object:1.11 - The Seven Rivers
book class:The Secret Of The Veda
author class:Sri Aurobindo
The Seven Rivers
HE VEDA speaks constantly of the waters or the rivers, especially of the divine waters, apo devh. or apo divyah., and occasionally of the waters which carry in them the light of the luminous solar world or the light of the Sun, svarvatr apah.. The passage of the waters effected by the Gods or by man with the aid of the Gods is a constant symbol. The three great conquests to which the human being aspires, which the Gods are in constant battle with the Vritras and Panis to give to man are the herds, the waters and the Sun or the solar world, ga apah. svah.. The question is whether these references are to the rains of heaven, the rivers of Northern India possessed or assailed by the Dravidians - the Vritras being sometimes the Dravidians and sometimes their gods, the herds possessed or robbed from the Aryan settlers by the indigenous "robbers" - the Panis who hold or steal the herds being again sometimes the Dravidians and sometimes their gods; or is there a deeper, a spiritual meaning?
Is the winning of Swar simply the recovery of the sun from its shadowing by the storm-cloud or its seizure by eclipse or its concealment by the darkness of Night? For here at least there can be no withholding of the sun from the Aryans by human
"black-skinned" and "noseless" enemies. Or does the conquest of Swar mean simply the winning of heaven by sacrifice? And in either case what is the sense of this curious collocation of cows, waters and the sun or cows, waters and the sky? Is it not rather a system of symbolic meanings in which the herds, indicated by the word gah. in the sense both of cows and rays of light, are the illuminations from the higher consciousness which have their origin in the Sun of Light, the Sun of Truth? Is not Swar itself the world or plane of immortality governed by that Light or Truth of the all-illumining Sun called in Veda the vast Truth, r.tam br.hat, and the true Light? and are not the divine waters, apo devh., divyah.
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or svarvath., the floods of this higher consciousness pouring on the mortal mind from that plane of immortality?
It is, no doubt, easy to point to passages or hymns in which on the surface there seems to be no need of any such interpretation and the sukta can be understood as a prayer or praise for the giving of rain or an account of a battle on the rivers of the
Punjab. But the Veda cannot be interpreted by separate passages or hymns. If it is to have any coherent or consistent meaning, we must interpret it as a whole. We may escape our difficulties by assigning to svar or gah. entirely different senses in different passages - just as Sayana sometimes finds in gah. the sense of cows, sometimes rays and sometimes, with an admirable lightheartedness, compels it to mean waters.1 But such a system of interpretation is not rational merely because it leads to a "rationalistic" or "common-sense" result. It rather flouts both reason and common sense. We can indeed arrive by it at any result we please, but no reasonable and unbiassed mind can feel convinced that that result was the original sense of the Vedic hymns.
But if we adopt a more consistent method, insuperable difficulties oppose themselves to the purely material sense. We have for instance a hymn (VII.49) of Vasishtha to the divine waters, apo devh., apo divyah., in which the second verse runs, "The divine waters that flow whether in channels dug or self-born, they whose movement is towards the ocean, pure, purifying, - may those waters foster me." Here, it will be said, the sense is quite clear; it is to material waters, earthly rivers, canals, - or, if the word khanitrimah. means simply "dug", then wells, - that Vasishtha addresses his hymn and divyah., divine, is only an ornamental epithet of praise; or even perhaps we may render the verse differently and suppose that three kinds of water are described, - the waters of heaven, that is to say the rain, the water of wells, the water of rivers. But when we study the hymn as a whole this sense can no longer stand. For thus it runs:
So also he interprets the all-important Vedic word r.tam sometimes as sacrifice, sometimes as truth, sometimes as water, and all these different senses in a single hymn of five or six verses!
The Seven Rivers
"May those divine waters foster me, the eldest (or greatest) of the ocean from the midst of the moving flood that go purifying, not settling down, which Indra of the thunderbolt, the
Bull, clove out. The divine waters that flow whether in channels dug or self-born, whose movement is towards the Ocean, - may those divine waters foster me. In the midst of whom King
Varuna moves looking down on the truth and the falsehood of creatures, they that stream honey and are pure and purifying, - may those divine waters foster me. In whom Varuna the king, in whom Soma, in whom all the Gods have the intoxication of the energy, into whom Agni Vaishwanara has entered, may those divine waters foster me."
