This note originated as an intended appendix to the article on Rudra and the Aśvin-s we published earlier. The first offshoot from that work, which we published separately, explored the links between Rudra, Viṣṇu and the Aśvin-s in the śrauta ritual. We finally found the time to fully write down the intended appendix and present it as a separate note. To rehash, we noted an intimate connection between the primary Rudra-class deity (typically in his manifestation as the great heavenly Asura, the father of the worlds) and the twin deities (the Aśvin-class) of the ancestral Indo-European religion. This is preserved in multiple descendants of our ancestral religion, such as in the śruti, the para-Vedic material in the aitihāsika-paurāṇika corpus, in the Roman religion relating to Castor and Pollux, and probably the non-Zoroastrian strains of the Iranian religion. It was definitely there in at least some branches of the Germanic religion, but its destruction by the West Asian mental disease has only left us with the euhemeristic figment of Horsa and Hengist as the descendants of Woden. Likewise, we hear explicitly of the destruction by the Christians of the temple dedicated to the Western Slavic deity Rugiaevit and his twin sons Porevit and Porenut. It is pretty likely that Rugiaevit’s name is derived from the same root ru- as that in the name of Rudra, and these twin sons are the equivalents of the Aśvin-s.
In the śruti, this old motif manifests as the Aśvin-s being the sons of Rudra who follow on his track as he rides his heavenly chariot. As the physicians of the gods, they inherit the medical and pharmacological virtuosity of their father. In a parallel Vaidika tradition, which entered the śruti fold from a group of Aryans distinct from the ṛṣi-s who composed the RV, the twin sons of Rudra are Bhava and Śarva, who accompany their father, like the Dioskouroi of the Greco-Roman worlds. Their worship is prominent in the Atharvaveda and some texts preserved in later Vedic collections; however, in the ādhvaryava tradition, they were absorbed as names of Rudra or those of the multitude of Rudra-s. In the para-Vedic material preserved in the itihāsa-s and purāṇa-s we see them as the twin ectype of Skanda, i.e., as Skanda-Viśākhau, the sons of Rudra.
With this background, we shall consider the enigmatic sūkta of Urucakri Ātreya (RV 5.70), which on the surface is a simple 4-ṛk one in the Gāyatrī meter. The anukramaṇi specifies its deities at the twin Āditya-s, Mitra and Varuṇa. Indeed, the first ṛk of the sūkta is directed to these gods and it is embedded amid the long series of sūkta-s to Mitra and Varuṇa by different Ātreya-s:
purūruṇā cid dhy asty avo nūnaṃ vāṃ varuṇa । mitra vaṃsi vāṃ sumatim ॥
Indeed, now, in full breadth is the aid from you two, O Varuṇa! I have gained the benevolence of you two, O Mitra!
After beginning with an acknowledgment of the help gained from Mitra and Varuṇa, the next ṛk suddenly changes the focal deities:
tā vāṃ samyag adruhvāṇeṣam aśyāma dhāyase । vayaṃ te rudrā syāma ॥
O you two, may we attain you two together, in your benign state (literally: without intention to harm) for our stability. May we be so, o you two Rudra-s.
pātaṃ no rudrā pāyubhir uta trāyethāṃ sutrātrā । turyāma dasyūn tanūbhiḥ ॥
Protect us, two Rudra-s, by your defenses; also save us, since you two are good rescuers. May we overpower the dasyu-s with our bodies.
