An astronomical interpretation of the anaḍvān sūkta

This may be seen as a continuation of this note: Anatomy and heavens in the boomorphic universe.

The anaḍvān sūkta is an enigmatic sūkta from the Atharvaveda which falls in the same class as other sūkta-s which describe a “boomorphic” world – a very natural motif for the cattle-rearing Indo-European peoples. In the vulgate text it is 4.11 whereas in the Paippalāda Saṃhitā it appears as 3.25. The sūkta-s in the two saṃhitā-s are similar but the order of mantra-s is changed and there are few further pāṭha-bheda-s in the individual mantras, which however do not greatly alter the meaning. The exact ritual in which this sūkta was originally deployed remains a bit unclear. From the internal references it is clear that the rite was of 12 nights and was related to cattle. From the internal description it might be related to the rite known as the śabalīhoma described in the Sāmaveda tradition and might have been the Atharvan equivalent thereof (although with some unique developments). The Samavedic ritual (Pañcaviṃśa brāhmaṇa 21.3) goes thus:
-The ritualist shaves his hair and beard and wears a new woven garment.
-He keeps the ritual fire burning in his house.
-He goes with a friend to a hill and for 12 nights lies there on the ground on an uncovered spot.
-While there he only drinks hot milk (probably equivalent to gharma).
-For these 12 nights he must avoid talking as far as possible and not ejaculate his semen.
-As the 12th night is drawing to a close with the śabalī mantra he makes an offering in the fire of honey and curds. The śabalī mantra goes thus:

śabali samudro ‘si viśvavyacā brahma devānāṃ prathamajā ṛtasyānnam asi śukram asi tejo ‘sy amrṛtam asi tāṃ tvā vidma śabali dīdyānāṃ tasyāste pṛthivī pādo ‘ntarikṣaṃ pādo dyauḥ pādaḥ samudraḥ pāda eṣāsi śabali tāṃ tvā vidma sā na iṣam ūrjaṃ dhukṣva vasordhārāṃ śabali prajānāṃ śaciṣṭhā vratam anugeṣaṃ svāhā ||

O Śabalī you are the all-expansive ocean, the brahman of the gods, the first-born of the ṛta; you are food, you are brightness, you are splendor, you are immortality. We know you O Śabalī as the shining one. Her one foot is the earth, her one foot is the atmosphere, her one foot is the sky, her one foot is the ocean. You are swift O Śabalī. We know you. Milk out for us strength, good, the stream of wealth O Śabalī. May I among my people attain the mightiest realm.

-He then goes to a forested region away from the village where he can hear none of the domesticated animals.
-He takes up a bunch of darbha grass and yells three times: “śabalī”. If he hears an animal call, other than that of a dog or an ass, as though answering back then his ritual will be successful.
-If it does not work he repeats its two more times, each time after an year from the original performance. If he does not hear any animal by his 3rd attempt or in any attempt hears a dog or an ass then his ritual will not succeed.

The following parallels might be cited as links between the śabalī ritual and the anaḍvān sūkta:
1) The twelve night duration of the rite.
2) The gharma (tapta) is extolled in the sūkta and is also the hot milk drink of the observer of the śabalī-vrata.
3) The gharma is said to be four-footed just as the śabalī.
4) The honeyed offering and the kīlāla.
5) The Pañcaviṃśa brāhmaṇa 21.3 states that the śabalī is a milk-giving bovine, just as the bovine extolled in this sūkta. Both are said to yield strength on milking.
6) The observer practices austerities in the śabalī vrata, which is parallel to the austerities alluded to in our sūkta (tapas and śrama).
7) The use of the form geṣaṃ/geṣma. In the Jaiminīya version the ritualist attains an āvṛtam. Thus the end objective of this rite might imply a loka.

Regardless of this inference, in the classical tradition of the Atharvan-s the sūkta itself is specified for one of a series of bovine sava rituals. The particular sava for which this recitation is used is known as anaḍvāha sava. While these Atharvan sava-s are distinctive they might have had elements in common with the old Gosava. Some discussion on this aspect might be found in the writings of a gentleman who has been an interlocutor on Twitter:

Additionally, this sūkta has some astronomical significance comparable to the other boomorphic constructs seen in the Atharvaveda, which we had discussed before. This is what we intend to discuss here. Here we must mention that the above-stated gentleman who was in touch with us on Twitter arrived at the possibility of astronomical implications for the allusions in this sūkta independently of us. This astronomical material offers a clear date for when such observations might have been made. However, like many other such Vedic astronomical allusions it also raises an important conflict between Vedic philology and archaeology, which barring a small number of Hindus, few even recognize:

