further away from the basic theme we have examined above.

Identity of the Dasa and Dasyu – Part II

This is the second part of an article that attempts to establish the identify of the Dasa and Dasyu. You may wish to read Part I if you have not done so already.

The curious case of sleep and slumber…

When I first read verse RV 6.020.13 I interpreted sending someone to sleep and slumber as a hyperbole to mean putting someone to death. This is repeated in RV 6.026.06 and RV 7.019.04.

RV 6.020.13
This Indra, was thy work in war: thou sentest Dhuni and Cumuri to sleep and slumber.
Dabhiti lit the flame for thee, and worshipped with fuel, hymns, poured Soma, dressed oblations.

RV 6.026.06
Made glad with Soma-draughts and faith, thou sentest Cumuri to his sleep, to please Dabhiti.
Thou, kindly giving Raji to Pithinas, slewest with might, at once, the sixty thousand.

RV 7.019.04
At the Gods’ banquet, hero-souled! with Heroes, Lord of Bay Steeds, thou slewest many foemen.
Thou sentest in swift death to sleep the Dasyu, both Cumuri and Dhuni, for Dabhiti.

Question is, why not simply say they were put to death or Indra “slew” them, the term used so very often in all other instances related to Dasas. Dhuni and/or Cumuri are always put to sleep or slumber, never slayed or killed in one or more grotesque ways that other Dasas are put to their death. So, could it possibly, just possibly be, the poets way of describing an act that they were not familiar with – the act of burial?

This line of thinking was reinforced by RV 8.086.03 where the riteless, godless man – meaning the Dasyu – is said to “sleep”. The only logical inference I could draw here is the term sleep could have meant the practice of burial that the Dasyu may have followed.

RV 8.086.03
The riteless, godless man who sleeps, O Indra, his unbroken steep,-
May he by following his own devices die. Hide from him wealth that nourishes.

Should there be the faintest merit in this argument, then we have a direct identification of who the Dasyu are – the ancients who were known to bury their dead, as proven by archealogical evidence, were the Harappans.

…and the high and haughty

The other curious case is the use of the terms “high and haughty” and “presumptuous high-born”.

RV 6.019.12
Give up the people who are high and haughty to these men and to me, O Thunder-wielder!
Therefore upon the earth do we invoke thee, where heroes win, for sons and kine and waters.

RV 6.042.04
To him, Adhvaryu! yea, to him give offerings of the juice expressed.
Will he not keep us safely from the spiteful curse of each presumptuous high-born foe?

Indra is asked to create conditions that the “high and haughty” may yield to the Arya. That Indra protect the Arya from the spiteful curse of the “presumptuous high-born” foe.

So who where these people that the Arya undoubtedly had so much envy for? We have already seen in Part I, the use of terms such as bold, untamed and daring while referring to the Dasyu.

Taken, together, a consistent bigger picture begins to emerge. The Dasyu were clearly a group of people that held religious beliefs different from the Arya. The Dasyu clearly considered themselves superior than the Arya. The behaviour or the way of life of the Dasyu compelled the Arya to concede that the former were better (hence the use of “people who are high and haughty”).

The jig-saw pieces can now be put into place. The Dasa were a tribe very distinct from the five tribes. They lived in settlements that had distinctive features that can at best be referred to as “pura”. (What pura meant, needs further investigation). But we know nothing of their religious beliefs. On the other hand, we have the Dasyu, clearly a “superior” class of people, and based on the descriptions we have from Mandala VI, they were either heads of their society or religious authorities of some sort, or both. Merge the two together and the jigsaw becomes complete.

Dasa was the generic name of the people and Dasyu were the ruling/religious figure heads of these people. That explains why the terms are used interchangeably especially when referring to the likes of Dhuni, Cumuri and Sambara.

I do believe we now have a reasonable case, basis the evidence in Mandala VI alone, that the Dasa/Dasyu were completely distinct from the Arya and the five tribes of Nahusa.

In the next set of articles, I will examine theories that suggest that the Dasa/Dasyu were indeed one amongst the five tribes of Nahusa and see if my conclusions hold good or not.

Identity of the Dasa and Dasyu – Part I

Updated 23rd February, 2014: Includes evidence and references from Mandala II

This article, attempts to establish the identity of the Dasas and Dasyus relative to the Aryas. I do not start with a premise and then look for or present evidence to suit that premise. Rather, my approach is to examine the evidence and let the facts lead to the conclusion.

