Matters of religion: discussion on vāyavya offerings

Somakhya and Lootika had revived the private one day rite in the manner of their ancestors as had been ordained by the youthful sage Śunaḥśepa Ājigarti. They were resting at the corner of their fire-room in the interval between the sessions after having offered honey at a pipal tree to Indra, Vāyu and the Marut-s. Lootika wiped the sooty particles off her glasses and donning them again read out the mantra-text they had used in the offerings that had been made in the morning: “Dear Somakhya, thus is the recitation for the offering to the great god Vāyu in prince Parucchepa’s characteristic atyaṣṭi chandas:

tubhyam uṣāsaḥ śucayaḥ parāvati bhadrā vastrā
tanvate daṃsu raśmiṣu citrā navyeṣu raśmiṣu |
tubhyaṃ dhenuḥ sabardughā viśvā vasūni dohate |
ajanayo maruto vakṣaṇābhyo diva ā vakṣaṇābhyaḥ || RV 1.134.4

For you, the radiant Uṣā-s, the auspicious clothing in the distant realm
stretch-out, into the [celestial] houses, into bright rays, into the new rays.
For you the cow, yielding milk, milks out all wealth,
You generated the Maruts from the womb-center, from womb-center of heaven.

In the late sections of the śruti Vāyu is placed together with the Marut-s (i.e. Rudra-s) in the same atmospheric domain by Prajāpati: ‘upādadhād vāyuṃ rudrās tān antarikṣe (in Śatapata brāhmaṇa’. However, this once again brings to mind how Vālmīki closely follows the Veda by fitting the earthly heroes of his itihāsa to the daiva-prototype of the Veda – something I have paid careful attention to ever since you brought it to my attention when we were kids. What struck me here is the rājarṣi’s allusion to the Marut-s being generated by Vāyu in the heavenly womb! Here, Vāyu is taking the usual role of the god Rudra even as he does in the Rāmāyaṇa in the engendering of Māruti. I believe this heavenly womb is none other than that of Pṛṣṇi. The cognate in Vālmīki’s text is Añjanā, who in the key narrative on the birth of Hanumat can be seen as none other than Pṛṣṇi in an earthly garb. Vālmīki says:

acarat parvatasyāgre prāvṛḍ-ambuda-saṃnibhe |
vicitra-mālyābharaṇā mahārha-kṣaumavāsinī || R 4.65.11

She [Añjanā] wandered on the mountain top appearing like a rain-bearing cloud,
She was adorned with beautiful garlands and clothed in expensive silk.

This otherwise peculiar simile of the rain cloud makes total sense when viewed in light of the goddess Pṛśṇi, the mother of the Marut-s in the Veda, manifesting as a rain cloud. Indeed, the very name Añjanā should be taken as stemming from the sense of a dark rain-bearing cloud, like a manifestation of the mother of the Marut-s.

Somakhya: “Beloved, that is a good observation indeed. The link between the Marut-s and Hanumat is rather obvious. But the reader of the itihāsa would notice the extent to which this sambandha goes, including in connection to the common link shared between Skanda, the son of Rudra in the recombined Indo-Iranian tradition, and the Maruts. Note this narrative, O bright-eyed Gautamī, from the uttara-kāṇḍa regarding the birth of the mighty ape:

śāliśūka-samābhāsaṃ prāsūtemaṃ tadāñjanā |
phalāny āhartu-kāmā vai niṣkrāntā gahane varā ||

Añjanā then gave birth to him [Hanumat] who was of the hue of rice husks.
Desiring to get fruits [for him] the excellent [she-ape] entered into the forest.

eṣa mātur viyogāc ca kṣudhayā ca bhṛśārditaḥ
ruroda śiśur atyarthaṃ śiśuḥ śaravaṇe yathā || R 7.35.21-22c

He was afflicted by the separation from his mother and by hunger,
[Hence] the baby [ape] howled exceedingly like the child [the god Kumāra] in the arrow-reed-forest.

Now the connection to the birth of Kumāra is quite transparently made. More, specifically an allusion is made to the loud crying or yelling of the infant Hanumat, which is a key feature of Skanda in his earliest birth narratives too. Importantly, this links them to the Marut-s whose yelling or roaring is alluded to from the earliest śruti. Even in later folk etymology their name is explained as mā-rudaḥ (do not cry) from the same root rud as used in the perfect tense (liṭ) in this narrative.

