Love in Atharvaveda

As man becomes more and more cultured and refined, he moves away from nature and tends to move towards artificiality. The distance from nature seems to keep him away from purity and reality too. In this process he starts to scoff at normal and natural behavior. For instance, love between man and woman is a natural phenomenon; this is especially so for human beings. But most of the ancient philosophies and religions appear to ignore this truth. It is as if love is another name of sin for them. The story about Adam and Eve is a good example for this type of mentastlity. In Indian philosophy also, things are not very different. Vedic literature is considered to be the repository of the oldest philosophy of the Indian subcontinent. This literature has always been seen as highly philosophical without any earthy touch. It is an irony that the culture, which has produced a whole book on the science and art of love, is not able to accept the reality.

Human life cannot be imagined without love love of all types. In fact in the early stages man could survive only because of this ability to love. Of course, human love is not oriented by sex alone. Social harmony, family bond, and attachment to life and life-oriented things are also part of love. For man/woman, love is a dominant emotion, which gives him/her such a great strength that every difficulty becomes easy for him to overcome.

Love includes both physical and mental feelings. It is true that emotional feeling is a characteristic of only human beings. Most of the creatures other than man are attracted to each other physically only, that is also a sex-oriented relationship. That may be the reason why in human society sex-oriented love is not taken in a good sense.  But this is the fact and reality of life, and it is so even for the existence of the world. The human race cannot continue to exist without physical love. For making it viable, purely human physical love has to be combined with emotions. In this case the best form of love is a good combination of physical and emotional relationships. That is what we see in most of the love songs in the folk tradition.

However, in the traditional or conventional reading of these songs, there has been an attempt on the part of the so-called elitist scholars and academics to ignore this and to concentrate on the purely emotional aspects. Cut off from their physical basis, these emotions tend to become drained of reality, and the result is that excessive emphasis is laid on the spiritual dimension. This is an unhealthy approach to our philosophy or religion or culture.

It is in this light that we now have to read and analyze the love songs in the Vedas. Contrary to the popular assumption that the vedas are not connected to everyday life in this world, we have to look at them as total expressions of human reality, instead of isolating the spiritual or the metaphysical.

The famous "Nasadiya Sukta" of Rigveda talks about "kam" (passion) as a power of "Tadeka" (supreme God). It says that long before universe there was nothing in existence. Neither truth nor untruth, not even space and sky, no death and no Amrita, not even night nor day. In that air-less situation there was the existence of the supreme God. Except him there was only Apreketa Salila (non creative water), that too was covered by darkness. The supreme God had collected his mental power and with force of passion gave birth to Kam. That Kam was the cause of this world.[1]  It was the mental power of the supreme God (Manaso Retah).[2]  Atharvaveda has accepted this theory[3], but at the same time it has accepted the expanded meaning also. Kam is not only passion but an understanding, a friendly behavior and a mutual understanding which develops friendship between human beings.[4] It is strength and will power also.[5]From that supreme passion this earthy love or passion has originated.[6] In this case "kam" is giver and "kam" is taker.[7] In the 9th chapter of Atharva Veda, "Kam" is worshiped as a deity, which can give power. It can protect from enemies even. It is greater than any other power.[8] It is the only power from where all the  human beings could take place.[9]

There are so many hymns in Atharvaveda, where "love" in its physical or earthy form is described. Love between lovers, love between husband and wife, is expressed in such a way that passion and excitement goes very close to folk reality. A man falls in love with a woman. Now he is searching for the sweet medicine, which can make him as sweet as itself. When his behavior becomes very sweet, the woman will surely be attracted to him. While using these medicines he sings:

Sweet, O, very sweet
Sweeter, sweetest
Born in the sweet month
O sweet-growing medicine!
I am digging you for sweetness
You are sweet, make me also sweet,
Make the tip of my tongue sweet
Make the root of my tongue sweet
May the speech be sweet
May my thought also become so sweet
That she worships my mind
May my coming and going become sweet
May my sitting and standing also become sweet
O sweety! As you look beautiful
On the trees in the jungle
I too become that much sweet
Irrigate us with love sweet like sugarcane
My beloved should love me so much
She should never tolerate my distance
O sweet, sweeter medicine!
Make me sweet for my beloved![10]

