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Mahabharata Krishna Gita in Rig Veda Mandala 8
by Indrajit Bandyopadhyay Bookmark and Share

In RgVeda Mandala-8, we find one Rshi Krshna-Angiraas, and in one Suukta (8.96), there is mention of a person Krshna aided by Indra (Rks 13-15). The Rks also narrate how Krshna “assumed his proper body” – evoking the image of Vishvaruupa, and how Krshna incited Indra to fight – evoking the image of Gita-discourse. These same verses find mention later in Atharva Veda too (20.137.7-9) – showing their special place of interest.

RgVeda at one phase of its evolution consisted of "8" Mandalas (part of Mandala-1, and Mandala-9 and 10 were added later to form the present corpus). Now, Vasudeva-Krshna is not only traditionally associated with but also represents the Mystic Number "8" (See Note-4 below). Further of interest is the fact that the Yadus (the dynasty to which Vasudeva-Krshna belonged) are celebrated more in Mandala-8 than anywhere else in RgVeda; and most of the Suuktas in Mandala-8 are composed by Kanva Rshis. Rshi Narada of the Mahakavyas who is Krshnadvaipaayana Vyaasa’s associate, belonged to the Kanva family.

So many "8"! So many connections! Do we have to consider them accidents or coincidences! Just because some of our Indologists or rather Agendalogists would deny that Mahabharata is not Itihaasa? Or, should we take a fresh look at them with fresh brain and un-programmed mind?

Michael Witzel points out that the RgVeda is “a notoriously difficult text”, and informing that “it has been translated only thrice this century: by Geldner (1951) into German in the 1920s, later (partially) by Renou (1968) into French and by Elizarenkova (1989) into Russian”, he deplores that “there has not been a new English translation since Griffith's inadequate effort of the late-19th century (Griffith 1973) [that] has particularly hindered research in Sout Asian and other English-speaking academic communities.”

Witzel admits that Present Mahabharata-Text “may ultimately reflect the battle of a large confederation of chieftains against the Kurus, or even against the Bhaaratas”. His “ca. 1200 B.C.” as the date of that “battle” is debatable, however, not many will disagree with him that “the nucleus of the existing poetical text describing these events is of Late Vedic origin at best (i.e. from the last few centuries B.C.).”

Witzel mistakenly thinks that Mahabharata is all about “battle” and again mistakenly regards “the Late Vedic Bhaarata text of c. 20,000” – which should be 24000; and he opines, “this nucleus became subsequently heavily inflated, as late as A.D. 500, so that it now has more than 100,000 verses.”

Witzel insightful comments about the RgVeda:

1) “We can actually regard present-day RgVeda-recitation as a tape recording of what was first composed and recited some 3000 years ago.”

2) “Above all, it cannot be stressed too strongly that the aim of the RgVedic hymns was not the recording of history. Their authors were little interested in actually relating either contemporary politics or legends from the past; instead they dealt with myth and sacrificial ritual. Indeed, events of their own era were at times deliberately confused with myths about the deeds of Gods or demons, especially Indra. Later texts are [mostly] restricted to details of ritual and their explanation. It is difficult to extract any history from such materials. In the case of the RgVeda … the task is further complicated by its archaic language, the structure of the text with several historical layers, its geographic and tribal divisions and the great mobility of its authors.”

Witzel thus admits RgVeda as source of history, though he considers it “difficult.” Despite the difficulty, Witzel searches for History as he says - “We have also to pay constant attention to reminiscences in the family books, in hymns summarizing family history (such as 3.53, 5.33, 6.47, 7.33, [7.83, 1.179], etc.).”

In fact, Rk 7.33.3 seems to be the whole foundation of his Aryan Migration Theory – because he finds in that hymn Vashishtha’s (and by extension Bhaaratas) migration to India from across the Sindhu. Whether we agree with Witzel or not on, we can certainly follow his methodology vis-à-vis RgVeda – that is, whenever we find mention of any name and his deeds we have to consider that history as long as it is rational and not mythified.

Another foundation of Witzel’s theory is the Battle of Ten Kings; therefore, whenever we find mention of any non-mythified battle in RgVeda, we have to consider it historic.

Keeping above methodology in mind, and thereby confirming that Rshi Krshna-Angiraas and the Krshna mentioned in Mandala-8 are historic persons, we can now ask: who is this person Krshna or this Rshi Krshna? Is he Vasudeva-Krshna of Mahabharata?

