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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One Response to A hymn to ward off an epidemic?

  1. Guru M says:

    Could you share the original hymns in Sanskrit in devanagari?
    Thanks.
    Guru M

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