Vedic Hymns, Part I (SBE32), by Max Müller, , at sacred-texts.com
When some twenty years ago I decided on undertaking the first edition of the two texts and the commentary of the Rig-veda, I little expected that it would fall to my lot What a translation of the Rig-veda ought to be.to publish also what may, without presumption, be called the first translation of the ancient sacred hymns of the Brahmans. Such is the charm of deciphering step by step the dark and helpless utterances of the early poets of India, and discovering from time to time behind words that for years seemed unintelligible, the simple though strange expressions of primitive thought and primitive faith, that it required no small amount of self-denial to decide in favour of devoting a life to the publishing of the materials rather than to the drawing of the results which those materials supply to the student of ancient language and ancient religion. Even five and twenty years ago, and without waiting for the publication of Sâyana's commentary, much might have been achieved in the interpretation of the hymns of the Rig-veda. With the MSS. then accessible in the principal libraries of Europe, a tolerably correct text of the Samhitâ might have been published, and these ancient relics of a primitive religion might have been at least partially deciphered and translated in the same way in which ancient inscriptions are deciphered and translated, viz. by a careful collection of all grammatical forms, and by a complete intercomparison of all passages in which the same words and the same phrases occur. When I resolved to devote my leisure to a critical edition of the text and commentary of the Rig-veda rather than to an independent study of that text, it was chiefly from a conviction that the traditional interpretation of the Rig-veda, as embodied in the commentary of Sâyana and other works of a similar
character, could not be neglected with impunity, and that sooner or later a complete edition of these works would be recognised as a necessity. It was better therefore to begin with the beginning, though it seemed hard sometimes to spend forty years in the wilderness instead of rushing straight into the promised land.
It is well known to those who have followed my literary publications that I never entertained any exaggerated opinion as to the value of the traditional interpretation of the Veda, handed down in the theological schools of India, and preserved to us in the great commentary of Sâyana. More than twenty years ago, when it required more courage to speak out than now, I expressed my opinion on that subject in no ambiguous language, and was blamed for it by some of those who now speak of Sâyana as a mere drag in the progress of Vedic scholarship. Even a drag, however, is sometimes more conducive to the safe advancement of learning than a whip; and those who recollect the history of Vedic scholarship during the last five and twenty years, know best that, with all its faults and weaknesses, Sâyana's commentary was a sine quâ non for a scholarlike study of the Rig-veda. I do not wonder that others who have more recently entered on that study are inclined to speak disparagingly of the scholastic interpretations of Sâyana. They hardly know how much we all owe to his guidance in effecting our first entrance into this fortress of Vedic language and Vedic religion, and how much even they, without being aware of it, are indebted to that Indian Eustathius. I do not withdraw an opinion which I expressed many years ago, and for which I was much blamed at the time, that Sâyana in many cases teaches us how the Veda ought not to be, rather than how it ought to be understood. But for all that, who does not know how much assistance may be derived from a first translation, even though it is imperfect, nay, how often the very mistakes of our predecessors help us in finding the right track? If now we can walk without Sâyana, we ought to bear in mind that five and twenty years ago we could not have made even our first steps, we could never, at least, have gained a firm
footing without his leading strings. If therefore we can now see further than he could, let us not forget that we are standing on his shoulders.
I do not regret in the least the time which I have devoted to the somewhat tedious work of editing the commentary of Sâyana, and editing it according to the strictest rules of critical scholarship. The Veda, I feel convinced, will occupy scholars for centuries to come, and will take and maintain for ever its position as the most ancient of books in the library of mankind. Such a book, and the commentary of such a book, should be edited once for all; and unless some unexpected discovery is made of more ancient MSS., I do not anticipate that any future Bekker or Dindorf will find much to glean for a new edition of Sâyana, or that the text, as restored by me from a collation of the best MSS. accessible in Europe, will ever be materially shaken a. It has taken a long time, I know; but those who find fault with me for the delay, should remember that few
scholars, if any, have worked for others more than I have done in copying and editing Sanskrit texts, and that after all one cannot give up the whole of one's life to the collation of Oriental MSS. and the correction of proof-sheets. The two concluding volumes have long been ready for Press, and as soon as I can find leisure, they too shall be printed and published a.
In now venturing to publish the first volume of my translation of the Rig-veda, I am fully aware that the fate which awaits it will be very different from that of my edition of the text and commentary. It is a mere contribution towards a better understanding of the Vedic hymns, and though I hope it may give in the main a right rendering of the sense of the Vedic poets, I feel convinced that on many points my translation is liable to correction, and will sooner or later be replaced by a more satisfactory one. It is difficult to explain to those who have not themselves worked at the Veda, how it is that, though we may understand almost every word, yet we find it so difficult to lay hold of a whole chain of connected thought, and to discover expressions that will not throw a wrong shade on the original features of the ancient words of the Veda. We have, on the one hand, to avoid giving to our translations too modern a character, or paraphrasing instead of translating; while, on the other, we cannot retain expressions which, if literally rendered in English or any modern tongue, would have an air of quaintness or absurdity totally foreign to the intention of the ancient poets. There are, as all Vedic scholars know, whole verses which, as yet, yield no sense whatever. There are words the meaning of
which we can only guess. Here, no doubt, a continued study will remove some of our difficulties, and many a passage that is now dark, will receive light hereafter from a happy combination. Much has already been achieved by the efforts of European scholars, but much more remains to be done; and our only chance of seeing any rapid progress made lies, I believe, in communicating freely what every one has found out by himself, and not minding if others point out to us that we have overlooked the very passage that would at once have solved our difficulties, that our conjectures were unnecessary, and our emendations wrong. True and honest scholars whose conscience tells them that they have done their best, and who care for the subject on which they are engaged far more than for the praise of benevolent or the blame of malignant critics, ought not to take any notice of merely frivolous censure. There are mistakes, no doubt, of which we ought to be ashamed, and for which the only amende honorable we can make is to openly confess and retract them. But there are others, particularly in a subject like Vedic interpretation, which we should forgive, as we wish to be forgiven. This can be done without lowering the standard of true scholarship or vitiating the healthy tone of scientific morality. Kindness and gentleness are not incompatible with earnestness,—far from it!—and where these elements are wanting, not only is the joy embittered which is the inherent reward of all bonâ fide work, but selfishness, malignity, aye, even untruthfulness, gain the upper hand, and the healthy growth of science is stunted. While in my translation of the Veda and in the remarks that I have to make in the course of my commentary, I shall frequently differ from other scholars, I hope I shall never say an unkind word of men who have done their best, and who have done what they have done in a truly scholarlike, that is, in a humble spirit. It would be unpleasant, even were it possible within the limits assigned, to criticise every opinion that has been put forward on the meaning of certain words or on the construction of certain verses of the Veda. I prefer, as much as possible, to vindicate my own translation, instead of
examining the translations of other scholars, whether Indian or European. Sâyana's translation, as rendered into English by Professor Wilson, is before the world. Let those who take an interest in these matters compare it with the translation here proposed. In order to give readers who do not possess that translation, an opportunity of comparing it with my own, I have for a few hymns printed that as well as the translations of Langlois and Benfey a on the same page with my own. Everybody will thus be enabled to judge of the peculiar character of each of these translations. That of Sâyana represents the tradition of India; that of Langlois is the ingenious, but thoroughly uncritical, guesswork of a man of taste; that of Benfey is the rendering of a scholar, who has carefully worked out the history of some words, but who assigns to other words either the traditional meaning recorded by Sâyana, or a conjectural meaning which, however, would not always stand the test of an inter-comparison of all passages in which these words occur. I may say, in general, that Sâyana's translation was of great use to me in the beginning, though it seldom afforded help for the really difficult passages. Langlois’ translation has hardly ever yielded real assistance, while I sincerely regret that Benfey's rendering does not extend beyond the first Mandala.
It may sound self-contradictory, if, after confessing the help which I derived from these translations, I venture to The first traduction raisonnée.call my own the first translation of the Rig-veda. The word translation, however, has many meanings. I mean by translation, not a mere rendering of the hymns of the Rig-veda into English, French, or German, but a full account of the reasons which justify the translator in assigning such a power to such a word, and such a meaning to such a sentence. I mean by translation a real deciphering, a work like that which Burnouf performed in his first attempts at a translation of the Avesta,—a traduction raisonnée, if such an expression may be used. Without such a process,
without a running commentary, a mere translation of the ancient hymns of the Brahmans will never lead to any solid results. Even if the translator has discovered the right meaning of a word or of a whole sentence, his mere translation does not help us much, unless he shows us the process by which he has arrived at it, unless he places before us the pièces justificatives of his final judgment. The Veda teems with words that require a justification; not so much the words which occur but once or twice, though many of these are difficult enough, but rather the common words and particles, which occur again and again, which we understand to a certain point, and can render in a vague way, but which must be defined before they can be translated, and before they can convey to us any real and tangible meaning. It was out of the question in a translation of this character to attempt either an imitation of the original rhythm or metre, or to introduce the totally foreign element of rhyming. Such translations may follow by and by: at present a metrical translation would only be an excuse for an inaccurate translation.