Many of our Svadeshii and Videshi and Videshi-influenced-Svadeshii Paandits (a considerable number of them - Ento Paat Kudaano Paandits) would not like to think of Rshi Krshna-Angiraas or Krshna in Rk 8.96.13-15 as Vasudeva-Krshna. Some of them are so dedicated devotees to the Aryan Invasion Theory that they interpret Krshna as a Black-skinned Asura here as opposed to Indra. Of course, our Sayanacharya too interpreted that way – perhaps imagining Krshna (Black, Dark) as binary to desirable White/Light – so, we cannot entirely blame the alien here! Vibhiishana is immortal.

Griffith simply omits the name Krshna in his translation of 8.96.13-15 (See Note-1, 2 and 3 below); to him, here Krshna connotes Black. Wilson, following Sayanacharya’s commentary, mentions Krshna and translates as if Krshna is Asura, and that Indra kills him. However, in Geldner’s German translation (re-translated in English), we find even entirely opposite idea to Griffith and Sayana-Wilson. In Geldner’s translation, Indra stands by Krshna. This changes the entire scenario.

With so many contradictions in translators, I decided to study and translate the Rks taking into account all available translations including Bengali translation of Ramesh Chandra Dutta, and then comparing and studying the narrative possibilities (extensive, and often contradictory, as is symptomatic of a rich classical language) in each word of the Sanskrit Rks. And the result is what I would be discussing here.

My methodology in translating is not to exclude any narrative possibility in a word at the cost of another; but to experiment taking all. That’s my limitation, I admit.

The Rks in discussion have already been debated by various scholars, and the heavy tilt – as I said - is not to link Vasudeva-Krshna with that Krshna. In this article, I am taking the minority stand; that, indeed, this Krshna is that Krshna.

In my opinion, Rshi Krshna-Angiraas is Krshna-Vasudeva, and the three Rks (8.96.13-15) mentioning Krshna gives us a glimpse of Mahabharata Itihaasa and even the Gita (and Proto-Vishvaruupa) – though may be a different version of Mahabharata.

The ‘different version’ should not be problematic. We already have glimpse of some different versions of Mahabharata Itihaasa in Kautilya’s Arthashaastra, Buddhist Jaatakas and Jain Puranas. Besides, in our Present Mahabharata-Text too, there are Alternative Narratives that definitely conform to some extent with those ‘different’ versions. In short, ‘different’ may not be that different.

Now, let me go straight to translating the three Rks – RV- 8.96.13-15.

ava | drapsah | amshu-matiim | atishthat | iyaanah | krshnah | dasha-bhih | sahasraih | aavat | tam | indrah | shacyaa | dhamantam | apa | snehitiih | nr-manaah | adhatta // RV_8,96.13 //

“The radiant and luminous Drop, who was superior and governing head, made his appearance to approach with request, and was unstable by Amshumati (or Yamunaa) river, like a Soma Drop is unstable in Soma-Rasa (or, a Water-Drop unstable in River Amshumati); Krshna (was like that Drop) amidst ten thousand about him.

“Indra, the mighty, brave, courageous, resolute, skillful, dexterous and eloquent man, who was intent on rendering help and assistance to Krshna, was blushing with all his strength like bubbling Soma-Rasa, and being distressed and disturbed (at Krshna’s state), approached, joined and stood by Krshna blowing his conch shell with all his strength as if to kindle fire by such blow and subdue and kill those abounding men by smiting; but being kind, he sighed hard, and feeling affection and being mindful and kind to men, as if he is a melted metal or water, and fixing resolution, the benevolent hero-hearted put down, relinquished hold and laid aside (his weapons).” (trans. Author)


1) According to Monier-Williams, Amshumati might be Yamunaa (tentatively, because Monier-Williams puts a question mark - ?); and according to Sayanacharya, Amshumati is a river in the Kuru Kingdom.

2) The sub-imagery of Soma-Rasa runs through the narrative; and here Soma-Drop is metaphor for Krshna. Obviously, Soma-Drop cannot have negative sense; therefore, Sayanacharya’s interpretation of Drop-Krshna as an Asura opposed to Indra does not make sense to me.

3) The mention of a particular Drop suggests that the Rshi is singling it out from the numerous Drops implied in the Soma-Rasa or River Imagery; therefore, it must be a special Drop, sharing affinity with other drops (of river or Soma-Rasa) but unlike other drops.

4) The Rshi says “Krshna with ten thousand”; whether they are his army or soldiers is not clearly mentioned. The “ten thousand” therefore, can be just men – or kin to Krshna (given the identity of the Drop with numerous drops of the river) – further evident from the fact that the Rk-15 mentions “vishah” – meaning people.

