The Rgveda Samhita as Known to AV-Par. 46 (M. Witzel)- A Review

Indo-Iranian Journal vol. 25: 1983, pg. 238-239


Rev. AA ( November 18, 2000)



1.0  Introduction

2.0  Merit of the Article

3.0  Mandukeya Sakha and the non-existent passage in the Vedavriksha

4.0  Bashkala Sakha

5.0  Samhitas of the Shankhayana and Ashvalayana Sakhas of Rigveda

6.0  Conclusion


References, Additional Bibliography, Credits

Related Links, Abbreviations, Revision Log.


1.0              Introduction


Several lost Vedic texts are now known only through references and citations in later literature. As is well known, the Atharvaveda has a collection of 72 Parisishtas (=appendices) attached to it, and the Uttamapatala (= Parisishta # 46) deals with certain rites, especially the ‘Vedavrata’. In his ‘brief communication’ titled “The Rgveda- Samhita as known to AV-Par. 46 (Materials on Vedic Sakhas, 4)”, published in the Indo-Iranian Journal no. 25 (1983), pg. 238-239, Witzel examines the information on the first and the last verse of the Rigveda, as cited in the Uttamapatala. The current review examines the methodology, the analysis and the conclusions drawn by Michael Witzel.


2.0 Merit of the Article


The article has the merit of highlighting the difference in the last verse of the vulgate Rigveda and the one cited as the last verse from the Rigveda in the Uttamapatala. Other than that, I am afraid, the article contains several misleading statements and careless errors, which detract from it whatever other value it might have had.


3.0 Mandukeya Shakha and the non-existent passage in the Vedavriksha


To commence with the most blatant error, Witzel states:


“The Kashmir Khila collection thus belongs to yet another school, probably the Mandukya (sic!), as proposed by Scheftelowitz (pg. 12). This is made probable by the statement of the Vedavrksa (cf. StII 8/9 p. 193) that this Sakha is found in the Himalayas”.


The reference given by Witzel is actually to that of one of his own earlier article [Ref. 1]. When I referred to that article, it was discovered that the Vedavriksha therein deals only with the geographical distribution of the shakhas of Yajurveda in detail. Hence, the Vedavriksha does not discuss the geographical spread of the Mandukeya shakha, which belongs to the Rigveda, at all. It is rather odd that Witzel should misquote his own earlier article in a careless manner and refer to a non-existent passage in a well-known text.


Lest one should think that there might be some other Vedavriksha texts dealing with the shakhas of Rigveda in detail, I wish to point out that Raghuvira has discussed the Vedavriksha(s) earlier in a publication and these too deal with Yajurveda [Ref. 2] alone in detail. Similarly, the same Vedavriksha(s), discussed by Bhagavad Datta [Ref. 3, pg. 202-205] also pertain only to the geographical spread of the shakhas of Yajurveda. Witzel’s statement that the Mandukeya shakha is found on the Himalayas, is also contradicted by a later statement by Deshpande [Ref. 4] below:


“We know that Sakalya based his recension in part on the earlier recension of Mandukeya which was prevalent in the northeastern region of Magadha, while the original Rgvedic hymns were composed in the northwest region.”


This error severely detracts from Witzel’s following conclusion:


“Kashmir RV tradition (which includes the Ait. Br. and Ar.) thus seems to be of a rather composite character”.


In fact, in order to draw such a conclusion, Witzel does not have to look beyond the texts in question (Ait. Br., Ait. Ar.). These texts consider several Kashmir Khila hymns as integral portions of the Rigveda Samhita. If the Rigveda Samhita and the Brahmanas/Aranyakas had belonged to the same shakha, the Samhita would have included these hymns not as khilas, but as an integral portion of its text. Hence, there was no need for Witzel to have brought the Vedavriksha into the picture at all to draw such a conclusion.


