The following article on Poet in Vedic Aesthetics is a continuation from Part 101 | Previous article, do read the previous article before continuing here. The discrepancy between the old and the new selves is quite conspicuous and Dirghatamas as a poet shrugs off his old self but cannot explain the dynamics of this transformation. Indeed the split in the poet’s personality is multi directional. It is to the ultimate truths of the world that the personality of the poet is directed. This runs counter to the personality of the ordinary man that gravitates towards the prosaic order of the extraneous world – the world that is too much with us, getting and spending. Here the double personality in Dirghatamas is a case in point. He uses both the singular and the dual number while speaking of himself. Very clearly, the riks or the syllables of poetry are the supreme abode of language. The Atharvanic poet acts as the purohita (priest) of the kings as he wrestles against the messengers of Yama who have come to take away the life of a person, declaring himself as brahmacharin of Mrityu. In contrast to the ordinary language that relates itself to the objects of this experienced world, the language of poetry establishes itself as the real language where the gods can find their refulgent mansion – ‘ the undying syllable of the song is the final abode where all the gods have taken their seat’.(l.l64.39)(O’ Flaherty 1994:80) What follows from it is the importance of understanding the syllables – an understanding that sustains the relation between language of poetry and the presence of god therein. Also, what finds a durable niche is the fact that through the understanding of poetry man can achieve a communion with the gods. It must be mentioned that the poet with the gift of imagination (pratibha) shares an aesthetic sensibility with the ideal critic (sahridaya or rasika).
Importantly, in Dirghatamas the critic who understands the essence of poetry, and the creator called poet, lose all distinctions. Dirghatamas juxtaposes two concepts ksara and aksara. The word ksara means what sheds down and the word aksara means what cannot be shed or what is indestructible. The implication of the contrast is what obtains between the empirical and the transcendent or between that what is conditioned and that what is unconditioned. The world beyond can only be spoken of by language. The world of experience is rooted in or allied with the transcendent. When Wordsworth in his great poem “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” speaks of the unknown modes of being he was thinking what had ab-eady been thought by Dirghatamas so long back.
‘Speech was divided into four parts that the inspired priests know. Three parts, hidden in deep secret, humans do not stir into action; the fourth part of speech is what men speak.’ (1.164.45 (O’Flaherty 1994:80)
So it is the poet who with the benison of imagination (kavi pratibha) has free access to all the four quarters. He wields language in such a way that ‘the unknown modes of being’ are made known. (One can profitably refer to the Agni Purana which maintains that words attain preeminence in science [sastra], meaning in epic history [Itihasa] and suggestion in poetry. In Dhvani Kavya [DhvanyaIoka] we find that the apparent meaning delightfully eases into another territory of meaning and manifests that [other suggested ) sense. Interestingly enough, Tagore hints at this truth in a line of his song: adhara madhuri dharaci chanda bandhane – I have held the ineffable beauty or charm in the prison house of rhythm.) The Vedic poet commands this ‘zone’ of meaning to reveal the innate beauty beyond the ambience of logical discourse.
One of Dirghatama’s major poems is addressed to. his Muse, the river goddess Sarasvati.( It may be noted that there is only one Muse in Indian theory of poetry as distinguished from the nine Muses of the Greeks) The word Sarasvati denoted a river and connoted a goddess. The river is spoken of in the Vedas as the greatest of the rivers and also as the greatest of the mothers: nanditame, ambetame. Sarasvati as a goddess is the apotheosis of a river held in high esteem by the Vedic people. As a goddess she incarnates the sacred divine knowledge, Brahmavidya swarupini. She is the fountainhead of all faculties (mental and spiritual), the purifier and bestower of pure reason, the recompenser of worship and is the source of inspiration and accomplishment for all our benevolent acts. She sets in motion all the energies of the soul and intellect. She imparts deep knowledge to all who are seekers of truth. It was in the valley of the river Saraswati that the Aryan civilization had originated and flourished in India. In the poem the poet is the child of Saraswati. She is thought of as a mother who nurses the poet on her breast : ‘Your inexhaustible breast, Sarasvati that flows with the food of life, that you use to nourish all that one could wish for, freely giving treasure and wealth and beautiful gifts – bring that here for us to suck’.(1.164.49) (O’Flaherty 1994:81). It is implied that what a poet can give to a man is what a mother gives to a baby. But the difference is important for us to note. The milk available in the mother’s breast is only for a particular period of time; but the milk from Saraswati’s breast is everlasting. It keeps on nourishing the poet unconditionally.
