Viṣṇu, the Marut-s and Rudra

This note might be read as a continuation of the these two earlier ones:
1) The Aśvin-s and Rudra
2) The roots of Vaiṣṇavam: a view from the numerology of Vedic texts

In the Ṛgveda (RV), the Marut-s are seen associating with Viṣṇu on several occasions. This often occurs in the context of the epithets evaya or eṣa (meaning swift or ardent) being applied to them. This association is not per say out of place or surprising because it might be seen in the context of Viṣṇu accompanying Indra in the battle against Vṛtra, where the Marut-s too accompany Indra as his troops (gaṇa-s). Thus, they might be seen as surrounding Viṣṇu, one of the leaders of the deva-s in this battle. However, this association is not purely a mythic one — in the context of the RV it extends to the Marut-s and Viṣṇu being invoked together for receiving offerings in a specific ritual. For example, this is clearly stated by Gṛtsamada Śaunahotra:

tān vo maho maruta evayāvno
viṣṇor eṣasya prabhṛthe havāmahe ।
hiraṇyavarṇān kakuhān yatasruco
brahmaṇyantaḥ śaṃsyaṃ rādha īmahe ॥ RV2.34.11

Verily those great Maruts, speeding along
we invoke in the ritual offering of the swift Viṣṇu
with extended sruc-s, the golden eminent ones,
composing incantations, we implore them of praiseworthy liberality.

This is again presented in the context of the soma offering by Gotama Rāhūgaṇa:

te ‘vardhanta svatavaso mahitvanā
nākaṃ tasthur uru cakrire sadaḥ ।
viṣṇur yad dhāvad vṛṣaṇam madacyutaṃ
vayo na sīdann adhi barhiṣi priye ॥ RV 1.85.7

Those growing in their greatness, the self-powerful ones
They stood in the high heaven and made [themselves] a broad seat.
When Viṣṇu washed the bull dripping with exhilaration (soma)
like birds they sat down on the dear ritual grass.

Unlike the Marut-s, in the RV, their father Rudra is not commonly paired with Viṣṇu except in the general context of the incantations invoking multiple deities. This is keeping with the absence of any evidence for his participation in the Vedic narration of the Vṛtra-hatyā. However, there is one exception where Rudra is mentioned along with Viṣṇu in a ritual context similar to the Marut-s by Vasiṣṭha Maitravaruṇi:

asya devasya mīḻhuṣo (‘)vayā
viṣṇor eṣasya prabhṛthe havirbhiḥ ।
vide hi rudro rudriyam mahitvaṃ
yāsiṣṭaṃ vartir aśvināv irāvat ॥ RV 7.40.5

The appeasement of the god who is bountiful (Rudra)
[is done] in the ritual of the swift Viṣṇu with oblations;
for Rudra knows his Rudrian might.
May you Aśvin-s drive on your food-bearing orbit.

This is notable in two ways: 1) there is a specific mention of Rudra being appeased in the ritual of Viṣṇu. This exactly parallels the offering to the Marut-s in the ritual of Viṣṇu. 2) There is also a reference to Aśvin-s being called for the ritual. They are said to come on their food-bearing orbit (vartis), which reminds one of their epithet Rudravartanī, i.e. they who follow on the track of Rudra.

What is the ritual being referred to here? The answer to this comes from the deployment in the somayāga of another sūkta emphasizing the link of the Marut-s and Viṣṇu — the famous Evayamarut-sūkta of the Atri-s. This sūkta is deployed in a key recitation of the hotṛ-s in the somayāga known as the Śilpa-śastra-s. While it is described in all the RV brāhmaṇa-s, the most detailed account is given the Aitareya-brāhmaṇa:

śilpāni śaṃsanti । devaśilpāny eteṣām vai śilpānām anukṛtīha śilpam adhigamyate । hastī kaṃso vāso hiraṇyam aśvatarī-rathaḥ śilpaṃ; śilpaṃ hāsminn adhigamyate ya evaṃ veda; yad eva śilpānī3n Atma-saṃskṛtir vāva śilpāni; chandomayaṃ vā etair yajamāna ātmānaṃ saṃskurute ।

They recite the Śilpa-s. These are divine art-works; by imitating these [divine] art-works a [human] work of art is achieved here. An elephant (evidently image of one), metal-work, weaving, gold-work, mule-cart-making are [such human] craft-works. A work of art is accomplished by him who knows thus. Regarding those known as the Śilpa-s, the Śilpa-s are a perfection of the self; indeed by them the ritualist perfects himself imbued with the meters.

In this introduction to the Śilpa-śastra-s, the brāhmaṇa teaches the Hindu “Platonic” principle that all human craft-works are imitations of the works of the deva-s (also c.f. the Ratu-s of the Iranians). It is in this spirit the ritualist engages in this śastra recitation so that he might become saṃskṛta or perfect even as the metrical chants — their composers saw them as similar to crafts, sometimes using the phrase that they composed the ṛk-s much like a craftsman making a chariot. Now, the Śilpa-śastra-s consist of a long series of chants: 1) the two sūkta-s of the ancient Nābhānediṣṭha, the descendant of Manu Sāvarṇi (his name is also recorded in Iranian tradition). The first of these prominently features the gods Rudra and the Aśvin-s (explicitly termed sons of Rudra-s in this sūkta) and is recited by the hotṛ. 2) The long aindra-sūkta-s of the Kāṇva-s known as the Vālakhilyā-s in the bṛhatī and satobṛhatī meters. These are recited by maitravaruṇa by intricate separations of the pada-s and half verses. 3) The sūkta of the great descendant of Dīrghatamas, Sukīrti Kākṣīvata (RV 10.131), which is central to the offering of beer in sautrāmaṇi ritual, featuring the Aśvin-s as physicians primarily along with Indra and Sarasvatī again in her medicinal form. Then the enigmatic Vṛṣākapi-sūkta is deployed which presents the banter between Indra and Indrāṇi. As this sūkta is recited the ritualist identifies its verses with the constitution of his body from hair, skin, fleshy organs, bones and marrow. This is recited by the brāhmaṇacchaṅsin. 4) The recitation of the śastra that includes the Rudra-dhāyyā and the Evayāmarut-sūkta to Viṣṇu and the Marut-s (see below). In extant tradition the Rudra-dhāyyā is a single ṛk RV 1.43.6 of Kaṇva Ghaura. Between the two is inserted the sūkta of Bharadvāja starting with “dyaur na ya …” (RV 6.20). This śastra is explicitly recited with the insertion of the “o” vowels, i.e. nyūṅkha style of recitation by the acāvāka, the fourth of the hotraka-s. The Aitareya-brāhmaṇa records an interesting old tale regarding this śastra, which suggests that it was redacted to attain its current structure:

sa ha bulila āśvatara āśvir vaiśvajito hotāsann īkṣāṃ cakra: eṣāṃ vā eṣāṃ śilpānāṃ viśvajiti sāṃvatsarike dve madhyaṃdinam abhi pratyetor hantāham ittham evayāmarutaṃ śaṃsayānīti । tad dha tathā śaṃsayāṃ cakāra; tad dha tathā śasyāmane gauśla ājagāma; sa hovāca hotaḥ kathā te śastraṃ vicakram plavata iti; kiṃ hy abhūd ity ? evayāmarud ayam uttarataḥ śasyata iti; sa hovācaindro vai madhyaṃdinaḥ,
kathendram madhyaṃdinān ninīṣasīti; nendram madhyaṃdinān ninīṣāmīti hovāca; chandas tv idam amadhyaṃdinasācy ayaṃ jāgato vātijāgato vā। sarvaṃ vā idaṃ jāgataṃ vātijāgataṃ vā । sa u māruto maiva śaṃsiṣṭeti; sa hovācāramāchāvakety; atha hāsminn anuśāsanam īṣe; sa hovācaindram eṣa viṣṇunyaṅgaṃ śaṃsatv; atha tvam etaṃ hotar upariṣṭād raudryai dhāyyāyai purastān mārutasyāpyasyāthā iti; tad dha tathā śaṃsayāṃ cakāra । tad idam apy etarhi tathaiva śasyate ॥

That Bulila Āśvatara Āśvi was the hotṛ in the viśvajit ritual; he observed: of these Śilpa-s in the year-long Viśvajit ritual these two (the recitations of the maitravaruṇa and brāhmaṇacchaṅsin) are added to the midday recitation. Well, let me have the Evayāmarut recited [by the acāvāka]. He then made that to be recited. When it was being thus recited Gauśla came up; he said: “O hotṛ why is your śastra sinking without a wheel?” B.A.A: “What happened? The Evayāmarut is being recited to the north of the altar.” He (G) said: “Indra is verily the midday. Why do you seek lead Indra away from from the midday?” “I do not seek to lead Indra away from the midday”, he replied. G: “The meter is also not that for the midday, jagati or atijagati. All these [incantations] (Evayāmarut) are either jagati or atijagati. It is also of the Marut-s; do not recite it.” He (B.A.A) said: “Stop O acāvāka”. He (B.A.A) then sought an instruction on this. He (G) said: “He may recite the Indra hymn with the mark of Viṣṇu. Now, O Hotṛ this is inserted between the preceding Rudra Dhāyyā and the following Māruta (i.e. Evayāmarut). Then he (B.A.A) made it be be thus recited. Even now that is how it is recited.”

The tale hints that originally or in certain traditions this Śilpa-śastra consisted of just the invocation of Rudra, Viṣṇu and the Marut-s in an offering centered on Viṣṇu and the Marut-s. However, as stated, it was emended to include Indra to maintain the connection of the midday rite with Indra. Nevertheless, even in this, the sūkta indicated to Indra was chosen such that the original connection of the offering with Viṣṇu was retained. The second ṛk of the inserted sūkta goes thus:

divo na tubhyam anv indra satra
asuryaṃ devebhir dhāyi viśvam ।
ahiṃ yad vṛtram apo vavrivāṃsaṃ
hann ṛjīṣin viṣṇunā sacānaḥ ॥ RV 6.20.2

Just as that of Dyaus, to you, O Indra, the power
of the Asura-s was entirely ceded by the deva-s,
when you, O drinker of silvery juice, accompanied by Viṣṇu
smote the snake Vṛtra blocking the waters.

This is the mark of Viṣṇu mentioned in the brāhmaṇa. Given that the immediate juxtaposition of Rudra, Viṣṇu and the Marut-s in a ritual all together is a distinctive one, it is apparent that one of the form encapsulated in the final Śilpa-śastra was something widely known to the early RV composers and specifically alluded to. This is further supported by the observation that the above Vāsiṣṭha ṛk also mentions the Aśvin-s. As can be seen in the Śilpa-śastra-s, another prominent deity of the recitations are the Aśvin-s who are explicitly coupled with Rudra in the first Nābhānediṣtha sūkta.

It may also be noted that the juxtaposition of Rudra, the Marut-s and Viṣṇu also has a further echo in the śrauta ritual. In the piling of the Agnicayana altar, after the fifth and final layer of bricks has been laid it is said to ghora or terrible and if the adhvaryu steps on it he is said to die. This is because the newly laid altar is said to be possessed by the fierce manifestation of Agni as Rudra. Hence, Rudra has to be pacified by offerings of goat milk with a milkweed leaf on a specific brick of the altar (brick 189 in the standard Agnicayana eagle altar) with the recitation of the Śatarudrīya by the adhvaryu. Once that is over, the ritualist goes clockwise around the altar impersonating Rudra by holding a bow and 3 arrows. Stopping at the vertices of a pentagon in course of that circuit, at each stop he recites the incantation to Rudra of the 5 years of the saṃvatsara cycle as the lord of the wind. The adhvaryu gives a pitcher of water to the pratiprasthātṛ and asks him to make 3 circuits pouring it out in a continuous stream. As he does so, the adhvaryu and the ritualist recite the incantation to the Marut-s (e.g. Taittirīya-saṃhitā who are called upon to provide the energy residing in stones, mountains, wind, rain, the fury of Varuṇa, water bodies, herbs and trees as the strength of food. Once the pacification of Rudra is complete, and the fire is installed on it, the altar is said to be śānta or peaceful and to give the yajamana a great bounty that is asked for in the camaka incantations. These accompany the vasor dhārā offerings wherein a continuous stream of ghee is poured into the fire with a special furrowed log-guide known as the praseka that is as tall as the ritualist. Finally, after the offering is done, the ghee-soaked praseka itself is offered in the fire. This ritual begins with the following gāyatrī incantation:

agnāvīṣṇū sajoṣasemā vardhantu vāṃ giraḥ । dyumnair vajebhir āgatam ॥

Agni and Viṣṇu, may these chants glorify you together. Come with radiance and vigor!

Regarding these oblations the śruti of the Taittirīya-s offers the following brāhmaṇa:

brahmavādino vadanti: yan na devatāyai juhvaty atha kiṃdevatyā vasor dhāreti ? agnir vasus tasyaiṣā dhārā; viṣṇur vasus tasyaiṣā dhārā āgnāvaiṣṇavy arcā vasor dhārāṃ juhoti; bhāgadheyenaivainau sam ardhayati; atho etām evāhutim āyatanavatīṃ karoti; yatkāma enāṃ juhoti tad evāva runddhe; rudro vā eṣa yad agnis; tasyaite tanuvau ghorānyā śivānayā; yac chatarudrīyaṃ juhoti yaivāsya ghorā tanūs tāṃ tena śamayati; yad vasor dhārāṃ juhoti yaivāsya śivā tanūs tāṃ tena prīṇāti; yo vai vasor dhārayai pratiṣṭhāṃ veda praty eva tiṣṭhati ॥ in TS 5.7.3

The brahmavādin-s say: “Given that they do not offer to any deity (i.e svāhā-s are uttered without naming the deity), which deity has the vasor dhārā oblation? Wealth is Agni (or Agni is a Vasu); this stream is his. Wealth is Viṣṇu; this stream is his. With the verse addressed to Agni and Viṣṇu (the above gāyatrī) he offers the stream of wealth; verily he unites them with their proper portions. He also makes this offering in order to have an abode. He wins that desire for which he makes this offering. The fire is Rudra; now two are his bodies, one is dreadful, the other is auspicious. That in which he offers the Śatarudrīya is its dreadful one. He pacifies it with that [Śatarudrīya offering]. That in which he offers the vasor dhārā is the auspicious one. He delights it with that [vasor dhārā offering]. He, who knows the foundation of the vasor dhārā indeed stands well-founded.”

Thus, Rudra and the Marut-s on one hand and Viṣṇu on the other are identified with the opposing but juxtaposed characteristics of Agni and invoked as deities in the two key rituals associated with completed Agnicayana altar. That this juxtaposition is not just incidental but a deeper feature of the traditions of the Indo-Aryan world and in a more general form the greater Indo-European world is hinted by the tendencies expressed in the itihāsa-s: In the Rāmāyaṇa, Rudra offered great favors the malefic Rāvaṇa who is opposed to the Indra-Viṣṇu duo humanized as Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa. More explicitly, in the Mahābhārata, the humanized manifestation of Rudra, Aśvatthāman is the malevolent force opposed to the humanized Indra-Viṣṇu-Agni manifestations in the form of Arjuna, Kṛṣṇa and Dhṛṣṭadyumna and the other daiva forces. Similarly, Rudra backs Jayadratha allowing him to overcome the Pāṇḍu-s on the fateful day of the slaying of Abhimanyu. Yet again, in the same epic a malefic Rudra-backed figure Śiśupāla (born with 3 eyes) is also presented in opposition to the humanized manifestation of Viṣṇu. A comparable form of opposition also extends the Greek world, where, in their national epic, the Rudrian deities Apollo and Ares prominently back the Trojans against the Greeks who are backed by Athena.

Based on the inferred prominence of Rudra and Viṣṇu in the para-Vedic and “greater” Vedic horizons (i.e. the root of the ādhvaryava tradition), we can say that this juxtaposition of them was a reflection in the “standard aindra religion” of tendencies which were more pronounced outside it: i.e. the cults centered on Rudra and Viṣṇu. This is hinted by the fact that right in the Kauṣītaki-brāhmaṇa, in the corresponding account of the Śilpa-śastra-s with the Rudra-dhāyyā and the Evayāmarut with the nyūñkhā “o” insertions, we encounter the below statement:

atho rudro vai jyeṣṭhaś ca śreṣṭhaś ca devānām ।

Now Rudra is indeed the eldest and the best of the gods.

This indicates that the early “śaiva” view was already impinging on the “standard aindra religion”. As we have noted before, the Aitareya-brāhmaṇa correspondingly, provides an early “vaiṣṇava” viewpoint hinting the primacy of Viṣṇu. That such tendencies were ancient is indicated by the fact that they are not restricted to branches of the Ārya-s who eventually conquered India — indeed they are hinted by parallels seen among the Iranians and the Germanic peoples. Interestingly, it was that stream of the religion that was to eventually dominate the Ārya religious traditions in India in the form of the Śaiva and Vaiṣnava cults.

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