VEDIC, BUDDHIST AND JAIN TRADITIONS
Origin and Myths in Vedic Literature
The relationship between man
and the universe has been a most fascinating idea that attracted the mind
of thinkers in almost every religion, philosophy, mythology, and ritual
from primitive age to modern time. The seers of the Vedas have often
wondered at various phenomena in the universe. They contemplated over the
marvels of nature and the mysteries in the vast and variegated world that
they lived in, and attempted to unravel the enigma of creation. They
accepted not as final what they saw around them with their physical eyes.
In this respect, ÎÀi KavaÀa remarks:
- Tr. RTH Griffith (Gr.)
And therefore the ÎÀis
of the Vedas have not infrequently enquired into the mystery, the
mechanism, the creation, and the establishment of the universe. ÎÀi D¢rghatamas
(ÎV, 1.164.6 cd)
What is 'That One' who established and fixed world's six regions.
- Tr. Gr.
ÎÀi Atharvan enquires:
prepsan d¢pyata £rdhvo agniÅ kva prepsan paveta m¡tari¿v¡ l
(AV, 10.7, 4 ab)
desiring to attain does Agni flame aloft? Whither desiring to attain blows
M¡tari¿van? - Tr. W.D. Whitney
ka u sa u¤kÀa ¡sa yato dy¡v¡p¤thiv¢ niÀ¶atakÀuÅ l
(RV, 10.81.4 ab)
What was the tree, what wood in sooth produced it, from which they fashioned out the earth and heaven
- Tr. Gr.
Such enquiries did stir the
inner vision of the ÎÀis which led them to deep thinking and
contemplation. The ÎÀis
envisioned certain guesses, conjectures and conclusions, and put them
forth for the sake of posterity. They presumed that the inferences
resulting from their deep thinking, meditation, and contemplation
were not only true to them in their age, but
also to the generations to come in future:
dev¡n¡Æ nu vayaÆ j¡n¡ pra voc¡ma
uktheÀu ¿asyam¡neÀu yaÅ pa¿y¡duttare
us with tuneful skill proclaim these generations of the gods, that one may
see them when these hymns are chanted in a future
age. - Tr. Gr.
Thus, the Vedic seers have
left for us a number of guesses, conjectures, speculations, and
postulations regarding man, universe and its maker. Their opinions vary.
Some time, the Creator of the universe was thought of as Aja
(the primeval, everlasting, uncreated being);;2
some time, it is Ekam (the one) (ÎV,
10.81.3);3 at other time, it is
Indra who forces the earth and sky asunder (ÎV,
10.89.1), and brings out into existence that which was not yet existent (ÎV,
6. 24.5); or the omniscient puruÀa
(ÎV, 10. 90); or Varu¸a who created air, and fire in the water (ÎV,
5.85.2-4). It could be, in the Ëtharva¸ic phraseology, Brahm¡¸·ana
(AV, 4. 34, 35); or UcchiÀ¶a (AV, 11. 7), or
Ka (AV, 10. 2); or Pr¡¸a
(AV, 11. 4); or Skambha (AV , 10.7,8); or Vir¡ja
(AV, 8. 9,10); or Vena (AV,
2.1); or K¡la (AV, 19. 53, 54); or
Brahmac¡rin (AV, 11.5); or P¤thiv¢ (AV,
12.1); or Rohita (AV, 13.3); or Madhu
(AV , 9.1).4 It
may be Praj¡pati of the Br¡hma¸as
(áB, 220.127.116.11); or PuruÀa
or Brahman or Ëtman of the UpaniÀads
(Pra¿naUp, 6.1; BrUp,
2.2.1; TaittUp, 2.1).
a primeval omnipotent Creator was assumed, speculations on the process of
Creation must have begun. This may be regarded as the genesis of the
concepts of the Bh£tas, the
material causes or the gross
(primary) elements of creation, and of a large number of myths woven
around them. The creator must have needs to create material things.
may be pointed out that the concept of the bh£tas,
as it is understood in the UpaniÀads
and in later philosophical texts, does not occur in the earliest Veda,
the Îgveda. In the Îgveda,
the term bh£ta has been used
mainly in the sense of 'past',
often in the juxtaposition of 'future'.5
Further, in almost all its occurrences, the word means sentient or
insentient beings (sth¡varaja´gam¡tmakaÆ
a few rudimentary ideas of the bh£tas,
in the sense of gross elements, may be traced in the Îgveda. The hymn ÎV,
10.58 is an address to a dead man. It is said, the spirit that went away
(after death) to the earth (vs. 3), to the billowing sea (vs. 5), to the
beam of light (vs. 6), and to the waters and plants (vs. 7), may that
spirit return.6 In ÎV,
10.18.10, the spirit of a dead man is addressed to go and mingle with the
earth. ÎV, 10.56.1 (where ÎÀi
B¤Åaduktha addresses his dead son V¡jin) states, "Here is one
light (terrestrial) for thee, another yonder (mid-air), enter the third
(heaven) and be there with united (Tr. Gr.).7
In Î]V, 10.16.3, (again a
funeral hymn where a dead man has been addressed), it is mentioned,
"May thy eye go to the sun, the mind to the spirit (Ëtman), go you
to the earth, or to the waters" (Tr. Gr.).
the basis of the above references, it may be observed that the Vedic ÎÀis
did believe in some kind of union with different elements (bh£tas)
after death, and that the different components of the gross (earthly) body
united with the corresponding subtle elements, the tanm¡tras
of the UpaniÀads. Further, it
may be pointed out that the fine constituent members of the bh£tas occur in the Îgveda
in the form of five deified natural objects. The words p¤thiv¢, ap, agni,
v¡yu and ¡k¡¿a (or
dyaus) have been deified in the `Rgveda.
These divinities may be regarded as prototypal gross elements (bh£tas).
A number of myths and legends have been woven around them to bring out
their essential nature and characteristic features, that might have led
the post-Vedic thinkers to conceive and transform them into the five bh£tas
constituting the physical universe.
is no fixed order in the enumeration of the five bh£tas. Sometimes, the order is kham,
v¡yu, jyoti, ¡paÅ and p¤thiv¢
(Mu¸·Up, 2.1.3); sometimes, it is p¤thiv¢, ap, tejas,
anila, kham (ávetUp, 2.12;
6.2), and sometimes, it is p¤thiv¢,
v¡yu, ¡k¡¿a, ¡paÅ
and jyoti (AitUp, 3.3). Many a time synonyms are also used. In this paper we
have put the order as : ¡paÅ, agni
(because they are found to be inter-linked), dyaus,
(¡k¡¿a), [p¤thiv¢ (because they form a pair dy¡v¡p¤thiv¢), and v¡yu.
ËpaÅ have been regarded as
the first and the foremost element in the Vedas.
Water (ap, singular) is the
first creation. ÎV, 10.82.1
states that Vi¿vakarman first engendered the waters and then heaven and
earth floating on the waters. Further, in the same s£kta
(vs. 5), it is said that the waters were earlier than this earth and
heaven, much before the asuras and
the gods came into being. The waters received the primeval germ whence all
the gods came into being. AV, 12.
1.8 says that in the beginning,
there was flood of waters. In the N¡sad¢yas£kta
(RV, 10.129), the water has been
regarded as the first principle:
tama ¡s¢ttamas¡ g£½ahmagre'praketaÆ salilaÆ sarvam¡ idam l
yad¡s¢t tapasastanmahin¡j¡yataikam ll
there was : at first concealed in darkness this all was indiscriminated
chaos. All that existed then
was void and formless; by the great power of warmth was born that unit.
- Tr. Gr.
TS, 18.104.22.168 mentions that at first the universe
was waters, the moving ocean.
Praj¡pati, becoming wind, rocked about on a lotus leaf8
on the waters. On it he piled the fire; that became this earth, then
he indeed formed support.9
Regarding the waters as the first element, áB,
22.214.171.124-3 states through a myth:
the beginning this universe was water, nothing but a sea of water. The
waters thought, "How can we be reproduced"? They toiled and
performed austere penance.10
When they were thus becoming heated, a golden egg was produced. In a
year's time, a man, Praj¡pati, was produced from that golden egg.
He broke open the golden egg.
There was no resting place (pratiÀ¶h¡)
for him except the golden egg bearing him. It floated around for as long
as a year. At the end of the year, he tried to speak. He uttered, bh£Å
this become this earth; bhuvaÅ,
this become air (antarikÀa);
and, svaÅ, this become the yonder sky (dyaus).
In the Hira¸yagarbha-s£kta (RV,
10.121, vs. 7 and 8), it is
stated that the mighty waters contained the universal germ producing Agni, thence sprang God's one spirit (EkaÅ) into being. He surveyed the waters around him containing
productive force (dakÀam); he
is the one God among all gods (cf. also TS,
whole hymns have been addressed to the waters (ÎV, 7.47; 49;10.9; 30). The waters are regarded as the mistresses
of the world (`RV, 10.30.10).