For now, I present the evidence available in Mandala VI and II and will continue to update this article as I gather evidence from other Mandalas.

Tribe or Race?

In all of Mandala VI, there is not a single instance of the Dasyu mentioned as a tribe or race. In contrast the Dasa are unequivocally called out as a “viz” (tribe) in RV 6.025.02. The actual reference is in plural, hence suggestive that the Dasa were a collection of tribes, much like and at par with the Arya who were a collection of tribes as well.

RV 6.025.02
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.

However, we find a set of telling verses in RV 6.021.09 – 11

RV 6.021.09
Bring to our help this day, for our protection, Varuna, Mitra , Indra, and the Maruts,
Pusan and Visnu, Agni and Purandhi, Savitar also, and the Plants and Mountains.

RV 6.021.10
The singers here exalt with hymns and praises thee who art very Mighty and Most Holy.
Hear, when invoked, the invoker’s invocation. Beside thee there is nonelike thee, Immortal!

RV 6.021.11
Now to my words come quickly thou who knowest, O Son of Strength, with all who claim our worship,
Who visit sacred rites, whose tongue is Agni, Gods who made Manu stronger than the Dasyu.

In verse 11 Indra is implored to visit the sacred rites along with the other Vedic deities mentioned in verse 9. With the very Gods that have made Manu stronger than Dasyu.

Equating Dasyu with Manu is extremely significant. If Manu in this context were to represent the figurehead from whom all Arya descended, than this one statement, clearly seeks to differentiate origins of the Dasyu from the Arya. Since we know that Nahusa is a descendant of Manu and therefore the oft mentioned five tribes of Nahusa would also have descended from Manu, does this one statement then establish that the Dasyu, whoever else they may have been, were not people that belonged to the five tribes?

We have already seen above that the Dasa were a tribe and that they were “subdued” by the Arya. The question that remains to be answered is, were they one amongst the five tribes of Nahusa or distinct from the five tribes?

Verse RV 6.022.10 suggests that they were not one amongst the five tribes

RV 6.022.10
Give us confirmed prosperity, O Indra, vast and exhaustless for the foe’s subduing.
Strengthen therewith the Arya’s hate and Dasa’s, and let the arms of Nahusas be mighty.

Why would the “arms” of Nahusa become “mighty” if one of its own constituents were subdued? The only plausible explanation therefore is that the Dasa tribe was not one of the five tribes.

Reaffirmation that the Dasa were a tribe (viz) may be found in Mandala II – RV 2.011.04. Indeed, the suggestion is that the Dasa were a collection of tribes.

RV 6.011.04
We who add strength to thine own splendid vigour, laying within thine arms the splendid thunder-
With us mayst thou, O Indra, waxen splendid, with Surya overcome the Dasa races (viz).

Based on the evidence we have considered so far, it seems clear that the Dasa were a collection of tribes, distinct from the five tribes of Nahusa. While we can say for sure that the Dasyu were a people not part of the five tribes, whether they too were a distinct tribe or somehow related to the Dasa is not yet clear.

Religious beliefs

Verses RV 6.018.03 and6.024.08 tell us something odd, yet significant about the Dasyu.

RV 6.018.03
Thou, thou alone, hast tamed the Dasyus; singly thou hast subdued the people for the Arya.
In this, or is it not, thine hero exploit, Indra? Declare it at the proper season.

The Sanskrit word in the above verse is actually “adamya”, meaning untameable. Untameable in what context? Battle? Curiously, in all of Mandala VI, there is no mention of any battle between the Arya and the Dasyu.

RV 6.024.08
Extolled, he bends not to the strong, the steadfast, nor to the bold incited by the Dasyu.
High mountains are as level plains to Indra: even in the deep he finds firm ground to rest on.

RV 6.024.08 tells us that the Dasyu incited people characterized as bold.

Taking the two verse together, my inference is that the Dasyu had a belief system at odds with the Arya and despite the efforts of the Arya, refused to give up those beliefs. Instead, we see that the Dasyu are guilty of inciting certain people who then feel emboldened to even stand up to the might of Indra. Ofcourse the last part of the previous sentence is metaphorical, and what it means is that there were a section of people that did not conform to the way of life of the Arya. In particular, it was the religious beliefs of the Arya that they were at odds with.

