Same Names and Priestly Plagiarism: A Note on Identity and Conflict

In the olden days of Ārya culture, before certain external adversities inspired us to self-identify as a unified culture (such as the long period of Northwestern intrusions into Bhāratavarṣa following the Post-Mahābhārata gradual collapse of the Kṣatriya race, the Nāstika challenge and the two most serious existential threats: The Votaries of a Certain Mohamatta [or shall we address him as the Mahonmatta he eventually proved himself to be?] and the Pretopāsakās, whose clandestine and subversive actions are financed by the Śvetavarnikās), the Ārya people was a conglomerate of different priestly and warrior tribes (The Brahma and Kṣatra), each of whom had their own, clan-centred concerns but nevertheless were united by a yet unrealized or under-appreciated sense of shared genes, culture and language. Or also as aediculaantinoi puts it, regarding identity of heathen religions:

“One characteristic of “indigenous religions” is that they are inextricable from the cultures in which they exist; indigenous religions grow and develop within a culture, a language, and a landscape as the culture and the language grows and develops itself in its landscape. As a result, many indigenous religions do not have names or designations for themselves apart from the culture. This is the case with, for example, ancient Greek religion, which when it had to identify itself in the post-Christian period, knew itself not as a particular type of religion, but instead as the manner of being “Hellenic,” as the Emperor Julian put it. The same is true of Shinto: it only had to identify itself when Buddhism came in…”

In this context, it is very interesting to see to what extent the issues of identity and self-preservation might have played in shaping the agonistic tenor of early Ārya culture. The impetus to write a post on this topic was due to a certain ‘derisive’ quote. As the readers might have known, our last few posts have discussed a number of topics, all referring at one point to the Vasiṣṭha -Viśvāmitra conflict. We even had a contemplative tribute to the memory of Śakti who was a victim to this contest of clans. During the course of writing these articles, I had encountered a ‘derisive’ quote from Maurice Bloomfield in his ‘Rig Veda Repetitions’:

“As early as TS. ; Visvamitra and Vasistha are opposing parties in a vihava, or conflicting call upon the gods. Roth, ibid, p. 141, and Geldner, I.e., regard the traditional hostility of the two Rsi clans as old. But the hymns do not express it. At least it is strange that their two Aprl-hymns, 3.4 and 7.2, share no less than four stanzas word for word. We should expect diversity there if anywhere.”

We had also cited the verses from TS (Taittiriya Samhita) in our previous posts. So it amazed me as to how Bloomfield could refer to those same verses and yet in his conclusion on the issue be dismissive of the rivalry between the two seers. He goes on to list fourteen other verses (We might do an article on this in the future when we have the time) that are shared by the books of both clans. As we had noted in one early post, many Western scholars unfairly neglect the weight of the accepted tradition and in this case, we are led to believe that Bloomfield, despite being a learned man, has failed to appreciate the text from an insider’s point of view.

Repetitions do not necessarily prove cooperation or poetic inspiration. In the cases of the fourteen other examples, only parts of verses are shared between the Vasiṣṭhas and Viśvāmitras. However, in the case of their Āprī Sūktāni, the last four verses are common to both, word for word. This is a case of whole-sale plagiarism and cannot be analysed as part of the standard repertoire of “repetitions”.

Although, the Āprī Sūktāni requires its own in-depth study, which we plan to do in another article, we would make the cursory observation that the Vasiṣṭhas might have been the first to innovate the idea of a Āprī Sūktam. Although I will not go into detail in this article, we will note a few points in support of the above observation:

  1. The Āprī Sūktāni invokes either Narāśaṃsa or Tanūnapāt in the second verse, with the exception of the Kāsyapās. Only Narāśaṃsa has an Avestan equivalent, Nairyosangha, indicating that this is the older term which was part of a larger Indo-Iranian ritual system.
  2. Of the Āprī Sūktāni that invoke Narāśaṃsa, the book of the Vasiṣṭhas is the earliest, being contemporaneous with the period of Sudāsa while the others belong to books contemporaneous with later periods.

