object:1.08 - The Gods of the Veda - The Secret of the Veda
book class:Vedic and Philological Studies
author class:Sri Aurobindo
subject class:Integral Yoga
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The Gods of the Veda
An enquiry into the true significance of the hymns of the Rigveda
The Vedas are the roots of Indian civilisation and the supreme authority in Indian religion. For three thousand years, by the calculation of European scholars, for a great deal more, in all probability, the faith of this nation, certainly one of the most profound, acute and intellectual in the world, has not left its hold on this cardinal point of belief. Its greatest and most rationalistic minds have never swerved from the national faith. Kapila held to it no less than Shankara. The two great revolted intellects, Buddha and Brihaspati, could not dethrone the Veda or destroy Indias spiritual allegiance. India by an inevitable law of her being casts out, sooner or later, everything that is not Vedic. The Dhammapada has become a Scripture for foreign peoples. Brihaspatis strictures are only remembered as a curiosity of our intellectual history. Religious movements & revolutions have come & gone or left their mark but after all and through all the Veda remains to us our Rock of the Ages, our eternal foundation.
Yet the most fundamental and important part of this imperishable Scripture, the actual hymns and mantras of the Sanhitas, has long been a sealed book to the Indian mind, learned or unlearned. The other Vedic books are of minor authority or a secondary formation. The Brahmanas are ritual, grammatical & historical treatises on the traditions & ceremonies of Vedic times whose only valueapart from interesting glimpses of ancient life & Vedantic philosophylies in their attempt to fix and to interpret symbolically the ritual of Vedic sacrifice. The Upanishads, mighty as they are, only aspire to bring out, arrange philosophically in the language of later thinking and crown with the supreme name of Brahman the eternal knowledge enshrined in the Vedas. Yet for some two thousand years at least no Indian has really understood the Vedas. Or if they have been understood, if Sayana holds for us their secret, the reverence of the Indian mind for them becomes a baseless superstition and the idea that the modern Indian religions are Vedic in their substance is convicted of egregious error. For the Vedas Sayana gives us are the mythology of the Adityas, Rudras,Maruts, Vasus,but these gods of the Veda have long ceased to be worshipped,or they are a collection of ritual & sacrificial hymns, but the ritual is dead & the sacrifices are no longer offered.
Are we then to conclude that the reverence for the Vedas & the belief in the continued authority of the Vedas is really no more than an ancient superstition or a tradition which has survived its truth? Those who know the working of the human mind, will be loth to hasten to that conclusion. Great masses of men, great nations, great civilisations have an instinct in these matters which seldom misleads them. In spite of forgetfulness, through every misstatement, surviving all cessation of precise understanding, something in them still remembers their origin and holds fast to the vital truth of their being. According to the Europeans, there is a historical truth at the basis of the old persistent tradition, but a historical truth only, a truth of origin, not of present actuality. The Vedas are the early roots of Indian religion, of Indian civilisation; but they have for a long time past ceased to be their present foundation or their intellectual substance. It is rather the Upanishads & the Puranas that are the living Scriptures of mediaeval and modern Hinduism. But if, as we contend, the Upanishads & the Puranas only give us in other language, later symbols, altered forms of thought the same religious truths that we find differently stated in the Rigveda, this shifting of the immediate point of derivation will make no real difference. The waters we drink are the same whether drawn at their clear mountain sources or on their banks in the anchorites forest or from ghats among the faery temples and fantastic domes of some sacred city.The Hindus belief remains to him unshaken.
But in the last century a new scholarship has invaded the country, the scholarship of aggressive & victorious Europe, which for the first time denies the intimate connection and the substantial identity of the Vedas & the later Scriptures. We ourselves have made distinctions of Jnanakanda & Karmakanda, Sruti & Smriti, but we have never doubted that all these are branches of a single stock. But our new Western Pandits & authorities tell us that we are in error. All of us from ancient Yajnavalkya to the modern Vaidika have been making a huge millennial mistake. European scholarship applying for the first time the test of a correct philology to these obscure writings has corrected the mistake. It has discovered that the Vedas are of an entirely different character from the rest of our Hindu development. For our development has been Pantheistic or transcendental, philosophical, mystic, devotional, sombre, secretive, centred in the giant names of the Indian Trinity, disengaging itself from sacrifice, moving towards asceticism. The Vedas are naturalistic, realistic, ritualistic, semi-barbarous, a sacrificial worship of material Nature-powers, henotheistic at their highest, Pagan, joyous and self-indulgent. Brahma & Shiva do not exist for the Veda; Vishnu & Rudra are minor, younger & unimportant deities. Many more discoveries of a startling nature, but now familiar to the most ignorant, have been successfully imposed on our intellects. The Vedas, it seems, were not revealed to great & ancient Rishis, but composed by the priests of a small invading Aryan race of agriculturists & warriors, akin to the Greeks & Persians, who encamped, some fifteen hundred years before Christ, in the Panjab.
With the acceptance of these modern opinions Hinduism ought by this time to have been as dead among educated men as the religion of the Greeks & Romans. It should at best have become a religio Pagana, a superstition of ignorant villagers. Itis, on the contrary, stronger & more alive, fecund & creative than it had been for the previous three centuries. To a certain extent this unexpected result may be traced to the high opinion in which even European opinion has been compelled to hold the Vedanta philosophy, the Bhagavat Gita and some of the speculationsas the Europeans think themor, as we hold, the revealed truths of the Upanishads. But although intellectually we are accustomed in obedience to Western criticism to base ourselves on the Upanishads & Gita and put aside Purana and Veda as mere mythology & mere ritual, yet in practice we live by the religion of the Puranas & Tantras even more profoundly & intimately than we live by & realise the truths of the Upanishads. In heart & soul we still worship Krishna and Kali and believe in the truth of their existence. Nevertheless this divorce between the heart & the intellect, this illicit compromise between faith & reason cannot be enduring. If Purana & Veda cannot be rehabilitated, it is yet possible that our religion driven out of the soul into the intellect may wither away into the dry intellectuality of European philosophy or the dead formality & lifeless clarity of European Theism. It behoves us therefore to test our faith by a careful examination into the meaning of Purana & Veda and into the foundation of that truth which our intellect seeks to deny [but] our living spiritual experience continues to find in their conceptions. We must discover why it is that while our intellects accept only the truth of Vedanta, our spiritual experiences confirm equally or even more powerfully the truth of Purana. A revival of Hindu intellectual faith in the totality of the spiritual aspects of our religion, whether Vedic, Vedantic, Tantric or Puranic, I believe to be an inevitable movement of the near future.
There has already been, indeed, a local movement towards the rehabilitation of the Veda. Swami Dayananda, the founder of the Arya Samaj, preached a monotheistic religion founded on a new interpretation of the sacred hymns. But this important attempt, successful & vigorous in the Panjab, is not likely to command acceptance among the more subtle races of the south & east. It was based like the European rendering on a system of philology,the Nirukta of Yaska used by the scholastic ingenuity & robust faith of Dayananda to justify conclusions far-reaching & even extravagant, to which it is difficult to assent unless we are offered stronger foundations.Moreover, by rejecting the authority of all later Scriptures and scouting even the Upanishads because they transcend the severity of his monotheistic teaching, Dayananda cut asunder the unity of Hindu religion even more fatally than the Europeans & by the slenderness of vision & the poverty of spiritual contents, the excessive simplicity of doctrine farther weakened the authority of this version for the Indian intellect. He created a sect & a rendering, but failed to rehabilitate to the educated mind in India the authority of the Vedas. Nevertheless, he put his finger on the real clue, the true principle by which Veda can yet be made to render up its long-guarded secret. A Nirukta, based on a wider knowledge of the Aryan tongues than Dayananda possessed, more scientific than the conjectural philology of the Europeans, is the first condition of this great recovery. The second is a sympathy & flexibility of intelligence capable of accepting passively & moulding itself to the mentality of the men of this remote epoch.
If indeed the philology of the Europeans were an exact science or its conclusions inevitable results from indisputable premises, there would be no room for any reopening of the subject. But the failure of comparative philology to develop a sound scientific basis & to create a true science of language has been one of the conspicuous intellectual disappointments of the nineteenth century. There can be no denial of that failure. This so-called science is scouted by scientific minds and even the possibility of an etymological science has been disputed. The extravagances of the philological sun myth weavers have been checked by a later method which prefers the evidence of facts to the evidence of nouns & adjectives. The later ethnological theories ignore the conclusions & arguments of the philologists. The old theory of Aryan, Semite, Dravidian & Turanian races has everywhere been challenged and is everywhere breached or rejected. The philologists have indeed established some useful identities and established a few rules of phonetical modification and detrition. But the rest is hypothesis and plausible conjecture. The capacity of brilliant conjecture, volatile inference and an ingenious imagination have been more useful to the modern Sanscrit scholar than rigorous research, scientific deduction or patient and careful generalisation. We are therefore at liberty even on the ground of European science & knowledge to hesitate before the conclusions of philological scholarship.
But for my own part I do not hold myself bound by European research&European theories.My scepticism of nineteenth century results goes farther than is possible to any European scepticism. The Science of comparative religion in Europe seems to me to be based on a blunder. The sun & star theory of comparative mythology with its extravagant scholastic fancies & lawless inferences carries no conviction to my reason. I find in the Aryan & Dravidian tongues, the Aryan and Dravidian races not separate & unconnected families but two branches of a single stock. The legend of the Aryan invasion & settlement in the Panjab in Vedic times is, to me, a philological myth. The naturalistic interpretation of theVedas I accept only as a transference or adhyaropa of European ideas into the Veda foreign to the mentality of the Vedic Rishis & Max Mullers discovery of Vedic henotheism as a brilliant & ingenious error. Whatever is sound & indisputable in European ideas & discoveries, I am bound to admit & shall use, but these large generalisations & assumptions ought, I think, no longer to pass current as unchallengeable truth or the final knowledge about the Vedas. My method is rather to make a tabula rasa of all previous theories European or Indian & come back to the actual text of the Veda for enlightenment, the fundamental structure & development of the old Sanscrit tongue for a standard of interpretation and the connection of thought in the hymns for a guide to their meaning. I have arrived as a result at a theory of the Vedic religion, of which this book is intended to give some initial indications.
I put aside at the beginning the common assumption that since religion started from the fears & desires of savages a record of religion as ancient as the Vedas must necessarily contain a barbarous or semi-barbarous mythology empty of any profound or subtle spiritual & moral ideas or, if it contains them at all, that it must be only in the latest documents. We have no more right to assume that the Vedic Rishis were a race of simple & frank barbarians than to assume that they were a class of deep and acute philosophers. What they were is the thing we have to discover and we may arrive at either conclusion or neither, but we must not start from our goal or begin our argument on the basis of our conclusion. We know nothing of the history & thought of the times, we know nothing of the state of their intellectual & social culture except what we can gather from the Vedic hymns themselves. Indications from other sources may be useful as clues but the hymns are our sole authority.
