object:1.12 - The Herds of the Dawn
book class:The Secret Of The Veda
The Herds of the Dawn
HE SEVEN Rivers of the Veda, the Waters, apah., are usually designated in the figured Vedic language as the seven
Mothers or the seven fostering Cows, sapta dhenavah..
The word apah. itself has, covertly, a double significance; for the root ap meant originally not only to move from which in all probability is derived the sense of waters, but to be or bring into being, as in apatya, a child, and the Southern Indian appa, father. The seven Waters are the waters of being; they are the
Mothers from whom all forms of existence are born. But we meet also another expression, sapta gavah., the seven Cows or the seven Lights, and the epithet saptagu, that which has seven rays.
Gu (gavah.) and go (gavah.) bear throughout the Vedic hymns this double sense of cows and radiances. In the ancient Indian system of thought being and consciousness were aspects of each other, and Aditi, infinite existence from whom the gods are born, described as the Mother with her seven names and seven seats
(dhamani), is also conceived as the infinite consciousness, the
Cow, the primal Light manifest in seven Radiances, sapta gavah..
The sevenfold principle of existence is therefore imaged from the one point of view in the figure of the Rivers that arise from the ocean, sapta dhenavah., from the other in the figure of the Rays of the all-creating Father, Surya Savitri, sapta gavah..
The image of the Cow is the most important of all the Vedic symbols. For the ritualist the word go means simply a physical cow and nothing else, just as its companion word, asva, means simply a physical horse and has no other sense, or as ghr.ta means only water or clarified butter, vra only a son or a retainer or servant. When the Rishi prays to the Dawn, gomad vravad dhehi ratnam us.o asvavat, the ritualistic commentator sees in the invocation only an entreaty for "pleasant wealth to which are attached cows, men (or sons) and horses". If on the other
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hand these words are symbolic, the sense will run, "Confirm in us a state of bliss full of light, of conquering energy and of force of vitality." It is therefore necessary to decide once for all the significance of the word go in the Vedic hymns. If it proves to be symbolic, then these other words, - asva, horse, vra, man or hero, apatya or praja, offspring, hiran.ya, gold, vaja, plenty
(food, according to Sayana), - by which it is continually accompanied, must perforce assume also a symbolic and a kindred significance.
The image of the Cow is constantly associated in Veda with the Dawn and the Sun; it also recurs in the legend of the recovery of the lost cows from the cave of the Panis by Indra and Brihaspati with the aid of the hound Sarama and the Angiras Rishis.
The conception of the Dawn and the legend of the Angirases are at the very heart of the Vedic cult and may almost be considered as the key to the secret of the significance of Veda. It is therefore these two that we must examine in order to find firm ground for our inquiry.
Now even the most superficial examination of the Vedic hymns to the Dawn makes it perfectly clear that the cows of the
Dawn, the cows of the Sun are a symbol for Light and cannot be anything else. Sayana himself is obliged in these hymns to interpret the word sometimes as cows, sometimes as rays, - careless as usual of consistency; sometimes he will even tell us that go like r.tam, the word for truth, means water. As a matter of fact it is evident that we are meant to take the word in a double sense, "light" as the true significance, "cow" as the concrete image and verbal figure.
The sense of "rays" is quite indisputable in such passages as the third verse of Madhuchchhandas' hymn to Indra, I.7, "Indra for far vision made the Sun to ascend in heaven: he sped him all over the hill by his rays," vi gobhir adrim airayat.1 But at the same time, the rays of Surya are the herds of the Sun, the kine
We may also translate "He sent abroad the thunderbolt with its lights"; but this does not make as good and coherent a sense; even if we take it, gobhir must mean "radiances" not "cows".
