Art by Anuradha Sharma
The Vedic period saw highly intelligent and learned women who actively contributed to the shaping of human civilization. The Vedas comprise the largest and longest-living literature of the world. The Rig Veda mentions around 27 to 30 Rishikas or women seers and several of the Rig Vedic Hymns are attributed to them. They were known as Brahmavadinis – women of high scholarship. Brahmavadinis dedicated their entire lives to learning, teaching and spreading knowledge through their Tapasya and remained unmarried. This was their sole aim. Sadyodvāhās were also a group of women scholars who continued their education until their marriage.
Their compositions show the high position women seers enjoyed in the Rig Vedic times. The 125th Hymn from Book 7 of the Rig Veda, with the Devi Suktam, sees the beginning of the contributions of women seers. Rishika Vak Ambhrini, the daughter of the great seer Ambhrina is credited with the Devi Suktam, also known as Vak Suktam. She is among the most ancient women poets of the world.
The Vak Suktam is pure power. It is not composed by her as one would compose poetry. It is a spontaneous outpouring of her realizations and divine experience. She identifies herself as the Supreme Goddess herself, Adi Parashakti. Embodying the consciousness of the Devi she has composed the Hymn on, the composition pours power, vigour and strength.
Unlike many other Suktams in which the Vedic Seer addresses a Devata, this is composed from a state of divine ecstasy born out of being merged in Devi consciousness. Hence, this is an Atmastuti. The Devi Suktam is an expression of the unity of the universe and is one of the earliest Advaitic works. Comprising of 8 stanzas, the descriptions match with all aspects of the universal goddess, Adi Parashakti – Durga, Lakshmi and Sarasvati. The Devi Suktam is a celebration of our inherent divinity and splendour!
ॐ अ॒हं रु॒द्रेभि॒र्वसु॑भिश्चराम्य॒हमा᳚दि॒त्यैरु॒त वि॒श्वदे᳚वैः ।
अ॒हं मि॒त्रावरु॑णो॒भा बि॑भर्म्य॒हमि᳚न्द्रा॒ग्नी अ॒हम॒श्विनो॒भा ॥ १॥
I move with the Rudras and also with the Vasus, I wander with the Adityas and the Vishwadevas. I hold aloft both Mitra and Varuna, and also Indra and Agni and the twin Ashvins.
In the above verse, the Goddess declares herself as the controlling power behind the many Devas who are associated with various facets and functions of this universe. She claims to move as one with the mighty Devas, including the eleven Rudras, Vasus, Adityas and Vishwadevas, assuming their form. She is their core and inner self of all the Devas. She is more than their equal, as she sustains and holds them aloft. She is thus Supreme. The 11 Rudras are manifestations of Shiva. The Adityas are the sons of Aditi and sage Kashyapa. The 8 Vasus are a class of wealth giving deities who represent aspects of the cosmic natural phenomena. Vishwadevas are a group of 10 Vedic Gods, who are sons of Vishwaa. She is their supporter without whom they cease to exist.
अ॒हं सोम॑माह॒नसं᳚ बिभर्म्य॒हं त्वष्टा᳚रमु॒त पू॒षणं॒ भगम्᳚ ।
अ॒हं द॑धामि॒ द्रवि॑णं ह॒विष्म॑ते सुप्रा॒व्ये॒ ए॒ ३॒॑ यज॑मानाय सुन्व॒ते ॥ २॥
I uphold and cherish the Soma, the exuberant plant, that is pressed out for the delight of the Gods. I am the supporter of the divine sculptor and craftsman, Tvaṣṭar and of Bhaga and Pushan too. I am the giver of the fruits of the sacrifices and grant the wealth of oblation, to the mindful institutor of sacrifice and to the performer of Soma sacrifice.
The Goddess now says that she is the controller of the high-swelling Soma juice, the sacred drink that brings delight to the Devas. She bears the three divinities – Tvaṣṭar, Pūṣan, and Bhaga. Tvaṣṭar is the divine architect and through his excellent craftsmanship has created implements for many of the Devas. He is also the protector of Soma. Pūṣan performs the crucial role of guiding souls, connecting them to the other planes of existence, facilitating their journeys and protecting them through their journey to other worlds. Bhaga is a Rig Vedic deity responsible for the bestowing of wealth, fortune and prosperity. Thus, it is with the power of Devi that these divinities carry on their important cosmic functions that keep the created realities thriving. To the one who zealously pours the Soma juice and offers his oblations to the Yajna, she bestows the fruits of the fire ritual. She bestows wealth on the mindful Yajamana (patron of the sacrifice). It is through her that the offerings of Soma and Havis reach the Gods.
