• 20 Jul, 2024

A Morphology of Vedic Creation Hymns

A Morphology of Vedic Creation Hymns

Continuing our series on the Veda in Sri Aurobindo's Light


The Veda is a Sanhita, i.e., it is a collection of Vedic hymns that were compiled in an organized and structured manner at the end of a unique age in human history. The structure of Veda has a clear purpose and thought behind it. It is my belief that with advances in certain modern sciences such as linguistics, semiotics, and morphology along with artificial intelligence and technology, we can peer into its secrets with another set of eyes.  

The Veda is a collection of more than 1000 Suktas, organized in 10 Mandalas. All through these Suktas we see esoteric symbols and myths that interconnect, interface, crisscross, grow and change in meanings and nuances. It seems that through the vast possible variations and configurations we may be able to discover esoterica and arcana in the Sanhita that may enhance our understanding of their selection.  

It is true that the six Vedangas are the ancient and traditional ways to approach the Veda and its infinite complexity. I submit that we should add new modules to its study. The most important, of course, is Adhyatma or spirituality and its practice. Without experiencing the truths of Veda, and its symbolic realizations in real life, one may not truly appreciate its breadth, depth, and height. Thus, the most important Vedanga, in my opinion, is Adhyatma. To this we may add the modern approach of Embryonic Linguistics, Symbology and Morphology as first explored and hinted at by Sri Aurobindo.  

In this spirit, I have tentatively attempted to study the morphology of Creation Hymns in the Veda. The goal is to compare them, see their similarities and contrasts, the shared themes and motifs, the symbols, and their recurrence. And using the key to The Secret of the Veda given us by Sri Aurobindo, attempt to unravel their hidden message and perhaps also gain in sharing the larger vision of the ancient Rishis who witnessed their birth.  

Morphology as a science has developed since Ferdinand Saussure brought in a new methodology to the study of linguistics more than a century ago. His suggestion to study the signs in a language, away from the complexity of variations in grammar, phonetics, and historical development, helped create the new science and philosophy of Structuralism. And it also gave us the approach that was by Claude Levi-Strauss and Vladimir Propp to study cultural differences, anthropology, and in Propp’s case, the Russian fairy tale.  

Vladimir Propp in Morphology of the Folktale identifies the five categories of elements that ‘defined not only the construction of a tale, but the tale as a whole.’ These were:   

1. Functions of dramatis personae  

2. Conjunctive elements or interconnections of functions  

3. Motivations (reasons and aims of personages)  

4. Forms of appearance of dramatis personae   

5. Attributive elements or accessories   

Based on his analysis, he described 31 basic structural elements (or functions) that are seen in Russian folktales. This is called the syntagmatic approach. Claude Levi-Strauss in the Structuralist Theory of Mythology described another mode of analysis, called the paradigmatic structuralist approach, which shows the latent content of the narrative and differs from the linear sequential structure of Propp. It seems to me that both approaches are relevant in studying the Veda. To delineate first the empirical, which itself would be an onerous task considering the size and complexity of the Veda. And then to find hidden structures which are far more fluid than Russian folktales and symbolic would entail research on a vast scale.  

As an example, we will briefly consider a comparison of the structure, paradigmatic and syntagmatic, of the Creation hymns of Veda, all from the 10th Mandala. These are:  

  1. Rigveda 10.72: Aditi and the Birth of the Gods  
  2. Rigveda 10.81-82: The Vishvakarma Suktas  
  3. Rigveda 10.90: The Purusha Sukta  
  4. Rigveda 10.121 The Hiranyagarbha Sukta     
  5. Rigveda 10.129 The Nasadiya Sukta  
  6. Rigveda 10.130 The Creation of Yajna Sukta  
  7. Rigveda 10.190 The Tapas Sukta or Agh Marshana Sukta    

If we compare the Nasadiya Sukta and the Hiranyagarbha Sukta, we notice that the Nasadiya begins with the elimination of all concepts.   

