The Purusha Sukta, An Aurobindonian Interpretation— The Fourfold Order and the Four Powers of the Divine Mother by RY Deshpande 5 December 2006 on Wed 06 Dec 2006 11:51 AM PST Permanent Link
Purusha Sukta in the Rig Veda (X: 90) celebrates famously the Sacrifice of the Purusha performed by the Gods, the Rishis and the Sadhyas, the accomplished celestial beings. All is established in the Sacrifice and therefore Sacrifice is the best means of achieving whatever has to be achieved, asserts a scriptural text. What did these sacrificers intend to achieve by performing the difficult sacrifice? the cosmic order, the possibility for growth, conquest, expansion, winning new grounds, making the law of the higher truth-existence operational in the universal functioning, instituting the dharma? Indeed, it was for that, and only by it could they themselves ascend to greater realms of immortality. It is in the Sacrifice of the Purusha, the Holocaust of the primal Being, Yajna of the Great Person that the incomparable deed was carried out. In an enterprising act, by making an offering of this Purusha himself, the Male who is the begetter of things in all the worlds was this Yajna completed. Its jubilation in the Rig Veda is a forceful triumph-song of the Creator poised for Cosmic Action,—“a profound composition,” as Sri Aurobindo says about it.
Cosmic activity got initiated in the performance of this Yajna. It is said that Brahma remained inactive “because of not knowing” and he was advised, as we have in the Sakalya Bramhana, to perform a Yajna. “From your sacrificed body you shall create bodies for all living creatures, as you have done in Kalpas before this, in the earlier Eras.” The recommended Yajna was the Sarvahuta Yajna, the Offering of All, presented in the Purusha Sukta. In it Male the Begetter was the Ahuti, the sacrificial offering to the Mystic Fire; Spring and Autumn and Summer in the completeness of cyclic Time were the elements for the offering; the Gods, Sadhyas the accomplished beings, and the Rishis were the Ritviks, the priests performing the Yajna; in it all Nature was the Barhisha, the Altar. And what was the yield of the Yajna? It consisted of clarified butter mixed with white curd, and the birds and the beasts, the Sun, the Moon, the Wind-God, and Indra and Agni, and the Metres and the Hymns and the Chants, and the realms of bright dwelling, and the Ordinances of the Truth, the Directives of the Dharma. To establish all this, the sacrifice was performed; in it Sacrifice itself became a sacrifice in greatness of the cosmic working. Thus in it the Gods ascended to heaven, opening the path of immortality.
We shall first go though the text with a free rendering, more in terms of its swift intuitive-perceptive sense than the exact literary phrasing or contents, in the suppleness of the meaning and the shades the roots of the words bear. This is more an interpretative trans-creation than the strict analytic-discursive argument presented about the process of this cosmic functioning. In fact the Sukta is a small beautiful poem in sixteen stanzas, a well-structured, well-argued well-presented significant thesis in poetry extending to universal dimensions. Such indeed is the power of all genuine mystic speech which has found the original expression, an expression that springs up from the depths of luminous silence. Its metaphor is bold, such as the transcendental Purusha being a four-footed creature, like Vamadeva’s Agni the Bull with four horns; its lyricism is dense and classical, functional as well as suggestive; its symbolism is vibrant with the life of the object that it represents; its image is Keatsian, and minute and sharp, the sight behind it making the invisible at once visible, tangible; its lines, coming from infinity, have the power to carry us to the infinity to which they go, to which they belong. They bring the knowledge they possess in such abundance and in such exaltation. And yet we must appreciate that the language of the Purusha Sukta is essentially ritualistic.
To the modern mind it might appear archaic and it will be difficult for it to fully or enthusiastically comprehend it; but it is a highly charged expression. There is also the difficulty that its idiom belonging to the classical Sanskrit can be taken in several ways, both literal and symbolic, aspects whose deeper psychological connotations we have lost in the intervening centuries. However, there is something astonishing also about the hymn. Though it is a composition belonging to the Vedic period, it is unusually fresh even today. What is necessary is to know how to enter into its living spirit and move in its dynamism which is powerful as well as felicitous.