This week just gone marked Diwali (Deepavali) – the rather aptly translated ‘Festival of Lights’. Which, as seemingly every once-over-lightly-for-a-Western-audience writeup seeks to swiftly remind us, exalts the ‘Victory of Light over Darkness”.
It’s a simple enough concept – and has near-infinite potential saliency (c.f., for instance the Solar Eclipse occurring in Svati immediately the next day – so this piece shall be doing effective ‘double-duty’; and a ‘triple’ if we are counting the Chhath Puja currently in-progress at time of writing). Yet there rarely seems to be much further and follow-up attention paid in these brief blurbs written for a non-Hindu perspective as to what that victory (indeed, what that conflict) actually entails.
Some might therefore think the whole thing both incredibly, nebulously abstract (just what is ‘Light’, anyway?) whilst also being, as applies the observance itself, seriously ‘literal’ in its tangible manifestation.
We are, after all, lighting little ghee (or other unguent)-burning lamps (a ‘Diya’ or ‘Deepa’, hence the name of the occasion) on one of the darkest nights of the year – when even the Moon is not in the sky to help brighten proceedings.
There’s a truth to that – a symbolic one that goes rather beyond the simple fact that there is light still there, glittering in the darkness.
That ‘light’, those lights, are there due to deliberate human action : human action following the templates of tradition (that other grand source of illumination – especially ‘midst the seemingly trackless yet increasingly intractable darkness of the modern world). They are there not in the sense of various other ‘lights’ that cast back the gloom – the kinds that one can merely passively await the arrival of every morning, or enjoy without having to lift a finger to help bring about all the way through to well beyond late afternoon.
No, these lights are there through conscious and conspicuous contribution. And though an individual Diya is often quite small (you can literally make one out of a halved lemon or orange peel), through collective and co-ordinated action of many people working together – we find that even something as immeasurably vast and implacable as the Night can be ‘held back’, can be (at least, in a certain sense) overcome.
There is, indeed, something immensely powerful in all of that understanding. Not least when we consider that it is not merely something as simple as a million (or even a billion) people all choosing to flick on a light-switch to draw current into an electric filament bulb … but that these are offering lamps (at the very least by template) in many cases, as well.
To briefly explain some of what I mean by that before I un-digress myself back onto what we’re actually here to elucidate with this piece … diya lamps aren’t just a ‘once-a-year’ thing – they’re in-use on a daily basis in Hindu devotion. If you’ve taken a look at our ‘ritual manuals’ effort, you may have noticed that they’re right there as part of the PanchaPuja / Panchopachara style of ‘Five Offerings’ in ‘manner elemental’ : correlating, you’ll be entirely unsurprised to learn (if you hadn’t predicted it already) with the the element of Fire. We offer Fire to the Gods – just as Fire (‘Living Fire’ – Agni – the Fire of the Altar and the Invoked that has the Divine Within) acts as a conduit for us to the Gods (via which Their Presence may be sought, and offerings to Them (including the Ghee or, dependent upon the Deity, various Seed oils utilized as fuel for the blaze) rendered most efficaciously and ‘direct’), as it also does in the Hellenic, Roman, and many other Indo-European religious perspectives as well.
Indeed, I suppose you might say that we therefore have ‘Light’ as the central fulcrum of our religion.
Certainly, if we take a step back and actually look at Hinduism (or, for that matter, the broader Indo-European spectrum of faiths), we seem to find this view indelibly confirmed.
After all – it’s right there in the most prominent of our (shared) conceptry.
We worship and support the Gods. Known to us by the term ‘Deva’, the Romans via ‘Deus’ or ‘Dei’, the Norse through ‘Tyr’ (as in the generic term for a God) and its plural of ‘Tivar’, the ‘Día’ of Irish (encountered in genitive case as the ‘Dé’ of ‘Tuatha Dé Danann’) and so on and so forth (obligatory mention for the Zoroastrians taking the Persianate cognate term and thence attempting to redefine it in an Orwellian fashion to mean ‘Demons’).
What do these words mean? Well, in their archaic and underlying sense – they’re all from Proto-Indo-European *Deywos – it means ‘Shining One’. Or, if you prefer, ‘Celestial’.
The ultimate root that underpins *Deywos is, of course, *Dyew – which refers to the ‘Bright Sky’, the Heavens, and quite pointedly the Solar Radiance that characterizes both.
Hence why it eventually produces terms for Day like Latin ‘Dies’ or Irish ‘Día’ (a complete homophone for the aforementioned Irish term for ‘( a ) God’); and why we find it strongly informing certain other pertinent terminology irreducibly connected to the Daylight.
And why we also find it at the ultimate heart of perhaps the most famous Indo-European suite of theonymics of all – that of the Sky Father , *Dyḗus ph₂tḗr … perhaps more immediately familiar to us as ‘Jupiter’ or ‘Zeus Pater’, or the Sanskrit ‘Dyaus Pitar’.
Diwali and Deepavali themselves are also from this PIE *Dyew root – the ‘Diya’ and ‘Deepa’ of Hindi and Sanskrit referring to an illuminator of a rather smaller scale than the mighty Sun, yet nevertheless of recognizable resonancy with same.
Yet as scintillating as this brief discursion through comparative Indo-European linguistics might be (if you haven’t encountered virtually all of the above half a dozen times already in any number of other works upon the general subject), we ought return to our major (my)theme.
It isn’t just *Deywos style nor derived terms that turn up in relation to our Gods in this way.
The Vedas also make reference to the ‘Suras’ – ‘Sura’ ( सुर ) as in ‘Surya’, ‘Solar’, but this time encountered in plural and collective (‘Suraa’ / ‘Surā’ would perhaps be a better presentation for the more-than-dual plural; and we note with some interest the ‘confluence’ or ‘overlap’ that ‘Sura’ has with elements we might expect like that particular ’empowering’ ‘golden’ liquid … but also ‘Shura’ / ‘Śūra’ (शूर) being a pointedly ‘Heroic’ term (as in – a term for a mighty and valliant figure, a lion, or a boar (itself an animal correlated with the Sun – not least as a form of Rudra, c.f. RV I 114 5 and AV-S XII 1 48) that can also mean the Sun). It is utilized to refer to ‘The Gods’ – often in direct opposition in these contexts to ‘The Demons’ … the ‘A’Suras’ (and note that ‘A’Sura’ is not the same word nor understanding as ‘Asura’, as in ‘Mighty, ‘Sire’ – but is rather a homophone that has come to displace the more archaic term), literally the ‘Opposite-of-Sura’ grouping. The inveterate opponents thereof.
We also encounter the ‘Adityas’ (a Solar grouping in terms of both parentage and unifying feature or essential characteristic; ‘Aditya’ also meaning, directly, ‘Sun’ – c.f. its utilization as a Roudran epithet in SBr VI 1 3 17) – the Sons of Aditi (Herself, the ‘Limitless’, both expressive of our ‘Shakta’ understanding as well as the archaic Indo-European Great (Solar) Goddess that has sadly faded somewhat from view in the more Westerly spheres); the Vasus (‘Vasu’, being a term that one can translate a few ways – ‘Radiance’ and also ‘Controller’ (as in, ‘World-Controller’) both being pertinent for other reasons that we have discussed elsewhere – although it is important to note that ‘Vasu’ has a rather broader catchment as a typological clade than just the Solar); the Sādhyas (a most intriguing term we may expand upon later – which, per Sayana’s commentary on RV I 164 50, can also mean ‘Adityas’ specifically); and so on and so forth.
All of which brings us back to ‘Diwali’ – that famed ‘Victory of Light over Darkness’ capaciously hailed afore.
But why ‘victory’?
Because there has been conflict, struggle, war.
Victories are not things that ‘just happen’, events which proceed ‘just because’ and ‘just so’, with an inevitability of clockwork and no expenditure of significant effort on the part of their enactors.
The Sun rising in the morning, per our modern understanding of such things, is not a ‘victory’. The Earth goes round, one side comes into view of the Solar Radiance, and life continues for another day as fairly directly attributable result. It is simple, it is implacable, and it is lacking in combat.
Diwali is not about that. Diwali is not about merely celebrating that – but rather about what that represents, the symbolic investiture (and, yes, tangible impacts) of ‘that’.
The Sun is not just the Sun. It is indicative and supportive of Life, Light, Law, the Divine. The Victory of which may, indeed, be represented (and there are many RigVedic etc. verses utilizing this symbolism for exactly that) as the Sunrise – yet is quite more ‘transcendental’ than our modern eyes might consider such to be. Even if, to be sure, there is also a pointed ‘inevitability’ to this (Divine) Victory, too.
In a certain sense, we are reminded of the visionary words of Terry Pratchett (in Hogfather) that we have so often quoted:
“”Now tell me ..
WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF YOU HADN’T SAVED HIM?
“Yes! The sun would have risen just the same, yes?”
“Oh, come on. You can’t expect me to believe that. It’s an astronomical fact.”
THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.
“Really? Then what would have happened, pray?”
A MERE BALL OF FLAMING GAS WOULD HAVE ILLUMINATED THE WORLD.”
He’s referencing C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:
“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”
We are, in a scientific sense, utterly dependent upon the Sun in order to live. There is no doubt about this. No Sun? No plants. No plants? No food – whether near-immediately, for sustenance derived from plants … or in the slightly longer term for those deriving their sustenance from consuming creatures that themselves consume the plants. And that is before we get into the lack of warmth its absence should cause – or how difficult it should be to stumble about in the now-permanent Night, or how our sphere might struggle in the absence of a gravitational axis about which to turn at the center of our solar system.
And yet the Vedas do not use such terms as ‘Bhaga’ (‘Bestower’) to describe the Sun or Sun God simply because of the limited (yet (in)completely correct) scientific-material understanding just aforementioned. There is something far ‘Deepa’ to that ‘Lord’ evocation – one should hardly approach the titular figure of the Srimad Devi Bhagavatam, for instance, by presuming that the ‘Bhagavatam’ is merely there to denote material sustenance in complete disregard to the spiritual ! And, of course, that a Lord is far more than a ‘Loaf-Warden’ (the etymological root to the English term) – but a liege, and a leader, a bestower of security and of duty, into the (sacred) bargain.
Yet if the ‘Light’ stands for all of this (and so much more besides), the saliency of the Divine and Cosmic Order (Rta, Orlog) within our sphere … then what of the ‘Darkness’ by which it is so inexorably opposed?
Well, it is vitally necessary to clarify that this is not, contrary to what any number of misapprehensive outpourings of the past two hundred years or so within the English language might have you believe – that is, it’s not literal ‘darkness’ in the sense either of the Night or Shadow or of human(shaped) complexion.
The ‘cosmetic’ dimension is straightforward. Nobody should confuse exterior appearance for internal essence – even if the ‘outer’ can provide some hints as to the ‘inner’ in the ‘appropriate light’. After all, nobody in their right mind would think that Zeus’ being described in the First Homeric Hymn and Book I of the Iliad as possessing brows that are κυανέῃσιν (Kyaneisin – like ‘Cyan’, and meaning ‘dark’) ought somehow mean that He is anything other than Divine and fundamentally aligned with the Divine Order. Which does not mean, of course, that some people do not say such things – I have personally observed bizarre claims about the ‘Kyanokhaitis’ hair of Dionysus, Poseidon, Hades (but, then, I repeat myself thrice-over) as representing some invidious quality precisely because it is not (or, at least, not in all instances for certain of these deific facings) said that They are ‘Blond’. (And, given what these hair-colours and characteristics can be said to represent – I am not quite sure why one would think that, as applies Poseidon, for example, the roiling sea should be ‘yellow’ coloured and straight rather than dark / ‘blue-black’ and rather ‘curly’ of shape and character … )
We are also reminded, given Diwali as the observance for the Return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya in Triumph, of Lord Rama’s complexion likewise being of darkened hue. This absolutely did not stop Him from being of the ‘Solar Dynasty’ and lineage, the famed Ikshvaku / Sūryavaṃśa clade. And, as we have no doubt seen much-celebrated in recent weeks, from fighting and vanquishing a mighty Demon indeed.
There is also nothing stopping a demon (or another figure, perhaps human, that is similarly arrayed against the Divine) from having a ‘lighter’ set of features, or even being a “shiny” demon (encountered in the middle of the road, or otherwise) – and yet still very much adversarial all the same.
But let us return to those more ‘conceptual’ iterms of ‘Night’ or ‘Shadow’. And how these are likewise NOT the axiomatic expressors of the ‘Anti-Light’ that we are herein so violently concerned with and against.
We can adduce the former and latter quite easily. Who do we find amidst the foremost and most feared of slayers of these demonic forces arrayed against the Gods? Figures such as Kali. Part of an expansive Indo-European typology for the Upholder(s) of Divine Law that are most feared and fearsome to be ‘Dark’ of visage and presentation. We have earlier shown how Demeter Erinyes / Demeter Melaina (‘Demeter the Furious’ or ‘the Erinyes’ / ‘Demeter the Black’) is likewise expressive of this Goddess – and, for that matter, Skadi (‘Shadow’ is pertinent via way of etymology and comparative situation with a certain Irish figure) amongst the Norse. Ratri (‘Night’) is also most definitely a Devi and prayed to for trenchant protection against the malign forces that might stalk the after-sun world, likewise. And there is a further most interesting example viz. ‘Nirrti’ / ‘Nrrti’ that we shall be briefly examining in due course.
Fundamentally, the Night is not actually opposed to that which we are extolling as the ‘Divine Light’. It is, indeed, co-expressive of the same principle. Because that ‘Divine Law’ – is exactly what the Night is also correlate with, co-expressive of, and indeed actively caused by. This might sound rather counter-intuitive – but the rolling flow of nights is part of what gives ‘order’ and ‘structure’ to the span of time. Hence in part why we find terms such as ‘Kaal’ that fundamentally mean both ‘Time’ and ‘Dark’ (as well as, of course, ‘Death’ – a very ‘Orderly’ sphere of the Indo-European divine portfolio system indeed).
We might also draw attention to the situation of terms such as ‘Raajan’ and ‘Rajani’ ( राजन् and रजनी ) – which, to quote myself upon the subject (from our (much) earlier work, ‘Ragnarok and the Night Lord’): “The former, is from Proto-Indo-European “h₃rḗǵs” [‘Ruler’, ‘King’] [itself from “h₃reǵ” – ‘right/just/to straighten’]; the latter, PIE: “h₁régʷos” [‘Darkness’].” Dependent upon which etymology for ‘Ragnarok’ one is running, a similar situation seems to occur therein – a term for ‘Rulership’ (viz. ‘Regin’ – in relation to ‘The Powers’, ‘The Ruling Powers’, that is … ‘The Gods’; from Proto-Germanic *Rako, from PIE *h₃reǵ) is placed alongside one referring to Nightfall (‘Røkkr’, from Proto-Germanic ‘*Rekwaz’ (‘Darkness’), of course from PIE *h₁régʷos) … unless, of course, one goes with the other interpretation, in which case it is a term for a movement with purpose or under authority, a ‘pathway’ or even a ‘narrative’, that is (surprise, surprise) from PIE *h₃reǵ. We digress. The point is that there is a rather remarkable pattern of ‘parallel derivation’ and ‘resonancy’ between terms and concepts (and figures indispensably aligned with) ‘Order’ and ‘Rulership’, and the ‘Dark’, the ‘Night’.
This is as we ought expect.
Because in truth, ‘Darkness’ is a misnomer for that which we are contending with – even if it does seek to extinguish the Light.
Let me share with you something of a secret.
Darkness is NOT the opposite of Light.
It is, rather, the absence of light. And, in many cases, is nevertheless quite suffused with its own (somewhat less immediately visible to us light-accustomed humans) expressions of the (Spiritual) Order. Including via the Light of the Moon (the ‘Sun at Night’, indeed, as Ronnie James Dio once sang – and as I was surprised and pleased to hear someone else (for a change) reference in this (Indo-European theological) context some days ago) and via the Stars, for a start.
For something to be the OPPOSITE of light, it requires rather more than the mere Light’s absence. The space of light’s absence is just exactly that – a space. Just as a place where you are not standing, or a mirror you are not standing in front of, is not the oppositional antagonist to you – but rather a space where you could occupy, or in the case of the mirror, where your diametrical ‘reverse’ / ‘inverse’ counterpart could become encountered were you to move into the field of view.
Hence, in a certain sense, it makes entirely and eminently logical rationale for those foremost vanquishers of the Anti-Light (‘A’Sura’, indeed!) to so often be ‘Dark’ of complexion, nomenclature, and underpinning theological ‘essence’. Precisely because They are the ‘Greater Darkness’, the ‘Elder and More Terrific’ in comparison to the demonic upstarts – able to swoop in, sweep up the would-be Displacers of the Gods, and devour the ‘Devourers’ (viz. Rakshasa, Jotunn root-meanings) even in what might at first look like ‘dark space’ either claimed by the powers of anti-light implicitly, or ‘open space’ in the seeming absence of Gods where such a standard might so readily be unfurled in imminent due course.
That, therefore, is the better perspective upon this situation of Conflict between the Divine and Their (our) antithetical foes. Certainly, they may seek to cast down the Light so that ‘darkness’, ‘night’ is what eventuates – but that is not for darkness nor night in their true senses, but only to serve as a stepping-stone to ‘set up’ something else in the abyssal absence which they (unoccupied and ungarrisoned) can host instead.
This, then, is the War that is spoken of so frequently in our scriptures. And it is something that we find voluminously attested in both Vedas and later texts. It finds especial saliency when we turn to the ritualine corpus – in many cases, a ‘contest’ or ‘struggle’ is replicated out in miniature in the metaphysics attached to our rites. We carry out, for example, the cleansing of the ritual space as a symbolic ‘re-enaction’ of the driving out of occupying demonic forces by the victorious (indeed, Vox-torious) fury of the Gods (c.f. TS VI 2 7 / SBr III 5 2 8). Or we ‘invoke’ (as in – ‘call to’, to bring forth and to our ritual pyre) Vak via a mechanism that consciously recalls the contest of the Priest of the Gods against a ‘Priest of the Demons’ for Her Divine Affections (c.f., for instance, SBr III 2 1 – inter various alia).
And this, then, helps to establish part of the reasoning for why we so often encounter the Sun in Vedic liturgies being hailed in decidedly Martial terms.
As an example, to excerpt from some of my previous work:
“In Praise Of The Sun At Dawn – RV I 115 1:
Chitra, The War-Face Of The Gods Rises – The Strong-Allied Inescapable Fire
Inciting-to-March Both (Father) Dyaus & (Mother) Prithvi And Those In-Between Them – The Solar Commander Of Both That Which Is Mobile & That Which Is Emplaced
Now I am, of course, being a bit figurative with my renderings there for a particular reason (several, in fact). And that is a decidedly personal parsing which should not be confused with a straightforward translation (even though, yes, all terms are translated with accuracy – just .. in different senses in some cases to the usual).
So here’s the original verse:
चित्रं देवानामुदगादनीकं चक्षुर्मित्रस्य वरुणस्याग्नेः ।
आप्रा द्यावापृथिवी अन्तरिक्षं सूर्य आत्मा जगतस्तस्थुषश्च ॥
Chitram Devanam-Ud-Agad-Anikam Caksur-Mitrasya Varunasya-Agneh
Apra Dyava-Prthivi Antariksam Surya Atma Jagatas-Tasthusash-Ca
And, translated literally, in word-order:
Brilliant (Chitra) Of-Devas Up-Go Vanguard / Spearpoint / Warhost / Face The Eye / Glance of Mitra / Comradeship, Varuna / The Celestial Ocean / The All-Encompassing, Agni / Fire
Filling / Energizing / Activating / Bringing-to-Activity Heaven-and-Earth (DyavaPrithivi), The Mid-Regions (Antariksa), Surya Soul Of That-Which-Moves / The-World Which-Stands-Still And
The Griffith rendering reads:
“The brilliant presence of the Gods hath risen, the Eye of Mitra, Varuṇa and Agni.
The soul of all that moveth not or moveth, the Sun hath filled the air and earth and heaven.”
ॐ सूर्याय नमः ॥”
My reasoning for including all of that is because, as we so often do with some of my translation-work – we draw out that beneath the veneer of the commonly available English rendition, there is quite the Deepa dimension to be accessed. One that is not infrequently of a particular ‘character’ not readily transmitted through the much more two-dimensional and ‘conservative’ (‘value-neutral’, in some cases – ‘not quite right suite of values’, in others) efforts of others.
I also rather like the imagery of the Sun Rising at the head of an Army. As, after all, that is exactly the understanding we so implicitly seem to encounter when we are speaking of the Sun in Vedic terms – hence why we find the Marici figures (‘Illuminations’, ‘Rays of Light’ … and ‘Warrior-Women’ we might label Them; perhaps as an expression of the broader Indo-European typology for the female retinue of the Sky Father – c.f. Rudraganika , etc.), bow-armed and lethal; or, per the Suprabedhagama and Amsumadbhedagama (manuals of Hindu iconographic depiction, inter alia) – we may find Surya flanked by Prathyusha & Usha (the Dawns) … armed with Bow and Arrows, with which They are engaged in banishing the Darkness.
This understanding for the Maricis would be rather congruent with a potential etymological dimension – wherein the ‘Mar-‘ involved, in addition to tracing back to a PIE concept around ‘shimmering’ and somewhat disappearing to the eye (which also, uncoincidentally, provides ‘Morning’), may link to the “Death” and “Youthful” terms that produce two PIE *Mer words … and, potentially, ‘Marut’ therefrom, as well. And in amidst all of this is, of course, ‘Mars’, ‘Martial’. More upon all of this some other time.
The Maricis – and Prathyusha and Usha – are certainly not alone in these regards. Ushas Herself finds active mention within the Vedas as an Archer and being engaged in rather militant (‘Martial’) action to drive back the Dark:
As RV VI 64 3 puts it:
“The foes She chaseth like a valiant archer, like a swift warrior She repelleth darkness.”
Or, per RV I 113:
“Foe-chaser, born of Law, the Law’s protectress, joy-giver, waker of all pleasant voices,”
Or, per the Wilson rendition of the same:
“The beings hostile (to acts of devotion) now withdraw, for she is the protectress of sacred rites, who is manifested for their performance;”
And She (and, indeed, They) is most assuredly not alone in this regard.
To draw things back to the aforementioned Ritualine corpus –
“‘Mount thou the Eye of Sûrya, the Eye-Ball of Agni, where thou fliest along with the dappled (horses), shining through the wise (Sûrya).’ He thereby places Sûrya (the Sun) in front, thinking, ‘May Sûrya, in front, ward off the evil spirits!’ They now drive (Soma) about on a safe (cart), unmolested by evil spirits.”
[SBr III 4 8, Eggeling translation]
This is an OK example of what we are talking about. A ‘Mythic’ and ‘Supernal’ element of the ‘Macrocosm’ – that of the Sun, the Eye of the Sky Father, etc. (and later in the relevant Shukla Yajurveda suite that the liturgical invocation is drawn from, we find the Son of Dyaus to be the Hailing ! ) is invoked within the ‘Mesocosmic’ sphere that is the ritual space, by the priests (formerly of the ‘Microcosm’ – i.e. ‘Down Here Upon Earth’, the human realm), in order to have a mythically resonant and in this case similarly metaphysically potent effect : in this case, protecting the Soma offering in the course of its preparation and transport, by driving back the Demons that might try to interfere with, pollute, or steal it.
We are also interested in the situation of AtharvaVeda Śaunakīya XIII 3, aptly entitled by Whitney as ‘To the Sun (with imprecation on the evil-doer)’, and by Griffith as ‘A glorification of Rohita. with a malediction on the man who wrongs a Brāhman’. We shall not quote it here, but suffice to say that it does indeed contain the relevant conceptry wherein the Sun is asked to See the offender against the Faith … to be Wroth with the transgressor … and, of course, to Deliver Sanction upon the violator (one might feasibly ponder whether the ‘fetters / snares’ involved mean that the criminal is now to be made a sacrifice, as well). Sunfury.
AV-S XIII 1 is also relevant here. It is, again, a ‘Rohita’ Hymnal – Griffith entitles this ‘The glorification of Rohita, a form of Fire and of the Sun’.
In terms of an ‘Army’ – not only do we find the Maruts invoked in this pointedly Solar Exaltation Hymn for the purposes of cutting down one’s adversaries, we also find the Maruts hailed as being They Whom Rohita (i.e. the ‘Ruddy’ Sun) can call upon and be heard. This is in addition to various Gods being depicted rallied around Rohita and hailed in decidedly eviscerative competence – Agni, for example, in the Griffith for Line 27, is requested to “chase our foemen” (having “Initiate[d] the Laud”, or “Commence[d] Praising”, in Griffith and Whitney respectively), and in the Whitney for lines 28-29: “let the overpowering, all-overpowering Agni slay them who are my rivals. Let Him slay them, burn [them] away,—the enemy (ári) who fights us; by the flesh-eating Fire do we burn away our rivals.” (The Griffith for AV-S XIII 28-29 here reads: “May conquering Agni, Conqueror of all, destroy mine enemies. Let Him smite down in death and burn the foeman who attacketh me. Our adversaries we consume through Agni the Carnivorous.”)
The hymnal then goes on to add:
“Beat them down, Indra, with Thy Bolt, beat them down, Mighty with Thine Arm.
I through the Energy and Force of Agni have secured my foes.
Cast down our foes beneath our feet, O Agni. Brihaspati, oppress our rebel kinsman.
Low let them fall, O Indra-Agni. Mitra-Varuna, powerless to show their anger.”
[AV-S XIII 1 30-31, Griffith translation.]
“Do thou, O Indra, having Arms, smite them down downward with the Thunderbolt; then my rivals have I taken to myself with Agni’s Brightnesses (téjas).
O Agni, make our rivals fall below us; stagger the truculent (utpípāna) fellow, O Brihaspati; O Indra-and-Agni, O Mitra-and-Varuṇa, let them fall below [us], impotent in their fury.”
[AV-S XIII 1 30-31, Whitney translation.]
The whole swing of things in those verses (and echoed also in the proceedings of AV-S XIII 3) is one of Pious Invocation (by the relevant Gods, or rather Deific Facings – viz. Agni and Brihaspati) that thence deliver a decidedly Illuminating intercession against the opposition. With these, of course, ‘anchored’ and ‘focused’ by both the Solar energy and august Solar presence – indeed, Solar Centrality – to the force (in both senses) thusly congealed.
That is to say – this is Solar Weaponry. As we are about to behold …
The Sun Himself is also more directly called upon for such forceful extirpation of the adversary in line 32:
“Do Thou, O Heavenly Sun, arising, smite down my rivals; smite them down with the stone; let them go to lowest darkness.”
“Ascending up on high, O God. O Sūrya, drive my foes away. Yea, beat them backward with the stone: to deepest darkness let them go.”
“Do Thou, God Sûrya (the sun), when Thou Risest, beat down my rivals, beat them down with a stone: they shall go to the nethermost darkness!”
But why ‘Stone’ ? Well, there’s a potential clue in RV X 68 4 –
“As the Sun dews with meath the seat of Order, and casts a flaming meteor down from heaven.
So from the rock Bṛhaspati forced the cattle, and cleft the earth’s skin as it were with water.”
This is, predictably, a Demon-Smiting and Dragon-Slaying Hymnal – and, intriguingly, one that has direct resonancy in Odin’s deed in the Ynglinga Saga of opening up the Earth and Hills to reveal a stolen wealth of cattle via utilization of oral invocation, just as Brihaspati does herein.
The immediate result, per line 5, is as the Sun appearing from behind a dark cloud:
” Forth from mid air with light He drave the Darkness, as the gale blows a lily from the river.”
Now, we ought mention here that Griffith’s rendering, wherein it appears that he’s translated ‘Arka’ (अर्कः) as ‘Sun’, is not necessarily uncontestable (not least because it would require ‘Arka’ to be doing effective ‘double-duty’ both here and also later on in the verse to act as the descriptor for the Meteor, likewise). We would ordinarily interpret ‘Arka’ to refer to a source of illumination, yes – and it can most certainly be used to mean the Sun, the Solar Disc. Just as it can also be used to mean a Liturgy or a flash of Lightning.
Why we suspect that ‘Sun’ is a good (although not exclusive – the multi-dimensional is, as always, ‘better’, and certainly ‘Deepa’) rendition for ‘Arka’ therein is due to the situation of AV-S XIII 1 , that Rohita (‘Red Sun’ Rising) hymnal that we had aforementioned above.
There, in line 32, we find a particular term utilized – ‘Ashmana’.
What does it mean? Well, you see, that is curious. To refresh our memory as to the verse in question in (broad) translation …
The Griffith translates the verse as the following:
“Ascending up on high, O God. O Sūrya, drive my foes away.
Yea, beat them backward with the stone: to deepest darkness let them go.”
“Do thou, O heavenly Sun, arising, smite down my rivals; smite them down with the stone; let them go to lowest darkness.”
And, for completeness, the Bloomfield (and I really do rather like the title he’s gone for for his translation of the hymnal – “Prayer for sovereign power addressed to the god Rohita and His Female Rohinî.”)
“Do thou, god Sûrya (the Sun), when Thou risest, beat down my rivals, beat them down with a stone: they shall go to the nethermost darkness!”
Now, the word of interest to us here – Asmana (assumedly a form of आश्मन ) – can, indeed, mean ‘Stony’ (albeit with its apparent root, ‘Asma’ (अश्म) also potentially meaning ‘Cloud’ ) … however it can also mean ‘Aruna’, that is to say the ‘Red Dawn’ (and the Solar Charioteer).
It is not for us – for now – to get into a detailed discussion of the ‘Sky of Stone’ concept that occurs in other Indo-European spheres (by which I chiefly refer to the Balto-Slavic); suffice to say the situation reported in AV-S XIII 32 would appear, prima facie, to match up rather well with what we observe in RV X 68 – namely, that is to say, the Solar Power (and relevant Liturgical Invocation which is Its Key) producing quite the impressive effect: one ‘Stone from the Sky’, a “Flaming Meteor” (‘Ulka’ – indeed, arka ulkam iva … that is to say, the Meteor being compared to the ‘Arka’ of which we have aforesaid).
Or, perhaps, to rephrase slightly – a ‘second Sun’ of a sort. Invested with the Solar Potency (as described in – and extolled with invocatory purpose – AV-S XIII 1 32), and rather than a ‘meteor’ as we would ‘terrestrially’ understand such things (a hunk of rock and ice and metal from somewhere out in space, come crashing to earth at supersonic velocity) … the Sun as salient Cosmic Order (ref., again, the rendering provided by Griffith for RV X 68 4 – wherein said ‘Yoni’ of Rta is, indeed, ‘prepared’ via the Offering and Libation with its attendant Liturgy), the ‘Vajra’ potency that has come down as an Orbital Bombardment being an emanation, a sending therefrom.
Like a (Second) Dawn, the (Diminutive) Sun encountered therein, lighting up the Heavens, we might surmise. Perhaps that explains the scenario enunciated in RV X 68 10 – “He did a deed ne’er done, ne’er to be equalled, whereby the Sun and Moon ascend alternate.”
(To but briefly expand upon this last point (as noted to us by Manasataramgini), ‘Mithas’ could be read either as ‘Together’ or ‘Alternately’. It would be tempting to presume a ‘simultaneous’ rather than ‘sequential’ characterization – of the Sun and the Moon both being ascendant in the Sky simultaneously if not in syzygy. Yet our AV-S XIII 1-inferenced interpretation could also just as easily entertain a ‘sequential’ situation – the ‘Sun’ liberating the Moon, perhaps; or incorporating Bloomfield’s notion that the Bull with the ‘Shukra’ Back (Shukrapristha – and we might have initially presumed the Dawn Star) that is found as the Calf of the Viraj (Radiant ‘Solar Goddess’ here) and ascending into the Heavens in AV-S XIII 1 33 following the Solar Weaponry and Solar Warrior deployed in the immediately preceding line … might in fact be a Bull with the ‘Soma’ Back (‘Somapristha’, as encountered in AV-S XIII 1 12) – and therefore, Lunar in saliency due to the well-known Soma-Moon linkage. Although it is worth noting that AV-S XIII 1 34 has the situation of this Bull being one of ascending up to become coterminous with Rohita – i.e. the Sun – presented as part of the ritual ‘exchange’ of bovine for Soma mandated per Vaitana Sutra XIII 5; we would presume, running upon a prior-established ‘mythic template’ to guide such – the outcome, a potent augmentation for the Solar Warrior, in any case, via the Bright Drop of the Empowering Elixir)
Certainly, there is an eminent abundance of ‘Light driving back the Darkness’ imagery deployed throughout the rest of the RigVedic Hymnal in question. Something that can also be understood as the ‘dark obscuration’ inherent to i) Vala (consider the demon-dragon’s name’s literal meaning), ii) Vala’s mountain fastness, iii) the general sense of pervading gloom especially amidst the Atmosphere’s Mid-Regions (Antariksa), in ‘Cloud’ (Abhra) form as well (‘Valasyābhram’ being the Cloud of Vala or the Cloud of Surrounding, Covering, etc. – the sense of an army surrounding or having under siege a high-value target might also be meant).
However, what is interesting for us is to consider also the AV-P – that is to say, the AtharvaVeda’s Paippalāda recension. As noted by Whitney in his commentary on the aforementioned AV-S rendition, instead of ‘Āśmana’ it has ‘Raśmibhi’. What means ‘Rashmibhi’ ? Well, ‘Ray of Light’, with its major Vedic appearances also pointedly include the Rays of Flame and Sun (combined) – viz. RV VII 2 1. (Later texts also can incorporate Raśmi ( रश्मि ) in reference to certain speciations of Comets, I should perhaps also note).
Or, phrased another way – instead of being fixed (or fixated) upon a ‘Stony’ sending and a rather literal Meteor (‘Flaming’ or otherwise) as the Solar Weapon in question … we should also consider the broader yet underpinning notion of the Solar Radiance Itself as being the Weapon. No ‘stony’ manifestation necessarily required.
There is much more that we can and should likely say about this particular Hymnal and its broader suite of further Vedic concordances … but we shall save that for another time.
For now, we shall just note that the next line of AV-S XIII 1, line 33, has Viraj invoked. We take this particular Gloriously Radiant figure to be the Mother Cow … indeed, quite pointedly, the same Mother Cow encountered in (aptly enough) Shukla Yajurveda XIII 43 – that is to say, Aditi Herself.
This fits eminently well, given our ‘demonstration of the metaphysics In Motion’ in RV X 68 – as, after all, we find Brihaspati’s invocatory action for the ensuing Orbital Strike, to have involved the rendering upwards to the ‘Yoni of Rta’ (ṛtasya yonim – the Sanskrit has the rather graphic term ‘aprusayan’ … assumedly ‘spray[ing]’, although also perhaps ‘burning to’, and not necessarily exclusively – and we are remindeed, as applies the former, instantly of a prominent ritualistic understanding occurrent in, for example, SBr III 2 1). From whence comes back down a Divine Sending. One almost doesn’t need to expressly cite the situation of RV X 125 – the famed DeviSukta – wherein such metaphysics are implicitly referred to. Or, for that matter, any of my voluminous array of previous efforts extolling the Shakta (indeed – here, it is ‘Shakti’, as in ‘Spear’ or ‘Arrow’, also!) theology – that identifies Devi as Brahman (and the most immanent in-universe expressor/expression thereof – with Brahman, of course, as Rta … Cosmic Order a-priori and quite directly ‘Above All’, upon which we are Dependent), and the ‘essence-tial’ ‘spark’ of the Vajra which renders it so saliently effective as a demon-slaying weapon that ‘Rta’ ‘warhead’ occurrent therein. Or, further, our array of exploration and explication viz. the archaic Solar Goddess – that Radiant Queen of the Heavens – known to the archaic Indo-Europeans all across the sphere.
It is all right there in front of us – if we know how to look. No easy thing when we are, in a word, ‘SunGazing’ up at the most radiant, brightest, and high Divine within our heavens.
Now at this point I must resist the significant temptation to progress off in expounding upon the situation of Solar Aditi in relation to the military might of the Sun. There are quite an array of Vedic Verses wherein we behold Her extolled in just such a manner – the ‘Queen of Order’ Who is called upon to provide strong defence ‘gainst the foe. And Who is also called upon to more directly empower the Hero. As well as, of course, being the ultimate source (indeed, leader, commander) of an array of Solar figures of demonstrable martial potency. These include not only the Adityas [‘Sons of Aditi’ – being understood, usually, as a suite of directly ‘Sun’ related Gods or God-facings, including some of the ‘heavy hitter’ figures – Varuna, for example, or particularly in later texts, also Indra], but also the Maruts (with these also, interestingly, occasionally hailed seemingly as Vasus as well – c.f RV X 77 6).
‘Sons of Aditi’. A most marvelous hailing and a most marvelous term. It occurs in the aforementioned RV X 77 (line 2) alongside ‘Divas Putrasa’ – that is to say, the ‘Sons of Heaven’, and rendered by Griffith as ‘Sons of Dyaus’.
In a certain sense, that is … well, that is all of us. Devotees, I mean. We have often noted that the situation of the Indo-European man is one of being a ‘Son of the Sun’ – due to the anthropogenic myth wherein we are, indeed, of decidedly this ultimate origin and ancestry-point. That is certainly why we hail Manu as ‘Vaivasvata’ (‘of the Wide-Shining One’, Vivasvat or Vivasvan) – the Sun in question therein having strongly identifiable coterminities of myth with the Sky Father deific-expressions encountered in, say, the Hellenic perspective etc. (as we can tell from those other Sons of the Sun / Sons of the Sky Father that help secure the (co-)identification … the Asvins (Divo Napatah / Divo Napata in relation to the Dioscuri , Hengist & Horsa, etc.) being a prime exemplar; along with, of course, the circumstances of Their conception).
It is just that in this particular observation, it is not only the (‘Masculine’) Sun – the Father – that we would indicate an ancestral linkage and loyalty back thereto. It is also this other salience to the radiance – the (‘Female’) Sun, the Mother to Whom we aspire to the august mantle of being justly hailed as descendants of.
The ‘descendants of’ including, as we have seen, figures such as the ‘Bull of Prayer’ encountered in AV XIII 1 33 and that mighty Solar Weapon emergent likewise from the Yoni of Rta per RV X 68 4 (in which case, the ‘Descent’ is quite literal – and with all the full and vehemently expressed force that screaming in from such great height is capable of bestowing down upon the soon-to-be-blasted-apart ramparts and thence head of the foe, as well). And those Adityas (in the conventional (‘Full’) Deity / Divine sense) and Maruts (in the customary ‘Sons of Rudra’ conception – Rudra, of course, also being Dyaus as we have so often spoken of and nearly-as-often found ourselves having to show).
As applies the last of these clades, we note with considerable interest the commentary of Sayana upon RV X 77 2 – wherein he appears to state that the Maruts are, in fact, humans that have ‘ascended’ through Their great deeds to an immortal status amidst the Heavens (something arguably also attested in RV I 85 7).
Given the situation aforementioned viz. the Maruts as Sons of Aditi, we might ponder whether the Solar Afterworld of the archaic Indo-European eschatology has, in fact, lead to a ‘rebirth’ of sorts for these mighty souls in more truly radiant forms as befits their heroic (post-human) essences.
In this regard, we would also draw attention to RV I 87 6 – wherein we appear to behold the Priests carrying out the relevant Ritual Invocations as taking up station As the Maruts; and, of course, the immediate next hymnal (RV I 88), wherein the Maruts’ conveyances are described as characterized by exactly that ‘Arka’ terminology so capaciously mentioned afore. Griffith depicts these as ‘lightning-laden chariots’ – we instead feel that ‘liturgy’ (‘Arka’, again) is also pertinent as the vehicle for the Marutagana (a situation also parsed in the Jamison / Brereton commentary upon this hymnal and its neighbour, and reportedly the opinion of Karl Friedrich Geldner upon the matter).
Why do we mention this?
Consider what the Maruts do.