It is evident that Vasishtha is speaking here of the same waters, the same streams that Vamadeva hymns, the waters that rise from the ocean and flow into the ocean, the honeyed wave that rises upward from the sea, from the flood that is the heart of things, streams of the clarity, ghr.tasya dharah.. They are the floods of the supreme and universal conscious existence in which Varuna moves looking down on the truth and the falsehood of mortals, - a phrase that can apply neither to the descending rains nor to the physical ocean. Varuna in the Veda is not an Indian Neptune, neither is he precisely, as the European scholars at first imagined, the Greek Ouranos, the sky. He is the master of an ethereal wideness, an upper ocean, of the vastness of being, of its purity; in that vastness, it is elsewhere said, he has made paths in the pathless infinite along which Surya, the
Sun, the Lord of Truth and the Light can move. Thence he looks down on the mingled truths and falsehoods of the mortal consciousness. And we have farther to note that these divine waters are those which Indra has cloven out and made to flow upon the earth, - a description which throughout the Veda is applied to the seven rivers.
If there were any doubt whether these waters of Vasishtha's prayer are the same as the waters of Vamadeva's great hymn, madhuman urmih., ghr.tasya dharah., it is entirely removed by another Sukta of the sage Vasishtha, (VII.47). In the forty-ninth hymn he refers briefly to the divine waters as honey-streaming,
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madhuscutah. and speaks of the Gods enjoying in them the intoxication of the energy, urjam madanti; from this we can gather that the honey or sweetness is the madhu, the Soma, the wine of the Ananda, of which the Gods have the ecstasy. But in the forty-seventh hymn he makes his meaning unmistakably clear.
"O Waters, that supreme wave of yours, the drink of Indra, which the seekers of the Godhead have made for themselves, that pure, inviolate, clarity-streaming, honeyed (ghr.taprus.am madhumantam) wave of you may we today enjoy. O Waters, may the son of the waters (Agni), he of the swift rushings, foster that most honeyed wave of you; that wave of yours in which
Indra with the Vasus is intoxicated with ecstasy, may we who seek the Godhead taste today. Strained through the hundred purifiers, ecstatic by their self-nature, they are divine and move to the goal of the movement of the Gods (the supreme ocean); they limit not the workings of Indra: offer to the rivers a food of oblation full of the clarity (ghr.tavat). May the rivers which the sun has formed by his rays, from whom Indra clove out a moving wave, establish for us the supreme good. And do ye, O gods, protect us ever by states of felicity."
Here we have Vamadeva's madhuman urmih., the sweet intoxicating wave, and it is plainly said that this honey, this sweetness is the Soma, the drink of Indra. That is farther made clear by the epithet satapavitrah. which can only refer in the
Vedic language to the Soma; and let us note that it is an epithet of the rivers themselves and that the honeyed wave is brought flowing from them by Indra, its passage being cloven out on the mountains by the thunderbolt that slew Vritra. Again it is made clear that these waters are the seven rivers released by
Indra from the hold of Vritra, the Besieger, the Coverer and sent flowing down upon the earth.
What can these rivers be whose wave is full of Soma wine, full of the ghr.ta, full of urj, the energy? What are these waters that flow to the goal of the gods' movement, that establish for man the supreme good? Not the rivers of the Punjab; no wildest assumption of barbarous confusion or insane incoherence in the mentality of the Vedic Rishis can induce us to put such a
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construction upon such expressions. Obviously these are the waters of the Truth and the Bliss that flow from the supreme ocean. These rivers flow not upon earth, but in heaven; they are prevented by Vritra the Besieger, the Coverer from flowing down upon the earth-consciousness in which we mortals live till Indra, the god-mind, smites the Coverer with his flashing lightnings and cuts out a passage on the summits of that earth-consciousness down which they can flow. Such is the only rational, coherent and sensible explanation of the thought and language of the
Vedic sages. For the rest, Vasishtha makes it clear enough to us; for he says that these are the waters which Surya has formed by his rays and which, unlike earthly movements, do not limit or diminish the workings of Indra, the supreme Mind. They are, in other words, the waters of the Vast Truth, r.tam br.hat and, as we have always seen that this Truth creates the Bliss, so here we find that these waters of the Truth, r.tasya dharah., as they are plainly called in other hymns (e.g. V.12.2, "O perceiver of the Truth, perceive the Truth alone, cleave out many streams of the Truth"), establish for men the supreme good and the supreme good2 is the felicity, the bliss of the divine existence.
Still, neither in these hymns nor in Vamadeva's is there an express mention of the seven rivers. We will turn therefore to the first hymn of Vishwamitra, his hymn to Agni, from its second to its fourteenth verse. The passage is a long one, but it is sufficiently important to cite and translate in full.
9. Pitus cid udhar janus.a viveda, vyasya dhara asr.jad vi dhenah.;
Guha carantam sakhibhih. sivebhir, divo yahvbhir na guha babhuva.