The heart of the paradox is that the astronomical dates, which can be recovered with considerable confidence and consistency from the oldest Vedic layers available to us, i.e. parts of the Ṛgveda and the Atharvaveda, are entirely inconsistent with what archaeology tells us about key markers of Indo-Iranian culture: the oldest dates emerging from the Vedic corpus are considerably (500-1000 years) earlier than the first attested remains of spoked-wheel chariots – that notable marker of Indo-Iranians. A related issue is that the oldest dates mean that the Indo-Aryans or their precursors at the time of those dates were likely on the Eurasian steppes not India. Thus, the incorporation of mantra-s into rituals developed in the Indic phase of their history was necessarily much later their original conception.

Among the white indologists of the Abrahamosphere and their imitators this paradox is not recognized because they simply refuse to acknowledge the existence of precisely dateable astronomical references in the Veda. In its most extreme form they would take recourse to the “Hindus as idiots” hypothesis by means of which they would argue that early Indo-Aryans were simply incapable of any accurate astronomical observations along the lines of their Afro-Asiatic counterparts from West Asia. Among the Hindus, especially those who adhere to untenable time lines or the equally untenable “out of India theory”, this paradox has likewise been mostly brushed aside because: 1) either archaeological anchors do not matter at all; e.g. they are completely comfortable with a Mahābhārata or Rāmāyaṇa in the neolithic, leave alone the early Vedic corpus; 2) or they seek to situate their archaeology in early Harappan India and again explain away the lack of any archaeological correlates.

While, we had recognized this paradox for decades, we were earlier less concerned for there was always some wriggle-room due to the incompleteness of the archaeological record, just like the fossil record. However, in the past 2 years the genomic archaeology of steppe cultures of Eurasia is tightening the constraints greatly and making the wriggle-room smaller. Nevertheless, our intention here is not to delve at any depth on this paradox – we are simply acknowledging that it exists, that we lack a completely clear explanation and that we will hopefully have a clearer picture of how to resolve it in the next 5-10 years. In particular, it will concern the key question of whether the Sintashta-Andronovo continuum represents the Indo-Iranians enroute to their final lands in outer Asia or whether the branch that came to India was distinct from those archaeological cultures.

But before we go into the astronomical motifs we shall begin with a relative straight-forward translation of the sūkta.

anaḍvān dādhāra pṛthivīm uta dyām anaḍvān dādhārorv antarikṣam |
anaḍvān dādhāra pradiśaḥ ṣaḍ urvīr anaḍvān viśvaṃ bhuvanam ā viveśa ||1||

The bovine holds up the earth and heaven, the bovine holds up the wide atmosphere. The bovine holds up the six (four + zenith and nadir) wide directions, the bovine has entered the entire universe.

anaḍvān indraḥ sa paśubhyo vi caṣṭe trayāṃ chakro vi mimīte adhvanaḥ |
bhūtaṃ bhaviṣyad bhuvanā duhānaḥ sarvā devānām carati vratāni ||2||

The bovine is Indra, he looks out for cattle, Śakra measures out the triple circles (or circular paths); extracting (literally milking out) the past, the future and the present, he undertakes all the laws of the gods. (trayāṃ chakro instead of trayāñ chakro is a saṃdhi shared with Paippalāda)

indro jāto manuṣyeṣv antar gharmas taptaś carati śośucānaḥ |
suprajāḥ sant sa ud āre na sarṣad yo nāśnīyād anaḍuho vijānan ||3||

Indra-born inside men, the heated fluid, he moves around shining brightly. He being of the good people (praja, as in the people rather than his children), indeed not creeping into the cavity, who knowing [this] shall not eat the bovine.

anaḍvān duhe sukṛtasya loka ainaṃ pyāyayati pavamānaḥ purastāt |
parjanyo dhārā maruta ūdho asya yajñaḥ payo dakṣiṇā doho asya ||4||

The bovine gives milk (note the peculiar present tense form ‘duhe’ of gaṇa-2 verb ‘duh’) in the world of the performers of meritorious deeds. Pavamāna (Soma) causes it to swell with milk from the front. Parjanya is the stream, the Marut-s the udder, the ritual is its milk, the ritual gift is the milking.

yasya neśe yajñapatir na yajño nāsya dāteśe na pratigrahītā |
yo viśvajid viśvabhṛd viśvakarmā gharmaṃ no brūta yatamaś catuṣpāt ||5||

