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Satapatha Brahmana – Introduction 2

Satapatha Brahmana

Introduction (2)

THE contents of the third and fourth books of the Satapatha-brâhmana form an important chapter of its dogmatic explanation of the sacrificial ceremonial. This portion of the work treats of the ordinary forms of the most sacred of Vedic sacrificial rites, the ‘Soma-sacrifice.’ The exposition of the Soma-ritual also includes an account of the animal offering which, though it may be performed as an independent sacrifice, more usually constitutes an integral part of the Saumya-adhvara.
Since F. Windischmann, in his treatise ‘Ueber den Somacultus der Arier’ (1846), pointed out the remarkable similarity of conceptions prevalent among the ancient Indians and Iranians in regard to the Soma, both from a sacrificial and a mythological point of view, this subject has repeatedly engaged the attention of scholars. In A. Kuhn’s masterly essay, ‘Die Herabkunft des Feuers and des Göttertranks’ (1859), the Soma-myth was thoroughly investigated, and its roots were traced far back into the Indo-European antiquity. Within the last few years the entire Rig-vedic conceptions regarding Soma have, for the first time, been subjected to a searching examination in M. A. Bergaigne’s ‘La Religion Védique.’ This book forms an important contribution to the interpretation of the Vedic hymns; and though the combinations and theories put forth by the author may not always commend themselves to scholars generally, there can be no doubt that his enquiries exhibit a rare analytic faculty, and have yielded a mass of new and valuable suggestions.
Among the numerous features which the Vedic Âryans had in common with their Iranian kinsmen, and from which it is supposed that an intimate connection must have subsisted between these two easternmost branches of the Indo-European stock for some time after they had become separated from their western brethren, the Soma cult and myth are not the least striking. Both the Vedic soma and the Zend haoma derived from the root su (Zend hu), ‘to press, produce’ denote in the first place a spirituous liquor extracted from a certain plant, described as growing on the mountains; the words being then naturally applied to the plant itself. But the Rig-veda, not less than the Avesta, distinguishes between an earthly and a celestial Soma; and it is precisely the relation between these two, or the descent of the heavenly Soma to the world of men, which forms the central element of the Soma-myth. To the childlike intellect of the primitive Âryan which knew not how to account for the manifold strange and awe-inspiring phenomena of nature otherwise than by peopling the universe with a thousand divine agents, the potent juice of the Soma-plant which endowed the feeble mortal with godlike powers, and for a time freed him from earthly cares and troubles, seemed a veritable god, not less worthy of adoration than the wielder of the thunderbolt, the roaring wind, or the vivifying orb of day. The same magic powers are, upon the whole, ascribed to Soma by the Indian and Persian bards: to both of them he is the wise friend and mighty protector of his votary, the inspirer of heroic deeds of arms as well as of the flights of fancy and song, the bestower of health, long life, and even immortality. The divine personality of Soma, it is true, is, even for Vedic imagery, of an extremely vague and shadowy character; but it is difficult to see what plastic conception there could be of a deity whose chief activity apparently consists in mingling his fiery male nature with the teeming waters of the sky, and the swelling sap of plants. The principal cause, however, of the vagueness of Soma’s personality, and the source of considerable difficulties in explaining many of the Vedic conceptions of this deity, is his twofold nature as a fiery liquor, or liquid fire, that is to say, his fluid and his fiery or luminous nature.
The Soma, with whom the worshipper is chiefly concerned, is the Soma-plant, and the juice extracted from it for the holy service. This is the earthly Soma, or, so to speak, the Avatar of the divine Soma. The latter, on the other hand, is a luminous deity, a source of light and life. In the Brâhmanas, Soma, in this respect, has become completely identified with the Moon, whose varying phases, and temporary obscuration at the time of new-moon, favoured the mystic notions of his serving as food[1] to the Gods and Fathers (Manes); and of his periodical descents to the earth, with the view of sexual union with the waters and plants, and his own regeneration[2]. Though this identification appears already clearly in several passages of the Rik, Vedic scholars seem mostly inclined to refer this conception to a secondary stage of development[3]. According to Professor Roth, indeed, this identification would have no other mythological foundation than the coincidence of notions which finds its expression in the term indu[4] (commonly used for Soma, and in the later language for the moon), viz. as ‘a drop’ and ‘a spark (drop of light).’ This is not unlikely, but it does not of course help us to settle the point as to how that term came ultimately to be applied exclusively to the moon among heavenly luminaries. To the Vedic poet it is rather the sun that appears, if not identical, at any rate closely connected, with the divine Soma. The fact was first pointed out by Grassmann[5], who proposed to identify Pavamâna, the ‘pure-streamed, sparkling’ Soma, with the, apparently solar, deity Puemuno of the Iguvian tablets. M. Bergaigne has also carefully collected the passages of the Rik in which Soma appears either compared or identified with the sun. Although a mere comparison of Indu-Soma with the sun can scarcely be considered sufficient evidence on this point, since such a comparison might naturally enough suggest itself even to one who had the identity of Soma and the moon in his mind, there still remain not a few passages where no such ambiguity seems possible. Somewhat peculiar are the relations between Soma and Sûrya’s daughter (probably the Dawn), alluded to several times[6] in the Rik. In one passage (IX, I, 6) she is said to pass Sûrya through the perpetual filter (sasvat vâra); whilst in another (IX, 113, 8) ‘Sûrya’s daughter brought the bull (Soma?), reared by Parganya (the cloud); the Gandharvas seized him and put him, as sap, into the Soma (plant?).’ A combination of this female bearer of Soma with the eagle (or falcon) who carried off Soma (IV, 27, &c.) seems to have supplied the form of the myth, current in the Brâhmanas, according to which Gâyatrî fetched Soma from heaven. The hymn X, 857[7], on the other hand, celebrates the marriage ceremony of Soma and Sûryâ, at which the two Asvins act as bride’smen, and Agni as the leader of the bridal procession to the bridegroom’s home.
