Monday, May 16, 2005

The Rig Veda's deep questions

Which man or woman has not felt at some point in life, perhaps when contemplating the night sky full of stars or thinking about loved ones now dead, something of the the wonder and the puzzlement expressed in this passage, some three and a half thousand years old, from the Rig Veda:

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

Whence this creation has arisen - perhaps it has 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.

What is most fascinating about this passage (often referred to as 'the creation hymn') is the extent to which it takes its skepticism. First there is the thought, found in many ancient texts, that although mankind cannot fathom the mystery of creation, 'the one who looks down on it' surely must. But how can we know this? A settled picture of 'the highest heaven' rapidly dissolves, to be replaced by one of a creator himself in doubt - struggling like man to grasp the meaning of existence: 'Who really knows? Whence is this creation?'

This version of the creation hymn is from a translation of the Rig Veda by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, who writes in her introduction of how the hymns are meant 'to puzzle, to surprise, to trouble the mind'. A selection of hymns from the Rig Veda can be found here.


ramakrishna u said...


Since you liked this book, I think that you may like the book by Raimundo Panikkar, The Vedic Experience: Mantramanjari (an Anthology of the Vedas for Modern Man...)

In my opinion it is a great book.


Space Bar said...

Came to this post from the link in your Renaissance post; since you've mentioned Wendy Doniger, I wonder if you know about the huge hornet's nest that was stirred up by Rajiv Malhotra a few year ago, with this post:

It is a strange, disturbing article, for the phobia and anger it displays.