Friday, December 14, 2018

Unknown Rig Vedic hymn on Aśvins in Mahabharata & the purpose of Rig Veda

Vedas are many and only some of them have been compiled by Vyasa (Krishna Dwaipayana), so goes the tradition. Even this compilation was very huge but what we have today is just 99.1% of what Vyasa had compiled. Of them Rig Vedic hymns in the form of 1028 sūktas are available now. At times we do hear about discovery of some Rig Vedic sūktas with someone, but the authenticity of those hymns cannot be known. In this backdrop, it makes exciting reading to come across an unknown Rig Vedic sūkta on Aśvins in Mahabharata.

Exciting because,

(1) It was recited in a time frame that can be deciphered. This brings in newer insight in ‘dating’ efforts of Rig Veda.

(2) It gives references to the zodiac, much the same as what is found in RV 1-164 authored by Rishi Dirghatamas.

(3) The references reveal the purpose of Rig Veda with Sūktas which are nothing but mantras that bring out designated results.

Background of the Sūkta found in Mahabharata.

This Rig Vedic hymn (Sūkta) was recited by Upamanyu, the son of Vyāghrapāda. Upamanyu also happened to be a preceptor for Krishna (MB: 13-17). In his youth while he was serving as a student in the Gurukul of Ayoda-Dhaumya an incident happened by which he lost his vision and fell into a pit. On the advice of his preceptor to glorify Aśvins to regain eye sight, Upamanyu began reciting the Rig Vedic hymn of Aśvins! It is not known whether this sūkta was created by Upamanyu then and there or it existed earlier.

The sūkta begins as follows:

“sa evam ukta upādhyāyena stotuṃ pracakrame devāv aśvinau vāgbhir ṛgbhiḥ”

( एवम उक्त उपाध्यायेन सतॊतुं परचक्रमे देवाव अश्विनौ वाग्भिर ऋग्भिः) Mahabharata (1:3-59)

(Meaning: “Upamanyu thus directed by his preceptor began to glorify the twin Aśvins, in the following words of the Rig Veda”)

This is followed by 11 riks that praise Aśvins as the Supreme Being that set the Wheel of Time to roll eternally causing the fruits of action manifested for all beings. (Text and meaning at the end of this article)

Aśvins given supreme position.

A chronology of ideas exist in Rig Vedic sūktas, of which the foremost one is in offering soma to Indra and other deities and not offering the same to Aśvins. But then came a time when Aśvins were also offered Soma. It was Rishi Chyavana, son of Bhrigu who started offering Soma to Aśvins (MB- 3:124-125). Generally Kaṇvas were associated with offering oblations to Aśvins. An Atharvan verse (2:141-04) says that the soma offered by Kaṇvas to Aśvins helped Yadu and Turvasu of whom Yadu was the progenitor of Krishna’s race. And Krishna himself had opted for Aśvins in the place of Indra after he stopped the Indra festival. A couple of verses in Rig Veda refer to Krishna invoking Aśvins to accept Soma (RV 8:74.3 &4).

All this goes to show that by Krishna’s times Aśvins had replaced Indra in receiving soma. Upamanya of the same period of Krishna had praised Aśvins as the Supreme Being who facilitated creation and manifestation of karmic results through the wheel of Time.

The Sūkta recited by Upamanyu containing 11 verses (mantras / riks) extols Aśvins as the first –born and who set in motion the wheel of time that had 360 days and 720 days and nights. There is a reference to 12 spokes of the wheel referring to 12 months and the zodiac. Though by themselves are free from fruits of action, the Aśvins cause the fruits of action to all beings.

This sūkta is comparable to another Rig Vedic sūkta (RV 1:164) having the same notions on Wheel of Time but it has in addition two popular ideas of Vedic Thought. One is about the 2-bird analogy found in the Upanishads of the Atman and Paramatman sitting on a tree as birds, with Atman eating the fruit of karma while the other not eating any but shining well. The other view is the now famous but also mis-interpreted verse “ekaṃ sad viprā bahudhā vadanti” – which has the meaning as follows:
They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, and he is heavenly noblywinged- Garutman. 

