Hymn for peaceful sleep

Hymn 55 of Mandala VII, composed by Rishi Vasistha, is a prayer for a peaceful slumber for the inhabitants of the house.

As seen in verses 05-06 and 08, reproduced below, the prayer seeks to lull to sleep, the mother, the father, the master of the house, the women and matrons and every other relative (kinsmen) of the master of the house.

RV 7.055.05
Sleep mother, let the father sleep, sleep dog and master of the house.
Let all the kinsmen sleep, sleep all the people who are round about.

RV 7.055.06
The man who sits, the man who walks, and whosoever looks on us,
Of these we closely shut the eyes, even as we closely shut this house.

RV 7.055.08
The women sleeping in the court, lying without, or stretched on beds,
The matrons with their odorous sweets these, one and all, we lull to sleep.

Several aspects in these verses jumped at me:

The lack of mention of children or babies. I would have thought, a restful night for children would be of greater concern than for elders.

By all tokens, the description of the household in this hymn seems to be of a large one and/or a well to do one. Certainly large, since we find mention of parents and a rather large contingent of relatives. Could this then be a hymn used by a family priest for a person of nobility?

Verse 08 seems to suggest that might perhaps be the case. The house described appears to have a court, beds that women slept on and sweet smelling matrons in employment of the nobleman. I cannot imagine this to be indicative of a lifestyle of the entire population and thus constrained to conclude this hymn was indeed preserved for invocation by a well to do or powerful person in society.

There are several other interesting aspects in the hymn – particularly the mention of Vastospati – a vedic deity – considered to the guardian of the house. But that deserves an entirely separate article.

Hymn for safe and normal childbirth

Despite all the advances of modern medicine, the safe birth of a normal human child is not something we can take for granted.

It is no surprise then that the vedic civilization, with reams upon reams of hymns asking for heroic progeny should have hymns asking for the safe birth of their children. What is surprising though is that there is just one hymn of this nature in the main family mandalas and perhaps no more than 3 in all of the Rig Veda.

Hymn 78 in the Atri family Mandala – Mandala V has 9 verses, 6 of which make very clear reading and easy interpretation. The deities invoked are the Asvin twins, clearly by the time of this Mandala, the deities dealing with health and well being.

The first three verses implore the twin deities to accept the offering and grant what is being asked for in the verses that follow:

RV 5.078.01-03
YE Asvins, hither come to us: Nasatyas, be not disinclined.
Fly hither like two swans unto the juice we shed.

O Asvins, like a pair of deer, like two wild cattle to the mead:
Fly hither like two swans unto the juice we shed.

O Asvins rich in gifts, accept our sacrifice to prosper it:
Fly hither like two swans unto the juice we shed.

We will leave verses 4, 5 and 6 for now and go directly to the last three:

RV 5.078.07-09
Like as the wind on every side ruffles a pool of lotuses,
So stir in thee the babe unborn, so may the ten-month babe descend.

Like as the wind, like as the wood, like as the sea is set astir,
So also, ten-month babe, descend together with the after-birth.

The child who hath for ten months’ time been lying in his mother’s side,-
May he come forth alive, unharmed, yea, living from the living dame.

These verses clearly indicate what is being asked for through this hymn. What the last verse also seems to suggest is not just the safe coming forth of the child, but also that the mother come to no harm as well – “living from the living dame”.

Verses 4 to 6 have been deliberately omitted from this analysis due to some very interesting stories embedded within them and deserving of separate articles.

Elephantiasis in Vedic times

In order to set the context of the article, a small digression, medical in nature is required. Here it is…

Elephantiasis refers to a parasitic infection that causes extreme swelling in the arms and legs.The disease is caused by the filarial worm, which is transmitted from human to human via the female mosquito when it takes a blood meal. The parasite grows into an adult worm that lives in the lymphatic system of humans.

The adult worms can live from about three to eight years. The adult worms grow to about 1 in (2.5 cm) to 4 in (10 cm) long.

Elephantiasis is one of the world’s most debilitating tropical diseases and affects over 40 million people in India and at least 120 million people globally.

Turns out, it is not just modern day India that has to deal with this problem. Our Vedic ancestors had to deal with this too. And the problem was probably as widespread because the rishis dedicated an entire hymn to various deities praying they not be inflicted with this terrible disease.

Verses from hymn 50 of Mandala VII are re-produced with relevant phrases highlighted.

RV 7.050.01
O MITRA-VARUNA, guard and protect me here: let not that come to me which nests within and swells.
I drive afar the scorpion hateful to the sight: let not the winding worm touch me and wound my foot.

The disease is caused by a winding worm that nests within and causes swelling. This is consistent with what we know now, that the filarial worm nests in the human body, deposited as larvae and then grows into an adult worm causing extreme swelling. The verse refers to “winding worm” as the cause of the disease.

RV 7.050.02
Eruption that appears upon the twofold joints, and that which overspreads the ankles and the knees,
May the refulgent Agni banish far away let not the winding worm touch me and wound my foot.

The second verse tells us that eruption appears at the joint and spreads from the ankles to the knees, again consistent with the swelling that occurs due to elephantiasis.

RV 7.050.04
The steep declivities, the valleys, and the heights, the channels full of water, and the waterless-
May those who swell with water, gracious Goddesses, never afflict us with the Sipada disease, may all the rivers keep us free from Simida.

In verse 4, we even have a name for the disease – the ancients called it “Sipada”.

What remains unresolved here is the mention of scorpion in verse 1; we now know that the disease is transmitted by mosquitoes, so relevance of scorpion is not clear to me. As I read this verse, I expected the symptoms described to be consistent with a scorpion sting, but as I read the entire verse and indeed the hymn, that certainly is not the case. So could this be a case of incorrect translation, could the composer have meant mosquito instead of scorpion? Well, very difficult to prove, however, if we could, then it would have meant that the ancients were aware of the entire lifecycle. But the repeated mention of ” not letting with worm touch and wound my foot”, seems to suggest, they were not aware of the role of the mosquito in the spread of the disease.

This hymn is composed by Rishi Vasistha, the same rishi who has composed the Frog Hymn. Elephantiasis is a disease of the tropics, with one third cases in India alone, followed by Africa. Like the Frog Hymn, this hymn is composed by a seer firmly rooted in India. The spirit and essence of Mandala VII is very much in modern day India. My conviction grows even more.

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