Love cannot be one-sided. If a man is attracted to a woman, the woman should also feel the same way. Otherwise that cannot be pure love. That is why the lover wants his beloved's heart also to get churned by love and passion. He asks the help of Aswin Kumar for arousing passion in his beloved:[11] 

As the wind blows
on the earth
and churns every straw
I too churn the mind of my beloved
O beloved, you too long for me
becoming my beloved
never tolerate distance

If the love is mutual, lovers will have togetherness, their thinking, living and every activity will be dependent on togetherness:

O Ashwin Kumar!
We, lovers, walk together
Live together
Move forward together
With the feeling of togetherness
With the togetherness of hearts [12]

Love is not only bodily experience. The heart should also be involved in love. Real love is the combination of body and mind.

As the arrow hits the golden bird
May my love-arrow also hit
The heart of my beloved
Her feeling should come out
Outer love should enter within
Outer and inner all together
I see the beloved cosmic form
See, my beloved has come
With eagerness for her lover
I too come like a horse
Our friendship should become happy
Our relation beautiful
Heart meets with heart
Body with body[13]

This hymn is very close to the folksong tradition, because here love is not mere passion. Mind is included with body. The aim of love is the feeling of togetherness. This togetherness is the motto of folk culture. Elite love is more or less selfish. Togetherness is missing from their love. In the society of the down-to-earth, togetherness is of the utmost importance. The poetic value of these love songs is also very important. Beloved's heart is compared with a golden bird which can be hit by a love arrow. In another song the lover wishes that his beloved would hug him as a creeper hugs the tree:

O beloved!
Do not go far
You come around my body
Like a creeper
Climb on the tree
Come, hug me
Do not go away
As a bird’s wings are cut
I too have cut your wings
And put my heart in your heart
As the sun covers the earth
I too cover your body
Make you my earth
Sow the seed in you
Come, my lover
Come into my heart
Do not go away
O lover![14]

In this song the love has reached a stage where love and pain reach at the same point. The imagination of tree and creeper is a very popular image in letter literature. Tree is the symbol of the strongness of the lover and creeper shows the beauty and softness of the beloved. Woman is considered as the creeper. She must be soft, tender and dependable. The man always enjoys the dependence of the wife. Moreover when a climber climbs on the tree, it would not leave until it dried away. The same way in Indian society love remains even after death. The lovers never want to lose his beloved, that is he wants the beloved to keep in the cage of love. Woman is always compared with earth, because she has to be fertile like earth. The lover wants to sow the seed of love in his beloved. 

When love rips, the body becomes the instrument to express it.  The love without body is as unfilled as soul without body. The soul without body is never accepted in this world. They become the medium of fear. That is why the Vedic people could never ignore the body. 

My beloved
Wish for my body
Wish for my thigh
My eyes
With your loving eyes
Your hair
Burn me
Wish for my body
I fill you in my arms
I hug you
You come and live in my heart
In my work
O beloved!
Wish for me.
O beloved
You, who have a beautiful navel,
You, who have a healthy body
Made by cows' butter
You, bring your mind under my control
Follow me.[15]

When passion is uncontrolled, the lover cannot wait any more. If beloved is sleeping, he wants to wake her up and try to involve her in love play completely.

Get up my love
Do not sleep
I am waking you up
Your beloved
Hitting your heart
With the heavy sharp arrow of Kam
Drying your pious heart
Getting hit in the heart
Come soon, come
With a soft heart
Speaking sweet
Come near me
I got you from
Your father and mother
You help me in my work
Enter in my heart
Follow me
Come, soon
O beloved!
Do not remain sleeping
Come with love. [16]

The passion of the lover is outstanding in this hymn. This deepness of passion is only found in folk songs. These vedic hymns are very close to those folk songs.

