The Secret of the Veda
with Selected Hymns
Essays on the Rig Veda and its mystic symbolism, with translations of selected hymns. These writings on and translations of the Rig Veda were published in the monthly review Arya between 1914 and 1920. Most of them appeared there under three headings: The Secret of the Veda, “Selected Hymns” and “Hymns of the Atris”. Other translations that did not appear under any of these headings make up the final part of the volume.
In August 1914, Sri Aurobindo began to publish The Secret of the Veda in the first issue of the philosophical review Arya. This series was accompanied by a related one, Selected Hymns. Selected Hymns was followed a year later by Hymns of the Atris. These works, written and published in monthly instalments between 1914 and 1917, form Parts One to Three of the present volume.
Besides Selected Hymns and Hymns of the Atris, other Vedic translations appeared in the Arya at various times between 1915 and 1920. They were usually introduced when a page or two had to be filled at the end of a 64-page issue. These translations have been placed in the order of their original publication in Part Four, “Other Hymns”.
After their appearance in the Arya, none of the writings in this volume were reprinted during Sri Aurobindo’s lifetime. He expressed some dissatisfaction with them in their existing state and wished to revise them thoroughly before allowing them to be published in book-form. As early as 1920 he wrote to someone who wished to translate The Secret of the Veda into Gujarati:
The “Secret of the Veda” is not complete and there are besides many imperfections and some errors in it which I would have preferred to amend before the book or any translation was published.
In the Foreword to the first edition of Hymns to the Mystic Fire (1946), Sri Aurobindo explained why The Secret of the Veda and the accompanying translations had not been reprinted:
The interpretation I have put forward was set out at length in a series of articles with the title “The Secret of the Veda” in the monthly philosophical magazine, “Arya”, some thirty years ago; written in serial form while still developing the theory and not quite complete in its scope or composed on a preconceived and well-ordered plan it was not published in book-form and is therefore not yet available to the reading public. It was accompanied by a number of renderings of the hymns of the Rig Veda which were rather interpretations than translations….
Finally, when it was proposed in 1949 to bring out The Secret of the Veda as a book, Sri Aurobindo dictated in reply:
The publication of the Secret of the Veda as it is does not enter into my intention. It was published in a great hurry and at a time when I had not studied the Rig Veda as a whole as well as I have since done. Whole chapters will have to be rewritten or written otherwise and a considerable labour gone through; moreover it was never finished and considerable additions in order to make it complete are indispensable.
Sri Aurobindo never found time for the necessary revision. After his passing, however, aware of the value of the material that had appeared in the Arya, the Sri Aurobindo International University Centre published in 1956 The Secret of the Veda, Selected Hymns, Hymns of the Atris, and seven of the “Other Hymns” under the title On the Veda. A new edition of the same text was brought out by the same publisher (renamed Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education) in 1964. Both these editions included as an appendix an essay from Sri Aurobindo’s manuscripts, “The Origins of Aryan Speech”.
In 1971, most of the same material was published as The Secret of the Veda, volume 10 of the Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library. In that edition, “The Doctrine of the Mystics” was omitted from Hymns of the Atris and printed in full in Hymns to the Mystic Fire, in place of the excerpt originally included in that book; the section of “Other Hymns” was augmented by the reproduction of a number of translations from Sri Aurobindo’s manuscripts; and the letter “Interpretation of the Veda” was added. The Centenary edition has been reprinted several times.
The present edition of The Secret of the Veda with Selected Hymns differs in content from earlier editions of the corresponding book (On the Veda and The Secret of the Veda) in that it contains all writings on and translations of the Veda published by Sri Aurobindo in the Arya. Writings reproduced from manuscripts in previous editions — “The Origins of Aryan Speech” and certain translations — have been placed in a new volume, Vedic Studies with Writings on Philology. “The Doctrine of the Mystics” has been restored to the text of Hymns of the Atris. The series entitled “Parashara’s Hymns to the Lord of the Flame” is reproduced for the first time since it appeared in the Arya; the revised translations of these hymns brought out by Sri Aurobindo in 1946 remain in Hymns to the Mystic Fire. Three other Arya translations of hymns to Agni, omitted from The Secret of the Veda in 1971 when they were added to Hymns to the Mystic Fire, are also reproduced in the present volume. All texts have been carefully checked against the Arya.