The indications from external sources are few and inconclusive, but they are by no means favourable to the theory of a materialistic worship of Nature-Powers. The Europeans start with their knowledge of the old Pagan worship, their idea of the crudity of early Greek & German myth & practice and their minds naturally expect to find & even insist on finding an even greater crudity in the Vedas. But it must not be forgotten that in no written record of Greek or Scandinavian do the old religions appear as mere materialistic ideas or the old gods as mere Nature forces; they have also a moral significance, and show a substratum of moral and an admixture even of psychological & philosophical ideas. If in their origin, they were material and barbarous, they had already been moralised & intellectualised. Already even in Homer Pallas Athene is not the Dawn or any natural phenomenon, but a great preterhuman power of wisdom, force & intelligence; Apollo is not the Sunwho is represented by another deity, Heliosbut a moral or moralised deity. In the Veda, even in the European rendering, Varuna has a similar moral character and represents ethical & religious ideas far in advance of any that we find in the Homeric cult & ethics. We cannot rule out of court the possibility that others of the gods shared this Vedic distinction or that, even perhaps in their oldest hymns, the Indians had gone at least as far as the Greeks in the moralising of their religion.
Moreover, even their moralised gods were only the superficial & exterior aspect of the Greek religion. Its deeper life fed itself on the mystic rites of Orpheus, Bacchus, the Eleusinian mysteries which were deeply symbolic and remind us in some of their ideas & circumstances of certain aspects of Indian Yoga. The mysticism & symbolism were not an entirely modern development. Orpheus, Bacchus & Demeter are the centre of an antique and prehistoric, even preliterary mind-movement. The element may have been native to Greek religious sentiment; it may have been imported from the East through the Aryan races or cultures of Asia Minor; but it may also have been common to the ancient systems of Greece & India. An original community or a general diffusion is at least possible. The double aspect of exoteric practice and esoteric symbolism may have already been a fundamental characteristic of the Vedic religion. Is it entirely without significance that to the Vedic mind men were essentially manu, thinkers, the original father of the race was the first Thinker, and the Vedic poets in the idea of their contemporaries not merely priests or sacred singers or wise bards but much more characteristically manishis & rishis, thinkers & sages?We can conceive with difficulty such ideas as belonging to that undeveloped psychological condition of the semi-savage to which sacrifices of propitiation & Nature-Gods helpful only for material life, safety & comfort were all-sufficient. Certainly, also, the earliest Indian writings subsequent to Vedic times bear out these indications. To the writers of the Brahmanas the sacrificial ritual enshrined an elaborate symbolism. The seers of the Upanishad worshipped Surya & Agni as great spiritual & moral forces and believed the Vedic hymns to be effective only because they contained a deep knowledge & a potent spirituality. They may have been in errormay have been misled by a later tradition or themselves have read mystic refinements into a naturalistic text. But also & equally, they may have had access to an unbroken line of knowledge or they may have been in direct touch or in closer touch than the moderns with the mentality of the Vedic singers.
The decision of these questions will determine our whole view of Vedic religions and decide the claim of the Veda to be a living Scripture of Hinduism. It is of primary importance to know what in their nature and functions were the gods of the Veda. I have therefore made this fundamental question form the sole subject matter of the present volume. I make no attempt here to present a complete or even a sufficient justification of the conclusions which I have been led to. Nor do I present my readers with a complete enquiry into the nature & functions of the Vedic pantheon. Such a justification, such an enquiry can only be effected by a careful philological analysis & rendering of the Vedic hymns and an exhaustive study of the origins of the Sanscrit language. That is a labour of very serious proportions & burdened with numerous difficulties which I have begun and hope one day to complete myself or to leave to others ready for completion. But in the present volume I can only attempt to establish a prima facie [case] for a reconsideration of the whole question. I offer the suggestion that the Vedic creed & thought were not a simple, but a complex, not a barbarous but a subtle & advanced, not a naturalistic but a mystic & Vedantic system.
It is necessary, in order that the reader may follow my arguments with a better understanding, to sketch briefly the important lines of that system as it reveals itself in the ten mandalas of the Rigveda. Its fundamental conception was the unity in complexity of the apparent universe. The Vedic mind, looking out on the great movement of material forces around it, aware of their regularity, law, universality, saw in them symbols and expressions of a diviner life behind. Everywhere they felt the presence of intelligence, of life, of a soul. But they did not make the common distinction between soul and matter. Matter was to them itself a term and expression of the life and soul they had discovered. It was this peculiarity of thought which constituted the essential characteristic of the Vedic outlook and has stood at the root and basis of all Indian thought and religion then & subsequently.
Nevertheless existence is not simple in its infinite oneness. Matter is prithivi, tanu or tanva (terra), a wide yet formal extension of being; but behind matter and containing it is a term of being, not formal though instrumentally creative of form, measuring & containing it, mind, mati or manas. Mind itself is biune in movement, modified mind working in direct relation to material life (anu, the Vedantic prana) and moulding itself to its requirements in order to seize and enjoy it, and pure mind above and controlling it. For each of these three subjective principles there must exist in the nature of things an objective world in which it fulfils its tendencies and in which beings of that particular order of consciousness can live and manifest themselves. The three worlds, tribhuvana, trailokya are called in Vedic terminology, Bhu, the material world, Bhuvar, the intermediate world and Swar, the pure blissful mental world,Bhur, Bhuvar, Swar, earth, the lower heavens and paradise, are the three sacred & mighty vyahritis of the Veda, and the great Vedic formula OM Bhur Bhuvah Swah expressive of our manifest existence triply founded in matter, mind-in-sense & vital movement and pure mind, still resounds in the Indian consciousness & comes with a solemnity, ill-understood but felt, to the descendants of the ancient Rishis. They persist in later belief as three inferior worlds of the Purana, constituents of the aparardha, or lower hemisphere of conscious existence, in which the Vedantic principles of matter, life & mind, anna, prana and manas severally predominate and determine the conditions of existence. Bhuvar & Swar are the two heavens, the double firmament, ubhe rodasi so frequently mentioned in the sacred verses.
But why, it might be asked, should each subjective order or stratum of consciousness necessarily involve the co-existence of a corresponding order of beings & objective world-stratum? For the modern mind, speculative & introspective like the Vedic, is yet speculative within the limits of sensational experience and therefore unable to believe in, even if it can conceive of existence, least of all of an objective existence under conditions different from those [with] which we are familiar and of which our senses assure us. We may therefore admit the profundity & subtlety of the subjective distinction, but we shall be apt to regard the belief in objective worlds & beings unseen by our senses as either an early poetic fancy or a crude superstition of savages. But the Vedic mentality, although perfectly rational, stood at the opposite pole of ideas from the modern and its subjective consciousness admitted a class of experiences which we reject and cut short the moment they begin to present themselves by condemning them as hallucinations. The idea of modern men that the ancients evolved their gods by a process of poetic imagination, is an error due to inability to understand an alien mentality & unwillingness to investigate from within those survivals of it which still subsist though with difficulty under modern conditions. Encouraging this order of phenomena, fostering & developing carefully the states of mind in which they were possible and the movements of mind & sense by which they were effected, the Vedic Rishis saw and communed with the gods and threw themselves into the worlds of which they had the conception. They believed in them for the same reason that Joan of Arc believed in her saints & her voices, Socrates in his daemon or Swedenborg in his spirits, because they had constant experience of them and of the validity both of the experiences and of the instruments of mind & sense by which they were maintained in operation. They would have answered a modern objector that they had as good a proof of them as the scientist has of the worlds & the different orders of life revealed to his optical nerve by microscope & telescope. Some of them might even question whether these scientific discoveries were not optical illusions due to the excitation of the nerve by the instruments utilised! We may, similarly, get rid of the Vedic experiences, disbelieve and discount them, saying that they missed one essential instrument of truth, the sceptical distrust of their instruments,but we cannot argue from them in the minds that received them a childish irrationality or a savage superstition. They trusted, like us, their experience, believed their mind & senses and argued logically from their premisses.
It is true that apart from these experiences the existence of various worlds & different orders of beings was a logical necessity of the Vedic conception of existence. Existence being a life, a soul expressing itself in forms, every distinct order of consciousness, every stratum or sea of conscious-being (samudra, sindhu, apah as the Vedic thinkers preferred to call them) demanded its own order of objective experiences (lokas, worlds), tended inevitably to throw itself into forms of individualised being (vishah, ganah, prajah). Moreover, in a world so conceived, nothing could happen in this world without relation to some force or being in the worlds behind; nor could there be any material, vital or mental movement except as the expression of a life & a soul behind it. Everything here must be supported from the worlds of mind or it could not maintain its existence. From this idea to the peopling of the world with innumerable mental & vital existences,existences essentially vital like the Naiads, Dryads, Nereids, Genii, Lares & Penates of the Greeks and Romans, the wood-gods, river-gods, house-gods, tree-deities, snake-deities of the Indians, or mental like the intermediate gods of our old Pantheon, would be a natural and inevitable step. This Animism is a remarkably universal feature in the religious culture of the ancient world. I cannot accept the modern view that its survival in a crude form among the savages, those waifs & strays of human progress, is a proof of their low & savage originany more than the peculiarly crude ideas of Christianity that exist in uneducated negro minds [and] would survive in a still more degraded form if they were long isolated from civilised life, would be a proof to future research that Christianity originated from a cannibal tribe on the African continent. The idea is essentially a civilised conception proceeding from keen susceptibility & only possible after a meditative dwelling upon Naturenot different indeed in rank & order from Wordsworths experience of Nature which no one, I suppose, would consider an atavistic recrudescence of old savage mentality,and impossible to the animal man. The dog & crow who reason from their senses, do not stand in awe of inanimate objects, or of dawn & rain & shine or expect from them favours.
But the great gods of the Veda belong to a higher order than these beings who attach themselves to the individual object and the particular movement. They are great world-powers; they support the wide laws & universal functions of the world. Their dwelling-place is in Swar, the world of pure mind, and they only enter into and are not native to or bound by life & matter.
The secret of the Veda (Saraswati and the Great Water)
If the Veda is a great religious and psychological document and not an early hymnal of savage ceremonies, there must be in the long procession of the sacred chants passages which preserve, in spite of the unavoidable difficulties of an archaic language, their ancient truth on their surface. The totality of the Veda is so closely knit in its mentality, constant in its ideas and unchanging in its terms that we may hope from even one such text a help considerably beyond the measure of its actual length & scope in fixing the nature of theVedic outlook and helping us to some clue to the secret of its characteristic expressions. Our desideratum is a passage in which the god of the Riks must be a mental or moral Power, the thoughts religious, intellectual or psychological in their substance, the expressions insistent in their clear superphysical intention.We will begin with a striking passage in a hymn, put by Vyasa very early in the order of his collection.It is the third sukta of the first Mandala. Madhuchchhanda, son of the famous Visvamitra, is the seer; Saraswati is the goddess; the three closing riks of the hymn are the indicative passage
Saraswati, a name familiar to the religious conceptions of the race from our earliest eras, & of incessant occurrence in poetic phraseology and image, is worshipped yearly even at the present day in all provinces of the peninsula no less than those many millenniums ago in the prehistoric dawn of our religion and literature. Consistently, subsequent to the Vedic times, she has been worshipped everywhere & is named in all passages as a goddess of speech, poetry, learning and eloquence. Epic, Purana and the popular imagination know her solely as this deity of speech & knowledge. She ranks therefore in the order of religious ideas with the old Hellenic conceptions of Pallas, Aphrodite or the Muses; nor does any least shadow of the material Nature-power linger to lower the clear intellectuality of her powers and functions. But there is also a river Saraswati or several rivers of that name. Therefore, the doubt suggests itself: In any given passage may it not be the Aryan river, Saraswati, which the bards are chanting? even if they sing of her or cry to her as a goddess, may it not still be the River, so dear, sacred & beneficent to them, that they worship? Or even where she is clearly a goddess of speech and thought, may it not be that the Aryans, having had originally no intellectual or moral conceptions and therefore no gods of the mind and heart, converted, when they did feel the need, this sacred flowing River into a goddess of sacred flowing song? In that case we are likely to find in her epithets & activities the traces of this double capacity.
