And those who ask me for “Why Fishes are not offered to Devas in Rg veda”

Pleistocene times — Rg vedic Times

By now, you should be familiar with the concept of Rg vedic civilization, which is fundamentally a river-based civilization. In the Rg Veda, there are no place names. However, neither the river civilization eat fish as their primary source of nutrition nor the devas/deities eat fish as their primary source of oblation. This is a frequently asked question.

Compare for the food staple in Rg veda

Imagery 1

The ritual offerings of flesh contemplate that the gods will eat it, and again the Brahmins ate the offerings. In Rv. viii. 43, 11, Agni is described as a “eater of ox and cow.” The context could simply be astronomical, implying that the vernal equinoctial point is regressing. It does, however, convey a glimpse of Māṃsa’s ritualistic sacrifices to Agni.

Māṃsaudana denotes in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa ; Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad; Śāṅkhāyana Āraṇyaka, xii. 8 a dish consisting of ‘meat cooked with rice.’

The slaughter of a hundred bulls (ukṣan) was credited to one sacrificer, Agastya (Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa, ii. 7, 11, 1; Pañcaviṃśa Brāhmaṇa, xxi. 14, 5.) Agastya is also associated with killing of all the beasts (mṛga) on this earth sitting at one place (this itself is an undecoded myth).

Imagery 2

Yet we don’t find the “Fishes” in “the food staple” or “offerings to the deities”. Valid question!

Mahseer, snow trout, and Indian hill trout are three important and common fish species found in India’s highland rivers today. Before the LGM, the late pleistocene had already densified the snow atop the Himalayan mountain range between 35,000 and 40,000 BCE. Since then, the Himalayan-fed waters have been bitterly cold, and they sounded similar to those of Dal Lake, which is home to snow trout (almost extinct due to polluted waters). In the Montaneous upper portions, where Rg vedic compiler’s culture lived, there are fewer chances of abundant fresh water fish.

The plains, too, experienced harsh climate after 40,000 B.P., and Thar — Maru was prevalent throughout Rajasthan’s Saraswati region. Prior to 40,000 years ago, the environment was savannah-like and still habitable. Thar dominates with intermediate wet spells, savanna and arid environments dating back from 200,000 years. We don’t locate any lithic assemblages in Thar after 40,000 years ago, even by the sides of Saraswati paleochannels, until 7000 BP. The Saraswat Brahman remember not having anna (possibly referring to Rice, Cows, and Horses) and having to relocate, but they survived on fishes before that.

During the year 7000 BP, the Rajasthani Saraswat rehabilitated Marwar at the advent of the wet phase. (Where did these people, such as Saraswats, Rajasthanis, Brahmans, Rajputs, Punjabis, and Haryana Jats, live between 40,000 and 7000 BP?) Saraswats’ ethnographic recollection of shifting time zones is similar to Balochis’ (Brahui-speaking people) ethnographic memory of arriving 500–700 years ago but most likely lived there for thousands of years. The lower plains had fish species similar to those present now, albeit in less numbers due to Thar’s environment, compared to the Helmand river system. The Helmand River system, unlike the eastern, western, and lower Himalayan Rivers, did not suffer (due to high glaciation from 40,000 yr BP to LGM times).

However, there was a period when the people shifted to the east at the Ganges and to the west at Helmand (i.e., Western Saraswati; am I offering answers to where the Jats went and where they sought refuge?) Don’t get the illusion that the Avestani memory Harouiiti — Helmand was the “central” Rg vedic Saraswati, which was the earth’s navel. Earlier the researchers have already messed up with this information.

c. 1890 Jaipur.

Fish (matsya-avatāra) is more akin to be remebered from the flooding times either in the past or posterior to LGM times. We already noted via study of names Shutudri and Shatadru how the Naiwals, i.e., new channels emerged and overpopulated the Shutudri tributaries of which some fed the River Saraswati again till 13,000 BCE and metamorphosed into Shatadru ( river of hundred channels) known to Ramayana.

And the final notings — The word Dhīvan appears in Atharva veda, close to fishermen’ (dhīvara), but neither fishing nor about its equipments are mentioned in Rg veda Samhita. This apparently suggest the upper valley inhabitations. One such example of earliest dwelling with a square hearth was from Upper-paleolithic site Riwat site 55 on Sushoma river from 45,000 Years before present.

Takeaways

Thus we can see that all these imageries points us to Upper Pleistocene & Paleolithic times which Rg vedic people were experiencing and indeed they were neither eating fish nor offering it to Gods. It appears that meat was abundant compared to fishes.

Don’t ask me about Matsya, a king’s name in Rg veda. Just as Vyāghrapāda doesn’t confirm the tigers in Rg veda likewise Matsya doesn’t corroborate Fish eating king. :)

I will discuss this later.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Rupa Bhaty

Architect and Adjunct Assistant Professor at School of Indic studies, Institute of Advanced Sciences, MA, USA