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Ritual Performance and Cosmology in the Rig Veda Essay

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Updated: Jun 14th, 2021

The Rig Veda is the holy book of Indian Aryans, which was written during the conquest of India. It was a time of the emergence of “forest universities,” in which the beginnings of Indian spirituality and mysticism developed (Smith, 2019). By the time Buddhism arose, all Vedic literature, including Brahmins and Upanishads, already existed. According to the theory of Brahmanism, Vedas are still considered the most important scriptures in India. Thus, this paper discusses the interaction of human and the environment in a broad sense of the word: biological, geographical, and social.

Despite differences in the interpretation of features text as a whole, the data remained of the most ancient Indian religious texts allows restoring some elements of mythology and cosmology of the Vedic Indians. Initially, there was “Something One” (tad-ekam), which has a single attribute – integrity, indivisibility (Smith, 2019). The basis of being implies something impersonal, in which there is no division into existing and non-existing. Orientalist Giuseppe Tucci described it in its full vitality the complex dual nature of disintegration and reintegration: “It is, above all, a map of the cosmos. It is the whole universe in its essential plan, in its process of emanation and of re-absorption” (Singh, 2017 p.10). Hence, Rig Veda introduced the first idea of these cosmic connections, concerning the tertiary segregation of the world into “earth, atmosphere and heaven, created by three appropriate words, the sounds produced by Vac, the sacred word – “bhu, bhuvah, svah” (Tucci 1968: 116). The earthly world was also seen as a kingdom of differences arising from the division of an original whole into two parts; the existing-non-existing, death-immortality, day – night.

Then an idea is formed of a particular “abstract deity” who creates all that exists; he is called differently (Visvakarman, Prajapati) (Smith, 2019). It is devoid of any attributes or anthropomorphic features and is formless, not having a visible appearance, foundation that underlies all things (Halbfass, 2017). Deities create elements and ideas combining male and female principles from which the world is born. At the same time, the mystery of an appearing world remains unsolved. In one of the hymns to convey a sense of uncertainty and doubt, the image of a particular universal “overseer” (Adhyaksha, demiurge) is drawn (Rig Veda 10:129). Endowed with a higher vision, examining cosmic panorama, the Adhyaksha could answer all questions posed in the hymns. This god represents the initial source of creation of the world and he knows how everything began. However, there is a mystery behind this creation of the world since Adhyaksha is the one who can know but also might not know.

There is a common belief of Hindus about the sacred tree called Ashvatha in Vedic literature, the pipal. It serves as the combination of three conditions of universe in the image of the flower, where roots represent the creation, main stamen represents existence, and the tips represent involution (Singh 2017). Altogether, it is the embodiment of the cosmos in the ancient texts that praises the “tree of life”. The “world tree” was a symbol of everything that exists. Many cosmogonic representations in Samhita are associated with the concept of the “first germ” (sansk pratham garbha) – the golden egg (brahmanda) (Smith, 2019). That brahmanda occurs in the pristine ocean and in which the gods and prototypes of all creatures are enclosed. The image of the “primordial” egg in the waters is found in the cosmogonic myths of various nations. In Vedic India, however, the image of the cosmic egg (golden embryo) has a unique interpretation in terms of the Indian cultural traditions (Samitharathana, 2019). Of all the cosmogonic ideas of the Rig Veda, this probably had the most significant influence on the further development of Vedic thought.

The Brahmanas paint a complex picture of emergence and formation world as a result of the division of the “golden embryo” into two hemispheres, one of which became the sky and the other the Earth (Halbfass, 2017). This scheme, with well-known modifications, is later found in the most important Hindu texts, especially in the cosmogonic parts of the Puranas. One of the hymns of the Rig Veda – “Purushasukta,” gives another cosmogonic answer. It describes the cosmic giant Purusha, whom the priests sacrificed (Smith, 2019). Purusha Prajapati is the cosmogonic portrayal of the dissolution and restoration; he is the first human depicted through three vertical levels of Indian cosmos, namely earth, atmosphere and heaven (Shatpatha Brahmana 7.1.2.1 and 7.1.2.2-6). From the parts of his body, deities were born Earth and sky, sun and moon, plants, animals, people, ritual objects, and hymns themselves.

The theme of the creative world from the body of the primordial first man of Guyard is present in the mythology of many nations, particularly in the Persian Avesta (Samitharathana, 2019). There described, who is the embryo for the Earth, acting here as an egg of a Higher Being. However, the Rig Veda omits the meaning-forming details, in contrast to the Avesta. Overall, the Purusha, although it assumes an anthropomorphic image, appears more like an infinite source of creation than a deity (Singh, 2017). It represents the embodiment of the whole universe – elements and creatures.

