Recently, in the course of a discussion elsewhere, an occasional correspondant – ‘Indian History’ on twitter – made mention of a most intriguing Sanskrit term he’d observed in a Hymnal of the RigVeda.
We were discussing ‘Demigods’, and whether these were a more exclusively Greek / Classical phenomenon or something of a broader Indo-European provenance.
My personal perspective is that what’s connoted by the demigods within the Classical corpus is not really all that different from what we find elsewhere – simply differently labelled, as the result of rather different presumptions about the relative situations of Gods and mortals between the Hellenic and Hindu spheres. For them – i.e. the Greeks and their associated mythoi – there is a much harder dividing line between the two groups; for us – i.e. the Hindus – it is really more of a ‘spectrum’ in some ways, and in any case we find it uncontroversial to have figures correlate to the most famous demigod of all, Herakles, being born to ostensibly human parents yet still being (or re-becoming) fully-fledged divinities. The exemplars of this which I am thinking of being Hanuman (Who is said in some materials to have been condemned to ‘forget’ His Divinity and thence have to ‘work His way back up’ through properly penitent conduct serving others) and Krishna (although in this particular case, the names of Krishna’s human parents seem to preserve in euhemerized format the identities of the Sky Father and Mother Goddess – see my previous works upon the subject, and the comparison to the names of Herakles’ own Mother in this regard).
However, this does nevertheless demonstrate to us that what’s – again, broadly – communicated in the Greek mythos pertaining to Herakles and other such figures, also occurs in the Hindu understanding. Which either means that it’s a case of remarkably close ‘convergent evolution’, or it’s a case of something quite archaic – indeed, potentially Proto-Indo-European being preserved and passed forward in each dimensional sphere.
I personally suspect, as per often, that it is a case of ‘both’ rather than either.
Now, we CAN observe that within the Greek legendarium, there appears to have been a certain ‘euhemericism’ which has accompanied the figure of the Striker/Thunderer – not only in terms of half of His ostensible parentage, and consequent life circumstances pre-Apotheosis (i.e. actually requiring an apotheosis in order to become a God – or, in the Etruscan version of the telling, the breastmilk of Uni (a situation relevant as the acknowledgement of Hercle as Her ‘adopted’ Son), which may be sensibly connected, one presumes, to the Soma milk of the Mother Goddess as Cow in the Vedas), but also in terms of the Weapon of the Striker/Thunderer going from something truly supernal like the Vajra and most definitely mythic as with Mjolnir … through to a Harpe (Sword) or a knotted tree bough as a wooden club.
However, while I have most definitely argued that there is a not entirely dissimilar trend on-show for certain other Indo-European mythic occurrences including in the Hindusphere … it is not that trend which I wish to draw upon for this piece.
Instead, it is another ritual understanding – one I had covered much more extensively in my earlier ‘The Apple of Odin to Rerir, The Fire-Seed of Agni, The Egg of Nemesis, The Paternity of Alexander, And The Asvamedha of Dasharatha – On The Equine Investiture Of The Divine Essence In A King’s Heir-To-Be In The Indo-European Mytho-Religious Sacro-Political Tradition’.
There, we find a particular rite from the Shatapatha Brahmana in which an ‘investiture’ of divine essence is congealed and presented to a king’s wife (i.e. the queen of his kingdom) so as to beget a suitably impressive heir. I have plausibly connected this to various occurrences found elsewhere within the annals of Indo-European mythology – including in both the Nordic and Classical spheres; where we find Volsung, and … an array of Greek mythic (and even in at least one case, historical) exemplars fitting this typology.
All of which brings us to this aforementioned RigVedic Hymnal – RV IV 42. And the precise Sanskrit term which is of interest to us therein – Ardhadeva – quite literally ‘Half-God’ … rendered directly by Griffith in his translation of the RigVeda, appropriately enough, as “Demigod”.
Let’s look at the word in context:
“8 Our fathers then were these, the Seven his, what time the son of Durgaha was captive.
For her they gained by sacrifice Trasadasyu, a demi-god, like Indra, conquering foemen.
