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Sri Aurobindo

The Secret of the Veda

with Selected Hymns

Chapter XVIII. The Human Fathers

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These characteristics of the Angiras Rishis seem at first sight to indicate that they are in the Vedic system a class of demigods, in their outward aspect personifications or rather personalities of the Light and the Voice and the Flame, but in their inner aspect powers of the Truth who second the gods in their battles. But even as divine seers, even as sons of Heaven and heroes of the Lord, these sages represent aspiring humanity. True, they are originally the sons of the gods, devaputrāḥ, children of Agni, forms of the manifoldly born Brihaspati, and in their ascent to the world of the Truth they are described as ascending back to the place from whence they came; but even in these characteristics they may well be representative of the human soul which has itself descended from that world and has to reascend; for it is in its origin a mental being, son of immortality (amṛtasya putraḥ), a child of Heaven born in Heaven and mortal only in the bodies that it assumes. And the part of the Angiras Rishis in the sacrifice is the human part, to find the word, to sing the hymn of the soul to the gods, to sustain and increase the divine Powers by the praise, the sacred food and the Soma-wine, to bring to birth by their aid the divine Dawn, to win the luminous forms of the all-radiating Truth and to ascend to its secret, far and high-seated home.

In this work of the sacrifice they appear in a double form,2 the divine Angirases, ṛṣayo divyāḥ, who symbolise and preside over certain psychological powers and workings like the gods, and the human fathers, pitaro manuṣyāḥ, who like the Ribhus, also described as human beings or at least human powers that have conquered immortality by the work, have attained the goal and are invoked to assist a later mortal race in the same divine achievement. Quite apart from the later Yama hymns of the tenth Mandala in which the Angirases are spoken of as Barhishad Pitris along with the Bhrigus and Atharvans and receive their own peculiar portion in the sacrifice, they are in the rest of the Veda also called upon in a less definite but a larger and more significant imagery. It is for the great human journey that they are invoked; for it is the human journey from the mortality to the immortality, from the falsehood to the truth that the Ancestors accomplished, opening the way to their descendants.

We see this characteristic of their working in VII.42 and VII.52. The first of these two hymns of Vasishtha is a Sukta in which the gods are invoked precisely for this great journey, adhvara yajña,3 the sacrifice that travels or is a travel to the home of the godheads and at the same time a battle: for thus it is sung, “Easy of travelling for thee is the path, O Agni, and known to thee from of old. Yoke in the Soma-offering thy ruddy (or, actively-moving) mares which bear the hero. Seated, I call the births divine” (verse 2). What path is this? It is the path between the home of the gods and our earthly mortality down which the gods descend through the antarikṣa, the vital regions, to the earthly sacrifice and up which the sacrifice and man by the sacrifice ascends to the home of the gods. Agni yokes his mares, his variously-coloured energies or flames of the divine Force he represents, which bear the Hero, the battling power within us that performs the journey. And the births divine are at once the gods themselves and those manifestations of the divine life in man which are the Vedic meaning of the godheads. That this is the sense becomes clear from the fourth Rik. “When the Guest that lodges in the bliss has become conscious in knowledge in the gated house of the hero rich (in felicity), when Agni is perfectly satisfied and firmly lodged in the house, then he gives the desirable good to the creature that makes the journey” or, it may be, for his journeying.

The hymn is therefore an invocation to Agni for the journey to the supreme good, the divine birth, the bliss. And its opening verse is a prayer for the necessary conditions of the journey, the things that are said here to constitute the form of the pilgrim sacrifice, adhvarasya peśaḥ, and among these comes first the forward movement of the Angirases; “Forward let the Angirases travel, priests of the Word, forward go the cry of heaven (or, of the heavenly thing, cloud or lightning), forward move the fostering Cows that diffuse their waters, and let the two pressing-stones be yoked (to their work) – the form of the pilgrim sacrifice,” pra brahmāṇo aṅgiraso nakṣanta, pra krandanur nabhanyasya vetu; pra dhenava udapruto navanta, yujyātām adrī adhvarasya peśaḥ. The Angirases with the divine Word, the cry of Heaven which is the voice of Swar the luminous heaven and of its lightnings thundering out from the Word, the divine waters or seven rivers that are set free to their flowing by that heavenly lightning of Indra the master of Swar, and with the outflowing of the divine waters the outpressing of the immortalising Soma, these constitute the form, peśaḥ, of the adhvara yajña. And its general characteristic is forward movement, the advance of all to the divine goal, as emphasised by the three verbs of motion, nakṣanta, vetu, navanta and the emphatic pra, forward, which opens and sets the key to each clause.

