Did Vajasaneyee Samhita Inspire Horse Veneration in all Cultures?
(Compilation for a discourse at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville, TN, March 2015)
You have all gone through my discourse “Holy Cow of Ancient cultures now Food for Many, Still Revered by Hindus” and the constant Go-Samrakshaa campaign and agitation in India. Living in a secular country USA Hindu Americans cannot think of such protests where cow happens to be the staple food for majority of Americans. Even Hindu Americans who consume beef say only Indian cows are holy! It is also not justifiable to fight for the cause in India which is also not a Hindu State but a secular nation with significant number of people from other religions who are beef eaters. It is deplorable that Buddhists who are in large numbers outside India are beef and pork consumers who were responsible for majority Hindus turning vegetarians. The only way we can bring down cow- slaughter if not eliminate is by promoting the cause of vegetarianism which concept has already caught up significant number of people even in a country like Argentina, the most beef consuming country where there are three cows for every Argentinian. There is also no justification for making cow alone holy amongst all animals. In Hindu philosophy almost every item useful in our daily life is holy including water. At the same time we are also prejudiced as to beef eating while we do not talk about horse being holy which was the earliest animal that was considered divine. French Hindus should be feeling the same way about horse as Hindus feel about cow. We have the avatars of Man-Horse, Man-Lion, Fish, Boar and Tortoise (a family member is crab). As we all know fish is killed in millions and even consumed by Brahmins in Karnataka and Bengal. None of these consumed animals are considered holy. If you look into Puranas the first choice of the Lord was to assume the horse head in his first avatar of Hayagreeva, followed by Matsya, Koorma, Varaha and Lion head. In spite of being a close companion of Lord Krishna no Avatar ever took place with Cow-head. Therefore if at all any domesticated animal has to be considered holy the only consideration goes to horse. No lions are hunted for humans are scared of lion. Horse is deified in Vedas and glorified in Aswamedha sacrifice. In Sanskrit Aswa=horse and Medha=intelligence or yajnya (sacrifice). Consider Vedic mantra quotes: Brahma Medhaya | May Brahman associate me with knowledge( MNU). Brahma Medhava | Brahman causes the performance of Yajna that is the cause of Brahman (MNU). You are all familiar with the English word Horse-sense meaning common sense or intelligence.
No Avatar ever took place other than Hayagreeva (Horse head) and Simhagreeva—Narasimha (man –lion) which are also quite ancient. Gajanana (Elephant head) is not an Avatar but a Puranic deity carved out of body scum of Parvati to which life was induced by occult power of Parvati and surgical skill of Siva which was made popular by followers of Siva much later honoring Siva for making him Lord of Obstacle and his group leader (Ganapati) to oblige Parvati. We have already discussed about Narasimha Avatar. Horse is glorified in Vedas by naming a branch of Yajurveda as Vaajasaneyee Samhita or Horse (vaaja=horse) rendered Samhita of Yajurveda. Also Puranas proclaim Hayagreeva/ Hayavadana was the first incarnation as Man-Horse. In the light of the glorification of Horse in Vedas and Puranas a detailed study as to why we should consider horse as the holy animal and not cow makes lot of sense if at all we have to consider any animal as holy. Holy horse would not have brought in such harsh criticism from other religions since horse is considered a noble animal by followers of Abrahamic religions and also dismissed as myth as to holy cow whereas horse has solid foundation unlike cow which is based on purely Hindu sentiments having been intimately and sentimentally attached to cow.
Yajnyavalkya, the great sage who lost Yajurveda at one time was vexed and grieved and so performed a severe penance for its restoration. Sun-god travelling in his chariot with seven white horses was pleased and appeared before him as a deity with the horse’s head and gave Yajurveda in another form, which is known to the world today as Vaajasaneyee Samhita. Vaaji means horse in Sanskrit. Yajnyavalkya worshiped him as “Jnaanaanadamaya” embodiment of Knowledge. Later Vishnu incarnated as Hayagreeva about which we will talk in detail later. Here Surya (Universal Light) appeared with horse head symbolic of Knowledge. Paushkara Samhita explains that the Vedas are personified in human forms with faces of horses (Vajivaktra sthitaa vedah sampoorna naralakshanam). Therefore Vishnu as the presiding deity of Vedic learning must be imagined as a man with horse’s face. Initially horse was associated with intelligence. Aswamedha may also mean horse intelligence for Medha also means intelligence besides sacrifice in Sanskrit. Also Brihadaarnyaka describes Supreme Being as Aswamedha (like Brahma-havih in Geeta). Later as the horse’s usefulness declined and Puranic Gajaanana coming to the forefront with his elephant head this emphasis of intelligence was shifted to elephant from the initial glorification of horse.
