Sunday, March 6, 2011

Surya's Bridal - Rig Veda

The hymn 10.85 of Rig Veda is about the marriage of Sun (sūryā) with Moon (soma). This hymn is important because it throws light on quite a few real things about the lives and thoughts of the people who composed The Rig Veda. The personification of Sun and Moon as the bride and the bridegroom may have more of poetic significance, but the detailed description of the marriage ceremony may not be a thing of imagination or poetic license. After her marriage in her own house Surya goes to the groom's house in an elaborate procession (vahatu). She is wearing a wonderful dress. She has put kajal on her eyes. Accompanying her in the bridal procession is her close friend Raibhi and the Ashwin twins - from the groom's side. Still now in India most Hindu marriages happen in the same way as is described in this hymn.

In this hymn more important is actually something else. It's the natural phenomenon that's actually poetically depicted as Surya's marriage. Throughout the Rig Veda, many real events and simple natural phenomena are poetically expressed through allegories and personifications. Often there are quite deep inner meanings and layers of philosophical thoughts hidden behind the simplistic event. In this case the event of Sun's going to a new house and beginning a new life is actually the beginning of a new revolution of Sun or the starting of a new year. The heavenly bodies are things of deep interest for the Rig Vedic people. The stars and the constellations and the night sky are observed with great enthusiasm and often used as personifications in various hymns.

somenādityā balinaḥ somena pṛthivī mahī |
atho nakṣatrāṇām eṣām upasthe soma āhitaḥ || 10.85.02

By Soma are the Ādityas strong, by Soma mighty is the earth.
Thus Soma in the midst of all these constellations hath his place. 10.85.02

Soma in the above verse is surely not the Moon, who is Sun's groom. Here Soma is something that binds the constellations, nakṣatra. What else can it be other than the gravitational force that has its place "in the midst of all these constellations." What exactly was meant by this verse by the composer is surely a matter of contention. But gravitation seems to be a very likely candidate for the natural phenomenon which is personified here.

raibhi āsīd anudeyī nārāśaṃsi nyocanī |
sūryāyā bhadram id vāso gāthayaiti pariṣkṛtam || 10.85.06

cittir ā upabarhaṇaṃ cakṣurā abhyañjanam |
dyaur bhūmiḥ kośa āsīd yad ayāt sūryā patim || 10.85.07

stomā āsan pratidhayaḥ kuriraṃ chanda opaśaḥ |
sūryāyā aśvinā varāgnir āsīt puroghavaḥ || 10.85.08

somo vadhūyur abhavad aśvināstām ubhā varā |
sūryāṃ yat patye śaṃsantīṃ manasā savitādadāt || 10.85.09

Raibhi was her dear bridal friend, and Narasamsi led her home.
Lovely was Sūrya's robe: she came to that which Gatha had adorned. 10.85.06

Thought was the pillow of her couch, sight was the unguent for her eyes:
Her treasury was earth and heaven.ẉhen Sūrya went unto her Lord. 10.85.07

Hymns were the cross-bars of the pole, Kurira-metre decked the car:
The bridesmen were the Aśvin Pair Agni was leader of the train. 10.85.08

Soma was he who wooed the maid: the groomsmen were both Aśvins, when
The Sun-God Savitar bestowed his willing Sūrya on her Lord. 10.85.09

Raibhi is the anudeyī, bride's maid, accompanying Surya in the bridal procession to her husband's house. Surya is wonderfully dressed in a lovely robe made by Gatha. The wonderful thoughts of a new life are like soft pillows, upabarhaṇaṃ, into which she can immerse herself for the rest of her life and fall spend nights of peaceful sleep. All the beautiful things she is seeing around herself is like the adornment of her eyes, abhyañjana, that's making her look more beautiful. She is so happy that she feels as if both the earth and the heaven are her treasury. Like the cross bars of the pole, pratidhi, that keep the wheels of her chariot fastened strongly to the axle, the divine marriage hymns, stoma, add strength and tranquility to her life. The ceremonial plume, kurira, she is wearing on her head, is like a decorative canopy, opaśa, of her chariot. The Sun God Savita bestows Surya to her husband. Bestowing is an integral part of a Hindu marriage where the eldest of the family from the girl's side gives the bride to the groom.

The above verses are indeed very rich in poetic ornamentations. It also throws light on how important chariot is to the Rig Vedic people - there's even a name, pratidhi, for the the small piece of cross bar that is affixed to the axle of the wheel in order to keep the wheel steady and prevent it from sliding along the axle. In fact horses and chariots are the most significant trade marks of the Rig Vedic Aryans.

The following verses describe as Surya's chariot as gold hued - hiraṇyavarṇaṃ, strong wheeled - suvṛtaṃ, fast rolling - sucakram, colorful - viśvarūpaṃ and decked with Kimshuka and Salmali flowers. A later verse describes Surya's chariot as spirited - manasmaya.

The following verses also have an indirect reference to the beginning of a new year at the time of Surya's marriage.

navo-navo bhavati jāyamāno ahnāṃ ketur uṣasām eti agram |
bhāghaṃ devebhyo vi dadhātyāyan pra candramās tirate dīrgham ayuḥ || 10.85.19

sukiṃśukaṃ śalmaliṃ viśvarūpaṃ hiraṇyavarṇaṃ suvṛtaṃ sucakram |
ā roha sūrye amṛtasya lokaṃ syonaṃ patye vahatuṃ kṛṇuṣva || 10.85.20

He, born afresh, is new and new for ever ensign of days he goes before the Mornings
Coming, he orders f6r the Gods their portion. The Moon prolongs the days of our existence. 10.85.19

Mount this, all-shaped, gold-hued, with strong wheels, fashioned of Kimsuka and Salmali, light-rolling,
Bound for the world of life immortal, Sūrya: make for thy lord a happy bridal journey. 10.85.20

The Moon is referred to as born afresh and new forever, navo-navo bhavati jāyamāno - a direct reference to the fact that the moon is born afresh every time there's a New Moon.

