Vedic aghám: Evil or Sin, Distress or Death?

in Vedic Cosmology and Ethics
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Though the general meaning of the neutre aghám is mostly assumed to be “evil” (German: “Übel”), several other renderings are found in translations and dictionaries. For the original or primary meaning one may take the etymology as a starting point, but this has still not convincingly been established. One may also try to find the most acceptable meanings in the oldest texts (the Vedic Saṁhitās, especially the ṚV and the AV) since in the later Vedic literature its frequency decreases and it occurs only once in the Upaniṣads.1

Some scholars have assumed “sin” as its meaning. The problem of this interpretation is that such a conception may be rather divergent in different cultures.2 Doing evil indeed may be committing sin, but terms denoting evil may refer in some contexts to other conceptions than sin. Words denoting committed sin may also refer to the evil effects of these committed sins and sometimes the same words have no clear connection with the own responsibility of the someone who suffers from the evil which he has neither committed nor produced.

First I will deal with the meanings of aghám (and its corresponding adj. aghá) found in dictionaries and secondary literature as well as with the proposed etymologies. Then I will discuss the term aghám as treated in some studies on the concept of sin with relation to the Vedic material. A selection of this material will be discussed in the following sections and here I will concentrate on the Saṁhitās of the ṚV and the AV (Śaunaka) and on the ŚB. Finally three post-Vedic occurrences of agha (the two compounds aghamarṣaṇa and anagha and two parallel verses with agham in the Gītā and in Manu) in which sin is often supposed to play a role, are discussed before the conclusion of this article.

1 The Dictionaries

Böhtlingk and Roth (1855–1875) translate the neutre noun with a) “Uebel, Gefahr, Schaden,” b) “Sünde,” c) “Unreinheit, der Zustand einer veruntreinigten Person,” d) “Schmerz.” It is striking that only the first meanings (a) are regarded as Vedic. One may wonder how meanings like “Sünde” or “Schmerz” would have developed in post-Vedic texts. The adj. aghá is rendered with “schlimm, gefährlich” in agreement with the interpretation of the Vedic neutre noun. Ethics and morals, distress and death, are not regarded as Vedic aspects of aghá and aghám. In Vedic compounds aghá is translated with “Uebel” or “Schaden” (aghakṛ́t), “schlimm” (aghamārá), “hässlich” (aghárud) and “gefährlich” (agháviṣa). The compound agháśaṁsa is rather freely translated with “böswillig, bösartig” (i.e. “planning evil or harm,” with a doubtful interpretation of śaṁsa). The Vedic denominative aghāyáti would mean “Schaden zufügen wollen, bedrohen” and the adj. aghāyú “boshaft.” The Vedic material has been rather uniformly interpreted and no trace of sin is assumed in aghá(m) itself, though the compounds and derivations may have some association with unacceptable behaviour.

Later dictionaries like Monier-Williams (1899) and Mylius (1975) more or less follow BR and translate aghám with “evil, mishap” and “Übel” or “Schuld.” Without references to text places, however, the distinction between Vedic and post-Vedic is not visible with Mylius. The meanings “sin” and “impurity” seem to have been reserved for post-Vedic texts by MW. See also Mylius for the compounds aghamarṣaṇa, aghavighātakartṛ, aghāpaha, aghopaghāta in all of which agha is interpreted as “Sünde.”

Ghatage (1976) mentions seven meanings of agham and seems to arrange them chronologically. The first meaning “evil, misfortune, mishap” is only reserved for Vedic texts; the second (“sin, sinful act”) as well as the five following (“harm, danger, grief, misery; offence, fault, ill-treatment; impurity (due to death, birth or intercourse); infamy, bad name, blemish; demon”) would only be found in post-Vedic literature. It is evident that this arrangement is rather artificial. The interpretation of agham as sin is strikingly only accepted for post-Vedic text places. Some of the other assumedly post-Vedic meanings are definitely Vedic, as my article will show.

Grassmann (1873) only dealing with the ṚV translates the adj. with “schlimm, quälend” and observes: “ursprünglich wol: bedrängend, würgend.” He connects the noun aghám with áṁhas and renders it with “Noth, Uebel.” BR likewise associates aghám with áṁhas (“Bedrängnis”), but also with post-Vedic aṅghas (“Sünde”), which makes the etymological foundation rather uncertain. Burrow (1955, 196) suggests to take aghá “wicked” with Sanskrit ā́gas (i.a. meaning “sin”) and Greek agos “sin.” However, Mayrhofer (1956) etymologically connects aghá “böse/bad” and aghám “Übel” with Avestan agā “schlecht.” In his new etymological dictionary Mayrhofer (1986, 46) connects aghá “böse, schlimm, gefährlich” and the noun aghám “Übel, Gefahr, Schaden” with Sanskrit ághrā “Not, Übel, Drangsal” and Gothic aglo “Drangsal.” This survey of etymological suggestions is rather confusing, since evil or danger coming from outside is entirely different from evil or sin committed by oneself. To make the situation still more confusing Mayrhofer (1992, 805) makes a new suggestion in his addition and follows Hoffmann’s association of aghám (which now would also mean “Trauer, Todesfall,” 1967, 51, n. 21) with Greek achos “Betrübnis, Trauer, Trauerfall.” This survey3 shows that further research on the primary meaning of aghá(m) is required. Does it have ethical implications and refer to evil committed by oneself? Or does it express distress overcoming the person concerned? Is this distress only caused by death and does it mean “mourning” or does it even denote death itself? Or is some sort of general oppression and harm the basic meaning?

2 The Concept of Sin in Connection with aghám

The Vedic terms supposed to denote the concept of sin were treated in two German dissertations by Lefever (1935) and Hartog (1939). The latter rejected most terms which are sometimes translated with “sin,” started with restricting their number to eight (ā́gas, ṛṇá, énas, kílbiṣa, pāpá, pāpmán, śámala and aghá) and ultimately only accepted ā́gas and énas (and possibly kílbiṣa). His too strict definition and limitation to religious ethics has been criticized by me.4

Concerning aghám5 Hartog (p. 30) concludes that it denotes “Untat” rather than “Sünde”: “Aghá- wird am besten vielleicht mit ‘Frevel’ übersetzt werden” (i.e. the term would denote offence, transgression, crime, evil deed, misdeed). One may doubt, however, whether “Frevel” is the correct interpretation of aghám in all the Vedic texts. Rejecting the translation “Sünde” Hartog still remains too much involved in the sphere of strict morals in his analysis of Vedic aghá(m). See section 5 in which after having treated the two most relevant Vedic Saṁhitās I will return to Hartog’s ideas on the criminal or sinful aspects of aghám.

On the other hand Hartog admits that not only the evil act as such (whether interpreted as sin or as crime) is expressed by this term. It may also refer to the evil effects of such an act. This would imply that aghám could also denote evil sticking to somebody. This evil would be some sort of substance. He even speaks of “Sündensubstanz” in connection with aghám. Here the distinction between “Frevel” and “Sünde” becomes rather blurred. The difference between the Western or modern and the more or less primitive concepts of sin plays a role. I think that we should not be too precise in the distinction between social and profane standards (referring to criminal acts) and religious ethics (referring to sin) and try to discover whether the term aghám refers to self-committed acts or to evils for which the afflicted person does not bear any responsibility. In section 5, I will further discuss these points. There we will see in how far the material of sections 3 and 4 supports the views of Hartog.

The most generally accepted meaning is “evil,” the central term of a book written by Rodhe (1946). He deals with aghám on p. 43 f. and interprets this term as “evil in a general sense” and observes that it “should not generally be translated with ‘sin,’ as is sometimes done.” However, he defends the use of this translation in cases in which it is used together with the verb kar. I doubt whether in all these cases kar should be interpreted as “to commit” (i.e. “to commit evil” = “to commit sin”). One may also “do evil to someone” and in this situation sin is hardly relevant. Moreover a periphrastic construction of kar + aghám may express something like “to execute, perform, show aghám” and then the meaning of the noun depends on the context.