The Herds of the Dawn
of Helios slain by the companions of Odysseus in the Odyssey, stolen by Hermes from his brother Apollo in the Homeric hymn to Hermes. They are the cows concealed by the enemy Vala, by the Panis; when Madhuchchhandas says to Indra, "Thou didst uncover the hole of Vala of the Cows", he means that Vala is the concealer, the withholder of the Light and it is the concealed
Light that Indra restores to the sacrificer. The recovery of the lost or stolen cows is constantly spoken of in the Vedic hymns and its sense will be clear enough when we come to examine the legend of the Panis and of the Angirases.
Once this sense is established, the material explanation of the Vedic prayer for "cows" is at once shaken; for if the lost cows for whose restoration the Rishis invoke Indra, are not physical herds stolen by the Dravidians but the shining herds of the Sun, of the Light, then we are justified in considering whether the same figure does not apply when there is the simple prayer for "cows" without any reference to any hostile interception.
For instance in I.4.2 it is said of Indra, the maker of perfect forms who is as a good milker in the milking of the cows, that his ecstasy of the Soma-Wine is verily "cow-giving", goda id revato madah.. It is the height of absurdity and irrationality to understand by this phrase that Indra is a very wealthy god and, when he gets drunk, exceedingly liberal in the matter of cowgiving. It is obvious that as the cow-milking in the first verse is a figure, so the cow-giving in the second verse is a figure. And if we know from other passages of the Veda that the Cow is the symbol of Light, we must understand here also that Indra, when full of the Soma-ecstasy, is sure to give us the Light.
In the hymns to the Dawn the symbolic sense of the cows of light is equally clear. Dawn is described always as gomat, which must mean, obviously, luminous or radiant; for it would be nonsense to use "cowful" in a literal sense as the fixed epithet of the Dawn. But the image of the cows is there in the epithet; for Usha is not only gomat, she is gomat asvavat; she has always with her her cows and her horses. She creates light for all the world and opens out the darkness as the pen of the Cow, where we have without any possibility of mistake the cow as the
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symbol of light, (I.92.4). We may note also that in this hymn
I.92, the Ashwins are asked to drive downward their chariot on a path that is radiant and golden, gomad hiran.yavad. Moreover
Dawn is said to be drawn in her chariot sometimes by ruddy cows, sometimes by ruddy horses. "She yokes her host of the ruddy cows"; yunkte gavam arun.anam ankam (I.124.11), - where the second meaning "her host of the ruddy rays" stands clear behind the concrete image. She is described as the mother of the cows or radiances; gavam janitr akr.ta pra ketum (I.124.5),
"the Mother of the cows (radiances) has created vision", and it is said elsewhere of her action, "vision" or "perception has dawned now where nought was"; and again it is clear that the cows are the shining herds of the Light. She is also praised as "the leader of the shining herds", netr gavam, VII.76.6; and there is an illuminating verse in which the two ideas are combined,
"the Mother of the Herds, the guide of the days", gavam mata netr ahnam (VII.77.2). Finally, as if to remove the veil of the image entirely, the Veda itself tells us that the herds are a figure for the rays of the Light, "her happy rays come into sight like cows released into movement" - prati bhadra adr.ks.ata gavam sarga na rasmayah. (IV.52.5). And we have the still more conclusive verse, VII.79.2, "Thy cows (rays) remove the darkness and extend the Light"; sam te gavas tama a vartayanti, jyotir yacchanti.2
But Dawn is not only drawn by these shining herds; she brings them as a gift to the sacrificer; she is, like Indra in his
Soma-ecstasy, a giver of the Light. In a hymn of Vasishtha
(VII.75) she is described as sharing in the action of the gods by which the strong places where the herds are concealed are broken open and they are given to men; "True with the gods who are true, great with the gods who are great, she breaks open the strong places and gives of the shining herds; the cows low towards the dawn," - rujad dr.d.hani dadad usriyan.am, prati
It cannot of course be disputed that go means light in the Veda e.g. when it is said that Vritra is slain gava, by light, there is no question of the cow; the question is of the use of the double sense and of the cow as a symbol.