9 The spouse of Purukutsa gave oblations to you, O Indra-Varuṇa, with homage.
Then unto her ye gave King Trasadasyu, the demi-god, the slayer of the foeman.”
Now, to explicate what is going on here … RV IV 42 is a hymnal that is traditionally ascribed in its authorship to Trasadasyu Paurukutsya – Trasadasyu, the Son of Purukutsa. Trasadasyu, as a point of interest, presumably either means ‘[Re-]Mover of Dasyu’ or ‘Terrorizer [reducing to quivering/flight] of the Dasyu’ – apt for the Indra connotation.
The Indra-Varuna dual mentions are curious from the point of view of our mythological understanding, yet when considered via a ritual lense they are not so. The King has been invested with several essences – if we were running a pseudo-Dumezilian typology (a dangerous thing to do, indeed, but here a not entirely un-useful shorthand), we might suggest that the two ‘spheres’ or two ‘energies’ are that of ‘Brahmin’ and ‘Kshatriya’. As the King is supposed to be, in effect, something of ‘both’. However, I must emphasize that this is not literally the case, insofar as the actual Varna status of Varuna and Indra would be … rather more complex than that (for instance, there is a potentially intriguing mention for Varuna in ‘Kshatriya’ linkage in the Maitrayani Samhita which I have not – so far – personally followed up upon to directly attest), and that it is far better to think of proceedings as encompassing ‘competencies’ or ’empowerments’ in two areas rather than actually drawing from two Varnas (and not least because we quite frequently in both mythology and history find Brahmin weaponsmasters, generals, and kings; and deifics ostensibly grouped into that ‘First Function’ clade acting as incredibly potent martial and regal figures).
Trasadasyu phrases it quite directly, in the earlier verses of the Hymnal:
“1 I am the royal Ruler, mine is empire, as mine who sway all life are all Immortals.
Varuṇa’s will the Gods obey and follow. I am the King of men’s most lofty cover.
2 I am King Varuṇa. To me were given these first existing high celestial powers.
Varuṇa’s will the Gods obey and follow. I am the King of men’s most lofty cover.
3 I Varuṇa am Indra: in their greatness, these the two wide deep fairly-fashioned regions,
These the two world-halves have I, even as Tvaṣṭar knowing all beings, joined and held together.
4 I made to flow the moisture-shedding waters, and set the heaven firm in the scat of Order.
By Law the Son of Aditi, Law Observer, hath spread abroad the world in threefold measure.
5 Heroes with noble horses, fain for battle, selected warriors, call on me in combat.
I Indra Maghavan, excite the conflict; I stir the dust, Lord of surpassing vigour.
6 All this I did. The Gods’ own conquering power never impedeth me whom none opposeth.
When lauds and Soma juice have made me joyful, both the unbounded regions are affrighted.”
A functionary then adds the additional hailing to the King / Deific(s) –
“7 All beings know these deeds of thine thou tellest this unto Varuṇa, thou great Disposer!
Thou art renowned as having slain the Vṛtras. Thou madest flow the floods that were obstructed.”
And then we are back to the aforementioned verses wherein the description of the divine investiture of essence for the begetting of the Son of Purukutsa [i.e. RV IV 42 8-9] is the subject, again voiced by this other (non-Kingly) voice.
Now, the point I am seeking to elucidate with all of this is a remarkably simple one. We see a situation wherein the rite we know exists elsewhere in the Vedic canon, and which we can eminently reasonably infer to exist throughout the Indo-European sphere based on evidence marshalled in my earlier work aforementioned … is cited in this particular RigVedic hymnal.
We see it producing a scenario wherein the resultant regal offspring is regarded not merely as having a sort of ‘heritage’ nor ‘heredity’ from a God – or, in this case, two Gods, They being both Indra and Varuna (and it is intriguing that the one follows the other in a symbolic ‘descent’ from Heaven to Earth in the hymnal as pertains to Their authority and mighty deeds respectively). But rather, the King is being hailed as the God(s). That is to say, He is being regarded as an incarnate Eternal Return (in Eliadian terms), a sort of ‘Avatar’ (and ‘Descent’ is quite an apt summation here, in the non-formalized sense of that term ‘Avatar’ taken as a slightly broader concept than that more usually intended in Hindu theology).
