Does the Rig Veda echo events that lead to the creation of the Stonehenge and the rituals that were practiced there? If it does, that would mean the people of the Rig Veda or at a minimum their ancestors have to be placed at the same time and place as the Stonehenge – 2500 BC in Salisbury, England. Now this is highly unlikely, however, it is entirely plausible that the ancestors of the Vedic people and the ancestors of those who came to settle in Britain, were part of the same flock and participated in the construction of Stonehenge prototypes and the rituals conducted there. Tall claim? Ludicrous claim? Let’s find out…
How was the Stonehenge built and why?
First, let us examine how the Stonehenge was built and what its purpose might have been. The following text is loosely based on the findings of Archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson of England’s University of Sheffield and his team, made available in 2008 and now available on DVD titled “Stonehenge Decoded”.
According to the findings, Stonehenge was just half of a vast religious complex and part of a grand vision. Stonehenge was built to house the spirit of the dead and was linked to another mysterious sacred monument and a prehistoric city lost for 4500 years.
Located at Salisbury Plain, England, the outer circle was completed around 2,500 BC, the same time as the pyramids were being built in Egypt. Some of the outer stones – Sarsen stones – weighed as much as 45 tons and were moved across rough and undulating terrain from as many as 40 kilometres away. The project was undertaken BEFORE the wheel was used in the region and must have required thousands of people, working for hundreds of years to complete.
At a certain time of the year, thousands traveled to the area to take part in rituals such as the cycle of life and death. They took their dead to join their ancestors at Stonehenge and in return received from their ancestors the gift of life and fertility.
A human settlement, two and half kilometres away from the stone circle has been found – Durrington Walls – which has well over a thousand Neolithic houses. The ancients who came to Durrington were farmers, but there are no signs of farming activity. The people who came to the settlement came for short periods of time. For just a few weeks in the year, thousands gathered there from across Britain.
A journey of transporting these huge stones, totaling 1000 tons across 40 kilometres or so would have tested the engineering capabilities of any generation and must rank as spectacular as the construction of the pyramids. It was not just the technical challenges but the logistics – route to be selected, rock to be selected, food and medical supplies – that would have been a nightmare as well.
They came to celebrate an important day in their calendar – the longest day of the year the mid summer solstice. At dawn people gathered at Stonehenge and that was the beginning of a very important day. The farmers gathered there to thank their ancestors for bringing life back to the land and making it fertile once more.
On this day, Stonehenge aligns with the rising sun – The sun’s rays pass through the standing stones placed on the perimeter and directly through a vast central arch now known as the great trilithon. This sunrise ritual was just the start of the mid-summer celebrations.
A wooden circle built around the same time and similar to Stonehenge was also excavated in the same complex. It aligned to the setting sun in the west and the people would walk from the Stonehenge to this complex in time for the setting sun to pay their respects and celebrate life, thank the ancestors for fertility, crops, animals and so on.
Some of those who came stayed back for the continuous construction which must have taken several hundreds of year to complete.
Thousands also returned to the Durington settlement for the mid winter solstice celebration. This was the second great gathering in winter – around 9 months after the first one and confirmed based on pig bone findings (teeth/jaws killed after 9 months). This is the time the entire society would have been pre-occupied with death. Everything is heading towards death – the land has less grain, the sun itself appears to be dying and the people now wait for the crucial moment when everything can be restarted at the mid winter solstice.
On the shortest day of the year, thousands would have assemble at dawn inside the wooden circle at the Durington settlement. Like Stonehenge, the circle’s posts are precisely positioned to frame the rising sun which they would have seen rise accompanied by loud chanting and roaring. At the mid winter solstice the upright pillars of the trilithon of the Stonehenge, were perfectly framed for the setting sun. The people gathered there would have asked the ancestors to accept the spirit of those that have died in the past year.
After the sunset, the celebration would have begun, as this day forward, the sun will grow stronger, days longer, till the next summer solstice.
