Vedā: Puruṣa Śuktam

Now that we have looked into the main metaphors and way of poetic speech in the Vedas, let us take a look into its poems that are in simpler literary language, but still, cover main parts of the philosophy.

First, we can check Purusha sukta, Rigveda 10.90, also quoted in the other three Vedas. The poem talks about Cosmos as a person, Purusha. It also tries to show the Vedic principle of the hidden unity of the duality of “God” and “Sum total of Creation”. It presents the relation of cosmic origin and cosmos as the puzzling chicken-egg question – the concept of “God” comes only due to Creation, but “God” is the birth of Creation. This dual concept echoes throughout the Vedas, as the Purusha-Viraj or Aditi-Daksha or “tat ekam”- “paramAdhyakSa” (RV 10.129)

Anyway, we shall be analyzing Purusha sukta in detail.

“Having thousands of heads, thousands of eyes, thousands of feet, He the Purusha, from everywhere, encompassing the earth, stands extended over ten fingers”

The Purusha sukta starts with the amazing description of a concept – Purusha. It introduces Purusha as the thousand-headed, thousand-eyed, thousand-foot magnificent being that encompasses the earth from all sides, and stands extended over “10 fingers”. The whole poem thus creates a rough idea of Purusha before beginning – as a magnificent representation of cosmos, the society, or even the different powers of nature identified with a singleness. Purusha is thus the singleness that acts as the thread weaving the Creation. The heads represent the consciousness, eyes represent light vision and knowledge, feet represent dynamicity, mobility. The ten fingers represent the grip of Purusha across ten directions.

“Purusha indeed, is this all, what has been and what’s to be; being also the lord of immortality, He rises over with Food”.

The poem underlines what is Purusha. Those who see Purusha as a man, and Purusha sukta as “Hymn for the sacrifice of man” need not read this post. You may still dwell in your paradise. The Purusha is defined as beyond time, beyond space. The last line is well puzzling – it actually refers to Purusha rising with the food for the Creation, and of the Creation.

Such is His greatness. Even beyond that is Purusha! A quarter of Him is all the Created matter. Three quarters rest immortal in radiance.

The lines summarize all the Rigvedic philosophy so beautifully. The first two lines about Purusha form the basic concept of Vedic theism – that the God’s greatness is what we experience, but even beyond our concepts is the Divine. Only a quarter of that All-pervading Reality has been manifested as creation. The rest is still not manifested – its not palpable to us, it lies in the radiant realms, still dark to us. The last sentence, as I have translated, is really deep and profound – the darkness we face when light blinds our eyes. Thus, our eyes experience and see only the Creation which is All that is manifested in the world. The three quarters are still not comprehended by us.

The last line may also translate as “a quarter of him is all the worldly creation; three quarters rest immortal in the sky”. This sky and earth shall refer spiritually to our much-discussed metaphors – the spiritual and physical mind. To understand the context more, let’s look at the next verse.

By three-quarters Purusha rose high. Still, His quarter was here. Thus, He stretched everywhere, into those which eat, and those which don’t.

This is a very beautiful philosophical expression. The most important part of this verse is that it hints the absence of the concept of reincarnation among Vedic poets. Rather, it confirms our earlier mentioned conclusions from Rigveda funeral hymns – that the bodily matter gets recycled in the earth, while the consciousness is gone and one with the impalpable part of reality. The sense of life is thus made so simple in the poem, making it a scientifically compatible concept, rather than a challenging concept like separate consciousness, separate soul, etc. Talking about Purusha, the verse notes that Purusha arose to immortal heights (impalpable radiance, ref. the previous verses), but his quarter is still here, suffering from mortality and recycling. The “abhavat punaH” is a well-planned statement that may hint recycling of matter in earth. But is that reincarnation? NO. Reincarnation should be the recycling of “real” Consciousness / the “Self” into different bodies. That is evidently absent in the poem; moreover, the poem notes that Self is one with incomprehensible Reality – the impalpable realm which we cannot still comprehend from our realms.

Still, we can only properly comprehend the living part (which is ironically the “dying art” too) of the Creation, the “what of creation”. The part of non-creation is a different realm which we cannot comprehend. Again, we are reminded of the theism of Vedas – in which the panentheism is clearly mentioned and a possibility of a part of Reality being still incomprehensible is underlined. In science, perhaps there is an analogy of dark matter and dark energy. The “radiance” is still comparable to the radiance inside a black hole.