Given that the formulation we have uncovered in both the Classical and Hindu realms appears to feature multiple parents (two human, at least one divine), and result in a Striker/Thunderer figure (Herakles, or Hanuman being useful exemplars here) – it would be tempting to speculate as to just how and why we appear to have myths in which a Demigod / ArdhaDeva form of the Striker/Thunderer is produced to these regal human parents, existing in the case of the Hindusphere alongside the mythology wherein the Striker/Thunderer is instead the child of the Sky Father and Mother Goddess (and there are some very intriguing points around the invocation of Aditi in RV IV 4 which we shall not address here, although build from our previous observations in various previous works oriented for Her) and is fully Divine from the start.
Two possibilities suggest themselves.
Either this is how things are ‘supposed’ to be, with multiple figures that are running off the same overarching essence occurrent within the mythology as a fairly consistent – and intentional – thing. Encoded within the mythology so that we know that it’s a thing, and that the rituals can produce such a concept – a ‘living God’ amongst mortal men; albeit one Who eventually dies (in literally mortal terms) and undergoes a post-mortem ‘Apotheosis Proper’, perhaps – as seen upon the funerary pyre of Herakles, and with Krishna’s death in the human sphere not impeding His Divine station in which He is so justifiably prominent today.
Or there has been some shift in understanding, possibly a bit of a confusion which has somehow emerged in parallel in both Hellenic and Hindu spheres, wherein something like the circumstances of King Trasadasyu has been, if you like, ‘mythunderstood’ – and resulted in the Striker/Thunderer having just such an ‘on-Earth’ (‘Loka-lized’, as I am fond of saying, and not merely for the terrestrial-ization, but due to the ‘humanity’ interpretation for ‘Loka’ likewise) ‘refraction’. With, over time, something being forgotten – some understanding having shifted, and so instead of ‘the King invested his son with divine essence so that he would be as the Striker/Thunderer is to the Sky Father; and as the Striker/Thunderer is to Mankind, as well as, when he should come to rule over us, as the Sky Father is to the universe entire’ … we have just wound up with ‘the wife of the King received ‘divine essence’ from the Sky Father, and has given birth to this princeling Who has the traits of the Striker/Thunderer’.
That is to say – instead of “this princeling was born which has the imprintings / resonancies of the Striker/Thunderer”, it may have become twisted with the travails of time and the passaging of story to become “the Striker/Thunderer was born amongst us”. And, in the Greek sphere, the blending of the two figures – the ‘fully divine’ Striker/Thunderer, and the ‘half-divine’ one – meaning that a fulsome recollection of the true (i.e. fully divine) nature of the Striker/Thunderer was forgotten about. This may also, all up, help to explicate the otherwise curious situation wherein we can quite clearly identify at least two Striker/Thunderer figures within the Greek mythos – They being Herakles, and His (Great) Grandfather (but also (half-)brother), Perseus; although with only Herakles being regarded as (eventual) God ‘proper’, and worship of Perseus largely restricted to hero-cult veneration.
However, it is also necessary to consider that as applies Hanuman – we have the occurrence in RV X 86 of quite direct statements ascribed to Indra by the verse-smith that the Bull-Ape (Vrsakapi) and He are ‘ritually equivalent’, in the sense that offerings to the one go also to the other, to the same effective place. This is voiced in the context of objection being raised to said Vrsakapi figure seeming to ‘steal’ the offerings of Lord Indra (and engage in certain other conduct which could be euphemistically phrased as ‘taking liberties’ and inviting Himself into the Striker/Thunderer’s position and identity).
I have long argued that RV X 86 evinces that the figure of Hanuman, the iconographically depicted ‘Monkey (visaged) God’ was not some non-Arya latter assimilation nor incorporation as some Indologists like to claim – but rather an alternate ‘facing’ of the Striker/Thunderer deific; a point perhaps supported by the curious occurrence of ‘Curious/Unwise Ape’ in apparent reference to Thor in the Nordic textual corpus.
