A History of Sanskrit Literature/Chapter 5
CHAPTER VPHILOSOPHY OF THE RIGVEDA
According to the Vedic view, the spirit of the deceased proceeded to the realm of eternal light on the path trodden by the fathers, whom he finds in the highest heaven revelling with Yama, king of the dead, and feasting with the gods.
In one of the funeral hymns (x. 14, 7) the dead man is thus addressed:—
- Go forth, go forth along those ancient pathways
- To where our early ancestors departed.
- There thou shall see rejoicing in libations
- The two kings, Varuṇa the god and Yama.
Here a tree spreads its branches, in the shade of which Yama drinks soma with the gods, and the sound of the flute and of songs is heard. The life in heaven is free from imperfections or bodily frailties, and is altogether delectable. It is a glorified life of material joys as conceived by the imagination, not of warriors, but of priests. Heaven is gained as a reward by heroes who risk their lives in battle, but above all by those who bestow liberal sacrificial gifts on priests.
Though the Atharva-veda undoubtedly shows a belief in a place of future punishment, the utmost that can be inferred with regard to the Rigveda from the scanty evidence we possess, is the notion that unbelievers were consigned to an underground darkness after death. So little, indeed, do the Rishis say on this subject, and so vague is the little they do say, that Roth held the total annihilation of the wicked by death to be their belief. The early Indian notions about future punishment gradually developed, till, in the post-Vedic period, a complicated system of hells had been elaborated.
Some passages of the Rigveda distinguish the path of the fathers or dead ancestors from the path of the gods, doubtless because cremation appeared as a different process from sacrifice. In the Brāhmaṇas the fathers and the gods are thought to dwell in distinct abodes, for the "heavenly world" is contrasted with the "world of the fathers."
The chief of the blessed dead is Yama, to whom three entire hymns are addressed. He is spoken of as a king who rules the departed and as a gatherer of the people, who gives the deceased a resting-place and prepares an abode for him. Yama it was who first discovered the way to the other world:—
- Him who along the mighty heights departed,
- Him who searched and spied out the path for many,
- Son of Vivasvat, gatherer of the people,
- Yama the king, with sacrifices worship. (x. 14, 1).
Though death is the path of Yama, and he must consequently have been regarded with a certain amount of fear, he is not yet in the Rigveda, as in the Atharva-veda and the later mythology, a god of death. The owl and pigeon are occasionally mentioned as emissaries of Yama, but his regular messengers are two dogs which guard the path trodden by the dead proceeding to the other world. With reference to them the deceased man is thus addressed in one of the funeral hymns (x. 14):—
- Run on thy path straight forward past the two dogs,
- The sons of Saramā, four-eyed and brindled,
- Draw near thereafter to the bounteous fathers,
- Who revel on in company with Yama.
- Broad-nosed and brown, the messengers of Yama,
- Greedy of lives, wander among the people:
- May they give back to us a life auspicious
- Here and to-day, that we may see the sunlight.
The name of Yama is sometimes used in the Rigveda in its primary sense of "twin," and the chief of the dead actually occurs in this character throughout a hymn (x. 10) of much poetic beauty, consisting of a dialogue between him and his sister Yamī. She endeavours to win his love, but he repels her advances with these words:—
- The spies sent by the gods here ever wander,
- They stand not still, nor close their eyes in slumber:
- Another man thine arms shall clasp, O Yamī,
- Tightly as twines around the tree the creeper.
The incestuous union which forms the main theme of the poem, though rejected as contrary to the higher ethical standard of the Rigveda, was doubtless the survival of an already existing myth of the descent of mankind from primeval "twins." This myth, indeed, seems to have been handed down from the Indo-Iranian period, for the later Avestan literature makes mention of Yimeh as a sister of Yima. Even the name of Yama's father goes back to that period, for Yima is the son of Vivanhvant in the Avesta as Yama is of Vivasvat in the Rigveda.
The great bulk of the Rigvedic poems comprises invocations of gods or deified objects as described in the foregoing pages. Scattered among them are to be found, chiefly in the tenth book, about a dozen mythological pieces consisting of dialogues which, in a vague and fragmentary way, indicate the course of the action and refer to past events. In all likelihood they were originally accompanied by a narrative setting in prose, which explained the situation more fully to the audience, but was lost after these poems were incorporated among the collected hymns of the Rigveda. One of this class (iv. 42) is a colloquy between Indra and Varuṇa, in which each of these leading gods puts forward his claims to pre-eminence. Another, which shows considerable poetic merit and presents the situation clearly, is a dialogue in alternate verses between Varuṇa and Agni (x. 51), followed by a second (x. 52) between the gods and Agni, who has grown weary of his sacrificial office, but finally agrees to continue the performance of his duties.
