Atharvana VedaKathopanishadMundaka Upanishad

Poet in the Vedic Aesthetics | 101

Mathomathis would like to give a gist on the Poetry aspects of the Vedic system and few quotes of the rig veda as well. The remarkable truth about the Indian civilization is that it has had its beginning in poetry. The incipient stages in the establishment of the civilization had the potent contribution of the poets. And through the ritualistic pattern the Vedic poets regulated the life of the community and through poetry lent a shape to the Indian culture. It must be noted that till now hardly anything that is solemn and serious begins in India without singing a song and to adapt a Tennysonian phrase to our purpose, the Vedas sang the subcontinent into a nation. Just as the Greek tragedy had its origin in the religious ceremonials, in similar fashion and perhaps, more intimately, singing a song and reciting new poetical compositions were parts of the community rituals. The rituals bound the members of the community together and as such ritual was religion. Etymologically, the word religion is derived from the Latin religare which means to bind together. For the Vedic man rituals and poetry were close companions; each complemented the other. It may be difficult to find an example of ‘pure poetry’ in the Rig Veda since the atmosphere of ritualism pervades the poems, so much so that poetry formed an integral part of the rituals. So the social dimension of poetry cannot be confuted. The poet was socially committed. He was not lonely, idiosyncratic or aberrant as our modem poets are. He manifested a profound concern for human destiny and communication for him never posed a problem. He could engineer an admirable unification of the factors of rituals of community, poetry, and song as art forms, and philosophy that encompassed the grave subject of the origin of the world and man’s relation to it. We are reminded of a remark of Pierre-Simon Ballanche: ‘It is always a religious truth that the poet has to transmit. Religion and poetry are but one and the same. The poet is the priest’ (Furst 1980:78) Such a unique blend formed the quiddity of the Vedic culture. Indeed it was a large enough task that cannot be expected of a modem poet. But it must not be supposed that all the poets of the Rig Veda were cast in the same mold and their poetry was monolithic. Diverse philosophical thinking such as skepticism, agnosticism, pantheism have been at work behind the poet’s speech.

In fact the Vedic poets thrived in and were nurtured by a philosophical environment. Heraclitus, who breathed his thoughts into his fragmentary poems in the company of the argumentative Plato and Aristotle, may amaze us but a Brihaspati or a Dirghatamas need not have the similar impact. In the context of the Rig Veda there is a close relation between philosophy and poetry. For a student of culture it is a point worth noticing that a philosopher in the Vedas is a poet. The truth in man is acknowledged when it sees the light of day through the vehicle of poetic speech. So truth needs the body of poetry to express itself. The philosophy in the Vedas is not epistemology or metaphysics alone, it is the philosophy of language and a philosophy of poetry as well. Also the Rig Veda is the glorious repository of high-quality poetry and canons of literary criticism of stupendous merit..The claim may sound tall but it is hardly so, for the statement of the claim is fully substantial. For an example we may refer to Eliot’s distinction between the man who suffers and the man who creates which was anticipated thousands of years ago by the imagery of the two birds perched on the same tree; one busies itself in pecking about grains and fruits while the other simply looks on disinterestedly.

(‘Two birds, friends joined together clutch the same tree. One of them eats the fruit; the other looks on without eating’. 1.164.20 O’Flaherty 1994:78. The metaphor of the two birds occur in the Atharva veda IX,ix,20, Mundaka Upanishad in,I,l, Kathopanishad, VI,1, Gita XV,] and interestingly enough it appears in Rabindranath Tagore’s poem “Dui Pakhi”[“Two Birds”])

So art, religion; literature, and philosophy formed the potent co-ordinates in the genius of India. The commingling of intellect and emotion in man is instrumental to his complete satisfaction and importantly his satisfaction is in the satisfaction of all the elements. This forms a significant sector in the domain of the Vedic poet’s philosophy. We may now turn to Dirghatamas who was a stalwart poet and one of the profoundest philosophers of the Vedas. He has twenty-five poems to his credit in the Rig Veda collection. They are full of philosophy and abound in mysticism and symbolism. The Vedic people had the desired familiarity with the set of symbols quite unlike the modem reader who is baffled by the jumble of paradoxes and the sinuous matrix of symbols. It must be remembered that Dirghatamas recited his poems before a gathering of learned listeners. In one of his verses, Dirghatamas enquirers about the existence of any person who has seen the creation of the world. He thus makes us confront the pregnant relation that exists between the mysterious basic universe and the evolved world of experience.

It is in this knowledge that real wisdom resides and the knowledge of the basic universe is achieved through a vision. The wise poets explore their hearts and by dint of their power of intuition come to know a lot about the stages of origination. ‘Poets seeking in then- heart with wisdom found the bond of existence in non-existence’.(10.129.4 O’ FIaherty 1994:25) Remarkably enough, it is only the power of the language of the poet that can stir the hidden universe to break forth with a meaning. If one can understand the language of the poet then he can also understand the mystery of the universe and Dirghatamas appears to suggest that it is the poets who comprehend the mystery.(It reminds us of Novalis for whom the poet and the priest are one. ‘Only an artist can divine the meaning of life.’ Furst 1980:70.) Sunahsepa, one of the prominent Vedic poets, finds himself in bondage and embarks on a self-exploration to discover the illumination that would provide him with the clue to the mystery of the world. In fact light, wisdom, freedom, and poetry form the pith of Sunahsepa’s philosophy. The state of ‘freedom’ emboldens him to behold his father and mother (wisdom and poetry). Interestingly, it is the unique ‘vision’ that begets wisdom, the power that enables our inner faculties to see through the apparent opacity and understand the true law of things. ‘Let him who really knows proclaim here the hidden place of that beloved bird.’ (1.164.70′ Flaherty 1994:76) The ‘beloved bird’ can come to mean truth or illumination that is concealed from the ordinary view. It is only the poet who by an ‘inner height’ discerns the position of the bird. So, ‘unknowing, ignorant, I ask for knowledge about it from the poets who know’. (1.164.6 ibid) The omniscient intellect enables them to grasp the Truth of the universe. There is the emphasis on yatu – vidya and it may be observed that the poets in Atharva Veda use the root vid about two hundred and fifty times, cit about thirty five times and jna about eighty times in the sense to know and drs about eighty times in the sense to see, to observe. They have the ability to realize the forces that guide nature’s operations and with this knowledge they want to control and command them. It may be mentioned in this context that Dadhyane, a very important poet of the pre – rigvedic times had the wisdom about madhu or honey – Madhu-vidya or knowledge of the great mystery.

Thus have I, an illumined sage, by my thoughts and utterances spoken to thee, who knowest, O Fire, O Creator, secret words of guidance, seer wisdom that speak out their sense to the seer. (Vamadeva’s hymns, IV, 3.16 Aurobindo 1991:174)

So the seer is expected to look beyond the apparent reality and bring the ‘secret’ to light by the dint of his wisdom. Indeed the illumined rishi has access to the secret words – ninya vacamsi and possesses the wisdom to utter the hidden meaning – kayyani kavaye nivacana. And Dirghatamas feels that the riks exist in a supreme ether, imperishable and immutable in which all the gods are seated. He adds ‘One who knows not That what shall he do with the Rik? -1.164.39 (6) The poets have spread the seven threads and they ask him to weave them into a cloth. (‘An ignorant fool, I ask in my mind about the hidden footprints of the gods. Over the young calf the poets stretched out seven threads to weave.’ (1.164.5) (O’Flaherty 1994:76) Herein we find the seed of the postmodern critical theories where the poem, exists as a text and nothing else. There are two words in one of the verses of Brihaspati: sirih and tanira. The word (antra is related to tantu, and tantu means thread and the word sirih must be the accusative plural of siri. Either they spin cotton into yam or weave clothes out of yam. They put the words lengthwise and crosswise. The word text has its origin in the art of weaving. Just as a piece of cloth has its texture so is the poem a text woven out of different strands of thought. It has been suggested that the seven threads given to Dirghatamas to weave were the poetry of the earlier poets. The number seven is mystical. The Vedas speak of the symbolism of seven sisters singing in chorus. There is also a reference to the weaving of the cloth in the poem of another Vedic poet Brihaspati. The Kavis in Atharva Veda fashion seven boundaries (5.1.6) being wise and deft. They may be called Rsabha having thousand eyes. They are tapasvins and hence they protect Surya (18.2.18)