“There was neither non-being nor being then,” it says. And continues, “Nor any movement no space beyond…. There was neither death nor life, neither night nor day.” And so, neither this nor that. Perhaps we can say that Neti Neti as a method of questioning and probing, as meditation and experiencing deeply, was first deployed in the Nasadiya Sukta.   

If we look at the first verse of Hiranyagarbha Sukta, it states that “In the beginning the golden embryo came into being or rose. Once it was born, it became the Lord of creation.” We see that the two suktas take a different approach. The Nasadiya from a state of complete rejection of all ideas and concepts possible akin to a pre-Buddhist Shoonya. And the Hiranyagarbha from a golden fullness that has and is everything. And yet, though they come seemingly from opposite poles, each is part of a bigger picture that is consistent and coherent.  

For the Golden Egg too is a state without preconception. In its wholeness is the whole Universe, of which there is nothing outside. But garbha is also womb and it takes us back to the state individually and cosmically where there is no separative identity in its oneness, like a fetus utterly dependent on the waters for its sustenance, being and state of Unity. It is perhaps our only memory of Samadhi that each of us carries in the subliminal memory. And we see these waters recur as a theme in several of these Creation Hymns.  

Thus, both the Nasadiya and Hiranyagarbha begin with a mystical meditation of either the absolute void where no concept is possible or the mystical wholeness where too no concept is possible. The symbol of Shoonya or the symbol of womb are the same consciousness without the movement of thought or memory and in which consciousness and being are instinct with bliss.  

When we compare these with the first mantra of Purusha Sukta, we come to the Purushottama, the Ultimate Person, who is ‘a thousand heads, eyes, and feet, and pervades existence from all sides’ in its symbolic language. And yet this is not a human for it is Consciousness and Being of an infinite scale, again beyond our limited mentality and thought. The Purusha Sukta too is a device of meditation, of reaching a state of awareness beyond idea or intellectualism, taking anthropomorphism to a state unidentifiable with the human and transcending it.  

Each Sukta mentioned above takes the same approach in the beginning, not only as a meditation but as a symbolic representation of an origin that was always pre-cognition and pre-conception. And this is the nature of the Suktas. They are a journey within while they purport to be describing an external timeless event.  

Let us consider the symbols in these Suktas. The most prominent one in the first mantra of Nasadiya Sukta is ambhah or water and the third mantra depicts the Salilam Apraketam, or the Inconscient Ocean. According to the key given to us by Sri Aurobindo, the unmanifest ocean is the symbol of the vast being of the Divine, and we see it recurring through several other Suktas such as the Hiranyagarbha, the Aditi, and Tapas Suktas.   

The other symbol prominent in these Creation Hymns is that of yajna, which appears in the Purusha Sukta, Tapas Sukta, and the Vishvakarma Suktas. Here again, if we use the symbolic key given by Sri Aurobindo, yajna is not sacrifice or ritualistic fire but it is the primordial Fire and Light of the Universal Being in which the Universal Being offers itself. It is Vishnu, Shiva, yoga, and Dharma. And it is the self-offering of the Divine and the cosmos in the mystical cycle of creation, sustenance and ending of the Universe.  

Thus, a morphologic table of the Creation Hymns may be created that is barely hinted at in this tentative essay. And it may include a review of other symbols such as vyoma or sky, mantra or the creative word, and other devas who are born in later stages of creation. We can also compare how each of these hymns end, the Nasadiya with wonder and bold speculations or the Aditi with the concept of Martanda or the Dead Egg of Sun that is placed in the world of life and death. Each is profound and experiential. And I submit, becomes a part of a composite vision that is breathtaking in scale, possibility, and realization.  

It may also be worthwhile to compare these seven Creation Hymns with Genesis in The Bible or creation as described in The Quran or The Symbol Dawn of Sri Aurobindo’s own Savitri or other Creation mythologies of various cultures. And to see how the Vedic symbols have been adopted in Christianity and Islam. And how Sri Aurobindo created Savitri, an epic permeated with deep Vedic symbolism throughout and mantrik intonations, as far as they are possible in English.  