They are prayed to grant men procreative power (ÎV,
10. 9.3). The waters received that primeval germ wherein all the gods were
gathered (ÎV, 10. 82.6). All
creatures are born from the waters (ÎV,
1.23.16, 10.17.10; 32.2; 39.2). They are mostly motherless, and the
producers of all that is fixed and all that moves (ÎV,
6. 501). They are the mothers of all beings (ÎV, 1.23.10; 6.50.7; 10.17.10). They are (as one unified divinity)
the mother of the sun (JB,
3.114). They produce Agni (ÎV,
10.91.6; AV, 1.31.1). Agni entered
into them (ÎV, 7.49.4).
All objects, movable or immovable owe their existence to the waters
1.129). They are the
wives of the gods (JB, 1.140).
They are the maidens of Soma (ÎV,
¡paÅ, indeed, are all this
world (TË, 10.22). ChUp, 7.10.1 says that it is the waters who pervade everything, big
or small: the earth, the atmosphere, the heaven, the mountains, gods, men,
animals, birds, grass, plants, dogs, worms, insects, ants.
All these (worldly manifestations) are waters indeed.
are the foundations (pratiÀ¶h¡)
of all in the universe (áB,
126.96.36.199). They are a place of abode (¡yatana)11
for all the gods (áB, 188.8.131.52). áB,
184.108.40.206; 6 regards the waters as food.
áB, 220.127.116.11ff mentions that
Praj¡pati created the waters from v¡k.12
Waters pervaded everything here; because
they pervaded (¡p) everything here, therefore they are called waters (¡paÅ)
(AV, 3.13.2). A hymn is compared
with the flowing water (ÎV,
10.89.4). About the pervasiveness of the waters, áB,
18.104.22.168 gives the following legend:
son of Praj¡pati, desired, "Would I were everything here". He
became the waters, for, the waters are everything here. Praj¡pati, the
highest lord, is the waters (áB,
Agni has permeated the entire universe by his
effulgence. He is in the earth, in the herbs, in the waters, in the
stones, in men, kine, and horses. It is he who sends down heat (AV, 12.1.19) from the sky; the firmament belongs to him, and mortals
on earth kindle him as an oblation-bearer (AV, 12.1.20). Agni
is indeed the existence, for, it is because of Agni
that everything exists (bh£)
here (áB, 22.214.171.124.). Agni is our spring of life (ÎV,
1.31.10). He is described as thousand-eyed and hundred-headed monster (áB,
126.96.36.199); he was created as hundred-headed Rudra (áB,
Agni has been described as a
begetter par-excellence. He
places the germ in all beings (ÎV,
3.2.10), and engenders life on the earth and offspring in women (ÎV, 10.183.3). He has created all that flies, walks, stands, or
moves (ÎV, 10.88.4). He is the
bull (ÎV, 1.58.5) abounding in
procreative seed (ÎV, 4.5.3).
He is the generator of the two worlds (heaven and earth : ÎV,
1.94.4; 7.5.7). He stretched them out (ÎV,
3.6.5; 5.4) like one does two
skins (ÎV, 6.8.3); he kept
asunder the two worlds (ÎV,
But he is also the son of the heaven and earth (ÎV, 3.2.2; 25.1; 10.1.2; 2.7; 46.9). ÎV, 10.88.9 says that Agni
heats the heaven and earth when an offering of fuel is made to him.
Agni is afterwards identified
with the sun (ÎV, 3.2.14). He
is born as the sun rising in the morning (ÎV,
10.88.6). AB, 8.28 remarks
that the sun when setting enters into Agni
and is produced from him; he unites with the light and rays of the sun
(ÎV, 5.37.1; 7.2.2). He is the head and the summit of the sky (ÎV,
1.59.2; 6.7.1). He causes the sun to ascend the sky (ÎV,
10.156.4) who was lying hidden in the sea (ÎV,
10.72.7). Agni, kindled on the
earth causes the sun to rise (RV,
5.6.4; áB, 188.8.131.52; TS, 184.108.40.206). The sun becomes visible when Agni is born (ÎV,
4.31.11). When men light Agni on
the earth, the celestials light him in the heaven (ÎV, 6.2.3) where he shines (ÎV,
in the form of the sun, is
regarded as the soul, and, as such, he is compared with the PuruÀa
(ÎV, 1.15.1; áB,
10.6.1.11). In the MaitUp, 6.35,
he is regarded as the ruler and the preserver of the world. He is regarded
as the Brahman, who has entered
into all beings (MaitUp, 6.38). Agni is likened with a bird, he is a divine bird (ÎV,
1.164.52); he is the eagle of the sky (ÎV,
7.15.4); he has wings (ÎV,
1.58.5; 2.2.4). His abode is the highest in the heaven (ÎV,
8.11.7) whence he comes to the lower world (ÎV,
8.64.15). The third form of Agni
is the highest (ÎV, 10.1.3). To
the bright ocean, the sun has ascended (ÎV,
7.60.4). S£rya has mounted up
in the shining ocean (ÎV,
The celestial form of Agni
is manifest in ÎV, 7.39.5 where Agni is
asked to bring Agni. In AV,
4. 39.9, it is stated that Agni
moves having entered into the fire.