To what is One, sages give many a title they call it Agni, Yama, Mātariśvan
.” (RV 1:164.46)
This conveys that the Supreme Being is known by different names such as Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, Garutman (Garuda), Yama and Mātariśvan. In other words the deities we know as Indra, Varuna etc are none other than the Supreme Being Itself. This verse by Rishi Dirghatamas does not attest the same status to Aśvins though it does say that Aśvins are endowed with helping mankind. But Aśvins are given the Supreme status in Upmanayu’s sūkta.

Part of the compilation by Vyasa.

Now the question comes whether this hymn was part of the Rig Vedic corpus that is now lost or it was newly composed by Upamanyu. Looking at the contemporariness of Upamanyu and Vyasa, and the age of Upamanyu at the time of reciting it - as a young student serving his master - it appears that this verse could have been part of the pre-existing compilation. Upamanyu had recited it for regaining eye-sight

Contextually similar event appears in RV 1:112.6 in a verse in praise of Aśvins that says,
Wherewith ye rescued Antaka when languishing deep in the pit, and Bhujyu with unfailing help.”
Yet another one (1:116.11) says  that Aśvins “delivered Vandana from the pit like hidden treasure”.
Restoration of eye sight is also attributed to Aśvins in a couple of Rig Vedic verses (1:112.8 & 1:116.16). Though Upamanyu’s sūkta does not refer to his sufferings (falling into the pit and losing eye sight), the purpose of the sūkta was to get relief from his suffering. As such this sūkta must have been a popular one in those days when there was a high probability of losing way in the forests and falling into pits and losing eyesight. Upamanyu suffered blindness upon eating a poisonous herb and falling into a pit thereafter. After reciting this sūkta, the Aśvins appeared and got him cured.
Coming to the issues raised earlier,

(1) As Upamanyu was a contemporary of Krishna, this sūkta can be dated to anytime before 5000 years from now. This hymn, found missing from the presently available śāka of Rig Veda but well entrenched in Mahabharata is proof that many Vedic hymns had existed in the past.  

(2) The reference to the 12-part zodiac in this sūkta makes it known that the knowledge of the zodiac had existed in India 5000 years ago. The hymn of Dirghatamas being more ancient, it can be said that the original concept had evolved much earlier.  (The reference to 5000 years as the date of Krishna is based on the Mahabharata war-date evidenced in Aihole inscription).

Purpose of Rig Veda

(3) Coming to the purpose of the Rig Veda, all riks are mantras and the compilation of the riks is a sūkta . Every sūkta or a mantra (rik) is capable of invoking the concerned deity, which is the very purpose of the Rig Veda. The basis is śabda that is understood as word or sound. When Śabda is arranged in specific order known as ‘Ānupūrvi’, the deity is invoked.

This is comparable to the sub-atomic particles of the Universe which combine in various ways - but in specific order- to create composite particles and atoms. That order is the Ānupūrvi of the sub-atomic particles.  Every time creation starts after a deluge, the Ānupūrvi of those particles are manifest in the same way – this is expressed as the Supreme Being remembering the Ānupūrvi of śabda that form the Vedas. Science is yet to recognise and be receptive to śabda – the sounds and vibrations of the sub atomic syllables.

The amazing part of the Ānupūrvi is that no mortal except the rishis have understood which śabda goes to make a specific order of Ānupūrvi so that a specific deity can be invoked and through Him, a specific result.  For example, in the sūkta of Upamanyu the meaning of the verses look like some description of the zodiac, but that is the Ānupūrvi that makes the śabda eternal by which the Supreme Being in the name Aśvins can be invoked to balance the elements present in Its co-bird on the tree (RV 1:164) – here, Upamanyu.

Thinking in these lines, one cannot miss out the co-existence of three concepts in the hymn of Dirghatamas (RV 1:164) –

(1) Wheel of Time causing things to happen and fruits of action,

(2) Atman co-existing with Paramatman but getting impacted by the Wheel of Time and

(3) Realisation of the Paramatman as the one and only Supreme Being but recognised by different names.

When all these are understood and felt by the Atman, the Atman gets relieved from the influence of Wheel of Time. That is the ultimate result of the hymn by Dirghatamas. But Upamanyu’s hymn invokes Asvins as Paramatman without reference to the last two but with only the first idea of Wheel of Time. His hymn gave him back eye-sight but not ultimate Release. But Dirghatamas was not known to have regained his eye-sight though he invoked Aśvins in that hymn and referred to the Wheel of Time in similar description. The difference in result was obviously related to the Ānupūrvi of the śabda of the riks he conceived. But lesser mortals that we are, we can only see the ‘meanings’ and the differences in them and not the śabda!

