The bovine species lay at the center of the existence of the early Indo-Aryan. After all he owed his very success in history to the strength of milk. Hence, rather appropriately payas means both milk and strength in saMskR^ita. Not surprisingly, he tended to literally see the world as a bovine expression of cosmic proportions, replete with homologies or saMbandha-s between the macrocosmos and microcosmos of the bovine body. In a sense this persists in the image of bhArata even today: videshin-s instinctively associate bhArata with the “holy cow”, even though a deracinated, urban, modern Hindu might try to protest that India is not just about cows. All this said, the evidence suggests that the spread of the Indo-Aryans within bhAratavarSha itself was accompanied by the spread of their bovine herds and at the genetic the spread of a certain strain of lactose tolerance. Not surprisingly, bovine symbolism is central to Aryan ritual and thought, be it in the plaint of the Iranian zaotar zarathushtra, i.e., geush urvan or the many ritual incantations of the atharvaveda. Indeed, the strong bovine connection to the atharvan-s (and their Iranian counterparts) emerges as the central element of the famous legend of our clan: the theft of the family cow leading to the multi-generational feud which ends in the great war between the bhR^igus and the haihaya-s (alluded to in the brahma-gavi spell of the atharvaveda). Thus, in the AV bovine rites we sense a special connection to our forebears, rites which were done by bhR^igu and paulomi, the clan-furthering chyavAna and sukanyA, the famed apnavAna and ruchi, R^ichIka and satyavati, jamadagni and reNukA.
Among others the taurocentric Weltanschauung of the atharvan-s is best captured in a yajush incantation from the vulgate atharvaveda (AV 9.7), which provides a remarkable parallel to the Iranian legend of the gav-aēvō-dātā or the ratu of the bovine (eventually slain by angra mainyu). This incantation is part of the offering verses belonging to a now largely forgotten ritual performed by the bhR^igu-s and a~Ngirasa-s of the atharvan tradition. These rituals belong to a category know as the AtharvaNa sava-s which are only performed by the atharvavedin-s and differ from the sava-s performed by the ritualists belonging to other vaidika traditions. These sava-s are performed usually in the uttarAyaNa period and may be done only if the ritualist’s female partner is initiated in the appropriate mantra lore and has had an earlier AV ritual dIkSha with the yoktra girdle tied around her waist. Before the sava a reddish-brown bull should have been sacrificed to the terrifying mahAdeva and its organs offered thus with the names of rudra:
chitta: the sinews;
bhava: the liver,
rudra: the pancreas
pashupati: the stomach
agni: the heart,
rudra: the blood
sharva: the kidneys:
mahAdeva: the marrow of the ribs
auShiShThahan: intestine and colon
Its complete hide is then prepared as a seat for the ritualist and his patnI.
The two then perform the sava dIkSha. Here sitting on the bull hide with its neck facing east and its hairy side upwards they offer oblations of ghee into the fire with all the mantra-s from AV-vulgate 6.114-124 (known as the deva-heDanaM recitation). When in course of this rite they make oblations to yama they touch water after each svAhA. On completion they observe the vrata for 3 days during which they abstain from all sexual activity. They bow to all the directions and thereafter the mortar, pestle and winnowing fan are purified with mantra-s. They churn out and establish the fire with the incantations specified in the kaushika sUtra chapter 60. The patnI cooks a plate of rice on the ritual fire and mixes it with ghee and fresh milk. One part is cut out and kept for offering to the ancestors, one part is used to feed brAhmaNa-s and the third part is used for the daiva oblations. For the rite the ritualist and his patnI wear identically colored garments. If he desires cattle he uses the bovine incantation (AV 9.7) to make oblations to the deities imagining the whole universe to be a gigantic bovine:
prajApatish cha parameShThI cha shR^i~Nge indraH shiro agnir lalATaM yamaH kR^ikATam ||1||
prajApati and parameShThin are the two horns, indra is the head, agni the forehead, yama the cranio-cervical joint.
somo rAjA mastiShko dyaur uttarahanuH pR^ithivy adharahanuH ||2||
King soma the brain, the heaven (dyaus) the upper jaw and the earth (pR^ithivi) the lower jaw.
vidyuj jihvA maruto dantA revatIr grIvAH kR^ittikA skandhA gharmo vahaH ||3||
Lighting the tongue, the marut-s the teeth, the revatI-s the neck, kR^ittikA the shoulders and heat (or the pravargya pot) the cervico-thoracic joint.
vishvaM vAyuH svargo lokaH kR^iShNadraM vidharaNI niveShyaH ||4||
vAyu the all encompassing lungs, the dewlap the heavenly world, the cyclone the diaphragm.
