Prajāpati and Saṃvatsara-An enquiry into the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad

The birth of Saṃvatsara

There is a beautiful imagery of birth of Saṃvatsara given in Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad in its section two of one where process of creation is explained. It begins with questions “there was nothing whatsoever in the beginning”…

आपो वा अर्कः; तद्यदपां शर आसीत्तत्समहन्यत । सा पृथिव्यभवत्, तस्यामश्राम्यत्; तस्य श्रान्तस्य तप्तस्य तेजो रसो निरवर्तताग्निः  ॥ २ ॥

āpo vā arkaḥ; tadyadapāṃ śara āsīttatsamahanyata | sā pṛthivyabhavat, tasyāmaśrāmyat; tasya śrāntasya taptasya tejo raso niravartatāgniḥ  || 2 ||

2. Water is Arka. What was there (like) froth on the water was solidified and became this earth. When that was produced, he was tired. While he was (thus) tired and distressed, his essence, or lustre, came forth. This was Fire.

स त्रेधात्मानं व्यकुरुत, आदित्यं तृतीयम्, वायुं तृतीयम्, स एष
प्राणस्त्रेधा विहितः । तस्य प्राची दिक् शिरः, असौ चासौ चेर्मौ । अथास्य प्रतीची दिक् पुचम्, असौ चासौ च सक्थ्यौ, दक्षिणा चोदीची च पार्श्वे, द्यौः पृष्ठम्, अन्तरिक्षमुदरम्; इयमुरः, स एषोऽप्सु प्रतिष्ठितः; यत्र क्व चैति तदेव प्रतितिष्ठत्येवं विद्वान् ॥ ३ ॥

sa tredhātmānaṃ vyakuruta, ādityaṃ tṛtīyam, vāyuṃ tṛtīyam, sa eṣa
prāṇastredhā vihitaḥ | tasya prācī dik śiraḥ, asau cāsau cermau | athāsya pratīcī dik pucam, asau cāsau ca sakthyau, dakṣiṇā codīcī ca pārśve, dyauḥ pṛṣṭham, antarikṣamudaram; iyamuraḥ, sa eṣo'psu pratiṣṭhitaḥ; yatra kva caiti tadeva pratitiṣṭhatyevaṃ vidvān || 3 ||

3. He (Virāj) differentiated himself in three ways, making the sun the third form, and air the third form. So this Prāṇa (Virāj) is divided in three ways. His head is the east, and his arms that (north-east) and that (south-east). And his hind part is the west, his hip-bones that (north-west) and that (south-west), his sides the south and north, his back heaven, his belly the sky, and his breast, this earth. He rests on water. He who knows (it) thus gets a resting place wherever he goes.

सोऽकामयत, द्वितीयो म आत्मा जायेतेति; स मनसा वाचं मिथुनं समभवदशनाया मृत्युः; तद्यद्रेत आसीत्स संवत्सरोऽभवत् । न ह पुरा ततः संवत्सर आस; तमेतावन्तं कालमबिभः, यावान्संवत्सरः; तमेतावतः कालस्य परस्तादसृजत । तं जातमभिव्याददात्; स भाणकरोत्, सैव वागभवत् ॥ ४ ॥

so'kāmayata, dvitīyo ma ātmā jāyeteti; sa manasā vācaṃ mithunaṃ samabhavadaśanāyā mṛtyuḥ; tadyadreta āsītsa saṃvatsaro'bhavat | na ha purā tataḥ saṃvatsara āsa; tametāvantaṃ kālamabibhaḥ, yāvānsaṃvatsaraḥ; tametāvataḥ kālasya parastādasṛjata | taṃ jātamabhivyādadāt; sa bhāṇakarot, saiva vāgabhavat || 4 ||

4. He desired, ‘Let me have a second form[8] (body).’ He, Death or Hunger, brought about the union of speech (the Vedas) with the mind. What was the seed there became the Year (Virāj). Before him there had been no year. He (Death) reared him for as long as a year, and after this period projected him. When he was born, (Death) opened his mouth (to swallow him). He (the babe) cried ‘Bhāṇ!' That became speech.

The points we gather from the above observations

  • 1 1.2.2 says water is Arka.
  • 2 In the commentary the fire is described as Prajāpati. While he was (thus) tired and distressed, his essence, or lustre, came forth from his body. What was that? This was Fire, the first-born Virāj, also called Prajāpati, who sprang up within that cosmic egg, possessed of a body and organs. As the Smṛti says, ‘He is the first embodied being’ (Śi. V. i. 8. 22).
  • 3 The first embodied Prajāpati who is viraaja differentiated in three ways. Virāja is prāṇa, is shown in 1.2.3, and by the readings we get the information that his head is the east.
  • 4 The second embodiment of Prajāpati was in the form of a year.
  • 5 Successive verses explain about the horse sacrifice;
  • So it has been explained in the passage, ‘His head is the east,’ etc. (I. ii. 3)So these two, fire and the sunare Arka and the horse sacrifice, as described above—the sacrifice and its result respectively. Arka, the terrestrial fire, is directly the sacrifice, which is a rite. Since the latter is performed with the help of fire, it is here represented as fire. Every year the sun is being sacrificed.
  • We see that Prajāpati‘s head is in the east and this is an important observation to ascertain from where the saṃvatsara begins.
  • In the later verses Prajāpati and Aditi appear as, “So the Śruti says, ‘Aditi is heaven, Aditi is the sky, Aditi is the mother, and he is the father”.

“EAST”-tasya jñānam śābdabodhe kāraṇam

The knowledge of that proximity is the cause of verbal understanding.

If the vedic people were making a simple observation in the sky due East (‘His head is the east,’ etc. (I. ii. 3) then with the help of gnomon they can only see the true East-West Axis on equinox day from anywhere on the earth, since on the solstice day the sun will rise on the either side of the East-West Axis, making it not rising from the True East. Therefore Taittiriya āranyakā endorses saṃvatsara viṣuvarnaiḥ and Aitereya brāhmaṇa endorses that Viṣuva begets the saṃvatsara. Since on equinox day the day and night are equal therefore the helical sunrise and sunset will give the division of nakshatra exactly half which divides into devas and asuras equally. What else information can east provide you more. … Probably you may have come across the ghṛtāhuti in ājyabhāga for Agni and the priest says to pour the ladle full of clarified butter in the north of the vedi and for the soma in the south. They do so to show Sun as adhipati of the northern hemisphere and Moon as the adhipati of southern hemisphere, as explained in one of my blog on Agni-Soma concept of saṃvatsara( read here).

The East-West line formed by shadow can only be seen on equinoctial days and solstice days shadows will not fall on E-W line but will make an arc from NW till NE or SW till SE.

Lastly Aditi is residing with Prajapati. Aditi is the deity of Punarvasu and if Aditi rising at east then the vernal equinox is happening in Punarvasu would mean time period of 5300 BCE~6260 BCE.

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