But the fifty-second hymn is still more significant and suggestive. The first Rik runs, “O Sons of the infinite Mother (ādityāso), may we become infinite beings (aditayaḥ syāma), may the Vasus protect in the godhead and the mortality (devatrā martyatrā); possessing may we possess you, O Mitra and Varuna, becoming may we become you, O Heaven and Earth,” sanema mitrāvaruṇā sananto, bhavema dyāvāpṛthivī bhavantaḥ. This is evidently the sense that we are to possess and become the infinities or children of Aditi, the godheads, aditayaḥ, ādityāso. Mitra and Varuna, we must remember, are powers of Surya Savitri, the Lord of the Light and the Truth. And the third verse runs, “May the Angirases who hasten through to the goal move in their travelling to the bliss of the divine Savitri; and that (bliss) may our great Father, he of the sacrifice, and all the gods becoming of one mind accept in heart.” Turaṇyavo 'ṅgiraso nakṣanta ratnaṃ devasya savitur iyānāḥ. It is quite clear therefore that the Angirases are travellers to the light and truth of the solar deity from which are born the luminous cows they wrest from the Panis and to the bliss which, as we always see, is founded on that light and truth. It is clear also that this journey is a growing into the godhead, into the infinite being (aditayaḥ syāma), said in this hymn (verse 2) to come by the growth of the peace and bliss through the action in us of Mitra, Varuna and the Vasus who protect us in the godhead and the mortality.

In these two hymns the Angiras Rishis generally are mentioned; but in others we have positive references to the human Fathers who first discovered the Light and possessed the Thought and the Word and travelled to the secret worlds of the luminous Bliss. In the light of the conclusions at which we have arrived, we can now study the more important passages, profound, beautiful and luminous, in which this great discovery of the human forefathers is hymned. We shall find there the summary of that great hope which the Vedic mystics held ever before their eyes; that journey, that victory is the ancient, primal achievement set as a type by the luminous Ancestors for the mortality that was to come after them. It was the conquest of the powers of the circumscribing Night (rātrī paritakmyā), Vritras, Sambaras and Valas, the Titans, Giants, Pythons, subconscient Powers who hold the light and the force in themselves, in their cities of darkness and illusion, but can neither use it aright nor will give it up to man, the mental being. Their ignorance, evil and limitation have not merely to be cut away from us, but broken up and into and made to yield up the secret of light and good and infinity. Out of this death that immortality has to be conquered. Pent up behind this ignorance is a secret knowledge and a great light of truth; prisoned by this evil is an infinite content of good; in this limiting death is the seed of a boundless immortality. Vala, for example, is Vala of the radiances, valaṃ gomantam, his body is made of the light, govapuṣaṃ valam, his hole or cave is a city full of treasures; that body has to be broken up, that city rent open, those treasures seized. This is the work set for humanity and the Ancestors have done it for the race that the way may be known and the goal reached by the same means and through the same companionship with the gods of Light. “Let there be that ancient friendship between you gods and us as when with the Angirases who spoke aright the word, thou didst make to fall that which was fixed and slewest Vala as he rushed against thee, O achiever of works, and thou didst make to swing open all the doors of his city” (VI.18.5). At the beginning of all human traditions there is this ancient memory. It is Indra and the serpent Vritra, it is Apollo and the Python, it is Thor and the Giants, Sigurd and Fafner, it is the mutually opposing gods of the Celtic mythology; but only in the Veda do we find the key to this imagery which conceals the hope or the wisdom of a prehistoric humanity.

The first hymn we will take is one by the great Rishi, Vishwamitra, III.39; for it carries us right into the heart of our subject. It sets out with a description of the ancestral Thought, pitryā dhīḥ, the Thought of the fathers which can be no other than the Swar-possessing thought hymned by the Atris, the seven-headed thought discovered by Ayasya for the Navagwas; for in this hymn also it is spoken of in connection with the Angirases, the Fathers. “The thought expressing itself from the heart, formed into the Stoma, goes towards Indra its lord.” Indra is, we have supposed, the Power of luminous Mind, master of the world of Light and its lightnings; the words or the thoughts are constantly imaged as cows or women, Indra as the Bull or husband, and the words desire him and are even spoken of as casting themselves upwards to seek him, e.g. I.9.4, giraḥ prati tvām ud ahāsata; ajoṣā vṛṣabham patim. The luminous Mind of Swar is the goal sought by the Vedic thought and the Vedic speech which express the herd of the illuminations pressing upward from the soul, from the cave of the subconscient in which they were penned; Indra master of Swar is the Bull, the lord of these herds, gopatiḥ.