Of whom neither the lord of the ritual, nor the ritual are master, nor the donor nor the receiver are master; who is all-winning, all-bearing [and] all the actions – tell us which is the four-footed gharma (hot milk; this is brahmodya question which can be related to the “answer” found in the śabalī incantation).

yena devāḥ svar āruruhur hitvā śarīram amṛtasya nābhim |
tena geṣma sukṛtasya lokaṃ gharmasya vratena tapasā yaśasyavaḥ ||6||

By which the gods ascended to heaven; having left the body, to the nave of immortality, may we by that go (geṣma: a Vedic form of jeṣma= jayema) to the world of the meritorious, by the ritual of the gharma (hot milk)) and austerity, desiring glory.

indro rūpeṇāgnir vahena prajāpatiḥ parameṣṭhī virāṭ |
viśvānare akramata vaiśvānare akramatānaduhy akramata |
so ‘dṛṃhayata so ‘dhārayata ||7||

Of the form of Indra, with Agni in between the head and the hump(of the bovine), [who is] Prajāpati, Parameṣṭhin [and] Virāj. In Viśvānara he strode, in Vaiśvānara he strode, in the bovine he strode. He stabilized, he bore [it] up.

madhyam etad anaḍuho yatraiṣa vaha āhitaḥ |
etāvad asya prācīnaṃ yāvān pratyaṅ samāhitaḥ ||8||

The midpoint of this bovine, where the yoke is placed – as much of it is placed in east of it as much as is west of it.

yo vedānaduho dohān saptānupadasvataḥ |
prajāṃ ca lokaṃ cāpnoti tathā saptaṛṣayo viduḥ ||9||

Whoever knows the milkings of the bovine, the seven which are inexhaustible, he attains progeny and the world thereafter – the seven sages know this.

padbhiḥ sedim avakrāmann irāṃ jaṅghābhir utkhidan |
srameṇānaḍvān kīlālaṃ kīnāśaś cābhi gachataḥ ||10||

Trampling down exhaustion with the feet, drawing refreshment by the thighs, the tiller and the bovine by toil go unto the sweet drink.

dvādaśa vā etā rātrīr vratyā āhuḥ prajāpateḥ |
tatropa brahma yo veda tad vā anaḍuho vratam ||11||

They say: “twelve indeed are these nights of Prajāpati’s rite”. Whoever knows the brahman in them – that indeed is the bovine rite.

duhe sāyaṃ duhe prātar duhe madhyaṃdinaṃ pari |
dohā ye asya saṃyanti tān vidmānupadasvataḥ ||12||

It gives milk in the evening, it gives milk in the morning, it gives milk around the midday; its milkings which come together; those which are inexhaustible we know.

In passing, we may also compare this sūkta with another enigmatic ṛk from the Ṛgveda which contains a yajuṣ mantra within it:
svāvṛg devasyāmṛtaṃ yadī gor
ato jātāso dhārayanta urvī ।
viśve devā anu tat te yajur gur
duhe yad enī divyaṃ ghṛtaṃ vāḥ ॥ RV 10.12.3

The god (Agni)’s own possession (literally: what he has taken), the ambrosia which comes from the cow; “Those born thereof uphold the two wide ones [heaven and earth]”;
this yajuṣ of yours all the gods go along with, when the variegated cow milks out heavenly ghee and water.

The astronomical allegory in the sūkta under discussion is not obvious but reveals itself once we trace the homologization of the earthly bovine with the heavenly one. For a more detailed workout of the identification of the heavenly bovine with the constellation of Taurus one may refer to this earlier note as we shall not be repeating much of what has been said there here. Indeed, this identification of the bovine and the constellation of Taurus is of great antiquity as suggested by the depiction of the Pleiades (M45) and the bull together in the famous Lascaux paintings (~17,300-15,000 years before present (YBP); e.g. see M Rappenglück’s work on the same).Lascaux_Taurus

The following points are notable:
1) The first mantra, which states that the bovine is the prop of the world, potentially links the bovine to the constellation of Taurus, which has been allegorically termed the same in other Vedic references.