The same hymn by Dirghatamas speaks about the purpose of Vedas.

The 39th rik says,

ṛco akṣare parame vyoman yasmin devā adhi viśve niṣeduḥ |
yastan na veda kiṃ ṛcā kariṣyati ya it tad vidusta ime samāsate

रचो अक्षरे परमे वयोमन यस्मिन देवा अधि विश्वे निषेदुः |
यस्तन वेद किं रचा करिष्यति इत तद विदुस्त इमे समासते || 

Meaning by David Frawley:
“The supreme syllable of the chant in the supreme ether, in which all the Gods reside, those who do not know this, what can they do with the Veda? Those who know it alone are gathered here.”

Meaning by Griffith:
“Upon what syllable of holy praisesong-, as twere their highest heaven, the Gods repose them,
Who knows not this, what will he do with praisesong-? But they who know it well sit here assembled.”

Gods reside in śabda, the basic syllable. Those who know this, sing the riks to get what the Gods give them.  But those who don’t know, treat the Vedas as a literary work – the world knows the worst outcome of that – it was the invention of Aryan Invasion!

Here is a small solace for those yearning to see historic inputs in the Rig Veda: one can see a historic development in the concept of Aśvins from Dirghatamas to Upamanyu. Dirghatamas was born blind and remained so throughout his life. Though he praised Aśvins in his hymns, he didn’t see Aśvins as the Supreme Being. In contrast Upamanyu lost his eyesight accidentally and regained it by praying to Aśvins as the Supreme Being. The change of status to Aśvins had happened from Dirghatamas to Upamanyu.

What happened in between cannot be traced in Rig Veda as it is not a historic document. We have to turn to the Itihāsa which are the historical documents. One is expected to refer to the Itihāsa to understand what the Vedas say. This can be authenticated from a verse in Vālmiki Ramayana that Vālmiki composed Ramayana to reinforce the import of the Vedas. (“vedopabrimhaṇārthāyaVR: 1:4-6). The scope of the Itihāsas is such that they help us to weave the chronology of men and events in addition to understanding the Vedic Thought.   

The gap between Dirghatamas and Upamanyu can be filled by inputs from Mahabharata with a combined understanding of the Vedic seers mentioned in Rig Veda. Dirghatamas recognised Aśvins only as a benefactor of the Supreme Being and not as the Supreme Being Itself. Aśvins were elevated to the status of the Supreme Being as those who take soma-oblations by Rishi Chyavana (Mahabharata: 3-123). Since invoking Aśvins to partake the soma is found to be associated with the Kaṇvas, Kaṇvas can be positioned after Chyavana and not before him. In a surprising connection to Tamil language, Kaṇ, a Tamil word means eye! This takes us to a different discourse on whether Tamil was the Manuśya bhaṣa of those times, which we are not probing here. Finally we find Upamanyu invoking Aśvins as the Supreme Being but he gained eye-sight and not Release from the Wheel of Time.

With just one hymn of riks found in Mahabharata, we are able to construct a fairly reasonable history of the development of Aśvins from a subordinate deity to the main Supreme Deity. And we could identify the persons involved in this development using the Itihāsas.  

This runs counter to what persons like Witzel had said that Vedasrepresent the only contemporary literary sources for most of early Indian history” and his claim that “everything from known history up to the Mahabharata war is filled in from Vedic sources. ..... One can easily show that groups of 2-3 kings were lifted intact from the Rigveda, the Brahmanas, and so on, and inserted wherever they were thought to fit.” (1995, “Early Indian history: Linguistic and textual parameters”)

For him Rig Veda is “a notoriously difficult text” and “the immigration of Indo-Aryans is a fact that can frequently be noticed in the Rig Veda”. He and those of his ilk certainly do not belong to the gathering that Dirghatamas referred to in his verse as those who knew what Vedic śabda are meant for!  