There are, however, other passages in the Rig-veda, in which Soma, so far from being identified with the sun, seems to be regarded as some sovereign power which originates or controls that luminary, as well as the other lights of heaven. Thus in Rig-veda IX, 61, 16 Soma is represented as producing (ganayan) the bright light belonging to all men; in IX, 97, 41 as producing the light in the sun (aganayat sûrye gyotir induh); in IX, 28, 5; 37, 4 as causing the sun to shine (rokayan); in IX, 86, 22; 107, 7 as making him rise (â-rohayan) in the sky; in IX, 63, 6 as harnessing Svar’s Etasa; in IX, 36, 3; 49, 5 as causing the lights to shine (gyotîmshi vi-rokayan; pratnavad rokayan rukah); in IX, 42, 1 as producing the lights of the sky (and) the sun in the (heavenly) waters; in IX, 41, 5 as filling the two wide worlds (rodasî), even as the dawn, as the sun, with his rays. Nay, the poet of IX, 86, 29, ‘Thou art the (heavenly) ocean (samudra) . . . thine are the lights (gyotîmshi), O Pavamâna, thine the sun,’ seems to conceive Soma as the bright ether, the azure ‘sea of light’ generally; and a similar conception is perhaps implied when, in IX, 107, 20, the bard sings, ‘Thine I am, O Soma, both by night and by day, for friendship’s sake, O tawny one, in the bosom (of the sky[8]): like birds have we flown far beyond the sun scorching with heat.’
On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that similar functions to those here referred to are ascribed to other deities besides Soma, without there being any cogent reason for assuming an intentional rapprochement, still less identification of these deities with Soma; and, in point of fact, the allusions in the hymns are too vague to enable us to determine the exact relations between Soma and the heavenly light. Indeed, it may be questioned whether there was any very clear apprehension of these relations; or whether, prior to the ultimate identification of Soma with the moon, we have not to deal with a body of floating ideas rather than with a settled mythological conception of the divine Soma. During his brief term of existence on earth from his mountain birth to his final consummation as ‘the supreme offering’ (uttamam havis) the outward form of Soma passes through a succession of changes from which the poet would draw many a feature wherewith to endow the divine object of his fancy. He might thus represent Soma now as a shining tree springing from the mountains of the sky; now as a luminous drop or spark moving through the heavens, and shedding light all around; or as innumerable drops of light scattered over the wide aerial expanse; now as a glittering stream, or again, as a vast sea of liquid light.
The references of the Avesta to the divine Haoma are even less definite and explicit than those of the Vedic hymns. His connection with the heavenly light, though not perhaps so close as that of Mithra and other deities, is unmistakable enough[9]; but we look in vain for any clear. indication as to what the exact relations are. It is certain, however, that nowhere in the Avesta is there any passage which could warrant us to assume an identification of Haoma with either the Sun or the Moon. In Yasna IX, 81-82, we are told that Haoma was the first to be invested by Ahura-Mazda with the zone, spangled with stars, and made in heaven, in accordance with the good Mazda-yasnic law; and that girt therewith he dwells upon the heights of the mountain to uphold the sacred ordinances. It is difficult to see what else the star-spangled zone (the heavenly counterpart of the ordinary Kusti of the orthodox Pârsî) could here refer to, except the milky way, or perhaps the starry sky generally; unless, indeed, as is scarcely likely, some special constellation be implied; but neither this nor any other passage enables us in any way to define the divine personality of Haoma.
Soma’s descent to the earth, as pictured in the Vedic hymns, is attended with violent disturbances in the regions of the sky, in which Indra generally plays the principal part. It is admitted on all hands that we have to look upon these supernal struggles as mythic impressions of ordinary atmospheric phenomena, especially those of the Indian monsoon and rainy season, and the violent thunderstorms by which they are usually accompanied. According to the needs and anxieties by which he was swayed at the moment, these atmospheric occurrences presented themselves to the poet’s mind chiefly in two different lights. Either, the approaching masses of clouds brought with them the long-desired rain, and the prospect of abundant food for man and beast: in that case the gods were doing battle for the possession of the celestial waters, or the heavenly cows, too long confined by malicious demons in their mountain strongholds; or, after a time of tempest and gloom, one longed to see again the bright sky and the golden sunlight, to cheer life and ripen the crops: in which case it was a struggle for the recovery of the heavenly light.
