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Saturday, April 13, 2019

More Poetry and Mythology in the Rg Veda



When I started reading portions of Rg Veda with an eye to symbolic meanings and how they were interpreted later in the form of myths and puranas, I came across these three examples. These mantras were used by Yaskacharya in his book on Nirukta. He is looking at the meaning of the words from their verb roots. He is also explaining synonyms and homonyms.

The first example which impressed me was from Rg Veda 10:71:2 addressed to Brhaspati and Knowledge. In fact, the entire 10:71 is an amazing source of poetry with hints about the origin of the Vedas as “heard” by the rishis  and not “written”. This section is so important that Adi Shankara quotes this section in support of his assertion that the words of the mantras were heard by the rishis.

The word Vak which means both word and also Saraswathi is the central theme.

सक्तुमिव-तित-उना पुनन्तो यत्र धीरा मनसा वाचमक्रत |
अत्रा सखायः सख्यानि जानते भद्रैषांलक्ष्मीर्निहिताधि वाचि ||

In the second line you see the word Lakshmi, which is used here to indicate a “mark”. Yaska says that the word Lakshmi is so called because it is to be obtained (laabhaat) or it indicates a desire to obtain (lakshanaat) or marking (lapsyanaat). The root sound is lash meaning to desire or lag to cling or lajj meaning not to praise. A further note says that men who have Lakshmi do not praise themselves.

The meaning of this mantra is as follows according to one translation: (T H Griffith)

Where, like men cleansing corn-flour in a cribble, the wise in spirit have created language,
Friends see and recognize the marks of friendship: their speech retains the blessed sign imprinted.

In this we can see the poetic comparison of a mundane activity such as cleaning a food item with the way the wise rishis process words and language and give them to us.

Finally, we can also see the seeds of ideas for later mythologies of Saraswathi as the goddess of knowledge and Lakshmi as the goddess of wealth.

The next example is from Rg Veda 3:47:1  addressed to Indra

मरुत्वानिन्द्र वर्षभो रणाय पिबा सोममनुष्वधं मदाय |
सिञ्चस्व जठरे मध्व ऊर्मिं तवं राजासि परदिवः सुतानाम |

Prof. Griffith translates it as follows:

DRINK, Indra, Marut-girt, as Bull, the Soma, for joy, for rapture even as thou listest.
Pour down the flood of meath within thy belly: thou from of old art King of Soma juices.

The connection between the words and mythology are to be seen in the word vrishaba. Nirukta says that this word is derived from varshita apaam, that which brings down rain. The same word is also used to denote Indra. As mythology goes Indra killed the demon Vritra and brought rain to the dried-up earth. The word vrtra also stands for the cloud. Marut represents the wind. One can easily see the connections between Nature and mythology.

The final example is from Rg Veda 1:115:4  addressed to Surya

तत सूर्यस्य देवत्वं तन महित्वं मध्या कर्तोर्विततं सं जभार |
यदेदयुक्त हरितः सधस्थादाद रात्री वासस्तनुते सिमस्मै ||

This is the Godhead, this might of Sūrya: he hath withdrawn what spread o’er work unfinished.
When he hath loosed his Horses from their station, straight over all Night spreadeth out her garment.

The rishis imagine the world covered in darkness by a garment which is lifted when the Sun rises and rides on his chariot.

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