Language and Style of the Vedic Rsis

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For the Aryans the basic values in all the isomorphic spheres are connected with the idea of the center, with the correlated notion of the navel of the universe bhuvanasya nabhi-, the navel of the earthprthivya nabhi-, and the navel of the sacrificertasya nabhi- in some contexts equivalent to vedi- the sacrificial altar. The Vedic Aryans' ideas about time as a sequence of cycles has already been mentioned. On the socio-ethical level, life is similarly organized by rta law. What conforms to rta is good: the Aryan gods and the sacrifices made to them, as well as all Aryan prosperity bestowed by the gods.

Evil is everything that contradicts law: the absence of the Aryan gods, or a lack of sacrifices. The terrestrial world is modelled after the opposition between "living" literally "moving" jagat- and "non-living" literally "standing'' sthatar-. Inside the jagat-class man has no particular distinction among other living creatures, and the opposition is expressed by means of other marks, such as "biped"dvipad- vs. The king in Aryan society is an earthly reflection of Indra. The royal figure is primarily connected with the notion of military might, victory and glory.

Reversing the connection, the result is that if there is no victory, the king should be replaced [ However, Gods are usually called kings at the peak of their might; thus King Indra slayed Vrtra and King Agniovercame darkness. But the power of both magic and law is an attribute of the priests. In the Vedic model of the universe, diachrony manifests itself through the cosmogonic myths that play a crucial part in the text. All principal myths of the Rg Veda can be read as fragments of cosmogonic tales. Certain characteristic divine actions can also be considered in the same wayfor example, the three strides of Visnu and the daily circuit of the universe by the Asvins.

The mytho-poetic mind treats cosmogonic schemes as both a precedent and a standard for further reproduction simply because they existed in "primordial" times [ But the Rg Veda myths are not mere tales of ancient times i. In the Vedic model of the universe, abstract forces are personified and play the role of demiurges along with the gods.


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The Word, or Sacred Speech, is personified as the goddess Vac, who appears as the Creator of the universe. The most important number in this model is three. The universe is tripartitealthough there still remains an archaic dual deity Dyava-Prthivi "Heaven-and-Earth". The cosmogonic feat of the great gods consists in creating a third intermediate element between heaven and earth. This inter. The divisions of the cosmos itself could be multiplied by three, and the third, or highest heaven, is of the most special importance. The most important color characteristics are the following: s veta- "white" also "light, shining"verb.

Finally, the Vedic model of the universe incorporates several characteristics of magic-mentality, 10 almost inseparable from religion at a certain stage of society's development. The difference between them could be briefly outlined as follows: while the religious outlook can be characterized by obedience to Divine Will, the magic mentality replaces the deity with abstract entities which can be manipulated with the help of magical techniques.

The fundamental principle of any magic is total determinism without causal connections. The world structure is represented as a system of equivalences: everything can be caused by anything. This phenomenon is only incipient in the Rg Veda and lacks a systematic character [ In this respect the Agni hymn 2. ThouartAryaman,thegoodruler,whomIshouldliketoresortto ThouartAmsa,thegodwhobestows generously atsacrificesharing12 However, these identifications cannot be perceived as magic equivalences, since an explanatory commentary is given at the end of the hymn: tvamtansamcapraticasimajmana agnesujatapracadevarcyase prksoyadatramahinavitebhuvad anudyavaprthivirodasiubhe.

Thouartbothsimilartothemandequal tothem ingreatness, OAgni,beautifullyborn,you,Odeity,alsoexcel them , Whenthymightin allits greatnessunfoldshere Alongtheheavenandtheearth,alongthebothworlds! Some scholars have suggested that the Vedic metaphorical phrases describing mystical correspondences between the divine world and the human world, and comprehensible only to the priests, play the role of identification with respect to a tertium comparationis [ This very general sketch of the Aryan model of the universe in the Rg Veda does not allow for an analysis of its internal contradictions, or for any consideration of fragments of several other accessory systems recognizable also in this document.

We should consider in some detail the Aryans' views of sacred knowledge. According to orthodox Indian classification, the Rg Veda rg-veda-, the Veda of the hymns , belongs to the genre of the Vedas. Among them it is the most ancient and the most authoritative; the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda, and the Atharva Veda have borrowed on a grand scale from the Rg Veda. The same classification ascribes the Vedas to the sruti-tradition, in which the hymns are said to have been revealed by the gods to the mortal Rsis. The sruti-tradition is contrasted with the smrti-tradition, literally "memorizing," i.

Thus Old Indian texts are said to contain two kinds of knowledge: sacred and profane. The orthodox Indian classification belongs to a much later period than the Rg Veda collection itself. The word-form rg-veda is not the standard usage adopted in this text because only its components are attested: r c- "hymn; verse," and veda- "knowledge. These etymological connections suggest that the notion of a hymn was associated with the idea of light and brilliance; in other words, it was a concept connected with vision. The noun rc- is quite well-documented in the Rg Veda, in both its singular and plural forms.