The relation in which Soma stands to Indra is mainly that of the fiery beverage, the welcome draughts of which give the warrior god the requisite strength and nerve for battling with the demons of drought and darkness. Indra’s favourite weapon is the thousand-spiked, iron or golden thunderbolt, the lightning. But inasmuch as it is Soma that enables Indra effectually to wield his weapon, the poet might, by a bold, yet perfectly natural, metaphor, identify the potent drink with the terrible bolt. This identification is indeed met with in several passages of the Rik[10], notably in IX, 47, 3, ‘When his song of praise is brought forth, then Soma, the powerful (indriya) liquor, becomes the thousand-fold-winning thunderbolt;’ in IX, 72, 7, ‘Indra’s thunderbolt, the bountiful (vibhûvasu) bull, the exhilarating Soma clarifies itself in a manner pleasing to the heart;’ and in IX, 77, 1, ‘This sweet (Soma) has roared in the tub, Indra’s thunderbolt, more beautiful than the beautiful one[11].’ Not less natural is the simile implied in epithets, properly applying to Indra, such as ‘vritrahan’ (slayer of Vritra), and ‘godâ’ (cow-giver), when applied to Soma, who helps him to make good those titles of his; just as one can understand their being occasionally applied to Agni, the sacrificial fire, as the medium through which the libations reach Indra. A similar kind of poetic figure is involved in passages representing Soma as exercising an influence, not on Indra himself, but on the weapons wielded by him[12]; such as VIII, 76, 9, ‘O Indra, drink the pressed Soma, sharpening the thunderbolt with its strength;’ or IX, 96, 12, where Soma is called upon to join Indra, and produce weapons for him (ganayâyudhâni); or VIII, 15, 7, where the Soma-cup (dhishanâ) is said to whet Indra’s power, his daring and intelligence, as well as the desirable thunderbolt.
But, while most scholars will probably be content to apply this kind of interpretation to cases of an apparent identification of Soma and the Vagra such as those referred to, M. Bergaigne is evidently in favour of their identity pure and simple. Now, it cannot be denied that the authors of some of those passages may really have intended to represent Soma as virtually or actually the same as the thunderbolt; but even if that were so, we should hardly be justified in assuming this identity to have been anything like a settled and universally accepted conception in the times of the hymns. There surely is some danger in treating a miscellaneous collection like the Rig-veda, as if it were a uniform and homogeneous production, and in generalizing from one or two isolated passages. In this respect I cannot help thinking that M. Bergaigne has often gone farther than many scholars will be prepared to follow him. Thus another of his favourite theories seems to be the ultimate identity of Soma and Agni. But close as the relations of these two deities undoubtedly are, and even admitting that they may occasionally have been the object of those syncretist tendencies which we see so often at work in the mythological speculations of the Rishis, nevertheless I cannot but think that to the generality of Vedic poets Agni and Soma were perfectly distinct deities, as distinct from each other as the two visible objects which represent them on earth. Indeed, M. Bergaigne himself has to admit (I, 167) that, ‘as the fire and beverage were in reality distinct on earth, this distinction was inevitably extended sometimes to their divine forms.’ But if such is the case, and if they are actually invoked together in one and the same hymn, should one not think that even in those divine forms of theirs they must at least have been regarded as two different manifestations of the same divinity?
Soma makes his descent to the earth in showers of rain, amid thunder and lightning. Here a new problem presents itself: in this strife of elements] what is the exact phenomenon in which we are to recognise the divine Soma as temporarily embodied? It used to be taken for granted that the rain of the thunderstorm must be so regarded, being as it were the atmospheric counterpart of the earthly Soma drops, expressed from the juicy stalk and flowing into the vat. M. Bergaigne, however, has put forward the theory that it is not the rain, but the lightning, that really represents Soma; and has tried to show, with no little ingenuity, that several passages of the Rik can only, or at any rate most naturally, be explained by the light of his theory. Now, according to an old myth, frequently alluded to in the hymns, Soma was brought down to the earth by an eagle or falcon (syena). Thus we read in I, 93, 6, ‘Mâtarisvan has brought down the one (Agni) from the sky, and the Syena has churned the other (Soma) from the (celestial) rock.’ A. Kuhn saw in this bird only another form of Indra who. in two passages (I, 32, 14; X, 99, 8), is indeed directly likened to a Syena. On the other hand, this identification is rendered doubtful by two other passages (I, 80, 2; IV, 18, 13), in which the Syena is represented as bringing the Soma to Indra himself. Here, then, is a veritable crux. M. Bergaigne does not hesitate to cut the knot by identifying the Soma-bearing bird with the lightning; and the lightning again being to him no other than Soma, the myth thus resolves itself into the rather commonplace fact that Soma takes himself down to the earth. He only needed to go a step further by identifying Soma, not only with Agni and the lightning, but also with Indra himself, and the phantasmagory would have been complete. Indeed, one of M. Bergaigne’s disciples, M. Koulikovski, has already come very near supplying this deficiency, when he remarks (Revue de Linguistique, XVIII, p. 3), that in the hymn IV, 26 ‘we have to do with a twofold personage, composed of the attributes of Indra and Soma.’
Now, if this myth were a purely Indian one, one might be content to relegate it to the category of Vedic ‘paradoxes’ to the vindication of which M. Bergaigne declares himself ready to devote his life. But as there can be no reasonable doubt that the myth goes back to Indo-European times, and that its object is simply to account for the mysterious effect of spirituous liquor or the ‘fire-water,’ so to speak, I for one find it impossible to accept M. Bergaigne’s explanation of this myth, at least so far as the identification of Soma and the lightning is concerned[13]. On the other hand, his theory undoubtedly receives a considerable amount of support from the fact that the Soma is frequently compared with the Syena. But we saw that the same term is applied to Indra, as it also is to the Maruts (X, 92, 6), to the Asvins (IV, 74, 9; VIII, 73, 4), and to Sûrya (V, 45, 9); and there is in my opinion no evidence to show that this comparison has any connection with the myth which makes the fiery liquor to be brought down by a Syena. Moreover, wherever that comparison occurs, it undoubtedly applies to the Pavamâna, or the drops or streams of Soma flowing through the filter into the vat; and I can see no reason why we should not consider the showers of rain as the exact counterpart of the clarifying Soma. But, of course, the real divine Soma is not the rain-drop itself, any more than he is the drop of juice expressed from the Soma-plant; but he is the spark of celestial fire enclosed in the drop. It would seem, then, that, as the masses of cloud overspread the sky, Soma, the heavenly light, is conceived as entering into union with the celestial cows or waters, released by the thunderbolt from their mountain keep, and coming down with them to the earth.