For the rest, Sayana in this particular passage lends some support [to] this suggestion of Saraswatis etymological good luck; for he tells us that Saraswati has two aspects, the embodied goddess of Speech and the figure of a river. He distributes, indeed, these two capacities with a strange inconsistency and in his interpretation, as in so many of these harsh & twisted scholastic renderings, European & Indian, of the old melodious subtleties of thought & language, the sages of the Veda come before us only to be convicted of a baffling incoherence of sense and a pointless inaptness of language. But possibly, after all, it is the knowledge of the scholar that is at fault, not the intellect of the Vedic singers that was confused, stupid and clumsy! Nevertheless we must consider the possibility that Sayanas distribution of the sense may be ill-guided, & yet his suggestion about the double role of the goddess may in itself be well-founded. There are few passages of the ancient Sanhita, into which these ingenuities of the ritualistic & naturalistic interpretations do not pursue us. Our inquiry would protract itself into an intolerable length, if we had at every step to clear away from the path either the heavy ancient lumber or the brilliant modern rubbish. It is necessary to determine, once for all, whether the Vedic scholars, prve ntan uta, are guides worthy of trustwhether they are as sure in taste & insight as they are painstaking and diligent in their labour,whether, in a word, these ingenuities are the outcome of an imaginative licence of speculation or a sound & keen intuition of the true substance of Veda. Here is a crucial passage. Let us settle at least one side of the accountthe ledger of the great Indian scholiast.
Madhuchchhanda turns to Saraswati at the close of his hymn after successively calling to the Aswins, Indra & the Visvadevas. To each of these deities he has addressed three riks of praise & invocation; the last three of the twelve reiterate in each verse the name, epithets & functions of Saraswati. The Sukta falls therefore into four equal parts of which the last alone immediately concerns us.
On the strength of Sayanas commentary these lines would have to bear in English the following astounding significance. Let the purifying goddess of Speech, equipped by means of food offerings with a ritual full of food, desire (that is to say, up-bear) the sacrifice, she who is the cause of wealth as a result of the ritual. Sender of pleasant & true sayings and explainer (of this sacrifice) to the performers of the ritual who have a good intelligence, the goddess of Speech upholds the sacrifice. The river Saraswati makes known by her action (that is, her stream) much water, she (the Muse) illumines all the ideas of the sacrificer. Truly, whatever Saraswati may do for the sacrificer,who does not appear at all in the lines except to the second sight of Sayana,the great scholar does not succeed in illumining our ideas about the sense of the Sukta. The astonishing transition from the Muse to the river & the river to the Muse in a single rik is flagrantly impossible. How does Saraswatis thoughtful provision of much water lead to her illumination of the sacrificers evidently confused intellect?Why should dhiy in dhiyvasu mean ritual act, and dhiyo in dhiyo vsv ideas? How can desire mean upbear, ritual act mean wealth or action mean a stream of water? What sense can we extract from arnah prachetayati in Sayanas extraordinary combination? If s nritnm expresses speech or thought, why should the parallel expression sumatnm in defiance of rhythm of sound & rhythm of sense, refer to the sacrificers? I have offered these criticisms not for any pleasure in carping at the great Southern scholar, but to establish by a clear, decisive & typical instance the defects which justify my total rejection of his once supreme authority in Vedic scholarship. Sayana is learned in ritualism, loaded with grammatical lore, a scholar of vast diligence and enormous erudition, but in his mentality literary perception & taste seem either to have been non-existent or else oppressed under the heavy weight of his learning. This and other defects common enough in men of vast learning whose very curiosity of erudition only lead them to prefer a strained to a simple explanation, the isolated suggestions of single words to a regard for the total form & coherence, & recondite, antiquarian or ceremonial allusions to a plain meaning, render his guidance less than useful in the higher matters of interpretation and far from safe in questions of verbal rendering.
The effectual motive for Sayanas admission of Saraswatis double rle in this Sukta is the expression maho arnas, the great water, of the third rik. Only in her capacity as a river-goddess has Saraswati anything to do with material water; an abundance of liquid matter is entirely irrelevant to her intellectual functions. If therefore we accept arnah in a material sense, the entrance of the river into the total physiognomy of Saraswati is imposed upon us by hard necessity in spite of the resultant incoherence. But if on the other hand, arnah can be shown to bear other than a material significance or intention, then no other necessity exists for the introduction of a deified Aryan river. On the contrary, there is an extraordinary accumulation of expressions clearly intellectual in sense. Pvak, dhiyvasuh, chodayitr snritnm, chetant sumatnm, prachetayati ketun, dhiyo vsv vi rjati are all expressions of this stamp; for they mean respectively purifying, rich in understanding, impeller of truths, awakening to good thoughts, perceives or makes conscious by perception, governs variously all the ideas or mental activities. Even yajnam vashtu and yajnam dadhe refer, plainly, to a figurative moral upholding,if, indeed, upholding be at all the Rishis intention in vashtu. What is left? Only the name Saraswati thrice repeated, the pronoun nah, and the two expressions vjebhir vjinvat and maho arnah. The rest is clearly the substance of a passage full of strong intellectual and moral conceptions. I shall suggest that these two expressions vjebhir vjin vat and maho arnah are no exception to the intellectuality of the rest of the passage. They, too, are words expressing moral or intellectual qualities or entities.
The word vja, usually rendered by Sayana, food or ghee,a sense which he is swift to foist upon any word which will at all admit that construction, as well as on some which will not admit it,has in other passages another sense assigned to it, strength, bala. It is the latter significance or its basis of substance & solidity which I propose to attach to vja in every line of the Rigveda where it occursand it occurs with an abundant frequency. There are a number of words in the Veda which have to be rendered by the English strength,bala, taras, vja, sahas, avas, to mention only the most common expressions. Can it be supposed that all these vocables rejoice in one identical connotation as commentators and lexicographers would lead us to conclude, and are used in the Veda promiscuously & indifferently to express the same idea of strength? The psychology of human language is more rich and delicate. In English the words strength, force, vigour, robustness differ in their mental values; force can be used in offices of expression to which strength and vigour are ineligible. In Vedic Sanscrit, as in every living tongue, the same law holds and a literary and thoughtful appreciation of its documents, whatever may be the way of the schools, must take account of these distinctions. In the brief list I have given, bala answers to the English strength, taras gives a shade of speed and impetuosity, sahas of violence or force, avas of flame and brilliance, vja of substance and solidity. In the philological appendix to this work there will be found detailed reasons for concluding that strength is in the history of the word vja only a secondary sense, like its other meanings, wealth and food; the basic idea is a strong sufficiency of substance or substantial energy. Vja is one of the great standing terms of the Vedic psychology. All states of being, whether matter, mind or life and all material, mental & vital activities depend upon an original flowing mass of Energy which is in the vivid phraseology of the Vedas called a flood or sea, samudra, sindhu or arnas. Our power or activity in any direction depends first on the amount & substantiality of this stream as it flows into, through or within our own limits of consciousness, secondly, on our largeness of being constituted by the wideness of those limits, thirdly, on our power of holding the divine flow and fourthly on the force and delight which enter into the use of our available Energy. The result is the self-expression, ansa or vyakti, which is the objective of Vedic Yoga. In the language of the Rishis whatever we can make permanently ours is called our holding or wealth, dhanam or in the plural dhanni; the powers which assist us in the getting, keeping or increasing of our dhanni, the yoga, s ti & vriddhi, are the gods; the powers which oppose & labour to rob us of this wealth are our enemies & plunderers, dasyus, and appear under various names, Vritras, Panis, Daityas, Rakshasas, Yatudhanas. The wealth itself may be the substance of mental light and knowledge or of vital health, delight & longevity or of material strength & beauty or it may be external possessions, cattle, progeny, empire, women. A close, symbolic and to modern ideas mystic parallelism stood established in the Vedic mind between the external & the internal wealth, as between the outer sacrifice which earned from the gods the external wealth & the inner sacrifice which brought by the aid of the gods the internal riches. In this system the word vja represents that amount & substantial energy of the stuff of force in the dhanam brought to the service of the sacrificer for the great Jivayaja, our daily & continual life-sacrifice. It is a substantial wealth, vjavad dhanam that the gods are asked to bring with them. We see then in what sense Saraswati, a goddess purely mental in her functions of speech and knowledge, can be vjebhir vjinvat. Vjin is that which is composed of vja, substantial energy; the plural vj h or vj ni the particular substantialities of various composed. For the rest, to no other purpose can a deity of speech & knowledge be vjebhir vjinvat. In what appropriateness or coherent conceivable sense can the goddess of knowledge be possessed of material wealth or full-stored with material food, ghee & butter, beef & mutton? If it be suggested that Speech of the mantras was believed by these old superstitious barbarians to bring them their ghee & butter, beef & mutton, the answer is that this is not what the language of the hymns expresses. Saraswati herself is said to be vjinvat, possessed of substance of food; she is not spoken of as being the cause of fullness of food or wealth to others.
This explanation of vjebhir vjinvat leads at once to the figurative sense of maho arnas. Arnas or samudra is the image of the sea, flood or stream in which the Vedic seers saw the substance of being and its different states. Sometimes one great sea, sometimes seven streams of being are spoken of by the Rishis; they are the origin of the seven seas of the Purana. It cannot be doubted that the minds of the old thinkers were possessed with this image of ocean or water as the very type & nature of the flux of existence, for it occurs with a constant insistence in the Upanishads. The sole doubt is whether the image was already present to the minds of the primitive Vedic Rishis. The Europeans hold that these were the workings of a later imagination transfiguring the straightforward material expressions & physical ideas of the Veda; they admit no real parentage of Vedantic ideas in the preexistent Vedic notions, but only a fictitious derivation. I hold, on the contrary, that Vedantic ideas have a direct & true origin & even a previous existence in the religion & psychology of the Vedas. If, indeed, there were no stuff of high thinking or moral sensibility in the hymns of the Vedic sages, then I should have no foundation to stand upon and no right to see this figure in the Vedic arnas or samudra. But when these early minds,early to us, but not perhaps really so primitive in human history as we imagine,were capable of such high thoughts & perceptions as these three Riks bear on their surface, it would be ridiculous to deny them the capacity of conceiving these great philosophical images & symbols. A rich poetic imagery expressing a clear, direct & virgin perception of the facts of mind and being, is not by any means impossible, but rather natural in these bright-eyed sons of the morning not yet dominated in their vision by the dry light of the intellect or in their speech & thought by the abstractions & formalities of metaphysical thinking. Water was to them, let us hold in our hypothesis, the symbol of unformed substance of being, earth of the formed substance. They even saw a mystic identity between the thing symbolised & the symbol.