Veda- is a noun derived from the verb vid- "to know, to be aware of. He whowithfirewood,whowithlibation Who,amortal,withknowledgehonorsAgni, Whowithreverence,beautifullyperformingtherite,doesit Hiscoursersraceswiftly, Hisisthemostbrilliantglory, Noanguisheithercausedbyagod Orcausedbyamortalshallgethim.

The context shows that veda- here denotes sacred knowledge; it is enumerated along with other ritual means of influencing the gods. A word that occurs frequently in the Rg Veda is dhi- feminine , whose syncretic semantics reflects a whole set of ideas prevalent in that cultural milieu concerning the means used to understand the surrounding world and to influence the gods. It is a root-noun derived from the verb dhi- "to perceive, think, ponder, wish. Renou ibid. But even in the Rg Veda the regular sense can be defined as "to examine through an inner gaze," or, in Renou's words: "voir par la pensee" [ This inner seeing is the meaning of the verbal root that serves as a starting point for Gonda's understanding of the nominal dhi- "vision," in his interpretation.

In a special monograph devoted to this highly important notion of the spiritual world of the Vedic Aryans [90], Gonda developed his ideas in the following manner. According to Vedic notions, the gods, related to heavenly light, were omniscient, and knowledge was of a visual nature; thus, "to have seen" was "to know. Gonda stresses that dhi. It is an ability of suddenly recognizing the truth, the functions and influences of divine forces, and man's relationship to them [ The truth is hidden from humans and does not manifest itself; it is sacred. The Rsi, with the help of dhi-, can relate to the nonmanifest and thus, in his mind's eye, his view is divine, making him a participant in the sacral world.

And thus the Rsi becomes a person who by force of his dhi- is able to penetrate the world of the gods. In the conceptual system described by Gonda, the truth is suddenly revealed to a possessor of dhi-: in other words, to him who is dhira- "wise," i. It can equally refer to the present, the past or the future, as well as to numerous times at once.

And this peculiarity of the Rsi's vision, as it will be shown below, is of immediate relevance to the language of the hymns. The Rsi's ecstatic visions resemble a rapid succession of static pictures, and during the reading of the Rg Veda, a feeling of motion results from the speed of the sequence of the "stills," if such an analogy be allowed. There may be no strict, logical coherence between individual pictures. In the archaic mind such a sequence can be rather like a kaleidoscope. This manner of "seeing" hardly encourages a discursive account of events in their logical and causal linear sequence.

The kind of account of mythological plots to which the modern man is accustomed is quite rare in the Rg Veda, at least in its older parts. In most cases myths are not told but only indicated. Often they are mentioned by means of stereotyped phrases, short and frequently formulaic. Many of those myths are not retold in extenso in the later Old Indian literature the Brahmanas, Upanisads, the Epics and the Puranas although it should be kept in mind that different versions do appear in different texts. The actual content of a myth, however, often remains obscure for us, even if it is referred to in the Rg Veda quite frequently.

More than once it has been suggested that plots familiar both to the Rsi and his audience were in no need of further retelling, but this explanation seems insufficient because such references to plots or the formulaic listing of plots actually reflects the nature of the Rsi's vision. This form is entirely adequate to convey the rapid succession of pictures that appear as inner vision. The process of mastering and transmitting sacred knowledge presupposes several stages.

Its first stage appears in the hymns as a momentary intuitive breakthrough of Divine Truth. The deity reveals knowledge within the poet's heart manas-, hrd-. In this way, the poet does not create truthhe receives it. After the poet "has seen" Truth, the next stage begins: presenting. Truth in verbal form as declaration. In Old Indian culture since the time of the Rg Veda the declaration of truth was considered to require an immense creative power that reached universal order and influenced the actions of the gods.

According to Gonda [ This form is wholly dependent on tradition, or canon, which in the language of the hymns is called the creation of the ancient, or earlier, Rsis. Following the canon the Rsi puts his vision into words, thus transforming it into hymn, prayer, or some liturgical text. Being part of the ritual of divine worship, the hymn ascends as offering to the gods who had earlier conferred inspiration on the Rsi. And so the circle is complete: an exchange between a deity and his worshipper in the assumed form of poetic art.

The deity grants the poet access to mystery and inspiration, and he composes a prayer-hymn in order to support and praise the deity. The main purpose of the hymn, according to Bernfried Schlerath [ Heinrich Luders [], whose ideas Schlerath developed, held that Truth was a certain static and absolute quantity occupying a definite place in the cosmos above the gods.

A truthful hymn is one that conforms to the law of rta-, and in order to create such a hymn, a Rsi had to use "true" words and phrases. So Schlerath concludes: "But the almost inevitable result of this is that the seemingly loosely connected elementsthought, word, and actare linked together in a most intimate way" [ These elements certainly reflect a definite PIE concept, but Schlerath's findings are equally important for a purely synchronic approach.

Such an interpretation models each stage of the truth-achieving, cognitive process; it represents the creation of a hymn as part of the general ritual worship of the gods. In other words, the making of a hymn becomes an integral part of the circle of exchange between deity and worshipper. Both knowledge of the world and artistic creativity are inseparable from the problem of the subject of cognition and creation, i. The word rsi-, according to the Great Petersburg Lexicon, has the following meanings: "singer of sacred songs; poet; a saint of ancient times.