The Herds of the Dawn
gava us.asam vavasanta. And in the very next verse she is asked to confirm or establish for the sacrificers gomad ratnam asvavat purubhojah., a state of bliss full of the light (cows), of the horses
(vital force) and of many enjoyments. The herds which Usha gives are therefore the shining troops of the Light recovered by the gods and the Angiras Rishis from the strong places of Vala and the Panis and the wealth of cows (and horses) for which the
Rishis constantly pray can be no other than a wealth of this same
Light; for it is impossible to suppose that the cows which Usha is said to give in the seventh verse of the hymn are different from the cows which are prayed for in the eighth, - that the word in the former verse means light and in the next physical cows and that the Rishi has forgotten the image he was using the very moment it has fallen from his tongue.
Sometimes the prayer is not for luminous delight or luminous plenitude, but for a luminous impulsion or force; "Bring to us, O daughter of Heaven, luminous impulsions along with the rays of the Sun," gomatr is.a a vaha duhitar divah., sakam suryasya rasmibhih., V.79.8. Sayana explains that this means
"shining foods", but it is obviously nonsense to talk of radiant foods being brought by Dawn with the rays of the Sun. If is. means food, then we have to understand by the phrase "food of cow's flesh", but, although the eating of cow's flesh was not forbidden in the early times, as is apparent from the Brahmanas, still that this sense which Sayana avoids as shocking to the later
Hindu sentiment, is not intended - it would be quite as absurd as the other, - is proved by another verse of the Rig Veda in which the Ashwins are invoked to give the luminous impulsion that carries us through to the other side of the darkness, ya nah. pparad asvina jyotis.mat tamas tirah., tam asme rasatham is.am
We can perceive from these typical examples how pervading is this image of the Cow of Light and how inevitably it points to a psychological sense for the Veda. A doubt, however, intervenes.
Why should we not, even accepting this inevitable conclusion that the cow is an image for Light, understand it to mean simply the light of day as the language of the Veda seems to intend?
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Why suppose a symbol where there is only an image? Why invite the difficulty of a double figure in which "cow" means light of dawn and light of dawn is the symbol of an inner illumination?
Why not take it that the Rishis were praying not for spiritual illumination, but for daylight?
The objections are manifold and some of them overwhelming. If we assume that the Vedic hymns were composed in India and the dawn is the Indian dawn and the night the brief Indian night of ten or twelve hours, we have to start with the concession that the Vedic Rishis were savages overpowered by a terror of the darkness which they peopled with goblins, ignorant of the natural law of the succession of night and day - which is yet beautifully hymned in many of the Suktas, - and believed that it was only by their prayers and sacrifices that the Sun rose in the heavens and the Dawn emerged from the embrace of her sister
Night. Yet they speak of the undeviating rule of the action of the Gods, and of Dawn following always the path of the eternal
Law or Truth! We have to suppose that when the Rishi gives vent to the joyous cry "We have crossed over to the other shore of this darkness!", it was only the normal awakening to the daily sunrise that he thus eagerly hymned. We have to suppose that the Vedic peoples sat down to the sacrifice at dawn and prayed for the light when it had already come. And if we accept all these improbabilities, we are met by the clear statement that it was only after they had sat for nine or for ten months that the lost light and the lost sun were recovered by the Angiras
Rishis. And what are we to make of the constant assertion of the discovery of the Light by the Fathers; - "Our fathers found out the hidden light, by the truth in their thoughts they brought to birth the Dawn," gud.ham jyotih. pitaro anvavindan, satyamantra ajanayan us.asam (VII.76.4). If we found such a verse in any collection of poems in any literature, we would at once give it a psychological or a spiritual sense; there is no just reason for a different treatment of the Veda.