What then is maho arnas? Is it the great sea of general being, substance of general existence out of which the substance of thought & speech are formed? It is possible; but such an interpretation is not entirely in consonance with the context of this passage. The suggestion I shall advance will therefore be different. Mahas, as a neuter adjective, means great,maho arnas, the great water; but mahas may be equally a noun and then maho arnas will mean Mahas the sea. In some passages again, mahas is genitive singular or accusative plural of a noun mah; maho arnas may well be the flowing stream or flood of Mah, as in the expression vasvo arnavam, the sea of substance, in a later Sukta.We are therefore likely to remain in doubt unless we can find an actual symbolic use of either word Mah or Mahas in a psychological sense which would justify us in supposing this Maho Arnas to be a sea of substance of knowledge rather than vaguely the sea of general substance of being. For this is the significance which alone entirely suits the actual phraseology of the last Rik of the Sukta. We find our clue in the Taittiriya Upanishad. It is said there that there are three recognised vyahritis of the Veda, Bhur, Bhuvar, Swah, but the Rishi Mahachamasya affirmed a fourth. The name of this doubtful fourth vyahriti is Mahas. Now the mystic vyahritis of the Veda are the shabdas or sacred words expressing objectively the three worlds, subjectively mentalised material being, mentalised vital being & pure mental being, the three manifest states of our phenomenal consciousness. Mahas, therefore, must express a fourth state of being, which is so much superior to the other three or so much beyond the ordinary attainment of our actual human consciousness that it is hardly considered in Vedic thought a vyahriti, whatever one or two thinkers may have held to the contrary. What do we know of this Mahas from Vedantic or later sources? Bhuh, Bhuvah, Swar of the Veda rest substantially upon the Annam, Prana, Manas, matter, life & mind of the Upanishads. But the Upanishads speak of a fourth state of being immediately aboveManas, preceding it therefore & containing it, Vijnanam, ideal knowledge, and a fifth immediately above Vijnanam, Ananda or Bliss. Physically, these five are the pancha kshitayah, five earths or dwelling-places, of the Rig Veda and they are the pancha koshas, five sheaths or bodies of the Upanishads. But in our later Yogic systems we recognise seven earths, seven standing grounds of the soul on which it experiences phenomenal existence. The Purana gives us their names [the names of the two beyond the five already mentioned], Tapas and Satya, Energy&Truth. They are the outward expressions of the two psychological principles, Self-Awareness &Self-Being (Chit&Sat) which with Ananda, Self-Bliss, are the triune appearance in the soul of the supreme Existence which the Vedanta calls Brahman. Sat, Chit & Ananda constitute to Vedantic thought the parardha or spiritual higher half [of] our existence; in less imaginative language, we are in our supreme existence self-existence, self-awareness & self-delight. Annam, Prana & Manas constitute to Vedantic thought the aparardha or lower half; again, in more abstract speech, we are in our lower phenomenal existence mind, life & matter. Vijnana is the link; standing in ideal knowledge we are aware, looking upward, of our spiritual existence, looking downward, we pour it out into the three vyahritis, Bhur, Bhuvah & Swar, mental, vital & material existence, the phenomenal symbols of our self-expression. Objectively vijnana becomes mahat, the great, wide or extended state of phenomenal being,called also brihat, likewise signifying vast or great,into which says the Gita, the Self or Lord casts his seed as into a womb in order to engender all these objects & creatures. The Self, standing in vijnanam or mahat, is called the Mahan Atma, the great Self; so that, if we apply the significance [of] these terms to the Vedic words mah, mahas, mahi, mahn, then, even accepting mahas as an adjective and maho arnas in the sense of the great Ocean, it may very well be the ocean of the ideal or pure ideative state of existence in true knowledge which is intended, the great ocean slumbering in our humanity and awakened by the divine inspiration of Saraswati. But have we at all the right to read these high, strange & subtle ideas of a later mysticism into the primitive accents of the Veda? Let us at least support for a while that hypothesis. We may very well ask, if not from the Vedic forefathers, whence did the Aryan thinkers get these striking images, this rich & concrete expression of the most abstract ideas and persist in them even after the Indian mind had rarefied & lifted its capacity to the height of the most difficult severities & abstractions known to any metaphysical thinking? Our hypothesis of a Vedic origin remains not only a possible suggestion but the one hypothesis in lawful possession of the field, unless a foreign source or a later mixed ideation can be proved. At present this later ideation may be assumed, it has not been & cannot be proved. The agelong tradition of India assigns the Veda as the source & substance of our theosophies; Brahmana, Aranyaka, Upanishad & Purana as only the interpretation & later expression; the burden of disproof rests on those who negative the tradition.
Vjebhir vjinvat and maho arnas are therefore fixed in their significance. The word vashtu in the tenth Rik offers a difficulty. It is equivalent to vahatu, says the Brahmana; to kmayatu, says Sayana; but, deferring to the opinion of the Brahmana, he adds that it means really kmayitw vahatu. Undoubtedly the root va means in classical Sanscrit to desire; but from the evidence of the classical Sanscrit we have it established that in more ancient times its ordinary meaning must have been to subdue or control; for although the verb has lost this sense in the later language, almost all its derivatives bear that meaning & the sense of wish, will or desire only persists in a few of them, va, wish and possibly va, a woman. It is this sense which agrees best with the context of the tenth rik and is concealed in the vahatu of the Brahmanas. There is no other difficulty of interpretation in the passage.
What then is it that Madhuchchhanda, son of Viswamitra, has to say in this Sukta of the goddess of inspiration, speech and knowledge? He does not directly address her, but he assigns to this deity the general control, support and illumination of the sacrifice he is performing. Let Saraswati he says control our Yajna. The epithets which fill the Rik must express either the permanent & characteristic qualities in her which fit her for this high office of control or the possible & suitable qualities with which he wishes her to be equipped in the performance of that office. First, pvak. She is the great purifier. It is as we shall see not a literary inspiration he invokes, but a divine inspiration, an inspiration of truths and right thoughts and, it may be, right feelings. Saraswati by this inspiration, by this inspired truth & knowledge & right feeling, is asked to purify, first, the mental state of the Yogin; for a mind unpurified cannot hold the light from on high. Knowledge purifies, says the Gita, meaning the higher spiritual knowledge which comes by ruti, divine inspiration; there is nothing in the whole world so pure as knowledge: Saraswati who purifies, Pvak Saraswat. Vjebhir vjin vat. She is full of substantial energy, stored with a great variety in substance of knowledge, chitraravastama, as is said in another hymn of the strong god Agni. The inspiration & resultant knowledge prayed for is not that of any isolated truth or slight awakening, but a great substance of knowledge & a high plenty of inspiration; the mental state has to be filled with this strong & copious substance of Saraswati.Dhiyvasuh. She is rich in understanding. Dh in the Veda is the buddhi, the faculty of reason that understands, discerns & holds knowledge. This inspiration has to be based on a great intellectual capacity which supports & holds the flood of the inspiration. Thus rich, thus strong & plenteous, thus purifying the divine inspiration has to hold & govern the Sacrifice.
The thought passes on in the eleventh Rik from the prayer to the fulfilment. Yajnam dadhe Saraswat. Saraswati upholds the Yajna; she has accepted the office of governance & already upbears in her strength the action of the sacrifice. In that action she is Chodayitr unritnm, chetant sumatnm. That great luminous impulse of inspiration in which the truths of being start to light of themselves and are captured and possessed by the mind, that spiritual enlightenment and awakening in which right thoughts & right seeing become spontaneously the substance of our purified mental state, proceed from Saraswati & are already being poured by her into the system, like the Aryan stream into the Indus. Mati means any activity of the mind; right thoughts in the intellect, right feelings in the heart, right perceptions in the sensational mind, sumati may embrace any or all of these associations; in another context, by a different turn of the prefix, it may express kindly thoughts, friendly feelings, happy perceptions.
In the last Rik the source of this great illumination is indicated. Spiritual knowledge is not natural to the mind; it is in us a higher faculty concealed & sleeping, not active to our consciousness. It is only when the inspiration of a divine enlightenment,Saraswat ketun, in the concrete Vedic language,seizes on that self-luminous faculty & directs a ray of it into our understanding that we receive the high truths, the great illuminations which raise us above our normal humanity. But it is not an isolated illumination with which this son of Viswamitra intends to be satisfied. The position for him is that the human perception & reason, but asleep, sushupta, achetana, on the level of the pure ideal knowledge. He wishes it to awake to the divine knowledge & his whole mental state to be illumined by it. The divine Inspiration has to awaken to conscious activity this great water now lying still & veiled in our humanity. This great awakening Saraswati now in the action of the Sacrifice effects for MadhuchchhandasMaho arnah prachetayati. The instrument is ketu, enlightening perception. With the knowledge that now streams into the mind from the ocean of divine knowledge all the ideas of the understanding in their various & many-branching activity are possessed and illumined. Dhiyo viv vi rjati. She illumines variously or in various directions, or, less probably, she entirely illumines, all the activities of the understanding. This invasion & illumination of his whole mental state by the state of divine knowledge, with its spontaneous manifestation of high truths, right thoughts, right feelings, the ritam jyotih, is the culmination of this sacrifice of Madhuchchhandas.
Shall we suppose that a sacrifice with such a governance, such circumstances & such a crowning experience is the material offering of the Soma wine into a material fire on a material altar? Every expression in the text cries out against such an impossibility. This sacrifice must be a mental, moral subjective activity of which the Soma-offering is only a material symbol. We see at once that the Gita was not reading a later gloss into the Vedic idea in its description of the many kinds of Yajna in its [fourth] chapter. The modern Yoga and the ancient Yajna are one idea; there is only this difference that the Vedic Rishis regarded all the material & internal riches that came by Yoga as the gift of the gods to be offered to them again so that they may again increase them & supremely enrich our lives with all the boons that they, our friends, helpers, masters of world-evolution are so eager to shower upon us, the vessels & instruments of that evolution. The whole Vedic theory is succinctly stated in two slokas of the Gita. (III.10, 11)
Sahayajnh prajh srishtw purovcha Prajpatih,
Anena prasavishyadhwam esha vostwishtakmadhuk.
Devn bhvayatnena te dev bhvayantu vah,
Parasparam bhvayantah reyah param avpsyatha.