In another hymn the same passion is expressed in a different manner. Here controlling the beloved is compared with horse keeping.

O beloved!
Let your mind go after me
Stay under me in my command
As a horse that is controlled by the horse keeper
always follows him,
O beloved! I catch your attention
as the keeper drags the horse with rope
Your mind should turn around my mind
as a straw spins in heavy wind,
O beautiful woman,
I massage the paste of
Anjana, Mayugha, Kootha and Nala on you
with my hands with a lot of fondness. [17]

At the end of the hymn the soft love is indicated when the lover wants to massage the past on beloved’s body. Because of this line this hymn was considered a magic hymn. But we see in kamsutra and songs related to Radha and Krishna that applying the sandalwood paste was one of the styles to show the love.

It is not necessary that lovers always maintain good relations. Sometimes they may have disputes. In this case, one has to try his best to talk and compromise. In later literature “Ma-Manoval” has an important place. Especially in Krishna-Radha songs, these types of songs have their own relevance.  In Atharvaveda we find this type of song        

As the string is removed from the bow
I am removing your anger
We must carry on our friendship
   and be able to work together. 
Being friends we work together
I remove your anger
keep under the heavy rock
stand on the rock, so that you can come
under my control
    and follow my mind.[18]

Sometimes the lover has to take the help of a medicinal plant 'sahastraparni' to overcome dispute. This hymn was taken as a mystic hymn by Bloomfield, but love itself is a disease and quarrel in love is very natural. So the lover is taking the help of the sahastraparni to win over his beloved's heart.

O sahastraparni!
Giving me good luck
You grow
Spreading thirty-three branches
O beloved!
With the thousand leaves
I dry up your heart
Let your heart and mouth dry up
In my love
O seven leaves!
You yellow, full of flower
Blissful climber!
look beautiful in jungle.
You dry up her heart
Attract her heart towards me
Let her dry up with passion for me
Join our heart,
As mongoose joins the snake
After cutting it to pieces[19]

 Love is never one-sided. The people down-to-earth are very realistic. They know that woman also loves a man with the same passion as man loves. There are very interesting hymns where a wife wants full control over her husband. For that she wants to take the help of some medicinal plant, so that her husband who is interested in another woman can come back. With the help of this medicine she wants to become the most loving wife. She insists that her husband state in the Sabha (court) that he loves his wife and will never go to any other woman.

I am digging this plant
With tears in my eyes
Let me see my lover
Let him come back, who has gone
This Asuri plant is so powerful
It could even help Indra.
To control all deities
I am using the same medicine
To get control over you.
You tell in court. That
You will remain always mine
Never go anywhere else.
Never sing songs for others
If you disappear, or
Go across the river
This medicine will bring you back tieing
And make you stand
In front of me. [20]

In another place, the wife digs the Virudha plant so that she can get rid of a co-wife. This mentality is also a different manner of love. The last line of the hymn is very interesting

I dig this medicine
So that I can have control over you
Let Your mind run after me
As calf runs after cow
As water hits the sides[21]

Enthusiasm in woman love poems is not less than the man's. There are some very strong love by woman poems in which passion is worth mentioning.

I sink you in love
From head to bottom
Let all deities passionate you
In my love
O Anumati goddess! help me
O Akuti goddess! help me
Let all deities passionate you
In my love
if walk away three yojana
or go away on horse back five yojana
you will come back to me
and become father of my sons[22]

Another song is like prayer. Wife is calling every deity to help her in getting back her love.

The kam which was thrown in water by all deities
I adore you with that passion of varuna.[23]

Lines of these songs are repeated several times using different deities. If we see the marriage songs in villages of north India, we find that there are several songs. In several places woman sing “tona” [village type of charm],  in these songs all the deities became very close to women of the house and help them to get power over the bridegroom as well as husbands of other woman. There used to be a ceremony called “natkhorana”. It takes place after men of the family left for a marriage procession with the bridegroom. Remaining women play different rolls. Some women dress up like men and some like women. Then they talk and sing songs in a language which cannot be accepted in normal cultured society. It means that when a woman gets a chance, she can express her passion as strongly as a man can do. This type of strong passion is available in Atharvedic songs.         