10. Pitus ca garbham janitus ca babhre, purvr eko adhayat ppyanah.;
Vr.s.n.e sapatn sucaye sabandhu, ubhe asmai manus.ye ni pahi.
11. Urau mahan anibadhe vavardha, apo agnim yasasah. sam hi purvh.;
R.tasya yonav asayad damuna, jamnam agnir apasi svasr.n.am.
12. Akro na babhrih. samithe mahnam, didr.ks.eyah. sunave bha-r.jkah.;
Ud usriya janita yo jajana, apam garbho nr.tamo yahvo agnih..
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13. Apam garbham darsatam os.adhnam, vana jajana subhaga virupam;
Devasas cin manasa sam hi jagmuh., panis.t.ham jatam tavasam duvasyan.
14. Br.hanta id bhanavo bha-r.jkam, agnim sacanta vidyuto na sukrah.;
Guheva vr.ddham sadasi sve antar, apara urve amr.tam duhanah..
"We have made the sacrifice to ascend towards the supreme, let the Word increase. With kindlings of his fire, with obeisance of submission they set Agni to his workings; they have given expression in the heaven to the knowings of the seers and they desire a passage for him in his strength, in his desire of the word. (2)
"Full of intellect, purified in discernment, the perfect friend
(or, perfect builder) from his birth of Heaven and of Earth, he establishes the Bliss; the gods discovered Agni visible in the
Waters, in the working of the sisters. (3)
"The seven Mighty Ones increased him who utterly enjoys felicity, white in his birth, ruddy when he has grown. They moved and laboured about him, the Mares around the newborn child; the gods gave body to Agni in his birth. (4)
"With his pure bright limbs he extended and formed the middle world purifying the will-to-action by the help of the pure lords of wisdom; wearing light as a robe about all the life of the Waters he formed in himself glories vast and without any deficiency. (5)
"He moved everywhere about the Mighty Ones of Heaven, and they devoured not, neither were overcome, - they were not clothed, neither were they naked. Here the eternal and ever young goddesses from one womb held the one Child, they the
Seven Words. (6)
"Spread out were the masses of him in universal forms in the womb of the clarity, in the flowings of the sweetnesses; here the fostering Rivers stood nourishing themselves; the two Mothers of the accomplishing god became vast and harmonised. (7)
"Borne by them, O child of Force, thou didst blaze out
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holding thy bright and rapturous embodiments; out flow the streams of the sweetness, the clarity, where the Bull of the abundance has grown by the Wisdom. (8)
"He discovered at his birth the source of the abundance of the Father and he loosed forth wide His streams and wide
His rivers. By his helpful comrades and by the Mighty Ones of
Heaven he found Him moving in the secret places of existence, yet himself was not lost in their secrecy. (9)
"He bore the child of the Father and of him that begot him; one, he fed upon his many mothers in their increasing. In this pure Male both these powers in man (Earth and Heaven) have their common lord and lover; do thou guard them both. (10)
"Great in the unobstructed Vast he increased; yea, many
Waters victoriously increased Agni. In the source of the Truth he lay down; there he made his home, Agni in the working of the undivided Sisters. (11)
"As the mover in things and as their sustainer he in the meeting of the Great Ones, seeking vision, straight in his lustres for the presser-out of the Soma wine, he who was the father of the Radiances, gave them now their higher birth, - the child of the Waters, the mighty and most strong Agni. (12)
"To the visible Birth of the waters and of the growths of
Earth the goddess of Delight now gave birth in many forms, she of the utter felicity. The gods united in him by the mind and they set him to his working who was born full of strength and mighty for the labour. (13)
"Those vast shinings clove to Agni straight in his lustre and were like bright lightnings; from him increasing in the secret places of existence in his own seat within the shoreless Vast they milked out Immortality." (14)
Whatever may be the meaning of this passage, - and it is absolutely clear that it has a mystic significance and is no mere sacrificial hymn of ritualistic barbarians, - the seven rivers, the waters, the seven sisters cannot here be the seven rivers of the
Punjab. The waters in which the gods discovered the visible
Agni cannot be terrestrial and material streams; this Agni who
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increases by knowledge and makes his home and rest in the source of the Truth, of whom Heaven and Earth are the wives and lovers, who is increased by the divine waters in the unobstructed Vast, his own seat, and dwelling in that shoreless infinity yields to the illumined gods the supreme Immortality, cannot be the god of physical Fire. In this passage as in so many others the mystical, the spiritual, the psychological character of the burden of the Veda reveals itself not under the surface, not behind a veil of mere ritualism, but openly, insistently, - in a disguise indeed, but a disguise that is transparent, so that the secret truth of the Veda appears here, like the rivers of Vishwamitra's hymn,
"neither veiled nor naked".
We see that these Waters are the same as those of Vamadeva's hymn, of Vasishtha's, closely connected with the clarity and the honey, - ghr.tasya yonau sravathe madhunam, scotanti dhara madhuno ghr.tasya; they lead to the Truth, they are themselves the source of the Truth, they flow in the unobstructed and shoreless Vast as well as here upon the earth. They are figured as fostering cows (dhenavah.), mares (asvah.), they are called sapta van.h., the seven Words of the creative goddess Vak, - Speech, the expressive power of Aditi, of the supreme Prakriti who is spoken of as the Cow just as the Deva or Purusha is described in the Veda as Vrishabha or Vrishan, the Bull. They are therefore the seven strands of all being, the seven streams or currents or forms of movement of the one conscious existence.
We shall find that in the light of the ideas which we have discovered from the very opening of the Veda in Madhuchchhandas' hymns and in the light of the symbolic interpretations which are now becoming clear to us, this passage apparently so figured, mysterious, enigmatical becomes perfectly straightforward and coherent, as indeed do all the passages of the Veda which seem now almost unintelligible when once their right clue is found. We have only to fix the psychological function of Agni, the priest, the fighter, the worker, the truth-finder, the winner of beatitude for man; and that has already been fixed for us in the first hymn of the Rig Veda by Madhuchchhandas' description of him, - "the Will in works of the Seer true and most rich in
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varied inspiration." Agni is the Deva, the All-Seer, manifested as conscious-force or, as it would be called in modern language,
Divine or Cosmic Will, first hidden and building up the eternal worlds, then manifest, "born", building up in man the Truth and the Immortality.
Gods and men, says Vishwamitra in effect, kindle this divine force by lighting the fires of the inner sacrifice; they enable it to work by their adoration and submission to it; they express in heaven, that is to say, in the pure mentality which is symbolised by Dyaus, the knowings of the Seers, in other words the illuminations of the Truth-consciousness which exceeds Mind; and they do this in order to make a passage for this divine force which in its strength seeking always to find the word of right self-expression aspires beyond mind. This divine will carrying in all its workings the secret of the divine knowledge, kavikratuh., befriends or builds up the mental and physical consciousness in man, divah. pr.thivyah., perfects the intellect, purifies the discernment so that they grow to be capable of the "knowings of the seers" and by the superconscient Truth thus made conscient in us establishes firmly the Beatitude (vs. 2-3).
The rest of the passage describes the ascent of this divine conscious-force, Agni, this Immortal in mortals who in the sacrifice takes the place of the ordinary will and knowledge of man, from the mortal and physical consciousness to the immortality of the Truth and the Beatitude. The Vedic Rishis speak of five births for man, five worlds of creatures where works are done, panca janah., panca kr.s.t.h. or ks.ith.. Dyaus and Prithivi represent the pure mental and the physical consciousness; between them is the Antariksha, the intermediate or connecting level of the vital or nervous consciousness. Dyaus and Prithivi are Rodasi, our two firmaments; but these have to be overpassed, for then we find admission to another heaven than that of the pure mind - to the wide, the Vast which is the basis, the foundation (budhna) of the infinite consciousness, Aditi. This Vast is the Truth which supports the supreme triple world, those highest steps or seats
(padani, sadamsi) of Agni, of Vishnu, those supreme Names of the Mother, the cow, Aditi. The Vast or Truth is declared to be
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the own or proper seat or home of Agni, svam damam, svam sadah.. Agni is described in this hymn ascending from earth to his own seat.
This divine Power is found by the gods visible in the Waters, in the working of the Sisters. These are the sevenfold waters of the Truth, the divine waters brought down from the heights of our being by Indra. First it is secret in the earth's growths, os.adhh., the things that hold her heats, and has to be brought out by a sort of force, by a pressure of the two aran.is, earth and heaven. Therefore it is called the child of the earth's growths and the child of the earth and heaven; this immortal Force is produced by man with pain and difficulty from the workings of the pure mind upon the physical being. But in the divine waters
Agni is found visible and easily born in all his strength and in all his knowledge and in all his enjoyment, entirely white and pure, growing ruddy with his action as he increases (v. 3). From his very birth the Gods give him force and splendour and body; the seven mighty Rivers increase him in his joy; they move about this great newborn child and labour over him as the Mares, asvah.
The rivers, usually named dhenavah., fostering cows, are here described as asvah., Mares, because while the Cow is the symbol of consciousness in the form of knowledge, the
Horse is the symbol of consciousness in the form of force.
