Nasadiya Sukta

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Nasadiya Sukta
"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 then knows whence it has arisen?"

RV 10.129.6 (trans. O'Flaherty 1981)[1]

The Nasadiya Sukta (after the incipit ná ásat, or "not the non-existent"), also known as the Hymn of Creation, is the 129th hymn of the 10th mandala of the Rigveda (10:129). It is concerned with cosmology and the origin of the universe.[2]

The hymn that immediately follows (10.130) deals with the origin of sacrifice and similarly refers to a creator figure, puṃs "the Man", identified with Prajāpati by Sāyana.[3]

Interpretations[edit]

The hymn has attracted a large body of literature of commentaries both in Indian darsanas and in Western philology;[4] the hymn, as Mandala 10 in general, is late within the Rigveda Samhita, and expresses thought more typical of later Indian philosophy.[5] Even though untypical of the content of the Vedic hymns, it is one of the most widely received portions of the Rigveda. An atheist interpretation sees the Creation Hymn as one of the earliest accounts of skeptical inquiry and agnosticism.[6] Astronomer Carl Sagan quoted it in discussing India's "tradition of skeptical questioning and unselfconscious humility before the great cosmic mysteries."[7]

The text begins by paradoxically stating "not the non-existent existed, nor did the existent exist then" (ná ásat āsīt ná u sát āsīt tadânīm), paralleled in verse 2 by "then not death existed, nor the immortal" (ná mṛtyúḥ āsīt amŕtam ná tárhi). But already in verse 2 mention is made that there was "breathing without breath, of its own nature, that one" ânīt avātám svadháyā tát ékam). In verse 3, being unfolds, "from heat (tapas) was born that one" (tápasaḥ tát mahinâ ajāyata ékam). Verse 4 mentions desire (kāma) as the primal seed, and the first poet-seers (kavayas) who "found the bond of being within non-being with their heart's thought".

Karel Werner describes the author's source for the material as one not derived from reasoning, but a "visionary, mystical or Yogic experience put into words." Werner writes that prior to creation, the Creation Hymn does not describe a state of "nothingness" but rather "That One (tad ekam)" which is, "Spaceless, timeless, yet in its own way dynamic and the Sole Force, this Absolute..."[8]

Brereton (1999) argues that the reference to the sages searching for being in their spirit is central, and that the hymn's gradual procession from non-being to being in fact re-enacts creation within the listener (see sphoṭa), equating poetic utterance and creation (see śabda).

Metre[edit]

Nasadiya Sukta consists of seven trishtubhs, although pada 7b is defective, being two syllables short,

yádi vā dadhé yádi vā ná
"if he has created it; or if not [...]"

Brereton (1999) argues that the defect is a conscious device employed by the rishi to express puzzlement at the possibility that the world may not be created, parallel to the syntactic defect of pada 7d, which ends in a subordinate clause without a governing clause:

só aṅgá veda yádi vā ná véda
"he verily knows; or if he does not know [...]"[9]


Text and translation[edit]

Devanagari Transliteration[10] Translation (Basham 1954)[11]

नासदासीन्नो सदासीत्तदानीं नासीद्रजो नो व्योमा परो यत् |

किमावरीवः कुह कस्य शर्मन्नम्भः किमासीद्गहनं गभीरम् ॥ १॥


न मृत्युरासीदमृतं न तर्हि न रात्र्या अह्न आसीत्प्रकेतः |

आनीदवातं स्वधया तदेकं तस्माद्धान्यन्न परः किञ्चनास ॥२॥


तम आसीत्तमसा गूहळमग्रे प्रकेतं सलिलं सर्वाऽइदम् |

तुच्छ्येनाभ्वपिहितं यदासीत्तपसस्तन्महिनाजायतैकम् ॥३॥


कामस्तदग्रे समवर्तताधि मनसो रेतः प्रथमं यदासीत् |

सतो बन्धुमसति निरविन्दन्हृदि प्रतीष्या कवयो मनीषा ॥४॥


तिरश्चीनो विततो रश्मिरेषामधः स्विदासीदुपरि स्विदासीत् |

रेतोधा आसन्महिमान आसन्त्स्वधा अवस्तात्प्रयतिः परस्तात् ॥५॥


को अद्धा वेद क इह प्र वोचत्कुत आजाता कुत इयं विसृष्टिः |

अर्वाग्देवा अस्य विसर्जनेनाथा को वेद यत आबभूव ॥६॥


इयं विसृष्टिर्यत आबभूव यदि वा दधे यदि वा न |

यो अस्याध्यक्षः परमे व्योमन्त्सो अङ्ग वेद यदि वा न वेद ॥७॥

1. nā́sad āsīn nó sád āsīt tadā́nīṃ
nā́sīd rájo nó víomā paró yát
kím ā́varīvaḥ kúha kásya śármann
ámbhaḥ kím āsīd gáhanaṃ gabhīrám

2. ná mr̥tyúr āsīd amŕ̥taṃ ná tárhi
ná rā́triyā áhna āsīt praketáḥ
ā́nīd avātáṃ svadháyā tád ékaṃ
tásmād dhānyán ná paráḥ kíṃ canā́sa

3. táma āsīt támasā gūḷhám ágre
apraketáṃ saliláṃ sárvam ā idám
tuchyénābhú ápihitaṃ yád ā́sīt
tápasas tán mahinā́jāyataíkam

4. kā́mas tád ágre sám avartatā́dhi
mánaso rétaḥ prathamáṃ yád ā́sīt
sató bándhum ásati nír avindan
hr̥dí pratī́ṣyā kaváyo manīṣā́

5. tiraścī́no vítato raśmír eṣām
adháḥ svid āsī́3d upári svid āsī3t
retodhā́ āsan mahimā́na āsan
svadhā́ avástāt práyatiḥ parástāt

6. kó addhā́ veda ká ihá prá vocat
kúta ā́jātā kúta iyáṃ vísr̥ṣṭiḥ
arvā́g devā́ asyá visárjanena
áthā kó veda yáta ābabhū́va

7. iyáṃ vísr̥ṣṭir yáta ābabhū́va
yádi vā dadhé yádi vā ná
yó asyā́dhyakṣaḥ paramé víoman
só aṅgá veda yádi vā ná véda

1. Then even nothingness was not, nor existence,
There was no air then, nor the heavens beyond it.
What covered it? Where was it? In whose keeping?
Was there then cosmic water, in depths unfathomed?

2. Then there was neither death nor immortality
nor was there then the torch of night and day.
The One breathed windlessly and self-sustaining.
There was that One then, and there was no other.

3. At first there was only darkness wrapped in darkness.
All this was only unillumined cosmic water.
That One which came to be, enclosed in nothing,
arose at last, born of the power of heat.

4. In the beginning desire descended on it -
that was the primal seed, born of the mind.
The sages who have searched their hearts with wisdom
know that which is, is kin to that which is not.

5. And they have stretched their cord across the void,
and know what was above, and what below.
Seminal powers made fertile mighty forces.
Below was strength, and over it was impulse.

6. But, after all, who knows, and who can say
Whence it all came, and how creation happened?
the gods themselves are later than creation,
so who knows truly whence it has arisen?

7. Whence all creation had its origin,
the creator, whether he fashioned it or whether he did not,
the creator, who surveys it all from highest heaven,
he knows — or maybe even he does not know.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty , The Rig Veda (1981).
  2. ^ Swami Ranganathananda (1991). Human Being in Depth: A Scientific Approach to Religion. SUNY Press. p. 21. ISBN 0-7914-0679-2.
  3. ^ "As the subject of the hymn is creation typified and originated by the mysterious primeval sacrifice (cp. X.90), Prajāpati the Creator is said by Sāyana to be the deity. The Rṣi is Yajña (Sacrifice), Prajāpati's son." Ralph T. H. Griffith. The Hymns of the Ŗgveda. (Motilal Banarsidass: Delhi: 1973 New Revised Edition, Reprint 1995) p. 634, note. ISBN 812080046X. The questions in verse 3, "What were the rule, the order and the model? What were the wooden fender and the butter?" refer back to the questions in 10.129 (5b "what was above it then, and what below it?" etc.)
  4. ^ Wendy Doniger says of this hymn (10.129) "This short hymn, though linguistically simple... is conceptually extremely provocative and has, indeed, provoked hundreds of complex commentaries among Indian theologians and Western scholars. In many ways, it is meant to puzzle and challenge, to raise unanswerable questions, to pile up paradoxes." The Rig Veda. (Penguin Books: 1981) p. 25. ISBN 0-14-044989-2.
  5. ^ "Although, no doubt, of high antiquity, the hymn appears to be less of a primary than of a secondary origin, being in fact a controversial composition levelled especially against the Sāṃkhya theory." Ravi Prakash Arya and K. L. Joshi. Ṛgveda Saṃhitā: Sanskrit Text, English Translation, Notes & Index of Verses. (Parimal Publications: Delhi, 2001) ISBN 81-7110-138-7 (Set of four volumes). Parimal Sanskrit Series No. 45; 2003 reprint: 81-7020-070-9, Volume 4, p. 519.
  6. ^ Patri, Umesh and Prativa Devi. "Progress of Atheism in India: A Historical Perspective Archived 2014-06-29 at WebCite". Atheist Centre 1940-1990 Golden Jubilee. Vijayawada, February 1990. Retrieved 2007-04-02.
  7. ^ Carl Sagan, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage Part 10 - The Edge of Forever 44:08
  8. ^ Werner, Karel (1977). "Symbolism in the Vedas and Its Conceptualisation". Numen. 24 (3): 223–240. doi:10.2307/3269600. JSTOR 3269600.
  9. ^ Brereton, Joel (1999). "Edifying Puzzlement: Ṛgveda and the Uses of Enigma". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 10 (129).
  10. ^ Karen Thomson and Jonathan Slocum, Rig Veda: a Metrically Restored Text (1994), utexas.edu.
  11. ^ A.L. Basham, The Wonder That Was India (1954).

Further reading[edit]