Text of the Rig Vedic Hymn recited by Upamanyu:

And Upamanyu thus directed by his preceptor began to glorify the twin Aswins, in the following words of the Rig Veda:

“Ye have existed before the creation! Ye first-born beings, ye are displayed in this wondrous universe of five elements! I desire to obtain you by the help of the knowledge derived from hearing, and of meditation, for ye are InfiniteYe are the course itself of Nature and intelligent Soul that pervades that course! Ye are birds of beauteous feathers perched on the body that is like to a tree! Ye are without the three common attributes of every soul! Ye are incomparable! Ye, through your spirit in every created thing, pervade the UniverseYe are golden EaglesYe are the essence into which all things disappear! Ye are free from error and know no deterioration!

Ye are of beauteous beaks that would not unjustly strike and are victorious in every encounter! Ye certainly prevail over time! Having created the sun, ye weave the wondrous cloth of the year by means of the white thread of the day and the black thread of the night! And with the cloth so woven, ye have established two courses of action appertaining respectively to the Devas and the PitrisThe bird of Life seized by Time which represents the strength of the Infinite soul, ye set free for delivering her unto great happiness! They that are in deep ignorance, as long as they are under delusions of their senses, suppose you, who are independent of the attributes of matter, to be gifted with form! Three hundred and sixty cows represented by three hundred and sixty days produce one calf between them which is the year. That calf is the creator and destroyer of all. Seekers of truth following different routes, draw the milk of true knowledge with its help. Ye Aswins, ye are the creators of that calf!

The year is but the nave of a wheel to which is attached seven hundred and twenty spokes representing as many days and nights. The circumference of this wheel represented by twelve months is without end. This wheel is full of delusions and knows no deterioration. It affects all creatures whether to this or of the other worlds. Ye Aswins, this wheel of time is set in motion by you! The wheel of Time as represented by the year has a nave represented by the six seasons. The number of spokes attached to that nave is twelve as represented by the twelve signs of the ZodiacThis wheel of Time manifests the fruits of the acts of all things. The presiding deities of Time abide in that wheel. Subject as I am to its distressful influence, ye Aswins, liberate me from that wheel of Time.
Ye Aswins, ye are this universe of five elements! Ye are the objects that are enjoyed in this and in the other world! Make me independent of the five elements! And though ye are the Supreme Brahma, yet ye move over the Earth in forms enjoying the delights that the senses afford. In the beginning, ye created the ten points of the universe! Then have ye placed the Sun and the Sky above! The Rishis, according to the course of the same Sun, perform their sacrifices, and the gods and men, according to what hath been appointed for them, perform their sacrifices also enjoying the fruits of those acts! Mixing the three colours, ye have produced all the objects of sight! It is from these objects that the Universe hath sprung whereon the gods and men are engaged in their respective occupations, and, indeed, all creatures endued with life! Ye Aswins, I adore you!

I also adore the Sky which is your handiwork! Ye are the ordainers of the fruits of all acts from which even the gods are not free! Ye are yourselves free from the fruits of your acts! Ye are the parents of all! As males and females it is ye that swallow the food which subsequently develops into the life creating fluid and blood! The new-born infant sucks the teat of its mother. Indeed it is ye that take the shape of the infant! Ye Aswins, grant me my sight to protect my life.” 

