by Pranab Jyoti Kalita | 2017 | 62,142 words
This page relates ‘Goddess Nirriti’ 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.
In Vedic literature, especially in the Atharvaveda, Nirṛti is portrayed as a pernicious, sinful deity causing utmost pain. In spite of her malign nature, she is not presented as an ugly and frightful deity, but, as divinity with luminosity. Like other benevolent goddesses, she is called subhagā. A charming appearance is also ascribed to her. She is of golden complexion. For her golden hair, she is called hiraṇyakeśī. Being a deity of high spirit, she is called mahatī and mahī which mean great. She is gold-cushioned and gold-crowned. For her sharp brilliance, she is called tigmatejas. In the Ṛgveda too, she is spoken of as incorporable and ever increasing in might.
But, a malicious and devious mind lurks underneath her alluring beauty. She bears a terrible and a wicked soul. In the Atharvaveda, she is regarded as the cause of all diseases. A person suffering from the Kṣetriya, Yakṣman and other diseases is asked to be released from the influence of Nirṛti. Nirṛti herself is urged to go away from the diseased one to a distant. Dyāvāpṛthivī are invoked to be propitious to the diseased person so that the same may get recovery. Nirṛti is also prayed to release one’s animals, like cows, etc., from the sins of diseases.
Like the other gods of eschatology, Nirṛti is also presented as the possessioner of certain fetter. Her fetter is similar to the fetter of death. With this fetter, she binds people by all their parts and even the nerves of the throat are captured by her. When she binds one with this fetter, he becomes about to die. Hence, she is implored to unfasten one from her bindings for long life, splendour and strength. With the loosening of her bindings, one is thought to be returned back by Yama. Because of her such frightful nature, she is asked to be anehā, i.e. not injuring and is lauded along with Yama. In one mantra of the Atharvaveda, Nirṛti, Yama and the Manes are prayed together to ensure one’s happiness.
A dove is regarded as the messenger of Nirṛti and its arrival at one’s abode was considered to be an evil omen and therefore, gods are eulogised to protect men and cattle from the evil consequences of the arrival of a dove. This dove, the greatest of all birds, is called to avoid one sort of weapon, used to slay people and is prayed not to kill one, but, to be propitious to men and cattle. Gods are extolled to make this dove to be propitious and unharming. Besides, the use of certain mantra to drive away the dove is also referred to in the Atharvaveda and the gods are asked to do so. The dove itself is besought to fly away so that people can rejoice with food and cattle with its departure. Priests invoke Agni to remove the evil effects of the appearing of a dove.
Besides the dove, an owl is also spoken of as the messenger of Nirṛti. Whatever uttered by the owl is wanted to be powerless and its arrival at one’s abode is intensely undesired and it is asked not to slay one’s offspring.
Again, another bird, the crow according to Sāyaṇācārya, is also associated with Nirṛti. It is said about the crow that when it strikes one with its mouth, then, it strikes not merely with its mouth, but, with the mouth of Nirṛti, i.e. Mṛtyu. Thus, Nirṛti is equated with Mṛtyu or Death. Gārhapatya Agni is asked to release one from the sin, occurred as being touched by this crow. Water is also asked to protect one from the sin, occurred by the beating of a crow with its wings.
Thus, Nirṛti and her messengers were feared much by the Vedic seers. They observed her as a sinful demoniac entity and called her as Yātudhānā, i.e. an excruciating being. She is called haviṣmatī, i.e. associated with oblations. Along with Death, Nirṛti is asked to make unsuccessful whatever is told, thought and sacrificed by one’s enemy. Nirṛti and other demoniac forces are asked to assign the sacrifices of one’s enemies with perdition so that the sacrifice may not become fruitful. Gods, sent forth by Indra too are implored to make the same unfruitful.
Thus, led by the intense feeling of fear, the Vedic seers have paid homage to the goddess Nirṛti.
Footnotes and references:
nirṛtim pāpadevatāṃ …/ Sāyaṇa on Atharvaveda, 6.97.2
nirṛte niḥśeṣeṇa ārtikāri devate / Sāyaṇa on Atharvaveda, 6.84.3
hiraṇyavarṇā … / Ibid.
… hiraṇyakeśyai nirṛtyā … / Ibid., 5.7.9
… mahonmanā … / Ibid.
tasyai hiraṇyadrāpayerātyā / Ibid.
tigmatejaḥ tīkṣṇadīpte / Sāyaṇa, Ibid., 6.63.2
sarvaroganidānabhūtā pāpadevatā nirṛtiḥ / Sāyaṇa on Atharvaveda, 6.84.1 see also Sāyaṇa on Atharvaveda, 2.10.1
cf., Atharvaveda, 2.10.1-7
… etu nirṛtiḥ parācaiḥ / Ibid., 2.10.5
cf., Ibid., 2.10.1-7
muñcemānamūnenasaḥ … / Ibid., 6.84.2 imān samīpasthān gavādīn amūn dūrasthān asmadṛṣṭigocarān enasaḥ roganidānabhūtāt pāpāt muñca visṛja / Sāyaṇa, Ibid.
ayasmaye drupade bedhiṣa ihābhihito mṛtyubhirye sahasram / Atharvaveda, 6.63.3
… grīvāsvavimokyaṃ yat / Atharvaveda, 6.63.1 grīvāsu kaṇṭhagatāsu dhamanīṣu avimokyaṃ vimoktuṃ visraṣṭum aśakyaṃ yat dāma ābaddham / Sāyaṇa, Ibid.
… vi cṛtā bandhapāśān / Atharvaveda, 6.63.2; 84.3
evo ṣvasmannirṛtenehā … / Ibid., 6.84.3 anehā anāhantrī / Sāyaṇa, Ibid.
cf., Atharvaveda, 6.84.3-4
cf., Ibid., 6.28.2
cf., Ibid., 6.29.2-3
… yadulūko vadati moghametat / Ibid., 6.29.1
… gṛhaṃ naḥ kapotolūkābhyāmapadaṃ tadastu / Ibid., 6.29.2
avairahatyāyedamā papatyāt suvīratāyā idamā sasadyāt / Ibid., 6.29.3 idaṃ kapotolūkajanitaṃ durnimittam avīrahatyāyai avīrahananāya asmadīyānāṃ vīrāṇām ahiṃsanāya ā papadyāt āpadyatām / Sāyaṇa, Ibid.
idaṃ yat kṛṣṇaḥ śakuniravāmṛkṣannirṛte te mukhena / Atharvaveda, 7.66.2
āpo mā tasmāt sarvasmād duritāt pāntvaṃhasaḥ / Ibid., 7.66.1
nirṛtiḥ nikṛṣṭagamanā pāparākṣasī / Sāyaṇa, Ibid., 7.73.2
cf., Ibid., 5.7.9-10; 6.63.2; 6.84.3