Translating an ancient mantra: R^igveda 2.34.09

Sometimes translating even a single vaidika mantra can take some effort. In large part this is due to three factors: 1) The vocabulary- there are several words that have become otiose in classical Sanskrit and modern Indian languages; 2) verb conjugations which are not found in the classical language, and often retain a form closer to the proto-IndoEuropean state; 3) Metrical adjustments which need to be distinguished from archaisms. In light of all this, one cannot but admire the colossal performance of the great prime minister of the early Vijayanagaran empire in his commentary on the RV. Notably sAyaNa was operating without the advantage of comparative linguistics of IE languages. No doubt his project marked a highpoint in the Hindu revival after the fall of bhArata to the turuShka-s – it played the same role in the intellectual sphere as the blades of the swords of the saMgama clan did in the military sphere.

Let us consider one example of vaidika mantra that is superficially simple but takes some effort to translate correctly. The mantra is from a sUkta by the R^iShi gR^itsamada shunahotra shaunaka bhArgava, the founder of the kevala bhArgava clan of the shaunaka-s. The sUkta is primarily to the marut-s who are in some of its mantra-s are invoked along with other deva-s like rudra, vasu-s and viShNu. It is in the jagati meter which is 4*12 syllables. The first pada is 11 syllabled and is restored by taking martyaH as martiyaH

yo no maruto vR^ikatAti martyo ripur dadhe vasavo rakShatA riShaH |
vartayata tapuShA chakriyAbhi tam ava rudrA ashaso hantanA vadhaH || RV 2.34.09

yaH= who (pronoun); naH= us (pronoun); marutaH= marut-s (vocative plural); vR^ikatAti= in the midst of wolves (locative singular); martyaH=mortal (nominative singular); ripuH= enemy (nominative singular); dadhe= placed (3rd person perfect atmane ); vasavaH= vasu-s (vocative plural); rakShata+= protect (imperative 2nd person plural; elongated metrically); riShaH= harm (ablative singular of riSh) |

vartayata= spin (imperative 2nd person plural); tapuShA= fiery (adjective); chakriyA= with discus (instrumental singular of chakrI); abhi= against (goes with verb as abhi-vart); tam= him (accusative, 3rd person pronoun); ava= away; rudrA= rudra-s, i.e. marut-s (vocative plural); ashasaH= hater (ablative singular of ashas); hantana+= strike (imperative 2nd person plural; elongated metrically: ava-hantana); vadhaH= weapon (accusative of neuter noun vadhas; compare with neuter noun vadhar) ||

The key points of note here are:
* vR^ikatAt: an unusual Vedic word meaning among wolves.
* Both the 2nd person plural imperatives rakShata and hantana are metrically elongated to fit the guru syllable scan of the jagati.
* hantana is an unusual form of the 2nd person imperative plural of han, the like of which is only seen in the vaidika language. It is an inheritance from proto-IndoEuropean because in Hittite we encounter such -ten extensions which correspond to the -tan base in hantana: compare with the form kuenten- slay in Hittite. Other comparable vaidika imperative forms are: bravItana, etana.
* chakrI is used instead of the more common chakram and its instrumental is given in a fully resolved form, i.e. chakriyA instead of chakrya which would be typical. The discus is used as a weapon by indra, puShan, marut-s in the veda and vAyu in the avesta (vAiyum zaraNyô-chakhrem ýazamaide |). In RV 8.96.9 a battle between the demons and the deva-s is mentioned where the marut-s wield sharp spears in formation while indra at their head fights with both his vajra and chakra. In the latter texts it is used primarily by viShNu.
* ashas- A rare word in the R^igveda coming only once again in a mantra of vAmadeva gautama to agni the slayer of rakShas (daha ashaso rakShasaH pahy asmAn; RV 4.4.15c). sAyaNa based on this suggests that the ashas here could be a rakShas.
*vadhas- The RV has a parallel neuter noun vadhar which means a weapon. For instance, in the famed first person sUkta where indra speaks, he says: “ahaM shuShNasya shnathitA vadhar yamaM na yo rara AryaM nAma dasyave |” i.e. I am shuShNa’s slayer, [by me was wielded] the yama-weapon [i.e. death weapon]; I did not give up the name which of the Arya-s to the dasyu-s. But this represents the one rare instance where instead of the more frequent vadhar the parallel form vadhas is used.

Thus we may come up with the translation:
O marut-s, O vasu-s, protect us from harm, the mortal enemy who has us placed among the wolves;
Spin against him with the fiery discus; O rudra-s strike away the weapon from the hater (a rakShas).

What we have here is an early example of the second person imperative mantra that is common in the later Hindu traditions, especially in the tAntrika mantrashAstra. Some of the same imperative verbs are commonly used such as hana, rakSha, daha, pAhi (latter two in RV 4.4.15). This represents of one of the elements of continuity between tAntrika and vaidika mantra which we had discussed before.

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