5) “aavat” connotes proximity; therefore, it has the sense of “approached, joined and stood by”, and since this is followed by “tam" which means “be distressed or disturbed” and then by “indrah shacyaa” – assistance - therefore, I have translated as above. Griffith translates “Indra with might (indrah shacyaa) longed for it (aavat) as it panted (tam).” Tam also connotes ‘to gasp for breath as one suffocating, choke, be suffocated, faint away’. However, Griffith has taken the “Drop” literally, and so uses neuter gender - “it”. Now, if the “Drop” is “it”, how can it “pant”? Having missed one metaphor, is he now metaphorical? Bubbling Soma-drop imagined as “panting”! Griffith has perhaps made Indra “longed for it” because he has Indra’s love for Soma in mind. Sayana-Wilson’s translation “by his might Indra caught him snorting in the water” makes absolutely no sense. With a pre-programmed Script in mind, Sayanacharya makes Krshna-Asura snort in water until Indra catches him!

6) I have translated “nr-manaah adhatta” as per Griffith’s “the hero-hearted laid aside his weapons” (though “weapon” is implied in the Rk) which is a better translation to Sayana-Wilson’s “smote his malicious (bands)” (though Sayana-Wilson’s “benevolent to man” is better than Griffith’s “hero-hearted” for nr-manaah). Sayanacharya interpreted “snehitiih apa adhatta” (clearly re-arranging words to suit his interpretation) as if Krshna-Asura’s army unleashed violence by killing, apadhaanam hananam – and concludes, avadhiti iti arthah. Needless to say, the interpretation is fanciful because we are not even sure whether Krshna has an army, so violence and killing are far off matters. Griffith’s adhatta apadhaanam as “laid aside” is right to me. Similarly, I reject Geldner’s “turned away the army heaps” or Ramesh Chandra Dutta’s “killed the violent soldiers” – because we find the call for battle in the next Rk; therefore, killing or smiting the enemy in this Rk and thereafter giving battle-cry does not make sense. Though all translators see Indra’s opposition to Krshna, and Griffith finds “Indra with might longed for it as it panted”, Geldner makes clear that Indra joins Krshna and stands by Krshna. See Note-1 below for the translations]

drapsam | apashyam | vishune | carantam | upa-hvare | nadyah | amshu-matyaah | nabhah | na | krshnam | avatasthi-vaamsam | ishyaami | vah | vrshanah | yudhyata | aajau // RV_8,96.14 //

“I have seen the Drop in different, various, manifold positions moving, in a solitary or private place in the depth, slope bank and in bosom of river Amshumati, and like the sun in cloud with the roaring and thundering sunrays (blazing sunrays piercing the cloud) in the sky. Krshna standing like Sun in cloud, like Flute-Cane (on riverside), and (then) descending like rainy black cloud, and moving quickly, speedily, and roaring like a vigorous, powerful, strong, mighty Bull, thundered to impel, incite, and animate Indra and all, (saying): “I appeal to you, conquer in battle; I send you forth, go, fight in battle.” (trans. Author)

[Comment: Monier-Williams mentions RV- 8.96.14 and gives the connotation of upahvara as “solitary or private place”. Griffith does not mention here who gives the incitation to battle to whom. Sayanacharya thought it is Indra’s battle cry to the Maaruts against Krshna. Ramesh Chandra Dutta follows Sayanacharya’s commentary. Now, who says “drapsam apashyam”? In my opinion it is the poet Rshi who says so and not Indra, because in the previous Rk, the Rshi uses the metaphor of Drop for Krshna. Why would the ‘character’ Indra here suddenly start using the same metaphor as his ‘creator’ Rshi? Next, who says “I appeal to you … fight in battle”? Griffith seems to suggest that Indra is the speaker but his translation keeps the matter ambiguous. In his translation, in previous Rk, Indra laid down weapons. So, the speaker cannot be Indra. Sayana-Wilson thinks the speaker is Indra, because in his translation, Indra is opposed to Krshna. Geldner’s translation keeps open the possibility that the speaker is Krshna. In my opinion, the speaker is Krshna because in the previous and this Rk, I see nothing that suggests any Indra Krshna opposition. So, if in the previous Rk, Indra has laid down his weapons, it is only logical that Krshna is inciting him and his associates to fight. See Note-2 below for the translations]

adha | drapsah | amshu-matyaah | upa-sthe | adhaarayat | tanvam | titvishaanah | vishah | adeviih | abhi | aacarantiih | brhaspatinaa | yujaa | indrah | sasahe // RV_8,96.15 //

“Then the Drop shining forth in violently agitated or moved or excited state or with sparkling wrath, assumed his own and proper body by the Amshumati; and (then) Indra with Brhaspati joined and harnessed with him, overcame, vanquished, conquered, and defeated the advancing godless and non-praiseworthy people.” (trans. Author)