The fact of this occurrence – the idea of ‘two-but-really-one’ (for ritual purposes especially) Striker/Thunderer(s) – is therefore attested in the RigVeda, means that as applies Hanuman at least, this ‘double-up’ is not entirely a novel development in the later textual (indeed, post-Vedic) textual corpus. It does not fully account for various matters, and we are left wondering whether the circumstances of Bajrangi’s birth to Anjani and Kesari (featuring an ingestion by the former of a portion of the ritual production via which the king Dasharatha had hoped to conceive just such a divinely empowered heir) were actually in the original mythology which RV X 86 is implicitly referencing, or whether these are a ‘back-filling’ set of details as the story grew in later times.
What we can observe, however, is that the rather curious later theological statements of Hanuman being simultaneously an Avatar of Shiva (yet also, as we have seen, evidently a ‘resonancy’ of Lord Indra) and Son of Vayu (and/or Shiva – various texts attest either) … are not so contradictory as they may otherwise appear. For leaving aside the longstanding equivalency in various senses of Shiva and Vayu, and Shiva in particular with the Sky Father deific (as directly attested via the RigVeda’s statements of Rudra being Dyaus), with the Striker/Thunderer being the logical Son of Same … what we have observed within RV IV 42 is a direct statement of a figure born as the result of this style of ritual being at once the “Son of Aditi” [Aditi is the Mother of Indra by Dyaus, She is the Queen of the Heavens), i.e. (a resonancy of) the Striker/Thunderer and simultaneously, (a resonancy of) a Sky Father figure (i.e. Varuna).
As it should happen, this also helps us to explicate the various Ramayana occurrences wherein Lord Rama is hailed or otherwise regarded as Indra-like – a cause taken up by the eminent modern-day Vedic sage, Manasataramgini in the course of his work. Rama being that heir conceived by Dasharatha via the ritual employment which had also produced Hanuman. Although where Manasataramgini has taken the view that Hanuman is intended to be a ‘refraction’ or ‘carrying forward’ of Vayu – I would instead suggest that it is a case of ‘both rather than either’, with Hanuman for whatever reason being in receipt of both Indra and Vayu resonancies; and the situation of Rama effectively representing a not unfamiliar archaic Indo-European understanding for certain mythic(ally mighty) figures being ‘bearers’ of these emanated essences without (necessarily) supplanting the major deific Who has contributed thusly. It is not, in other words, a case of ‘Stealing His Thunder’ (a line which most definitely had to go in this piece somewhere!).
All of this brings us back to the situations of Herakles and Perseus in the Greek Indo-European comparanda.
To put it bluntly, we cannot verifiably nor reliably assert what has gone on there with anything like the (relative) clarity of the above in relation to the Hindu recollection of such matters. There simply isn’t enough material – and what we do have can be read in so many different ways, including from itself. A frequently encountered struggle for us here. And one that is not easily resolved via recourse to the broader Indo-European sphere for comparatives for that exact reason.
It could be that as applies Herakles and/or Perseus, a human prince or princes operating in the manner of Trasadasyu had become so comprehensively identified with the Striker/Thunderer deific that almost nothing of his actual mortal life and deeds remained, other than the mortal circumstances of his birth and maternal situation (albeit with the name of the mother tending to be quite close to what we should expect for the Wife of the Sky Father – either because this, too, has become ‘subsumed’ by the assumption of the mantle of myth by the Son, or because the ‘Son of Aditi’ situation from RV IV 42 4 is an essence-tial portion of the ritual processes and understanding; or, perhaps even, because the human child(ren) may indeed have been born to a queen or queens with a divinely resonant / resemblant name). Certainly, in RV IV 42, if we did not have additional surrounding contextual information (both provided in some small number of lines of the Hymnal itself, as well as elsewhere in the scriptural canon), we could be forgiven for reading much of that Hymn (mythic-)literally, and thinking that this was, indeed, the Indra speaking about His Mighty Deeds, or being hailed for same.
