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Importance of Rigveda: Praise, Truth, Self-realisation

In the very first verse of Rigveda, after referring to the importance of Agni, the sage Vaisvamitra says:

होतारं रत्नधातमम्,[1] (1.001.1.2)

The recitation of the prayers of Rigveda, holds such wealth as to make one faint. What is this wealth that the prayers of Rigveda hold?

In the fifth verse of this hymn, the sage says:

अग्निहोता कविक्रतुः सत्यश्चित्रश्रवस्तमः. (1.001.5.1)[2]

 Agni! The recital of Rigveda inspires sages to experience truth and the most desirable wonderful glory [truth (सत्य) experience (अश्) wonderful (चित्र) glory (श्रवस्) most wished for (तमः)].

Thus it seems that the purpose of the recital of Rigveda is to actually experience truth. What is the nature of this truth? In a later hymn, this is revealed to be knowledge of the self, or experiencing the soul within. This line reads:

इन्द्र स्तोममिमं मम कृष्वा युजश्चिदन्तरम (1.010.9.2)[3]

This eulogy is my furrow to Indra, as well as to concentrate my attention upon experiencing the soul within, i.e., self-realisation.

That this is a suitable interpretation is shown by a verse due to Sage Kanva:

इमं स्तोमं जुषस्व नः || (1.012.12.2)[4]

The hidden meaning (नः ) of these eulogies (इमं स्तोमं) is to go to final emancipation (जुषस्व),

These verses reveals that the eulogies of Rigveda had a dual purpose. They did praise gods, but their recital enabled the experience of truth (सत्य) (1.001.5). And the nature of this truth is that of experiencing the soul within (1.010.9). The term in which this idea occurs is  युजश्चिदन्तरम i.e. to concentrate my attention upon/unite (युज्) experience (अश्) soul (चित्) within (अन्तरम्). In contemporary language, this is called self realisation The word युज् has another meaning which makes sense in the context: to unite. So the term could also meant to unite (the words) with the inner experience of the soul (1.010.9). Both interpretations imply self-realisation.

Threefold Knowledge, Realisation, Brahman,  and Union

Another verse reveals strikingly the relation between knowledge, realisation, Brahman, Union and Indra. The verse reads:

गायन्ति त्वा गायत्रिणो अर्चन्ति अर्कम् अर्किणः[5] | ब्रह्माणस्त्वा शतक्रत उद्वंशमिव येमिरे || (1.010.1)[6]

Sing of the Director thou, the song of the threefold knowledge, shines before the flash of lightning bright; Thou artin possession of the breath of Brahman; on the backbone of Shatakratu (Indra), as it were, you having acquired established union.

The poet here is addressing himself. He calls upon himself to sing of the ‘Director’ (गायन्ति त्वा) implying that the world is a play directed by the One. Then he continues: (sing) the song of the threefold knowledge (गायत्रिणो).[7] This song of threefold knowledge, he says shines ‘before the flash of lightning bright’(अर्चन्त्यर्कमर्किणः)[8] . What is this flash of lightning before which shines the threefold knowledge?

The next line clarifies:  Thou art in possession of the breath of Brahman (ब्रह्माणस्त्वा)[9]. Thus, the poet possesses the ‘breath of Brahman’ which is like a flash of lightning, that lays bare and illuminates the threefold knowledge. Many yogis have referred to the flash of light that accompanies the experience of self-realisation. Vaisvamitra connects this flash to the three fold knowledge and the breath of Brahman.

How did he get this breath of Brahman?  The second line continues: “on the backbone of Indra (शतक्रत) , as it were, you having acquired established union (उद्वंशमिव येमिरे). This says two things. First it suggests that it is Union denoted by ये that has helped the sage to acquire the breath of Brahman. The second, that it is on the backbone of Indra that this achievement rests. We will revert to this in our discussion of Indra.

The union referred to in the verse is known contemporaneously as Yoga, is presumably union of individual soul with the divine. It is remarkable that the sage describes the song of threefold knowledge (गायत्रिणो) as shining before the flash of lightning, suggestive of self-realisation (अर्चन्त्यर्कमर्किणः), and confirms it by the next line, where he describes himself as possessing the breath of Brahman (ब्रह्माणस्त्वा).

This is the truth with which Rigveda is concerned.

Apart from the recital at the ‘homa’, there seems to have been an effort to spread the knowledge of this inner truth by bards singing it in samaveda style (गि), going to the houses of individual men. Thus, the sage says:

वसोरिन्द्र वसुपतिं गीर्भिगृणन्त ऋग्मियम् | होम गन्तारमूतये || (1.009.9)[10]

Rich lord, lord of wealth: for a singer (of samaveda) to go to a man to grant inner knowledge is praiseworthy; Homa is a way suited for protection.

This verse suggests that singing the Rigveda served the purpose of transmitting or granting inner knowledge or ‘knowledge interior’ (गृणन्त). In contrast, homa ceremonies were for ensuring protection.


[1] होतारं रत्न धा तमम् :  Reciting prayers of Rigveda (होतृ = होतारं) wealth (रत्न ) holds (धा) so as to faint away (तमम्)

[2] अग्नि होता कवि क्रतुः सत्य – अश् – चित्र – श्रवस् – तमः    :  Agni (अग्नि) reciting rigveda (होता) sage (कवि) inspiration (क्रतुः) truth (सत्य) experience (अश्) wonderful (चित्र) glory (श्रवस्) most wished for (तमः)

[3] इन्द्र स्तोमं इमं मम कृष् – वा युज् अश् चित् अन्तरम  : Indra (इन्द्र) eulogy this (स्तोमं-इमं = स्तोममिमं) my (मम) furrow (कृष्) as well as (वा) (कृष्-वा = कृष्वा) to concentrate my attention upon (युज्) experience (अश्) soul (चित्) within (अन्तरम्)

[4] इमं स्तोमं जु ष – स्व नः ||

This (इमं) eulogy (स्तोमं) to go (जु) final emancipation (षः) self (स्व) hidden meaning (नः)

[5] We have broken down this long word for the benefit of the reader. It actually is :  गायत्रिणोSर्चन्त्यर्कमर्किणः

[6] गा यन्ति त्वा गायत्रि णो अर्च् अन्ति अर्कम् अर्किणः | ब्रह्म अण् अस् त्वा शतक्रत उद् वंशम् इव ये मि रे ||

Sing (गा) Director (यन्तृ = यन्ति) thou (त्वा) song  (गायः) three (त्रि) knowledge (णः = णो) shine (अर्च्) before (अन्ति) flash of lightning (अर्क = अर्कं) bright (अर्किन् = अर्किणः) |  Brahman (ब्रह्म) breath (अण्)  in possession of (अस्) thou (वा) performer of hundred sacrifices (Indra) (शतक्रतु = शतक्रत) on (उद्) backbone (वंशम्) as it were (इव)) Union (यः = ये) establish (मि) having acquired (रः = रे)

[7] song  (गायः) three (त्रि) knowledge (णः = णो)

[8] shine (अर्च्) before (अन्ति) flash of lighting (अर्क = अर्कं) bright (अर्किन् = अर्किणः)(अर्च्-अन्ति-अर्कम्-अर्किन् = अर्चन्त्यर्कमर्किणः)

[9] Brahman (ब्रह्म) breath (अण्)  in possession of (अस्) thou (वा) (ब्रह्म-अण्-अस्-त्वा = ब्रह्माणस्त्वा)

[10] वसुर् इन्द्र वसुपतिं गि इर् भिर् गृ अन्त ऋग्मियम् | होम गन्त अरम् ऊतय ||

Rich  (वसुर्) lord (इन्द्र)  lord of wealth (वसुपतिं) singer of samaveda (गि) to go (इर्) man (भिर्) grant (गृ) knowledge (ण) interior (अन्त) praiseworthy (ऋग्मिय = ऋग्मियम्) | Homa (होम) a way (गन्त = गन्तु) suitable (अरम्) protection (ऊति = ऊतये)

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