Wednesday, November 7, 2007

14. Vedic Symbolism -- Cow - II

In one of the mantras of Viśvāmitra there is an account of one being who, immobile himself, carries on his back six loads while cows come close to him when he assumes the role of the most productive principle of creation and sustenance. His dynamics results in the birth of the three higher worlds. Out of these three also, two are hidden in mystery, the remaining one alone is tangible to us (Rigveda, III.56.2). The immobile being is obviously the Supreme Being who, in this instance, as well as in many other instances, is conceived as a mighty bull. It is out of Him that the creation has proceeded as His progeny. In view of the colossal massivity and variety of the created beings the procreator is conceived as most abundantly fertilising, varsistham.

Being conceived as a bull, it was but necessary for Him to have cows as the medium of His act of procreation. In view of the diversity of the created beings, the medium of creation has been taken as many in the form of plurality of the cows. Sometimes, this need is fulfilled by conceiving the cow as variegated instead of being made plural. The six loads the bull is carrying without himself moving at all may understandably be taken as the well known six planes of being such as bhūh, bhuvah, svah, mahah, janah and tapah, the seventh one satyam being constituted by the Being himself. These six planes can conveniently be put under two groups, the higher and the lower. While the lower are the same as those indicated by the three vyāhŗtis pre-posed to the sacred gāyatrī mantra i.e., bhūh, bhuvah and svah, the higher ones are those corresponding to mahah, janah and tapah. Since these three higher planes of being begin with mahah, they are called mahih by the seer in the mantra. That tapah comes at the top of them is vindicated by the account of creation given in the famous Aghamarşaņa hymn, according to which the creative process started with tapas of the Supreme Being (Rigveda, X.190.I.). His tapas itself, therefore, comes to form the penultimate plane of existence while the ultimate one, that is satyam, is formed by the self-existence of the Being Himself. While satyam is His being, ŗtam is what forms the retas or seed of the bull with which his female counterparts, the cows, are impregnated resulting in the birth of the world of multiplicity. The inscrutability of the highest two planes in the triad is vindicated by the Aghamarşaņa hymn’s characterisation of the plane corresponding to janah as ratri, night (Rigveda, X.190.1.). Now if janah is inscrutable, the plane higher than that i.e., tapah, should be all the more so. The visibility or tangibility of mahah, the third one in the triad, is obviously due to its expansiveness.

In the light of this explanation it becomes clear how significantly the symbol of cow was used in the Veda for giving an idea of the event of cosmic creation. This proposition gets further confirmed by another mantra, seen by seer Vāmadeva who while explaining the role of Ŗta as the principle of universal sustenance as well as dichotomization and diversification, observes how the cows have entered into Ŗta by means of Ŗta itself (Rigveda, IV.23.9). Entering of the cows into Ŗta by means of Ŗta itself is suggestive of the cows’ ultimate oneness with Ŗta and via that with the ultimate creative being himself, i.e., the bull as conceived symbolically.

If cow owing to her magnificent procreative power as well as the dignity of her calf has been used as the symbol of the Creatrix on various planes in singular and plural both, she on account of her melodious voice produced in course of the expression of her fondness for her calf has come to be utilised as the most abundantly used symbol of the Vedic composition in the form of mantras.

Seer Vasistha observes about Indra that his true and beautiful cow being filled with abundant milk milches kine and horses for the sake of the sacrificer who devotes himself to the pressing of Soma (Rigveda, VIII.14.3.). Incidentally, one wonders why Griffith has translated this mantra so as to make Indra himself a cow as is evident from his translation.

“To worshippers who press the juice thy goodness, Indra is a cow yielding in plenty kine and steeds.”

In comparison to him, Sāyaņa is correct in his understanding of dhenu in this context as symbolical of the word of prayer characterised by truth, beauty and devotion to Indra! (Sāyaņa’s Commentary on Rigveda, VIII.14.3). This prayer is nothing but the Vedic mantra emerging from Indra himself and therefore described as Indra’s cow.

Cow indeed has closely been associated with the seeing and chanting of mantras addressed to the Divine. In one such mantra, Indra is regarded as a calf while the mantras addressed to him as cows. Just as cows rush to their respective calves at the end of the day, even so mantras rush to Indra being recited by the seer. (Rigveda, VIII.88.1)

In another mantra the seer Sunahśepa observes how his well-contemplated prayers are proceeding to Indra ardently like cows to their pastures (Rigveda, I.25.16). Similarly in another mantra seer Agastya says that his mantras are reaching Indra like cows licking their young ones (Rigveda, I.186.7). In a mantra seen by Viśvāmitra it has been stated that Indra is like a bull glorified and adorned by the wisdom of the seer and his cows are productive of energy (Rigveda, III.36.5). In another mantra, Indra is regarded as the bearer of mantras and as such is equated to a cow, which the seer wants to milk (Rigveda, VI.45.7). In all these cases the Vedic mantras have been equated with the cow.

In furtherance of this idea of similitude between the mantra and the cow, there are certain references in the Samhitās where perfect equation is observed between the cow and the mantra. For example, seer Harimanta in one of his mantras observes how wise and active seers squeeze out the immortal Soma juice, which is wisdom incarnate and that the regenerating prayers, as cows, go to it in the permanent original seat of Ŗta (Rigveda, IX, 72.6). In this mantra obviously neither the Soma juice has remained any physical juice nor the cow has remained the actual animal. Being characterised as kavi, while the Soma juice has become the perennial wisdom, the cow has assumed the form of the mantra arising out of that wisdom and culminating eventually in its merger into the ultimate source of all including the Ŗta.
The adjective punarbhuvah, prone to be born again and again, used for mantras as well as cows in this context is highly significant. If yathāpūrvamakalpayata occurring in the Aghamarşaņa Hymn could serve as the source of the idea of cyclic creation and dissolution of the cosmos in the Vedic tradition, references like punarbhuvah in this mantra must have formed the catalyst of the appearance and disappearance of the Veda in co-ordination with the state of creation and dissolution of the cosmos.

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