4.0 Bashkala Shakha


Before reviewing Witzel’s statements and assertions on the Bashkala shakha, it is essential to highlight pertinent facts--


First, it known from several sources [Ref. 3, pg. 169-171 and Ref. 5, pg. 305-311] that the Bashkala shakha differs from the vulgate Rigveda in the following 3 respects- Arrangement of hymns; the presence of 7 Valakhilya hymns as an integral part of the text, and the presence of an additional ‘Samjnana Sukta’ comprising of 15 verses at the end of the text. Thus, the Bashkala Samhita incorporates the Samjnana hymn of the Sakala samhita and adds one more Samnjana hymn to it, so to speak. There are a few other minor differences but they do not amount to any significant difference in the actual content of the Bashkala Samhita from the vulgate Sakala Samhita. Witzel too has pointed this out in his publication.


Second, the Kalpasutras of a particular shakha generally quote mantras from their own Samhita/Brahmana by reproducing only the first few words [see Note 1], but quote the mantras from the Samhita/Brahmana of other shakhas completely. The former method is called ‘quoting by pratika’. With regard to the Kalpasutras of Rigveda [see Note 2 for the list of extant texts attached to the Rigveda], a number of studies have been published [Ref. 6, 7 for instance] that examine the non-Rigvedic mantras of the Asvalayana and Sankhayana sutras.


Witzel seems to indicate that the reference to the Bashkala (instead of the Sakala) shakha of the Rigveda in the AV- Par. 46 is one of the ‘remnants of older tradition.’ This statement is highly questionable for a number of reasons. First, the text belongs to Atharvaveda and most literature appended to this Veda is later in origin than the corresponding works appended to the other three Vedas. And second, and more important, the Uttamapatala is a Parisishta, and it goes without saying that within each Veda, the Parisishtas normally represent the latest additions and accretions to the cannon. Therefore, the existence of ‘remnants of older tradition is highly doubtful in a text, which is itself quite late. Witzel further states:


“…the AV-Par. are of various ancestry and not easily datable. In the present chapter, however, there are other remnants of old Veda tradition which could indicate the antiquity of its contents.”


Witzel lists these ‘other remnants’ as citations of the first mantra of the Kauth./Ran. Samhita for Samaveda, and the first mantra of the Saunaka Samhita. These citations actually argue against the antiquity of the contents of the Uttamapatala because Witzel has himself suggested elsewhere [Ref. 8, pg. 273] that the Paippalada Samhita of Atharvaveda is older than the Saunaka Samhita of Atharvaveda. Therefore, if the AV-Par. under examination quotes the Saunaka Samhita, its contents should be suspected of recent origin, rather than of ancient origin. With regard to the Yajurveda, the AV-Par. quotes the first mantra in a form that is different than any extant version (Maitrayani, Kathaka, Taittiriya, Kapishthala-Katha, Madhyandina and Kanva). Witzel suggests in this publication, and also expands upon his argument in another publication [Ref. 9], that this citation might be from the now lost Charaka Samhita of the Yajurveda. However, in reality, this is merely a conjecture and not a proven fact [see Note 3]. Therefore this conjecture cannot, in itself, prove the antiquity of the contents of the AV-Par. in question, unless the antiquity is assumed beforehand. Witzel also refers to a publication of Bronkhorst [Ref. 10] and suggests:


“Leveling off of the differences in RV tradition consequently was comparatively easy, and this may have contributed to the process of the unification of RV tradition, which may be called, with Bronkhorst (StII 8/9 passim), Sakalisation’”.


This statement begs the question- was this ‘Sakalisation’ merely a re-assertion and re-acceptance of an older tradition, displacing the innovations of the Bashkalas, or was the Sakala tradition a later innovation in the Rigveda as such? Witzel seems to have assumed the latter possibility, without providing any justification. Moreover, Bronkhorst has not considered this question in the relevant article at all. He has merely suggested that in the course of time, the Sakalas swallowed the other Rigvedic schools like the Saisiriya and the Bashkalas. The available evidence actually points to the fact that it was the Bashkala Samhita that differed in arrangement from all the other Samhitas of the Sakala, Sankhayana and the Asvalayana schools (see also section 5.0). Even today amongst the Rigvedin Brahmins in India, the word ‘Bashkali’ is used as an epithet for a person who does his work haphazardly [Ref. 11, pg. 28]. Therefore, in all likelihood, the innovator was the Bashkala tradition. Nor does one see any merit in pointing out the importance of the Uttamapatala in saving  remnants of the older tradition’ because the text does not offer us any new information. It merely cites a well known mantra as the last mantra of the Rigveda Samhita, and this mantra is known to be the concluding mantra of the Bashkala Samhita from numerous other sources, as pointed out earlier.