Thus this verb can be said to belong to Book 9; it describes the flow of the pressed Soma juice at various points of the rite requiring it:. In other books the verb ars- is only once used with reference to Soma 1. In three instances the verb ars- is applied to ghrta- "the ghee-fat. It has been established that its referent is not just "ghee," an important substance used for ritual purposes in sacrificial offerings.

The word has multilevel referents whose interplay and combination contribute to the message of several hymns, as in 4. We may quote two stanzas where ghrta- and ars- occur side by side: etaarsantihrdyatsamudrac chatavrajaripunanavacaksase ghrtasyadharaabhicakasimi hiranyayovetasomadhyaasam 5 samyaksravantisaritonadhena antarhrdamanasapuymanah etearsantyurmayoghrtasya mrgaivaksipanorisamanah 6 These streamsofghee flowfromtheheart-ocean, Surroundedbyahundredfences;theyarenottobeseenbyadeceiver.

Iinspectattentivelythestreamsofghee: Thereisagoldenrodintheirmidst Thetorrents ofspeech flowtogetherlikerivulets, Purifiedinside,bothbyheartandmind. Thesewavesofgheearerunning Likegazellesfleeingawayfromanarrow. In the introduction to his translation of this hymn, Geldner stated that ghee was praised metaphorically as the actual sacrificial butter, as the Soma juice, and as poetic speech soaked in this ghee. But originally, according to him, the hymn was intended to accompany an ordinary Soma libation with an obligatory kindling of the sacrificial fire [ Renou, in his analysis of this hymn [ The level of poetic speech acquires more importance when compared to the levels of sacrificial ghee and the rite of Soma preparation.

In this connection some very interesting considerations were put forward by Gonda [ Another passage where the verb ars- appears together with ghrta- as the direct object is found in a hymn praising a generous patron: tasmaapoghrtamarsantisindhavas tasmaiyamdaksinapinvatesada 1. All this seems to confirm the hypothesis that the semantics of the verb ars- in the Rg Veda is very closely connected with ritual in general, and more particularly with the Soma sacrifice. Soma passing through the sheep wool strainer flowed into the wooden vessel; the priest tasted it, and the hallucinogenic liquid sharpened his intuition so that Truth was momentarily revealed in him.

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This ritual orientation of the verb ars- could give rise to the nominal derivative rsi- with its complex semantics: a participant in a rite who drinks the sacrificial liquid and pours out praises in the form of a hymn. This interpretation of the meanings of ars- can also find support in typological parallels from other Indo-European traditions. Benveniste has succeeded in showing [ There are quite remarkable formal coincidences between words denoting praise and invocation on the one hand, and those denoting drinking, swallowing, etc.

Thus, in Russian means "a priest" and means "to devour;" the correspondences of the latter mean ''to drink" in some Slavic and Baltic languages [ Trubachev's ideas. He also adduced Old Indian evidence: a word pair in which the original juhoti "to pour'' contrasts with the secondary hdvate "to invoke" [ All these suggestions concerning the etymology of rsi- may corroborate the hypothesis that in the period of the Rg Veda the Rsi participated in the ritual of divine worship and recited hymns that he composed in accordance with an ancient tradition, hymns that were performed in conjunction with sacrificial libations.

In this way a Rsi combined the functions of the poet, the reciter and the priest. As a component of the overall ideal picture the Vedic Aryans held about cosmic law, Truth rta- and the visionary faculty dhi- , the Rsi assumed the role of the mediator between gods and mortals, since he was able to express in words intelligible to mortals the Divine Truth rta- he had previously "seen. At certain decisive turning points in the life of the society the poet-Rsi was thought to have the function of a demiurge, a cosmic creator who assists the cosmos: his victory in the singers' verbal contest is a decisive contribution to the overcoming of the forces of chaos [22].

It is no coincidence that the goddess Vac the personification of Sacred Speech is identified on the mythological level with the basic principle of the cosmic existence that prevails over the gods. And, as was to become usual in later Old Indian philosophy, Vac combines in herself both subject and object, being at once speech Vedic text and poet creator of the text [ This dual nature of the Rsi is expressed on the mythological level by the semi-divine status of the ancestors of the Rsis.

Here it should be noted that the families of the Rsis kept separate and passed from generation to genera. The oldest mandalas have been labelled "family mandalas" by European scholars. For example, the Angirases were considered to be demigods. On the one hand, they were divine singers who figured prominently in the myth of Vala, and on the other hand, they were believed to be the forefathers of a family of poets whose members were the authors of many hymns, according to the native commentary Anukramani.

In Book 10 there are two examples of a composite "Seven Rsis" saptarsi- , a kind of mystical unit identifiable with the seven stars of Ursa Major. In other passages of the Rg Veda the same unit is expressed by a syntactical combination of two separate words. These "Seven Rsis" are identified typically with the poets' remote ancestors; for instance, asmakam atra pitaras ta asan sapta rsayo. Generally speaking, the notion of the "ancient Rsis" is to a great extent identical with that of the pitaras. In the Rg Veda many ancient Rsis appear in the myths along with the gods, such as the Bhrgus who were the first to generate fire, the Rsi Atri who found the Sun hidden by the demon Svarbhanu, and many others.

