RigVedā Summary on Creation, Deities, and GOD
Note: As more and more people are not getting the Vedic philosophy and just asking the same questions, I am forced to write a detailed answer on Vedic philosophy and show in detail how and what Rigveda hymns mean
I can bet that most of the people don’t have understood the Vedic philosophy. In Vedas, there are two realms for God: The Creator, and the non-manifest Primal Energy. Both are reflections of one another. The Creator part is the concept of God that rules everything from the greatest realms. The Energy is what manifests itself to form the whole universe. The whole of Vedas reflect this kind of philosophy. And in addition to this, the Creator whom we worship, on whom we meditate is called “who” (kaH, refer Nasadiya last part, Hiranyagarbha hymn) “virAT” (the special Ruler; refer RV 10.90) the nameless Reality. And the Creator is Everything and beyond everything. The reflection of the Creator which we can feel out is the Energy that creates the whole universe through manifestation, which is also called “puruSa” in the PuruSa hymn. (RV : 10.90) or “ekam sat” (“One Existence”; RV 1.164) or “tad ekam” (“That One” , RV 10.129) Thus, there are two parts of God – the Creator that is beyond our concepts, but still is the one whom we seek for and worship; the Creator’s energy that is spread throughout this universe manifested and non-manifested, which is noticeable as the splendor of God. (Compare with Indra’s reply to the singer in Rigveda : “I exist; look upon me here singer; I exist as the splendor that pervades the whole…” RV 8.151)
Now, within the Creator part, which we worship, the question of attributes comes up. None can worship an incomprehensible God. So, we can only worship the “concepts of” God, which “is born along with the spiritual dawn” creating “light was light was not and form were form was not”, and “assume sacrificial names”. (RV 1.6) The concepts of God are called “devas” (literally “shining ones”, because they create the spiritual dawn inside the mind). The spiritual creation thus is synonymous with the advent of the concepts of God inside the mind. Thus, devas, the concepts of God “are born” and “prospered” by the spiritual fire of the worshiper. The devas are merely concepts of God, but they have an important place in worship. The concepts of God are united together into a single power form commonly in Rigveda, and Indra is described as the “abode” for all devas. (RV : 3.54) Thus, Rigvedic Indra is considered to be an equivalent of all-powerful God, in whom different concepts of God unite. Alternatively, the poets or the worshippers are the ones who create names for the God. (RV 1.164) The “Ekam sat” (One existence) is told of differently by sages (RV 1.164), or “imagined of differently by sages”, that’s all. (RV 10.114) And this REality poetically stands for the “spiritual sun” who lights up the dawn (RV 10.114, 1.164, etc) whose lights are the devas. (RV 1.6)
Thus, the distinction between devas and God is clear. Devas are not demigods, but concepts of God which the worshipper has to imagine or describe for the mere sake of worshiping. Thus, the devas “are born after the spiritual creation” inside the devotee’s spiritual realm.
Returning to Nasadiya hymn, it talks about the “ekam”, the One that manifests from a state of timelessness (where there is no meaning for existence; though it is not non-existence), comes out as existence by desire (kAma, note that also in Rigveda 8th Mandala Kama or the spontaneous desire is the cause of manifestation of universe and creation) and self impulse (svadhA, also compare with the lines “they by svadha, agitated through regeneration and assumed sacrificial names”, RV 1.6). Thus, Nasadiya is neither nihillistic nor agnostic, it describes confidently that “sages who know the connection of what is and what is not, have found, searching their hearts for wisdom, and also measuring through the ray of knowledge outside”. So, it does state “arvAk devAH asya visarjanena..” (Here are the devas, by the spiritual Creation, or “Before are the devas by physical creation” since arvAk means both before and after, and it is a deliberate pun used in correspondence with the whole poem talking both physical and spiritual creation simultaneously), and confirms that “who (kaH) really knows” everything regarding why and how creation occurred; “only who (kaH) can proclaim it here”. Here, who (kaH) refers to the nameless final Reality who also appears in the Hiranyagarbha hymn as well as Aitareya Aranyaka. (Compare with “who (kaH) is the God we worship with offerings”, the refrain of Hiranyagarbha hymn of Rigveda, or “who (kaH) is the Self on whom we meditate upon” of Aitareya Aranyaka of Rigveda) Surely, the who transcends all our measures to anthropomorphize.
