Family and society in the Vedic period

On the occasion of Guru Pūrṇimā, our thoughts may turn to the venerable lineages of successive teachers and students in India.  As we will see, the need to record and preserve genealogical details of family and pedagogical lineages was already recognized in India in the earliest times.  Indeed, this is very likely a continuation of the concerns of proto-Indo-European people.  For many ancient peoples, family would perhaps be the main source of personal identity, and the basis of all religious life.

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On stealing from the gods

wisdom, forbidden knowledge, and access to divinity itself.  Divine trickery may be involved.  And the theft may be followed by divine anger and punishment.  This article will briefly review and compare three such myths, that of the eating from the ‘tree of knowledge’ in the Garden of Eden, the Greek myth of the theft of fire on behalf of humanity, and a similar Vedic myth about the stealing of fire.

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Love, death and Sanskrit literature

In romantic literature across the world, we frequently read about lovers who would die rather than be apart.  In the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, Pyramus kills himself, believing Thisbe to be dead.  When Thisbe finds the dead body of Pyramus, she also kills herself.  Romeo and Juliet, based on this story, and many other tales of world literature, follow a similar pattern.

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On craft-worker gods and heroes

For ancient as well as modern people, God has been conceived of in a bewildering variety of ways.  At one extreme, we see a wholly abstract and ineffable power, such as the Advaitic conception of Brahman, and on the other hand, we find an anthropomorphic god such as Krishna in the Mahābhārata, who is faced by the same moral dilemmas and limitations on his ability to act as the rest of us.

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T.S. Eliot, the Vedas and the Concept of Time

The concept of time seems to have been a preoccupation for many leading figures of this generation across a variety of fields, stimulated perhaps in part by the linking of hitherto distant regions through railway and telegraphy during the nineteenth century, and likely also by the impact of Einstein’s work.  Such figures might include Henri Bergson, Martin Heidegger, Marcel Proust, Salvador Dali and many others.

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Speech in the Rig Veda

age has been connected with religious and ethical traditions in diverse regions of the world and throughout history, from the Biblical idea that the Word is God to the Confucian idea of the rectification of names.  In the Indian tradition, too, language has been of central importance, and this has motivated a tradition of linguistic analysis and linguistic precision in the Sanskrit language.  Indeed, for some Indian thinkers, sound itself, in the form of human speech, is the metaphysical basis for our entire reality.

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The separation of Earth and Sky

If, however, we were to speculate more freely, we may canvas a possible connection with the English word ‘hebban’, meaning ‘to lift’ or ‘to raise’, made plausible when we think of the sky as something that has been raised up as a firmament or heavenly vault.  This line of thought gains further strength when we consider the many creation myths about the separation of earth and sky to make room in the cosmos for us. 

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Talking with the rivers

Rivers have been revered since time immemorial in cultures across the world.  For ancient peoples, the pure waters provided by rivers to drink and to water crops must have seemed to be a blessing from nature or from the gods.  In the Rig Veda, the sapta-sindhu or seven rivers stand pre-eminent.  Two among these, the Vipāśā (Beas) and Śutudrī (Satluj) rivers are the interlocutors of the sage Viśvamitra in a fascinating and unique conversation translated here.

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