——-Part 2 (Oct 29th, 2016)——

From that, Viraj was born, from Viraj was Purusha born. Being born, He (Purusha) spanned over the back and forth of the earth.

The concept is notable. It shows the emergence of Viraj from that, which is nothing than Purusha, or the tad ekam of Rigveda. (That one) But the next line is the contradictory reality: Purusha is again born from the Viraj. Now, we need to define who Viraj is. The Purusha could be equated to the representation of the oneness in everything, spread all over. The Viraj, as the name implies, is the name of the centralized emperor, the centralized power of the Oneness which is scattered everywhere as Purusha. Purusha could be equated with a panentheistic impersonal concept of Oneness, while Viraj is the monotheistic personal form of God. As we have already postulated in our analysis of Rigvedic theism, Rigveda takes the concept of God between the personal and impersonal levels. It is the one Reality that binds everything, and also the same Reality that controls everything centralized. At the same time, it is both centralized and decentralized, a feature that is openly spoken in Yajurveda 40. It is both the same Reality which is the impersonal Oneness as well as the personal concept of God.

The earth, as usual means “physical realm/ physical mind”. Back (pashcAt) and Front (purastAt) of the physical realm was covered by the Purusha (the One binding force) soon as the birth. Purusha is that Oneness that connects Creation back and forth.

The dual concept of Viraj and Purusha is the primary concept of Vedas – the duality between the indivisible one and the all-dividing one. You could divide any number with one, and get the same number back. However, for the indivisible zero or infinity, you cannot divide them to get clear new portions. There is no point in dividing infinite nothingness. Purusha is the infinite one, who is but also the element hidden in all, thus functioning as all dividing one too. Viraj is the One, but also the infinite indivisible form of Reality. Both complement each other. You can tell that one and zero are both complementary sides of the same coin. Both the one and zero act like infinity in the Boolean logic. In that way, you see the philosophical realms of Boolean logic in the above lines.

This is again, indicated through a more explicit dual concept in Rigveda itself, the “Aditi”-”Daksha” concept. Here, Aditi becomes the indivisible infinite one and Daksha becomes the one element in everything. Daksha and Aditi create each other in Rigveda, the same as Purusha and Viraj do. In later mythology, Brahma and Vishnu create each other, though the myth loses the poetic and factual value by then.

By the oblation through Purusha, the Yajna was furnished by the radiant ones. Spring was the oil, Summer the fuel, and autumn the gift.

Purusha is divided and dismembered to create the whole world. If you have been reading this post, you should understand why – Purusha is that oneness in all the beings. Thus, Purusha the infinite is divided to yield the infinite that can pervade overall what is. Thus, the Yajna here is furnished by offering Purusha as the oblation – Purusha is made to sacrifice himself for the sake of Creation. Purusha is certainly cosmos, and to reinstate this, the verses further bring seasons into the yajna as oil, fuelwood and gift. There is also a beauty in the poetic metaphors – Spring which promotes regeneration is shown as oil (that which regenerates the fire), Summer which burns under the sun is shown as “fuelwood”. The much adorable autumn is the gift. Hats off to the Vedic poet.

Having sprinkled that sacrifice, that firstborn Purusha in the fire (grass?), with that, radiant ones sacrificed, (with) the “attained ones” and poets.

Purusha is the firstborn. And indeed Purusha is the one who should pervade into each. It is infinite that has to disintegrate into infinite ones. From the centralized infinite position to the decentralized ones, the Purusha being the creation and the cord connecting them has to be separated to make the creation different from the cause. You could call it similar to the concept of various forms of energy and matter. The Purusha, you could call it energy’s symbol, while Viraj would represent the quark then.

Purusha, the oneness, which is first born as all encapsulating all in one infinity is split to infinite smaller parts for the sake of manifestation. This is represented by the yajna analogy, whereby there is transformation. The yajna in Vedas is a concept of transformation of one quality to another. Its an abstract concept, and has its own depth to talk about.