Agni is said to possess these
forms, and much emphasis has been put
on the tripartite form of Agni.
Three forms of Agni - Agni, V¡yu
(or Indra), and S£rya - have
afterwards been mentioned in the Îgveda
(ÎV, 1.164.44). He is
regarded as the forehead of the sky, and as the earth's centre (ÎV,
1.59.2). ÎV, 10.56.1 says that there is one light here(for the dead man),
another yonder, (and the dead man is asked to enter the third, the three
fertilize the worlds with their genial moisture (ÎV, 7. 33.7), - the three are Agni,
V¡yu, and S£rya.
air and earth are the triads regarded as the prototypes of the sun, wind,
and fire (][RV, 8.18.19). Agni,
V¡yu, and Ëditya are the
hearts of the gods (áB,
220.127.116.11). They are the lights diffused all around (áB,
18.104.22.168). The sun, the lightning (in the mid-region), and the fire (Agni
on the earth) have been regarded as three brothers (ÎV,
1.164.1). ÎV, 10.45.1 states
that first Agni sprang to life
from out of heaven (dyaus) as
the sun, the second time from (us) mortals (in the form of sacrificial and
domestic fire), and thirdly in the waters (in the mid-region) in the form
of lightning. The tripartite nature of Agni
has been explained through myths. In this connection, áB,
22.214.171.124; 3 gives the following myth:
the beginning, this universe was Brahman
(neut.). Brahman created
gods, and having created the gods, it made them ascend these worlds: Agni this (terrestrial)
world, V¡yu, the atmosphere,
and S£rya, the sky. Then Brahman
itself went up to the sphere beyond.16
áB, 126.96.36.199 compares three sacrificial fires with three worlds:
with earth, the DakÀi¸¡gni with atmosphere, and the Ëhavan¢ya with heaven.
áB, 188.8.131.52-4 relates that: In the beginning Praj¡pati
alone was here. He desired, "May I exist, may I be generated".
He practised austerity, he wearied himself.
From him thus wearied and heated, three worlds were created, the
earth, the air, and the sky. He heated these three worlds; from them thus
heated, three lights issued forth: Agni, V¡yu (who blows
here), and S£rya.
He heated these three lights; from them thus heated were produced
three Vedas - the Îgveda
from Agni, the Yajurveda from V¡yu,
and the S¡maveda from S£rya. He
heated these three Vedas, from
them thus heated, three luminous essences were produced, namely, bh£Å from the Îgveda, bhuvaÅ
from the Yajurveda, and svaÅ from
tripartite character of Agni has
been carried on to the UpaniÀads also.
TaitUp, 1.5.1-3 says that bh£r
is this world, bhuvaÅ, the mid-air, and svar,
the yonder world. Mahas is the sun, because through the sun all the worlds prosper (mah¢yante).18 Mahas
is the fire, bhuvaÅ, the wind, svar the
sun, mahas the Brahman, because through the Brahman
all the Vedas prosper (Tait
Almighty primordial nature of Agni
is found in the ÎV, 10.5.7,
where Agni is regarded as both
non-existent (asat), and
existent (sat); that is, the
first cause and the first effect.20
Agni is the sap, Agni is
the substance in this world (ÓSB,
184.108.40.206). It is Agni who
generated food (ÎV, 6.52.16). áB,
220.127.116.11 describes Agni as a
universal sovereign. He is
compared with the All-Creator Vi¿vakarman (áB,
18.104.22.168),21 "who combines
in his person the characters of a primeval divine sacrificer and of a
Agni is often compared with the ved¢.
The ved¢ is regarded as the navel of the earth (ÎV, 1.52.2), and thus, he is counted with the earth (áB,
22.214.171.124). Further, Agni has
been identified with Praj¡pti. áB,
126.96.36.199-5 deals with the birth of Praj¡pati who is described as a
combination of seven persons (puruÀas)
into one person (PuruÀa : Pr¡j¡pati).