Notably, the deities remain dual in the above two ṛk-s, but they are explicitly identified as twin Rudra-s. While some students of the Veda have taken this use of Rudra to be merely an appellation transferred to the deities of the first ṛk, there is no support for that. Mitra and Varuṇa are unanimously categorized in the Āditya class, as its leading exemplars, and never placed in the Rudra class. Hence, we have to understand the twin Rudra-s of the above two ṛk-s differently. First, their raudra nature is explicitly indicated in the entreaty to be benign (adruhvāṇeṣam). Second, they are described as sutrātrā, good rescuers, which immediately brings to mind the Aśvin-s who are frequently invoked in such a capacity. In the RV, Rudra in singular denotes the god, in his unitary form, and as the father of his class. Rudra-s in the plural refer to the entire class or the Marut-s. The dual form of Rudra applies only to the Aśvin-s everywhere else in the RV. In particular, the Atri-s repeatedly refer to them as such: e.g., RV 5.73.8, 5.75.3 and in RV 5.41.3 they are invoked together with Rudra as Asuro Divaḥ. Thus, we posit that in RV 5.70.2-3, Urucakri Ātreya implies the Aśvin-s by the dual form of Rudra and not the twin Āditya-s.
The last ṛk of the sūkta goes thus:
mā kasyādbhutakratū yakṣam bhujemā tanūbhiḥ । mā śeṣasā mā tanasā ॥
May you two of wondrous deeds not make us experience some phantom with our bodies. Neither with the rest [of our people] nor with our descendants.
The word yakṣa (neuter) could be taken to mean a ghostly apparition or phantom — perhaps one which causes a disease — a yakṣma. The imploration is to avoid the possession of the ritualist’s own body or that of this people or descendants by such a phantom. On the one hand, this is rather reminiscent of the supplications to Rudra for similar protection, often with the negative particle mā. On the other, it is reminiscent of the supplication to Varuṇa to be relieved from his heḷas (=“fury”; also, a feature of Rudra) for the sins that he unerringly notices. For instance, we have in the śruti the imploration of Śunaḥśepa:
ava te heḷo varuṇa namobhir
ava yajñebhir īmahe havirbhiḥ ।
kṣayann asmabhyam asura pracetā
rājann enāṃsi śiśrathaḥ kṛtāni ॥ RV 1.24.14
We avert your fury (heḷas) O Varuṇa with obeisances,
we implore to avert it by rituals and oblations;
ruling, for us, O all-seeing Asura,
you will give release from the sins that were done.
Thus, both Varuṇa and Rudra share not only the heḷas but are also known as Asura-s (the latter being emphasized for the cognate of Varuṇa in the Iranic branch of the religion, and remembered for Odin (see below) in the Northern Germanic religion). Thus, even though Varuṇa or Mitra are never called Rudra-s, they have a certain overlap of category, particularly in the actions of Varuṇa, and perhaps, to a degree, in the Iranic world in the cognate of Mitra. We believe that in the sūkta under consideration, Urucakri Ātreya plays on this overlap in the final ṛk by not naming any deity but simply using the dual epithet adbhutakratū. Thus, we suggest that he is purposefully ambivalent to cover both sets of twin deities referred to in the sūkta — the Āditya dyad or the twin Rudra-s, i.e., the Aśvin-s. The epithet adbhutakratū will transparently apply to the Aśvin-s as they are frequently described as wonderworkers in the śruti. The ṛk could also apply to Mitra and Varuṇa in the sense of supplication to avoid their heḷas. The invocation of the heḷas of Mitra, Varuṇa, and the Marut-s, representing the intersection of their respective functional categories can be seen in RV 1.94.12 composed by Kutsa Āṅgirasa:
ayam mitrasya varuṇasya dhāyase
‘vayātām marutāṃ heḷo adbhutaḥ ।
mṛḷā su no bhūtv eṣām manaḥ punar
agne sakhye mā riṣāmā vayaṃ tava ॥
This one is to be fed ghee [literally suckled],
as the wondrous pacifier of the fury of Mitra and Varuṇa, and of the Maruts.
Have mercy on us! May the mind of these (the above deva-s) be good again
O Agni, in your friendship, may we not be harmed.
This overlap in category has confused some Indo-Europeanists of the Dumezilianist strain. They have split hairs and gone into contortions about whether the Germanic Odin represents a cognate of Varuṇa or Rudra. This ancient functional intersection has meant that one or the other class of deities could have served as a locus for absorption of traits of the other.