——-Part-3 (Dec 3rd, 2016)——-

“From that all-annihilated (or all-invited?) yajna, dripping fuel was collected. Creatures were generated thus, (also) those in air, those in forests, and those in villages (meaning domestic/pets)”

Now, this is to show the creation of all souls through the transformation of the One infinity of Purusha to the finite creation and beyond. It is this manifesting of the Purusha which is the yajna here. Note that the concept of Vedic yajna is not an annihilating sacrifice. It is not a sacrifice where something ceases to exist. It is not the means of “destroying” something by “renunciation”, or killing something out of some superstition. Instead, it is the means of transformation, it is a means of manifestation of non manifested qualities. Fuel is offered into the yajna, and fuel is taken back. There is nothing lost. The yajna principle of Vedas is thus a spiritual vision of the conservation of energy-matter in the cosmos. Nothing goes wasted in a yajna. (we shall deal really in-depth with this at the end of this sukta)

Here, the nonmanifest Purusha with infinite power is manifested to the whole finite creation, and still, the rest remains non manifested. (infinity – finite is not finite; this is the principle of Vedic panentheism. (It is different from monism/pantheism in the case that soul in monism/deity in pantheism becomes merely a superset of finite entities, but still dubbed as infinite. It is a nonsensical equation)

The Creation is continued :

“From that all-annihilated (all-invited?) yajna, the verses (rays?) and melodies were born.
From that were the meters (eternal laws?) born, from that was the concept of yajna born”.

These lines are to be read carefully. The word used for verses is rc, which also means shine, ray. The sAman, word for “song”/”melody” shall mean “splendour” in the context of rc being “ray”. Anyway, the focus of Vedic philosophy is on poetry, on the concept that the whole cosmos is the poetry of the greatest poet. (just remember the constant mentions of the poetic attribute to concepts of God, like kavim kavInAm) Here too, the Vedic poet brings the theme of the Poem of Creation. The verses for the poem, the melody or sound for the poem to resound. Note that in those days, there was no writing and poems were made and recited orally only; it was a purely oral kind of thing. And then comes the meter, which is about the aesthetics of the poem, the beauty. Finally, with the Poem of Creation, the concept of yajna is again born. This is called “yajus”.

Note that I cannot agree to claims that this verse is about the names of Vedas. There is no valid reason for such a claim. Rigveda never tells it is Rigveda; moreover, the mention of Rc, sAma as complementary parts of a poem is a common theme throughout the Vedas, it does not in any way stand for “names of Vedas” in Rigveda.

Moreover, as you read the complete verse, it is clear. On one hand, it is about the Vedic poet’s own poem, which is inspired by that and which is the birthplace of spiritual yajna. On the other hand, it is also the Creator’s poem, the Creation, which is also born from that and causes to generate the process of cosmic yajna.

It is logical to believe that this Vedic philosophy had such an impact on the society that later people named the Vedas and recited/sung/chanted them and classified them on this analogy.

“From that, were the horses born, those with two rows of teeth.
Cattle were born from that, from that were born the goats”.

Now stop here. Rigveda already told before that from that, all creatures of air and land were born. So, what is the need for specially mentioning horses, cattle, and goats? To know this, we need to grasp the idea of yajna symbols in Vedas. This part is to be read in relation to the verses from Yajurveda and Atharvaveda and also from Rigveda first Mandala itself, mentioning the cosmos in the symbol of animals. The same way as Purusha (man) is used here as a symbol to explain creation, horses (Rigveda 1.163, Taittiriya 7.5.25), kine and goats (numerous Yajurvedic and Atharvavedic passages) are also used in Veda as symbols to represent the cosmos.

This concept shall be clear for example in Taittiriya 7.5.25, which I have quoted several times to show the symbolism in Vedas.

Those who read Purusha’s account as human sacrifice, ashva accounts as “horse sacrifice”, cattle accounts as “cattle sacrifice” and goat accounts as “goat sacrifice”, kindly escape this post here. This is not for you. You are not fit to comprehend the poetic philosophy of Vedas.

Now comes the major part: The humans.

In spiritual terms, it represents the spiritual body of man. Those people who are determined to not enjoy poetry and keep on believing the nonsense they stick on to can escape the forthcoming content.

——-Part 4 (Dec 4th, 2016)——-

“That Purusha, being divided, by how much parts did they classify?
what do they call His mouth, (what) His hands, (what) His thighs, feet?”

As we see, only “a quarter” of Purusha undergoes manifestation. (pAdo’sya vishvA bhUtAni) And that part is manifested, it is known and finite. Now, that finite portion is talked about. How many portions did they (the sages, attained souls, and devas) classify into? And what are the mouth, hands, and feet called? Note that the tone here, as well as the tone that has been, is not literal. Its functional, figurative, and poetic.

“The poet was his mouth, The Royal one was created from his hands
Common trader was his thigh, from his feet was born the supporting worker.”

