The Ashwins, Indra and the Vishwadevas

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The third hymn of Madhuchchhandas is also a hymn of the Soma sacrifice. It is composed, like the second before it, in movements of three verses, the first addressed to the Ashwins, the second to Indra, the third to the Vishwadevas, and the fourth to the goddess Sarawati. In this hymn, in the closing movement, in the invocation to Saraswati, there is a passage of clear psychological significance of great import.

This whole hymn, indeed, is full of psychological suggestions. We find in it the close connection, even identity, which the Vedic Rishis sought to establish and perfect among the three main interests of the human Soul, Thought and its final victorious illuminations, Action and its last all-supreme, all-achieving puissance, enjoyment and its highest spiritual ecstasies.

The Soma-wine symbolizes the replacing of ordinary sense-enjoyment by the divine Ananda. Divinizing our thought-action brings about this substitution. As it progresses, it helps in its turn the consummation of the movement, which has brought it about.

The Cow, the Horse, and the Soma-wine are the figures of this triple sacrifice. The offering of ghrta, the clarified butter, which is the yield of the cow, the offering of the horse, asvamedha, the offering of the wine of Soma are its three principal forms or elements. Less prominently, there is also the offering of the cake, which is possibly symbolic of the body, Matter.

The hymn commences with an invocation of the two Ashwins, the two Riders on the Horse. They are first described as ‘Ashwins, swift-footed lords of bliss, much enjoying - dravatpaani subhaspati purubhujaa'. The word subha, like the words ratna and candra, is capable of signifying either light or enjoyment. But, in this passage, it occurs in connection with the adjective purubhujaa, ‘much enjoying', and the verb canasyatam, ‘take delight', and must, therefore, be taken in the sense of weal or bliss.

Next, these twin gods are described as ‘Ashwins, divine souls, many-actioned, thought-holding' who accept and rejoice in the words of the mantra ‘with an energetic thought' - purudamsasaa naraa savirayaa dhiyaa dhisnyaa.
Nr in the Veda is applicable both to gods and men, and does not mean simply a man. It is possible that it meant originally strong or active, and then a male, and is applied to the male gods, active divine souls or powers, purusas, as opposed to the female deities, gnaah, who are their energies. It still preserved in the minds of the Rishis much of its original sense, as we see from the word nrmna, strength, and the phrase nrtamo nrnaam, strongest of the divine powers.

Savas and its adjective savitra give the idea of energy, but always with an association of the farther idea of flame or light. Savira is, therefore, a very appropriate epithet for dhi, thought, full of a shining or flashing energy. Dhisnyaa is connected with dhisnaa, intellect or understanding, and Sayana renders it ‘intellectual', buddhimantau.

Again the Ashwins are described as ‘effectual in action, powers of the movement, fierce-moving in their paths', dasraa naasatyaa rudravartani. Sayana renders the Vedic epithets dasra and dasma indifferently as ‘destroying' or ‘beautiful' or ‘bountiful'.

It is possible to connect the word with the root das, not in the sense of cutting, dividing, from which it gets the two significances of destroying and giving, not in the sense of ‘discerning, seeing', from which Sayana interprets it as ‘beautiful' - darsaniya, but in the sense of doing, acting, shaping, accomplishing, as in purudamsasaa in the second Rik.

Similarly, naasatyaa is supposed to mean ‘true, not false' which is not correct interpretation. We are to bear in mind that the Ashwins are riders on the horse, that they are described often by epithets of motion such as ‘swift-footed', ‘fierce-moving in their paths'. They are also represented as powers that carry over the Rishis as in a ship, or save them from drowning in the ocean. In this context, the word naasatyaa is to have its root in nas, meaning to move. Naasatyaa may, therefore, very well mean lords of the voyage, journey, or powers of the movement.
Some scholars render rudravartani as ‘red-pathed', an epithet supposed to be well suited to stars. Certainly, rudra must have meant at one time ‘shining, deep-coloured, red' like the roots rus, rudhira - ‘blood', ‘red'.
Rodasi, the dual Vedic word for heaven and earth, meant probably, like rajas and rocanaa, other Vedic words for the heavenly and earthly worlds, ‘the shining'.

On the other hand, the sense of injury and violence is equally inherent in this family of words and is almost universal in the various roots, which form it. ‘Fierce' or ‘violent' is likely to be as good a sense for rudra as ‘red'.

The Ashwins are both hiranyavartani and rudravartani, because they are both powers of Light and of nervous Force. In the former aspect, they have a bright gold movement; in the latter they are violent in their movement. In one hymn (V.75.3), we have the combination rudraa hiranyavartani, violent and moving in the paths of light. We do not have any coherence if we understand the passage to mean that the stars are red, but their movement or their path is golden.
But, in these three verses, there is an extraordinary series of psychological functions to apply to two stars of a heavenly constellation. They are riders on the horse, the Ashwa, symbolic of force and especially of life-energy and nervous force, the Praana. Their common character is that they are gods of enjoyment, seekers of honey. They are physicians; they bring back youth to the old, health to the sick, and wholeness to the maimed.

Another characteristic is movement, swift, violent, irresistible. Their rapid and indomitable chariot is a constant object of celebration, and they are described as swift-footed and violent in their paths. They are like birds in their swiftness, like the mind, like the wind (V.77.3 & 78.1).

They bring in their chariot ripe or perfected satisfactions to man; they are creators of bliss, mayas. These indications are perfectly clear and show that the Ashwins are twin divine powers whose special function is to perfect the nervous or vital being in man, in the sense of action and enjoyment.

But they are also powers of Truth, of intelligent action, of right enjoyment; they are powers that appear with the Dawn, effective powers of action born out of the ocean of being who, because they are divine, are able to mentalize securely the felicities of the higher existence by a thought-faculty which finds or comes to know that true substance and true wealth:

Yaa dasraa sindhumaataraa, manotaraa rayinaam;
dhiyaa devaa vasuvidaa (I.46.2).
They give that impelling energy for the great work which, having for its nature and substance the light of the Truth, carries man beyond the darkness.
Yaa nah piparad asvinaa, jyotismati tamas tirah;
taam asme raasaathaam isam (I.46.6).
They carry man in their ship to the other shore beyond the thoughts and states of human mind, that is, the supra-mental consciousness - naava matinaam paaraaya (I.46.7). Suuryaa, daughter of the Sun, Lord of the Truth, mounts their car as their bride.

In the present hymn, the Ashwins are invoked as swift-moving lords of bliss who carry with them many enjoyments, to take delight in the impelling energies of the sacrifice - yajvarir isah...canasyatam. These impelling forces are born evidently of the drinking of the Soma-wine, that is to say, of the inflow of the divine Ananda.
For the expressive words, girah, the impelling forces are to make new formations in the consciousness and are rising, the seat of the sacrifice has been piled, and vigorous juices of the Soma-wine are pressed out. The Ashwins are to come as effective powers of action, purudamsasaa naraa, to take delight in the words and to accept them into the intellect where they shall be retained for the action by a thought full of luminous energy.

They are to come to the offering of the Soma-wine, in order to effect the action of the sacrifice, dasraa, as fulfillers of action, by giving to the delight of the action that violent movement of theirs, rudravartani, which carries them irresistibly on their path, and overcomes all opposition. They come as powers of the Aryan journey, lords of the great human movement, naasatyaa.
From the above, it is evident that it is energy, which these Riders on the Horse are to give; they are to take delight in the sacrificial energies, to take up the word into an energetic thought, and to bring to the sacrifice their own violent movement on the path. It is effectiveness of action and swiftness in the great journey that is the object of this demand for energy. In this interpretation, there is total consistency of conception and coherence of structure, and this is in the supreme tradition of the Veda as a book of wisdom and deepest knowledge.

We then have the following rendering for the first three verses.
‘O Riders of the Steed, swift-footed, much enjoying lords of bliss, take delight in the energies of the sacrifice' (I.3.1).
‘O Riders of the Steed, male souls effecting a manifold action, take joy of the words, O holders in the intellect, by a luminously energetic thought' (I.3.2).
‘I have piled the seat of sacrifice, I have pressed the vigorous Soma juices; fulfillers of action, powers of the movement, come to them with your fierce speed on the path' (I.3.3).

In the third hymn, the Rishi begins by invoking deities who act in the nervous or vital forces. He calls the Ashwins who use the vital forces, ride on the steed. He proceeds from the vital or nervous action to the mental; and he invokes in his second movement the might of Indra.
The out-pressings of the wine of delight desire him, sutaa ime tvaayavah; they desire the luminous mind to take possession of them for its activities; they are purified, anvibhis tanaa, ‘by the fingers and the body' as Sayana explains it, by the subtle thought-powers of the pure mind, and by extension in the physical consciousness.

These ‘ten fingers', if they are fingers at all, are the ten fingers of Suryaa, daughter of the Sun, bride of the Ashwins. In the first hymn of the ninth Mandala, the same Rishi Madhuchchhandas expands the idea, addressing the deity Soma, ‘the daughter of the Sun purifies thy Soma as it flows abroad in her straining vessel by a continuous extension', vaarena sasvataa tanaa. He adds further, ‘the subtle ones seize it in their labour (or, in the great work, struggle, aspiration, samarye), the ten Brides, sisters in the heaven that has to be crossed'. This phrase at once recalls the ship of the Ashwins that carries us over beyond the thoughts. This is for the reason that Heaven is the symbol of the pure mental consciousness in the Veda as is Earth of the physical consciousness.

These sisters who dwell in the pure mind, the subtle ones, anvih, the ten brides, dasa yosanaah, are elsewhere called the ten Casters, dasa ksipah, because they seize the Soma and speed it on its way. They are probably identical with the ten Rays, dasa gaavah, sometimes spoken of in the Veda. They seem to be described as grandchildren or descendents of the Sun, naptibhir...vivasvatah (IX.14.5).

They are aided in the task of purification of the seven forms of Thought-consciousness, sapta-dhitibhih (IX.9.4). Again, we are told that ‘Soma advances, heroic with his swift chariots, by the force of the subtle thought, dhiyaa anvyaa, to the perfected activity (or perfected field) of Indra and takes many forms of thought to arrive at that vast extension (or, formation) of the Godhead where the Immortals are'.

Esa puruu dhiyaayate, brhate devataataya,
yatraamrataasa aasate (IX.15.1-2).
All the above demonstrate how entirely symbolical is the Soma-wine of the Vedic Rishis, and how richly surrounded with psychological conceptions.

However, the important point here is not the Soma and its purification, but the psychological function of Indra. He is addressed as Indra of the richly various lustres, indra citrabhaano. The Soma juices desire him. He comes impelled by the thought, driven forward by the illumined thinker within, dhiyesito viprajuutah. He comes to the soul-thoughts of the Rishi who has pressed out the wine of delight, and seeks to manifest them in speech, in the inspired mantras, sutaavatah upa brahmaani vaaghatah.
Indra comes with the speed and force of the illumined mind-power, in possession of his brilliant horses to those thoughts, tuutujaana upa brahmaani harivah. The Rishi prays to Indra to confirm or hold the delight in the Soma offering, sute dadhisva nas canah. The Ashwins have brought and energized the pleasure of the vital system in the action of the Ananda. Indra is necessary to hold that pleasure firmly in the illuminated mind so that it may not fall away from the consciousness.

The sense of the three Riks may, therefore, run thus:
‘Come, O Indra, with thy rich lustres, these Soma-juices desire thee; they are purified by the subtle powers and by extension in body' (I.3.4).
‘Come, O Indra, impelled by the mind, driven forward by the illumined thinker, to my soul-thoughts, I who have poured out the Soma-juice and seek to express them in speech' (I.3.5).

‘Come, O Indra, with forceful speed to my soul-thoughts, O lord of the bright horses; hold firm the delight in the Soma-juice' (I.3.6).

The Rishi next passes to the Vishwadevas, all the gods or the All-gods. There is a point of dispute whether the Vishwadevas form a class by themselves or are simply the gods in their generality. It is more appropriate to consider the Vishwadevas as the universal collectivity of the divine powers. This interpretation is in keeping with the sense of the actual expressions of the hymns in which they are invoked.

In this hymn, they are called for a general action, which supports and completes the functions of the Ashwins and Indra. They are to come to the sacrifice in their collectivity, and divide among themselves, each for the divine and joyous working of his proper activity, the Soma which the giver of the sacrifice distributes to them - visve devaasa aagata, daasvaamso daasusah sutam.

In the next Rik, the Rishi repeats the call with greater insistence. They are to arrive swiftly, tuurnayah, to the Soma-offering. It may mean that they are to make their way through all the planes of consciousness, ‘waters' which divide the physical nature of man from their Godhead and are full of obstacles to communication between earth and heaven - apturah sutam aa ganta tuurnayah. They are to come like cattle hastening to the stalls of their rest in the evening, usraa iva svasaraani. Thus gladly arriving, they are gladly to accept and cleave to the sacrifice, and support it, bearing it up in its journey to its goal, in its ascent to the gods or to the home of the gods, the Truth, the Vast - medham jusanta vahnayah.

The epithets of the Vishwadevas, which qualify their character, and the functions for which they are invited to the Soma-offering, have the same generality. They are common to all the gods, and applied indifferently to any or all of them throughout the Veda. They are fosterers or increasers of man, and upholders of his labour and effort in the work, the sacrifice, omaasas carsanidhrtah.
Sayana renders these words protectors and sustainers of men. While it is easy to attribute the sense of ‘man' to the two kindred words carsani and krsti when they stand by themselves, this meaning does not seem appropriate in compound forms such as vicarsani, visvacarsani, visvakrsti.
Sayana himself is obliged to render visvacarsani ‘all-seeing' and not ‘all-man' or ‘all-human'. Carsani and krsti, appropriately, mean effort, labourious action or work, or else the doers of such action. They are two among the many words - karma, apas, kaara, kiri, duvas, etc - which are used to indicate the Vedic work, the sacrifice, the toil of aspiring humanity, the arati of the Aryan.

The common preoccupation of the Vedic gods is the fostering or increasing of man in all his substance and possessions, his continual enlargement towards the fullness and richness of the vast Truth-Consciousness, and the upholding of him in his great struggle and labour.

They, the Vedic gods, are apturah, they who cross the waters. Sayana takes the word to mean that ‘they who give the waters'. He understands it in the sense of ‘rain-givers'. It is perfectly true that all the Vedic gods are givers of the rain, the abundance (vrsti, rain, has both senses) of heaven, sometimes described as the solar waters, svarvatir apah, or waters which carry in them the light of the luminous heaven, Swar.

But the ocean and the waters in the Veda, as this phrase itself indicates, are the symbol of conscient being in its mass and in its movements. The gods pour the fullness of these waters, especially the upper waters, the waters of heaven, the streams of the Truth, rtasya dhaaraah, across all obstacles, into the human consciousness. In this sense they are all apturah.

But man is also described as crossing the waters over to his home in the Truth-Consciousness, and the gods as carrying him over. It is doubtful, whether this may not be the true sense here, especially as we have these two words apturah....tuurnayah close to each other in a connection that may well be significant.

Again, the gods are all free from effective assailants, free from the harm of the hurtful powers. Therefore, the creative formations of their conscious knowledge, their Maya, move freely, pervasively and attain to their right goal - asridha ahimaayaaso adruhah.

If we take into account the numerous passages of the Veda, which indicate the general object of the sacrifice, of the work, of the journey, of the increase of the light and abundance of the waters to be the attainment of the Truth-Consciousness, rtam, with the resultant Bliss, mayas, and that these epithets commonly apply to powers of the infinite, integral Truth-Consciousness, we realize that it is this attainment of the Truth, which is indicated in these three verses.

The All-gods increase man; they uphold him in the great work; and they bring him the abundance of the waters of Swar, the streams of the Truth. They communicate the unassailably integral and pervading action of the Truth-Consciousness with its wide formations of knowledge, maayaah.

In the Veda, even poetical similes are never employed for mere decoration. They are utilized to deepen the psychological sense, and with a figure of symbolic or double meaning.

Sri Aurobindo translates the phrase, usraa iva svasaraani, in the most external sense possible. The word usra is always used in the Veda, like go, with the double sense of the concrete figure or symbol, the bull or cow, and also the psychological indication of the bright or luminous ones, the illumined powers of the Truth in man. It is as such illumined powers that the All-gods have to come, and they come to the Soma-juice, svasaraani, as if to seats or forms of peace or of bliss. This interpretation is based on the fact that the root svas, like sas and many others, means both to rest and to enjoy. They are the powers of Truth entering into the outpourings of the Ananda in man, as soon as that movement has been prepared by the vital and mental activity of the Ashwins, and the pure mental activity of Indra.

The sense of the three Riks may, therefore, run thus:
‘O fosterers who uphold the doer in his work, O All-gods, come and divide the Soma-wine that I distribute' (I.3.7).
‘O All-gods who bring over to us the Waters, come passing through to my Soma-offerings as illumined powers to your places of Bliss' (I.3.8.).

‘O All-gods, you who are not assailed, nor come to hurt, free-moving in your forms of knowledge, cleave to my sacrifice as its up-bearers' (I.3.9).
In the last movement of the hymn, there is the clear and unmistakable indication of the Truth-Consciousness as the goal of the sacrifice, the object of the Soma-offering, the culmination of the work of the Ashwins, Indra and the All-gods in the vitality and in the mind. For, these are the three Riks devoted to Sarasvati, the divine Word, who represents the stream of inspiration that descends from the Truth-Consciousness.

The sense of the three Riks may, therefore, run thus:
‘May purifying Sarasvati with all the plenitude of her forms of plenty, rich in substance by the thought, desire our sacrifice' (I.3.10).

‘She, the impeller to happy truths, the awakener in consciousness to right mentalizings, Sarasvati, upholds the sacrifice' (I.3.11).

‘Sarasvati by the perception awakens in consciousness the great flood (the vast movement of the rtam) and illumines entirely all the thoughts' (I.3.12).

The above interpretation shows ‘the intimate connection between the Vedic sacrifice and a certain state of mind and soul, the interdependence of the offering of the clarified butter and the Soma-juice, and luminous thought, richness of psychological content, right states of the mind and its awaking and impulsion to the truth and light', in the words of Sri Aurobindo.

It also reveals the figure of Sarasvati as the goddess of the Inspiration, of Shruti. It further establishes the connection between the Vedic rivers and psychological states of mind. The passage is one of those luminous hints, which the Rishis have left scattered amidst the deliberate ambiguities of their symbolic style to guide us towards their secret.

 

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