3 The Ṛgveda Saṁhitā

In the ṚV the attributive adj. aghá is found eight times. It qualifies the wolf6 (1, 42, 2), the enemy (ripú, 1, 189, 5) and entities which are not living beings: speech (śáṁsa, 1, 128, 5; 1, 166, 8), inimical dispositions (árātis)7 (6, 48, 16; 6, 59, 8) and a fiery energy or weapon (tápus, 6, 62, 8; 7, 104, 21). Geldner (1951) translates with “böse” and once with “schlimm,” Renou (1966, 139) with “méchant”8 (1, 42, 2), (1965, 53) with “mauvais” (6, 59, 8) and (1966, 145) again with “mauvais” (6, 48, 16). There is no trace of sin. The living beings or their activities are only doing harm to the victim.

The masculine substantivation is found in 7, 19, 7 (Geldner “Böse”), 8, 79, 4 (Geldner “Bösewicht”; Renou (1961a, 70) “méchant”); 8, 83, 5 (Geldner “Böse,” “Nicht (soll uns das treffen), was dem Bösen gebührt”)9 and 10, 89, 14 (Geldner “Böse”). These nouns denote enemies or perhaps criminals. They are primarily bad or evil because they are adversaries who may do harm. Such a qualification is rather stereotypic and does not give much information on ethics and morals.

The neutre nouns occur eleven times. Geldner mostly translates with “Übel” (1, 97, 1; 2, 29, 5; 2, 41, 11; 5, 3, 7; 8, 47, 1; 8, 47, 5; 10, 35, 3). His other translations are “Unheil” (8, 18, 14; 10, 102, 10), “Böse” (1, 123, 5) and “Übeltat” (7, 83, 5). Renou mostly renders with “mal” and further translates with “malheurs” (1959, 11) (2, 29, 5), “malfaisance” (1959, 100) (7, 83, 5) and “maléfice” (1959, 50) (10, 35, 3). In some cases activities are expressed in the translations. In order to ascertain the nature of the noun and especially of the expressed or implied action we have to examine the actors associated with these evils or evil actions and the verbs used in the contexts.

The persons who cause or bring aghám often are not mentioned. The specified actors are punishing gods (2, 29, 5), the rival who perhaps is a slanderer (agháśaṁsa) (5, 3, 7), a rival (7, 83, 5; 8, 18, 14) or something which without further specification is called drúh (8, 47, 1). This information does not point to committed sin. In 2, 29, 5 indeed sin is mentioned, but expressed with a different word. One asks that the evils (i.a. aghā́ni) should remain far away10 from the one who has committed sin (ā́gas), i.e. that the gods will not send these aghā́ni. This means that aghám itself is not a committed sin, but (just like the other evils which may threaten someone) only one of the possible consequences coming from outside the victim.

The aghám reaches (naś) the victim (2, 41, 11; 8, 47, 1) or the hating rival (8, 18, 14) or should be returned to (or put on) (abhidhā) this enemy (5, 3, 7). Such a rival or enemy is called the institutor (dhātā́) of aghám (1, 123, 5). The aghám may also torment (abhyātap) (7, 83, 5) someone or be heated away (1, 97, 1) or removed (the nomen actionis apā́kṛti is used here) (8, 47, 2); see also 10, 35, 3 (apabādh). Nowhere indications of the process of narrowing are found (as in mantras in which áṁhas occurs).11 The aghám comes from outside, hits or should be kept away, but it does not create narrowness. This does not support the etymological association of aghám and aṁhas.

The exact nature of this aghám may appear from its opposition with other terms or concepts like rayís (“wealth, prosperity”) (1, 97, 1), bhadrám (“happiness”) (2, 41, 11) and svásti (“fortune, prosperity”) (10, 35, 3) which excludes an interpretation of aghám lying in the sphere of sin, death and lamentation. The evil is rather general and has economic and social implications. It looks like misery.

The compounds with aghá more or less confirm this.12 In 1, 116, 6 a man is called aghā́śva “having a miserable or poor horse.” MW translates with “having a bad or vicious horse,” but Renou (1967, 12) rightly observes: “aghá est ici ‘de mauvaise qualité’.” The agháśaṁsa seems to be someone who speaks evil about the victim who is complaining about this; he is a slanderer. The compound occurs twelve times. Some scholars take -śaṁsa as “planning, plotting,” but the root on which it is based supposes an act of speaking. Lommel (1955, 99) accepts this, but unlike Geldner and Renou he does not start from slander. The person concerned would be a “Behexer” in 6, 28, 7 and (1955, 79) in 10, 87, 20 someone “der Fluchworte spricht.” However, in most contexts the agháśaṁsa and the more or less similar duḥśáṁsa appear as rivals in the ṚV rather than as Atharvavedic sorcerers. These persons are rivals of the poets or priests, who speak evil comments on their victims with their possible patrons. In this compound aghá denotes the dreadful contents of their comments and refers to the allegedly poor quality of the victim.

The denominative verb aghāyáti and the corresponding adj. aghāyú sometimes likewise express the evil intentions of rivals or of a (possible) patron who is not willing to give fees to the poets or priests. The evil which they plan or do to the victim is lack of welfare and of prosperity.

4 The Atharvaveda Saṁhitā

4.1 Evil or Harm

In the AV (Śaunaka) the adj. aghá and its masculine substantivation are (apart from some compounds) remarkably missing. Leaving aside parallels from the ṚV we find the neutre aghám only seven times: 1, 28, 3 (= 4, 17, 3); 8, 6, 26; 10, 1, 5; 12, 3, 14; 12, 5, 32; 12, 5, 59; 14, 2, 59–62. Whitney (1905) translates five times with “evil” and further with “malignity” and “guilt.” Griffith (1895–1896) five times uses the translation “sin,” once “woe” and “ill.” The ethical interpretation has to be rejected, as will appear from the discussion of the text places.

AV 1, 28, 3 (= 4, 17, 3) refers to a female demon or a sorceress yā́gháṁ mū́ram ādadhé “who … hath conceived a murderous sin” (Griffith); “… that has taken malignity as her root” (Whitney); “who has arrayed dire misfortune (for us)” (Bloomfield 1897, 69). Whatever may be the correct interpretation of the adj. mū́ra,13 the noun aghám cannot be “sin,” but denotes something which is directed against people who are suffering this aghám. Bloomfield’s “misfortune” looks acceptable, but “distress” or “evil” are likewise possible. The middle of the root dhā and the verbal prefix ā imply that the female person is someone who is bearing the evil which she may use against a victim.

In 10, 1, 5 aghám “evil” (Whitney; Bloomfield 1897, 72) or “ill” (Griffith) is transferred or returned to the aghakṛ́t, which shows that aghám here is not a sin committed by the victim himself, but an evil or distress planned against him by rivals, enemies, sorcerers or demons and retributed to them. There is no place in the AV where aghám is said to have been produced (or committed) by the victim himself.

