A Historical event in the Rig Veda – The Vr̥ṣā́kapi Hymn (RV 10.86)

  1. Introduction

The Dāśarājñám or the “Battle of Ten Kings”, described in the Rig Veda (RV) hymns 7.18, 7.33 and 7.83, is clearly a historical event. King Sudā́sa, with heavenly aid from I’ndra and guided by the sage Vásiṣṭha, defeats a coalition of other Aryan kings, guided by Viśvā́mitra, on the banks of the river Páruṣṇi (modern Ravi).

Here we get a glimpse of a coalition of minor kings attempting to challenge a fairly strong monarch who then defeats them and forces them to flee westward.

There are other tantalising glimpses of battles. Sóma is asked to help Dívodāsa defeat śámbara, Yádu and Turváśaḥ (RV 9.61.2). In another battle, Tū́rvayāṇa or Suśrávas, with I’ndra’s help, defeats a coalition of twenty kings which includes Kútsa, Atithigvá, and others (RV 1.53.10, RV 6.18.13).

Is the reason why there are so little historical references, the fact that we have not interpreted the hymns correctly, with history in mind, or because there really are not too many of these historical references?

I would say the former, and try to justify my assertive confidence by trying to interpret one of the hymns – the Vr̥ṣā́kapi hymn (RV 10.86) – looking at it through a historical lens.

  1. The Vr̥ṣā́kapi hymn (RV 10.86)

This hymn (Mandala 10, Hymn 86) has been claimed by others (see Griffith, O’Flaherty etc.) to be a conversation between I’ndra, the chief of the Gods, Indrāṇī́, his wife and Vr̥ṣā́kapi, I’ndra’s pet beast. According to them the story roughly goes thus: There is concern that where Vr̥ṣā́kapi is active, people have stopped sacrificing to I’ndra and have stopped considering him a God. Indrāṇī́ is unhappy that though Vr̥ṣā́kapi may be up to such tricks, I’ndra is lenient towards him. Vr̥ṣā́kapi allegedly has destroyed things that she holds dear. She therefore threatens to kill the beast. I’ndra is unhappy about this and pleases Indrāṇī́ by praising her. One day they find an animal killed. They all wonder where the sinful beast has gone. In the end everything ends well.

  1. Our detailed examination of the hymn

We examine the hymn in detail and feel that we can conclude that the hymn does indeed describe a historical event – a rebellion against the king that happened in a kingdom of the tribe of Párśu around 3900 BCE.

  1. The first 12 stanzas – Impending rebellion, the king’s nonchalance about it and the queen’s anger and resolve

Stanza 1 talks of an impending danger to the kingdom.

वि हि सोतो॒र् असृ॑क्षत॒ नेन्द्रं॑ दे॒वम् अ॑मंसत ।

यत्राम॑दद् वृ॒षाक॑पिर् अ॒र्यः पु॒ष्टेषु॒ मत्स॑खा॒ विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

ví hí sótor ásr̥kṣata néndraṃ devám amaṃsata  |

yátrā́madad vr̥ṣā́kapir aryáḥ puṣṭéṣu mátsakhā víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.01||

“Where Vr̥ṣā́kapi revelled with the help of the enemy, people have stopped sacrificing and do not consider I’ndra as god. I’ndra is superior to all.”