[Comment: In Sayana-Wilson’s translation, “the swift-moving one, shining forth assumed his own body”, and Indra with Brhaspati’s aid “smote the godless hosts as they drew near.” It is clear that Krshna assumes his body, and Indra conquers the “godless hosts” – that is, Indra does not kill Krshna. Even Sayana-Wilson, otherwise believing Indra’s opposition to Krshna, could not directly say here that Indra killed Krshna, or Krshna is counted as one of the “godless hosts.” Sayanacharya comments on adeviih as “not shining, dark”; thus, he equates literal Krshna (Dark, Black) with the “godless hosts.” Similarly, in Griffith’s translation, “the Drop” “splendid with light, assumed its proper body”, and Indra “conquered the godless tribes that came against him”; that is, Griffith too could not translate that Indra kills Krshna or that Krshna is counted among “godless tribes.” Geldner finds the “Drop” in “bad or awkward position”, and Indra conquers and defeats the “approaching ungodly trunks as confederates.” Even Ramesh Chandra Dutta’s translation does not mention Indra killing Krshna. See Note-3 for the translations.]

So, what emerges from the translation?

Even at this point, every reader of Mahabharata knows what is going on; yet, let us now compare with out Present Mahabharata-Text – let us see the narrative in steps –

1) Krshna is like radiant and luminous drop of Soma

Comment unnecessary; Krshna, we know is Soma-Vamshii and he is certainly the most radiant and luminous Soma “Drop”

2) He is superior and governing head of his tribe

Comments unnecessary; Krshna is leader of the Yadavas, and since the time of Kamsa’s death to Jaraasandha’s death to Yadava Destruction, he maintains a unique status despite internecine conflict of the Yadavas – Andhakas and Bhojas on one side and Vrshnis on other.

3) He requests help to Indra

In Mahabharata, Krshna helps Indra (Arjuna); here Krshna requests Indra’s help. As per Shatapatha Braahmana (though later, ca. 900 BCE, probably earlier), Arjuna is one name of Indra. Besides, in Mandala-8 itself, Arjuna is known as a proper name. As Witzel notes, “events of their [RgVedic Rshis’] own era were at times deliberately confused with myths about the deeds of Gods or demons, especially Indra.” Since, the Rshi has used Soma-Drop as metaphor for Indra, he could surely use “Indra” as metaphor for Arjuna.

Krshna requesting Indra’s help - does it deviate from our known Mahabharata? I don’t think so. Mahabharata, though focuses on Kuru-Pandava conflict, is also a narrative of Yadava civil war and its outcome; and at the end, the Yadavas triumph when Kuru-Pandavas destroy each other. Parikshita, Abhimanyu’s son, becomes the ruler of Hastinapura; he carries Arjuna’s blood as much the Yadava Subhadra’s blood. And Krshna’s great grandson Vajra becomes ruler of Indraprashtha after Yadava family feud at Prabhaasa. Even the Kurukshetra war sees Krtavarmaa’s strength depleted. In the Yadava family equation, the Andhakas and Bhojas were stronger than Vrshnis. Krshna restored the balance through Kurukshetra war, and maintained that semblance at least till the Prabhaasa massacre.

4) He is unstable by Amshumati or Yamunaa River

Though Monier-Williams is tentative to equate Amshumati and Yamunaa, in absence of any other candidate for Amshumati, (and until some Indologist Pandit locates Amshumati in Iran or Afganisthan – God Bless!), we cannot but note the Krshna and Yamunaa connection. Sayanacharya regards it a river in the Kuru territory. This again leads us to the Krshna Pandava connection.

Krshna, unstable by Amshumati, may point to Yadava internal politics in which Krshna could never emerge absolutely victorious, just as it can point to Krshna’s complex relation with the Kurus. He is a relative of the Kauravas too. Again, in Puranas we find, Duryodhana is Krshna’s son Shamba’s father-in-law. In Shanti-Parvan, Krshna once tells his tales of sorrow to Narada, how he finds it difficult to balance relationship with his kin and most trusted ones. Bhishma narrates that to Pandavas.

The Rshi has already singled out Krshna as a Soma-Drop distinguished from multitude of drops (of Soma-Rasa or River-Water); for great men, the Existential Reality is always Lonely-at-the-Top.

5) He has ten thousand about him

Well, who are these ten thousand? Since Amshumati may suggest Soma-Rasa, and Krshna is compared with Soma-Drop, I suggest, these ten thousand refers to Krshna’s Naaraayanii Senaa that fought for Duryodhana. In Mahabharata, Krshna recounts each of the Naaraayanii Senaa as his equal – Naaraayanii equal to Narayana. Though Mahabharata says that Krshna gave away the Naaraayanii Senaa to Duryodhana, given the Yadava internecine rift (even between Balaraama and Krshna), I do not think that is plausible. Balarama favoured Duryodhana, and Krtavarmaa decided to fight against Krshna. The Naaraayanii Senaa would have joined Duryodhana whether Krshna wanted that or not. Except Satyaki, none of the Yadavas including Krshna’s own sons supported him in taking side with the Pandavas against Duryodhana. This might be real-politic with economic motives obscuring Subhadraa and her son Abhimanyu to most Yadavas including Balarama, and some of Krshna’s sons.