It is worth noting that speech becomes identified with the creator and the absolute godhead – ‘I am the one who blows like the wind, embracing all creatures’ (10.125.8) O’ Fiaherty 1994:63). But speech who knows all does not move all. The love of speech is lavished on the poet- ‘whom I love I make awesome; I make him a sage, a wise man, a Brahmin'(l 0.125.5) (ibid). Thus wisdom is bestowed which gets wedded to speech to give birth to poetry. Wisdom is the father and language is the mother. Timidity could be the initial reaction but an aesthetic relish is what awaits the ripening of the marriage. ‘The mother gave the father a share in accordance with the Order, for at the beginning she embraced him with mind and heart. Recoiling, she was pierced and flowed with the seed of the embryo. The reverent came to praise.'(1.164.8) (76) Here the seed of the embryo is the poetic composition. Again, ‘The mother was harnessed to the chariot pole of the priest’s cow; the embryo remained within the cowpens. The calf lowed and looked for the many colored cow on the three stages of the journey.’ (1.164.9)(ibid) The cow is the language and poetry takes its birth from the union of language and wisdom which is meant by the word calf It may be observed that the word vacas (speech, spell) is used more often than vac. It is the speech-ability of the poet (4.4.2, 1.29.5) that has its own inherent power, having the voice of the bull and the intensity of the thunder. The vacas of the poet (conferred by Varuna) stubs out all poison (5.13.1), decimates the enemy (5.23.2) and most often the vices (7.78.3). By vac the poet slugs it out with the messengers of death and removes all yaksma (6.85.2).

In a poem of Brihaspati language is spoken of as revealing her charms like a wife wearing fine robes (‘One who looked did not see speech, and another who listens does not hear it. It reveals itself to someone as a loving wife, beautifully dressed, reveals her body to her husband.’ 10.71.4 O’ Flahertyl994:61) This metaphor is basic to the theory of the language of poetry that was subsequently developed in India by such thinkers as Abhinava Gupta and Ananda Vardhana . This theory would reject Mallarme’s dictum that poetry is written with words and not with ideas. What Brihaspati says in his poem and what later on was canonised by Abhinava Gupta is the view that meaning is incarnate in the language of poetry. Language is the body while meaning is the soul. Neither of these can be dissociated from the other. This view has found its paradigmatic expression in the opening verse of Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsa (l.I)

vagarthav iva samprktau … jagatahpitarau vatide
Inter-welded as words and meaning
Parvati and the Lord of the Lords (Brough 1968:51)

As a matter of fact, Brihaspati has strongly rooted for the phenomenon of poetry being the offspring of language and wisdom. The world of forms bear reference to the language and in the process of becoming poetry, language with its innate malleability, assumes diverse forms in relation to the various objects in the world. So what distinguishes the ordinary language from the language of poetry requires a careful introspection.

There is one absolute language, vak, and on no account can the poet’s language be cut off from it. In the case of ordinary language the meaning is conventional or stratified or used as a result of semantic habit. In case of poetry, language crosses the frontiers of conventional meaning and reaches out to the transcendent source of meaning. The thoughts of the poet cannot be communicated through propositional statements and the obliquity of poetry contributes to its aesthetic profundity. Poetry transcends the fixed contours of a linguistic construction and its meaning illuminates in a flash by meaning full sentence-units in Bhartrihari’s philosophy of Sanskrit grammar. This brings to the fore the doctrine of suggestion (dhvani). (Dhvani is the principle which is derived by Anandavardhana. Every analysable linguistic element in poetry is vyanjaka or revealer in regard to rasa which must be regarded ipso facto as vyangya or ‘revealed’ par excellence. It is the poet who comprehends the aesthetic suggestivity and can fathom the multi- layered symbolism to infuse the intended rasa. Also Kuntaka’s Vakroktijivita should not go unmentioned. Vakrokti is an unusual statement, more elevated, ornamented and appealing than our ordinary language which is fit enough to make its presence felt in the domain of poetry. Nilakantha Dikshita calls it Vinyasa Visesha in Siva Lilamava. Ruyyaka uses the term Praudhokti in Alamkara Sarvasva.) Indeed the Vedic poet sees through the ordinary usage and gets the suggested meaning iyyanjana) incarnate in the language. It is owing to this power that the poet enjoys a special position in the Vedic sociology.