And in the end, too, the Nasadiya sukta confidently asserts that there is a president in the highest realms (The creator). The last stanza is also misinterpreted by most, without considering that it is a poetic device of “incomplete clauses”. The last stanza of Nasadiya sukta interestingly (and deliberately) uses a poetic device by using an incomplete statement. Usually, in Sanskrit, there is a clause “If/whether (condition) then else/or maybe (statement)” which is shown by “yad vA…. yadi vA….”. A mere yadi vA is meaningless. It is simply like telling “or else ….” without telling the main clause before. Interestingly, the Nasadiya sukta uses this kind of clause just as a poetic ornament :
“whence this creation became so, ….. (?; no yadvA or main clause, two syllables left blank) ….or else (yadi vA, subordinate clause) he gave or else he not or else he does not know …. the president of all in the highest realms, surely knows (saH anga veda)”
The poetic meter is also incomplete there with less of two syllables. (ironically a “yadvA” somewhere is deliberately not used though should be used) And the poet here tries to mean that whatever be the arguments regarding creation, whether it is created for us, whether it was not given to us, whether the status of creation is known to the creator…. the poet confidently establishes that the president of all in the highest realm surely knows. The poet also establishes in the incomplete nature of the arguments and tries to avoid endorsing a complete meaning to those arguments. For the poet, the “who” (as in other places in Rigveda) could be worshipped and sought by searching inside as well as stretching the cords of knowledge outside, as sages have done.
Nasadiya as usual, confidently advocates theism by putting a model of Creation from a state of timelessness through the kAma and svadhA, the common theme in Rigvedic Creation models.
There is no contradiction anywhere. Any contradiction felt is because the analyzer hasn’t analyzed Rigveda fully. And he is preoccupied regarding Rigveda. That’s all. Comments are invited.
“who (kaH) is the Self on whom we meditate upon” of Aitareya Aranyaka of Rigveda)
This may be stretching it too much. Because the कोऽयमात्मेति वयमुपास्महे is followed by कतरः स अात्मा येन वा पश्यति येन वा शृणोति etc. So in this case it is a genuine inquiry into the nature of the supreme self.
Answer: But you must note that it refers to both the question and the answer. Such a pun is common in Vedas, and that echoes in Upanishads too. The Hiranyagarbha hymn, for example, puts first the description so that the last kasmai devaaya havishaa vidhema can be undoubtedly interpreted as “who” is the God whom we worship with oblations. But in Nasadiya hymn, the same description takes a different turn, where it is said as both the question and answer. Even in the beginning, this is notable. “what” covered … The what when it refers to an imperative phrase, the sentence becomes a question so that it is conceived as a question of physical creation.
But you can see that in the same way as above, you can take “what” separate. So that “what” covered it. “where” was it. In “whose” protection. This is also a meaning, which is important for the “spiritual creation” part. At the time of spiritual dawn, only the question “what” covers the thoughtless thought. It is protected by the God whom we seek, who. And the “where” is the place where the subject of thought lies.
The question puns should be realized as such so that they can explain parallel meanings simultaneously. Nasadiya is a profound work that describes both simultaneously.
Everything is symbolic. From Agni to Soma, from Indra to Rudra, from Savitr to TvaSTr, everything is symbolic. Nothing is specially “One supreme Reality”.
The spiritual fire is first “born” in spiritual dawn, and hence it is the “seat” for concepts of God. The instances of “firstborn” thus is explained in a spiritual sense. Here, the concepts of God, the devas are born after, in the spiritual fire, regenerating themselves, assuming words used in yajna.
The actual Reality is conceived as inside the “spiritual sun” which is called by different names. Dirghatamas Aucathya puts it very clearly in RV 1.164, the same also features in RV 10.113.
