I’m a great believer. In many things – but in this particular case, well … you’ll see what I mean in due course.
Earlier this week whilst researching the recent Sacral Cow piece, I happened across the following verse from the Shatapatha Brahmana. And it … resonated with me.
Here’s the section of text:
“14 Manu was in possession of a bull. Into him had entered an Asura-killing, foe-killing voice; and by his snorting and roaring the Asuras and Rakṣas were continually being crushed. Thereupon the Asuras said to one another: ‘Evil, alas! this bull inflicts upon us! how can we possibly destroy him?’ Now Kilāta and Ākuli were the two priests (brahman) of the Asuras.
15 These two said, ‘God-fearing, they say, is Manu: let us two then ascertain!’ They then went to him and said: ‘Manu! we will sacrifice for thee!’ He said: ‘Wherewith?’ They said: ‘With this bull!’ He said: ‘So be it!’ On his (the bull’s) being killed the voice went from him.
16 It entered into Manāvī, the wife of Manu; and when they heard her speak, the Asuras and Rakṣas were continually being crushed. Thereupon the Asuras said to one another: ‘Hereby even greater evil is inflicted on us, for the human voice speaks more!’ Kilāta and Ākuli then said: ‘God-fearing, they say, is Manu: let us then ascertain!’ They went to him and said: ‘Manu! we will sacrifice for thee!’ He said: ‘Wherewith?’
They said: ‘With this thy wife!’ He said: ‘So be it!’ And on her being killed that voice went from her.
17 It entered into the sacrifice itself, into the sacrificial vessels; and thence those two (Asura priests) were unable to expel it. This same Asura-killing, foe-killing voice sounds forth (from the millstones when they are beaten with the wedge). And for whomsoever that knows this, they produce this discordant noise on the present occasion, his enemies are rendered very miserable.”
[SBr I 1 4, Eggeling Trans.]
It is not, upon the face of it, some grand sweep of soaring rhetoric; nor is it – at least overtly – intended as trenchant ‘lifestyle guidance’.
It’s from one of our ‘ritual manuals’, and that’s precisely what it’s there to do – ensure the remembrance of a particular vital ritual step by presenting such in ‘narrativized’ form. Yet as is ever the genius of the Vedas, we can find profundity even in the most unexpected of places – if we know where and how to look.
It can also present something entirely different – if not outright distortionary – if one happens to be hell-bent on taking everything merely at two-dimensional face value. Which is how I’d come into contact with the text – that piece by Bruce Lincoln on a ‘bovine sacrifice’ as a foundational act of PIE cosmology made mention of it.
Except that’s not really what’s actually going on here at all. By which I mean, yes, there absolutely is a sentence upon a page that details a bull having been killed via two nefarious demonic ‘priests’ … just as there is a follow-up sentence informing us of a lamentably similar-sounding fate meted out to Manu’s poor wife.
But this isn’t a descriptive manual for a bull-sacrifice, much less a woman-sacrifice. Quite the contrary. It’s simply detailing the reasoning why, at this stage of the sacrificial rite preparations, the Priest shall clash together the two ‘Press-Stones’ with which the actual sacrificial offering (in this particular case, rice being ground in a manner akin to Soma) shall later be ground, to produce a rather overt banging noise.
Let’s take a step back and examine the symbolism at play here. That’ll help to explicate things more fulsomely.
The Bull at the start of proceedings is said to have harboured a most potently resounding Voice [Vak] – one that was, indeed, “an Asura-killing, foe-killing voice”, via which even “by his snorting and roaring the Asuras and Rakṣas were continually being crushed”.
This is no ordinary Bull. Indeed, it resonates symbolically with the taurine form for the Sky Father – a figure we find in quite the number of Vedic Hymnals making use of just such a Thundering capacity in order to smite the evildoer, the fiend, in earnest.
Except the Bull is also doing something else here. It is providing a most handy evocation for one of my favoured Sanskrit theological maxims : ‘Vacam Garjit Lakshanam’ … which, for those of you out there in the audience who somehow haven’t heard me waxing lyrical about this before … ‘Vacam’ – ‘(Divine) Voice’; ‘Garjita’ – ‘Thunder’ or ‘Roaring’ (i.e. Indistinct (yet Loud) Noise); ‘Lakshanam’ – ‘Bearing the Imprintings of’. So, translated one way – ‘Thunder Bearing The Characteristics Of Divine Speech’. Yet translated another way … a loud indistinct sound that one must be of rather special aptitude to actually divine the Speech carried there within. Elegant, no?
A situation of this nature does, in fact, occur at a famed juncture of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad – the very same section that T.S. Eliot borrowed for his Wasteland epic. Wherein (more overtly in the case of the latter) it is Prajapati issuing instruction to the three clades of Being via the very same principle: a single syllable, ‘Da’, that can be ‘congealed’ in multiple different manners contingent upon just what it is that the listener brings to the conversation – if they should hear anything at all. Some may just hear Thunder. But more upon that some other time.
