Friday, September 28, 2007

5. Yaska’s Cognisance of Symbolic Usages in the Veda -IV

Rgveda X.71.5 speaks of a person who has taken milk in good quantity and stands unrivalled in contests. On the contrary, the other person moves along with what are cows just in appearance, listening to words which are bereft of fruits and flowers (Rigveda .X.71.5). Obviously this mantra tells us of cow, milk, cowherd, taking of milk in good quantity and facing contests boldly and successfully. In the second place in prominence, it makes a passing reference to a situation of fruitlessness and flowerlessness of speech. The details embodied in the mantra are mutually incongruent if taken at the face value, since cow has nothing to do with language and the latter with flowers and fruits. Were this mantra to have been taken in isolation, it would have implied keeping cows well if one wanted to get milk from her, fare well in physical contests and reaping fruits from trees if maintained well. However, presence of the word vācam puts a break to such a an interpretation. Taking cognisance of the mantra as well as the context, Yāska straightaway substitutes cow with vāk and states cryptically, though, the real thrust of meaning of the mantra concerns vāk itself and not any cow or cowherd at all. He also substitutes milk by meaning of words and drinking of milk by the knowing of the real meaning. Likewise, he understands the physical context in the sense of the intellectual and spiritual. As regards the imagery of the flower and the fruit, he takes them as not products of any tree but as that of vāk itself with this alternative, however, that the flower of the meaning may in one case be symbolic of the benefits of sacrifice and in the other the attainment of divine while the fruit in one case may stand for attainment of the divine and in the other it may refer to the spiritual elevation (Nirukta, I.25). Thus, according to him, cow in the Veda may be symbolic of the Vedic word, milk of its meaning, cowherd of the aspirant of the meaning, flower of the external benefit of this knowledge while fruit that of the most essential one.

This equation leads to the conclusion that in Yāska’s viewpoint, spiritual enlightenment or elevation is the basic thrust of ideas in the Veda, attainment of heavenly beatitude and sacrificial benefits being subordinate to it while physical objects and functions being just means for bringing home this thrust symbolically so as to get them materialised.

Another symbolic usage in the Veda attended to by Yāska concerns representation of the phenomenon of life as a stream or reservoir of water and sacrifice as a boat. The imagery occurs in a Rgvedic mantra seen by Kŗşņa Angirasa. It talks of a group of persons who at the primeval stage involved themselves in the invocation of the Divine and created something worth listening to and yet not being easily fordable. In contrast to them, there is an account of those who are not capable of taking to the boat of sacrifice and consequently get sunk into destitution (Rigveda, X.44.6.). Commenting on this mantra, Yāska traces the derivation of the word pŗthak to the root prath suggesting thereby the eminence of the position attained by the primeval invokers of the Divine.

Yāska’s suggests that this position is not only distinct from that attained by other people but is also one of width and openness. By virtue of their devotion, maintains Yāska, these devotees of the Divine accomplished noble deeds which are difficult to be accomplished by those who are not devout like them. These noble deeds as well as the devotion lying at their root are characterised together by Yāska after the seer as sacrifice. This sacrifice, in its turn, is conceived as a boat capable of taking people across channels and reservoirs of water unfordable otherwise. Those who take up to the way of sacrifice in life are imagined as boarding a boat and sailing safely towards their divine destination. In contrast to them, are those who non-devout who lack in the inclination to sacrifice and doing noble deeds, finally, get sunk into the water which has been conceived by Yāska as symbolic of the debt of life. Emergence and sustenance of life in this world, from this viewpoint, is a process involving contributions of all those who are contributory to it. This would be oceanic in magnitude looming large before the person concerned as a sea of debts. Devotion, sacrifice and accomplishment of noble deeds are the only means by which one can get cleared of this debt. Clearance of it is like boarding the boat sailing for the divine destination. In the absence of such a boat, one is sure to get sunk into the water of debt. Further, this water has been conceived by Yāska as symbolic of this world itself (Nirukta, V.25).

Another important symbolic interpretation we find in Yāska concerns the struggle between Indra and Vŗtra. This struggle occupies a lot of reference in the Samhitās, particularly the Ŗgveda forming the most important single theme of its contents. Yāska’s thought on this important theme is interesting which occurs in the course of his comment on Ŗgveda I.32.10. The mantra talks of waters moving constantly and having submerged in them the body of Vŗtra. When Vŗtra is killed by Indra, the mantra states, his body lies enshrouded in long darkness while the waters make inroad in the secret place of his hiding (Rigveda I.32.10).

