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Sri Aurobindo

The Secret of the Veda

with Selected Hymns

Chapter XXI. The Sons of Darkness

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We have seen, not once but repeatedly, that it is impossible to read into the story of the Angirases, Indra and Sarama, the cave of the Panis and the conquest of the Dawn, the Sun and the Cows an account of a political and military struggle between Aryan invaders and Dravidian cave-dwellers. It is a struggle between the seekers of Light and the powers of Darkness; the cows are the illuminations of the Sun and the Dawn, they cannot be physical cows; the wide fear-free field of the Cows won by Indra for the Aryans is the wide world of Swar, the world of the solar Illumination, the threefold luminous regions of Heaven. Therefore equally the Panis must be taken as powers of the cave of Darkness. It is quite true that the Panis are Dasyus or Dāsas; they are spoken of constantly by that name, they are described as the Dāsa Varna as opposed to the Arya Varna, and varṇa, colour, is the word used for caste or class in the Brahmanas and later writings, although it does not therefore follow that it has that sense in the Rig Veda. The Dasyus are the haters of the sacred word; they are those who give not to the gods the gift or the holy wine, who keep their wealth of cows and horses and other treasure for themselves and do not give them to the seers; they are those who do not the sacrifice. We may, if we like, suppose that there was a struggle between two different cults in India and that the Rishis took their images from the physical struggle between the human representatives of these cults and applied them to the spiritual conflict, just as they employed the other details of their physical life to symbolise the spiritual sacrifice, the spiritual wealth, the spiritual battle and journey. But it is perfectly certain that in the Rig Veda at least it is the spiritual conflict and victory, not the physical battle and plunder of which they are speaking.

It is either an uncritical or a disingenuous method to take isolated passages and give them a particular sense which will do well enough there only while ignoring the numerous other passages in which that sense is patently inapplicable. We must take as a whole all the references in the Veda to the Panis, their wealth, their characteristics, the victory of the Gods, the seers and the Aryans over them and adopt uniformly that conclusion which arises from all the passages thus taken together. When we follow this method we find that in many of these passages the idea of the Panis as human beings is absolutely impossible and that they are powers either of physical or of spiritual darkness; in others that they cannot at all be powers of physical darkness, but may well be either human enemies of the god-seekers and sacrificers or else enemies of the spiritual Light; in yet others that they cannot be either human enemies or enemies of the physical Light, but are certainly the enemies of the spiritual Light, the Truth and the Thought. From these data there can be only one conclusion, that they are always and only enemies of the spiritual Light.

We may take as the master-clue to the general character of these Dasyus the Rik V.14.4, “Agni born shone out slaying the Dasyus, the darkness by the Light; he found the Cows, the Waters, Swar,” agnir jāto arocata, ghnan dasyūñ jyotiṣā tamaḥ; avindad gā apaḥ svaḥ. There are two great divisions of the Dasyus, the Panis who intercept both the cows and the waters but are especially associated with the refusal of the cows, the Vritras who intercept the waters and the light, but are especially associated with the withholding of the waters; all Dasyus without exception stand in the way of the ascent to Swar and oppose the acquisition of the wealth by the Aryan seers. The refusal of the light is their opposition to the vision of Swar, svardṛś, and the vision of the sun, to the supreme vision of knowledge, upamā ketuḥ; the refusal of the waters is their opposition to the abundant movement of Swar, svarvatīr apaḥ, the movement or streamings of the Truth, ṛtasya preṣā, ṛtasya dhārāḥ; the opposition to the wealth-acquisition is their refusal of the abundant substance of Swar, vasu, dhana, vāja, hiraṇya, that great wealth which is found in the sun and in the waters, apsu sūrye mahad dhanam. Still since the whole struggle is between the Light and the Darkness, the Truth and the Falsehood, the divine Maya and the undivine, all the Dasyus alike are here identified with the Darkness; and it is by the birth and shining of Agni that the Light is created with which he slays the Dasyus and the Darkness. The historical interpretation will not do at all here, though the naturalistic may pass if we isolate the passage and suppose the lighting of the sacrificial fire to be the cause of the daily sunrise; but we have to judge from a comparative study of the Veda and not on the strength of isolated passages.

