The Description Of The Vajra In The Vedas – Some Initial Points

This is a modern depiction of Indra, and it forms a bit of a counterpoint to the more simple Vajra renderings you’ll often see – however, the interesting thing is … this is actually rather close to how the Vajra is described in various RigVedic verses. [Although this *specific* version may in fact be intending to represent the Vajra as something close to a ribcage, due to the sacrifice of Dadhyanc to provide the bones of the weapon in other versions]

RV I 80 12, for instance, describes the Vajra as having a thousand [or, at least, ‘many’ – if we interpret the ‘Sahasra’ of सहस्रभृष्टिः [sahasrabhrstir] idiomatically rather than more literally] spikes/edges , as well as a certain ‘metallic’ [‘ayasa’] quality (perhaps the shinyness is also meant).

As for the actual term being enumerated there – भृष्टि (‘Bhrsti’) – it is interestingly a close cognate for ‘Bristle’, ‘Bristly’ in English. In Sanskrit, this means ‘Spiked’, ‘Pointed’. The sense being communicated, however, is likely a dual one – as there is another Bhrsti of exactly the same pronunciation yet different etymological derivation that means ‘To Fry’. Indeed, modern English ‘Fry’ is actually a pretty direct cognate. Not hard to see how this might apply to a lightning-bolt, no?

This sense is also found in RV I 52 15, which describes the weapon as being भृष्टिमता – that is to say ‘Bristly’. Indeed, there it is hailed as the ‘Bhrstimata Vadhena’ – the ‘Executing Spiked/Angled’ [Wilson translates Bhrstimata here as ‘Angled’, Griffith, as ‘Spiked’].

RV X 96 3, meanwhile, whilst also having that ‘metallic’ descriptor – pointedly repeats ‘Hari’ terminology .. which I think it is quite feasible to interpret not simply as ‘Golden’, but with an accompanying ‘energy’ sense around ‘fire’ and ‘light’; although हरिमन्युसायकः [‘harimanyusayakaḥ’] is a most intriguing term due to its last component , for our purposes here – sayaka is an ‘arrow’ or a ‘sword’, but often something to be shot or thrown or discharged.

Now, this is rather curious because of course – it is quite rare for one to wish to throw one’s sword (I believe there are some examples in Nordic verse, but that is another matter for another time). That would instead suggest that the ‘Killing’ root … or perhaps ‘Sharpness’ is what underpins the term – for it to mean both ‘Arrow’ and ‘Sword’.

Although I cannot help but recall the citation given in Pseudo-Apollodorus’ Bibliotheca for Herakles having confronted the Hydra in part by deploying flaming arrows/spears – as well as the more familiar club. Given the observed strong coterminity in other particulars for Herakles contra the Hydra with Indra against Vritra – this would perhaps suggest the relevant root for Herakles utilizing flaming projectiles is, in part, some shared understanding of that nature around .. well .. depicting Lightning in such a manner that may run back to PIE times.

Certainly, we have attestation for the Arrows of Rudra being Lightning, as one iconographic comparative to exemplify. And the ThunderBolt of Jupiter is similarly a Javelin/Spear weapon that also takes form of the incomparable radiance of Lightning.

There’s a few other Hymnals that should probably be looked at – and, of course, various other Vedic texts including the Brahmanas.

But for now – that weapon Indra is wielding in this depiction … would appear to be reasonably recognizable as the same as [and informed by] that in the Shruti scripture.

Although, of course, in much the similar manner to ‘bottling lightning’, actually being able to properly depict such a thing – even in poetic terms rather than illustration – is of course going to be rather difficult.

One thought on “The Description Of The Vajra In The Vedas – Some Initial Points

  1. Pingback: The Description Of The Vajra In The Vedas – Some Initial Points – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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