And that PuruÀa is regarded as Agni
(fire-altar) who is to be built. That Praj¡pati desired, "May it
multiply, may it be reproduced." By means of Agni, he (Praj¡pati) entered into union with the earth. Thence an
egg arose. He touched it and said, 'May it grow'. And the embryo which was
inside was created as V¡yu.
Likewise, by means of V¡yu, he
entered into union with the mid-air (antarikÀa);
thence an egg arose; from it, the yonder sun was created. By means of the
sun, he entered into union with the sky (dyu);
thence an egg arose; from it the moon was created, for the moon is the
seed (áB, 188.8.131.52-4).
nature Agni has been brought
forth in detail in the UpaniÀads.
Agni permeates the entire
universe. The universe has been compared with five great fires, Viz. (1)
fire in the heaven, (2) fire in the clouds, (3) fire on the earth, (4)
fire in man, and (5) fire in women. In this connection, ChUp,
yonder world (heaven) is the fire; the sun is its fuel, the rays its
smoke, the day its flame, the moon its coal, the stars its sparks; into
this fire the gods offer an offering of faith, out of this sacrificial
offering arises Soma. Parjanya
(rain-cloud) is the sacrificial fire; the wind is its fuel, the clouds its
smoke, the lightning its flame, the thunderbolt its coals, the hailstorms
its sparks, into this fire the gods sacrifice king Soma. Out of this
sacrificial offering arises the rain. The earth is a sacrificial fire; the
year is its fuel, the ether is its smoke, the might its flame, the points
of heaven its coals, the intermediate points (of direction) the sparks;
into this fire the gods sacrifice the rain; out of this sacrificial
offering arises the food. Indeed the man is the sacrificial fire; the
speech its fuel, the breath is smoke, the tongue its flame, the eyes its
coals, the ears, its sparks; into this fire, the gods sacrifice food; out
of this offering arises the semen or sperm. Indeed the woman is the
sacrificial fire; the lap or her
sexual organ its fuel, when one appeals to her, it is the smoke, the vulva
the flame, the insertion the coal, the sexual pleasure the sparks; into
this fire the gods sacrifice the semen; out of this sacrificial offering,
arises the foetus. Thus
it occurs that during the fifth sacrificial offering the waters
come to be called as PuruÀa. After the embryo, covered by the membrane, has lain in the
interior for ten months or as long as it may be, he is born. After one is
born, he lives so long as his life duration is. After he is dead, they
carry him to his destination, the fire, from which he had come, out of
which he had arisen.23 áB,
12.5.2. It gives detailed rites for burning a dead body of a sacrificer.
His dead body becomes the ved¢
and all implements of sacrifice are kept on him and then burnt. áB, 184.108.40.206 says that a man is born Three times; the three births
are: biological, ritual and funerary.24
On the basis of the above, a
few salient features of ËpaÅ
and Agni may be put forth:
1. Both ËpaÅ
and Agni are said to possess
procreative powers. The waters are the mothers par-excellence, and the fire is the prolific generator and begetter.
2. Both of them are said
to have pervaded the entire universe.
3. There is a close
nexus between the fire and the water. Agni
is said to have been born from the waters.
The tripartite nature of Agni has been connected with the three forms of
waters, celestial, atmospheric and terrestrial.
FIRE AND WATER
Fire and water are regarded
as the most important elements (ÎV,
1.161.9). ÎV, 10.51; 52; 53;
and 124 relate a legend about Agni
hiding in the waters (ÎV,
10.51.1) and in the plants (¿am¢,
a¿vattha, ÎV, 10.51.3) and
being formed by the gods. In this respect, áB,
220.127.116.11 gives the following legend:
Agni went away from the gods,
and hid himself in the waters. The gods said to Praj¡pati, "Go thou
in search of him; to thee, his father, he will reveal himself". Praj¡pati
became a white horse, and went in search of Agni.
He found him on a lotus leaf heaving
forth from the waters (áB,
18.104.22.168).25 Lotus means the
waters and this earth is a leaf thereof, this earth is Agni's womb, for Agni
(fire-altar) is this earth.
in the waters, Agni resembled the acquatic bird haÆsa (ÎV, 1.56.9;
4.40.5; 10.124.9). He is regarded as the son of the waters (as lightning),
as such he is known as Ap¡Æ Nap¡t
(ÎV, 2.35; 10.30. 3; 4 etc.).26
Another divinity, Trita Ëptya, has been identified with Agni, as a god of lightning. He
is regarded as the third or aerial form of fire (lightning), originally
the middle member of the triad, Agni,
V¡yu/Indra and S£rya.27 He is kindled in
the waters (ÎV, 10.45.1; AV,
13.2.50). He is the bull who has grown in the lap of the waters (ÎV,
The word ¡k¡¿a does not
occur in the Îgveda. Its
synonyms, dyaus, nabhas, kham, antarikÀa, etc.
have been frequently used. Although all these words are generally
understood as sky, space, mid-air, etc., one important point, regarding antarikÀa is that it is said to lie between the two worlds (dy¡v¡p¤thiv¢)
(heaven and earth). However, the concepts
of dyaus in the Îgveda is very similar to that of ¡k¡¿a in the UpaniÀads.
In fact, AV, 10.7.3 mentions
four worlds : bh£mi (earth), antarikÀa
(mid-air), dyaus (heaven or sky,
and the fourth world is beyond the heaven (uttaram
the Îgveda, the term dyaus
designated the uppermost vault of the concrete sky.28
The essential feature of Dyaus
as a male divinity,29 is his
creative potentiality. He is regarded as a father (ÎV,
1.90.7; 164.33, 4.1.10). He is
a great father (ÎV, 1.71.5;
159.2; 160.2 ; 185.1)rich in procreative seed (suret¡Å,
ÎV, 4.17.4). Like a mighty bull
(ÎV, 1.160.3; 5.36.5). He
generated Agni (ÎV, 4. 72.1).
may be pointed out that other than this
feature of a begetter, Dyaus has
nothing special in the Îgveda,
until and unless he is combined with P¤thiv¢.
There is not a single whole hymn for dyaus
in the Îgveda. In áB,
22.214.171.124, ¡k¡¿a is said to have been created first.
Besides other stray
occurrences, P¤thiv¢ has been
described in one short hymn in the Îgveda
(5.84) and in a long and beautiful hymn in the Atharvaveda (12.1) In ÎV,
5.84.1, twofold nature of earth, as a divinity and as a gross element, is
noticed. The mighty one makes mighty the earth with her might (mahn¡
jinoÀi mahini), and bears the hills and forests etc. She is a mother
(ÎV, 10.18.10), an upholder of
1.155.2). She protects all that is, and all that will be (AV,
are certain myths in the Îgveda
and in the Br¡hma¸as regarding
the birth of the earth. ÎV,
10.72.6 states that the gods stood in the deep abyss of waters closely
clasping (susanirabdh¡Å) each other. Then from their feet, as if dancing, a
cloud of dust arose which became earth. ÎV,
1.22.17 mentions that the earth has been formed from the dust raised by ViÀ¸u
when he measured the earth in three strides. áB, 6.1.1. 8-15 gives the following myth about the creation of the
desired, "May I be more than one, may I be reproduced". He toiled and practised tapas. Being worn out and exhausted with toil and austerity, he
created first of all the Brahman
(neut.) in the form of tray¢vidy¡.
It became to him a foundation, and the foundation of everything else in
the world. He then created the waters out of V¡k.
Praj¡pati further desired, "May I be reproduced from these
waters". He entered the waters with the tray¢vidy¡.30
Hence an egg arose. The embryo which was inside was created as Agni.
Praj¡pati further desired, "May I generate this (earth) from these
waters". He compressed
it (that is, the earth) when as yet in the form of the egg-shell (kap¡la) and threw it into the waters; the whole (earth) dissolved
itself all over the waters. All
this universe appeared as one form only, namely, waters. He desired,
"May it become more than
one, may it reproduce itself". He tried and practised austerities;
worn out with toil and austerity, he created foam. He thought that this
indeed looked different, it was becoming more than one, I must toil
indeed. Worn out with toil and
austerity, he created (1) clay (m¤da),
(2) mud (suÀk¡pa), (3) saline soil (£Àa),
(4) sand (sikat¡), (5)pebble (¿arkar¡),
(6) rock (a¿m¡na), (7) ore (ayaÅ),
(8) gold (hira¸ya), and
(9)plants and trees. Therewith
he clothed this earth.31 This
earth, then, was created as (consisting of) these same nine creations,
"This earth has indeed become (bh£)
a foundation", he thought; hence he became the earth (bh£mi).
He spread it out (prath) and it
became the broad one (p¤thiv¢).
(Translation based on Eggeling's).