The opposition between the Aryans and the Panis or Dasyus is brought out in another hymn of the fifth Mandala and in III.34 we have the expression Arya Varna. We must remember that the Dasyus have been identified with the Darkness; therefore the Aryans must be connected with the Light and we actually find that the light of the Sun is called in the Veda the Aryan Light in contradistinction evidently to the Dāsa darkness. Vasishtha also speaks of the three Aryan peoples who are jyotiragrāḥ, led by the light, having the light in their front (VII.33.7). The Aryan-Dasyu question can only be adequately treated by an exhaustive discussion in which all the relevant passages are scrutinised and the difficulties faced, but for my present purpose this is a sufficient starting-point. We must remember also that we have in the Veda the expressions ṛtaṃ jyotiḥ, hiraṇyaṃ jyotiḥ, the true light, the golden light, which give us an additional clue. Now these three epithets of the solar light, ārya, ṛta, hiraṇya are, I suggest, mutually illuminative and almost equivalent. The Sun is the Lord of Truth, therefore its light is the ṛtaṃ jyotiḥ; this light of truth is that which the Aryan, god or mortal, possesses, and which constitutes his Arya-hood; again the epithet golden is constantly applied to the Sun and gold is in Veda probably the symbol of the substance of the truth, for its substance is the light which is the golden wealth found in Surya and in the waters of Swar, apsu sūrye,– therefore we have the epithet hiraṇyaṃ jyotiḥ. This golden or shining light is the hue, varṇa, of the truth; it is also the hue of the thoughts full of that illumination won by the Aryan, the cows who are bright in colour, śukra, śveta, the colour of Light; while the Dasyu, being a power of darkness, is black in hue. I suggest that the brightness of the light of the truth, jyotiḥ āryam, is the Arya varṇa, the hue of these Aryans who are jyotiragrāḥ; the darkness of the night of the ignorance is the hue of the Panis, the dāsá varṇa. In this way varṇa would come to mean almost the nature or else all those of that particular nature, the colour being the symbol of the nature; and that this idea was a current notion among the ancient Aryans seems to me to be shown by the later use of different colours to distinguish the four castes, white, red, yellow and black.

The passage in V.34 runs as follows. “He (Indra) desires not to ascend by the five and by the ten; he cleaves not to him who gives not the Soma even though he grow and increase; he overcomes him or else he slays in his impetuous movement; he gives to the god-seeker for his enjoyment the pen full of the Cows. Cleaver (of the foe) in the battle-shock, firm holder of the discus (or the wheel), averse from him who gives not the Soma but increaser of the Soma-giver, terrible is Indra and the tamer of all; Aryan, he brings into utter subjection the Dāsa. He comes driving this enjoyment of the Pani, robbing him of it, and he apportions entirely to the giver for his enjoyment the wealth rich in hero-powers (lit. in men, sūnaraṃ vasu, vīra and nṛ being often used synonymously); that man who makes wroth the strength of Indra is held back manifoldly in a difficult journeying, (durge1 cana dhriyate ā puru). When Maghavan has known in the shining cows the Two who are rich in wealth and have all forces, he growing in knowledge makes a third his helper and rushing impetuously looses upward the multitude of the cows (gavyam) by the help of his fighters.” And the last Rik of the Sukta speaks of the Aryan (god or man) arriving at the highest knowledge-vision (upamāṃ ketum aryaḥ), the waters in their meeting nourishing him and his housing a strong and brilliant force of battle, kṣatram amavat tveṣam.

From what we already know of these symbols we can easily grasp the inner sense of the hymn. Indra, the Divine Mind-Power takes their secret wealth from the powers of the Ignorance with whom he refuses to ally himself even when they are rich and prosper; he gives the imprisoned herds of the illumined Dawn to the man of the sacrifice who desires the godheads. He is himself the Aryan who brings the life of the ignorance into complete subjection to the higher life so that it yields up to it all the wealth it holds. The use of the words ārya and arya to signify the gods, not only in this but in other passages, tends to show in itself that the opposition of Arya and Dasyu is not at all a national or tribal or merely human distinction, but has a deeper significance. The fighters are certainly the seven Angirases; for they and not the Maruts, which is Sayana’s interpretation of satvabhiḥ, are Indra’s helpers in the release of the Cows. But the three persons whom Indra finds or comes to know by entering among the bright cows, by possessing the trooping illuminations of the Thought, are more difficult to fix. In all probability it is these three by whom the seven rays of the Angiras-knowledge are raised to ten so that they pass successfully through the ten months and release the sun and the cows; for it is after finding or knowing the two and getting help of the third that Indra releases the cows of the Panis. They may also be connected with the symbolism of the three Aryan peoples led by the light and the three luminous worlds of Swar; for the attainment of the supreme knowledge-vision, upamā ketuḥ, is the final result of their action and this supreme knowledge is that which has the vision of Swar and stands in its three luminous worlds, rocanāni, as we find in III.2.14, svardṛśaṃ ketuṃ divo rocanasthām uṣarbudham, “the knowledge-vision that sees Swar, that stands in the shining worlds, that awakes in the dawn.”