The last stanza (10.86.23) mentions which kingdom this is. It is a kingdom of the tribe of Párśu. The danger is that certain people in the kingdom are preparing for a rebellion against the king. “People have stopped sacrificing (sótor ásr̥kṣata) and do not consider I’ndra as a god (néndraṃ devám amaṃsata)”. Reference to I’ndra, the king of the gods, can mean the reigning king. Who is leading this rebellion? Somebody referred to as Vr̥ṣā́kapi. The word Vr̥ṣā́kapi is normally analysed as a compound meaning “bull-ape” or “man-ape”. The word Vr̥ṣa in compounds standing for the adjective Vŕṣan can also mean ”manly”, “strong” or “leading” or “alpha-male-like”. So the word Vr̥ṣā́kapi can also mean “manly monkey” or “leading monkey”. [Note that the compound word Vr̥ṣā́kapi whether it means man-ape or leading-monkey is accented irregularly on the prior member. The accent can be justified if we can define  Vr̥ṣā́kapi as “he who has as strong monkey or he in whom is a strong monkey. That is, analyse Vr̥ṣā́kapi as a bahuvrihi compound. This means that the person has a strong monkey inside, which means his mind is rebellious. Hence etc.] So the word can mean (by extension of the word monkey to “trouble-make” or “mischief-maker”) “chief of the trouble-makers” or “chief of the rebels”. The stanza also says that Vr̥ṣā́kapi was revelling in the enemy’s bounty (“aryáḥ puṣṭéṣu”). This may mean that he was being financed (and supported) from outside by, maybe a rival king? This is highly likely. Vr̥ṣā́kapi is unlikely to start a major rebel initiative if he does not have both internal and external support.

However, whoever Vr̥ṣā́kapi was, the king seemed to have been close to him and was slow to see that there was dissatisfaction with his reign being fomented by him and was indulgent towards him.

See stanza 2.

परा॒ ही॑न्द्र॒ धाव॑सि वृ॒षाक॑पे॒र् अति॒ व्यथिः॑ ।

नो अह॒ प्र वि॑न्दस्य् अ॒न्यत्र॒ सोम॑पीतये॒ विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

párā hī̀ndra dhā́vasi vr̥ṣā́kaper áti vyáthiḥ  |

nó áha prá vindasy anyátra sómapītaye víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.02||

“O Indra, you ignore the extremely deceitful acts of Vr̥ṣā́kapi. You will not find another place to drink Sóma. I’ndra is superior to all.”

“O King, you ignore (“párā dhā́vasi”) the very deceitful acts (“áti vyáthiḥ”) of Vr̥ṣā́kapi.” Also, is there a hint in this stanza that the king had an addiction to or dependency on drinking? “You will not find another place to drink Soma” (“anyátra sómapītaye”). Is this why Vr̥ṣā́kapi thinks it is easy to overthrow the king? Or does this phrase “You will not find another place to drink Soma” mean that once lost, the king cannot expect to get his kingdom back? It looks like it is the queen who is doing this counselling of the king.

The king is not convinced.

See stanza 3.

किम् अ॒यं त्वां वृ॒षाक॑पिश् च॒कार॒ हरि॑तो मृ॒गः ।

यस्मा॑ इर॒स्यसीद् उ॒ न्व् अ१॒॑र्यो वा॑ पुष्टि॒मद् वसु॒ विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

kím ayáṃ tvā́ṃ vr̥ṣā́kapiś cakā́ra hárito mr̥gáḥ  |

yásmā irasyásī́d u nv àryó vā puṣṭimád vásu víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.03||

“What has this yellow beast done to you that you are so angry with him? Is it that he is so devoted or is it the beneficent prosperity? I’ndra is superior to all.”

The king feels that Vr̥ṣā́kapi is being wrongly accused. He feels that people (maybe outsiders like other kings) are creating this atmosphere of impending doom here because they are envious of the prosperity in the kingdom (“puṣṭimád vásu”) or because the queen and the royal family and others are jealous of Vr̥ṣā́kapi because of the king’s indulgence of (devotion to , “aryáḥ”) him.

Here we have a very typical situation. A very prosperous kingdom and a very indulgent king who finds it difficult to believe that people can be dissatisfied with his rule and anybody can rebel against him. And so he really is taking no proactive steps to quell the rebellion.

[We need to do a bit of shuffling of the order of the stanzas to make sense of the story. But make sense, indeed, we can.]

Let us look at stanza 7.

उ॒वे अ॑म्ब सुलाभिके॒ यथे॑वा॒ङ्ग भ॑वि॒ष्यति॑ ।

भ॒सन् मे॑ अम्ब॒ सक्थि॑ मे॒ शिरो॑ मे॒ वी॑व हृष्यति॒ विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

uvé amba sulābhike yáthevāṅgá bhaviṣyáti  |

bhasán me amba sákthi me śíro me vī̀va hr̥ṣyati víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.07||

“O woman of easy availability, it will be as it should be. My hips, my thighs and my “head” are excited. I’ndra is superior to all.”

Here we can get an understanding of why the queen has started feeling that something is going wrong. Vr̥ṣā́kapi seems to be hinting that when he is king, he will make the current queen part of his harem. He hints that she is of “easy availability” (“sulābhikā”). He feels that the kingdom is within easy grasp and he can overthrow the king soon and easily and become king (“yáthevāṅgá bhaviṣyáti” – “it will be as it should be”).[Or maybe Vr̥ṣā́kapi is addressing the kingdom, telling it that it is available for easy picking and he is excited about it]

The queen is well aware of this. She knows that she is sexy and desirable.

See stanza 6.

न मत् स्त्री सु॑भ॒सत्त॑रा॒ न सु॒याशु॑तरा भुवत् ।

न मत् प्रति॑च्यवीयसी॒ न सक्थ्य् उद्य॑मीयसी॒ विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

ná mát strī́ subhasáttarā ná suyā́śutarā bhuvat  |

ná mát práticyavīyasī ná sákthy údyamīyasī víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.06||

“No woman would have a better behind than me, or would be better at sex than me. Or pressing closer or thrusting her thighs higher. I’ndra is superior to all.”

Vr̥ṣā́kapi has his eyes not only on the kingdom but also on the queen.

[Or it could be the “kingdom” saying that it is desirable.]

Let us look at stanza 5.

प्रि॒या त॒ष्टानि॑ मे क॒पिर् व्य॑क्ता॒ व्य् अ॑दूदुषत् ।

शिरो॒ न्व् अ॑स्य राविषं॒ न सु॒गं दु॒ष्कृते॑ भुवं॒ विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

priyā́ taṣṭā́ni me kapír vyàktā vy àdūduṣat  |

śíro nv àsya rāviṣaṃ ná sugáṃ duṣkŕte bhuvaṃ víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.05||

“This ape, Vr̥ṣā́kapi, has destroyed my dear, well fashioned adornments. I would break his head. I will not be of easy access to the evil-doer. I’ndra is superior to all.”

Here the queen says that Vr̥ṣā́kapi has already damaged (“ví adūduṣat”) something that is dear to her (“priyā́ taṣṭā́ni vyàktā”). She says that she will ensure that it will not be easy for Vr̥ṣā́kapi (“ná sugáṃ duṣkŕte bhuvaṃ” – “I will not be of easy access to the evil-doer”) and that she will get him killed (“śíro nv àsya rāviṣaṃ” – “I will break his head”). What is it that Vr̥ṣā́kapi has already done that has made the queen so angry?

There is a hint in stanza 10.

सं॒हो॒त्रं स्म॑ पु॒रा नारी॒ सम॑नं॒ वाव॑ गछति ।

वे॒धा ऋ॒तस्य॑ वी॒रिणीन्द्र॑पत्नी महीयते॒ विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

saṃhotráṃ sma purā́ nā́rī sámanaṃ vā́va gachati  |

vedhā́ r̥tásya vīríṇī́ndrapatnī mahīyate víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.10||

“Formerly the woman used to go to the communal sacrifice or to the assembly. The wife of I’ndra, a worshipper of order, mother of sons, is exalted. I’ndra is superior to all.”

It says that “formerly” (“purā́”) the woman used to go to the communal sacrifice (“saṃhotrám”) and to the assembly (“sámanam”). This means that the queen cannot (is not allowed to?) go to the assembly and to the sacrifice now. But she was able to do this before. Is this part of Vr̥ṣā́kapi’s plan? Has he influenced, perhaps, the leading citizens of the country or the leading priests of the country to deny the queen access to the assembly and the sacrifice? [The queen is called “vedhā́ r̥tásya”, “worshipper of order” meaning she ensured order in the assembly, No traitorous discussions?] Was Vr̥ṣā́kapi thus laying his ground for his eventual takeover? Has the queen sensed this and is so warning the king about this – a king who is unwilling to listen? And so the queen has decided to take the situation into her hands to prevent it worsening? She may be worried that if the rebellion succeeds she and her sons will lose all power.