RV 6.014.03 is very clear that the Dasyu did not follow the Arya rites, and hence called the riteless.

RV 6.014.03
The foeman’s wealth in many a place, Agni, is emulous to help.
Men fight the fiend (dasyu in the original Sanskrit text), and seek by rites to overcome the riteless foe.

Based on the above evidence, we may conclude that the Dasyu were a people who did not have the same religious beliefs as the Arya. That the Arya found them unwilling to accept the former’s beliefs and hence called them untameable. Worse, the Dasyu incited others, who emboldened were ready to face the wrath of Arya.

It is not surprising that the Bharadvaja composer of RV 6.023.02 felt compelled to call the Dasyu as “daring”.

RV 6.023.02
Or when on that decisive day thou holpest the presser of the juice at Vrtra’s slaughter;
Or when thou, while the strong one feared, undaunted, gavest to death, Indra, the daring Dasyus.

So while it is amply clear that there were stark differences between the religious beliefs between the  Dasyu and Arya, we cannot infer anything about the religious beliefs of the Dasas.

Nature of conflicts

The second significant difference between the Dasa and Dasyu as obtained from Mandala VI is this:

Not a single Dasyu is named in the 75 verses of Mandala VI. Contrast that with several names of Dasas, such as Cumuri, Dhuni, Sambara, Pipru, and Susna.

Verse after verse recounts Indra’s crushing/wrecking of the forts/castles of the Dasas (RV 6.018.08, RV 6.020.10, RV 6.031.04, RV 6.032.03, RV 6.047.02). The Sanskrit word for fort/castle/rampart is “pura”. Whether, the Dasas actually built forts or any sort of fortifications merits an articles in itself and hence not discussed in this one.

The defeat of prominent Dasas by Indra are available in individual verses as well. Thus we have Susna’s defeat in RV 6.020.05, Namuci’s in RV 6.020.06, shattering of Pipru’s strong forts in RV 6.020.07 and the curious case of putting Dhuni and Cumiri to sleep in RV 6.020.13. The protracted battles with Sambara and his eventual defeat is the stuff of legend.

In contrast, there is not a single reference to individual or collective battles/conflicts between the Arya and the Dasyus. All that we have are references and/or allusions to Dasyus being slayed or killed.

In RV 6.045.24 Indra is called the Dasyu-slayer

RV 6.045.24
May he with might unclose for us the cow’s stall, whosesoe’er it be,
To which the Dasyu-slayer goes.

And in RV 6.023.02, Indra is praised as the strong, who undaunted, put to death, the daring Dasyu.

RV 6.023.02
Or when on that decisive day thou holpest the presser of the juice at Vrtra’s slaughter;
Or when thou, while the strong one feared, undaunted, gavest to death, Indra, the daring Dasyus.

In verse RV 6.016.15, we find Agni being named as the Dasyus most destructive foe as well. Agni, not Indra. There is a great deal of significance in this verse appearing in a hymn to Agni and not Indra – the connotation is ritualistic when it appears in Agni hymns and martial when it appears in Indra hymns. It is unlikely, that the poet suggests that Agni was associated in any battles with the Dasyu. Coupled with Agni being an integral part of sacrifices and therefore rites and their firm belief that rites would help them overcome the Dasyu, Agni would have over time acquired the symbol of a Dasyu-slayer.

RV 6.016.15
The hero Pathya kindled thee the Dasyus’ most destructive foe,
Winner of spoil in every fight.

Clearly we have elaborate accounts of conflicts between the Arya and Dasa, but nothing of the same nature between the Arya and the Dasyu.

So far, we have explored three important aspects – tribe or race, religious beliefs and nature of conflicts. A summary of what we have learnt so far is provided below:

Aspect Dasa Dasyu
Tribe or race? Collection of tribes, outside of the five tribes of Nahusa. Perhaps a tribe outside of the five tribes of Nahusa
Religious beliefs Evidence un-available Different from and at odds with the Arya
Nature of conflicts Dasa “pura” (forts/castles/rampart) destroyed by Arya No accounts of any conflict; however mention of Dasyu being slayed

Please note, the learnings summarized above are in no way conclusive; that will need to wait until I complete the analysis of other evidences in Mandala VI and indeed all the other Mandalas.

Click here to read Part II of this article

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