Identity of the Pani

The generally accepted view is that the Pani is a non-Arya tribe of tradesman who by nature were extremely miserly. Let us examine the evidence available in Mandala VI and see if it leads us to the same conclusion or something else.

In Hymn 53, the composer spews his hatred towards the Pani. Why?

Pusan – the third most important deity of the Bharadvajas – brings wealth to the Arya. Wealth in Vedic times was measured in terms of the number of cattle and steed one possessed.

RV 6.053.02
Bring us the wealth that men require, a manly master of a house,
Free-handed with the liberal meed.

In the very next verse, Pusan is praised for he gives to even those who do not give, i.e. Pusan rewards even those that do not offer gifts to the Bharadvaja priests during sacrifices. And who are these people that do not offer the gifts? The Pani.

RV 6.053.03
Even him who would not give, do thou, O glowing Pusan, urge to give,
And make the niggard’s (Pani) soul grow soft.

From this verse alone, it is sufficiently clear that the Pani held the same religious beliefs as the rest of the Arya. However, the fact that the Pani did not consider it important to offer gifts to the Bharadvaja priests must have been appalling in those times. No wonder the Bharadvaja vent their hatred for the Pani as evident in verses RV 6.053.05 – 07.

RV 6.053.05
Penetrate with an awl, O Sage, the hearts of (the Pani) avaricious churls,
And make them subject to our will.

RV 6.053.06
Thrust with thine awl, O Pusan: seek that which the niggard’s (Pani) heart holds dear,
And make him subject to our will.

RV 6.053.07
Tear up and read in pieces, Sage, the hearts of avaricious churls (Pani),
And make them subject to our will.

From these verses alone, it is clear that the Pani were not a non-Arya tribe, on the contrary they were an integral part of the Arya social system.

Further evidence that they were not a non-Arya tribe stems from the fact that, despite the hatred espoused by the Bharadvajas, there is not a single instance of a conflict between the Arya and the Pani, in the same manner that the Arya have with the Dasa tribes.

About their trading antecedents, there is nothing in Mandala VI to suggest either way. The only other information we can glean about the Pani is that they are greedy. Not surprising coming from the Bharadvajas, and since we don’t have the story from the other side, we have to accept it at face value.

RV 6.051.14
Soma, these pressing-stones have called aloud to win thee for our Friend.
Destroy the greedy Pani, for a wolf is he.

But this characterization is very significant. At some point in time, the Pani are entwined in the Vala myth which evolved from its original release of sunlight. In a much later version of the myth, the greedy Panis have captured the cows within an enclosure, which Indra must release.

This article would be incomplete without the mention of the most famous Pani in the Rig Veda – Brbu. Three verses are devoted to him by the Bharadvajas in Hymn 45 – it what constitutes a mini Danastuti.

RV 6.045.31
Brbu hath set himself above the Panis, o’er their highest head,
Like the wide bush on Ganga’s bank.

RV 6.045.32
He whose good bounty, thousandfold, swift as the rushing of the wind,
Suddenly offers as a gift.

RV 6.045.33
So all our singers ever praise the pious Brbu’s noble deed,
Chief, best to give his thousands, best to give a thousand liberal gifts.

Samyu Bharadvaja expresses his wonder at the sudden offer of gifts from Brbu and describes the latter as standing taller than the rest of the Panis and as generous as the fertile and wide banked river Ganga. It is understandable why this high praise, after all, Samyu Bharadvaja would have received a large number of cattle in gifts – thousand if one is to take the last verse literally.

In summary, we have established the Pani to be part of the Arya tribes, probably a wealthy section of the Arya society, which is perhaps why they did not need the Bharadvaja priests. Whether trading was their occupation, we could not establish either way solely on the basis of evidence in Mandala VI. That will need to wait for later…

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