The Dawn of Mankind – according to Rishi Vamadeva

That Rishi Vamadeva, son of Rishi Gotama, is an intellectual is apparent in the very first hymn of Mandala IV. Not for him the mundane hymns asking for wealth and protection (there are a few though in Mandala IV, but we shall ignore that for the moment). He straight away delves into issues of intellectual import, letting us know how the Vedic Gods were established and how mankind emerged from an era of darkness.

This stupendous account is presented in 8 verses beginning from verse 11 of Hymn 1, Mandala IV. The exact translated verses are re-produced below (in italics), followed by my interpretation:

11 In houses first he sprang into existence, at great heaven’s base, and in this region’s bosom;
Footless and headless, both his ends concealing, in his Bull’s lair drawing himself together.

Before Agni came to be lit in houses, first the god sprang into existence at the base of heaven and then in the bosom of the earth. Given the nature of fire, Vamadeva tells us that at birth, Agni was both footless and headless. The precise place of birth – the Bull’s lair or the home of holy Order as in the next verse – is the altar in which the fire is lit.

12 Wondrously first he rose aloft, defiant, in the Bull’s lair, the home of holy Order,
Longed-for, young, beautiful, and far-resplendent: and seven dear friends sprang up unto the Mighty.

Upon birth, or when lit, Agni rises wondrously, defiant, in his place of birth, in this case the altar. Vamadeva does not use the four adjectives for nothing.

Early humans or at any rate his ancestors, way back in time, living in cold and dark climes, would have “longed for” fire.

The “young” represents either the fact of the recent discovery of fire or that Agni is known throughout the Rig Veda as the youngest god.

The sight of a large, well lit fire must surely have been seen as beautiful and resplendent from far for a people living in caves.

And even as Vamadeva tells us about the birth of Agni, he also slips in the rise of the seven dear friends up into the Mighty. I interpret this as the seven primary Adityas – Varuna, Mitra, Aryaman, Bhaga, Ansa, Dhatri and Indra – attaining their eminence.

13 Here did our human fathers take their places, fain to fulfil the sacred Law of worship.
Forth drave they, with loud call, Dawn’s teeming Milch-kine hid in the mountainstable, in the cavern.

It is at the altar, that Vamadeva says his human fathers – the Angirases – took their place, resolved to fulfil the sacred Law of worship, i.e. this form of fire worship came to be the accepted way. The next line is a reference to the Angirases successful quest to release the “light” after having cleft the mountain.

14 Splendid were they when they had rent the mountain: others, around, shall tell forth this their exploit.
They sang their song, prepared to free the cattle: they found the light; with holy hymns they worshipped.

15 Eager, with thought intent upon the booty, the men with their celestial speech threw open,
The solid mountain firm, compact, enclosing, confining Cows, the stable full of cattle.

Verses 14 and 15 presents to my mind, a mythical construction, of how the ancients found and released the sunlight. Frequent readers will notice the echo of the Vala myth in this verse.

16 The Milch-cow’s earliest name they comprehended: they found the Mother’s thrice-seven noblest titles.
This the bands knew, and sent forth acclamation: with the Bull’s sheen the Red One was apparent.

I have not been able to interpret this verse, and will return after further research.

17 The turbid darkness fled, the heaven was splendid! up rose the bright beam of celestial Morning.
Surya ascended to the wide expanses, beholding deeds of men both good and evil.

Now that the ancients – the Angirasas – have released the sunlight, the long turbid darkness has finally been rid of. Heaven is now lit in splendour with the bright beam of the celestial Morning.

18 Then, afterwards they looked around, awakened, when first they held that Heaven allotted treasure.
Now all the Gods abide in all their dwellings. Varuna, Mitra, be the prayer effective.

Liberated from cold and darkness and emerging from a life lead in caves, ancients would have contemplated the significance (“looked around, awakened”) and hence Vamadeva terms it a “Heaven allotted treasure”.

But that is not all, even the Gods have settled in their dwellings. Everything within the cosmos is now established. World Order (Rta) is firmly rooted. And our ancients have firmly embarked on a new way of life.


2 Responses to The Dawn of Mankind – according to Rishi Vamadeva

  1. Srinidhi says:

    That fire could be managed and then made must have been exciting discoveries! Whether it was one person or it dawned to many can never be established! But I guess it is the later!

  2. vallancey says:

    Is it possible that Agni is entangled with, or part of, or even exchangable with, the Sun? ‘At the base of heaven’ is where the sun appears at the start of the day. Rather than seeing this as the discovery of fire, I would suggest that the domestication of fire, the bringing of everything including this offspring of the sun, into the dwelling space, is a feature, a symbolic tenet of the agricultural revolution. This would explain the bull tie-ins, too. Seasonality, marking of time, and the negotiation with wild nature, ‘cow-stealing’ from her could be argued to be memes of Indo European belief; there are profound ties to the emergence of chiefdom and kingship. Is this story of the Milch Cow’s earliest name another echo of this momentous transition?

    I would also be tempted to suggest that some of the tribes ‘outside the five’ might have something to do with pre farming people, high born, aloof; associated with struggles over water, but I would love to know what you think, not being versed in the literature as you are.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: