A cerapada sāhasa

Continued from Here

The author thanks @pinaki  for not only helping edit the article but co-authoring parts of the story and, in the process, educating me about Kerala, where I have not been yet…

A week went by after that rather harrowing conversation with Satyasoma. Life had attained a newfound normalcy, but the novelty was wearing off and Rudradatta was feeling rather bored. Since his birth in pāndyadeśa, he had hardly spent sufficient amounts of quality time in any part of bhārata but for some rare family trips.

His udyoga was extremely demanding though it provided fair compensation and as a means to recharge after a punishingly packed schedule, Rudradatta’s office allowed him to take a longer-than-usual vacation. Thus, he undertook this trip to bhārata, his ancestral land. He went to cerapada to visit Satyasoma, who was staying all alone in one of the famous caturvedi maṅgala-s (the area of the village where brāhmaṇas reside) of yore. The region was a refuge to the ancient dramila brāhmaṇas who with their prowess in vaidīka and śāstra had transformed it into a dakṣiṇa kāśi. Today it lay within the boundaries of the prānta ruled by the pernicious rudhiradhvajas. Thinking it good to better acquaint himself with the palpably worrisome situation there as well as hoping to gain new contacts through whom he can gain further knowledge, he made his way to Satyasoma’s home and stayed there for two days. On the third morning, after he had finished his prātaḥ saṃdhyopāsana (saṃdhyā worship in the morning), he was relaxing by himself as Satyasoma had left to run some errands for a relative of his. And there was a knock on the door. Satyasoma was back at home.

Rudradatta: Soma, I had spent a good amount of time conversing with almost every one of my contacts in dramiladeśa. I believe I have milked as many interesting conversations as I can out of them. There are enough texts in my external disk to keep me busy. I will visit the devālayas soon. But, for once, I want to do something new. Do you know any person in cerapada to whom you can introduce me and whose company will be of interest to me?

Satyasoma: itokke viḍu! (Leave all that). I have got something to break you out of that intellectual and experiential rut, or rather the both of us.

Rudradatta: Not in the mood for teasing or guessing games, soma. Just tell me what it is.

Satyasoma: On the way, back home, I saw this young, well-built man, dressed in traditional garb approach me. I could not take my eyes off his venerable countenance. He spoke in malayāḷa. Such tejas! Such brahmavarcas! He told me that his name was ānandan. He said, “O, young paṭṭarē! You seem to be the kind of person before whom my āśān (master) would want the araṇgēṟṟam of his rūpaka. We are staging this play based on a kathā from the veda. We would not want more than two people in the sadassu (assembly). So, bring along a caṇṇāti (friend) with you if you will!”

Rudradatta: This is suspicious! So, he runs into you and invites you to bring, at most, one friend with you! Did he give any further details?

Satyasoma: Well, you wanted to do something new. Here it is. I am excited beyond words for this. So, don’t spoil my mood. And I insist that you should come with me to this. I don’t think ānanda specifically limited it to two and asked me to bring one friend, without any reason! This is devacitta (will of the gods), rudra! Man, your first Prime Minister, he was right! You are indeed a “champion grumbler”! Born in bhārata, you have nevertheless imbibed the qualities intrinsic to that land!

Rudradatta: Alright! Hold your peace, soma! We will go for this! Out of curiosity, at least, may I ask if this “ānanda” mentioned any details about the to you?

Satyasoma: Not really. He only said that it is a little-known story from the veda, filled with special effects and an abundance of adbhuta rasa, with a sprinkling of bībhatsa towards the end. He told me that it is very rare for a rūpaka to be staged, showcasing vedaviṣaya. Don’t think too much about it rudra! Just come!

Rudradatta: Fine fine! I will come. Where and when is this play?

Satyasoma: It is tonight at 8 PM. We can make it well within time considering that it will be enacted in a secluded clearing within the Nelliyāmpativana. He was kind enough to give the directions. Let me tell you about this pristine vana, rudra. Perched amidst the precarious steeps of the malaya hills, this is a relatively untainted āraṇya which still holds the trace of the loving caresses of bhārgava rāma who shaped this land. It is filled with rare creatures which still retain the echoes of the veda svarā-s in their chirping and cītkāra. It is nearly a two-hour drive and it will be chilly considering the elevation; so dress accordingly.

Rudradatta and Satyasoma complete their saṃdhyā prayers and leave for the play about 5.30 PM. The drive was as serpentine as the coils of confusion within Rudradatta’s mind. However, the splendid vistas offered by this ancient land assuaged some of his ill feelings. In the distance, he spotted rows of vṛkṣa bleeding thick white sap which gave this region the name of Pālakkāḍu (forest of milk). The maññu (light mist) spread along with the dark clouds of the Tuḷām Varṣa. The roiling retreating monsoons firing the bane of vṛtra, the clouds themselves arrayed in a tumult like a devāsura samara. Witnessing this play of forces beyond his ken, prompted Rudra into reminiscing a previous conversation.

Rudradatta: Soma, do you remember what I told you about producing traditional-style plays based on the veda? Remember the play I told you that I would love to see being staged?

Satyasoma: Yes, rudra. That riveting story of yavakrī from the jaiminīya brāhmaṇa, right? Forget it, rudra. It is too obscure a story. And do you think, given the inappropriate parts of that story, they would stage it tonight? They appeared to be rather traditional.

Rudradatta: Adbhuta and bībhatsa, they say. Let’s see what they have for us.

Rudradatta and Satyasoma reach the place. They see ānanda at a distance who signals to them to follow him. They walk into a semi-forested area for a while till they reach an open ground with a wooden platform set up there and a few brāhmaṇa-s moving about, carrying props and getting ready.


Ānanda: Be seated here oh young men! The play will commence shortly.


The Sūtradhāra, (the director of a play) a lustrous brāhmaṇa of muscular build and wearing a turban, comes onto the stage to introduce the subject of the play:

Sūtradhāra: To the two men who braved their way to come to this forest in the dark, our greetings! We present this rūpaka, yauvanakṛtapramādam or as we might render, non-literally, in āṅglīkabhāṣā, “The madness done by the youth”. This is the story of yavakrī saumastamba from the jaiminīya brāhmaṇa and the mad sāhasa that was his life!

Since, this is cerapada, we thought of bringing a story from a śākhā which thrives here! The relevant verses from the jaiminīya brāhmaṇa would be interspersed with the dialogues of our actors!

That would be all from me! Enjoy this play, which has no likeness of it, not staged according to the vidhi laid in the śāstra of bharata (i.e. nāṭyaśāstra) and speaks of otherworldly concerns!

Satyasoma: Rudra! What are the odds?! I think I am starting to get anxious!

Rudradatta: You are getting anxious now? It is too late. Let us sit through this and see what transpires in this dark forest.

A brāhmaṇa steps forward from behind the stage and proceeds to recite with gambhīra:

tena haitena mauṇḍibha udanyurīja udanyūnāṃ rājā |

taddha yavakrīḥ saumastambir āstāvaṃ prati niṣasāda |

“Now, in this way, mauṇḍibha udanyu sacrificed; the king of the udanyu.

yavakrī saumastambi sat down at the āstāva”

[The actor playing] yavakrī enters the stage and the play continues. Magical effects are produced on stage with expertise and skill, to the surprise of rudradatta and satyasoma. As the play ends, they reminisce the more memorable scenes of the play. You must pardon us here for not offering a more generous sneak-peek into the dialogues of the play for if we went into the details of the play, this story would never end!


Satyasoma: What a show Rudra! The part where Yajñavacas Rājastambāyana offers ājya (butter) into the fire and that woman suddenly appeared! They misdirected us by generating a lot of smoke! And just when you thought it was over, he offers one more time and a man with an iron club emerges from the wall of smoke! Wonder what pyrotechnic substance was the ājya?!

Rudradatta: Brilliant indeed! My favourite part, though, was when she reveals the soles of her feet, which is entirely covered with hair! It’s a whole different level of bībhatsa when you see it instead of merely reading it in the text.

Satyasoma: Ah that part! The look on yavakrī’s face! Priceless! If our doctor-to-be vaṅgasiṃha was here, he would have tried to explain it!

Rudradatta: When I read the text, I asked him about it. He told me it could be some extreme form of hypertrichosis.

Satyasoma (Laughing): Indeed! Ah! What a day! We were told to pay at the end of the play. So, let us play and then we can leave? It’s getting a bit late.

Rudradatta and Satyasoma are getting ready to leave. The sūtradhāra comes where they are and calls on Rudradatta.

Sūtradhāra: Do not be in such a great haste to leave, my friend. There is a fee to pay for this spectacular performance you just saw! Or, do you, young man, think that this is not worthy of a fee?

Rudradatta (bringing his hands together in greeting): Do not mistake us, venerable sir. We were just about to approach one of your men to ask regarding the fee. How much should we pay you for the extremely unusual privilege of watching such a beautiful play sir? Indeed, after paying you what is due, there are so many questions for me to ask you! Firstly, may we have the fortune of knowing your name sir?

Sūtradhāra: I suffer from a dośa of having too many names. Some say that, as a child, I demanded for more names. But let that be. This is the dakṣiṇā for the glorious performance you just saw! Five nīlalohita cows which give vāja, peya, jyoti and bheṣaja! Hurry now!

Rudradatta (a bit angrily): Hold it sir! I have spoken to you with nothing but the utmost politeness. You are rude as to not give me your name. Then you ask five nīlalohita cows which gives vāja…jyoti (and slightly sarcastically); where does the venerable one want me to go to procure cows for him? Is this a śrautakarma that I should make bovine payments?

Sūtradhāra: Verily, this is as good as śrauta. This rūpaka itself is the iṣti which just concluded. You are the yajamāna here! You desired to see a rūpaka. And thus, you have the adhikāra to be the yajamāna for the rūpakeṣti. I, the Sūtradhāra, the director, am the adhvaryu. (The ṛtvij belonging to the yajurveda; he can be said to be the “director” of a yajna)

This Ānanda here is the assistant director of this play, the pratiprasthātr (the first of three assistants of the adhvaryu). Of whatever worth the dakṣiṇā comes to, I, along with the hotṛ, udgātṛ and brahman (the adhvaryu and these three are the four main ṛtvij-s), will each get the largest portions and my pratiprasthātr gets half of what I get. Second only to me in rank he is!

And since it is a bright beautiful full-moon today, let this be a darśapūrṇamāseṣṭi for you! Just like the śrautayāga, you, the yajamāna, have to do nothing. We do everything but you will reap the benefit of it all.

Rudradatta: As Yajñavalkya indeed says so in the śatapatha brāhmaṇa

Sūtradhāra: Ah! Indeed! Why do you not expound on it for the listening pleasure of us all?

Rudradatta: As you request sir. In the darśapūrṇamāseṣṭi, after girding the wife of the yajamāna, there is a point in the ritual where the act of looking upon the ājya (butter) takes place. Some opined that the yajamāna himself should look at the auspicious ājya so as to secure the benefits of the rite for himself. The opinion of the feisty Yajñavalkya is recorded there. It is written:

athā́jyamávekṣate taddhaíke yájamānamávakhyāpayanti tádu hovāca yā́jñavalkyaḥ kathaṃ nu ná svayámadhvaryávo bhávanti katháṃ svayaṃ nā́nvāhuryátra bhū́yasya ivāśíṣaḥ kriyánte kathaṃ nveṣāmátraivá śraddhā́ bhavatī́ti yāṃ vai kā́ṃ ca yajñá r̥tvíja āśíṣamāśā́sate yájamānasyaiva sā tásmādadhvaryúrevā́vekṣeta

śatapatha brāhmaṇa

“Now, he (the adhvaryu) looks down on the ājya. Here, some others, make the yajamāna look [instead]. [Regarding] that, says yājñavalkya, “How (kathaṃ here is in the sense of why) do not they (the sacrificers, yajamāna-s) themselves be the adhvaryava [at their own sacrifice]? How do not they themselves supplement (that is, they themselves can recite the prayers) where blessings (āśiṣaḥ) are made? How can these (yajamāna-s, the sacrificers who perform these sacrifices) have faith in this?” Whatever and whichever blessings the priests (r̥tvija) ask for (āśāsate) is for the yajamāna alone. Therefore, the adhvaryu indeed should look down on it (the butter)”

Thus, even in our case, in this figurative sacrifice of the rūpakeṣti, you, your assistants and actors have done everything but I alone reap the pleasures of enjoying it as the spectator!

Sūtradhāra: Well spoken, young man! But you see, I would say that the rūpakeṣti is better than your cherished śrautadharma (the vedic religion of rituals). In the former, your senses are nourished and you feel satiated with the performance and pay a fair price to men who earn an honest living by means of their expertise in a craft. Look at the r̥tvija-s in śrautadharma.

They exploit the naivete of pious men and create all kinds of complicated rituals. How is that you are so passionate about this śrautadharma? What about the śruti itself? Or the innumerable smṛtaya and śrautasūtrāṇi (the śrautasūtra-s are the ritual manuals of baudhāyana, etc who clarify on points of śrauta rituals) Does it really care about how men are being exploited by greedy priests?

Rudradatta: From friendly talk, you have crossed over to rudeness and attack against the veda. Sir, respectable as you look, you have no propriety in your conduct. Good men do not speak ill of the vedas and those who speak ill of it attain durgati. Your talk is like that of the navya-pāṣaṇḍavādin (neo- vedānta, babaisms, etc) or that of the mleccha scholars such as Max Muller the late german scholar.

Sūtradhāra: Well, what did they say that I am being accused of being like them?

Rudradatta:  Muller thought that the dharma declined under the “dead hand” of the brāhmaṇa-s and their “priestcraft”. He wrote:

“I should like to live for 10 years quite quietly and learn the language, try to make friends, and then see whether I was fit to take part in a work, by means of which the old mischief of Indian priestcraft could be overthrown and the way opened for the entrance of simple Christian teaching. Whatever finds root in India soon overshadows the whole of Asia.”

Indeed, it was part of the grand scheme to portray as evil the brāhmaṇa-s as well as the rituals which they perform. With these gone, it would have been easy to subjugate the heathens and turn them into deranged monotheists.

And this has to be accomplished in a perfect and complete manner. It would not have been enough that the status quo rituals alone should be targeted. Even the śrautadharma, whose rituals had largely gone out of vogue, was excavated by these scavenger-scholars with the sole purpose of undermining it. They knew that the veda was the source of the dharma and hence they wrote evil against it and its rites.

Hermann Oldenberg notes that for the bauddha-s it was even worse than priestcraft: “…and for Buddhism also, this priestly class was something more than a vain and greedy priestcraft, that it was the necessary form in which the innermost essence, the evil genius, if we may so call it, of the Indian people has embodied itself”.

Sūtradhāra: Fine rhetoric. Answer my questions though! Does this precious śruti of yours or the smr̥ti-s of the so-called great men really care about how men are being exploited by greedy priests? No matter how wicked these r̥tvija-s may be, they will be elected to officiate anyway! Their conduct, their character is of no importance to anyone; be it the devas or men! As long as the devas get their share of the oblations or men, the fruits of the ritual!

Rudradatta: Listen for I shall endeavour to answer you even as my knowledge is limited.

I shall now quote from the śruti, the aitareya brāhmaṇa:

trīṇi ha vai yajñe kriyante jagdhaṃ gīrṇaṃ vāntaṃ

Three [things] occur in the yajna (sacrifice): the eaten (remnants), swallowed, and vomited [food].

taddhaitadeva jagdhaṃ yad āśaṃ samnaṃmārtvijyaṃ kārayata uta vā me dadyāduta vā mā vṛṇīteti taddha tatparāṅeva yathā jagdhaṃ na haiva tadyajamānambhunakty

Now this verily is eaten is when he (the sacrificer) makes as r̥tvij who desires ‘ May he give me, or may he choose me.’ That is cast-aside like remnants; that indeed does not reward the sacrificer.

atha haitadeva gīrṇaṃ yadbibhyadārtvijyaṃ kārayata uta vā mā na bādhetota vā me na yajñaveśaśāṃ kuryāditi taddha tatparāṅeva yathā gīrṇaṃ na haiva tadyajamānambhunakty

Now this verily is swallowed is when he makes as r̥tvij whom he fears, “Let him not either injure me, nor let him disturb the yajna for me/ That is cast-aside like something swallowed; that indeed does not reward the sacrificer

atha haitadeva vāntaṃ yadabhiśasyamānamārtvijyaṃ kārayate yathā ha vā idaṃ vāntānmanuṣyā bībhatsanta evamtasmāddevās taddha tatparāṅeva yathā vāntaṃ na haiva tadyajamānambhunakti

Now this verily is vomited is when he makes as r̥tvij who is spoken ill of. Just as here men are disgusted by what is vomited, similarly thus the gods. That is cast-aside like something vomited; that indeed does not reward the sacrificer.

sa eteṣāṃ trayāṇāmāśāmneyāt

He should not desire these three. // aitareya brāhmaṇa 3.46

Is the śruti sufficient for you, Sūtradhāra?

Sūtradhāra: Very well…

Rudradatta: Or let me quote from the kalpasūtra texts you seem to be fond of criticizing. This is from bhagavān baudhāyana in his śrautasūtra:

kiṃgata u khalvativaraṇaṃ vāvaraṇaṃ vā bhavatīti

So, in what occurrence, then, supersession [of one’s earlier choice of a priest] or non-choosing [of a priest] takes place?

steyamacārīd abhyamaṃsthād ayājyamayājayatsāditaṃ karma tadu hāsthita ity eteṣām ekasminn ativaraṇaṃ vāvaraṇaṃ vā bhavatīti

He who lives by robbery, inflicts injuries, officiates for unfit persons, commits a condemnable deed. In each one of these cases, supersession of one’s choice (If the sacrificer had earlier chosen this person as r̥tvij but comes to realize his despicable conduct later) or non-choosing (if he has yet to choose) takes place.

Thus, your contention that the conduct of those who serve as r̥tvija-s did not matter to the śruti (the veda) or the śiṣṭa-s (the wise men, such as baudhāyana who expound on the dharma to us) is unfounded bunkum!

Sūtradhāra: Well spoken! But what about the commentary on the mīmāṃsā sutra 1.3.4: hetudarśanāc ca? He who had delved into the ocean of śrauta knowledge, śabarasvāmin; he gives three examples of ulterior motives on part of the r̥tvija! I will be merciful and take just one of them!

lobhād vāsa āditsamānā audumbarīṃ kṛtsnāṃ veṣṭitavantaḥ kecit. tat smṛter bījam.

adhikaraṇāntaraṃ vā. vaisarjanahomīyaṃ vāso ‘dhvaryur gṛhṇātīti, yūpahastino dānam ācarantīti.

“Out of greed, desiring [excess] cloth, they (r̥tvija) cover up the whole of the audumbari (sacrificial post made of udumbara wood); this was what gave rise to the smṛti rule [that the whole post should be covered up]

Thus, these rules [made by priests] have no authority, such as: ‘At the vaisarjana homa, the cloth should be taken by the adhvaryu’, ‘The cloth covering the sacrificial post, they should give it away’ “

What is your reply to this, feisty young man?

Rudradatta: This has already been explained by kumārila bhaṭṭa in tantravārtika. The greed of the priests would have been better satisfied by covering the lower and upper parts by two pieces, exactly as two are used by women for the lower and the upper coverings. That way, the priest would get two large pieces of cloth instead of merely one! The priest could have interpolated in the smṛti that it should be an expensive silk cloth. Why would it be necessary to cover the sacrificial post with kuśa grass before covering it with cloth? The greedy priests might as well have had both coverings made of cloth!

That śabarasvāmin pointed out this example demonstrates that brāhmaṇa-s cared about worshippers getting exploited by a few greedy priests and were willing to point out what they saw as morally censurable, even if it be found in sacred ritual texts written by esteemed men! That kumārila demolishes the examples proves that even these examples are full of holes and that the case for śrautam being a system of greed and exploitation is a very weak one! I know all the three examples you speak of and could answer them too! Do you wish to hear?!

Sūtradhāra: No! I am pleased with what I have heard! Satiated like a guest who has been fed well! Now pay me my fee and I shall leave! Five nīlalohita cows which give vāja, peya, jyoti and bheṣaja!

Rudradatta: Sir, it is getting late. It is not the time for such jokes sir!

Sūtradhāra: I thought you were sharper than this! Alright! Let me be kind and explain! Vāja means food; peya, drink; jyoti, light for which you need electricity and bheṣaja, medicine! What do you need for that?

Rudradatta: Money.

Sūtradhāra: Ah! Correct! Now, nīlalohita, that strange combination of red and blue, is purple. Do you not have five purple cows in your pocket?

Rudradatta: You mean my 2000 rupee notes!! You could have stated it directly!

Sūtradhāra: parokṣa-priyā iva hi devāḥ, says the śruti! “The gods love the indirect”. Are you not familiar with that? Since you like śrauta, oh taittirīyaka, perhaps I will put it this way:

sūtradhārāya pañcanīlalohitān ā labheta rūpakakāmas
sūtradhāro vai nīlalohita
pañcaśirā sūtradhāro bhavati
sūtradhāram eva svena bhāgadheyenopadhāvati

“To the Sūtradhāra, he should offer five reddish-blue [cows], desiring a rūpaka (play). The Sūtradhāra is the reddish-blue deity. The Sūtradhāra has five heads. With his own share, he shall please him!”

Rudradatta: Sir, first you said you are the adhvaryu asking for dakṣiṇā. Now you speak as if you are the deva. You confuse me with your contradictory speech! I’m exhausted and would like to leave for home with my friend! Here is the money Sir!

Sūtradhāra: r̥tvij, deva, yajamāna; I’m all that! Ha ha! Farewell!

Rudradatta and Satyasoma proceeds to leave. The sūtradhāra walks away with his assistant, rambling about Rudradatta.

Sūtradhāra: See the young āstika-s of today, ānanda! They grumble about parting with such a small sum. Did I ever tell you how nābhānediṣṭha of ancient times was ready to offer me the dakṣiṇā he was entitled to and already paid by the āṇgīrasas? A thousand cows he was prepared to yield to me, oh ānanda when I told him they belong to me! This boy sulks over paying me the dakṣiṇā he owes me! These youths today…Did I not give back the cows to nābhānediṣṭha? Perhaps, I will give these purple cows back to him! Like nābhānediṣṭha’s truthful speech, this boy’s feisty speech was pleasing to me!

Rudradatta turns back in excitement and sees that there was no one there! The sūtradhāra, his assistant ānanda, the other staff, the stage and the props-all had vanished! Rudradatta panics and then prods Satyasoma to turn back as well.

Rudradatta: Soma! Did you hear what he said?! Do you not see it now?!

Satyasoma: He was rambling on and on and mentioned nābhānediṣṭha. And now, he’s gone! All of them are gone! I do not understand what has transpired!

Rudradatta: Soma….(breathing heavily) …The Sūtradhāra is……

Satyasoma: Who?!

Rudradatta: Rudra!

Brief glossary and commentary on some words used:
paṭṭare: Derived from saṃskṛta word bhaṭṭa; as our friend @pinakasena informs me, it is the term used for Tamil iyers settled in Kerala.
araṇgēṟṟam: premiere performance of a dance or play

Of “Invisible Threads”, the veda and the strangest harikatha experience

The author would like to thank @Pinaki for helping with the editing and improving the structure with his invaluable input to the text.

Continued from Here:

satyasoma: But underneath the melancholy of it all, there is something quite strikingly beautiful about the way you put it, no? With 2500 kilometres separating the patrilineal descendant of somastambha and the prospective students of the jaiminīya brāhmaṇa sitting in an impoverished pāṭhaśālā, it is hard not to infer a deep and profound, yet subtle sense of pan-bhāratiya unity, a unity whose existence has been denied and our celebration of it, falsely invalidated.

rudradatta: Indeed, I did not mean to end my observation on a sad note. What I said with respect to the memory of somastambha’s name is just one of innumerable threads constituting this woven work, the warp and woof of dharma. Everyone knows about the dvādaśa jyotirliṅga-s for the śaiva-s, the divyadeśa-s of the śrī vaiṣṇavas or the śaktipīṭha-s of the śākta-s, covering the whole of bhārata or even what we call, akhaṇḍabhārata.

satyasoma: Would that not suffice, rudra? Or should I humour you and allow you to go on, in the unfailing hope that it will lead to something more than what I expect?

rudradatta: Allow me, soma. Thus, you have the Balinese brāḥmaṇas recognizing skanda as rohitaka supriyāya when praising him by several epithets in a stuti. The association of skanda with rohitaka (Rohtak, Haryana), I encountered in the mahābhārata as the following verse from the sabhāparva states while describing nakula’s conquest in the vāruṇeya (western) direction during the digvijaya:

tato bahudhanaṃ ramyaṃ gavāśvadhanadhānyavat

kārtikeyasya dayitaṃ rohītakam upādravat” (sabhāparva 29.4)

“kārtikeyasya dayitaṃ”, it is said. Cherished and loved by kārtikeya is rohītaka.

Apart from this, a similar nāstika reference in the bauddha mahāmāyūrīvidyārājñī, and inscriptions to the same effect, which lay Hindu would associate skanda today with Rohtak? He’s hardly remembered there though it is exceedingly dear to him. Yet, thousands of kilometres away, in a small island tucked away in Indonesia, this connection is remembered.

Speaking of these “invisible threads” holding together bhārata, which, as the āryottama notes, even the wicked chacha appreciated, one has the peerless tradition of the rāmāyaṇa, after vālmiki, incarnating among the dramila-s as kamban’s poetry, among the Gonds and in Bali, Thailand, and Cambodia. Or the case of mahārāṣṭradeśa brāhmaṇa-s officiating at coastal rāmeśvara or the rawal who serves badrinātha at his temple at Uttarakhand hailing from among the nambūtiri-s.

But, the implications are more than just pan-Hindu unity transcending boundaries of land and language though it constitutes a significant part.

satyasoma: What else do these “invisible threads” imply, rudra, apart from pan-Hindu unity of thought and expression? What else did you see in these “threads”?

rudradatta: It is what I see beneath them, soma. The śruti stands underneath this tapestry as an inexhaustible source of traditions and stories, with every pada (word), vākya (sentence), a set of mantras and ākhyāna (narrative) in a brāhmaṇa having the potential to give rise to a tradition or a new story remembered by the masses. I could discuss several examples of that but that topic is for another day. But, I will content myself with one I can recount from personal experience.

satyasoma: The veda is the basis for everything in our dharma you say? Isn’t that a statement to which one pays mere lip-service?

rudradatta: I do not know if I can say for everything, soma. Perhaps more substantially than one would think, to put it safely. But it is not a basis in the sense you are thinking, soma. It is anachronistic to argue that the veda directly speaks of matters which arose way later than its time. What I refer to is how the veda is the source of “raw material” upon which new deities, practices and pious narratives are built. I speak about the indescribable sense of euphoria when one encounters an obscure part of the lofty śruti manifesting in the unlikeliest of places.

Let me get to the example, Soma. In the course of doing pañcāyatana pūjā for the Great Five (śivaviṣṇuambāganapati and sūrya), many would, offer dīpārādhana with a pañcamukha dīpa (a “five-mouthed” lamp). During one such performance, I heard the following verses from the taittirīya brāhmaṇa being repeated thus:

nárya prajā́ṃ me gopāya / amr̥tatvā́ya jīváse / jātā́ṃ janiṣyámāṇāṃ ca / amŕ̥te satyé prátiṣṭhitām /

átharva pitúṃ me gopāya / rásam ánnam ihā́yuṣe / ádabdhāyó ‘śītatano / áviṣaṃ naḥ pitúṃ kr̥ṇu /

śám̐sya paśū́n me gopāya / dvipā́do yé cátuṣpadaḥ // aṣṭā́śaphāś ca yá ihā́gne / yé cáikaśaphā āśugā́ḥ /

sápratha sabhā́ṃ me gopāya / yé ca sábhyāḥ sabhāsádaḥ / tā́n indriyā́vataḥ kuru / sárvamā́yur úpāsatām /

áhe budhniya mántraṃ me gopāya / yám ŕ̥ṣayastraividā́ vidúḥ / ŕ̥caḥ sā́māni yájūm̐ṣi / sā́ hí śrī́r amŕ̥tā satā́m //” (Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa

satyasoma: Strange. Why would a verse with ahirbudhnya occur here? Is it because it is one of the names of rudra in later day texts and presumably it was a śiva-pañcāyatana? (pañcāyatana worship, but with Śiva placed specifically in the centre and the other four in the intermediate quarters) But if it is so, why particularly at this point? Do the other verses refer, somehow, to the other four devas?

rudradatta: No. The reason is less farfetched and simpler but more amusing. See, the pañcamukha dīpa is a five-flamed lamp. In the śrauta system, the three well-known fires are gārhapatyadakṣiṇāgni (also known as anvāhāryapacana) and āhavanīya. That we know, right?

satyasoma: Yes yes, I’m aware. The equivalences with the three lokas and the trimūrti in later texts; that all we have heard of.

rudradatta: There are two other fires established at the very beginning of the śrauta life, in the agnyādheya ceremony (the establishing/setting-up of fires as a preliminary rite to qualify one to perform śrauta rituals). Namely, the sabhya and āvasathya fires. The above five verses are mentioned by bhagavān baudhāyana in his śrautasūtra as the virājakrama mantra-s and they are employed by the yajamāna (the sacrificer) to pray to those five fires, in the order I just mentioned.

satyasoma: Ah! I got it! Five sacrificial fires, five-mouthed lamp! That is the connection?!

rudradatta (smiling): Yes. In the relatively popular pañcāyatana pūjā, you find this obscure set of mantra-s from the taittirīya brāhmaṇa making an appearance and yet many of those who recite it will continue to do so without knowing the significance or the raison d’être behind it.

satyasoma: I can top that example of yours, rudra! As obscure as the reference may be, it is not so unimaginable to find mantras from the veda, however unrelated it may be, in a pūjā performed mainly by smārta brāhmaṇa-s.

Take this example! How many people would know that when they say the word, āratī, to speak of their beloved daily ritual, they are really uttering a slightly distorted version of āratrikā, which ultimately derives from the words of a veda mantra?

rudradatta: Seems familiar. I remember hearing about this from someone. Refresh my memory, Soma.

satyasoma: Apparently, the āratrikā rite is found in the atharvaveda pariśiṣṭa (supplement to the atharvaveda). There occurs this vidhi of which I will quote some of the verses I remember and are especially relevant:

athāto rātrisūktānāṃ vidhim anukramiṣyāmaḥ 1

śuciḥ śuklavāsāḥ purohitaḥ 2

pārthivasya paścimāṃ saṃdhyām upāsya darbhaiḥ pavitrapāṇī rājānam abhigamya 3

piṣṭamayīṃ rātriṃ kṛtvā 4

annapānadhūpadīpair arcayitvā mālyaiś ca 5

prajvalitaiś caturbhir dīpakair arcayitvā 6

ā rātri pārthivam iṣirā yoṣeti sūktadvayena rātrim upasthāya 7

trāyamāṇe viśvajite ahne ca tveti rājānaṃ pradakṣiṇaṃ triḥ kṛtvā 8

The rite was originally performed by a royal purohita, dressed in white robes, for the king at the time of the evening saṃdhyā. He would make an image of Goddess rātri out of flour and worships it with food, drink, incense, lamps and garlands. He worships her with four lamps burning and installs the idol by uttering two sūkta-s, “ā rātri pārthivam” (atharvaveda, śaunakiya śākhā, 19.47) and “iṣirā́yóṣā” (same text but 19.49). The purohita then waves the lights in a circular fashion in front of the king thrice for his protection from evil. I learnt about this, thanks to Dr. Nirmala Kulkarni.

rudradatta: This is interesting. Hence an apotropaic rite initially performed only for the kings, was later adopted by the common folk as well. It is worthwhile noting that so many of the practices Hindus take for granted as beginning-less features can be traced in some form to the śruti. Speaking of which, one can argue that even the harikatha to which the masses flock has roots deeply embedded within the śruti.

There has been an intimate link between the yajna and public recitation of sacred knowledge, often unappreciated by the lay Hindu. It is no coincidence that the mahābhārata is framed as janamejaya listening to vaiśampāyana at the sarpa-killing sattra or that the uttarakāṇḍa states how vālmīki has the sons of rāma go around the city singing the rāmāyaṇa on the occasion of the aśvamedha held by rāma or that ugraśrava sauti recites purāṇa-s to the sages at the sattra held by śaunaka.

Indeed, when one traces the origin of this, one realizes the roots of a formalized public discourse lie in the hoary pāriplava rite of the aśvamedha where various branches of knowledge are recited to different groups, with the itihāsa-s and purāṇa-s being narrated to fishermen and bird-catchers. But let me put that discussion aside for now. In all this, I forgot to ask you as to why you are here. Is everything okay, soma?

satyasoma: Yes, everything is fine, Rudra. It is a strange coincidence, I think, that you should mention harikatha just now. I attended one a few days ago, by this famous, “new-age” reciter at the behest of a friend. The harikatha was full of the clichéd attacks on rituals and vedas being incapable of leading a man to the highest good. This brāhmaṇa was carefully combining paurāṇika narratives with “commercially hot” words and phrases like, “be spiritual not religious”, “rituals are for the ignorant”, etc. I wonder, if he knew how the śruti equates viṣṇu with the yajna (sacrifice) itself. As I was sitting in my seat, cursing myself for being there, something strange happened, rudra. That’s what I came here to talk to you about.

rudradatta: What happened soma?!

satyasoma: Irritated with the vedanindana and avamatya he showed to rituals, I turned my head upwards and had the strangest vision ever! I saw “beings” standing in mid-air by the left side of the arch above the stage. I will tell you how it all played out in front of me. It was as if I, like arjuna, was given divya cakṣūṣi (divine eyes), for I do not think that what I saw, I could have seen them with the eyes of a mortal! The three beings! The first one was an old man, with silver hair and a thick beard indicating his antiquity. He had several heads, trunks and feet, similar to the puruṣa of puruṣa sūkta! Imagine that, rudra!

rudradatta: “sahasraśīrṣā puruṣaḥ sahasrākṣaḥ sahasrapāt!” I can imagine! Go on, Soma! Do not stop now!

satyasoma: He was slowly thinning but, dressed in majestic garbs, he had a regal countenance and lordliness that remained largely unaffected by his age. His many heads were adorned by a single crown that was singularly unmatched. The second being was a handsome, young man who, though not possessing the royal look of the first, was nevertheless dressed magnificently, having several faces, each of them extremely resplendent and rivalling the other in beauty. All of his faces, his two shoulders and his trunk were covered with the auspicious symbols of viṣṇu!

I saw him rend his way out of one of the many trunks of the first one! The second one then feasted on part of the body of the first and remorselessly fattened himself! The first one became emaciated greatly! But in a short while, he too started thinning out. Then out of both of them, a luminous third one materialized, sporting a crown similar to that of the first being, but also having the auspicious marks of the second. He then devoured parts of both the first and the second and it seemed as if he had overpowered them, but not for long. He too became weak. The three of them then smirked condescendingly at the reciter of the harikatha and said, “etat sarvaṃ mariṣyati (This all will die)”! Then it all disappeared, rudra! What do you make of this? Tell me for it has been robbing me of my sleep for the several nights!

rudradatta listened with rapt attention and looked at satyasoma with trepidation and began to speak.

rudradatta: The trajectories of our minds seem to be crossing more often than I would hope for, for the coincidences are becoming too inordinate and frequent. Hear me out, soma, for this is what I think is the meaning of whatever you saw.

For a few weeks, in the course of reading various śāstra-s and other texts, a series of imaginations occurred to me. Since they were my own imagination, I naturally did not make much of it then. But what I saw with the internal eyes of my restless mind, something similar to what you have seen with your external eyes, Soma!

During one such study, I was reading the charming āgamaḍambara of jayanta bhaṭṭa. There is a particular scene in that play, which is rather touching; I read it again and again. This episode where a ṛtvik (a priest who performs śrauta sacrifices) and upādhyāya (a teacher) speak of the impending decline of śrautam as pāñcarātraśaiva and others overpowered it even as these systems relied on the śruti as pramāṇa. There, the ṛtvik, with a tinge of sadness I can only intuit, tells the upādhyāya:

vayasya, yathā manyase. kaḥ svārtham avadhīrya madhyastho dharmaikatāna buddhir bhavati? kiṃ tu kathaṃ vedaikaviṣaya yājanādhyāpanādi vṛttibhir asmābhiḥ kālo netavyaḥ?

(Friend, it is as you think. Who, disregarding his own goals, impartially, have only dharma in his intellect? But how [when] performing sacrifices, teaching, etc; exclusively concerns of the veda, being our profession, should we pass our time?)

The upādhyāya replies:

vayasya, yathaivātikrānto nītas tathaivāgāmy api grāsavasanamātra santoṣibhir neṣyate

(Friend, whatever way we have led in the past, the [same] way in the future. With just a morsel to eat and clothing, we shall be content; without desire.)

And then both of these men speak on how the pāñcarātrika-s imitate the śrautin-s with impunity. As you very well know, I do have great regard for the vaiṣṇava contributions to our dharma, be it pāñcarātra or the great system of rāmānuja, who himself was a peerless defender of the veda’s authority. Yet, I felt some resentment about the disregard for the veda by many who represented these schools and thus, when I read it, I had visualizations similar to what you saw. And I will now explain what you saw!

satyasoma: Tell me without delay! My mind is restless with excitement!

rudradatta: The first being, old and of royal effulgence; he is the veda, the śrautadharma of majestic form. Divided into countless śākhā-s, each with a plurality of scriptures within, you saw him with several heads, trunk and feet! The second being is pāñcarātra, oh soma! Having his origins in the vājasaneya śākhā of the veda, as the pāñcarātra texts themselves state, you saw him tear himself out of one of the trunks of the first. Yet, ignoring his origin in the veda, he would put himself above it.

With his own unique mantraśāstra and kriya (rites) dedicated to the great nārāyaṇa, he would indeed have appeared very handsome to you, with all the auspicious marks of that deity. Feeding on the śruti as necessary, he grew in stature and thought he had won, just as the śrautin characters from the play thought he won! But time was not kind to him, oh soma!

In a short time, in a few centuries, as it were a drop in the kālasamudra (ocean of time), this complex ritual system dwindled into obscurity, with many of its initiations being forgotten. Having his origin in both the first and second beings, both the veda and pāñcarātra, comes the third being, the great system of rāmānuja. He adduced countless proofs from the veda with the venerable one (yāmunācārya) before him and the lion (vedānta deśika) after him both defending the pāñcarātra. Having taken up the mantle to explain vedānta, the end of the veda which has no end, comes this system of viśiṣṭādvaita śrī vaiṣṇavam! In staking a claim to their knowledge of the summum bonum of the vedic texts, they indeed sport a crown similar  to that of the first. In that it is a system devoted to viṣṇu, he also has the same auspicious marks of the second! He is that third person you saw! Gradually, obscuring his two progenitors, he attained immense greatness!

Sadly, he too met his match, oh Soma! The pāñcarātra, the illuminating and high philosophical thought of rāmānuja vedānta combined with the devotional system of śrī vaiṣṇavam; both of them have been reduced to weakness. The veda continues living on albeit in dire straits, as the emaciated man you saw. The only thing really left is devotion, bhakti. But like many things in this world, such as patriotism and compassion, it has become the refuge of scoundrels. In this case, it is scoundrels who despise rituals.

The “new age” harikatha exponent has lived off by doing nindana of the rites of the veda as useless and he has prospered greatly! But his time too shall pass! The dharma has śāstra for its basis. It has karman (rites) for its basis. Without these, the insipid talk of that silly man, like cotton candy, lasts in its effects for but a short while. Having only this mediocrity as food for their buddhi, his audience will soon seek out other avenues, going into navya-pāṣaṇḍa (neo- vedānta, bābāisms) or worse, abrahma religions! Hence, they said, “etat sarvaṃ mariṣyati”! The “tradition” of this degenerate harikatha exponent, if one can even dignify it with such a term, will die soon. Do not think that it will leave something better behind for it has come up only by butchering the śāstra-s and sampradāya-s it fed upon. It will simply leave a void, ready to be filled by the first things to exploit it.

satyasoma: A warning as to what will come to pass in the future, uh, rudra?

rudradatta: Indeed. You already see Hindu youth turning towards the above-mentioned avenues, lapping up the puerile teachings of babas or a xyz-ānanda, when they fail to get answers from the “pandits” at their local temples. In fact, our friend, vaṅgasiṃha, informed me of some opining that we should be thankful that these Hindus have not converted yet. Such is the pitiful state of affairs, oh soma!

satyasoma: This is like that story of bhṛgu and varuṇa where varuṇa explains to bhṛgu his visions of horrible punishments in the afterlife, except that this ends on a far grimmer note.

rudradatta (laughing): Except that I’m no varuṇa and you’re no bhṛgu…

satyasoma: And yet, somehow, our lives are just as dramatic.

Continued here


gotraḍambara: Much Noise About Gotra

The author would like to thank pinākī for helping edit as well as the critique and feedback which helped improve this short story.

rudradatta bhāradvāja, with a cold glass of nimbūrasa, was, with unwavering focus, reading every line on the page of the tome. He knew which text to look up and was confident that he would have found the name by the time satyasoma walked into his room.

satyasoma: What book is it now, Rudra?

rudradatta: I had just opened my copy of the baudhāyana śrautasūtra; glossing through the list of gotras in the pravarādhyāya. This new acquaintance of mine, bhāskara sureśa, had asked me if there was a textual reference for his relatively rare gotra, by the name of naitundya.

satyasoma: Indeed, there seem to be as many gotras as there are brāhmaṇas. It makes you wonder how many of these names are well-founded…

rudradatta: Ah! Found it! Listen satyasoma! bhagavān baudhāyana says thus:

viṣṇuvṛddhāḥ śaṭhamarṣaṇā bhadraṇā madraṇāḥ śāmburāyaṇā bādarāyaṇā vātsaprāyaṇāḥ sātyakiḥ sātyakāyanā naitundyā stutyā bhāruṇyā vaihoḍhā daivasthānaya ityete viṣṇuvṛddhās/

teṣāṃ tryārṣeyaḥ pravaro bhavaty āṅgirasa paurukutsa trāsadasyeti hotā trasadasyuvat purukutsavad aṅgirovad ityadhvaryu//”

Did you get it, Soma?

satyasoma: How could I miss your high intonation at naitundyā, Rudra? I got it! I got it! (Laughing) Good work Rudra! Perhaps, you should set up a website to offer brāhmaṇas such services! I have a question for you, though. After “ityete viṣṇuvṛddhās”, you stated the pravara ṛṣi-s in forward and reverse orders, did you not?

rudradatta: Yes, the pravarādhyāya is basically to inform the hotṛ and adhvaryu the ways to address the yajamāna. The hotṛ addresses the sacrificer by the patronyms derived from the names of the pravara ṛṣi-s, going from the oldest to the youngest among them. As for the adhvaryu, I suppose, he addresses the yajamāna as having, or being possessed of, the ṛṣi, for it is indeed the blood of that ṛṣi that runs in his veins. And he does so by going from the youngest to the oldest of the pravara ṛṣi-s.

satyasoma: Ah, among the viṣṇuvṛddha-s themselves, so many gotra-s are listed. That is just one of the several gana-s among the kevalāṅgirasa-s. Apart from the kevalāṅgirasa-s, you still have the bhāradvāja-s and gautama-s. And that is just within the āṅgirasa-s! You still have the vaiśvāmitra-s, vāsiṣṭha-s, ityādi! How many gotras in total are listed by baudhāyana, Rudra?

rudradatta: Not sure of the exact number, Soma! But from the estimates of those who have counted, it seems to be about four-hundred! I was curious about our own clan, the bhāradvāja-s. Sure, we are no rare specimens for our ancestor was uniquely prolific in following the command of the veda on having progeny! But the pravarādhyāya lists eighty-eight gotras under the bhāradvāja-s alone!

satyasoma: Including our own gotra, the uninteresting and ubiquitous bhāradvāja gotra…

rudradatta: Yes, but I didn’t stop at the counting. It got me thinking, “So how many of these eighty-eight odd gotras listed by baudhāyana actually survived till today?” So, I decided to check!

satyasoma: What rigorous methods have you employed to that effect, Rudra?

rudradatta: Did not have time for any extensive research on this Soma! A short while before you came, I was going through the eighty-eight names. There was one name that immediately caught my attention as I had seen it in a narrative in another text. That name was somastambha. He was the founder of one of the eighty-eight great gotras among the illustrious bhāradvāja.

satyasoma: Which other text mentions him?

rudradatta: jaiminīya brāhmaṇa.

satyasoma: Continue with his exploits!

rudradatta: So, by the grace of Google, I sought to see if anyone, from the mahāsamudra of the world-wide web, identified themselves as hailing from the gotra of somastambha. Little do we know about this man but more is known about his son, yavakrī, who was the main character of a scandalous yet incredibly riveting story in the brāhmaṇa of the jaiminīya-s

satyasoma: So, did you confirm the existence of a descendant of somastambha?

rudradatta: Nothing. Initially. So, I tried spelling the name of the gotra in various ways. I realized that I had failed to account for two powerful māyā-s concealing what I sought to find: machedana and schwa deletion. They split a personal name into two words and removed the vowel at the end of each.

satyasoma: Ah, I get you. Twice as removed from the original, that must have been a bit hard to find. But who are ‘they’?

rudradatta: Well, it was a young man doing some self-advertisement with the intention to enter into vivāha. Caught in the rat race presumably, I would bet that he has lost all memory of what it means to be a brāhmaṇa, as is the case all across bhārata nowadays.

satyasoma: Indeed, the brāhmaṇa of today is a far, far cry from his rich and deep roots, he hardly remembers anything except the name of his gotra which he thinks fit to put up on an online sthala for vivāha-nirṇaya for “formality’s sake”, without any attachment to his progenitors.

rudradatta: And almost 2500 km south of where he lives and works, in remote villages in dramiladeśa and somewhere in ceradeśa, reside a few students of the endangered jaiminīya tradition, a śākha of the sāmaveda, found only in those two deśa-s. And only the brightest and persevering ones among those students, genuinely interested in gaining the full knowledge of their śruti, that hardly anyone in their village, district, state or country cares about; only they, one fine day, will start their lessons for the jaiminīya brāhmaṇa and sit in front of their teacher and repeat after him as he recites it.

And during one such lesson, they will come across the story of somastambha’s scandalous son and recount the exciting tales of those great ritualists of yore. Somewhere, 2500 km away from where one of somastambha’s last few descendants stand and between him and them, hardly anyone will know this name….


Continued here


yé devā́ yajñaháno yajñamúṣaḥ: Or the Devas who injure the sacrifice-Part One

This is one of those articles that has been in the works for almost one and a half years. The commitments of daily life had caused me to shelve this piece for a long time. Even as the ashes of sagara’s sons were waiting for the waters of the gaṅgā, this article was waiting for the manas to be inundated by the creative rasa-s flowing from the buddhi. Motivated as I was, by an abiding love of reading and understanding the texts of the śruti, the following text in question posed a puzzle to me.

That text is the portion of the taittirīya saṃhitā beginning with “yé devā́yajñaháno yajñamúṣaḥ pr̥thivyā́m” and ending with the penultimate verse of, “śráiṣṭhya ā́ dhehyenam” is the set of yajūṃṣi mantras (plural of yajus) known as the atimokṣa mantras. The ending of, “yajñaháno vái devā́ yajñamúṣaḥ” is the start of a brāhmaṇa discussion of the atimokṣa mantras. (And as any reader familiar with the basics of the veda ought to know, the kṛṣṇa yajur veda saṃhitā-s have their mantra portions tightly interspersed with brāhmaṇa passages).

Now, the terms, yajñahana and yajñamuṣa mean, respectively, “sacrifice-killing” and “sacrifice-stealing”. Interestingly, it is not the rakṣāṃsi (the plural of rakṣas, “demons”)  being referred to here, who are traditionally known to attempt to injure the yajña, the sacrifice. It is verily devas (“gods”) being referred to by these menacing epithets! The idea of devas as injurers of the sacrifice must have bewildered a scholar as great as C.G. Kashikar so much that he, in his translation of the baudhāyana śrautasūtra, where the mantras are cited and injunctions for their employment are given, translates the term, “devā” as “demons!

Now, by sheer conincidence, when I was investigating a different matter altogether, I came across a passage from the mahābhārata referring to yajñamuṣa devas who steal and ruin a sacrifice! I presented my findings to KRK and TD who offered a number of insights on this correspondence, which we will discuss as the essay continues.

Initially, I had just planned to write about the interesting correspondence between a certain set of mantras found in just three kṛṣṇa yajurveda saṃhitā-s and a passage in the mahābhārata. The atimokṣa mantras are found in the taittirīya, maitrāyaṇīya and caraka saṃhitā texts. But since taittirīya is svaśākhā, I shall present it first. Here is a brief synopsis of the two-part essay.

Part One

  1. A presentation of the atimokṣa mantras as recorded in taittirīya saṃhitā followed by a literal translation
  2. The relevant excerpt from the mahābhārata with translation and a brief analysis of the correspondence between the two passages

Part Two

  1. Presentation of the atimokṣa mantras as recorded in the maitrāyaṇīya and caraka saṃhitā texts with some analysis of the variations between the taittirīya and the latter two.
  2. Analysis of all other relevant śrauta material: vaisarjana homa, avabhr̥tha as well as viṣṇukrama, viṣṇvatikrama and atimukti mantras with aid from śrautasūtra texts

yé devā́ yajñaháno yajñamúṣaḥ pr̥thivyā́m ádhyā́sate / agnír mā tébhyo rakṣatu gáchema sukŕ̥to vayám //

The devas, killing the sacrifice, stealing the sacrifice, that are seated on earth, may agni protect me from them; may we go to those that do good deeds.

ā́ganma mitrāvaruṇā vareṇyā rā́trīṇām bhāgó yuváyor yó ásti / nā́kaṃ gr̥hṇānā́ḥ sukr̥tásya loké tr̥tī́ye pr̥ṣṭhé ádhi rocané diváḥ //

We have come, oh mitra and varuṇa, most excellent, to the share of the nights that is yours, Grasping the firmament, in the world of good deeds, on the third ridge/elevation above the light of the sky.

yé devā́ yajñaháno yajñamúṣo ‘ntárikṣé’dhyā́sate / vāyúr mā tébhyo rakṣatu gáchema sukŕ̥to vayám //

The devas, destroyers of the sacrifice, stealers of the sacrifice, who sit in the atmosphere; from them may vāyu guard me; May we go to those that do good deeds.

yā́s te rā́trīḥ savitaḥ+ //

The nights of yours, oh savitṛ+ //

+devayā́nīr antarā́ dyā́vāpr̥thivī́ viyánti / gr̥háiś ca sárvaiḥ prajáyā nv ágre súvo rúhāṇās taratā rájāṁsi //

+that go, traversed by devas, between sky and earth; with all your houses and offspring, do you, first mounting the light, traverse the regions.

yé devā́ yajñaháno yajñamúṣo divyádhyā́sate / sū́ryo mā tébhyo rakṣatu gáchema sukŕ̥to vayám //

The devas, destroyers of the sacrifice, stealers of the sacrifice, who sit in the sky; from them may Surya guard me; to the well-made world may we go.

yénéndrāya samábharaḥ páyāṁsy uttaména havíṣā jātavedaḥ / ténāgne tvám utá vardhayemáṁ sajātā́nāṁ śráiṣṭhya ā́ dhehyenam //

That highest oblation wherewith, oh jātaveda, Thou didst collect milk for indra, Therewith, oh agni, do thou make him grow; Bestow on him pre-eminence over his clansmen/brethren. (End of atimokṣa mantra-s)

yajñaháno vái devā́ yajñamúṣaḥ+ //

The devas are destroyers of the sacrifice, stealers of the sacrifice+//

+santi tá eṣú lokéṣv āsata ādádāna vimathnānā́ yó dádāti yó yájate tásya / yé devā́ yajñahánaḥ pr̥thivyā́m ádhyā́sate yé antárikṣe yé divī́ty āhemā́n evá lokā́ṁs tīrtvā́ ságr̥haḥ sápaśuḥ suvargáṃ lokám eti

+they sit these worlds taking and destroying from him who gives and sacrifices. ‘The gods, destroyers of the sacrifice, that sit on the earth, that (sit) in the atmosphere, that sit in the sky’, he says; verily traversing the worlds, he goes to the world of heaven with his household, with his cattle.

ápa vái sómenejānā́d devátāś ca yajñáś ca krāmanty āgneyám páñcakapālam udavasānī́yaṃ nír vaped agníḥ sárvā devátāḥ //

From him who has sacrificed with the Soma, the deities and the sacrifice depart; he should offer to agni on five potsherds as the final act; all the deities are agni //

pā́ṅkto yajñó devátāś caivá yajñáṃ cā́va runddhe

The sacrifice is fivefold; verily he wins the deities and the sacrifice.

gāyatró vā́ agnír gāyatráchandās táṃ chándasā vy ardhayati yát páñcakapālaṃ karóty aṣṭā́kapālaḥ kāryò ‘ṣṭā́kṣarā gāyatrī́ gāyatrò ‘gnír gāyatráchandāḥ svénaiváinaṃ chándasā sám ardhayati

Now agni is with gāyatrī and has the gāyatrī as his metre; he severs him from his metre, if he offers on five potsherds; it should be made on eight potsherds; the gāyatrī has eight syllables, agni is with the gāyatrī and has the gāyatrī for his metre; verily he unites him with his own metre.

paṅktyàu yājyānuvākyè bhavataḥ pāṅkto yajñás ténaivá yajñā́n náiti //

The yājya and the anuvākya are in the pañkti metre the sacrifice is fivefold; verily thereby he does not depart from the sacrifice.

Now, these yajūṃṣi mantras have not received much attention or a study just devoted to them. Therefore, it was all the more interesting to note a correspondence between these mantras and a passage from the mahābhārata.

To give a context to this passage, it deals with the diverse progeny generated by pāñcajanya (also known as tapasaḥ), (of the five peoples) the son of uktha, himself born to agni and svāhā, the daughter of bṛhaspati and tārā.

devān yajñamuṣaś cānyān sṛjan pañcadaśottarān /10b

Afterwards, he (pāñcajanya) created fifteen other deities who steal/obstruct the yajña (yajñamuṣa: root: muṣ=to steal/obstruct)

abhīmam atibhīmaṃ ca bhīmaṃ bhīmabalābalam /11a

etān yajñamuṣaḥ pañca devān abhyasṛjat tapaḥ /11b

sumitraṃ mitravantaṃ ca mitrajñaṃ mitravardhanam /12a

mitra dharmāṇam ity etān devān abhyasṛjat tapaḥ /12b

surapravīraṃ vīraṃ ca sukeśaṃ ca suvarcasam /13a

surāṇām api hantāraṃ pañcaitān asṛjat tapaḥ /13b

Summary translation-These deities are as follows: abhīma, atibhīma, bhīma, bhīmabala, abala; sumitra, mitravanta, mitrajña, mitravardhana, mitradharma; surapravīra, vīra, sukeśa, suvarcasa, surāṇāmhantṛ; all created by pāñcajanya (also known as tapasaḥ/tapaḥ)

trividhaṃ saṃsthitā hy ete pañca pañca pṛthak pṛthak /14a

muṣṇanty atra sthitā hy ete svargato yajñayājinaḥ /14b

teṣām iṣṭaṃ haranty ete nighnanti ca mahad bhuvi /15a

spardhayā havyavāhānāṃ nighnanty ete haranti ca /15b

havir vedyāṃ tad ādānaṃ kuśalaiḥ saṃpravartitam /16a

tad ete nopasarpanti yatra cāgniḥ sthito bhavet /16b

cito ‘gnir udvahan yajñaṃ pakṣābhyāṃ tān prabādhate /17a

mantraiḥ praśamitā hy ete neṣṭaṃ muṣṇanti yajñiyam /17b

Summary translation-These [deities] are divided into three groups of five each. Established here [in this world], these deities obstruct/molest (muṣṇanti-3rd person plural from root, muṣ) those who offer the sacrifice (yajñayājinaḥ) and are gone to heaven (svargato). They take away and slay their sacrifices (teṣām iṣṭaṃ, iṣṭa meaning sacrifice here) and rival havyavāhāna (agni the carrier of the havis/oblations) here by carrying away large quantities of the havis on the vedi (altar). If cleverly undertaken, they will not approach where the fire has been established. The piled-up fire carrying up the sacrifice repels them on both sides [of the vedi]. When pacified by mantras, they do not steal the sacrifice.

bṛhaduktha tapasyaiva putro bhūmim upāśritaḥ /18a

agnihotre hūyamāne pṛthivyāṃ sadbhir ijyate /18b

rathaṃtaraś ca tapasaḥ putrāgniḥ paripaṭhyate /19a

mitra vindāya vai tasya havir adhvaryavo viduḥ /19b

mumude paramaprītaḥ saha putrair mahāyaśāḥ /20a

Summary Translation: bṛhaduktha, another son of tapasaḥ (that is, pāñcajanya) abides on earth. He is worshipped in this world by men of piety who are engaged in the sacrifice of the agnihotra. rathantara, another son of tapasaḥ and fire is proclaimed. His offerings (tasya havir) are for mitravinda; [that] the adhvaryava know (plural of adhvaryu, who is the ṛtvij or priest of the yajurveda). He (tapasaḥ) was hence supremely pleased with his sons of great fame (mahāyaśāḥ).

The points to note and deduce from a reading of the two translated passages are as follows:

  1. It is manifestly clear that the above passage from the mahābhārata is discussing the very same sacrifice-stealing, sacrifice-killing devas referred to in the atimokṣa yajūṃṣi of the taittirīya saṃhitā. Note the phrases, “devān yajñamuṣaś” at 10b as well as “trividhaṃ saṃsthitā hy ete pañca pañca pṛthak pṛthak” at 14a. śloka 14a speaks of a threefold classification of the fifteen sacrifice-stealing sons of tapasaḥ. This coheres well with the fact that the yajñahána/yajñamúṣa devas of the taittirīyaka-s are found in the three broad divisions of the cosmos: pr̥thivi (earth), antárikṣa (atmosphere) and divi (sky).
    Also, it is clear that both texts refer to a “journey” being undertaken by the sacrificer. A plain reading of the yajūṃṣi of TS makes it apparent that the reciters of the verses are proceeding gradually from earth to the atmosphere and eventually to divi. The brāhmaṇa passage following the atimokṣa mantra-s states, “evá lokā́ṁs tīrtvā́ ságr̥haḥ sápaśuḥ suvargáṃ lokám eti” (verily traversing the worlds, he goes to the world of heaven with his household, with his cattle). On the other hand, the mahābhārata account states: “muṣṇanty atra sthitā hy ete svargato yajñayājinaḥ” (Established here [in this world], these deities obstruct/molest those who offer the sacrifice and are gone to heaven. The sacrificer’s upward “journey” will be dealt with in what hopefully gets published as part 2 of this series.
  2. That passage of the mahābhārata was possibly edited by the adhvaryava or an ākhyānavid of the adhvaryava. The reference to mitravinda in 19b is rather puzzling since it is the name of an iṣṭi from the śatapatha brāhmaṇa but is given as the name of a deity in the Mahābhārata account. There is no record of a deity named mitravinda anywhere else. It does not seem to be the result of any shoddy scholarship on part of the author and most likely preserves an authentic tradition that we are no longer able to make sense of.
  3. If the mitravinda in 19b indeed refers to the iṣṭi unique to the śukla yajurveda tradition, this would be interesting as the same passage contains a reference to the yajñamúṣa devas with the atimokṣa yajūṃṣi being unique to the kṛṣṇa yajurveda tradition. This could possibly mean that the mahābhārata account in question was redacted at a time when the yajurveda had not split yet and was a single school.TD suggested that the tradition of mitravinda as a distinct deity probably existed as a “khila” (appendix) of the oldest kṛṣṇa yajur śākhā-s (the caraka-s) at a time when the śukla schools did not exist yet. It is possible that this “khila”, so to speak, containing the base material for the soon-to-be śukla school, was rejected by the dominant yajur school of the caraka-s and later rearranged and expanded by yajñavalkya.
  4. Both KRK and I agreed that the mitra-names appearing in the mahābhārata account have been mistakenly assumed to refer to the Iranian mitra by the Burdwan pandits. mitra (or mithra as is spelt in avestan) as a deity of the mazdayasna is not found in its oldest texts, the gathas, indicating his late entry into the mazdayasna pantheon. By the time mitra/mithra found his way into mazdayasna, there was barely any contact between us, the worshippers of the devas and those of the ahura.Furthermore, the Iranian hypothesis only “explains” the mitra-group among the fifteen deities. It does not explain the bhima group (abhīma, atibhīma, bhīma, etc) or the third group consisting of su-prefix and vīra elements (surapravīra, vīra, sukeśa, etc).

Gosava and Bovine Mimesis in Ritual-Part 2

Potentially disturbing content ahead. The following article discusses a rite the details of which are bound to disturb some Hindu readers. It is plainly not for everyone.

My heartfelt thanks and gratitude to śrī mānasa-taraṃgiṇī for helping me with the translation of JB 2.113.8: “sā yemāṃ….” and taking the time to explain the nuances to me.

  1. Recapitulation

This article must be read in conjunction with part 1 of this series, here. However, the summary of the key preliminary points raised in part 1 is presented as follows for the reader’s convenience.

i. In section 2 of part 1, we looked at the anaḍutsūkta of the śaunakīya Atharvaveda (4.11) which is the oldest source used in this discussion. The hymn did not discuss any imitation per se, but revolved around a narrative of Indra’s manifesting as the bull (4.11.2).

ii. If not similarities, we saw, in the numbered points in sections 2 and 3, noteworthy correspondences between the traditions of the anaḍutsūkta and the gosava rite as described in taittiriya brāhmaṇa 2.7.6 as well as pañcaviṃśa brāhmaṇa 19.13, such as the centrality of prajāpati and parameṣṭhin in all three texts. Another example would be the ‘pouring of milk-streams’ meme, used as an imagery in anaḍutsūkta (4.11.4) and performed as a ritual act of unction (abhiṣeka) over the performer’s head (see section 2 point iii, section 3, point iv).

iii. We also looked into the concept of svārājya in section 3, right after the numbered points in section 2. The concise and subtle comparison drawn, in taittiriya brāhmaṇa, between the uninhibited behaviour of cattle and the unbounded independence one obtains in being a sovereign was also noted by us. The concept of svārājya seems to have been gradually transforming from that with a worldly understanding of sovereignty in terms of political power, into one with soteriological underpinnings (i.e. the question of boundless freedom in the afterlife)

iv. Lastly, in section 4, we looked at taittiriya brāhmaṇa which seems to be one of the earliest textual traditions of bovine mimesis or even animal imitation in general. Though TB does not directly relate to the gosava rite, it is significant for consideration in the context of understanding the idea of bovine mimesis (imitation of cattle, kine). Furthermore, it has clearly influenced the pāśupata sutras.


  1. The jaiminīya account of Gosava

Having seen the brief summary of points of part 1, we can now look at the account of the gosava rite as presented in the much-dreaded jaiminīya text (This jaiminīya brāhmaṇa is a brāhmaṇa text proper and not to be confused with the jaiminīya upaniṣad brāhmaṇa which is often treated as a āraṇyaka). The original passage of 2.113 will be presented, followed by a literal translation. (Will be adding a far more detailed translation with explanation for the grammatical technicalities as soon as possible. It is almost done.)

In the immediately following translation without explanation, the words in square brackets would be words to be read as part of the text but are not actually found in the original but inserted by me for the sole purpose of making the sentence readily comprehensible and logical in English. The words in circular brackets are explanatory.

athaiṣa gosavaḥ /1/ svargakāmo haitena yajeta /2/

Now this is [the] gosava /1/ [He who is] heaven desiring, indeed by that [gosava], let him sacrifice /2/

sa vā eṣa ṣaṭtriṃśo bhavati /3/ ṣaṭtriṃśadakṣarā vai bṛhatī /4/

That [gosava] is this [which] has ṣaṭtriṃśa [stoma] /3/ [Of] thirty-six syllables, indeed, [is] the bṛhatī [metre] /4/

bṛhatī svargo lokaḥ sāmrājyaṃ /5/ bṛhatyāmeva tatsvarge loke sāmrājye pratitiṣṭhanto yanti /6/

The bṛhatī is heavenly world-sovereignty /5/ In the bṛhatī, verily, they establish; in the heavenly world, in sovereignty, they move /6/

bṛhatyu ha vā imānsarvāṃ llokānakṣarairvyāpnoti daśabhirevākṣarairimaṃ lokaṃ vyāpnoti daśabhirantarikṣaṃ daśabhiramuṃ caturbhirdiśo dvābhyāmahorātre  /7/

The bṛhatī, also, indeed, by [means of the] syllables, pervades all these worlds; by, verily, ten syllables, this world it (the bṛhatī) pervades; by ten [syllables], the atmosphere; by ten that [world, heaven], by four the directions; by two day and night /7/

sā yemāṃllokānvyāpnoti tayemāṃllokānvyāpnavānīti /8/

She who pervades these worlds; through her, these worlds, I shall pervade, thus [he should think]/8/

tasya stotraṃ stotraṃ caturaścaturastrivṛto’bhisaṃpadyate /9/ trivṛtaṃ vā anye stomā abhisaṃpadyante trivṛtsvargaṃ lokam /10/

Of that, the stotraṃ; the stotram becomes four [sets of] trivṛt [stomas] /9/ trivṛt or other stomas they become [but] the trivṛt is the heavenly world. /10/

sa yathā kṣiprāśvena caturyujā yatra jigamiṣettadgacchedevamevaitena svargaṃ lokaṃ gacchati /11/

As if speedily conveyed by a yoke of four [trivṛt stomas], wherever he wants to go, to there, let him go; verily, in that way, to the heavenly world he goes /11/

tasyobhe bṛhadrathantare sāmanī bhavata svargye svargasya lokasya samaṣṭyai /12/

Of that, there is both the bṛhat and rathantara saman-s; [being/relating to] heavenly/heaven, [it is] for the attainment of the heavenly world /12/

sa ukthyo bhavati prajā vai paśava ukthāni /13/ prajā vai paśava svargo loka svargasyaiva lokasya samaṣṭyai /14/

It has an ukthya; offspring and cattle are songs of praise /13/ Offspring and cattle are the heavenly world; [It is] verily for the attainment of the heavenly world /14/

tasya dvādaśa sahasrāṇi dakṣiṇā bhavanti dvādaśa māsāssaṃvatsarassaṃvatsara svargo loka svargasyaiva lokasya samaṣṭyai /15/

Of that, there are twelve-thousand [cattle] as the sacrificial fee; twelve months are the year, the year is the heavenly world; [it is] verily for the attainment of the heavenly world /15/

tasya vratam /16/

The observance of the [Gosava] /16/

upa mātaram iyād upa svasāram upa sagotrām /17/ upāvahāyodakam ācāmed upāvahāya tṛṇāny āchindyāt /18/

Near/towards the mother let him go; near the sister, or a clanswoman /17/ Bringing [himself] near, the water let him sip [directly with his mouth] and having leaned down close [to the ground] he should cut grass [with his teeth] /18/

yatra yatrainaṃ viṣṭhā vindet tat tad vitiṣṭheta /19/ anaḍuho ha lokaṃ jayati /20/

Wherever he may seek out to excrete [faeces], there let him excrete /19/ The world of the draft-ox, verily, he wins /20/

tena haitena janako vaideho iyakṣāṃ˙cakre /21/

Thus, indeed by this [gosava], Janaka Vaideha had desired to sacrifice /21/

tam u ha brāhmaṇā abhito niṣeduḥ /22/

Him, indeed, the brāhmaṇa-s were sitting around /22/

Sa ha papraccha ka stoma iti /23/ sa hovāca sudakṣiṇaḥ kṣaimir nāyaṃ trivṛd evāhur iti /24/

He asked them: “What is the stoma [for the gosava]?” /23/ Sudakṣiṇa, the son of Kṣema, said thus, “This is not the trivṛt [stoma] alone” /24/

˙tasya kiṃ vrataṃ kā dakiṣiṇā iti /25/ tasmā u haitat provāca /26/

“Of that [gosava], what is the observance? What is the [sacrificial] fee?”, thus [asked Janaka] /25/ To that one (Janaka), verily, he said this: /26/

sa hovāca ud evāsya dakiṣiṇā āśaṃse vrataṃ tv evāsya nodāśaṃsa iti /27/ teno ha sa nopadadharṣa yaṣṭum /28/

The [sacrificial] fee I wish [to pay] for, the observance I do not wish for /27/ Thus, indeed, he did not dare to sacrifice [at the gosava] /28/

teno ha puṇyakeśo yaudhenir īje śaibyo rājā /29/ taṃ ha sabhāyām eva viṣṭhā viveda /30/

On that account, indeed, puṇyakeśa, son of yodhena, sacrificed [at the gosava]; [he is the] king of the Śibi /29/ He, indeed, in the assembly, felt the urge to excrete [feces] /30/

sa ha tad evodāvṛṇāna uvāca sthavirayajño vāva kilāyam āsa /31/ sthavira evānena yajñena yajeta /32/

He, verily, right there [at the assembly] excreted [and] said: An elderly man [‘s] sacrifice, certainly, definitely, this was [to be] /31/ An elderly man, alone, by [means of this] yajña [the gosava], should sacrifice /32/

sthavirasya hy evedaṃ sarvam anujñātam iti /33/

[In respect] of an elderly man, indeed, all this is permitted, thus [stated puṇyakeśa] /33/

sa haiṣa sthavirayajña eva /34/ tena haitenottaravayasye yajeta /35/

That is indeed an elderly man [‘s] sacrifice /34/ Thus, even so, in the last years [of one’s life], let him sacrifice /35/

//End of Translation

Now, the above account offers a variant of the gosava rite that is strikingly different when contrasted against the versions found in taittiriya brāhmaṇa 2.7.6 and pañcaviṃśa brāhmaṇa 19.13 which we saw in part 1. While the above account may be very shocking to some readers, let us, with patience dissect the account of gosava as presented in the jaiminīya.

Firstly, one may take into consideration the hypothesis by mlecchas such as Caland that the jaiminīya account of gosava is descriptive of the “primitive” version of the rite before a civilized ārya society abandoned these “barbaric” aspects and transformed the rite into something acceptable. However, a close reading of the jaiminīya text does not seem to bear out this hypothesis.

i. The text itself seems to be a composite of two distinct parts, with the first part consisting of verses from 2.113.1 (athaiṣa gosavaḥ) to 2.113.15 (tasya dvādaśa…..svargasyaiva lokasya samaṣṭyai) and the second part consisting of the rest of the verses, from 2.113.16 (tasya vratam) to 2.113.35 (sa haiṣa… haitenottaravayasye yajeta). The first part (2.113.1-2.113.15) of the jaiminīya account seems to be a reworking of the typical gosava rite as embodied in the taittiriya and pañcaviṃśa texts, retaining a certain few elements found in the latter two texts while eschewing many other, key components of the rite.

ii. The jaiminīya text mentions the ṣaṭtriṃśa stoma as the one to be used in 2.113.3 (sa vā eṣa ṣaṭtriṃśo bhavati) and the use of both the bṛhat and rathantara sāman-s in 2.113.12 (tasyobhe bṛhadrathantare sāmanī bhavata). These, as we have seen in part 1, are found in the taittiriya and pañcaviṃśa accounts of gosava. Refer to PB 19.13.5: ubhe bṛhadrathantare bhavatas and TB regarding the employment of both sāman-s. With respect to the stoma to be used, refer to PB 19.13.10: sarvaḥ ṣaṭtriṃśastena gosavaḥ as well as TB To this extent, it does seem that a skeletal framework of the rite, in so far as the liturgy is concerned (sāman-s and stoma), has been largely retained by the jaiminīya-s. One can only say, ‘largely retained’ as even the liturgical aspect of gosava is not fully intact. For instance, in the 2.113.9, the ṣaṭtriṃśa stoma is not to be chanted in the conventional manner but instead as four trivṛt stoma-s (tasya stotraṃ stotraṃ caturaścaturastrivṛto’bhisaṃpadyate).

To appreciate this, the reader should note that the trivṛt stoma consists of (trivṛt meaning threefold three verses repeated in each of three turns/paryāya) a total of nine verses). Instead of chanting the thirty six verses within the three paryāya-s, a nine-versed trivṛt stoma is chanted within the three paryāya-s and four such trivṛt stoma-s are performed. This peculiar liturgical structure (of four trivṛt stoma-s) is metaphorically described in 2.113.11 as a yoke of four [horses] (sa yathā kṣiprāśvena caturyujā) by means of which the performer of the rite is speedily conveyed to the heavenly world. This is a beautiful example of how non-liturgical aspects of a ritual are embedded in the structure of the liturgy or the hymn. Another example of that would be the sāmidhenī chant as discussed by the ārya here and here.

iii. However, several other, key elements are completely absent in the jaiminīya account, which can be found in the taittiriya and pañcaviṃśa accounts. In both of these texts, an abhiṣeka rite is enjoined where milk is poured over the sacrificer’s head (PB 19.13.7 pratiduhābhiṣicyate, TB The unction is performed at the time of chanting of the bṛhat sāman (PB 19.13.8 bṛhataḥ stotra pratyabhiṣicyate, TB and to the south of the āhavanīyāgni on unraised, flat ground. Furthermore, the deities, prajāpati and parameṣṭhin are totally absent in the jaiminīya text whereas they are mentioned in the other two (PB 19.13.3 prajāpatir hi svārājyaṃ parameṣṭhī svārājyam, TB Most fundamentally, the term, ‘svārājya’ is conspicuously and completely missing in the jaiminīya while, on the other hand, it is the stated objective in PB and TB. Instead, the desired goal of the jaiminīya text is svarga loka (the heavenly world, i.e. heaven). This disappearance of svārājya explains the absence of the rite of sitting to the south of the āhavanīya fire on unraised ground (TB, PB 19.13.9: anuddhate=not lifted up ground, locative form of anuddhata) as the purpose of sitting on such flat ground was that there should be nothing interposing (such as a hump on uneven ground)  between earth and the performer of the gosava, so as to facilitate attainment of svārājya, or sovereignty. It hardly requires much imagination to understand the correspondence (bandhutā) between earth (over which power is exercised) and the attainment of that sovereign power, i.e. svārājya. The sitting on unraised ground would have been clearly an irrelevant rite for the jaiminīya-s who contemplated the attainment of the other world and not sovereignty in the kṣatra sense of the term.

However, we may note that, notwithstanding the absence of any reference to svārājya in the jaiminīya account, there is a reference to ‘sāmrājya’ (JB 2.113.5 bṛhatī svargo lokaḥ sāmrājyaṃ), albeit sāmrājya in the heavenly, other world. Although sāmrājya is not mentioned in the pañcaviṃśa version, the taittiriya and kāthaka passages on the gosava (both being śākhā-s belonging to the kṛṣṇa yajurveda) do refer to the concept, with the latter being more explicit. TB and kāth.B 37.6 designate the vājapeya as the ‘samrāṭsava’ that confers sāmrājya upon the performer whereas the gosava rite confers svārājya. While the taittiriya text equates prajāpati with svārājyam (TB, the kāthaka equates prajāpati with sāmrājya (prajāpatis sāmrājyaṃ parameṣṭhī) and then goes on to repeat the ‘svārājyam gaureva’ phrase found in the taittiriya text, which we discussed in detail in part 1. It was noted there that this equation of cattle and svārājya may offer an insight into the transformation of the gosava rite, paving the way for the incorporating the practice of imitating the unrestrained behaviour of cattle, although the taittiriya brāhmaṇa itself does not instruct any such imitative practice. Coming back to the jaiminīya text at hand, Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara, in his commentary on taittiriya śruti, comments on ‘svārājyam gaureva’ as to how svārājya is verily the svatantra one enjoys in brahmaloka. That comment is perhaps more apt for the jaiminīya passage which speaks of sāmrājya in svarga loka. It is possible that the jaiminīya account of gosava was influenced by the kṛṣṇa yajurvedin-s.

iv. From the points numbered, i-iii, it would seem that the first part of the jaiminīya text (2.113.1-15) was carefully constructed using material from the existing gosava passages found in other brāhmaṇa texts while modifying the traditional account as necessary. The rather conspicuous omission of references to prajāpati (who could be as easily equated with svarga as he is with svārājya) and the “substitute” measure of the rather artificial insertion of bṛhatī metre personified as a goddess jointly point towards the conclusion that the jaiminīya variant of gosava was indeed the later one, deliberately differentiating itself from its precursors.

v. A reading of the second part (2.113.16-35), starting with “tasya vratam”, seems to suggest that it was probably yet another, even later, element deliberately grafted onto the first part. One notes the sudden, total absence of ‘svarga’ and its related terms (svarga loka) as well as derivatives and an unexpected and novel reference to ‘anaḍuha loka’ at 2.113.20 (anaḍuho ha lokaṃ jayati). From purely a textual criticism perspective, it is irrelevant if anaḍuha loka is the svarga to be attained for that would be a question for the vedabhāṣyakāra-s, the brahmavādin-s.

vi. It has to be noted that the execution of the rite by puṇyakeśa yaudhena, the ruler of Śibi, is the only recorded instance of the jaiminīya variant of gosava being performed, with the possible exception of a narrative from the brahmāṇḍa purāṇa 2.36-64 involving dīrghatamas. Furthermore, there is no explicit reference to the incest element in the puṇyakeśa narrative or even any of the other acts (drinking water directly from the source or cutting grass with one’s teeth without hands) except excreting faeces. Towards the end of the jaiminīya text at 2.113.31-32, the qualification of the rite by puṇyakeśa stipulates that only an elderly person can perform the rite and the very last line of the text, 2.113.35 states that it is to be done in the final stage of one’s life (uttaravayasye). This raises an interesting ambiguity. On one hand, this qualification of gosava could be a way to circumvent the deviant sexual element as some have understood it. For if the stated acts were intended to constitute imitation of a bull, the performance by a very old man would logically be the imitation of a bull of advanced age that has lost its libido and virility and would not be able to indulge in actual intercourse.

On the other hand, the actual text suggests contrarily, stating at 2.113.33 that all those aforementioned transgressive acts are allowed for the elderly man (sthavirasya hy evedaṃ sarvam anujñātam), suggesting that they were all to be performed in the literal sense and no exemption was intended. However, looking at the wording of the contentious injunction at 2.113.16, even if literal interpretation was employed, it is possible that actual intercourse was probably never meant but merely sexually approaching the woman (“upa mātaram iyād…”). Even approaching a woman if she was a mother, sister or a sagotrā was deemed to be improper as was eating grass from the ground or sipping water directly from the source or excreting in any place without discretion. So, what is the meaning of the statement that these acts were “allowed” (anujñātam) for the old man? In my opinion, puṇyakeśa was probably making a reference to senility and the indifference to norms an elderly man and lack of control such a man may experience at an advanced age. Such acts may have been considered justifiable in the context of senility. It has to be mentioned that the only two other texts referring to these transgressive acts (āpastamba śrautasūtra 22.13.1-3, hiraṇyakeśi śrautasūtra 17.5.25-26) do not mention this “old age” qualification at all.


  1. Gosava in the śrautasūtra-s

Now, we will briefly lay out whatever material is present in the śrautasūtra-s directly pertaining to the gosava rite. As there are too many texts to consider, translation will not be provided but only brief notes.

baudhāyana śrautasūtra 18.7:

gosavena yakṣyamāṇo bhavati sa upakalpayate’yutaṃ dakṣiṇāḥ suvarṇarajatau ca rukmau parṇamayaṃ pātraṃ pratidhugabhiṣecanāya


tasya ṣaḍdīkṣāḥ ṣaḍupasadaḥ

samānamābhiṣekasya kālādabhiṣekasya kāle yajamānāyatane kṛṣṇājinamātraṃ vederanuddhataṃ bhavati

tadyajamānaṃ prāñcamupaveśya suvarṇarajatābhyāṃ rukmābhyāṃ paryupāsya parṇamaye pātre pratidhugānīya bṛhata stotraṃ pratyabhiṣiñcati revajjātaḥ sahasā vṛddhaḥ kṣatrāṇāṃ kṣatrabhṛttamo vayodhāḥ | mahānmahitve tastabhānaḥ kṣatre rāṣṭre ca jāgṛhi | prajāpatestvā parameṣṭhinaḥ svārājyenābhiṣiñcāmi

devasya tvā savituḥ prasave’śvinorbāhubhyāṃ pūṣṇo hastābhyāṃ sarasvatyai vāco yanturyantreṇa gosavenābhiṣiñcāmīti

samunmṛṣṭe samutkrośantīti samānamā mukhasya vimārjanāt

sa eṣa gosavaḥ ṣaṭtriṃ śaḥ sarva ukthya ubhayasāmāyutadakṣiṇaḥ

pavamāne kaṇvarathaṃtaraṃ kurvanti


apastamba śrautasūtra 22.12.17-20:

gosavena ṣaṭtriṃśenokthyena rathaṃtarasāmnā br̥hatsāmnobʰayasāmnā vā svārājyakāmaḥ /17

kaṇvaratʰaṃtaraṃ pavamāne /18

ayutaṃ dakṣiṇā /19

dakṣiṇenāhavanīyamanuddʰate vedyai br̥hataḥ stotraṃ pratyabʰiṣicyate pratidʰuṣā revajjātaḥ sahasā vr̥ddʰaḥ kṣatrāṇāṃ kṣatrabʰr̥ttamo vayodʰāḥ / 20a

mahānmahitve tastabʰānaḥ kṣatre rāṣṭre ca jāgr̥hi / 20b

prajāpatestvā parameṣṭhinaḥ svārājyenābʰiṣiñcāmīti /20c

apastamba śrautasūtra 22.13.1-3

teneṣṭvā saṃvatsaraṃ paśuvrato bʰavati /1

upavahāyodakaṃ pibettr̥ṇāni cāccʰindyāt / 2a

upa mātaramiyādupa svasāramupa sagotrām /2b

yatrayatrainaṃ viṣṭhā vindettadvitiṣṭheta /3


hiraṇyakeśi śrautasūtra 17.5.21-26

gosavenokthyena br̥hadrathaṃtarasāmnā svārājyakāmaḥ /21

ayutaṃ dakṣiṇā /22

dakṣiṇenāhavanīyam anuddhate vedyai pratidhuṣā māhendrastotraṃ pratyabhiṣicyate // revaj jātaḥ sahasā vr̥ddhaḥ \ kṣatrāṇāṃ kṣatrabhr̥ttamo vayodhāḥ / \ mahān mahitve tastabhānaḥ \ kṣatre rāṣṭre ca jāgr̥hi / \ prajāpates tvā parameṣṭhinaḥ svārājyenābhiṣiñcāmi \\ iti /23

gosaveneṣṭvā saṃvatsaraṃ dvādaśāhaṃ vā govrato bhavati /24

upa mātaram iyād upa svasāram upa sagotrām upa nigāyodakaṃ pibati tr̥ṇāni vā cchinatti /25

yatrayatrainaṃ viṣṭhā vindet tatratatra vitiṣṭhito ‘pavagāhaṃ gaurīva siṣam /26


mānava śrautasūtra

ṛṣabhagosavāvindra sya 17

ṛṣabho | yaḥ kāmayetarṣabha iva samānānāṃ syāmiti sa etena yajeta 18

ubhayasāmā rathaṃtarapṛṣṭhaḥ 19

pūrvo gaurāṅgirasaḥ 20

gosavena yajeta pārameṣṭhyakāmaḥ śrīrājyakāmo vā 21

ukthya ubhayasāmā bṛhatpṛṣṭho | ‘yutaṃ dakṣiṇā 22

gāvo bhago gāva indro me achāngāvaḥ somasya prathamasya bhakṣaḥ 23a

imā yā gāvaḥ sa janāsa indra ichāmi hṛdā manasā cidindram 23b

iti māhendra kāle vācayitvā pārameṣṭhyāyeti yathākāmaṃ pratiduhā pariṣiñcati 23c


śāṅkhāyana śrautasūtra 14.15

go.savena.paśu.kāmo.yajeta /

ṣaṭ.triṃśat.stomena /

ṣaṭ.triṃśad.akṣarā.bṛhatī /

bārhatāḥ.paśavaḥ /

paśūnām.eva.āptyai /

ṣaṭ.triṃśat.sahasrā.dakṣiṇā.gosavasya /

ayutam.vā /

ukthyo.yajñaḥ /


āśvalāyana śrautasūtra 9.8

AsvSS_9.8/12: go.sava.vivadhau.paśu.kāmaḥ./ (ṛtu.Yāja)


vaitāna śrautasūtra 8.1

gosavābhiṣecanīyayoḥ <yuñjanti bradhnam aruṣam [śs. 20.26.4-6] iti /4

gosavavivadhavaiśyastomeṣu <indraṃ vo viśvatas pari [śs. 20.39.1, 3] ā no viśvāsu havya indraḥ [śs. 20.104.3-4] iti /10

Note: The references in square brackets, 20.26.4-6, 20.39.1-3 & 20.104.3-4 refer to verses from the atharvaveda saṁhitā of the śaunakīya śākhā.


kātyāyana śrautasūtra 22.11.6-11

ukthyo gosavo’yutadakṣiṇaḥ 6 vaiśyayajña ityeke 7 sarājāno viśo yaṃ puraskurvīrantsa etena yajeta 8 sthaṇḍile’bhiṣicyate pratiduhā-”havanīyasya dakṣiṇataḥ 9 sthapatirityenaṃ brūyuḥ 10



A few salient points to note:

i. Based on the taittiriya brāhmaṇa 2.7.6, the baudhāyana śrautasūtra mentions the typical features such as the anointing of the sacrificer with milk (pratidhugabhiṣecanāya), the ṣaṭtriṃśa stoma, the usage of both saman-s (ubhayasāma), the use of the kaṇvarathaṃtara in the pavamāna stotra and sitting on unraised ground (vederanuddhataṃ), but also enjoins the use of gold and silver (suvarṇarajatau) sheets (rukmau interpreted by C.G.Kashikar as sheets), the use of a pot filled with parṇa (Kashikar translates this as Butea Frondosa leaves rather instead of leaves although the term can mean both) into which the milk is later poured. It also supplies the mantras to be used for the abhiṣecanīya rite (anointing of the sacrificer with milk).


ii. Both the apastamba and hiraṇyakeśi mention the transgressive elements mentioned in the jaiminīya brāhmaṇa in addition to the usual elements of the gosava rite. Interestingly, the normal elements of the gosava are found in the 12th kaṇḍikā while the transgressive ones are all listed at the beginning of the 13th kaṇḍikā before introducing the marutstoma. My speculation is that these verses may have been interpolated after the taittiriyakas of the apastambiya and hiraṇyakeśi sects had arrived in the south and interacted with the jaiminīyas, who, by some accounts, seem to be the earliest brāhmaṇas to reach the south.


iii. The rgveda śrautasūtra, the śāṅkhāyana and āśvalāyana put a strange spin on it, stating that the gosava is performed by him who desires cattle (paśu kāmo) although the śāṅkhāyana does mention a couple of typical elements of the rite such as the ṣaṭtriṃśa stoma and the sacrificial fee  (dakṣiṇā) of a myriad/ten thousand cows (ayutam). It does raise the question in someone of little learning as myself as to why someone who could afford to give away thousands of cows for the fee would need to perform the gosava as he desires cattle.


iv. The kātyāyana sūtra supplies an instance of a rather interesting usage for the gosava rite where it is stated that some opine it being akin to a vaiśyayajña and it is stated that a vaiśya or sthapati may become the chieftain of a particular people/viś. One such possible instance is provided by the ārya, here. The term in kātyāyana, “sarājāno” was initially confusing but I found it to be an irregular/alternative reading of “svarājānaḥ” from lāṭyāyana śrautasūtra 8.7.4, where it occurs in the context of the bṛhaspatisava: yaṃ brāhmaṇāḥ svarājānaḥ puraskurvīran sa bṛhaspatisavena yajeta. The precise meaning remains unclear but the following rendition seems to be most probable: “Whoever may lead (yam puraskurvīran, literally, to place infront, ātmanepada, optative, 3rd person) brāhmaṇas ruling themselves (svarājānaḥ=sva+rājān), i.e. leaderless,  let him sacrifice (yajeta, 3rd person, optative) by [means of] the bṛhaspatisava.” Similarly, the kātyāyana must be speaking of a situation where a people/viś are without a chief and the person desiring to lord over them is instructed to perform the gosava. Surely, a rite that is capable of conferring the svārājya of prajāpati and parameṣṭhin on one would be most apt to give legitimacy to the rulership of a non-kṣatriya such as a vaiśya or sthapati.

To be continued…

Gosava and Bovine Mimesis in Ritual-Part 1

Disclaimer: The article discusses a rite commonly associated with sexual deviancies that may be very disturbing to those who are used to reading texts in a Victorian moral framework. Not your cup of tea if your mental images of the Dharma are mainly that of Rāma as a filial son, Kṛṣṇa stealing butter or Bāl Hanuman cartoons.

And definitely not for the likes of a certain vṛddhastrī who, by virtue of her colossal ignorance, had the gall to insult a śatāvadhānin for pointing out the factuality of the consumption of gomāṃsa in vedic ritual and abuse commenters for pointing out the reality of rituals such as puruṣamedha.

Truly, there is no greater enemy for the Dharma than the ignorant who have no tolerance for facts when facts do not appeal to their puny intellects. If the Āryas of today had the fortitude of their fathers and Dharma still flourished in the land of the Kuru-Pañcalas, Indra will do to her what he did to the Yatis. Perhaps, being an animal lover, she would be pleased to be of use to the Śālāvṛkas 🙂 //End of Disclaimer


  1. Introduction

The idea to write on this particular topic has always been present. However, I had indefinitely postponed it due to a few reasons (For one, my parents read this blog! And to those already familiar with the topic at hand, the discomfort is readily understandable. To those who are not, read on to understand why so, at your own risk). Also, academic commitments had been incredibly heavy. A renewed urge to write on this came as a result of an incident that happened a while ago on an online forum (referred to in the disclaimer) which once again stood to prove the lack of mental strength and intellectual maturity among Hindus. Hindus cower in the face of information about the “obscenities” of the aśvamedha or the puruṣamedha, which was initially modelled on the real sacrifice of a human being. Since that time, I had been slowly compiling the notes I had taken on this subject whenever I got the time.

The default strategy for many Hindus, when presented with such questions by their opponents, is to rush into panic-mode and go on the defensive, unwittingly signalling an open admission to the world at large that they themselves believe their Dharma to be flawed. A favourite strategy would be “symbolic interpretation” where, by sheer torture of the language and its rules, even the most explicit passage enjoining a certain ritual injunction can be construed to mean otherwise. It is not that the rituals themselves are devoid of philosophical, mystical or esoteric significance. However, the denial of the literal reality of the controversial rituals, while accepting only the symbolic understanding as the genuine one, is not doing Hindus any favour.

Sophisticated Hindus can internalize the world-view, the collective inner mind of their ancient forebears and understand these rituals as it would have been understood by the people among whom they were practiced. In that spirit, we will briefly explore the topic of Gosava, related rituals and I hope to trace out the complex history of the ritual developments. At this point, I must kindly remind the reader that this is not one of those “apologetics” pieces you see from the preta-worshippers. In other words, this long series of articles is not intended to be a ‘defense’ of gosava, whatever that means. The purpose is to help Hindus better understand the ritual for what it is.

Firstly, a major misconception needs to be dealt with, which is that the gosava rite is in and of itself a ritual with sexual elements. The controversial acts are limited to the variant given in the jaiminīya Brāhmaṇa (2.113), the āpastamba śrautasūtra (22.13.1-3), the hiraṇyakeśi śrautasūtra (17.5.25-26) and the brahmāṇḍa purāṇa (2.36-64) in a comparatively larger array of texts. Vasubandhu the Bauddha scholar from Gandhāra, in his criticism of the Veda, quotes a verse which is only a slightly modified version of the jaiminīya material. The reference in the jaiminīya itself is situated near the tail-end of a long series of developments within the proper Vedic textual canon. To bank our entire understanding of gosava on this particular variation is not only unfair but rather unintelligent and befitting of anyone who claims to employ clinical objectivity in their approach towards texts.

Surveying the wide corpus of texts available for study, one is able to identify passages which are relevant to explaining the evolution of the concept of bovine mimesis. It would be useful for the reader to keep in mind that the rites described in the various texts have some or all of the three distinct components:

i. Sexual Imitation: This would be in reference to ritual injunctions that enjoin imitation of the sexual acts of bulls in general.

ii. Non-Sexual Imitation: There are other acts of bovine mimicry that are non-sexual in nature.

iii. Non-Imitation: This would refer to all other, core ritual acts in the rite that do not involve mimicking a bull.

2. anaḍudvrata of the śaunakīya atharvans

To understand the gosava rite and the idea of bovine mimesis as fully as possible, one has to appreciate the several intricate strands of ritual developments and I have, to the best of my limited ability identified the starting points of these developments in three very distinct textual traditions: a sūkta of the śaunakīya Atharvaveda saṁhitā, a brāhmaṇa passage from the Taittiriya ( and a dyad of brāhmaṇa passages from the pañcaviṃśa (19.13) and the Taittiriya (2.7.6). The anaḍutsūkta (śaunakīya AV 4.11) or the ‘Hymn of the Bull’ speaks of an anaḍudvrata (4.11.11: anaḍuho vratam) that is centred on the Gharma-containing cauldron (mahāvīra) and the bull forms of Indra and is a rite of the atharvan ritualists. I was unable to examine corresponding, relevant material in the paippalāda recension and thus the precise details of the observance are wanting. However, it would suffice to note the following points about this hymn:

i. Though not explicitly stated in the sūkta, the fruit of the vrata seems to be definitely a prototype of anaḍuha loka, meaning, ‘world of the Bull’. The fourth verse of the hymn describes a world inhabited by the bull: anaḍvān duhe sukr̥tásya loká (The Bull pours milk in the world of rewards [for meritorious deeds]). This world is the phala of the vrata as stated in 4.11.6: téna geṣma sukr̥tásya lokáṃ (May we go to the world of rewards for merit). In the gosava rite as given in the Brāhmaṇa of the jaiminīya-s (2.113), anaḍuha loka is the explicitly stated fruit to be won: ‘anaḍuho ha lokaṃ jayati’.

ii. There is no suggestion of any sexual or non-sexual imitation per se but Indra, as the primordial performer of the stated observance, manifests as the bull (4.11.2). Apart from the meme of anaḍuha loka, the anaḍudvrata serves as a prototype for some of the later rites in other ways as well. The hymn states in 4.11.7 that prajāpati-parameṣṭhī-virāṭ proceeds via viśvānara, vaiśvānara and the anaḍuha (the bull) and 4.11.11 declares that the observance of twelve nights is for prajāpati. (índro rūpéṇāgnír váhena prajāpatiḥ parameṣṭhī virāṭ viśvānare akramata vaiśvānaré akramatānadúhy akramata) This centrality of prajāpati is emphasized in later texts (see section 3, point i) that expressly discuss the gosava rite:

taittiriya brāhmaṇa (prajāpatiḥ svārājyaṃ parameṣṭhī,

pañcaviṃśa brāhmaṇa 19.13.3 (prajāpatir hi svārājyaṃ parameṣṭhī svārājyam)

Āpastamba śrautasūtra 22.12.20 (prajāpatestvā parameṣṭhinaḥ svārājyenābhiṣiñcāmīti)

iii. Also, ‘anaḍvān duhe’ (the bull pours or yields milk) at 4.11.4 reminds us, once again, of the later brāhmaṇa texts (see section 3, point iv) where the abhiṣeka is performed by having milk poured over the sacrificer-i.e. the performer of the gosava.

iv. It is also clear that this anaḍutsūkta was also employed as part of a sava-type rite. The kauśikasūtra (the gṛhya kalpasūtra of the atharvans) at kaṇḍikā 66.12 (or adhyāya 8.7) briefly states thus: ‘anaḍvān’ ity anaḍvāham. Later, the great Keśava in his kauśikapaddhati more elaborately states, in his commentary on this particular sūtra: ‘anaḍvān dādhāra’ iti sūktena anaḍvāhaṃ savam. The meaning is that by [the employment of] the sūkta starting with the words ‘anaḍvān dādhāra’ (AVŚ 4.11), the anaḍvāha sava [should be performed].-

For specific details as to how this anaḍvāha sava was performed, please refer to an excellent article by the atharvavedin and learned ārya here. He does highlight the fact that the sava-s of the atharvan tradition are unique and distinct from those of the other vedas. Nevertheless, it is possible that that the philosophical tenor (i.e. references to a transcendental world, sukrtasya loka) of AVŚ 4.11, in addition to its application at a savayajña may have played a profound role in the way the jaiminīya-s conceived the gosava.

3. The gosava proper from the pañcaviṃśa and taittiriya brāhmaṇa-s

In understanding the development of the gosava rite, the śaunakīya AV 4.11 may have impacted more than just the jaiminīya-s. The gosava rite, in its proper form is found in two passages, one from the pañcaviṃśa brāhmaṇa at 19.13 and another in that of the taittiriyakas at 2.7.6, both of which are quite different in tenor, content and aim from the above-mentioned anaḍudvrata of the śaunakīyas. Yet the former two texts seem to be deeply influenced by the latter as we will note in some of the numbered points below. Instead of narrowing the discussion to one of these texts, I have decided to bring in both for the following reasons:

a. At any rate, both texts are amongst the earliest discussions of the gosava rite in and there is more or less, a respectable consensus that these two brāhmaṇa-s are earlier than the text of the jaiminīya-s. Hence, it makes good sense to discuss both texts at one place.

b. For various reasons, it is near impossible to arrive at a precise dating for which of the two brāhmaṇa-s is older. My own opinion, as far as the particular passages on gosava are concerned, is that the pañcaviṃśa description of the rite is the older one. But I will not delve into this, leaving readers to refer to a brief Note 1 at the end of this essay.

The following is a summary of the aspects of the gosava rite as given in both passages:

i. taittiriya Brāhmaṇa (TB) (prajāpatiḥ svārājyaṃ parameṣṭhī) Pañcaviṃśa Brāhmaṇa (PB) 19.13.3 (prajāpatir hi svārājyaṃ parameṣṭhī svārājyam)

To reiterate what we had already noted in point ii of section 2, svārājya is the aim of gosava in both texts while prajāpati and parameṣṭhin are identified with svārājya (sovereignty, independence) itself.

ii. In both texts, the bṛhat and rathantara sāman-s are both employed here in this rite. The gosava is even given as one of a few examples of rituals with this supposed liturgical peculiarity in Śābarasvāmin’s bhāṣya on Mīmāṃsāsūtra (9.2.49) (PB 19.13.5. ubhe bṛhadrathantare bhavatas, TB

iii. Both texts mandate the giving of a myriad (ayutaṃ) of cows as the fee. (PB 19.13.6 ayutaṃ dakṣiṇās, TB

iv. In both texts, unction (abhiṣeka) is performed with milk being poured upon the sacrificer’s head (PB 19.13.7 pratiduhābhiṣicyate, TB Furthermore, this act is performed at the time of chanting of the bṛhat saman (PB 19.13.8 bṛhataḥ stotra pratyabhiṣicyate, TB and should be performed to the south of the āhavanīyāgni on unraised, flat ground. Again, compare this with the poetic imagery of the bull (anaḍuha) pouring streams of milk. (see section 2 point iii, “anaḍvān duhe” 4.11.4)

v. In both texts, the employment of the ṣaṭtriṃśa stoma (a stoma containing thirty-six verses) is indicated. (PB 19.13.10 sarvaḥ ṣaṭtriṃśastena gosavaḥ, TB Basically, a stoma is a certain manner of chanting a stotra (both words deriving from the same root, ‘stu’, as in stuti, meaning, “To praise”). A stoma is often named after the number of verses it contains. For example, the pañcadaśa stoma contains fifteen verses. It is such that the total number of verses are actually built up by means of a structured repetition of a smaller number of unique verses in three turns (paryāya).

There are a few other ritual details but they are not too important to note here. Nor am I interested in delving into technicalities of sāman recitation which are far beyond my abilities at the moment.

An interesting point of distinction that had struck me between the pañcaviṃśa and taittiriya texts, and I believe provides an insight into the eventual transformation of the gosava rite, is the refrain at TB svā́rājyaṃ gáurevá gáuriva bhavati. svārājyam (the state of having svārājya, or sovereignty) verily is gaur (cattle). It is (or becomes) like the gaur.

At first sight, this may look puzzling. I was able to intuit that the taittiriyaka had seen the quintessential correspondence (or if I may add, bandhutā) between cattle as a category and the very idea of svārājya. But I had to confirm my suspicions. Sāyaṇa made the obvious connection between the term ‘gaur’ and the name of the rite, ‘gosava’ but had failed to get the essence of the verse at hand. He thus writes: in his commentary as follows: svārājyaṃ hi sarvaiḥ prārthyate/ svārājyaṃ nāma gaureva gosava eva svārājyaprāptihetutvat/

“svārājya is indeed sought by all/ svārājya, namely, is the gaur (cattle); the gosava indeed is the cause of the attainment of svārājya/

In my opinion, Bhāskara had, more or less, got the gist of this simple yet poignant phrase. I do not state this under the spell of a self-confirming bias. In stating, “svā́rājyaṃ gáurevá”, it is very clear that the veda wants us to see the bandhutā between the two terms. Bhāskara’s commentary speaks for its own merit:

yathā gauraraṇye svacchandacārī evamayaṃ brahmaloke’pi svatantro bhavati

“Like cattle, in the forest, acting/moving of their own volition, even thus in this brahmaloka, there is independence (svatantra)”

At this point, I must note my disagreement with Bhāskara’s defining svārājya in terms of svatantra in brahmaloka as the TB expressly recommends the gosava to be performed by members of the kṣatra (TB kṣatrā́ṇāṃ kṣatrabhŕ̥ttamo vayodhā́ḥ) for whom svārājya must have been a phala to be enjoyed in this world rather than svatantra to be enjoyed in the hereafter. But the point to note is that a comparison is made between the manner of life of cattle and the unbounded freedom that comes with svārājya.

This ‘free’, uninhibited behaviour of cows and bulls is succinctly captured in the taittiriya brāhmaṇa but is an important meme that underpins the description of gosava in the jaiminīya brāhmaṇa and repeats in later texts such as the mahābhārata, pāśupata sūtras and even in a lately inserted chapter in the brahmāṇḍa purāṇa. We will look at those texts in a subsequent part of this series and more importantly the verses from the jaiminīya brāhmaṇa.