Viśvāmitra innovated the Tanūnapāt form for the first time and it is only him (or a descendant from his clan) who seeks to define the term, ‘Tanūnapāt ‘in relation to the other epithets of Agni, ‘Narāśaṃsa’ and ‘Mātariśvān’:

tanūnapāducyate gharbha āsuro narāśaṃso bhavati yad vijāyate
mātariśvā yadamimīta mātari vātasya sargho abhavatsarīmaṇi

It is likely that ‘Tanūnapāt’, meaning ‘Son of the body’ and having peculiar symbolic meanings (If Tanūnapāt is interpreted as ‘born of oneself’, it could be a possible predecessor for the later-day ‘Svayambhu’ concept in the Puranas), is likely to be the newer concept as compared to the more simple and ritually straightforward epithet, ‘Narāśaṃsa’, meaning the ‘praise of men’. So all these observations imply that Viśvāmitra might have “plagiarized” these verses from Vasiṣṭha. However, we need to examine the fourteen pairs of verses from the Vasiṣṭhas and Viśvāmitras to come to an informed conclusion about the extent to which this “copying” was mutual and as stated earlier, we hope to do this in a future post.

Nevertheless, it appears that such plagiarism might have been more common than we suppose it to be. For example, we have the case of Vāmadeva’s appropriation of Viśvāmitra’s hymns as stated in Aitareya Brahmana 6.18.1-2:

tān vā etān sampātān Viśvāmitraḥ prathamam apaśyat, tān Viśvāmitreṇa dr̥ṣṭān Vāmadevo ‘sr̥jatai,

vā tvām indra vajrinn atra, yan na indro jujuṣe yac ca vaṣṭi, kathā mahām avr̥dhat kasya hotur iti,

tān kṣipraṃ samapatad. yat kṣipraṃ samapatat, tat sampātānāṃ sampātatvaṃ

“Viśvāmitra saw for the first time the sampāta hymns; but Vāmadeva made manifest (asrjatai) those seen by Viśvāmitra. These are the following: evā tvām indra (RV 4.19), yanna indro (RV 4.22), kathā mahām avr̥dhat (RV 4.23). He quickly went after them (sampatat) and thus the sampāta hymns are known as such.”


sa hekṣāṃ cakre Viśvāmitro:

yān vā ahaṃ sampātān apaśyaṃ tān Vāmadevo ‘sr̥ṣṭa,

kāni nv ahaṃ sūktāni sampātāṃs tatpratimān sr̥jeyeti.

sa etāni sūktāni sampātāṃs tatpratimān asr̥jata:

sadyo ha jāto vr̥ṣabhaḥ kanīna, indraḥ pūrbhid ātirad dāsam arkair,

imām ū ṣu prabhr̥tiṃ sātaye dhā, ichanti tvā somyāsaḥ sakhāyaḥ,

śāsad vahnir duhitur naptyaṃ gād, abhi taṣṭeva dīdhayā manīṣām iti

“Viśvāmitra then looked after them saying, “These sampāta hymns I saw, have been made (public) by Vāmadeva. I will counteract by proclaiming hymns that are like these sampāta hymns.” Thus he made manifest those counterparts the following hymns”:

  1. “sadyo ha jāto vr̥ṣabhaḥ kanīna…”-RV 3.48
  2. “indraḥ pūrbhid ātirad dāsam arkair …”-RV 3.34
  3. “imām ū ṣu prabhr̥tiṃ sātaye dhā …”-RV 3.36
  4. “ichanti tvā somyāsaḥ sakhāyaḥ…”-RV 3.30
  5. “śāsad vahnir duhitur naptyaṃ gād…”-RV 3.31
  6. “abhi taṣṭeva dīdhayā manīṣām”…-RV 3.38