Hindu Purans say when the Milky Ocean was churned Uchchaisravas the divine horse came out first as the four legged animal followed by Kamadhenu, the celebrated cow. Hindu Puranas started Dasavatara with Hayagreeva (Horse necked) to lead the team to start with. Later, wise Pundits allotted that position to Matsyaavatara to align with Darwin’s Evolution Theory and make religion more appealing by thus proving science and religion conflate. Also Ganesha worship became prominent popularized by followers of Siva who were in majority as the Lord of Wisdom with his elephant’s head and also propitiated him as Lord of Obstacles to ward of obstacles, a paradoxical approach. Associating Lord Ganesha with knowledge made him more popular and pushed him to the fore-front. Hayagreeva retired from the scene and remained in the background as AHSP (Authority Holding Sealed Particulars), holding authority for Wisdom and advising not only Sarasvati but also Brihaspati, Dattaatreya and Vyaasa. But, people in South India did not forget him. So he is popularly worshiped as Lord of Wisdom even to-day. But his icon with horse’s head is always seen with angry, sad looking and bent-down horse’s head posture. Perhaps he did not appreciate the intelligence of elephant’s head which is too slow and drowsy in its movements unlike horse which is fast, sharp and ever alert that attributed intelligence to it with its sharp large unidirectional focused eyes. Horse has often proved its wisdom and intelligence in the battle-field in saving its rider while in danger. We have already talked about Asvinee twin deities with horse-heads symbolizing knowledge and health.
Inspired by these early developments in Hinduism various cultures started venerating horse and framed their own mythological stories myths. If you browse through dictionary no other animal is more honored by linking its name to a long list of ordinary words attached to the word horse than other animals, like horse-sense, horse-whisper, horse-radish etc. I have not heard anybody saying elephant-sense though elephant is credited with intelligence by Hindus. Also chariot and horse ruled the world for long popular with all rulers. Horse was an inseparable friend, philosopher and guide for long. Chariot and horse were indispensable in all ancient Hindu war-fares (Ratha turaga). You may recall here how Krishna’s chariot with white horses led Arjuna to wisdom and success of war. The invention of motor-car by Ford gradually reduced the importance of horse as an essential war-service companion. As a sort of respect and love it is still retained in army and mounted police and also in race and sports. Horse meat though tastier than beef did not become popular as beef even in the Western Culture except in France because it is considered as a noble animal in many Western Cultures.
HORSE IS HOLIER THAN COW AND CONSIDERED DIVINE BY MANY CULTURES
Horses are known for their speed, dynamism, faithfulness and devotion. Horses are also known for their wavering mind. That is why they are made to focus on the straight path guarded by eye shields avoiding side views. In Vedantic sense horse represents our senses which need to be controlled. Horse is also a symbol of sacrifice which concept has influenced various other cultures. One needs to control one’s senses or in other words acquire the divine qualities of horse to focus on Brahman (Supreme Being) to attain salvation. This is elaborated in Bhagavad Gita which is in reality Yogopanishad.
Mythologies of many cultures, including Greco Roman, Celtic, Hindu, Islamic and Norse.include references to both normal horses and those with wings or additional limbs, and multiple myths also call upon the horse to draw the chariots of the Moon and Sun. The horse also appears in the 12-year cycle of animals in the Chinese Zodiac related to the Chnese calendar. In Brahmotsava Anniversary in all Hindu Temples, deities are taken in procession on horse backs, as divine carrier like Garuda Hanuman, Hamsa and Adisesha. Horses often figure in Hindu philosophical and Vedanta discussions.
Kathopanishad in 1-3-4 to 7 elaborates on the importance of controlling the mind and senses echoed in Bhagavad Gita. It describes the body as a chariot; the Self is the Rider; intellect is Charioteer; the mind as the reins and the senses as horses.
Hindu scriptures talk about sense-mind–body control organs as horses--five sense organs in Kathopanishad , ten in the chariot driven by Dasaratha in Ramayana (five sense organs+five motor organs) and seven in the chariot driven by Surya which comprises of five sense organs+mind+intellect which are to be controlled to focus on Self or turn inwards.
Bhagavd Gita describes the Chariot as three wheeled driven by four horses. Here again the human body represents chariot; Arjuna the Jeevaatma or Self; Krishna Paramatman; three wheels-Sattva, Rajo and Tamo Gunas (characteristics).
In Neeti Saastra of Vidura it is said:” O King! Man’s body is just like a Chariot (Ratha); Intelligence is its Charioteer; Mind is the Rider and its horses are the Senses. One who controls all these three, travels happily in this world, just like a rider who is in control of the horses of the chariot with the help of the charioteer.
Influenced by Hindu philosophy from earliest times mythologies have mostly deified white horses as well as colored too as possessing exceptional properties, transcending the normal world.
Throughout history, both gray and white horses have been mythologized. As part of its legendary dimension, the gray horse in myth has been depicted with seven heads (Uchchaisravas) or eight feet (Sleipnir), sometimes in groups or singly. There are also mythological tales of divinitory gray horses. White horse has featured in myth and legend from the earliest times. Equine representation in Palaeolithic art has been interpreted as indicating shamanistic practice, and horses are common in the folklore and mythology of Europe and Asia (the natural habitat of the horse). The essential features of the horse in mythical tradition, abstracted from a range of sources, can be summarized as: travel, flight, soul journeying and transcendence, protection, communication, stamina, power, wisdom and faithfulness.
Bronze Age Greek culture attributed the horse with drawing the sun chariot across the sky as was in Hinduism. White horses were sacred to Neptune, and were sacrificed into the sea at Rhodes as an offering to the sun god, the sun apparently setting below the sea. Pegasus, the winged horse, is taken to be the source of poetic inspiration – the Hippocrene (horse spring) created where he struck the ground with a forefoot gave the gift of verse to those who partook of its waters. Pegasus also provided the gods with rapid transport between worlds. Centaurs from the east (and probably their Chinese counterparts, the Ting Ling from the west) may have developed from early contact with the nomadic horsemen of the Asian steppes. Centaurs were endowed with great wisdom and learning, but also showed a warlike nature. The Romans borrowed from the Greeks and although the horse played little role in their mythology, Tacitus records the sacrifice of the “October Horse” as an appeasement to the war god Mars (Adam 1825). Let us look into various mythologies in which horse is glorified as divine or offered as a worthy sacrifice. Black Horse in mythology is always viewed as representing mystery, death, night, secret, messenger of esoteric knowledge. White horse stood for Light, Sun, Day, Vitality, Illumination, Resurrection, Incarnation, Messenger of Birth and Health.
Hindu Mythology, Vedanta and Philosophy
Hindu mythology abounds in white Horses. Horse sacrifice in Asvamedha was a fertility and kingship ritual involving the sacrifice of a sacred gray or white stallion, which has led Roman, Celtic and Norse people to resort to horse sacrifice. I wonder whether the word Asvsamedha may also mean Horse-Intelligence though translated as Asvamedhaa Fire Sacrifice. Aswa in Sanskrit means Horse Medha means Intelligence (as understood in MNU). Uchchaisravas, a white horse with seven heads is a product of milky ocean. King Sagara’s story of 60000 sacrificial white horses is very popular. Indra often stole the sacrificial horse and created trouble for himself and to others as is also learnt from the story of King Prithu.
The chariot of the solar deity Surya is drawn by seven horses, alternately described as all white, or as the colors of the rainbow. White color is made up of seven colors and this concept was known to Hindus first based on this equation of seven colors of rain bow and white light.
Hayagreeva is worshipped as the God of knowledge and wisdom, with a human body and a horse's head, brilliant white in color, with white garments and seated on a white lotus. The tenth Avatar of Vishnu Kalki is predicted to appear riding a white horse, or in the form of a white horse.
The Ashvins or Ashwini Kumaras are two Vedic minor deities and divine horsemen in Rigveda described as sons of Saranya, daughter of Viswakarma and wife of Soorya. We have discussed about these deities at length in another discourse. They symbolize the luminescence of sunrise and sunset. The morning Sun (Arunodaya) appearing in the sky before the dawn is believed to bring treasures to men to avert misfortune and sickness in a golden chariot. They are the physicians and surgeons of the Devas and divine possessors of Ayurveda medicine. They are represented as human beings with horse head like Hayagreeva. Vedic Asvinis might have inspired other mythologies. Dioscuri, the twins Castor and Pollux of Greek and Roman mythology and the divine twins Asvieniai of the ancient Baltic region of Lithuania may be cited here. Puranas hail them as Rajavaidyas (Royal court doctors). They are credited as having prepared first ever tonic paste (lehya) named Chyavanprasa for sage Chyavana. Hence horse is always associated with health and intelligence.
Yajnavalkya, the great Vedic Scholar, lost the Yajurveda as a result of Guru’s curse and performed severe penance. Sun God, pleased by his penance, appeared before him as a deity with the Horse’s head and taught him the same Veda in another form which is now popular as Vaajasaneyee Samhita (horse rendered treatise). Vaji here means horse. This might have been the origin of Hayagreeva who later killed the demon Hayagreeve by the same name.
In Brihadaranyaka the horse is linked to Prajapati. Prajapati was born in the form of a horse from out of the gross body. “sah akaamayata medhyam ma idam syadaatmnay- anena syaamiti | tatosvah samabhavadyadasttanmedhyam bhooditi | tadeva asvamedhasya asvamedhatvam, ……..” [Prajapati desired. “Let the body of mine become fit for sacrifice and let me be embodied through this. Out of that the horse was born….”
Ashwamedha was the grandest of the Vedic religious rites of ancient India, performed by a king to celebrate his sovereign power (Emperor). The ceremony is described in detail in Yajurveda Satapatha Brahmana. An especially fine stallion was selected and was allowed to roam freely for a year under the protection of a royal guard. If the sacrificial horse entered a foreign country, its ruler had either to fight or to submit it. If the horse was not captured during the year, it was victoriously brought back to the capital accompanied by the rulers of the lands it entered, and then sacrificed at a great public ceremony, which was accompanied by much feasting and celebration. The wandering horse was said to symbolize the Sun in its journey over the world and, consequently, the power of the king over the whole Earth. On successfully carrying out a horse sacrifice the king could assume the title of chakravarti (universal monarch). The rite served not only to glorify the king but also to ensure the prosperity and fertility of the entire kingdom. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad only describes a symbolic sacrifice. Prajapati was born in the form of a horse from out of the gross body coming out of his inner-self status. That body swelled when Prajapati passed out of it and became fit for sacrifice. So it is Prajapati who took the form of Horse. So it implies here that the material for sacrifice itself is called Asvamedha. The deity that is to be pleased here is Paramatman in the form of Mrityu. At the time of Cataclysm the two become one with Paramatman. The Parmatman known by the term Mrityu comes to be known as inner-self of the performer of Asvamedha sacrifice. If one desires liberation with other gods he attains even that by this notional sacrifice. Those who performed sacrifice as detailed in Yajurveda offered the real horse in sacrifice dedicated to all gods to which Buddha objected and walked out of Hinduism.
Lord Krishna is generally addressed as “Gopala” one who takes care of the cows but Bhisma also addresses him as “Turagaraja” king of horses. As we all know Krishna was responsible for winning the Mahabharata War for he could maneuver the horses and take them wherever he wanted and whenever he needed.
Baltic Region Mythology
Traditionally, the Vedic peoples of Lithuania worshipped the Ašvieniai, the divine horse twins, related to the goddess Ūsinis. They are said to pull the Sun Chariot through the sky. The Lithuanian people continue to adorn their roof tops with the symbol of the divine horse twins in order to receive protection for the household.
Kanthaka was a white horse that was a royal servant and favorite horse of Prince Siddhartha, who later became Buddha. Siddhartha used Kanthaka in all major events described in Buddhist scriptures. Buddha is said to have left his physical body riding a white horse. Also in Buddhism a winged horse is often depicted as carrying Book of law.