The Father created of old these peoples with sacrifice as their companion birth; By this he said, ye shall bring forth; let this be your milker of all chosen desires. Nourish the gods in their being with this; let the gods nourish you in your being. Thus nourishing each other ye shall gain the highest good. We see, nat the same time, the Vedic origin of the central idea in the Gita, the offering of our lives & actions in a perfect sacrifice to God.
Greatly has this short passage helped us. It has shown us the true physiognomy of Saraswati as the goddess of inspiration & inspired knowledge & the true nature of the Vedic Yajna; it has fixed the great Vedic terms, vja, dh & ketu; but above all it has given us a firm foundation for a religious & spiritual interpretation of Veda, a brilliant starting point for an inquiry into its truth & its ancient secret. We can now hope to be delivered from the obscuration of Veda by the ritualists & its modern degradation into the document of a primitive & barbarous religion. Its higher & truer sense shows itself in this brief passage like the dim line of land seen on the far horizon.
The metre of the Vedic hymns depends as in English on the number of syllables in the line, quantity only entering in [as] an element of rhythmic variation. The sign marks a naturally long a, i, u,to which e & o must be added. Vowels followed by a double consonant are long as in Latin & Greek. V & y are often interpreted as separate short syllables as if they were u and i.
Revised opening of the preceding chapter (Saraswati and the Great Water)
If the Vedas have a deep religious and psychological significance such as I have attributed to them, if they are not, as the disciples of the Europeans suppose, an early hymnal of savage ceremonies, there must be in the long procession of the sacred chants, in the fixed formulae and individual variations of these voluminous songs to a small number of strongly characterised deities, some individual riks, some occasional passages, some entire hymns, even, which, in spite of the difficulties of an archaic diction & the concealing veil of a changed vocabulary, still bear the ancient truth on their very surface. The totality of the Rig Veda is so closely knit in its mentality, so constant in its common terms, so fixed & unchanging in its principal ideas that even one such rik, passage or hymn ought to exceed the limits of its single text & shed a wide light over the whole surface of Vedic thought & phraseology. Is there any such passage easily discoverable? There is one, I think, which occurs very early in the collection and by the nature of its presiding deity, its strongly subjective purport & its clear and striking language seems to fulfil our desideratum. It occurs in the third sukta of the first Mandala. Madhuchchhandas, son of the famous Visvamitra, is the seer; Saraswati is the goddess; the last three riks of the hymn constitute the indicative passage.
In Saraswati we have a deity with subjective functionsthe first desideratum in our enquiry. Still, there is a doubt, a difficulty. Saraswati of the Epics & Puranas, Saraswati, as she is worshipped today throughout India is, no doubt, a purely subjective goddess and presides only over intellectual and immaterial functions. She is our Lady of Speech, the Muse, the goddess of Poetry, Art and Learning. Saraswati, the flowing, is also the name of more than one river in modern India, but especially of the sacred stream in upper India supposed to join secretly in their confluence the waters of theGanges and Yamuna and form with them the holy Triveni or triple braid of waters in which the ceremonial ablution of the devotee is more potent than at almost any other Indian place of pilgrimage and gives the richest spiritual fruit to the believing pilgrim. But in our modern religious ideas there is no real connexion, except of name, between the goddess and the river. In the Veda also there is a Saraswati who is the goddess of speech; in the Veda also there seems to be an ancient river Saraswati, although this stream is placed by Vedic scholars in the Panjab and not in the vicinity of Prayaga and Ayodhya. Were these two deities,for every river and indeed every natural object was to the Vedic Rishis a divine being,the same goddess Saraswati? Sayana accepts, even in this passage, their identity; she is, he tells us, .1 If this identity were accepted, we would have to ask ourselves by what process of subjective metamorphosis a material Panjab river came to be the deity of Speech, the female power of Brahma, the Muse and tutelar goddess of scholar and poet. Or was not rather the goddess of speech eponymous of the river and subsequently imaged in it by the Vedic symbolists? But before we descend to these ulterior questions, we must first know for certain whether Sayana is right in his identification of the river and the Muse. First of all, are they the same in this passage? secondly, are they the same in any passage of the Veda? It is to the first question alone that we need address ourselves for the present; for on its solution depends the whole purport, value and helpfulness of these three Riks for the purposes of our enquiry into the sense and secret of the Vedas.
Blank in MS; in his commentary on the passage under discussion, Sayana describes Saraswati as: dvividh . . . vigrahavaddevat nadrp ca.Ed.
Indira, the Visvadevas, the Aswin
If we are right, as we must now assume, in our interpretation of these three riks, then the conclusion is irresistible that the whole of this third Sukta in the Veda, & not only its closing verses, relates to an activity of moral & mental sacrifice and the other gods invoked by Madhuchchhandas are equally with Saraswati Powers of subjectiveNature, Indra not the god of rain, but a mental deity, the Aswins not twin stars, or, if stars, then lights of a sublimer heaven, the Visvadevas, gods not of general physical Nature, but supraphysical and in charge of our general subjective or subjective-objective activity. The supposition is inadmissible that the hymn is purely ritual in its body and only in-grafted with a spiritual tail. The physical functions of the gods in the Veda need not be denied; but they must be alien to the thought of Madhuchchhandas in this Sukta,unless as in some hymns of the Veda, there is the slesha or double application to subjective & objective activities. But this is improbable; for in the lines of which Saraswati is the goddess, we have found no reference either open or covert to any material form or function. She is purely the Muse and not at all the material river.
We must examine, then, the rest of the hymn and by an impartial scrutiny discover whether it yields naturally, without forcing or straining, a subjective significance. If we find that no such subjective significance exists & it is the gods of rain & of stars & of material activities who are invoked, a serious if not a fatal doubt will be cast on the validity of the first step we have gained in our second chapter. Here, too, we must follow the clue by which we arrived at the subjective physiognomy of Saraswati. We must see what is the evidence of the epithets & activities assigned to the several deities of the Sukta.
The first three riks are devoted to the Aswins & run in this strain:
In Sayanas interpretation we find that isho is taken in the sense of food; yuvkavah sut vriktabarhishah in the sense of Soma-offerings poured out, which are mixed with other liquid and for which the strewn grasses where they have been placed, are deprived of their roots. If these interpretations stand, the material nature of the sacrifice is established. But can they stand? And if they can, are they imperative? The word isho, in the first place, is not bound to this sense of foods; for it cannot in all the passages in which it occurs in the Veda, bear that sense. A single instance is decisive. We find in a hymn of Praskanwa Kanwa to the Aswins, this rik, the sixth in the forty-sixth Sukta of the first mandala:
Y nah pparad Awin, jyotishmat tamas tirah,
Tm asme rsthm isham.
Now a brilliant or luminous food, jyotishmat ish, is an absurdity which we certainly shall not accept; nor is there any reason for taking jyotih in any other than its ordinary sense of radiance, lustre. We must, therefore, seek some other significance for ish. It is the nature of the root ish, as of its lengthened form, sh, and the family to which it belongs, to suggest intensity of motion or impulsion physical or subjective and the state or results of such intensity. It means impulse, wish, impulsion; sending, casting, (as in ishu, an arrow or missile), strength, force, mastery; in the verb, it signifies also striving, entreating, favour, assent, liking; in the noun, increase, affluence, or, as applied by the ritualists in the Veda, drink or food. We see, then, that impellent force or strength is the fundamental significance, the idea [of] food only a distant, isolated & late step in the sense-evolution. If we apply this fundamental sense in the rik we have quoted from Praskanwas hymn to the Aswins, we get at once the following clear, straightforward & lucid meaning, The luminous force (force of the Mahas, or vijnana, the true light, ritam jyotih of [I.23.5]) which has carried us, O Aswins, through the darkness to its other shore, in that in us take delight or else that force give to us. Apply the same key-meaning to this first rik of Madhuchchhandas lines to the same deities, we get a result equally clear, straightforward&lucid, O Aswins, swift-footed, much-enjoying lords of bliss, take your pleasure in the forces of the sacrifice. We have in Praskanwa & Madhuchchhandas the same idea, the same deities, the same prayer, the same subjective function of the gods & subjective purport of the words. We feel firm soil under our feet; a flood of light illumines our steps in these dim fields of Vedic interpretation.
What is this subjective function of the Aswins? We get it, I think, in the key words chanasyatam, rsthm. Whatever else may be the character of the Aswins, we get from the consonance of the two Rishis this strong suggestion that they are essentially gods of delight. Is there any other confirmation of the suggestion? Every epithet in this first rik testifies strongly to its correctness. The Aswins are purubhuj, much-enjoying; they are ubhaspat, lords of weal or bliss, or else of beautyfor ubh may have any of these senses as well as the sense of light; they are dravatpn, their hands dropping gifts, says Sayana, and that agrees well with the nature of gods of delight who pour from full hands the roses of rapture upon mortals, manibus lilia plenis. But dravat usually means in the Veda, swift, running, and pni, although confined to the hands in classical Sanscrit, meant, as I shall suggest, in the old Aryan tongue any organ of action, hand, foot or, as in the Latin penis, the sexual organ. Even so, we have the nature of the Aswins as gods of delight, fully established; but we get in addition a fresh characteristic, the quality of impetuous speed, which is reinforced by their other epithets. For the Aswins are nar, the Strong ones; rudravartan,they put a fierce energy into all their activities; they accept the mantras of the hymn avray dhiy, with a bright-flaming strength of intelligence in the understanding. The idea of bounteous giving, suggested by Sayana in dravatpn and certainly present in that word if we accept pni in its ordinary sense, appears in the dasra of the third rik, O you bounteous ones. Sayana indeed takes dasr in the sense of destroyers; he gives the root das in this word the same force as in dasyu, an enemy or robber; but das can also mean to give, dasma is sometimes interpreted by the scholiasts sacrificer and this sense of bounteous giving seems to be fixed on the kindred word dasra also, at least when it is applied to the Aswins, by the seventeenth rik of the thirtieth Sukta, unahepas hymn to Indra & the Aswins,
win, avvaty, ish ytam avray,
gomad dasr hiranyavat.
O Aswins, arrive with energetic force of a bright-flaming strength, givers of that which is radiant and brilliant or, if we take the interpretation of the ritualists, of wealth of cows & wealth of gold. We see that here too we have ish with two epithets denoting strength and force; here also we meet the words dasr and avray in connection with the Aswins; here also they are connected with light or radiance, go, rays or diffused light which we shall find to be the standing symbol-word in the Vedas for the diffusion of the light of the vijnana or mahas, for that ritam jyotih or light of ideal Truth which constitutes the luminous force hymned in connection with the Aswins by Praskanwa Kanwa, jyotishmatm isham. These fixed ideas, this constant relation of epithets, this order in the divine functions, points to a settled system large in idea & minute in detail accepted by all the Vedic Rishis throughout the long period covered by the ensemble of the hymns of the Rigveda. In the ritualistic and naturalistic interpretations we get an artificial sense, an incoherent connection of ideas, a vague, purposeless & merely ornamental use of figures & epithets, one Rishi apparently reproducing stupidly the decorative ideas, images & words of his predecessors. In the subjective interpretation of the Vedas we shall find always a simple, lucid & straightforward sense perfectly connected & coherent, arising spontaneously from the text, in which there is a reason for the constant recurrence of ideas & terms, a complete appropriateness & fullness of meaning for every word that is used and an absolutely satisfying logical reason for the connection of each word with its predecessor & successor. According to our idea of the mentality of the Rishis we shall accept either the one interpretation which results in a confused barbaric intelligence or the other which reveals the culture & contents of a deep & splendid intellectuality. But there can be no doubt, which gives the best & most satisfying sense to the language of the Veda.
