Nasadiya from Rig Veda

Nasadiya (Creation Hymn) 10.129

Translation and commentary by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty

This short hymn, though linguistically simple (with the exception of one or two troublesome nouns), is conceptually extremely provocative and has, indeed, provoked hundreds of complex commentaries among Indian theologians and Western scholars. In many ways, it is meant to puzzle and challenge, to raise unanswerable questions, to pile up para­doxes.

1. There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. What stirred? (1) Where? In whose protection? Was there water, bottomlessly deep?

2. There was neither death nor immortality then. There was no distinguishing sign (2) of night nor of day. That one breathed, windless, by its own impulse. Other than that there was nothing beyond.

3 Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning; with no distinguishing sign (2), all this was water. The life force that was covered with emptiness, that one arose through the power of heat. (3)

4 Desire came upon that one in the beginning; that was the first seed of mind. Poets (4) seeking in their heart with wis­dom found the bond of existence in non-existence.

5 Their cord (5) was extended across. Was there below? Was there above? There were seed-placers; there were powers. (6) There was impulse beneath; there was giving­ forth above.

6 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. (7) Who then knows whence it has arisen?

7 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 he does not know.

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Notes

1. The verb is often used to describe the motion of breath. The verse implies that the action precedes the actor.

2. That is, the difference between night and day, light or dark­ness, or possibly sun and moon.

3. Tapas designates heat: in particular the heat generated by ritual activity and by physical mortification of the body.

4. Kavi designates a poet or saint.

5. Possibly a reference to the ‘bond’ mentioned in verse 4, or a kind of measuring cord by which the poets delimit – and hence create – the elements.

6. Through chiasmus, the verse contrasts male seed-placers, giving-forth, above, with female powers, impulse, below.

7. That is, the gods cannot be the source of creation since they came after it.

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