Or it could go the other way – insofar as the mythic figure with the mythic circumstances of life has been semi-misremembered as having mortal (part-)parentage , and this detail has come to somewhat define the later mythological-corpus existence of the Striker/Thunderer amongst the Greeks. An ‘addition’ of (semi-)mortality and requiring subsequent apotheosis to resolve the contradiction and restore Herakles (but apparently not Perseus) to the status of the Olympian ‘true God’ Striker/Thunderer commensurate with His co-expressions, Indra and Thor elsewhere amidst the Indo-European sphere. If this were the case, it may have been a semi-intentional ‘tweak’ – designed to present the ‘position’ of the Striker/Thunderer as ‘available’ for assumption here in this mortal world of ours by the suitably ritually empowered and prepared (indeed, quite literally prayed for) princeling.
It would be tempting to assume that as we have two of these figures amongst the Greeks – Perseus and Herakles – that one is the ‘original God’, and the other is a recollection of the ‘elevated princeling’. I cannot suggest one way or the other whether there is any truth to that – and instead can only point to the fact that both Perseus and Herakles possess quite key features in the course of Their Live(s) that would make it very difficult to determine which should properly be regarded as which. I shall not enumerate these here, but suffice to say that if Herakles has the Olympian end to His mortal existence, Perseus’ circumstances following His Birth, being set adrift upon the sea with His Mother, Dannae (note – another Mother Goddess theonymic resonancy, although also rather interesting given the likely etymology meaning ‘(Flowing) Water’) clearly resonating with the situation of Lord Indra in RV IV 18 , where Indra too is consigned to the waters as a newborn. However, these details pertaining to Perseus are not only resonant with the mythology of Indra – but the later attestations for the early circumstances of both Krishna and Karna also (as I considered at greater length in a number of previous works, including ‘On The Birth Of Indra And Its Direct Parallel In The Circumstance Of Danae And Perseus, Devaki And Krishna, Pritha And Karna, Etc.’). As the latter of these in particular appears quite a logical candidate for the ‘Demigod’ rubric (being the son of the Sun God to a mortal woman, conceived via the utilization of a particular mantra, and not usually thought of as a deity in the main sense), perhaps such an element (notwithstanding its seeming lack of attestation for the young Herakles) may apply to both/either Striker/Thunderer proper as well as to the mortal child conceived as a resonancy of He.
It may also simply be the result of different local versions of the Striker/Thunderer acknowledged by different Greek groups of the far-distant pre-antiquity, under different theonymics and unevenly preserving certain other details – then, when coming together in the higher and more Classical age where much mythology of this kind was ‘reconciled’ into an attempt at a cohesive mythos … instead of realizing that it was a case of two expressions of the same deific, we wound up with two figures that could both be identified as related in some sense (namely, the paternity), yet which remained obscure in various other coterminities. There is some potential precedency for this when we consider the general confusion even into the Classical era of just what to make of Dionysus … to the point of some ancient authorities holding that there were, in fact, multiple Dionysuses even named as such (and including Zagreus; Sabazios, also, where Thracian ‘Interpretatio’ was called for), whilst others recalled the co-identification with Hades etc. and so forth.
About the only thing we can state for certain – is that we cannot state very much for certain. Other than, of course, the clear saliency for the Striker/Thunderer underlying Indo-European mythology in the Classical accountings that have come down for us of each of Herakles and Perseus (and, of course, the Roman, Etruscan, etc. etc. equivalent figures).
Although thanks to this most intriguing RigVedic Hymnal – we can now also assert with confidence that the notion of the ‘Demigod’ … and, as I had predicted in various works written over the course of the past year, the saliency for the Striker/Thunderer in relation to resonancy for the royal heir conceived via the relevant ritual in question, informing a fair few mythic figures of prominency likewise … that these things are much more ancient and archaically Indo-European than are often suspected by many.
For that, we can but thank the rather forthrightly stated verses of this ancient Vedic King, Trasadasyu.