Friday, October 28, 2011

THE YAJNA IN PURUSHA SOOKTA

THE YAJNA IN PURUSHA SOOKTA

(DISCOURSE BY N.R. SRINIVASAN—2011)


 

What is this Yajna and why is this sacrifice of Purusha? Is this a human sacrifice? Is it real, symbolic or imaginary? If this Yajna is a mere imagination, why so much importance is given to it? These and many other questions engage our thoughts when we go through quickly its translation by those who do not understand Vedic language; it is a puzzle even to Sanskrit literary scholars.


 

Purushasookta is a difficult text to comprehend and it needs proper explanation to appeal to the modern mind. Chanting of Purushasookta forms an important part in all Hindu rituals, be they in a temple or in one's own home, be it an auspicious function, a customary ritual or last rites for the departed or Shraddha ceremonies. Purushsookta is the first divinely prompted and devotionally conducted Yagna that has become the most significant act in the human world. Yajna today remains true to its meaning symbolic and signifies "co-operative efforts undertaken by the community in a spirit of devotion, desiring nothing more than his total attention for welfare of the entire generation". Purushasookta, the first act of dedicated sacrifice (yajna) was a mental act of surrender to the Supreme in devotion. This principle should be always remembered before carrying out this ancient Vedic ritual which has withstood the test of Times. Arya Samaajists concentrate their entire act of Devotion on Homas.


 

The following mantra of early Vedic period which uses Yajna as the means of worship of Supreme spirit directed to maruts is repeated in many Samhitas and Brahmanas of Vedas as well as in Sivasankalpa Upanishad (which dedicated this to Siva, destruction aspect of Trinity):


 

"Trayambakam yajaamahe sugandhim pushtivardhanam | urvaarukamiva bandhanaan mrityoermuksheeya maamritaat ||" [We perform yajna to Tryambaka, the fragrant one, increaser of prosperity. Like the gourd from its vine, may I be free from death, not from immortality]. Yajna was the earliest mode of worship and it is still a practice on special occasions, auspicious ceremonies like wedding, upanayanam as well as religious rites like Anthyeshti, annual Sraaddhas, Upaakarma and Nandi Shraaddhas.


 

In keeping with the title this article deals only the Yajna part as described in the Hymn and the results it achieved. The Yajna as described in Purushasookta is as follows:


 

When Devas (they are so known because they are Beings of Light or Intellect and are often translated as gods in English) performed the sacrifice (yajna) using the Purusha as Havis (sacrificial material) for that Yajna, the Vasanta (Spring season) became the Aajya (ghee or melted butter), the Greeshma (Summer season) served as Idhma (faggots of wood) and Sarad (Autumn season) filled the place of Havis (material used for oblation like Purodaasa or rice cake) --Mantra 6.


 

You may see our priests employing ghee, milk, yogurt, rice-cakes, faggots of wood, incense materials etc., during the homam as described above. These are also marketed as Materials for Homa (Homa dravyas) by several Indian stores in USA.


 


 


 

For this Yajna, there were seven paridhis, fuel pieces serving as borders, and, twenty-one items were made the samit or sacrificial fuel sticks. When devas were performing this sacrifice they tied the Purusha himself as the Pasu (sacrificial animal) (to the sacrificial post).—Mantra 7.

{The most celebrated Agnichayana mentions Vedic fire altar in the form of seven squares four of which in the center represent body of Prusha, two side squares as wings and one at the bottom as tail in a bird form}


 

The Devas, Sadhyas and the Rishis performed the sacrifice using that Purusha, who had been born in the beginning, after sprinkling him with water (Prokshana) by the dharbas (sacrificial grass).—Mantra 8. (Sadhyas are another group of divine beings who are even superior to devas)


 

Now when the gods sacrificed Virat-Purusha (Universal Person) to bring forth further creation, what came out of it?


 

From his face came the Thinkers or Brahmanas; from his arms the Kings or Protetctors, Kshatriyas; from his thighs came the Vaisyas or the Traders or supporters; and from his feet Sudras or the Service personnel—Mantra13.


