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.

Evidence for the flooding of Vedic rivers at the end of the last ice age

This article examines and interprets verses, relevant to the Vrtra myth, from Mandala VI – the Bharadvaja family book. It then examines scientific evidence I have found thus far, compares that against the interpretations of the verses and then presents conclusions.

Examination of relevant verses from Mandala VI

The verses are grouped in the four major sequential themes of the myth itself – the events leading to and the actual birth of Indra, the events immediately after his birth, the manner of his slaying Vrtra and the outcome of the slaying.

 

Theme Relevant verses Remarks and Inference
Events and/or conditions prior to the birth of Indra 6.017.08
Yea, Indra, all the Deities installed thee their one strong Champion in the van for battle.What time the godless was the Gods’ assailant, Indra they chose to win the light of heaven.6.020.02
Even as the power of Dyaus, to thee, O Indra, all Asura sway was by the Gods entrusted,When thou, Impetuous! leagued with Visnu, slewest Vrtra the Dragon who enclosed the waters.
The vedic deities were helpless against the power and control of Vrtra and installed their only hope, their strong champion – Indra, to do battle with Vrtra.Vrtra is a dragon that has enclosed the waters and not a Dasa or Dasyu. The indications are that Vrtra is a personification of a natural phenomenon, not a human adversary.Indra was not alone in the slaying of Vrtra, but had the help and support of Visnu.
Events and/or conditions at the time of Indra’s birth 6.040.02
Drink thou of this whereof at birth, O Indra, thou drankest, Mighty One for power and rapture.The men, the pressing-stones, the cows, the waters have made this Soma ready for thy drinking.6.047.02
This sweet juice here had mightiest power to gladden: it boldened Indra when he siaughtered Vrtra,When he defeated Sambara’s many onslaughts, and battered down his nineand ninety ramparts.
In this single verse, the Bharadvajas also hold the view that Indra, immediately upon his birth, drank Soma for power and rapture.
Battle between Indra and Vrtra 6.017.09
Yea, e’en that heaven itself of old bent backward before thy bolt, in terror of its anger,When Indra, life of every living creature, smote down within his lair the assailing Dragon.6.017.10
Yea, Strong One! Tvastar turned for thee, the Mighty, the bolt with thousand spikes and hundred edges,Eager and prompt at will, wherewith thou crushedst the boasting Dragon, O impetuous Hero.6.017.11
He dressed a hundred buffaloes, O Indra, for thee whom all accordant Maruts strengthen.He, Pusan Visnu, poured forth three great vessels to him, the juice that cheers, that slaughters Vrtra.6.020.02
Even as the power of Dyaus, to thee, O Indra, all Asura sway was by the Gods entrusted,When thou, Impetuous! leagued with Visnu, slewest Vrtra the Dragon who enclosed the waters.
The weapon used by Indra to slay Vrta is a bolt fashioned by Tvastar. The bolt we are told has a thousand spikes and a hundred edges. What might such a weapon be a personification of?Again, we have an indication that in the battle with Vrtra, Indra was not alone. We was aided by the Maruts, Pusan and Visnu.
Events and/or condition after the battle 6.017.12
Thou settest free the rushing wave of waters, the floods’ great swell encompassed andAlong steep slopes their course thou tumedst, Indra, directed downward, speeding to the ocean.6.030.03
E’en now endures thine exploit of the Rivers, when, Indra, for their floods thou clavest passage.Like men who sit at meat the mountains settled: by thee, Most Wise! the regions were made6.030.04
This is the truth, none else is like thee, Indra, no God superior to thee, no mortal.Thou slewest Ahi who besieged the waters, and lettest loose the streams to hurry seaward.6.072.03
Ye slew the flood -obstructing serpent Vrtra, Indra and Soma: Heaven approved your exploit.Ye urged to speed the currents of the rivers, and many seas have ye filled full with waters.
The unmistakable inference from these verses is the flooding of rivers rushing down steep slopes, onwards to the meet the ocean. Indra had to cleave the mountain to make passage for the rivers. In as many as four verses, we are told the rivers flow to meet the ocean/sea.Elsewhere in Mandala VI, the rivers flowing down the mountains and meeting the sea are identified as the seven tributaries of the Indus.By correlation then, the rivers that were flooded with waters after the slaying of Vrtra/Ahi must refer to the sapta sindhu (seven tributaries of the Indus).

Examination of scientific evidence

Next let us examine some of the scientific evidence we have been able to find on Himalayan glacial systems at the time of the last ice age.

Below is an extract based on the research by University of Washington geologist David Montgomery, a professor of Earth and space sciences, and his team.

Geological evidence points to the existence of at least three lakes, and probably four, at various times in history when glacial ice from the Himalayas blocked the flow of the Tsangpo River in Tibet, said University of Washington geologist David Montgomery, a professor of Earth and space sciences.

Carbon dating shows the most recent lake, about 780 feet deep, burst through the ice dam between 1,100 and 1,400 years ago, rapidly draining some 50 cubic miles of water. The second lake, more than 2,200 feet deep, dates from about 10,000 years ago, and likely held more than 500 cubic miles of water. When that ice dam broke, it caused one of the greatest floods on Earth since the last ice age. The Tsangpo is the world’s highest river, with an average elevation of 13,000 feet, about 500 feet higher than South America’s Lake Titicaca, the highest lake. The Tsangpo flows to the eastern edge of Tibet before it turns south and plunges through a deep gorge into India, where it eventually becomes the Brahmaputra River and flows into the Bay of Bengal.

Conclusions

Admittedly, the study relates to the flooding of the Tsangpo  / Brahmaputra river system, far to the east of the likely geography of the Bharadvajas, but the conditions and the overall environment is not that far removed. Thus far in my search, this is the best evidence I have that indeed the “undamming” of glacial lakes in the Himalayas did cause the flooding of its rivers. I do need to find evidence closer the the Bharadvaja home, yet for now, given that the glacial system for all the rivers is the same, I will most certainly accept this as strong proof that the Bharadvaja verses in the section above do refer to melting of glaciers at the end of the last ice age in the Himalayan system.

Author’s Notes:

The extract of the scientific evidence presented in the article is based on the following link: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/12/041220010147.htm

I have yet to corroborate this directly with any papers or material published by Prof. David Montgomery. I am in the process of doing so and will update this article thereafter.

Rjisvan Bharadvaja – the warrior priest – Part I

Rjisvan Bharadvaja is ascribed as the composer of four hymns in Mandala VI – RV 6.049-052, one in Mandala IX – RV 9.098 and a two verses in RV 9.108.06-07.

Going by the number of hymns ascribed to various composers of Mandala VI, it appears that Rjisvan is a highly respected Bharadvaja (next only to Bharadvaja Barhaspatya and Samyu Bharadvaja). This is further attested by his being mentioned by as many as eight rishis belonging to different families in nine verses in the Rig Veda.

Not much is known about his exact lineage. There is nothing in the hymns composed by Rjisvan himself that shed any light on his parentage or progeny. Nor are there any direct references to patron(s) that Rjisvan offered his services. All we can say with certainty is his being a descendant of Bharadvaja Barhaspatya.Some of the aforementioned verses contain Arya and Dasa names along with Rjisvan, however, the Aryas such as Kanva, Trasadasyu, Paktha, Dasavraja and Gosarya are clearly not his contemporaries.

There is one Dasa though – Pipru, whose association with Rjisvan is the stuff legends are made of and is a subject of a later section.

While the Rjisvan hymns do not reveal anything about his lineage, they do provide very telling insights into the times that he lived in.

Consider verse 15 of hymn 49 from Mandala V:

RV 5.049.015
Give riches borne on cars, with many heroes, contenting men, the guard of mighty Order.
Give us a lasting home that we may battle with godless bands of men who fight against us, and meet with tribes to whom the Gods are gracious.

The second half of the verse reveals so much of history. There are three vital segments in the verse, each loaded with historical perspective, so let me decompose each of them: “Give us a lasting home”, “that we may battle with godless bands of men who fight against us” and “meet with tribes to whom the Gods are gracious”.

Let us analyze the first segment – “Give us a lasting home”.

Rjisvan is asking the Visvadevas (this hymn is composed in the praise of the Visvadevas) to provide a lasting home – the word used in “ksaya”, which can also be translated as dwelling, abode, dominion, etc. In this context, I believe”permanent settlement” is most appropriate rather than an individual dwelling or home. This then is an indication of a displaced/unsettled lot longing to root themselves.

The second segment is even more interesting – “that we may battle with godless bands of men who fight against us”.

Godless bands? Who are these godless bands? These can be clearly identified as the dasas – a tribe held by the Arya to be godless (i.e. not believing in the Arya gods). So Rjisvan is refering to conflicts with the Dasas. Dasa v/s Arya? Yes, considering that Rjisvan belonged to the Arya stock. So does this indicate conflicts a migrating Arya tribe got into as they encountered Dasa settlements?

Yes and No, and for a clear answer, we need to look closely at the third segment – “meet with tribes to whom the Gods are gracious”.

In this segment, Rjisvan is refering to tribes to whom, the Gods (i.e. devas) as gracious, which must mean people from the Arya stock. So if Rjisvan is expecting to meet people of the Arya stock, in his quest for new permanent settlements, then it must be that these people are in the newfound places, alongside the Dasa settlements already. Or so we can presume.

My inference is that Rjisvan lead a select band of Arya, more precisely, a select clan from the Puru tribe in the quest for a permanent settlement in regions already settled in by the Dasas, leading to conflicts between this select band of people and the Dasas. To me this does not represent a singluar case of the entire Arya stock in conflcit with the entire Dasa tribe. Nor does it represent a singular case of the entire Arya stock in course of their quest for permanent settlements.

Further evidence of this quest for permanent settlement may be found in verse 3 of hymn 50 of Mandala VI. Rjisvan, once again implores the Visvadevas for a permanent settlement, “which none may rival”.

RV 6.050.03
And, O ye Heaven and Earth, a wide dominion, O ye most blissful Worlds, our lofty shelter,
Give ample room and freedom for our dwelling, a home, ye Hemispheres, which none may rival.

So, was Rjisvan the leader of this moving Puru clan or just a respected Rishi? That he was an respected Rishi, we have already established above. But Rjisvan was more than just a rishi. The Dasa conflicts that he refers to appear to be that with Pipru. The conflicts and eventual conquest of Pipru is a legend in the Rig Veda itself. And we will cover that as Part II of this post.

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