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Zoroastrian religion predates Rig Veda?
Expanse of Asura culture in ancient times was astounding. The spread of Asura culture can be traced right from India, Iran like so called Indic language speaking regions to the Semitic language speaking Assyrian empire. The Asura culture shaped in variety of forms in the different regions; still its "Asura" soul remained thriving for millenniums.
The Asura culture had rooted in the psyche of the people of those times long before the Vedic religion even had emerged on the earth which is evidenced from the archeological remains and various inscriptions from various regions. Assyria was a Semitic kingdom that lasted for almost 1900 years, right from 2500 BC till 605 BC, located at present Iraq and surrounding regions had flourished with Asura culture. The culture was spread to Sumerians, Mittani and Hittites of those times as well.
Asura culture finds its dominance over almost all the tribes/societies of those times, no matter what languages they spoke or to which stock of human race they belonged. There were several religious practices spread all over, still the ethos of Asurism echoes from the history. India too was a great center of Asura culture long before the Vedic religion was even introduced to its people. Where this culture originated may be a matter of dispute, but despite linguistic and ethnic differences its spread over the vast territory is astounding. We cannot attribute the credit of such a vast expanse of a culture to either Aryan Migration Theory or Out of India Theory. Expansions, migrations or even invasions do not leave such imperishable impact on any society. Culture is always decided by the general psyche of the people.
Bogazkoy treaty (14th Century BC) between Hittites and Mittani's invokes Gods like Indra, Varuna and Nasatya's. Based on this Prof. B. B. Lal and some other scholars infer that this is a proof of Vedic Aryan expansion in the west. Needless to say this is a farfetched idea, because even before Vedic people adapted to these Gods mentioned above, they were known almost everywhere in the world of Asura culture. Hence finding their names in Bogazkoy Treaty does not prove anyway that Vedic people existed in those regions.
Before Zoroaster founded his religion, Mazdayasni, religion of Asura was already in place practiced by the people. Though, may be on small scale, it appears from Avesta that the culture of Daeva (Sk. Deva) too co-existed in opposition to Asura culture. From Indian mythologies too it appears that in the beginning Asura culture dominated Deva culture and there was constant struggle between the both over the supremacy. Asura’s in India have been treated as elder brothers to Deva’s and not otherwise. This does mean that the Asura culture was far anterior to Deva culture.
Zoroaster is often called as reformer of the religion, which means he gave new dimensions and meaning to the existing religion and promoted it in monotheist order. He divided his theological world between Asura as good and Daeva as bad and depicted the eternal conflict between them.
It is a general understanding that the Rig Vedic religion predates Zoroastrian religion in itself is a false myth that has deliberately been built by the European and Indian scholars. The fact surfaces from the available proofs that the Vedic people too originally belonged to the ancient Asura culture and revered Asura element as a supreme principle in Rig Veda. The ancient traits of Asura reverence can be seen trickled almost in every book of the Rig Veda. Many religious elements and deities seem to have been borrowed by the Vedic people from Gatha's of Zoroaster. Needless to say they might also have borrowed from other religious practices prevailing in Asura culture.
Let us have a brief look at the proofs from Rig Veda that clearly indicates original Asura origin of their religion.
We are aware that the Varuna was the supreme God of Rig Veda till he was displaced by Indra in the later course. Varuna finds its mention in Avesta as Varena among the 101 Gods to be worshiped. Varuna is often mentioned in Rig Veda twinned with Mitra (Ave. Mithra). Sometimes he is associated with Indra as well in duality. Mithra was also an important deity in Zoroastrian religion whereas Indra is mentioned only once and that too in the demonic form.
In Rig Veda the main epithet of Varuna is “Asura”! (RV 1.35, 7.2, 7.10, 7.65.9, 8.42.1) Though the epithet “Asura” also is addressed to Mitra, Indra, Agni etc. “Asura” epithet has prominently been used for Varuna. Varuna in Gatha's is a minor deity amongst other hundred. Indra too is mentioned once in Avesta as an insignificant demon (Daeva), However Vedic cult picked both up to elevate to the supreme deities.
Interestingly, though a minor deity from Avesta, Varuna was first chosen as a supreme lord, the later choice of Indra as a supreme deity is from the demons. In Avesta Asur represents God whereas Daeva represents Demon. Choice from obscure Gods like of Varuna to elevate him from obscure God to supreme God only suggests that the Vedic’s represented a very obscure Varuna cult of Asura culture. However the surprising fact is the later choice of Indra is from demons. The original demon character of Indra has been changed in Rig Veda to the God. This startling fact may suggest that the Vedic cult was made of at the least two different faiths, i.e. Asura and Daeva (God and demon) with some modifications after internal conflicts. The Rig Vedic account gives the traces of such conflicts in the form of vicious rivalries amongst seer families.
This is evident also from the fact that we surprisingly find in the later course of Rig Veda the epithet “Asura” is suddenly dropped; its meaning is drastically changed, from Lord to the Demon. As we have discussed in previous articles, the sudden shift of meaning of deity names can be attributed to the imminent rivalry between both the opposite religious groups.
In Zoroastrian tradition we do not find such change in the meaning of their supreme deity. Ahura Mazda (Sk. Asura-Medha) remains as the supreme Lord throughout. In the Gatha’s Zoroaster is ambiguous about the position of Daeva’s, still they are outsider to his religion and later on treated as demons or evil spirits. Also in Avesta there is no change in the supreme entity of the religion, whereas in Rig Vedic religion we find the supreme entities being changed from time to time. For example Varuna is replaced by Indra and again Varuna is surfacing as a supreme deity in a family book of later times.
Laxman Shastri Joshi, a noted Maharashtrian Scholar, clearly states that the “Asura” word is original which is formed by connecting root “Asu” with “R”, which means “He, who possess power.” Or simply it means "The Lord". Also he states that the word “Sur” (for God) was invented in later times to stand it opposite to “Asura” and is an artificial word as it does not linguistically fit into the Sanskrit structure. (Bharatiya Sanskriti Kosha, Vol. 1)
A fact must be noted here that the term "Asur" is used in Rig Veda 90 times as equivalent to God.
What does this mean? It simply means that the Asura culture predates the Deva culture of later Rig Vedic texts and that the early Rig Vedic texts follow the Asura cultural elements and it also implies that the Asura culture predates Rig Vedic culture, no matter where it was originated. Most importantly most of the deities of Rig Veda are borrowed from the Asura culture to give them new dimensions and meanings in later times.
Zoroaster in Rig Veda
Zoroaster is spelled differently in various languages. His Avestan spelling is “Zarathustra”. The etymology of his name “Zarath + Ushtra” is "old camel or who manages the camels". Bharatiya Sanskriti Kosha gives another etymology, “He, who has golden aura”, means Zarathustra. May it be anything, but we find his mention in Rig Veda along with his near ones.
Rig Veda mentions not only Zarathustra but his death as well.
“Burn up all malice with those flames, O Agni, wherewith of old thou burntest up Jarutha,And drive away in silence pain and sickness.” (RV 7.1.7 Trans. By Griffith)
“Vasiṣṭha, when enkindling thee, O Agni, hath slain Jarutha. Give us wealth in plenty. Sing praise in choral song, O Jātavedas. Ye Gods, preserve us evermore with blessings.” (RV 7.9.6 Trans. By Griffith)
“Agni rejoiced the car of him who praised lim, and from the waters burnt away Jarutha. Agni saved Atri in the fiery cavem, and made Nrmedha rich with troops of children.” (RV 10.80.3, Trans. By Griffith.)
Above all hymns explicitly mentions “Jarutha” i.e. Zarathustra. Zoroastrian tradition matches with the Rig Vedic legend that Zoroaster was killed (or died) in a fire while he was offering prayers in a fire temple. According to Bharatiya Sanskriti Kosh (Vol. 1, page 305) the legend of Zoroaster’s death in fire is acknowledged by Zoroastrian scriptures, such as, Denkard, Behram Yast and Dahestan
Also similarly Avestan King and Zoroaster’s disciple Vistaspa finds his mention in Rig Veda as Ishtashva (RV 1.122.13) and Arjapspa as Rijashva. Apart from these we find many other Avestan historical names mentioned in Rig Veda along with deities, cosmological concepts and rituals.
This will indicate two important things that the Avestan Geography was close to the Rig Vedic geography, no matter some scholars attempt to prove the migration from either direction. Out of India theory becomes weaker in the light of these proofs. Rig Veda knows the Jarutha (Zarathushtra) along with his companions and of his death as well.
This does mean that the Rig Vedic history is younger than of the Avesta. Actual composition of the Rig Veda might have began slightly after the death of Zoroaster. This makes clear that the foundation of the Zoroastrian religion was already been laid before the composition of the Rig Veda had began and that in the beginning Vedic people adhered to the Asura element of the existing culture of those times though the Vedic religious practices differed from the Zoroastrians and other various minor religions.
The myth that the Rig Veda predates Avesta cannot be true in the light of the above. In next installments we shall go through other vital proofs and also try to solve the very problem of original homeland of the Vedic people.
(To be contd.)