One has to admit that the mysticism, symbolism, and the enigma of the poem baffle the modem reader with a near impenetrable density. But what cannot be disclaimed is the fact that the poem is a work of high quality dappled with exquisite images evincing a deft handling of language. It is crowned by a laudable artistic unity achieved through a remarkable commingling of contrasts. The line of argument cannot be strengthened without an adequate discussion of Brihaspati (also known by the appellation of Brahmanaspati meaning lord of poetry). He is also called pathikrt, ‘path preparer’ (the Kavinam Kavih). He was a creation and at the same time a personification of the priestly activity, to which later priestly poets ascribed the deeds of might for which formerly other gods, notably Indra, were praised.
He is the harbinger of joy for the gods and men and through his wisdom one can obtain a share in the sacrifice. He is the Pontifex, the preparer of the way to the heights of heaven. There is a mention of poetry as a very prominent feature in him. Symbolically it is said that he has seven mouths and is endowed with seven songs. All though in the Atharva Veda, the poet can be the divine kavi where Agni (5.12.1; 8.3.20; 19.4,6), Bhumi (12.1.63), Vena (5.1.6) Vamna (5.13.1), Savitri (7.14.1) Rohita (13J.1I) are omniscient and possessed with extraordinary abilities. Their skill is in the creation of the universe – devasya kavyam – separately categorized from their human counterpart. It can be convincingly argued that Brihaspati is essentially a man who was deified on account of his superior talents and achievements. Here one may note that deification of poets is a matter well known to aestheticians. (Jayadeva, the author of Gitagovinda, is looked upon by the Vaisnavas as the incarnation of the finit of Krishna.) If we go back in history we shall find that the poet and the priest were united originally in the same person, which means that the poet was he who was conscious of the world of spirit as well as that of sense, and was the ambassador of the gods to men. This was his highest function and this is the reason for giving him the name of ‘seer’. Thus Brihaspati combines the dual identity of a god and a singer (divine singer). We should also note that the concept of the poet as a divine singer is a happy person. The ‘happiness’ of the poet is related to ‘immortality’ – a state devoid of existential anguish or ennui.
And this happiness emerges out of a deliverance from the murky quarters of ignorance and immortality is conjoined to the attainment of wisdom. Atharvana, as the preeminent poet in Atharva Vecki has a direct correspondence with Varuna who bestowed a speckled cow to him. This is kavita -sakti, the poetic inspiration. When Atharvan was asked what made him the poet, he responded confidently saying that his omniscience made him know everything that is created. Kavya (poetry) has made him profound in intelligence and seems to suggest that the go (cow) presented to him is nothing but the kavitva-sakti. So poet-hood is a spiritual achievement. Interestingly Yama, who in the later mythologies became the lord of Death, is described in the Rig Veda as the pathfinder to immortality. Indeed the discovery of the Path has come in the company of the poets. The journey to illumination cannot be completed in the sole capacity of a powerful rex but by being a part of the community of the poets. Also, being endeared to poetry, the destination may be reached. When a formidable mier like Yama lovingly seeks the realm of poetry and song, finds illumination in the camaraderie of poets, and associates himself with the valiant exploits of Indra, the question of effeminacy of the Vedic poets is easily ruled out. Rather a unique combination of power and wisdom emerges. The heroism suggested here cannot border on barbarism but has beauty about it for the Vedic civilisation demands an extraordinary intrepidity to break through the frontiers of darkness and evil to savour a triumph which flowers into poetry. So for the harmony and security of a civilisation, the dual functions of wisdom and power assume mammoth significance.
When language enters into a true poet it transforms itself into true poetry called mantra or a brahman. Poetry in Atharva Veda is referred to as Manisa, Samsa Mati (prayer) or Gatha and Gir (song). It is the Uktha (song) to which Agni responds and Stotra (song of praise) for which Varuna blessed Atharvan. Indra comes to the poet owing to his dhi (prayer) as also the Asvins render assistance to him. Language in the wondrous hands of the poet assumes an unusual and deviant form as the poet loses his status of a mere composer and escalates to the pedestal of a seer of mantra and is a brahmana as well. The beauty inherent in the language of poetry requires the genius of a poet to manifest itself In Agni’s fashioning of the hymns of Angiras we find the word kip that suggests an artistic design in poetry. Here one may mention the forging of the joints of the chariot by Rbhus who use their physical adroitness to join the parts of the chariot much
in the same way the kavi fashions out the Kavya Sarira. Like the ploughman who levels the deep furrows and dishevelled earth, the kavi smoothens the rough edges of language
and with choice of words, selection and arrangement (electio, indicium, dispositio) beautifies the whole Kavi-vakya.
Inspired with poetry I have fashioned this hymn of praise for you whose very nature is power, as the skilled artist fashions a chariot. (Rig Veda 5.2.11) (OTlaherty 1994:103)
In Sanskrit poetics, Dandin uses the term Atisayokti, the term and concept being derived from Bhamaha. Atisaya or Adbhuta is wonder and he refers to the wonderful ‘transmutation’ by which language blooms into poetry when handled by the creative genius of the poet. It is only the poet who can put his fingers on the inner tissues of language and mine the hidden wealth. Language can be a burden for those to whom the innate beauty remains hidden. Brihaspati believes that the person who has realised the true beauty of poetic language and has successfully ferreted beauty out is well protected. So a true poet or rishi can consider himself secure for poetry has endowed him with the power and strength to ward off all perils and stub out all evils. The difference in the matter of inner wealth is what finds an implicit elucidation in the difference between the lakes. One of the lakes have water rising only up to the chest while the other can have sufficient water for a complete bath. Water exists in all; but the difference is in depth. Some pry into the inner resources of language but cannot exhaust the limits of it; the true poet comprehends the meaning in totality and surfaces with the entire chest of beauty. Also, the difference lies in the ‘mobility’ of the mind. Added to that is the insight into the truth and an outstanding intellectual ability that combines religion, philosophy, science, and art. This catapults the poet to the elevated station of a leader of a nation.
In fact presentation of good poetry is accompanied by some music and good poetry recited in an assembly adds to the development of art. In this regard beauty and rhythm can be aligned for it is through the rhythmic corridors of language that beauty can come to the fore. Brihaspati says that we sing about the origin of the gods in the form of a poem. This is a very significant statement. Sri Aurobindo could be said to have been looking back to Brihaspati’s declaration when he christens Book I of his Savitri as the Book of Beginnings: ‘It was the hour before the Gods awake’.(Aurobindo’s 1996) Brihaspati then blows out the birth of the gods. This act of blowing out the birth of the gods is imaged by a simile: a smith blows the wind through the bellow. Poetic creation is suggested to be creating de novo , making there arise what is from what was not. The simile is significant for the fact that Brihaspati is not prepared to make any distinction between craft and the finer art. This should remind one of Michelangelo who also did not make such distinction. Also one should not forget the simile of weaving. Indeed the distinction has gained currency since Kant’s Critique of Judgement and is celebrated by Hegel in his Lectures on Fine Arts. We may further consider the simile and march into some interesting areas. Brihaspati as a poet, is taking up the philosophical concepts of Being and Non-Being. If Being comes out of Non-Being by the miracle of the poet’s creation then it must be rationally incomprehensible. The alleged rational incomprehensibility is the miracle of creation. The wind does not appear to be there before the smith’s blowing; it comes into being when the smith blows his bellows. The gods who did not appear to be in existence are brought into being by the power of Brihaspati. He is the great poet singing about the truths of the world. This brings light to humanity which was concealed under the cloud of ignorance. Shall we not take Brihaspati as suggesting further that in bringing the gods into existence, by singing about them, he is creating himself as well? Poetry creates the poet along with the beings he sang about.
The poet then is the creature who is free; no causal explanation can tell why someone is a poet. His freedom may be an enigma but it is nonetheless a fact. His wisdom or illumination comes from within; the poet evolves from within. The inward vision which Patanjali enunciates finds a perpetual flow of pure consciousness that incarnate sound and meaning. It is the poet who knows the secret of speech and thus visualises Brahman, the ultimate reality. This brahman is the highest principle, the inner protection and the poet speaks of it with power and unites with its magical potency. This inwardness of the mystery of language convinced Bhartrihari (Vakya Padiya) to seek the final junction of beatitude. It is with the transformation of language that the world begins to evolve. The doctrine of Sabda Brahman or language as Brahman goes back to the system of thought represented by a poem of Brihaspati in the Rig Veda. Throughout the Vedic literature the word brahmana in the neuter gender means the poetry of the Vedas and in the masculine it means the poet. It is only in the Upanishad of the later times that the word came to denote the highest truth or Reality or the Absolute. The other synonyms of the English word poet that occur in the Rig Veda besides brahmana are Kavi and Vipra. (also Karu, Jaritr, Grnat, Stuvat, Gayat, and Stotr in the Atharva Veda) All these words have mystico-cognitive connotations.