The Moon is also referred to as ahnāṃ ketu - the ensign or the leader of days. A leader carries the ensign or the flag and marches ahead and all his people follow him. So an ensign of the days may refer to first of the days or rather the beginning of the year. In the same verse it's mentioned that the Moon prolongs the days - which may refer to the longer days of summer. So the complete verse may refer to a beginning of year in the summer.

The verses below throw some more light on the time of the year when Surya gets married.

ano manasmayaṃ sūryārohat prayati patim || 10.85.12

sūryāyā vahatuḥ prāgāt savitā yam avāsṛjat |
aghāsu hanyante gāvo arjunyoḥ pari uhyate || 10.85.13

Sūrya, proceeding to her Lord, mounted a spirit-fashioried car. 10.85.12

The bridal pomp of Sūrya, which Savitar started, moved along.
In Magha days are oxen slain, in Arjuris they wed the bride. 10.85.13

In the above verses it's said that Surya is proceeding to her Lord, pati, on a spirited chariot, manasmaya. Her bridal procession, vahatu, that was started by Savitri, is moving along with her. It's also mentioned that before her marriage the oxen were slain on a Magha (agha) day and finally she is married on a Phalguni (Arjuni) day. This last line is very important for us as this has tremendous historical value.

Firstly, it speaks about a tradition that's still a part of any Hindu marriage. Till this day most Hindu marriages are preceded by an equally grand engagement ceremony. Slaying of oxen is indicative of the grandeur of such an event. A thing to be noted here is that slaying oxen, which indicates beef eating, seems to be a popular thing during the Rig Vedic times.

Next, it's mentioned that the engagement happens on a Magha day. It refers to a time of month when the Sun is in the Magha asterism, nakshatra. It's also mentioned that the actual marriage happens on a Phalguni day which refers to a month when Sun is in Phalguni nakshatra.

We've seen earlier that the Surya's bridal is a euphemism for a new year, a new beginning of a journey. In all ancient civilizations and cultures a new year is always reckoned with one of the four cardinal points - the two equinoxes and the two solstices. Even today many new years begin on either of these four days. The Nauroz of the Persians fall on Spring Equinox. The new year of the Kalash people begin on a winter solstice. Tilak and Jacobi find reasons to believe the new year begins on a summer solstice during early Rig Vedic period. The Frog Hymn below further corroborates to a summer new year.

devahitiṃ jugupur dvādaśasya ṛtuṃ naro na pra minanti ete |
saṃvatsare prāvṛṣi āgatāyāṃ taptā gharmā aśnuvate visargam || 7.103.09

They keep the twelve month's God-appointed order, and never do the men neglect the season.
Soon as the Rain-time in the year returneth, these who were heated kettles gain their freedom. 7.103.09

It says that the frogs preserve the sacred order, the God appointed order of the twelfth, devahitiṃ dvādaśasya. Men never forget this important season when the rains, prāvṛṣi, return after a year and when the hot glow, tapta gharma, of the sun finds its end, visargam. Here the word twelfth is very important. It refers to that time of the year when rains come, when frogs croak and when the hot summer comes to an end. This word twelfth here can be taken as an ordinal, the twelfth month. This makes sense because it's also mentioned that the frogs maintain the order of the twelfth, which can't be anything other than the year, the order of the twelve months. The cyclic order of a year can be preserved only when the origin is identified and this twelfth month is nothing but the origin. So this means that this hymn actually points to the twelfth month or the beginning of a new year when the hot summer ends and the rains appear. If we assume that a new year can begin either on a solstice or an equinox then this actually points to the summer solstice.

At present (2000 AD) sun appears in Mrigashira on summer solstice and in Uttara Bhadrapada on a spring equinox. This corresponds to Taurus (since Dec 1989 AD) in summer solstice and Pisces (since 67 BC) in spring equinox. If we consider that a Phalguni day, when Surya gets married, is actually a Summer Solstice then it points to a date that's around 3000BC. That's due to a phenomenon called Precession of Equinoxes, which is a very important tool for historians to ascertain ancient dates.

Precession is a phenomenon where the earth spins like a top with its axis moving in such a way that the locus of its poles is a circle, as shown in the figure below. The axis makes a full circle in roughly 26000 years.

Due to this phenomenon the North Pole points to different polestars, all placed in a circle, at different points of time and points to the same star again after 26000 years. Similarly the sun moves from from onenakshatra to another on solstices and equinoxes and returns to the same nakshatra after 26000 years. As there are 27 nakshatra it means that the sun stays in one nakshatra for close to 1000 years on an equinox or solstice.

The two figures below show the location of sun in Spring Equinox and Summer solstice in 2000 and 3000 BC.

It can be seen that sun was in Phalguni in 3000 BC.

Hence the reference to Surya's marriage on a Phalguni day actually points to 3000 BC when sun was in Phalguni on the new year or summer solstice.

But we know that the Rig Veda was not written before 1500 BC. So the question may arise how such an ancient date is referred in Rig Veda. It's possible that the Rig Vedic people remembers a much older phenomenon from a much older period when the Proto Indo Iranian peoples, the predecessors of the Rig Vedic Aryans, were not yet separated from the Proto Indo Europeans. Later the Aryans did align the reckoning of their years with respect to the current position of sun. Later Vedic texts mention Kritiika as the position of sun on a spring equinox. This corresponds, as we've seen, to a date around 2000 BC and that's very much within the time line of Rig Veda. For a long time Krittika was considered as the startingnakshatra as new year began from spring equinox when sun was in Krittika.

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