As one of the symbols of Chinese zodiac the horse is equated with Gemini and represents love, endurance, devotion and stability. Chollima means thousand-li horse in Chinese mythology which is adopted as a symbol of progress and economic development in Communist North Korea. Tulpar a symbolic combination of horse and bird appears in the state emblem of Mangolia.
Shamanism of Asia
The horse played a significant part in native Shamanism of Asiatic people. The White Horse was most sacred. The horse was used as a psycho-pomp to transport the shaman to meditate with souls of the dead and to return messages from the other world to the living. Some shamanic ritual involved horse sacrifice. In Korean Shamanism the arrival of spirits is associated with the sound of horses’ hooves.
Rhiannon a mythic rides a "pale-white" horse. This has the origin in Romano-Celtic fertility horse goddess Epona, a triple aspect goddess, was invoked to protect the horses and horse keepers. There are other instances of the veneration of horses in early Indo-Aryan or Indo European culture. The Celtic horse was associated with fertility, and vitality. White, black and chestnut red horses were sacred to the Celts. Influenced by Roman culture horse became associated with the Sun, war and healing. War, sky and Sun gods of the Gauls are depicted mounted on horsebacks. The legendry horse of Mannan MacLircould traveled over land, water and in between realms with equal poise. The secular importance of the horse endowed it with reverence, sanctity and supernatural powers. It was admired for beauty, strength, speed and sexual vigor.
White winged horse Pegasus was the son of Poseidon who was also the creator of horses, creating them out of the breaking waves when challenged to make a beautiful land animal.
Sleipnir is a gray horse eight legged, the best horse among gods and men. Sleipnir was considered to be the universal traveler able to carry his rider over land and water. Lug’s steed Aenbarr had similar abilities and also carried the charm so that the rider could never be killed whilst on her back. Scandinavian gods were able to shapeshift, as Loki metamorphosed into mare to conceive and give birth to Sleipnir. This is perhaps the source of the later medieval Christian name for St. Michel’s Horse, St. Michael being the main guide for the discarnate human soul. The Valkyries retrieved the souls of dead slain in battle and transported them to Valhalla on horseback.
The Romans linked horses with Mars, the God of Fury of war. Horses were also seen pulling the chariot of Helios, the Sun God. In Greco-Roman myth the Horse is a said to be created by Poseidon (Neptune) and is devoted to Hades (Pluto) and Ares (Mars). Romans believed horse to be a symbol of the continuity of life, and would sacrifice a horse to the God Mars every October, keeping its tail through the winter as a sign of fertility and birth.
Hadur is the war god who wears pure copper and is a metalsmith. The ancient Magyars sacrificed white stallions to him before a battle.
The divinity takes three forms during the last ten days of every month as representation of Tishtrya—the Hypostatis of star Sirius, a young man and a bull according to Zoroastrianism. It also mentions Apaosha the demon of drought, which appears as a black stallion. (Compare demon in Hinduism). Wind, rain, clouds and sleet are the forms of divine horses which draw divine chariots of gods like Aredvi Sura Anahita who is the divinity of waters.
The book of Zachariah mentions colored horses; in one passage there are three colored horses-- red, dappled, and white and in another passage there are four horses --red, black, white, and finally dappled pulling chariots. The second set of horses is referred to as "the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world". They are described as patrolling the earth and keeping it peaceful.
The New Testament mentions four horses of the Apocalypse. Book of Revelation mentions of Christ riding a white horse believed to descend on earth as the Head of the armies of heaven. St. James, patron saint of Spain and St. George, the patron saint of horsemen are described as riding non-white horses. It is believed in Osseita the deity Uastyrdzhi, who embodied both the warrior and sun motifs often associated with white horses, became identified with the figure of St. George after the region adopted Christianity. Four horse of Apocalypse are mentioned as harbingers of last Judgment during the apocalypse symbolizing conquest, war, famine and death of colors white, red, black and green.
Islamic culture tells of a white horse named AL Buraq who brought Muhammud to Jannah during the Night Journey. Al-Buraq was also said to transport Ibrahim when he visited his wife Haajar and son Ismail. Ibrahim lived with his wife Sarah in Syria and traveled to Mecca to see his other wife on horse-back and went back to his Syrian wife in the evening. Al Buraq carried Muhammad accompanied by Angle Jibril (Gabriel).