The Rishi continues to describe the Thought. It is “the thought that when it is being expressed, remains wakeful in the knowledge,” does not lend itself to the slumber of the Panis, yā jāgṛvir vidathe śasyamānā; “that which is born of thee (or, for thee), O Indra, of that take knowledge.” This is a constant formula in the Veda. The god, the divine, has to take cognizance of what rises up to him in man, to become awake to it in the knowledge within us, (viddhi, cetathaḥ, etc.), otherwise it remains a human thing and does not “go to the gods”, (deveṣu gacchati). And then, “It is ancient (or eternal), it is born from heaven; when it is being expressed, it remains wakeful in the knowledge; wearing white and happy robes, this in us is the ancient thought of the fathers,” seyam asme sanajā pitryā dhīḥ. And then the Rishi speaks of this Thought as “the mother of twins, who here gives birth to the twins; on the tip of the tongue it descends and stands; the twin bodies when they are born cleave to each other and are slayers of darkness and move in the foundation of burning force.” I will not now discuss what are these luminous twins, for that would carry us beyond the limits of our immediate subject: suffice it to say that they are spoken of elsewhere in connection with the Angirases and their establishment of the supreme birth (the plane of the Truth) as the twins in whom Indra places the word of the expression (I.83.3), that the burning force in whose foundation they move is evidently that of the Sun, the slayer of darkness, and this foundation is therefore identical with the supreme plane, the foundation of the Truth, ṛtasya budhnaḥ, and, finally, that they can hardly be wholly unconnected with the twin children of Surya, Yama and Yami,– Yama who in the tenth Mandala is associated with the Angiras Rishis.5

Having thus described the ancestral thought with its twin children, slayers of darkness, Vishwamitra proceeds to speak of the ancient Fathers who first formed it and of the great victory by which they discovered “that Truth, the sun lying in the darkness”. “None is there among mortals who can blame (or, as it rather seems to me to mean, no power of mortality that can confine or bind) our ancient fathers, they who were fighters for the cows; Indra of the mightiness, Indra of the achievement released upward for them the fortified pens,– there where, a comrade with his comrades, the fighters, the Navagwas, following on his knees the cows, Indra with the ten Dashagwas found that Truth, satyaṃ tad, even the sun dwelling in the darkness.” This is the usual image of the conquest of the luminous cattle and the discovery of the hidden Sun; but in the next verse it is associated with two other related images which also occur frequently in the Vedic hymns, the pasture or field of the cow and the honey found in the cow. “Indra found the honey stored in the Shining One, the footed and hoofed (wealth) in the pasture6 of the Cow.” The Shining One, usriyā (also usrā), is another word which like go means both ray and cow and is used as a synonym of go in the Veda. We hear constantly of the ghṛta or clarified butter stored in the cow, hidden there by the Panis in three portions according to Vamadeva; but it is sometimes the honeyed ghṛta and sometimes simply the honey, madhumad ghṛtam and madhu. We have seen how closely the yield of the cow, the ghṛta, and the yield of the Soma plant are connected in other hymns and now that we know definitely what is meant by the Cow, this strange and incongruous connection becomes clear and simple enough. Ghṛta also means shining, it is the shining yield of the shining cow; it is the formed light of conscious knowledge in the mentality which is stored in the illumined consciousness and it is liberated by the liberation of the Cow: Soma is the delight, beatitude, Ananda inseparable from the illumined state of the being; and as there are, according to the Veda, three planes of mentality in us, so there are three portions of the ghṛta dependent on the three gods Surya, Indra and Soma, and the Soma also is offered in three parts, on the three levels of the hill, triṣu sānuṣu. We may hazard the conjecture, having regard to the nature of the three gods, that Soma releases the divine light from the sense mentality, Indra from the dynamic mentality, Surya from the pure reflective mentality. As for the pasture of the cow we are already familiar with it; it is the field or kṣetra which Indra wins for his shining comrades from the Dasyu and in which the Atri beheld the warrior Agni and the luminous cows, those of whom even the old became young again. This field, kṣetra, is only another image for the luminous home (kṣaya) to which the gods by the sacrifice lead the human soul.