Witzel seems to identify the Samhita alluded to in the AV-Par. 46.3 with the Bashkala Samhita of the Rigveda on the basis of the facts that

·        The verse ‘tac cham yor…’ formed the last verse of the Bashkala Samhita, as known from various sources

·        It is said to be the last verse of the 10th book of Rigveda Samhita by Sankhayana Grhyasutra and Kaushitaki Grhyasutra

In his zeal to see the Bashkala Samhita in the Uttamapatala, Witzel has followed an inconsistent methodology. He states that the Uttamapatala refers to the first verse of the Kauthuma/Ranayaniya Samhitas. He forgets to note that the verse cited by the Uttamapatala as the concluding verse of Samaveda actually differs from the concluding verse in the Kauthuma/Ranayaniya Samhita. To elaborate, the last verse of Samaveda cited by the Uttamapatala is “ esha sya te dharaya….” On the other hand, the actual last verse of these Samhitas is: “Svasti na Indro…” (mantra 1875).  Hence, Witzel has used an inconsistent methodology in asserting that the Uttamapatala refers to the first verse of the Kauthuma/Ranayaniya Samhita. Rather, he should have said that the Samhita of Samaveda referred to by the Uttamapatala is different from the Kauthuma/Ranayaniya Samhitas because the concluding verses in the two cases differ.


Secondly, Witzel does not consider the possibility that the Uttamapatala need not be referring to the first and last mantras alone of the Samhitas at all. The Uttamapatala does not really say that the first and the last verses of the 4 Vedas are being cited. Nevertheless, this is not an unreasonable assumption because in the Upakarma ceremony (which is performed annually like the Vedavrata rite), the first and the last mantra of the 4 Samhitas are recited to symbolize that the chanter has studied all the 4 Vedas. There is a tradition amongst Rigvedins recorded by Mahidasa [ref. 17, pg. 24] that irrespective of their Sakha affiliation, the Rigvedins must take ‘tac cham yor…’ as the last verse of Rigveda when they perform a study of all the 5 Sakhas of Rigveda (in the order Sakala, Sankhayana, Asvalayana, Mandukeya and Bashkala). This means that even the adherents of Sakala tradition, whose Samhita does not end with the aforementioned verse, must also take it as the last verse of their text for certain ritual purposes. The recitation of the verse ‘tac cham yor…’ at the end ensures that the study ends with a verse that is benedictory in nature [see note 4], and it also ensures that the Sakala Samhita is included in the recitation of the Bashkala Samhita (since the latter has an additional Sukta at the end).


In fact, the Parisishta might be quoting only select verses of the 4 Vedas (besides their first mantras) merely for the purpose of Vedavrata rite (described in the text of Uttamapatala). This is a tempting suggestion because the Uttamapatala does not quote the last mantra of the Samaveda, the Yajurveda and the Atharvaveda samhitas as we know them today. The upshot of this discussion is that it is too simplistic and superficial on the part of Witzel to see the Bashkala Samhita specifically in the solitary reference provided by the Uttamapatala.


Witzel states that the Rigvedins in Kerala are said to follow the Bashkala Samhita. And in fact they also follow the Kaushitaki Grhyasutra, which takes the verse ‘tac cham yor..’ as the last verse of Rigveda. But all this by itself is insufficient to suggest that the AV-Par. 46.3 could have necessarily referred to the Bashkala Samhita of Rigveda. For one, Witzel does not consider the possibility that there might be other Samhitas that could have the cited the verse ‘tac cham yor..’ as their last verse. Second, Witzel also does not consider the possibility (like he does for Kashmir towards the end of his article) that the Rigvedic traditions of Kerala, Rajasthan and Assam might themselves be composite in nature. Witzel himself admits that it still needs to be verified if Rigvedins in these three Indian states actually do follow the Bashkala Samhita. Therefore, we see a lack of rigor here because Witzel uses hearsay information and ignores other alternatives while drawing his conclusions.