AV 12, 5, 32 and 12, 5, 59 belong to a hymn in which a cow has been taken away from the Brahmin owner. In the first verse (32) she is said to become aghám when prepared for meal, in the latter of the two she should become an arrow and agháviṣā.14 In between these two statements the ablative aghā́d occurs, which might be taken with agháviṣā bhava. Griffith translates with “sin” in both verses, but takes aghā́d with the preceding words in verse 59: “Become … an arrow through his sin.” Whitney translates with “evil” and rightly takes aghā́d with the following words in verse 59: “Become thou deadly poisonous from evil (aghá).” Probably aghā́d refers to the evil done to the owner of the cow. This cow, taken away, should become a mení (“revenge”) directed against the evil-doer by way of retribution. In the compound agháviṣa Griffith interprets aghá as “terribly.” In the polyptoton repetition15 aghā́d agháviṣā a more or less similar meaning of aghá (noun in aghā́d, adj. in agháviṣā) should be retained. The central idea of this verse (and of several other verses in this hymn) is that the aghám should be returned to the aghakṛ́t. The taking away of the cow is revenged16 by making this cow a magic, poisonous arrow. So agháviṣā does not directly refer to the cow but to śaravyā́ (“arrow” or a “shower of arrows,” here rather an “arrow shot at someone”). In a free translation one may render: “whose harm corresponds to the harm done to the owner of the cow.” Sin does not play a role here in the term aghá itself. However, it is undeniable that doing harm to a Brahmin (especially by not giving a cow or a weak one, or by taking away his cow) is one of the few sins mentioned in the AV and resulting in being sent to hell.17

4.2 Distress or Mourning

AV 12, 3, 14 and 8, 6, 26 are treated here together in one section. They introduce an aspect of aghám which was not found in the text places discussed above. Neither sin nor simply harm or evil are expressed. The aghám denotes distress caused by the death of somebody, i.e. mourning.

12, 3, 14 (mā́ dámpatī paútram agháṁ nígātām) was completely misunderstood by Griffith (“Let not the sons’ sin fall on wife and husband”). Bloomfield (1897, 187) renders: “may man and wife not come to grief in their children.” See also Whitney: “let not the husband–wife fall into evil proceeding from sons (paútra),” with references to parallels in his notes. Hoffmann (1967, 51) deals with these parallels, translates paútram aghám with “Sohnestrauer” and explains this in his n. 21 as “Trauer über den Tod eines Sohnes.” See also Hoffmann (1967, 54) translating AV 12, 3, 14 with “nicht sollen die Ehegatten in Sohnestrauer geraten.” The translations and explanations are correct, but Hoffmann’s n. 21 referring to MS 1, 5, 12 for aghám meaning “Trauer, Todesfall,” though accepted by Mayrhofer (1992, 805), asks for some critical remarks. First it should be observed that “Todesfall” may indicate the cause of the aghám, but cannot be the correct translation of this term. Moreover one gets the impression from Mayrhofer that Hoffmann was the first Indologist who interpreted aghám here as referring to mourning or even to death. However, Caland (1896a, 28, n. 106*) had already observed that in funeral rites aghám could denote “das böse, die todtesbefleckung, der tod.” See in the same note his translation of HirGS 1, 19, 7 yatheyaṁ strī pautram aghaṁ na rodat “dass diese frau hier nicht den tod eines kindes (von kindern) beweine.” The connection of the root rod with the noun aghám will be discussed below.

8, 6, 26 presents some problems, because it is the only place where Whitney uses the ethical translation “guilt.” The hymn deals with demons and therefore sin can hardly play a role. In the same half of the verse childlessness and stillbirth (produced by demons) are mentioned. Then follow the two nouns ródam aghám. This seems to refer to a later death of a child which will be lamented. See Caland’s interpretation of HirGS 1, 19, 7 quoted above. Whitney’s translation “also crying, guilt (aghá)” hardly makes sense. Griffith renders with “weeping that announceth woe,” but weeping is a sign and not an announcement of woe or mourning. It follows on the death of someone dear to the wife who is the subject and who may suffer from childlessness and stillbirth (both not requiring official lamentation) or the later death of a child born alive. Lamenting (the root rod) the aghám which is associated with a son is found in HirGS 1, 19, 7 (see above). If one rightly rejects the translation “death” of aghám, which indeed mostly refers to evil and distress, one may ask what is the exact meaning of aghám as the object of rod. In the compound agharúd occurring in AV 8, 1, 19 agha should likewise be taken as the neutre object of rúd rather than as an adverb meaning “hässlich” (BR) or “fearfully” (MW) or “lugubriously” (Bloomfield 1897, 55). Caland (1896a, 28, n. 106*) renders with “den tod beweinend.” See also Hoffmann (1967, 51) “einen Trauerfall beweinend, Klageweib.”

That aghám does not refer to something specific like death may also appear from HirGS 1, 19, 7, where the opposite of pautram agham is pautram ānandam. The aghám is merely something negative or distressing. On the other hand the agharúd women of 8, 1, 19 indeed are wailing women.18 These persons are wailing when someone has died. What are they lamenting? It is not possible to lament distress or to lament mourning. Probably the accusative aghám of the compound agharúd does not indicate the direct object (i.e. the subject of their wailing), but expresses the nature of the lamentation, more or less as a cognate accusative. Cf. ChU 3, 15, 2 mā putrarodaṁ rudam, where indeed a real cognate accusative is found. Here most translators use free translations like “to lament a son” or “to lament the loss of a son.” For a correct rendering see Deussen (1897, 111): “möge ich nicht Weinen um einen Sohn weinen!” So rod + aghám means something like “to lament a mourning lamentation,” “to make a lamentation as part of a mourning,” “to express mourning by lamentation.” In the next section I will revert to this combination of rod and aghám.

4.3 Lamenting the Departure of the Bride

AV 14, 2, 59–62 requires a special discussion, since here the association with sin has often been made by translators. See e.g. Rodhe (1946, 44) who incorrectly assumed that a “committed evil” was implied by the verb karoti and that “the fundamental word for sin, enas, appears as its parallel” in these verses.19 The second half of these verses forms a refrain: agníṣ ṭvā tásmād énasaḥ savitā́ ca prá muñcatām. Indeed énas often (but not exclusively) denotes (committed) sin,20 but it is doubtful whether énas refers back to aghám occurring in the first halves, since aghám does not form the object of the verbs of these dependent clauses introduced by yádi and yád. In these clauses aghám is the object of the active participles of the root kar. This construction with the root kar was also one of the reasons to interpret aghám as sin. As observed before, however, the verb kar need not imply that aghám is committed.

The term énas originally denoted some evil or defilement which might be due to one’s own committed sin, but also to activities of other beings. In the verses to be discussed here someone has to be freed from this énas, but this person is not the subject of the construction of (participles of) kar with as object aghám. So even if énas as well as aghám would mean sin in these verses (which has to be doubted), then the one who has to be freed from sin, cannot be freed from his self-committed sin or its result. Moreover, the subjects of the dependent first halves of at least 14, 2, 59–61 are not enemies, rivals, sorcerers or demons who inflict the énas on purpose, but relatives of the one who has to become freed from this énas.

The hymn in which these verses occur deals with marriage ceremonies. The activities described in the dependent clauses (preceding the refrain) which are introduced by yádi and yád are the following:

  • people with loose, disheveled hair have danced in the house of the bridegiver
  • the daughter (likewise with disheveled hair) has wailed
  • sisters of this daughter and young women have danced

These persons are said to be doing, making or producing (expressed with the active participles of the root kar) aghám with or by róda (lamentation). This repeated observation is translated by Griffith with “committing sin with their lament” (vs. 60) and “committing sin with shout and cry” (vs. 61). In a note on these verses he observes that they “contain expiatory formulas to avert evil consequences of riotous, foolish, or inauspicious21 doings in the house of the bride’s father after the departure of the nuptial procession.” However, I do not see any traces of “riotous, foolish … doings.” The activities can hardly have taken place after the departure of the nuptial procession, since the (future) bride takes part in them. Both the new bride and her relatives are distressed about the future loss (i.e. loss of contact) of each other. Therefore they behave as described in these verses.

Whitney translates the repeated accompanying activities expressed as ródena + ptc. of kar + aghám with “doing evil with wailing” and following Bloomfield (1890) he observes that these verses “evidently have no connection with marriage ceremonies, but rather with wailings for the dead, which are regarded as ill-omened and requiring expiation.” In an editor’s note Lanman added between brackets that attention is drawn to the ill-omened aspects of tears shed for the deceased. Since, however, explicit references to a daughter and her sisters occur in these verses, they cannot have been directly taken from the funeral ritual.22 The wailing of the daughter and her sisters for the loss of each other reminds of the funeral wailings and is only inauspicious for that sake. Apart from unkindness towards the future bridegroom23 they also represent a bad omen, since they contain a wailing for a person who is not actually dead.24 The énas from which the bridegiver should be released is produced by the mourning of the members of his family at the “loss” of his daughter. This mourning looks like the mourning at a funeral and therefore has to be expiated. The ceremonial mourning becomes visible by the disheveled hair and the dancing and audible by the lamentations. The word aghám itself does not represent the énas and this aghám alone does not cause the énas. It belongs to the complex of visible and audible mourning. This means that agháṁ karoti here neither means “to commit evil or sin” nor “to produce distress or evil” (as is done by rivals, enemies, sorcerers or demons). Probably it denotes the act of mourning audibly or the display of mourning (ródena: “by lamentation,” not “with lamentation”).

The construction of kar with aghám here may be a periphrastic one. For such constructions see Speijer (1886, 233) mentioning nadaṁ karoti = nadati and (1896, 46) kathāṁ karoti = kathayati. Unfortunately a verb aghayati meaning “to mourn” is not to be found, but I am convinced that agháṁ kar in verses 59–61 means “to mourn.” This construction of kar with aghám preceded by the instrumental ródena may (for its meaning) be compared with the constructions paútram agháṁ + rod, putrarodaṁ + rod and the compound aghárud discussed in the preceding section. So it means “to mourn by lamentation,” “to cry out one’s mourning.” The periphrastic use of agháṁ kar seems to be based on the fact that in funeral ceremonies mourning by lamentation became some sort of formalized show performed by hired, professional wailers. These ladies did not mourn because they were distressed, but made a performance of mourning.

AV 14, 2, 62 is always taken together with the three preceding verses 59–61 on account of the fact that it has the same refrain. Still it is rather different. This may also appear from Griffith’s translation of the refrain. In 59–61 he renders énas with “guilt” (probably the guilt of the dancing and lamenting relatives), but in 62 he suddenly prefers “the woe” to “that guilt.” In the dependent clause preceding this refrain in verse 62 we do not find anymore the construction ródena + ptc. of kar + aghám and the mourning relatives of the future bride just like she herself disappear. The halfverse yát te prajā́yāṁ paśúṣu yád vā gṛhéṣu níṣṭhitam aghákṛdbhir agháṁ kṛtám is translated by Griffith with “If any evil have been wrought by mischief-makers that affects thy cattle, progeny or house.” Here aghám is no longer interpreted as sin but as evil or mischief, which points to demons or enemies who try to do harm or evil. Whitney translates: “If in thy progeny, in thy cattle, or in thy houses is settled (ni-sthā) any evil done by evil-doers.” Though this verse has no source or parallel, it is evident that it has been secondarily added to the preceding three in which explicit references to marriage and mourning are found. Evil done to the cattle can hardly have been produced by relatives taking leave of the future bride. So the aghákṛts of this verse have nothing to do with the relatives of the daughter and the daughter herself who are said to “do” or “perform” (participles of kar) aghám. The aghám which is kṛtám (produced) by the aghákṛts is different from the aghám which is kṛtám (shown) by the relatives. In the one case distress or evil is done to someone, in the other distress or mourning is displayed.

4.4 Compounds with aghá

In the preceding sections some compounds with aghá have already been discussed such as aghárud,25 aghakṛ́t and agháviṣa. They contain a first member which denotes distress, harm or (if an adj. or adverb is found in agháviṣa) means “harmful.” Other compounds occurring in the AV are aghádviṣṭa, aghamārá and aghahārá as well as agháśaṁsa, occurring in the ṚV (and discussed in section 3) and in other Saṁhitās.

AV 2, 7 deals with a curse-effacing plant, which is obviously hated by people who try to do harm or evil to the people (e.g. with curses or magic), i.e. by aghakṛ́ts and agháśaṁsas. Therefore I reject Whitney’s translation of aghádviṣṭa (2, 7, 1) “hated by mischief,” take aghá as an adj. or rather as its masculine substantivation and prefer Bloomfield’s translation (1897, 91) “hated by the wicked” to Griffith’s rendering “hated by the sinners.” A curse cannot hate and aghám though used in curses does not mean “curse” itself; aghám may be “mischief,” but “mischief” does not hate. He who produces aghám (the aghakṛ́t) may be a wicked person, but he has to be discerned from the one who is supposed to commit aghám and is interpreted as a sinner.

The compounds aghamārá (6, 93, 1) and aghahārá (6, 66, 1) have as their second member derivations from the roots mar and har which as adjectives mean “destroying” and “taking away” or “bringing, offering.”

The first of them is taken by BR as “schlimmen Tod bringend” and by MW as “fearfully destructive.” Both dictionaries seem to start from an adverb agham, though BR’s rendering is free. The compound qualifies Death. Griffith (“direly fatal”) follows these dictionaries, whereas Whitney (“the evil-killer”) assumes a different construction of the compound. This has to be preferred, though the translation of the first member of the compound should more explicitly express that persons rather than concepts are meant. The verse asks that the own people will be left aside by Death, obviously because he is only the killer of bad (aghá) people. The next verse (6, 93, 2–3) likewise tries to protect the own people against death, now coming from literal or metaphorical poisonous arrows (agháviṣās).

BR, MW and Griffith analyse the compound aghahārá as a Karmadhāraya in which agha is an adj. and the adj. hārá a substantivation meaning “robber”: “der schlimme Räuber, das Haupt der Räuber” (BR); “an outrageous robber” (MW); “robber chief” (Griffith). Whitney calls AV 6, 66 a hymn “For success against enemies” and translates the compound preceded by eṣām with “their evil-doer.” The preceding genitive may have induced the other scholars to translate the compound with “Haupt” and “chief.” The reference to robbers, however, is not suitable in the context of this hymn which indeed is composed against enemies rather than against robbers. Fighting with weapons and the taking of booty from the enemies play a role. The aghahārá of them should run away pierced by the arrows of Indra and of the own party. Indeed a leader seems to be meant. Instead of interpreting -hārá as “taking away” one may also start from “bringing, offering” (cf. balihārá “the one who offers or brings tribute”). So eṣām aghahārá might as well mean “their bringer of evil” (a mockery title of a chief who rather should be a balihārá).

The agháśaṁsa was already discussed in section 3. In the AV the person concerned occurs seven times. He is interpreted as a sinful or wicked man by Griffith. Whitney translates the compound with “evil-plotter” (and once with “mischief-plotter”). The second member of the compound is not specified by Griffith and unsatisfactorily translated by Whitney. There is no trace of sin. The second member of the compound seems to denote an act of speaking. On the other hand no proof of the correctness of the interpretation “slanderer” is found. Perhaps sorcery rather than slander are associated with this term in the AV (the Saṁhitā of magic). Anyhow agha denotes harm or evil here.

4.5 Conclusion

Surveying the material of the AV we may conclude that the only new aspect of aghám in this text is its association with mourning. It concerns a specification of the distress by which people can be struck. The persons concerned did not cause this specific distress. Death is the cause of the distress and the cause of this death is nowhere relevant. We are not entitled to translate aghám with death, though this specific distress (the mourning) is associated with death.

The evil or distress overcomes people. Sometimes this aghám is said to be produced (kar) by rivals or enemies or aimed at (in words and magic) by people who themselves are called aghá or agháśaṁsa.

Sin is not expressed by aghám. In combination with forms of the verb kar aghám is not committed, but either produced, brought about, or displayed, shown, made, performed (in connection with mourning).