Vishwamitra then proceeds to indicate the real mystic sense of all this imagery. “He having Dakshina with him held in his right hand (dakṣiṇe dakṣiṇāvān) the secret thing that is placed in the secret cave and concealed in the waters. May he, knowing perfectly, separate the light from the darkness, jyotir vṛṇīta tamaso vijānan, may we be far from the presence of the evil.” We have here a clue to the sense of this goddess Dakshina who seems in some passages to be a form or epithet of the Dawn and in others that which distributes the offerings in the sacrifice. Usha is the divine illumination and Dakshina is the discerning knowledge that comes with the dawn and enables the Power in the mind, Indra, to know aright and separate the light from the darkness, the truth from the falsehood, the straight from the crooked, vṛṇīta vijānan. The right and left hand of Indra are his two powers of action in knowledge; for his two arms are called gábhasti, a word which means ordinarily a ray of the sun but also forearm, and they correspond to his two perceptive powers, his two bright horses, harī, which are described as sun-eyed, sūracakṣasā and as vision-powers of the Sun, sūryasya ketū. Dakshina presides over the right-hand power, dakṣiṇa, and therefore we have the collocation dakṣiṇe dakṣiṇāvān. It is this discernment which presides over the right action of the sacrifice and the right distribution of the offerings and it is this which enables Indra to hold the herded wealth of the Panis securely, in his right hand. And finally we are told what is this secret thing that was placed for us in the cave and is concealed in the waters of being, the waters in which the Thought of the Fathers has to be set, apsu dhiyaṃ dadhiṣe. It is the hidden Sun, the secret Light of our divine existence which has to be found and taken out by knowledge from the darkness in which it is concealed. That this light is not physical is shown by the word vijānan, for it is through right knowledge that it has to be found, and by the moral result, viz. that we go far from the presence of evil, duritād, literally, the wrong going, the stumbling to which we are subjected in the night of our being before the sun has been found, before the divine Dawn has arisen.

Once we have the key to the meaning of the Cows, the Sun, the Honey-Wine, all the circumstances of the Angiras legend and the action of the Fathers, which are such an incongruous patchwork in the ritualistic or naturalistic and so hopelessly impossible in the historical or Arya-Dravidian interpretation of the hymns, become on the contrary perfectly clear and connected and each throws light on the other. We understand each hymn in its entirety and in relation to other hymns; each isolated line, each passage, each scattered reference in the Vedas falls inevitably and harmoniously into a common whole. We know, here, how the Honey, the Bliss can be said to be stored in the Cow, the shining Light of the Truth; what is the connection of the honey-bearing Cow with the Sun, lord and origin of that Light; why the discovery of the Sun dwelling in the darkness is connected with the conquest or recovery of the cows of the Panis by the Angirases; why it is called the discovery of that Truth; what is meant by the footed and hoofed wealth and the field or pasture of the Cow. We begin to see what is the cave of the Panis and why that which is hidden in the lair of Vala is said also to be hidden in the waters released by Indra from the hold of Vritra, the seven rivers possessed by the seven-headed heaven-conquering thought of Ayasya; why the rescue of the sun out of the cave, the separation or choosing of the light out of the darkness is said to be done by an all-discerning knowledge; who are Dakshina and Sarama and what is meant by Indra holding the hoofed wealth in his right hand. And in arriving at these conclusions we have not to wrest the sense of words, to interpret the same fixed term by different renderings according to our convenience of the moment or to render differently the same phrase or line in different hymns, or to make incoherence a standard of right interpretation; on the contrary, the greater the fidelity to word and form of the Riks, the more conspicuously the general and the detailed sense of the Veda emerge in a constant clearness and fullness.

We have therefore acquired the right to apply the sense we have discovered to other passages such as the hymn of Vasishtha which I shall next examine, VII.76, although to a superficial glance it would seem to be only an ecstatic picture of the physical Dawn. This first impression, however, disappears when we examine it; we see that there is a constant suggestion of a profounder meaning and, the moment we apply the key we have found, the harmony of the real sense appears. The hymn commences with a description of that rising of the Sun into the light of the supreme Dawn which is brought about by the gods and the Angirases. “Savitri, the god, the universal Male, has ascended into the Light that is immortal and of all the births, jyotir amṛtaṃ viśvajanyam; by the work (of sacrifice) the eye of the gods has been born (or, by the will-power of the gods vision has been born); Dawn has manifested the whole world (or, all that comes into being, all existences, viśvaṃ bhuvanam).” This immortal light into which the sun rises is elsewhere called the true light, ṛtaṃ jyotiḥ, Truth and immortality being constantly associated in the Veda. It is the light of the knowledge given by the seven-headed thought which Ayasya discovered when he became viśvajanya, universal in his being; therefore this light too is called viśvajanya, for it belongs to the fourth plane, the turīyaṃ svid of Ayasya, from which all the rest are born and by whose truth all the rest are manifested in their large universality and no longer in the limited terms of the falsehood and crookedness. Therefore it is called also the eye of the gods and the divine dawn that makes manifest the whole of existence.

