RV 10.5

The Ṛgveda is replete with obscure sūkta-s but RV 10.5 might easily take a place in the top tier of those. One might even ask why even attempt to write a commentary on this. We admit we could be plainly wrong in reading the words of our ancestors but the allure of attempting to understand the recondite cannot be passed up. We know nothing of the true composer of this sūkta for the anukramaṇi attributes it to the god Trita Āptya, a watery deity of old IE provenance with cognates Thrita and Thraetona Athvya in the Iranian world and Triton in the Greek world. The sūkta itself is directed towards Agni.

ekaḥ samudro dharuṇo rayīṇām
asmad dhṛdo bhūri-janmā vi caṣṭe |
siṣakty ūdhar niṇyor upastha
utsasya madhye nihitam padaṃ veḥ || 1

The one sea, the receptacle of all riches;
he of many births from our heart looks on.
He clings to the udder in the lap of the two hidden ones.
In the midst of the fountain, the bird’s path is set down.

The opening ṛk is already fairly obscure. We believe the sea here is as literal as it gets. In later Hindu tradition, the sea is seen as the receptacle of riches and the same metaphor finds an early expression here. Now, that sea is juxtaposed with one of many births. The deity of the sūkta is given as Agni and there is no reason at all to doubt that — although he is explicitly mentioned only in the final ṛk of the sūkta, many epithets throughout the sūkta confirm him as the deity . Sāyaṇa informs us that the many births of Agni correspond to this multiple kindlings in the ritual altars of such as the Āhavanīya, the Gārhapatya and the Dakṣiṇāgni in diverse yajña-s. This just one of the ways in which Agni may be seen as having many births. Alternatively, in mythological time he is again said to have many births — a possible allegory for the precession of the equinoctial colure. However, the twist in this sūkta is the “internalization” of the yajña, as Agni is said to be in the heart of the ritualists. This takes us to the next foot where he is said to “cling to the udder in the lap of the two hidden ones”. Agni in the lap of the two parents can be a metaphor for the two pieces of the ritual fire-drill or Dyaus and Pṛthivi in a cosmic context. However, neither of them are hidden and this comes in the context of the internalized yajña implied in the earlier foot. Hence, we take hidden to mean something internal, probably the mind and the intellect (which are not visible entities), whose action composes the sūkta like Agni being generated by the fire-drill. Then in the final foot, we come to Agni being identified as a bird and his path being set down in the midst of the fountain. Sāyaṇa interprets this as Agni as the lightning in the midst of the cloud. This is appears to be version of the famous representation of Agni as Apām Napāt. However, we believe that two distinct metaphors, one physical and one mental or internal, are being intertwined here. The sea and the fountain are physical — they are allusions to the famous fire in water, with the fountain as the underwater plume associated with these fires. These sites in the Black Sea-Caspian Sea region could have been accessed by the early Indo-Europeans and those sightings left an impression on their tradition.

samānaṃ nīḷaṃ vṛṣaṇo vasānāḥ
saṃ jagmire mahiṣā arvatībhiḥ |
ṛtasya padaṃ kavayo ni pānti
guhā nāmāni dadhire parāṇi || 2

The virile ones dwell in the same nest,
the buffaloes have come together with the mares,
The kavi-s guard the seat of the natural law (ṛta),
they have placed the highest names in concealment.

This may be interpreted as a metaphor for the feeding of the ritual fire with oblations. The oblations are likened to the virile buffaloes, while the mares are the tongues of Agni (seen as female Kālī, Karālī, etc). This brings us to the famous imagery of the fire within water as the Vaḍavāgni or the equine fire (something Sāyaṇa seems to intuitively grasp), whose flames might be seen as the mares. The kavi-s here might be seen as tending to Agni who is seen as the seat of the ṛta. Sāyaṇa mentions the secret names to be Jātavedas, Vaiśvānara, etc which have secret meanings.

ṛtāyinī māyinī saṃ dadhāte
mitvā śiśuṃ jajñatur vardhayantī |
viśvasya nābhiṃ carato dhruvasya
kaveś cit tantum manasā viyantaḥ || 3

The two imbued with the truth and illusion conjoin,
having measured [him] out, the two birthed the child, making him grow,
[who is the] nave of all that moves and stands still.
Indeed they [the beings] with their mind seek the connection (lit: thread) of the kavi [Agni].

Here we agree with Sāyaṇa’s interpretation that it refers to the birth of the cosmic manifestation of Agni as the sun from his parents, the two world-hemispheres. This is mirrored in the ritual by the generation of Agni by the two parts of the fire-drill. In this solar form, he is seen as a nave of all that moves and moves not and connection to him is mentally sought by all beings.

ṛtasya hi vartanayaḥ sujātam
iṣo vājāya pradivaḥ sacante |
adhīvāsaṃ rodasī vāvasāne
ghṛtair annair vāvṛdhāte madhūnām || 4

For the wheel-tracks of the law, the well-born one,
refreshing offerings, for booty, serve from the days of yore,
the world-hemispheres having worn the mantle,
with ghee and honeyed food augment [the child Agni].

Here the world halves are explicitly mentioned; this clarifies the reference to the cosmic Agni, i.e. sun. The ṛta’s wheel-tracks, i.e. movements of celestial bodies like the sun further build this connection and support the rendering of ṛta as the “natural law” which is manifest in celestial movements that have continued since the ancient days. Them following the cosmic Agni is intertwined with the metaphor of the ritualists seeking booty serving Agni with refreshing offerings. The mantle of the world-halves is a likely allusion to the days and nights.

sapta svasṝr aruṣīr vāvaśāno
vidvān madhva uj jabhārā dṛśe kam |
antar yeme antarikṣe purājā
icchan vavrim avidat pūṣaṇasya || 5

Desirous [of them], the seven shining sisters,
the knower (Agni), held up from the honey to be seen,
He held [them] up within the mid-region, the earlier born one,
seeking a mantle, he found that of the earth.

