[Author’s Note: This piece continues our look at a fundamentally coterminous myth of the Indo-Europeans found reasonably intact in both the Greek and the Hindu canons – wherein the Sky Father engages with a ‘Darkened’ form of His Consort, often in symbolically resonant animal shape. Part One examined the situation of Poseidon in pursuit of Demeter Erinyes with brief remarks on some liaisons of Zeus.]
The major myth to be considered is that densely interwoven constellation of wonders surrounding Surya, Saranyu, and Chhaya – all Three of Whom we have previously met during the course of our Sons of the Sun series, inter alia. But let us re-familiarize ourselves but briefly.
Surya is a word for the Sun [in fact, these are cognate words in terms of ultimate Proto-Indo-European etymology]; however this is also the theonym for not one, but several Vedic Gods. Indeed, there are quite an array of Vedic Gods Who can be referred to in some sense as the Sun – and it is easy for this to become quite confusing ; which is, as luck and fate would have it (and I am here meaning both terms in their Sanskrit translations … ), partially why that aforementioned ‘comparative method’ making use of the other Indo-European traditions can be so helpful to untangle things once more.
My previously explicated research in the course of Sons of the Sun has shown that Surya can also be utilized to refer to the Sky Father – something which should seem largely unsurprising given the essentially Solar character of Dyaus Pitar (right there in the name – Dyaus , the God of the Shining, Daylight Sky; although He Reigns, also, at Night Time) and the fundamental Life-Giving foundation of the Sun.
And therefore, that the situation of Surya and Saranyu should probably be best understood not as referring to the Surya that is the Son of the Sky Father Himself (i.e. a figure akin to the Greek Helios – Son of the High One, Hyperion) ; but rather as referring to the Sky Father directly. Hence bringing both Manu and Yama as well as the Asvins into line with our reconstructive Indo-European paternity for the Progenitor Twins as well as the Hero/Helper/Horse Twins as Sons of the Sky Father, the Wide-Shining One (Vivasvat).
There is a rather fascinating piece to be written up upon the potential etymologies of Saranyu and Erinyes – however this is not it. Suffice to say that the theonym of Saranyu effectively means ‘Swift’ or ‘Quick’ (also in the much more archaic sense of ‘Quick’ as in ‘alive’, ‘vibrant’, ‘shifting’) – and would generally be thought of in relation to, say, a swift-flowing river or wind-chased storm-cloud … particularly as ‘Saranyu’ can also mean exactly those – the Wind, Clouds, Water, and even Fire. Although other Saranyu theonyms addeuce a Solar character [for example,’Sauri’ – which means, in effect, exactly that], in a similar manner perhaps to how the Wife of the Sky Father often has just such a co-expressive theonym [consider the ‘Ju-‘ in both ‘Juno’ and ‘Jupiter’, which is from the same root as Sanskrit ‘Dyaus’]; whilst Chhaya is the ‘Shadow’ (although interestingly, with a shorter second ‘a’ sound – the same term, Chhaya, becomes a word for the Sun, for Light .. or a Nightmare); with the word in question having additional shades of meaning of a ‘covering’ or an ‘illusion’. And despite these Two being regarded in the course of the texts themselves as somewhat separate deities if we read them literally … it is my contention, as we shall soon see, that something else is going on here.
Now in terms of the actual Hindu presentation of the relevant myth – there are several. With a brief mention of it in the Vedas, and various much more comprehensive treatments thereof preserved in the later Puranic texts. And I state that these are ‘preservations’ rather than substantively ‘innovations’ due to the strength with which these concord with significant of the Greek elements of the myth, even despite these not being directly stated in the Vedic account in question.
To quote the Griffith translation of the relevant RigVedic Hymnal – RV X 17 :
“But Yama’s Mother, Spouse of great Vivasvān, vanished as she was carried to her dwelling.
2 From mortal men they hid the Immortal Lady, made one like her and gave her to Vivasvān.
Saranyu brought to him the Aśvin brothers, and then deserted both twinned pairs of children.”
