Women in the Atharva-veda Samhita

by Pranab Jyoti Kalita | 2017 | 62,142 words

This page relates ‘5f. Hymn for Easy Parturition’ of the study on women in the Vedic society reflecting the Atharva-veda Samhita in English. These pages discusses the social aspects of women, education, customs of marriage, practices of polyandry and polygamy, descriptions of female deities and various rites and rituals. It is shown how women earned much praise in ancient Indian society. Included are Sanskrit text and references of the Atharvaveda and commentary by Sayana-Acharya.

[Full title: 5. Hymns Related to Birth (f): Hymn for Easy Parturition]

With the passage of time, the term for the woman is to deliver a baby after ten months. The Atharvaveda has provided a separate hymn, so that she may not have to face any hindrance while delivering the young, and may deliver it safely. This hymn starts with the mantra, vaṣaṭ te pūṣan[1] …, etc.

Here, Pūṣan has been invoked as one of the principal officiating deities at the birth of a child.[2] This may be because of the fact that, in the Vedic pantheon, Pūṣan is known as a god who bestows nourishment.[3] Besides, he is well-known as a pathmaker too.[4] Desiring the nourishment of the infant, and for its safe journey from the mother’s womb down to the Earth, symbolically, Pūṣan might have been invoked here. At the birth of a child, Aryaman and Vedhas are asked to utter vaṣaṭ, an auspicious exclamation to god Pūṣan.[5] Sāyaṇācārya understands Vedhas as Dhātṛ.[6] Thus, this entire event of child-birth, becomes a celestial one as both the exalter and the exalted, are the gods and such a performance is hoped to be resulted on easy parturition.[7]

Pūṣan, after being propitiated by the oblation, is asked to bless the pregnant lady so that she may become a ṛtaprajātā, i.e. to be able to deliver a baby who is alive.[8] She is also wished to be freed from the pangs of birth.[9] For easy delivery, her joints are also wanted to be relaxed.[10]

This hymn presupposes the creation of the foetus by the deities, who preside over the four directions of the sky and of the Earth and also by the gods like Indra, etc.[11] Those gods are also prayed here to unclose the foetus from its membrane.[12] Further on, the way through which the infant is to be delivered is expanded.[13] From this, some scholars[14] assume that the woman is made to lie on her back and thighs are separated and her legs are bent.

Then, the goddess Sūṣā is prayed to release the infant from the outer skin.[15] But, the perfect identity of Sūṣā seems to be an obscure one even to the commentators. Sāyaṇācārya has given a threefold interpretation of the term Sūṣā. Firstly, he comments that Sūṣā is the goddess of procreation.[16] Or she may be the deity who causes delivery.[17] Finally, Sūṣā is interpreted as Uṣas, the popular goddess of Vedic pantheon, with the prefix su which means śobhanā, i.e. beautiful.[18] In place of Sūṣā, Whitney[19] reads Pūṣan which finds no reliable support.

Besides, the same mantra also mentions Sūṣaṇi as another goddess, presiding over the event of child delivery.[20] Thus, she is similar to Sūṣā by nature. She is asked to facilitate child-birth by loosening the bonds of the womb.[21] Sūṣaṇi is also read verily as Sūṣaṇā by some modern scholars.[22] The confusion arises because the term appears in the text as Sūṣaṇe,[23] in the vocative case. The text[24] also reads another similar term Biṣkale which too is read verily by the scholars. Sāyaṇācārya[25] reads it as Biṣkali while some others[26] as Biṣkalā. Sāyaṇācārya[27] interprets Biṣkali as sūtimāruta, i.e. the deified air which directs the infant outside from the mother’s womb. Hence, Biṣkali is also asked to propel the infant downward.[28]

Here, it is worth noting that regarding the identity of Sūṣaṇi and Biṣkali, some scholars are not unanimous with Sāyaṇācārya. Some such scholars[29] opine that Sūṣaṇā and Biṣkali are parts of the delivery organ.

But, the most interesting about these three deities is that none of them have been enumerated in the list of the deities, occurring in the Atharvavedīyabṛhatsarvāṇukramaṇikā,[30] the great index of the Atharvaveda.

The membrane of the womb which is not attached to the flesh and marrow of the mother, is compared with śevala, one kind of green plant growing on the surface of water.[31] That the same is not stuck in the body of the mother is also evident in other Vedic text.[32] It is also stated here that as soon as the young is released from its white colour of membrane, it becomes fit to be eaten by a dog.[33] Hence, the placenta is repeatedly wanted to be fallen down after birth.[34]

Later on, the expansion of the urinary organ and the separation of the two gavinikā nāḍīs which are identical to the two gavīnī nāḍīs, discussed earlier are also referred to here so that the infant may descend to the earth along with its membrane.[35] The infant is called to descend to earth immediately.[36] The descendence of the infant is likened with the speed of wind, mind and bird.[37] Finally, the baby that is to be delivered is expected to be a male one.[38] Because, it was the common notion of that time that only a son can protect his mother from the hell, called Puṃ.[39]

Thus, the hymns, discussed above, deal with the aspects of a woman related to pregnancy and birth.

