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The Poet and the Poetry in the Rigveda | 101

Mathomathis would like to present an article which was published by author G.C.Tripathi on The Poet and the Poetry in the Rigveda.

Among the ancient-most religious texts of literary character, the Ṛgveda occupies the topmost place of pride, not only because of its spiritually inspired religious fevour and its sublime philosophy, but also for an unexcelled beauty of its poetry couched in a wonderfully well structured language with highly artistic literary expressions. The Ṛṣi-poet of the Ṛgveda is an arrived sage and an accomplished poet rolled into one.

The Poet – Interrelationship between the poet and the gods

The spiritual preceptors of India have always underlined the importance of a direct experience of transcendental reality and have accepted it not only as the basic source but also the very substratum of all mundane reality. The Vedic poet is a Ṛṣi who perceives and directly experiences such a transcendental reality through his inner vision, a vision that transcends both time and space, with the result that he is capable of visualizing the mysteries of the gods and the universe and reveals them to us. His speech is revelation, revelation of the highest spiritual truth. For this unique capability, he is often equated with gods and so the gods with poets. “Our umbilical cord is with gods” (asmākaṃ teṣu [deveṣu] nābhayḥ) says the poet of RV 1.39.9. In RV 7.52.13 the poet exhorts the people to glorify and make obeisance to the brilliant group of Maruts who are ‘kavi” and ‘vedhasaḥ’ (creators) in their own right:

The Poet and the Poetry in the Rigveda - Mathomathis

God Agni has also been addressed as kavi (kaviṃ samrājamatithiṃ janānām….) because he is jātavedas, i.e. knows everyone who is born in the world, being present in their bodies. The occasional use of the expression kavi (‘visionary’) for a poet in the Vedic hymns, a word which denotes the sense of a person capable of looking beyond time and space (krāntadarśin) and which is meant to be applied primarily and mainly for the Supreme Creator, underlines the importance of the creative activity of a poet in the minds of Vedic literati which was not considered to be lesser or lower in any respect than that of the creator.

Kavi: The Creator: The following, relatively well known, sentence from the isāvāsya-Upaniṣad (=YV 40.8) stating that ‘the self-born, all surrounding, wise and visionary [Creator] goes on creating perpetually the worldly objects in their proper from – as they ought to be’, has justifiably been understood as applicable to the literary activities of a poet as well:

The Poet and the Poetry in the Rigveda - Mathomathis

The expression ‘vyadadhāt’ (created) needs attention here. This is an activity which is connected with its agent Vedhas, the Creator, but which is also a homonym for poet. Vedhas is someone who combines in himself the elements of both knowledge and action. The poet also has both. He has thoughts, emotions, feelings and visions combined with the creative capability of expressing them in a nicely structured verbal form – form which conjures up and recreates the vision of the poet in the mind of the reader/listener. This capability to ‘create’ poetry, not common to all, is the quality which is termed as Śakti by Mammaṭa in his Kāvyaprakāśa (I.3) and is considered to be a divine gift.

The Poet and the Poetry in the Ṛigveda

The idea of according an exalted status similar to that of the creator god comes down to the classical period where we meet with the following famous statement:

The Poet and the Poetry in the Rigveda - Mathomathis

Kavi and Vedhas are not the only expressions used for the Vedic poets. There are at least four more terms used for a Vedic poet which are Ṛṣi, Vipra, Sūri and Kāru.

Kavi: The Divine Visionary: Ṛṣi is a sage, a person endowed with Intuitive knowledge (prātibha-jñanavān); nothing is hidden from him. He is the one who is in direct touch with the supreme powers and receives inspirations from them. Gods are the protectors of Ṛta (Cosmic order) which is the source of those laws (dharmāṇi) which govern and hold this universe. A Ṛṣi has intimate knowledge of these dharmāṇi which he propagates through his sayings. His words and spells have magical effect. Ṛishi Viswamitra is capable of checking the flow of the rivers Vipāś and Śutudrī at their confluence so that the clan of Bharatas could wade through their beds and cross over to the other side (RV III.33).

Kavi: The Inspired One: The word Vipra is derived from the root ‘vepṛ-kampane’, He is the one who gets emotionally charged, stirred up, moved. He is distinguished from others because of for his fervency and enthusiasm, has had experience of spiritual rapture, and enlightenment and is inspired to put his experience in words. A Ṛṣi could be a vipra, but a vipra is not necessarily a Ṛṣi (cf. ṛṣiḥ ko vipra ohate…., RV 8.3.14).

Kavi: The Enlightened One: Sūri is a knowledgeable and wise person, an enlightened one. The word is connected with the term ‘svar’ which means light – also the lighted space, the heaven (cf. the word Sūrya). He is mostly given to contemplation and meditation in his quest to discover the mysteries of the Universe (cf. tad viṣṇoḥ paramaṃ padaṃ, sadā paśyanti sūrayaḥ…. RV 1.22.16).