Author: Sri Aurobindo
Print Length: 616 pages
Text source: The Incarnate Word
Publisher: Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Contributor: Krishna, Blindshiva
Part One. The Secret of the Veda
- I. The Problem and Its Solution
- II. A Retrospect of Vedic Theory
- III. Modern Theories
- IV. The Foundations of the Psychological Theory
- V. The Philological Method of the Veda
- VI. Agni and the Truth
- VII. Varuna-Mitra and the Truth
- VIII. The Ashwins — Indra — the Vishwadevas
- IX. Saraswati and Her Consorts
- X. The Image of the Oceans and the Rivers
- XI. The Seven Rivers
- XII. The Herds of the Dawn
- XIII. Dawn and the Truth
- XIV. The Cow and the Angiras Legend
- XV. The Lost Sun and the Lost Cows
- XVI. The Angiras Rishis
- XVII. The Seven-Headed Thought, Swar and the Dashagwas
- XVIII. The Human Fathers
- XIX. The Victory of the Fathers
- XX. The Hound of Heaven
- XXI. The Sons of Darkness
- XXII. The Conquest over the Dasyus
- XXIII. Summary of Conclusions
Part Two. Selected Hymns
- I. The Colloquy of Indra and Agastya
- II. Indra, Giver of Light
- III. Indra and the Thought-Forces
- IV. Agni, the Illumined Will
- V. Surya Savitri, Creator and Increaser
- VI. The Divine Dawn
- VII. To Bhaga Savitri, the Enjoyer
- VIII. Vayu, the Master of the Life Energies
- IX. Brihaspati, Power of the Soul
- X. The Ashwins, Lords of Bliss
- XI. The Ribhus, Artisans of Immortality
- XII. Vishnu, the All-Pervading Godhead
- XIII. Soma, Lord of Delight and Immortality
Part Three. Hymns of the Atris
- The Doctrine of the Mystics
- Hymns to Agni
- Agni, the Divine Will-Force
- Hymns to Agni (V.1-28)
- Hymns to the Lords of Light
- The Guardians of the Light
- Hymns to Mitra-Varuna (V.62-72)
- Hymn to Varuna (V.85)
- Hymns to the Dawn (V.79, 80)
- A Hymn to Savitri (V.81)
- Part Four. Other Hymns
- A Vedic Hymn (VII.60)
- A Hymn of the Thought-Gods (based on V.52-61)
- The God of the Mystic Wine (IX.75, 42)
- The Vedic Fire (I.94, 97)
- A Vedic Hymn to the Fire (I.59)
- Parashara’s Hymns to the Lord of the Flame (I.65-73)
- Interpretation of the Veda
The Secret of the Veda
Chapter II. A Retrospect of Vedic Theory
Veda, then, is the creation of an age anterior to our intellectual philosophies. In that original epoch thought proceeded by other methods than those of our logical reasoning and speech accepted modes of expression which in our modern habits would be inadmissible. The wisest then depended on inner experience and the suggestions of the intuitive mind for all knowledge that ranged beyond mankind’s ordinary perceptions and daily activities. Their aim was illumination, not logical conviction, their ideal the inspired seer, not the accurate reasoner. Indian tradition has faithfully preserved this account of the origin of the Vedas. The Rishi was not the individual composer of the hymn, but the seer (draṣṭā) of an eternal truth and an impersonal knowledge. The language of Veda itself is Śruti, a rhythm not composed by the intellect but heard, a divine Word that came vibrating out of the Infinite to the inner audience of the man who had previously made himself fit for the impersonal knowledge. The words themselves, dṛṣṭi and śruti, sight and hearing, are Vedic expressions; these and cognate words signify, in the esoteric terminology of the hymns, revelatory knowledge and the contents of inspiration.
