On 22 Apr, 2007, I posted a write- up discussing the close relation between the Rig-Veda and the Gathas concerning the language, the locale, the names of the principal characters etc. I mentioned there in, the language of the Gathas (the older scriptures), known as Avesthan was remarkably similar to that of the Vedic Sanskrit of the Rig Veda. Further, in the Rig Veda the devas are worshipped as gods and the asuras are put down as demons, while in Zoroastrianism the treatment of these deities is reversed. (Topic: Rig Veda and the Gathas )
The issues raised in the post of 22 Apr, briefly, were – when and why the terms deva/asura came to acquire different meanings in the two texts. Was this because of a conflict between the two sects? If so, when and where the” conflict “ took place?
Following that post there were a few comments and discussions in the Forum. I also looked around a few sites and read a few books on the subject because I was not totally convinced that there was a “conflict” per se. In the mean time, a friend on the Forum recommended an article entitled “Vedic Elements in the Ancient Iranian Religion of Zarathushtra “ written by Mr. Subhash Kak, a scholar from Jammu & Kashmir. The article was well written and it helped me to take a view on some, though not on all the issues raised in the post of22 Apr 2007. These efforts yielded additional information on the ancient kingdoms of Kassite s, Mittanis and Hattusa that existed sometime during 18th century B. C to 16th century B. C. in the Mesopotamian and North –West Syria regions. Based on the additional information I prepared a fresh article on the subject and hence this post.
Now, shall we resume our little talk about the Rig Veda and the Gathas?
1. I have veered to the view that the “conflict” was mostly surmised. There is no evidence pointing to any such “conflict”. I agree we may safely discard that hypothesis, at least for the present.
2. the Vedic religion, in some form, was present in the Mesopotamian region during the times of the Mitanni ,the Hittite, the Kassites (c 1750 BC) who worshiped Surya.
3. The Hurrian (1500 B C to 1270 B C) was located in the present-day western Syria , in the mountainous regions of Upper Euphrates and Tigris. The name Mitanni or Maitani first appears in the “memoirs” of a military officier who lived at the time of Amenhotep (1525 – 1504 BC). These memoirs were in connection with the Syrian wars (ca. 1480).
3.1 The ethnicity of the people of Mitanni is difficult to ascertain.The names of some Mitanni kings reveal Indo Aryan influence. They appeared to follow the Vedic religion. The ruling aristocracy was maryanni , meaning “young warrior” a derivative of the Sanskrit marya. The Mitanni warriors were called Marya, the term for warrior in Sanskrit as well.
3.2 Washukanni, or Waššukanni (also spelled Washshukanni, Wassuganni, Vasukhani, or a combination of these variants) was the capital of the kingdom of Mitanni from 1500 B C. The name is similar to the Sanskrit phrase for “a mine of wealth.” Washukanni flourished as a capital city for two centuries.
3.3 The names of the kings also point to the Indo-Aryan influence. The founder of the Kirta (1500 B c to 1490 B C). His name is also mentioned as “Krta” or with its element such as Krtadeva, Krtadhaja, and Krtadharman etc.
The names of the other Mitanni kings are also of Indo Aryan origin. For instance: Tushrata(Dasharatha–possessing ten chariots), Baratarna ( Paratarna -great sun), Biridaswa (Brihadashwa- possessing great horses), Artatamna (Rtumna-devoted to the divine law), Saustatar ( Saukshatra -son of Sukshatra, the good ruler), Saumathi( Son of Sumathi) , Sattawaza (he who has won seven prizes), Shuttarna(Sutarna – good sun),Sumaala( having beautiful wreaths), Parsatatar(Parashukshatra -ruler with axe) and Mattiwaza ( Mativaja -whose wealth is prayer) –are the Mitannian names of the kings and other males of the time.
Šattiwaza (c.1325-1280) before his accession to the throne carried a Hurrian name Kili-Teššup, like that of several of his predecessors. In his treaties, he invokes, among the many Hurrian and Mesopotamian deities, the Indo-Aryan deities Mitra, Varuna, Indra, and the Nasatyas.