Perhaps a greater study in Vedic morphology may be attempted, to study how the symbols have been used throughout the Sruti, how they interrelate, and influence each other. And how the Sanhita was compiled more than four millennia ago and with what inner schema and structure. R.L. Kashyap studied words such as gau and its vibhaktis  in more than a thousand riks of the Veda and figured out the sense in which they were used, signifying rays of light or the revelation of higher knowledge or sometimes the cow. Such an application of technology to the most ancient spiritual text available to us may help us appreciate better the wisdom and insights of our ancestors as they sang of light and the bliss of soma through a process of individual and collective refinement and growth.  

A Morphological Table of Vedic Creation Hymns  

Rigveda                         Origin/                            First                               First         

Sukta                             Source                           Image                            Movement            

10.72                             Asat /Formless              Smithy                           Spring/Birth  

10.81-82                        Vishvakarma                 Yajna                             Making/Creating  

10.90                             Purusha                        Bhumi/Earth                   Pervading/Rising  

10.121                            Hiranyagarbha              Golden Egg                    Arising  

10.129                           That One Tad Ekam      Unmanifest Ocean         Breathing by Tad Ekam  

10.130                           Prajapati                       Yajna                              Weaving  

10.190                           Tapas                            Night/Ocean                   Birth  

When we start comparing the chief Creation Hymns, several facts stand out. One is the tendency to stretch the mind of the listener to a state beyond thought or conception. And different approaches are used to accomplish this. X.72 begins with Asat which here does not mean non-existence but the formless. X.81-82 begins with yajna and is perhaps the least confounding to the mind. Purusha in X.90 is not a person but constantly stretches vision and imagination to a being that is beyond the Universe. Hiranyagarbha as discussed above is an approach of iti iti, an egg or womb that holds in itself everything and nothing outside it is possible. X.129 or the famous Nasadiya begins with neti neti and then comes to Tad Ekam. X.130 begins with Prajapati who is performing the yajna and weaves the Universe, an intriguing image. X.190 begins with Tapas out of which arise Sat and Asat but does not give us an image of where the Tapas came from.  

Comparing Creation Hymns in Veda what do we find? Several interesting features. One is that these hymns are used as meditation for the seeker. To take away any conceptions or ideas about God and turn this dhyana into revelation. To create that Timeless Moment again in our awareness.  

Veda is the only spiritual text with more than one Creation Hymn. Or shall we say, it revels in the multiple possibilities of the Creation Hymn itself. And gives us countless perspectives on the same indescribable origin that is nowhere and everywhere, never and eternally now. This is due to the several Rishis who realized these hymns in their consciousness, and expressed them sharing the same language of symbols, meter, music, and spiritual significance.  

The symbols that recur throughout the Veda come to a maturation of clarity and definition, and yet intersperse, intermingle, interact, interplay when we consider these seven hymns together. Like an infinity mirror or perhaps seven infinity mirrors of multiple symbols in a creative dance of stillness. And this perhaps is an apt image to describe its infinite possibilities and potential. And all our snapshots of its whether via morphology, or linguistics, or any other Vedanga, only captures one perspective and one insight.  

Or like a weaving of multiple designs, from the rays of the yajna. Or in a smithy where the world is forged. All these images of creation applicable to the Veda itself, itself a hologram of the Universe. And this perhaps was the intention or aspiration of the Rishis. To make the Veda as a microcosm of the Brahmanda, the egg of Brahman.   

Pariksith Singh MD

Author, poet, philosopher and medical practitioner based in Florida, USA. Pariksith Singh has been deeply engaged, spiritually and intellectually, with Sri Aurobindo and his Yoga for almost all his adult life, and is the author of 'Sri Aurobindo and the Literary Renaissance of India', 'Sri Aurobindo and Philosophy', and 'The Veda Made Simple'.

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