There are very lovely songs related to marriage ceremony in Rig Veda and Atharva Veda. One famous hymn describes the marriage of Surya with Soma. This text has two clear-cut divisions. The first part describes the cosmic relation and the second part uses metaphysical terms to indicate the central place accorded to man-woman relationship in the entire economy of the Universe.

By Truth is the Earth supported,

by the Sun is the Heaven supported,

by Cosmic Order the Adityas  stand

and Soma is set upon the sky. [24]        

 The Heaven and Earth can meet only at the horizon, light and darkness only in the twilight of morning or of evening, but this union is the symbol of real love. Human relation with the Universe is the core of poetry. In this relationship love has the most important place. Even though love has different dimensions, love between man and woman is most important in the human world. That is why man wants to see the whole universe in pairs. To expand his love he involves the whole Universe. The marriage between surya (the Sun bride) and Soma (the moon ) is the poetic expansion of love between man and woman. Later on, the moon and Sunrise (Ushas) became the symbol of love. Earth is considered as woman because of its fertile nature. Not only the universe, man involves the animal world also. In Atharvaveda also there are some hymns where birds and animals become the symbols of love:

Unite, O Lord, this couple like

a pair of Cakravaks

May they be surrounded by children,

living both happily and long.. [25]         

 At the end of marriage hymns in Atharvaveda there are beautiful lines, which could be very powerful poetry as well as philosophy of life.

                        I am he
                        You are she
                        I am song
                        You are verse
                        I am heaven
                        You are Earth
                        We two shall
                        here together dwell
                        becoming parents
                        of children[26]

Man and woman have different personalities. Most of the time the two personalities merge in each other. Sometimes the dominant partner wants to overpower the personality of the companion. In the later periods in Indian society the woman was expected to follow man by completely forgetting her identity. But the Vedic man accepts the different identity of his wife. For him the wife is as soft as a poem and he has to be as strong as systematic verse.  The wife has to look after family as the Earth does and He has to keep watch and support the wife as the sky or heaven looks after the Earth.  In spite of different personalities they have to go together and become the parents of children for the sake of society. This hymn can very well come in the category of the highest type of poetry.

Thus, the Vedic people developed a human relation basically related to love. Love had an important role in their society. Love was as natural as it could be. It talks about body, soul, relations, harmony and even jealousy and domination. Unfortunately these beautiful songs were taken as charms and considered as black magic, but the poetic value of these songs forces us to rethink on their literary merits.


[1] Rig-10.129.1,2,3,

[2] Rig- 10.129.4

[3] A.V.-19.52.1.

[4] A.V.19.52.2

[5] tvam kama sahasaasi- A.V.19.52.2

[6] Kamena ma Kam AAgan hridayadhridayam pari.A.V. 19.52.4.

[7] Kamo data, kamh pratigrahata. A.V. 3.29.7

[8] Ninth Chepter of Atharvaveda.

[9] kamo jagyo prathamo nainam deva aapuh pitaro na martyo. A.V. 9.2.19

[10] A.V. 1.34.1,2,3,4,5

[11] A.V.2/30./1,2,

[12] A.V.-2/30/3

[13] A.V.-2/30/4,5

[14] A.V.6/8/1-3

[15] A.V.6/ 8/1,2,3

[16] AV. 3.25.1-6

[17] AV. 6, 102,1-3

[18] AV-6.42.1-3

[19] Av. 6.139.1-5

[20] AV.7.38.1-5

[21] AV. 3.18.6

[22] AV. 6.131.1-3

[23] AV.6.132.1-5

[24] RV X,85 and AV-15.1.1, Translated by Remando Panikker.

[25] AV.15.2.64, Translated by Remando Panikker.

[26]  AV.15.2.71, Translated by Remando Panikker.