If, however, we are to give a naturalistic explanation and no other to the Vedic hymns, it is quite clear that the Vedic
Dawn and Night cannot be the Night and Dawn of India; it
The Herds of the Dawn
is only in the Arctic regions that the attitude of the Rishis towards these natural circumstances and the statements about the
Angirases become at all intelligible. But though it is extremely probable that the memories of the Arctic home enter into the external sense of the Veda, the Arctic theory does not exclude an inner sense behind the ancient images drawn from Nature nor does it dispense with the necessity for a more coherent and straightforward explanation of the hymns to the Dawn.
We have, for instance, the hymn of Praskanwa Kanwa to the Ashwins (I.46) in which there is the reference to the luminous impulsion that carries us through to the other shore of the darkness. This hymn is intimately connected with the Vedic idea of the Dawn and the Night. It contains references to many of the fixed Vedic images, to the path of the Truth, the crossing of the rivers, the rising of the Sun, the connection between the
Dawn and the Ashwins, the mystic effect and oceanic essence of the Soma Wine.
"Lo, the Dawn than which there is none higher, opens out full of delight in the Heavens; O Ashwins, the Vast of you I affirm, ye of whom the Ocean is the mother, accomplishers of the work who pass beyond through the mind to the felicities and, divine, find that substance by the thought. . . . O Lords of the Voyage, who mentalise the word, this is the dissolver of your thinkings, - drink ye of the Soma violently; give to us that impulsion, O Ashwins which, luminous, carries us through beyond the darkness. Travel for us in your ship to reach the other shore beyond the thoughts of the mind. Yoke, O Ashwins, your car, - your car that becomes the vast oared ship in Heaven, in the crossing of its rivers. By the thought the powers of Delight have been yoked. The Soma-powers of delight in heaven are that substance in the place of the Waters. But where shall you cast aside the veil you have made to conceal you? Nay, Light has been born for the joy of the Soma; - the Sun that was dark has shot out its tongue towards the Gold. The path of the Truth has come into being by which we shall travel to that other shore; seen is all the wide way through Heaven. The seeker grows in his being towards increasing manifestation after manifestation
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of the Ashwins when they find satisfaction in the ecstasy of the
Soma. Do ye, dwelling (or, shining) in the all-luminous Sun, by the drinking of the Soma, by the Word come as creators of the bliss into our humanity. Dawn comes to us according to your glory when you pervade all our worlds and you win the Truths out of the Nights. Both together drink, O Ashwins, both together extend to us the peace by expandings whose wholeness remains untorn."
This is the straightforward and natural sense of the hymn and its intention is not difficult to follow if we remember the main ideas and images of the Vedic doctrine. The Night is clearly the image of an inner darkness; by the coming of the Dawn the
Truths are won out of the Nights. This is the rising of the Sun which was lost in the obscurity - the familiar figure of the lost sun recovered by the Gods and the Angiras Rishis - the sun of Truth, and it now shoots out its tongue of fire towards the golden Light: - for hiran.ya, gold is the concrete symbol of the higher light, the gold of the Truth, and it is this treasure not golden coin for which the Vedic Rishis pray to the Gods. This great change from the inner obscuration to the illumination is effected by the Ashwins, lords of the joyous upward action of the mind and the vital powers, through the immortal wine of the Ananda poured into mind and body and there drunk by them. They mentalise the expressive Word, they lead us into the heaven of pure mind beyond this darkness and there by the
Thought they set the powers of the Delight to work. But even over the heavenly waters they cross, for the power of the Soma helps them to dissolve all mental constructions, and they cast aside even this veil; they go beyond Mind and the last attaining is described as the crossing of the rivers, the passage through the heaven of the pure mind, the journey by the path of the Truth to the other side. Not till we reach the highest supreme, parama paravat, do we rest at last from the great human journey.
We shall see that not only in this hymn, but everywhere
Dawn comes as a bringer of the Truth, is herself the outshining of the Truth. She is the divine Dawn and the physical dawning is only her shadow and symbol in the material universe.
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