In III.34 Vishwamitra gives us the expression ārya varṇa and at the same time the key to its psychological significance. Three verses of the hymn (8-10) run as follows: “(They hymn) the supremely desirable, the ever overcoming, the giver of strength who wins possession of Swar and the divine waters; the thinkers have joy in the wake of Indra who takes possession of the earth and the heaven. Indra wins possession of the Steeds, wins the Sun, wins the Cow of the many enjoyments; he wins the golden enjoyment, having slain the Dasyus he fosters (or protects) the Aryan varṇa; Indra wins the herbs and the days, the trees and the mid-world; he pierces Vala and impels forward the speaker of the words; so he becomes the tamer of those who set against him their will in works, (abhikratūnām).” We have here the symbolic elements of all the wealth won by Indra for the Aryan, and it includes the Sun, the days, the earth, the heavens, the middle world, the horses, the growths of earth, herbs and trees (vanaspatīn in the double sense, lords of the forest and lords of enjoyment); and we have as against Vala and his Dasyus the Aryan varṇa.

But in the verses that precede (4-6) we have already the word varṇa as the hue of the Aryan thoughts, the thoughts that are true and full of light. “Indra, Swar-conquering, bringing to birth the days assailed and conquered by the desirers (the Angirases) these armies (of the Dasyus); he made to shine for man the knowledge-vision of the days (ketum ahnām), he found the Light for the vast enjoyment;... he made conscious in knowledge these thoughts for his adorer, he carried forward (beyond the obstruction of the Dasyus) this bright varṇa of these (thoughts), acetayad dhiya imā jaritre, pra imaṃ varṇam atirac chukram āsām. They set in action (or, praise) many great and perfect works of the great Indra; by his strength he crushes, in his overwhelming energy, by his workings of knowledge (māyābhiḥ) the crooked Dasyus.”

We find here the Vedic phrase ketum ahnām, the knowledge-vision of the days, by which is meant the light of the Sun of Truth that leads to the vast beatitude; for the “days” are those produced through Indra’s conquest of Swar for man following as we know upon his destruction of the Pani armies with the help of the Angirases and the ascent of the Sun and the shining Cows. It is for man and as powers of man that all this is done by the gods, not on their own account since they possess already; – for him that as the Nṛ, the divine Man or Purusha, Indra holds many strengths of that manhood, nṛvad... naryā purūṇi; him he awakes to the knowledge of these thoughts which are symbolised as the shining cows released from the Panis; and the shining hue of these thoughts, śukraṃ varṇam āsām, is evidently the same as that śukra or śvetá Aryan hue which is mentioned in verse 9. Indra carries forward or increases the “colour” of these thoughts beyond the opposition of the Panis, pra varṇam atirac śukram; in doing so he slays the Dasyus and protects or fosters and increases the Aryan “colour”, hatvī dasyūn pra āryaṃ varṇam āvat. Moreover these Dasyus are the crooked ones, vṛjinān, and are conquered by Indra’s works or forms of knowledge, his “māyā”s by which, as we are elsewhere told, he overcomes the opposing “māyā”s of the Dasyus, Vritra or Vala. The straight and the crooked are constantly synonymous in Veda with the truth and the falsehood. Therefore it is clear that these Pani Dasyus are crooked powers of the falsehood and ignorance who set their false knowledge, their false strength, will and works against the true knowledge, the true strength, will and works of the gods and the Aryans. The triumph of the Light is the triumph of the divine knowledge of the Truth against the darkness of this false or demoniac knowledge; that victory is the ascent of the Sun, the birth of the Days, the advent of the Dawn, the release of the herds of the shining Rays and their mounting to the world of Light.

That the cows are the thoughts of the Truth we are told clearly enough in IX.111, a hymn to Soma. “By this brilliant light he, purifying himself, breaks through all hostile powers by his self-yoked horses, as if by the self-yoked horses of the Sun. He shines, a stream of the outpressed Soma, purifying himself, luminous, the brilliant One, when he encompasses all forms (of things) with the speakers of the Rik, with the seven-mouthed speakers of the Rik (the Angiras powers). Thou, O Soma findest that wealth of the Panis; thou by the Mothers (the cows of the Panis, frequently so designed in other hymns) makest thyself bright in thy own home (Swar), by the thoughts of the Truth in thy home, saṃ mātṛbhir marjayasi sva ā dama ṛtasya dhītibhir dame. As if the Sāma (equal fulfilment, samāne ūrve, in the level wideness) of the higher world (parāvataḥ), is that (Swar) where the thoughts (of the Truth) take their delight. By those shining ones of the triple world (or triple elemental nature) he holds the wide manifestation (of knowledge), shining he holds the wide manifestation.” We see that these cows of the Panis by whom Soma becomes clear and bright in his own home, the home of Agni and the other gods, which we know to be the vast Truth of Swar, ṛtaṃ bṛhat, these shining cows who have in them the triple nature of the supreme world, tridhātubhir aruṣībhir, and by whom Soma holds the birth or wide manifestation of that Truth,3 are the thoughts which realise the Truth. This Swar with its three shining worlds in whose wideness there is the equal fulfilment of the tridhātu, a phrase often used for the supreme triple principle forming the triune highest world, tisraḥ parāvataḥ, is elsewhere described as the wide and fear-free pasture in which the Cows range at will and take their delight (raṇayanti) and here too it is that region where the thoughts of the Truth take their delight, yatra raṇanti dhītayaḥ. And it is said in the next verse that the divine chariot of Soma follows, getting knowledge, the supreme direction and labours forward, having vision, by the rays, pūrvām anu pradiśaṃ yāti cekitat, saṃ raśmibhir yatate darśato ratho daivyo darśato rathaḥ. This supreme direction is evidently that of the divine or vast Truth; these rays are evidently the rays of the Dawn or Sun of Truth; they are the cows concealed by the Panis, the illumined thoughts, dhiyaḥ of the bright hue, ṛtasya dhītayaḥ.

All the internal evidence of the Veda wherever this image of the Panis, the Cows, the Angirases occurs establishes invariably the same conclusion. The Panis are the withholders of the thoughts of the Truth, dwellers in the darkness without knowledge (tamo avayunam) which Indra and the Angirases by the Word, by the Sun replace with Light to manifest in its stead the wideness of the Truth. It is not with physical weapons but with words that Indra fights the Panis (VI.39.2), paṇīm̐r vacobhir abhi yodhad indraḥ. It will be enough to translate without comment the hymn in which this phrase occurs so as to show finally the nature of this symbolism. “Of this divine and rapturous seer (Soma), bearer of the sacrifice, this honeyed speaker with the illumined thought, O god, join to us, to the speaker of the word the impulsions that are led by the cows of light (iṣo goagrāḥ). He it was who desired the shining ones (the cows, usrāḥ) all about the hill, truth-yoked, yoking his car with the thoughts of the Truth, ṛtadhītibhir ṛtayug yujānaḥ; (then) Indra broke the unbroken hill-level of Vala, by the words he fought against the Panis. He it was (Soma) who as the Moon-Power (Indu) day and night and through the years made the lightless nights to shine out, and they held the vision of the days; he created the dawns pure in their birth. He it was becoming luminous who made full of light the lightless ones; he made the many (dawns) shine by the Truth, he went with horses yoked by the Truth, with the wheel that finds Swar, satisfying (with the wealth) the doer of works.” It is always the thought, the Truth, the word that is associated with the Cows of the Panis; by the words of Indra the Divine Mind-Power those who withhold the cows are conquered; that which was dark becomes light; the chariot drawn by the horses yoked by the Truth finds (by knowledge, svarvidā nābhinā) the luminous vastnesses of being and consciousness and delight now concealed from our vision. “By the brahma Indra pierces Vala, conceals the darkness, makes Swar visible” (II.24.3), ud gā ājad abhinad brahmaṇā valam agūhat tamo vi acakṣayat svaḥ.

The whole Rig Veda is a triumph-chant of the powers of Light, and their ascent by the force and vision of the Truth to its possession in its source and seat where it is free from the attack of the falsehood. “By Truth the cows (illumined thoughts) enter into the Truth; labouring towards the Truth the Truth one conquers; the aggressive force of the Truth seeks the cows of Light and goes breaking through (the enemy); for Truth the two wide ones (Heaven and Earth) become multitudinous and deep, for Truth the two supreme Mothers give their yield,” ṛtena gāva ṛtam ā viveśuḥ (IV.23.9). ṛtaṃ yemāna ṛtam id vanoty, ṛtasya śuṣmas turayā u gavyuḥ; ṛtāya pṛthvī bahule gabhīre, ṛtāya dhenū parame duhāte (IV.23.10).


1 The Rishis pray always to the gods to make their path to the highest bliss easy of going and thornless, suga; durga is the opposite of this easy going, it is the path beset by manifold (puru) dangers and sufferings and difficulties.


2 SABCL, volume 10: desires

“desirers” in original text in Arya, vol. 2, No 10, p.622.


3 Vayaḥ. Cf. VI.21.2-3, where it is said that Indra who has the knowledge and who upholds our words and is by the words increased in the sacrifice, indraṃ yo vidāno girvāhasaṃ gīrbhir yajñavṛddham, forms by the Sun into that which has manifestation of knowledge the darkness which had extended itself and in which there was no knowledge, sa it tamo avayunaṃ tatanvat sūryeṇa vayunavac cakāra.