All through the Rig veda the references to Aryas and Sudasas depict Aryas as givers and Sudasas as receivers. The Sudasas were a group of people who received the knowledge in their endeavor to become the Aryas, with the help of Pitrs or Rishis, who are described as the third race of Trtsus.
The Rig Veda Mandala 7 Hymn 19 states the following
yastighmaśṛṅgho vṛṣabho na bhīma ekaḥ kṛṣṭīścyāvayati pra viśvāḥ |
yaḥ śaśvato adāśuṣo ghayasya prayantāsisuṣvitarāya vedaḥ ||
Yas tigma sringho vrsabhona bhima– that sharb horned strong bull
ekah – the only One, the Single
Krstizcya – creations (men, races of men)
vayati – weaver
pra visvAh – before all beings
That Sharp horned strong bull, the only one creation before all beings
yah sasvato – these eternal
ada asuso – voracious one
ghayasya – of Song’s
prayanta asi – presenter/giver/guide to
suS vitara aya vedha- gaining path of the Knowledge
Those eternal voracious songs of the givers gain (us) the path of knowledge
The pitrs, the Rishis had also been described as those with horns (which I had mapped to as the horn of intellect) and who had been created before other beings who had given songs that gain us the path of knowledge.
The Varnas in Rig Veda
Though the names of Varna are found in Rig Veda, those were not used to indicate a social structuring or group or Varna even.
The most often quoted sloka from Rig veda on the Varnas is from Purusha Suktam. It is true that the verse in this Suktam has been interpreted to provide the Vedic Sanction to lowliness of zudras for long time.
But before interpreting the suktam, one needs to understand the Sloka as a whole, which will reveal to us the real meaning of it.
Purusha is the ‘sacrificial bed’ in which the evolution of Universe happens like a sacrifice. The 3/4th of this Universe is made of Purusha and is hidden while ¼ th is only visible to us. This is the core message of Purusha Suktam, which depicts Universe as a Yajna (sacrifice) on the bed of Purusha.
Purusha, according to Aitaerya Upanishad, was drawn out from the same womb (from which Prakrti evolved) to protect/prosper the worlds formed of Prakrti. This is depicted in several ways in Puranas. One way being Uma (Prakrti) seated on the thigh of Siva (Purusha).
Scientifically one can map Purusha as Dark Matter and Prakrti as Perceivable Matter from the given depictions of Purusha Suktam.
Purusha – The sacrificial bed and the sacrificed
Look at his verse from Purusha suktam
yat puruşheņa havişhā devā yajňam atanvata
vasanto asyāsīd ājyam grīşhma idhmaĥ sharadhdaviĥ
With Purusha himself as the oblation, this divine sacrifice, expanded like, molten butter of spring, summer fire and fuel of winter.(expands in all directions)
tam yajňam barhişhi praukşhan puruşham jātamagrataĥ
tena devā ayajanta sādhyā ŗşhayashcha ye
In that sacrificial bed of purusha, series of births took place in a manner the divine sacrificer accomplishes the heavenly bodies like SAdhyas and Yakshas.
Yatpuruşham vyadadhuĥ katidhā vyakalpayan
mukham kimasya kau bāhū kā ūrū pādā uchyate
In that purusha’s wide open stirring how is it arranged..? (how all it is expressed).
What is its face..? (How do we perceive it)
What is its arm.. ? (How does it serve/affect us)
What is called its thigh, feet..?
How do we perceive Purusha..?
brāhmaṇo.asya mukhamāsīd bāhū rājanyaḥ kṛtaḥ |
ūrūtadasya yad vaiśyaḥ padbhyāṃ śūdro ajāyata ||
BrAhmano – evolving one
Brahmano asya – Evolving one’s (Ever expanding or growing)
Mukam Asid – is its face
What is its face.? was the question. The answer is “Face is that of Evolving one”.
Purusha’s face is in everything that evolves and expands. In other words one perceives the Purusha as things evolve and expand.
In terms of Varnas, in the later days Knowledge Providers who evolve the society were called BrAhmanas.
bAhu – arm
rAjanyah – fire, Agni, protector (and hence ruler)
krtah – (are those that) made of
What is its arm was the question. The ‘arm’ of Purusha is Agni. Agni indicates transfer of energy. Hence Agni was called a Messenger in the Vedas.
Purusha facilitates/serves in this transfer of energy from one prakrti to another prakrti.
In terms of Varnas, in the later days, people protected others (served others) were called RAjanyas. Since they had the power to provide that service, they were called Kshatriyas.
uru – thigh
tad – there, in that place
uru tad asya – thigh that place of or thigh there of
yad vaisyah – that dependents
What is called Purusha’s thigh was the question..? The ‘Purusha’s thigh’ is that place of dependents.
Prakrti is dependent on Purusha. So Purusha’s thigh is the Place of Prakrti. Hence Prakrti (Uma) is often described as sitting on the thigh of Purusha (Siva).
In terms of Varnas, in the later days, people who dependent on land produced goods/materials for others. Such dependent people were called Vaizyas.
pAdbhyam – For the foot
Zudro – (zu) swift (dra) changing one (adapting one)
Ajayata – (ajA) manifest (yata) in a controlled way
What is called its foot was the question..? The ‘foot’ is from where the swift changing ones/ adapting ones occur.
One can perceive Purusha’s foot in every thing that changes swiftly and adapts.
In terms of Varnas, in the later days, people who adopted to any profession by serving as labor for that profession were called zudras, as they did not have any fixed job, but were menial laborers swiftly changing into various professions.
Purusha – Sacrificial bed in evolution of Prakrti
Purusha suktam does not stop with this. It proceeds to clarify further the head and the foot of Purusha.
chandramā manaso jātash chakşhoĥ sūryo ajāyata
mukhād indrashchāgnishcha prāņād vāyūr ajāyata
Candrama manifests from Manas, Surya from Caksuh. The face is the manifestation/transformation of indra to agni to prana to vayu. Thus face of the Purusha is the evolution/occurrence of several of these forces.
nābhyā āsīd antarikşham shīrşhņo dyauĥ samavartata
padbhyām bhūmir dishaĥ shrotrāttathā lokān akalpayan
Space is situated in navel, dyu-loka rose in the head, for the feet Earth and worlds manifested/got formulated.
Thus Purusha is visualized as one whose heads rise in dyu-loka (the region beyond all the worlds, a region close to big-bang) and feet in Earth and the worlds and the navel is the Space in between. It is the sacrificial bed on which prakrti evolves.
The Earth and the worlds are fast-changing (zudras). The face is seen in the evolution. The thigh is perceived in the dependability. The arms are perceived in the protection to Prakrti.
The meanings of Varna Names
Rg Veda is a Sruti script. The Mandala 10 in specific deals more with cosmic forces and their evolution. It has no reason to include a social system or structure in between.
As one could see in Rg Veda Mandala 7 interpretations I have given in this series, Rg Veda scripts talk about the time obefore the human civilizations took the organized shape, much before the Smrti traditions were concretized, as one could see from the conquest of Sudasas and Trtsus in this series.
Caste systems should have come up in the society much later. These were described in many Smriti Scripts. Smrti Scripts are one which are based on tradition and do not have the same sanction in our Dharma as the Sruti scripts, which are revelations.
The real meaning of Brahman as used in Rg veda in many other places is one that is ever expanding, growing or evolving continuously.
The root meaning of Rajanya is fire or agni or protector, again as used in many places.
The root meaning of Vaishya is dependence or more correctly dependent.
The real meaning of zUdra is one that changes fast or unstable. (zU – fast, dra – fluid).
From Cosmos to Social strucuture
But this meaning (which is actually a straight interpretation without convoluting any words) could be understood today. But it is not possible to comprehend it in the generations that took over the Rg Vedic texts subsequently and interpreted them.
When caste system evolved much later to Rg Vedic times, those who expanded the society’s knowledge or evolved the society (or whose role is to do that) continuously should have been called Brahmans.
Those who protected the people like the fire that protected people from animals should have been called Rajanyas.
Those who farmed the land and became dependent on the soil should have been called Vaishyas.
Those who did not have a fixed profession, but adopted to anything that they could do should have been called zUdras.
When scholars of the later days looked at the Rg vedic texts, they were always looking through the caste system and hence landed up mapping these words to their caste names, without bothering the fact that Rg Vedic texts were revelations (Sruti) and not based on tradition (smrti), while caste system is a smrti concept.
Next – More from Rg Veda
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