A curious but prosaic and obscure hymn (x. 86), consists of a dialogue between Indra and his wife Indrāṇī on the subject of a monkey which has incurred the anger of the latter. The circumstances are much more clearly presented in a poem of great beauty (x. 108), in which Saramā, the messenger of Indra, having tracked the stolen cows, demands them back from the Paṇis. Another already referred to (p. 107) treats the myth of Urvaçī and Purūravas. The dialogue takes place at the moment when the nymph is about to quit her mortal lover for ever. A good deal of interest attaches to this myth, not only as the oldest Indo-European love-story, but as one which has had a long history in Indian literature. The dialogue of Yama and Yamī (x. 10) is, as we have seen, based on a still older myth. These mythological ballads, if I may use the expression, foreshadow the dramatic and epic poetry of a later age.
A very small number, hardly more than thirty altogether, of the hymns of the Rigveda are not addressed to the gods or deified objects. About a dozen poems, occurring almost exclusively in the tenth book, are concerned with magical notions, and therefore belong rather to the domain of the Atharva-veda. Two short ones (ii. 42-43) belong to the sphere of augury, certain birds of omen being invoked to utter auspicious cries. Two others consist of spells directed against poisonous vermin (i. 191), and the disease called yakshma (x. 163). Two are incantations to preserve the life of one lying at the point of death (x. 58; 60, 7-12). A couple of stanzas from one of the latter may serve as a specimen:—
- Just as a yoke with leathern thong
- They fasten on that it may hold:
- So have I now held fast thy soul,
- That thou mayst live and mayst not die,
- Anon to be unhurt and well.
- Downward is blown the blast of wind,
- Downward the burning sunbeams shoot,
- Adown the milk streams from the cow:
- So downward may thy ailment go.
Here is a stanza from a poem intended as a charm to induce slumber (v. 55):—
- The man who sits and he who walks,
- And he who sees us with his gaze:
- Of these we now close up the eyes,
- Just as we shut this dwelling-house. The first three stanzas of this lullaby end with the refrain, "Fall fast asleep" (ni shu shvapa).
The purpose of one incantation (x. 183) is to procure children, while another (x. 162) is directed against the demon that destroys offspring. There is also a spell (x. 166) aiming at the destruction of enemies. We further find the incantation (x. 145) of a woman desiring to oust her rival wives from the affections of her husband. A sequel to it is formed by the song of triumph (x. 159) of one who has succeeded in this object:—
- Up has arisen there the sun,
- So too my fortunes now arise:
- With craft victorious I have gained
- Over my lord this victory.
- My sons now mighty warriors are,
- My daughter is a princess now,
- And I myself have gained the day:
- My name stands highest with my lord.
- Vanquished have I these rival wives,
- Rising superior to them all,
- That over this heroic man
- And all this people I may rule.
With regard to a late hymn (vii. 103), which is entirely secular in style, there is some doubt as to its original purpose. The awakening of the frogs at the beginning of the rainy season is here described with a graphic power which will doubtless be appreciated best by those who have lived in India. The poet compares the din of their croaking with the chants of priests exhilarated by soma, and with the clamour of pupils at school repeating the words of their teacher:—
- Resting in silence for a year,
- As Brahmans practising a vow,
- The frogs have lifted up their voice,
- Excited when Parjanya comes.
- When one repeats the utterance of the other
- Like those who learn the lesson of their teacher,
- Then every limb of yours seems to be swelling,
- As eloquent ye prate upon the waters.
- As Brahmans at the mighty soma offering
- Sit round the large and brimming vessel talking,
- So throng ye round the pool to hallow
- This day of all the year that brings the rain-time.
- These Brahmans with their soma raise their voices,
- Performing punctually their yearly worship;
- And these Adhvaryus, sweating with their kettles,
- These priests come forth to view, and none are hidden.
- The twelvemonth's god-sent order they have guarded,
- And never do these men neglect the season.
- When in the year the rainy time commences,
- Those who were heated kettles gain deliverance.
This poem has usually been interpreted as a satire upon the Brahmans. If such be indeed its purport, we find it difficult to conceive how it could have gained admittance into a collection like the Rigveda, which, if not entirely composed, was certainly edited, by priests. The Brahmans cannot have been ignorant of the real significance of the poem. On the other hand, the comparison of frogs with Brahmans would not necessarily imply satire to the Vedic Indian. Students familiar with the style of the Rigveda know that many similes which, if used by ourselves, would involve contempt or ridicule, were employed by the ancient Indian poets only for the sake of graphic effect. As the frogs are in the last stanza besought to grant wealth and length of days, it is much more likely that we have here a panegyric of frogs believed to have the magical power of bringing rain. There remain about twenty poems the subject-matter of which is of a more or less secular character. They deal with social customs, the liberality of patrons, ethical questions, riddles, and cosmogonic speculations. Several of them are of high importance for the history of Indian thought and civilisation. As social usages have always been dominated by religion in India, it is natural that the poems dealing with them should have a religious and mythological colouring. The most notable poem of this kind is the long wedding-hymn (x. 85) of forty-seven stanzas. Lacking in poetic unity, it consists of groups of verses relating to the marriage ceremonial loosely strung together. The opening stanzas (1-5), in which the identity of the celestial soma and of the moon is expressed in veiled terms, are followed by others (6-17) relating the myth of the wedding of Soma the moon with the sun-maiden Sūryā. The Açvins, elsewhere her spouses, here appear in the inferior capacity of groomsmen, who, on behalf of Soma, sue for the hand of Sūryā from her father, the sun-god. Savitṛi consents, and sends his daughter, a willing bride, to her husband's house on a two-wheeled car made of the wood of the çalmali or silk-cotton tree, decked with red kiṃçuka flowers, and drawn by two white bulls.
Then sun and moon, the prototype of human marriage, are described as an inseparable pair (18-19):—
- They move alternately with mystic power;
- Like children playing they go round the sacrifice:
- One of the two surveys all living beings,
- The other, seasons meting out, is born again.
- Ever anew, being born again, he rises,
- He goes in front of dawns as daylight's token.
- He, coming, to the gods their share apportions:
- The moon extends the length of man's existence. Blessings are then invoked on the wedding procession, and a wish expressed that the newly-married couple may have many children and enjoy prosperity, long life, and freedom from disease (20-33).
The next two stanzas (34-35), containing some obscure references to the bridal garments, are followed by six others (36-41) pronounced at the wedding rite, which is again brought into connection with the marriage of Sūryā. The bridegroom here thus addresses the bride:—
- I grasp thy hand that I may gain good fortune,
- That thou may'st reach old age with me thy husband.
- Bhaga, Aryaman, Savitṛi, Puraṃdhi,
- The gods have given thee to share my household.
The god of fire is at the same time invoked:—
- To thee, O Agni, first they led
- Bright Sūryā with the bridal throng:
- So in thy turn to husbands give
- A wife along with progeny.
The concluding verses (42-47) are benedictions pronounced on the newly-wedded couple after the bride has arrived at her future home:—
- Here abide; be not divided;
- Complete life's whole allotted span,
- Playing with your sons and grandsons,
- Rejoicing in your own abode.
The last stanza of all is spoken by the bridegroom:—
- May all the gods us two unite,
- May Waters now our hearts entwine;
- May Mātariçvan and Dhātri,
- May Deshṭrī us together join.
There are five hymns, all in the last book (x. 14-18), which are more or less concerned with funeral rites. All but one of them, however, consist chiefly of invocations of gods connected with the future life. The first (14) is addressed to Yama, the next to the Fathers, the third to Agni, and the fourth to Pūshan, as well as Sarasvatī. Only the last (18) is a funeral hymn in the true sense. It is secular in style as well as in matter, being almost free from references to any of the gods. Grave and elevated in tone, it is distinguished by great beauty of language. It also yields more information about the funeral usages of those early days than any of the rest.
From this group of hymns it appears that burial was practised as well as cremation by the Vedic Indians. The composer of a hymn addressed to Varuṇa in Book VII. also mentions "the house of clay" in connection with death. Cremation was, however, the usual manner of disposing of the dead, and the later Vedic ritual practically knew this method alone, sanctioning only the burial of ascetics and children under two years of age. With the rite of cremation, too, the mythological notions about the future life were specially connected. Thus Agni conducts the corpse to the other world, where the gods and Fathers dwell. A goat was sacrificed when the corpse was burned, and this goat, according to the Atharva-veda (ix. 5, 1 and 3), preceded and announced the deceased to the fathers, just as in the Rigveda the goat immolated with the sacrificial horse goes before to announce the offering to the gods (i. 162-163). In the later Vedic ritual a goat or cow was sacrificed as the body was cremated.
