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Friday, April 5, 2019

Vedic Rishis as Poets

In his book on The Artful Universe, William Mahoney points out that our rishis considered the universe as an artifact of Divine imagination and the gods themselves were the artists. The gods in turn express themselves through the imagination of the poets/seers who “know” the mystery intuitively through their “hearts and minds”.  This reciprocal relationship, the concordance between the cosmic, divine and the human runs through the entire Vedic mantras.

This is made possible because of the structure of the Sanskrit words based often on a root which is a verb. This is well-explained in the world’s first text on etymology, Nirukta. For example, the root verb for the name Vrtra is Vr to cover, or to grow. Therefore, it refers to the cloud. When the Vedic chants mention Vrtra, the rishis refer to the cloud according to the etymologists (nairuktas). Later came the pauranikas and aithikasikas, who imagined a serpent demon in the word Vrtra and wrote legends about that demon.

If we stay with the etymological interpretation, Rta is of the cosmic order. Brahman is of the divine, the intellect. They are mentioned in the Vedas. Prajapati is of the world and the body and came out of later ithihasa and purana (epics and legends) interpretations.

The Vedic seer is the rishi. The Vedic priest is agni. In the practice of the sacrifices (yagnas) explained in the Brahmanas, the advaryu is  for reciting the mantras, the udgita for the singing, the hotr for the performance of the ritual and the brahmana for silent supervision and for correcting errors. 

An example of relationship between the magic of the mantras and poetic structure, William Mahoney refers to Chandogya Upanishad 3:16:1-5. It says that man is indeed the sacrifice, just as Prajapati was. To reconstitute Prajapati who was broken up, one has to perform yagna every day. In the morning one has to use gayatri with 24 letters to correspond to the first 24 years of his life. In the afternoon trishtup mantra used with its 44 letters to correspond to the middle life. In the evening it is recitation of mantras in the jagati meter with its 48 letters. 

In a hymn addressed to Varuna, the rishi-poet shows his gratitude and respect in the following words:  (Rg Veda 5:85:2).

SING forth a hymn sublime and solemn, grateful to glorious. Varuṇa, imperial Ruler,
Who hath struck out, like one who slays the victim, earth as a skin to spread in front of Sūrya.

 In the tree-tops the air he hath extended, put milk in kine and vigorous speed in horses,
Set intellect in hearts, fire in the waters, Surya in heaven and Soma on the mountain.

पर सम्राजे बर्हद अर्चा गभीरम बरह्म परियं वरुणाय शरुताय |
वि यो जघान शमितेव चर्मोपस्तिरे पर्थिवीं सूर्याय ||
वनेषु वय अन्तरिक्षं ततान वाजम अर्वत्सु पय उस्रियासु |
हर्त्सु करतुं वरुणो अप्स्व अग्निं दिवि सूर्यम अदधात सोमम अद्रौ ||

Another example is in Rg Veda (10:69:10) which says metaphorically that the poets hold lights in their mouths.

When he had won him every sort of booty and gone to heaven and its most lofty mansions,
Men praised Bṛhaspati the Mighty, bringing the light within their mouths from sundry places.

यदा वाजमसनद विश्वरूपमा दयामरुक्षदुत्तराणिसद्म |बर्हस्पतिं वर्षणं वर्धयन्तो नाना सन्तोबिभ्रतो जयोतिरासा ||

Another poetic observation in Rg Veda 6:9:5 addressed to Agni as follows:

A firm light hath been set for men to look on: among all things that fly, the mind is swiftest.
All Gods of one accord, with one intention, move unobstructed to a single purpose.

धरुवं जयोतिर्निहितं दर्शये कं मनो जविष्ठं पतयत्स्वन्तः |
विश्वे देवाः समनसः सकेता एकं करतुमभिवि यन्ति साधु ||

The following examples show the seers comparing the art of making poetry to weaving and to building a chariot. From Rg Veda 2:28:5 to Varuna

Loose me from sin as from a bond that binds me: may we swell, Varuṇa, thy spring of Order.
Let not my thread, while I weave song, be severed, nor my work's sum, before the time, be shattered.

वि मच्छ्रथाय रशनामिवाग रध्याम ते वरुण खां रतस्य |
मा तन्तुश्छेदि वयतो धियं मे मा मात्रा शार्यपसः पुर रतोः ||

From Rg Veda 5:2:11 to Agni

As a skilled craftsman makes a car, a singer I, Mighty One! this hymn for thee have fashioned.
If thou, O Agni, God, accept it gladly, may we obtain thereby the heavenly Waters.

एतं ते सतोमं तुविजात विप्रो रथं न धीरः सवपा अतक्षम |
यदीद अग्ने परति तवं देव हर्याः सवर्वतीर अप एना जयेम ||

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