Property disputes in Vedas

24 February,2024 05:51 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Devdutt Pattanaik

In Aitreya Brahmana (2.25), there was once a race between the devas to get a share of the Soma

Illustration/Devdutt Pattanaik

Veda is 3,000 years old and is made up of poetry (mantra) and prose (brahmana). Within the prose we find stories (itihasa) about conflicts over resources between humans, between gods and sometimes between humans and gods. It makes us realise Vedic people had issues similar to contemporary issues. We still fight over resources.

For example, as per Jaiminiya Brahmana (1.184), the boy Trita was very talented and secured a lot of cows for his services. This made his two elder brothers jealous, who pushed him in a dry well and claimed the cows as their own. The boy then invoked the gods who saved him from the dry well, by causing rain to fall. The water level of the well rose, and the boy floated up. The brothers were cursed to become a bear and a monkey. The boy returned home with his cows.

As per Jaiminiya Brahmana (1.154-55), the asuras, rakshasas and pisachas were fighting the devas, the pitrs and the manavas. In this battle, the gandharvas refused to take part and take sides. At the end of the battle, the asuras were pushed under the earth, the rakshasas into the wilderness and pisachas into the darkness. The pitrs claimed the realm of stars, the devas claimed the sky, and the manavas claimed the earth. Then, the gandharvas asked for their share, and were told that they could not get a share, because they did not choose a side. Even today, when people don't take sides in a conflict or battle, people resent them and see them as opportunists and reject them like the gandharvas were, in Vedic times.

As per Jaiminya Brahmana (3.159), Saryata performed a sacrifice and squeezed soma juice and invited gods and sages to drink together. But here a dispute took place. Chyavana kept a share for the Ashwins, and this made Indra angry. A fight followed. Indra and Maruts attacked the sages, who created a demon called Mada, who scared the devas away. Later, the devas were appeased by the praise of Vidanvan. The demon had no place to go and so the sages put him inside wine and he became the demon of intoxication.

In Aitreya Brahmana (2.25), there was once a race between the devas to get a share of the Soma. In the race, Vayu won, Indra got second place. Indra begged Vayu to share the Soma with him, and after great many negotiations managed to get only a quarter of the Soma.

In Aitreya Brahmana (3.30), the Ribhus are asked to turn one cup into four cups. Ribhus are artisans who do this. In exchange, they ask for Soma. But the gods refuse to give them a share in the morning and in the afternoon rituals. Finally, Prajapati arrives and grants them a share in the evening ritual.

To get a fair share is the cause of most human conflicts. A share is called "bhaga" and a cut is called "bhag" in Sanskrit. From these words come the concept of bhagavan, or God, the one who apportions fairly. This idea emerged in the post Vedic period and is commonly applied to Vishnu. In the Puranas, composed after 500 AD, Vishnu gives Bali's kingdom as well as amruta to the devas. Devas do not share their fortune with asuras, their half-brothers, resulting in endless conflict between them.

The author writes and lectures on the relevance of mythology in modern times. Reach him at

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