In conformity with a custom of remotest antiquity still surviving in India, the dead man was provided with ornaments and clothing for use in the future life. The fact that in the funeral obsequies of the Rigveda the widow lies down beside the body of her deceased husband and his bow is removed from the dead man's hand, shows that both were in earlier times burnt with his body to accompany him to the next world, and a verse of the Atharva-veda calls the dying of the widow with her husband an old custom. The evidence of anthropology shows that this was a very primitive practice widely prevailing at the funerals of military chiefs, and it can be proved to go back to the Indo-European age.
The following stanza (8) from the last funeral hymn (x. 18) is addressed to the widow, who is called upon to rise from the pyre and take the hand of her new husband, doubtless a brother of the deceased, in accordance with an ancient marriage custom:—
- Rise up; come to the world of life, O woman;
- Thou liest here by one whose soul has left him.
- Come: thou hast now entered upon the wifehood
- Of this thy lord who takes thy hand and woos thee.
The speaker then, turning to the deceased man, exclaims:—
- From the dead hand I take the bow he wielded,
- To gain for us dominion, might, and glory.
- Thou there, we here, rich in heroic offspring,
- Will vanquish all assaults of every foeman.
- Approach the bosom of the earth, the mother,
- This earth extending far and most propitious:
- Young, soft as wool to bounteous givers, may she
- Preserve thee from the lap of dissolution.
- Open wide, O earth, press not heavily on him,
- Be easy of approach, hail him with kindly aid;
- As with a robe a mother hides
- Her son, so shroud this man, O earth. Referring to the bystanders he continues:—
- These living ones are from the dead divided:
- Our calling on the gods is now auspicious.
- We have come forth prepared for dance and laughter.
- Till future days prolonging our existence.
- As days in order follow one another,
- As seasons duly alternate with seasons,
- As the later never forsakes the earlier,
- So fashion thou the lives of these, Ordainer.
A few of the secular poems contain various historical references. These are the so-called Dānastutis or "Praises of Gifts," panegyrics commemorating the liberality of princes towards the priestly singers employed by them. They possess little poetic merit, and are of late date, occurring chiefly in the first and tenth books, or among the Vālakhilya (supplementary) hymns of the eighth. A number of encomia of this type, generally consisting of only two or three stanzas, are appended to ordinary hymns in the eighth book and, much less commonly, in most of the other books. Chiefly concerned in describing the kind and the amount of the gifts bestowed on them, the composers of these panegyrics incidentally furnish historical data about the families and genealogies of themselves and their patrons, as well as about the names and homes of the Vedic tribes. The amount of the presents bestowed—for instance, 60,000 cows—is sometimes enormously exaggerated. We may, however, safely conclude that it was often considerable, and that the Vedic chiefs possessed very large herds of cattle.
Four of the secular poems are didactic in character. One of these (x. 34), "The Lament of the Gambler," strikes a pathetic note. Considering that it is the oldest composition of the kind in existence, we cannot but regard this poem as a most remarkable literary product. The gambler deplores his inability to throw off the spell of the dice, though he sees the ruin they are bringing on him and his household:—
- Downward they fall, then nimbly leaping upward,
- They overpower the man with hands, though handless.
- Cast on the board like magic bits of charcoal,
- Though cold themselves, they burn the heart to ashes.
- It pains the gambler when he sees a woman,
- Another's wife, and their well-ordered household:
- He yokes these brown steeds early in the morning,
- And, when the fire is low, sinks down an outcast.
- "Play not with dice, but cultivate thy cornfield;
- Rejoice in thy goods, deeming them abundant:
- There are thy cows, there is thy wife, O gambler."
- This counsel Savitṛi the kindly gives me.
The other three poems of this group may be regarded as the forerunners of the sententious poetry which flourished so luxuriantly in Sanskrit literature. One of them, consisting only of four stanzas (ix. 112), describes in a moralising strain of mild humour how men follow after gain in various ways:—
- The thoughts of men are manifold,
- Their callings are of diverse kinds:
- The carpenter desires a rift,
- The leech a fracture wants to cure.