Let’s now look at stanza 4,

यम् इ॒मं त्वं वृ॒षाक॑पिम् प्रि॒यम् इ॑न्द्राभि॒रक्ष॑सि

।श्वा न्व् अ॑स्य जम्भिष॒द् अपि॒ कर्णे॑ वराह॒युर् विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

yám imáṃ tváṃ vr̥ṣā́kapim priyám indrābhirákṣasi  |

śvā́ nv àsya jambhiṣad ápi kárṇe varāhayúr víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.04||

“O Indra, this dear Vr̥ṣā́kapi, whom you protect, the boar-hunting hound would bite him from behind. I’ndra is superior to all.”

Here the queen makes it clear to the king that whatever he feels and however much he protects Vr̥ṣā́kapi, (“vr̥ṣā́kapim priyám abhirákṣasi”) she has decided to get him killed (“śvā́ nv àsya jambhiṣad ápi kárṇe varāhayúr” – “the boar-hunting hound would bite him from behind”) maybe with the help of her adherents.

See stanza 9.

अ॒वीरा॑म् इव॒ माम् अ॒यं श॒रारु॑र् अ॒भि म॑न्यते ।

उ॒ताहम् अ॑स्मि वी॒रिणीन्द्र॑पत्नी म॒रुत्स॑खा॒ विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

avī́rām iva mā́m ayáṃ śarā́rur abhí manyate  |

utā́hám asmi vīríṇī́ndrapatnī marútsakhā víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.09||

“This noxious creature thinks that I have no support. But, I have many sons, am the wife of I’ndra and a friend of the Marúts. I’ndra is superior to all.”

In this stanza, the queen makes it clear to the king that she is the mother of very brave sons (or adherents)  (“vīríṇī”) and Vr̥ṣā́kapi had better watch out. He should not think that she is without support (“avī́rā”). She will get him killed. The king pleads with her (stanza 8) asking her why she is so much against Vr̥ṣā́kapi. (“kíṃ abhy àmīṣi vr̥ṣā́kapiṃ”).

किं सु॑बाहो स्वङ्गुरे॒ पृथु॑ष्टो॒ पृथु॑जाघने ।

किं शू॑रपत्नि न॒स् त्वम् अ॒भ्य् अ॑मीषि वृ॒षाक॑पिं॒ विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

kíṃ subāho svaṅgure pŕthuṣṭo pŕthujāghane  |

kíṃ śūrapatni nas tvám abhy àmīṣi vr̥ṣā́kapiṃ víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.08||

“What? O woman with beautiful arms and beautiful fingers, with thick hair and broad hips, you will hurt our Vrshakapi? I’ndra is superior to all.”

Stanza 12 seem to stress the fact that the king was still unconvinced and that he had an irrational belief in Vr̥ṣā́kapi. It says (“nā́hám indrāṇi rāraṇa sákhyur vr̥ṣā́kaper r̥té”  “I am not happy without my friend Vr̥ṣā́kapi etc.”).

नाहम् इ॑न्द्राणि रारण॒ सख्यु॑र् वृ॒षाक॑पेर् ऋ॒ते ।

यस्ये॒दम् अप्यं॑ ह॒विः प्रि॒यं दे॒वेषु॒ गछ॑ति॒ विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

nā́hám indrāṇi rāraṇa sákhyur vr̥ṣā́kaper r̥té  |

yásyedám ápyaṃ havíḥ priyáṃ devéṣu gáchati víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.12||

“I have never been happy, Indrāṇi, without my friend Vr̥ṣā́kapi, whose pleasing oblations with water reach the gods. I’ndra is superior to all.”