Echoes in Mandala VI
Now let us examine the Rig Veda, particularly Mandala VI for verses that reflect either the creation of a structure such as the Stonehenge and/or the rituals held there.
Mandala VI contains the earliest and probably the simplest version of the Vala myth – Indra’s setting free the Sun and Ushas (Dawn) from the caves of Vala.
RV 6.017.05, RV 6.017.06 and RV 6.039.02 variously mention Indra having a) burst the firm enclosures or b) unbarred the firm doors or c) broke the never-broken ridge of Vala.
RV 6.017.05 Gladdened whereby, bursting the firm enclosures, thou gavest splendour to the Sun and Morning. The mighty rock that compassed in the cattle, ne’er moved, thou shookest from its seat, O Indra.
RV 6.017.06 Thou with thy wisdom, power, and works of wonder, hast stored the ripe milk in the raw cows’ udders Unbarred the firm doors for the kine of Morning, and, with the Angirases, set free the cattle.
RV 6.039.02 Craving the kine, rushing against the mountain led on by Law, with holyminded comrades, He broke the never-broken ridge of Vala. With words of might Indra subdued the Panis.
In all three verses above, we either have a mountain or a firm (rock/stone) enclosure that Indra either burst or smashed to release the Sun. Could this have been a misinterpretation of the actual events the composers heard from their ancestors, the Angirases, who were physically present at the event? Could these verses have intertwined both the actual construction of a Stonehenge like site and the rituals that were held there? Is it possible that “The mighty rock that compassed in the cattle, ne’er moved, thou shookest from its seat” in RV 6.017.05 in some way refers to the superfeat of moving huge stones across vast distances?
RV 6.018.05 Be this our ancient bond of friendship with you and with Angirases here who speak of Vala. Thou, Wondrous, Shaker of things firm, didst smite him in his fresh strength, and force his doors and castles.
From RV 6.01.05 is it clear that the Bharadvajas have learnt of the Vala events from their ancestors, the Angirasas. In the same verse, Indra is referred to as the “Wondrous, Shaker of things firm”. Is this not a refrain of the stupendous task undertaken in the construction of a structure similar to the Stonehenge?
For me the conclusive verse is RV 6.022.06. The verse is categorical – Indra has shattered with swift thought the Parvata, i.e. mountain and rent in pieces things that were firmly fixed and never shaken – i.e. the shaping and moving of large stones used for construction.
RV 6.022.06 Strong of thyself, thou by this art hast shattered, with thought-swift Parvata, him who waxed against thee, And, Mightiest! roaring! boldly rent in pieces things that were firmly fixed and never shaken.
No wonder he is referred to as the “Caster of Stone” in at least two verses.
RV 6.045.09 Lord of Strength, Caster of the Stone, destroy the firm forts built by men, And foil their arts, unbending God!
RV 6.046.02 As such, O Wonderful, whose hand holds thunder, praised as mighty, Caster of the Stone! Pour on us boldly, Indra, kine and chariotsteeds, ever to be the conqueror’s strength.
The ritual inside the Stonehenge – as the people waited pre-dawn and greeted the bursting of the shaft of sunlight piercing through the trilithon amid loud chanting and roaring, is perhaps best expressed in RV 6.032.01. I interpret the “brightened the Parents” to mean ancestors, which further buttresses my basic point of the closeness with the Stonehenge ritual.
RV 6.032.02 Amid the sages, with the Sun he brightened the Parents: glorified, he burst the mountain; And, roaring with the holy-thoughted singers, he loosed the bond that held the beams of Morning.
And finally, the actual meaning of the word Vala, i.e. enclosure, can be directly related to what every Stonehenge is – an special enclosure with a outer fence/bank and an inner ditch.
So do these echoes resonate in any way or do they fail to make any connection? I will let you the reader decide. If they do, the ramifications are major – this co-relation augments the case for a shared ancestry and geography of the Indo-European stock, memories of which the Vedic people carried with them via one of their ancestral threads – the Angirasas.
Final note: In later Mandalas, the Vala myth evolves and moves further away from the basic theme we have examined above.