Witzel concludes his chaotic discussion of the Bashkala Sakha with the totally untenable, and baseless assertion –


‘While the Baskala text originally was followed by the Aitareya/Asvalayana and the Kausitaki(Sambavya)/ Sankhayana schools of the RV, these Sakhas now apparently follow the Sakala text’.


Whether the Sankhayana Srauta and Grhya sutras, Asvalayana Srauta and Grhya sutras and the Kausitaki (= Sambavya) Grhyasutras followed the Bashkala Samhita (as asserted by Witzel) and not the Sakala Samhita in ancient times can be verified by a cursory examination of the Rigvedic citations in these texts, considering the two facts noted at the very beginning of this section. In fact, such a study with regard to the Asvalayana Srauta sutra was published 14 years before Witzel’s article (i.e., in 1969) by Aithal [Ref. 6] wherein he clearly proves, from the internal testimony of the text itself (supplemented by the commentatorial tradition) that the Asvalayana Srauta Sutra was intended to follow both the Sakala and the Bashkala Sakha by the author himself. Aithal expanded on this study later into a book, [Ref. 7] which also indicates the same. Recently, in the description of a manuscript of the Asvalayana Samhita of Rigveda, Chaubey [Ref. 12] has also clarified this point, and has underscored the fact that the Asvalayana Sutras naturally follow their own distinct Samhita too. All this literature renders Witzel’s assertion void.


Let us now consider the Sankhayana Srauta Sutra, an edition of which was published by Hillebrandt [Ref. 13]. There is nothing compelling in this text that links it to the Bashkala Samhita. In fact, when manuscripts of the Sankhayana Samhita exist (see Section 5.0) and have been described in literature [eg. Ref. 14] several decades before Witzel published his ‘brief communication’, his suggestion seems singularly preposterous.


From the above, it follows very clearly that the Sutra texts in question did not originally follow the Bashkala Sakha alone. If the present adherents of these sutras employ the Sakala Samhita (or even the Bashkala Samhita) as their mantra text, it is probably due to the composite nature of their tradition, or because the Sutras themselves can be used with either of the two Samhitas. The next section clarifies these points further. In fact, there is evidence that the Bashkalas had their own distinct Brahmana text in addition to their Samhita. The Asvalayana and the Sankhayana shakhas also had their own Samhita, which were nevertheless quite similar to the vulgate Sakala text. Hence, there is no need to assert that these schools would have followed the Bashkala text!


5.0 Samhitas of the Asvalayana and the Sankhayana Sakhas of Rigveda


At the beginning of his publication, Witzel does state the fact that later literature mentions the existence of 3, or 21 or 27 shakhas of Rigveda. Therefore, it is unfortunate that Witzel examines only 3 (or 4) shakhas- Mandukeya, Bashkala, Sakala (including its Kashmiri version) and Saisiriya (which is closely affiliated to the Sakala Shakha) for his enquiry. Lack of information on the Samhitas of other shakhas can hardly be an excuse, because definite information on the extant manuscripts of these texts has been available for several decades now. For instance, in 1940’s, Sonatakke et al have described a few manuscripts of the Sankhayana Rigveda Samhita [Ref. 14; see also Note 5], and so have Satavalekara [Ref. 15, pg.71] and others [Ref. 16]. While Chaubey’s publication on the Asvalayana Samhita [Ref. 12], postdates the publication under review, Witzel could have nevertheless considered information on both these shakhas in the commentary of Mahidasa on the Charanavyuha by Saunaka [Ref. 17]. The commentary contains very good information on the Asvalayana, Bashkala and the Sankhayana Samhitas.


This lacuna in the publication under review is serious precisely because it is found that the verse ‘tac cham yoravrnimahe…..sam catuspade’ is found in both these Samhitas. Satavelekara distinguishes clearly between the Bashkala and the Sankhayana Samhitas and states that both end with the verse ‘tac cham yor…..’. Therefore, the Uttamapatala might be referring to the Sankhayana Samhita. Witzel seems to be over-influenced by the views of Oldenberg, in considering the Sankhayana and Asvalayana Samhitas as non-existent. Such an over-reliance on antiquated information is unfortunate [see Note 6 also].


 6.0  Conclusions


In view of the discussion above, the sole merit of Witzel’s publication appears to lie in highlighting the difference in the last verse of the Rigveda text pre-supposed by the Uttamapatala and the published, vulgate Rigveda Samhita. Besides this, the article is marred by serious errors, including one in which Witzel has misquoted his own earlier publication and has referred to a non-existent passage in the Vedavriksha. The author seems unaware of/has not referred to the literature pertinent to his enquiry, and has therefore drawn inaccurate conclusions. Because of this, and also the use of a faulty methodology, there is hardly any statement or assertion in the publication that can withstand closer scrutiny. Understandably, even a ‘brief communication’ cannot afford to have such lacunae and errors. But it is indeed surprising that such a frivolous publication should appear in a peer reviewed, international journal of Indology. The problem at hand did not merit an entire publication because the matter could have been disposed off with the single statement: “The Rigveda Samhita presumed by Atharvaveda Parisishta 46.3 ends with the verse ‘tac cham yor..’ which is well known to have been the last verse of the Bashkala Samhita from several sources.” My suggestion is strengthened by the chaotic and a rambling treatment of the subject by Witzel in his ‘brief communication.’




  1. Notable exceptions to this general rule are the sutra collections of Vadhula and Baudhayana. In some cases, one portion of a Kalpa text does not quote the mantra of another shakha completely if the preceding portion of that Kalpa text has already done so. For instance, the Kausika Sutra and Vaitana sutra form a sequential pair in the tradition of Saunakiya Atharvaveda. If the Kausika Sutra has already quoted a non Saunakiya mantra completely, the Vaitana sutra will only quote the first few words of the same. Apparently, Witzel has ignored these well known rules while drawing his conclusions.
  2. The extant Kalpasutra texts of Rigveda are: Sankhayana Srautasutra and Grhyasutra; Asvalayana Srautasutra and Grhyasutra; Kaushitaki Grhyasutra; Vasishtha Dharmasutra and Parasara Dharmasutra (in manuscript). Fragments of a ‘Saunaka Grhyasutra’ also exist and a metrical Smrti in Karika meter by Saunaka has been published. There are a few other minor texts, which we may leave out here.
  3. Two manuscripts of the Charaka Samhita have now actually been found at Nashik and are said to be very similar to the Maitrayani Samhita. This is further corroborated by the fact that the manuscript of the ‘Charaka Aranyaka’ at Lahore is very similar to the text of the Maitrayani Aranyaka.
  4. The tradition seems to parallel that of South Indian Atharvavedins. Although they currently follow the Saunaka Sakha, they often start their recitations with the benedictory verse ‘Sam no devir…’ (AV Saunaka 6.1.1) which is actually the first verse of the Paippalada Samhita of Atharvaveda. (Personal communications with a Tamil Atharvavedin Brahmin). It is well known that some Atharvaveda (Saunakiya) manuscripts actually prefix the mantra ‘Sam no devir…’ for benediction, even though it is the first manta of the Paippalada Samhita (and occurs as the first mantra in the 6th hymn of the Saunakiya Samhita). Within the Atharvaveda Parisishta collection, the initial mantras of the four Vedas are employed for the pusyabhiseka (5.3.4) and the recitation of the first and the last mantras of the Vedas is prescribed for the removal of sins accrued because of acceptance of charity (2.6.4)
  5. This edition of Rigveda is very noteworthy for two reasons- first, it is the only critical edition of the Sayanabhashya on Rigveda. Second, as clarified in the preface(s) of this 5 vol. edition, the text of the Rigveda has been checked against oral tradition and manuscripts of Rigveda have been ignored.
  6. Johannes Bronkhorst draws a similar conclusion on pg. 92 of his article “The Orthoepic Diaskeuasis of the Rgveda and the Date of Panini” in IIJ 23 (1981) 83-95. The presence of distinct manuscripts of the Asvalayana and Sankhayana Sakhas, albeit not well known, renders such conclusions untenable. In my forthcoming publications, I propose to write in detail about the Samhitas of the Asvalayana and the Sankhayana Sakhas of Rigveda.