Commenting on this mantra, Yāska on behalf of the Nairukta school of Vedic interpretation identifies Vŗtra in the form of cloud. Justifying this proposition, he makes out a significant point regarding formation of cloud and consequent rain. He observes to the effect that cloud is formed through combined action and interaction of water and light. This observation, no doubt, is highly significant particularly in view of the antiquity of Yāska. Needless to point out that this is precisely how cloud gets formed. It is nothing but a mass of water vaporised by rays of the sun and moving visibly in the horizon. In course of its movement in the horizon, the cloud appears to assume various forms. Particularly at the time of rain, it appears to present a spectacle of war with movement of patches of cloud like chariots, elephants and horses and the shining of lightning appearing as swords in brisk use. In view of this similarity of the Vedic accounts of the encounter of Indra and Vŗtra with the scenario of cloud, lightning and rain, Yāska, along with other scholars of his school, thinks that Vŗtra is simply the cloud appearing to be engaged by lightning so as to shed rain. Indra, in that circumstance, would be a figurative representation of the principle responsible for making clouds dissolve in the form of water. The apparent resistance of the cloud in this process would from that viewpoint be considered as Vŗtra’s unwillingness to submit to Indra. Thus, according to Yāska, the entire story of war between Indra and Vŗtra is simply a figurative account of the spectacle of cloud, lightning and rain (Nirukta,. II.16).

This interpretation is Ādhibhautika and it would have been helpful had Yāska appended this remark below the comment but he makes such notes only in the case of Ādhidaivika and Ādhyātmika interpretations and scarcely in the case of the Ādhibhautika. This self-imposed economy of words seems to have been imperative in restraining him from making such a remark here which otherwise would have been immensely useful in deciding the real thrust of meaning of the Veda. In the absence of any such remark, scholars following Yāska found it quite convenient to interpret Indra-Vŗtra accounts in terms of cloud, lightning and rain caring little for the possibility of other two ways of interpretation, i.e., the Ādhidaivika and the Ādhyātmika. This legacy of misunderstanding was found handy by modern scholars to beat back the possibility of those interpretations to the extent of almost finality.

Another contribution to the understanding of the Vedic symbolism which Yāska has made concerns the monosyllabic word Om. The word occupies a prominent position in the Vedic tradition right from the period of the Brāhmaņas. Even as early a text as the Katha Upanişad characterises it as the quintessence of all the Vedas besides forming the objective of all austerities and self-restraints (Kathopanisad, II.15). This word, however, though available right from the Yajurveda, is not visibly traceable in the Ŗgveda, the fountainhead of the entire Vedic literature. This conspicuous absence creates problem in the interpretation of several Vedic passages besides giving a jolt to the traditional belief that the sacred word Om is the source of all the Vedas. It has also led to the suggestion that this word is a somewhat later innovation and has managed to be associated necessarily with the recitation of each and every Vedic mantra, just like the Vyāhrtis getting added to the sacred Gāyatrī mantra.

Yāska, however, comes to the rescue of the traditional belief through his remark on a particular Rgvedic mantra. This mantra has been seen by Dīrghatamas and it talks of parame vyoman as the source and resort of rks wherein all the gods dwell and further asserts that he who does not understand this parame vyoman has nothing to gain from the rks (Rigveda, I.164.39). Observing like this, the mantra also introduces the word akşara immediately preceding parame vyoman and that also in the same case and number. This akşara may plausibly be taken as an adjective qualifying parame vyoman. Akşara denotes the state of imperishability. In that case, aksare parame vyoman would mean the imperishable highest heaven. If this meaning is accepted, that imperishable highest heaven would have to be accepted as the source as well resort of both rks and gods.

However, there is an alternative possibility which may turn akşara into a substantive. In that case, it would be possible to take the akşara itself as the receptacle of rks while parame vyoman as the receptacle of akşara.

This second possibility opens the scope for tracing the word Om in the Ŗgveda. Om is monosyllabic, therefore, it can legitimately be regarded as an akşara, though not the simple one. On account of being a combination of a, u, and m, it does not remain an akşara from the linguistic viewpoint. But from the metrical viewpoint, it is an akşara, as this viewpoint treats au also as well an akşara as any of the simple vowels such as a, i, u, and e. As the viewpoint of the seer would much more probably have been metrical than linguistic, it is quite legitimate to infer that by akşara in the mantra he is intending primarily the monosyllabic sound Om itself rather than sheer imperishability qualifying parame vyoman. It is also true at the same time that the word akşara in the sense of syllable even is not exclusive of the sense of imperishability, since metrically syllable has been considered as the last unbreakable unit of language. Moreover, if language is admitted as co-ordinate to reality, as has been stated in the Ŗgveda itself, there does not remain any difference between akşara as a syllable and that as qualifying the imperishability of the highest heaven, as is meant by parame vyoman (Rigveda, X.114.8.).