Ashwa, the Horse, is the dynamic force of Life, and the rivers labouring over Agni on the earth become the waters of Life, of the vital dynamis or kinesis, the Prana, which moves and acts and desires and enjoys. Agni himself begins as material heat and power, manifests secondarily as the Horse and then only becomes the heavenly fire. His first work is to give as the child of the Waters its full form and extension and purity to the middle world, the vital or dynamic plane, raja atatanvan.
He purifies the nervous life in man pervading it with his own pure bright limbs, lifting upward its impulsions and desires, its purified will in works (kratum) by the pure powers of the super-conscient Truth and Wisdom, kavibhih. pavitraih.. So he wears his vast glories, no longer the broken and limited activity
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of desires and instincts, all about the life of the Waters (vs.
The sevenfold waters thus rise upward and become the pure mental activity, the Mighty Ones of Heaven. They there reveal themselves as the first eternal ever-young energies, separate streams but of one origin - for they have all flowed from the one womb of the super-conscient Truth - the seven Words or fundamental creative expressions of the divine Mind, sapta van.h.. This life of the pure mind is not like that of the nervous life which devours its objects in order to sustain its mortal existence; its waters devour not but they do not fail; they are the eternal truth robed in a transparent veil of mental forms; therefore, it is said, they are neither clothed nor naked (v. 6).
But this is not the last stage. The Force rises into the womb or birthplace of this mental clarity (ghr.tasya) where the waters flow as streams of the divine sweetness (sravathe madhunam); there the forms it assumes are universal forms, masses of the vast and infinite consciousness. As a result, the fostering rivers in the lower world are nourished by this descending higher sweetness and the mental and physical consciousness, the two first mothers of the all-effecting Will, become in their entire largeness perfectly equal and harmonised by this light of the
Truth, through this nourishing by the infinite Bliss. They bear the full force of Agni, the blaze of his lightnings, the glory and rapture of his universal forms. For where the Lord, the Male, the
Bull of the abundance is increased by the wisdom of the superconscient Truth, there always flow the streams of the clarity and the streams of the bliss (vs. 7-8).
The Father of all things is the Lord and Male; he is hidden in the secret source of things, in the super-conscient; Agni, with his companion gods and with the sevenfold Waters, enters into the super-conscient without therefore disappearing from our conscient existence, finds the source of the honeyed plenty of the
Father of things and pours them out on our life. He bears and himself becomes the Son, the pure Kumara, the pure Male, the
One, the soul in man revealed in its universality; the mental and physical consciousness in the human being accept him as their
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lord and lover; but, though one, he still enjoys the manifold movement of the rivers, the multiple cosmic energies (vs. 9-10).
Then we are told expressly that this infinite into which he has entered and in which he grows, in which the many Waters victoriously reaching their goal (yasasah.) increase him, is the unobstructed vast where the Truth is born, the shoreless infinite, his own natural seat in which he now takes up his home. There the seven rivers, the sisters, work no longer separated though of one origin as on the earth and in the mortal life, but rather as indivisible companions (jamnam apasi svasr.n.am). In that entire meeting of these great ones Agni moves in all things and upbears all things; the rays of his vision are perfectly straight, no longer affected by the lower crookedness; he from whom the radiances of knowledge, the brilliant herds, were born, now gives them this high and supreme birth; he turns them into the divine knowledge, the immortal consciousness (vs. 11-12).
This also is his own new and last birth. He who was born as the Son of Force from the growths of earth, he who was born as the child of the Waters, is now born in many forms to the goddess of bliss, she who has the entire felicity, that is to say to the divine conscious beatitude, in the shoreless infinite. The gods or divine powers in man using the mind as an instrument reach him there, unite around him, set him to the great work of the world in this new, mighty and effective birth. They, the outshinings of that vast consciousness, cleave to this divine Force as its bright lightnings and from him in the super-conscient, the shoreless vast, his own home, they draw for man the Immortality.
Such then, profound, coherent, luminous behind the veil of figures is the sense of the Vedic symbol of the seven rivers, of the Waters, of the five worlds, of the birth and ascent of
Agni which is also the upward journey of man and the Gods whose image man forms in himself from level to level of the great hill of being (sanoh. sanum). Once we apply it and seize the true sense of the symbol of the Cow and the symbol of the
Soma with a just conception of the psychological functions of the Gods, all the apparent incoherences and obscurities and farfetched chaotic confusion of these ancient hymns disappears in a
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moment. Simply, easily, without straining there disengages itself the profound and luminous doctrine of the ancient Mystics, the secret of the Veda.
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