5 Vedic aghám: Sin?

After having treated the material of the two most important Vedic Saṁhitās and before discussing a few later Vedic passages, I draw attention to the fact that ethical aspects do not play a role at all in the oldest stage. It is surprising that Hartog (1939), who was rather strict in his judgement on terms denoting sin and used theological and philological arguments for rejecting aghám as a term which would denote sin, still made the following statement (1939, 27): “Angesichts all dieser Stellen, in denen aghá- eine böse Tat oder ihren Täter bezeichnet bzw. diesen als attribut. Adjektiv näher bestimmt, kann es wohl nicht mehr zweifelhaft sein, dass aghá- schon in den frühvedischen Schriften zu den Moralbegriffen gehört.” He also observed (p. 28): “Wenn wir das Wort … mit ‘Untat, Frevel’ oder mit ‘Sünde’ … übersetzen, dann müssen wir hinzufügen, dass es sich hier nicht um das einmalige Faktum üblen Verhaltens, sondern um eine dadurch hervorgerufene, von den frühvedischen Ariern nicht besonders unterschiedene, fort und fort wirksame übele Substanz handelt.” He even speaks of “Sündensubstanz.”

The evil which is denoted by aghám, however, is never committed or produced by the victim himself in these early Vedic texts. Therefore the ethical aspect does not play a role here and the meaning “sin” is not acceptable. If doing harm to a rival or producing disadvantage for him would really belong to the sphere of sin, then most Western businessmen, sportsmen and even scholars would be sinners. There is no trace of sin in the two discussed Saṁhitās. In the other Saṁhitās the term hardly occurs. Prose passages or mantras which have not been borrowed from the oldest texts are less than a handful in the YV Saṁhitās.

In the old Vedic Upaniṣads, in which ethics and morals are expected to play a more important role than in the older texts focused on ritual, aghám occurs only once: KauṣU 2, 8 mā ’haṁ pautram aghaṁ rudam,26 a turn of phrase or mantra with several parallels (with variations) in other texts. Its contents have already been discussed above (in section 4.2).

This situation in the later Vedic literature indicates that aghám can hardly have been a central concept (let alone a concept of sin) in the Veda. I will not deal with all the text places in the Brāhmaṇas and Āraṇyakas, which are moreover almost limited to the TB (two places), the (seven places in 6 and one in 4) and the ŚB (only found in ŚB 13, 8). The material of the ŚB is interesting, since it concerns the funeral rites, which are important for the association of aghám with mourning and its misinterpretation as “death” (see sections 4.2 and 4.3). Moreover its translator Eggeling (1900) was completely wrong in rendering aghám here with “sin.” So in the next section (and the last one dealing with purely Vedic material) I will discuss ŚB 13, 8.

6 The Grave-Mound in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa

ŚB 13, 8, 1–4 treats the funeral rites, especially the construction of a grave-mound. 13, 8, 1, 2 prescribes that it should not be made too soon after the death nén návam agháṁ karávāṇī́ti. Eggeling (1900) translates: “lest he should freshen up his sin.” However, it is difficult to freshen up a sin. Moreover, why should somebody who will be especially honoured with a grave-mound, be a sinner? Delbrück (1888, 351) makes the same wrong interpretation of aghám as “sin” and even supposes that the forefathers should not be reminded of the deceased’s sin: “… damit die Väter sich nicht zu deutlich seiner Sünden erinnern.” Caland (1896a, 131, n. 482) is more correct in his interpretation: “(denkend): ‘ich möchte nicht ein neues übel machen’.” However, návam … kar does not mean “to make a new one” but “to renew,” and in this respect Eggeling’s “freshen up” is preferable. What one freshens up by constructing a grave-mound is not sin. Even “übel” is not really to the point. The aghám does not belong to the deceased, but is suffered by his relatives on account of his death. So distress or mourning is meant here. By waiting some time one has made the mourning fade away.

13, 8, 1, 2 continues with stating that one should delay the construction, because by doing so aghám eva tát tiráḥ karoti. In Eggeling’s interpretation the sin would be obscured and according to Caland the evil would be removed (“beseitigt”). Elsewhere in the same publication (1896a, 28, n. 106) Caland had interpreted aghám as “das böse, die todtesbefleckung, der tod.” Dealing with this ritual Oldenberg (19172, 581) follows Caland’s lastmentioned rendering and translates “damit verbirgt er den Tod.” Neither death nor evil can be hidden or eclipsed. The distress about the deceased is “set aside” by this delay. Time is the decisive factor in removing distress, sorrow and mourning. It heals all metaphorical wounds. Therefore the text adds yátra samā́ nā́nu cana smáreyur áśrutim eva tád agháṁ gamayati “In case they would not remember (this distress) during years, then one causes this distress pass into oblivion.” Eggeling, who again translates aghám with “sin” in the main clause, assumes a construction in which samā́ would be the direct object of anusmar in the dependent clause: “and when people do not even remember the years (that have passed).” See also Caland (1896a, 131, n. 482): “wenn man sich der jahre nicht mehr erinnern kann” followed by Oldenberg (19172, 581). I agree with Delbrück (1888, 351) who interprets the accusative as expressing duration of time and translates “wo sie sich Jahre lang nicht erinnern.”27 Of course remembering the exact date or year of the death is not relevant in ancient cultures without calendars. The misinterpretation was (at least in the case of Caland) caused by the assumption that aghám would be death rather than an indefinite period of mourning or distress.

For forgetting aghám due to the interval of time see also MS 1, 5, 12: 81.5 tásmād āhur ahorātrā́ṇi vā́vā́gháṁ marṣayantī́ti “Therefore there is a proverb saying: ‘night and day (i.e. time) make forget aghám’.” Hoffmann (1967, 51, n. 21) refers to this passage for aghám meaning “Trauer, Todesfall.” Indeed death plays a role in MS 1, 5, 12, but the proverb as such refers to distress in general or to mourning as one of its manifestations. “Todesfall” (death or the moment of dying) need not be meant here, but “Trauer” definitely plays a role. For aghám with the root marṣ see also my treatment of aghamarṣaṇa in section 7.2, where distress or mourning rather than death should have been forgotten.

In 13, 8, 1, 4 the possibility of constructing a grave-mound in the month Māgha is mentioned with the argumentation that Māgha stands for mā́ no ’gháṁ bhūd, translated by Eggeling “Lest (mā) sin (agha) be in us.” See, however, Caland (1896a, 130): “es entstehe kein übel.” The aghám ascribed to the deceased by Eggeling in 13, 8, 1, 2 now suddenly is associated by him with the relatives. Actually in both passages the relatives are, or may be, suffering from distress.

The ground on which the mound should be constructed28 is discussed in 13, 8, 1, 8 in connection with aghám. According to some it should be sloping southward, according to others northward. Southward is the direction in which the deceased go, but the risk for his relatives would be that they glide down with him in the world of the dead (13, 8, 1, 8). To prevent this some suggest to make it on a countercutting.29 Then the ground and the tomb become a pratyúcchritam aghám. Eggeling translates this with “rising sin” and observes in a note: “That is, apparently, lightened, or improving, sin.” However, improving sin by making it rising hardly makes sense in the context. Probably the mound which is erected (úcchrita) against (prati) gliding down to the world of the dead symbolizes the erection of a hindrance to aghám (evil or distress connected with or produced by death). To the aghám an obstacle or obstruction has been made. The aghám becomes obstructed (pratyúcchritam). The text concludes that only on ground sloping to the north the aghám can be pratyúcchritam. Probably the mound again is supposed to be cut transversely through the sloping ground. It forms an obstruction on the path to the north, the world of the living human beings, and prevents the evil influence coming from the world of the dead.

It is evident that the aghám of 13, 8, 1, 2 and 4 is different from that found in 13, 8, 1, 8. The first refers to the distress and mourning which the surviving relatives of the beloved deceased want to forget. The second is the evil, harm or danger which comes from every deceased and from the realm of death. Here the relatives show that they have not forgotten this possible evil, when they construct the mound.