(Note to myself: Another two articles on the sampāta sūktāni as well as the counteracting pratimān sūktāni. I guess I am adding more articles to the writing list than I can possibly bear right now. :D)

Is it possible that, in primitive, tribal societies, among the priestly clans, plagiarism was envisioned as a sort of strategy to taunt and intimidate one’s rival families? It is possible that, apart from defensive strategies like innovating gotra-unique, signature practices to maintain a distinguished identity (as in the case of the Jamadagnis’ five-fold cutting of the Agya [clarified butter] in contradistinction to the more common four-fold cutting. More on this in another post), the Rishi Gotris had also embraced an aggressive strategy against rival priests, by “stealing” certain hymns which might have had unique liturgical or ritual value. Indeed, the ancient world of the Ārya was essentially agonistic, where to thrive was defined by constant tension and struggle.

What about the Kṣatra class? Did they have similar strategies? Since they were not the main producers of ritual literature, it is obvious that they did not compete on the same lines as the above-mentioned Brahma clans and thus plagiarism was not part of their offensive responses. Instead, we speculate that one of such key strategies might have been “imitation”, in where a specific technique could have been having similar names as that of enemy kings or their clan names.

Although, this conclusion of ours is totally speculative, there seems to be a few textual references that lend credence to it. For example, Matināra, the King of the Pūrus whom we had discussed in an earlier article, had four sons, the eldest and the successor to the Paurava dynasty being Tamsu. We had made it clear then that the Paurava were reeling under the westward aggression of the Drauhyava, and needed the help of the Ikśvākava, whose king Yuvanāśva was married to Gauri, the daughter of Matināra. So it is very interesting that one of these sons is named Druhyu.

matināras tato rājā vidvāṃś carceputo ‘bhavat

matināra sutā rājaṃś catvāro ‘mitavikramāḥ

taṃsur mahān atiratho druhyuś cāpratimadyutiḥ———-Mbh. 1.89.11



Another example would be again from the Mahabharata, where one of two sons of Satyavati, Citrangada is challenged by a Gandharva of the same name and eventually slain after a long-drawn battle.

taṃ kṣipantaṃ surāṃś caiva manuṣyān asurāṃs tathā

gandharvarājo balavāṃs tulyanāmābhyayāt tadā

tenāsya sumahad yuddhaṃ kurukṣetre babhūva ha————Mbh. 1.95.7



A final example, but the details of which are ambiguous, would be the conflict-ridden relations between the Kuru and the Nāga dynasties. And interestingly enough, a few common names are found. For my own convenience, I direct readers to seek information regarding this in the following link:

Of course, one can argue that the real source of this tension can be attributed to the burning of the Khāndavāranya by Arjuna and Vāsudeva and therefore common names such as Dhṛtarāṣṭra (Referring to an ancient Naga ancestor who pre-dated his namesake of the Mahābhārata by several generations) do not make much sense. Of course, the complicated relationship between the Kaurava, Pandava and Nāga dynasties has to be analysed with respect to a broader base of literature, before we can afford to make any decent conclusions. [Footnote 1] Nonetheless, in this post, we have managed to outline the possible strategies through which the assumption of a particular identity-whether it be taking credit as a hymn-maker for the hymns composed by others or bearing the same name as known enemy kings-became a tool to convey aggressive sentiments of threats against a foe.

[Footnote 1]

1. Therefore, we may postulate a preliminary hypothesis that there was a Pre-Khāndava Dahana conflict involving the Nāgas. This could be circum-Kuru, Pre-Kuru, Pre-Bhārata or even Pre-Puru. Following the publication of this post, I had revisited some texts and came across certain interesting evidences that seem to confirm this hypothesis. Of course, when we have time, we would discuss the long and complex history of the relations between the Nāga and Puru clans.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Tracing the Nāga-Bhārata Conflict | aryanthought - August 31, 2014

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: