VEDIC, BUDDHIST AND JAIN TRADITIONS
Usha R. Bhise
about the origin of the Universe have occupied considerable space in the
primitive religions. Cosmogony may be defined as "attempts at finding
out the common origin of the diverse phenomena of nature, in nature
itself". Such speculations started - not from unknown principle - but
from the tangible and knowable concrete.
to the Vedic literature, we find that no single uniform cosmogonic theory
had been formulated. The oldest monument of Indian literature, viz. the ╬gveda
has various theories which are not mutually exclusive. Probing through
Vedic literature, one comes across a process in the evolution of ideas.
The various theories of cosmogony fall into three categories :
The most primitive
ones begin with material principles like water, earth, fire, ether etc.
Next come the abstract principles like chaos, time, night, desire,
non-being etc. (However, asat
only meant primordial non-differentiation).
In the latest stage of development we come across divine principles
like Prajípati, Brahman, Vi┐vakarman
few more features of Vedic cosmogony may deserve mention here. According
to ╬gveda, Creation is not a
single definite act as it is ever-proceeding. Creation out of nothingness
is practically unknown. Further, it does not have teleological
significance. The Creator was not moved by any idea of executing a
deliberate plan. Considering the theories of the first category mentioned
above, one finds that only the material cause of the Universe is stated.
They are silent about deities being the efficient cause. Out of the Five
Great Elements, pĄthivó and
ap are the most tangible elements, tejas gets the next place. Even there, two concrete forms of it viz.
the Sun and the fire get the privilege of being frequently mentioned in
the early Vedic cosmogony, the ap-tattva receives a good deal of attention. This was prompted,
probably, by the historical background of the period. Frequent floods in
the Indus Valley have influenced the thought-process of Vedic ╦ryans when
they stated that water was the primordial substance out of which the
Universe came into being (ambha┼
kimísód gahanaĂ gabhóram - ╬V, 10.129.1).
Indus Valley appears to be a target of frequent floods. So also its
extention viz. Lothal, Rangpur-Koth in Saurashtra. The accumulation of
flood-debris at various sites is an evidence for the inundation of
Mohen-jo-daro. The 12 meter-high hill of silt at Budh Takkar is the result
of a great flood of long duration, almost a deluge, which must have turned
the lower Indus Valley into a
vast lake. The Carbon-14 dates for the two great floods at Lothal are 2015
+ 115 bc and 1900 + 115 bc.
The flood debris of the latest level of HR mound at Mohen-jo-daro is
assigned to 2000 bc. The flood in circa
1900 bc assumed such fierce
proportion and was so prolonged and devastating that all the Harappan
settlements in Saurí└Âra, Kutch and S. Gujarat were wiped out.
about creation from primal matter, we find that ap-tattva
plays a prominent role. To
the ╬gvedic thinker, affected severely by frequent floods, water appeared
to be the earliest element. In his thought-process what was prior
temporally, must have worked like the cause of the Universe. No question
is asked about the origin of waters. Even Vi┐vakarman was preceded by
them. In the BríhmaŞas water is described as co-eval with Prajípati. The ßat.
Br. (XI.1.6) states that it is preceded Prajípati. It was reasonable
to Vedic people who saw land growing
out of accumulations of river-torn silt that water was the primary
element and source of all that existed.
striking feature of Vedic Cosmology is the distinction made between íp
and salila, i.e., 'waters' and 'creative waters' respectively. The
following pair of quotations will drive home this point :
samudrajye└Âhí┼ salilasya madhyít puníní yantyanivi┐amíní┼
divine waters, "ípa┼
having ocean as their chief lord, go forth purifying (themselves,
others) without encamping, from the middle of salila.
ípo ha ví idamagre salilamevísa
ßat. Br., XI.1.6.
creation (agre) the waters (ípa┼) were salila.
same text proceeds to say tí'kímayanta "Entertaining a desire (to create)" they
practised tapas, as a result of
which hiraŞyaya aŞĚa, was
born. From it puru└a was
produced and thereafter, Prajípati was created.
also states - VI.1.1.8 sa┼
Thus íp came at a late stage in
the hierarchy of Creation. It was ordinary water created along with other
diversities of the world, whereas, salila,
preceded Prajípati who gets fifth place in the creative process as could
be seen from the above passage.
distinction between íp and salila
lies in the fact that salila
contains something in it which was beyond the ken of ordinary knowledge
and which, later, was going to manifest itself as the world. This fact has
been made clear by the Nísadóya hymn of the
Was it water, deep and fathomless (i.e., beyond the limits of knowledge).
emergent principle lay concealed by the worthless (water).
is that which is about to come into existence, the implication being that
it has the energy necessary for coming into being. The same idea has been
presented by the Bí└kalamantropani└at
(sarasa┼ parasya) sarirasya
madhye eti iva A
which moves about, as it were, in the sarira,
which is beyond the lake of the mid-regions.
the lake of mid-regions is the place of origin of rain showers, and thus,
represents ordinary waters. Sarira exists beyond that. It contains something which is described
as eti iva which is a sure
reference to the principle which is capable of moving, i.e., endowed with
energy that is necessary for movement. The words salila/sarira
are derived from sĄ 'to move'.
The energy itself is called tapas 'heat'
or kíma 'desire'. The ability
to know all this is possessed by kavis
'men of vision', through a process of knowledge which is not usual but may
be described as intuitive (hĄdi
prató└yí kavayo manó└í)
following statements strengthen the proposition set up in the earlier
yaddeví ada┼ salile susaĂrabdhí ati└Âhata A
the gods were firmly established in this salila.
hymn in which this occurs is a cosmogonical hymn which describes the
genesis of gods and mortals from Aditi. The concept of Aditi stands for
infinity, eternity, immensity, unbondage. She is all that is born and all
that will be born (╬V,
1.89.10). In the present quotation salila
stands for the womb of mother Aditi. The AV
equates her with primal waters.
BĄ. Up., 4.3.32
is one seer (i.e., a sentient principle) who is without a second in the
ßvet. Up., 6.15
is the swan, Brahman who resides in salila
as Agni. Agni may be equated to tapas
Verily this world was salila.
There, Prajípati was born alone on a
lotus-leaf. In his mind desire (kíma)
NĄ. Púrva. Up., 1.1
Cúlikí Up., 13
idea of the presence of energy/heat in primal waters, later gave rise to
the conception of vaĚavínala
being present in waters. Apím Napít,
according to Oldenberg, was originally a water-dragon. He, later
on, got identified with Agni
because of latter's relation to the cloud-water in the form of lightning.
The presence of lightning in the water-laden cloud gave rise to the
concept of fire being a child who resides in the watery womb of cloud
before its birth.
salila is the primordial
substance containing the emergent world together with the energy necessary
for emerging activity. However, the idea of water being the carrier of
important entities continues to hold good even though there is no clear
evidence that they are primal waters. To quote
e└a apsu prati└Âhita┼ A
apsu puru└a┼ etaĂ brahmopíse A
BĄh. Up., 2.1.8
apsu amĄtamaya┼ puru└a┼
BĄh. Up., 2.5.2
word íp is sought to be
at the stage of íp, energy in
some form or the other is said to reside in it. Tejas in particular is intimately linked with water in this way. (Kau┐.
Upani└adic philosophy which is quite advanced in its speculations regards
only one entity as real and that is Brahman/╦tman. The Kau┐
Up. (4.10) presents an interesting dialogue between Bílíki and King
Ajíta┐atru. Therein Bílíki tries to establish that the Puru└a,
i.e., the sentient principle underlying various entities like the Sun, the
Moon etc. is Brahman. Ajíta┐atru
refutes, one after the other, the statements of Bílíki which take the
form like ya evai└a íditye puru└astamevíhamupíse
itiA Ajíta┐atru denies all such statements made about moon,
lightning, thunder, sky, wind, fire, water, mirror, echo, sound, shadow,
bodily puru└a, príjÁa ítman, puru└a
in the right eye and the one in the left eye. After silencing Bílíki, Ajíta┐atru
takes him to a sleeping royal personage and, there, addresses him as
"O príŞa clad in
waters". But he does not wake up, since he, the jóvítmí
was different from príŞa. The
lesson which Ajíta┐atru tries to teach is that príŞa
is clad in waters but is not the ultimate reality.
idea of water being the clothing of príŞa is also found in the Chí.Up.
(5.2.2) in the famous dialogue between the sense-organs and vital breath.
It is also called the body of príŞa.
(BĄ. Up., 1.5.13: príŞasya ípa┼ ┐aróram~)
is an interesting piece of conversation between King SatyayajÁa and BuĚila,
the son of A┐vatarí┐va. Herein (Chí. Up., 5.16.1) the
king asks BuĚila
as to the ╦tman which is
meditated upon by him. He replies that it is ípa┼.
Thereupon, the King remarks that this ítman
is known as Rayi ╦tmí Vai┐v"ínara. Hence, BuĚila is wealthy and
strong. This remark is important for two reasons. The first one is that it
implies the identity between ípa┼
and Vai┐vínara "the fire which resides in all the human
beings". The idea of water getting transformed into Vai┐vínara lies
at the basis of the identity. The second reason why it is important is the
relation between rayi 'wealth' and waters, rayi
is, in fact, the outcome of the upísaní
of íp. This is a case of the
object of upísaní being
identified with its fruit. For the sake of upísaní,
waters are also found to be identified with Brahman
(Chí. Up., 7.10.1).
philosophers were aware of "matter being indestructible". The
so-called disappearance of matter was only its transformation into
something else. Thus, the drying up of water meant its transformation into
ípa ucchu└yati víyumeva apiyanti - Chí.
gets transformed into puru└a 'human being' through five successive stages. This truth has
been expressed through the metaphor of a sacrifice : paÁcamyím íhutív ípa┼ puru└avacaso bhavanti (Chí. Up., 5.3.3). Sacrifice was a salient feature of the Vedic
culture; hence, the cosmic activity itself was viewed as a great
sacrifice. The five oblations (íhuti)
offered into five fires may be stated in a tabular form as:
the product of the earlier íhuti
becomes the íhuti of the next
stage. After the fifth oblation waters get the designation of puru└a.
transformation of water which is drunk by a person
is threefold. (Chí. Up., 6.5.2) The
gross part of water is turned into wine, the medium part into blood and
the subtle part into príŞa.
The subtle part (aŞiman) of
water rises up and becomes príŞa
(Chí. Up., 6.6.3). In support of the transformation of water into príŞa,
it is said that if a person does not eat for a fortnight but drinks water
to his heart's content, his príŞa does
not get cut off (vicchinna) (Chí.
Up., 6.7.1). The moon is the brilliant form of water (BĄ.
Up., 1.5.13). The ┐ara
'scum', of water formed itself into the earth. (BĄ.
to the metaphor of a tree (Chí. Up., 6.8.3,4,6) it is said that
is the root of which tejas is
the sprout (┐u┤ga). Tejas in its turn becomes the root of which íp (water) is the sprout, íp
in its turn becomes the root of which anna
is the sprout. Taitt. Up.,
3.8.1. identified Agni with íp.
very fact is presented in a slightly different mode in which sat,
tejas and íp are conceived
as sentient beings capable of thinking and entertaining desires (Chí. Up., 6.2.3). The sat
thought that it should be manifold: it created tejas. Then, tejas thought
that it should be manifold; it created water. Then water thought that it
should be manifold; it created food. Taitt.
Up., 2.1.1 states that water was produced from fire and the earth was
produced from water. Yet another passgae in Chí.
Up. (6.4.1) states that tejas,
íp and anna are but three forms of Agni
having three colours red, white and black respectively.
in view the principle of transformation the waters are called o└adhis
and vanaspatis. (Taitt. Up., 1.3.2)
ípa┼ are conceived to be
sentient beings who can think, entertain desires and resolve (i.e., have sa┤kalpa)
(Chí. Up., 7.4.2), it is only a
step forward to regard them as devatís.
deified as early as the most ancient strata of the ╬gveda
(7.49). They are invoked as purifiers (puníní┼
V.1; ┐ucayah, V.2.3; pívakí┼ V.3) with a request to favour the poet-seer. The favour
consists of purifying the supplicant both physically and metaphorically by
getting rid of the sin. Since they purify themselves as well as others
VaruŞa, the moral governor, is said to reside in them (1.25.10). Agni Vai┐vínara
is also said to have entered them. As a corollary to the rivers in general
and Sarasvati in particular they are regarded as holy and divine.
thus plays a prominent role in Vedic cosmogony. The genesis of the
Universe takes place in the primeval water. Once the chaotic condition
existing before the genesis is overcome through creative process, the
emergent one abhu emerges into
an orderly cosmos. Thereafter, water-element ap-tattva
appears as one of the products of creative process. It has a role to play
in the further development of the Universe through its transformations.
ę1995 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi