Rjisvan Bharadvaja – the warrior priest – Part I

Rjisvan Bharadvaja is ascribed as the composer of four hymns in Mandala VI – RV 6.049-052, one in Mandala IX – RV 9.098 and a two verses in RV 9.108.06-07.

Going by the number of hymns ascribed to various composers of Mandala VI, it appears that Rjisvan is a highly respected Bharadvaja (next only to Bharadvaja Barhaspatya and Samyu Bharadvaja). This is further attested by his being mentioned by as many as eight rishis belonging to different families in nine verses in the Rig Veda.

Not much is known about his exact lineage. There is nothing in the hymns composed by Rjisvan himself that shed any light on his parentage or progeny. Nor are there any direct references to patron(s) that Rjisvan offered his services. All we can say with certainty is his being a descendant of Bharadvaja Barhaspatya.Some of the aforementioned verses contain Arya and Dasa names along with Rjisvan, however, the Aryas such as Kanva, Trasadasyu, Paktha, Dasavraja and Gosarya are clearly not his contemporaries.

There is one Dasa though – Pipru, whose association with Rjisvan is the stuff legends are made of and is a subject of a later section.

While the Rjisvan hymns do not reveal anything about his lineage, they do provide very telling insights into the times that he lived in.

Consider verse 15 of hymn 49 from Mandala V:

RV 5.049.015
Give riches borne on cars, with many heroes, contenting men, the guard of mighty Order.
Give us a lasting home that we may battle with godless bands of men who fight against us, and meet with tribes to whom the Gods are gracious.

The second half of the verse reveals so much of history. There are three vital segments in the verse, each loaded with historical perspective, so let me decompose each of them: “Give us a lasting home”, “that we may battle with godless bands of men who fight against us” and “meet with tribes to whom the Gods are gracious”.

Let us analyze the first segment – “Give us a lasting home”.

Rjisvan is asking the Visvadevas (this hymn is composed in the praise of the Visvadevas) to provide a lasting home – the word used in “ksaya”, which can also be translated as dwelling, abode, dominion, etc. In this context, I believe”permanent settlement” is most appropriate rather than an individual dwelling or home. This then is an indication of a displaced/unsettled lot longing to root themselves.

The second segment is even more interesting – “that we may battle with godless bands of men who fight against us”.

Godless bands? Who are these godless bands? These can be clearly identified as the dasas – a tribe held by the Arya to be godless (i.e. not believing in the Arya gods). So Rjisvan is refering to conflicts with the Dasas. Dasa v/s Arya? Yes, considering that Rjisvan belonged to the Arya stock. So does this indicate conflicts a migrating Arya tribe got into as they encountered Dasa settlements?

Yes and No, and for a clear answer, we need to look closely at the third segment – “meet with tribes to whom the Gods are gracious”.

In this segment, Rjisvan is refering to tribes to whom, the Gods (i.e. devas) as gracious, which must mean people from the Arya stock. So if Rjisvan is expecting to meet people of the Arya stock, in his quest for new permanent settlements, then it must be that these people are in the newfound places, alongside the Dasa settlements already. Or so we can presume.

My inference is that Rjisvan lead a select band of Arya, more precisely, a select clan from the Puru tribe in the quest for a permanent settlement in regions already settled in by the Dasas, leading to conflicts between this select band of people and the Dasas. To me this does not represent a singluar case of the entire Arya stock in conflcit with the entire Dasa tribe. Nor does it represent a singular case of the entire Arya stock in course of their quest for permanent settlements.

Further evidence of this quest for permanent settlement may be found in verse 3 of hymn 50 of Mandala VI. Rjisvan, once again implores the Visvadevas for a permanent settlement, “which none may rival”.

RV 6.050.03
And, O ye Heaven and Earth, a wide dominion, O ye most blissful Worlds, our lofty shelter,
Give ample room and freedom for our dwelling, a home, ye Hemispheres, which none may rival.

So, was Rjisvan the leader of this moving Puru clan or just a respected Rishi? That he was an respected Rishi, we have already established above. But Rjisvan was more than just a rishi. The Dasa conflicts that he refers to appear to be that with Pipru. The conflicts and eventual conquest of Pipru is a legend in the Rig Veda itself. And we will cover that as Part II of this post.

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