shyenaH kroDo .antarikShaM pAjasyaM bR^ihaspatiH kakud bR^ihatIH kIkasAH ||5||
The heavenly eagle the manubrium, the atmosphere the sternal body, bR^ihaspati the hump and the bR^ihatI incantations the vertebrae.
devAnAM patnIH pR^iShTaya upasadaH parshavaH ||6||
The goddesses the zygapophyses, the upasad ritual the ribs.
mitrash cha varuNash chAMsau tvaShTA chAryamA cha doShaNI mahAdevo bAhU ||7||
mitra and varuNa the clavicles, tvaShTR^i and aryaman are the humeri and mahAdeva the forearms.
indrANI bhasad vAyuH puChaM pavamAno vAlAH ||8||
indrANI the sacrum, vAyu the tail, and the purifying soma the tail whisk.
brahma cha kShatraM cha shroNI balam UrU ||9||
brAhmaNa-s and kShatriya-s the ilia and strength the femora.
dhAtA cha savitA chAShThIvantau ja~NghA gandharvA apsarasaH kuShThikA aditiH shaphAH ||10||
dhAtR^i and savitR^i the patellas, the gandharva-s the calves, apsaras-s the dew claws and aditi the hoofs.
cheto hR^idayaM yakR^in medhA vrataM purItat ||11||
Consciousness the heart, intelligence the liver, and vrata-s the pericardium.
kShut kukShir irA vaniShThuH parvatAH plAshayaH ||12||
Hunger the belly, food the rectum, and the mountains the pancreas.
krodho vR^ikkau manyur ANDau prajA shepaH ||13||
anger the kidneys, fury the gonads, the beings the genitals.
nadI sUtrI varShasya pataya stanA stanayitnur UdhaH ||14||
The rivers the blood vessels, the breasts the lord of rain (parjanya), the thunder the udders.
vishvavyachAs charmauShadhayo lomAni nakShatrANi rUpam ||15||
The bounds of the universe the skin, the plants the hairs, the stars comprise the form.
devajanA gudA manuShyA AntrANy atrA udaram ||16||
The god-folks in the large intestine, the men in the intestines and animals in the uterus.
rakShAMsi lohitam itarajanA Uvadhyam ||17||
rakSha-s in blood, other beings in the digestive secretions.
abhraM pIbo majjA nidhanam ||18||
The clouds the fat and death in the marrow.
agnir AsIna utthito .ashvinA ||19||
When resting [the bovine] is agni, when standing [the bovine represents] the ashvin twins.
indraH prA~N tiShThan dakShiNA tiShThan yamaH ||20||
indra when standing eastwards and yama when standing southwards.
pratya~N tiShThan dhAtoda~N tiShThant savitA ||21||
dhAtR^i when facing west and savitR^i when facing north.
tR^iNAni prAptaH somo rAjA ||22||
When seeking grass [the bovine] is soma.
mitra IkShamANa AvR^itta AnandaH ||23||
When observing [the bovine is mitra] when running away felicity.
yujyamAno vaishvadevo yuktaH prajApatir vimuktaH sarvam ||24||
[The bovine ] is of the vishve devas when being yoked, prajApati when yoked and to all when freed.
etad vai vishvarUpaM sarvarUpaM gorUpam ||25||
The is the omniformed, bearing all forms, in the form of a cow.
upainaM vishvarUpAH sarvarUpAH pashavas tiShThanti ya evaM veda ||26|| AV-vulgate (9.7)
Omniformed cattle, of all forms attend on him who knows thus!
At first sight this collection of mantra-s epitomizes the macranthropic (or macrotherian) theme. Seen abundantly in Hindu traditions from the veda onwards, which we have earlier discussed on these pages. However, a closer examination shows that it is not just any macrotherian theme but a specific version, which we may term stellar macranthropy. In this form we have the explicit equation of parts of the macranthropic entity with stars/constellations in the sky. This interpretation overturns the assertion made in the last century by the American indologist Whitney who translated the AV and is largely followed by white indologists and their fellow travellers thereafter:
“The revatI-s and kR^ittikA-s are two asterisms in Pices and Taurus; their connection with the parts to which they are assigned is, as in nearly all the other cases in this hymn, of the most purely imaginary and meaningless kind.”