In the Vedic idea of the revelation there is no suggestion of the miraculous or the supernatural. The Rishi who employed these faculties, had acquired them by a progressive self-culture. Knowledge itself was a travelling and a reaching, or a finding and a winning; the revelation came only at the end, the light was the prize of a final victory. There is continually in the Veda this image of the journey, the soul’s march on the path of Truth. On that path, as it advances, it also ascends; new vistas of power and light open to its aspiration; it wins by a heroic effort its enlarged spiritual possessions.
From the historical point of view the Rig Veda may be regarded as a record of a great advance made by humanity by special means at a certain period of its collective progress. In its esoteric, as well as its exoteric significance, it is the Book of Works, of the inner and the outer sacrifice; it is the spirit’s hymn of battle and victory as it discovers and climbs to planes of thought and experience inaccessible to the natural or animal man, man’s praise of the divine Light, Power and Grace at work in the mortal. It is far, therefore, from being an attempt to set down the results of intellectual or imaginative speculation, nor does it consist of the dogmas of a primitive religion. Only, out of the sameness of experience and out of the impersonality of the knowledge received, there arise a fixed body of conceptions constantly repeated and a fixed symbolic language which, perhaps, in that early human speech, was the inevitable form of these conceptions because alone capable by its combined concreteness and power of mystic suggestion of expressing that which for the ordinary mind of the race was inexpressible. We have, at any rate, the same notions repeated from hymn to hymn with the same constant terms and figures and frequently in the same phrases with an entire indifference to any search for poetical originality or any demand for novelty of thought and freshness of language. No pursuit of aesthetic grace, richness or beauty induces these mystic poets to vary the consecrated form which had become for them a sort of divine algebra transmitting the eternal formulae of the Knowledge to the continuous succession of the initiates.
The hymns possess indeed a finished metrical form, a constant subtlety and skill in their technique, great variations of style and poetical personality; they are not the work of rude, barbarous and primitive craftsmen, but the living breath of a supreme and conscious Art forming its creations in the puissant but well-governed movement of a self-observing inspiration. Still, all these high gifts have deliberately been exercised within one unvarying framework and always with the same materials. For the art of expression was to the Rishis only a means, not an aim; their principal preoccupation was strenuously practical, almost utilitarian, in the highest sense of utility. The hymn was to the Rishi who composed it a means of spiritual progress for himself and for others. It rose out of his soul, it became a power of his mind, it was the vehicle of his self-expression in some important or even critical moment of his life’s inner history. It helped him to express the god in him, to destroy the devourer, the expresser of evil; it became a weapon in the hands of the Aryan striver after perfection, it flashed forth like Indra’s lightning against the Coverer on the slopes, the Wolf on the path, the Robber by the streams.
The invariable fixity of Vedic thought when taken in conjunction with its depth, richness and subtlety, gives rise to some interesting speculations. For we may reasonably argue that such a fixed form and substance would not easily be possible in the beginnings of thought and psychological experience or even during their early progress and unfolding. We may therefore surmise that our actual Sanhita represents the close of a period, not its commencement, nor even some of its successive stages. It is even possible that its most ancient hymns are a comparatively modern development or version of a more ancient1 lyric evangel couched in the freer and more pliable forms of a still earlier human speech. Or the whole voluminous mass of its litanies may be only a selection by Veda Vyasa out of a more richly vocal Aryan past. Made, according to the common belief, by Krishna of the Isle, the great traditional sage, the colossal compiler (Vyasa), with his face turned towards the commencement of the Iron Age, to wards the centuries of increasing twilight and final darkness, it is perhaps only the last testament of the Ages of Intuition, the luminous Dawns of the Forefathers, to their descendants, to a human race already turning in spirit towards the lower levels and the more easy and secure gains — secure perhaps only in appearance — of the physical life and of the intellect and the logical reason.
1 The Veda itself speaks constantly of “ancient” and “modern” Rishis, (pūrvaḥ…nūtanaḥ), the former remote enough to be regarded as a kind of demigods, the first founders of knowledge.