Brahmana in Rigveda means the one connected with poetic words. (Brahman) It is a word used for the poet in Rigveda. You might read Kiron Krishnan (भगवतीश्वर शर्मन्)’s answer to What is the difference between Brahma, Brahman, and Brahmin? for etymological analysis. The mouth is the strength of the reciter. As I told, the poem in Veda is connected with mouth and mind, rather than pen and paper. The Vedic analysis of the world processes is through the four-fold method – the inspiring part, the controlling part, the connecting part, and the action part. It is much similar to any life cycle of an industrial process – there is a devising part (vision), a controlling unit (planning), a procurement part/connecting part between plan and action, and the actual action. These qualities are also said to be born from Purusha. Perverted minds will see the “beginning of caste discrimination” or such insane things. But on close inspection, you realize that it is simply the origin of these qualities that are being described.

On the spiritual level, in the man, all these qualities exist. It is all the part of man. He needs to have all these qualities in himself. The castes in Rigveda are not seen separately anywhere. In fact, it is seen to be a desirable thing to have all four qualities of Brahmana, Rajanya, Vaishya, and Shudra in oneself. The Vedic concepts of God are of this kind – they have an existence in all the levels – Brahmana, Rajanya Vaishya, and Shudra. Simply one is just a specialization, but to have all is ideal. As Rigvedic poem himself tells once:-

“would you make me the herdsman of various people? would you make me their ruler, Maghavan? would you make me the sage who partakes of the inspired soma, would you make me the master of wealth everlasting?”

(RV 3.43.5)

The Brahmana (who inspires through his plans, inspired from divinity; soma) Rajanya (who is the ruler) Vaishya (who connects and organizes various people) and Shudra qualities (seeking wealth through action) are sought by the same person.

Or consider the post-Rigvedic, Yajurvedic verses :

“Give lustre to our Brahmanas, give lustre to Kshatriyas, give lustre to our Vaishyas, to Shudras, thus through that lustre be lustre to me.”

YV (VS) 18.48

The verses clearly pray for luster to Brahmana qualities, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra qualities and through the luster, be the luster to the poet who wants all of those qualities. Note all of those qualities.

Purusha is thus visualized to have all qualities in him. His mouth represents the inspiring, speaking part. His hands represent the controlling, ruling part. The thighs connect the upper and lower parts of the body, and feet support the Purusha. In the case of a man too, this holds true. The functional analogies in these verses are made clearer by the forthcoming verses.

“The lustrous moon was born from his mind, from the eye was born the sun.
From mouth was Agni and Indra born, from life-breath was air born.
The middle realm was at his navel, the highest realm was at his head.
From forth his feet, came earth, from his fame, came direction, and thus was the world designed.”

Here, we recall all our poetic metaphors of different concepts of God – the lustrous moon is actually the inspiring symbol of Soma, the stirrer of spiritual life. It is born from Purusha’s mind hence. Vision is associated with light, spiritual vision with spiritual Sun. (Remember the common prayer in Vedas to “see the Sun” forever) From the mouth, the part which is the product of inspiration of mind, the concepts of One Divinity, and the divine splendor are born. Indra signifies the One present infinitely everywhere. Agni represents the multitude of finite present everywhere. Indra-Agni thus comprises of the God, who is beyond easy comprehension, but whose splendor is what all we can comprehend. It is analogous to the speech when you hear one’s words, you hear the words, and his real intention/his experience is still uncertain. Thus, speech is always analogous to Brahman or God, and this idea is used by Dirghatamas to puzzle the scholars, in his (in)famous declaration that “speech is divided into four parts, three of them cannot inspire anyone, only fourth one can man speak”. (RV 1.164) This is exactly the other side of the assertion in Purusha sukta : three-quarters of Purusha is incomprehensible and non manifested. Men feel and can experience only in the fourth quarter.

Agni refers to that splendor of God which we can experience, while Indra refers to the God whom we cannot reach with our words, inexplicable. Agni is that concept of God, representing the splendor of God visible everywhere, Indra is the still “hidden” God. Equating with Dirghatamas’s explanation, its Indra’s Agni that is the visible form to us. The breath of Purusha is the defining thing of biological life. It is Vayu, which gives breath to man. (And Vayu symbolizes the dynamic nature) Now, the head and navel are likened to realms above and middle, and the feet which support Purusha, (analogous to supporting man) is the source of earth, which supports man. His fame/his hearing is the source of direction. Thus was the world designed.