[ a variant translation/interpretation instead has “the two, the twins” – as in, a single pair; and also emphasizes that Saranyu is ‘bearing’ the Asvins at this point, in the sense of a pregnancy. ]
What this means, in effect, is that the Wife of the Wide-Shining One [‘Vivasvan’] ‘disappears’ and is replaced; at a point proximate to the siring and/or the birth of the Asvin Horse-Twins by the Sky Father.
Now, the subsequent Hindu presentation of this myth has emphasized the ‘disappearing and replacement’ in a rather literal sense – asserting that Chhaya is created or otherwise brought into being by Saranyu or some unspecified others; the ‘Shadow’ being emanated so as to intercede between Saranyu and the burning, too-intense radiance of Surya and enabling Saranyu to flee from Her Husband in horse form.
However, I don’t think that’s quite what is being communicated here, in the Vedic account. Instead, the relevant word describing the ‘replacement’ of Saranyu – ‘savarna’ – can be interpreted one of two ways. The favoured rendering in the above aforementioned translation is, of course, one who looks like that which is being replaced. Sa-Varna – ‘Same Colour’ or ‘appearance’, in effect. Except that is not exactly how ‘Varna’ is used in the Vedic context … wherein it more specifically referes to the ‘Quality’ of something. Which can, to be sure, be outwardly expressed via appearance – but quite pointedly means the interior quality of the thing being referred to. A sense still preserved in somewhat archaic English expressions like the ‘Colour of Right’ legal defence [wherein something on the face of things appears illegal, yet is morally righteous and therefore is not so, even despite potentially contravening black-letter law upon the subject].
Or, in other words, what I believe to be expressed by ‘Sa-Varna’ in this context – is the notion of Saranyu seeming to be replaced by ‘another’ – yet with this ‘different’ appearing Wife of the Sky Father in fact possessing the same quality or ‘same essence’ as Saranyu. Something that is highly unlikely to be the result of an interplay of Shadow and Light – as Shadow and Light are mutually defined as different if not outright antithetical (albeit with one dependent upon the other to distinguish it outright from the Darkness); yet which would instead make considerably more sense as referring to this ‘different of appearance’ figure sharing the same essence as Saranyu … because She IS Saranyu Herself, in a rather less recognizable form (presumably a Blackened one, viz Chhaya – and/or the equine form in which Saranyu is regarded as taking during this incident in the Puranic texts). Exactly what we see in the Greek occurrence of the myth (wherein Demeter is ‘Erinyes’ – black and potentially in the form of a Fury; as well as the horse-shape of Her escape from Poseidon; and the aforementioned unsuccessful evasion of Nemesis of Zeus in the shape of the Swan, inter alia) – and with intriguing conceptual saliency for the other Hindu related myth we shall be exploring later.
Indeed, while the term utilized to refer to Saranyu’s disappearing act in this verse – ‘nanasa’ – is a perfect past tense form of the Sanskrit root ‘nas’ , and means to be destroyed, die, disappear, or to run away … it would be tempting to see a potential pun therein with ‘nana’ , as in ‘different form’ (as well as ‘Nana’ as both a maternal term in Sanskrit, and particular means for reference to a rather highly relevant Goddess). Certainly, the Goddess Saranyu appearing to ‘disappear’ by assuming a different form – and/or via running a way – is exactly what is occurring in the underlying Indo-European mythic typology referenced via this Vedic Hymn. With the ‘form’ in question plausibly having the appearance of Death – either being ‘dead’ (as we see with the occasional renditions of Kali as an old crone or an animated corpse, the skeletal visage of Chamunda), or being Death (which is what is communicated via the very theonym ‘Kali’ – in addition to the ‘Black’, of course); or, in the case of Demeter Erinyes, somewhat the latter – with the additional shade of meaning of bringing about death via the desiccation and famine which had thence ensued.