However, the statement in AV 9.7.15 that the stars comprise the form (nakShatrANi rUpam) of the bovine suggest that the allusion to these constellations is not purely meaningless as the indologist would have us believe. Rather it indicates the macranthropic bovine was indeed meant to span the stars and the mention of the two constellations is not entirely without meaning. This class of stellar macranthropic constructs are repeatedly encountered in the veda. As the Hindu scholar Narayana Aiyangar had pointed out 115 years ago in his “Essays on Indo-Aryan mythology”, these stellar constructs occur at least three times in distinct forms in the taittirIya shruti: The starry prajApati (taittirIya brAhmaNa 126.96.36.199); the starry dolphin or shishumAra (taittirIya AraNyaka 2.5.13) and the uttaranArAyaNa or the puruSha (taittirIya AraNyaka 3.13). This tradition of stellar puruSha continued down to the purANa-s (e.g agnipurANa chapter 196) and is also specified in detail in the 105th chapter of the bR^ihat-saMhitA of the great naturalist varAhamihira. In this later version the nakShatra puruSha is also invoked as viShNu (shAmbhavAyanIya ritual) during every month of the year. The ritual is supposed to be performed by both men and women for greater sexual accomplishment. In the parallel later bAdarAyaNIya ritual, the stellar prajApati is comprised of rAshI-s instead of nakShatra-s. Returning to the yajurvedic versions of the rite we find that the uttaranArAyaNa is the least detailed in terms of equivalences. However, that it represents the nakShatra puruSha is clear because it has the explicit statement, same as that seen in AV 9.7.15 (nakShatrANi rUpam ||). This is followed by the only explicit association it makes:
ashvinau vyAttam ||
His open mouth are the twin ashvin-s. This choice is strange at first sight but makes sense if it is taken to indicate the position of the beginning of the nakShatra-s on the ecliptic: a proper parallel to the statement in the taittirIya brAhmaNa, where the nakShatra lists begin with kR^ttikA, that kR^ittikA is the mukham (mouth) of the nakShatra-s. As correctly inferred by Tilak, this indicates that the nakShatra at the vernal equinoctical point marked the beginning of the list and was termed the mouth. Now, when the ashvin-s are at the mouth it clearly indicates a period after the kR^ttikA period as ashvayajau the nakShatra of the ashvinau is two nakShatra positions away from kR^ttikA. Thus, the uttaranArAyaNa might be inferred as being approximately 1100-900 BCE in age (see figure below; [Footnote 1]).
Thus, it clings to the Vedic corpus at its fag end and is consistent with its late hallmarks, namely the rise of puruSha nArAyaNa, who was superseding prajApati in most of his roles. This also provides the transition between the vaidika nakShatra puruSha and paurANika one clearly identified with viShNu. This period might correspond to the rise of the nArAyaNIya or epic pA~NcharAtra which alludes to these mantra-s as the mahopaniShat. This it negates the nonsensical and obviously biased assertion of the American indologist Whitney maintained to this date among Abrahamistic white indologists and their imitators:
“The Hindus borrowed their nakShatra system from Mesopotamia and would probably have retained it in that form [i.e. with kR^ittikA at the vernal equinox of 2300 BCE] until the present day but for the revolution wrought in their science by Greek teaching.”
Clearly even within the vaidika period (including vedA~Nga jyotiSha) the Hindus had made multiple changes for precession not just at the time of varAhamihira after interactions with yavana-s.
The vaidika stellar macrotherian, the shishumAra, also hints a specific astronomical position: it describes the constellation of Draco with the deva-s, ritual entities and atri the primordial astronomer among the vipra-s identified with various stars of the constellation. It is described as containing the pole star dhruva and is associated with the ritual where the yajamAna recites this incantation while gazing at the north pole. This was correct for alpha Draconis at 2800 BCE (below).
Now returning to the macrotherian bovine we observe that kR^ittikA and revatI do not occupy the head of the bovine. Rather at the “forefront” of the bovine is prajApati who is identified with the horns. In vaidika tradition prajApati is traditionally associated with rohiNI (alpha Tauri; prajApate rohiNIvetu patnI |) and the Hyades cluster from which the horns of the bovine emerge. So, we propose that the forefront of the stellar macrotherian bovine is the fore part of Taurus and kR^ttikA and revatI are placed behind it for a reason, contra-Whitney. Now one could protest that we are bringing in a rAshI of the Bull, which the dull-witted Hindus are not supposed to have known in the Vedic period, rather adopting it much latter from their erudite West Asian and Greek teachers. However, we, like several before us, argue that the Indo-Aryans were very much aware of constellations distinct from nakShatra-s that were used primarily for a lunar purpose. Starting from Tilak, it has been proposed the that dogs (Canis Major and Canis Minor), Bear, Draco, Hunter (in Hindu world moved to Canis Major on occassions); mR^iga and other constellations were known and figured distinctly from the ecliptic divisions in the form of the nakShatra-s. Indeed the bovine associated with Taurus seems to be one such. Several lines of evidence support this view:
1) We had earlier argued this with respect to the sauchIka agni mantra.
