Yoga’s battle… continues: Volume 2

Drinking for courage, forging ahead, stealing cattle, and humiliating losers

Patrick McCartney CC-By Attribution 4.0 International @yogascapesinjap DOI 10.17605/OSF.IO/VDQKW

There are 4 poems, below, which demonstrate both the earliest known meanings of “yoga” and “namaste.” Together, they demonstrate some of the moral economy at the centre of “yogic action.” This builds on from the previous Yoga’s Battle rant, which can be accessed, HERE.

  1. The first poem, III.32.1–17, is about drinking Soma to get manly strength and then go out into battle.
  2. Following directly on from that, the second poem, III.33.1–13, discusses the path taken and crossing of rivers. It is at verse 8 and 9 that the earliest attested meaning of “namas te” is located in relation to women coerced into submission by the heroes looking for a fight.
  3. Verse 10 of the third poem, VIII.75.1–16, is where “namas te” is found. This poem essentially takes on a belligerent, martial tone focused on asking Agni for power for the purposes of cattle rustling, the destruction of enemies, and the accumulation of wealth.
  4. The fourth poem, X.166.1–5, boasts about the humiliation and destruction that will befall the losing opponent and how all that is theirs will become that of the hero and that this is what “yoga” equates with.

Just because namaste is used in some ritual practice of honoring something doesn’t mean people used it as a greeting in the way it is popularly imagined to have been used.

It is worth thinking about why people bend (nam) to another. If you think about Indo-European languages, this idea of bending through several languages rely on the same root as does namaste and is possibly better appreciated through the way in which the Italian, ciao, used as a parting salutation, literally derives from schiavo “(your obedient) servant,” literally “slave,” from Medieval Latin sclavus “slave”. Like Italian, German/Hungarian uses servus. The root ‘nam’ refers to ‘bending.’ It’s a form of deference or obeisance, in the same way that ciao and servus are used to show someone is a servant/slave to someone else.

What exactly lies at the essence of the Vedic namaste?

The first mention of ‘yoga’ is in relation to warfare and the acquisition of property and the continuation of prosperity, which fundamentally celebrated humiliating and destroying one’s enemies in battle and taking all that they had. That is, to our best knowledge, yoga’s ground zero — acquisition of property and wealth…

Why is that?

There is really no mention of namaste having anything to do with divine light honoring someone else’s divine light.

However, these dictionary entries speak to the terms of address one ought to use when speaking to people of different or similar rank.

#1 III.32 Indra

Viśvāmitra Gāthina 17 verses: triṣṭubh

#2 III.33 Viśvamitra and the Rivers

13 verses: triṣṭubh, except anuṣṭubh 13

The following verse is the first “namas te” in the Vedas.

This verse is one of 13 in this particular poem found in the 3rd book (of 10) of the ṛgveda. It is basically a discussion between Visv́am̄itra and the rivers he is trying to cross with his army while they go about literally attending to “yoga” (ie martial action) of stealing cattle and destroying enemies.

Here is the entire poem, in context.

  1. Forth from the lap of the mountains, eager, racing with each other like two mares unloosed, resplendent, licking each other like mother cows (their calves), the Vipāś and Śutudrī (rivers) speed with their milk.
  2. Impelled by Indra as you long to take part in the forward thrust, you drive like two charioteers to the sea, clashing together, swelling with your waves, the one of you merges into the other — you resplendent ones.
  3. [Viśvāmitra:] I have driven to the most motherly river [=Śutudrī]; we have come to the broad, well-portioned Vipāś — the two who are like mothers together licking their calf, proceeding together along the same womb [=riverbed].
  4. [Rivers:] So we are — swelling with milk, proceeding along our god-made womb. Our forward thrust, launched in a surge, is not to be obstructed. Seeking what does the poet keep calling upon the rivers?
  5. [Viśvāmitra:] Stop for my somian speech, truthful ones, for an instant, in your travels. My lofty inspired thought (has gone) forth to the river: seeking help, have I, the son of Kuśika, called upon (you).
  6. [Rivers:] Indra with the mace in his arms dug us channels: he smashed away Vr̥ tra [/the obstacle] surrounding the rivers. God Savitar of the lovely hands led (us): at his forward thrust we journey widely.
  7. [Viśvāmitra:] This act of heroism is to be proclaimed ever anew, the deed of Indra when he hewed apart the serpent. He smashed apart the enclosures with his mace. The waters went seeking a way to go.
  8. [Rivers:] This speech, singer — do not forget it — so that later generations will hear it from you. Favor us in return in your hymns, bard: don’t put us down among men. Homage to you.
  9. 9. [Viśvāmitra:] Listen well to the bard, sisters. He has driven to you from afar with his wagon and chariot. Bow down; become easy to cross, staying below his axle(s) with your currents, you rivers.
  10. [Rivers:] We will listen to your words, bard. You have driven from afar with wagon and chariot.
    I [=one river] will bow down to you like a young woman swollen (with milk, to her infant), (while) I [=other river] will bend to you like a maiden to her cavalier.
  11. [Viśvāmitra:] When the Bharatas should really have crossed you entirely — the horde seeking cattle, propelled, sped by Indra — then certainly your forward thrust, launched in a surge, will rush (again). I wish for the favor of you who deserve the sacrifice.
  12. [Viśvāmitra:] The cattle-seeking Bharatas have entirely crossed; the poet has shared in the favor of the rivers. Swell forth, nurturing, very generous; fill your bellies; drive quickly.
  13. Let your wave push up the yoke-pins; o waters, let loose the yoking cords. Let the two inviolable (oxen), doing no ill, without offense, not come to naught.

#3 VIII.75 Agni Virūpa Āṅgirasa

16 verses: gāyatrī arranged in trc̥ as

namas te || RV_8,075.10

ukṣvā hi devahūtamām̐ aśvām̐ agne rathīr iva |
ni hotā pūrvyaḥ sadaḥ || RV_8,075.01.
Harness your horses that best summon the gods, o Agni, like a charioteer. Take your seat as the primordial Hotar.

#4 X.166 Against Rivals

R̥ṣabha Vairāja or R̥ṣabha Śākvara
5 verses: anuṣṭubh, except mahāpaṅkti 5

Moving beyond a singular perspective, the poem at 10.166.1–5 explains, in essence, what Viśvāmitra and his soldiers were set about doing. This is what Brereton and Jamison say,

Below are notes to work on.

The sanskrit dictionaries and paratexts, like thesaurus, do not gloss it in this popular way. It was not used in any intergroup dynamics as a way to attenuate conflict.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store