There is one further point that must be made afore we turn to the Puranic continuation of this mythology to more properly fill in some of the details almost deliberately obscurated in the course of the Vedic hymn. And that concerns the lingering question over whether the ‘two twins’ is intended to mean that there are specifically two children of Saranyu Who are ‘deserted’ … or whether there are instead two pairs of twins subject to this fate – and presumably passed to a foster mother. Perhaps the ‘one like her’ mentioned in the previous line.
The ‘two pairs’ is probably more likely – as this is what is reflected in the Greek expression of the myth, wherein Nemesis does exactly this with the egg containing the two pairs of twins, Helen and Clytemnestra as well as Castor and Pollux, passing the egg to the assumedly mortal queen Leda … and I say ‘assumedly mortal’, because as we have previously noted [in the Radiant Queen of the Heavens series], it seems rather curious for the surprisingly generic and nondescript term ‘Wife’ to be her name. Almost as if just such a ‘generic’ substitute for a more remarkable and pointedly Divine Wife was being meant – something more of a ‘nurse’ or ‘nanny’, perhaps. There is certainly some support for this in some of the subsequent Hindu treatments of the issue – wherein the figure Who ‘replaces’ Saranyu is a mortal woman, or the aforementioned mere ‘shadow’ – created as but a ‘placeholder’.
Although given we also have quite prominent Greek accounts wherein Zeus’ sexual liason to conceive at least half of the children in question is conducted directly with Leda rather than this ‘surrogacy’ arranged via literal egg transplant by Nemesis; as well as significant Greek disagreement over just how many siblings were actually involved and in receipt of Divine heritage … perhaps this was a case wherein the account had already become rather confused and intricate even in PIE times and was transmitted in several semi-interlinked formulations amidst both the forerunners of the Hindus and the Ancient Greeks. Hence why we find mention for what should, in theory, be the ‘other woman’ – the ‘copy’ , the blackened ‘Shadow’ that is Chhaya – being Mother to Tapati and Revanta in various of the Puranic accounts ; something which mirrors quite directly the role for Nemesis as Mother to Helen of Troy, and Demeter Erinyes as Mother to Arion – and which should therefore militate against against Chhaya being a separate figure, a ‘substitute’ or (opposite-to-)pale imitation for the Wife of the Sky Father. But more upon those matters in due course.
To return to the main threads of our narrative – the Puranic accounts of this situation add vitally important details to our understanding; turning the incredibly threadbare account of those two and a half lines of the RigVeda into an actual explication of sorts of what has occurred and why. I shall not quote from them in depth, but suffice to say that Saranyu, unable to bear the intense heat and brilliance (might we say ‘ardour’ ?) of Vivasvan, creates a ‘Shadow Form’ (Chhaya) in order to take Her place at His side as She escapes off to the wilderness in horse form.
Now this introduces further points of interest for our cross-comparative Indo-European reconstructive mythology. For during the time that Chhaya is the ‘primary’ Wife of Surya , several additional children are conceived. These include Shaani (a baelful archer-avenger figure), Bhadra (a fierce and somewhat unapproachable Goddess of the Hunt), the aforementioned Tapati, Manu (as in, the Progenitor-Ancestor of Humanity), and Revanta (a Horse-Lord Huntsman deity; quite specifically conceived by His Parents when They are in horse form); although with the precise maternity ascribed to a number of these figures going backward and forward between Chhaya and Saranyu contingent upon the telling – in some cases, for example, Revanta is a Son of Saranyu rather than Chhaya. Often there is an emphasis upon the number three for both sets of children – three by Saranyu, three by Chhaya: something we have also seen when Castor and Pollux are joined by Helen as the three divine children of Nemesis or Leda to Zeus; or the occasional mention for triplets with the Progenitor Siblings (Manu & Yama having a third, Yami; and the rare mention for triplets giving a sibling to Romulus & Remus, for example); although the pattern is hardly consistent, and single births as well as twins are also represented.
