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A History of Sanskrit Literature by MacDonell

Rarely mentioned in the Rigveda


Among mortals in other form I wandered, And dwelt for many nights throughout four autumns.

Her lover implores her to return; but, though his request is refused, he (like Tithonus) receives the promise of immortality. The Catapatha Brahmana tells the story in a more connected and detailed form. Urvaci is joined with Pururavas in an alliance, the permanence of which depends on a condition. When this is broken by a stratagem of the Gandharvas, the nymph immediately vanishes from the sight of her lover. Pururavas, distracted, roams in search of her, till at last he observes her swimming in a lotus lake with other Apsarases in the form of an aquatic bird. Urvaci discovers herself to him, and in response to his entreaties, consents to return for once after the lapse of a year. This myth in the post-Vedic age furnished the theme of Kalidasa's play Vikramorvaci.

Gandharva appears to have been conceived originally as a single being. For in the Rigveda the name nearly always occurs in the singular, and in the Avesta, where it is found a few times in the form of Gandarewa, only in the singular. According to the Rigveda, this genius, the lover of the water-nymph, dwells in the fathomless spaces of air, and stands erect on the vault of heaven. He is also a guardian of the celestial soma, and is sometimes, as in the Avesta, connected with the waters. In the later Vedas the Gandharvas form a class, their association with the Apsarases being so frequent as to amount to a stereotyped phrase. In the post-Vedic age they have become celestial singers, and the notion of their home being in the realm of air survives in the expression "City of the Gandharvas" as one of the Sanskrit names for "mirage."

Among the numerous ancient priests and heroes of the Rigveda the most important is Manu, the first sacrificer and the ancestor of the human race. The poets refer to him as "our father," and speak of sacrificers as "the people of Manu." The Catapatha Brahmana makes Manu play the part of a Noah in the history of human descent.

A group of ancient priests are the Angirases, who are closely associated with Indra in the myth of the capture of the cows. Another ancient race of mythical priests are the Bhrigus, to whom the Indian Prometheus, Mataricvan, brought the hidden Agni from heaven, and whose function was the establishment and diffusion of the sacrificial fire on earth.

A numerically definite group of ancestral priests, rarely mentioned in the Rigveda, are the seven Rishis or seers. In the Brahmanas they came to be regarded as the seven stars in the constellation of the Great Bear, and are said to have been bears in the beginning. This curious identification was doubtless brought about partly by the sameness of the number in the two cases, and partly by the similarity of sound between rishi, "seer," and riksha, which in the Rigveda means both "star" and "bear."

Animals play a considerable part in the mythological and religious conceptions of the Veda. Among them the horse is conspicuous as drawing the cars of the gods, and in particular as representing the sun under various names. In the Vedic ritual the horse was regarded as symbolical of the sun and of fire. Two hymns of the Rigveda (i. 162-163) which deal with the subject, further show that horse-sacrifice was practised in the earliest age of Indian antiquity.


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