Creation in the Rig Veda (again)

The One and The Many – author photo

I recently saw an impressive work of public art by the sculptor Peter Randall-Page, which is pictured above.  In the words of the artist

“‘The One and The Many’, is sculpted from a 24 tonne naturally eroded granite boulder and inscribed with many of the world’s scripts and symbols.  From the writings of ancient Babylonia to Mongolian ‘ornamental’ seal script, they recount stories of ‘the creation’: poetic musings and epic tales of our own origins.”

The immensity of the boulder does give an impression of something elementary, mysterious and primordial.  It may remind us of the great monuments of neolithic cultures, such as Göbekli Tepe, the Egyptian pyramids, and Stonehenge, which perhaps also in part express a similar basic human aesthetic need and similarly contain symbolic characteristics.  Among the different passages inscribed here, most of which I was sadly unable to identify or decipher, I was interested to see the last two lines of the Nāsadīya Sūkta from the Rig Veda, which I previously translated here.  Indeed, I have previously discussed Vedic creation myths in several earlier articles.  

However, this gave me the idea of translating yet one more creation-related verse, However, this gave me the idea of translating yet one more creation-related verse, again from the tenth book.  Though a different verse, the idea of a vast creation that starts with ‘night’ and basic elements also somehow seems to harmonize with the symbolism of this artwork.

Both order (ṛ̱ta) and truth (satyam) were born from ardour (tapas) inflamed.
Then night was born, then gathering waters.
From gathering waters was born the full year.
It made days and nights; master of all who close and open their eyes.
Fate (dhātā) made in turn sun and moon,
Sky and earth, atmosphere and light.

[Ṛg Veda Maṇḍala 10 Sūkta 190 of Ṛṣi Aghamarṣaṇa Mādhucchandasa; my own translation]

Remarks –

‘ṛ̱ta’ – a term closely connected with ‘dharma’, as I plan to discuss in a future article

satyam’ – cf. the national motto of India, सत्यमेव जयते, from the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad

‘tapas’ – I have followed the lead of the eminent scholar Roberto Calasso in translating this term as ‘ardour’

dhātā’ – a deity or impersonal force of fate, which I have previously discussed in the context of the Mahābhārata

‘made in turn sun and moon’ – Entering momentarily into the wonderful spirit of comparative cosmogony, which seemingly also motivates the artist, this may remind us somehow of the creation of sun and moon in other creation myths of the world.  We may consider the examples in the Book of Genesis, and in the work of JRR Tolkien, where sun and moon were made from fruit and flower of the Two Trees of Valinor.

“And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.”

[Genesis Chapter 1 Verse 16; KJV]

“Yet even as hope failed and her song faltered, Telperion bore at last upon a leafless bough one great flower of silver, and Laurelin a single fruit of gold.  These Yavanna took: and then the Trees died, and their lifeless stems stand yet in Valinor, a memorial of vanished joy.  But the flower and the fruit Yavanna gave to Aulë, and Manwë hallowed them, and Aulë and his people made vessels to hold them and preserve their radiance … These vessels the Valar gave to Varda, that they might become lamps of heaven, outshining the ancient stars, being nearer to Arda; and she gave them power to traverse the lower regions of Ilmen, and set them to voyage upon appointed courses above the girdle of the Earth from the West unto the East and to return.”

[The Silmarillion, Chapter 11, p.99]

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