The creation of the earth
out of the waters has given rise to a
myth in the post-Vedic Pur¡¸ic literature, which is known as the Var¡h¡vat¡ra.
áB, 126.96.36.199 enjoins that in the preparation of the Mah¡v¢rap¡tra,
the earth dug up by a boar should be
used (VS, 37.5). Giving the arthav¡da
(explanation) for this act, the Br¡hma¸a
says that a boar called EmuÀa lifted the earth up from the water, and
became her (earth's) lord Praj¡pati.32
Further TS, 188.8.131.52 (= PB, 20.14-16) states that this world was in the beginning the water,
the ocean. Praj¡pati, becoming the wind,
moved on it. He saw her (earth) and becoming a boar, he seized her, and
becoming Vi¿vakarman, he wiped her. She extended, she
became the earth, and hence the earth is called the earth (p¤thiv¢).
Further, in TS, 1.10.8, it is
said that the earth was uplifted by a black boar with a thousand arms.33
It is the combination of the
two, dyaus and p¤thiv¢
(as dy¡v¡p¤thiv¢),34 which
is most important in the mythology and in the cosmological speculations of
the Vedas. Dyaus and p¤thiv¢ form
the universal parents. The one, dyaus,
is a prolific bull; the other, earth, is a variegated cow (ÎV, 1.160.1). They are both rich in [procretative seed (ÎV,
1.159.2; 6.70.1; 2). As a father and as a mother, they guard all beings (ÎV,
a father, dyaus is associated
with p¤thiv¢ (earth), who is regarded as a mother. In this
respect Macdonell says : "Dy¡v¡p¤thiv¢
appeared so indissolubly connected in nature that the myth of their
conjugal union is found widely diffused among many primitive peoples.35
AB, 4.27.5; 6 describes the
marriage of Dyaus and P¤thiv¢
These two worlds (heaven and
earth) were (once) joined. (Subsequently) they separated. (After their
separation) there was neither rain, nor sun-shine. The five classes of
beings (gods, men, etc.) then did not keep peace with one another.
(Thereupon), the gods brought about a reconciliation of both these worlds.
Both contracted a marriage
with one another. In the form of the Rathantara-S¡man,
this earth is wedded to the heaven, and in the form of the B¤hat-S¡man, the heaven is wedded to the earth . . .
- (Tr. M.
Words, such as,
pitar¡ (dual),36 m¡tar¡ (dual),37
and janitr¢ (dual),38
all meaning parents, have been used to designate their parenthood. ÎV,
1.191.6 says that Dyaus is men's
father, and P¤thiv¢, mother.
They are regarded as prolific parents (ÎV,
1.59.2). They are addressed as father and mother (ÎV, 1.159.1-3; 160.2). They are primeval parents (ÎV,
7. 53.2; 10.58.2). They, have created and they sustain all creatures (ÎV,
1.159.2; 160.2; 185.1). No one knows who produced them, or which of the
two first came into being (ÎV,
most striking delineation of these two divinities is their procreative
potentiality and generative power. The mythology behind the universal
parenthood of Dy¡v¡p¤thiv¢
centres round each one's prolific procreative potency, and fecundity. Dyaus
showers the procreative fluid in the form of rains which the earth absorbs
in her womb, and fructifies herbs and plants to sustain all creatures. The
fertility power of these two has been widely emphasized in the Vedas,
and they have become a symbol of parenthood.39
A very significant epithet, retaÅsic,
has been used for them (áB,
Two words v¡yu
and v¡ta, have been used in the Îgveda
for wind. However, a distinction has been maintained between the two. V¡yu
is chiefly the divinity, and v¡ta,
the element.41 Both the words
have been deified in the Veda. V¡yu has been celebrated in two, whole hymns (ÎV, 1.134; 4.48), and v¡ta
too has two entire hymns to his credit (ÎV,
wind is the germ of the world and Ëtman of all gods (ÎV, 10.168.4). áB,
184.108.40.206 says that v¡yu is the transformer of seeds, for v¡yu
is the vital air, and vital air is the transformer of seeds. He is the
breath of the gods (ÎV, 7.87.2;
10.92.13, áB, 220.127.116.11). He is
immortal (ÎV, 10.186.3). He is
the support of all beings (áB,
18.104.22.168). He exists in all three worlds (áB,
22.214.171.124). He is an abode of all beings (áB,
126.96.36.199). He is the breath of all (áB,
188.8.131.52). All beings pass over into the wind, and from out of the wind,
they are again produced (áB,
V¡yu is the 'combining force' in
the universe. The yonder sun
strings these worlds to himself on a thread; that thread is the same as
the wind (áB, 184.108.40.206). V¡yu is said to have originated from the breath of the PuruÀa
(ÎV, 10.90.11). Praj¡pati is V¡yu
(áB, 6.12.19; 2.2.11). áB,
220.127.116.11-2 mentions that Praj¡pati by means of Agni
entered into the union with the earth; hence an egg arose. The embryo
which was inside was created as V¡yu.
áB, 18.104.22.168 related a myth: Praj¡pati having produced creatures
relaxed. From him, when relaxed, the vital air went out. Now, the vital
air which went out from within him is the wind that blows yonder. The gods
heated him in the fire; and when the fire rose over him thus heated, that
same vital air, which had gone out from within him, came back to him, and
they put it into him. They raised him up; and, inasmuch as, they thus
raised him upright, he is these worlds.
V¡yu is Agni (áB, 10.4.5.1). V¡yu
is pr¡¸a. Like the spokes in the navel of a wheel everything is fixed
fast in Pr¡¸a.42 In AV,
11.4.15, breath is called the wind, he is Praj¡pati (vs.12); breath is
the lord of all, both what breathes and what does not (vs. 10).43
áB, 22.214.171.124ff compares v¡yu
with Vi¿vakarman,44 for it is
he who makes everything here.
V¡yu has been associated with
the waters. áB, 126.96.36.199
compares the wind with the gandharva;
waters as his apsarasas.
It says that as a gandharva, the wind went forth with the waters as the apsarasas,
his mates. The waters are called £rjaÅ,
for the food is produced from the waters (ibid).
the basis of the foregoing delineation of the five divinities, and the
myths connected with them, one may draw a few conclusions which might have
turned them into the five bh£tas in
the post-Vedic UpaniÀadic and later philosophical speculations.
foremost common feature of all the five is that they have been regarded as
the all-pervasive and omnipresent elements. All this world has been
pervaded by the waters. Waters are the foundations of the world. Agni is the very existence, and it is through Agni that everything
exists. He permeates in every object that is seen in the universe. In this
respect his tripartite character is very significant. As a terrestrial
fire, he pervades the
entire earth; as v¡yu, he pervades the mid-region and causes rains, and as the sun,
he pervades heaven. Agni is the
five-fold sacrifice, from which the entire world emanates. Dyaus and p¤thiv¢ are
the universal parents. They are the retaÅsic
(seed-shedders). V¡yu is a
binding force in the universe.
second most important characteristic of these divinities is that all of
them are endowed with great creative potency. Waters received the
primordial germ whence all the gods came into being. They are the mothers
of all beings; they are the mothers of s£rya
and Agni. They are the wives of
gods and maidens of Soma. Likewise, P¤thiv¢
is the mother who upholds all beings. Agni
has been described as a begetter par-excellence.
He places the procreative germ in all beings. He is a bull abounding in
seed. He generated the heaven and the earth. He is produced in the waters
where he lives like a swan (haÆsa).
Dyaus has been portrayed as a
great progenitor and a universal father. He is a bull rich in seed (suret¡Å).
V¡yu is the germ of the world
and a transformer of seed. He is the breath of all.
two common features of these five divinities, namely, all-pervasiveness
and potent creative power may
be regarded as conducive to regard them as
individual members of the Paµcabh£tas.
These five divinities may be regarded as having developed in two
directions in the UpaniÀads : (1) as five gross elements (paµcabh£tas), and (2) as five subtle elements (paµcatanm¡tras), all the ten having their common source in the Brahman,
or Praj¡pati, or Ëtman. It is
this Brahman, or Ëtman who
endures inside (the human heart, h¤d¡k¡¿a)45
and outside (the manifested universe that is). It is the Brahman
who is microcosm, and it is the Brahman
who (through the paµcabh£tas)
becomes macrocosm.46 Ka¶hUp, 6.1 regards the Brahman
as a three-footed entity, and compares it with a fig tree, the five
elements, ether, water, etc., being its branches.47
In this respect the 'I¿opaniÀad
yo's¡vasau puruÀaÅ so'hamasmi
is the Brahman from whom
everything has emanated and it is the Brahman
into which everything merges (ávetUp,
6.2; 3), and thus the Brahmacakra
goes on revolving forever.
mythological parlance, all the five elements are interlinked. Water and
fire form one group, heaven (sky) and earth form a couple, and the wind is
regarded as an all-pervasive binding force. And all of them are connected
with Praj¡pati who creates them
by the power of tapas.
©1995 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi