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A History of Sanskrit Literature by MacDonell

With the Grihya or Domestic Sutras

to the Atharva, or of exclusiveness

towards it on the part of followers of the other Vedas. Such an attitude could indeed hardly be expected. For though the sphere of the Vedic sacrificial ritual was different from that of regular magical rites, it is impossible to draw a distinct line of demarcation between sacrifice and sorcery in the Vedic religion, of which witchcraft is, in fact, an essential element. The adherents of the three sacrificial Vedas would thus naturally recognise a work which was a repository of witchcraft. Thus the Catapatha Brahmana, though characterising yatu or sorcery as devilish--doubtless because it may be dangerous to those who practise it--places yatuvidah or sorcerers by the side of bahvrichas or men skilled in Rigvedic verses. Just as the Rigveda contains very few hymns directly connected with the practice of sorcery, so the Atharva originally included only matters incidental and subsidiary to the sacrificial ritual. Thus it contains a series of formulas (vi. 47-48) which have no meaning except in connection with the three daily pressings (savana) of soma. We also find in it hymns (e. g. vi. 114) which evidently consist of formulas of expiation for faults committed at the sacrifice. We must therefore conclude that the followers of the Atharva to some extent knew and practised the sacrificial ceremonial before the conclusion of the present redaction of their hymns. The relation of the Atharva to the crauta rites was, however, originally so slight, that it became necessary, in order to
establish a direct connection with it, to add the twentieth book, which was compiled from the Rigveda for the purposes of the sacrificial ceremonial.

The conspicuous way in which crauta works ignore the Atharva is therefore due to its being almost entirely unconnected with the subject-matter of the sacrifice, not to any pronounced disapproval or refusal to recognise its value in its own sphere. With the Grihya or Domestic Sutras, which contain many elements of sorcery practice (vidhana), we should expect the Atharva to betray a closer connection. This is, indeed, to some extent the case; for many verses quoted in these Sutras are identical with or variants of those contained in the Atharva, even though the Domestic, like the Sacrificial, Sutras endeavoured to borrow their verses as far as possible from the particular Veda to which they were attached. Otherwise, however, their references to the Atharva betray no greater regard for it than those in the Sacrificial Sutras do. Such references to the fourth Veda are here, it is true, more frequent and formulaic; but this appears to mean nothing more than that the Grihya Sutras belong to a later date.

In the sphere, too, of law (dharma), as dealing with popular usage and custom, the practices of the Atharva maintained a certain place; for the indispensable sciences of medicine and astrology were distinctively Atharvan, and the king's domestic chaplain (purohita), believed capable of rendering great services in the injury and overthrow of enemies by sorcery, seems usually to have been an Atharvan priest. At the same time it is only natural that we should first meet with censures of the practices of the Atharva in the legal literature, because such practices were thought to enable one man to harm another. The verdict of the law treatises on the whole is, that as incantations of various kinds are injurious, the Atharva-veda is inferior and its practices impure. This inferiority is directly expressed in the Dharma Sutra of Apastamba; and the later legal treatise (smriti) of Vishnu classes the reciter of a deadly incantation from the Atharva among the seven kinds of assassins. Physicians and astrologers are pronounced impure; practices with roots are prohibited; sorceries and imprecations are punished with severe penances. In certain cases, however, the Atharva-veda is stated to be useful. Thus the Lawbook of Manu recommends it as the natural weapon of the Brahman against his enemies.

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