Stanza 11 seems to be a kind of prophecy.

इ॒न्द्रा॒णीम् आ॒सु नारि॑षु सु॒भगा॑म् अ॒हम् अ॑श्रवम् ।

न॒ह्य् अ॑स्या अप॒रं च॒न ज॒रसा॒ मर॑ते॒ पति॒र् विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

indrāṇī́m āsú nā́riṣu subhágām ahám aśravam  |

nahy àsyā aparáṃ caná jarásā márate pátir víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.11||

“I have heard that Indrāṇī́ is fortunate among these women.  Surely no one is superior to her. And her husband does not die of old age. I’ndra is superior to all.”

It says “caná jarásā márate pátir” “her (the queen’s) husband does not die of old age” – meaning that he will be killed soon! Taken with the above statement the first part of the stanza, seems to be a sarcastic take on what will happen to the queen when the king is deposed. (“I have heard that she is fortunate” “subhágām aśravam”). This is only a relative “fortune” though. She will not need to die like the king. She and her sons will be side-lined, certainly.

The first set of 12 stanzas thus talk of a weak king against whom a rebellion is brewing. The king is reluctant to admit that people can rebel against him and so does not take any proactive action to quell the rebellion. The queen however is apprehensive, mainly about what will happen to her and her sons should the rebellion succeed. So she decides and makes it clear that that she will act against the rebels with the help of her sons. However, all indications are that the rebellion will succeed and that the king will be killed.

Indeed, the next set of stanzas make it clear that the rebellion has succeeded and the leader of the rebels has become king.

  1. The last 11 stanzas – The rebellion succeeds

Let us look at stanza 18.

अ॒यम् इ॑न्द्र वृ॒षाक॑पिः॒ पर॑स्वन्तं ह॒तं वि॑दत् ।

अ॒सिं सू॒नां नवं॑ च॒रुम् आद् एध॒स्यान॒ आचि॑तं॒ विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

ayám indra vr̥ṣā́kapiḥ párasvantaṃ hatáṃ vidat  |

asíṃ sūnā́ṃ návaṃ carúm ā́d édhasyā́na ā́citaṃ víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.18||

“O Indra, this Vr̥ṣā́kapi has found a slain wild ass, a knife, a basket, a new saucepan and a cart loaded with fuel. I’ndra is superior to all.”

It seems to hint that Vr̥ṣā́kapi has killed the king. (“párasvantaṃ hatáṃ vidat” – “found a slain wild ass”). Does the reference to the ass indicate that the king has already been declared a usurper? Did the assassination happen when the king was going somewhere? Or did the king decamp with a few of his followers and Vr̥ṣā́kapi chased him and there was a battle where the king is killed? The reference to the basket, new saucepan, cart full of fuel seems to indicate this (asíṃ sūnā́ṃ návaṃ carúm ā́d édhasyā́na ā́citaṃ). These are things carried with you – in your train – when you go on a trip somewhere or go to battle. Either the king was running away from the rebellion or he had gathered some forces around him to give battle to the rebel. Either way, it ended with the king being killed.

Stanza 22 confirms that the king has been killed.

यद् उद॑ञ्चो वृषाकपे गृ॒हम् इ॒न्द्राज॑गन्तन ।

क्व१॒॑ स्य पु॑ल्व॒घो मृ॒गः कम् अ॑गञ् जन॒योप॑नो॒ विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

yád údañco vr̥ṣākape gr̥hám indrā́jagantana  |

kvà syá pulvaghó mr̥gáḥ kám agañ janayópano víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.22||

“O Vr̥ṣākapi and Indra, when you two and the beast went home upwards, where, to whom, did the sinning beast, the vexer of men, go? I’ndra is superior to all.”

Vr̥ṣā́kapi and the king went somewhere, and one of them – referred to as a sinner (pulvaghá) – has vanished (kvà syá mr̥gáḥ? kám agan?).This can only be the king as the person who has vanished is referred to as the vexer of men (janayópana). It seems to hint that the king’s rule has made the people unhappy.

The next two stanzas, 20 and 21 seems to strengthen this hypotheses.

धन्व॑ च॒ यत् कृ॒न्तत्रं॑ च॒ कति॑ स्वि॒त् ता वि योज॑ना ।

नेदी॑यसो वृषाक॒पे ऽस्त॒म् एहि॑ गृ॒हाँ उप॒ विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

dhánva ca yát kr̥ntátraṃ ca káti svit tā́ ví yójanā  |

nédīyaso vr̥ṣākapé ‘stam éhi gr̥hā́m̐ úpa víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.20||

“How many yojanas separate the barren land and the ploughed land! From the nearer places, Vr̥ṣā́kapi, come home and go near your house. I’ndra is superior to all.”

पुन॒र् एहि॑ वृषाकपे सुवि॒ता क॑ल्पयावहै ।

य ए॒ष स्व॑प्न॒नंश॒नो ऽस्त॒म् एषि॑ प॒था पुन॒र् विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

púnar éhi vr̥ṣākape suvitā́ kalpayāvahai  |

yá eṣá svapnanáṃśanó ‘stam éṣi pathā́ púnar víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.21||

O Vr̥ṣākapi, come again, we will arrange a good travel for you. Attaining sleep, go on your homeward path again. I’ndra is superior to all.

Both the stanzas seem to suggest that Vr̥ṣā́kapi is away from the capital (káti svit tā́ ví yójanā). It is some distance away but not too far. Because then he is now being welcomed back home (ástam éhi) from a nearer place (nédīyasaḥ). Maybe they expected that the king would get away farther that where Vr̥ṣā́kapi caught up with him. Stanza 21 re-emphasises this. Vr̥ṣā́kapi is being welcomed back as king (púnar éhi; suvitā́ kalpayāvahai  “come back; we will make easy travel for you). Is not this “easy travel” indicating that he has already been acknowledged king by the courtiers? Also, the courtiers are hoping that there will be peace now, since the attainer (creator) of sleep (peace) (“svapnanáṃśana”) – Vr̥ṣā́kapi – can come home (become king)

Stanza 19 is clear.

अ॒यम् ए॑मि वि॒चाक॑शद् विचि॒न्वन् दास॒म् आर्य॑म् ।

पिबा॑मि पाक॒सुत्व॑नो॒ ऽभि धीर॑म् अचाकशं॒ विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

ayám emi vicā́kaśad vicinván dā́sam ā́ryam  |

píbāmi pākasútvano ‘bhí dhī́ram acākaśaṃ víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.19||

“Beholding all I go, discerning between the Dasyu and the Aryan. I look upon the brave and drink from the sincere sacrificer. I’ndra is superior to all.”

Here Vr̥ṣā́kapi is accepting that he is king. Probably the fawning courtiers “offered” him the throne and he gracefully accepts. “emi vicā́kaśat” (I go beholding all) indicates this. “I am accepting sway over all of you” Also, “píbāmi pākasútvano” – “I drink from the sincere sacrificer” indicates that he has accepted kingship. [Remember the first stanza, which says that people have stopped sacrificing – that is not accepting the king as king.] He also indicates his right to the throne – the right of conquest. That is, discerning between the Dasyu and the Aryan (between the noble and the ignoble) (vicinván dā́sam ā́ryam ), indicating that he, the noble person, has displaced the ignoble king.

Stanzas 16 and 17, in a very graphic way, indicates that the person (or a coterie of people) who was powerful once has now become powerless and another person (the opposite, meaning the rebel) (or the other coterie) has become powerful. Almost like saying “the king is dead, long live the king.”