 

From his mind was born the Moon; from two eyes the Sun; from his mouth Indra and Agni; and from his breath Air; from the navel, Sky (the space between Earth and Heaven); Dyuloka or heaven from his head; Earth from his feet; and Dik (special directions) from the ears. Similarly the gods produced the worlds too—Mantras 14 and 15.


 

The gods worshiped Yajna (in the form of Yajna Purusha) through Yajna (the medium of sacrifice).


 

Creation needs two things: Matter and Living Things. These were created by Purusha in the beginning at its first phase. He then manifested out of himself as Viratpurusha. From Purusha came out devas or the bright ones. They in turn carried out the second phase of Creation by the above Yajna (sacrifice).


 

In ancient times religion was practiced through the medium of Yajnas. When devas wanted to start the second phase, no material of any description needed for Yajna existed. So, no practical Creation could take place. But they had their full knowledge of Yajna and its usefulness from their previous births in the previous Kalpa. Unlike us they could remember everything from the previous Kalpas being devas. They therefore decided to mentally perform the Yajna imagining various things and processes involved in it. The Yajna above is the interesting description of the Yajna of their imagination and past remembrance!


 

The sacrificial animal (Pasu) needed for their Yajna was here Purusha alone and so this Yajna may be called Purusha Yajna. They needed for the Yajna various materials—Purodaasa (rice-cake), Aaajya (ghee), Idhma (fuel), Pasu (object for oblation which in those days was a goat or horse) and so on.


 

The process itself based on their previous knowledge included the following details which had to be performed chanting appropriate mantras:

  1. Fixing the borders for the sacrificial fire
  2. Tying the animal to the sacrificial post
  3. Prokshan or sprinkling on the animal with sacrificial grass and many other items
  4. Mantra needed for the Yajna


 

Even to-day the processes involved in performing the Yajna are essentially the same except no animals are sacrificed and instead clay model goat or goat made out of flour is used as sacrificial animal symbolically.


 

The gods offered Vasanta Rutu or Spring Season as Aaajya (ghee) into the sacrificial fire. As we all know in spring life springs back and all around is green. Cows eat grass and give plentiful of milk and curds and ghee as its derived products. Milk, ghee and curds are used in good quantities in the Yajna. Since none of these existed at that time including the Spring season as the world was not yet created, the Rishis offered symbolically the spring season itself to include all these essential sacrificial materials. Similarly this logic can be extended to other items in the sacrifice. Every conceivable item of Creation was produced out of that great mental sacrifice—Seven Vedic meters; three worlds; all seasons; all objects of pleasure and enjoyment. Humans, who came out last, were their main focus of Creation.


 

Since they symbolically used Purusha Himself as the sacrificial animal meditating on him, people of different aptitude also came out of his different limbs which process was symbolic but the result was real, because the Creation was real, created by the power vested in them by the Supreme Spirit.


 

The earliest Vedic literature known to humanity is the main mantras of Rigveda as per Historians and as available to us in writings. Then the Brhmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads belonging to that particular Veda emerged out of it.


 

Rigveda's Brahmodyas and Sooktas therefore predate the Upanishads. Early Vedic Brahmodyas are riddles connected with the nature of the world, the ritual, knowledge, the origin of the world etc.


 

"Eko Viprah Bahudaa Vadanti"—"The ONE which the wise call by many names" is quoted from the following Brahmodya Mantras of Rigveda RV 1-164:


 

"Chatwaari vaakparimitaa padaani taani yae maneeshinah |

Guhaa treeni vihitaa nengayanti tureeyam vaachoe manushyaa vadanti || 45 ||


 

Indram mitram varunnamagnimaahutathoe divyah sa suparnoe garutmaan |

Ekam Sadvipraa bahudhaa Vadanti maatarisvaanamaahuh || 46 ||


 

[Language is measured in four quarters; the insightful Brahmins know these four quarters. Three quarters are kept secret; they do not let that circulate; Human beings only speak the fourth quarter of the language. They call it Indra, Varuna and Agni and also Garuda, the divine eagle. Being just ONE, the Wise (Vipraah) call it manifold. They call it Agni, Yama, Maatarisvan.]


 


 

What is this secret talked about in the Mantra? You all know the iconic representation of Linga. In it two thirds of the ellipsoid is kept invisible and only one third is visible and offered to worship. This means vast portion of the knowledge is unknown or secret and need to be explored by our effort. Similarly the Mantra says the three quarters of the knowledge rest with devas (Brahmins) as secret and not easily available to humans. This became the subject matter of research for Upanishads and therefore they came out with individual studies and theories, but with common agreement. This was later interpreted as Brahmin community kept Vedas secret and kept Soodras away from it. Later some religious authorities also came out with such inhibitions.


 

According to these earlier period mantras to which also Purushassokta belongs it is very clear that Brahmins were all divine and were separate from human beings. It is also said in our scriptures that Brahma was the first Brahmin. Bhagavadgeeta mentions these as Varnas (which word is not used in Rigveda) but does not say which of these Varnas are human and which Divine. Bhagavdgeeta also mentions about Bhrigu Rishi and Pitrus like Aaryamaa, for Lord Krishna says he is them being best in their group. They were in divine category in early period. Probably Lord Krishna also means Brahmins are divine folk and not humans as he has reflected all the views of Upanishads. When this classification of Varna became caste, based on birth-right is not clear? But Purushasookta of Rigveda clearly implies they are of different origins--human and divine. Probably the present self assertion and class differences as one superior to the other came much later after Puranic period. However, we still continue with the Vedic tradition. In Vedic period divine sages (Brahmins) were employed as priests. Now-a-days we also employ Brahmins as priests (whether Vedic scholars or family routine trained Brahmins) to conduct these Yajnas and Homas in spite of many criticisms of the caste system, for no other caste is interested in this profession.


 

Yet another Vedic mantra from Naasadeeya Sookta probably earlier to Purushsookta also mentions of that ONE Being. "Na mrityuraaseedamritam na tarhi na raatrya ahna aaseet praketah | Aaneedavaatam svadhyyaa Tadeakam tasmaad dhaaanyaanna parah kim chanaasa ||2 || Tama aaseet tamasaa goolhamagrae | apraketam salilam sarvamaa idam || tuchchyenabhvapihitam yadaaseet tapasastan-mahinaajaayatata EKAM || 3 || [There was no death, nor immortality at that time. There was no sign of night or day. That ONE breathed windless on its own. Beyond it nothing else existed. Darkness there was in the beginning, hidden by darkness. All of this was a sign-less flood. The force that was enclosed by emptiness, the ONE, was born by strength of mental heat.


 

It is also clear that these Brahmanas or Brahmarishis who were divines were specially requested to conduct Yajnas by the kings and other humans in previous Yugas. Puranas describe such Yajnas being conducted by Brahmarishis at the request of Dasaratha, Srirama, Yudhishtira, Janamejaya and others. It is therefore clear that in previous Yugas these divine Brahmarishis freely traveled between heaven and earth, as and when they wish, and participated in the human affairs. We often here of Narada as Triloka Sanchari and Interspacial Divine Correspondent as also Chitrguptas. Probably, we might have lost that great opportunity to interact with the divines in Kaliyuga due to much declining Dharma though blessed occasionally by Saints like Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhvacharya, Vallabha, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Shirdi Saibaba and others who were almost divine including Azhwars and Nainmars.


 

Before concluding this description of Yajna it is worth recalling the following mantra 16:

"Vedaahamtam Purusham Mahaantam | Aadityavarnam tamasastupaaray | sarvaani roopaani vichitya dheerah | Naamaani kritvaabhivadan yadaaste | [I have known the Supreme and the magnanimous Person (who sacrificed Himself for the welfare of this universe), of the sun's hue and beyond all ignorance (lit., darkness). He, the wise One, molded out of Himself (by His Maaya) the various forms and called them by different names]. The author also thus indicates his personal association with the Supreme Being, he being divine.


 

We are living in a different atmosphere here amidst multi-culture and multi-religious beliefs. Inter-racial weddings have also become a common feature. Our main interaction is with the Western culture and Faith here and we owe a proper explanation to our religious practices which are often dismissed as blind beliefs and pagan religion of confused primitive thinking. In fact many of their own thinking and beliefs have an origin from Sanatana Dharma.


