In This Article Atharva Veda

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Atharva Veda and the Vedic Tradition
  • Localization and Date of the Atharva Veda
  • Atharva Veda Literature
  • Paippalāda Saṃhitā
  • Editions and Translations of the Paippalāda Saṃhitā
  • Brāhmaṇa
  • Āraṇyaka
  • Śrautasūtra
  • Gṛhyasūtra
  • Prātiśākhya
  • Pariśiṣṭa
  • Upanishads
  • Atharva Veda Studies
  • Atharva Veda Grammar and Linguistics
  • Atharva Veda Exegetical Studies
  • Atharva Veda Meter and Hymn Composition
  • Atharva Veda and Medicine
  • Atharva Veda and Religion
  • Atharva Veda and Vedic Ritual
  • Atharva Veda and Realia
  • Atharva Veda, Royal Rituals, and Political Milieu

Hinduism Atharva Veda
Carlos Lopez
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 November 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0008


The Atharva Veda (or Atharvaveda, AV), the fourth Vedic collection and the second oldest Indian text, is distinguished from the trayī vidyā (threefold wisdom) contained in the Rig Veda (RV), Yajur Veda (YV), and Sama Veda (SV) primarily in terms of content. The Atharva Veda stands apart from the other three Vedas, because it does not treat śrauta (sacred) rituals as its main topic but represents in part the popular side of Vedic culture and religion. It contains spells for healing various illnesses, spells for removal of demons, love spells, and speculative hymns about particular forces of the cosmos, such as ucchiṣṭa (sacrificial remnant), odana (porridge), brahmacārin (the Vedic student), and the śataudana cow (the cow with one hundred odanas), as well as material relevant to gṛhya (domestic) rituals, such as marriage, initiation, and death. Although not primarily concerned with śrauta rituals, it contains material connected to royal ceremonies, including the rohita hymns, which identify the king with the victorious sun, and hymns found exclusively in the Paippalāda Saṃhitā (PS) about a royal consecration ceremony with a sava (unction) ceremony. Some of its content reflects an earlier tradition of Indo-European sorcery material, since many of the charms reflect a character shared by similar traditions of Indo-European-speaking peoples. The Rig Veda makes no reference to Atharvan mantric material. Indeed, atharvāṅgirasas, the oldest name used to refer to Atharvan material, is absent from the Rig Veda. When Atharvan material is referenced in post–Rig Vedic texts, it is generally mentioned after the other three Vedas (RV, SV, YV, and AV). Even in the Atharva Vedic texts this sequence is followed, and Atharvan texts are normally mentioned last on the list.

General Overviews

It is certainly the case that among the Vedas the Atharva Veda has attracted the least attention over the last two hundred years of Indological study, primarily due to its minor role in Vedic sacrifices. There have been few studies dedicated exclusively to the Atharva Veda and its traditions. The study of the Atharva Veda gained prominence with Roth and Whitney 1856 and Whitney 1905 (both cited under Editions and Translations of the Atharva Veda [Śaunaka]), monumental translations and studies of the Atharva Veda (Śaunaka) Saṃhitā. Bloomfield 1899 provides the most comprehensive treatment of the Atharva Veda tradition, its texts, content, and place in the Vedic tradition. Bloomfield’s series of “Contributions to the Interpretation of the Veda” (see Atharva Veda Exegetical Studies) contain numerous exegetical studies focusing on the Atharva Veda. Following William Dwight Whitney’s and Maurice Bloomfield’s efforts, interest in Atharva Veda studies diminished. If the study of the Atharva Veda consisting primarily of the study of the Śaunaka tradition has seen little advance, the study of the Paippalāda tradition has crawled along at an even slower pace. The excitement generated by the discovery and subsequent publication of the Kashmiri birch-bark manuscript of the Paippalāda Saṃhitā by Bloomfield and Richard Garbe (see Bloomfield and Garbe 1901, cited under Paippalāda Saṃhitā) provided another short-lived burst of scholarly interest in the Atharva Veda. The first result was the piecemeal publication of an edition of the text based on the Kashmir manuscript (see Barret 1905, Barret 1936, and Barret 1940, all cited under Editions and Translations of the Paippalāda Saṃhitā). The field of Atharva Veda studies came alive again in the 1950s, when Durgamohan Bhattacharya announced the discovery of several palm-leaf manuscripts of the Paippalāda Saṃhitā from Orissa. Bhattacharya 1968 discusses the character of the Orissa manuscripts and outlines his ideas regarding the history of this old Vedic school. With the Orissa manuscripts, scholars were able to clarify the numerous corrupt passages in the Kashmir manuscript of the Paippalāda Saṃhitā. Witzel 1973 and Witzel 1976 investigate the nature of the oral and written transmission of the Paippalāda Saṃhitā. In the 1990s and early 2000s several kāṇḍas of the Paippalāda Saṃhitā were edited and translated, and a few collections of papers on the Atharva Veda appeared, especially Ghosh 2002a and Griffiths and Schmiedchen 2007, which have rekindled interest in the study of the Atharva Veda. Ghosh 2002b and Griffiths 2002 present overviews of the state of Atharva Veda studies with special focus on late-20th- and early 21st-century developments in the study of the Paippalāda tradition.