न सेशे॒ यस्य॒ रम्ब॑ते ऽन्त॒रा स॒क्थ्या३॒॑ कपृ॑त् ।

सेद् ई॑शे॒ यस्य॑ रोम॒शं नि॑षे॒दुषो॑ वि॒जृम्भ॑ते॒ विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

ná séśe yásya rámbate ‘ntarā́ sakthyā̀ kápr̥t  |

séd īśe yásya romaśáṃ niṣedúṣo vijŕmbhate víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.16||

“He is not powerful, whose penis hangs between his thighs. He is indeed powerful, whose hairy organ becomes erect from hanging down. I’ndra is superior to all.”

न सेशे॒ यस्य॑ रोम॒शं नि॑षे॒दुषो॑ वि॒जृम्भ॑ते ।

सेद् ई॑शे॒ यस्य॒ रम्ब॑ते ऽन्त॒रा स॒क्थ्या३॒॑ कपृ॒द् विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

ná séśe yásya romaśáṃ niṣedúṣo vijŕmbhate  |

séd īśe yásya rámbate ‘ntarā́ sakthyā̀ kápr̥d víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.17||

“He is not powerful, whose hairy organ becomes erect from hanging down. He is indeed powerful, whose penis hangs between his thighs. I’ndra is superior to all.”

These two stanzas above, shows that power has been transferred from one to another person.

Stanzas 14 and 15 talk of Vr̥ṣā́kapi’s celebration of his winning and becoming king.

उ॒क्ष्णो हि मे॒ पञ्च॑दश सा॒कम् पच॑न्ति विंश॒तिम् ।

उ॒ताहम् अ॑द्मि॒ पीव॒ इद् उ॒भा कु॒क्षी पृ॑णन्ति मे॒ विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

ukṣṇó hí me páñcadaśa sākám pácanti viṃśatím  |

utā́hám admi pī́va íd ubhā́ kukṣī́ pr̥ṇanti me víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.14||

“They cook for me fifteen bulls and another twenty. I eat the fat of it. They fill both sides of my belly. I’ndra is superior to all.”

वृ॒ष॒भो न ति॒ग्मशृ॑ङ्गो॒ ऽन्तर् यू॒थेषु॒ रोरु॑वत् ।

म॒न्थस् त॑ इन्द्र॒ शं हृ॒दे यं ते॑ सु॒नोति॑ भाव॒युर् विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

vr̥ṣabhó ná tigmáśr̥ṅgo ‘ntár yūthéṣu róruvat  |

manthás ta indra śáṃ hr̥dé yáṃ te sunóti bhāvayúr víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.15||

“Like a sharp-horned bull bellowing among the herds, potent indeed and nourishing, O Indra, is the drink that she prepares for you. I’ndra is superior to all.”

Vr̥ṣā́kapi has indeed become king. Stanza 13 is a blessing being given to Vr̥ṣā́kapi’s wife who has become queen (vŕṣākapāyi révati). The blessing says that she will be dear to the new king and to the gods wishes that she begets good sons and daughters-in-law.

वृषा॑कपायि॒ रेव॑ति॒ सुपु॑त्र॒ आद् उ॒ सुस्नु॑षे ।

घस॑त् त॒ इन्द्र॑ उ॒क्षणः॑ प्रि॒यं का॑चित्क॒रं ह॒विर् विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

vŕṣākapāyi révati súputra ā́d u súsnuṣe  |

ghásat ta índra ukṣáṇaḥ priyáṃ kācitkaráṃ havír víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.13||

“O Vŕṣākapāyi, rich and with good sons and daughters-in-law, I’ndra would eat your bulls and dear, and very effective oblations. I’ndra is superior to all. “

The last stanza, stanza 23, is a kind of “they lived happily ever after” conclusion to the episode. This also indicates the tribe within which this upheaval happens – Párśu.

पर्शु॑र् ह॒ नाम॑ मान॒वी सा॒कं स॑सूव विंश॒तिम् ।

भ॒द्रम् भ॑ल॒ त्यस्या॑ अभू॒द् यस्या॑ उ॒दर॒म् आम॑य॒द् विश्व॑स्मा॒द् इन्द्र॒ उत्त॑रः ॥

párśur ha nā́ma mānavī́ sākáṃ sasūva viṃśatím  |

bhadrám bhala tyásyā abhūd yásyā udáram ā́mayad víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ  ||10.86.23||

“The woman, Párśu, gave birth to twenty together. Good fortune to her whose belly hurt. I’ndra is superior to all.”