I Ching makes us aware of the ‘right’ man who takes up the words and ponders their meaning under the fixed rules that reveal themselves. It is to the right man that the meaning manifests itself Here the ‘right’ man could be the poet or the man with the vision of truth and wisdom. He is the one who knows how to stretch the thread and weave the cloth; he will speak the right words. He who understands this is the guardian of immortality; (6.9.3) (O’Tlaherty 1994:116) Thus it is only the ‘inspired’ poets who know how to harness the plough and stretch the yokes on either side (to fashion the composition with deftness and delicacy). By this they win favour among gods. Moreover, Dirghatamas draws a distinction between those who have eyes to see (endowed with wisdom) and those who are blind (people who understand nothing). Precisely, the real sight is the sight of the poet. It is further maintained that those who possess wisdom attain immortality. It appears from Dirghatamas’s manner of speaking that wisdom consists in expressing the truth in appropriate metres. Also it is essential to remain cognizant about the proper occasion for the different metres. The concept of metre is so important an affair that the holiest of truths is taken to be expressed in Gayatri metre. Poetry has different metres and one should know what metre is to be resorted to for a particular song.

With the Gayatri foot they fashion a hymn; with the hymn, a chant; vwth the Tristubh foot a strophe; with the strophe of two feet or four feet they fashion a speech. With the syllable they fashion the seven tones. (1.164.24) (O’Flaherty 1994:78).

Even the Atharvanic hymns are bound by metres. Arka (a song) is measured by Gayatri metre and in fact the riks have similar metre and from these riks the samans are fashioned. The poets sing arka (arkam abhyarcanti, 13.I.13),The true poet knows what poetry is and by knowing the truth turns immortal. The question as regards the relation between the true poet and immortality remains. The question would surface since ‘wisdom’ has become a suspect word in today’s atmosphere. Eliot has been hesitant in admitting that Goethe is a great poet though he admits that Goethe is a sage. This Eliotian hesitation is symptomatic of the hour of disbelief. But for the Vedic man nothing is less than the loss of wisdom. Here, wisdom cannot be a mere intellectual equipment. In fact poetic language becomes the glorious medium for ‘truth’ to express itself and is the sole manner by which immortality is achieved. This is the Vedic philosophy which Dirghatamas represents where to be a poet is the highest goal and with poethood comes bliss and immutability. Also the Angu-ases are said to have discovered ‘light’. By being associated with the exploits of Indra in the release of the cows after killing Vala, the Angirases have released ‘light’. In fact Yama who found the Path achieved wisdom in the company of the Angirases. Their ‘light’, Yama’s Path and Manu’s system of moral life leave its synergistic impact on the unification of civilization.

Here we may make an effort to understand the reasons that make a true poet know what metre will suit a particular kind of poetry. Dirghatamas gives a description of the metres and their application. He says that the Gayatri metre is related to the three worlds and is not confined to any region and for this reason it has a greatness of its own. Dirghatamas highlights the contrast between the condition of the poet and the condition of the common man. In the poet there is something that is externally seen and at the same time there is something which resides inside him. It is the truth about him. What is external is what is in him common with the ordinary man. Quite unlike the common man there is something in the poet that runs briskly; it is his talent. The mind of the poet is compared with a fast-paced steed and the immortal spirit in the poet moves about with his own will power. Thus the poet combines two factors, the mortal and the immortal, and both form an integral part of his personality. Dirghatamas suggests that on becoming a poet he is blessed with a new parentage; he becomes the son of the heaven as father and of the earth as mother. With poetry appearing as the supreme expanse of the world, he settles confidently at the altar and proudly faces the abode of language. The rituals of which his poetic self is a vital ingredient reveal the world-force and the world activity. This is a pointer to aesthetic comprehensiveness in the Atharvanic poet. For him there is varcas (splendour) that takes into account the aesthetic charms of the earth – gandha, dour of the world (Prithvi) and ruchi, charm with its subtlety and refinement and the ugra, the warty or vulgar – in the same sweep. This is peculiarly the all comprehensive and the all encompassive self of the poet.

So Kavi is the man with prajnavat or dhyanavat, medha, and manisa. He is the kaantadarsin (loosely translated as trans-visionary) as suggested in Atharva Veda 19,53.1 possessed of prajna (understanding). Here dhira (wisdom) is related to medha (intellect). This medha is closely allied with tapas, indriya (the power of senses, 6.133.4), sraddha and diksa (19.64.1; 19.40.3). The medha in the kavi orders the thought process and regulates the flow of ideas, imparting the requisite artistic finality. In the true poet, medha flows unabated and the mind is without chidra (here it means the breach in comprehension or ideation). The poet is, thus, the medhavin or sumedhas. Further Dirghatamas is struck by amazement at the metamorphosed state in which he finds himself.

‘I do not know just what it is that I am like. I wander about concealed and wrapped In thought. When the first born of Order came to me , I won a share of this Speech. ( 1.164.37) (O’Faherty 1994:79)


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