Yāska, in course of his comment on the mantra comes to concentrate on the word akşara and happens to ask as to what it is. At this juncture, he comes to be reminded of Śākapūņi’s view on this word. According to him, Śākapūņi understood akşara in this context as Om itself which Yāska on his behalf characterises as Vāk rather than Śabda as per the usage in the earlier part of the Vedic tradition. This shows the depth of the sense in which he himself takes the word in this context. Moving forward from this statement he further observes: “The Rks are contemplated upon in the imperishable highest transcendence of all things.” It is becomes clear from this statement that he does not refute the view of Śākapūņi but rather accepts it. Finally, he puts the seal of his approval of it by quoting from the Kauşītaki Brāhmaņa to the effect that it is the same Akşara which has assumed various forms in the Vedic wisdom (Nirukta, XIII.10).

However, he considers the above explanation of Akşara as coincident to Om as only one of the possibilities, particularly on the lines of Adhidaiva and Adhyatma. By way of the possible Ādhidaivika explanation, he quotes the son of Śākapūņi. According to the latter, Akşara is symbolical of the sun while gods based in Akşara represent the rays of the sun. As regards Rks said to be based in Akşara, he takes them as related to the sun by way of being addressed to it. Whatever of the sun stands beyond the reach of mantras, he observes, is Akşara. Whether Yāska himself approves of this explanation or not, is not clear. On his own, he suggests the possibility of a third explanation, i.e., the Ādhyātmika. From this viewpoint, Akşara stands for the principle of immortality in the human personality while Rk for the body. Under this scheme of explanation, gods are supposed to represent the senses as all of them meet together in Atman, the principle of immortality (Nirukta, XII.11).

Thus, we see how Yāska moves ultimately back to the sun and the Atman in his effort to get the basic idea embedded in the mantras. The other sorts of explanation such as sacrificial, linguistic, metrical, historical, etc. are made subordinate to them. From amongst these two also, his final emphasis is laid on the spiritual rather than on the solar. As has been pointed out earlier, the solar has been introduced by him not for its own sake but for the sake of the spiritual on account of being somewhat analogous to the spectacle of the Atman enlarging itself in the external world through the sense organs in the same way as the sun enlarges itself by means of its rays. As the sun projects and withdraws the rays alternatively, even so the Atman projects out of itself the senses including manas and withdraws them within itself after they have served its intended purpose.

This way of de-symbolisation of the Vedic mantras is not Yāska’s invention. It is embedded in the Brāhmaņas already. But its most succinct account is to be found in the Asya Vāmīya hymn itself. Dīrghatamas, the seer, opens the hymn obviously with an account of the solar phenomenon but after a few mantras settles down to the investigation of the Atman and its relationship with mind and senses and through them with the external world itself as formed, revealed and dominated by the sun. This close correspondence between the solar and the spiritual spectacles forms the central theme of the Vedas. Having rightly been cognised as such by Yāska as well as by the Brāhmaņas and the Upanişads, it has been utilised by him in his formulation of the Ādhidaivika and Ādhyātmika ways of de-symbolisation of the symbols in the Veda.

The equivalent of `symbol’ in the Sanskrit tradition is pratika. This is a significant word and has been noted down by Yāska though only incidentally. Even then, a review of the word as used by him is likely to shed some light on our perusal on these lines.

While commenting on a mantra seen by Parāśara and making use of the word pratika, Yāska comes to spell out such expressions as bhaya-pratika, mahāpratika and diptapratika as explanatory of the Rgvedic tveşapraika suggesting thereby that the word pratika has been used here in the sense of appearance as distinct from but expressive of the reality (Nirukta, X.21).

This is the function of symbol as it seeks to represent an object or thought-content in such a way as to communicate the intended message in the best possible form, almost in the same way as the lustre of the fire brings home the fact of the presence of the fire. It is in this sense that lustre has been described by the seer, as quoted by Yāska, as a pratīka of the fire. Here the relationship between pratīka and object represented by it is evidently causal. A large number of Vedic mantras make use of this sort of symbol, and such symbols provide for the ādhibhautika interpretation of the Veda. This goes well to some extent but gets stuck to that extent itself proving unhelpful. Such a situation arises due to a radical change in the modus operandi or nature of the symbol concerned. Instead of remaining consistently causal, it tends to become more and more analogical and thus breaks away from the routine course leaving the reader struggling on the lines being followed erstwhile without getting the way out. It is at this juncture that arises the necessity of studying the other possible varieties of symbols based on analogies but if perused in depth likely to have some or the other kind of deeper relationship with the content it seeks to symbolise. Spiritual interpretation of the Veda beyond the physical and the Ādhidaivika is the result of decipherment of symbols on these lines.

(Chapters on Yaska -- Concluded)

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