अ॒हं राष्ट्री᳚ सं॒गम॑नी॒ वसू᳚नां चिकि॒तुषी᳚ प्रथ॒मा य॒ज्ञिया᳚नाम् ।
तां मा᳚ दे॒वा व्य॑दधुः पुरु॒त्रा भूरि॑स्थात्रां॒ भूर्या᳚ वे॒शयन्᳚तीम् ॥ ३॥
I am the ruling Queen, the authority and amasser of treasures, full of wisdom, first of those who are worthy of worship through Yajna (fire and sacrifice). It is me, the Devas have installed in many places, in many directions, with many homes for me to enter and abide in.
She is the supreme Queen of the Universe, the ruler in control of all material wealth (vasus) and dispenser of the riches. She is the embodiment of knowledge, the cognizer of the Brahman and the all-knowing one. The first among gods, she is the prime among the deities worshipped through the fire ritual (Yajna). She gives wealth to those who worship her. She enters many bodies as the prime consciousness, Atma, taking various forms and with different manifestations, in various ways. Hence, the Devas have incorporated her in various places, having many abodes, causing her to pervade (or overpower) many.
From this verse, it is evident that the Devi addressed is Lalitha, encompassing aspects of Lakshmi and Sarasvati.. The Devi states that she is the supreme ruler in control of all material wealth (Lakshmi), knowledge and wisdom (Saraswati). According to the Puranas and Agamas, Goddess Lalitha holds the undisputed supremacy among all Deities and creates the Trinities out of Herself. She is the first among gods and is present in all things and in every part of the universe.
मया॒ सोऽअन्न॑मत्ति॒ यो वि॒पश्य॑ति॒ यः प्राणि॑ति॒ य ईं᳚ शृ॒णोत्यु॒क्तम् ।
अ॒म॒न्तवो॒मान्त उप॑क्षियन्ति श्रु॒धिश्रु॑त श्रद्धि॒वं ते᳚ वदामि ॥ ४॥
It is by my power and through me alone that one eats, sees, breathes and hears the spoken word. He is not aware of me, yet he dwells in me alone. Listen with concentration, O those who can hear! For, I tell you what is trustworthy! Hear, one and all, the truth as I declare it.
In this mantra, the Goddess announces herself as the primordial power driving all life processes that make the human body function, whether one is aware or not. It is through her power that one eats his food, one sees, breathes and hears what is said. Even those who do not recognize her, are protected by her. Those who ignore her with their thoughts not turned to her, run to ruin. She asks for her statement to be heard with concentration and exhorts its credibility. She urges that what she says is trustworthy and that she be listened to.
अ॒हमे॒व स्व॒यमि॒दं व॑दामि॒ जुष्टं᳚ दे॒वेभि॑रु॒त मानु॑षेभिः ।
यं का॒मये॒ तं त॑मु॒ग्रं कृ॑णोमि॒ तं ब्र॒ह्माणं॒ तमृषिं॒ तं सु॑मे॒धाम् ॥ ५॥
It is I who announces the tidings that are pleasing to gods and men. The man I love, I make mighty in strength, a knower of the Brahman – a sage, a learned scholar, or a wise one as I please.
This time, the Devi addressed both the Devas and the earthly beings. She states that her announcements cause the Devas and the human beings to rejoice. She would bestow her grace on whomsoever she wishes, by granting them material or other benefits as they deserve. If she is pleased by someone, (for his meditation towards her), she makes him (i) Ugra: One greatest in strength (ii) Brahman: A knower of the Brahman, as a Self-realized soul (iii) Rishi: One well versed in knowledge as a learned scholar (iv) Sumedha: A very wise person. Her decision is welcomed by one and all. Declaring her supremacy as the Sarva Jagat Iswari or the sole controller of all Gods and men, she makes it clear that only she holds the power to grant BrahmAtva Or Vishnutva or Rishi-hood. It is her grace that all Gods and men strive to achieve.
अ॒हं रु॒द्राय॒ धनु॒रात॑नोमि ब्रह्म॒द्विषे॒ शर॑वे॒हन्त॒ वा उ॑ ।
अ॒हं जना᳚य स॒मदं᳚ कृणोम्य॒हं द्यावा᳚पृथि॒वी आवि॑वेश ॥ ६॥
I bend the bow for Rudra that his arrow may slay the hater of the words of sacred wisdom. I rouse the people and make them strive. I have entered the Earth and Heaven, filling everything.
