Let Us All Work For the Greatness Of India

History of India – The Vedic Age (29)


XIII. The Psychological and the Historical Bases for the Interpretation of the Veda

D. Sri Aurobindo’s View of His Work on the Veda and some Selections from His Further Work Aimed at making His Prima Facie Case Entirely Firm

The Vedic hymns are the symbolic gospel of the ancient Indian mystics and in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s interpretation of these presented in the previous pages it is clear that a prima facie case has been established for the view that their true and deeper sense is spiritual and psychological. Sri Aurobindo felt that although a prima facie case has been established but “Still to make our case entirely firm it will be well to examine the other companion legend of Vritra and the waters which we have seen to be closely connected with that of the Angirases and the Light. In the first place Indra the Vritra-slayer is along with Agni one of the two chief gods of the Vedic Pantheon and if his character and functions can be properly established, we shall have the general type of the Aryan gods fixed firmly. Secondly, the Maruts, his companions, singers of the sacred chant, are the strongest point of the naturalistic theory of Vedic worship; they are undoubtedly storm-gods and no other of the greater Vedic deities, Agni or the Ashwins or Varuna and Mitra or Twashtri and the goddesses or even Surya the Sun or Usha the Dawn have such a pronounced physical character. If then these storm-gods can be shown to have a psychological character and symbolism, then there can be no farther doubt about the profounder sense of the Vedic religion and ritual. Finally, if Vritra and his associated demons, Shushna, Namuchi and the rest appear when closely scrutinised to be Dasyus in the spiritual sense and if the meaning of the heavenly waters he obstructs be more thoroughly investigated, then the consideration of the stories of the Rishis and the gods and demons as parables can be proceeded with from a sure starting-point and the symbolism of the Vedic worlds brought nearer to a satisfactory interpretation.”1

In the following pages, beginning with sub-section (i) we present some selections from the above mentioned most important additional work by Sri Aurobindo which he felt was sufficient for his purpose and remarked, “More we cannot at present attempt; for the Vedic symbolism as worked out in the hymns is too complex in its details, too numerous in its standpoints, presents too many obscurities and difficulties to the interpreter in its shades and side allusions and above all has been too much obscured by ages of oblivion and misunderstanding to be adequately dealt with in a single work. We can only at present seek out the leading clues and lay as securely as may be the right foundations.”2

The Secret of the Veda was never published during Sri Aurobindo’s life time. When the publication of The Secret of the Veda as a book was proposed in 1944, Sri Aurobindo dictated the following reply: “The publication of the Secret of the Veda as it is does not enter into my intention. It was published in a great hurry and at a time when I had not studied the Rig Veda as a whole as well as I have since done. Whole chapters will have to be rewritten or written otherwise and a considerable labour gone through; moreover it was never finished and considerable additions in order to make it complete are indispensable.”3

The above may create a false impression in the minds of some that perhaps Sri Aurobindo’s interpretation of the Veda went through some important revision after he studied the Rig Veda as a whole in his later years. Fortunately, to put all such impressions to rest, we have Sri Aurobindo’s Foreword to the first edition of Hymns to the Mystic Fire (1946) where we find a concentrated final expression of his interpretation of the Veda. In the above mentioned Foreword he writes, “The interpretation I have put forward was set out at length in a series of articles with the title ‘The Secret of the Veda’ in the monthly philosophical magazine, Arya, some thirty years ago; written in serial form while still developing the theory and not quite complete in its scope or composed on a preconceived and well-ordered plan it was not published in book-form and is therefore not yet available to the reading public. It was accompanied by a number of renderings of the hymns of the Rig Veda which were rather interpretations than translations…”4 Sri Aurobindo’s interpretation of the Veda as briefly set out in the above mentioned Foreword is basically the same as it was set out at length in the series of articles entitled The Secret of the Veda.a

The work under the above title was not considered sufficient by Sri Aurobindo to establish on a scholastic basis the conclusions of his hypothesis. For that, he felt, “…it would have been necessary to prepare an edition of the Rig Veda or of a large part of it with a word by word construing in Sanskrit and English, notes explanatory of important points in the text and justifying the interpretation both of separate words and of whole verses and also elaborate appendices to fix firmly the rendering of key-words like Ðtam, Ùravas, kratu, ketu, etc. essential to the esoteric interpretation. This also was planned, but meanwhile greater preoccupations of a permanent nature intervened and no time was left to proceed with such a considerable undertaking.”5 The object of the translations published under the title Hymns to the Mystic Fire was not to be a scholastic work meant to justify a hypothesis, it was rather only to present these translations “…in a permanent form for disciples and those who are inclined to see more in the Vedas than a superficial liturgy and would be interested in knowing what might be the esoteric sense of this ancient Scripture.”6

(i) The Colloquy of Indra and Agastya

“The governing idea of the hymn belongs to a stage of spiritual progress when the human soul wishes by the sheer force of Thought to hasten forward beyond in order to reach prematurely the source of all things without full development of the being in all its progressive stages of conscious activity. The effort is opposed by the Gods who preside over the universe of man and of the world and a violent struggle takes place in the human consciousness between the individual soul in its egoistic eagerness and the universal Powers which seek to fulfil the divine purpose of the Cosmos.

The seer Agastya at such a moment confronts in his inner experience Indra, Lord of Swar, the realm of pure intelligence, through which the ascending soul passes into the divine Truth.

Indra speaks first of that unknowable Source of things towards which Agastya is too impatiently striving. That is not to be found in Time. It does not exist in the actualities of the present, nor in the eventualities of the future. It neither is now nor becomes hereafter. Its being is beyond Space and Time and therefore in Itself cannot be known by that which is in Space and Time. It manifests Itself by Its forms and activities in the consciousness of that which is not Itself and through those activities it is meant that It should be realised. But if one tries to approach It and study It in Itself, It disappears from the thought that would seize It and is as if It were not.

Agastya still does not understand why he is so violently opposed in a pursuit which is the eventual aim of all being and which all his thoughts and feelings demand. The Maruts are the powers of Thought which by the strong and apparently destructive motion of their progress break down that which is established and help to the attainment of new formations. Indra, the Power of pure Intelligence, is their brother, kin to them in his nature although elder in being. He should by their means effect the perfection towards which Agastya is striving and not turn enemy nor slay his friend in this terrible struggle towards the goal.

Indra replies that Agastya is his friend and brother, – brother in the soul as children of one Supreme Being, friend as comrades in a common effort and one in the divine love that unites God and man, – and by this friendship and alliance has attained to the present stage in his progressive perfection; but now he treats Indra as an inferior Power and wishes to go beyond without fulfilling himself in the domain of the God. He seeks to divert his increased thought-powers towards his own object instead of delivering them up to the universal Intelligence so that it may enrich its realisations in humanity through Agastya and lead him forward by the way of the Truth. Let the egoistic endeavour cease, the great sacrifice be resumed, the flame of the divine Force, Agni, be kindled in front as head of the sacrifice and leader of the march. Indra and Agastya together, the universal Power and the human soul, will extend in harmony the effective inner action on the plane of the pure Intelligence so that it may enrich itself there and attain beyond. For it is precisely by the progressive surrender of the lower being to the divine activities that the limited and egoistic consciousness of the mortal awakens to the infinite and immortal state which is its goal.

Agastya accepts the will of the God and submits. He agrees to perceive and fulfil the Supreme in the activities of Indra. From his own realm Indra is supreme lord over the substances of being as manifested through the triple world of mind, life and body and has therefore power to dispose of its formations towards the fulfilment, in the movement of Nature, of the divine Truth that expresses itself in the universe, – supreme lord over love and delight manifested in the same triple world and has therefore power to fix those formations harmoniously in the status of Nature. Agastya gives up all that is realised in him into the hands of Indra, as offerings of the sacrifice, to be held by him in the fixed parts of Agastya’s consciousness and directed in the motional towards fresh formations. Indra is once more to enter into friendly parley with the upward aspiring powers of Agastya’s being and to establish agreement between the seer’s thoughts and the illumination that comes to us through the pure Intelligence. That power will then enjoy in Agastya the offerings of the sacrifice according to the right order of things as formulated and governed by the Truth which is beyond.”7


  1. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol.15, p.246, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
  2. Ibid, pp.246-47
  3. Ibid, p.603
  4. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol.16, p.21, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
  5. Ibid, pp.21-22
  6. Ibid, p.22
  7. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol.15, pp.254-56, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry

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