Lootika: “Interestingly, Māruti retains the character of the Marut-s, whom the vipra-s fear even in the śruti. The ape’s Marut-like ferocity is described as causing much fear among the Brāhmaṇa-s until our mighty ancestors curbed it with their imprecation. O Bhārgava let me read out the uttara narrative in this regard:

balenāpūryamāṇo hi eṣa vānara-puṃgavaḥ |
āśrameṣu maharṣīṇām aparādhyati nirbhayaḥ ||

Indeed, overflowing with might this bull among the apes fearlessly committed offences in the āśrama of the great sages.

srug-bhāṇḍān agnihotraṃ ca valkalānāṃ ca saṃcayān |
bhagna-vicchinna-vidhvastān suśāntānāṃ karoty ayam ||

He broke the sruk-s, smashed the utensils of agnihotra, and tore up the heaps of bark of the peaceful (sages).

sarveṣāṃ brahma-daṇḍānām avadhyaṃ brahmaṇā kṛtam |
jānanta ṛṣayas taṃ vai kṣamante tasya nityaśaḥ ||

Knowing that he was made immune by Brahmā to all the spells of brāhmaṇa-s the sages kept forgiving his [affronts].

yadā kesariṇā tv eṣa vāyunā so .añjanīsutaḥ |
pratiṣiddho ‘pi maryādāṃ laṅghayaty eva vānaraḥ ||

Though Añjanā’s son was admonished by Kesari [his earthly ape-father] and Vāyu, the ape kept breaking the laws.

tato maharṣayaḥ kruddhā bhṛgv-aṅgirasa-vaṃśajāḥ |
śepur enaṃ raghu-śreṣṭha nāti-kruddhāti-manyavaḥ ||

This angered the great sages of the clans of Bhṛgu and Aṅgirasa, and, O chief of the Raghu-s, enraged they cursed him, though not with entirely ill intention.

bādhase yat samāśritya balam asmān plavaṃgama |
tad dīrgha-kālaṃ vettāsi nāsmākaṃ śāpamohitaḥ ||

O leaping ape, spellbound by our imprecation you will for a long time become non-cognizant of your strength, depending on which you harass us.

tatas tu hṛta-tejaujā maharṣi-vacanaujasā |
eṣo ”śramāṇi tany eva mṛdu-bhāva-gataś caran || R 7.36.28-34

Then shorn of his might and ebullience by the power of the great sages’ spell he wandered around in their āśrama-s with a soft temperament.”

Somakhya: “Yes, āṅgirasī in this destructive aspect the great vānara is not very different from the rakṣas-es who attacked the brāhmaṇa-s. Yet, the fact that our ancestors only mildly cursed him indicates that he belonged to the daiva side. This fury of the ape is verily comparable to the imploring calls of the vipra-s to the mighty Marut-s as they are invoked at the yajña. The Atri-s in the RV say:

‘adveṣo no maruto gātum etana
śrotā havaṃ jaritur evayāmarut |
viṣṇor mahaḥ samanyavo yuyotana smad
rathyo na daṃsanāpa dveṣāṃsi sanutaḥ || RV 5.87.8

Without hate O Maruts, come here on your march to us.
Hear the invocation of the chanter: Marut-speed!
O you of equal nature, together with the mighty Viṣṇu,
like skilled car-warriors keep the hatreds faraway !

Even more tellingly they are explicitly called upon to be un-rakṣas-like:
gantā no yajñaṃ yajñiyāḥ suśami
śrotā havam arakṣa evayāmarut | RV 5.87.9ab

March to our ritual with diligence, O recipients of the ritual.
Hear the invocation without rakṣas-nature: Marut-speed.

So even in that the Rāmāyaṇa captures a subtlety found in the Vaidika pratimā in it is earthly mirror-character Hanumat.”