In effect, what we see viz. that Bull is something Divine, yes, and most definitely in possession of the Divine Speech – and that is something that the Demons are therefore outright terrified of. As well, they should be ! And yet … it is something rather ‘remote’. It is ‘indistinct’ Speech, after all. The actual terms used – śvasathād and ravathād – do, basically, render as ‘snorting and roaring’. It is not exactly ‘speech’ as we humans would think of it. Which does not stop it from ‘doing the job’ – doing the job at least well enough for those nefarious Demonic Priests to turn up and hatch a Cunning Plan.
They talk Manu into allowing the Bull to be sacrificed.
Which, to the no doubt horror of the demons in question, does not actually dissipate nor dispel the Voice in question. Instead, it transfers into the figure of Manāvī – identified both by text and by nomenclature, as the Wife of Manu. Wherein this Divine Voice [Vak] proceeds to Speak Forth with even greater demon-slaying rezonancy than the Bull’s roaring and snorting had done.
What has happened ? Well, if we conceive of that Bull as being rather closer to the ‘absolute’ end of things and rather further away from ‘us down here’ … well, its roaring housed the ‘concepts’ in much more ‘abstracted’ form. Still powerful – yet ‘dispersed’, lacking a certain ‘focus’, especially in our more immediate environs. The Sun is incredibly bright and hot … Up There … yet in normal conditions Down Here, it doesn’t set people on fire. Now a laser beam (or, for that matter, pseudo-historical-but-vaguely-plausible-sounding helical mirror array) on the other hand … well, as you can see. It’s Down Here. Much more ‘tightly focused’ – and so therefore it doesn’t need to be the great general booming of the Sun slash the Bull’s Thunder in order to (figuratively … ) blow people away. Less energy required for same effect due to greater propinquity and greater focusing / refinement – which means that if the same level of energy is going on, greater effect can tangibly be observed to be occurring.
Which is, of course, what those demons observed.
Now at this point, we simply must take another ‘step back’ into the realms of the Vedic ritual-liturgical conceptry … to note that what’s being described here is not, in fact a prominent mythic occurrence of Manu somehow being talked into having His Wife killed by silver-tongued demon-priests. It’s a metaphor. It’s there to illustrate a point – several in fact. I am unaware – personally, at any rate – of any of the actual mythology wherein Manu’s Wife has this happen to Her. You can safely file it with the bit wherein Vritra becomes the Moon and has to be beaten hard to secure the Soma by Lord Indra [SBr I 6 3 17] – which, as you can immediately ascertain, cannot be literally meant, precisely because Indra in the actual mythology requires the Soma first in order to smite Vritra, for a start. Ritual explication, as I say. I digress.
No, part of what’s being communicated to us here is a rather different Vedic ritual element.
Sacrifice IS involved – yet of an entirely different notion than one might be forgiven for thinking of upon reading the verses we’d quoted towards the start.
You see, there’s a rather prominent Vedic understanding for Vak, the Goddess of Speech, to be said to be in a (matrimonial) relationship with the Vedic Rsi (Seer, Poet). This shows up in that particular line of RigVedic Verse I am so often quoting – RV X 125 5 – wherein it is quite explicitly Vak’s ‘Kama’ (often translated as ‘Choosing’ … perhaps somewhat indirectly) that renders a man a Rsi or a Brahmana. The Jnanam Sukta (RV X 714) further expresses the conceptry. And, of course, SBr III 2 1 is largely built around a ‘practical application’ for this understanding.
To be more specific, the Priest (taking the effective role, we may say, of Agni – although in this case, Yajna (i.e. ‘Sacrifice’) more specifically) engages in a ‘Priestly Duel’ of sorts with a ‘priest of the demons’ for the affections of Vak. This is done so as to induce Vak to take up Her Place within the Vedic Sacral Pyre. And it is, to phrase it directly, an effort that is directly that of ‘wooing a woman’.
Now, this might seem a bit curious to an outside perspective, yet it makes quite fundamental sense. We are well familiar, after all, with the notion of the Shakti of a being being that which renders them powerful – and Vak is, most definitely, a very potent facing to Her.
Yet in ritualine terms, what is involved is the (male) priest / yagna pairing with the (female) Vak [Speech], in order to produce within the altar-fire, the ’embryo’ of a God to be manifested out here amongst us ‘down here’. That’s how Gods get here through the Altar-Flame. ‘Incarnating’ on a temporary basis you may say. Being ‘born’.
And hence – that’s what’s being referred to here in the Shatapatha Brahmana verses that had inspired me so.
This “Manāvī, the wife of Manu”, with the potency of Vak, is in fact Vak – Manu is, here, the First Priest and a template for later priestly men. The ‘Wife of the Priest’ in Vedic ritual terms – excepting in those instances wherein yes, it’s quite literally a human priest’s human wife – is indeed Her.