In this verse, she assumes the Durga aspect of Adi Parashakti, who fights for the Dharmic forces. She bends the bow for Rudra to kill all those enemies who detest Dharma, and so that his arrow may strike and slay the hater of devotion. Here, Devi could also mean that she is the elastic potential energy that turns into kinetic energy when the bow is released and thus establishes herself as both the unmanifest potential energy and manifest kinetic energy, that the universe is a combination of. At the level of the Devas, she has fought several battles and slain many savage Asuras including Mahishasura, Shumba and Nishumba, to name a few. The Devi Purana is replete with stories of her bloody battles and she always emerging victories after fighting impossible Asuras. Even at the level of humans, she goes all out to protect a sincere devotee or a humble Dharmi. She wages war against hostile men to protect the praying ones. Here, however, she rouses the inner strength in people and makes them determined to fight for their welfare. Durga Devi helps both the Devas and humans in establishing Dharma, by providing them the power to fight against Adharma.
अ॒हं सु॑वे पि॒तर॑मस्य मू॒र्धन् मम॒ योनि॑र॒प्स्व (अ॒) १॒॑न्तः स॑मु॒द्रे ।
ततो॒ विति॑ष्ठे॒ भुव॒नानु॒ विश्वो॒ तामूं द्यां व॒र्ष्मणोप॑स्पृशामि ॥ ७॥
I generate the father on the summit of this (sky). My source is in the waters, deep in the inner cosmic oceans. From there, I spread among all living creatures, alongside the all-pervading, and with the vertex, I touch that sky.
In the Rig Veda, Dyaus Pitr is the God of the sky and heavens and is considered the father. His consort is Prithvi Devi – Mother Earth, and together, they are the source of all creation. Here, the Devi exhorts that she is the progenitor of Dyaus Pitr or Akasha (sky), it is her from her that he has emerged and it is she who gave birth to him. The source of her own creative powers lie deep in the cosmic ocean and waters, and by that, she is present in all three worlds. Here, “waters” refers to the cosmic waters which is an all-pervading entity, the genesis of all creative energy. Emerging from the cosmic ocean, through a vortex, she pervades all creation and touches the sky and the apex of the heavens with her forehead. She establishes herself as the absolute origin of all creation and pervades all creation.
अ॒हमे॒व वात॑ऽइव॒ प्रवा᳚म्या॒रभ॑माणा॒ भुव॑नानि॒ विश्वा᳚ ।
प॒रो दि॒वा प॒रए॒ना पृ॑थि॒व्यै ताव॑ती महि॒ना सम्ब॑भूव ॥ ८॥
I breathe a strong breath like the wind and tempest, from which commence forth all living beings and universes. I hold together all of existence – beyond this wide earth and beyond the heavens. I have become so mighty in my grandeur!
It is her breath that blows forth as the mighty winds. The last verse is a declaration of her vastness and largeness. She is beyond what the mind can comprehend, beyond the created space and time. She verily brings into existence, both space and time and all the worlds issue forth through the winds that she vehemently blows. She breathes life into all of creation. So vast is her greatness and glorious is her power.
ॐ शान्तिः॒ शान्तिः॒ शान्तिः॑ ॥
Thus concludes the powerful Devi Suktam. Filled with bold proclamations, the Suktam oozes brilliance and might. Vagambhrini became a medium for Adi Parashakti and the ultimate truth to pour forth. It is through such highly accomplished seers that the truth is shared and recorded as Shrutis. These are divine revelations seen by Rishis and Rishikas, our ancient Sages, while absorbed in intense Tapasya and meditation.
References: Original Sanskrit: https://sanskritdocuments.org/doc_veda/deviisuukta.html https://www.boloji.com/articles/1747/vak-ambhrini-and-her-song-of-the-soul https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dev%C4%ABs%C5%ABkta https://www.speakingtree.in/blog/devi-sukta-or-vak-sukta-proclamation-by-the-primordial-goddess Vagambhrini as river Saraswati: http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/06/sarasvati-is-vagambhrini.html Devi Suktam Word by word: http://www.ecs.umass.edu/ece/janaswamy/janaswamy_add_info/RJ_Devi_Suktam.pdf https://mathomathis.com/rishikas-female-rishis-in-vedanta-dharma-101/ http://www.ijcms2015.co/file/vol-i-issue-1/AIJRA-VOL-I-ISSUE-1-10.pdf https://mathomathis.com/rishikas-female-rishis-in-vedanta-dharma-101/