A carved Surya from Magadha, likely about 21-22 centuries old.
Now, I felt this deserved a brief commentary due to the two decidedly female figures either side of Lord Surya in the Solar Chariot.
Per the Suprabedhagama and Amsumadbhedagama (manuals of Hindu iconographic depiction, inter alia) – we may find Surya flanked by Prathyusha & Usha … armed with Bow and Arrows, with which They are engaged in banishing the Darkness.
Rather apt for, of course, the Dawn(s). And certainly, we find mention in the Vedas for Ushas as a Warrior Goddess. Although I suspect that another archaic Indo-European typology may, perhaps, be on display here:
These Archers are also spoken of as the Maricis – Marici meaning ‘Illumination’, ‘Ray of Light’ … at least, directly and colloquially.
For I suspect that while this is accurate, our habitual Mytholinguistic approach may reveal something rather Deepa [‘Illumination’, again] indeed !
Allow me to introduce a concept. Something we have been meaning to write upon for some time now is the frequent Indo-European incidence of a particular God having a retinue of female warriors.
The best example of these are, of course, the fearsome RudraGanikas [‘Gana’ as in ‘Tribe’ / ‘Company’, here in feminine form – the RudraGanas being well-known and in various instances quite correlate to the European Wild Hunt]; however if you know where and how to look, you start seeing these all across the Indo-European expanse. The Valkyries of Odin, Ash-Nymphs (Meliae) of Dionysus (and, for that matter, the Maenads, etc.), and implicitly the Varoti (Vata-Putri – Daughters of the Wind) of the Kalash are all reasonable exemplars.
The discerning reader shall, of course, note that there is an underlying point of coterminity in evidence here: each of these female retinues is in accompaniment of a Sky Father expression: Odin, for the Nordic; Dionysus as one of the … array of Masques of the Sky Father (Dyaus Pitar) in the Greek; and Rudra, of course, being explicitly hailed Dyaus Pitar in the Vedas.
Surya … upon occasion, and contingent upon which Surya we are talking about, also often resonates with the Sky Father complex.
We can tell this via sustained contextual analysis of Surya and the associated mythology via the light of the Sky Father saliencies of these other IE spheres – or, for that matter, via some of the other Sky Father expressions in the Vedic / Hindu sphere.
For example – Surya’s pursuit of His Wife, Saranyu (a matter complicated by Her Shadow (Chhaya) – and perhaps we may briefly note that the Vedas have pre-figured Jung and his contemplation of the psychological ‘Shadow’ and its necessity of confrontation and internalization (especially for stable and healthy romantic partnership to be possible) by … a good three and a half thousand years) concords in key respects with both Poseidon’s pursuit of Demeter Erinyes and Zeus’ pursuit of Nemesis (or Leda).
The progeny of this situation include the Horse Twins – the Asvins / Divo Napata [Sons of Heaven / Dyaus … with these also spoken of as Sons of Rudra in the Vedas], also known as the Dioscuri (again – Sons of Dios), or Hengist & Horsa (descended of Odin); as well as a certain incredibly beautiful Solar Princess – Helen of Troy, or Tapati.
And, to further cement things – we even have what would appear to be an exemplar of that most famous of the Sons of the Sky Father, the Striker/Thunderer, sired by Lord Surya. This being Karna, of the Mahabharat – wielding a Weapon of Lord Indra (the Vasava Astra), no less; and with birth-and-exile-upon-the-waters hallmarks to His narrative which similarly resonate directly with the likes of Indra and Perseus.
Now, we have detailed various ‘identifying marks’ of all of these various mythemes and typologies in question elsewhere in our work, and so shall not further delve into these matters here.
It is enough for us to say that – even leaving aside the continual Solar hailings of Rudra (et co) – we can comfortably co-identify a figure spoken of as Surya (although again – not all the Suryas) with both Rudra and the broader Indo-European Sky Father deific sphere.
This enables us to begin to approach the actual intended subject of this piece – those martial maidens riding alongside Surya in the chariot in this fine sculpted representation: The Maricis.
So why is it that I am evidently discontent with simply presenting ‘Marici’ as ‘Ray of Light’, etc. – and instead delving into comparative mythology / theology and Indo-European linguistics to explore what is not so directly attested?
Because when I sat down to actually check said etymology for ‘Marici’, I noticed something curious.
Namely, a brief line in one dictionary linking the ‘Mar’ to that ‘Mr’ in Sanskrit which stands for “Death”.
This contrasts quite heavily with the more ‘orthodox’ etymological proposals – which instead seek to suggest that the ‘Mar’ of ‘Marici’ ought mean something along the lines of ‘Shining’, ‘Flickering’, or ‘Shimmering’; potentially even positing a cognate with what turns into the ‘Morn’ of ‘Morning’ in modern English.
However that’s where things get … overly complicated. Because basically all of the above actually wind up at very-closely-coterminous PIE terms. Basically all of which are some permutation upon PIE *Mer with varying inflections.
