Creation, Ecstatic Visions, and the Fire Sacrifice



Creation Myths in the Early Vedas

1.    Cosmogony:  explanation or story of how things got started; tells us something about the living nature of the world; often a narrative form of asking and answering questions about beginnings

a.    A widely known cosmogonic myth from medieval Hinduism: Samudra Manthan (churning of the ocean) 

2.    Three of the cosmogonies in the Rigveda: 

a.    Indra slays Vrtra: A cosmic battle

                                     i.     Indra is called upon by

                                   ii.     Vrtra: darkness and bondage, keeps the waters of the world trapped in his belly (or within a mountain around which he is wrapped as a serpent). 

1.    Water as primordial condition.  Indra: powers of existence, creation, order in the world

                                 iii.     Indra overcomes Vrtra:  Reaching to the heart of creative potential to release it into activity and order

b.    Purusha Sukta: A sacrifice of the comic man

                                     i.     The significance of sacrifice

1.    As microcosm: a small version of the

2.    As creative paradigm of all existence

3.    As means of maintaining the worlds creative and ordered processes

c.    The Hymn of Origins: Philosophical speculation in narrative form

                                     i.     Wondering about the ultimate nature and source of all things: what lies beyond ordinary experience?

                                   ii.     The One behind the Many:  India’s question: What is the relationship between absolute unity and infinite and creative multiplicity

1.    Compare to the 9th century CE image of Nataraja: Embodies the absolute and unchanging origin and the multitudinous, creative and dynamic world

3.    Early Vedic Notion of Ultimate Being and Power – personified and impersonal

a.    Personified, divine Beings and their stories and worship

                                     i.     Devas: Many supernatural beings – some more important than others; some related to natural phenomena, others not.

                                   ii.     Agni: pervades world as heat, identified with sacred cow, the sun, dawn, fire hidden in the stomach. Particularly the sacrificial fire.  Transports dead to realm of yama; transports and purifies all offerings to realm of the gods.

                                 iii.     Soma: link between human and divine, brings ecstasy and understanding of the divine realms.  Identified with Agni and with the moon, which contains ambrosia of immortality (amrita)

                                 iv.     Indra: empowered by soma, destroys obstacles with thunderbolt. Destruction of the snake Vritra

b.    An impersonal (not personified) notions of creative and organizing power:  Rta

                                     i.     Rta infuses the cosmos (all of creation) and generates order in the world

4.    Visionary and Sacrificial Dimensions

a.    Visionary: Rishis – “seers.” And soma.  Seeing beyond ordinary appearances.  Direct hearing (ri) of the ultimate truth and forces of the universe

b.    Sacrificial: Vedic Sacrifice

                                     i.     At the beginning of the early vedic period, priests performed the sacrifices to make right relations with the gods.  In the latter part of the early vedic period, emphasis was on the sacrifice as a way to directly influence the world through proper performance.

                                   ii.     Acts and worship in the sacrifice have hidden ties with cosmic realities.

                                 iii.     The priest, by manipulating these tokens, can bring about desired effects in the outer world.  Priest knows secret correspondences between symbols in ritual and cosmic powers to which they refer.