Old Indian spells unmask centuries-old rituals

05/07/04

For Dutch researcher Arlo Griffiths, exorcising evil spirits is a piece of cake. The researcher edited and translated two chapters of an old Indian book full of mysterious spells, including ones on exorcising evil spirits. The original texts are almost 3000 years old.

Arlo Griffiths studied two chapters of the Atharvaveda. This is an old Indian book from about 800 years before Christ. The texts consist of mysterious spells, grouped together as hymns. Griffiths translated 43 such hymns into English and provided a commentary on each of them.

For centuries, priests have used hymns from the Atharvaveda to venerate gods, exorcise evil spirits or heal diseases using plants with magical powers. Some hymns are still used during Hindu rituals. As the manuscripts Griffiths used for his translation do not describe the rituals originally associated with the spells, he tried to establish what these were so that he could translate the texts accurately.

The Atharvaveda was originally written in Vedic, the oldest form of Sanskrit. The surviving manuscripts come from Kashmir in the north and Orissa in the east of India. They date from the sixteenth century onwards and are written in two local alphabets, Sarada and Oriya. The original Vedic text can be reconstructed by comparing the manuscripts from Kashmir and Orissa.

The Vedic texts, better known as the Vedas, are among the oldest documents in Indo-European languages. Indo-European was the language from which Sanskrit as well as Latin and Greek originated. The Atharvaveda is one of the four known Vedas. The oldest Vedic text is the Rigveda. The Vedas are the oldest holy texts in Hinduism.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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