 

You are all familiar with Ten Commandments and the Divine Fire Moses saw in the wilderness when he received these Commandments. Probably this Fire has the origin in the Yajnapurusha! Bhagavadgeeta says in 11-12: "Divi sooryasahasrasya bhaved yugapad utthitaa | yadi bhaah sadrisee saa syaad bhaasas tasya mahaatmanah ||-- {If the light as well as heat from thousands of suns were to blaze forth all at once in the sky, even that would not resemble the splendor of that exalted being}. This is the same light that Moses saw in the wilderness which made him almost blind and would not let him go near because of the intensity of heat which he saw much later to Rigvedic period (Nasadeeya sookta above talks of Mental heat). This is what again described in many Upanishads much earlier which we chant during Sunday worship: "Na tatra Sooryoe bhati na Chandra taarakam | nemaa vidyutoe bhaati kutoeyamagnih | tameva bhanta-manubhaati sarvam | tasya bhaasa sarvamidam Vibhaati || {There the Sun does not shine; nor the moons or the stars (they are all too feeble), then how can this mere fire shine? Everything shines following him alone as he shines. All this shines by his light.} This is the light Moses saw, and the heat of fire he experienced many thousand years later!


 

Again the mantra 16 says: "This Virat Purusha sacrificed Himself for the welfare of this universe". This Viratpurusha was the manifested part of the Supreme Being. Bible much later says: "God sacrificed his own Son Jesus for the sin of human beings in order to save them from going to hell" around 2011 years before but much later to the sacrifice of Virat Purusha. Both incidences are real and symbolic and constitute mental Yajna. How can then different religions talk about different Gods and different treatment of humanity? Only the tones are different, purpose being the same. Viratpurusha's sacrifice was for the welfare of this universe and Lord Jesus's sacrifice on the cross was for saving the souls of sinners from being pushed into hell. It is not very difficult then to realize the Truth in the saying: "Eko vipraaha bahudaa vadanti"—The One, the wise call by many names.


 

Sage Narayana, presumably the author of this Sookta (Sookta means well said in Sanskrit) ends the hymn with the following prayer:

"We pray and worship the Supreme for the welfare of all. May all miseries and shortcomings leave us forever so that we may always chant hymns in the sacrifices to the glory of the Lord of Sacrifices (Vishnu--Yajnapurusha)! May the medicinal herbs grow in potency, so that diseases may be cured effectively! May the gods shower peace on us! May the human beings be happy! May all other living beings (animals) also be happy! May we be free from troubles pertaining to the body (diseases); May we be all free from troubles pertaining to external disturbances and forces; May we be free from troubles due to natural disasters (like earth-quakes, floods, famine etc.)—(Please chant Shanti mantra from the Purushasookta text—"Tacchamyoera vrineemahe….")*.


 

O Purusha! Goddess of Modesty (Hri) and Goddess of Wealth (Lakshmi) are your consorts; Day and Night are your lateral limbs; Stars are your form; Asvini Devatas are your widely opened mouth. Please fulfill our desire for self knowledge (Paravidya) as also our desire for happiness in this world (like longevity, welfare and animal wealth etc.)—Hreescha te lakshmeescha patnyau | Ahoeraatre paarsve | Nakshatraani roopam | Asvinau vyaattam | Ishtam manishaana | Amum manishaana | Sarvam Manishaana || Om saantih, saantih, saantih ||

[Note: Lord Vishnu is always seen in the company of his two consorts Laksmi (Sridevi) and Mother Earth (Bhudevi). But since Mother Earth was yet to be born as a result of this Yajna, here Modesty (Hree) is considered as his consort along with Lakshmi.]


 

Note: Please refer to my lecture on Sooktas from Mahaa Naaraayan Upanihad for the Mantras and *Shanti Paatha in Sanskrit, referred above and also for the literary references. The word Brahman is used in masculine as well as neuter gender in Sanskrit. Brahman (masculine) means the formulator of the Brahman--in the ritual, the Brahman-priest, overseer of the Vedic ritual. Brahman (neutral) means transcendental principle. Brahmodya means a learned riddle or disputation.