Every so often, we run into some comment – whether on social media or in amidst academia – that is … useful, as a teachable moment for what not to do.
And applicable in its general principle to a span far broader (and more persistent) than the individual exemplar that we’d run into.
Often because we’ve run into some frankly rather downright lazy (if not ‘insistently misinformed’) academic work that’s sought to do something similar – and any number of other people out there making pretty much the same style of claim without duly thinking things through.
“Number of Shuktas for each Deity in the Rig Veda:
Indra – 289
Agni – 218
Soma – 123
Viṣṇu – 5
Rudra – 4
If Shabda contains Truth, how come Hindus stopped worshipping a Major Deity like Indra and Agni, and started worshipping a Minor Deity like Vishnu and Rudra?”
Now, we were asked to comment upon it – and because it might be of use to others, we reproduce in slightly edited form our reply herein.
Long story short – this is a breathtakingly … ignorant way for somebody to try and approach Vedic theology.
Why? Well, let’s start with the obvious. A purely quantitative rubric would be bad enough … but this isn’t even that.
This is literally just going on the raw number of hymns dedicated – or entitled, i should say – to X deity.
That tells us absolutely nothing about what’s actually going on inside the Hymns and beyond that titling.
It therefore isn’t even a good quantitative measure … because it completely omits the actual number of occurrences in the RV for a given deity.
There are any number of individual verses or prominent attestations within hymnals – like, lines within the Hymns that are to All-Gods or the Maruts etc. , for example – that wouldn’t be acknowledged by such a perspective.
Take RV IV 3. It’s ostensibly an Agni hymnal. That’s the titling after all. Except here’s the first line (first half of):
“ā vo rājānam adhvarasya rudraṃ hotāraṃ satyayajaṃ rodasyoḥ”
“To You, the King of the Sacrificial Rite – Rudra, Invoker of the Archetypal-Apex [Satya – ‘Essence’ or ‘Ideal’] Sacrifice of Rodasi / in the Two Worlds (i.e. Heaven and Earth)”
Straightaway we begin to see the problem. And not least because the role ascribed for Rudra herein (one echoed in several other hymnals quite directly) … is not one of a ‘peripheral’ saliency. But rather, quite direct and quite overtly central to the religion in question.
A RigVedic Hymnal is a collection of ‘Verses’ – Mantras. The ‘title’ of the Hymn will be a broad thematic – and can serve to obscurate the actual specific contents given in each individual verse following. That matters for our tweet-bound commentator’s ‘quantitative’ analysis … yet it matters even more so for a ‘qualitative’ analysis as we shall cover in due course. Looking merely at the title makes for a poor substitute for actually examining its contents.
Indeed, once one actually examines the situation properly, one observes that the ‘dedication’ is NOT something reserved for the title of a Hymnal. Each Verse has its associated Devata – and this can be to a figure or figures rather different to that expressly cited in the nominal ‘title’ of a given Hymn overall.
One example is, in fact, the famed Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra – otherwise known as RV VII 59 12. Which is, surprise surprise, stated to be dedicated to the Devata of the Verse – Rudra.
It’s a line within a Marut hymnal and yet one of the most important Rudra mantras – and a direct thread of coterminity running right the way back from the ‘Family Books’ of the Vedas through to current, contemporary Hinduism. Yet you don’t see it if you go purely by the titling of the hymns. Even if it’s pretty logical to presume that the Father of Maruts might be quite prominent within a Marut hymnal. It’s also important not simply because it’s a Rudra verse – but because, as we say, it is an incredibly important and salient Rudra mantra. But that’s getting into a more ‘qualitative’ analysis – so we shall leave that for now.
The point is – going by the number of specific mentions in titles is not a good way to gauge even quantitative saliency for a given deific.
This is particularly the case when we consider the second problem here – namely, that by focusing in only on ‘Rudra’ as the relevant theonym, and only in the titles of the hymns, no less … one is presenting a doubly distorted view.
How so? Consider some of Rudra’s prominent alternative theonymics. Rudra is known as the Manyu, for example. And what do we find in the RigVeda? Two ‘Manyu’ Hymnals. That’s just added half again to the ‘Rudra’ total.
Rudra is also known as Parjanya (c.f. the ‘Ashtamurti’ suite of conceptry attested in the SBr etc.) – with three Parjanya hymnals in the RV, that gets us up to nine.
And speaking of said AshtaMurti rubrics, perhaps we might also add Vayu (canonically identified with Rudra – a Father of Maruts, indeed, per RV I 134 4 … as we find Dyaus to be per RV VIII 20 17) or Agni … now that would really start to boost the numbers up!
(And whilst we are on the subject – where is this idiotic notion that we “stopped worshipping Agni” coming from ?!
Somebody should tell the Pandits … they’ll have to work out how on earth to carry out so many of our rites without invoking and propitiating Agni – it’ll be quite difficult, they’d better get started :S )
But we can go further!
As we have said – to get a crude ‘quantitative’ perspective on saliency in the Vedas (assuming you consider such a thing worth having to ‘prove’ something with), it is not sufficient to simply check on wikipedia or somesuch how many hymnals are entitled toward a given deific. One must also take account of the mentions within various Hymnals.
Not only for Rudra … but also for all the many and various Roudran Forms or Aspects that are hailed in those verses as well.
What of Ahir Budhnya [the ‘Dragon of the Deep’], or Krsanu, or Tishya, or, of course, Dyaus (Pitar)? We know that these are Rudra theonyms, forms, aspects, epithets – because various Shruti materials tell us so. Occasionally it’s even right there directly stated in the relevant RigVedic Verses – and at other times, these connexions are detailed in other Vedas, Brahmanas, etc. ; or, of course, elaborated upon at much grander length and salient depth in subsequent scripture.
Or, phrased another way – if one goes looking for Rudra … merely by doing the ultra-lazy equivalent of endeavouring to ‘Ctrl+F’ “Rudra” specifically in the RigVeda … then one is not actually going to find quite an array of the actual Rudra occurrences within the RigVeda – because these aren’t all conveniently labelled as ‘Rudra’ directly.
Now, this is not something that is – by itself – particularly unexpected. Gods have Theonyms. Lots of Theonyms. Often these are what I call ‘Functional Theonyms’ – names, epithets, that communicate a particular ‘function’ or quality that is particularly relevant for the context the God is being cited within. And so we are unsurprised to hear, for example, of Odin in a particular tale wherein He has gone in disguise, being spoken of as ‘Grimnir’ (‘The Masked One’) – or, as we have briefly mentioned earlier, hailings for Rudra as ‘Manyu’ in the context of a War Hymn (‘Manyu’ being cognate with Ancient Greek ‘Menos’ – and c.f. the immense saliency for that term within the Iliad for a good demonstration of why this is exactly as we ought expect).
This is not a situation specific nor exclusive to Rudra. Many other Vedic deifics have frequent bynames or interlinked alternate ‘Facings’ via which They are to be known, contingent upon context and situational occurrence. We would think instantly of the situation of Vak also being Aditi also being Saraswati also being Prithvi, for example, as attested at various places throughout the Vedas – and since it is already upon my mind from a recent work, the situation of ‘Viraj’ being utilized in reference to Aditi (c.f. WYV / VS XIII 43)… this being a term that often is employed for other (and male) Gods, and therefore demonstrating for us right away just how easy it can be to miss substantive meaning simply by going by exterior labelings and presumption without caution nor care.
However, it IS something that seems to be … significant to Rudra in ways that it simply isn’t for most other Gods.
Which means that attempting to ‘gauge’ Rudra’s saliency for the Vedic Religion in its earlier swathes of texts is … not something that you can do very well by simply looking for how many times ‘Rudra’ is mentioned directly and by that name, as we shall soon examine in greater depth.
Consider the situation as explicated in Aitareya Brahmana III 34 [all quoted sections below are of the Haug translation]:
There, we find it asserted that when invoking Rudra … it is a dangerous and fraught business – one wherein, as applies invocation utilizing RV II 33 1, “he ought to use the word rudriya instead of rudra, for diminishing the terror (and danger) arising from (the pronunciation of) the real name Rudra.”