The soma concept is almost a parallel of the Agni concept, soma too “brings the concepts of God” as Agni does (remember “sa devA(n) eha vakSati”), soma too purifies as Agni (pUta, pAvaka), soma also shines like Agni with a tawny lustre, soma is bright, light and is beloved as Agni. Soma also “grows” / “waxes”, Agni also “grows” inside his own domain. (sva dame)
The description of Agni as a supreme deva is in par with Rigvedic philosophy of equal status to all concepts; but Indra indeed shows all the qualities of Agni, Ashvins, Sarasvati, .. that Indra as a name of deva is equivalent to Agni; but as the God, contains in Him all the concepts of God. This is the reason why Indra hymns usually take a monotheistic turn in many areas. Alternatively, Indra also symbolizes specifically the sum concepts of God which unite the physical mind (earth) and the spiritual mind (dyaus) through rain. In this concept, Indra may be viewed as a symbol, and therefore can be invoked with other concepts of God.
Indra is more symbolic of an individual
The idea that Indra is more symbolic of an individual is a David Frawley idea; it is never ever co-existent with Rigvedic ideas. Because Indra, as you see, is the supreme abode of all concepts of God. Agni is the fire where concepts of God reside in the mind. Hence Agni is spoken of as one with others. The same is also the reality where Spiritual Sun, the “hiranyagarbha” whose golden rays cover the eternal Reality, is also spoken of as different God concepts. This is explicit, as I have stated, in the Dirghatamas Aucathya’s 1.164 that speaks about the spiritual Sun. You may see the verse. In such a case, the Supreme Soul is represented by Sun, and is also represented by the Golden bird with wings. (suparna)
Rigveda is a mesh network of different symbols. Concentrating on any one of the concepts will make you think that it is supreme. (That is why some Indologists who were obsessed with the Biblical concept of God saw Varuna as the supreme; those who were obsessed with the Agni principles and concepts saw Agni as supreme; those who were obsessed with Puranas even scraped out sukta portions from Rigveda to defend Vaishnavism and Shaivism….)
On the whole, you will note that Rigveda does not name the final Reality – it freely uses the term ekam sat. It is the Reality behind the golden vessel of the Sun, whose rays are the concepts of God.
You may also see that soma enjoys the same functional position as Agni many a time; but Soma is rather the physical counterpart of the spiritual rays of the Sun (sUryA), which vivifies the physical body as intellect; which vivifies the songs as emotions; which is sometimes associated with or equated with the “seed of the Sun”. In a greater angle, soma is more of a counter to Savita ( both form from suu meaning “to instigate, vivify”) and also a reflection of the Agni concept.
Agni has even more depth in concepts – Agni is the giver of treasures by purifying metals; he purifies the raw thoughts from which treasures emerge. Agni is also the “messenger” in most of the suktas. This concept is the most important in Rigveda; and this also echoes in Yajurveda referring to Agni being the lowest, and Vishnu being in most exalted realms. Agni, the spiritual fire, is the experience of instigation. It is a result of spark in the mind. The result of instigation is what makes it closer to soma. The Agni is the place where the poets make the concepts of God sit. Thus comes the dual meaning of the word, barhis which both means (sacred) grass cushion and sacred Agni. (both are basically derived from brh- meaning to grow)
The Agni as the result of kindling by a strong passion, becomes the Agni who “overcomes the hurdles and contests” (sahasva pRtanA is a very common expression; for example consider agne sahasva pRtanA abhimAtIr apAsya…); this echoes in the later Taittiriya Aranyaka speaking about Agni as Durgahan, whose lustre (like Surya – sUryA) is the durgA – that which cannot be penetrated (by others).
This mental fire also helps us “cross” or “burn off” hurdles. In this respect, Agni is through whom the Indra’s killing of Vrtra is finalized. Agni also burns the forts of enemies. (It is interesting that this feat is also made to reside in Indra, as purandara) Agni also places the virtuous lustre unto the worshiper.