This ṛk is rather obscure. Sāyaṇa explains the seven sisters as the seven tongues of Agni (Kālī, Karālī, etc) that he has held up within the mid-region for all to see. However, the celestial connection hinted at by the sisters being held up in the sky (?) suggests that it could be an allusion to the Kṛttikā-s (Pleiades) the asterism associated with Agni. . However, this interpretation will not hold if we strictly take antarikṣa to be the atmosphere. We follow Sāyaṇa to take the adjective aruṣīḥ to mean shining rather than red (which ironically would fit his tongues interpretation better) Further, we also follow Sāyaṇa in interpreting the obscure word Puṣaṇa as the Earth.

sapta maryādāḥ kavayas tatakṣus
tāsām ekām id abhy aṃhuro gāt |
āyor ha skambha upamasya nīḷe
pathāṃ visarge dharuṇeṣu tasthau || 6

The kavi-s have fashioned the seven boundaries,
just to one of those the troubled one has gone,
in the nest of the highest Āyu, the pillar
stands in foundations [situated] where the paths diverge.

Sāyaṇa takes the seven maryādā-s to be ethical strictures: sins like killing a brāhmaṇa or bedding ones teacher’s wife, beer, etc lie outside the boundaries of proper conduct. Indeed, this moral sense appears to be in play when the same ṛk is deployed in the Atharvan marriage ceremony: Kauśika-sutra 10.2.21: sapta maryādāḥ [AV-vulgate 5.1.6] ity uttarato .agneḥ sapta lekhā likhati prācyaḥ | To the north of the marital ritual fire 7 lines are drawn towards the east. Then while reciting this ṛk, the couple places a step on these lines to signify the ethical strictures that accompany marriage. While this implication might be the secondary sense of the first foot, we believe that its primary sense is distinct. In the ritual sphere, it is an allusion to the seven paridhi-s, the firesticks which enclose the fire. These in turn appear to be a symbolic representation of celestial “boundaries” for the purpose of the yajñ. This implied by the yajuṣ incantation that is recited as paridhi-s are laid down (e.g. in Taittirīya Śruti): viśvāyur asi pṛthivīṃ dṛṃ̐ha dhruvakṣid asy antarikṣaṃ dṛṃ̐hācyutakṣid asi divaṃ dṛṃ̐ha agner bhasmāsy agneḥ purīṣam asi || This incantation is for the rite with three paridhi-s (madhyma, uttara and dakṣiṇa). They are respectively associated with the earth, the atmosphere and the sky. The seven-paridhi ritual might have likewise symbolized the six realms and the central plane of one version of vaidika cosmography (speculation). This ṛk returns to some of the themes found in the first and second ṛk-s. The nest and the “dharuṇa”, here meaning the foundation, are mentioned again. Āyu, in the general sense, may be understood as the ancestor of the pañcajana-s, the son of Pururavas and Urvaśi. However, when Agni is seen as the fire of Āyu-s, he is called the best of the Āyu-s. This is made explicit in the ritual context in the Yajurveda by the incantation (e.g. in the Taittirīya Śruti): vider agnir nabho nāmāgne aṅgiro yo .asyāṃ pṛthivyām asyāsuṣā nāmnehi … Thus, the pillar of Agni by the name Āyu, is the skambha referred to in this ṛk. It is said to stand in the foundation where the paths diverge. Thus, the pillar should be understood as the axial pillar with the divergent paths being that of the gods (the northern path) and that of Yama with the dead (the southern path). The point of divergence is of course the equinoctial colure which intersects the plane on which the axis stands.

asac ca sac ca parame vyoman
dakṣasya janmann aditer upasthe |
agnir ha naḥ prathamajā ṛtasya
pūrva āyuni vṛṣabhaś ca dhenuḥ ||

Both the unmanifest and the manifest are in the primal sky,
Dakṣa’s birth is in the womb of Aditi,
Agni, indeed, for us is the first borne of the law,
in his former life both bull and cow.

This last ṛk talks of the role of Agni back in time during the cosmogonic period by giving a summary of what is covered in the famous cosmogonic sūkta-s, like RV 10.72 and RV 10.129. Here the unmanifest (literally the non-existent) and the manifest all that came into being are said to exist in that primal sky (parame vyoman) just as in RV 10.129 (the famous Nāsadīya sūkta). The generation of beings is seen as occurring with the Āditya Dakṣa being born from Aditi (and vice versa as per RV 10.72). This posits initial cyclical reproductions of male from female and vice versa. But it results in an apparent paradox of who came first, the male or the female. The ṛṣi of this sūkta tries to break the paradox by stating that it was Agni who was the first-born entity of the ṛta, who in that former state was androgynous. Thus, the author invokes hermaphroditic reproduction as the ancestral state. This was also the position of Vaiśvāmitra-s of maṇḍala-3, who present a comparable set of cosmogonic constructs in the context of Indra and Varuṇa (RV 3.38), emerging from the god Tvaṣṭṛ, who in some ways is like the yavana Kronos. They are said to have partitioned the hermaphroditic ancestral bovine into male and female, similar to Zeus and Apollo cleaving the hermaphrodites into separate sexes in the yavana world.

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