The idea of continuity in a long chain of generations is highly relevant to the notion of the Vedic poet, since his intuitive ability "to see" was believed to be genetically inherited from his ancestors. Here "the cow" is a metaphor for poetic speech. The inspired Rsi must guard the mysteries of this metaphorical speech i. For the Vedic Aryans the Rsi was the connecting link between generations, the keeper and transmitter of sacred knowledge. In poetry his role could be described by the opposition of "former" purva-, purvya-, pratna- and "present" nutana- Rsis, songs, praises, etc.

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The left member of the pair. The temporal position of the right member can be denoted by the adverbs nu, nunam "now," "at present" and its inclusion in the "ego generation" marked by the case-endings of the first person singular pronoun. Or its temporal position can be overtly unmarked and defined solely by context. This opposition was exceptionally important, since the "former Rsis'' ancestors and their compositions represented an elusive ideal and standard which the "present" Rsis could only strive to emulate.

The opposition can manifest in various ways: yeciddhitvamrsayahpurvautaye juhure'vasemahi sanastomanabhigrnihiradhasa- usahsukrenasocisa 1. The hymns of the "former" poets are canonical, and the "present" ones then only imitate them. It is mentioned more than once that the author of a given hymn is trying to laud the chosen deity in the style of the fathersthe ancient poets, for example: angirasvat 1. If we take seriously the current opinion that the Rsis did not make up new plots but confined themselves to transmitting their heritage, while at the same time using traditional formulas to embroider those plots, we must confront the problem of those new elements the authors were allowed to introduce into their works.

In other words, in what relation did the requirements of the canon stand towards the freedom of the poets' art? This intriguing. The idea of "a new song" composed by a Rsi for a deity occurs in the Rg Veda in several passages. A few rather characteristic pronouncements are quoted below.

Thus, in the Indra hymn 8. IdecoratesongsintheKanva-styleaidedbyaformerwork, thankstowhichIndraassumed his bravery. WhicheverRsishavenotpraisedthee,whicheverhave,OIndra, bestrengthenedonlythroughmy song ,O truly finelypraised one! One should take note of the verb s umbhami, "I decorate:" the presumable meaning is that the new element introduced by the poet in his hymn is actually a formal improvement compare Geldner's translation: "Ich putze".

This meaning is not immediately in harmony with our understanding of the poet's use of his traditional heritage. The Rsi is creating a new refined form, though the content may remain quite old. He is choosing words that fit the truth, and is arranging them in such a way that the form can be semanticized. This is, the form serves the hymn's communicative. In brief, these three stanzas appear as a model for the composition of a new song by the Vedic Rsis.

There is another passage in the Rg Veda duly noted by Geldner in his commentary where the poet uses much clearer language in describing how the traditional material is worked into a new composition. In the Indra hymn 8. The ancient work, "soaked in truth" and having passed through the "keen" attentive, seeing heart manas- of the Rsi, becomes a "newer inspiring song" the adjective mandra- "pleasant, pleasing,'' but also "melodious" or "inspiring"an epithet describing the form.

Scholars have always stressed the fact that in the Rg Veda the act of poetic composition is described in terms of handicraft. Thus Renou [ The external look of the chariot, a sun-symbol, was extremely important; it is often described as "golden" hiranyaya ,. Metaphorically, the prayer is often called "a chariot. Weaving in the Rg Veda is both a cosmogonic and a sacrificial symbol. Words belonging to this semantic field quite regularly have referents on different levels.

For example, the well-known hymn about the establishment of sacrifice by the ancient father-Rsis contains the following stanza: yoyajnovisvatastantubhistata ekasatamdevakarmebhirayatah imevayantipitaroyaayayuh pravayapavayetyasatetate They sit by the spread out sacrifice, saying : 'Weave forward! Weave backward! But Rsis are also directly referred to in an analogous context in the "Knowledge"-hymn wherein hack poets are described: imeyenarvannaparascaranti nabrahmanasonasutekarasah taetevacamabhipadyapapaya siristantramtanvateaprajajnayah In this way one can speak of the highly symbolic character of the weaving-terminology in the Rg Veda.

The fact that it is correlated with three isomorphic levels makes it possible for the poets to manipulate the codes witching. The Rg Veda possesses a rich vocabulary that encodes the key notions of a certain model of the universe, the very opposite of a limited and peripheral "workshop" terminology. This vocabulary was probably selected because it has to do with the processes of shaping and treating various forms, and all of this was similar to the main tasks of the poet, who would "weave" his hymnic designs on the prepared warp of an old poem, or base his work upon the high standards of a "former" Rsi.

The poets' standing in the Aryan social structure also calls for a brief discussion. It is well-known that they belonged to the class varna of the Brahmans, and their trade was hereditary. The Rg Veda hymns were composed, transmitted, and preserved in oral form in the singers' priestly families; sometimes their names are mentioned in the texts.

But in a systematic way they are registered in the general "list" anukramani that was compiled in the times of the later Brahmanical tradition. This list of authors, was strongly influenced by mythology, in its inclusion of divine names. Several women also appear therein, but generally speaking, it was a male occupation. We have no trustworthy evidence about the poets' lives or about relationships among the singers' families. The legend about the alleged enmity between Visvamitra and Vasistha is attested only in late sources: the Rg Veda does contain some vague allusions that could possibly be interpreted in that vein, but there is no certainty.

It is known that the Rsis depended on rich patrons, usually kings: the yajamanas who would reward them with cows, horses, gold, etc. The gods were asked to grant a boon to the patron and to the poet himself. There are some hymns or parts of them in the Rg Veda containing "gift-praises" danastuti , sometimes marked by gross exaggerations. Nevertheless, from time to time, the poet might voice his dissatisfaction with the gifts, in either plain language or in allusion. The Rsi valued his position vis-a-vis his patron and was in constant competition with his rivals: the hymns abound in bitter attacks against competitions in poetic art.

In considering the social status of the poets it is appropriate to discuss the nature of the Vedic Rsi's art. His role as a keeper and transmitter of sacred knowledge, who is guided by the canon of ancestral songs, tends to incline scholars towards a hypothesis of the collective nature of that art. The problem of individual authorship was not relevant either for the Vedic period, or most probably for Old Indian culture as a whole.

This can only mean that a hymn belongs to a whole family and not to its mythical progenitor, about whom there is practically no evidence. So much for diachrony. Turning to the level of synchrony, we may say that the principle of collective creativity is represented by a "corporation" of Rsis who were trained for verbal contests. In the Rg Veda this corporation is called sakhya- literally "sodality. Setting aside speculations concerning the nature of speech "the wise ones created Speech with their thought in stanza 2 et al.

He has been duly released into the contest. A breach of these corporative principles resulted in grave consequences for the offender. A few words about the kind of contests for which the sodalities were training their members. The most convincing theory has been put forward by Kuiper in his article "The Ancient Aryan Verbal Contest," [22] which has been discussed above. Verbal contests were part of the annual rites of regeneration at the time of the winter solstice, when the confrontation of Chaos and Cosmos took place. Poets entered the competitions as representatives of their patrons.

Verbal contests along with chariot races and military. The goddess Usas presided over the distribution of generous gifts during these contests. This sketch of the religious and social status of the Vedic Rsis is based mainly on research done by Western scholars. It should be noted that interest in this range of problems has been growing lately among Indian scholars as well. The realization of the special role of the Rsis in the archaic Aryan society of the RgVedic period has stimulated research in this area: much work has been published both in English and in modern Indian languages Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati 19 Although this topic has generated a stream of publications, both of a scientific and of a more popular character, their main lines of investigation are beyond the scope of the present monograph; our interest is primarily linguistic.

Nevertheless, we cannot avoid mentioning a remarkable phenomenon: an uninterrupted chain of tradition and continuity, though altered and variable to a certain degree, between modern India and the world of the Rg Veda Aryanespecially in those cases when the author of a work on the Vedic poets happens to be both a well-known Sanskritist and a descendant of a Vedic Rsi, such as Dandekar, who traces his origin from the Rsi Vasistha [ On the one hand, this circumstance grants the scholar quite a few advantages, as it places at his disposal a general theory which permits him, using a single non-contradictory method, to interpret the historical and cultural situation as well as disparate linguistic facts.

But on the other hand, the dangers of a vicious circle seem apparent. First, we construct a model of the universe on the the basis of the Rg Veda hymns, and then we interpret the vocabulary of the Rg Veda with the help of this very model.


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  7. This danger must never be overlooked. In addition, there can never be any certainty that many, and sometimes quite essential fragments of this model, have been construed in adequate agreement with the perception of the Vedic Rsis themselves. This uncertainty has to be applied to any interpretation of certain parts of the Vedic vocabulary.

    The vocabulary of the Rg Veda is characterized by both polysemy and synonymy [8. Using these very characteristics, the poets quite consciously introduce puns, a play on words, thus creating an intentionally obscure, allusive and suggestive style.

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    However, before we discuss the stylistic use of lexical polysemy in the Rg Veda, we should consider the definition of this phenomenon. Polysemy, as such, presupposes the discrete character of meanings tied to a word. The Rg Veda lexicon, as represented in classical Western dictionaries [91; 59], contains an amazing number of polysemantic words.

    It is remarkable that the highest number of meaningssometimes more than tenis ascribed to words that encode the key notions of the model of the universe for example, words that denote members of basic oppositions , as well as proper names that are widely used as symbols in Vedic poetry. But a modern Vedic scholar cannot be certain that, in Vedic times, quite different types of semantic syncretism were not prevalent. What we perceive as different meanings of the same word in the hymns might have appeared to the Rsi as a single meaning in different contexts.

