The Atharvaveda (Sanskrit: अथर्ववेदः, atharvaveda, a tatpurusha compound of Atharvan, an ancient Rishi, and veda, meaning "knowledge") is a sacred text of Hinduism and one of the four Vedas, often called the "fourth Veda". According to tradition, the Atharvaveda was mainly composed by two groups of rishis known as the Atharvanas and the Angirasa, hence its oldest name is Ātharvāṅgirasa. In the Late Vedic Gopatha Brahmana, it is attributed to the Bhrigu and Angirasa. Additionally, tradition ascribes parts to other rishis, such as Kauśika, Vasiṣṭha and Kaśyapa. There are two surviving recensions (śākhās), known as Śaunakīya (AVS) and Paippalāda (AVP).
The Atharvaveda, while undoubtedly belonging to the core Vedic corpus, in some ways represents an independent parallel tradition to that of the Rigveda and Yajurveda. It incorporates much of the early traditions of healing and magic that are paralleled in other Indo-European literatures.
The Atharvaveda is less predominant than other Vedas, as it is little used in solemn (Shrauta) ritual. The largely silent Brahmin priest observes the procedures of the ritual and "heals" it with two mantras and pouring of ghee when a mistake occurs. An early text, its status has been ambiguous due to its magical character.
The Caraṇavyuha (attributed to Shaunaka) lists nine shakhas, or schools, of the Atharvaveda:
Of these, only the Śaunakīya (AVS), present in Gujarat, and the Paippalāda (AVP) recension in coastal Orissa have survived. Both have some later additions, but the core Paippalāda text is considered earlier than most of the Śaunakīya. Often in corresponding hymns, the two recensions have different verse orders, or each has additional verses not in the other.
Saṃhitāvidhi, Śāntikalpa and Nakṣatrakalpa are some of the five kalpa texts adduced to the Śaunakīya tradition and not separate schools of their own.
Two main post-Samhita texts associated with the AV are the Vaitāna Sūtra and the Kauśika Sūtra. The Vaitanasutra deals with the participation of the Atharvaveda priest (brahmán) in the Shrauta ritual, while the Kauśikasūtra contains many applications of Atharvaveda mantras in healing and magic. This serves the same purpose as the vidhāna of the Rigveda and is of great value in studying the application of the AV text in Vedic times. Several Upanishads also are associated with the AV, but appear to be relatively late additions to the tradition. The most important of these are the muṇḍaka and the praśna Upanishads. The former contains an important reference to Śaunaka, the founder of the Shaunakiya shakha, while the latter is associated with the Paippalādashakha.
It is conjectured that the core text of the Atharvaveda falls within the classical Mantra period of Vedic Sanskrit at the end of the 2nd millennium BCE - roughly contemporary with the Yajurvedamantras, the Rigvedic Khilani, and the Sāmaveda.
The Atharvaveda is also the first Indic text to mention iron (as krsna ayas, literally "black metal"), so that scholarly consensus dates the bulk of the Atharvaveda hymns to the early Indian Iron Age, corresponding to the 12th to 10th centuries BC, or the early Kuru kingdom.
Tradition suggests that Paippalāda, one of the early collators, and Vaidharbhī, one of the late contributors associated with the Atharvanic text, lived during the reign of prince Hiranyanabha of theIkshvāku dynasty.
The Shaunakiya text was edited by Rudolf Roth and William Dwight Whitney (Berlin, 1856), Shankar Pandurang Pandit in the 1890s (Bombay) and by Vishva Bandhu (Hoshiarpur, 1960–62). Translations into English were made by Ralph Griffith (2 vols., Benares 1897), D. Whitney (revised by Lanman, 2 vols, Cambridge, Mass. 1905), and M. Bloomfield (SBE Vol XLII); also see Bloomfield, "The Atharvaveda" in "Grundriss der Indoarischen Philologie", II (Strasburg, 1899).
The bulk of the Paippalāda text was edited by Leroy Carr Barret from 1905 to 1940 (book 6 by F. Edgerton, 1915) from a single Kashmirian Śāradā manuscript (now in Tübingen). This edition is outdated, since various other manuscripts were subsequently discovered in Orissa. Some manuscripts are in the Orissa State Museum, but many manuscripts are in private possession and are kept hidden by their owners.
In 1959 Durgamohan Bhattacharyya Professor at Sanskrit College, Calcutta could collect many manuscripts of the Paippalāda-Saṃhitā and its ancillary literature like the Āṅgirasakalpa after painstaking search over years in Orissa and South-West Bengal. Durgamohan Bhattacharyya’s discovery of a living tradition of the Paippalāda-Saṃhitā, unknown till then, was hailed in the Indological world as epoch making. Ludwig Alsdorf went so far as to say that it was the greatest event in Indology. Bhattacharyya died in 1965 leaving his edition of the text incomplete. This task was completed by Dipak Bhattacharya whose critical edition of the first 18 kāṇḍas published by the Asiatic Society, Calcutta came out in three volumes in 1997, 2008 and 2011.
Timeline of editions since the discovery of the Orissa tradition:
The current recitation style of this Veda mostly resembles the Rigvedic one.
The Shaunaka Shakha of the Atharvaveda is recited in western Saurastra, at Benares, Gokarna and, after a recent introduction from Benares, also in South India (Tirupati, Chidambaram, etc.). The Gokarna version follows the northern style, which resembles the way the Maharashtrians recite the Rigveda Samhita. In Varanasi, which derives its style from Gujarat, the way of recitation is little different. Similarly in South India, the Shaunaka Shaka is recited using the Rig Veda as a base, with minute variations in Kampa Svara.
The Paippalada Shakha of the Atharvaveda is recited in Orissa in samhita-patha, however not with typical Vedic svara ,, and in south Jharkhand districts by some migrants of Utkala Brahmins, while its Kashmir branch has been extinct for some centuries.
Courtesy : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atharvaveda