Historical imagination is Janus faced. It looks back and it also looks up to the future. As-yet and the not-yet are both encompassed by the imagination. As a matter of fact, in dealing with the Vedas we have to take recourse to reconstruction or hermeneutics. Here the attempt has been made to ideate the concept of the poet in the Rig Veda form a two fold source. First, the profound poetic quality of most of the riks cannot be doubted. The Nasadiya Sukta may be linguistically simple but is conceptually provocative. Despite the mosaic of answerable questions, perplexing challenges and paradoxes, the whirligig of time has failed to attenuate a fraction of the beauty of the creation hymn. Max Muller in quoting this sukta in Six Systems of Indian Philosophy appropriately comments that language blushes at itself in this composition. The beauty of Usa is not Time’s fool; it is unimpeachable. The myth of the Urbashi and her fugitive charm have found handsome adoration in Kalidasa. Also Rabindranath Tagore and Dinkar are not far behind. Sri Aurobindo composed a drama on her. It is interesting to note that as Dirghatamas, Brhaspati, Sunahsepa, Kanva, Kutsa, Usana, Arti, Bhrgu, Rbhus, Atharvan, Angiras, Bharadvaja are poets so also Agni, Indra and Varuna are honoured as poets. This interchange of the person of the poet and god is a pointer to the basic truth about poetry – the truth about the divine quality of poetic speech. Indeed many a time the poets have announced themselves: aham kavin Usana pasyatauma (Rig Veda, 4.26.1) – 1 am the poet Usana, behold me. (Kavinam Usana Kavin; the Gita 10.37 looks back to the Vedas)
Secondly, we have seen poetry as inextricably welded with divinity and language has been apotheosised (vacdevi, the goddess of speech). The Vedic people looked at nature as the poetry of gods – devasyakavyam which does not undergo mutation – namamar na jirjati. That the poet can accompany the gods is a thing that has been surfacing itself in the cultural history of India and elsewhere in the world. The latest of the singers along this line is Rabindranath Tagore in his poem ‘Tapobhanga” (“The Awakening of Siva”). The last two verses tell us that the archetypal poet is a member of Siva and Uma’s wedding procession celebrating the eternal wedding of love with truth. In banishing all evil spirits to a dark hole the poet in the Rig Veda seizes the opportunity to heap evil on the head of the rival priest, a ‘sorcerer’ (7.104). (Similar reference exists in the Atharva Veda where the evil spirits run away at the sight of the Atharvanic poet.)
The poet’s special gift to create or his role of being a trans visionary with a creative insight may be misinterpreted by being compared to the awesome wielding of the magician’s wand. But his special faculty cannot be connived and his luminous status is thoroughly established. Only the poet with his extraordinary ability has access to that ‘sweet fruit’ and perceives the ‘beloved bird’.
‘The birds that eat honey nest and brood on that tree on whose tip, they say, is the sweet fruit. No one who does not know the father eats that.'(1.164.22) ( 0″Flaherty 1994:78)
Here the father is the wisdom. It may be mentioned that the corresponding faculties for Truth-consciousness are dristi, sniti, viveka, the direct vision of truth, the direct hearing of its word, the direct discrimination of the right. Whosoever is in possession of this Truth-consciousness or open to the action of these faculties is the rishi or Kavi, sage or seer. So the riddle of sacrifice (Asya Vamasyd), a long and complex hymn whose meaning remains primarily hidden in labyrinthine symbolism, is only known to the poet. He knows the answers to the questions that are asked in the hymn. He commands a power that transcends all limit and privacy. A true poet is said to be a rishi or voyajit as Rimbaud wanted to become.
Je dis qu’ilfaut etre voyant, se faire voyant
I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer. (Bernard 1962:10)
With a mind pouring the light, the rishi can see the inner experience and Dirghatamas is proud to belong to that category. Incidentally he was born blind. His name means ‘one in long darkness’. This darkness can refer to the umbra of ignorance or the lack of wisdom or the want of insight into the mysteries of the universe. Dirghatamas, like the philosopher in Plato’s Republic, emerges from the cave and looks up at the sun, the source of light. He reminds us of the celebrated prayer in the Upanishad to lead the blind from darkness to light, from death to immortality. With Darshana (vision), Vamana (the power of objectification) and Pratibha (the creative genius), the poet is the person to whom the,prayer is granted.
The poet’s fashioned seven boundaries; he who was trapped went to only one of them. The pillar of life’s vigour, he stands in the nest of the Highest, among the supports at the end of the paths. (Rig Veda 10.5.6) (O’Flaherty 1994; 118)