    Central to the Rg Veda world-model was the notion rendered by the word rta-. Grassmann gives the following meanings for its use as a noun:. Its semantic area is defined in the dictionaries as "a seat, place, residence, habitation;" "home, a favourite spot especially, of Agni and Soma ;" "retinue, a company of gods ;" "law, norm" [80]. Leaving aside for the moment the problem of the semantic evolution of these variants, it seems possible to suggest that for the Rsi the meaning of dhaman- from the verb root dha- "to set, put, place,arrange" manifest itself on the level of locality as "a place," on the level of speculation as "law, order," and on the level of social relations as "a retinue, escort.

    In the Rsi's mind, kratu- in different contexts may have corresponded to our notions of "ability, skill," "reason ing , understanding;" "intuition, inspiration, aspiration;" and "sacrificial drink Soma as a source of inspiration. So, too, daksa- denotes the "ability to act," "skill;" "force, " ill will," all of which are perceived as various manifestations of a single property. In some contexts the opposition between the two members can be neutralized, and either of them may denote an undifferentiated mental-and-physical force at the same time, although other meanings of the neutralized member can also occur.

    Principles of semantic syncretism, very different from those of modern scholars, tend to manifest themselves in a definite lexical stratum, namely, in the one dealing with various emotional and intellectual phenomena. The words denoting these phenomena are the same as those that denote the correspondingfor the Vedic mindinternal organ. This semantic syncretism is correctly rendered in Otto Bohtlingk's Worterbuch where, for example, the word manas- is defined both as "inner emotion," "spirit," "mind," "reason," "thought," and as "internal body-part," "heart.

    The metaphorical transfer of meanings occurs so frequently that the border-line between polysemy and homonymy almost disappears. However, even these cases may be accounted for by the imagery of thought, and we should recognize only one meaning as basic. For instance, when the Rsi uses the word go masculine "a bull," feminine "a cow" to denote constellations "a herd of. Often in the Rg Veda a word meaning has denotation on different levels, some of which belong to the visible world or to myth the demarcation line between the two sometimes being almost evanescent , while others are related to ritual.

    For example, 23 gharma- can simultaneously denote "solar heat" and "a pot on fire," or "hot milk" for the Asvins; payas- " cow milk," "rain," "the Soma-juice;" madhu- "honey; mead," "sweetness," "milk," "sacrificial ghee," "the Soma- juice ;" vana- "forest," "tree," "wood," "a wooden Soma vessel," "water" particularly, the streams of water mixing with Soma in a vat ; samudra- "confluence," "terrestrial sea," "celestial sea," "the Somajuices in a big vessel;" sanu- "mountain-top," "the back of an animal or a demon ," "the surface of a Somastrainer made of sheep wool," etc.

    Such a play on the denotations of words is a recurring feature of the Rg Veda hymns. The problem of reference in this poetic text sometimes acquires rather special dimensions.

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    For some textual fragments the reference of the fragment as a whole can become decisive, while in other cases what is important is the reference of a clause. In turn, the reference of some individual words depends on the clause, or putting it differently, there is a one-to-one correlation between the meanings of a word and the ritual or some other level of reference.

    For instance, verse 9. Since we are aware of the fact that this is a Soma pavamana "Purified Soma" hymn of Book 9, i. Another mythological verse contains a play on the various denotations of the word hari-: dyamindroharidhayasam prthivimharivarpasam adharayaddharitorbhuribhojanam yayorantarhariscarat 3. In the third line "the two golden ones" harit- denote Heaven-and-Earth; and in the fourth line, hariis the Sun according to Geldner or Indra according to Sayanasince the hymn is addressed to this god. In this way the various denotations of the word hari- are used in a pun within the bounds of a single mythological level.

    In another stanza that has been cited above 9. The suggestive style of the hymns is often characterized by the double reference of a single word or phrase; there is a conscious tendency to achieve a simultaneous correlation with two levels, ritual and mythological, that may be seen, for instance, in 1. Another example of a double reference occurs in verse 9. At the same time they can also have mythological connotations: they may denote the heavenly ocean of the mystic abode of the gods in heaven.

    Numerous other examples of this kind can be found elsewhere. Another important feature of the vocabulary of the Rg Veda is the symbolic use of words with a very concrete basic meaning, particularly a small group of words denoting body-parts. Some of these words are more frequently used in their symbolic meaning at the ritual and cosmic levels while their basic, literal meanings are overshadowed. Obviously, no question of polysemy arises, since this is a clear metaphorical transfer of a single basic meaning onto different, but isomorphic levels.

    On a purely linguistic level, such words frequently make up fixed phrasal unities when joined with other words; the latter can belong to a single reference level as, for example, devanam caksus "the gods' eye;" "the sun," or they may refer to several levels, as amrtasya nabhih "the navel of immortality" refers to 1 an altar, 2 the heavenly center, and 3 Soma or another sacrificial drink.

    The group of words for body-parts consists of the following nouns: Aksi-, aksi- "eye:" 1 primary meaning O Sky and Earth, guard us from Terror! Where the reins? Where is the saddle on the horses's back? Where is the bit in the nostrils? This use of a series of words denoting human body-parts as metaphors for elements of the universe cannot be accidental in the Rg Veda.

