Lesson 11 Reading 1:
 
excerpts from Rig Veda Samhita
("Song Wisdom Collection," south Asian, cir. 1000 BCE?)
 

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Creation Song

The non-existent was not; the existent was not then.
The atmosphere was not, the heavens beyond not.
What was hidden? Where? In whose keeping?
Was it water? A bottomless deep?

There was neither death nor immortality then.
There was no distinction of day or night.
What breathed by its own power was breathless.
Other than that, there was nothing else.

Darkness was hidden by darkness at first.
It was all an indistinguishable sea.
The void covered all that which becomes,
all to be born through energy of heat alone.

From that, desire arose in the beginning.
This was the first effect of thought.
Having looked into the heart, wise sages
saw this link of nonexistence to existence.

Their line of sight was extended across:
what was below, what was above?
There were impregnators, there were powers:
inherent power below, impulses above.

Who knows really? Who here will say
where it arose, from where this creation came?
The gods came after this creation.
Who, then, knows from where being has come?

From where has this creation come into being?
Was it made or no made?
He in the highest heaven, its surveyor,
Surely he knows, or maybe not.


Song to Agni
(Fire)

I call upon Agni, the one set at the start,
the divine priest of the sacrifice, the invoker,
the bringer of best gifts.

Agni is worthy of being called
by seers past and present:
may he bring the gods here!

Through Agni may one obtain wealth
and prosperity day by day,
splendid and abounding in glorious sons.

O Agni, the sacrifice on the altar
which you encompass on all sides,
that alone goes to the gods.

May Agni, who calls like a sage,
true and most brilliant in glory,
come here, as a god bringing the gods!

Whatever gift you wish to give a worshipper,
Agni, that favor of yours always comes true,
O Angiras [member of a priestly family].

Agni, you gleam in the darkness.
To you we come every day,
with devotion, bearing homage

to you, king of sacrifices,
keeper of the Rta [cosmic law],
brightly shining, growing in your home.

So, stay near us, Agni,
as a father to his son.
Stay with us for our protection.


To Indra

The one who is first and was wise when born;
the one who strove to protect the gods with strength;
the one before whose force the two worlds feared
because of the greatness of his virility:
he, O people, is Indra.

The one who made firm the quaking earth;
the one who made fast the shaken mountains;
the one who measured out wide the atmosphere;
the one who propped up heaven:
he, O people, is Indra.

The one who killed the serpent, released seven rivers;
the one who drove out the cows by undoing Vala, (1)
the one who sparks between two striking rocks,
the one who is the winner of battles:
he, O people, is Indra.

The one by whom all things here were made moving;
the one who put in hiding the lowly Dasa color;
the one who, like a gambler who has won the stake, has taken the enemy's possessions:
he, O people, is Indra.

The terror, about whom they ask "Where is he?"
and they hope to hear of him, "He is not!"
He took the enemy's bet and their possessions.
Put your faith in him:
he, O people, is Indra.

The one who supports the weary, the weak,
the Brahman seeking aid, the singer;
the mustached helper of him who works the stones,
who has pressed the Soma (2):
he, O people, is Indra.

The one in whose control are horses, cows,
villages, all chariots;
the one who has caused to be born the sun, the dawn; the one who is the waters' leader:
he, O people, is Indra.

The one that the two lines of battle,
coming together, call upon separately,
the nearer and the farther, both foes; even two
mounted on the same chariot call him separately:
he, O people, is Indra.

The one without whom people do not conquer;
the one to whom, when fighting, they call for help;
the one who is a match for anyone;
the one who shakes the unshakable:
he, O people, is Indra.


To Purusa (the Cosmic Person)

Thousand-headed is Purusa,
thousand-eyed, thousand-footed.
Having covered earth on every side,
he stood above it the width of ten fingers.

Only Purusa is all this,
that which has been and that which is to be.
He is the lord of the immortals,
who grow by means of [ritual] food.

Such is his greatness,
yet more than this is Purusa.
One-quarter of him is all beings;
three-quarters is immortal in heaven.

Three-quarters of Purusa went upward,
one-quarter of him remained here.
From this quarter he spread in all directions
into what eats and what does not eat.

From him the shining one was born,
from the shining one was born Purusa.
When born he extended beyond the earth,
behind as well as in front.

When the gods performed a sacrifice
with the offering Purusa,
spring was its clarified butter,
summer the kindling, autumn the oblation.

It was Purusa, born in the beginning,
which they sprinkled on the grass
as a sacred sacrifice. With him the gods sacrificed,
the demi-gods, and the seers.

From that sacrifice completely offered,
the clotted butter was brought together.
It made the beasts of the air,
the forest and the village.

From that sacrifice completely offered,
the mantras and the songs were born.
The meters were born from it.
The sacrificial formulae were born from it.

From it all the horses were born
and all that have cutting teeth in both jaws.
The cows were born from it, too.
From it were born both goats and sheep.

When they divided Purusa,
how many ways did they apportion him?
What was his mouth? What were his arms?
What were his thighs, his feet declared to be?

His mouth was the Brahman [caste],
his arms were the Rajanaya [Ksatriya caste],
his thighs the Vaisya [caste];
from his feet the Sudra [caste] was born.

The moon was born from his mind;
from his eye the sun was born;
from his mouth both Indra and Agni;
from his breath Vayu [wind] was born.

From his navel arose the air; from his head heaven;
from his feet the earth;
the [four] directions from his ear.
Thus, they fashioned the worlds.

Seven were his altar sticks,
three times seven were the kindling bundles,
when the gods, performing the sacrifice,
bound the creature Purusa.

The gods sacrificed with the sacrifice to the sacrifice.
These were the first rites.
Their power reached the firmament,
where the ancient demi-gods and the gods are.


(1) The cave in which the cattle were imprisoned.

(2) A beverage made from the juice of a plant (probably a hallucinogenic mushroom) and used in religious ceremonies; also a god.

Instructor:  gutchess@englishare.net
Copyright  2008
- 2013

 

 

 

A time is envisioned when the world was not, only a watery chaos (the dark, "indistinguishable sea") and a warm cosmic breath, which perhaps could give an impetus of life. Notice how thought gives rise to desire (when something is thought of it can then be desired) and desire links non-being to being (we desire what is not but then try to bring it about that it is). Yet the whole process is shrouded in mystery. Where do the gods fit in this creation scheme?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agni is the word for fire. He is seen as a god, a foremost god, and a powerful sage, since he makes gods present at the  sacrifice.

He is also the god of the household hearth fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indra is a father god and a war god who can make the earth tremble, a counterpart of Zeus for the Greeks . He is the most frequently mentioned god in the Veda, the most warlike, and the most anthropomorphic. The serpent which he slew was a demon of drought, who had bottled up the streams; but Indra shattered the mountain, releasing the streams like pent up cows. "The lowly Dasa color" whom he has "put in hiding" presumably refers to the indigenous peoples of northern India who had been overcome by the Aryan invaders and either moved into the forests or migrated southward. What is Indra supposed to do for the weary, the weak, the needy priest (a Brahman, of course) and the singer?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Purusa is a cosmic giant, of whom the gods and the cosmos itself are composed; yet he is also the object of the sacrifice to the gods. From him then are derived the gods in the heaven and, from the remainder, all the rest of what is, both the living and the non-living.

 

The top four castes are supposed to have been derived from Purusa: the Brahmans, the Rajanya (or Ksatriya), the Vaisya, and the Sudra. Which body parts are associated with each group, and what seems to be the significance of those parts?