There’s the *Mer which means ‘Death’ [also the root of modern English ‘Mort’], there’s another to refer to ‘Disappearance’ [which may be the same PIE *Mer; and which also gives terms for bodies of water like … Mere], a third to mean ‘Shine’ or ‘Shimmer’, and even a fourth which appears to mean ‘Young Man’ or ‘Young Woman’ [and gives us the ‘Marya’ warband members that storm their way all across from the Indo-Iranic zone proper to the Ancient Near East and become eponymously identified with the Chariots that were making quite the waves in warfare at that point in time in the latter area].
One approach to analyzing Marici has, perhaps unsurprisingly, been to cross-compare with another Sanskrit ‘Mar-‘ term – ‘Marut’.
Except there, we run into complications. A frequent etymology for ‘Marut’ connects it with that ‘Shining’, ‘Flashing’ PIE term – and makes the obvious inference of the ‘Lightning’ connection of the Maruts as the effective reason for the group-name.
This sounds reasonable – however it has been pointed out that there does not actually seem to be much basis for this in Sanskrit itself. We’re lacking prominent attestation for a ‘Mar-‘ in that language which actually means what it’s supposed to. There’s not a root for ‘Marut’ to be built from which can supply the ‘Lightning’.
We do however, have quite the explosive array of ‘Mar-‘ terms that refer to death, dying, violence, subjugation, ending, etc.
And while it’s rather straightforwardly apparent how this might apply to, say, the Maruts (notwithstanding that ‘Marut’ has been connected, potentially non-exclusively, to the ‘Young Man’ term we’ve but briefly met earlier above) – the question would naturally arise as to how it should make sense for the Maricis.
The answer is that these bow-armed maids are, as we said right at the outset, ‘fighting the Dark’ – driving it off, causing it to ‘cease’.
You often hear ‘Killing Even Death’ etc. [not in English, obviously] in Sanskrit theonymics and epithets – well, here we have ‘Darkening even the Dark’, perhaps. ‘Darkening’ as in ‘Causing to Disappear’ just as the Dark itself causes things to disappear within it.
The sense communicated via Ancient Greek μᾰραίνω [Maraino] is probably quite relevant here – causing something to ‘shrink back’, to ‘die away’ (like a guttering flame retreating down into its embers as it goes out).
Given the ‘Solar Afterworld’ / Heaven understanding we find to varying extents in an array of archaic Indo-European cosmologies and eschatologies, there may be some additional good grounding to presume a ‘Solar’ character for female warrior figures Who may have some linkage to the Lord and Lady Who rule that particular realm(s).
The third limb to be considered is that term pertaining to a ‘young man’ – or, perhaps curiously, (also) a ‘young woman’ [c.f Ancient Greek μεῖρᾰξ – Meirax]. PIE *Mer again – although with the addition of a ‘-yos’ onto the end.
This, as we have said, is one plausible root for ‘Marut’ – as attested via the मर्य (‘Marya’) term that lies at the heart of a more .. mortal group of glory-seekers, the youthful raiders mounted often upon horse and/or chariot who Stormed their way across vast swathes of the archaic world in a manner strongly reminiscent of the celestial typology of that aforementioned Gana-grouping of the Sky Father.
This should prove rather interesting, as if accurate it would therefore seem to suggest that the Marici would not simply be ‘Maids’ – but rather, in linguistic and potentially mythic terms, female ‘counterparts’ to the Maruts of the Sky Father (and accompanying Indra, etc.).
Certainly, in terms of general function – we can addeuce that the sense of ‘driving back the Darkness’ through martial (metaphysical) force is quite strongly coterminous between the two groups.
And, as we have already indicated, this notion of there being both male and female warrior-retinue figures for the Indo-European Deific in question is uncontroversial in the extreme: those RudraGanikas (of Rudra) and the Ash-Nymphs accompanying Dionysus are standout exemplars.
The former, as we know, occurring directly alongside masculine (and often ‘wild-men’) counterparts ; the latter finding similar cohorts in the (pseudo-)spear-wielding θῐ́ᾰσος (‘Thiasos’ – likely from ‘Thyrsus’, the sharp-pointed staff of Dionysus and borne also by His Ardent Devotees, both ‘Shaking’ and otherwise). Which, as a brief point of interest, often appear in the art as a wedding procession – just as the Ganas of Shiva come as the Bhole Ki Baraat [the armed wedding procession of Bholenath – Lord Shiva] .. or, for that matter, we occasionally glimpse a similar congregation in service and (potentially armed) escort of Poseidon and His Bride (as well as, again resonantly, providing Dancers).
In any case, it is rather sad that this particular Solar warrioress clade is not better known. This is partially because of the rather greater ‘popularity’ of the other Marici – that being the Buddhist deific which appears to have been informed by the Hindu understanding. And then eclipsed its more archaic forerunner.
Yet if there is one thing we are adroit at here (and in truth, it is one amidst many – albeit often rather heavily interrelated in subtle, yet complex modalities) … it is at first ‘catching sight of’, and thence rather rapidly ‘catching up to’ otherwise hiddenly obscurated figures out there drawn from the world(s) of Indo-European Myth.
We look forward to doing so once again.
ॐ सूयार्य नमः