Mahabharata 1-3

59 sa evam ukta upādhyāyena stotuṃ pracakrame devāv aśvinau vāgbhir ṛgbhiḥ
 60 prapūrvagau pūrvajau citrabhānū; girā vā śaṃsāmi tapanāv anantau
     divyau suparṇau virajau vimānāv; adhikṣiyantau bhuvanāni viśvā
 61 hiraṇmayau śakunī sāmparāyau; nāsatya dasrau sunasau vaijayantau
     śukraṃ vayantau tarasā suvemāv; abhi vyayantāv asitaṃ vivasvat
 62 grastāṃ suparṇasya balena vartikām; amuñcatām aśvinau saubhagāya
     tāvat suvṛttāv anamanta māyayā; sattamā gā aruṇā udāvahan
 63 ṣaṣṭiś ca gāvas triśatāś ca dhenava; ekaṃ vatsaṃ suvate taṃ duhanti
     nānā goṣṭhā vihitā ekadohanās; tāv aśvinau duhato gharmam ukthyam
 64 ekāṃ nābhiṃ saptaśatā arāḥ śritāḥ; pradhiṣv anyā viṃśatir arpitā arāḥ
     anemi cakraṃ parivartate 'jaraṃ; māyāśvinau samanakti carṣaṇī
 65 ekaṃ cakraṃ vartate dvādaśāraṃ; pradhi ṣaṇ ṇābhim ekākṣam amṛtasya dhāraṇam
     yasmin devā adhi viśve viṣaktās; tāv aśvinau muñcato mā viṣīdatam
 66 aśvināv indram amṛtaṃ vṛttabhūyau; tirodhattām aśvinau dāsapatnī
     bhittvā girim aśvinau gām udācarantau; tad vṛṣṭam ahnā prathitā valasya
 67 yuvāṃ diśo janayatho daśāgre; samānaṃ mūrdhni rathayā viyanti
     tāsāṃ yātam ṛṣayo 'nuprayānti; devā manuṣyāḥ kṣitim ācaranti
 68 yuvāṃ varṇān vikurutho viśvarūpāṃs; te 'dhikṣiyanti bhuvanāni viśvā
     te bhānavo 'py anusṛtāś caranti; devā manuṣyāḥ kṣitim ācaranti
 69 tau nāsatyāv aśvināv āmahe vāṃ; srajaṃ ca yāṃ bibhṛthaḥ puṣkarasya
     tau nāsatyāv amṛtāvṛtāvṛdhāv; ṛte devās tat prapadena sūte
 70 mukhena garbhaṃ labhatāṃ yuvānau; gatāsur etat prapadena sūte
     sadyo jāto mātaram atti garbhas tāv; aśvinau muñcatho jīvase gāḥ

59  एवम उक्त उपाध्यायेन सतॊतुं परचक्रमे देवाव अश्विनौ वाग्भिर ऋग्भिः
60 परपूर्वगौ पूर्वजौ चित्रभानू; गिरा वा शंसामि तपनाव अनन्तौ
दिव्यौ सुपर्णौ विरजौ विमानाव; अधिक्षियन्तौ भुवनानि विश्वा
हिरण्मयौ शकुनी साम्परायौ; नासत्य दस्रौ सुनसौ वैजयन्तौ
शुक्रं वयन्तौ तरसा सुवेमाव; अभि वययन्ताव असितं विवस्वत
गरस्तां सुपर्णस्य बलेन वर्तिकाम; अमुञ्चताम अश्विनौ सौभगाय
तावत सुवृत्ताव अनमन्त मायया; सत्तमा गा अरुणा उदावहन
षष्टिश गावस तरिशताश धेनव; एकं वत्सं सुवते तं दुहन्ति
नाना गॊष्ठा विहिता एकदॊहनास; ताव अश्विनौ दुहतॊ घर्मम उक्थ्यम
एकां नाभिं सप्तशता अराः शरिताः; परधिष्व अन्या विंशतिर अर्पिता अराः
अनेमि चक्रं परिवर्तते ऽजरं; मायाश्विनौ समनक्ति चर्षणी
एकं चक्रं वर्तते दवादशारं; परधि षण णाभिम एकाक्षम अमृतस्य धारणम
यस्मिन देवा अधि विश्वे विषक्तास; ताव अश्विनौ मुञ्चतॊ मा विषीदतम
अश्विनाव इन्द्रम अमृतं वृत्तभूयौ; तिरॊधत्ताम अश्विनौ दासपत्नी
भित्त्वा गिरिम अश्विनौ गाम उदाचरन्तौ; तद वृष्टम अह्ना परथिता वलस्य
युवां दिशॊ जनयथॊ दशाग्रे; समानं मूर्ध्नि रथया वियन्ति
तासां यातम ऋषयॊ ऽनुप्रयान्ति; देवा मनुष्याः कषितिम आचरन्ति
युवां वर्णान विकुरुथॊ विश्वरूपांस; ते ऽधिक्षियन्ति भुवनानि विश्वा
ते भानवॊ ऽपय अनुसृताश चरन्ति; देवा मनुष्याः कषितिम आचरन्ति
तौ नासत्याव अश्विनाव आमहे वां; सरजं यां बिभृथः पुष्करस्य
तौ नासत्याव अमृतावृतावृधाव; ऋते देवास तत परपदेन सूते
मुखेन गर्भं लभतां युवानौ; गतासुर एतत परपदेन सूते
सद्यॊ जातॊ मातरम अत्ति गर्भस ताव; अश्विनौ मुञ्चथॊ जीवसे गाः