According to 13, 8, 1, 10 this ground should not be an open place “lest he should make his (the deceased’s) sin manifest” (Eggeling). The text does explicitly mention whose aghám is meant. Probably the builder of the mound should conceal the aghám (distress, grief, mourning) of the family. This may also appear from the statement that the spot should be pleasant and peaceful. Mourning and distress should not have any room. However, Oldenberg (19172, 582) explains this differently: “die Lebenden sollen vor der Nähe des Toten gesichert sein.”

13, 8, 1, 11 states that on the one hand the mound should be hidden in order to hide evil (aghám, translated with “sin” by Eggeling), on the other hand be reached by the sun in order that pāpmán (translated with “evil” by Eggeling) should be removed by sunshine. Evidently aghám and pāpmán more or less are equated here. Whatever may be the exact meaning of pāpmán, it does not mean sin and is some sort of evil overcoming people. See e.g. Mṛtyu Pāpmán, Evil coming in the form of Death.

In 13, 8, 1, 15 it is said that the ground should be filled with roots, because roots (lying underneath the earth) belong to the Pitṛs. Caland (1896a, 31) states: “Von einem so beschaffenen terrain sollen die kräuter mit den wurzeln entfernt werden.” Our text is rather vague on this point, but prescribes a limited amount of roots, because this would limit the aghám (evil or distress of the relatives). According to Eggeling this would restrict the sin of the deceased. However, this text place also declares that the share of the forefathers is restricted in this way. So restricting the share of the forefathers is the same as restricting the misery or evil of the surviving relatives. See also 13, 8, 3, 10 on bringing some soil for the mound from a cleft in the earth in order to make the share of the forefathers (always associated with clefts and holes) not excessive just as the aghám (the misery of the surviving relatives), where Eggeling again assumes that the sin of the deceased should be meant. This assumed obsession with sin looks rather strange. Not all the recently deceased relatives who receive a grave-mound are sinners.

Similarly the tomb should not be made too large according to 13, 8, 1, 18 (and 13, 8, 3, 11), lest the aghám (the distress of the surviving relatives) would be made too great. Eggeling translates: “lest he should make the sin (of the deceased) large.” How could one increase the sin of a deceased by great worship and honour? Caland (1896a, 144) translates: “er soll es nicht gross machen, damit er nicht ein grosses übel … mache (verursache),” which is preferable, but still not to the point.

In 13, 8, 3, 13 barley (yáva) is sown with the aim “May I ward off (yavayāni) aghám for me.” Eggeling again translates aghám with “sin,” but does not indicate whose sin would play a role here. Obviously evil associated with death and the realm of the dead is meant here. Minard (1956, 228 a) refers to Caland (1896a, 28, n. 106*) and translates aghám with “la souillure” (cf. Caland’s “todtesbefleckung”). General evil coming from the place where the corpse has been cremated or where his mound is made seems to be expressed by aghám in this context.

The warding off of aghám (evil) is also found in 13, 8, 4, 1, for which see Caland (1896a, 145): “Darauf wird ein umlegeholz vom varaṇa-baum umgelegt mit den worten: ‘es halte das übel fern’ (vārayatām).” Here the evil seems to come from outside the place of the grave-mound. In 13, 8, 4, 2 one digs furrows and fills them with water “for sin not to pass beyond, for indeed sin cannot pass beyond seven rivers” (Eggeling). Instead of “sin” one should translate with “evil.” If Eggeling is right in his note observing that these furrows are running from west to east and “thus separating the grave from the north, the world of men,” then the evil coming from the grave is warded off on behalf of the human beings.

Finally we find in 13, 8, 4, 4 the cleansing of the participants of the ritual with Apāmārga plants. The items which they wipe away (apa-marj) are (according to the accompanying mantra) aghám, kílbiṣam, kṛtyā́, rápas and duḥṣvápnyam, an interesting enumeration of evils, most of which have no relation with ethics and morality. So even here Eggeling’s translation “sin” should not be followed, the more so because in the prose text aghám functions as the collective term for the mentioned items. It is evil or distress overcoming people.

We may conclude that in this description of the funeral ceremonies only two aspects play a role: the distress or mourning about the deceased and evil or harm coming from the realm of death and dead people. This evil should be warded off or prevented. One may even try be purified from it as from some sort of pollution. The concept of sin is totally absent. The aghám is not decease, death (“Todt, Todesfall”), but death may be the cause of aghám.

7 Post-Vedic agham

I will not try to give an extensive treatment of the material in post-Vedic texts, but have selected three items which may be representative for the moralistic aspects assumed in the post-Vedic literature. The first of them is a topic shared by the Gītā and Manu and deals with eating food without first offering this to the deities.

7.1 agham with the Verb bhoj (BhG 3, 13 and Manu 3, 118)

In BhG 3, 13 bhuñjate te tv agham pāpā ye pacanty ātmakāraṇāt most translators render agham with sin.30 Bühler (1886) and Olivelle (2004) both translate agham in Manu 3, 118 aghaṁ sa kevalaṁ bhuṅkte yaḥ pacaty ātmakāraṇāt with sin. Since bhoj often means “to eat” and eating food forms the subject of these sentences, one assumes that someone who eats food without previously offering this food to the deities and to guests (and who is moreover called a pāpa in the Gītā) would eat sin (agham). Indeed such a behaviour may be sinful, but eating sin is strange. In this context of eating food an ambiguity or wordplay may be assumed. The verb bhoj also means “to enjoy” and (what is important here) “to suffer for,” “to pay (the penalty) for,” “to reap or taste the bitter fruit of.”31 See BR s.v. bhuj 2: “den Lohn für Etwas (acc.) davontragen” and MW “be requited or rewarded for.” BR refers i.a. to MārkP 29, 31 sa pāpaṁ kevalaṁ bhuṅkte.

So there are indications that agham here denotes the own sin, which consists of not giving food to gods and guests. Such an interpretation would be supported by other text places to which BR refers s.v. bhuj, e.g. Rām. 2, 27, 4 svāni puṇyāni bhuñjānāḥ, where the object of bhoj is the own good acts or merits (the opposite of sins). The following verses to which BR refers and which are quoted here from the second ed. (Böhtlingk 1870–18732) of the Indische Sprüche (with the numbering of the verses of the first ed. between brackets), likewise point to the fruits of one’s own deeds which are suffered or enjoyed as the object of bhoj: 2335 (4059) … bhunakty ekaḥ śubhāśubham “… allein geniest man den Lohn für Gutes und Böses …”; 6494 (5077) … kṛtaṁ phalati sarvatra nākṛtaṁ bhujyate kvacit “… was man gethan hat, trägt immer Früchte; nimmer geniesst man die Früchte dessen, was man nicht gethan hat.”