There are two epithets yet left which we have to fix to their right significance, before we sum up the evidence of this passage and determine the subjective physiognomy of the Aswins,purudansas & nsaty. Sayana interprets dansas as active,the Aswins are gods of a great activity; I suggest fashioning or forming activity,they are abundant fashioners. Sayanas interpretation suits better with the idea of the Aswins as gods full of strength, speed and delight, purudansas, full of a rich activity. But the sense of fashioning is also possible; we have in I.30.16 the expression sa no hiranyaratham dansanvn sa nah sanit sanaye sa no adt, where the meaning may be he gave a car, but would run better he fashioned for us a brilliant car, unless with Sayana we are to disregard the whole structure & rhythmic movement of unahepas sentence. The other epithet Nsaty has long been a puzzle for the grammarians; for the ingenious traditional rendering of Yaska & Sayana, na asaty, not untruthful, is too evidently a desperate shift of entire ignorance. The word by its formation must be either a patronymic, Sons of Nasata, or an adjective formed by the termination tya from the old Aryan noun Nsa, which still exists in the Greek o, an island. The physical significance of n in the Aryan tongues is a gliding or floating motion; we find it in the Latin, nare, to swim or float, the Greek Nais, a river goddess, nama, a stream, nxis, swimming, floating, naros, water, (S. nra, water), necho, I swim, float or sail; but in Sanscrit, except in nra, water, and nga, a snake, elephant, this signification of the long root n, shared by it originally with na, ni, n, nu & n, has disappeared. Nevertheless, the word Nsa, in some sense of motion, floating, gliding, sailing, voyaging, must have existed among the more ancient Sanscrit vocables. But in what sense can it be applied to the Aswins? It seems to me that we get the clue in the seventh sloka of Praskanwas Hymn to the Aswins which I have already quoted. For immediately after he has spoken of the jyotishmat ish, the luminous force which has carried him over to the other shore of the Ignorance, Praskanwa proceeds,
no nv matnm, ytam prya gantave,
Yunjthm Awin ratham.
O ye who are the ships of our thoughts, come to us for our passing to the other shore; O Aswins, yoke your car. It is as the ships that carry human mentality to the other shore of this darkness of ignorance, pparat tamas tirah, as the masters or helpers of their voyage that the Aswins are addressed as Nsaty. Nsa in Nsatya would then be fixed in the sense of voyage, passage or transit. Is it not from the transference of this lofty idea to a more material plane that Castor & Pollux of the Romans, Kashtri & Purudansha, are the helpers of the distressed mariner when storm howls upon the darkened seas?
The Aswins, then, are the gods of youthful delight & youthful strength, yuvn pitar, always young yet fathers of men, (purudansas, abundantly creating), as they are described in another sukta. They have a brilliant strength mental & physical, nar, a bright, strong & eager understanding, avray dhiy, full hands of bounty and strong fertility of creation, dasr, purudansas; an insatiable enjoyment, purubhuj; a swift speed and fiery energy in action, dravatpn rudravartan; they are the lords of bliss who give physical, vital & mental well-being to men and that inferior ease, pleasure and delight they lift into the high regions of the original & luminous Ananda supported on the ritam jyotih of Mahas of which all these things are but pallid & broken rays penetrating into this lower play of subjective light & shade which is called the triple world. Because of this double aspect of delight and the force for action & knowledge which is given by delight, of force and the delight in action & enjoyment which is sustained by force, they are twin gods and not one; it may be that Castor is more essentially the lord of delight, Polydeuces of force, but they are too like each other not to share in each others qualities. Eternal youth is the essence of their character & the bestowal, maintenance, & increase in men of the gifts which attend youth, is their function. This, if I do not err, was the subjective aspect of the great Twin Brethren to the sages of the Veda.
For what functions are they called to the Sacrifice by Madhuchchhanda? First, they have to take delight in the spiritual forces generated in him by the action of the internal Yajna. These they have to accept, to enter into them and use them for delight, their delight and the sacrificers, yajwarr isho .. chanasyatam; a wide enjoyment, a mastery of joy & all pleasant things, a swiftness in action like theirs is what their advent should bring & therefore these epithets are attached to this action. Then they are to accept the words of the mantra, vanatam girah. In fact, vanatam means more than acceptance, it is a pleased, joyous almost loving acceptance; for vanas is the Latin venus, which means charm, beauty, gratification, and the Sanscrit vanit means woman or wife, she who charms, in whom one takes delight or for whom one has desire. Therefore vanatam takes up the idea of chanasyatam, enlarges it & applies it to a particular part of the Yajna, the mantras, the hymn or sacred words of the stoma. The immense effectiveness assigned to rhythmic Speech & the meaning & function of the mantra in the Veda & in later Yoga is a question of great interest & importance which must be separately considered; but for our present purpose it will be sufficient to specify its two chief functions, the first, to settle, fix, establish the god & his qualities & activities in the Sacrificer,this is the true meaning of the word stoma, and, secondly, to effectualise them in action & creation subjective or objective,this is the true meaning of the words rik and arka. The later senses, praise and hymn were the creation of actual ceremonial practice, and not the root intention of these terms of Veda. Therefore the Aswins, the lords of force & joy, are asked to take up the forces of the sacrifice, yajwarr isho, fill them with their joy & activity and carry that joy & activity into the understanding so that it becomes avra, full of a bright and rapid strength.With that strong, impetuously rapid working they are to take up the words of the mantra into the understanding and by their joy & activity make them effective for action or creation. For this reason the epithet purudansas is attached to this action, abundantly active or, rather, abundantly creative of forms into which the action of the yajwarr ishah is to be thrown. But this can only be done as the Sacrificer wishes if they are in the acceptance of the mantra dhishny, firm and steady.Sayana suggests wise or intelligent as the sense of dhishnya, but although dhishan, like dh, can mean the understanding & dhishnya therefore intelligent, yet the fundamental sense is firm or steadily holding & the understanding is dh or dhishan because it takes up perceptions, thoughts & feelings & holds them firmly in their places.Vehemence & rapidity may be the causes of disorder & confusion, therefore even in their utmost rapidity & rapture of action & formation the Aswins are to be dhishnya, firm & steady. This discipline of a mighty, inalienable calm supporting & embracing the greatest fierceness of action & intensity of joy, the combination of dhishny & rudravartan , is one of the grandest secrets of the old Vedic discipline. For by this secret men can enjoy the world as God enjoys it, with unstinted joy, with unbridled power, with undarkened knowledge.
Therefore the prayer to the Aswins concludes: The Soma is outpoured; come with your full bounty, dasr & your fierce intensity, rudravartan. But what Soma? Is it the material juice of a material plant, the bitter Homa which the Parsi priests use today in the ceremonies enjoined by the Zendavesta? Does Sayanas interpretation give us the correct rendering? Is it by a material intoxication that this great joy & activity & glancing brilliance of the mind joined to a great steadfastness is to be obtained? Yuvkavah, says Sayana, means mixed & refers to the mixing of other ingredients in the Soma wine. Let us apply again our usual test. We come to the next passage in which the word yuvku occurs, the fourth rik of the seventeenth Sukta, Medhatithi Kanwas hymn to Indra & Varuna.
Yuvku hi achnm, yuvku sumatnm,
Sayanas interpretation there is a miracle of ritualism & impossibility which it is best to ignore. ach means in the Veda power, sumati, right thought or right feeling, as we have seen, vjadvan, strength-giving,strength in the sense of steadfast substance whether of moral state or quality or physical state or quality. Yuvku in such a connection & construction cannot mean mixed. The word is in formation the root yu and the adjectival ku connected by the euphonic v. It is akin therefore to yuv, youth, & yavas, energy, plenty or luxuriance; the common idea is energy & luxuriance. The adjective yuvku, if this connection be correct, would mean full of energy or particularly of the energy of youth. We get, therefore, a subjective sense for yuvku which suits well with ach, sumati & vjadvan and falls naturally into the structure & thought of Medhatithis rik. Bhyma may mean become in the state of being or like the Greek (bh) it may admit a transitive sense, to bring about in oneself or attain; yuvku achnm will mean the full energy of the powers & we get this sense forMedhatithis thought: Let us become or For we would effect in ourselves the full energy of the powers, the full energy of the right thoughts which give substance to our inner state or faculties.
We have reached a subjective sense for yuvku. But what of vriktabarhishah? Does not barhih always mean in the Veda the sacred grass strewn as a seat for the gods? In the Brahmanas is it not so understood and have [we] not continually the expression barhishi sdata? I have no objection; barhis is certainly the seat of the Gods in the sacrifice, stritam nushak, strewn without a break. But barhis cannot originally have meant Kusha grass; for in that case the singular could only be used to indicate a single grass and for the seat of the Gods the plural barhnshi would have to be used,barhihshu sdata and not barhishi sdata.We have the right to go behind the Brahmanas and enquire what was the original sense of barhis and how it came to mean kusha grass. The root barh is a modified formation from the root brih, to grow, increase or expand, which we have in brihat. From the sense of spreading we may get the original sense of seat, and because the material spread was usually the Kusha grass, the word by a secondary application came to bear also that significance. Is this the only possible sense of barhis? No, for we find it interpreted also as sacrifice, as fire, as light or splendour, as water, as ether. We find barhana & barhas in the sense of strength or power and barhah or barham used for a leaf or for a peacocks tail. The base meaning is evidently fullness, greatness, expansion, power, splendour or anything having these attributes, an outspread seat, spreading foliage, the outspread or splendid peacocks tail, the shining flame, the wide expanse of ether, the wide flow of water. If there were no other current sense of barhis, we should be bound to the ritualistic explanation. Even as it is, in other passages the ritualistic explanation may be found to stand or be binding; but is it obligatory here? I do not think it is even admissible. For observe the awkwardness of the expression, sut vriktabarhishah, wine of which the grass is stripped of its roots. Anything, indeed, is possible in the more artificial styles of poetry, but the rest of this hymn, though subtle & deep in thought, is sufficiently lucid and straightforward in expression. In such a style this strained & awkward expression is an alien intruder. Moreover, since every other expression in these lines is subjective, only dire necessity can compel us to admit so material a rendering of this single epithet. There is no such necessity. Barhis means fundamentally fullness, splendour, expansion or strength & power, & this sense suits well with the meaning we have found for yuvkavah. The sense of vrikta is very doubtful. Purified (cleared, separated) is a very remote sense of vrij or vrich & improbable. They can both mean divided, distributed, strewn, outspread, but although it is possible that vriktabarhishah means their fullness outspread through the system or distributed in the outpouring, this sense too is not convincing. Again vrijana in the Veda means strong, or as a noun, strength, energy, even a battle or fight. Vrikta may therefore [mean] brought to its highest strength. We will accept this sense as a provisional conjecture, to be confirmed or corrected by farther enquiry, and render the line The Soma distillings are replete with energy and brought to their highest fullness.