But while I find it impossible, as regards the myth of the Soma-bearing bird, to identify with M. Bergaigne the winged bearer (probably the lightning) with its burden, the Soma; the descent of the fiery god is pictured in various other ways, and it might still be possible that one or other poet had conceived of the bull-like Soma, as the lightning, uniting with the heavenly cows in their earthward course, so that before reaching the earth the rain-drops would be impregnated with Soma’s essence, and would, in fact, be of the same nature as the Soma-juice. I am not prepared, therefore, entirely to reject the identification of Soma with the lightning; only I do not think that any one of the crucial passages adduced by M. Bergaigne in favour of that identity necessarily requires the interpretation he proposes. Thus, in IX, 41, 3, ‘The sound of the mighty Pavamâna (the clarifying Soma) is heard like that of the rain: the lightnings pass in the sky,’ it surely seems rather farfetched to take the lightning, instead of the rain, to be the object with which Soma is compared, merely because in the same hymn Soma is also compared with the sun and the heavenly river Rasa. The same may be said of IX, 108, ‘That joy-pouring (mada-kyut) thousand-streamed bull they have milked out from the sky,’ and several other passages. The verse IX, 87, 8, divo na vidyut stanayanty abhraih, somasya te pavata indra dhârâ, ‘Thy stream of Soma, O Indra, clarifies itself, as (does) the thundering lightning of the sky by means of the clouds,’ is more favourable to M. Bergaigne’s view, as may also be the doubtful passage, V, 84, 3, yat te abhrasya vidyuto divo varshanti vrishtayah, ‘When the rains of the cloud rain thee (O earth) lightnings from the sky (?).’ As regards VII, 69, 6, addressed to the Asvins, ‘Come, ye two men, to our libations this day, like two thirsty bulls to the lightning,’ M. Bergaigne (I, 168) thinks that the identification of Soma with the lightning can alone explain this passage; since it would be impossible to imagine that the two bulls could anticipate the falling of rain from the appearance of the lightning. Though a poetic figure like this hardly bears such critical handling, perhaps M. Bergaigne will allow me to ask whether, if the passage had read, ‘Come ye hither to our libations, like two bulls to the thunder[14],’ he would have thought it so very bold a figure for a Vedic poet to use?
The most important of all passages, however, undoubtedly is IX, 84, 3: â yo gobhih srigyata oshadhîshu… â vidyutâ pavate dhârayâ sutah, indram somo mâdayan daivyam ganam. M. Bergaigne translates (I, 172) the first pâda by ‘Lui qui est répandu avec les vaches (i.e. the raindrops) dans les plantes,’ which, of course, fits either view equally well; the only question being, whether Soma is already united with the rain-drops when they are poured forth by the clouds, or whether, in the shape of lightning, he is still separate from them. The third pâda, M. Bergaigne remarks (I, 170), may be boldly (hardiment) translated by ‘Il se clarifie, exprimé en un torrent qui est l’éclair.’ This rendering, if correct, would doubtless settle the point; but to my mind it is not only a very doubtful, but a highly improbable explanation. What I believe to be the true interpretation of the passage had been given by Prof. Ludwig two years before the publication of M. Bergaigne’s volume, viz. ‘Expressed in a stream, he clarifies himself by the lightning Soma who exhilarates (or inebriates) Indra and the divine race.’ It will be seen that this alters the case completely. The lightning would be compared with the filter of white sheep’s wool, through which the Soma-juice percolates into the vat. The same simile, in my opinion, is implied wherever the formula pavate (â) vrishtim, ‘he clarifies himself into rain,’ is used (IX, 49, I; 3; 65, 3; 24; 96, 14; 108, 10). And, in truth, the simile seems to me a very striking one; but we must not, of course, think of single flashes of lightning such as we are accustomed to in our northern climes (and as are doubtless implied in the Vedic conception of the Vagra or thunderbolt), but of that continuous and widespread electric illumination (vi-dyut) which forms a characteristic feature of the monsoon, when the showers of rain seem to flow through an immense space of light[15].