Lootika: “Ah dear! that reminds me of a twenty verse para-Rāmāyaṇa tale from the body of legends preserved by my ancestors in the Brahmapurāṇa (chapter 84), which links Hanumat to this rakṣas-hood:

Two beautiful apsaras-es due to a curse of Indra were born as she-apes, Añjanā and Adrikā, a cat-like primate, and were the mates of the famous ape-lord Kesari, who reigned on the mountain slopes on the southern banks of the Godāvari river. When Kesari had gone to the southern ocean, his realm was visited by the mighty sage Agastya. Kesari’s wives took good care of him and pleased with them he offered them a boon. They asked for a mighty and powerful son each who would be worshiped in the world. Having blessed the she-apes, the brāhmaṇa went his way. In due course Añjanā and Adrikā were sporting on the mountain top, dancing, singing and laughing. They caught the attention the mighty god Vāyu and the rakṣas Nairṛta the regent of the South-west direction. The two divinities engaged in coitus with Añjanā and Adrikā respectively, and fathered on them Hanumat and Adri Piśācarāṭ. Then the divinities revealed to the she-apes that they had become apes due to Indra’s curse and would be restored by their sons to their original forms. The ape Hanumat and the king of the piśāca-s grew to be great friends and brothers and eventually released their respective mothers from their curses by taking them to fords on the Godāvari where they took a dip. These fords are known as Añjanā and Mārjārikā after Adrikā.

Here, the vānara Hanumat is seen as the brother of the piśāca lord, as though to hint at his dark connections to rakṣas-es. It is also possible that this brother is an ectype of the foremost simian gaṇa of Rudra, Nandikeśvara. This is also is keeping with the para-Rāmāyaṇa connections with raudra-class of deities which Hanumat is endowed with. Not surprisingly, Hanumat in the broader Hindu tradition tends to be increasingly seen as a son of Rudra, almost like restoring the parallel and more dominant vision of the parentage of the Marut-s in the Veda. Thus moving him away from the beneficent Vāyu of the Veda.”

Somakhya: “That’s an interesting narrative dear. But we must keep in mind that the old Vāyu, while situated with the benign “elemental” Vasu-s, tends to have one-foot in the Rudra class from an early stage of Indo-European history. Interestingly, in the Śatapatha brāhmaṇa we see Vāyu becoming the leader of the animals, thereby encroaching on the domain of Rudra as Paśupati: ‘vāyu praṇetrā vai paśavaḥ | prāṇo vai vāyuḥ | prāṇena hi paśavaś caranti | (in’. Vāyu is verily the leader of the animals. Breath is verily Vāyu. By breath indeed the animals move.

The real raudra side of Vāyu is particularly emphasized in the Zoroastrian, para-Zoroastrian, and non-Zoroastrian Iranian traditions. It also had a survival in Slavic folklore. In the Yaṣt of Vāyu the Iranians clearly recognize him as a fierce and mighty deity with Rudra-like features, in particular holding a long piercing spear (cognate of Skt ṛṣṭi of the Marut-s). He is depicted as revealing his names to Zarathushtra thus:

tizhyarshte nãma ahmi tizhyarshtish nãma ahmi
perethvareshte nãma ahmi perethvareshtish nãma ahmi|
vaêzhyarshte nãma ahmi vaêzhyarshtish nãma ahmi
hvarenå nãma ahmi aiwi-hvarenå nãma ahmi ||

My name is sharpness of the spear, my name is he of the sharp spear,
My name is length of the spear; my name is he of the long spear.
My name is piercingness of the spear; my name is he of the piercing spear.
My name is the fiery splendor; my name is the most fiery splendor.

Again in the Aogemadaeca we hear of the “pitiless Vāyu (vayaosh anamarezhdikahe). In the same text he is seen along with another deity Asto-vidotu (the bone-smasher) who is said to bring death to the mortal. In the material preserved in the middle Persian Bundahisn it is clarified that this Asto-vidotu is none other than Wāy-i vatar or the “evil Vāyu” who carries away the life breath of a mortal. Iranian oral tradition holds that he cast the lasso of death on Gayo Maretan the first mortal. All these are elements of the raudra class. Now, among the non-Zoroastrian Iranians in the Kuṣāṇa realm, Rudra and Vāyu were totally identified and essentially the latter was worshiped with the iconography of the former. In Iranian tradition these aspects of Vāyu are combined with the beneficent elements common with the Vāyu and the pacified Rudra as Śiva of the Veda. The combination of these two aspects are important in the para-Zoroastrian religion of Zurwan. Moreover, the syncretic Rudra-Vāyu in Sogdhiana suggests that in certain streams of Iranic, Vāyu ruled supreme, a position acknowledged in certain aspects of the śruti.”