Kavi: The Technician: Kāru (=the ‘maker’ from the root kṛ) is simply a ‘composer’, a skillful professional poet who can create poetry on any subject at the behest of his benefactor. The composer RV 9.121.3, declares himself as such (kārur ahaṃ pitā bhiṣak…). Sometimes the activity of such a poet is compared to the work of a craftsman or carpenter (taṣṭā, tvaṣṭā) who fashions a chariot out of wooden material, and as such these two words taṣṭa and tvaṣṭā also occur in the Ṛigveda in the sense of poet and the expression sutaṣṭam (well crafted) is often used as an adjective to a prayer or hymn in the sense of ‘well composed’.

The Composition (Poetry) – Synonyms of Poetry

A number of words and expressions occur in the Rigveda to denote poetic compositions, some of them are nouns, but many of them are adjectives used independently as nouns. I have spotted around 27 of the most commonly occurring expressions on a random checking of the text of the Ṛgveda which are listed below:

Sūktam, kāvyam, ṛk, arkaḥ, goḥ, Brahman, gīr (giraḥ), dhīḥ (dhiyaḥ), dhenā, suṣṭuti, stotram, stoma, mantraḥ, matiḥ (matayaḥ), manman, manīṣā, sumnam, dyumnam, suśasti, praśasti, suvṛkti, uktham, vaktvam, sukīrti, apas and dhenuḥ. One may also add vāc to the list.

If one were to classify these terms into certain groups according to various aspects stressed in them, there would emerge roughly the following picture: Terms denoting activities or associated with aspects related to the under mentioned categories are listed in front of them:

The Poet and the Poetry in the Rigveda - Mathomathis

The Poet and the Poetry in the Ṛgveda

The Poet and the Poetry in the Rigveda - Mathomathis

Poetry as supporting principle :

Brahman, derived from the root bṛṃh, is ‘inherently firm and supporting principle which sustains the world. It is also the fundamental power inherent in the holy word and the ritual’. In the latter sense it denotes the Vedic verses and the prayer in general (cf. tat tvā yāmi brahmaṇā vandamānaḥ…. 1.24.11, yasyedaṃ brahma vardhanaṃ yasya somaḥ…. 2.12.14] etc.)

As light : The most commonly used word for Vedic verses is Ṛk/Ṛcā which originally means a ‘streak or flash of light’, ‘a ray’. Very often is said to emanate in the highest heaven (cf. ṛco akṣare parame vyoman…1.164.39). A cognate word derived from the same root (ṛc) is arkaḥ which also means ‘a small poetic composition,’ ‘a couplet’ or so and later in the classical Sanskrit, it is used to denote the Sun. Goḥ has a twin meaning of ‘cow’ and ‘ray’, both – sometimes both meanings are intended (cf. tā vāṃ vāstūni uśmasi gamadhyai, yatra gāvo bhūriśrṅgā ayāsaḥ. RV. 1.154.6). The word is preserved in the classical Sanskrit as well in such words as Śītaguḥ (=moon). Dyumnam is derived from the root dyu which means ‘brilliance’. Pradyumna in the sense of ‘dazzling’ is quite a common word in Sanskrit.

As inspired thought : The words which appear to be related to intellect like dhīḥ, dhenā, dhenuḥ etc. are to be understood in the sense of ‘inspired vision’ which is ‘inspired thoughts’ or ‘thoughts full of reverence for the divinity’. Reverence and faith are the main contents of this group of words. The Avesto-Persian version of the Vedic dhenā (i.e. dīn) has acquired the meaning of ‘religion’ in general and is quite well known in colloquial language and Muslim names in India. The words coined from the root ‘man’ to ponder’, ‘to think’ like mantra, manman etc. denote the products of a mental set-up full of reverence for the deity. It may also mean that the poem is a well thought out composition created after a long mental exercise. However the term manīṣā is perhaps separated from this group so far as it is not purely a mental exercise, but contains element of emotion and also inspiration (cf. sato bandhum asati nir avindan hṛdi pratīṣyā kavayo manīṣā, RV. 10.129.4).

As a craft : The word apas meaning ‘work’ ‘task’ ‘product’ etc. is of Indo-European origin and is found in Latin as well in the form of opus (pl. operā, cf. magnum opus = great work). A Vedic poet often calls his poetry an apas, ‘a creation’ with which he implies that he has worked hard on its composition and form, even though the inspiration might have come from above. The one desirous of producing apas is apasyu in the Ṛgveda and the one performing mighty and heroic deeds is svapas/svaphāḥ (cf. RV 1.85.9). Careful and attractive handling of a poetic composition is expressed in the terms like Suvṛkti (Well pruned, trimmed, neat) and sutaṣṭa (Well fashioned, well chiseled out) etc.

As well-uttered word in praise of gods : The element of speech is expressed most commonly in the terms like sūktam (‘well uttered’), uktham and vaktavam, all derived from the root vac = to speak, whereas the idea of the poem being primarily a ‘praise’, a glorification of god, is expressed in a number of terms mostly derived from the root stu. Glorification of divinities in order to placate them or to make them grant favours is a common phenomenon in all religions. The nature of a stotra is also best suited to communicate the devotional and emotional outpourings of a worshiper to his deity.


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