Notes on Creation and Death in the Rig Veda

The Creation Hymn (Nasadiya) is an account of the origins of the cosmos, though curiously, unlike in Genesis, it is not the opening text found in the Rig Veda. Instead, the first hymn of the Rig Veda is dedicated to Agni, god of fire, and Agni is the first word of the Rig Veda signaling the theological matter of its subject.

The first two sentences begin with “there was” indicating that the events occurred temporally, rather than at a beginning. There was neither death nor immortality, nor signs of night or day, nor existence or non-existence. What stirred and where? The hymn provides an answer to the question of origins that is devoid of a deity. A life force arises through the “power of heat” and this is the first seed of mind. A cord appears to delineate the higher from the lower things, giving spacial recognition. The gods then appear afterwards, though the hymn acknowledges that ultimately no one can know definitively. It ends on a questionable note, as is common for the mystical texts. It provides very little in the form of answers, however the scripture does ease the mind as it discourages the mind from thinking.

However, in a separate hymn a term Hiranyagarbha, meaning “golden embryo” or “golden egg”, is the first to arise and hold the earth and the sky in place. Following this, the chants and incantations were born, along with the four Vedas.

In the Vedas, the authors sing hymns to the god of death, Yama. The liquified form of the Soma plant is offered to the gods, much in the way Ambrosia is the drink of the Greek gods.

Curiously, the Rig Veda also contains incantations of spells intended to control the spirit of a human being. Much like the hymns found within the Egyptian Book of the Dead, or the more aptly titled Papyrus of Ani, the ancient Vedic peoples also believe in the firm power of recitations and rituals to control the perceived invisible powers of nature. One is always inclined to ask, as William James once did, why the religious conscience is always found coupled with music and rhythm. Why the need for music when engaging with the supernatural?

For this reading I used the Penguin Classics edition translated by Wendy Doniger.

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