It is remarkable that énas as the object of bhoj (see n. 31) in the oldest Vedic text does not refer to the own sin and even does not mean sin at all. Moreover aghám does not mean sin in the Veda. A change of meaning may have taken place. However, the two discussed text places (from the Gītā and Manu) as such do not give enough support. They do not explicitly state that the agham is one’s own and that one has committed an agham. Indeed a sin has been committed by eating alone, but it is uncertain whether agham here refers to that sin or to the evil which one suffers. The Vedic meaning of aghám (“harm or evil done to someone”) is also possible. The misers who refuse to give food to the gods like the niggard Vedic patrons who refuse to give enough fees to the poets or priests, will taste the bitter fruits of their misbehaviour. To some extent we are still in the sphere of doing evil or harm to somebody and be retributed for this. The agham looks like an action of doing harm to somebody, and this harm is the revenge of the gods.32

7.2 The Aghamarṣaṇa Ceremony

The term aghamarṣaṇa is not purely post-Vedic, but occurs mainly in post-Vedic texts in which it indicates the name of the hymn ṚV 10, 190 and the ceremony in which it is used. The dictionaries translate it with “sündenvergebend” (BR), “Sünde tilgend” (Mylius) and “sin-effacing” (MW). The hymn itself does not contain any reference to sins and forgiving or destroying sins, but its author is Aghamarṣaṇa. It is not used in the solemn ritual and only prescribed for a purificatory, daily bath. Purification by bath need not imply purification from sins, especially not in case such purification takes place every day.33 The application of this hymn seems to occur for the first time in 10, i.e. MNU 143–145 (an Upaniṣad of which the date is uncertain), and Varenne (1960, 150) calls this “l’ expiation des péchés (aghamarṣaṇa),” thereby suggesting that the compound would explain this ceremony. The post-Vedic text Manu 11, 261 states “As the horse-sacrifice … removes all sin, even so the Aghamarṣaṇa hymn effaces all guilt” (tr. Bühler 1886). The words “sin” and “guilt” here represent pāpam. Olivelle (2004) only renders with “sin.” Does this text imply that pāpam “sin” is the same as agham occurring in the name Aghamarṣaṇa and that this compound likewise denotes the removal of sins (as some dictionaries assume)?

The second member of the compound neither means “expiation” nor “tilgend” or “effacing.” Indeed the verb marṣ may have the meaning “to forgive” (see BR’s translation of aghamarṣaṇa) though it basically means “to forget,” but neither the hymn itself nor the ritual in which it is used have anything to do with forgiving sin (an action ascribed to persons or gods rather than to purificatory waters). In section 6, I have drawn attention to the turn of phrase aghám + marṣayati “to make forget aghám” found in MS 1, 5, 12, where distress or mourning about a deceased is denoted by aghám and effacing sin or expiation for sin is out of the question. So the compound aghamarṣaṇa perhaps means (originally as a name and secondarily as a ritualistic detail) “the oblivion of evil coming from outside.”

One of the few scholars (and perhaps the only one) who did not interpret the first member of this compound as “sin,” was Caland in a note on his translation of the rather late Vaikhānasasmārtasūtra (1929, 7, n. 27), where he quotes the commentary which explains aghamarṣaṇa as pāpāvanodanam or pāpanirasanam, which he translates with “removal of evil influences.” This is indeed the correct interpretattion of the first member of the compound.

7.3 The Compounds anagha and niragha

A moral aspect has also been assumed in the compound anagha translated with “frei von Schuld, unschuldig” (BR), “sinless” (MW) and “schuldlos” (Mylius). The first two dictionaries give some more translations: “nicht schadhaft, makellos, gefällig, hübsch” and “faultless, uninjured, handsome,” qualifications which do not imply any moral judgement and often seem to refer to females who are innocent and harmless or whose body cannot be blamed by anaghakṛ́t or agháśaṁsa (a slanderer). The combination of these added meanings with “sinless” obviously is problematic. Probably the translation “sinless” has to be rejected. A person who is anagha does not do harm and nobody can speak agham about him or her. Translations like English “harmless” and German “harmlos” are acceptable in several contexts. In other contexts “impeccable, flawless, perfect” and “tadellos” are more to the point. Ladies qualified by this adj. are “handsome” as well as “hübsch.”

A comparable adjective like niragha means “tadellos” according to BR and Mylius. MW, however, even here tries to maintain the reference to sins: “sinless, free from faults.” The meaning of agha in this compound has nothing to do with sins or faults committed. It denotes the evil which the qualified noun may do or the deficiencies ascribed by other people (like slanderers).

The evil has no ethical connotations in both compounds. So anagha and niragha give no support for the assumption that agham in post-Vedic texts would mean “sin.”

8 Conclusion

My conclusion is that agham indeed has the general meaning “evil” (German “Übel”) and that in the ṚV Saṁhitā this evil mostly manifests itself as a lack of prosperity, fortune or happiness. This undesirable situation is coming from outside due to particular actions of rivals and enemies and in the ṚV only once as the result of punishment by the gods. These rivals or enemies themselves are called aghá (an adjective never qualifying other people than these) or aghakṛ́t. In case they are said to be agháśaṁsa, it is possible that these rivals qualify their victims as aghá (“bad, evil” in a general sense), i.e. that they are slanderers. In all these cases there is no indication that aghám would mean “sin” or aghá “sinner, sinful.” Since the evil is done to somebody, it may have the aspect of harm. However, there is no reason to connect aghám with áṁhas, because the threat caused by aghám lacks the implication of producing narrowness.

In the ṚV Saṁhitā this aghám is the misery of a victim. Even if this misery is not exclusively economic, but refers to distress in general, it has no clear connection with death or the distress and mourning produced by death. It is striking that in the funeral hymns of the tenth book of this Saṁhitā aghám is missing.

In the AV Saṁhitā (as well as in some other Vedic texts) mourning about the death of a relative plays a role. Here even mourning about the loss of a relative by marriage is associated with aghám which is shown by lamentation. The term itself does not mean “death, decease.” In this text the beings who produce the general evil (aghám) are on the one hand demonic and working with magic, on the other hand normal and influential persons who take away the cow belonging to a Brahmin. In both cases the reaction of the “victim” is even aghá as, or more aghá (causing evil) than, the aghám produced against him. It belongs to the sphere of countermagic. The victim and his Brahmin advisor or the Atharvavedic Brahmin as a victim himself take revenge. There is no punishment by gods or by judges. One of the very few actions leading to hell (and therefore to some extent lying in the sphere of sin) is being unkind towards a Brahmin by giving a weak cow to him, or withholding this cow or even taking it away from him. This does not imply that the term aghám itself would mean “sin” in the relevant Atharvavedic text places.

In the ŚB aghám found in the treatment of building a grave-mound for someone who had died and was cremated some time ago, on the one hand denotes the distress (or even mourning) about the death of the deceased relative (rather than his death itself) and on the other hand the evil or danger (or even impurity) coming from everything connected with death, the world of the deceased (or even the deceased relative himself). The harm coming from the deceased is different from that coming from enemies and rivals, but it is as dangerous. Both harms are evil.

The assumption of most dictionaries that at least in post-Vedic texts agham would mean “sin” and agha “sinful, sinner,” is not supported by my examination of a few text places and of some compounds. The Aghamarṣaṇa ritual deals with purification, but the term agham as such need not refer to sin and definitely does not mean sin in the compound aghamarṣaṇa itself. I doubt whether further research in post-Vedic literature will give material on agham meaning sin.

For a possible etymology of aghám the meanings assumed by me, namely “evil, misery, distress, mourning (produced by evil influence of rivals or by the death of a relative)” more or less agree with Mayrhofer (1986, 46): “aghá- böse, schlimm, gefährlich, n. Übel, Gefahr, Schaden (RV +).” However, I miss in his etymological analysis a reference to Greek achos “distress, pain,” which was later (1992, 805) added, with the too limited meaning “Betrübnis, Trauer, Trauerfall” for the Greek parallel. See also Hartog (1939, 31–33) who follows de Saussure in connecting aghám with Greek achos and concludes “dass das Wort ursprünglich ein Ausdruck für seelische Belastung, Furcht und Angst gewesen ist,” in spite of his observation (p. 33) that “aghá- schon in frühvedischer Zeit unter die negativen sittlichen Werbegriffe gehört.”

*First published in Indo-Iranian Journal 49, 2006, pp. 105–125.
1However, to some extent it has maintained its position in post-Vedic texts. See Ghatage (1976 s.v.).
2See Bodewitz (2006b, introduction; this vol. pp. 287–291).
3On etymologies of aghá(m) proposed before 1940 see also Hartog (1939, 32 f.).
4On the terms ā́gas and énas see Bodewitz (2006b; this vol. ch. 21).
5See Hartog (1939, 26–33).
6Probably a real wolf is meant. For the qualification of the wolf as aghá “malicious” see Gonda (1959a, 148) referring to parallels of the “wicked wolf” in other cultures.
7Gonda (1959a, 136) mentions these in his treatment of “Manifestations of evil” (130–138) and in this connection renders aghá with “bad, sinful.” However, in the two relevant passages these árātis (whether they are inimical attitudes of the rivals who try to discredit the speaker in the hymn with possible patrons or the innate avarices of patrons who are unwilling to give enough fees) can hardly be called “sinful” (though perhaps patrons who refuse to give fees may be regarded as sinners).
8He interprets aghá here as a shortening of agháśaṁsa, which occurs in 1, 42, 4, but there is translated with “à la parole méchante,” a rendering which does not suit the wolf in 1, 42, 2, if a real wolf is meant.
9Renou (1959, 50) assumes a different construction: “Car vous êtes … les régisseurs de la grâce, non point, ô Āditya’s, ceux du maléfice,” and takes aghásya as a neutre noun.
10For āré aghā́ni in 2, 29, 5 cf. the compound āréagha in 6, 1, 12 and 6, 56, 6 qualifying nouns denoting prosperities and fortune (íṣ and svastí). The dictionaries interpret the compound as “having evil far removed.” Geldner translates with “die/der das Übel fernhalten/fernhält” and is followed by Renou (1964, 36 and 1966, 151). I think, however, that here aghám as an external danger, evil or harm (perhaps in the economical sphere) should remain far away (āré) from the new fortune. See also āréśatru (AV 7, 8, 1), where the enemy should not come near. Similarly āréavadya (ṚV 10, 99, 5) denotes Indra for whom blame remains far away, i.e. there is no one who would speak evil (aghám) about him.
11Gonda (1957b) does not have any reference to aghám in his article on áṁhas.
12For kévalāgha see section 7.1 (n. 32).
13On the parallel AVP 5, 23, 3 see Lubotsky (2002, 10), who prefers a noun mū́ra = mū́la.
14In AV 5, 18, 3 the Brahmin’s cow is like an agháviṣa snake (and not to be eaten). For arrows which are agháviṣa cf. AV 6, 93, 2–3 (see section 4.4). See also Lubotsky (2002, 103) on aghaviṣa meaning “ill-poisonous [arrow]” in AVP 5, 22, 1 ff.
15For this type see Gonda (1959b, 285 ff.).
16For the correct meaning of mení see Mayrhofer (1994, 379), who translates with “Vergeltung, schädigende magische Kraft, Rache als magische Potenz.”
17See Bodewitz (1999c, 109–111; this vol. p. 139 f.).
18See Bloomfield (1890).
19See also Hartog (1939, 26) for the same misinterpretation.
20See Bodewitz (2006b; this vol. ch. 21).
21See, however, Gonda (1980, 388, n. 72) referring to Nāṭyaśāstra 4, 269 “dancing is declared to be auspicious on occasions such as marriage, birth, reception of a son-in-law, joyous religious festivals” in connection with the 4 or 8 women performing a dance before the bride leaves the house of the bridegiver. For this dancing see also Gonda (1980, 202) observing that it is “meant … to generate power for good.” On dancing performed at funerals see Gonda (1980, 74).
22See also Bloomfield (1890, 341) who on account of the fact that AV 14, 2, 59 ff. explicitly mentions “in thy house” admits the possibility that these verses may only be similar to mantras used in the funeral rites and here definitely should belong to marriage ceremonies.
23This may have been the reason why in verse 63 the scattering of grains by the daughter has been described. Accompanying this she expresses the wish that her husband may have a long life (i.e. that this act does not concern his future life).
24On mourning the living in marriage ceremonies see ṚV 10, 40, 10 (= AV 14, 1, 46) jīváṁ rudanti, on which Geldner observes: “bildet den Gegensatz zum Weinen über den Toten.” See also Renou (1967, 73) and especially Gonda (1962, 83): “The words jīvaṁ or jīvāṁ rudanti in ṚV 10, 40, 10, etc. may therefore refer to a ceremonial weeping, not to a mere emotional shedding of tears on the occasion of a farewell or separation. The word ‘living one’ may have been added lest the evil powers should mistake this weeping for the sounds of mourning over the dead.”
25For aghárud occurring in AV 8, 1, 19 there is a parallel in AV 11, 2, 11, where “weepers of evil with disheveled hair” (Whitney) are mentioned together with dogs and jackals. All of them should go away. Here Griffith rightly observes that these women are “mourners with dishevelled hairs at funerals.” The traditional interpretation by the dictionaries as female demons may have been based on this place in which jackals and dogs occur. These animals announce death, the women mourn after death. For dogs and jackals see Gonda (1980, 101 and 323). For female relatives and professional “Klageweiber” with disheveled hair see Caland (1896a, 140, n. 517).
26See Bodewitz (2002b, 30), where is translated with “may I … not have to weep for the misfortune of my son.” See also p. 34, where a wrong translation has been given: “Let me not suffer any evil in my wish for a son.” The added footnote 111 “In this version and context of the verse agha seems to refer to evil/sin (i.e. failure of producing male off-spring) rather than to evil/distress” now has to be withdrawn by me.
27See also Minard (1936, 15).
28See Caland (1896a, 31).
29Eggeling observes in a note: “What is intended thereby would seem to be either a cutting made into southward sloping ground, in such a way as to make the cut piece rise towards the south, or perhaps such a part of the southward inclined ground as naturally rises towards the south.” Both suggestions are rather nonsensical. How could the ground slope and at the same time rise towards the South? The aspect of rising has been transferred by Eggeling from the conclusion of the text that in such case the tomb would become pratyúcchritam aghám. The countercutting (pratyará) in the ground which is sloping down towards the South should prevent the symbolical slipping down of the relatives. The cutting of the earth is made transversely on the sloping ground.
30Zaehner (1969, 166) forms an exception. He translates the first half of this verse (yajñaśiṣṭāśinaḥ santo mucyante sarvakilbiṣaiḥ) with “Good men who eat the leavings of the sacrifice are freed from every taint” and renders agham as well as pāpās in the second half with “evil.”
31See Bodewitz (2006b; this vol. ch. 21) on the Ṛgveda turn of phrase mā́ … éno anyákṛtaṁ bhuñjema, where instead of agham the object is énas, which often does not mean sin and here is evil produced or brought about by someone else.
32That agham here may mean “evil” rather than “sin” also appears from ṚV 10, 117, 6, where eating alone (without giving food to a guest) is criticized: kévalāgho bhavati kevalādī́ “Wer allein isst, hat auch den Schaden allein” (Geldner). O’Flaherty (1981, 70, n. 5) observes: “By committing the sin of greed, he brings upon himself evils such as poverty and hunger.” So eating alone may be a sin, but this does not imply that aghám means “sin.” It denotes evils overcoming the sinner. The dictionaries interpret kévalāgha as “allein schuldig” and “alone guilty,” but sharing sin or guilt is out of the question here. One does not share guilt when one eats with more people. The idea seems to be that he who does not share his food with others, will not share his evil (distress, poverty etc.) with others; they will not support him in his possible problems and poverty. The aghám of the kévalāgha refers to the lack of solidarity caused by one’s own lack of solidarity.The compound kévalāgha looks like a Bahuvrīhi (“who will remain alone with his aghám”). There is no reason to take the second member as a masculine and render the compound with “a mere evil man” (cf. kevalanaiyāyika and kevalavaiyākaraṇa), since the accentuation does not support this interpretation (in which moreover the meaning of kevala is not identical in the compounds kévalāgha and kevalādī). In Manu 3, 118 indeed kevalam means “merely.”
33See Olivelle (1995, 93, n. 16) observing: “This hymn (RV 10.190) is considered to be specially efficacious in destroying sins. The term ‘Aghamarṣaṇa’ is also used for a particular rite for erasing sins.”

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Vedic Cosmology and Ethics

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