The Frog Hymn: Indianization of the Vedic people

RV 7.103 – the Frog hymn as I would like to call it – was composed by Rishi Vasistha.

The frogs have been quite for a year, no doubt awaiting the onset of rains.

RV 7.103.01
THEY who lay quiet for a year, the Brahmans who fulfil their vows,
The Frogs have lifted up their voice, the voice Parjanya hath inspired.

RV 7.103.02-03
What time on these, as on a dry skin lying in the pool’s bed, the floods of heaven descended,
The music of the Frogs comes forth in concert like the cows lowing with their calves beside them.

When at the coming of the Rains the water has poured upon them as they yearned and thirsted,

One seeks another as he talks and greets him with cries of pleasure as a son his father.

And as the floods descend from heaven, the rains pour upon their dry skin, the frogs burst out in music, in the manner of a concert.

Vasistha breaks into poetry in this hymn. He paints a picture of two frogs – Green and Spotty, as they seek and great each other with cries of pleasure as a son his father. One repeats the language of the other, in the manner that students learn their lessons from their teacher.

RV 7.103.04-05
Each of these twain receives the other kindly, while they are revelling in the flow of waters,
When the Frog moistened by the rain springs forward, and Green and Spotty both combine their voices.

When one of these repeats the other’s language, as he who learns the lesson of the teacher,
Your every limb seems to be growing larger as ye converse with eloquence on the waters.

Poetry aside, there are such significant nuggets in this hymn.

First is what has already been mentioned above – we have clear evidence that formal education was in place and we have a glimpse of how students learnt lessons from their teachers – by repetition.

Then in verse 7, we glean two fascinating facts – one is the mention of the famous soma rite of Atirata and the other that the first day of the “rain-time” was honoured.

RV 7.103.07
As Brahmans, sitting round the brimful vessel, talk at the Soma-rite of Atiratra,
So, Frogs, ye gather round the pool to honour this day of all the year, the first of Rain-time.

But the most significant of them all is verse 9. The “rain-time” is a season that men do not neglect. The season is in keeping with the twelve month God appointed order. The mention of the “heated kettles that gain their freedom” is a clear reference to the heat that builds up prior to the rainy season.

RV 7.103.09
They keep the twelve month’s God-appointed order, and never do the men neglect the season.
Soon as the Rain-time in the year returneth, these who were heated kettles gain their freedom.

The final verse, 10, captures a great deal of symbolism. The importance of the rain – especially to farming and in turn to the pastoralist families of the Vedic seers.

RV 7.103.10
Cow-bellow and Goat-bleat have granted riches, and Green and Spotty have vouchsafed us treasure.
The Frogs who give us cows in hundreds lengthen our lives in this most fertilizing season.

What does all this add up to?

Here is a hymn composed by a seer firmly rooted in the plains of India. The annual onset of rain, the unbearable heat that builds up before the onset of monsoon and the relief expressed by both humans and animals when the first rains arrive are unmistakably Indian. Rishi Vasistha and the composition of Mandala VII can be placed in India – of that I now have no doubt.

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A hymn to ward off an epidemic?

Every once in a while, i come across hymns from which real people, real events and real places jump out at me. It is one of the reasons why i research the Rig Veda. As i read through the hymn, a connection is made. Images begin to form in my head and slowly assume life. Eventually, i am transported to the past, an invisible observer, and the entire event begins to unfold before my very eyes. Hymn 63 from Mandala VI is a great example of one such hymn.

A galaxy of Puru princes have gathered for a yagna to invoke the Asvin twins. It is rare for such a coming together of princes, so the reason(s) for doing so must be equal to the occassion. The hymn itself appears to have been composed for the occassion. It starts by raising a bold question – where is the hymn that has found and brought the Asvin twins to their worshippers, it asks. The implied response is that it is this hymn that has the power to to do so. Come readily to this mine invocation, the hymn implores the Asvins in its very second verse.

RV 6.063.01
WHERE hath the hymn with reverence, like an envoy, found both fair Gods to-day, invoked of many-
Hymn that hath brought the two Nasatyas hither? To this man’s thought be ye, both Gods, most friendly.

RV 6.063.03
Juice in wide room hath been prepared to feast you: for you the grass is strewn, most soft to tread on.
With lifted hands your servant hath adored you. Yearning for you the press-stones shed the liquid.

Soma juice has been prepared in vast quantities in a wide room and fresh grass strewn for the gods to tread on softly as they manifest at the place of worship. The scale of the manner in which the soma juice was prepared – in a “wide room”, is significant, because it rarely finds similar mention. Then as the yagna progresses, up stands the grateful-minded priest, elected and appointed by the group of princes to invole the Asvins.

RV 6.063.04
Agni uplifts him at your sacrifices: forth goes the oblation dropping oil and glowing.
Up stands the grateful-minded priest, elected, appointed to invoke the two Nasatyas.

RV 6.063.02
Come readily to this mine invocation, lauded with songs, that ye may drink the juices.
Compass this house to keep it from the foeman, that none may force it, either near or distant.

It is not just the Asvins whose grace and benevolence is being sought but those of Ushas and Surya as well. Then hymn asks the Asvins to compass the house (or perhaps even entire settlements) so that no foe may forcefully enter. They are also asked to slaughter the fiends (raksasas). Now, here is how i interpret who the foe might be. If these were mortal foes or enemies of the princes and their people, then why invoke the Asvins? The Bharadvaja priest would have naturally turned to Indra or Agni or both. Given the association of the Asvins as gods of medicine and healing, one could infer the foes here are an expression for illnesses and/or evil spirits that cause them.

The princes that were part of this event were Puraya, Sumidha, Peruk and Sanda. Not much is known about any one of them. But the fact that four of them came together, does suggest the importance of the event. My interpretation is that they came together to either ward off an impending epidemic or to deal with one that had come upon their people and settlements.

After the completion of the yagna, the Bharadvaja priest was handsomely rewarded (see the Bharadvaja danastuti). Two mares from Puraya, a hundred from Sumidha and food from Peruk. Sanda gave ten gold-decked and well-trained horses, tame and obedient and of lofty stature.

RV 6.063.09 – 10
Mine were two mares of Puraya, brown, swift-footed; a hundred with Sumidha, food with Peruk
Sanda gave ten gold-decked and well-trained horses, tame and obedient and of lofty stature.

Nasatyas! Purupanthas offered hundreds, thousands of steeds to him who sang your praises,
Gave, Heroes! to the singer Bharadvaja. Ye-Wonder-Workers, let the fiends be slaughtered.

It must have been some event this – and feels wonderful to be able to read about it and visualize it in my head. What happenned to these people after the yagna, is impossible to tell. Let us hope, the grace of the Asvin twins was bestowed upon them and that they were able to live healthy and happy lives.

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