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There are many similarities and differences between the four ancient Hindu hymns from the Rigveda Samhita concerning the creation of the universe found in Readings in Eastern Religion. This essay will explore specific sentences from each of the hymns as examples for the purpose of creating a deeper understanding on a smaller scale as well as overall themes, structure and message in order to compare the four texts and show that they have more in common than not. At first glance Creation Hymn and the first All-Maker hymn appear significantly different from the other creation hymns.
The majority of Creation Hymn is made up of questions. The first All-Maker hymn has a significant number of questions as well.
There are, however, assertions along with the questions. For example, Creation Hymn begins with the line, “[t]here was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond.”(p.6) However, the very next line asks, “[w]hat stirred? Where?” (p.
6) It wonders about whose protection this non existence falls under. These questions can be read as passive assertions. They are leading questions. Why would there necessarily be someone protecting this dichotomous realm/non-realm? Then it asks, “Was there water, bottomlessly deep?” (p.6) This question seems to presuppose an answer by virtue of the specificity of the question. Why water? The most obvious answer would be that water is in abundance in the physical world. The people writing these hymns would surely have seen a lot of water and probably noticed that it was necessary for survival and therefore divine.
This question is definitively answered a few lines down with the assertion that “all this was water.” (p.6) Here is the one example of a rhetorical or stylistic question in Creation Hymn. The author of this text states very clearly that there was water.
Given that the water was all, or infinite, it can be surmised that it was also bottomless. Much of these two hymns are concerned with the nature of what is knowable. This ancient example of epistemology is where the main differences between Creation Hymn and the first All-Maker hymn and the other two texts lie. Creation Hymn ends, “[w]hence this creation has arisen—perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not[,]” (p.6) The author is not even willing to say what or who created anything. In fact, it doesn’t seem particularly interested in making any concrete assertions that creation happened at all. The author goes one step further saying that, “the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows, or perhaps he does not know.” (p.6) Ultimately Creation Hymn questions whether the creation of the universe is a knowable thing. The first All-Maker hymn asks of creation, “[w]hat was the base, what sort of raw matter was there, and precisely how was it done[?]” (p.7)
It does not answer this question, but challenges others to wonder about this as well. “[y]ou deep thinkers,” the hymn probes,“ask yourselves in your own hearts, what base did he stand on when he set up the worlds?”(p.8) Like Creation Hymn, the first All-Maker hymn does not answer the question. One possible similarity between the first All-Maker hymn and the Hymn of Man that is particularly fascinating is the connection between two specific sentences. Hymn of Man says of The Man that, “[a]ll creatures are a quarter of him; three quarters are what is immortal in heaven[.]” (p.6) while the All-Maker “entered those who were to come later, concealing those who went before.” (p.7) These two sentences are too similar to ignore. Are those who went before what is immortal in heaven? In both, the divine being is somehow a part of or inside of all other beings. Creation Hymn and Hymn of Man share two statements that are worth comparing. Hymn of Man states that, “[i]t is the Man who is all this” (p.6) and Creation Hymn says, “all this was water” (p.6) One could read these two sentences side by side and they would tell a story. If the Man was all this then surely He was water. Was water the Man? Perhaps not even the Man knows.
All three hymns use questions in a rhetorical manner, but only Creation Hymn allows for the notion that it is possible that no one knows such a divine truth. Even the first All-Maker hymn does does not make such a statement. To be sure, there are questions in all the texts. The Hymn of Man asks, “[w]hen they divided the Man, into how many parts did they apportion him? What do they call his mouth, his two arms and thighs and feet?” (p.7) It immediately answers these questions showing them to be there for stylistic purposes. “His mouth became the brahmin[.]” (p.7) is the very next line followed by, “his arms were made into the warrior, his thighs the people, and from his feet the servants were born.” (p.7) These are rhetorical questions that make the hymn flow a certain way. They are not meant to make one wonder for long – if at all. All of the hymns share many themes such as sacrifice, divine beings with multiple body parts and a birth imagery.
In Hymn of Man, the divine figure known as The Man “has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet” (p.6) while the All-Maker has “eyes on all sides and mouths on all sides, with arms on all sides and feet on all sides.” (p.7) “That one,” as it is referred to in Creation Hymn could be correlated with the All-Maker and The Man. All of these texts evoke a divine being. The image of the navel is found in Hymn of Man “[f]rom his navel the middle realm of space arose[.]” (p.7) as well as the second All-Maker hymn, “[h]e was the one whom the waters received as the first embryo […] On the navel of the unborn was set the one on whom all creatures rest.” (p.8) Sacrifice is another common theme across the hymns. The word “sacrifice” is mentioned several times in the Hymn of Man as well as both All-Maker hymns. It is less easy to find these in Creation Hymn, but not impossible. It states that “[d]esire came upon that one in the beginning; that as the first seed of mind.” (p.6)
The use of “desire” and “seed” brings reproductive imagery to mind. It could even be argued that the watery darkness are akin to a womb. These four texts are quite similar in many respects, some of which was exemplified in this paper. Certainly, they have dissimilarities as well. Common themes, images and structure show that the hymns are from the same area of the world and make it clear that these are texts from one religion. The connections between the hymns are significant, while the differences exist mainly in the stylistic and simple wording. Although there are differences, the similarities are far greater.
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