Friday, October 12, 2007

10. Sri Aurobindo’s Contribution to the Understanding of Vedic Symbolism - III

Vedic symbols are to be interpreted not in isolation but in relationship to each other. This is one of the basic propositions of Sri Aurobindo in course of his discussion on Angirasa. Working of this formula is to be seen in the sequel in regard to the same Angirasa legend with a view to determine the particular sense or system of ideas it might have been intended to communicate, as per Sri Aurobindo’s explanation.

Sri Aurobindo starts his deliberation on this legend with the cognisance of the fact that Angirasas occur in the Veda as seers, Fathers and gods all at the same time. In Ŗgveda V.11.6, for instance, Angirasas are said to have discovered Agni from within the forests and at the same time Agni itself has been addressed as Angiras, the son of force arising out of churning and becoming a force by itself (Rigveda, V.11.6.). It is significant to note that in the same mantra the Angirasas have been taken both as seers and god Agni.

In another mantra they are described as the sons of heaven and the heroes of the Asura bestowing riches upon Viśvāmitra as well as prolonging his life (Rigveda, III.53.7). Here they play the role of gods besides this they are addressed as pitaro manuşyāh, the human Fathers. Now the problem is how one and the same persons can be gods, seers and Fathers at the same time.

On this issue, Sri Aurobindo puts forth two possibilities:

“Two entirely opposite explanations can be given of the double character of these seers, divine and human. They may have been originally human sages deified by their descendants and in the apotheosis given a divine parentage and a divine function; or they may have been originally demigods, powers of the Light and Flame, who became humanised as the fathers of the race and the discoverers of its wisdom.” (On the Veda, p.182)

Sri Aurobindo gives a symbolic concretisation of certain psychic forces sometimes as seers and at others as Fathers and gods. One of the bases behind his exposition is the liquidity of the Sanskrit language as it is used in the Vedas where names usually are adjectival in character. Instances are Gotama, Viśvāmitra, Vāmadeva, Bharadvāja, Vasistha, Dirghatamas, Nābhānedistha, Uśanā Kāvya, etc., who, in Sri Aurobindo’s view, “have become types and symbols of certain spiritual experiences and victories and placed in that capacity side by side with the gods.” (On the Veda, p.183)

He concludes: “It is not surprising, then, that in this mystic symbolism the seven Angirasa Rishis should have become divine powers and living forces of the spiritual life without losing their traditional or historic human character.”

Sri Aurobindo concentrates on determining the nature of the role played by the Angirasas in the legend of recovery of the cow, sun, dawn, etc., from the darkness and finds them as playing their role in association with not only Indra but several gods. He finds close resemblance of their name with the word Agni, both having been derived from the common root anj, which means to anoint. He gets support for this proposition in the Brahmanic statement equating Angirasas with angāra, burning coal. He refers to Ŗgveda X.62.6 which describes the Angirasas as sons of Agni having been born from the heaven in diverse forms and being equipped with nine rays of light and even ten and therefore shining most brilliantly amongst the gods (Rigveda, X.62.6). Commenting on the content of this mantra, he observes that there is a definite symbolism involved in the account and that if taken to refer to the sun, which is most plausible one on the physical side, it would obviously be difficult to explain their human character and seerhood of mantras. As regards the idea of identifying the most brilliant one amongst the Angirasas with the sun, Sri Aurobindo refutes this suggestion with the remark: “We must not imagine that the Vedic poets were crude and savage intellects incapable of the obvious figure, common to all languages, which makes the physical light a figure of the mental and spiritual, of knowledge, of an inner illumination. The Veda speaks expressly of `luminous sages’, dyumato viprāh and the word suri, a seer, is associated with Sūrya, the sun, by etymology and must originally have meant luminous.” (On the Veda, p.188)

He refers to instances bearing Angirasa’s identification with Brhaspati or rather Brhaspati’s identification with Angirasa. One of them is Ŗgveda VI.73.1, where Brhaspati has been described as Angirasa and rich in oblations, besides being one of the first-borns, guardians of Ŗta and piercer of the mountain (Rigveda, VI.73.1). He also points out to Ŗgveda X.47.6 where Brhaspati occurs again as possessed of seven rays, wisdom of Ŗta and as supremely intelligent as well as an Angirasa worthy of going close to and capable of bestowing upon mankind luminous and mighty wealth (Rigveda, X.47.6).

Angirasas are also closely associated with Vāyu and Indra. As regards the Maruts, they are characterised by Sri Aurobindo as “luminous and violent gods of the storm and lightning uniting in themselves the vehement power of Vāyu, the Wind, the Breath, the Lord of Life and the force of Agni, the Seer-Will,” and therefore as “seers who do the work by the knowledge, as well as battling forces who by the power of the heavenly Breath and the heavenly lightning overthrow the established things, the artificial obstructions, in which the sons of Darkness have entrenched themselves, and aid Indra to overcome Vritra and the Dasyus.” He regards them as “the Life-Powers that support by their nervous or vital energies the action of the thought in the attempt of the moral consciousness to grow or expand itself into the immortality of the Truth and Bliss.” (On the Veda, p. 191)

Indra has also been brought close to the Angirasas. In one of the Rgvedic mantras, while, on the one hand, he has been prayed to become a bull in regard to virility, a friend in regard to friendship, a possessor of Rks in the midst of those who possess Rks, the best companion of Maruts in regard to speed, he, on the other, is expected to become the best of the Angirasas in regard to behaving like the Angirasas (Rigveda, I.100.4). Sri Aurobindo considers all the adjectives used for Indra here as applicable equally well to the Angirasas also. He states:

This Indra who assumes all the qualities of the Angirasas is the Lord of Swar, the wide world of the Sun or the Truth, and descends to us with his two shining horses, hari, which are called in one passage sūryasya ketu, the sun’s two powers of perception or of vision in knowledge, in order to war with the sons of darkness and aid the great journey…Indra must be the Power of the divine Mind born in man and there increasing by the Word and the Soma to his full divinity. This growth continues by the winning and growth of the Light till Indra reveals himself fully as the lord of all the luminous herds which he sees by the `eye of the sun’, the divine Mind master of all the illumination of knowledge. ” (On the Veda, p.193.)

According to Upanişads Indra is the divine mind. The story of Umā Haimavatī recounted in the Kena Upanişad, while Agni represents Vāk and Vāyu Prāņa, Indra stands for the divine mind and gets therefore intimated to Brahman through Umā Haimavatī (On the Veda, p.193.).

Aitareya Upanişad states that the Atman, after its entrance into the human body via the saggital suture, was seen as such for the first time by Indra. Indeed, it is on account of his seeing Brahman as embodied in the human personality, says the Upanişad, that Indra has come to be given his name Indra (idam + , this he saw) (Aitareya Upanişad, III.13-14).

The Bŗhadāraņyaka Upanişad points out to the same status of Indra almost in continuation of the same state of things, though in a reverse order. It conceives of Indra as lying like a puruşa in the right eye along with his wife in the left eye, observing the world in co-ordination with her in the state of wakefulness. They are said to meet together in the heart-space in the states of dream and dreamless sleep and subsist on the subtlest substance of food lying in the heart. His way out from the body is the nerve rising upward from the heart and going to the saggital suture. It is while moving through this nerve that he happens to see the Atman or Brahman (Bŗhadāraņyaka Upanişad, IV.2.2-3.)

Sri Aurobindo’s view on Indra in the Veda gets validated by these Upanişadic accounts. The position of Indra thus determined, it becomes relatively easier to trace the identity of the rest of the figures associated with the legend of Angirasas.

Uşas is also one of these figures. Her involvement in the legend is evident from two significant adjectives used for her. She, on the one hand, has been addressed as angirasatamā and on the other as indratamā. Both these adjectives occur in the same mantra while angirasatamā occurs once in another mantra but that also having been seen by the same seer, namely Vasişţha. Now the oneness of the seer in both the usages and oneness of the devatā for whom both the adjectives have been used, can very well be expected to serve as the key to the opening out of the lock of mystery associated with the legend.

The mantra uses both the adjectives together and read as follows:

“Endowed with opulence in riches, the Dawn has become most full of Indra power and has given birth to the inspirations of knowledge for our happy going. The daughter of Heaven, the goddess, most full of Angirasahood places her riches at the disposal of doers of good works.” (Rigveda, VII.79.3)

Commenting on it, Sri Aurobindo observes:

“The riches in which Usha is opulent cannot be anything else than the riches of the Light and Power of the Truth; full of Indra power, the power of the divine illumined mind, she gives the inspirations of that mind (sravansi) which lead us towards the Bliss, and by the flaming radiant Angirasa-power in her she bestows and arranges her treausres for those who do aright the great work and thus move rightly on the path, ittha naksanto angirasvat (Rigveda, VI.49.11)”

Thus, there is some sort of complementarity between Indra and Angiras. While Indra represents symbolically the illumined mind serving as the source of inspiration, Angiras stands for the flaming radiant power of action for right and noble action which is characteristic of Agni. Uşas, on the other hand, operates on both these planes, i.e., the plane of inspiration as well as that of radiant flaming action. It is on account of her dual role that she has been addressed as both indratamā and angirastamā in one and the same mantra.

Sri Aurobindo translates it as follows:

Dawn, heaven born, has opened up (the vital of darkness) by the Truth and she comes making manifest the vastness (mahimānam), she has drawn away the veil of harms and darkness (druhas tamah) and all that is unloved; most full of Angirasa-hood she manifests the paths (of the great journey).” (Rigveda, VII.75.1)

Sri Aurobindo’s comments on these mantras as:

“Again we have the Angirasa power associated with the journey, the revelation of its paths by the removal of the darkness and the bringing of the radiances of the Dawn; the Paņis represent the harms (druhah, hurts or those who hurt) done to man by the evil powers, the darkness is their cave; the journey is that which leads to the divine happiness and the state of immortal bliss by means of our growing wealth of light and power and knowledge.”

Finally, determining the symbolic significance of the Angirasas, he observes:

“The immortal lustres of the Dawn which give birth in man to the heavenly workings and fill with them the workings of the mid-regions between earth and heaven, that is to say, the functioning of those vital planes governed by Vāyu which link our physical and pure mental being, may well be the Angirasa powers. For they too gain and maintain the truth by maintaining unhurt the divine workings. This is indeed their function, to bring the divine Dawn into mortal nature so that the visible goddess pouring out her riches may be there, at once divine and human, devi martesu manusi, the goddess human in mortals.” (On the Veda, p.196)

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