The striking coincidences between the Vedic Agnishtoma and the Homa ceremony of the Pârsîs, pointed out by Martin Haug (Ait. Br. I, p. 59 seq.), leave no doubt as to the complete development of the Soma-ritual in its essential features before the separation of the Indo-Iranians. The exact identity of the plant from which their sacred liquor was prepared is still somewhat doubtful. An official inquiry which has been set on foot in consequence of two papers published by Prof. Roth (Journal of Germ. Or. Soc. 1881 and 1883), and translated by Mr. C. J. Lyall, secretary to the Chief Commissioner of Assam, and which, it is understood, is now carried on, on the part of the Government of India, by Dr, Aitchison, botanist to the Afghan Boundary Commission, will probably ere long settle the matter once for all. The appearance of the first official blue-book on the subject has already led to a renewed discussion of the matter, in. the columns of a weekly journal[16], in which Profs. Max Müller and R. v. Roth, as well as several distinguished botanists, especially Drs. J. G. Baker and W. T. Thiselton Dyer, have taken part. Of especial interest in this discussion is a letter[17], by Mr. A. Houttum-Schindler, dated Teheran, December 20, 1884, in which an account is given of the plant from which the present Pârsîs of Kermân and Yezd obtain their Hûm juice, and which they assert to be the very same as the Haoma of the Avesta. The Hûm shrub, according to this description, grows to the height of four feet, and consists of circular fleshy stalks (the thickest being about a finger thick) of whitish colour, with light brown streaks. The juice was milky, of a greenish white colour, and had a sweetish taste. Mr. Schindler was, however, told that, after being kept for a few days, it turned sour and, like the stalks, became yellowish brown. The stalks break easily at the joints, and then form small cylindrical pieces. They had lost their leaves, which are said to be small and formed like those of the jessamine. This description, according to the above naturalists, would seem to agree tolerably well with the Sarcostemma (akin to the common milk-weed), or some other group of Asclepiads, such as the Periploca aphylla which, as Mr. Baker states, has been traced by Dr. Haussknecht to 3000 feet in the mountains of Persia, and, according to Dr. Aitchison, is common also in Afghanistan. A quotation from a medical Sanskrit work, to which attention was drawn by Prof. Max Müller many years ago, states that, ‘the creeper, called Soma, is dark, sour, without leaves, milky, fleshy on the surface; it destroys (or causes) phlegm, produces vomiting, and is eaten by goats.’ The foul, sour smell of the Sonia-juice is also alluded to in our Brâhmana (see the present volume, p. 266). According to Prof. Spiegel[18], the Pârsîs of Bombay obtain their Homa from Kermân, whither they send their priests from time to time to get it. The plant at present used by the Hindu priests of the Dekhan, on the other hand, according to Haug, is not the Soma of the Vedas, but appears to belong to the same order. ‘It grows (he informs us, Ait. Br. II, 489) on hills in the neighbourhood of Poona to the height of about four to five feet, and forms a kind of bush, consisting of a certain number of shoots, all coming from the same root; their stem is solid like wood; the bark grayish; they are without leaves; the sap appears whitish, has a very stringent taste, is bitter, but not sour: it is a very nasty drink, and has some intoxicating effect. I tasted it several times, but it was impossible for me to drink more than some teaspoonfuls.’ In fact, several varieties of Sarcostemma or Asclepiads[19], somewhat different from those of Persia and Afghanistan, which are not to be found so far south, seem to have been, and indeed seem still to be, made use of for the Soma-sacrifice. And notwithstanding the objections raised by Dr. G. Watt, in his useful ‘Notes,’ appended to the translation of Professor Roth’s papers, every probability seems to me to be in favour of the identity of the original Soma-plant with the shrub, the stalks of which are used by the Pârsîs in preparing their Hûm juice, or with some other plant of the same genus. It certainly would seem to have been a plant with soft, succulent stems. Dr. Watt remarks, ‘We know of no instance of a succulent plant retaining, for weeks or months, its sap within isolated twigs, and, indeed, we can recall but few plants which could withstand, even for a day or two, the dry climate of India, so as to retain the sap within their isolated and cut twigs.’ But, though at the time of the Vedic hymns fresh and juicy plants were probably used for the preparation of the sacred drink, in later times, when the plants had to be conveyed some considerable distance into India, the withered and shrunk plants were apparently found, with the admixture of water and other ingredients, to serve the same purpose. For we know from the description given in the Sûtras, that water was poured on the plants previously to their being beaten with the pressing-stones. This moistening or steeping is called âpyâyanam, or ‘the making (the plants) swell.’ After being then well beaten and bruised, they were thrown into the vat, or rather trough, partly filled with water, and were pressed out with the hand. Dr. Watt thinks Professor Roth ought rather to have published briefly the leading passages in the hymns descriptive of the plant, from which naturalists might have drawn their own conclusions. One might as well ask a Hebrew scholar to give accurate descriptions of the ‘lily of the valley’ to enable the botanist to identify and classify the lovely flower which delighted the heart of king Solomon. It is exactly the want of an accurate knowledge of the nature of the Soma-plant which prevents the Vedic scholar from being able to understand some of the few material allusions to it. Thus the term amsu, commonly applied to the Soma-plant, used to be taken to mean simply ‘plant’ or ‘sprig, shoot;’ but Professor Roth seems now inclined, perhaps rightly, to take it as referring to the internode, or cylindrical piece between two joints of the stem. The substitutes approved of by the Satapatha-brâhmana, in case no genuine Soma-plants can be obtained, will be found enumerated at pp. 421-422 of the present volume. A description of these plants, so far as they have been identified, is given in Professor Roth’s paper.
I cannot conclude these remarks without expressing my hearty thanks to those scholars who have done me the honour of reviewing the first volume of this work. To Professor Whitney I feel especially indebted for his most careful examination of my translation, and the searching, yet appreciative, criticism he has been good enough to apply to it. I shall feel content, if the present volume finds at least one reader as conscientious and painstaking. While I agree with most of Prof. Whitney’s suggestions[20], there are one or two points raised by him, and these perhaps of the more important, on which I have been unable to take his view; and as some of these points involve renderings adhered to in the present volume, I take the opportunity here briefly to advert to them.
The most important of these points probably is my rendering of the term kapâla by ‘potsherd,’ instead of ‘cup, dish,’ as proposed by Prof. Whitney. Instead of speaking of a sacrificial cake on eleven or twelve potsherds, we are to call it a cake on so many cups or dishes. The term ‘potsherd’ no doubt is somewhat awkward, and, had it been possible, I should have preferred to use the simple obsolete word ‘shard’ or ‘sherd’ for it; but I decidedly object to either ‘cup’ or ‘dish.’ I gather from his suggestion, that we take entirely different views of the purpose and nature of the kapâla. I have to reject the proposed renderings for the very reason for which they commend themselves to Prof. Whitney, namely, because they imply so many vessels complete in themselves. He asks, whether I suppose ‘that the Brahmans made their offerings on fragments of broken pottery?’ Well, I certainly believe that the kapâlas are meant to represent the fragments of a broken dish. The sacrificial cake is to be baked on a dish, but for symbolic reasons this dish is supposed to be Broken up into a number of pieces or kapâlas. The symbolic significance of this seems to be a twofold one. On the one hand, the dish is to resemble the human skull. Hence we read Sat. Br. I, 2, I, 2, ‘The cake is the head of Yagña (the sacrifice, and symbolically the sacrificer himself);, for those potsherds (kapalâni) are what the skull-bones (sîrshnah kapâlâni) are, and the ground rice is nothing else than the brain.’ On the other hand, the kapâlas are usually arranged (see Part I, p. 34, note) in such a manner as to produce a fancied resemblance to the (upper[21]) shell of the tortoise, which is a symbol of the sky, as the tortoise itself represents the universe. Thus with cakes on a single kapâla, the latter is indeed a complete dish. In the same way the term kapâla, in the singular, is occasionally applied to the skull, as well as to the upper and the lower case of the tortoise, e. g. Sat. Br. VII, 5, I, 2: ‘That lower kapâla of it (the tortoise) is this world, for that (kapâla) is firmly established, and firmly established is this world; and that upper (kapâla) is yonder sky, for It has its ends turned down, and so has that sky its ends turned down; and that which is between is that atmosphere: verily that same (tortoise) represents these worlds.’ More usually, however, the term is applied to the single bones of the skull (and the plates of the tortoise-case). Hence the Medinî says (lânta 71), kapâlo ‘strî siro-’sthni syâd, ghatâdeh sakale, vrage, kapâla may be used in the sense of ‘head-bone,’ in that of ‘fragment of a pot,’ &c., and in the sense of ‘collection.’
Professor Whitney takes exception to my occasionally translating âtman by ‘body,’ an inaccuracy, he remarks, that might easily be avoided. I do not quite understand on what grounds he objects to this rendering. The original meaning of âtman doubtless is (breath) ‘self, soul;’ but surely there can be no question that it also commonly means ‘body, trunk,’ in contradistinction to the limbs, wings, &c. Thus we read Sat. Br. IV, 1, 2, 25, ‘The sacrifice is fashioned like a bird: the Upâmsu and Antaryâma are its wings, and the Upâmsusavana is its body[22].’
My rendering of ‘videgho ha mâthavah’ (I, 4, I, 10) by ‘Mâthava the (king of) Videgha,’ instead of ‘Videgha (the) Mâthava,’ is rightly objected to. Indeed, I had already taken occasion, in the introduction to the same volume (I, p. xli, note 4), to make that correction.
Prof. Whitney’s remarks on ‘yûpena yopayitvâ’ are adverted to at p. 36, note 1 of the present volume; as are also those on ‘ed’ at p. 265, note 2. In regard to the latter point he rather does me wrong by supposing that I apparently regarded the particle (or particles) ‘ed’ (for which the Kânva text seems to read ‘â hi’) as a verb-form from the root ‘i,’ to go. The fact is that I followed Prof. Weber (Ind. Stud. IX, p. 249) in taking it to be a popular expression, with a verb of motion understood, somewhat in the sense of the German ‘hin;’ e. g. ‘Shall we go there?’ ’Hin denn!’ i.e. ‘Let us go then.’
My translation of II, 4, 2, 19 is not quite approved of by Prof. Whitney. There offering is made severally to the sacrificer’s grandfather and great-grandfather with the formula ‘N.N., this for thee!’ to which some authorities add ‘and for those who come after thee.’ This addition is rejected by the author on the ground that ‘svayam vai teshâm saha yeshâm saha,’ which I translated by ‘since he himself is one of those to whom [it would be offered] in common.’ Prof. Whitney takes exception to this, remarking that in that case, the phrase ‘and those who (come) after thee’ might be added, without any reason to the contrary. But he forgets one important point, namely, that it would be a fatal thing for the sacrificer in this way to associate himself with the departed ancestors, and even make offering to himself along with them: it would simply mean that ‘he would straightway go to yonder world,’ that he would not live his fulness of days. The clause under discussion is elliptic, its literal translation being ‘Himself surely (is) of those withal of whom (he is) withal.’ This may either be taken in the sense in which I took it (see also St. Petersb. Dict. s. v. saha); or in a general way, ‘He surely is one of those with whom he associates himself;’ i.e. he would himself be a dead man.
In the legend of Manu and the Flood (I, 8, 1, 1 seq.) I find it impossible to accept Prof. Delbrück’s conjecture, which Prof. Whitney thinks the best and only acceptable one, viz. that (in par. 4) the sentence ‘sasvad ha ghasha âsa, sa hi gyeshtham vardhate’ is an interpolated gloss. My reason for not accepting it is the fact that the passage occurs likewise in the Kânva recension, and is thus authenticated for so comparatively early a period that the difficulty of accounting for the interpolation might be even greater than that of the interpretation of the passage itself. Professor Ludwig, in his kindly notice in ‘Göttinger Gel. Anz.’ 1883, proposes to take sasvat in the sense of πάντως: ‘It quite so (i.e. in accordance with the prediction) became a large fish.’ Prof. Max Müller has again translated this legend in his ‘India, what can it teach us?’ p. 134 seq., where he renders this passage by ‘He became soon a large fish (ghasha), for such a fish grows largest.’ I am still inclined to take ghasha as the name of some kind of fish, real or mythic.
Professor Whitney once more discusses the vexed question as to the real meaning of ‘Gâtávedas,’ and thinks the translation ‘Wesen-kenner,’ ‘being-knower,’ or ‘he who knoweth [all] beings’ to be unacceptable. He remarks that ‘The word may, indeed, fairly be regarded as an obscure one: that is to say, it is very strange that an appellation so frequently applied to Agni should not have its meanings distinctly pointed out, either by its applicableness, or by parallel expressions used in the descriptions of the same god or in ascriptions made to him; but no such explanation has been found obtainable from the Vedic writings.’ It is no doubt a fact that at the time of Yâska who (7, 19) proposes five different derivations of the term, the first of which is the one given above, viz. gâtâni veda, ‘he knows (the things) that are born’ the real meaning of the compound was unknown; and even at the time of the hymns the epithet seems to have been understood in different ways. That the meaning ‘knower of beings’ was, at any rate, one of those commonly assigned to Gâtavedas’ by the Vedic poets, seems to me, however, sufficiently manifest from a number of parallel expressions used in reference to Agni, such as Rig-veda VI, 15, 13, visvâ veda ganimâ gâtavedâh[23], ‘Gâtavedas knows all races (or existences);’ I, 70, 1, â daivyâni vratâ kikitvân â manushyasya ganasya ganma, ‘he who minds the divine ordinances, and the race of the human kind;’ ib. 3, devânâm ganma martâms ka vidvân, ‘knowing the race of gods and the men;’ I, 189, 1, visvâni vayunâni vidvân, ‘knowing all works;’ ib. 7, tvam tân agna ubhayân v vidvân veshi, &c. On the other hand, in Sat. Br. IX, 5, I, 68, the term is explained by gâtam gâtam vindate; he takes possession of being after being, or of whatsoever is born. How easily terns such as Gâtavedas and Wesenkenner (knower of beings) may assume different meanings, may be seen from Mr. Peile’s remark (Notes on the Nalopâkhyânam, p. 23), ‘Gâtavedas, the Vedic epithet of Agni, is described as the “knower of the essence” (gâta), Grassmann, Dict. s. v.’
For the first chapter of the third book, treating of the ceremony of consecration, I have had the advantage of availing myself of the German translation, published by Dr. B. Lindner in his pamphlet, ‘Die Dîkshâ,’ Leipzig, 1878.


[1] Or, as the vessel containing the divine Soma, the drink conferring immortality.
[2] See, for instance, Sat. Br. I, 6, 4, 5 seq. Possibly also the shape of the ‘horned moon’ may have facilitated the attribution. to that luminary of a hull-like nature such as is ascribed to Soma; though a similar attribution, it is true, is made in the case of other heavenly objects whose outward appearance offers no such points of comparison.
[3] M. A. Barth, The Vedic Religions, p. 27, on the other hand, is of opinion that this identification goes back to Indo-European times.
[4] St. Petersburg Dict. s. v. According to A. Kuhn, the two myths of the descent of Fire and of the divine Liquor spring from one and the same conception, whence the spark of fire is conceived as a drop. ‘Herabkunft,’ p. 161.
[5] Kuhn’s Zeitsch. f. Vergl. Spr. XVI, p. 183 seq.
[6] M. Bergaigne, II, p. 249, identifies with Sûrya’s daughter the girl (? Apâlâ) who, going to the water, found Soma, and took him home, saying, ‘I’ll press thee for Indra!’ On this hymn see Prof. Aufrecht, Ind. Stud. IV, 1 seq.
[7] On this hymn see A. Weber, Ind. Stud. V, 178 seq.; J. Ehni, Zeitsch. der D. M. G. XXXIII, p. 166 seq.
[8] Udhani, lit, in, or on, the udder (whence Soma is milked, i.e. the sky).
[9] Cf. Spiegel, Eranische Alterthumskunde, II, p. 114.
[10] Cf. A. Bergaigne, Religion Védique, II, 253. In the Brâhmanas it is not Soma, but the pressing-stone, that is identified with the Vagra.
[11] Prof. Ludwig proposes to read ‘va’grât’ instead of ‘vagro,’ thus ‘more beautiful than Indra’s beautiful thunderbolt.’ But even if we retain the received reading, ‘vapushah’ might refer to the (real) thunderbolt; though, of course, it may also be taken as referring either to the sun, or to Agni, or to some other deity or heavenly object.
[12] Cf. A. Bergaigne, II, 251.
[13] For the same reason I find it impossible to accept M. Bergaigne’s interpretation of the hymn IV, 27, put forward at the end of his work (vol. iii, p. 322 seq.). According to that interpretation, Soma, in the first verse, declares that he himself flew forth from his prison as an eagle; and then, in the second verse as it were reproving those who might imagine the eagle to be a different being from himself he adds, ‘It was not he (the eagle) that bore me away with ease, but I triumphed by my own cleverness and bravery!’ I am afraid this critical specimen of the feathered tribe will not find many admirers among prosaic Sanskritists. I should prefer, with Prof. Roth, to read ‘nir ádîyat’ instead of ‘nir adîyam,’ unless it were possible to read ‘syenagavásâ’ instead of ‘syenó gavásâ.’ M. Koulikovski, in the paper referred to, throws the hymns IV, 26 and 27 together, and takes them as a sort of mytho-critical controversy between the god Soma and some other person (perhaps the author himself), advocating two different versions of the Soma-myth, viz. Soma contending that it was himself who brought the divine plant, while his interlocutor (‘who has the last word in the hymn’) maintains that it was brought by a falcon. Thus, according to this scholar, the falcon was already (!) distinguished from Soma; and these two hymns ‘are, as it were, an echo of a religious, or rather mythological dispute, which had divided the theologians of the Vedic epoch.’ Perhaps Prof. Oldenberg’s theory of Âkhyâta-hymns, or detached pieces of poetry connected by prose narratives, might have a chance with these hymns.
[14] Cp. IX, 100, 3: ‘Send forth mind-yoked thought, as the thunder sends forth rain.’
[15] For a description of this phenomenon in the districts where we must imagine the Vedic poets to have composed their hymns, see Elphinstone, Account of the Kingdom of Cabool, p. 126 seq. I cannot forbear here to quote a few extracts from a graphic description of the setting in of the monsoon in India proper, given in the Rev. H. Caunter’s Oriental Annual (1834): ’There was a slight haze upon the distant waters which seemed gradually to thicken, although not to a density sufficient to refract the rays of the sun, which still flooded the broad sea with one unvarying mass of glowing light… Towards the afternoon, the aspect of the sky began to change; the horizon gathered blackness, and the sun, which had risen so brightly, had evidently culminated in darkness, and to have his splendour veiled from human sight by a long, gloomy period of storm and turbulence. Masses of heavy clouds appeared to rise from the sea, black and portentous, accompanied by sudden gusts of wind, that suddenly died away, being succeeded by an intense, death-like stillness, as if the air were in a state of utter stagnation, and its vital properties arrested. It seemed no longer to circulate, until again agitated by the brief but mighty gusts which swept fiercely along, like the giant heralds of the sky. Meanwhile the lower circle of the heavens looked a deep brassy red, from the partial reflection of the sunbeams upon the thick clouds, which had now everywhere overspread it … From the house which we occupied we could behold the setting in of the monsoon in all its grand and terrific sublimity. The wind, with a force which nothing could resist, bent the tufted heads of the tall, slim cocoa-nut trees almost to the earth, flinging the light sand into the air in eddying vortices, until the rain had either so increased its gravity, or beaten it into a mass, as to prevent the wind from raising it. The pale lightning streamed from the clouds in broad sheets of flame, which appeared to encircle the heavens as if every element had been converted into fire, and the world was on the eve of a general conflagration, whilst the peal, which instantly followed, was like the explosion of a gunpowder-magazine, or the discharge of artillery in the gorge of a mountain, where the repercussion of surrounding hills multiplies with terrific energy its deep and astounding echoes. The heavens seemed to be one vast reservoir of flame, which was propelled from its voluminous bed by some invisible but omnipotent agency, and threatened to fling its fiery ruin upon everything around. In some parts, however, of the pitchy vapour by which the skies were by this time completely overspread, the lightning was seen only occasionally to glimmer in faint streaks of light, as if struggling, but unable, to escape from its prison, igniting, but too weak to burst, the impervious bosoms of those capacious magazines in which it was at once engendered and pent up. So heavy and continuous was the rain, that scarcely anything, save those vivid bursts of light which nothing could arrest or resist, was perceptible through it . . . . Day after day the same scene was repeated with somewhat less violence, though at intervals the might of the hurricane was truly appalling . . . . The breaking up of the monsoon is frequently even more violent, if possible, than its setting in, and this happened to be the case during the first season after my arrival in India. It was truly stupendous, and I shall never cease to remember it to the latest moment of my existence.’
[16] The Academy, Oct. 25, 1884 Feb. 14, 1885.
[17] Ibid., Jan. 31, 1885.
[18] Eranische Alterthumskunde, III, p. 572.
[19] Especially Sarcostemma intermedium, S. brevistigma, and S. viminale (or Asclepias acida). See R. Roth, Zeitsch. der D. Morg. Ges. vol. xxxv, p. 681 seq.
[20] American Journal of Philology, vol. iii, pp. 391-410; Proceedings of the American Oriental Society, October 18S2, p. xiv seq.
[21] Or perhaps the lower shell which represents the earth, being as it were a symbol of firmness and safety.
[22] Professor Max Müller has been kind enough to send me a number of passages from Upanishads and Âranyakas, in which âtman has the sense of ‘body, trunk,’ and is usually explained in the commentaries by sarîra (âtmânah = sarîrâvayavâh, Brihadâr. Up. I, 1, 2, 7). The adverb adhyâtmam, he remarks, always means ‘with reference to the body;’ cf. Taitt. Up. I, 7; Sat. Br. IV, 1, 3, 1, the present volume, p. 265, note 1.
[23] See Grassmann, Wörterbuch s. v.; M. Bergaigne, III, 334, takes this passage to supply the etymology of the word.

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