And so, when those dastardly demon-priests here say that they shall sacrifice with Manu’s Wife … well, yes, yes that’s what you would do. One must sacrifice with Vak. One cannot have a Vedic Rite without the Sacred, Empowered Speech. Vak must be Involved, and actively amenable. We sacrifice with Her rather than, say, sacrificing Her. Even though yes, yes once again, per SBr III 2 1, She does go into the Altar-Fire. Where, like Hestia of the Hellenic understanding, She gets First Share of the offering [per SBr III 5 1 22-23 and SBr III 5 2 8-9]
So … ‘Killed’ ? No, not really. Vak has just gone from one place to another within the context of the ritual processional. And, in this case, has gone from ‘out here’ within the general sphere of the ritual (itself a progression from ‘up there’, as we had previously witnessed, viz. the transition from the station of the Bull), through to ‘in there’, in terms of the ‘actively engaged’ section of the material operations of the rite.
And that is where the demons truly know horror. For it becomes readily apparent that Vak hasn’t died at all – but has only ‘relocated’ into that aforementioned ‘actively operationalized’ section of the ritual. With its quite literal ‘moving parts’.
And has, if anything, only gained in potency with Her demon-destroying sonic force through this ’emplacement’. Which has also set the stage for, well, an actual Vedic Ritual to take place – with its corresponding innate ultra-hazardness for demon-kind.
Now there’s something rather heartening about all of this, even if only on this … not-quite-surface of levels.
At every turn, despite demonic interference, the forces of the Divine rally. The Forces of the Divine Hold. The Forces of the Divine come back in, if anything, enhanced, focused, raised strengthening and greater distillation – outright immanency of purpose and functional force.
It is just exactly that progressive ‘processional’ of conceptual-active-immanentization that the passage also succinctly (and rather literally evocatively) illustrates.
So, ‘Concept’ becomes ‘Vocal Expression’; or perhaps we may phrase it as ‘Expression’ becomes ‘Refined Expression’. Something ‘Abstract’ and ‘Remote’ becomes ‘relatable’, and more directly in amidst both our mind (and our understanding’s occasionally somewhat fleeting grasp) and immediate sphere. That all refers to the Vak within the Bull with its Roaring becoming the Vak that is the Priest’s most immediate, intimate companion.
We then see that most actively vital further enactment – the third step, the second transition:
The actual ‘ritual action’ which provides ‘tangible expression’. Even if, as here, it’s in symbolic format.
There is not – yet – the genuine clashing of the Press-Stones to grind the offering. It is merely the clashing of the Press-Stones to produce the sound as if they were in trenchant operation. In order to clear out and intimidate those who might seek to disrupt things otherwise. A still yet necessary and vital predicate for the full-scale ‘action’ yet to come.
That ‘full scale’ action being the major use of the Press-Stones, and other alike employments. Which do most directly involve ‘drawing down’ from the abstract and supernal – indeed, from the significantly ‘Bull’ associated Face of the Sky Father up there ‘midst the Heavens – through the medium and the mechanism of that Wife (Speech) and the Sacral Blaze, on out into this world around us, this world of ours.
So why I have been musing upon these notions is because they seemed, in a word, ‘resonant’ for just what it is that we have been doing here, at and through Arya Akasha.
We have ‘encountered’ that great Bull – the ‘abstract’, the ‘conceptual’; we have Heard the Roar. And for myself – well, it is ever present within me.
We have also begun to, ‘vocalize’ I suppose you might say. ‘Translating’ and ‘transducing’ from ‘Up There’ to ‘Down Here’ through the means and the medium of more ‘human’, expressive language. Multi-thousand word textual monoliths, for the most part.
And a few videos, here and there, too. We are blessed to be able to Receive and Hear – and also thence to be able to radiate it out further. Even if my own forms of communication all too often seem to bear more in common with that ‘indistinct’ or ‘hard-to-grasp’ vocalism of the Bull rather than the more ‘broad-bandh’ comms that would most truly avail us in building up that ‘radiancy’ aforementioned.
Yet speak we do – and ‘speak’ is most definitely not all that we do. I deliberately keep a lot of my actual devotional practices and ritual operations somewhat obscure, in terms of my output in this public sphere. There are a few reasons for that. But, as you may have noticed, we’re making some efforts to at least make available some ‘hows’ – and we intend to continue going further. More ‘active operationalization’, where it can be seen and where it shall make some reverberating ‘noise’; of a similar sort to the clashing of those sacred Press-Stones in anticipation of Their Grand Purpose.
We’ll still keep ‘Roaring’, of course; and step up our endeavours at more ‘Human-hearable’ ‘distinctive Speech’.
But we aim to also have those (not-entirely-metaphorical) ‘Clash-Stones’ in active, vigorous motion.
Call it a ‘March Tempo’.
Anikavat Stirs !