While engaged in collecting the evidence on which the meaning of every word and every sentence must be founded, I have derived the most important assistance from the Sanskrit Dictionary of Professors Böhtlingk and Roth, which has been in course of publication during the last sixteen years. The Vedic portion of that Dictionary may, I believe, be taken as the almost exclusive work of Professor Roth, and as such, for the sake of brevity, I shall treat it in my notes. It would be ungrateful were I not to acknowledge most fully the real benefit which this publication has conferred on every student of Sanskrit, and my only regret is that its publication has not proceeded more rapidly, so that even now years will elapse before we can hope to see it finished. But my sincere admiration for the work performed by the compilers of that Dictionary does not prevent me from differing, in many cases, from the explanations of Vedic words given by Professor Roth. If I do not always criticise Professor Roth's explanations when I differ from him, the reason is obvious. A dictionary without a full
translation of each passage, or without a justification of the meanings assigned to each word, is only a preliminary step to a translation. It represents a first classification of the meanings of the same word in different passages, but it gives us no means of judging how, according to the opinion of the compiler, the meaning of each single word should be made to fit the general sense of a whole sentence. I do not say this in disparagement, for, in a dictionary, it can hardly be otherwise; I only refer to it in order to explain the difficulty I felt whenever I differed from Professor Roth, and was yet unable to tell how the meaning assigned by him to certain words would be justified by the author of the Dictionary himself. On this ground I have throughout preferred to explain every step by which I arrived at my own renderings, rather than to write a running criticism of Professor Roth's Dictionary. My obligations to him I like to express thus once for all, by stating that whenever I found that I agreed with him, I felt greatly assured as to the soundness of my own rendering, while whenever I differed from him, I never did so without careful consideration.
The works, however, which I have hitherto mentioned, though the most important, are by no means the only ones that have been of use to me in preparing my translation of the Rig-veda. The numerous articles on certain hymns, verses, or single words occurring in the Rig-veda, published by Vedic scholars in Europe and India during the last thirty years, were read by me at the time of their publication, and have helped me to overcome difficulties, the very existence of which is now forgotten. If I go back still further, I feel that in grappling with the first and the greatest of difficulties in the study of the Veda, I and many others are more deeply indebted than it is possible to say, to one whose early loss has been one of the greatest misfortunes to Sanskrit scholarship. It was in Burnouf's lectures that we first learnt what the Veda was, and how it should form the foundation of all our studies. Not only did he most liberally communicate to his pupils his valuable MSS., and teach us how to use these tools, but the results
of his own experience were freely placed at our service, we were warned against researches which he knew to be useless, we were encouraged in undertakings which he knew to be full of promise. His minute analysis of long passages of Sâyana, his independent interpretations of the text of the hymns, his comparisons between the words and grammatical forms, the thoughts and legends of the Veda and Avesta, his brilliant divination checked by an inexorable sense of truth, and his dry logical method enlivened by sallies of humour and sparks of imaginative genius, though not easily forgotten, and always remembered with gratitude, are now beyond the reach of praise or blame. Were I to criticise what he or other scholars have said and written many years ago, they might justly complain of such criticism. It is no longer necessary to prove that Nâbhânedishtha cannot mean 'new relatives,' or that there never was a race of Etendhras, or that the angels of the Bible are in no way connected with the Aṅgiras of the Vedic hymns; and it would, on the other hand, be a mere waste of time, were I to attempt to find out who first discovered that in the Veda deva does not always mean divine, but sometimes means brilliant. In fact, it could not be done.
In a new subject like that of the interpretation of the Veda, there are certain things which everybody discovers who has eyes to see. Their discovery requires so little research that it seems almost an insult to say that they were discovered by this or that scholar. Take, for instance, the peculiar pronunciation of certain words, rendered necessary by the requirements of Vedic metres. I believe that my learned friend Professor Kuhn was one of the first to call general attention to the fact that semivowels must frequently be changed into their corresponding vowels, and that long vowels must sometimes be pronounced as two syllables. It is clear, however, from Rosen's notes to the first Ashtaka (I, 1, 8), that he, too, was perfectly aware of this fact, and that he recognised the prevalence of this rule, not only with regard to semivowels (see his note to RV. I, 2, 9) and long vowels which are the result of Sandhi, but likewise with regard to others that occur in the body of a
word. 'Animadverte,' he writes, 'tres syllabas postremas vocis adhvarânâm dipodiae iambicae munus sustinentes, penultima syllaba praeter iambi prioris arsin, thesin quoque sequentis pedis ferente. Satis frequentia sunt, in hac praesertim dipodiae iambicae sede, exempla syllabae natura longae in tres moras productae. De qua re nihil quidem memoratum invenio apud Pingalam aliosque qui de arte metrica scripserunt: sed numeros ita, ut modo dictum est, computandos esse, taciti agnoscere videntur, quum versus una syllaba mancus non eos offendat.'
