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One of the earliest and most important religious texts of ancient India, the Rig-Veda is the oldest of the four collections of hymns and other sacred texts known as the Vedas. These works are considered the "sacred knowledge" of the Aryans, a people who invaded India in about 1600 b.c. AS the Aryans settled in India, their beliefs developed into the Hindu religion, and the Rig-Veda and the other Vedas became the most sacred Hindu texts.

The Vedas were composed between 1500 and 1000 b.c. in Vedic Sanskrit, an ancient Indo-European language. Transmitted orally for hundreds of years, they were eventually written down. By about 300 b.c., the Vedas had taken on their current form.

The Rig-Veda contains 1,028 mantras, or hymns, directed to the gods and natural forces. The mantras are organized into ten books called mandalas, or circles. According to ancient Hindu tradition, the mantras were based on divine revelations received by members of a particular family. Several families put the mantras together to form the different mandalas. Within each mandala, the mantras are organized according to the deities with whom they are associated.

Many of the mantras in the Rig-Veda are hymns to the gods, praising them for their help in battle and asking for such benefits as wealth, good health, long life, protection, and victory in battle. Besides hymns of praise, the mantras contain blessings and curses. Originally, the mantras were meant to be chanted as part of religious rites, and this was the primary way in which the people communicated with the gods.

revelation communication of divine truth or divine will

deity god or goddess

rite ceremony or formal procedure

caste division of people in Hindu society into classes based on birth

The Rig-Veda and other Vedas express various Hindu beliefs about such matters as the worship of the gods, marriage and funeral rites, and animal sacrifice. The Rig-Veda also contains ideas that served as the basis for India's system of castes. The text describes how pieces of the god Purusha developed into different classes of society, from the upper-class Brahmans, or priests, through the merchant and farmer classes, down to the Sudra, who were slaves and servants.

Considered one of the foundations of the Hindu religion, the Rig-Veda is also an important source of mythology about Hindu gods and the Aryan deities that came before them. Among the gods to whom its hymns are directed are the supreme god Indra; the fire god Agni; the sky god Varuna; the sun god Surya; and Rudra, a god associated with mountains and storms who later developed into the god Shiva. The god Vishnu, who plays only a minor role in the Rig-Veda, later became one of the most important and popular Hindu deities.

See also Brahma; Hinduism and Mythology; Indra; Shiva; Upanishads; Varuna; Vedas; Vishnu.

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Rig-Veda (collection of hymns): see ṚG VEDA.