Or, indeed, “[ ( ] should this verse appear to be too dangerous) the Hotar may omit it and repeat (instead of it) ” , RV I 43 6 … which is also a Rudra verse from a Rudra hymnal of the RigVeda – except with the rather key feature that there is no Rudra mentioned by name in that verse. Instead, there is simply a succinct setting out of what Rudra is hoped to (positively) bestow, and for whom.
As the AitBr itself puts it:
“(That the latter verse and not the first one should be repeated, may be shown from another reason.)
The deity is not mentioned with its name, though it is addressed to Rudra, and contains the propitiatory term śaṃ.
By repeating that verse the Hotar worships Him (Rudra) by means of Brahma (and averts consequently all evil consequences which arise from using a verse referring to Rudra).”
[we would, perhaps, presume that the translator has slightly misconstrued things with ‘Brahma’ there … as the term should perhaps be ‘Brahman(a)’ in the sense of ‘Ritual Invocation’ – the older Vedic Sanskrit sense for the word]
Indeed, it is interesting to observe that the immediately preceding AitBr commentary (AitBr III 33) rather pointedly goes out of its way to avoid mentioning Rudra – at least, by that name – instead applying an array of almost specifically non-specific terms (‘Bhutavan’, ‘Papman’, etc.), to the point that Haug’s translation and notes feels it has to cite Sayana’s commentary in order to affirm that it is indeed Rudra actually being discussed in the section in question. Which is arguably a little unnecessary given we know from various other texts wherein the relevant mytheme of identifiably coterminous detailing is presented (that of Rudra attacking Prajapati due to the latter’s attempted molestation of Diva , His Daughter (and, not coincidentally, it would happen, Rudra’s Wife – c.f. our work viz. Zeus defending Semele against Aktaeon etc. etc. etc. as well for demonstrations that this is an incredibly ancient PIE myth).). But nevertheless goes to show, again, the difficulties inherent in presuming Rudra’s non appearance simply because it is only the explicit and express “Rudra” hailed directly as “Rudra” that one is looking for. One does not ‘Hunt’ the Great Hunter Who Stalks The Stars that easily.
This is not a phenomenon unique to the AB’s presentation, either.
In the Shatapatha Brahmana (which ‘goes with’ the White Yajurveda – the Aitareya Brahmana goes with the RigVeda), whilst there is more overt Rudra mentioning in one of its relatings of the occurrence (found in I 7 4), we also encounter what’s translated as the following:
“The gods then said to this god who rules over the beasts […] ‘This one, surely, commits a sin who acts thus towards his own daughter, our sister. Pierce him!'”
[SBr I 7 4 3, Eggeling translation]
Which is annotated by Eggeling with the following:
“The construction here is irregular. Perhaps this is part of the speech of the gods, being a kind of indirect address to Rudra in order to avoid naming the terrible god. Dr. Muir translates: The gods said, “This god, who rules over the beasts, commits a transgression in that he acts thus to his own daughter, our sister: pierce him through.”‘ In the Kânva MS. some words seem to have been omitted at this particular place. According to the Ait. Br., the gods created a god Bhûtavat, composed of the most fearful forms of theirs. After piercing the incarnation of Pragâpati’s sin, he asked, and obtained, the boon that he should henceforth be the ruler of cattle.”
As the perspicacious reader may have noted, Muir has differed rather notably from Eggeling by having it be Prajapati that is the ‘God Who Rules Over The Beasts’ in that verse [SBr I 7 4 3]. This is something we may come back to comment upon at another juncture (as I’ve just excised … several paragraphs that analyzed the situation in detail), but suffice to say that Muir’s conspicuously ‘de-Rudra-fied’ presentation is in keeping with the ‘spirit’ of what we find in the Aitareya Brahmana’s Sanskrit phrasing (indeed, in the relevant AitBr text, there is no independent ‘Lord of Beasts’ mentioned in the correlate line – it is simply “Prajapati” [‘Lord of Creatures’, after all] that is identified by The Gods and beseeched by Them to be “pierced” by Rudra – which perhaps explains Muir’s choice of ascribing the ‘devah pashunam ishte’ of SBr I 7 4 3 as he has … rather than in-line with the status of Rudra as Lord of the Pashus that is attested later in both the AitBr and SBr accounts. After all, it would be a touch anachronistic, perhaps, to utilize the title for Rudra in-text, afore it had been in-text accorded to He).
In any case, a pretty ‘vivid’ illustration of just how far the AitBr goes in its efforts to avoid mentioning Rudra by name directly – is provided by that key term deployed upon His Appearance: ‘Bhutavan’ (‘ Bhûtavân ‘, if we are being slightly more fancy with the pronunciation marks – although the perhaps less ostentatious ‘ Bhūtavan ‘ has also been used).
What does this mean? Simply ‘One Who Has Come Into Being’ . Because that’s … what’s just happened. The Deity Formally Known As Rudra has just ‘come into being’ as the result of the combined (moral, divine-legal, evidently (de)ontological) outrage of the Gods and fairly direct consequence of Prajapati’s Violation of the Cosmic Order (hence the ‘Paapman’ also used as a descriptor elsewhere in the text – to my mind understandably-but-wrongfully translated as ‘Embodiment of Sin’. As this isn’t an ‘Embodiment of Sin’ as we’d think of such a figure in the Western conceptual imagination (wherein we presume that it’s the actual characteristics and malign essence of the sin and its temptation that is given more overt, tangible, downright ‘exterior’ form(ulation) … ) – but rather the ‘(more-than) equal and an opposite reaction‘ that is the embodiment of (the) Sin’s Consequence and Retribution, instead).
It’s arguably the simplest and the least descriptive hailing possible (not even having the spectral-sepulchral connotations of ‘Bhuta’) – to the point that you can find literally pages of academic expert commentary attempting to explain its intended meaning
(and we are indebted to K. Krishnan via N. Mukhopādhyāyaḥ for their joint assistance as applies securing the term’s true interpretation) .
This pointed aversion to drawing the most baleful attentions of the Wrathful God through more direct invocation isn’t exclusive to the Brahmana renditions of the event in question. The major RigVedic presentation , in RV X 61 (perhaps more thought of today for another kind of self-censorship in order to avoid drawing an ‘angry eye’ – that of Griffith, translating various of its verses into Latin rather than English so as to avoid their contents rendering his work too outraging for the sensibilities of the Victorian English sphere), is similarly … cautious.
Hence, we find prominent mention of a ‘Vastos Pati’ [“Vastoshpatim” in Latin, thanks to Griffith, for those of you playing at home] in line 7 – except this is, again, an almost pointedly non-descript labelling. ‘Lord / Protector’ of the ‘House’ (or, per Wilson’s translation, availed via the commentary of Sayana … of the ‘Hearth of Sacrifice’ – which is, certainly, a ‘House’ of another kind). Which is generally understood, yes, to be a Roudran theonymic – but as we can see, avoids the more direct and directly identifiable invocation, whilst also (to my mind, rather importantly), ‘localizing’ His Salience to one very specific area and directing His Focus, likewise (where it can be mentioned in the context of an adversary already readily apparent to hunt, fight, and harm … well, that baleful energy is properly channeled, directed, and not so liable to seek ‘alternative targets’ and present a risk to the invoker and others proximate to proceedings).
Vastopati, as a point of interest, is also the deific invoked in RV VII 54 and 55 (so add another two Hymnals to Rudra’s tally) – and, again, we pointedly do not find direct Rudra hailings (for example – by that name) within either. What we encounter, instead, are an array of ‘identifying details’ that make it reasonably apparent just Whom is meant (Who Else, after all, amidst the Vedic Gods, is customarily entreated to not inflict disease but instead remove it – as we see in the first lines of each of these hymnals, and various Roudran liturgies elsewhere), without ever being quite explicit.
Indeed, seemingly quite actively using what we might term ‘adjacent terminology’ – so we hear that this Vastopati is a ‘Son of Sarama’, rather than a ‘Wolf’ (Sarama being the Wolf Goddess; Rudra being quite prominently Lupine in associations and forms elsewhere in the Vedas); and whilst this Vastopati is, as Rudra is, described as being both ‘White’ and ‘Tawny’ … the terms used here are ‘Arjuna’ and ‘Pishanga’, rather than the ‘Siti’ and ‘Babhru’ prominent for Him in Vedic components addressed to Him directly (or, for that matter, ‘Sveta’ and ‘Pingala’ as utilized in other scripture).
We even encounter, in RV VII 54 2, the term ‘Indu’ – which sounds enough like ‘Indra’ (and, indeed, is often enough found proximate to Him in the liturgies) that the incautious might easily simply presume that that is the Deific being evoked. Certainly, the Horace Hayman Wilson translation presents the verse as exactly that. Except what ‘Indu’ actually means is ‘Bright Drop’ – a la Soma (which it also quite directly designates) or Camphor (and c.f. Shiva as ‘Camphor-White’ as the more recent hailings have Him), Milk, or the Moon (for reasons that ought be readily apparent – both in terms of the white light of the glowing Moon at night, but also the indelible connexoin between the Moon and Soma). Soma, after all, being fairly indelibly (and even nominatively) associated with Shiva – as with the Moon.
There’s more I could say about these two Hymns, but we ought get back to RV X 61 (if only briefly). I shall content myself for the moment by noting that as applies RV VII 54 and 55 … we have Hymns that are about Rudra, utilizing what is known to be a Roudran title, and which quite literally place Him at the center of the community – yet which aren’t called Rudra hymnals in the titles, nor in the ‘Devata’ verse dedications, and don’t even use the name ‘Rudra’ whilst also going seriously out of their way to avoid utilizing an array of more obvious labelings for His identifying characteristics, just to be extra sure.
Or, phrased another way – unless you know what you’re looking for (and looking at), you won’t see it.
Something which, no doubt, lends itself considerably to those sorts who wish to, through a studiously cultivated and maintained ignorance, try and keep Rudra ‘ring-fenced’ to ‘just’ four hymnals of the RigVeda.
But to return to RV X 61 – there is one more dimension to this hymnal that I wish to draw upon for our purpose here today. We have already discussed the parodos of ‘Vastospati’ in line 7; a situation of Rudra under a different labelling (and in a ‘Vishvedeva’ dedicated verse, I might add), as we have perhaps come to anticipate.
Yet the Rsi responsible for the Hymnal has other ways to subtly draw our attention to Him. And this is exactly what he does in the first four lines – which are a bit of a ‘bookend’, if you like, for what comes next.
The precise ‘context’ for the Hymnal we shall save for another time. Suffice to say that it is heavily Roudran in nature. Hence why we find in the first line a declaration that this is a ‘Raudram Brahma’ – a ‘Roudran Brahmana’ (‘ritual element’) – being invoked.
Except ‘Roudran’, or ‘Raudram’ we should say, is overtly intended to mean that it is a fierce liturgy. It is not ‘Rudra’s’ in the direct sense , per the wording of the verse – even if the ‘deepa context’ to the verse and hymnal does indeed make it fairly clear that Rudra is, indeed, the source of the whole thing (again, a long story that we intend to elaborate upon at some future juncture).
‘Raudram’, therefore, here stands as a subtle reference – not ‘subtle’ in the sense that one might be in any doubt that it is there, but ‘subtle’ in the sense that it ‘alludes’ without directly invoking.
A perhaps more overtly ‘subtle’ formulation is to be found in the third line – wherein we hear of a certain very Mighty figure wielding Arrows … and we are, of course, under few illusions given the context of the verse (which, again, story for another time as to His Approaching around a Sacrifice) as to just Whom That might be !
But let us move forward in earnest.
Over the preceding paragraphs and pages, we have set out how a ‘quantitative’ approach to Rudra’s saliency in the RigVeda has severe limitations – largely around how a quantitative approach to just Rudra’s occurrence in the titles of RigVedic hymnals misses so much as to be actively worse than useless even for a specifically ‘quantitative’ approach.
We would now seek to switch over to speaking about the rather more useful rubric – the qualitative approach.
And why do I say that it is more ‘useful’ ?
Because the person with the tweet that we are apparently responding to, had asserted that Hindus had “started worshipping” a “minor deity” by the name of Rudra, at some point post the archaic Vedic Age. And had sought to support their bemusing claim with a fundamentally misdirecting piece of data. That of the mere number of occurrences for ‘Rudra’ in titles to hymnals – and never mind actual number of occurrences for Rudra in the RV Samhita all up … or, more importantly, how Rudra is mentioned in the course of these.
That ‘how’ is the cornerstone of the ‘qualitative’ approach.
And in order to illustrate it most succinctly, we shall turn to one of my favourite RigVedic hymnals and Goddesses … one that, as it happens, only briefly mentions Rudra – for it is not Rudra’s saliency therein that we shall be examining.
Vak is, by some measures, a rather ‘rare’ Goddess within the RV. She has only a single Hymnal to Her Name (at least, in direct terms – and by that specific Name directly), and another that is shared with Indra. By the approach that this guy has taken, that would make Her an even more marginal figure than Rudra, surely.
And yet …
Here’s the first half of RV X 125 3:
अहं राष्ट्री संगमनी वसूनां चिकितुषी परथमायज्ञियानाम |
ahaṃ rāṣṭrī saṃgamanī vasūnāṃ cikituṣī prathamā yajñiyānām |
What does that mean?
“I am the Queen, Gatherer-Together of Treasures, I am the Knower [of Brahman], First and Foremost of Those Deserving Worship Via The Fire-Sacrifice”
A single verse – and it sets out that this Goddess is the most important divinity in Vedic religion. Is this hyperbole? Of course it isn’t. This is Vak ! Divine Speech Herself! Without Her, there is no Vedic religion!
It is quite simple – and it is something that is found not only in this one line of the justly famed DeviSukta, but also right throughout our scriptural canon, being explicated at greater length and depth and narrativization particularly in the Brahmanas.
And, not to put too fine a point upon it – being of demonstrable archaic Indo-European saliency (i.e. pre Vedic), due to the strong concordance viz., for example, the situations of Hestia and Tabiti amidst the Hellenic and Scythian spheres.
Now, according to the rubric of “how many mentions in titles …”, we would have to say Vak looks like a rather ‘marginal’ figure – even were we to include Her other Forms and Names like Aditi and Sarasvati (to name but Two).
Yet as we say – one cannot have a Vedic Rite without Vak. It is a contradiction in terms. Hence, in part, why the earlier lines of Her major Hymnal so pointedly rattle off a list of the more prominent (male) deifics Whom She supports through Her Work. And why subsequent lines also make pointed mention for Her enabling the Rsi, the Brahmana to actually do what they do – and, indeed, Rudra to do what He does to the enemies of our faith. (Her other ‘titular’ appearance, as a point of interest, RV VIII 100, has Her empowering Indra likewise, I interpret – we have written upon this capaciously elsewhere).
So, as we can see – an entirely different picture emerges when we take this ‘qualitative’ approach rather than that lazy ‘once-over-Wikipedia-lightly’ unutterably crude ‘quantitative’ mislabeling.
Of course, some will immediately note that this is an example – and that I have not fleshed out this section with actual substantive Rudra exemplars to furnish my argument. That is true … because we are rather running short on space here amidst flagging energy-levels and attention-spans. We have earlier drawn attention to the situation of RV IV 3 1 – a situation that finds fairly direct resonancy in several other lines of the RV in how Rudra is spoken of. And one that, not coincidentally, places Rudra at the center rather than out beyond the periphery of our ritual conceptry.
Most certainly, for those who know, a Deity Who is NOT to be denied His Fair Share !
And at some point, we may return to actually flesh out this section in a future span of pieces to more closely examine exemplars for this in the RV and beyond.
But for now, we shall move on to a final suite of points.
Effectively, these are quite straightforward – and are multiple iterations of the same basic flaw in his perspective.
That is – he’s attempting to make an assertion about Vedic religion … by significantly decontextualizing an element therefrom and then loudly wondering why a whole bunch of stuff is missing from around it.
Think about it this way.
The Samhitas of the Vedas are NOT (with a bit of an exception for the Taittiriya Samhita of the Krishna Yajurveda, for example) complete “this is how you do the rite” materials. Nor are they, as it happens, compendia of the Vedic mythology.
They’re books of LITURGY. Liturgy which is sung in the course of the commission of various Rites … with both i) the actual elements required to be undertaken to make a rite happen being located in the Brahmanas , and ii) a rather non-linear in some cases approach to which lines from which hymnal are going to be invoked.
It’s a densely interlocking and multidimensional structure. And it – additionally – means that you REALLY cannot try and pretend to make adequate exploratory sense of archaic Vedic religion simply by looking at the number of times ‘Rudra’ turns up in titles of hymns in the RV Samhita. Not even close. Even taking that ‘better’ quantitative approach and seeing how many times Rudra turns up under that name or others inside the verses etc. … is STILL not going to tell you all that much about how frequently nor how prominently He is involved in actual Vedic ritual.
The other side to it, of course, is the mythology – and that closely correlates not only to an array of the ritualine salience (as we have explored capaciously elsewhere), but also with … well, what people actually believe(d) and made sense of the universe and their place within via. In other words, it’s an absolutely indispensable aspect of ‘the religion’ – and one that isn’t necessarily going to be quite as ‘detectable’ going only via the liturgies or even the ritual manuals in the ‘high religion’ side of things.
In short – we need context … and it is only through adding all of these elements together to provide a truly multidimensional picture, that the ‘context’ for a given deific within the Vedic Religion – indeed, the actual Vedic Religion in something approaching its summation – can actually be meaningfully spoken of.
Which tends to be decidedly inconvenient for certain skeins of internet and/or academic pedantry. So they don’t do it. But I digress.
One example I have often used to explicate the issue here – at least, in terms of attempting to utilize only the RV Samhita to attest elements, and whilst attempting to entirely artificially denigrate later texts in a bid to imply that absolutely everything not found expressly and explicitly within the RV is some kind of later interpolation …
… is the situation found in RV X 17 1-2 (and it’s really only the second half of the first line plus the full second line we are interested in).
That’s a grand total of one and a half lines of scripture. And it also happens to comprise pretty much the entirety of our encounter with the famed story of Surya and Saranyu / Chhaya in the RV (and likely other Samhitas, although I haven’t checked in full detail into that yet) – that is also rather important viz. the conception of the Asvins along with other ‘Sons of the Sun’.
Needless to say, a single line and a half does NOT afford much scope for detailing – and the major swathe of characterization to the scenario that we have come to expect from the Pauranika tellings is … not in evidence herein. Indeed, the actual text of the Shruti is ‘cryptic’, to say the least.
This would, quite naturally, lead one to the conclusion that the Puranic versions aforementioned are some kind of ‘late development’ from near ‘whole cloth’, carried out by rather ‘enthusiastic’ writers. And therefore that it has little to do with what must have been in common currency of belief in the age when that relevant line of Shruti was being ‘Heard’ by the Seers.
Because the mythology in question is not exclusively Vedic. It is also observed in quite readily recognizable and cognate expression in the Hellenic sphere – in at least two and a half forms that I can readily think of offhand (and have detailed expansively in my work upon the subject elsewhere), in texts from the mid-1st millennium BC onward.
Puranic writers therefore didn’t ‘invent’ the elements that are shared with the Hellenic sphere myths – they simply ‘carried forward’ in their own textual tradition the details found in the archaic Indo-European mythology of the tale.
So how to explain why these key details appear to have ‘skipped a generation’ – and not been attested in that solitary line-and-a-half in RV X 17, despite apparently occurring in both the Puranic layers of texts post-dating the Vedic, and via reconstructive analysis, evidently occurring also in the pre-Vedic pre-textual sphere which eventually would give rise to both Vedic and Hellenic religions?
Well, it’s quite simple.
The RigVeda is NOT there as a ‘Mythology Guide’. It’s amazing how often this is overlooked or just blatantly not understood.
You do NOT find comprehensive iterations of myths or easy explanatory walk-throughs of the mythology therein.
That is NOT what it is there for.
Instead, as we seeming keep saying – it’s there to codify RITUAL LITURGIES. That’s its purpose.
