DirghatamasRig VedaViswamitra Maharishi

The Poet and the Poetry in the Rigveda | 102 (Conclusion)

Mathomathis would like continue from the previous article. Users are advised to read the previous article, before proceeding further. In the following article we would like to start with Nature of Poetry.

Righteous and truthful: According to the poets of the Ṛigveda, the first and the foremost characteristic of a good poetry is its being righteous and in accordance with the cosmic law or Ṛta and it should contain and propagate the truth (satyam). Sage Dīrghatamāḥ directs his nicely flowing outpourings born of Ṛta towards god Agni (RV 1.141.1):Mathomathis - Poet and Poetry

Only the poetry which contains Ṛta lights up the Universe and the poets who compose it, shine in the world (7.7.6) :Mathomathis - Poet and Poetry

The hundredfold inexhaustible treasure of truth is the primeval source, the father, of poetry (RV 3.26.9):

Even the sun shines more brilliantly, if words full of Ṛta are addressed to it (10 .138.2):

The word sūnṛtam/śūnṛtā vāk also occurs in the Ṛigveda (and Atharvaveda) and is usually understood to be an antonym of anṛtam. As such it yields the meanings of ‘that which corresponds to Ṛta, as well as of ‘nice’ and ‘pleasing”. In RV 3.31.2 Indra is said to dispel adversities through sūnṛtā (vāk) combined with ṛta:

The shining goddess Uṣas is praised for attaining pleasing and beneficial speech (RV 1.92.7)

One of the frequent requests of a poet unto his deity is to bless him with sūnṛtā speech: so asmai sūnṛtāṃ duhe (AV 10.6.13)- Taking cue from such Vedic references, poet Bhavabhūti in his Uttararāmacaritam (5.31) remarks that a sūnṛtā Vāk is known to fulfill all desires of a human being:Mathomathis - Poet and PoetryNeeds inspiration from above :

The Ṛigvedic poet knows well that unless there is inspiration from above, poetry cannot take shape. No amount of mechanical effort would bring about good poetry. Therefore he prays gods, especially Brahmanaspati or Bṛihaspati (cf. RV. I. 18, the whole poem) to inspire him. Brihaspati not only inspires him but also reveals the first form of Vāc (perhaps paśyantī is meant, not parā) to him (RV 10.71.1):

Only then the best of the thoughts of the Ṛṣi, which is also beneficial to the world, comes out of the cave of his heart (10.71. 1cd):

In another hymn (2.33.6) the poet declares that god Rudra has inspired him (unmā mamand vriṣbho marutvān) after he requested him to do so with an emotionally charged conscience (tvakṣīyasā vayasā nādhamānam). In fact, the poet asks for the favour of god himself, whom he is going to praise, to inspire him. Sage Agastya prays Aśvins to gift him with honeyed speech in order to be able to compose a nice hymn in their praise (RV I. 184.4)

Poetry and visionary insight :

The Sūkta X.177 of the Ṛigveda deserves a special mention in this regards where this inner light of visionary insight is symbolically represented as Pataṅga which has the core meaning of “a flying object” and as such has later been used for a ‘bird’, ‘the sun’ or a ‘moth’. However in the present hymn it refers to the flight of poetic imagination. This ‘deity’ Pataṅga contains in himself the divinely inspired, shining speech which has its source in heaven where it is firmly established and well protected within the sphere of Ṛta (RV 10.177.2) :

“As soon as the vipaścits achieve this intuitive insight, the mysteries of the Supreme power start unfolding themselves to their hearts and their minds, the kavis start descending right up to the depth of the ocean and the vedhasas desire to reach the pinnacle of light” (X.177.1) :

That such an inner light emerging in the heart of a poet enables him to see and visualize everything in the heaven and earth is corroborated by Ṛṣi Viśvāmitra in the following verse (RV 3.26.8):

Dhīḥ : The inner light as source of poetry

On closely looking at the meaning of the word Dhīḥ, it appears that it is the exceptional faculty of acquiring knowledge of transcendent truth or reality; the inner light. This is the reason why Uṣas, the goddess of light, is frequently requested to grant Dhīḥ to the poets (cf 7.79.5) and Savitṛ, another god connected with light, has been requested to channelize those dhiyas in the right direction (cf. the famous Gāyatrīmantra 3.62.10). Ṛṣi Nābhāka requests god Varuṇa to grant dhīḥ, wonderful ideas (kratu) and efficiency (dakṣam) to a budding poet, śikṣamāṇasya one who has just started composing poetry, with which he perhaps means his own self (RV 8.42.3):

The word śikṣamāṇa (=still learning) reminds us here of the ‘kāvyajñaśikṣayā abhyāsaḥ’ of Mammaṭa (cf. Kāvyaprakāśa, I.3) as well as the expression ‘amandaścābhiyogaḥ’ along with ‘naisargikī pratibhā’ and ‘nirmalaṃ śrutaṃ’ (naisargikī ca pratibhā śrutaṃ ca bahu nirmalaṃ. amandaścābhiyogaḥ) as sources of poetry, where pratibhā or śakti can be equated with dhiyaḥ. Not every attempt at writing a poetry or not every literary composition of even a vipaścit meets with the expected success. There is a complete hymn in the RV (I.18) starting with ‘somānaṃ svaraṇaṃ kṛṇuhi brahmaṇaspate….’ in which poet Medhātithi prays to god Brahmaṇaspati to crown his poetic utterings with success:

Unbroken tradition of poetry

A Ṛigvedic poet is not only well aware of the long and unbroken tradition of the composition of poetry in his community, he is also proud of it. In the very first hymn of the Ṛigveda we hear the words:

These are the words of Madhucchandas who belongs to the lineage of Viśvāmitra. He is well aware of the contribution of his great ancestors, the chief priests of the Bharatas, whose poems are mostly collected in the third book of the Ṛgveda. He has perhaps done “Kāvyajña-śikṣayābhyāḥ” under the guidance of his parents. Poet Śaṃyu of Bṛhaspati gotra addressing Indra remarks (RV 6.44.13):

Although some poets like Agastya are modest to state that they are repeating what the veterans have also uttered (asarji vāṃ sthavirā vedhsā gīḥ RV 1.181.7), the others like Parucchepa entreat Indra that he ought to listen to a new composition by a new poet rather than to remain content with the poems of the old generation (RV I.131.6):

Mark here the word vedhas which the ‘new’ (=young) poet uses for himself. It is this very word which is used later for the creator God Prajapati and justifies a close similarity between the two.

Language of poetry : Choice of words

We know that the language of poetry can neither be the colloquial dialect nor the language of prose. The Ṛgvedic poet is very fastidious and choosy about the words and expression that he uses in his poetry. As soon as he visualizes a truth, god Bṛihaspati kindles up his linguistic faculty and suggest him an array of words out of what he makes a careful selection of most appropriate words and expressions leaving aside the rest, with the sieve of his mind as one does in the case of saktu (flour of parched gram and barely) which is cleaned by passing through a sieve (RV 10.71.1,2):

A poem is to be ‘gīrbhiḥ pariṣkṛtaḥ’ as the poet of RV 10.135.7 says, the sage-like poets purify the sacrificial ingredients through their purified speech (RV 9, 86.4,20):

The inspired poems when cleaned and purified through [the sieve of] mind, flow out of the hearts of the Ṛṣi in the manner the streams of water gush forth or like the antelopes running madly when chased by a hunter (RV 4.58.6):

Attention is drawn here towards the beautiful expression ‘waves of clarified butter’ (ūrmayo ghṛtasya) used for poetry. According to the view of Vedic poets, the poetry should not only be refined, sophisticated and pure, but also butter-like smooth and soft. It is not the only place where the Vedic Ṛṣi uses the simile of butter to his poetic words. The ‘ghṛtasnū giraḥ’ appears elsewhere too, e.g. in the following verse addressed to Ādityāḥ (RV 2.27.1):

The Kāvyagunas (merits of poetry)

The verse 3.1.8 makes mention of not only butter but also of honey in the context of a poetic composition. Poet Viśvāmitra remarks that when poets start glorifying Indra with their poetry, streams of honey and clarified butter start flowing:

The verse 4.58.1 makes mention of not only butter but also of honey in the context of poetic composition:

Butter and honey again feature in verse 43 of the 6th Sūkta of the 8th Maṇḍala, ascribed to poet Vatsa of Kaṇva’s lineage who reminds Indra that in the past his forefather have composed poetry ‘dripping with ghee and honey’ in his praise:

In the above quoted verses likening the poetry with ghṛta and madhu, one may find the foreshadows of the poetic qualities (kāvyaguṇas) saukumārya and mādhurya, discovered later by Bhāmaha and dealt with him in detail. Even the traces of the concept of Ojas in the sense of a ‘vigorous and powerful construction of right words’ (cf. ‘tour de force’ = ‘feat of strength’, forceful piece of art) – which is considered to be the ‘life substance’ (jīvitam) of the poetry by Daṇḍin (cf. Kāvyādarśa I.8 : ojaḥ samāsabhūyastvametat kāvyasya jīvitam) is found to be mentioned as a desirable quality of poetry in the Ṛgveda, as, for example, in RV 8.12.4:

‘Words purified as ghee passed through a strainer, spoken with vigour and vitality….’. Also the guṇa prasāda (clarity, simplicity) of the later theoreticians of poetics is hinted at in such adjectives as sumṛṣṭam (well cleaned, smooth), śukram (brilliant) and śvetam (whit, clear, clean, unmuddled) used for poetry:

Thus all three main qualities of good poetry (mādhurya, ojas and prasāda) highlighted by Mammaṭa (Kāvyaprakāśa VIII.67) seem to have not only been known but also greatly valued by Vedic poets.

The Embellishments (Alaṁkāras)

That the poetry, especially that which is to be directed towards gods, should be well-adorned, embellished (supeśalam), not deficient or wanting (akharvam) in any respect and well composed (sudhitam) is also mentioned in the RV 7.32.13:

The expression ‘araṃ kṛtaḥ’ (alaṁkṛtaḥ of later period) in the sense of ‘well arranged’ ‘proper’ ‘appropriate’ is met with often in the Ṛgveda, especially in the context of sacrifice, e.g. ‘yamaṃ ha yajño gachatyagnidūto arṃkṛtaḥ’ (10-14-13)- The sense of properly arranged or ‘embellished’ is obviously also intended in RV 10.51.5.:

The idea that a poem should be ‘well fashioned’ (sutaṣṭa), well formed and well arranged without any loose ends is quite common in the Ṛgveda as the following illustrations shall show:

Should be free of blemishes (adoṣa) :

The desirability of poetry being flawless, without any blemishes (adoṣam) which is highly stressed upon by Mammaṭa and Bjojarāja in their respective works is also frequently found to be mentioned in the Ṛgveda, e.g. in the passage like ‘anehasaḥ stubha indro duvasyati’ (3-51-3) or in the statements like ‘one does not achieve any gains by bad poem/ bad praise : ‘na duṣṭutī martyo vindate vasu’ (7-32-2) or ‘it not considered good to utter a blemished poem unto those who are munificent’ (Indra is meant : na duṣṭutirdraviṇodeṣu śasyate.)

Gains from poetry : fame and prosperity

The main worldly achievements of a literary composition for a poet, according to Mammaṭa, are fame and money: kāvyam yaśase arthakṛte (Kāvyaprakāśa I.2). It looks like as if Mammaṭa has been inspired in his statement by the following words of the RV (I.31.8 ab) in which the poet Hiraṇyastūpa expresses the same desire unto god Agni:In RV I.9.7 Ṛṣi Madhucchandas expresses a similar wish while addressing his prayer to Indra:

Bharadvāja also has the same desire which he wants to be fulfilled by Indra:Another Kavi named Suparṇa wants Indra and Varuṇa to grant friendly nature without pride (saumanasam adṛptam) and prosperity (rāyaspoṣa) short of arrogance to his yajamāna but wishes progeny, prosperity and long life for himself (RV 8.59.7)

Advisory faculty of the poetry

The prayojana ‘upadeśayuje’ was also not lost sight of the Vedic poets. A number of verses of the RV contain directives and even injunctions about moral and social conduct. One of the beautiful verses of this kind is RV 5.47.1 by poet Pratiratha of Atri’s clan addressed to Viśvedevāḥ. He compares his poetry (manīṣā) with the pleasing words of an old mother resounding in the ears of the daughter much later as if descending from heavens above or like the soft words of a beautiful young daughter calling out to her father at home:

Among the instructions given directly to human beings, the best known example is perhaps the advice given to a gambler, and through him to all human beings (RV 10.34.13). Such instructions occurring in the Veda are considered as ‘ādeśa’ (command) in our Smṛti literature and are meant to be followed assiduously :

“Don’t indulge in gambling, till the land, be satisfied with you earn or get, considering it much. This will bring you wealth (lit. cows) and keep your wife satisfied……..”

Poetry : an emotive eloquence

The emotional aspect (bhāva-pakṣa) of the poetry has been highlighted in the poems of the Ṛigveda quite frequently and strongly. According to Vedic poets the poetry should come directly from the heart (hṛdā-taṣṭam, composed from heart). This is a considered opinion of many a poet of the Ṛigveda. The element of emotional exuberance is important for good poetry. The poet of RV 6.16.47 (Bharadvāja) offers an oblation to god Agni in the form of a poem composed through his heart : ā te agna ṛcā havir hṛdā taṣṭaṃ bharāmasi. The light of the excellent gem of the real poetry originates in heart (3.26.8):

Only when the poetry emanates from the heart of the poet, it is beautiful enough to touch the heart of listener and embrace him like a beloved embraces her lover:

This is one of the most beautiful depictions of the characteristics of good poetry that one can think of. Unless the poetry touches ones heart, it is not equisit and unless it comes from the heart of the poet, it cannot do so. But it is not so easy to compose such a poetry, admits, at the same time, another poet (4.5.6) : guruṃ bhāraṃ na manma…. (‘It is a kind of great burden to create good poetry’). A literary critic of classical period agrees with him fully and corroborates it using almost the same words : aho bhāro mahān kaveḥ.

Finally author concludes the topic in the following way:

The highest aim of poetry, according to classical aestheticians is to immerse the reader/listener in the ocean of absolute bliss comparable to brahmānanda, the rapture which one experiences when one realizes the identity of his self with the supreme consciousness. For a Vedic poet ānanda or bliss is not a product or effect of poetry, but it’s its very cause. Instead of leading to ānanda, the vedic poetry rather ensues or originates from the ecstasy of spiritual experience. A Vedic poet becomes eloquent and starts pouring out when he has visualized the supreme truth, seen that brilliant light (…aganma jyotir uttamam, 1.50.10) and has understood the mysteries of gods (…aganma jyotir avidāma devān, 8.43.3). The poetry of a Vedic seer is, therefore, the vocal experession of his spiritual experience under the inspiration of divinities who impel his dhiyaḥ (imaginative and creative faculty) and with whom he identifies himself in the state of divine elevation, so beautifully expressed by the sage Viśvāmitra in the famous Gāyatrī (3.62.10)


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