RV I 85 3, for instance, has these “Children of the Cow” arrayed radiantly for war, harrying each foe (Abhimatin) that would obstruct Their ‘Cycle’ or ‘Pathway’ (Vartman – interestingly also used for an ‘Eyelid’ .. and c.f. Hlidskjalf in that regard, the ‘Lidded’ All-Seeing (Solar) (Golden) Throne of Odin) ; RV VIII 7 8 makes things clearer still: per Griffith, “8 With might They drop the loosened rein so that the Sun may run His course, / And spread Themselves with beams of light.” Or, as Wilson puts it : “They, Who by Their Might open a radiant path for the Sun to travel, They pervade (the world) with lustre.” (Jamison / Brereton has “They release the rein [/ray] with strength, for the Sun to travel its path; / They have extended Themselves with its radiant beams.”) The word utilized for ‘Rein’, there, is the ‘Raśmi’ that we had earlier met in the context of examining that Atharvanic Hymnal and the Sun’s Solar Rays as Weaponized Force.
Phrased more succinctly: the Maruts enable and facilitate the Sun to Rise – by clearing the way along Its Solar, Cyclical Path through judicious utilization of force. ‘Ultra-Violent Light’, as I have previously remarked viz. Devi as Katyayani in particular.
Hence, in part, why we are unsurprised to hear in RV I 166 12 that the ‘distribution’, ‘bestowal’, ‘bounty’ ( ‘datram’ – दात्रम् ) of the ‘high-born’ ( ‘sujata’ – सुजाताः ) Maruts in Their Greatness ( ‘mahitvanam’ – महित्वनम् ) extends as far as, is co-extensive with, the ‘Vrata’ of Aditi – that is to say, Aditi’s Divine ‘Word’, ‘Divine Law’, Divine Realm and Regime (and we are reminded of the in some ways similar ‘co-extensive’ characterization of Vak and Brahman per RV X 114 8). They are, after all, Her Sons, Her Warriors, Her ‘Active Enforcement Arm’. The ‘Solar Forces’ (in the manner of ‘Air Force’, ‘Armed Forces’, etc.) that are also (and in addition to) the Tempestuous Storm-Trooping Sons of the Storm.
To cast one’s mind back toward RV X 77 2, and the Sons of Dyaus (‘Divas Putrāsa’) and Sons of Aditi extolled so gloriously therein … it may, at first, seem entirely presumptuous of me to claim that humans can, in fact, be as They. Pre-Mortem, especially.
This is before we note that the term utilized for “Sons of Aditi” is, in fact, ‘Adityas’ (encountered as ‘Adityasas’ in the line itself). And yet … we note the remarkable situation presented in the liturgy that is RV III 53 5 – wherein the ritualist directly hails Lord Indra, that foremost of the Adityas, quite directly as ‘Bhrātar’ , ‘Brother’. We also observe that the Sadhyas that we had aforementioned way towards the start of this piece are directly identified by Sayana in his commentary upon RV I 164 50 with (inter alia) the Adityas … and also with those who have attained a station of divinity through their pious conduct. Something that is fundamentally congruent with its underlying sense as ‘[Those Who Are / Those Who Have] Accomplished, Perfected’ – as well as ‘Those Who Are Invoked’ and Who act as Executors in such circumstances.
We also return our gaze to that situation parsed in RV I 87 6 – wherein it should be recalled that we find the Priest and his fellows stepping up into the station of the Maruts, even from here amidst our terrestrial realm and without the trenchant necessity of dying (or otherwise leaving this plane and conventional mortal-material existence of the body) in order to do so. They take up their duty, in other words – and the duties are those of those figures of myth who fight in amidst the Solar War.
Now we cannot all be Priests, of course – and , in truth , given what that human station entails, I dare say few of us should really actually wish to be so in any case. But we can all aspire to make our contribution, do our part, perform our role. We can all aspire to come together and lend our strength to the saliency as to ( अस्तु ) the Sun. It does not require taking up the Mantle of the Maruts – it simply means possessing the fundamental sense of honour to be one bright spark in amidst the darkness. One bright spark in amidst many. One bright spark that, together with its fellows, is able to drive back the darkness for One More Day.
As Rabindranath Tagore once observed – “the Stars [Themselves] are not afraid to appear like fireflies”. At least, from our ‘down here’ ‘Human’ perspective. He also added, in another poem, that: “God in His Temple of Stars / waits for Man to bring Him His Lamp.”
That’d be our job, then. ‘Curse the darkness with a flame’ – cognizant that it’s not the Darkness (in the sense of, say, ‘Kaal’) that we are ‘cursing’, there, but rather the thing which lurks out there beyond the dark and seeking to snuff out the Light and Law of the DevaRajya whole.
This (A)Arti-cle has been, even by our standards, an eminently broad-ranging one. We have taken in not only some broadly sweeping cosmological concepts, some iteration of adversaries and appreciation of allies; but also several decidedly metaphysically charged vectors via which the Light can be engaged with – whether utilizing it as Weapon, or acting as its trenchant Defender (and ‘Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitaha’, as always). That has been … potentially deliberate upon my behalf. In part because I wished to explore some of these scenarios, situations and concepts, and ‘one thing lead to another’ … but also because, put simply, the Sun encompasses All (‘Aditi’, indeed – Infinite, Limitless, Boundless – and as we have seen, quite the far sway for Her Vrata, pervaded also by Maruts). And so, therefore, might a man’s contribution to the Sun likewise be found in half a hundred different broad avenues or half a thousand or more specific formulations. This has been something of a ‘taster’ of various dimensions that may lend themselves to greater, grander, subsequent exploration in earnest in the future.
With so many potent approaches via which one might seek to Strengthen the Sun, it might begin to seem all too easy to feel ‘overwhelmed’ and directionless in fairly direct consequence.
Yet do not despair. Whatever the Solar Ishana’s Will is – be sure it shall seek you out.
Bring The Dawn.