  1. Witzel, Michael; Materielien zu den vedischen Schulen (I. Ueber die Caraka-Sakha); Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik, vol. 8/9; 1982/3; Pg. 171-240
  2. Vira, Raghu; Sakhas of the Yajurveda; in ‘Sarasvati Vihara: A Collection of some notes and articles of Prof. Dr. Raghu Vira’; International Academy of Indian Culture; New Delhi; 1964; pg. 329-346
  3. Datta, Bhagavad and Satyashrava; Vaidik Vanmaya ka Itihasa, vol. I; Pranava Prakashan; Delhi; 1978
  4. Deshpande, Madhav; “Vedic Aryans, non-Vedic Aryans And non-Aryans” in ‘The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia” (Ed. George Erdosy), pg. 67-84; Walter De Gruyter; Berlin/New York; 1995
  5. Sarmah, Thaneswar; The Bharadvajas in Ancient India; Motilal Banarsidass Publishers; Delhi; 1991
  6. Aithal, K. Parameswara; RV. Khilas and the Sutras of Asvalayana; in Adyar Library Bulletin, vol. 33 (1969)
  7. Aithal, K. Parameswara; Non-Rgvedic Citations in the Asvalayana Srautasutra; Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office; Varanasi; 1986
  8. Witzel, Michael; The Development of the Vedic Canon and its Schools- The Social and Political Milieu; in Michael Witzel (Ed.), “Inside the Texts, Beyond the Texts” pg. 257-347; Harvard University; Cambridge, MA; 1997
  9. Witzel, Michael; “An Unknown Yajurveda Samhita (AV-Par. 26); in the Indo Iranian Journal, vol. 27 (1984), pg. 105-106
  10. Bronkhorst, Johannes; The Rigveda Pratisakhya and its Sakha; in ‘Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik’, vol 8/9, 1982/83
  11. Pandeya, Omprakasa; Vaidik Khila Sukta- eka adhyayana; Grantham; Kanpur; 1979
  12. Chaubey, B. B.; The Asvalayana Samhita of the Rigveda; in ‘Vishveshvaranand Indological Journal, June-December 1992; pg. 7-28
  13. Hillebrandt, Alfred; Sankhayana Srauta Sutra; Meharchand Lachhmandas Publications; New Delhi; 1981
  14. Sontakke, N. S. et al; Rgveda-Samhita with the commentary of Sayanacharya; Vaidik Samsodhana Mandala; Poona. See vol. 4, Section called ‘Khilani’ – 1st edition of 5 volumes published from 1933-1951. Reprint from 1972-1973
  15. Satavalekara, Sripada Damodara (Ed.); Rgveda, 4th edition; Svadhyaya Mandala; Pardi, Balasada; 1982. The older editions also contain similar information
  16. Singh, Amal Dhari; Rigveda Sakha Vimarsha; in ‘Prajna’. Vol. XVI (October 1970); pg. 74-84
  17. Sharma, Umesh Chandra (Ed.); The Caranavyuha Sutra of Saunaka (with the commentary of Mahidasa); Viveka Publications; Aligarh; 1978. There is an older edition from Varanasi published in 1938 as well.



Additional Bibliography:

  1. Modak, B. R; The Ancillary Literature of the Atharva-Veda- A study with special reference to the Parisistas; Rashtriya Veda Vidya Pratishthan; New Delhi; 1993; 560 pp.
  2. Rai, Ram Kumar; The Parisistas of the Atharvaveda; Chaukhamba Orientalia; Varanasi; 1976 (Devanagari version of an earlier Romanized text published by Bolling, Geroge M., and Negelein, Julius von in 1909



The author wishes to thank numerous reviewers, particularly Dr. V. Sundaresan and Dr. S. Kalyanaraman, for their valuable suggestions.


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AP-Par. = Atharvaveda Parishishta

Ait. Br. = Aitareya Brahmana

Ait. Ar. = Aitareya Aranyaka

IIJ = Indo-Iranian Journal

Kauth. = Kauthuma Samhita of Samaveda

Ran. = Ranayamiya Samhita of Samaveda


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