Indra’s concepts are the deepest ones, since in Indra, we find all qualities. The name of Indra, like Indu is derived from “ind- ” meaning to “make grow” / “promote”. (PIE *H-eid – swell, grow) Indra vivifies the barren physical mind (earth) by connecting it with spiritual mind (sky) through rain. This can be seen as the vivifying soma poured by Indra and also the result of Indra not allowing the dark clouds to hold waters – killing of Vrtra who himself is the raincloud and piercing him by lightnings… In each of this “slaying of the malignant hurdle”, he takes the Agni concept of hurdle burner.
On a higher note, we see that Indra is concerned with Rta. He won’t allow anything that is not Rta. He won’t allow blocks in path of Rta (the block bashing is an Agni concept) and maintains Rta. Here, he assumes the role of the sole Ruler like Varuna (Madhucchandas and many others) as well as a great friend of the devotee; Mitra who protects Rta. (A mere read of Madhuchhandas in 1st Mandala is enough)
Though Ashvins are really credited for bringing the dawn and through the “horses” (the speed change of colour in dawn sky; the speed entrance of spiritual dawn), this feat is also generously transferred to Indra, whereby Indra yokes his bay horses in dawn sky. Sometimes, we find that this yoking had already been done by Brhaspati, the lord of prayers. (RV 1.161) Indra like Brhaspati is a great sage, a kratu. He is also the distinguished wise seer (sushipra – literally, “the one with a great beard”) who sees the poems as this universe. Here, he also assumes the role of the Creator. Thus, the deeds of poor Vishnu by creating the world and spanning it to measure also get generously transferred to Indra. Vishnu does not get a praise alone for that; Indra shares it and assumes the main role.
You must have thought that the Sun is spared of Indra’s splendour. But even there Indra has his part. The tale of cows in cave, if you see, has Indra behind it. Indra assumes the role of creator of dawn, and “releases the cows (solar rays) from the cave (of night)”. [Masks Ushas, Ashvins and also Sun] Alternatively, he also “releases the cows (of gushing streams) from the cave (of mountains)”. [ Masks Parjanya]
He also defeats magicians with their own magic. He defeats the shushna (who causes to shrink / who is shrunken – the narrow thoughts or narrow mind) by his own magic. He also destroys Shambara’s castles. (The blocks in mind) Thus he also is a provider of a wide earth (wide physical mind), again masking Agni.
At last, we find that beyond the individual concepts of Agni Indra, Vayu Indra, Soma Indra, Varuna Indra…. we get a final picture where there is no God if not Indra. People do not doubt the existence of individual simple concepts of God; they only doubt regarding the One God. This is why people doubt only Indra in the Rigveda. This is because Indra though made the rains, is not a rain god. Though he yoked the horses of lights in sky, he is not merely the dawn nor Ashvins. Though he destroys every blocks he is not merely the Agni, though he vivifies he is not merely soma, though he inspires the poetic minds, he is not merely Savita, though he has created the world he is not merely Tvashta, though he is the sole ruler of all, he is not simply Varuna, though he protects Rta he is not merely Mitra-Varuna, though he releases the cows and is lord of horses, he is not merely Ushas, though he is everything, he is not merely everything – he cannot be praised fully. (tunje tunje ya uttare.. na vidma asya suSTutim) And finally, you see that if you need to negate God, simply you negate Indra; only to forget the fact that his whole splendour pervades all over this universe, and that His might is visible as the eternal order Rta. He cannot be seen with eyes unlike other concepts of God. He is always the unseen Cause rather than the visible effect.
The Accent of Sanskrit (Aug 19th, 2016)
You have asked to share my version of the Rigvedic Purusha sukta, ie; RV 10.90. OK.
Before that, I shall speak on my accent. Vedic Sanskrit accent has to be a little different from Classical. You should pronounce the visarga before p as “f”. In Rigveda, you need to pronounce the retroflex “L”. Moreover, there are some unwritten rules in pronouncing certain combinations for me… 😀 😉
You can listen to the reading of Purushasukta without Vedic accents as asked in the question (don’t mind the quality of the recording) here. This is a casual piece. 🙂
The Tamil accent for “n” would be harder, “r” would be harder too. That should have made you compare this to Nambudiri accent. Nambudiri pronunciation is a little bit tough on varieties of n, r as well.