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Saturday, November 30, 2019

More Examples of Correspondence


Since I wrote the blog on Correspondences earlier this year, I have continued to read various texts on Rg Veda and Satapata Brahmana. After understanding the concepts of equivalence, correspondences and connections, I could see meaning in several more passages of these ancient texts. Now I also understand what is meant by the words “sa evam veda” (One who understands thus) which recurs so often in Vedic texts.

It appears that the Vedic rituals were designed to make connections between items of correspondence, between counterparts in the celestial world and the human world, between the mental and physical worlds, and between thoughts and actions. The counterparts are defined by similarities and resemblances.

When reading Vedic passages one can see attempts by the rishis to make connections between  corresponding elements on this earth, prithvi, the microcosm and in the world of the Gods, the sky or dyau, the macrocosm. According to the rishis, the orderly functioning of this world (dharma) depends on the order (rta) in the world of the gods. It appears that rituals were designed to make a connection between the cosmic order and the order in this world of nature and in the social structure. The sacrifice was one such ritual.

I learnt that the word Upanishad itself was used in Satapata Brahmana as referring to equivalence. S.B. 10:4,5 says that the function of the Upanishad is to formulate that Agni is the Aditya or the Sun (10: 4:5,1) and Agni is also the year(10:4:5,22). Then it says that “ his head is the spring, his right wing the summer, his left wing the rainy season, his middle body (trunk) the autumn season, and his tail and feet the winter and dewy seasons”. The intent of the rishis in making the connections are clear. In 10:4:5,33, the rishi equates the layers of bricks in the fire altar to the sacrificer and his mind (desires). 

The connections made between corresponding domains are clear in the following description of Asvamedha sacrifice. This section is in the beginning of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (1.1.1). “The head of the sacrificial horse is the dawn. The eye is the sun. Its vital force is the air. The open mouth is the internal heat (vaisvanara)…. The back is the heaven and the belly is the sky. The hoof is the earth…….The vessels (guda) are the rivers. … the hairs are the herbs…… Its yawning is lightning. Its shaking the boy is the thunder. Its making water is rain. Its neighing is the speech…”.   How much clearer can the connections be established?

Another example of correspondence refers to the Sapta Rishis (seven seers). Nirukta says that these rishis represent the rays of the sun in the celestial sphere of the deities. In the human sphere they stand for the six senses (eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue and the mind) and the soul (atman). (Lakshman Sarup, on The Nighantu and Nirukta. Motilal Banarsidaa Publishers, Delhi. 2009. Pages 195-196). Sapta Rishis also stand for a constellation (Ursula Major in the western system), seven rivers, seven levels of mind and beyond, seven colors of light and seven notes of sound.

Nirukta tries to decipher the meaning of Vedic mantras and mythologies and often gives one meaning “according to ritualist” and another “according to etymologists”.

One such example can be seen in the commonly used mantra in weddings. It is from Rg Veda 10:80:40 and 41. It says that the bride was first “married to” Soman, then to Gandharvo (two Asvins) and then to Agni before given to the human bridegroom. The meaning in correspondence is to say that a girl is under the protection of Soman or the moon during the early childhood of innocence. Next, she is under the protection of Gandharva during the age of enjoyment and play. When she attains puberty, she is under the protection of Agni, signifying passion until she goes under the protection of a human male.

The links can be made and are indeed made during rituals with postures and gestures. For example, in preparation for the sacrifice in olden days, the sacrificer had to retreat to a lonely hut and lie in a fetal position. He wore a white cloth over his head to “resemble” being hidden in amnion. Since the sacrificer wants to be like the devas (gods), he had to remain awake for several hours before the sacrifice, because Gods are always awake and vigilant.

Another example of correspondence lists Dawn, Sun, Wind and Fire in the earth (prithvi) and the corresponding deities in the celestial world namely Ushas, Aditya, Vayu and Agni. 

The links may even be based on words which sound similar. For example,  Ka is sukha for bliss and/or dukka or shoka for suffering. Ka is also Prajapati.

Since Prajapati is Time, seasons are Prajapati. So is mrtyu or death. Prajapati and Death are like twins. Prajapati eats mrtyu and makes death part of himself. Satapata Brahmana: 10.5.2.23 says: “Now, that man in yonder orb (of the sun), and this man in the right eye, are no other than Death; and he becomes the body (self) of him who knows this: whenever he who knows departs this world he passes into that body, and becomes immortal, for Death is his own self.”  (purusho mrityur├╗pah)

In the process of performing the rituals, the rishis saw the incongruities of killing of life. They gradually replaced the killing with chanting of mantras using sticks, clarified butter and grains and with rituals requiring internalization and mental activity. As they moved from the sacrifices of the Brahmanas with the meditations of the aranyakas and Upanishads, they internalized the external fire with internal ardor, tapas, intense mental activity. Satapata Brahmana says (11.2.6):  “He again draws in his breath: thereby he establishes that (fire) in his innermost soul; and that fire thus becomes established in his innermost soul.”

Thus it is that meditation as a mental activity trying to imagine, intuit and experience the links between the visible and the invisible, the immanent and the transcendent, the mundane and the divine and also between different levels of reality replaced the sacrifices which only the elite, the rich and the kings could perform.

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