6) Indra is mighty, brave, courageous, resolute, skillful, dexterous and eloquent

No comment necessary; only to say that these fit perfectly with Arjuna.

7) Indra is intent on helping Krshna

No comment necessary; OK, one example will suffice. While resurrecting Parikshita in Ashvamedha Parvan, Krshna says, “If I have never quarreled with Arjuna, Then, by that truth, may the dead child live.”

8) Indra joins Krshna

No comment necessary; except that, here Indra joins Krshna instead of Krshna joining Arjuna in Mahabharata. However, as I have said, the RgVedic narrative brings the Yadavas at the centre stage – may be because one Angiraas Rshi composes it. Poet’s perspective, we may say; or perhaps, the Yadava-centric Mahabharata is the Ur-Mahabharata – further bolstered by the fact that Kautilya’s Arthashaastra (300 BCE) mentions Krshnadvaipaayana Vyaasa’s death at the hand of Yadava youths, Duryodhana-Yudhishthira conflict over Dice Game, but no glimpse on Kurukshetra war; and Buddhist Jaatakas also focus on the Yadavas and Pandavas and Draupadii family life rather than on Kurukshetra war.

9) Indra blows his conch-shell

Aren’t we hearing Arjuna blowing his conch?

paancajanyam hrshiikesho devadattam dhanamjayah (Gita 1.15a)

10) Indra as if kindles fire by such blows, and wants to subdue and kill

That was the very purpose of the Kurukshetra War

dharmakshetre kurukshetre samavetaa yuyutsavah (Gita-1.1a)

Or, “Seeing the sons of Dhritaraashtra standing; and the war about to begin; Arjuna, whose banner bore the emblem of Hanumana, took up his bow;

atha vyavasthitaan drshtvaa dhaartaraashtraan kapidhvajah /
pravrtte shastrasampaate dhanur udyamya Pandavah (Gita 1.20c) [=Mbh. 06.23.20c]

11) Indra becomes affectionate being mindful and kind to men

“Arjuna was overcome with great compassion and sorrowfully said: O Krishna, seeing my kinsmen standing with a desire to fight. My limbs fail and my mouth becomes dry. My body quivers and my hairs stand on end.”

krpayaa parayaavishto vishiidann idam abraviit /
drshtvemaan svajanaan krshna yuyutsuun samavasthitaan //
siidanti mama gaatraani mukham ca parishushyati /
vepathush ca shariire me romaharshash ca jaayate (Gita 1.28-29)

12) Indra, the benevolent hero-hearted one, lays aside his weapons

Arjuna said “The bow, Gandiva, slips from my hand and my skin intensely burns. My head turns, I am unable to stand steady and, O Krishna, I see bad omens. I see no use of killing my kinsmen in battle.”

gaandiivam sramsate hastaat tvak caiva paridahyate /
na ca shaknomy avasthaatum bhramatiiva ca me manah //
nimittaani ca pashyaami vipariitaani keshava /
na ca shreyo 'nupashyaami hatvaa svajanam aahave (Gita 1.30-31)

Then Arjuna laid aside his weapons –

“Having said this in the battle field and casting aside his bow and arrow, Arjuna sat down on the seat of the chariot with his mind overwhelmed with sorrow.”

evam uktvaarjunah samkhye rathopastha upaavishat /
visrjya sasharam caapam shokasamvignamaanasah // (Gita- 1.47)

13) Krshna is solitary and meditative

We do not get the solitary and meditative Krshna explicitly in the Gita; however, his Gita discourse surely is the result of a life lived. Later Krshna says to Arjuna (when Arjuna forgets the Gita and needs that he gave the discourse in Yogamukha. In the context of Yadava internecine conflict, Krshna is obviously solitary and meditative – as he confesses to Narada.

14) Krshna is like sun in cloud

Krshna in his godhead, says – “I am the radiant sun among the luminaries” (aadityaanaam aham vishnur jyotishaam ravir amshumaan (Gita- 10.21a)

Let us not miss the word amshumaan – and let us remember, here in the RgVedic narrative, we are standing by Amshumati.

15) Then Krshna, thunders and incites Indra – “Go, fight in battle”

Aren’t we hearing again Krshna’s thundering voice in the Gita – “Do not become a coward, O Arjuna, because it does not befit you. Shake off this weakness of your heart and get up (for the battle), O Arjuna.”

klaibyam maa sma gamah paartha naitat tvayy upapadyate /
kshudram hrdayadaurbalyam tyaktvottishtha paramtapa // (Gita- 2.3)

“Therefore, fight, O Arjuna” (tasmaad yudhyasva bhaarata) is Krshna’s common refrain.

16) Then Krshna assumes his own and proper body

Let us recount the RgVedic narrative again - “Then the Drop shining forth in violently agitated or moved or excited state or with sparkling wrath, assumed his own and proper body by the Amshumati” (adha drapsah amshu-matyaah upa-sthe adhaarayat tanvam titvishaanah)

This is Krshna’s assuming the Vishvaruupa - adhaarayat tanva. And we have in the Gita the poet’s heightened imagination – “O Arjuna, behold My hundreds and thousands of multifarious divine forms of different colors and shapes.”

pashya me paartha ruupaani shatasho 'tha sahasrashah /
naanaavidhaani divyaani naanaavarnaakrtiini ca // (Gita- 11.5)

Multiple forms! Let us recount again the Rk 8.96.14a -

“I have seen the Drop in different, various, manifold positions moving, in a solitary or private place in the depth, slope bank and in bosom of river Amshumati (drapsam apashyam vishune carantam upa-hvare nadyah amshu-matyaah | nabhah | na // RV_8,96.14)

Here in Gita, Arjuna sees Krshna’s Vishvaruupa

“If the splendor of thousands of suns were to blaze forth all at once in the sky, even that would not resemble the splendor of that exalted being.”

divi suuryasahasrasya bhaved yugapad utthitaa /
yadi bhaah sadrshii saa syaad bhaasas tasya mahaatmanah // (Gita- 11.12)

Openheimer’s invocation of Atomic Explosion …

In the RgVeda, Krshna “sparkles wrath” - titvishaanah

And here in Gita, Krshna in Vishvaruupa himself is the fire devouring all –

yathaa pradiiptam jvalanam patamgaa; vishanti naashaaya samrddhavegaah /
tathaiva naashaaya vishanti lokaas; tavaapi vaktraani samrddhavegaah // (Giitaa-11.29/ Mbh. 6.33.29)

17) Brhaspati aids Indra

Who is Brhaspati? In Mahabharata context, Brhaspati may be Vidura, Dhaumya, Yudhishthira, Bhiima, Nakula-Sahadeva, Draupadii, or Krshna.

The RgVeda narrative perhaps knew of some other wise-person’s help to Arjuna; lost in our Present Mahabharata. Or, we need not stretch our imagination that much.

The Rk 8.96.15 uses the lexeme yujaa – that connotes “harnessed”, evoking the imagery of horse, which again evokes the significance of Sense Organs and Buddhi as per Upanishadik thoughts. Therefore, Brhaspati here might refer to Indra’s own wisdom - Arjuna’s own wisdom – Prajnaa.

We may also explore the etymology of Brhaspati in the light of Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad

“This alone is also Brhaspati. Vaag is indeed Brhatii, and this is its lord. Therefore, this is also Brhaspati” (esha u eva brhaspatih | vaag vai brhatii | tasyaa esha patis tasmaad u brhaspatih || BrhUp_1,3.20)

In RgVeda too, Brhatii aids Brhaspati’s voice (brhaspaterbrhatii vaacamaavat, RV- 10.130.4). Thus Brhaspati in Rk 8.96.15 along with the lexeme yujaa can well refer to Indra’s eloquence, further bolstered by his being shacyaa at Rk 8.96.13. Or, given the Brhatii connection, “Brhaspati” might be Krshnaa-Draupadi.

18) Indra, (now obviously taking up arms that he laid down), defeats, conquers and smites “the advancing godless and non-praiseworthy people”

In Gita, Arjuna says to Krshna – “By Your grace my delusion is destroyed, I have gained knowledge, my confusion is dispelled and I shall obey Your command.”

nashto mohah smrtir labdhaa tvatprasaadaan mayaacyuta /
sthito 'smi gatasamdehah karishye vacanam tava // (Gita- 18.73)

Well, that is all I can say now on the three Rks. It is evident to me that Vyasa’s Ur-Mahabharata is in RgVeda.

Now, I am aware that it may be certainly argued by those scholars who deny Mahabharata her historicity that Mahabharata-Text and Gita was Constructed later taking clues from the RgVeda like those Rks 8.96.13-15. That is of course plausible; I am not disagreeing that the Present Mahabharata-Text and Present Gita is a later construction. However, that only establishes the historicity of Krshna – the one who could “with sparkling wrath, assumed his own and proper body by the Amshumati” (adha drapsah amshu-matyaah upa-sthe adhaarayat tanvam titvishaanah) and incited Indra to fight.

A question that surely nags many is: if Mahabharata (and Ramayana) are Itihaasa, why don’t we find explicit narratives in the Vedas?

If non-explicit mention means non-existence, that becomes a vicious trap.

Vashishtha Dharmasuutra was written and collected between 300-100 BCE, and the Manusmrti between 200BC-200CE. Now, according to Hiltebeitel this is more or less contemporary to the period Mahabharata was Constructed (150 BCE – 0). Then why doesn’t the matter of Mahabharata Construction or even the ‘Team that wrote Mahabharata in a workshop’ (as Hiltebeitel claims) find mention in Vashishtha Dharmasuutra and Manu Samhitaa or in Kautilya’s Arthashaastra?

Even if they were written in almost same time, the reason of non-mention is pretty obvious. Vashishtha Dharmasuutra and Manu Samhitaa and Kautilya’s Arthashaastra are not Itihaasa; they had a different purpose, so they had no time and space to mention Mahabharata Itihaasa. The exception is Kautilya’s Arthashaastra – as we have seen.

By same logic, the Vedas, Braahmana Texts, and Upanishads had a different purpose, and not recording Itihaasa. So, why would they mention Mahabharata Itihaasa? The exception is some Braahmana Texts where we find mention of Mahabharata characters, and Chaandogya Upanishad mentions Devaki-Putra Krshna.

The answer to why we do not find Mahabharata Itihaasa in RgVeda is quite clear. The concept of Itihaasa has been different in Vedic times. For example, we often find glorification of Indra or some other Gods for even material achievements of human or some leader of man. In other words, the RgVeda has more often the conscious strategy to downplay individual achievement and attribute that to Gods particularly to Indra.

I would therefore, say, the question itself is misplaced. As Witzel points out nicely: “…the (Vedic) texts at our disposal are not history books. We do not have chronicles or dynastic lists, only incidental references to tribes, clans, families, poets, priests, noblemen, chieftains ("kings" raajan) and their actions. It is our task to piece together the evidence from these disjointed remarks.”

In fact, in this article, I have only humbly tried “to piece together the evidence from these disjointed remarks”

The RgVedic Rshis celebrated more the Forces (power) within an individual than the social name of the individual; and this Abstract Forces Within have been imagined as various aspects of Gods who shared the common Symbol of both Forces Within and Forces WithoutHuman Nature and Nature.

In such an era that valued Inner Power and Natural Power as more important to individual social entity – an era that produced the RgVeda, how do we expect to re-discover our Itihaasa so directly?

Vasudeva-Krshna, we know, is a Yadava of the Yadus dynasty. Of the “Five People” or “Five Tribes” or Paancajana (Yadu, Turvasha, Puuru, Druhyu and Anu), the Puuru-Bhaarata and the Bhaaratas in particular dominate the RgVeda, so much so that Present RgVeda is rightly considered a Puuru-Bhaarata Text. There cannot be any second opinion on this.
Is it another accident or coincidence that though Yadu, Turvasu, Druhyu and Anu are mostly marginalized in the whole of RgVeda, it is only in Mandala-8 that the Yadus and others are hailed with importance and reverence more frequently?

Many questions still need to be answered, and I will take up those in the next part and also discuss how the Mandala-8 embodies the teachings of Gita.

(To be continued …)

Note-1 – Translations of 8.96.13

1) Griffith: “The Black Drop sank in Amsumati's bosom, advancing with ten thousand round about it. Indra with might longed for it as it panted: the hero-hearted laid aside his weapons.”
2) Sayana-Wilson: “The swift-moving Krshna with ten thousand (demons) stood on the Amshumati; by his might Indra caught him snorting (in the water); he, benevolent to man, smote his malicious (bands).”
3) Geldner:

i) “Drapsa descended into the Amsumati, Krishna is in suit with ten thousand warriors. Indra, who was blushing with all his strength, joined him. The manly man turned off the heaps/ The manly turned away the army heaps.”
ii) “Drapsa descended into the Amsumati, Krishna is in the suit with ten thousand warriors. Him Indra stood by, the blowing with all his strength. The brave, courageous; (entschlossen) resolute turned away the pile of the army.”
iii) “Drapsa descended in the Amsumati, Krishna is in the suit with ten thousand warriors. Indra stood by him, with all strength blowing. The manful turned away the army heaps.”

[Geldner’s German translated is re-translated into English by three translating softwares]

4) Ramesh Chandra Dutta: “Swift moving Krshna was staying with ten thousand soldiers on the bank of Amshumati; Indra with his wisdom got that noisemaker; for the benefit of man, he killed the violent soldiers.”
[Ramesh Chandra Dutta’s Sayanacharya-influenced Bengali translation re-translated into English by author]

Note-2: Translation of RV- 8.96.14

1) Griffith: “1 saw the Drop in the far distance moving, on the slope bank of Amsumati's river, Like a black cloud that sank into the water. Heroes, I send you forth. Go, fight in battle.”
2) Sayana-Wilson: “I have seen the swift-moving (demon) lurking in an inaccessible place, in the depths of the river Amshumati, (I have seen) Krshna standing there as (the sun) in a cloud; I appeal to you, showerers; conquer him in battle”. [This is Indra's speech to the Maruts. Though the demon thinks he is concealing himself, he is seen as clearly by Indra as the sun is behind a cloud].
3) Geldner:

i) “I saw the Drapsa in a bad position in the river Amshumati, I saw the Krishna, who had descended black as a cloud. To you, cops, I offer up: Fight in battle!”
ii) “I saw the Drapsa in worse position in the bosom of the river Amsumati, I saw the Krishna, who was descended in black like a cloud. ‘I offer you, cops, up: fight in battle!’”
iii) “I saw the Drapsa in bad position in the shoot of the river Amsumati, I was pessimistic the Krishna which had descended like a cloud. To you, bulls, I muster: Fight in the quarrel!”

4) Ramesh Chandra Dutta: “Indra said, ‘I have seen swift-moving Krshna; he is moving about in the extended region of deeper recess of Amshumati River; and staying like sun. O desire-fulfilling Maaruts, I desire you fight war and slay him in war.’”

Note-3: Translations of Rk 8.96.15

1) Griffith: “And then the Drop in Amsumati's bosom, splendid with light, assumed its proper body; And Indra, with Brhaspati to aid him, conquered the godless tribes that came against him.”
2) Sayana-Wilson: “Then the swift-moving one, shining forth assumed his own body by the Amshumati, and Indra with Brhaspati as his ally smote the godless hosts as they drew near. [Godless hosts: adevih = not shining, dark; not to be praised].”
3) Geldner:

i) “Drapsa, in an awkward position in the lap of the Amsumati, was furious. The advancing godless tribes have conquered Indra with Brihaspati as their allies.”
ii) “There, claimed Drapsa in worse position in the bosom of the Amsumati wrath sparkling. Indra with Brihaspati has defeated the advancing godless tribes as allies.”
iii) “There Drapsa asserted itself in bad position in the shoot of the Amsumati rage-sparkling. Indra with Brihaspati has defeated the approaching ungodly trunks as confederates.”

4) Ramesh Chandra Dutta: “Swift-moving Krshna is assuming an illuminating body near Amshumati river; Indra with Brhaspati’s aid, killed the godless approaching soldiers.”

Note- 4: Krshna and the Mystic Number "8" in Mahabharata and Harivamsha:

i) Krshna was born on Ashtamii (8th day in lunar fortnight) in Krshna Paksha
ii) He was the 8th child born in Devaki’s womb. In Harivamsha, Naaraayana decides to take birth as the 8th son of Vasudeva, because he thinks Kamsa would kill the seven conceptions of Devaki (saptemaan Devakigarbhaan bhojaputro vadhishyati / ashtame ca mayaa garbhe kaaryam aadhaanam aatmanah // HV_47.10 // 2-2-10).
iii) He was born prematurely in the 8th month of Devaki’s conception (Harivamsha -47.36/ 2-2-38)
iv) He is the 8th Avataara of Vishnu
v) He had 8 main wives
vi) He obtained "8" boons from Shiva, and "8" boons from Uma
vii) Krshna, in his godhead, embodies "8" Gunas, and all the "8" Goddesses dwell in him
viii) In his godhead, Krshna grants "8" wealth of qualities - Ashtagunaishvarya (3.80.106d*388_1-7).
ix) Krshna is 8th portion of Supreme God (12.271.61a)
x) Following Yadava Destruction, Krshna dies at Prabhaasa – which is also the name of the 8th Vaasu (prabhaasash ca vasavo 'shtaav iti smrtaah, 1.60.17c; also 13.135.26d@18_37)

References –

1) Rsi Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay [1390 (Bengali)]. Krshnacaritra. “Bankim Rachanabali, Dvitiya Khanda.” Sahitya Samsad
2) Witzel, Michael (1995 [2001]). Early Indian history: Linguistic and textual parameters.
3) Adluri, Vishwa., and Joydeep Bagchee, eds. 2011. Reading the Fifth Veda: Studies on the Mahabharata— Essays by Alf Hiltebeitel, Volume 1. Leiden, Boston: Brill

More by :  Indrajit Bandyopadhyay
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