Lootika: “That primacy of Vāyu also seems to have echoes in the itihāsa. Let me read what Vālmīki says describing the aroused Hanumat:
arujan parvatāgrāṇi hutāśana-sakho ‘nilaḥ |
balavān aprameyaś ca vāyur ākāśa-gocaraḥ || R 4.66.6

The wind-god rending apart mountain peaks is a friend of the god Agni. The god Vāyu is mighty beyond compare and with the atmosphere as the domain of his action.

While his primacy is explicitly mentioned, in describing him as the smasher of mountain peaks, we may again note that the Rāmāyaṇa confers features of the Marut-s in the śruti on him. After all we just deployed the mantra to the Marut-s which said: ‘cid bibhidur vi parvatam |‘.

Perhaps, it is this old memory of an acknowledgment of his primacy which makes him the first recipient of the soma, which is stressed in the the next two mantra-s of the tṛca we just deployed:

tubhyaṃ śukrāsaḥ śucayas turaṇyavo madeṣūgrā
iṣaṇanta bhurvaṇy apām iṣanta bhurvaṇi |
tvāṃ tsārī dasamāno bhagam īṭṭe takvavīye |
tvaṃ viśvasmād bhuvanāt pāsi dharmaṇāsuryāt pāsi dharmaṇā ||

For you the shining, pure, swift, formidable [soma] libations,
flowing as ripples [even as] the waves rippling on water .
You (accusative) the stealthy, tiring warrior invokes for luck in his rapid chase
You drink before every being [ordained] by the dharma of your asura-hood, you drink [as ordained] by the dharma.

Here we may take this dharman, which is described as stemming from Vāyu’s asura-hood, as a signal of his primacy. Moreover, his refreshing the stealthy warrior [perhaps as a zephyr] in his chase reminds one of the Hanumat refreshing the crestfallen Vānara-s in their pursuit when reminded by the old bear Jāmbavant of his Vāyu-hood. Also note the word takvavīye derived from takva-vī [falcon], literally meaning the falcon-chase suggesting that the Aryan-s hunted with falcons like other steppe people after them.

tvaṃ no vāyav eṣām apūrvyaḥ somānām
prathamaḥ pītim arhasi sutānām pītim arhasi |
uto vihutmatīnāṃ viśāṃ vavarjuṣīṇām |
viśvā it te dhenavo duhra āśiraṃ ghṛtaṃ duhrata āśiram || RV 1.134.4-6

You, O Vāyu, with none before you, have, for these soma libations of ours,
the first right to drink, you have the right to drink these [soma] pressings.
Indeed, [of] the peoples who do not make offerings and have shunned [ritual] (the vihutamati-s = ayajvan-s ),
all their cows milk the milk-soma drink, now they milk ghee and milk-soma drink [for you] (even the milking of the ayajvan-s is turned towards Vāyu by the brahman of the ārya ritualist).

O Somakhya, what do you think is the origin of the offering of the first soma offering with the vaṣaṭ-call to Vāyu.”

Somakhya: “We may note that the in the grand soma rituals, in addition to the first soma-libation, Vāyu also receives the preliminary animal sacrifice known as the vāyavam paśu. This indeed might suggest a certain recognition of his primacy; a need to be pacified first. Indeed, in the upaniṣat of the singers in the teaching of the brahmachārin to Abhipratārin Kākṣaseni and Śaunaka Kāpeya the primacy of Vāyu is explicitly taught thus:

mahātmanaś caturo deva ekaḥ
kaḥ sa jagāra bhuvanasya gopāḥ |
taṃ kāpeya nābhipaśyanti martyā
abhipratārin bahudhā vasantam ||

The one god, four mighty ones
he who has swallowed, the protectors of the universe,
O Kāpeya, mortals do not see him
[though] O Abhipratārin, he is present in manifold forms!

