Wednesday, November 7, 2007

16. Vedic Symbolism - Cow - IV

The association of cow with Vāk starting from casual similitude and developing along the line of equivalence reaches its complete stage of symbolical identification and substitution at a number of places in the Veda to such an extent as to create the misunderstanding in the mind of scholars that the accounts of cow in the mantras are just matter-of-fact reporting of the then cultural scenario which was dominated by the presence of this useful animal as also by the seer’s earnest desire to have as many of them as possible and be benefited by her products including milk.

What a blunder and gross injustice has been committed by such scholars in this as well as several others, can be understood by the analysis of one relevant account presented in the form of three contiguous mantras seen by Dīrghatamas.

In the first one of these mantras, the cow has been requested to eat crops to her full content so that the seer and his associates may become fulfilled. She is further prayed to keep on grazing grass always, drinking clean water and moving around freely (Rigveda, I.164.40). Obviously, this seems to be an account of a certain cow lying at the disposal of the seer. Accordingly, while translating this mantra Griffith appends to his translation the remark: “This stanza is addressed to the cow who supplies the milk for libations.”

If so, how to account for the immediately following mantra in which the cow has been said to have lowed creating waters and expanding from one-footedness to two-footedness, four-footedness, eight-footedness, nine-footedness and then ultimately becoming thousand- syllabled in the highest heaven? (Rigveda, I.164.1)

In spite of the clear context of cow, Griffith translates gaurī as buffalo, which is entirely wrong and misleading. He himself seems to have been misled by the reference of water, which gaurī is said to have created. Since it is buffalo rather than cow which is fond of water and often dwells in water, Griffith ignores the etymology and finds easy way out in changing the meaning of the word itself under the predilection that what possibly would be meant here is the buffalo entering into water and beating it by her head, as is usual for this animal. What a blunder on his part!

Griffith and his sort of scholars are not wholly responsible for this aberration. It is rooted in the obscurity created by Yāska’s interpretation. Instead of explaining such a significant term as taksati, creating, he just substitutes it by kurvati, which is quite generic in its sense. Explaining various footsteps of gaurī, he takes ekapadi as madhyamena, dvipadī as madhyamena ca adityena, catuşpadī as digbhih, astāpadi as digbhih ca avantaradigbhih, navapadī as digbhih ca avantaradigbhih and sahasrākşara as bahudaka.

Thus, according to him, gaurī is creating water by means of air, the sun, the four directions, the eight directions and sub-directions and the sun. He takes sahasrākşara in the sense of bahudaka, full of abundant water. When gaurī itself is not explained, the whole attempt at explaining the other details becomes rudderless. In this state of directionlessness in the midst of detailed mention of directions, so significant an expression as sahasrākşara cannot but end in bahudaka. (Yāska, Nirukta XI.40)

As regards Sāyaņa, he also does not add anything significant to Yāska’s explanation except taking sahasrākşara as aparimitavyāptiyuktā but again falling back to udakavati, filled with water.

Although failing himself to add anything significant to Yāska’s explanation, Sāyaņa has done well to quote in his commentary the view of certain scholars without mentioning their names and affiliations. According to them, gaurī means Brahman in the form of Vāk. They take mimāya in the sense of the Vāk creating all and sundry objects in the world by way of giving them the verbal form.

They regard ekapadī as referring to the monosyllabic Om. According to them, while dvipadi refers to verbal and nominal forms of words, catuşpadī denotes the fourfold classification of words such as noun, verb, preposition and conjunction. They consider aşţāpadī as referential to the cases including the vocative, sambodhana while navapadī to either the above including the adverbs or to the nine places of vocalisation in the human body, such as the navel, the heart, the throat, etc. In their view, parame vyoman signifies the heart-space or alternatively the basal plexus.

One does not understand why Sāyaņa just quoted the above viewpoint quite indifferently while the fact is that it is this explanation, which is capable of providing the rationale for the proper understanding of the next mantra also, which too, otherwise, remains all the more obscure providing the scope for Griffith and his likes to reduce this one of the most significant mantras in the Samhitā totally as a nightmare. He translates it as follows:

“From her descend in streams the seas of water; thereby the world’s four regions have their being. Thence flows the imperishable flood, and thence the universe hath life.”

No doubt the mantra in question talks of oceans as also of the directions. But if the oceans were meant in their ordinary sense, how to explain the shedding of akşara, the imperishable into the kşara, the perishable, which obviously is a contradiction in terms. As a matter of fact, Gaurī of this mantra is neither a buffalo nor do streams of water in any physical sense flow from her. She is positively the cow in the symbolic sense representing the ultimate Creatrix of the world.

This gets confirmed by one of Visvāmitra’s mantras in which while elaborating on the mighty vision of absolute oneness of the ultimate reality it has been observed at the outset of the hymn that when the most primeval dawns came to shine, the great Akşara came to evolve itself in the original abode of the cow and that it is only as a consequence of this event that began the role of the gods in the cosmic creation and that all this bears out the ultimate oneness of the divinity of gods (Rigveda, III. 55.1).

It is from the Akşara of this order that the oceans and the directions are said in Dirghatamas’ mantra to be born. Interestingly enough this momentous trans-cosmic event is associated according to both the seers, Viśvāmitra and Dirghatamas, with the abode or being of the cow. As such, the cow in question, therefore, has to be taken as symbolic of the ultimate Creatrix, which is responsible for making the Supreme Imperishable Being undergo the antithetical process of perishability.

Association of akşara with cow, as is vindicated by Viśvāmitra’s mantra quoted above also, cannot be explained without taking this cow as symbolical of Vāk by virtue of her prolonged lowing of the monosyllabic Om.

Needless to point out that akşara is the irreducible most fundamental constituent of language. Just as atoms are the ultimate building blocks of the universe according to the Vaiśeşikas, even so akşara is the ultimate building block of language, which is the co-ordinate of the reality.

As per the philosophy of the Vedic seers, what is realised as ultimate on the microcosmic scale must prove ultimate on the macrocosmic scale as well. In fact, the entire approach of these seers to knowledge is based on this understanding. This is why akşara of the syllabic variety has been considered as identical to Akşara denoting the supra-cosmic reality. Indeed, it is this vision of the Vedic seer, which subsequently develops into the philosophy of Śabda -Brahman.

Thus Gaurī of Dīrghatamas is, indeed, the Śabda-Brahman itself given the feminine form of cow so as to bring out its role of creativity both on the side of Vāk as well as the reality.

If on the side of the reality she gives rise to oceans and directions out of herself and thus creates the basis of universal existence, she on the side of Vāk assumes the fourfold form of linguistic expression dilated upon by Dīrghatamas himself almost in the same continuation through the account of four steps of Vāk known only to those who understand things in their ultimate essence, three of which lying hidden in mystery while the fourth one being used by humans (Rigveda, I.164.45).

It is significant to note that dealing with the same situation of the imperishable reality giving rise to the perishable world, while Viśvāmitra refers to the footstep of cow, Dīrghatamas makes use of the expression of footsteps of Vāk. It automatically proves the essential equivalence of the meaning denoted by these so dissimilar expressions and therefore the symbolic nature of cow as also the particular idea symbolised by her.

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