And, of course, in order to ‘invoke’ an element from the mythology, one does not necessarily need to do more than make a bare mention of the detail or element or figure. Sometimes with more detail – or particular details, in sequence – if that is relevant, or if it is to the ‘taste’ of the operation (or operator) in question. But often this is not so necessary. And certainly, everybody – the Priests, that is – actually involved in the performance of the rite … is already going to know the mythology, and so does not require it explained over to them again in the course of the rite itself which they are performing. [There’s a partial exception here viz. some of the ritual manuals – which DO present details to the rite in ‘narrativized’ format for ease of recollection … but, well, those are the Brahmanas – and ‘ritual manuals’ is what they’re there for. So, of course, there is more detail to be found therein. And even then, it tends to be a much ‘abbreviated’ iteration containing only the key details that are ritually (or recollectively) salient – and little else. Because, again, that’s not what they’re there for).
So, where does this leave us viz. Rudra in the RigVeda?
Well, by noting that Rudra in the RigVeda is NOT the Sum Total of Rudra in the Vedic Religion.
Indeed, one only has to look up – at the Heavens, the Processional of the Stars – to see this is indubitably the case.
Today we know Ardra as the great Hunter Who Stalks the Stars. This is a Nakshatra – with associated mythology, of course. We find this figure hailed, yes, in the Vedas; and with associated conceptry under a variety of names therein – even into the RigVeda, as we have made brief mention of above. Albeit with – as we had seen viz. RV X 17 1-2 – many of the more immediately familiar detailings NOT found in any single passage of the RV, but rather extolled in their more proper place … those being the Brahmanas, other Vedic texts, and the later Astrological manuals and Puranas. Detailings which, we feel we must emphasize, are NOT exclusive to the Vedic or post-Vedic spheres – but which are directly shared with the Hellenic iterations of these myths … showing their archaic and pre- ‘post-RV’ origination.
That might all sound like rather ‘ethereal’ or ‘abstract’ conceptry that is somewhat ‘peripheral’ to the main spectra of the religion. But it really isn’t. For a start, the situation viz. Vastospati / Pashupati is intimately connected to the ritualistic processes of, well, the Vedic sacrifice – hence what is found in multiple Brahmanas etc. to link this hailing to the ‘Vastu’ share of the Offering (and more upon that some other time) – an entirely standard Vedic concept that is quite integral to the successful functioning of a rite. Which, again quite explicitly, is linked to Rudra.
For a second, if we consider some of these Hellenic mythic correlates for the relevant Star Telling in question … we observe that it is Zeus that has the same role accorded to Rudra (viz. Zeus and Semele and Actaeon relative to Rudra and Diva and Prajapati; but also Zeus Ikmaios relative to Rudra as Ardra and the broader complex of ‘Drought-Ending’ Forms of He). This makes eminent sense – as , as we all know from prior explications in this area Rudra is also Dyaus, per various Vedic attestations we have elsewhere explored in some greater depth and detailing.
And one can hardly accused Zeus of being a ‘peripheral figure’ to the Hellenic sphere – nor the Sky Father, in general terms, of being ‘peripheral’ to the Indo-European (nor Proto-Indo-European) mythic and religious dimensions, likewise.
Phrased another way – Rudra is exactly where He has Always Been. Both towards the Centre, yes – but also quite comfortable also existing out there at (and beyond) the Borders of the ‘civilized’ Enclosure, as we have extensively sought to elucidate elsewhere in our work pertaining to the Wolves of the Sky Father, inter alia.
In closing, we can likely do little better than to quote a verse from a Sixth Mandala Hymn (and therefore, one of the ‘Family Books’ – the more archaic parts of the RigVeda in general perspective), RV VI 49 10:
” Rudra by day, Rudra at night we honour with these our songs, the Universe’s Father.
Him great and lofty, blissful, undecaying let us call specially as the Sage impels us.”
Doesn’t exactly sound too ‘Marginal’ to me there.
Oh, and as for the art ? A depiction of Veerabhadra (by an aptly named artist – M.P.M. Nataraja ).
Well, you see, it illustrates a certain other time upon which somebody had sought to ‘marginalize’ Lord Rudra. (And before somebody pops up proffering the fact that the Sacrifice of Daksha is a Puranic era narrative … yes, yes it is. But one with clear origination in the Vedas – and quite especially, Rudra claiming His Share of the Offering, as, I believe, we have commented upon elsewhere)
In a word:
Jai Sri Rudra !