The actions of people and gods are a manifestation of Purusha’s comprehensive activity. The image of Purusha firmly entered into the later religious and philosophical systems, but in them he completely lost any anthropomorphic features, turning into an abstract symbol of the original substance (Smith, 2019). The idea of ​​”cosmic sacrifice” also survived the Vedic time (Smith, 2019). Not only during the Upanishads but also in the Hindu era, sacrifice, in comparison with other sacred actions, has a special place, it is directly connected with the process of peacemaking. Upanishads say in bold terms: “Seek not to favor from any such divinity; reality is not the divinity which you are worshipping – nedam yad idam upasate; the guardian of order isn’t outside … (Samitharathana, 2019 p.10). The source of the first world was also considered to be “cosmic heat,” or tapas, which concerns the various phases of the sun’s heat (Chapter II.C-1, 2, 3, and 11 in RV). Besides, there is no distinction between the cosmic heat and earthly heat of the ritual (fire) and of the human body; the rituals are the linkage of the world and the human being.

The passage is significant for understanding later religious and philosophical views. Already in the Brahmans, tapas, identified with the tension will of an ascetic in yoga contemplation, are considered as the main active principles in the process of peacemaking. In the hymns of the Rig Veda, tapas are the embodiment of the original impersonal energy, which stimulates all life processes (Halbfass, 2017). Tapas designated heat created by ritual activity and by physical mortification of the body. From tapas, desire is born (sansk kama). The parallel can be traced with Buddhist interpretation of the role hope in the global cycle: ideas about things arise from desire as the initial impulse of being.

Vedic cosmology offers various answers to the crucial question of the origin of the world. Along with the abstract deity-personification of the creation process itself, this is the first germ (Sansk. Brahmanda, Hiranya Garbha), and the sacrificed primary being Purusha, as well as the “cosmic heat” (sansk tapas) (Samitharathana, 2019). The fact that many of the cosmogonic hymns are clothed in the form of questions goes far beyond than being a literary device. The authors admit them: there can be many answers; the truth is unknown even to the gods, the picture of the life of the universe is unclear and confusing to unravel (Smith, 2019). The cosmology of the Rig Veda era tried to single out the general principle the structure of the world, which would explain individual phenomena and their interconnections.

Moreover, it is essential to examine the meaning of the term “Rita”, as this concept, also used in Avesta, revealed Samhita as the fundamental basis of the world and the theoretical basis of operating laws. Rita speaks for the cosmic and physical order of the Universe. It was identified with Sathya (truth, truthfulness, honesty), which included the ethical standards of Vedic society: fidelity to duty, courage, and hard work. The moral aspect of Rita is expressed very clearly here; it is even stated that “thinking about Rita destroys sins” (Singh, 2017). Compliance with its “laws” is equivalent to doing good deeds, abstaining from lies, and hypocrisy. Thanks to Rita, the sun moves around the ecliptic, the seasons change, light scatters the darkness of the night. The most common definition for it is “The Way of the Sun” (Halbfass, 2017). Based on Vedic religion, it was necessary to properly perform the sacrifices to gods for its continuance. Once the established order is broken, it was considered a sin and required careful atonement.

Rita is the source of the triumph of righteous behavior, a symbol of universal orderliness and harmony. It embodies not only light but also the productive power of nature. The Vedic worldview was permeated with the idea of ​​an inextricable connection of processes in the environment with the cycle sacrificial actions. The power of Rita extends to the gods; the fulfillment of its norms is mandatory for them. Varuna and his constant companion Mithra protect all life with the help of Dharma, which is associated with Rita here (Smith, 2019). One of the book’s hymns says that another deity (Agni), as it were, becomes Varuna if it acts as its guardian. The same subordination of people and celestials to a single universal, impersonal force is the essential idea of ​​the Vedic worldview.

In conclusion, the central system of the Rig Veda is that method of views, which was called the mythopoetic model of the world. The nature in it is presented not as a result of processing the primary data by the sensory organs, but as a result of their secondary transcoding using sign systems. The primary way to interpret the world in this system is a myth. This thinking is based on cosmological schemes, which correlate with events and phenomena of the actual world, construed as a reproduction of a precedent. Thus, the myth is not only a message about the distant past that passes through generations: from ancestors to contemporaries of this era and from the future to their descendants. This sowing continuity concept is essential for the Vedic belief system.

References

Halbfass, W. (2017). The Idea of the Veda and the Identity of Hinduism. In defining hinduism. New York: NY, Routledge.

Samitharathana, W. (2019). A contrasted philosophical approach to Rig Veda & Upanishads in Indian thought. Journal of International Buddhist Studies College (JIBSC), 5(1), 1-15.

Singh, R. P. (2017). Appraising the Indian cultural landscape: Envisioning ecological cosmology in the 21st century. North Eastern Geographer, 3-30.

Smith, C. C. (2019). Adhiyajña: Towards a performance grammar of the vedas. Religions, 10(6), 2-20.

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