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Friday, May 29, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 17

Mantra 45:  “Speech has been determined to be made of four parts. Intelligent/ wise/ learned Brahmanas know them. Three of them do not move and are hidden. Man speaks only the fourth part.”

In the Vedas, Vac is next in importance to Brahman. It is not surprising since it is speech that made it possible for the rishis to express their thoughts and imaginations. If Brahman is the male (or Purusha of later philosophies), Vac is the female part (or Prakriti of later concepts).

But, what does Dirghatamas mean by “four parts” of speech? In later philosophies, speech is said to be an outcome of paraa, pashyanti,madhyama and Vaikari. In fact, any sound is made of these parts. Vaikari, which means articulated utterance, is the only the final outside part.  Paraa is the first stage when it is just a thought. Pashyanti is the stage when the thought gets activated to produce sound (naadam). Madhyama is when the effort to produce sound comes against the throat, mouth, tongue and teeth to make the actual sound/ or speech. Finally comes vaikari.

The problem is that I do not know whether these ideas were known at the time of Dirghatamas. If not, what did he mean by “four parts”? He still could have thought of several stages  between the time one wants to make a sound and actually makes it.

In addition, he refers to Brahmana, which is the name for one of the four priests of sacrifices in those days. Three of them (Hotr, advaryu and saman) were performing the sacrifice, when the Brahmana was always practicing silence, just observing and making sure the rituals were performed correctly and no mistakes were made in recitation or practice. Did Dirghatamas refer to these four?

Mantra 46:  This is one of the most famous passages from all the Vedas. The well-known statement "Ekam satyam, vipra bahudha vadanti" is from this mantra. It reads as follows:

“They call that Divine Golden Wing Garutman (Dictionary meaning of garutman includes bird and fire), Indra, Mitra, Varuna and Agni. The sages speak of the One by many names such as Agni, Yama and Matarishvan (Vayu).”

(“He is one; the sages call Him by many names” is the famous quote from Rg Veda)

Garutman, if interpreted as Fire can be correct since Agni is considered the primary deva, the leader of sacrifice in the Vedas. If interpreted as bird, I do not know what it might have meant to the poet. Did he imagine Brahman as a golden-winged bird?

Mantra 47: “The cow-pen (niyaanam) is dark. The rays are golden. (or the birds are golden-winged). Robed in waters they fly to heaven. From the region enveloped by Vrtra (aavavrtran)  they come again and again following cosmic order( rta). The earth is moistened with sprinkles (ghrta).”

Is the poet referring to the clouds  when he says “cow-pen” since it  is symbolically referred to as the place where  cows were hidden by Ila and Indra released them? The golden colored bird may be the sun. The second line seems to suggest the seasonal return of rainclouds and rain. One meaning of ghrita is sprinkling and Rg Veda itself refers to pouring ghee into Agni as similar to rain.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 16

Mantra 42:  “The oceans flow from her; The four regions of space (cardinal directions) are sustained by her. The imperishable akshara becomes kshara; the cosmos is sustained.”

Akshara suggests alphabets and therefore the entire hymn may be addressed to Vac, speech. But, it is more logical to see this hymn being addressed to Divine Mother, or Brahman from whom/which all of the waters and the space came. Also, akshara means something from which nothing can be removed; something that does not diminish. That can be only Brahman, the Primordial Force. And, kshara is the material world, which can decay and diminish.

Some interpreters consider this hymn being addressed to vac, speech. But the explanations they give to explain words such as akshara and kshara and Samudra seem farfetched to me , considering that Dirghatamas lived long before such explanations were possible.

Mantra 43:  This is a puzzling hymn, difficult to understand. For one thing, the rishi uses the word “shakamayam”. The only meaning I can find is that it stands for something coming out of excretion. Therefore, two interpreters translate it to mean “cow dung”.

He uses other words which are also difficult to grasp. For example, the word Ukshana means sprinkled, consecrated. Prushni may mean spotted as an adjective; but as feminine noun this word may mean ray of light, earth, cloud, milk and the starry sky.

The hymn translates as follows, according to my non-scholarly understanding. “ I see smoke from afar, coming out of excretion. It is smoldering between (or at the center of) heaven and earth. They cook the spotted bull or they see (not apachyanta; apashyanta) the consecrated cloud (or earth or the rays of light). That was the custom in the beginning.”

 What is the poet referring to? May be, he is talking about the appearance of the sun in the sky from amidst smoke and clouds? Or, is he talking about a sacrifice in which the “divine person” comes through in the middle through smoke and fire? How do we make sense of the word “shakamayam”, if the meaning is really cow dung?  May be, the poet has used some other word and it got corrupted?

My note: I woke up one morning and realized that I should look for internal consistency and continuity of ideas to understand this puzzling hymn number 43. The preceding Hymn 42 refers to the cosmos and mentions oceans, earth, imperishable and the cosmos. The next Hymn 44 mentions(rather, implies)  components of cosmos such as agni, apah and vayu and probably Aditya or surya. Therefore, going back to hymn 43, it is possible that the poet was referring to the sun seen through the clouds and the rays (prishni) coming through the clouds(ukshana). Or, the fire in the sacrificial altar seen through the smoke in this world and the sun’s rays coming through the clouds in the sky.

Mantra 44: “Three deities with matted hair appear in ordered seasons. One of them sows (or cuts) (vapati) in these yearly cycles (samvatsare). With his powers one sees (supports) the universe. By its activity (shachibih) and its impulse or power (dhrajih), one is seen; but not His form.”

One meaning of Samvatsara is the first year in a cycle of five years, which might have been the custom in the days of Dirghatamas.

This hymn probably refers to the rta or rhythmic cycles of season and years and the three deities with matted locks may refer to agni-apah-and vayu or to Aditya. In some places agni-apah-and vayu are referred to as Aditya. Aditya also meant the Sun and his rays are often referred to as his hair. In specific seasons, which depend on the sun, people sow seeds or reap the harvest.

The hymn also implies that behind this visible universe is an unseen force which drives. We know of its presence by its activities and its powers, but we do not see his form. This must imply the Primordial Source of it all, Brahman.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 15

Mantra 39: “All the gods have taken their seat upon the Supreme, Imperishable One (akshare) in the Veda. What will one who does not know this do, with the Veda? But they who know have assembled.”

They who know must mean all the rishis and the devas such as Indra, Varuna etc.,

Mantra 40: “She became glorious (bhagavati) because of the sacrifice (suyavasat; suya also means soma). O, Divine Cow, (aghnye) eat the grass and drink the water at all seasons, roaming at will.”

This mantra seems to be addressed to the Divine Mother to bestow us with riches. Also refers to sacrifice as a way to please her. And to endow us, her children, with food and water in plenty.

Mantra 41: The mantra is: “Gowri has fashioned out of water (or, making sounds with water), has formed one-footed, two-footed, four-footed, eight-footed and nine-footed. She is thousand-syllabled (sahasrakshara) in the highest heaven (parame vyoman).”

Gowri has several meanings: a young virgin, wife of Varuna, earth and speech (vac). Later, this term was also applied to Parvathi. Is the word Gowri applied to Divine Mother or to Mother Earth who has given birth to all kinds of creatures and as one who has become thousands?

May be, the poet is using the word Gowri to apply to Vac, Goddess of Speech (later became Saraswati). In that case the two footed, four-footed etc., may apply to the meters (chandas) of Vedic hymns and to speech in general with thousands of letters and syllables.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Happy Mother's Day

Wishing all the mothers a Happy Mother’s Day. 

During my first year of residence in this country, two celebrations attracted my attention. One was the Thanksgiving Day (1958). The other was the Mother’s Day (1959). Following the ideas of Scott Momaday, I have wondered about a shared festival for all of humanity, one that any one from any nation and any faith tradition can celebrate. Mother’s Day and Thanksgiving Day fit the bill perfectly: One to celebrate and thank our own mothers and the other to celebrate and thank Mother Nature.

Did you know that one Ms. Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia started it all in 1905?  Due to her efforts, the first state to adopt it was West Virginia followed by Pennsylvania. In 1914, a resolution was passed by the Congress to observe Mother’s Day throughout the United States. Ms. Jarvis lived to see it happen, but we are told that when the day became uncontrollably commercialized, she felt bitter for having started it all.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 14

Mantra 36: “ The seed of the universe is made of the seven sons of the half (ardha). They maintain their functions through Vishnu’s command. The omnipresent ones, endowed with wisdom, surround us on all sides through their intelligence and thought.”
What does ardha, or half mean? Most likely, it means the invisible, the transcendent half. Who are the seven sons? Most likely, they represent matter with five elements, life and mind.  Vishnu, as we know now was not the same in those days. Vishnu was one of the 12 adityas and may stand for Sun, the Aditya. Or, is the poet referring to the sapta rishis, sons of Angirasa?
Mantra 37: The poet says: “ I do not know who or what I am”. Actually, the words can be interpreted to mean “I do not know whether I am the same as cosmos” (yad idam yeva asmi). The poet goes on to say: “ yet I am wandering around tied to this mystery (ninnyah samviddho).”
“When the first-born rta reached me, then I obtained a portion of Vac”. May be, he is saying that “when the consciousness reached me, or when I got endowed with consciousness, I obtained the power of speech.”
Rta is universal order. The rishi is recounting the appearance of human life and the associated powers of consciousness and speech that makes it possible for him to express his doubts and sense of mystery in words.
Mantra 38: The meaning of this hymn is straight forward and refers to the rta.
“ Driven by its own energy, the immortal which shares a common womb with the mortal, moves rhythmically, ceaselessly. They see the one but not the other.”
It appears that the rishi is talking about the rhythmic nature of phenomena such as sun rising and setting, life coming and going endlessly. He also suggests that life and death are part of the same rhythmic order. We see this visible world, this impermanent matter. We fail to see the force behind it – the immortal, the invisible.
Birth and death are parts of individual beings. Life and Consciousness as phenomena are parts of the Cosmos. It is the natural order.