2) The atharvaveda states:
yA rohiNIr devatyA gAvo yA uta rohiNIH | (AV-vulgate 1.22.3ab)
Of the cattle which indeed are red, of them rohiNI is the deity.
Thus, rohiNI (alpha Tauri) the nakShatra is linked to cattle.
3) A mantra of kakShIvAn of the gotama clan to the ashvin-s states:
revad uvAha sachano ratho vAM vR^iShabhash cha shiMshumArash cha yuktA || [RV 1.116.18cd]
The chariot that bore you two brought beautiful riches: a bull and a dolphin were yoked together.
This absurd yoking of the bull and the dolphin to the car of the ashvin-s has greatly mystified later observers and practitioners of this mantra. However, it can be resolved, if as noted above the shishumAra is the constellation of Draco which marks the cycle of the chariot that revolves daily around the north pole. The yearly revolution was the one corresponding to the bull or Taurus. Around the time the vernal equinox was in rohiNI, there was also a northern polestar in the form of alpha Draconis, the dhruva of shishumAra (above picture). This further strengthens the link between the nakShatra rohiNI and a constellation equivalent to Taurus overlapping with it.
4) The above is further supported by a mantra to the ashvin-s composed by agastya that states:
pra vAM sharadvAn vR^iShabho na niShShAT pUrvIr iShash charati madhva iShNan |
evair anyasya pIpayanta vAjair veShantIr UrdhvA nadyo na AguH || (RV 1.181.06)
Approximately: The autumnal bull of you two, like a mighty one comes forth, sending from the east, sending forth honey. Let them swell with the other ways and strength: the heavenly speeding rivers (high rivers) have come to us.
Here the bull of the ashvin-s is again alluded to as rising in autumn in the east (which would correspond with Taurus at the vernal equinox) and the heavenly rivers are said to come along. While some interpret this as rain. We suspect it is the Milky Way which rises just ahead of Taurus.
5) Another allusion comes from the mantra of vAmadeva gautama to agni:
sa jAyata prathamaH pastyAsu maho budhne rajaso asya yonau |
apAd ashIrShA guhamAno antAyoyuvAno vR^iShabhasya nILe || (RV 4.1.11)
In dwellings first he came into being, at great base [of heaven], and in this atmosphere’s womb; Footless and headless, concealing both his ends, drawing himself together in the bull’s station.
The first hemistich refers to the 3 manifestations of agni: the ritual fire, the celestial fire and the atmospheric fire. Here, as Santillana and von Dechend argued in the Hamlet’s Mill the heavenly fire (vaishvAnara) is associated with the equinoctial colure: This is implied in this mantra by the statement that his ends come together – i.e. the ecliptic ends meet and this happens in the station of the bull. Here again we see an allusion the vernal equinox in a constellation conceived as Taurus, i.e. the rohiNI period.
In light of these connections the stellar bovine of the atharvaveda indeed seems to represent in part the celestial path with its start at boviform constellation of Taurus. This appears to be a memory of time when the vernal equinox lay at that position (Figure below). The association of the constellation with prajApati continues into the classical siddhAnta period (sUryasiddhAnta 8.20) where the stars brahma-hR^idaya (heart of brahma or prajApati) and prajApati are described as being in Taurus.
The AV stellar bovine joins the long list of the macranthropic or macrotherian depictions, which we have discussed before, a common feature throughout classical Hindu tradition. As we have posited before these are symbolic representations of the theory that the same forces and elements which run and constitute the microcosm denoted by the animal body also run the cosmos. Thus, they are the earliest depictions of the underlying unity that pervades the various levels of nature, the understanding which we continue to seek to this date – this one capture the two great sources of knowledge regarding this unity – the understanding of an animal’s structure and working on one end and the understanding of the astronomical realm at the other.
Footnote 1: Like a white indologist, one might object that we are choosing the beginning ashvayujau for our reckoning rather than the end. Yes, but on other grounds, namely relative chronology based on continuity with earlier and later Hindu traditions, the possible taboo of naming the former yama nakShatra bharaNI, and the relatively old position of the uttaranArAyaNa in the vaiShNava material, as suggested by its pan-yajurvedic presence, we are justified in presenting the early ashvayujau as the likely temporal layer.