Nasadiya: The Creation Hymn of Rig Veda by Wendy Dongier O'Flaherty SignUp

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The Creation Hymn of Rig Veda
by Wendy Dongier O'Flaherty Bookmark and Share




There was neither non-existence nor existence then. 
There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. 
What stirred? 
In whose protection? 
Was there water, bottlemlessly deep?

There was neither death nor immortality then. 
There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day. 
That One breathed, windless, by its own impulse. 
Other than that there was nothing beyond.

Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning, 
with no distinguishing sign, all this was water. 
The life force that was covered with emptiness, 
that One arose through the power of heat.

Desire came upon that One in the beginning, 
that was the first seed of mind. 
Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom 
found the bond of existence and non-existence.

Their cord was extended across. 
Was there below? 
Was there above? 
There were seed-placers, there were powers. 
There was impulse beneath, there was giving forth above.

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?

Whence this creation has arisen
- perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not - 
the One who looks down on it, 
in the highest heaven, only He knows 
or perhaps even He does not know.

Translation by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty. From the Book "The Rig Veda - Anthology" 
Image (c)

Read also:
The First?  Rig Veda Hymn of Creation, by Dr. Bhagwan S Gidwani

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More by :  Wendy Dongier O'Flaherty
Views: 37555      Comments: 26

Comments on this Article

Comment To all who say that the authors of such profound text, as are found in abundance in all the Vedas and Upanishads, were people who migrated into India from somewhere else - a simple pointer:
Migrating people are the least likely lot to have evolved into a thinking people with such creative abilities which have sustained for thousands of years! And to say that all these philosophical text were created outside of India is pure conjecture! Wish Wendy could have commented upon this aspect as well.

Siddhartha Dasgupta
08/23/2021 22:42 PM

Comment My favorite thing here is the question "what stirred." This makes me think about animals, breezes, and night. Is what stirred the One who doesn't know? Lovely quiet, no colossus, something stirring.

John Granger
08/01/2021 13:32 PM

Comment Nearly 2500 bc what our sages can write,how vast and deep they can think these questions are always in my mind Proud to a Sanatani

Atul Bhaik
05/07/2021 04:46 AM

Comment This was written about over 3000-3500 years ago. I am astounded by the depth and breadth of Knowledge these Sages had! They were talking about the Cosmos, which we are just trying to understand!

05/06/2021 10:17 AM

Comment The words of this translation seems to perfectly describe what we understand to be the forces of the universe. My mind is a bit blown by this.

Jen Garey
04/30/2021 23:24 PM

Comment For Myself personally what a breath of fresh air. Writers and Sages of the Rig Veda, asking the same universal questions every Human Being, or least most of Us have asked at least once in our lives. Where did we come from? In Whose protection ? Was there water ?and so on. I particularly love the last verse in the translation. Did creation happen itself? "In the highest heaven only, He knows or perhaps even He does not know". Brilliant.

James Paarde
04/20/2021 00:31 AM

Comment These lines give a fresh approach to creation. I am eager to lean more.

01/01/2017 20:50 PM

Comment It looks as if creators of Veda were scientists who were delving deep into the matter of creation of the world.Thought provoking rhyme. Great translation.

Kumar Rajyavardhan
11/22/2016 02:07 AM

Comment The Vedas are not compilations of human knowledge. Vedic knowledge comes from the spiritual world, from Lord K???a. Another name for the Vedas is ?ruti. ?ruti refers to that knowledge which is acquired by hearing. It is not experimental knowledge. ?ruti is considered to be like a mother. We take so much knowledge from our mother. For example, if you want to know who your father is, who can answer you? Your mother. If the mother says, "Here is your father," you have to accept it. It is not possible to experiment to find out whether he is your father. Similarly, if you want to know something beyond your experience, beyond your experimental knowledge, beyond the activities of the senses, then you have to accept the Vedas. There is no question of experimenting. It has already been experimented. It is already settled. The version of the mother, for instance, has to be accepted as truth. There is no other way.

10/17/2016 11:54 AM

Comment My first foray into Hindu scripture. I am happily amazed at how the scripture connects religion, science and philosophy.

Also, it is refreshing not to be bludgeoned by beliefs that are sacrosanct, in concrete and all knowing.

The scripture questions itself. Marvelous to read and consider.

I love Wendy's comments. Thank you so much! I can't wait for the rest of the course to be unfolded.

09/30/2016 22:56 PM

Comment This is a beautiful hymn, probably the most famous in all the Vedas. At points it reads like the book of Genesis ("Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning, with no distinguishing sign, all this was water"). At other points, it reads like the Tao Te Ching ("There was neither non-existence nor existence then," and "The life force that was covered with emptiness,
that One arose through the power of heat"). Really beautiful!

What strikes me are 2 things. First, there are several related themes sounded at this very early date, which became so prominent later in the Upanishads and sramana/yoga traditions, namely, the role of tapas (austerity or heat), prana (the life-force), and the role of desire in creation. Secondly, is the humility of the Sages' inquiry which ultimately resulted in not-knowing: "Who then knows whence it has arisen? Perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not"--or perhaps even the One who looks down does not know.

07/25/2016 15:07 PM

Comment It is a fascinating text written in a poetic language including aspects of the philosophical basic questions like- where do we come from- where do we go, who defines our fates- what is our purpose in this world? I personally see strong connections to the poetic Edda of the Norse gods but also to ancient Greek mythology when out of the apeiron slowly a somehow ordere chaos developed and step by step ( or deeds by gods ) offered us a universe to live in- same as in the Edda.

07/25/2016 10:56 AM

Comment Its amazing to read all the posts! Congratulations, I have a lot to learn from teachers and scholars who are taking this course.

07/24/2016 16:42 PM

Comment Being a student and lecturer of English Literature, particularly poetry, I appreciate the poetic devices: continuous questioning, the contrasting views creating the mystery and might that is creation: how can one fully explain so one can fully understand such power to the point that even the creator's skill is seen as possibly insufficient Reminds one of the Bhakti or spiritual force that compelled Blake's , 'Tiger Tiger' and Hopkins, 'God's grandeur"

In this piece - the Rig Veda, the writer/s marvel/s at the complexity and multiplicity of creation engaging and toying jovially with words to raise the philosophical debate, the rhetoric that bears force which is both awesome and too mesmerizing to comprehend: a grand prelude to the explanation to come.

To enter the debate on translation is for me to miss the woods for the trees. The inferential reader captures the implications in the masterly rendition which is lacking only in that that it gives no answer but more questions. Ironically even the sage on the stage is elated by a defence of not knowing, heightening the poetics, theory and philosophy

07/23/2016 19:17 PM

Comment Hi, I'm from Brazil and I don't understand the word "bottlemlessly". What does it mean?

Renato Seabra
07/21/2016 21:21 PM

Comment Wow! This feels so soothing to read! It mesmerizes me!
It makes me feel that actually there's no answer to these questions. Yet the true bliss lies in seeking the knowledge which would eventually answer these questions.

Prathamesh Mokal
07/14/2016 13:03 PM

Comment I am a practicing Hindu Priest from a long family of Brahmins. I am also a student of religious studies, and have read many scriptures, translations, and analyses of them, including Professor Doniger's works. And I must say, I don't know a scholar inside or outside of Hinduism who has put in as much work and effort and study into understanding the history, context, and *nectar* of the Sanatan Dharam as much as Doniger.

It is an absolute crime how so many hindu conservatives refuse to accept that anyone with the desire and willpower can master sanskrit and really grasp our sacred texts without crying bias. Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it isn't true. We can absolutely believe in the glory of Bhagawan and also in the context that gave rise to our knowledge of Him as humans.

shivam bhatt
07/13/2016 14:56 PM

Comment if this is about the translation of creation hymn of Rigweda i have no knowledge of sanskrit still i can appreciate the translation and its jist .

Dr Krishna Jain
07/11/2016 13:52 PM

Comment I ask the critical question: How qualified is Doniger to translate Vedic Sanskrit into English and therefore find it difficult to accept the content as truly representative of the rishis. I would prefer to hear an expert and can't classify Doniger as that.

indrani rampersad
07/07/2016 14:06 PM

Comment GORA MUKHERJEE appears to be somewhat idealising the theme of oral translation of hand-me-down traditions. Great as they were , they cannot be measured in comparison with printed or written words.He fails to understand that with every generation such oral forms of transmission can become bogged-down in more than phonetics.. True scholarship has to take into account genetic breakdown in speech and intellectual understanding . Some may have been somewhat intellectually not as sharp as their fathers, nor as good in pronunciations. The shortcomings of any single generation has led to the present varied rituals performed by pundits to all those unsuspecting populations across their global habitats. True scholarship means not just looking at the idealised ideas of the TAJ MAHAL.. Truth can only be viewed by looking at the bogged-down drains as without a good sewer system the TAJ MAHAL would not have been a showcase .
Those Brahmins were and still are overly inbred; and like all living religious teachers become corrupted by style and pronunciation that leads to change of sound and pronunciation leading to dialectic sub-linguistic expressions of similar words. Even now on the subcontinent, one would find Brahmins even modifying the written words The only manner of proper transmission for posterity can be by written or printed liturgical political or social tomes. How much change had taken place before the first printed material was made - subject to the ego or timidity of those of the then previous generations ?.. JAYANT JOKHAN.

Jayant Jokhan
09/12/2014 04:00 AM

Comment I am of Aryan / Dravidian descent ... and have read Wendy's translation with deep emotion ... and I felt within myself that depth within my spirit / soul / mind an awakening to something buried within my psyche suddenly - I see - as a light switched-on in a darkened room ! JJ

09/09/2014 08:18 AM

Comment WHAT A GREAT TRANSLATION OF "NASADYA SUKTA" by Wendy. However, with her 2009 publication of "Hindus, An Alternative History, she seems to have made a descent from "sublime" to ridiculous.
I agree with Gora Mukherjee's overall appraisal of Doniger's 2009 book "Hindus-An Alternative History". It is like an architect appraising Taj Mahal and focusing only on its "clogged" drains. It is a big comedown for a great author and Indologist like Wendy Doniger. However, Penguin's recent decision to "pulp" the book under pressure of a fringe Hindu group is ill-concieved.


02/17/2014 08:47 AM

Comment 1. I posted an enthusiastic note a few minutes earlier, for reasons stated. The subject must be studied. I will do so soon. My response concerns just the lines that are printed online. It does not refer to W.D. ?O Flaherty?s entire translation. This is my first encounter with her work (online, several lls.). Thank you!
2. This is to comment on Gora Mukherjee?s response. You are absolutely right.
The Hawaiian Dictionary by Puku?i and Elbert used all sources known in print, I imagine and believe, but mainly the authority of M.K. Puku?i, who was a researcher for the Bishop Museum for many years. She became the indigenous
"scholar" (a Western word for a non-Western knowledgeable source). She was an oral informer -- not the best speaker or researcher but one who learned the
scholarship ways of the West and came to accept that she was indeed more knowledgeable than certain others, who chance to be males. In her research, she learned more than any one person of any one locale and one lifetime, thus displacing the men who had been her genuine original sources. Insofar as the men as sources were attached to different chiefs and their respective island traditional accounts, they were the "Repositories of Knowledge." Today,their materials are mainly recorded through the agency of Mary K. Puku?i, notable for saying her mother taught her this and that. No woman could have known some of the things in such great detail as she implies her mother knew, for the scope of the data in time, space, and persons whose resources they were are too great. But researchers today do not know that.
And so the original accounts are lost, truly, in ways that actually men were trained to know them as professional Repositories serving their particular High Paramount Chiefs. One researcher, Theodore Kelsey, an American who was raised in Hawai?i since aged 2 (1880?s) and spent most of his adult life
in the field gathering records and writing them down, specifying names of the
informants, residences, birthplaces, and gender, shows how such accounts can make a difference. The women?s information follows the general rule of
what females are allowed; likewise for the men; and in matters of great importance especially if death is involved, like going to war, or healing the sick, etc., in general the men were the greater among the numbered practitioners and resources. So it is important to understand the difference.
Puku?i did not make up the rules of her centrality as mouthpiece for the Bishop Museum?s indigenous scholarly cultural and historical knowledge; but those that did are not the ones who are today being noted for having done contemporary Hawaiian researchers a great disservice. Which is not to say that women did not know what they knew but to say in traditional societies like the Indian and the Hawaiian (which is an Indo-Pacific language descendant), males dominated and the information often comes out closer grained, larger scoped, deeper time depth, more multiple alternatives, and involving greater numbers of people and groups, i.e., leaderships of more kinds by tradition. That is because Hawaiian was always an oral language until the missionaries arrived in 1821. Sanskrit is in a much happier place, fortunately. I am so pleased to see the work now produced. Thank you!

Leialoha Perkins
04/11/2013 18:57 PM

Comment What a find! What an amazing happenstance to find a translation of the Rig Veda that shows, as I suspected for over two decades, thanks to Mary Carroll
Smith?s Harvard Ph.D. The Rig Veda: the Song of India?s Sacred Text. many
affinities and suggestions of correspondences in the much later Hawaiian oral classic He Tumul?p? ordered by King Kal?kaua for transmission into writing from the oral for the Austrian anthropologist Adolf Bastian, tr. Martha W. Beckwith He Kumulipo: a Creation Chant, This is absolutely amazing! I must put out my
paper on the Theodore Kelsey, Henry Kekahuna and Fred Beckley and indigenous scholars? collaborative?s work on He Tumul?p?. My paper is in a journal I founded precisely for this kind of return, cyclable information known to exist but that is to me, in the middle of the Pacific, coming from "out of the blue." My paper is in J. Hawaiian and Pacific Folklore and Folklife Studies, Kamalu?uluolele Publishers/ University of Hawai?i, Leeward, 2v., 1991, 1992. . . .But first I must read the remainder of your papers (and I must get your book!). Please keep coming! And mahalo pumehana. Oia i?o n?! -L.A.P.

Leialoha Perkins
04/11/2013 13:47 PM

Comment Excellent work. Compels me to read and reserach more on the Vedas.

Pawan Kumar
08/04/2012 13:32 PM

Comment Not about this particular piece.Wendy's scholarship and knowledge of Sanskrit is well known.But I think she should confine herself to the job of a translator and not venture into some thing like an "alternative history" of Hinduism.I was highly disappointed with this book which,appears to have been a sponsored writing.She hurriedly glosses over the fundamental part of the development of Hindu philosophical thought-The Vedas,and Upanishads,busy as she is chasing an imaginary ghost-The Male Brahmin.If you leave out the Brahmins,whatever their later misdeeds and greed
might have brought embarrassment to many of their present day caste mates,you are left with practically nothing to write about!How did they memorize thousands and thousands of lines of prose and verses for over a thousand years,with correct phonetic notes! I am surprised that a translator of "Kamsutra" did not appreciate a society where even a courtesan could enjoy not only acceptance but even respectability and royal patronage.Women's sexual needs and various erotic arts to satisfy them were put down explicitly.Compare this with any other civilization,ancient or modern.Your book is a highly prejudicial views.You even point out that Alexander is not considered in India"that great after all".What a come down from Maxmuller

Gora Mukherjee
08/04/2012 13:05 PM

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