  1. pāpmānam apahanta: The sin-dispelling ritual of the taittiriyakas

As of now we have considered two of the three starting points-i.e. śaunakīya AV 4.11 and the gosava proper as described in two early brāhmaṇa passages. The last starting point is found in the taittiriya brāhmaṇa In this passage, certain acts are prescribed whose stated purpose is the dispelling of sins ( pāpmānam apahanyūriti) from the performer of those acts. When one reads the whole passage, no express mention of imitation of any sort is found. However, when one looks closely at the prescribed acts, the connection between the rite and bovine mimesis becomes more evident. The prescribed acts are: preva calet vyasyevākṣyau bhāṣeta maṇṭayediva krāthayediva sṛṅgāyeteva. Given the peculiarities of the Vedic language, I must humbly admit that it was very difficult to comprehend the meaning of the component phrases and submit the disclaimer that I am, by no means, adequate for this task; the difficulty accentuated by the fact that I, residing in a land of the mlecchas, have limited resources and access to texts at my disposal. I had to consult classical commentaries and compare with other Vedic verses in order to arrive at a decent, if yet incomplete, understanding. The first three, “preva calet”, “vyasyevākṣyau bhāṣeta” and maṇṭayediva are especially difficult to translate.

Firstly, we shall look at the term, preva. The commentary of Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara seems to get the meaning right although the derivation is not as straightforward. He comments on it as prakṛṣṭamiva (prakṛṣṭam+iva, violent+as if). In the context of the later terms (maṇṭayediva, krāthayediva, etc), this meaning makes perfect sense; but with preva split as a simple pra+iva, it would have clearly puzzled the commentator who would have struggled with the ‘pra’ here, on two grounds.

a. The preverb pra, as the very term suggests, directly precedes a verb. (prasūta, prayāti, etc) It is used in the sense of ‘forward’ and ‘forth’.

b. The comparative adverb iva always follows the word compared with. (RV 5.30.8d: pra cakriyeva rodasī marudbhyaḥ-Literal rendering: go forth like wheels, rodasī (Heaven and Earth) to the Maruts)

The key points to be noted in our discussion:

i. Naturally, with iva following a commonly used preverb, pra, instead of proper verbs or nouns, it would be challenging for the commentator. Perhaps, here, it is best to take the suggestion of divākara ācārya. (see How to Behave like a Bull? New Insight into the Origin and Religious Practices of Pāśupatas, 2013)

He suggests that the word pra, in an archaic usage, could have been irregularly used here as a noun. Hence, pra+iva=preva possibly means, “as if [charging] forward”. “calet” is an optative verb in the third person. The phrase, “preva calet” could then be interpreted as, “as if [charging] forward, let him move”.

ii. With respect to vyasyevākṣyau, Bhāskara comments, “vyasyevākṣyau: vikṣipyeva akṣyau akṣiṇī cakṣaṣī”. In other words, the performer of the rite is to look around. The commentator understands the term, “vyasya” as meaning “to scatter”, which is the meaning of the unconjugated root verb, “vikṣipa”. (vikṣipyeva= vikṣipa+iva) and given the term’s usage, the interpretation seems entirely appropriate. The performer is to look hither and thither with his sight and focus being scattered in all directions.

iii. Bhāskara’s commentary on bhāṣeta reinforces the idea that hostile looks are enacted by the performer, “bhāṣeta: atimātraviṣphāritākṣo vaktavyāni pratipadyeta”. He says, “bhāṣeta: with excessively wide-open eyes, let him begin to speak (pratipadyeta, 3rd pers., singular, optative) reprehensible things”.

iv. Finally, we shall briefly look at maṇṭayediva where the commentator writes, “maṇṭayediva: unṃatta iva avyavasthita ceṣṭita”, meaning that the performer of the rite is, like a lunatic (unmatta iva), to display antinomian behaviour (avyavasthita ceṣṭita).

Without delving too deep into grammar by explaining the entire cited passage from the Taittiriya Brāhmaṇa, we can decently render it in english as thus:

preva calet vyasyevākṣyau bhāṣeta maṇṭayediva krāthayediva sṛṅgāyeteva

“[The observer of this rite], as if [charging] forward, let him move, let him [be of] agitated eyes, let him speak [reprehensibly], let him [act] as if a lunatic, let him [act] as if hurting [and enact] as if head-butting.”

The reader may be puzzled as to the relevance of bringing TB in the context of gosava. While there is no obvious connection between the two, it represents the earliest (as far as I am aware of) textual tradition explicitly implementing a ritual regime of bovine mimesis and as such has a bearing on our understanding of how the radically deviant variant of the gosava rite, as practiced by the jaiminīya-s, came into effect.

On a deeper level, the philosophical significance of the rite cannot be understated. Why is the performer asked to do strange and aggressive movements? What could possibly be the purpose of all this? This in itself would require an essay on its own. However, the soteriological significance of TB is something to be considered in a subsequent part of this series, with special reference to the pāśupata sutra-s where, in 3.11-12, 14-15, the verses from TB are practically reproduced with only a few modifications.

5. A Brief Summary of Key Preliminary Points

i.In section 2, we looked at the anaḍutsūkta of the śaunakīya Atharvaveda (4.11) which is the oldest source used in this discussion. The hymn did not discuss any imitation per se, but revolved around a narrative of Indra’s manifesting as the bull (4.11.2).

ii. If not similarities, we saw, in the numbered points in sections 2 and 3, noteworthy correspondences between the traditions of the anaḍutsūkta and the gosava rite as described in taittiriya brāhmaṇa 2.7.6 as well as pañcaviṃśa brāhmaṇa 19.13, such as the centrality of prajāpati and parameṣṭhin in all three texts. Another example would be the ‘pouring of milk-streams’ meme, used as an imagery in anaḍutsūkta (4.11.4) and performed as a ritual act of unction (abhiṣeka) over the performer’s head (see section 2 point iii, section 3, point iv).

iii. We also looked into the concept of svārājya in section 3, right after the numbered points. The concise and subtle comparison drawn, in taittiriya brāhmaṇa, between the uninhibited behaviour of cattle and the unbounded independence one obtains in being a sovereign was also noted by us. The concept of svārājya seems to have been gradually transforming from that with a worldly understanding of sovereignty in terms of political power, into one with soteriological underpinnings (i.e. the question of boundless freedom in the afterlife.

iv. Lastly, in section 4, we looked at taittiriya brāhmaṇa which seems to be one of the earliest textual traditions of bovine mimesis or even animal imitation in general.

v. The single most important point to take away is that the gosava rite, in and of itself, does not have any intrinsic sexual element. As a matter of fact, it does not even have any mimetic ritual component. The contentious jaiminīya variant is clearly an anomaly. What ought to interest a bright mind is the question how and why this anomaly evolved or came into being.



  1. Naturally, a question may arise as to why the pañcaviṃśa version of the gosava rite should be treated as the starting point. The issue of which of the two brāhmaṇa passages, (pañcaviṃśa and taittiriya) describing the gosava, ought to be treated as the earlier one is an incredibly complex question. One way of approaching the problem could be to attempt to determine, as a whole, which brāhmaṇa is the earlier one and thus, consequently, which passage is the earlier one. Many scholars do consider the pañcaviṃśa as one of the earliest brāhmaṇa texts. Pargiter, in particular, in his Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, argued that since the pañcaviṃśa contains no allusion to the united kuru-pañcala while the taittiriya does, the former is older than the latter (kuru-pañcala unity being a relatively late, post-mahābhārata event). Of course, such arguments are quite weak for a few reasons. When dating vedic texts, which are primarily concerned with ritual rather than history, an argumentum ex silentio may not exactly be the right approach. Furthermore, a general attempt to prove one work as older than another is not helpful in our case. The vedic texts were constantly “revised and updated”, so to speak and thus there may be later additions in an “older” work, which may be more recent compared to a “younger” work, or even borrowed from this “younger” work. Hence, the better approach would be to compare the two particular passages and see which one is likely to be the older one. But to avoid undue complexity, I will not deal with that issue as it is irrelevant for the purposes of this essay. However, to interested readers, I will humbly suggest them to look closely at the wording and structure of the taittiriya version. The additional instruction to employ of the kanvarathantara saman in the first stotra of each savana is found only in the TB ( version, as is the ‘gaureva’ reference (see section 3). These seem to be innovations, built onto the seemingly simpler structure envisioned in the pañcaviṃśa.

Bandhutā in the Brāhmaṇas

Succumbing to various influences-from the abrahma monotheisms, the native bhakti tradition as well as the gross perversion of neo-vedānta, many Hindus today display a disdainful attitude towards ritual, discounting its value as a method of transmuting theoretical statements and abstract concepts into a concrete, practical experience. Many neo- vedāntins cite well-known “catchphrases” from an upaniṣat without appreciating the ritual context in which the upaniṣad-s were born. After all, the bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣat opens with the aśva and aśvamedha brāhmaṇa-s. Many passages in the upaniṣads require at the very least a basic knowledge of the chandāṃsi, sāman chants and an acquaintance with brāhmaṇa texts treating the subject of ritual. Rituals, whether it be of the vaidika and tāntrika type, invoke a complex set of correspondences between two or more of the following: 1. mantra-s, 2. Ritual actions, 3. Ritual implements and paraphernalia, 4. Individuals participating in the ritual, 5. Physical, non-sentient entities, 6. devatas and ṛṣis relating to the mantra-s and finally, 7. Metaphysical Abstractions/Personified Concepts

The purpose of the brāhmaṇa-s (and to a lesser extent, the Āraṇyakas) has been grossly misunderstood by Mleccha indologists whose condescension for these texts know no rational bounds. For instance, the pretamata stooge max mueller delivered a bigoted tirade against the brāhmaṇas, which for the purposes of our current discussion, is worth quoting in its entirety:

“The Brahmanas represent no doubt a most interesting phase in the history of the Indian mind, but judged by themselves, as literary productions, they are most disappointing. No one would have supposed that at so early a period, and in so primitive a state of society, there could have risen up a literature which for pedantry and downright absurdity can hardly be matched anywhere. There is no lack of striking thoughts, of bold expressions, of sound reasoning, and curious traditions in these collections. But these are only like the fragments of a torso, like precious gems set in brass and lead. The general character of these works is marked by shallow and insipid grandiloquence, by priestly conceit, and antiquarian pedantry. It is most important to the historian that he should know how soon the fresh and healthy growth of a nation can be blighted by priestcraft and superstition. It is most important that we should know that nations are liable to these epidemics in their youth as well as in their dotage. These works deserve to be studied as the physician studies the twaddle of idiots, and the raving of madmen.”

Surrounded with spiteful ignorance on all sides, in the middle of it all, mueller does note that “there is no lack of striking thoughts, of bold expressions…” We would get to these bold and striking thoughts in a while. The fact remains that many early indologists showed little regard for the brāhmaṇas. Lest we should naively presume that poor scholarship is the reason for the brāhmaṇas being singled out for the harshest criticism, the following polemic from rudolph roth exposes the ulterior motive behind it:

“[T]he Indian nation has…carefully treasured up, and at all times regarded as sacred, the productions of its earliest period; but it has attached the main importance to a worthless supplement, and lost from sight and from knowledge the truly valuable portion. Only once in the whole long course of its later history has it enjoyed a period worthy of being compared with that primitive one: during the first ages, namely, of Buddhism. Those, then, who are called to labor in the wide field of Indian missions may confidently hold up before the people its own antiquity as a model…”

The ‘worthless supplement’ is of course the brāhmaṇas, which are alleged to lack fidelity to the “productions of the earliest period”, the ṛg-saṃhitā. The brāhmaṇas are presented as texts that have departed from the profound heights of the saṃhitā and went astray into degenerate ritualism. This meme of “Philosophy good, ritual bad” is a crudely simplistic formula. However, wicked missionaries have exploited this easy formula by constant repetition and inculcating a hatred of ritualism in the minds of uninitiated and unlearned Hindus.

What indologists stated, Hindu traitors soon followed suit with neo- vedāntins and pracchanna- abrahmīyas condemning the brāhmaṇa-s as texts for the unenlightened. Naturally, most of their membership are fallen brāhmaṇa-s or simply not insiders to the tradition. They buy into the myths of their own opponents and shamelessly thrust enemy worldviews onto our own, injuring the memory of the great forebears of the tradition. The pracchanna-abrahmīyas, in what can only be called “a tribute to irony”, call themselves ārya-s, when in fact they have scant respect for the vedic tradition. These abrahmīyas disguised as nobles, adopt the tenets of the Abrahamic religions while claiming to defend Hinduism from it. Like the western monotheists, they have a need for a fundamental text and for that purpose, they chose the saṃhitā texts and derided the Brāhmaṇas and other parts of the vedic textual tradition. They may have not made a particularly great impact on Hindus but they are representative of the zeitgeist that made a whole generation of Hindus deride the ritual texts as unworthy of regard.

A common criticism of the brāhmaṇas is its seemingly irrational approach to various matters such as etymology and interpretation of the mantra-portion it “comments” on. The correspondences (bandhutā) mentioned above seem to be unfounded on any reasoning and seem nonsensical. As an example, we take the following passage from the śatapatha brāhmaṇa, where svaidāyana gautama of the udīcya region explains to the famous uddālaka āruṇi the correspondences between the ritual structure of the darśapūrṇamāsa (New and Full-Moon sacrifices) and certain practical realities with respect to dental growth.

atha yadapuro’nuvākyakāh prayājā bhavanti tasmādimāh prajā adantakā jāyante’tha

yatpuro’nuvākyavanti havīṃṣi bhavanti tasmādāsāṃ jāyante’tha

yadapuro’nuvākyakā anuyājā bhavanti tasmādāsām prabhidyantetha

yatpuro’nuvākyavantah patnīsaṃyājā bhavanti tasmādāsāṃ saṃtiṣṭhantetha

yadapuro’nuvākyakaṃ samiṣṭayajurbhavati tasmādāsām punaruttame vayasi sarva eva prabhidyante (śatapatha brāhmaṇa

And inasmuch, not having invitatory verses (a-puro’nuvākyā), the preliminary offerings (prayāja) are, therefore here, creatures, without teeth, are born and

Inasmuch, having invitatory verses, the principal offerings (havīṃṣi) are, therefore they (teeth) springs up (in creatures) and

Inasmuch, not having invitatory verses, the after-offerings (anuyāja) are, even hence they (teeth) breaks-i.e.-decays-(in creatures) and

Inasmuch, having the invitatory verses, the offerings to the wives (of the gods) (patnīsaṃyāja) are, therefore teeth comes to stay (in creatures) and

Inasmuch, not having the invitatory verses, the samiṣṭayajus oblation is, even thus they (teeth) again, in the last stage, all decay.

To neatly re-state the correspondences, they are as follows:

  1. puronuvākyā, or the invitatory verses to invoke the deities, correspond to teeth in creatures
  2. prayāja, or the preliminary offerings corresponding to birth. Both are initial stages in the sacrifice and human life respectively. And both are without “teeth”, with the prayāja lacking the metaphorical teeth of puronuvākyā while humans lack teeth at birth.
  3. havīṃṣi, or the principal offerings correspond to the period of growth after birth. Both are principal stages in their respective domains and both represent the growth of teeth.
  4. anuyāja, the after-offerings correspond to young adolescence during which tooth decay does occur.
  5. patnīsaṃyāja, the offerings to the wives of the deities, correspond to the long period of adulthood where teeth are relatively stable. It helps to note that the wife of the sacrificer is involved only in this rite and the rich conjugal symbolism of the patnīsaṃyāja is pretty apparent to even an amateur reader (E.g. The puronuvākyā for this is recited in a low voice as the patnīsaṃyāja represents union and union is done in a low voice.) The references to soma and tvaṣṭṛ acting with regards to the male seed make it abundantly clear that the correspondence between adulthood and the patnīsaṃyāja is quite apt.
  6. samiṣṭayajus is the last offering to be made before dismissal of the deities. The lack of the puronuvākyā in it is a ritual counterpart to the decay of teeth in the last stage of a person’s life, when he is of advanced age.

At first sight, these linkages appear to be nothing short of absurd. But “scholars” and lay readers alike miss the point of such passages. When the brāhmaṇa says that it is because a certain rite has the puronuvākyā, humans have teeth in a particular life-stage, it is not intended to be an actual, explanation of the anatomical phenomenon in question. So, no. The ritualists did not seriously think that teeth decayed because of the way a certain rite is executed. But nor is the converse true. The structure of the five offerings in the darśapūrṇamāsa, a rite so well-established and elaborately discussed in the ritual texts, was not based on various stages of dental development. As a matter of fact, the bandhutā-s discussed in this particular chapter of the brāhmaṇa are not stated elsewhere. It would have been very difficult for ritual thinkers, however creative they must have been, to envision a connection between two entities as remotely related as “teeth” and the puronuvākyā recitation! It is a testimony to the ingeniousness of svaidāyana whose genius lies in seeing a bandhutā tying a renowned ritual with a seemingly most profane aspect of worldly life (i.e. growth and decay of teeth) that couldn’t possibly be more distant in content from a ritualist’s introspections.

What, then, is the purpose of discovering such a bandhutā? Criticizing it for a lack of “philosophy” or “rigorous logic” or condemning it for “fanciful etymology” does not do justice to a proper understanding of its raison d’etre.  Though brāhmaṇa-s are “supposed” to explain the mantras of a saṃhita text, they do have an agenda of their own, although they do offer otherwise unavailable insight to some of the more difficult hymns. While there was some ritualism at the time of the ṛg-saṃhitā, it attained greater complexity in the brāhmaṇa-s whose authors, ritualists, were both intrigued and disturbed by the profound chasm between ‘this’ world (the world of matter, the profane, non-sacred) and the ‘other’ world (the holy world, the world of spirit). From the bodies of the sacrificer and his priests to bricks for making altars and ritual instruments, profane matter was very much part of sacrifice, which had to be divine. The ritualists are faced with a contradiction. In that case, it was the bandhutā that transformed erstwhile mere matter or a mundane experience into something sacred and resolved the contradiction.

As we have noted in the very first paragraph, bandhutā-s can be established in a complex of more or less seven categories. However, we can demarcate this canopy of bandhutā-s into two broad sets. The first type of correspondence involved the discovery of links between aspects of ritual and facets of earthly life outside the ritual context. The very first brāhmaṇa passage we discussed, regarding the “teeth”, would be an example of this type. The growth and decay of teeth has no obvious ritual meaning. Such bandhutā-s attempt to sacralize all of mundane existence, all phenomenon outside the ritual context by discovering its appropriate ritual counterpart.

The second broad set of bandhutā-s is between elements within the ritual arena itself. It may involve links between reciting certain mantras and ritual acts, or between such acts and a philosophical/mystical concept. Let us take an example from the same text:

tānkathamāprīṇīyādítyāhuḥ samiddho añjankṛdaram matīnāmíti

bārhadukthībhirāprīṇīyādbṛhadúktho ha vaí vāmadevyo’śvo vā

sāmudriraśvasyāprīrdadarśa tā etāstābhirevainametadāprīṇīma íti

vadanto na tathā kuryājjāmadagnībhirevāprīṇīyātprajāpatirvaí

jamadagniḥ so’śvamedhaḥ svayaivainaṃ devatayā samardhayati

tasmājjāmadagnībhirevāprīṇīyāt (śatapatha brāhmaṇa

‘How shall he appease them?’ With the “samiddho añjankṛdaram matīnāmíti”, the

bārhaduktha āpri verses that bṛhadúktha, the son of vāmadeva, or

aśva, son of samudra, saw as the āpri verses of the horse.

With these (verses) he appeases it,’ so they say.

Let him not do that; By the jāmadagna (RV 10.110, the āpri of the jāmadagnyas) he appeases; for

jāmadagni is prajāpati, as is the aśvamedha. With its own deity he accomplishes it (aśvamedha)

Let him thus appease with the jāmadagna verses

This is a rather simple example of a whole class of bandhutā-s which attempt to discover an underlying unity between various aspects of the sacrifice. In the particular example we gave, we note an extremely common structure in the method of imparting ritual knowledge. An initial position is raised and then rejected by putting forth an alternative. It can be argued that the first position is also a bandhutā since the bārhaduktha āpri verses are composed specially for the occasion of the aśvamedha and therefore there is a rather straightforward and simple correspondence. However, the second position attempts to find a more fundamental bandhutā, one that is beneath the surface. Hence, instead of finding a āpri hymn that is directly related to the aśvamedha, it finds a mutual referent for both the aśvamedha as well as the āpri-i.e. prajāpati. Of course, whether this bandhutā is indeed more suitable than the former one (or the  is an issue to be left to an informed reader. The idea behind unity in sacrifice can be traced to the prototypical sacrifice par excellence, as stated in asya vāmasya hymn, ṛg veda 1.164.50a as well as RV 10.90.16:

yajñena yajñamayajanta devāstāni dharmāṇi prathamānyāsan

“With the sacrifice, the gods sacrificed the sacrifice, these were the first rites/laws”

puruṣa himself is the sacrifice (púruṣo vaí yajñah, śatapatha Br., kauṣītaki Br. 17.5.9) as well as the one to be sacrificed. prajāpati is also spoken of as the sacrifice itself. The bandhutā between prajāpati and the aśvamedha or jamadagni is suggested as better than the original idea. And this is the methodology of the brāhmaṇas. Constant reworking of correspondences. New models of bandhutā-s are theorized. It is not difficult to see how the concept of the unity of ritual would have led to transcendental beings like prajāpati, puruṣa, etc and eventually the brahman of the upaniṣads. Another example of bandhutā-s from the veda is as follows:

jagatā sindhuṃ divyastabhāyad rathantare sūryaṃ paryapaśyat RV 1.164.25

By the jagatī, he established the waters in heaven and in the rathantara, he saw the sun

More clearly, in RV 10.130.4,

agnér gāyatrī́ abhavat sayúgvā uṣṇíhayā savitā́ sám babhūva

anuṣṭúbhā sóma ukthaír máhasvān bŕ̥haspáter br̥hatī́ vā́cam āvat

With agni, gāyatrī was yoked together, with uṣṇíh savitṛ

With the anuṣṭubh, soma exalted by hymns; in bṛhaspati the bṛhatī aided his speech

After stating a few more correspondences, the hymn states in verse 5 that it is by this knowledge (of bandhutā) men became ṛṣis: téna cākl̥pra ŕ̥ṣayo manuṣyā̀ḥ

We have only briefly explored the fascinating subject of bandhutā. The theory of ritual correspondence is not completely unique to the vedic texts as one notes it in tantra-s (though, to a lesser and simpler extent) and more interestingly among the Neoplatonist Theurgists such as Iamblichus and Proclus, in whose writings we see the concepts of symbola and synthemata which, arguably, may be understood as counterparts of the vedic bandhutā.

Pūṣan, Kṛṣṇa and the Āṅgirasas-Part 3

Part 3: Kṛṣṇa, Ekānaṃśā and the Aṅgirasas

In the previous post, the second in the series, we had discussed the development of Kṛṣṇa in the later texts and saw that the newly introduced pastoral dimension to his character in the Harivamśa and Bhāgavata could be linked to Pūṣan’s own pastoral character in the Rg Veda. We ended that post with certain observations about Sańkarṣaṇa and his similarities with Pūṣan. Perhaps, it would be appropriate to end this series by discussing the third member of the Vṛṣṇi triad, Ekānaṃśā, the sister of Kṛṣṇa and Sańkarṣaṇa. Let us start with Pūṣan by whose inspiration this series was begun.

 Two peculiar verses about Pūṣan occurs in RV 6.55:

pūṣaṇaṃ nvajāśvamupa stoṣāma vājinam |
svasuryo jāra ucyate || RV 6.55.4
“Pūṣan, of the goat-steed, we praise; the mighty one

His sister’s lover as he is known”

māturdidhiṣumabravaṃ svasurjāraḥ śṛṇotu naḥ |
bhrātendrasya sakhā mama || RV 6.55.5

His mother’s suitor I speak to, his sister’s lover; may he hear us

Brother of Indra and my friend

One way of understanding the reference to Pūṣan being his mother’s suitor is to understand Sūryā as the mother. RV 6.58.4b says that Sūryā was given by the gods to Pūṣan, indicating a possible conjugal relationship between the two.

yaṃ devāso adaduḥ sūryāyai kāmena kṛtaṃ tavasaṃ svañcam || RV 6.58.4b


However, another hymn from the late book ten, RV 10.85 which relates the account of Sūryā’s wedding, states that Sūryā was wooed by the Aśvinau and in verse 14 says that Pūṣan chose the Aśvinau as his father. Some have thus argued that this makes Sūryā a mother-figure with respect to Pūṣan. Leaving these interpretations aside, it is worthy to note the mother-wife and sister-wife tropes in both Vaidika and Paurānika sources. For instance, Ambika is known as the sister of Rudra (Taittiriya Samhita) but also as the wife of Rudra in Mahā-Nārāyaṇa Upaniṣad. In the case of Viṣṇu, the Veda tells us that Aditi is his consort but Aditi is the mother of Viṣṇu when he incarnates as Vāmana and Devaki is mentioned in later sources as Aditi incarnate.


In the Harivamśa narrative, a female figure, with a similarly ambiguous relationship with her brothers, is featured. The female child who is famously remembered for being dashed against the prison walls by Kamsa is Ekānaṃśā, the goddess worshipped by the Vārṣṇeya and Andhaka clans.


Some may have heard of the renowned Durgā Stuti from Virata Parva of Mahābhārata which occurs in the southern (Kumbhakonam) recension.


vaiśampāyana uvāca .

virāṭanagaraṁ ramyaṁ gacchamānō yudhiṣṭhiraḥ .

astuvanmanasā dēvīṁdurgāṁ tribhuvanēśvarīm .. 1 ..

yaśōdāgarbhasambhūtāṁ nārāyaṇavarapriyām .

nandagōpakulē jātāṁ maṅgalyāṁ kulavardhanīm .. 2 ..

kaṁsavidrāvaṇakarīmasurāṇāṁ kṣayankarīm .

śilātaṭavinikṣiptāmākāśaṁ prati gāminīm .. 3 ..

vāsudēvasya bhaginīṁdivyamālyavibhūṣitām .

divyāmbaradharāṁ dēvīṁkhaṅgakhēṭakadhāriṇīm .. 4 ..

bhārāvataraṇē puṇyē yē smaranti sadā śivām .

tānvai tārayatē pāpātpaṅkē gāmiva durbalām .. 5 ..

stōtuṁ pracakramē bhūyō vividhaiḥ stōtrasambhavaiḥ .

āmantrya darśanākāṅkṣī rājā dēvīṁsahānujaḥ .. 6 ..

namōstu varadē kṛṣṇē kumāri brahmacāriṇi .

bālārkasadṛśākārē pūrṇacandranibhānanē .. 7 ..

caturbhujē caturvakrē pīnaśrōṇipayōdharē .

mayūrapicchavalayē kēyūrāṅgadadhāriṇi .. 8 ..

bhāsi dēvi yathā padmā nārāyaṇaparigrahaḥ .

svarūpaṁ brahmacaryaṁ ca viśadaṁ tava khēcari .. 9 ..Mbh 4.8.1-9


The two terms indicating the dual relationship are highlighted in bold in the above passage. On one hand, the goddess is known as vāsudēvasya bhaginīṁ, that is, the sister of vāsudēva. But later in the same passage, she is called, nārāyaṇa parigrahaḥ.


In the Harivamśa too, the same dynamics can be seen.

evameṣā hitārthāya lokānāṃ kṛṣṇavartmanā |

dhriyate sevanīyā hi patyeva ca pativratā ||1-50-34

Yoganidrā, who indeed incarnates in the womb of Devaki, is compared to a chaste wife in the above verse since she is supported by Nārāyaṇa in the same way a faithful wife is supported by her husband. In another chapter, she seems to be represented in a manner similar to Śrī.


dadṛśustāḥ striyo madhye bhaginīṃ rāmakṛṣṇayoḥ |

rukmapadmavyagrakarāṃ striyaṃ padmālayāmiva || 2.101.18


“The women (of the various Yādava clans) saw the sister (bhaginī: Ekānaṃśā) between Rāma (Balarāma) and Kṛṣṇa. Holding radiant lotuses in her hands, she was the woman of the lotus-dwelling.”


Ekānaṃśā has a Āṅgirasa connection as well. In the Mahābhārata, Vana-parva, there occurs a few chapters relating the Āṅgirasa mythos, a seething reminder that the deification of the Āṅgirasa clan which began in the Rg-Veda had continued into the Mahābhārata as well. The following passage lists the daughters of Aṅgirasa.


brahmaṇo yastṛtīyastu putraḥ kurukulodvaha |

tasyāpavasutā bhāryā prajāstasyāpi me śṛṇu || 3.208.1

bṛhajjyotirbṛhatkīrtirbṛhadbrahmā bṛhanmanāḥ |

bṛhanmantro bṛhadbhāsastathā rājanbṛhaspatiḥ || 3.208.2

prajāsu tāsu sarvāsu rūpeṇāpratimābhavat |

devī bhānumatī nāma prathamāṅgirasaḥ sutā || 3.208.3

bhūtānāmeva sarveṣāṃ yasyāṃ rāgastadābhavat |

rāgādrāgeti yāmāhurdvitīyāṅgirasaḥ sutā || 3.208.4

yāṃ kapardisutāmāhurdṛśyādṛśyeti dehinaḥ |

tanutvātsā sinīvālī tṛtīyāṅgirasaḥ sutā || 3.208.5

paśyatyarciṣmatī bhābhirhavirbhiśca haviṣmatī |

ṣaṣṭhīmaṅgirasaḥ kanyāṃ puṇyāmāhurhaviṣmatīm || 3.208.6

mahāmakheṣvāṅgirasī dīptimatsu mahāmatī |

mahāmatīti vikhyātā saptamī kathyate sutā || 3.208.7

yāṃ tu dṛṣṭvā bhagavatīṃ janaḥ kuhukuhāyate |

ekānaṃśeti yāmāhuḥ kuhūmaṅgirasaḥ sutām || 3.208.8


Note that Kuhu is addressed as Ekānaṃśā and also as the seventh daughter of Aṅgirasa. At this point, as we reach the conclusion of our study, it would be easier to numerically list and summarize the various disparate strands linking Ekānaṃśā, Kṛṣṇa, the Āṅgirasas and Pūṣan in a rather complex quadrangle.


  1. In the Harivamśa, Yoganidrā (Ekānaṃśā) is tasked to transfer Sańkarṣaṇa from Devakī’s womb to that of Rōhiṇī. The group of goddesses-Anumati, Rākā, Sinīvālī and Kuhu (who is known as Ekānaṃśā)-are involved in the process of conception as explained in a Brāhmaṇa passage of the Taittirīya Saṃhitā

dévikā nír vapet prajā́kāmaś chándāṁsi vái dévikāś chándāṁsīva khálu vái

prajā́ś chándobhir evā́smai prajā́ḥ prá janayati

prathamáṃ dhātā́raṃ karoti mithunī́ evá téna karoty ánv evā́smā ánumatir

manyate rāté rākā́ prá sinīvalī́ janayati prajā́sv evá prájātāsu kuhvā̀ vā́caṃ dadhāti

TS 3.4.9

He who desires offspring should offer (the oblations to) the goddesses; the goddesses are the metres, offspring are as it were the metres; verily by the metres he produces offspring for him. He makes Dhātr first; verily he produces pairing with him, Anumati gives approval to him, Rākā gives, Sinīvālī produces, and in offspring when produced by Kuhu he places speech.


Sinīvālī in particular is described as placing the embryo in the womb in RV 10.184.2a (garbhaṃ dhehi Sinīvāli). At any rate, it seems that Ekānaṃśā in the Harivamśa was constructed to have a functional equivalence to this group of goddesses, who are treated as the daughters of Aṅgirasa not only in the above Mahābhārata passage but also other sources (Bhāgavatam 4.1.34, Viṣṇu 1.10.7)


  1. Two observations can be made about the connexion between this group of goddesses, Pūṣan and Viṣṇu- Kṛṣṇa. Firstly, an observation can be made about a linkage between Pūṣan and the goddesses indirectly via Revatī. This had been discussed by the Āryottama in a much earlier post. To briefly summarize, in the aśvamēdha, Pūṣan is worshipped before the horse is set free to wander free for a year. As per the āśvalāyana śrauta sutra (10.6), two iṣṭis are to be performed to Agni mūrdhanvān and Pūṣan. As the Ārya notes, in the puruṣamēdha, this ritual was replaced by one directed towards three goddesses: Anumati, Pathyā Svasti (Revatī), Aditī, as noted by the śrauta sutras of śāṅkhāyana 16.10.11 (atha anumataye pathyāyai svastaye aditaya iti saṃvatsaram havīṃṣi) and vaitāna 37.20 (saṃvatsaram iṣṭayaḥ pathyāyai svastaye adityā anumataye). Note the presence of Revatī as Pathyā Svasti who is the consort of Pūṣan as discussed in the 2nd part of this series.


  1. The second observation would be with respect to the relationship between Dhātr and Pūṣan. These two gods, although lacking a direct relationship, seem to be invoked together in various contexts.

saṃ vaḥ siñcantu marutaḥ / sam pūṣā sam dhātā / sam indraḥ sam brhaspatiḥ /

sam vo ‘yam agniḥ siñcatu / prajayā ca dhanena ca / āyusmantam kṛṇota mā / Kathaka samhitā 35.3


brūmó deváṃ savitā́raṃ dhātā́ram utá pūṣáṇam |

tváṣṭāram agriyáṃ brūmas té no muñcantv áṃhasaḥ || AV Śaunaka 11.6.3


dhātā pūṣā bṛhaspatir / bhūmyās samajīm akran /

kṛṣiṃ devās svarvidaḥ / kalyāṇī subhageva yā / AV Paippalāda 12.6.6



mediṃ dhātā mediṃ pūṣā/ medim indro dadhātu me AV Paippalāda 20.29.6

Though there was no functional similarity or a mythical connexion, the relationship between the two deities did not go unnoticed. In the, Śāntiparva of the Mahābhārata, a peculiar discussion about the use of punishment/violence takes place and how even among the deities, those who use punishment/violence receive greater respect. This very interesting passage has been discussed by the Ārya as well and interested readers may refer to it here. The point to be noted is that, Dhātr and Pūṣan are grouped together with Brahma as deities of peaceful disposition who therefore do not receive much worship as the others, who inspire greater fear.


etān devān namasyanti pratāpa praṇatā janāḥ
na brahmāṇaṃ na dhātāraṃ na pūṣāṇaṃ kathaṃ cana Mbh 12.15.18


To be noted together with this fact is that, Sinīvālī is represented as the consort of Viṣṇu in AV (Śaunaka) 7.46.3 (víṣṇoḥ patni) and as the consort of Dhātr in Bhāgavatam 6.18.3, along with Rākā, Sinīvālī and Kuhu. Also, note that Viṣṇu, Dhātr and Sinīvālī are invoked together in RV 10.184 in the context of conception.


  1. As for the relationship between Kṛṣṇa and the Āṅgirasas, the most well-known textual element in this respect would be the passage from the chāndōgya upaniṣad (3.17.6), where a certain Kṛṣṇa Devakīputra receives instruction from Ghora Āṅgirasa. The similarities between the vidya as taught by Ghora Āṅgirasa and the thought of Kṛṣṇa are for another post. Apart from this, there is a statement from the Karna Parva of the Mahābhārata where Kṛṣṇa states the following,


atharvāṅgirasī hyeṣā śrutīnāmuttamā śrutiḥ

avicāryaiva kāryaiṣā śreyaḥkāmairnaraiḥ sadā Mbh 8.49.69


This statement occurs when Yudhiṣṭhira insults Arjuna by saying that he should give his gāṇḍiva to someone else (i.e. more competent than Arjuna himself) and the latter had taken an oath to slay anyone who says thus. Kṛṣṇa resolves the conflict by arguing that Arjuna can uphold his vow to slay the offender by addressing him disrespectfully as disrespect from a younger person to an elder is tantamount to killing. In support of that argument, he cites the śrutī of the Atharvāṅgirasas.


Finally, it was a Āṅgirasa who initiated the two brothers (Kṛṣṇa and Sańkarṣaṇa) with upanayana as noted in several texts.

vṛṣṇīnām andhakānāṃ ca gurur gārgyo mahātapāḥ /

brahmacārī purā bhūtvā na sma dārān sa vindati // Harivamśa 85.7


Gārgya is stated to be guru for the vṛṣṇīs and andhakas indicating that there may have been a special relationship between this group of Āṅgirasas and the Yādava clans.


gargaś ca gokule tatra vasudevapracoditaḥ /

pracchanna eva gopānāṃ saṃskārāna karottayoḥ // Viṣṇu purāṇa 5.6.8, Brahma 184.29


With this, we have come to the conclusion of the series. The series was never intended to be an exhaustive look into the origins of the Kṛṣṇa narrative, which would require greater time and energy than I can afford at the present moment. However, it raises a few questions about how Kṛṣṇa as well as associated figures, Sańkarṣaṇa and Ekānaṃśā, may have developed within a Āṅgirasa-led framework. We can draw from various sources such as the Bhāradvāja hymns on Pūṣan, vaidika, paurāṇika and itihāsika texts to establish a Āṅgirasa contribution to the myth-building around Kṛṣṇa and others. I do hope, though, to discuss the possible origins of Kṛṣṇa’s teachings in the gīta as well as other parts of the itihāsa.

Pūṣan, Kṛṣṇa and the Āṅgirasas-Part 2

Part 2: Pūṣan, Vāsudeva in the Harivamśa and Bhāgavata, and Sańkarṣaṇa

In the previous article, we had discussed the possibility of a transference of memes from Pūṣan to Kṛṣṇa in the Mahābhārata. In this article, we would discuss the commonalities between Pūṣan and Kṛṣṇa in the Harivamśa and Bhāgavata.

As we had noted in the conclusion of the first part, one of the most well-known attributes of Pūṣan is his association with cattle. In several verses of the Rg Veda, mention is made of his function of guiding the cattle and protecting them

yā te aṣṭrā goopaśāghṛṇe paśusādhanī |
tasyāste sumnamīmahe || 6.53.9

Here, Pūṣan holds an aṣṭrā that is goopaśa (go + opaśa, Cow + tuft). In my opinion, the “tuft” probably refers to the cow’s tail (the cow’s “tuft of hair”) which can be interpreted as a goad or whip whose thong is probably made or, or resembles a cow’s tail. In any case, that is irrelevant to the matter considered here. A sample of a few more verses showing Pūṣan

pūṣā ghā anvetu naḥ puṣā rakṣatvarvataḥ |
pūṣā vājaṃ sanotu naḥ || 6.54.5

“May Pūṣan follow our cows; may Pūṣan protect the horses. May Pūṣan obtain the treasure for us”

ajāśvaḥ paśupā vājapastyo dhiyaṃjinvo bhuvane viśve arpitaḥ |
aṣṭrāṃ pūṣā śithirāmudvarīvṛjat saṃcakṣāṇobhuvanā deva īyate || 6.58.2

“Goat-Rider, the lord of cattle, he whose dwelling is with treasures, promoter/impeller (jinvo à jinvati) of thought (dhiyam), pervading all the world; turning around his loose (śithira) weapon, beholding all of the world, Pūṣan the deva proceeds.”

The epithet, “paśupā” is only used for Pūṣan in the whole of the Rg Veda, making him the definitive lord of cattle. His lordship of cattle is also stated in Yajur and Atharva Vedas.

In the Harivamśa, after Indra is defeated in his attempts to punish the Gopagana and their cows with incessant showers for abandoning their sacrifice to him, there is a bit of a long monologue by Indra to Kṛṣṇa, of which I am presenting selected verses with translation from here. (The translation by Śri    Desiraju Hanumanta Rao is quite accurate. Hence, I am not translating these verses myself to save some trouble. J)

mayotsR^iShTeShu megheShu yugAntAvartakAriShu |
yattvayA rakshitA gAvastenAsmi paritoShitaH ||2-19-14

Even though the clouds sent by me showered incessant rain, like at the end of the ages (yuga), you protected the cows. I am highly pleased with this.

brAhme tapasi yuktAnAM brahmalokaH parA gatiH |
gavAmeva tu goloko durArohA hi sA gatiH ||2-19-34

brahmaloka is meant for people who are engaged in penances of brahma. The goloka is meant only for cows where no others can enter.

sa tu lokastvayA kR^iShNa sIdamAnaH kR^itAtmanA |
dhR^ito dhR^itimatA vIra nighnatopadravAngavAm ||2-19-35

kR^iShNa! When that world was weakened (when the cows were oppressed by incessant rainfall) , you, vIra, eliminated all the distresses and saved them.

ahaM bhUtapatiH kR^iShNa devarAjaH puraMdaraH |
aditergarbhaparyAye pUrvajaste purAkR^itaH ||2-19-37

kR^iShNa! I am the lord of all living beings, the king of gods, puraMdara (indra). Earlier I was your elder brother, when you entered the womb of aditi.

svatejastejasA chaiva yatte darshitavAnaham |
devarUpeNa tatsarvaM kShantumarhasi me vibho ||2-19-38

Lord! I tried to display my powers as a god before you. Kindly forgive all my offences.

ahaM kilendro devAnAM tvaM gavAmindratAM gataH |
govinda iti lokAstvAM stoShyanti bhuvi shAshvatam ||2-19-45

I am indra of the gods. Let you be the king of cows. From today, the entire people on the face of earth will praise you eternally as govinda.

mamopari yathendrastvaM sthApito gobhirIshvaraH |
upendra iti kR^iShNa tvAM gAsyanti divi devatAH ||2-19-46

kR^iShNa!, cows have installed you, above me, as their god, indra. At heaven, gods will sing —-praising you as upendra.

————————————————–END OF TRANSLATION——————————————————

Note the etymology behind the words, “Upendra” and “Govinda”. The former term is typically explained by the story of Viṣṇu being born as the younger brother of Indra (upendra=upa+indra, upa=small) in Vāmanāvatāra. The latter term, Govinda was derived in the Mahābhārata on entirely different grounds:

nastāṃ ca dharaṇīṃ pūrvam avindaṃ vai guhā gatām

govinda iti māṃ devā vāg bhiḥ samabhituṣṭuvuḥ Mbh 12.330

 “The world that was lost (nastāṃ ca dharaṇīṃ); I first retrieved (avindam-obtained), it (having) gone into oblivion (guhā gatām). Therefore, the Devas praise me as Govinda.”

It is irrelevant to inquire into the question as to the correct etymology for the term, “Govinda” or which one came earlier. In fact, the particular passage quoted from the Mahābhārata actually mentions Sri Yāska in the context of obtaining lost Nirukta-s from Viṣṇu (Mbh 12.330.7-8) and might indeed be a much later interpolation as compared to the Harivamśa passage in question. The point to note is that the Kṛṣṇa of the Harivamśa has been woven into a bovine-centred framework.

Specifically with reference to this association with cows, we note a striking parallel between Pūṣan’s function of protection of cows from danger and loss, and Kṛṣṇa’s act of retrieving the lost cows. The following verses from the Rig Veda highlight this key characteristic of Pūṣan:

mākirneśan mākīṃ riṣan mākīṃ saṃ śāri kevaṭe |

athāriṣṭābhirā ghahi || 6.54.7

“Let none be lost, none injured, none sink in a pit and break a limb.
Return with these all safe and sound.”

pari pūṣā parastād dhastaṃ dadhātu dakṣiṇam |

punarno naṣṭamājatu || 6.54.10

“From the distance, let Pūṣan put his right hand around,

And drive to us our lost.”

pūṣā tvetaścyāvayatu pra vidvānanaṣṭapaśurbhuvanasya ghopāḥ |10.17.3a

“May Pūṣan cherish you; the wise one (vidvān) whose cows are never lost (anaṣṭapaśur) and the protector of the world.

Compare these verses with this account in the Bhāgavata where Brahma steals the calves and cowherd boys to test Kṛṣṇa.

ambhojanma-janis tad-antara-gato māyārbhakasyeśitur
draṣṭuṃ mañju mahitvam anyad api tad-vatsān ito vatsapān
nītvānyatra kurūdvahāntaradadhāt khe ‘vasthito yaḥ purā
dṛṣṭvāghāsura-mokṣaṇaṃ prabhavataḥ prāptaḥ paraṃ vismayam
tato vatsān adṛṣṭvaitya puline ‘pi ca vatsapān
ubhāv api vane kṛṣṇo vicikāya samantataḥ
kvāpy adṛṣṭvāntar-vipine vatsān pālāṃś ca viśva-vit
sarvaṃ vidhi-kṛtaṃ kṛṣṇaḥ sahasāvajagāma ha
tataḥ kṛṣṇo mudaṃ kartuṃ tan-mātṝṇāṃ ca kasya ca
ubhayāyitam ātmānaṃ cakre viśva-kṛd īśvaraḥ
yāvad vatsapa-vatsakālpaka-vapur yāvat karāṅghry-ādikaṃ
yāvad yaṣṭi-viṣāṇa-veṇu-dala-śig yāvad vibhūṣāmbaram
yāvac chīla-guṇābhidhākṛti-vayo yāvad vihārādikaṃ
sarvaṃ viṣṇumayaṃ giro ‘ṅga-vad ajaḥ sarva-svarūpo babhau Bhāgavata 10.13.15-19

 To summarize, Brahma stole the calves and the cowherd boys in Kṛṣṇa’s absence and when Kṛṣṇa realized this ploy of Brahma, he himself manifested as the calves and cowherd boys for the sake of their respective mothers and eventually Brahma apologizes to Kṛṣṇa and returns the calves and boys back to Kṛṣṇa. There are many interesting correspondences between Rg Vedic mantras pertaining to Pūṣan and Paurānika narratives relating to Kṛṣṇa. But since they are often similarities between a mere singular verse from the Veda and a mythic account, they cannot be considered as solid evidence. Hence, I prefer to see those “correspondences” as a product of my fertile imagination and creativity, much in the likes of my fellow Āṅgirasa clansman of the Gautama gotra, Nīlakaṇṭha Caturdhara, who saw Paurānika and Itihāsika narratives buried in the words of the Rg Veda. Not to display audacity, but I believe the “correspondences” I see are much more straightforward than Nīlakaṇṭha’s attempts to find Kāśi Māhātmyam in the Rg Veda!

In any case, I shall return to the main topic of Pūṣan-Kṛṣṇa similarities which can be adduced as tangible evidence in support of my hypothesis that the Kṛṣṇa concept was in part based on Pūṣan. The above accounts from the Harivamśa and the Bhāgavata depict Kṛṣṇa as a cowherd among many cowherds. This strongly pastoral element could have been a contribution by Bhāradvājas whose association with pastoralism and particular fondness for cows may not have been limited to the Rg Veda but might have continued by their descendants well into the post-Mahābhārata era (Refer, for instance, to Bhāradvāja Grhya Sūtra, 2nd praśna, 8th Adhyāya, which prescribes an offering of cooked rice (sthālīpāka in lieu of cow sacrifice in the Sūlagava). Apart from this transposing of pastoral characteristics onto Kṛṣṇa, there seems to have been another transference from Pūṣan to Kṛṣṇa’s brother, Sańkarṣaṇa, the mighty Balarāma of the plough (Halāyudha).

Although there is no mention of Pūṣan using the plough, the Rg Veda at RV 4.57, which is an agricultural hymn that mentions the plough several times, states that Pūṣan guides the course of the furrow pressed down by Indra.

indraḥ sītāṃ ni ghṛhṇātu tām pūṣānu yachatu | RV 4.57a

“May Indra hold down the furrow; may Pūṣan guide her”

More interestingly, Sītā, the personified furrow as a goddess, who is associated with Pūṣan, is the wife of Balarāma in Jaina Harivamśa.

Also, Pūṣan in the later Vedic texts happens to be the presiding deity of Revati as the Taittiriya Samhita records it at 4.4.10 (revátī nákṣatram pūṣā́ deváta). The relationship between Pūṣan and Revati is mentioned in other sources such as the Gopatha Brāhmana and Taittiriya Brāhmana and also reinforced in the Puruṣamedha and the Nakṣatreṣṭi as noted by the Ārya in his blog post on Revati. Sańkarṣaṇa’s main wife is Revati as recognized in the Mahābhārata (1.211), Harivamśa (2.89) and also the Bhāgavata (9.3). This strengthens the hypothesis that Pūṣan may have played a significant role in the shaping up of Vārṣṇeya mythology centred on Kṛṣṇa and Sańkarṣaṇa.

For now, we conclude our study here.

Pūṣan, Kṛṣṇa and the Āṅgirasas-Part 1

Part 1: Similarities between Pūṣan of the Rg Veda and Kṛṣṇa of the Mahābhārata

I had been seriously strapped for time with several commitments at university as well as extra-academic activities. Therefore, this article had to be written over a painfully long period of time. However, I had long been fascinated with uncovering the variety of subcultures that underlie the Rg Veda which by no means is a homogenous text with a unitary objective. Unfortunately, most Brāhmaṇas themselves are unacquainted with these subcultures, let alone the rest of the Hindus. But, the impact of the contributions and thought of these Ṛṣi families go far beyond the Rg Veda and extends to even certain aspects of today’s Hindu Dharma.

One of the most important families in this regard, whose descendants and branches were responsible for composing almost half the Rg Veda and a number of other Vedic and Post-Vedic works, was the Āṅgirasas. The sixth book of the Rg Veda was composed by my ancestors, the peerless Bhāradvājas and its reference to Divodāsa in a tone of contemporaneity makes it most possibly the oldest book of the extant Rg Veda. Unfortunately, a detailed and focused study of the sixth book has not been attempted and neither do we attempt that here for want of time. However, we will take one of the unique aspects of the sixth book, the prominence of the great Vedic deity, Pūṣan.

The RV 6.53-58 is a set of six hymns dedicated entirely to Pūṣan with hymn 6.57 being dedicated to the dual divinity, Indra-Pūṣan. This was so remarkable that the indologist Alfred Hillebrandt called this portion, “eine kleine Pūṣansaṃhita” (a small Pūṣan Saṃhitā). This small but significant collection helps define the nature and role of Pūṣan as the tutelary deity of the Bhāradvājas. Many indologists and scholars with their rash interpretations make Pūṣan a mere pastoral deity. Yes, he is definitely part of a pastoral culture with which the Bhāradvājas themselves are deeply associated. (See the hymn, 6.28: “ā ghāvo aghmannuta…” as well as the later Sūtra literature, which we hope to discuss in a future post). We agree that the concerns represented by Pūṣan are mainly to do with cattle and a nomadic-pastoral culture as one would expect from the early layer of the Veda. However, the abilities and characteristics attributed to Pūṣan, as incidental to his main pastoral function, betray a sense of genius and complexity of thought on part of the Bhāradvājas of the early Rg Veda.

1. Pūṣan as the Inner Controller

For example, the very first hymn that appears in the serial order in this “Pūṣansaṃhita” sheds light on Pūṣan impelling the miser to be a liberal giver. Sure, in the overall context of the sixth book, the seers were most likely hoping for Pūṣan to urge the miser to donate cattle to them. However, it remains a unique and fresh verse in the sense that it, instead of merely imprecating against the niggardly, it requests for a softening of the heart (mradā manaḥ).

aditsantaṁ cidāghṛṇe pūṣandānāya codaya |

paṇeścidvi mradā manaḥ || 6.53.3

And he softens the heart by tearing through the hearts of greedy men. The word, “randhaya” refers to the “subjecting” by Pūṣan of the hearts of those who are illiberal with their wealth, to the will of the worshipper who recites with faith the hymn.

pari tṛndhi paṇīnāmārayā hṛdayā kave |

athemasmabhyaṁ randhaya || 6.53.5

vi pūṣannārayā tuda paṇericcha hṛdi priyam |

athemasmabhyaṁ randhaya || 6.53.6

ā rikha kikirā kṛṇu paṇīnāṁ hṛdayā kave |

athemasmabhyaṁ randhaya || 6.53.7

The combination, of the repeated reference to the heart (the word, hṛdayā) throughout this hymn, and Pūṣan being addressed as “kave” (meaning, wise with later ascribed meaning of poet) suggests the deity’s function as a cognitive impeller. Impelling in the Vaidika context takes several forms. At its rawest, the seers often refer to the impelling of heroes and their steeds (Eg. RV 9.85.2: asmān samarye pavamāna codaya: Impel (sharpen) us for the fight, RV 1.175.3: codayo manuṣo ratham: Urge man’s chariot). Slightly more subtle usages of impelling occur in the context of impelling the Devas to grant wealth (RV 10.141.6: tvaṃ nodevatātaye rāyo dānāya codaya: (Oh Agni!) Stimulate the gods to give us wealth!). However, this particular hymn takes it a step further and given its status as an early book, it is remarkable that the impelling by Pūṣan is given a broader or perhaps even a theologically significant context. In the 8th verse, the phrase “brahmacoda” is used and means “urge towards prayer”. And unlike the previous verses, it seems to be regarding all men: “samasya hṛdayamā rikha kikirā kṛṇu”: He tears and rends the hearts of all men.

yāṁ pūṣanbrahmacodanīmārāṁ bibharṣyāghṛṇe |

tayā samasya hṛdayamā rikha kikirā kṛṇu || 6.53.8

It is essential to note this particular meme as this seems to be one of the possible seeds for the later, Aupaniṣadaka thought regarding the “Antaryāmi” conception of the supreme deity, and later theistic developments, particularly that of Kṛṣṇa.

In the Bhagavad Gita, we note similar thought-strands that highlight Kṛṣṇa’s immanence due to his presence in all beings, including the hearts of men.

īśvaraḥ sarvabhūtānāṃ hṛddeśerjuna tiṣṭhati

bhrāmayan sarvabhūtāni yantrārūḍhāni māyayā BG 18.61

The Lord in the heart of all beings, oh Arjuna, resides; turning all beings as if mounted on a machine, by his illusive power.

And Pūṣan is associated with māyā in RV 6.58.1
viśvā hi māyā avasi svadhāvo bhadrā te pūṣanniharātirastu || 6.58.1b

2. Pūṣan as the Liberator

Closely related to this concept is the Rg Vedic reference to Pūṣan’s role as the liberator.

ehi vāṃ vimuco napādāghṛṇe saṃ sacāvahai |
rathīrtasya no bhava || 6.55.1

He is referred to as vimuco napāt, which many scholars would render, in the literal fashion, as son of liberation. Sayana, in his commentary on this verse: vimunchati srṣtikāle svasakāsāt sarvah prajah visrjatīti vimuk Prajāpatih/Tasya Putra.

“vimuco is Prajāpati who, at the time of creation, manifests all beings from himself. (Pūṣan) is his son.”

This interpretation, though interesting, is farfetched and clearly anachronistic in the sense that Prajāpati appears only in the latest book of the Rg Veda, the tenth and that too in only one Sūktam, (Prajāpati figures mainly in the Brāhmana texts) and does not satisfactorily explain the phrase found in the far earlier sixth book which is repeated in RV 1.42.1, which is a Kānva hymn. Interestingly, Pūṣan himself is called the liberator in the 8th book, the Kānva Maṇḍala, with the Kānvas being Āṅgirasas as well.

pra pūṣaṇaṃ vṛṇīmahe yujyāya purūvasum |
sa śakra śikṣa puruhūta no dhiyā tuje rāye vimocana || RV 8.4.15

The article does not aim to delve deep into the etymology but it would suffice to note at this point that Pūṣan’s role as “liberator” relates on one hand to his pastoral aspect (unyoking the cattle, hence vimocana) as well as his function as the deity who leads men on the paths and protects them (Freedom from trouble on dangerous paths). However, in the Atharva Veda (Saunaka: 6.112.3), Pūṣan’s role as liberator took on a soteriological twist, where he is asked to free the worshippers from various kinds of sins.

yebhiḥ pāśaiḥ parivitto víbaddhah añge-añga ārpita utsitaś ca /

ví te mucyantaṃ vimuco hi santi bhrūṇaghni pūṣan duritāni mr̥kṣva // AV- Śaunakīya Śākha 6.112.3

Here the bonds of sin that fasten the unmarried elder brother (parivitta) limb by limb (añge-añga) are asked by the worshipper to be loosened and cast upon the abortionist, the worst among men and scapegoat for the purposes of sin-transferring in the Ārya worldview.

Unfortunately, most of the later texts do not add anything new about this great god, the “kula devata” of the race of the Bhāradvājas, signifying the gradual decline into oblivion suffered by the god.

3. Pūṣan the Skilled Charioteer

Especially noteworthy is the characteristic of Pūṣan being praised as the best charioteer.

rathītamaṃ kapardinamīśānaṃ rādhaso mahaḥ |
rāyaḥ sakhāyamīmahe || 6.55.2

uta ghā sa rathītamaḥ sakhyā satpatiryujā |
indro vṛtrāṇi jighnate || 6.56.2

utādaḥ paruṣe ghavi sūraścakraṃ hiraṇyayam |
nyairayadrathītamaḥ || 6.56.3

We can observe that in the Mahābhārata, Kṛṣṇa is indeed noted for being a charioteer par excellence. In Karna Parva 22, Karna, in explaining the respects in which he lags behind Arjuna, speaks the following:

mayā cābhyadhiko vīraḥ pāṇḍavas tan nibodha me |
raśmigrāhaś ca dāśārhaḥ sarvalokanamaskṛtaḥ || Mbh 8.22.47

“Listen, now, to those respects in which that heroic son of Pāndu is superior. The (grāhaś) holder of the (raśmi) reins (of Arjuna’s horses) is dāśārha (Kṛṣṇa, the descendant of daśārha), who is saluted by all of the world.”

kṛṣṇaś ca sraṣṭā jagato rathaṃ tam abhirakṣati
ebhir dravyair ahaṃ hīno yoddhum icchāmi pāṇḍavam || Mbh 8.22.49

“Kṛṣṇa, the creator of the world, protects (Arjuna’s) chariot. Though in these matters, I am inferior, I still desire to fight the pāṇḍava.”

4. Pūṣan as the Friend of Indra

 The “Pūṣansaṃhita” also speaks of his being together with Indra in battle

māturdidhiṣumabravaṃ svasurjāraḥ śṛṇotu naḥ |
bhrātendrasya sakhā mama || 6.55.5 

uta ghā sa rathītamaḥ sakhyā satpatiryujā |
indro vṛtrāṇi jighnate || 6.56.2

In 6.55.5, Pūṣan is even addressed as Indra’s brother. 6.56.2, which was also cited in no. 3 above, highlights the connexion between Indra and Pūṣan in the context of charioting. However, the most important hymn in highlighting the relationship between those two deities would be RV 6.57 which is addressed to the dual divinity, Indra- Pūṣan.

indrā nu pūṣaṇā vayaṃ sakhyāya svastaye |
huvema vājasātaye || 6.57.1

yadindro anayad rito mahīrapo vṛṣantamaḥ |
tatra pūṣābhavat sacā || 6.57.4 

tāṃ pūṣṇaḥ sumatiṃ vayaṃ vṛkṣasya pra vayāmiva |
indrasya cā rabhāmahe || 6.57.5

ut pūṣaṇaṃ yuvāmahe.abhīśūnriva sārathiḥ |
mahyā indraṃ svastaye || 6.57.6

 The connection between Indra and Pūṣan is also found in the verse cited from the Kānva Maṇḍala above, RV 8.4.15. The Pūṣan-Indra dynamics closely parallel that of Kṛṣṇa-Arjuna. Of course, the camaraderie between Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna can be easily interpreted through the Indra-Viṣṇu prism. As Dhṛtarāṣṭra states when speaking of the impending battle:

no ced gacchet saṃgaraṃ mandabuddhis; tābhyāṃ suto me viparītacetāḥ

no cet kurūn saṃjaya nirdahetām; indrā viṣṇū daitya senāṃ yathaiva Mbh 5.22.31

“If my dull-headed son goes to fight with those two, then may he fare well, else those two will consume the race of Kuru as Indra and Viṣṇu consume the Daitya hosts.”

Indeed no metaphors are used comparing Kṛṣṇa to Pūṣan who clearly has fallen out of favour by the Mahābhārata era. Nevertheless, it is possible that the deification of Kṛṣṇa was by no means a simple, monolithic process that was merely confined to linking him with Viṣṇu. In fact, as the renowned Ārya suggests, it is possible that Vāsudeva has been inspired in part by the Vasus of Vedic fame. Thus, Kṛṣṇa is a highly complex composite concept that took off from several sources, Vasus and Pūṣan merely being two contributors.

At any rate, the Kṛṣṇa of the Mahābhārata is quite different from the Kṛṣṇa of the Harivamśa or the Bhāgavata. Those who have only the most basic idea of Pūṣan would know his association with cattle and the pastoral culture in general. I am aware that this would ring a bell in light of Kṛṣṇa’s association with cows. However, it must be remembered that the popular conception of Kṛṣṇa as a “cowherd” does not figure at all in the Mahābhārata but only in the Harivamśa and of course the Paurāṇika corpus, including the Bhāgavata

The earliest layers of the Mahābhārata were definitely composed in the same era its characters including Kṛṣṇa had lived. Therefore, its portrayal of Kṛṣṇa enjoys an authenticity that cannot be seen in later productions such as the Harivamśa or the Bhāgavata. Given the diverse range of memes Pūṣan was associated with in the Vedic texts, some of these memes would have worked their way into the depiction of Kṛṣṇa in the Mahābhārata while others (such as the bovine-pastoral association) may have been transferred to Kṛṣṇa in the Post- Mahābhārata era. We would explore these other Pūṣan memes in the next post.