- A poet I; my dad's a leech;
- Mama the upper millstone grinds:
- With various minds we strive for wealth,
- As ever seeking after kine. Another of these poems (x. 117) consists of a collection of maxims inculcating the duty of well-doing and charity:—
- Who has the power should give unto the needy,
- Regarding well the course of life hereafter:
- Fortune, like two chariot wheels revolving,
- Now to one man comes nigh, now to another.
- Ploughing the soil, the share produces nurture;
- He who bestirs his feet performs his journey;
- A priest who speaks earns more than one who's silent;
- A friend who gives is better than the niggard.
The fourth of these poems (x. 71) is composed in praise of wise speech. Here are four of its eleven stanzas:—
- Where clever men their words with wisdom utter,
- And sift them as with flail the corn is winnowed,
- There friends may recognise each other's friendship:
- A goodly stamp is on their speech imprinted.
- Whoever his congenial friend abandons,
- In that man's speech there is not any blessing.
- For what he hears he hears without advantage:
- He has no knowledge of the path of virtue.
- When Brahman friends unite to offer worship,
- In hymns by the heart's impulse swiftly fashioned,
- Then not a few are left behind in wisdom,
- While others win their way as gifted Brahmans.
- The one sits putting forth rich bloom of verses,
- Another sings a song in skilful numbers,
- A third as teacher states the laws of being,
- A fourth metes out the sacrifice's measure.
Even in the ordinary hymns are to be found a few moralising remarks of a cynical nature about wealth and women, such as frequently occur in the ethical literature of the post-Vedic age. Thus one poet exclaims: "How many a maiden is an object of affection to her wooer for the sake of her admirable wealth!" (x. 27, 12); while another addresses the kine he desires with the words: "Ye cows make even the lean man fat, even the ugly man ye make of goodly countenance" (vi. 28, 6). A third observes: "Indra himself said this, 'The mind of woman is hard to instruct, and her intelligence is small'" (viii. 33, 17); and a fourth complains: "There are no friendships with women; their hearts are those of hyenas" (x. 95, 15). One, however, admits that "many a woman is better than the godless and niggardly man" (v. 61, 6).
Allied to the didactic poems are the riddles, of which there are at least two collections in the Rigveda. In their simplest form they are found in a poem (29) of the eighth book. In each of its ten stanzas a different deity is described by his characteristic marks, but without being mentioned, the hearer being left to guess his name. Vishṇu, for instance, is thus alluded to:—
- Another with his mighty stride has made three steps
- To where the gods rejoice in bliss.
A far more difficult collection, consisting of fifty-two stanzas, occurs in the first book (164). Nothing here is directly described, the language being always symbolical and mystical. The allusions in several cases are so obscurely expressed that it is now impossible to divine the meaning. Sometimes the riddle is put in the form of a question, and in one case the answer itself is also given. Occasionally the poet propounds a riddle of which he himself evidently does not know the solution. In general these problems are stated as enigmas. The subject of about one-fourth of them is the sun. Six or seven deal with clouds, lightning, and the production of rain; three or four with Agni and his various forms; about the same number with the year and its divisions; two with the origin of the world and the One Being. The dawn, heaven and earth, the metres, speech, and some other subjects which can hardly even be conjectured, are dealt with in one or two stanzas respectively. One of the more clearly expressed of these enigmas is the following, which treats of the wheel of the year with its twelve months and three hundred and sixty days:—
- Provided with twelve spokes and undecaying,
- The wheel of order rolls around the heavens;
- Within it stand, O Agni, joined in couples,
- Together seven hundred sons and twenty.
The thirteenth or intercalary month, contrasted with the twelve others conceived as pairs, is thus darkly alluded to: "Of the co-born they call the seventh single-born; sages call the six twin pairs god-born." The latter expression probably alludes to the intercalary month being an artificial creation of man. In the later Vedic age it became a practice to propound such enigmas, called "theological problems" (brahmodya), in contests for intellectual pre-eminence when kings instituted great sacrifices or Brahmans were otherwise assembled together.