ātmā devānāṃ janitā prajānāṃ
hiraṅya-daṃṣṭro babhaso ‘nasūriḥ |
mahāntam asya mahimānam āhur
anadyamāno yad anannam atti || in Chāndogya Upaniṣat 4.3

The breath of the gods, the progenitor of the beings,
The golden-fanged, wise devourer [of all],
They say his might is [truly] great,
who eats [even] what cannot be eaten without being eaten!

Hence O ūrṇāyī, we use the yajuṣ: oṃ tad brahma । oṃ tad vāyuḥ । oṃ tad ātmā । oṃ tat satyam । oṃ tat sarvam । oṃ tat puror namaḥ ॥

My ancient clansman the Bhārgava Nema alludes to how Vāyu attained co-primacy with Indra due to his services in the smashing of forts:

ayaṃ ta emi tanvā purastād
viśve devā abhi mā yanti paścāt |
yadā mahyaṃ dīdharo bhāgam
indrād in mayā kṛṇavo vīryāṇi || RV 8.100.1

Vāyu said: ‘[See] this, I go forth with my body before [all].
All the gods proceed towards me from behind.
When you have secured [this] share [of the offering] for me,
O Indra, only then you perform valorous acts together with me.’

dadhāmi te madhuno bhakṣam agre
hitas te bhāgaḥ suto astu somaḥ |
asaś ca tvaṃ dakṣiṇataḥ sakhā me
‘dhā vṛtrāṇi jaṅghanāva bhūri || RV 8.100.2

Indra said: ‘I put in place an offering of honey for you at the start [of the ritual].
Let the pressed out soma be established as your portion,
and you will be the friend to my right.
Now, we two shall demolish numerous forts!”

As an aside in, addition to the Marut-s who accompany Indra in the battle, he has two friends who are alluded to in this sūkta of Nema. At the beginning Indra is assisted by Vāyu for whom he establishes the first offering. At the end Indra is joined by the mighty god Viṣṇu with whom also he shares an offering, as we shall offer in the rite that shall happen at midday:

sakhe viṣṇo vitaraṃ vi kramasva
dyaur dehi lokaṃ vajrāya viṣkabhe |
hanāva vṛtraṃ riṇacāva sindhūn
indrasya yantu prasave visṛṣṭāḥ || RV_8,100.12c

Indra said: ‘O friend Viṣṇu, widely stride out.
O Dyaus, grant space to hold the vajra aloft.
We two shall slay Vṛtra and release the rivers.’
Nema’s concluding quarter: ‘Let them, released, gush forth by Indra’s impetus’.
(Note adverb vitara here is related to the name of the Germanic cognate of Viṣṇu: Vidarr).

In the Śatapatha brāhmaṇa the first soma-libation with the vaṣaṭ being offered to Vāyu is used in an attempt to prop up the secondary Prājāpatya religion over the primary Aindra religion by down-grading Indra: ‘When dānava Vṛtra was struck by Indra’s vajra, Indra and other the gods did not know if he was really dead or not and remained in fear. Vāyu agreed to be their agent-messenger who would find out if he was really dead and in return asked for him becoming the recipient of the first libation. Indra however sought a share in that and the two went to the god Prajāpati for arbitration. He duly established the first share for Vāyu followed by the combined one for Indra and Vāyu.’

Keeping aside the unwholesome aspects of the Prājāpatya religion aside for now, what we see from all this is that there might have been a para-Vedic system of the primacy of Vāyu among the early Indo-Iranian-s. This was probably similar to the centered cults in the Indo-European world, like those of the Mitra-Varuṇa, Rudra and Viṣṇu class of deities. Given the prominence of such cultic deities like Vāyu and Viṣṇu in the early I-Ir world, they were acknowledged within the framework of the standard model IE religion, the aindra religion, by the first offering to Vāyu and the combined one to Indra and Viṣṇu, for which Nema provides the legendary rationale. Notably, the itihāsa too acknowledges the role of the vaṣaṭ offering to Vāyu. When Vāyu retreated into a cave with Hanuman who was struck down by Mahendra we hear:

niḥsvādhyāya-vaṣaṭkāraṃ niṣkriyaṃ dharma-varjitam |
vāyu-prakopāt trailokyaṃ nirayastham ivābhavat || R 7.35.51c

Without Veda-study, without the offering with the vaṣāṭ-call, without rituals and shorn of dharma, from the wrath of Vāyu the three worlds became as though sunk to the nether-region.”