But to what kind of distillings can such terms be applied? The meaning of Soma & the Vedic ideas about this symbolic wine must be examined by themselves & with a greater amplitude. All we need ask here [is], is there any indication in this hymn itself, that the Soma like everything else in the Sukta is subjective & symbolic? For, if so, our rendering, which at present is clouded with doubt & built on a wide but imperfectly solid foundation, will become firm & established. We have the clear suggestion in the next rik, the first of the three addressed to Indra. Sut ime tw yavah. Our question is answered. What has been distilled? Ime yavah. These life-forces, these vitalities. We shall find throughout the Veda this insistence on the life, vitality,yu or jva; we shall find that the Soma was regarded as a life-giving juice, a sort of elixir of life, or nectar of immortality, something at least that gave increased vitality, established health, prolonged youth. Of such an elixir it may well be said that it is yuvku, full of the force of youth in which the Aswins must specially delight, vriktabarhish, raised to its highest strength & fullness so that the gods who drink of it, become in the man in whom they enter and are seated, increased, vriddha, to the full height of their function and activity,the Aswins to their utmost richness of bounty, their intensest fiery activity. Nectarjuices, they are called, indavah, pourings of delight, yavah, life forces, amritsah, elixirs of immortality.
Thus we see that when we take words in their first & plain sense, the meaning of the riks builds itself up before our eyes, everything agrees, a coherent sense is obtained, idea links itself to idea, every noun, epithet & verb falls into its right place & has a clear & perfect appropriateness. May we not then say at every step, Is not this the right sense of the Veda, this rather than the forced ritualistic interpretation with its strainings, violences, incoherences, inconsistencies, or the difficult, laboured and artificial naturalistic interpretation of the European scholars with its result of garish image, tawdry ornament, emptiness of idea & ill-related sense? At least the possibility has been established; we have a beginning & a foundation.
Indra, the Luminous
From the Aswins Madhuchchhanda passes to Indra. Three verses are given to this great deity.
Indryhi chitrabhno, sut ime tw yavah,
Anwbhis tan ptsah.
Indryhi dhiyeshito, viprajtah sutvatah,
Upa brahmni vghatah.
Indryhi ttujnah, upa brahmni harivas,
Sute dadhishwa na chanah.
The modern naturalistic account of Indra is that he is the god of rain, the wielder of lightning, the master of the thunderbolt. It is as the lightning, we presume, that he is addressed as harivas and chitrabhno, brilliant and of a richly varied effulgence. He comes to the brahmni, the hymnal utterances of the Rishis, in the sense of being called by the prayer to the sacrifice, and he comes for the sole purpose of drinking the physical Soma wine, by which he is immediately increased,sadyo vriddho ajyathh, says another Sukta,that is, as soon as the Soma offering is poured out, the rains of the monsoon suddenly increase in force. So at least we must understand, if these hymns are to have any precise naturalistic sense. Otherwise we should have to assume that the Rishis sang without attaching any meaning to their words. If, however, we suppose the hymns to Indra to be sung at monsoon offerings, in the rainy months of the year only, we get ideas, imbecile enough, but still making some attempt at sense. On another hypothesis, we may suppose Indra to be one of the gods of light or day slaying Vritra the lord of night & darkness, and also a god of lightning slaying Vritra the lord of the drought. Stated generally, these hypotheses seem plausible enough; systematically stated & supported by Comparative Mythology and some Puranic details their easy acceptance & great vogue is readily intelligible. It is only when we look carefully at the actual expressions used by the Rishis, that they no longer seem to fit in perfectly and great gulfs of no-sense have to be perfunctorily bridged by empirical guesses. A perfect system of naturalistic Veda fails to evolve.
When we look carefully at the passage before us, we find an expression which strikes one as a very extraordinary phrase in reference to a god of lightning and rain. Indryhi, says Madhuchchhanda, dhiyeshito viprajtah. On any ordinary acceptance of the meaning of words, we have to render this line, Come, O Indra, impelled by the understanding, driven by the Wise One. Sayana thinks that vipra means Brahmin and the idea is that Indra is moved to come by the intelligent sacrificing priests and he explains dhiyeshito, moved to come by our understanding, that is to say, by our devotion. But understanding does not mean devotion and the artificiality of the interpretation is apparent.We will, as usual, put aside the ritualistic & naturalistic traditions and see to what the natural sense of the words themselves leads us. I question the traditional acceptance of viprajta as a compound of vipra & jta; it seems tome clearly to be vi prajtah, driven forward variously or in various directions. I am content to accept the primary sense of impelled for ishita, although, whether we read dhiy ishito with the Padapatha, or dhiy shito, it may equally well mean, controlled by the understanding; but of themselves the expressions impelled & driven forward in various paths imply a perfect control.We have then, Come, O Indra, impelled (or controlled, governed) by the understanding and driven forward in various paths. What is so driven forward? Obviously not the storm, not the lightning, not any force of material Nature, but a subjective force, and, as one can see at a glance, a force of mind. Now Indra is the king of Swar and Swar in the symbolical interpretation of the Vedic terms current in after times is the mental heaven corresponding to the principle of Manas, mind. His name means the Strong. In the Puranas he is that which the Rishis have to conquer in order to attain their goal, that which sends the Apsaras, the lower delights & temptations of the senses to bewilder the sage and the hero; and, as is well known, in the Indian system of Yoga it is the Mind with its snares, sensuous temptations & intellectual delusions which is the enemy that has to be overcome & the strong kingdom that has to be conquered. In this passage Indra is not thought of in his human form, but as embodied in the principle of light or tejas; he is harivas, substance of brightness; he is chitrabhnu, of a rich & various effulgence, epithets not easily applicable to a face or figure, but precisely applicable to the principle of mind which has always been supposed in India to be in its material element made of tejas or pure light.We may conclude, therefore, that in Indra, master of Swarga, we have the divine lord of mental force & power. It is as this mental power that he comes sutvatah upa brahmni vghatah, to the soul-movements of the chanter of the sacred song, of the holder of the nectar-wine. He is asked to come, impelled or controlled by the understanding and driven forward by it in the various paths of sumati & snrit, right thinking & truth. We remember the image in the Kathopanishad in which the mind & senses are compared to reins & horses and the understanding to the driver. We look back & see at once the connection with the function demanded of the Aswins in the preceding verses; we look forward & see easily the connection with the activity of Saraswati in the closing riks. The thought of the whole Sukta begins to outline itself, a strong, coherent and luminous progression of psychological images begins to emerge.
Brahmni, says Sayana, means the hymnal chants; vghatah is the ritwik, the sacrificial priest. These ritual senses belong to the wordsbut we must always inquire how they came to bear them. As to vghat, we have little clue or evidence, but on the system I have developed in another work (the Origins of Aryan Speech), it may be safely concluded that the lost roots vagh & vgh, must have conveyed the sense of motion evident in the Latin vagus & vagari, wandering & to wander & the sense of crying out, calling apparent in the Latin vagire, to cry, & the Sanscrit vangh, to abuse, censure. Vghat may mean the sacrificial priest because he is the one who calls to the deity in the chant of the brahma, the sacred hymn. It may also mean one who increases in being, in his brahma, his soul, who is getting vja or substance.
The word Brahma is a great word in Indian thought, the greatest of all the words in which Indian spirituality has expressed itself; it means in the Upanishads, in all later literature, the Brahman, the Supreme & the All, the Spirit of Things & the sole reality. We need not ask ourselves, as yet, whether this crowning conception has any place in the Vedic hymns; all we need ask is whether Brahman in the Rigveda means hymn & only hymn or whether it has some sense by which it could pass naturally into the great Vedantic conception of the supreme Spirit. My suggestion is that Brahma in the Rigveda means often the soul, the psuche of the Greeks, animus of the Romans, as distinguished from the manas, mens or . This sense it must have borne at some period of Indian thought antecedent to the Upanishads; otherwise we cannot explain the selection of a word meaning hymn or speech as the great fundamental word of Vedanta, the name of the supreme spiritual Reality. The root brih, from which it comes, means, as we have seen in connection with barhis, to be full, great, to expand. Because Brahman is like the ether extending itself in all being, because it fills the body & whole system with its presence, therefore the word brahma can be applied to the soul or to the supreme Spirit, according as the idea is that of the individual spirit or the supreme Existence. It is possible also that the Greek phren, mind, phronis, etc may have derived from this root brih (the aspirate being thrown back on the initial consonant),& may have conveyed originally the same association of ideas. But are we justified in supposing that this use of Brahma in the sense of soul dates back to the Rigveda? May it not have originated in the intermediate period between the period of the Vedic hymns and the final emergence of the Upanishads? In most passages brahma can mean either hymn or soul; in some it seems to demand the sole sense of hymn. Without going wholly into the question, I shall only refer the reader to the hymn ofMedhatithi Kanwa, to Brahmanaspati, the eighteenth of the first Mandala, and the epithets and functions there attributed to the Master of the Brahman. My suggestion is that in the Rigveda Brahmanaspati is the master of the soul, primarily, the master of speech, secondarily, as the expression of the soul. The immense importance attached to Speech, the high place given to it by the Vedic Rishis not only as the expression of the soul, but that which best increases & expands its substance & power in our life & being, is one of the most characteristic features of Vedic thought. The soul expresses itself through conscious knowledge & in thought; speech stands behind thought & connects knowledge with its expression in idea. It is through Vak that the Lord creates the world.
Brahmni therefore may mean either the soul-activities, as dhiyas means the mental activities, or it may mean the words of the mantra which express the soul. If we take it in the latter sense, we must refer it to the girah of the second rik, the mantras taken up by the Aswins into the understanding in order to prepare for action & creation. Indra is to come to these mantras and support them by the brilliant substance of a mental force richly varied in its effulgent manifestation, controlled by the understanding and driven forward to its task in various ways. But it seems to me that the rendering is not quite satisfactory. The main point in this hymn is not the mantras, but the Soma wine and the power that it generates. It is in the forces of the Soma that the Aswins are to rejoice, in that strength they are to take up the girah, in that strength they are to rise to their fiercest intensity of strength & delight. Indra, as mental power, arrives in his richly varied lustre; yhi chitrabhno. Here says the Rishi are these life-forces in the nectar-wine; they are purified in their minute parts & in their whole extent, for so I understand anwbhis tan ptsah; that is to say the distillings of Ananda or divine delight whether in the body as nectar, [or] in the subjective system as streams of life-giving delight are purified of all that impairs & weakens the life forces, purified both in their little several movements & in the whole extent of their stream. These are phenomena that can easily be experienced & understood in Yoga, and the whole hymn like many in the Veda reads to those who have experience like a practical account of a great Yogic internal movement accurate in its every detail. Strengthened, like the Aswins, by the nectar, Indra is to prepare the many-sided activity supported by the Visve devah; therefore he has to come not only controlled by the understanding, dhishnya, like the Aswins, but driven forward in various paths. For an energetic & many-sided activity is the object & for this there must be an energetic and many-sided but well-ordered action of the mental power. He has to come, thus manifold, thus controlled, to the spiritual activities generated by the Soma & the Aswins in the increasing soul (vghatah) full of the life-giving nectar, the immortalising Ananda, sutvatah. He has to come to those soul-activities, in this substance of mental brilliancy, yhi upa brahmni harivas. He has to come, ttujna, with a protective force, or else with a rapidly striving force & uphold by mind the joy of the Sacrificer in the nectar-offering, the offering of this Ananda to the gods of life & action & thought, sute dadhishwa na chanah. Protecting is, here, the best sense for ttujna. For Indra is not only to support swift & energetic action; that has already been provided for; he has also to uphold or bear in mind and by the power of mind the great & rapid delight which the Sacrificer is about to pour out into life & action, jvayja. The divine delight must not fail us in our activity; hostile shocks must not be allowed to disturb our established pleasure in the great offering. Therefore Indra must be there in his light & power to uphold and to protect.