Closely allied to these poetical riddles is the philosophical poetry contained in the six or seven cosmogonic hymns of the Rigveda. The question of the origin of the world here treated is of course largely mixed with mythological and theological notions. Though betraying much confusion of ideas, these early speculations are of great interest as the sources from which flow various streams of later thought. Most of these hymns handle the subject of the origin of the world in a theological, and only one in a purely philosophical spirit. In the view of the older Rishis, the gods in general, or various individual deities, "generated" the world. This view conflicts with the frequently expressed notion that heaven and earth are the parents of the gods. The poets thus involve themselves in the paradox that the children produce their own parents. Indra, for instance, is described in so many words as having begotten his father and mother from his own body (x. 54, 3). This conceit evidently pleased the fancy of a priesthood becoming more and more addicted to far-fetched speculations; for in the cosmogonic hymns we find reciprocal generation more than once introduced in the stages of creation. Thus Daksha is said to have sprung from Aditi, and Aditi from Daksha (x. 72, 4).
The evolution of religious thought in the Rigveda led to the conception of a creator distinct from any of the chief deities and superior to all the gods. He appears under the various names of Purusha, Viçvakarman, Hiraṇyagarbha, or Prajāpati in the cosmogonic hymns. Whereas creation, according to the earlier view, is regularly referred to as an act of natural generation with some form of the verb jan, "to beget," these cosmogonic poems speak of it as the manufacture or evolution from some original material. In one of them (x. 90), the well-known Hymn of Man (purusha-sūkta), the gods are still the agents, but the material out of which the world is made consists of the body of a primeval giant, Purusha (man), who being thousand-headed and thousand-footed, extends even beyond the earth, as he covers it. The fundamental idea of the world being created from the body of a giant is, indeed, very ancient, being met with in several primitive mythologies. But the manner in which the idea is here worked out is sufficiently late. Quite in the spirit of the Brāhmaṇas, where Vishṇu is identified with the sacrifice, the act of creation is treated as a sacrificial rite, the original man being conceived as a victim, the parts of which when cut up become portions of the universe. His head, we are told, became the sky, his navel the air, his feet the earth, while from his mind sprang the moon, from his eye the sun, from his breath the wind. "Thus they (the gods) fashioned the worlds." Another sign of the lateness of the hymn is its pantheistic colouring; for it is here said that "Purusha is all this world, what has been and shall be," and "one-fourth of him is all creatures, and three-fourths are the world of the immortals in heaven." In the Brāhmaṇas, Purusha is the same as the creator, Prajāpati, and in the Upanishads he is identified with the universe. Still later, in the dualistic Sānkhya philosophy, Purusha becomes the name of "soul" as opposed to "matter." In the Hymn of Man a being called Virāj is mentioned as produced from Purusha. This in the later Vedānta philosophy is a name of the personal creator as contrasted with Brahma, the universal soul. The Purusha hymn, then, may be regarded as the oldest product of the pantheistic literature of India. It is at the same time one of the very latest poems of the Rigvedic age; for it presupposes a knowledge of the three oldest Vedas, to which it refers together by name. It also for the first and only time in the Rigveda mentions the four castes; for it is here said that Purusha's mouth became the Brahman, his arms the Rājanya (warrior), his thighs the Vaiçya (agriculturist), and his feet the Çūdra (serf).
In nearly all the other poems dealing with the origin of the world, not the gods collectively but an individual creator is the actor. Various passages in other hymns show that the sun was regarded as an important agent of generation by the Rishis. Thus he is described as "the soul of all that moves and stands" (i. 115, 1), and is said to be "called by many names though one" (i. 164, 46). Such statements indicate that the sun was in process of being abstracted to the character of a creator. This is probably the origin of Viçvakarman, "the all-creating," to whom two cosmogonic hymns (x. 81-82) are addressed. Three of the seven stanzas of the first deserve to be quoted:—
- What was the place on which he gained a footing?
- Where found he anything, or how, to hold by,
- What time, the earth creating, Viçvakarman,
- All-seeing, with his might disclosed the heavens?
- Who has his eyes and mouth in every quarter,
- Whose arms and feet are turned in all directions,
- The one god, when the earth and heaven creating,
- With his two arms and wings together welds them.
- What was the wood, and what the tree, pray tell us,
- From which they fashioned forth the earth and heaven?
- Ye sages, in your mind, pray make inquiry,
- Whereon he stood, when he the worlds supported?
It is an interesting coincidence that "wood," the term here used, was regularly employed in Greek philosophy to express "original matter" (hūlē).
In the next hymn (x. 82), the theory is advanced that the waters produced the first germ of things, the source of the universe and the gods.