It is to be noted that all these entities work on man as a recipient. Man’s mind is born from soma, his vision from Sun, his expressions from concepts of God (speech), his life from that Vayu, his fame from that directions. On dying, Rigveda asks the things “to return” to their origins. Earth is what supports man. Note that feet everywhere means as supporting part.

“Seven were the limits, set by (three x seven) fuel sticks. The divine rays of concepts of God, for the sake of accomplishment of this yajna, thus tamed the tame-able Purusha”

Here, the yajna’s continuation is expressed. The divine yajna creates the creation, the yajna inspires the thought in the Vedic poet and the poets through their verses create the concepts of God in words in return. The world is the place where the concept of God finds its meaning. God is God through Creation. This cycle continues. The Purusha’s one quarter which is tame-able by the mind, is thus extolled by the poets through invoking the concepts of God. Indeed, that one quarter is this whole Creation and concepts we can experience.

The significance of seven and three times seven here is so deep that a single post cannot cover it. Still, I can give an overall idea of the metaphor used here. The seven as limits refer to the seven realms (vyAhRtis) of the spiritual plane, the three refer to the three regions of a spiritual plane – the pRthivi, antarIkSa and dyaus. The three times seven fuel sticks indicate the occurrence of the Yajna, the Creation, in all these areas.

Another case is the speech/poetry. The seven refer to the famous seven poetic meters of Vedas, the three refer to the three realms of speech that lie inside the poet, which he cannot express.

Further implications of this metaphor shall be clear once we cover the Dirghatamas’s “Poem of riddles”. (1.164)

The last verse of Purusha sukta is a quote from Dirghatamas 1.164 poem, which is so deep that it needs a separate post. Let’s see that soon.

The last line of Purusha sukta is in fact a quote taken from Rigveda itself, from the Dirghatamas in 1.164, the much infamous riddle poem which is still incomprehensible to mankind, even in modern times, even with hundreds of interpretations. This quote is a Dirghatamas work, so requires much to tell.

The last verses of Purusha sukta are :

“By yajna, the divine concepts transformed the yajna. (In other words, the sacrifice was sacrificed by sacrifice)

Those were the primary fundamental principles.

They the great, have risen to immortal heavens, where already the attained souls and concepts of God dwell.”

Here, Dirghatamas, in his usual manner of puzzling the reader, tries to bring out the depth of the Vedic philosophy of yajna. As we have seen, yajna is not actually a “sacrifice”, it is an act of transformation. It is the process where the non manifested manifests. It is the place where thoughts transform to speech and speech inspires thoughts. It is not the end, it is not the beginning, though it is both. It is the transition. The Creation in physical realms is not a “beginning” or end product. It is a transition of the manifested Purusha. Now, read back in Purusha sukta, the mention of “his quarter here happens again”. The cyclic universe is just the part of that Purusha which we can comprehend and experience. It is this whole creation we experience. The meaning of that, everything is hidden. It is something we need to seek. It is “who” who is the cause of everything. It is that Sun which hides behind the rays. It is that truth that hides behind the golden luster.

By means of yajna, the yajna is performed. Purusha himself is that entity of yajna here. The means of his manifestation is also yajna. And yajna is the product. It is cyclic. The Creation is thus a yajna. This concept is the most important one in the Vedas. Those who equate yajna with some slaughter find it difficult to comprehend Vedas here. Brahmanas try to get the hell of this philosophy, by telling that life of animal gone transforms as blessings to the sacrificer. But it also, out of regret, prays for the killed victim’s soul. This hypocrisy itself shows that Vedic yajna is not meant to be anything related to a ritualistic sacrifice. As Yajurveda itself puts :

yajno yajnena kalpatAm.
“May yajna prosper through yajna”.

It is another paraphrase of the above lines.

Throughout the Vedas, we get the concept of yajnas related to this transition. It exists in spiritual as well as physical realms too.

These are said to be the basic principles that are primary to everything. This transformation is indeed that creates everything. It is the underlying principle of this cosmos. It is the meaning of this whole manifestation.

The Sukta ends with the second part of the verses: “They the great, have attained the heavens where attained ones and divine concepts dwell”.

As you can figure out, it is this what is the optimism of the Vedic seeker. It is this what is testified and found by the Vedic poets. Not all get that height of spiritual completeness. But indeed some do get it. The chain of yajna thus continues in this world.

Author/Researcher: Kiron Krishnan
Oct 22, 2016