3.4 A famous treaty entered between the Hittite ruler Suppiluliuma and the Mitanni king, Mattiwaza,(Mattiraja) in about 1380 BC, at Boghazkoy, invokes not only the Babylonian gods to witness the treaty but also the deities of Vedic origin such as Mitra, Varuna, Indra and Nasatya (Ashwins). The names of these deities are in the forms that appear in the Rig-Veda (S. Konow: Aryan gods of the Mitani people, 1921).
They occur in the treaty as ila_ni Mi-it-ra-as-si-il, ila_ni A-ru-na-as-si-il In-da-ra, ila_niNa-sa-at-ti-ya-an-na. Since the form for Na_satya is quite different in the Avestan language (Naonhaithya), it is likely that the Mitannian did not speak Iranian but Indo-Aryan (E.Meyer: Sitzungsberichte der K. Preuss. Akad. Der Wissen, 1908). Of these gods, only Mitra (Mithra) is invoked in the Avesta (Indra and Nanhaithya appear in the Avesta as demons and Varuna may have survived as Ahura Mazda – Asura Mahat).This indicates that the religion of the royalty was Vedic and the Iranian influence was yet to spread to the Mitanni region.
The differences that appeared in the Rig-Vedic and Avestan terminologies must have therefore materialized at a much later stage .Some of the important changes that took place on the Iranian side, might have come about just prior to or at the time of the Zarathrustra.
3.5 As regards the language of the Hurrian kingdom, the common language Hurrian was neither Indo Aryan nor Semitic but was closer to Urartian. The Hurrians adopted the Akkadian cuneiform script for their language in about 2000 BC . It appears there were different groups and sub groups who spoke different dialects and followed different sets of deities. The royal family of Mitanni was speaking Hurrian as well.
3.6 Kikkuli, a master horse trainer (assussanni, the Sanskrit form of which is aśva-sana) of Mittani, was the author of a chariot – horse training manual written in the Hittite language (an extinct language of Indo European family). The text (dated c1499 B. C) is notable for the information it provides about the development of Indo European language and for its content as well. Kikkuli’s horse training text includes numerical terms such as aika (eka, one), tuwa (dwe , two), tera (tri, three), panza (pancha, five), satta (sapta, seven), Na (nava, nine), vartana (vartana, round).The terms used to denote the horses of different ages or stages of training are – saudist– “foal” or “untrained”; yuga– “young horse”; dāyuga to mean “horse in its second year of training” etc. The text employs terms such as babru (babhru, brown), parita (palita, grey), and pinkara (pingala, red) to denote colors. These terms are of Sanskrit origin.
3.7 Hence, the Indo-Aryan element of the Mitanni could be placed 1500 BCE , if not earlier.
4.1 A cognate appears in a Hittite text found at Bogazköy in the name Ak/gniš, a god of devastation and annihilation. This term refers to AGNI (Sanskrit), the god of fire in ancient and traditional . In the Gathas of Zarathustra, the term atar is used to denote the concept of fire. The term atar does not appear in Rig-Veda. This points to presence of Vedic type of religion in the region .
5. kassites are the ancient people of the Middle East who established a dynasty that ruled for about 450 years, starting around 1600 BCE. Their capital was Dar Kurizgalu; about 150 km north of Babylon.The kassite spoke a language that was similar to Sumerian.
5.1 The names of some Kassite kings were of Vedic origin (for example: Shuriash = Surya, Maruttash = Marut, Inda-Bugash = Indra-Bhaga),
5.2 The fifth king among the Kassite dynasty took the name Abirattas’ (abhi-ratha ‘facing chariots (in battle)’. (T. Burrow, The Sanskrit Language , London, Faber and Faber, 1955).
5.3 The tenth king of the Kassite dynasty Agum (II) (c.1595-1545) took the throne-name Kakrime derived from Sanskrit term KAK meaning “ to enable , to help”(Sanskrit – saknoti, he is able, he is strong: Shakti,)( The American Heritage Dictionary of the English LanguageIndo-European Roots)
6. What is interesting in the case of Mitannis and Kassites is, the language of the common people was not Indo Aryan, the religion of the people did not appear to be Vedic. Yet, for some unknown reason many of the kings assumed Sanskrit – throne-names. It appears there were traces of Indo Aryan influence in the region.
The Indo-Aryans names do not appear in texts till 15th century BCE. The Mesopotamian texts of the 18th and 17th centuries BCE do not show evidence of this trend (of assuming Sanskrit-throne names). This trend, therefore, was comparatively recent.
What is not clear is, how these “traces of Indo Aryan influence“ came into being? When and why they faded away?
7. Mr. Kak in his paper makes a number of points:
a) Following the collapse of the Sarasvati – river based economy around1900 BC, groups of Indians might have moved West and that might explain the presence of the Indic Kassites and the Mitanni in West Asia .
b) The old Vedic religion survived for a fairly long time in corners of Iran. The evidence of its survival comes from the daiva-inscription of Khshayarshan (Xerxes) (486-465 BC).
c) The ruling groups-Kassite and Mitanni – represented a minority in a population that spoke deferent languages. They, however, remained connected to their Vedic traditions. They were neighbors to the pre-Zoroastrian Vedic Iran . In addition, there were other Vedic religion groups in the intermediate region ofIran which itself consisted of several ethnic groups.
d) As per the Mitanni documents , the pre-Zorastrian religon in Iran included Varuna. Since Mitra and Varuna are partners in the Vedas, the omission of Varuna from the Zoroastrian lists indicates that Zarathushtra might be from the borderlands of the Vedic world where the Vedic system was not fully in place.
e) The pre-Zoroastrian religion of is clearly Vedic. Zarathushtra’s innovation lay in his emphasis on the dichotomy of good and bad The Zoroastrian innovations did not change the basic Vedic character of the culture in Iran. The worship ritual remained unchanged, as was the case with basic conceptions related to divinity and the place of man.
I also believe that Zarathushtra did not try to overthrow belief in the older Iranian religion, he did however, place Ahura Mazda at the centre of a kingdom of justice that promised immortality and bliss. He attempted to reform ancient Iranian religion on the basis of the then existing social and economic values
8. Now, let us come to the question of why the same set of deities came to be viewed differently and why there was division. This concerns mainly the asuras/ahuras versus the devas/daevas debate.
In the older texts, that is, in the Rig Veda and the Avesta, these differences are not quitesharp.In the Rig Veda, the asuras were the “older Gods”, a class of deities without negative connotations,who presided over the moral and social phenomena of the primeval universe; while devas the “younger gods” presided over nature and the environment. In the Vedic account of creation, some of the “older gods”(asuras) went over to join the ranks of the “younger gods” (devas). The remaining asuras were exiled to the nether world. While this distinction between asuras and asuras-who-became-devas is preserved in the texts of the Rig Veda, the later texts employ the term asura to represent allnon-devas or those opposed to devas.
In Zoroaster’s Gathas, where the battle between good and evil is a distinguishing characteristic of the religion ,the daevas are the “wrong gods”, the followers of whom need to be brought back to the path of the ‘good religion’
9. It is not clear what led to the rivalry between two groups and how rival groups perceived the same set of deities differently.It is possible that at some common point of time, the ancestors of both branches worshiped the same set of deities. Later, it is possible; each group supported its chosen set of deities, leading to rivalry between the two groups. The differences that appeared in the Rig-Vedic and Avestan terminologies must have materialized a long time after the demise of the Mittani and other kingdoms. Some of the important changes that took place on the Iranian side, might have come about just prior to or at the time of the Zarathrustra.
It is likely that the rivalry had its roots in the division of theIndic and Iranian branches of Proto-Indo-Iranian culture. However,the differences persist even today; while their causes have disappeared long ago, and even have been forgotten.
10. Mr. Kak states that the Vedic and the Zarathushtrian systems are much less deferent than is generally believed. He mentions the Kashmiri system which recognizes a three-way division consisting devas, asuras, and daevas. He also brings in the argument of three gunas –Satva, Rajas and Tamas- of Indian thought. I am familiar with the “Gunas” concept; But not as well as to comment on Mr. Kak’s argument.
11. I do believe that the Rig Veda and the Gathas have to be studied together to gain a fuller understanding of either of the texts. Parallel research on the Gathas and on the Vedic, religion prior to Zarathushtra will therefore be useful for better appreciation of the Zoroastrian and the Vedic texts.