- Who is our father, parent, and disposer,
- Who knows all habitations and all beings,
- Who only to the gods their names apportions:
- To him all other beings turn inquiring?
- What germ primeval did the waters cherish,
- Wherein the gods all saw themselves together,
- Which is beyond the earth, beyond that heaven,
- Beyond the mighty gods' mysterious dwelling?
- That germ primeval did the waters cherish,
- Wherein the gods together all assembled,
- The One that in the goat's source is established,
- Within which all the worlds are comprehended.
- Ye cannot find him who these worlds created:
- That which comes nearer to you is another.
In a cosmogonic poem (x. 121) of considerable beauty the creator further appears under the name of Hiraṇyagarbha, "germ of gold," a notion doubtless suggested by the rising sun. Here, too, the waters are, in producing Agni, regarded as bearing the germ of all life.
- The Germ of Gold at first came into being,
- Produced as the one lord of all existence.
- The earth he has supported and this heaven:
- What god shall we with sacrifices worship?
- Who gives the breath of life and vital power,
- To whose commands the gods all render homage,
- Whose shade is death and life immortal:
- What god shall we with sacrifices worship?
- What time the mighty waters came containing
- All germs of life and generating Agni,
- Then was produced the gods' one vital spirit:
- What god shall we with sacrifices worship?
- Who with his mighty power surveyed the waters
- That intellect and sacrifice engendered,
- The one god over all the gods exalted:
- What god shall we with sacrifices worship? The refrain receives its answer in a tenth stanza (added to the poem at a later time), which proclaims the unknown god to be Prajāpati.
Two other cosmogonic poems explain the origin of the world philosophically as the evolution of the existent (sat) from the non-existent (asat). In the somewhat confused account given in one of them (x. 72), three stages of creation may be distinguished: first the world is produced, then the gods, and lastly the sun. The theory of evolution is here still combined with that of creation:—
- Even as a smith, the Lord of Prayer,
- Together forged this universe:
- In earliest ages of the gods
- From what was not arose what is.
- Non-being then existed not, nor being:
- There was no air, nor heaven which is beyond it.
- What motion was there? Where? By whom directed?
- Was water there, and fathomless abysses?
- Death then existed not, nor life immortal;
- Of neither night nor day was any semblance.
- The One breathed calm and windless by self-impulse:
- There was not any other thing beyond it.
- Darkness at first was covered up by darkness;
- This universe was indistinct and fluid.
- The empty space that by the void was hidden,
- That One was by the force of heat engendered.
- Desire then at the first arose within it,
- Desire, which was the earliest seed of spirit.
- The bond of being in non-being sages
- Discovered searching in their hearts with wisdom.
- Who knows it truly? who can here declare it?
- Whence was it born? whence issued this creation?
- And did the gods appear with its production?
- But then who knows from whence it has arisen?
- This world-creation, whence it has arisen,
- Or whether it has been produced or has not,
- He who surveys it in the highest heaven,
- He only knows, or ev'n he does not know it.
Apart from its high literary merit, this poem is most noteworthy for the daring speculations which find utterance in so remote an age. But even here may be traced some of the main defects of Indian philosophy—lack of clearness and consistency, with a tendency to make reasoning depend on mere words. Being the only piece of sustained speculation in the Rigveda, it is the starting-point of the natural philosophy which assumed shape in the evolutionary Sānkhya system. It will, moreover, always retain a general interest as the earliest specimen of Aryan philosophic thought. With the theory of the Song of Creation, that after the non-existent had developed into the existent, water came first, and then intelligence was evolved from it by heat, the cosmogonic accounts of the Brāhmaṇas substantially agree. Here, too, the non-existent becomes the existent, of which the first form is the waters. On these floats Hiraṇyagarbha, the cosmic golden egg, whence is produced the spirit that desires and creates the universe. Always requiring the agency of the creator Prajāpati at an earlier or a later stage, the Brāhmaṇas in some of their accounts place him first, in others the waters. This fundamental contradiction, due to mixing up the theory of creation with that of evolution, is removed in the Sānkhya system by causing Purusha, or soul, to play the part of a passive spectator, while Prakṛiti, or primordial matter, undergoes successive stages of development. The cosmogonic hymns of the Rigveda are not only thus the precursors of Indian philosophy, but also of the Purāṇas, one of the main objects of which is to describe the origin of the world.
- The sun is probably meant.