Last updated: 3rd Jan., 2014
The words foe, enemy and fiend occur in the following Agni hymns (1 to 16) of Mandala VI. 6.005.04 6.005.06 6.007.03 6.010.07 6.013.03 6.014.03 6.014.04 6.014.06 6.016.27 6.016.28 6.016.29 6.016.48
The poets use a number of different words (in Sanskrit) mostly adjectives, that are translated as foe or enemy. A closer examination of the verses and the usage of the Sanskrit words reveal interesting insights, which are totally lost in the English translation.
In several verses, the word is used in a figurative sense, and is part of a prayer asking Agni to ward of malignity or evil
RV 6.010.07 Scatter our foes, increase our store. May we be glad a hundred winters with brave sons.
The Sanskrit word in the verse above is “dveSas” meaning foe, hostility, aversion, dislike, enemy. In the context of this verse, the translation could very well be, “scatter all hostile things”.
Another term used in “durita” which is a synonym for dveSas and means something which is wicked, malign, difficult etc. It occurs in two identical verses – RV 6.002.11 and 6.014.06
O Agni, God with Mitra’s might call hither the favour of the Gods from earth and heaven. Bring weal from heaven that men may dwell securely. May we o’ercome the foe’s malign oppressions, may we o’ercome them, through thy help o’ercome them.
A common term used for foe or enemy is vrtRa which also means obstacle or mountain or stone. This term occurs in verses 6.013.01, 6.013.03 as it does in several other hymns in Mandala VI.
Other terms used are abhimAti in RV 06.007.03, arAti (malignity, enemy) in RV 06.016.27
RV 06.007.03 From thee, O Agni, springs the mighty singer, from thee come heroes who subdue the foeman. O King, Vaisvanara, bestow thou on us excellent treasures worthy to belonged for.
RV 06.016.27 These, Agni, these are helped by thee, who strong and active all their lives, O’ercome the malice of the foe, fight down the malice ofthe foe.
Winner takes it all contests
RV 6.005.06 Do this, O Agni, when we urge thee, quickly, triumphant in thy might subdue our foemen. When thou art praised with words and decked with brightness, accept this chanted hymn, the singer’s worship.
In this verse, the word used to describe foeman is “spRdh”, which could mean contest, adversary, rival, opponent, vying with etc. This is just one indicator of a “winner takes it all” contests for cattle between groups. Were the rivals Arya tribes or non-Arya tribes, more evidence needs to be gathered.
RV 6.014.03 The foeman’s wealth in many a place, Agni, is emulous to help. Men fight the fiend, and seek by rites to overcome the riteless foe.
The same term is used in verse 3 of hymn 13 in which the poet specifically names the foe – the Dasyu. So is this the evidence we need to prove that the winner takes it all contests were between the Puru tribes and the Dasyus? Unlikely, since the Dasyus are always associated with water and not with cattle.
The furtive neighbour
RV 6.005.04 Agni, whoever secretly attacks us, the neighbour, thou with Mitra’s might! who harms us, Burn him with thine own Steers for ever youthful, burning with burning heat, thou fiercest burner.
Verse 4 of hymn 5 tells us of a “neighbour” that perhaps laid furtively in ambush and attacked the Puru tribesman. Again, it is not clear if the neighbour here is a reference to a rival Arya or non-Arya tribe. In any case, the poet wishes these hostile neighbours a terrible fate – to be fiercely burnt by Agni.
RV 6.014.03 and 6.014.04 contain references to the Dasyu. The verse translates the term Dasyu as “fiend”, however, I choose to retain the original in my interpretation. What is of tremendous significance is that the Dasyu are referred to as the “riteless”, a clear indication that they belonged to a tribe different from the Arya tribes that considered themselves as practicing proper rites, sacrifices and dharma.
Verse 4 gives us another extremely vital piece of information – the association of water with the Dasyu.
RV 6.014.03 – 04 The foeman’s wealth in many a place, Agni, is emulous to help. Men fight the fiend, and seek by rites to overcome the riteless foe.
Agni bestows the hero chief, winner of waters, firm in fray. Soon as they look upon his might his enemies tremble in alarm.
From the above, the first indications of the battles between Puru tribe of the Arya and the non Arya tribe of the Dasyu over water starts to emerge.
Click here for more information on the identity of the Dasa and Dasyu
Verse 3 of hymn 13 tells us of the Puru hero slaying with might his Pani foe after which the singer (in this case the Bharadvaja priests) taking away the booty of the vanquished. The booty in this case is most likely to be cattle, which the Pani are associated with and which the Puru tribe dearly wish for and treat as wealth.
RV 6.013.03 Agni! the hero slays with might his foeman; the singer bears away the Pani’s booty- Even he whom thou, Sage, born in Law, incitest by wealth, accordant with the Child of Waters.
While the battles between the Puru tribe and the Dasyu are over water, those with the Pani tribe are over cattle.
Click here for more information on the identity of the Pani