We have gained, therefore, another great step in the understanding of the Veda. The figure of the mighty Indra, in his most essential quality & function, begins to appear to us as in a half-luminous silhouette full of suggestions. We have much yet to learn about him, especially his war with Vritra, his thunderbolt & his dealings with the seven rivers. But the central or root idea is fixed. The rest is the outgrowth, foliage & branchings.
We have now arrived, in the thought of the Sukta, at a stage when the strength & delight supported by the Soma, taken up through the mantras into the understanding, poured into a strong & many-sided mental activity can be utilised for action and poured out on the world. Therefore the next invocation is to the Visve Devah, to whom also three riks are devoted:
We are accustomed to speak of the Visvadevas as if they were a separate class of deities, like the Adityas, Maruts or Rudras; but the Veda uses the expression Vive devsah, which in the absence of any other meaning for viva, we must render simply All gods. We shall suppose for the present that when the expression is used, the gods generally and in the mass, whether apart from the great Thirty-three or including them, are invoked,the gods in their general character as supporters and agents of all internal & external activity, charshanidhritah, without distinction of names or special faculty. A rich and many-sided activity is contemplated; the mass of the divine forces that support the world action in man are summoned to their functions.
The precise meaning of the words has first to be settled. Charshani is taken in the Veda to be, like krishti, a word equivalent to manushya, men. The entire correctness of the rendering may well be doubted. The gods, no doubt, can be described as upholders of men, but there are passages & uses in which the application of this significance becomes difficult. For Indra, like Agni, is called vivacharshani. Can this expression mean the Universal Man? Is Indra, like Agni, Vaivnara, in the sense of being present in all human beings? If so, the subjective capacity of Indra is indeed proved by a single epithet. But Vaivnara really means the Universal Existence or Force, from a sense of the root an which we have in anila, anala, Latin anima or else, if the combination be viv-nara, then from the Vedic sense of nara, strong, swift or bright. And what canwemake of such an expression as charshanipr?We must therefore follow our usual course & ask how charshani came to mean a human being. The root charsh or chrish is formed from the primary root char or chri (a lost form whose original presence is, however, necessary in the history of Sanscrit speech), as krish from kri. Now kri means to do, char means to do, work, practise or perform. The form krish was evidently used in the sense of action which required a prolonged or laborious effort; in the same way as the root Ar it came to mean to plough; it came to mean also to overcome or to drag or pull. From this sense of action or labour alone can krishti have been extended in significance to the idea, man; originally it must have been used like kru or keru to mean a doer, worker, and, from its form, have been capable also of meaning action. I suggest that charshani had really the same meaning & something of the same development. The other sense given to the word, swift, moving, cannot easily have led to the idea of man; strength, doing, thinking are the characteristics behind the human idea in the older languages. Charshani-dhrit applied to the Visvadevas or dhartr charshannm to Mitra & Varuna will mean the upholders of actions or activities; vivacharshani, applied to Indra or Agni, will mean the lord of all actions; charshanipr will mean filling the actions. That Indra in this sense is vivacharshani can be at once determined from two passages occurring early in the Veda,I.9.2 in Madhuchchhandas hymn to Indra, mandim Indrya mandine chakrim vivni chakraye, delight-giving for Indra the enjoyer, effective of action for the doer of all actions, where vivni chakri is a perfect equivalent to vivacharshani, and I.11.4 in another hymn to Indra, Indro vivasya karmano dhart, Indra the upholder of every action, where we have the exact idea of charshandhrit, vivacharshani & dhartr charshannm. The Visvadevas are the upholders of all our activities.
In the eighth rik, usr iva swasarni offers us an almost insoluble difficulty. Usr means, ordinarily, either rays or cows or mornings; swasaram is a Vedic word of unfixed significance. Sayana renders, hastening like sunbeams to the days, a rendering which has neither sense nor appropriateness; emending it slightly we get hastening like dawns or mornings to the days, a beautiful & picturesque, though difficult image but one, unhappily, which has no appropriateness to the context. If we can suppose the lost root swas to have meant, to lie, sleep, rest, like the simpler form sas (cf sanj to cling & swanj to embrace), we may translate, hastening like kine to their stalls; but this also is not appropriate to the Visvadevas hastening to the Soma offering not for rest, but for enjoyment & action. I believe the real meaning to be, hastening like lovers to their paramours; but the philological reasoning by which I arrive at these meanings for usra & swasaram is so remote & conjectural, that I cannot lay any stress on the suggestion. Aptur is a less difficult word. If it is a compound, ap+tur, it must mean swift or forceful in effecting or producing; but it may also be formed by the addition of a suffix tur in an adjectival sense to the root ap, to do, bring about, effect, produce or obtain.
In the ninth rik, I take vahnayah in its natural sense, those who bear or support; it is the application of the general function, charshanidhrit to the particular activity of the sacrifice, medham jushanta vahnayah. I cannot accept the sense of priest for vahni; it may have this meaning in some passages, but the ordinary significance is clearly fixed by Medhatithis collocation, vahanti vahnayah, in the [fourteenth] sukta; for to suppose such a collocation to have been made without any reference to the common significance of the two words, is to do violence to common sense & to language. In the same rik we have the word asridhah rendered by Sayana, undecaying or unwithering, and ehimysah, in which he takes ehi to be -ha, pervading activity & my in the sense of prajn, intelligence. We have no difficulty in rejecting these constructions. Ehi is a modified form, by gunation, from the root h, and must mean like h, wish, attempt, effort or activity; my from m, to contain or measure (mt, mna) or m, to contain, embrace, comprehend, know, may mean either capacity, wideness, greatness or comprehending knowledge. The sense, therefore, is either that the Visvadevas put knowledge into all their activities or else that they have a full capacity, whether in knowledge or in any other quality, for all activities. The latter sense strikes me as the more natural & appropriate in the context. Sridhah, again, means enemies in the Veda, and asridhah may well mean, not hostile, friendly. It will then be complementary to adruhah,asridhah adruhah, unhostile, unharmful,and the two epithets will form an amplification of omsas, kindly, the first of the characteristics applied to these deities. Yet such a purposeless negative amplification of a strong positive & sufficient epithet is not in the style of the Sukta, of Madhuchchhandas hymns generally or of any Vedic Rishi; nor does it go well with the word ehimysah which inappropriately divides the two companion epithets. Sridh has the sense of enemy from the idea of the shock of assault. The root sri means to move, rush, or assail; sridh gives the additional idea of moving or rushing against some object or obstacle. I suggest then that asridhah means unstumbling, unfailing (cf the English to slide). The sense will then be that the Visvadevas are unstumbling & unfaltering in the effectuation of their activities because they have a full capacity for all activities, and for the same reason they cause no hurt to the work or the human worker. We have a coherent meaning & progression of related ideas and a good reason for the insertion of ehimysah between the two negative epithets asridhah & adruhah.
We can now examine the functioning of the Visvadevas as they are revealed to us in these three riks of the ancient Veda: Come, says the Rishi, O Visvadevas who in your benignity uphold the activities of men, come, distributing the nectar-offering of the giver. O Visvadevas, swift to effect, come to the nectar-offering, hastening like mornings to the days (or, like lovers to their paramours). O Visvadevas, who stumble not in your work, for you are mighty for all activity and do no hurt, cleave in heart to the sacrifice & be its upbearers. The sense is clear & simple. The kindly gods who support man in his action & development, are to arrive; they are to give abroad the nectar-offering which is now given to them, to pour it out on the world in joy-giving activities of mind or body, for that is the relation of gods & men, as we see in the Gita, giving out whatever is given to them in an abundant mutual helpfulness. Swiftly have they to effect the many-sided action prepared for them, hastening to the joy of the offering of Ananda as a lover hastens to the joy of his mistress. They will not stumble or fail in any action entrusted to them, for they have full capacity for their great world-functions, nor, for the like reason, will they impair the force of the joy or the strength in the activity by misuse, therefore let them put their hearts into the sacrifice of action and upbear it by this unfaltering strength. Swiftness, variety, intensity, even a fierce intensity of joy & thought & action is the note throughout, but yet a faultless activity, fixed in its variety, unstumbling in its swiftness, not hurting the strength, light & joy by its fierceness or violent expenditure of energydhishnya, asridhah, adruhah. That which ensures this steadiness & unfaltering gait, is the control of the mental power which is the agent of the action & the holder of the joy by the understanding. Indra is dhiyeshita. But what will ensure the understanding itself from error & swerving? It is the divine inspiration, Saraswati, rich with mental substance & clearness, who will keep the system purified, uphold sovereignly the Yajna, & illumine all the actions of the understanding, by awakening with the high divine perception, daivyena ketun, the great sea of ideal knowledge above. For this ideal knowledge, as we shall see, is the satyam, ritam, brihat; it is wide expansion of being & therefore utmost capacity of power, bliss & knowledge; it is the unobscured light of direct & unerring truth, and it is the unstumbling, unswerving fixity of spontaneous Right & Law.
We have gathered much from this brief hymn, one of the deepest in thought in the Veda. If our construction is correct, then this at least appears that the Veda is no loose, empty & tawdry collection of vague images & shallow superstitions, but there are some portions of it at least which present a clear, well-knit writing full of meaning & stored with ideas. We have the work of sages & thinkers, rishayah, kavayah, manshinah, subtle practical psychologists & great Yogins, not the work of savage medicine-men evolving out of primitive barbarism the first glimpses of an embryonic culture in the half-coherent fumble, the meaningless ritual of a worship of personified rain, wind, fire, sun & constellations. The gods of the Veda have a clear & fixed personality & functions & its conceptions are founded on a fairly advanced knowledge & theory at least of our subjective nature. Nor when we look at the clearness, fixity & frequently psychological nature of the functions of the Greek gods, Apollo, Hermes, Pallas, Aphrodite, [have we] the right to expect anything less from the ancestors of the far more subtle-minded, philosophical & spiritual Indian nation.
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