However, I say that this represents a considerable ‘point of interest’ for us – because of course, the logical correlates for two of these siblings, Shaani and Bhadra, are Apollo and Artemis – a pair of siblings born to Leto; although with the situation complicated considerably via the fact that these two Classical Gods have in each case, taken on significant elements more prominently associated with the Sky Father and the Radiant Queen of the Heavens (or, we might perhaps say, the ‘Destroyer’ and ‘Diana’ [‘Di-‘ being rather overlapping with the ‘Ju’ in ‘Juno’ … and in ‘Jupiter’ – ‘Dyaus’ once again]). Nevertheless, this further helps to demonstrate that Leto and Leda are likely the same figure – and, via the addition of Tapati / Helen , that Nemesis, too, is involved. A matter further compounded when we consider the additional attested parentage of Revanta – wherein it is Ratri (that is to say, “Night” – and with the ‘Dark’ and ‘Nyx’ related elements quite pointedly in mind, the former particularly as applies the ‘shadowy’ Chhaya or the ‘black’ Demeter Erinyes) Who is the Mother to Him.
So how do we square all of this seemingly contradictory information? Well, as an old English master of mine used to say – the definition of a paradox is a seeming contradiction which, upon closer inspection, is not so. This is exactly what we see here via all of these figures. Insofar as the answers have been in front of us, this entire time. And involve seemingly different Women or Goddesses – Who, upon closer inspection and particularly in light of our comparative Indo-European perspective, turn out to actually be not so ‘different’ at all. Just appearing in different shapes – whether that of Deities (and specifically ‘Light’/’Conventional’ or ‘Dark’/’Furious’ form) or of deific animals.
Hence, there is no contradiction to be found in various Hindu texts ascribing the Motherhood of Manu or Revanta to Saranyu or Chhaya (or, in the case of Revanta, to Ratri); just as there is no contradiction to be found in various Greek texts ascribing the Motherhood of Arion to Demeter or to Gaia; or Helen and Castor & Pollux to Nemesis or Leda; or the comparative mythology showing that the Mother to Apollo & Artemis might very well be the same figure to the Mother of the aforementioned Horse/Hero/Helper Twins (The Asvins / Castor & Pollux) and the Solar Princess (Helen / Tapati) despite these being ostensibly two separate (although suspiciously similarly named) figures in the Greek texts which have come down to us.
Meanwhile, going the other way, this also handily helps to demonstrate that the paternity is also fundamentally consistent – even despite the changing ‘faces’, the changing ‘masques’ of the Sky Father involved. The figure that is Poseidon in the Greek rendering of the myth … is Surya Vivasvan in the Hindu understanding. The figure that is Zeus for the Greeks is hailed as Dyaus, hailed as Rudra in the RigVeda. This ‘Wide-Shining’ Surya, similarly, fathers the Horse-Twins and Tapati (especially) in later Hindu accounts – and this does not at all contradict with the Father of the Twins being declared to be Dyaus , Rudra , Zeus (, and, of course, in relation to Hengist & Horsa – Odin) .
Of course, another interpretation is possible as applies the Mother figure – and that is that, as we might be tempted to see in the analogy between Leda and Chhaya and this ‘wife’ mentioned in RV X 17 … that there is indeed a ‘second’ ‘substitute’ or ‘surrogate’ ‘wife’ involved. But as I have earlier said – if this is an authentic rendering, then it is evidently a very old ambiguity in the tale which should afford it. And does little to endeavour to explain the severely ‘mixed’ parentages ascribed to virtually all the children involved. In almost all instances we have but briefly looked at beforehand, the most elegant solution is also the simplest one: to take the various texts at face value when they adjacently declare these remarks around the ‘same essence’ finding ‘different expression’, form, or shape … and thence becoming confused as involving or entailing different beings entirely (which should not, of course, be mistaken for reductio ad monotheism).
A situation and a maxim which we could, I feel, very much extrapolate out to the broader situation of the Indo-European mythology all up.
[In Part III, we shall look at the ‘Furor’ element which has hitherto been missing as the essential ‘bridging of the gap’ between the Greek and Hindu accounts of this myth: the ‘Erinyes’ form and aspect of Demeter, Kali relative to Parvati ; the Black Visage of Death for the Earth Mother / Sky Queen Deific]