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

Atharvaveda, 1.11

[2]:

cf., Ibid., 1.11.1

[3]:

pūṣāpoṣayat / Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa, 1.6.2.2 sakalaprāṇijātasya poṣakadeva / Sāyaṇa on Atharvaveda, 1.11.1

[4]:

cf., vayamu tvā pathaspate rathaṃ na vājasātaye / Ibid., 6.53.1 Also vide, Ibid., 6.49.8; 1.42.1-3; 8.4.15,16; 6.53.4

[5]:

vaṣaṭ te pūṣannasmintsūtāvaryamā hotā kṛṇotu vedhāḥ / Atharvaveda, 1.11.1 aryamā vedhāśca hotā bhūtvā tubhyaṃ vaṣaṭ kṛṇotu / Ibid.

[6]:

tathā vedhāḥ dhātā sakalajagato nirmātā deva / Sāyaṇa, Ibid.

[7]:

devaireva kriyamāṇam idaṃ karma sukhaprasavalakṣaṇaṃ phalaṃ dātuṃ śaknotītyarthaḥ / Ibid.

[8]:

ṛtaprajātā satyaprasavā jīvadapatyā / Sāyaṇa, Ibid.

[9]:

sisratām prasavajanitakleśād viniḥsṛtā bhavatu / Sāyaṇa, Ibid.

[10]:

… vi parvāni jihatāṃ sūtavā u / Atharvaveda, 1.11.1 u api ca sūtavai sukhaprasavārtham / yadvā sūtavai prasavitum / parvāṇi prasavanirodhāḥ sandhibaṃdhāḥ vi jihatām vigacchantu / Sāyaṇa, Ibid.

[11]:

cf., Atharvaveda, 1.11.2

[12]:

devā garbhaṃ samairayan taṃ vyūrṇuvantu sūtave / Ibid.

[13]:

… vi yoniṃ hāpayāmasi / Ibid., 1.11.3 vayamapi sukhaprasavāya yonim garbhanirgamamārgaṃ vi hāpayāmasi vihāpayāmaḥ / yathā garbhaḥ sukhena nipatati tathā vivṛtaṃ kārayāma ityarthaḥ // Sāyaṇa, Ibid.

[14]:

Vide, Karambelkar, V. W., Op.cit., p.111

[15]:

sūṣā vyūrṇotu … / Atharvaveda, 1.11.3 vyūrṇotu garbhaṃ vigatāvaraṇaṃ karotu / jarāyubandhanaṃ viśleṣayatu ityarthaḥ / Sāyaṇa, Ibid.

[16]:

sūṣā savitrī prajanayitrī devatā / Sāyaṇa on Atharvaveda, 1.11.3

[17]:

yadvā sūḥ savanam utpattiḥ / suvaṃ sanoti prayacchatīti sūṣā / Sāyaṇa on Atharvaveda, 1.11.3

[18]:

yadvā śobhanā uṣāḥ sūṣā / Sāyaṇa on Atharvaveda, 1.11.3

[19]:

Vide, Whitney, W. D. (ed. & trans.), Op.cit., Vol.1, p.11

[20]:

śrathayā sūṣaṇe tvamava … / Atharvaveda, 1.11.3

[21]:

śrathaya garbhiṇyāḥ saṃdhibandhān vimuñca / Sāyaṇa, Ibid.

[22]:

Vide, Whitney, W. D. (ed. & trans.), Op.cit., Vol.1; p.11 also Vide, Karambelkar, V. W., Op.cit., p.110

[23]:

cf., Atharvaveda, 1.11.3

[24]:

cf., Ibid.

[25]:

cf., Sāyaṇa on Atharvaveda, 1.11.3

[26]:

Vide, Whitney, W. D. (ed. & trans.), Op.cit., Vol.1; p.11 Also vide, Karambelkar, V. W., Op.cit., p.111

[27]:

biṣka ityanukaraṇaśabdaḥ / taṃ lāti ādatte karotīti biṣkaliḥ sūtimārutaḥ / Sāyaṇa on Atharvaveda, 1.11.3

[28]:

he tathāvidhe devate tvam ava sṛja garbham avāṅ mukhaṃ preraya / Ibid.

[29]:

Vide, Whitney, W. D. (ed. & trans.), Op.cit., Vol.1; p.11 Also vide, Karambelkar, V. W., Op.cit., p.111

[30]:

Vide, Vishva Bandhu (ed.), Atharvavedīyabṛhatsarvāṇukramaṇikā, pp. 143-161

[31]:

neva māṃse na pīvasi neva majjasvāhatam / avaitu pṛśni śevalaṃ … / Atharvaveda, 1.11.4

[32]:

tathā ca nigamānantaram / svavityavapadyasva na māṃseṣu na snāvasu na baddham asi majjasu / Sāyaṇa, Ibid.

[33]:

śune jarāyu antave … / Atharvaveda, 1.11.4

[34]:

… ava jarāyu padyatām / Ibid., 1.11.4-6

[35]:

vi te bhinadmi mehanaṃ vi yoniṃ vi gavīnike / vi mātaraṃ ca putraṃ ca vi kumāraṃ jarāyuṇāva jarāyu padyatām // Ibid., 1.11.5

[36]:

cf., Ibid., 1.11.6

[37]:

yathā vāto yathā mano yathā patanti pakṣiṇaḥ / evā tvaṃ daśamāsya sākaṃ jarāyuṇā patāva jarāyu padyatām // Ibid.

[38]:

vi mātaraṃ ca putraṃ ca vi kumāraṃ … / Ibid., 1.11.5

[39]:

puṃ nāmno narakāt trāyata iti putraḥ / Sāyaṇa, Ibid. putraḥ puru trāyate niparaṇādvā puṃ narakaṃ tatastrāyata iti vā / Nirukta, 2.11

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