    The key to its understanding should be sought in the model of the universe as seen by the Rg Veda Aryans. The archaic idea that the universe originated from the body of the gigantic primordial man who was sacrificed by the gods is clearly reflected in the Purusa-hymn In this hymn a system of equivalences between the microcosm and the macrocosm is established. It has already been noted [ The plot motivates the movement from one member of the opposition to the other, and in its turn, can reflect a certain ritual.

    This type of correspondence between parts of the body and cosmic elements had a long future in the Old Indian tradition, and its variants are also attested in other archaic cultures. Hence the idea of semantic transfer, or metaphor, in the use of a vocabulary of human body-parts. The text of the Purusa-hymn belongs to the semiotic sphere wherein the head is the sign for the sky, the eye is the sign for the sun, etc. Thus we see an interplay of paradigmatic equivalences which are transferred into syntamatics, i.

    A single denotation is connected with two notions which are quite different, from the modern point of view. Such a situation is remarkable on two counts. First, it could be based on the the existing awareness of the identity of these two series, since the macrocosm and the microcosm are, generally speaking, isomorphic. Thus they could. This is the collective heritage which is revitalized again and again by the poet-Rsi in his creative activity. Second, the Rsi's generalizing and classifying work creates "a body code" of the cosmos.

    The evolution of this code can be illustrated as follows: "head" becomes "head of the sky. Immediate identifications of the terms of the two series are rather infrequent, though examples do show some survivals. The further elaboration of these metaphorical phrases by the poets, being a purely literary device, results in an ever-growing erosion of the original identity. An extreme case of polysemy in the Rg Veda is represented by the lexical group in which broadly opposed meanings within the semantics of a single word are combined.

    Here polysemy borders on antonymy, or even enantiosemy, an obvious paradox. This phenomenon is attested in the Rg Veda, and this semantic type can be met with both in noun substantives and adjectives, primary and composite terms and in verbs. The key to the interpretation of this phenomenon was found by Renou in his fundamental "L'ambiguite du vocabulaire du Rgveda" [ He was the first to draw attention to the circumstance that Rig Veda lexicon can be divided into two zones: the "auspicious" in which the gods are included and the humans under their protection, and the less differentiated "inauspicious" layer, denoting forces that are inimical to gods and poets.

    One and the same word can have both a "positive" and a "negative" meaning on its particular "zone" context. This concerns, in the first place, a rather numerous class of verbal roots. In a few cases the semantic difference is not connected with any corresponding morphological difference, for example, rus-, rosati "to undo" and "to perish;" yu-, yosati "to separate" and "to be separated;" pi-, piyati "to insult"and "to be despised.

    For instance, the verb ar- has the stem rcha- and the aorist arat when an attacking enemy or a devasting sickness is involved, but forms other stems when describing favorable or neutral actions. Individual forms of a verb that has generally "auspicious" connotations may be used in a "negative" sense, and vice versa. The same ambivalence is characteristic of a certain number of nouns.

    Primarily it concerns epithets that can describe both gods and their opponents as, for example, aprati-, meaning both "irresistible" and "showing no. Renou also noted the ambivalence of certain proper names, mostly belonging to the mythological cycle of Indra, such as Kutsa-, who figures both as Indra's favorite charioteer and his enemy. Some ethnonyms from the same cycle also share this semantic ambiguity, as do some theonyms.

    Such reversibility of actions and formulas of the two zones, attested for the Rg Veda, is a peculiar trait of the magical outlook in general. Renou summed up his research with the flowing remark: In the end, these features of Vedic sytle together with the conditions of the sacral milieu appear to be the decisive factors in the orientation that was acquired by its vocabulary" [ The importance of Renou's work can certainly be judged by these overt conclusions concerning the ambivalent semantics of a certain part of the Vedic lexicon.

    But equally important are some indirect results of his description that can be defined in the following way. In the language of the Rg Veda the stylistic level ranks as the highest in the linguistic hierarchy. Grammatical oppositions are not necessarily universal: a given formal opposition does not always correspond to a semantic one.

    The Rsis of Ancient Indian Tradition

    In the same way, a single derivational pattern in word-formation can be interpreted differently on the semantic level. These conclusions can be of importance for the further stylistic and functional study of Rg Veda vocabulary. The "auspicious" domain in the Rg Veda is vast and considerably elaborated. On the other hand, the "inauspicious" level is comparatively undifferentiated; this act may be due to proscriptive considerations. As noted above, Renou established the presence of a layer of ambivalent vocabulary with changeable meaning dependent on its "zone.

    This particular archaic lexical stratum contains the semantic reflexes of the Vedic model of the universe see "Introduction,'' above. The idea of an exchange between the deity and the worshipper is lexically expressed by a "conversive" meaning26 attested for a whole group of "auspicious" words. This meaning acquires a different logical emphasis in different contexts. In the Rg Veda, its directionality can vary, depending on the word's association with a god or his worshipper [ In this way, the "auspicious" zone itself can be seen as bipartite.

