ASIAN 224: 'Traditions of Poetry in India'

Short paper # 1: The hymn versus the poem. (first draft due on 11 Sep)

On this and other pages are translations by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty of a selection of Vedic hymns. You are to select two of them, one which you consider to be the most 'hymn-like' and one which comes closest to your conception (whatever it may be) of poetry. For your first assignment you are to discuss the two items that you select and attempt to define what features render one of them more poetic and the other less so. Try to find at least three such features. I want you to be as concrete as you possibly can and to provide evidence to support your views by citing and discussing specific phrases and lines from the hymns you select. Part of the result of writing this paper should be a sharpening of your awareness of what you expect to find in poetry.
Another approach to this assignment is to reject the premise that definition of 'poetry' or 'hymn' is possible. If you choose this option I still expect concrete and specific discussion.

Back to schedule of course activities.

Back to Vedic index.

1.1 I Pray to Agni (god of fire)

1. I pray to Agni, the household priest who is the god of the sacrifice, the one who chants and invokes and brings most treasure.

2. Agni earned the prayers of ancient sages, and of those of the present, too; he will bring the gods here.

3. Through Agni one may win wealth, and growth from day to day, glorious and most abounding in heroic sons.

4. Agni, the sacrificial ritual that you encompass on all sides - only that one goes to the gods.

5. Agni, the priest with the sharp sight of a poet, the true and most brilliant, the god will come with the gods.

6. Whatever good you wish to do for the one who worships you, Agni, through you, O Angiras, that comes true.

7. To you, Agni, who shine upon darkness, we come day after day, bringing our thoughts and homage

8. to you, the king over sacrifices, the shining guardian of the Order, growing in your own house.

9. Be easy for us to reach, like a father to his son. Abide with us, Agni, for our happiness.

7.103 The Frogs

1. After lying still for a year, Brahmins keeping their vow, the frogs have raised their voice that Parjanya (god of rain) has inspired.

2. When the heavenly waters came upon him dried out like a leather bag, lying in the pool, then the cries of the frogs joined in chorus like the lowing of cows with calves.

3. As soon as the season of rains has come, and it rains upon them who are longing, thirsting for it, one approaches another who calls to him, 'Akhkhala', as a son approaches his father.

4. One of the two greets the other as they revel in the waters that burst forth, and the frog leaps about under the falling rain, the speckled mingling his voice with the green.

5. When one of them repeats the speech of the other, as a pupil that of the teacher, every piece of them is in unison, as with fine voices you chant over the waters.

6. One lows like a cow, one bleats like a goat; one is speckled, one is green. They have the same name but they differ in form, and as they speak they ornament their voices in many ways.

7. Like Brahmins at the overnight sacrifice who speak around the full bowl of Soma, so you frogs around a pool celebrate the day of the year when the rains come.

8. Brahmins with Soma raise their voices offering the prayer for the beginning of the year; the officiating priests come forth heated and sweating. None remain hidden.

9. They have kept the order of the twelve-month as ordained by the gods; these men do not neglect the season. When the season of rains has come, after a year, the hot fires come to an end.

10. He who lows like a cow has given, he who bleats like a goat has given, the speckled one, the green one has given us riches. By giving hundreds of cows, the frogs have prolonged the life in a thousand Soma-pressings.

10.129 Creation

1. There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. What stirred? Where? In whose protection? Was there water, bottomlessly deep?

2. There was neither death nor immortality then. There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day. That one breathed, windless, by its own impulse. Other than that there was nothing beyond.

3. Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning; with no distinguishing sign, all this was water. The life force that was covered with emptiness, that one arose through the power of heat.

4. Desire came upon that one in the beginning; that was the first seed of the mind. Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom found the bond of existence in non-existence.

5. Their cord was extended across. Was there below? Was there above? There were seed-placers; there were powers. There was impulse beneath; there was giving forth above.

6. Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. Who the knows whence it has arisen?

7. Whence this creation has arisen- perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not - the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows - or perhaps he does not know.

1.179 Agastya and Lopâmudrâ

1. [Lopâmudrâ] 'For many autumns past I have toiled, night and day, and each dawn has brought old age closer, age that distorts the glory of bodies. Virile men should go to their wives.

2. 'For even the men of the past, who acted according to the Law and talked about the Law with the gods, broke off when they did not find the end. Women should unite with virile men.'

3. [Agastya] 'Not in vain all this toil, which the gods encourage. We two must always strive against each other, and by this we will win the race that is won by a hundred means, when we merge together as a couple.'

4. [Lopâmudrâ] 'Desire has come upon me for the bull who roars and is held back, desire engulfing me from this side, that side, all sides.' [The poet] Lopamudrâ draws out the virile bull; the foolish woman sucks dry the panting wise man.

5. [Agastya] 'By this Soma which I have drunk, in my innermost heart I say: Let him forgive us if we have sinned, for a mortal is full of many desires.'

6. [The poet] Agastya, digging with spades, wishing for children, progeny, and strength, nourished both ways, for he was a powerful sage. He found fulfilment of his real hopes among the gods.

9.74 Soma

1. Like a new-born child he bellows in the wood, the tawny racehorse straining to win the sun. He unites with the sky's seed that grows great with milk. With kind thoughts we pray to him for far-reaching shelter.

