Go Sukta (The Cow Hymn)
April 16, 2012 3 Comments
The importance of the cow to the Bharadvaja’s in particular and the Angirasas in general is exemplified by the fact that the only 3 verses dedicated to cows are authored by Bharadvaja Barhaspatya (RV 6.028), Vamadeva Gautama (RV 4.058) and Sabara (RV 10.169), all of whom are Angirasas. These hymns are known as the Go or Gauh Suktas (cow = gauh).
RV 6.028 as translated by Griffith is reproduced below:
THE Kine have come and brought good fortune: let them rest in the cow-pen and be happy near us.
Here let them stay prolific, many-coloured, and yield through many morns their milk for Indra.
Indra aids him who offers sacrifice and gifts: he takes not what is his, and gives him more thereto.
Increasing ever more and ever more his wealth, he makes the pious dwell within unbroken bounds.
These are ne’er lost, no robber ever injures them: no evil-minded foe attempts to harass them.
The master of the Kine lives many a year with these, the Cows whereby he pours his gifts and serves the Gods.
The charger with his dusty brow o’ertakes them not, and never to the shambles do they take their way.
These Cows, the cattle of the pious worshipper, roam over widespread pasture where no danger is.
To me the Cows seem Bhaga, they seem Indra, they seem a portion of the first-poured Soma.
These present Cows, they, O ye Indra. I long for Indra with my heart and spirit.
O Cows, ye fatten e’en the worn and wasted, and make the unlovely beautiful to look on.
Prosper my house, ye with auspicious voices. Your power is glorified in our assemblies.
Crop goodly pasturage and be prolific drink pure sweet water at good drinking places.
Never be thief or sinful man your matter, and may the dart of Rudra still avoid you.
Now let this close admixture be close intermingled with these Cows,
Mixt with the Steer’s prolific flow, and, Indra, with thy hero might.
Several verses shed light on the lifestyle of the Bharadvajas during the early Vedic period, the time period when this hymn was most likely composed.
As verse 1 indicates, the cattle were sheltered in separate cow-pens after their return from grazing at the end of the day. It was important that they were cared for – “happy near us”. Their breeding in prolific numbers would have mattered as well, given that the cattle were the “wealth” of these people. The cows would have been milked in the morning and the first yield was offered to Indra during the prayers at dawn.
Verse 6 further enforces the materialistic value that cows had, “Prosper my house, ye (the cows) with auspicious voices. Your power is glorified in our assemblies”.
Tending well to their cattle is paramount, as suggested by verse 7. The caretakers, made an effort to provide proper water, and guarded them from thieves and other that could cause them harm.
In Verse 3, it is clear that cattle rearing is an important activity even amongst the priestly class, indeed, for the general populace, this would have been a major occupation. “The master of the kine (cattle) lives many a year with these (the cows), whereby he pours his gifts (milk and ghee) and serves the Gods (during a sacrifice)”. In the same verse, their concern over protecting their wealth is conveyed. The Gods are propitiated that “These (the cows) are ne’er lost, no robber ever injures them: no evil-minded foe attempts to harass them”. And then again, in verse 4, “These Cows, the cattle of the pious worshipper, roam over widespread pasture where no danger is”.
The impact of dairy based diet is evident from verse 6, “O Cows, ye fatten e’en the worn and wasted, and make the unlovely beautiful to look on”.
However, it is verse 5 that raises the relation of the Bharadvajas with cows to an entirely new high – to the very divine. The cows are equated to the very highest of Vedic Gods – Bhaga, Soma and even Indra. The cows are seen as a manifestation of Indra and a this form of Indra is what the composer of the hymn longs for with his heart and spirit.
Verse 8, almost an adjunct is an Artharvanic charm – uttered when a mixture is administered to unwell cows or cows with issues with fertility.
In conjunction with RV 6.048.26 to 28, this is one more verse, where we see the Rig Vedic practice of raising important items, both animate and in-animate to a reverent, even divine status.