2) This is further strengthened by the identification of the bovine with Prajāpati whose constellation is explicitly identified in Vedic and post-Vedic tradition as Taurus. The bovine is also identified as Indra. Indra’s identification with the constellation of Taurus seems to have been parallel to that of Prajāpati’s and is encountered in the RV thus:

ayaṃ vidac citra-dṛśīkam arṇaḥ
śukra-sadmanām uṣasām anīke ।
ayam mahān mahatā skambhanenod
dyām astabhnād vṛṣabho marutvān ॥ RV 6.47.5

This wave[-like one] found [that] with appearance of Spica in the forefront of the dawns with their brilliant seats; this mighty one, with a mighty pillar propped up heaven, the bull with the Marut-s.

Here Indra is explicitly identified with the bull as he usually is. However, his being identified as the bull which is the prop of heaven (i.e. the skambha), and an allusion to Citra (Spica) rising before the dawns (i.e. a star on the opposite side of the ecliptic) suggests that as in our sūkta Indra here is identified with Taurus.

3) Further support for this conjecture comes from the explicit mention in our sūkta of Soma Pavamāna filling the bovine with milk from the front. Now, tradition records the constellation of Soma as being that of Mṛgaśiras, i.e. the part of Orion “in front” of Taurus. Thus, this allusion is entirely consistent with the identification of the bovine as Taurus.

4) The sūkta states that the bovine measures out the three adhvan-s, i.e. the triple circles of the sky coordinates – the encoding of these in several myths talking of the “measuring out” of the sky was pointed out by von Dechend and de Santillana. These are the ecliptic, the longitudinal and the latitudinal coordinates. Since the bovine is said to measure them out it is a likely allusion to Taurus being at the vernal equinox.

5) This contention becomes much firmer as the sūkta clearly states that bovine is associated with a mid-point where there is as much to the east as to the west – a clear allusion to its position on the ecliptic.

6) The bovine bears Agni on at place where the yoke is placed. As we have seen before (also see von Dechend and de Santillana) the equinoctial colure is associated with Agni (see also this discussion: The crossing of Aśmanvatī). Indeed, the sūkta explicitly states that the midpoint is where the yoke is placed (vaha) i.e. between the head and the hump. Now, the constellation of Taurus is widely understood as having the Hyades cluster as the bovine head with the orange star α Tauri as the eye of the bovine. Thus, the vaha alluded to in this sūkta would mean that the equinoctial colure was situated in the interval east beyond γ Tauri and west of λ Tauri. This location of the equinoctial colure is most compatible with a period ~4850-4650 YBP.


This dating is of considerable significance because it relates to other observations that have suggested the presence of the equinoctial colure in the constellation of Taurus during the Vedic age. Indeed, a position close to the Kṛttikā-s (Pleiades) has been argued from number Vedic sources since Bal Gangadhar Tilak. We have suggested such a possibility base on the identification of śakadhūma with the Pleiades. This approximately corresponds to period around 4400-4200 YBP. But the position in this sūkta seems to be of a slightly earlier epoch. Indeed, it is temporally close to the epoch proposed by the astronomer SB Dikshit and Sanskritist Kameshvara Aiyar when the Pleiades were close to the celestial equator based on their interpretation of brāhmana statements from the Yajurvedic corpus (e.g. etā ha vai prācyai diśo na cyavante | ) This supports the idea that it was not an isolated observation but went along with other observations from a comparable period. Notably, around the same time as our sūkta, the opposite asterism of the bull would have been Jyeṣṭhā (α Scorpii), which corresponded with the autumnal equinox. This might explain why this asterism was chosen as that of Indra – when the sun was in Taurus, originally associated with Indra, Jyeṣṭhā would have been seen in the opposite side and likewise in autumn the bull would appear rising as though propping up the heaven. Perhaps, with the bull being granted to Prajāpati by the prājāpatya-s the opposite constellation was left with Indra.

7) This sūkta also appears to allude to the knowledge of precession of the equinoctial point into the constellation of the bovine. It was previously argued (also see de Santillana and von Dechend) the previous Agni-s or stations of Agni are allusions to the prior positions of the equinoctial point. Indeed, such stations are alluded here as Viśvānara and Vaiśvānara which precede the bovine station (mantra 7). Striding through these Indra or Agni are said to evidently stabilize and bear up the heavens.

8) Finally, this mantra might contain yet another relevant astronomical encoding. The seven sages are alluded to along with the associated seven infallible milkings. Elsewhere in the Atharaveda we hear of the seven sages sitting on the heavenly ladle with aperture cross ways (i.e. the constellation of the Big Dipper; AV-vulgate 10.8.9). At the proposed epoch of our sūkta the head of the Big Dipper would have pointed towards the equinoctial point. This perhaps is the implication of the seven sages knowing the [secret of the] rite.


Further reading:

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