Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Numbers, Names, Trails, and Tradition: Reconsidering the Phrase "Thrice Seven" in the Rgveda and Atharvaveda

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Numbers, Names, Trails, and Tradition: Reconsidering the Phrase "Thrice Seven" in the Rgveda and Atharvaveda

Article excerpt

This paper examines the meaning and significance of the numerical phrase trih sapta and its compounded form trisapta in the Rgveda and Atharvaveda in order to understand its use in the opening hymn of the Saunakiya Samhita (AVS. 1.1.1-4). It argues that by invoking Vacaspati and the "Thrice Seven" (trisaptah) the hymn's composer makes a complex poetic and mythological statement about the cosmological importance of his ritual tradition, its founding fathers, and the powerful nature of ritual speech and knowledge, a message that the redactors of the Saunakiya Samhita wished to foreground by opening their text with this hymn.

INTRODUCTION

The opening hymn of the Atharvaveda Saunakiya Samhita (AVS. 1.1.1-4), which appears in an almost identical form near the beginning of the Paippalada Samhita (AVP.1.6.1-4), is for the most part intelligible and seemingly uncomplicated, and its priestly tradition uses it in a straightforward manner. (1) The Kausika Sutra (1.7.8) calls the hymn purvam trisaptiyam or the "Initial/Opening Hymn to the Thrice Seven" (see Caland 1900: 10). According to the commentarial tradition, the hymn is used in rites for the "production of wisdom" (KausS.2.1[10].l: purvasya medhajananani) and for the welfare or preparation of a Vedic student (KausS.2.2[11].1: purvasya brahmacarisampadani), particularly at the beginning of his formal education in the initiation ceremony (upanayana; cf. 14.3[139].10), when he engages in ritual performances, or at other times of study (see Thieme 1985: 560, Vishva Bandhu 1975: 54). I present here my translation of the hymn: (2)

a. ye trisaptah pariyanti

b. visva rupani bibhratah |

c. vacaspatir bala tesam

d. tanvo adya dadhatu me || AVS. 1.1.1

The Thrice Seven that move about bearing all forms, let the Lord of Speech put their powers in my body today.

a. punar ehi vacaspate

b. devena manasa saha |

c. vasospate ni ramaya

d. mayy evastu mayi srutam || AVS. 1.1.2

Return once more, O Lord of Speech, along with a divine mind. O Lord of Treasure, make [what is heard] stay right in me; let what is heard be in me.

a. ihaivabhi vi tanu-

b. -ubhe artni iva jyaya |

c. vacaspatir ni yachatu

d. mayy evastu mayi srutam || AVS. 1.1.3

Right here, stretch tightly [speech and thought], like both ends of a bow with sinewy string. Let the Lord of Speech restrain [what is heard] right in me; let what is heard be in me.

a. upahuto vacaspatir

b. upasman vacaspatir hvayatam |

c. sam srutena gamemahi

d. ma srutena vi radhisi || AVS. 1.1.4

Called near is the Lord of Speech; let the Lord of Speech call us near. May we unite with what is heard: may I not fail with what is heard.

My translation differs notably from Whitney's (1905: 1-2), yet with some minor stylistic changes it agrees with Thieme's (1985: 559, 560-61, 565). I accept Thieme's interpretation of the problematic fourth line of stanza 1, especially the meaning of the "partitive, elliptical, genitive" tanvah. (3) In addition, lines cd of stanzas 2-3 can be translated more intelligently if we assume a case of ellipsis; that is to say, srutam in line d of both stanzas is also intended as the direct object of the imperative verbs from ni [square root of (term)]ram and ni [square root of (term)]yam in line c. Furthermore, like Thieme (p. 560), I think that the locative pronominal phrase mayy eva ("right in me") in the refrain of these two stanzas is syntactically a part of the verbal predicate of the imperative verbs in line c. There is also a clear case of ellipsis in stanza 3 because vi [square root of (term)]tan should have a direct object. Since the poet's simile involves a comparison with two ends of a bow, perhaps the two concepts of "speech and thought, word and mind" (v[??]c-, manas-) mentioned in stanza 2 carry over thematically as the elided object, though srutam could also be read here. …

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