    It should be stressed that the ambivalent vocabulary of "auspicious" vs. These two lexical subsystems can be viewed as two nonintersecting sub-multitudes. Moreover, the conversive meaning of the "auspicious" is attested in various morphological and derivational classes: verbs, substantives and adjectives, primary words and compounds. Before describing the distribution of conversive meaning among forms derived from a common verbal-root, a small group of verbs should be discussed.

    Their meanings cannot be labelled "conversive," but they can be combined with different object-classes, and consequently, they may encode quite different actions. The meanings of such verbs depend on the reference-class of their subjectseither deity or worshipper.

    Some examples: jan- "to give birth to, to generate:" subject 1 : gods; objects: the universe, the sun, the dawns, etc. But if the referent happens to be the worshipper, the verb is usually in the first person singular of the present. In this way the verbal grammatical categories indirectly differentiate the various referent-classes of the subject. In the contexts of the first group the verb jan- is functionally synonymous with other verbs encoding the cosmogonic act.

    In the contexts of the second group this verb is synonymous with verbs with the meaning "to sacrifice," "to donate," etc. Cud- "to sharpen," "to inspire," "to urge, to stimulate:" subject 1 : gods; objects: worshippers encouraged to battle, sacrifice, prayer; chariots, prayers, gifts; subject 2 : worshippers; objects: gods urged to donate gifts; 1 asman samarye pavamana codaya 9.

    The relations are somwehat obscured when the worshipper addresses the mediating gods, Agni and Soma, asking them to urge other gods to be liberal in gift-giving, for example: tvam no devatataye rayo danaya codaya Take notice of my invocation! The primary stem bodha- and the causative bodhaya- are used indifferently with both subject-classes. The third person singular aorist passive a bodhi, with a passive or intransitive meaning, occurs exclusively with the subject of a god who either has been aroused by his worshippers or has awakened himself in order to enrich and support them.

    As a rule, this meaning is implicitly contained in a wider context; but quite explicit is, for example, 5. The beautiful thing , let us see it with our eyes, O you, worthy of sacrifice!. In summing up we could say that the first three verbs represent various aspects of the same "deep" action of serving the deity when the subject is a worshipper. The specific forms of such servicemaking a sacrifice or a laudatory song, extending it to the deity, or offering itare dependent upon the proper lexical meaning of each of these verbs.

    In this way verbs with different meanings can become synonymous in the context of the exchange between god and his worshipper. The latter three verbs seem to have a symmetrical predicate as regards their class of subjects and objects. None of these verbs has conversive meanings, but there are differences in syntactical constructions, determined by the respective subject-class. The list of such verbs is obviously far from complete.

    Sometimes the same verb has forms that differ in the choice of direct object and syntactical constructions, and on the other hand, there are forms with conversive meanings. Here we shall discuss some of those verbs whose meanings appear to be conversive when their subjects are either gods or their worshippers. It ought to be mentioned at this point that quite often conversive meanings only partly represent the total semantic range of a given verb.

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    The meaning "to honor" belongs to both areas. When the subject is a deity, the "honoring" of the worshipper is expressed by Indra's slaying of his foes and granting the worshipper those physical and spiritual advantages that he asks of the god. The subject-worshipper honors the god by means of sacrifices and hymns offered to him. In other words, this particular meaning of the verb das- could be included in the first group of non-conversives.

    Badh- "to banish" the enemy, the dark forces , "to widen" the limits of the universe "to attack," "to besiege" a god : 1 pavamana badhase soma satrun 9. Van- "to like, prefer," "to accept readily;" "to donate""to obtain," "to win,'' "to gain profit:" 1 asvinapurudamsasa narasavirayadhiya dhisnyavanatamgirah 1. This fact is also reflected in the. Worthy of note is the case of Agni the Hotar priest, in which the deity takes on the functions of the worshipper: then the meaning of the verb and the syntactical construction belong to the second type, for example: agnir havih samita sudayati 3.

    Light up the sacrificial provisions! Hi- "to make the worshipper hurry" to obtain a boon , "to inspire worshippers ," "to send riches, etc. This seems to depend on whether the verb's subject refers to the deity or the worshipper. In the Rg Veda nouns have "auspicious" conversive meanings with reference to a deity or worshipper much more frequently than verbs do, and this fact can be explained by the particularities of the Old Indian system of derivations.

    It is still standard doctrine, taken over from the Indian grammarians, that the verb-root is basic to both inflexion and derivation, since the number of noun-roots is rather limited. In theory any verbal root can acquire nominal functions; it is irrelevant that for some roots such nouns are not attested. In the Rg Veda the root-nouns are much more numerous than in any other Old Indian text; after the Rg Veda they gradually fell into disuse. If a verbal root has conversive meanings, they are also inherent in the corresponding root-noun.

    Compounds have even greater opportunities in this respect, since their structure itself admits of different grammatical interpretations, and in the end, too much is simply determined by context. Compounds are indifferent to some important oppositions that are usually grammaticalized in the verbal system, and this indifference is often made use of when these compounds are involved in the "auspicious" zone of the relationship between deity and worshipper.



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