The result of this birth of divine vision is that man’s path manifests itself to him and those journeyings of the gods or to the gods (devayānāḥ) which lead to the infinite wideness of the divine existence. “Before me the paths of the journeyings of the gods have become visible, journeyings that violate not, whose movement was formed by the Vasus. The eye of Dawn has come into being in front and she has come towards us (arriving) over our houses.” The house in the Veda is the constant image for the bodies that are dwelling-places of the soul, just as the field or habitation means the planes to which it mounts and in which it rests. The path of man is that of his journey to the supreme plane and that which the journeyings of the gods do not violate is, as we see, in the fifth verse where the phrase is repeated, the workings of the gods, the divine law of life into which the soul has to grow. We have then a curious image which seems to support the Arctic theory. “Many were those days which were before the rising of the Sun (or which were of old by the rising of the Sun), in which thou, O Dawn, wert seen as if moving about thy lover and not coming again.” This is certainly a picture of continual dawns, not interrupted by Night, such as are visible in the Arctic regions. The psychological sense which arises out of the verse, is obvious.

What were these dawns? They were those created by the actions of the Fathers, the ancient Angirases. “They indeed had the joy (of the Soma) along with the gods,7 the ancient seers who possessed the truth; the fathers found the hidden Light; they, having the true thought (satyamantrāḥ, the true thought expressed in the inspired Word), brought into being the Dawn.” And to what did the Dawn, the path, the divine journeying lead the Fathers? To the level wideness, samāna ūrve, termed elsewhere the unobstructed vast, urau anibādhe, which is evidently the same as that wide being or world which, according to Kanwa, men create when they slay Vritra and pass beyond heaven and earth; it is the vast Truth and the infinite being of Aditi. “In the level wideness they meet together and unite their knowledge (or, know perfectly) and strive not together; they diminish not (limit not or hurt not) the workings of the gods, not violating them they move (to their goal) by (the strength of) the Vasus.” It is evident that the seven Angirases, whether human or divine, represent different principles of the Knowledge, Thought or Word, the seven-headed thought, the seven-mouthed word of Brihaspati, and in the level wideness these are harmonised in a universal knowledge; the error, crookedness, falsehood by which men violate the workings of the gods and by which different principles of their being, consciousness, knowledge enter into confused conflict with each other, have been removed by the eye or vision of the divine Dawn.

The hymn closes with the aspiration of the Vasishthas towards this divine and blissful Dawn as leader of the herds and mistress of plenty and again as leader of the felicity and the truths (sūnṛtānām). They desire to arrive at the same achievement as the primal seers, the fathers and it would follow that these are the human and not the divine Angirases. In any case the sense of the Angiras legend is fixed in all its details, except the exact identity of the Panis and the hound Sarama, and we can turn to the consideration of the passages in the opening hymns of the fourth Mandala in which the human fathers are explicitly mentioned and their achievement described. These hymns of Vamadeva are the most illuminating and important for this aspect of the Angiras legend and they are in themselves among the most interesting in the Rig Veda.


1 SABCL, volume 10: form

“forms” in original text in Arya, vol. 2, No 7, p.422.


2 It is to be noted that the Puranas distinguish specifically between two classes of Pitris, the divine Fathers, a class of deities, and the human Ancestors, to both of whom the piṇḍa is offered. The Puranas, obviously, only continue in this respect the original Vedic tradition.


3 Sayana takes a-dhvara yajña, the unhurt sacrifice; but “unhurt” can never have come to be used as a synonym of sacrifice. Adhvara is “travelling”, “moving”, connected with adhvan, a path or journey from the lost root adh, to move, extend, be wide, compact, etc. We see the connection between the two words adhvan and adhvara in adhva, air, sky and adhvara with the same sense. The passages in the Veda are numerous in which the adhvara or adhvara yajña is connected with the idea of travelling, journeying, advancing on the path.


4 SABCL, volume 10: of

“by” in original text in Arya, vol. 2, No 7, p.426.


5 It is in the light of these facts that we must understand the colloquy of Yama and Yami in the tenth Mandala in which the sister seeks union with her brother and is put off to later generations, meaning really symbolic periods of time, the word for later signifying rather “higher”, uttara.


6 Name goḥ. Nama from nam to move, range, Greek nemō ; nama is the range, pasture, Greek nomos.


7 I adopt provisionally the traditional rendering of sadhamādaḥ though I am not sure that it is the correct rendering.