Now this is exactly the case. The ancient grammarians, as we shall see, teach distinctly that where two vowels have coalesced into one according to the rules of Sandhi, they may be pronounced as two syllables; and though they do not teach the same with regard to semivowels and long vowels occurring in the body of the word, yet they tacitly recognise that rule, by frequently taking its effects for granted. Thus in Sutra 950 of the Prâtisâkhya, verse IX, 111, 1, is called an Atyashti, and the first pâda is said to consist of twelve syllables. In order to get this number, the author must have read,
[paragraph continues] Immediately after, verse IV, 1, 3, is called a Dhriti, and the first pâda must again have twelve syllables. Here therefore the author takes it for granted that we should read,
[paragraph continues] No one, in fact, with any ear for rhythm, whether Saunaka and Piṅgala, or Rosen and Kuhn, could have helped observing these rules when reading the Veda. But it is quite a different case when we come to the question as to which words admit of such protracted pronunciation, and which do not. Here one scholar may differ from another according to the view he takes of the character of Vedic metres, and here one has to take careful account of the minute and
ingenious observations contained in numerous articles by Professors Kuhn, Bollensen, Grassmann, and others.
xxxi:a Since the publication of the first volume of the Rig-veda, many new MSS. have come before me, partly copied for me, partly lent to me for a time by scholars in India, but every one of them belonged clearly to one of the three families which I have described in my introduction to the first volume of the Rig-veda. In the beginning of the first Ashtaka, and occasionally at the beginning of other Ashtakas, likewise in the commentary on hymns which were studied by native scholars with particular interest, various readings occur in some MSS., which seem at first to betoken an independent source, but which are in reality mere marginal notes, due to more or less learned students of these MSS. Thus after verse 3 of the introduction one MS. reads: sa prâha nripatim, râgan, sâyanâryo mamânugah, sarvam vetty esha vedânâm vyâkhyâtritvena, yugyatâm. The same MS., after verse 4, adds: ityukto mâdhavâryena vîrabukkamahîpatih, anvasât sâyânâkâryam vedârthasya prakâsane.
I had for a time some hope that MSS. written in Grantha or other South-Indian alphabets might have preserved an independent text of Sâyana, but from some specimens of a Grantha MS. collated for me by Mr. Eggeling, I do not think that even this hope is meant to be realised. The MS. in question contains a few independent various readings, such as are found in all MSS., and owe their origin clearly to the jottings of individual students. when at the end of verse 6, I found the independent reading, vyutpannas tâvatâ sarvâ riko vyâkhyâtum arhati, I expected that other various readings of the same character might follow. But after a few additions in the beginning, and those clearly taken from other parts of Sâyana's commentary, nothing of real importance could be gleaned from that MS. I may mention as more important specimens of marginal notes that, before the first punah kîdrisam, on page 44, line 24 (1st ed.), this MS. reads: athavâ yagnasya devam iti sambandhah, yagñasya prakâsakam ityarthah, purohitam iti prithagviseshanam. And again, page 44, line 26, p. xxxii before punah kîdrisam, this MS. adds: athavâ ritvigam ritvigvid (vad) yagñanirvâhakam hotâram devânâm âhvâtâram; tathâ ratnadhâtamam. In the same line, after ratnânâm, we read ramanîyadhanânâm vâ, taken from page 46, line 2. Various readings like these, however, occur on the first sheets only, soon after the MS. follows the usual and recognised text. [This opinion has been considerably modified after a complete collation of this MS., made for me by Dr. Winternitz.] For the later Ashtakas, where all the MSS. are very deficient, and where an independent authority would be of real use, no Grantha MS. has as yet been discovered.
xxxii:a They have since been printed, but the translation has in consequence been delayed.
xxxiv:a In the new edition, Langlois’ translation has been omitted, and those of Ludwig and Grassmann have been inserted occasionally only.
xxxviii:a See also Sûtra 937 seq. I cannot find any authority for the statement of Professor Kuhn (Beiträge, vol. iii, p. 114) that, according to the Rik-prâtisâkhya, it is the first semivowel that must be dissolved, unless he referred to the remarks of the commentator to Sûtra 973.