2. He who is the pillar of the sky, the well-adorned support, the full stalk that encircles all around, he is the one who by tradition sacrifices to these two great world-halves. The poet holds together the conjoined pair, and the refreshing foods.

3. The honey of Soma is a great feast; the wide pasture of Aditi is for the man who follows the right way. Child of dawn, the bull who rules over the rain here, leader of the waters, worthy of hymns, he is the one who brings help here.

4. Butter and milk are milked from the living cloud; the navel of Order, the ambrosia is born. Together those who bring fine gifts satisfy him; the swollen men piss down the fluid set in motion.

5. The stalk roared as it united with the wave; for man he swells the skin that attracts the gods. He places in the lap of Aditi the seed by which we win sons and grandsons.

6. Relentlessly they flow down into the filter of a thousand streams; let them have offspring in the third realm of the world. Four hidden springs pouring forth butter carry down the sky the ambrosia that is oblation.

7. He takes on a white color when he strains to win; Soma, the generous Asura, knows the whole world. He clings to inspired thought and ritual action as he goes forth; let him hurl down from the sky the cask full of water.

8. Now he has gone to the white pot coated by cows; the racehorse has reached the winning line and has won a hundred cows for Kaks!uat, the man of a hundred winters. Longing for gods in their heart, they hasten forth.

9. Clarifying Soma, when you are sated with waters your juice runs through the sieve made of wool. Polished by the poets, Soma who brings extreme ecstasy, be sweet for Indra to drink.

10.125 Speech

1. I move with the Rudras, with the Vasus, with the Adityas and all the gods. I carry both Mitra and Varuna, both Indra and Agni, and both of the Ashvins.

2. I carry the swelling Soma, and Tvastr, and Pušan and Bhaga. I bestow wealth on the pious sacrificer who presses the Soma and offers the oblation.

3. I am the queen, the confluence of riches, the skilful one who is first among those worthy of sacrifice. The gods divided me up into various parts, for I dwell in many places and enter into many forms.

4. The one who eats food, who truly sees, who breathes, who hears what is said, does so through me. Though they do not realize it, they dwell in me. Listen, you whom they have heard: what I tell you should be heeded.

5. I am the one who says, by myself, what gives joy to gods and men. Whom I love I make awesome; I make him a sage, a wise man, a Brahmin.

6. I stretch the bow for Rudra so that his arrow will strike down the hater of prayer. I incite the contest among the people. I have pervaded sky and earth.

7. I gave birth to the father of the head of this world. My womb is in the waters, within the ocean. From there I spread out over all creatures and touch the very sky with the crown of my head.

8. I am the one who blows like the wind, embracing all creatures. Beyond the sky, beyond this earth, so much have I become in my greatness.

10.146 Lost in the Forest

1. Spirit of the forest, spirit of the forest, who seem to melt away, how is it that you do not ask about a village? Doesn't a kind of fear grasp you?

2. When the Chichika bird takes up the refrain from the droning cricket, the spirit of the forest is like a hunter startling the game with his noisy beaters.

3. The spirit of the forest at evening: You think you see the cows grazing; you think you see a house; you think a cart is rumbling.

4. Whoever stays in the forest at evening imagines: Someone is calling his cow; someone else is cutrting wood; someone is crying out.

5. The spirit of the forest does not kill - not if no one else approaches. She eats sweet fruit and lies down wherever she pleases.

6. Mother of wild beasts, untilled by a plow but full of food, sweet-smelling of perfume and balm - to her, the spirit of the forest, I offer my praise.

10.145 Against Rival Wives

1. I dig up this plant, the most powerful thing that grows, with which one drives out the rival wife and wins the husband entirely for oneself.

2. Broad-leaved plant sent by the gods to bring happiness and the power to triumph, blow my rival wife away and make my husband mine alone.

3. O highest one, I am the highest one, higher than all the highest women, and my rival wife is lower than the lowest women.

4. I will not even take her name into my mouth; he takes no pleasure in this person. Far, far into the distance we make the rival wife go.

5. I have emerged triumphant, and you also have triumphed. The two of us, full of the power to triumph, will triumph over my rival wife.

6. [to the husband] I have placed the plant of triumph on you, and grasped you with my power to triumph. Let your heart run after me like a cow after a calf, like water running in its own bed.

10.127 Night

1. The goddess Night has drawn near, looking about on many sides with her eyes. She has put on all her glories.

2. The immortal goddess has filled the wide space, the depths and the heights. She stems the tide of darkness with her light.

3. The goddess has drawn near, pushing aside her sister the twilight. Darkness, too, will give way.

4. As you came near to us today, we turned homeward to rest, as birds go to their home in a tree.

5. People who live in villages have gone home to rest, and animals with feet, and animals with wings, even the ever-searching hawks.

6. Ward off the she-wolf and the wolf; ward off the thief. O night full of waves, be easy for us to cross over.

7. Darkness - palpable, black, and painted - has come upon me. O Dawn, banish it like a debt.

8. I have driven this hymn to you as the herdsman drives cows. Choose and accept it, O Night, daughter of the sky, like a song of praise to a conqueror.


Back to schedule of course activities.

Back to Vedic index.

Last updated on 15 August 2003.