Lootika: “O sacābhū, we can see some further reflections in the itihāsa. While incorporated in the tale of the unwholesome Prājāpatya religion, the brāhmaṇa narrative brings out one key point, namely that of Vāyu as the agent-messenger of the gods. This is exactly the role conferred on Hanumat, as the agent-messenger of the earthly Indra, Rāma. He goes in front of him as Vāyu in the smashing of the hostile forts of Lankā, while the earthly reflection of Viṣṇu, Lakṣmaṇa, stays close to Rāma, the Indra in their quest and battle. Only when coupled with Hanumat is Rāma able to perform his Indra-like acts.

This leads me to one last thing, the peculiar allusion in the uttara text to Hanumat as chasing Rāhu the planetary shadow in the sky even as he rose to seek the Sun as a fruit on a new moon day. It is said that Rāhu protested to Indra that his job of eclipsing the Sun was being appropriated by someone else. When Indra asked him not to fear, Rāhu was chased by Hanumat who took him too to be a fruit. It was then that the foremost of the gods proceeded to investigate and struck down Hanumat with his kuliśa even as he tried to swallow Airāvata as a fruit. While this narrative contains an old motif also seen among the yavana-s as Zeus striking down Phaeton even as he tried to drive the chariot of Helios, is there a further significance to this?”

Somakhya: “While its exact significance remains a bit murky, it is indeed peculiar in raising the son of Vāyu from his usual atmospheric domain into the celestial domain. But the śruti clarifies that while Vāyu is the atmosphere, he is not merely restricted to the wind. He has a celestial dimension too where he is manifest as gravitation. The Śatapatha brāhmaṇa states in the context of the ritual of the horse smelling the bricks for the first layer of the altar for the soma ritual and the laying of the vikarṇī brick and the stone with a natural hole:
tad asāv āditya imāṃ lokānt sūtre samāvayate |

Now, the yonder Sun tethers these worlds to himself with a string.

tadyat tat sūtraṃ vāyuḥ saḥ |

Now that string is the same as Vāyu.

sa yaḥ sa vāyur eṣā sā vikarṇī |

That Vāyu is the same as this vikarṇī brick.

tadyad etām upadadhāty asāv eva tad āditya imāṃ lokānt sūtre samāvayate ||

When the lays down that [brick he represents] the Sun tethering these worlds to itself by the string.

Thus, when Hanumat animates Rāhu he takes on a bit of that celestial role of his father in causing the movement of the celestial bodies “tethered” to the Sun.”

Lootika: “This brahmavāda and itihāsa-paryālocanaṃ helps me catch a glimpse of the great god to whom we have made the offering having ensconced ourselves from the ayajvan-s and avidvān-s. Restlessly churning the atmosphere, animating all life through respiration as “the friend of Agni”, and swinging the heavenly bodies through their celestial paths, is the Niyutvant whom we praise. While the deva-dharma has declined among our people, a sliver of its spirit is indeed kept alive by the itihāsa which has become their dharma.”

Somakhya: “That is verily true. The wobble caused by the Prājāpatya religion, which culminated in the tathāgata’s virodha of the śruti resulted in mediocre mīmāṃsaka-s who, while preserving the śruti like a donkey carrying sandalwood, lacked proper apprehension of the daivī-mīmāṃsā. Some fragments of the spirit of the śruti remained alive in the itihāsa. Hence, it is not surprising that the nāstika Buddhaghoṣa proscribed people from attending lectures of “worthless stories” like the Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata. With time our people having lost their martial ardor, which is signaled in the Veda by the aindra-bhāva, succumbed to the bearded unmatta-s and their younger cousins. When the Veda and Dharma almost seemed lost, the dormant spirit of Vāyu in the form of Hanumat in the itihāsa sprang forth in the peninsula to impel our people to slay the makkha-pretonmattādi, even as the Vṛtra-s shattered by Indra and Vāyu, to at least give us a new lease of life.

In any case kāntā that was a good brahmavāda , now let us proceed with the next karman.”

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