Korean mythology speaks of a huge white horse of the kingdom of Silla. When people gathered to pray for a king, the horse emerged from a bolt of lightning, bowing to a shining egg.
The city of Pangantucan has its symbol, a white stallion which saved an ancient tribe from massacre by uprooting a bamboo and thus warning them of the enemy's approach.
Hanoi city in Korea honors a white horse as its patron saint with a temple dedicated to this revered spirit, the Bach Ma (White horse) Temple.
Native American Mythology
The snow deity Aisoyimstanis is a white-colored man in white clothing who rides a white horse. As a Native American symbol The Horse symbol meanings combine the grounded power of the earth with the whispers of wisdom found in the Spirit Winds. The horse has been long honored as helper, messenger and harbinger of knowledge of Spirits to the Native Americans. Horse to them comes with the understanding that the wild freedom of the Horse can be harnessed and used to the benefit of the tribe. This understanding comes only when the beast and the man enter into a silent contract acknowledging mutual respect and awareness of responsibility to each other. From this concept the word Horse-whisper has come to mean a person who excels at calming or training hard to manageable animals using non-coercive methods based especially on an understanding of animal’s natural instincts.
Tulpar, a symbolic combination of bird and horse appears in the State emblems of both Kazhakasthan and Mangolia.
Having my focus on Wisdom of Vedas I often fail to understand the Wisdom of Puranas and our religious sentiments and worship. Tamils attach great importance to cow worship and even earmark a day for special care, worship and celebration of cow called Maattu Pongal, a festival named after their famous breakfast dish and cow. Also Tamils worship elephant for three days on Kaartik Purnima and the days following propitiating Goddess of Wealth Lakshmi. Here on Maattu Pongal Day the focus is on cow, the female species only which is revered for its usefulness. On that day no bull or aged and suffering cows (used in agriculture when milking stopped) are cared for or concern expressed. It is not wrong to conclude here their religious sentiments are focused on usefulness as for as cow and also on wealth as seen in elephant worship which is an inseparable companion of Lakshmi (Gajalakshmi). I feel the focus should be on the neglected and aged cows which roam around in search for food than milk yielding well cared for house cows which are well taken care of in daily life. Going through the Upanishads and Puranas I feel horse is holier than cow yet it is not worshiped like cow or elephant about which I talked about! The Great Lord decided to incarnate himself as Haygreeva or Hayavadana (horse-necked or Horse faced) and Narasimha (man-lion) and not as Go-vadana. Later Puranas introduced a minor God, a playing piece of doll of Parvati carved out of her body dirt who was made her body-guard and later had to be fixed with an elephant head by the surgical skill of Lord Siva who is hailed as a doctor (Bheshaja); Gajanana was also pushed to the forefront for first worship (Prathama Vandana) to please Parvati. Siva who was pleased with the services of his mount bull Nandi, fixed a man’s body to it so as to make the bull-man Nandi. It is again not any incarnation. Hindus love Puranas and divine magic and so today the focus is more on Ganesha and Nandi than Siva himself.
In Brihadarnayaka Upanishad Supreme Brahman is called Asvwamedha, a name given to the very sacrifice itself, as Vishnu is referred as Yajnapurusha. In Purushasookta Purusha himself becomes the material of sacrifice and Purusha is sacrificed. You may find similar expression in Bhagavad Gita where Brahman is referred as one who receives the sacrifice as well as sacrifice himself—Brahmaarpanam Brahmhutih. In Purushasookta Purusha sacrificed himself to start creation. Purushasookta theme is echoed in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in addressing Prajaapati as Asvamedha. Asvamedha is Prajapati as well as the sacrifice.
In conclusion it may be said horse was the only holy animal and later this thought has been directed to cow as the utility of horse declined and diverted to the worship of cow as observed on the day of Maattu Pongal and prayers offered glorifying cow as Gomaata. Holy cow has become a political issue today in India which is a secular country. HHHhorse is celebrated as the mount of Vishnu in Brahmotsavas along with elephant but no cow is used as a mount. Though Krishna is always seen with his flute he is rarely seen with cow in Krishna icons worshiped in temples like Murugan with peacock. Horse requires due attention and focus in Hind religious belief and worship more than cow.
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2. Ramachandra Rao, Vishnu Kosha, Kalpataru Research Academy, Bengaluru, India.
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