Identity of the Dasa and Dasyu – Part I

Updated 23rd February, 2014: Includes evidence and references from Mandala II

This article, attempts to establish the identity of the Dasas and Dasyus relative to the Aryas. I do not start with a premise and then look for or present evidence to suit that premise. Rather, my approach is to examine the evidence and let the facts lead to the conclusion.

For now, I present the evidence available in Mandala VI and II and will continue to update this article as I gather evidence from other Mandalas.

Tribe or Race?

In all of Mandala VI, there is not a single instance of the Dasyu mentioned as a tribe or race. In contrast the Dasa are unequivocally called out as a “viz” (tribe) in RV 6.025.02. The actual reference is in plural, hence suggestive that the Dasa were a collection of tribes, much like and at par with the Arya who were a collection of tribes as well.

RV 6.025.02 With these discomfit hosts that fight against us, and check the opponent’s wrath, thyself uninjured. With these chase all our foes to every quarter: subdue the tribes of Dasas to the Arya.

However, we find a set of telling verses in RV 6.021.09 – 11

RV 6.021.09 Bring to our help this day, for our protection, Varuna, Mitra , Indra, and the Maruts, Pusan and Visnu, Agni and Purandhi, Savitar also, and the Plants and Mountains.

RV 6.021.10 The singers here exalt with hymns and praises thee who art very Mighty and Most Holy. Hear, when invoked, the invoker’s invocation. Beside thee there is nonelike thee, Immortal!

RV 6.021.11 Now to my words come quickly thou who knowest, O Son of Strength, with all who claim our worship, Who visit sacred rites, whose tongue is Agni, Gods who made Manu stronger than the Dasyu.

In verse 11 Indra is implored to visit the sacred rites along with the other Vedic deities mentioned in verse 9. With the very Gods that have made Manu stronger than Dasyu.

Equating Dasyu with Manu is extremely significant. If Manu in this context were to represent the figurehead from whom all Arya descended, than this one statement, clearly seeks to differentiate origins of the Dasyu from the Arya. Since we know that Nahusa is a descendant of Manu and therefore the oft mentioned five tribes of Nahusa would also have descended from Manu, does this one statement then establish that the Dasyu, whoever else they may have been, were not people that belonged to the five tribes?

We have already seen above that the Dasa were a tribe and that they were “subdued” by the Arya. The question that remains to be answered is, were they one amongst the five tribes of Nahusa or distinct from the five tribes?

Verse RV 6.022.10 suggests that they were not one amongst the five tribes

RV 6.022.10 Give us confirmed prosperity, O Indra, vast and exhaustless for the foe’s subduing. Strengthen therewith the Arya’s hate and Dasa’s, and let the arms of Nahusas be mighty.

Why would the “arms” of Nahusa become “mighty” if one of its own constituents were subdued? The only plausible explanation therefore is that the Dasa tribe was not one of the five tribes.

Reaffirmation that the Dasa were a tribe (viz) may be found in Mandala II – RV 2.011.04. Indeed, the suggestion is that the Dasa were a collection of tribes.

RV 6.011.04 We who add strength to thine own splendid vigour, laying within thine arms the splendid thunder- With us mayst thou, O Indra, waxen splendid, with Surya overcome the Dasa races (viz).

Based on the evidence we have considered so far, it seems clear that the Dasa were a collection of tribes, distinct from the five tribes of Nahusa. While we can say for sure that the Dasyu were a people not part of the five tribes, whether they too were a distinct tribe or somehow related to the Dasa is not yet clear.

Religious beliefs

Verses RV 6.018.03 and6.024.08 tell us something odd, yet significant about the Dasyu.

RV 6.018.03 Thou, thou alone, hast tamed the Dasyus; singly thou hast subdued the people for the Arya. In this, or is it not, thine hero exploit, Indra? Declare it at the proper season.

The Sanskrit word in the above verse is actually “adamya”, meaning untameable. Untameable in what context? Battle? Curiously, in all of Mandala VI, there is no mention of any battle between the Arya and the Dasyu.

RV 6.024.08 Extolled, he bends not to the strong, the steadfast, nor to the bold incited by the Dasyu. High mountains are as level plains to Indra: even in the deep he finds firm ground to rest on.

RV 6.024.08 tells us that the Dasyu incited people characterized as bold.

Taking the two verse together, my inference is that the Dasyu had a belief system at odds with the Arya and despite the efforts of the Arya, refused to give up those beliefs. Instead, we see that the Dasyu are guilty of inciting certain people who then feel emboldened to even stand up to the might of Indra. Ofcourse the last part of the previous sentence is metaphorical, and what it means is that there were a section of people that did not conform to the way of life of the Arya. In particular, it was the religious beliefs of the Arya that they were at odds with.

RV 6.014.03 is very clear that the Dasyu did not follow the Arya rites, and hence called the riteless.

RV 6.014.03 The foeman’s wealth in many a place, Agni, is emulous to help. Men fight the fiend (dasyu in the original Sanskrit text), and seek by rites to overcome the riteless foe.

Based on the above evidence, we may conclude that the Dasyu were a people who did not have the same religious beliefs as the Arya. That the Arya found them unwilling to accept the former’s beliefs and hence called them untameable. Worse, the Dasyu incited others, who emboldened were ready to face the wrath of Arya.

It is not surprising that the Bharadvaja composer of RV 6.023.02 felt compelled to call the Dasyu as “daring”.

RV 6.023.02 Or when on that decisive day thou holpest the presser of the juice at Vrtra’s slaughter; Or when thou, while the strong one feared, undaunted, gavest to death, Indra, the daring Dasyus.

So while it is amply clear that there were stark differences between the religious beliefs between the  Dasyu and Arya, we cannot infer anything about the religious beliefs of the Dasas.

Nature of conflicts

The second significant difference between the Dasa and Dasyu as obtained from Mandala VI is this:

Not a single Dasyu is named in the 75 verses of Mandala VI. Contrast that with several names of Dasas, such as Cumuri, Dhuni, Sambara, Pipru, and Susna.

Verse after verse recounts Indra’s crushing/wrecking of the forts/castles of the Dasas (RV 6.018.08, RV 6.020.10, RV 6.031.04, RV 6.032.03, RV 6.047.02). The Sanskrit word for fort/castle/rampart is “pura”. Whether, the Dasas actually built forts or any sort of fortifications merits an articles in itself and hence not discussed in this one.

The defeat of prominent Dasas by Indra are available in individual verses as well. Thus we have Susna’s defeat in RV 6.020.05, Namuci’s in RV 6.020.06, shattering of Pipru’s strong forts in RV 6.020.07 and the curious case of putting Dhuni and Cumiri to sleep in RV 6.020.13. The protracted battles with Sambara and his eventual defeat is the stuff of legend.

In contrast, there is not a single reference to individual or collective battles/conflicts between the Arya and the Dasyus. All that we have are references and/or allusions to Dasyus being slayed or killed.

In RV 6.045.24 Indra is called the Dasyu-slayer

RV 6.045.24 May he with might unclose for us the cow’s stall, whosesoe’er it be, To which the Dasyu-slayer goes.

And in RV 6.023.02, Indra is praised as the strong, who undaunted, put to death, the daring Dasyu.

RV 6.023.02 Or when on that decisive day thou holpest the presser of the juice at Vrtra’s slaughter; Or when thou, while the strong one feared, undaunted, gavest to death, Indra, the daring Dasyus.

In verse RV 6.016.15, we find Agni being named as the Dasyus most destructive foe as well. Agni, not Indra. There is a great deal of significance in this verse appearing in a hymn to Agni and not Indra – the connotation is ritualistic when it appears in Agni hymns and martial when it appears in Indra hymns. It is unlikely, that the poet suggests that Agni was associated in any battles with the Dasyu. Coupled with Agni being an integral part of sacrifices and therefore rites and their firm belief that rites would help them overcome the Dasyu, Agni would have over time acquired the symbol of a Dasyu-slayer.

RV 6.016.15 The hero Pathya kindled thee the Dasyus’ most destructive foe, Winner of spoil in every fight.

Clearly we have elaborate accounts of conflicts between the Arya and Dasa, but nothing of the same nature between the Arya and the Dasyu.

So far, we have explored three important aspects – tribe or race, religious beliefs and nature of conflicts. A summary of what we have learnt so far is provided below:AspectDasaDasyuTribe or race?Collection of tribes, outside of the five tribes of Nahusa.Perhaps a tribe outside of the five tribes of NahusaReligious beliefsEvidence un-availableDifferent from and at odds with the AryaNature of conflictsDasa “pura” (forts/castles/rampart) destroyed by AryaNo accounts of any conflict; however mention of Dasyu being slayed

Please note, the learnings summarized above are in no way conclusive; that will need to wait until I complete the analysis of other evidences in Mandala VI and indeed all the other Mandalas.

Click here to read Part II of this article

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