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Friday, January 17, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 1

Asya Vamasya Sukta. What is it? Who imagined it or heard it? What is it about? I am ready, with some trepidations, to tackle this profound text within the Rg Veda. But before we get there, a few words about Rg Veda itself.

It is obvious reading several portions of the Rg Veda that the rishis who “heard” or composed the hymns were worshiping devas (deities) related to various aspects of nature such as the sun and the rain and the clouds. The three major deities to whom a vast majority of hymns were addressed are agni (fire), Indra (?mitra-varuna), and surya. The request or appeal to the deities were for mundane worldly things like food, water, wealth and cattle, and occasionally to defeat the enemy or win a game of dice. The rishis were aware of immortality, but they were not asking for immortality for themselves.

Instead they, the wise ones, were in awe of nature. They marveled at the dependable rising and setting of the sun, cycles of season - particularly the rainy one - so essential for agriculture, appearance and disappearance of the moon, the starry sky and the milky way. They wondered how all of this came about, particularly LIFE.

Temples were non-existent then. Yagna or fire-sacrifice was the mode of worship. Vishnu and Shiva were not major deities at that time although their prototypes were present in the Vedas. The modern pantheon of gods came later with the puranas and emphasis on devotional approach (bhakti marga).

The wise seers, the sages of the Vedic religion gave us their intuitive insights in the form of hymns using simple words. As the language developed, they used different meters. They described the names, accomplishments of the deities, their physical qualities and personalities. It so happens that every deity had several functions and several names. For example, Agni has 34  names and Aditya or surya has 37 names as listed in Amarakosha. Surya or Aditya is addressed by different names depending on the time of the day. The names include Ushas (dawn), Savita (light is clearly there), Pushan (rays are breaking out), Vishnu (rays fully spread out),Vrishakapi (height of heat), Saranyu (evening) and Ratri (night).

They used simple words and simple language to describe what they saw and what they inferred. They saw a connection between the visible and the invisible, intuitively. They described them as metaphors and as corresponding elements in the world (prithvi) and the celestial world (dyau). They also imagined an intermediate world (antariksha). When they described fire (agni), it was agni in this world and the sun in the celestial world. In the middle world, it was lightning (vajra, Indra’s).

Asya Vamasya sukta is section 164 in Book 1 of Rg Veda and consists of 52 hymns. It is dedicated to several deities and is written in different meters. The authors name is Dirghatamas Auchatya; so says the text at the beginning of this section as codified by Sayanacharya. Sayanacharya lived in the 15th century as a minister in the Vijayanagara kingdom. His compilation and interpretation are the definitive texts for most of the recent translations.

This takes us to the way Rg Veda is arranged. Rg Veda has more than 1028 suktas, sub-sections of hymns with over 10,000 stanzas. They are arranged in different ways; the one I followed was arranged into 10 mandalas (circles), with subsections or anuvakas and then the suktas. Sukta, the Sanskrit word means “well-said”. Each sukta has several hymns which in Sanskrit is called Rk. It is also called mantra. When the word Rk is combined with the word Veda, Rk is written and pronounced as Rg, according to the rules of Grammar.

Each Sukta starts with a list of the name of the Rishi (seer) to whom it is attributed to as the originator, the meter or chandas in which it is written and the name of the deity to whom the sukta is addressed. Some suktas are addressed to several deities and written in different meters. This is what we see with Asya Vamasya Sukta, addressed to different deities in different meters by the rishi Dirghatamas.

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