  • Bhattacharya, Durgamohan. The Fundamental Themes of the Atharvaveda (with Special Reference to Its Paippalāda Saṃhitā). Poona, India: Mandali, 1968.

    E-mail Citation »

    Based on a series of lectures, this volume presents an overview of the Atharva Veda with an emphasis on the Paippalāda Saṃhitā and its content, literature, and relationship to the Śaunaka school. It contains one of Bhattacharya’s earliest discussions of the relationship of the Orissa manuscripts to the birch-bark manuscripts from Kashmir.

  • Bloomfield, Maurice. The Atharvaveda. Strasburg, Germany: Trübner, 1899.

    E-mail Citation »

    A thorough overview of the Atharva Veda tradition, its texts, and the texts’ place in the Vedic tradition and the Hindu tradition. The last section of the monograph treats the Gopatha Brāhmaṇa, its content, and its relationship to the Atharva Veda Saṃhitā.

  • Ghosh, Abhijit. “The Importance of the Paippalāda Saṃhitā and the Present State of Paippalāda Studies.” In Ātharvaṇā: A Collection of Essays on the Atharvaveda with Special Reference to Its Paippalāda Tradition. Edited by Abhijit Ghosh, 3–11. Kolkata: Sanskrit Book Depot, 2002a.

    E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the state of the field of Paippalāda studies and the cooperative efforts of scholars working toward an adequate edition of the text of the Paippalāda Saṃhitā with accompanying translation and exegetical notes.

  • Ghosh, Abhijit, ed. Ātharvaṇā: A Collection of Essays on the Atharvaveda with Special Reference to Its Paippalāda Tradition. Kolkata: Sanskrit Book Depot, 2002b.

    E-mail Citation »

    A thematic volume focused on the Atharva Veda tradition based on papers presented at a seminar at Jadavpur University in 2001. Discusses the place of the Atharva tradition in Vedic studies, including its linguistic features, mythology, and religion; ancillary literature; and the living Atharva Veda tradition and settlements in Orissa.

  • Griffiths, Arlo. “Aspects of the Study of the Paippalāda Atharva Vedic Tradition.” In Ātharvaṇā: A Collection of Essays on the Atharvaveda with Special Reference to Its Paippalāda Tradition. Edited by Abhijit Ghosh, 35–54. Kolkata: Sanskrit Book Depot, 2002.

    E-mail Citation »

    Summarizes the state of the art of the field of Atharva Veda studies with special emphasis on the study of the Paippalāda tradition and its texts, history, and living tradition. The paper points out some of the outstanding issues in the field: the history of medieval textual transmission, manuscripts of the saṃhitā and related texts, and issues with the available editions of the Paippalāda Saṃhitā.

  • Griffiths, Arlo, and Annette Schmiedchen. The Atharvaveda and Its Paippalādaśākhā: Historical and Philological Papers on a Vedic Tradition. Aachen, Germany: Shaker Verlag, 2007.

    E-mail Citation »

    The book contains a collection of thematic essays with a primary emphasis on manuscript material of the Paippalāda tradition. Papers are divided into five categories: (1) Atharva Vedic meter, (2) material from the Paippalāda Saṃhitā, (3) the Atharva Vedic tradition of Orissa, (4) the Atharva Vedic tradition of Kashmir, and (5) epigraphic evidence of Atharva Veda traditions.

  • Witzel, Michael. “On the Reconstruction of the Authentic Paippalāda-Saṃhitā, Part I.” Journal of the Ganganath Jha Research Institute 29 (1973): 463–488.

    E-mail Citation »

    This article discusses the genetic relationship of the Kashmir manuscripts of the Paippalāda Saṃhitā and their value for a critical edition of the text. Witzel proposes that the Kashmir birch-bark manuscript was copied from an original manuscript (K) dated to 1419 CE.

  • Witzel, Michael. “On the Reconstruction of the Authentic Paippalāda-Saṃhitā, Part II.” Journal of the Ganganath Jha Research Institute 32 (1976): 137–168.

    E-mail Citation »

    This article proposes a method for understanding the numerous corruptions in the Kashmiri manuscripts of the Paippalāda Saṃhitā. It argues that the majority of corrupt readings can be traced to two sources: (1) mistakes that arise when copying from an original manuscript written in an older form of the Śāradā script, and (2) mistakes due to the influence of local pronunciation on Vedic recitation.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.