The new king lived happily ever after and produced many children etc.

  1. Summary

The hymn talks of a weak king against whom a rebellion was brewing. The king is reluctant to admit that people can rebel against him and so does not take any proactive action to quell the rebellion. The queen however is apprehensive, mainly about what will happen to her and her sons should the rebellion succeed. So she decides and makes it clear that that she will act against the rebels with the help of her sons. The later stanzas indicate that the rebellion has, indeed, succeeded. The King is killed in the ensuing battle and the chief of the rebellion. Vr̥ṣā́kapi, becomes king.

  1. When did this event, the rebellion, happen? – The period of this event – 3900 BCE

The one key event that is celebrated by the Vedic Aryans is the smashing of Vr̥trá and the release of the waters. (see for example RV 1.32) This clearly points to the end of the ice-age and the start of the flowing of the Vedic rivers like the Síndhu and the Sárasvatī. So we know that the period is after 8000 BCE, since the ice-age ended around 10,000 years ago.

One possible indicator of the period of this incident is the refrain of the hymn. víśvasmād índra úttaraḥ . The star Antares or Jyeṣṭhā́ (or is it Jyéṣṭhā?) is known as the star that is sacred to I’ndra (see Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa 3.1.2 etc.). So this star can represent I’ndra. Or the word índra can represent the star. Due to the precession of the equinoxes, the declination (and the right ascension) of the stars change over the centuries. Right now, the declination of Antares is −26° 25′ 55’’, that is well to the south of the celestial equator. [The celestial equator is the imaginary great circle that goes through the east and west points of the horizon. This is something that could not have escaped the attention of the ancients]. It is known that the star Antares was north of the celestial equator (or its declination was positive) till about 3700 BCE and then it started moving south. The word úttara which means “higher”, or “superior” can also mean “north” since for the ancient Aryans, north meant up (up the Himalayas). So does the refrain which is normally interpreted as ‘I’ndra is superior to all” also mean “I’ndra is to the north” or “Antares is to the north?” The ancients could have heard from their ancients, through their poems, that the star Antares has been moving south over the centuries. So they would know that soon it would move south of the celestial equator. So was the poet telling us that during his or her period the star Antares was still to the north, that is, slightly before 3700 BCE?

From the indications above, I would fix the period as around 3900 BCE.

  1. Conclusion

It can be seen from the above that the hymn describes a rebellion against the king that happened in a kingdom of the tribe of Párśu around 3900 BCE.

9.     Appendix

Latin script table.

1. The udatta is marked with an acute accent thus: á

2. The independent svarita is marked with a grave accent thus: à

3. The anudatta is not marked.

4. Dependent svarita (the one occurring immediately after an udatta) is not marked

5. Accented is rendered in latin as ŕ (not as a with an accent)

6. Vocalic l is represented as l. No separate representation. The only instance in this document is in root klp.

7. If an accented vowel is capitalised (for rendering in English) , it is shown thus : I’ndra


3 thoughts on “A Historical event in the Rig Veda – The Vr̥ṣā́kapi Hymn (RV 10.86)

  1. “people have stopped sacrificing to I’ndra and have stopped considering him a God” – Did this happen earlier or was it during the time of Krishna when he asked the people of Vrindavan to stop offering sacrifice to Indira and suggest them to do the to the nature around them? Please clarify 🙂

  2. […] The Vr̥ṣā́kapi hymn (RV 10.86), when looked at from the perspective of history, allows us to get a glimpse of a very ancient event – a rebellion against the king that happened in a kingdom of the tribe of Párśu around 3900 BCE. See my previous blog post on this: A Historical event in the Rig Veda – The Vr̥ṣā́kapi Hymn (RV 10.86) […]

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