Verily, Prajāpati alone was here in the beginning. He desired, “May I exist, may I reproduce myself!” He toiled, He practiced austerity. From Him, worn out and heated, the Waters were created: from that heated Person the Waters are born.
The Waters said, “What is to become of us?” “Ye shall be heated,” He said. They were heated; they created foam: hence foam is produced in heated water.
The foam said, “What is to become of me?” “Thou shalt be heated!” He said. It was heated, and produced clay; for indeed the foam is heated, when it floats on the water, covering it; and when one beats upon it, it indeed becomes clay.
The clay said, “What is to become of me?” “Thou shalt be heated!” He said. It was heated, and produced sand; for this clay becomes indeed heated when they plough it; and if only they plough very fine then it becomes, as it were, sandy. So much, then, as to that “What is to become of me? What is to become of me?”
From the sated He created the pebble: whence sand finally indeed becomes a pebble; from the pebble the stone: whence the pebble finally indeed becomes a stone; from the stone metal ore: whence from stone they smelt ore; from ore gold: whence ore much smelted comes, as it were, to have the appearance of gold.
Now that which was created was flowing; and inasmuch as it was flowing (aksharat), a syllable (akshara) resulted therefrom; and inasmuch as it flowed eight times, that octa-syllabic Gāyatri was produced.
“This has indeed become (bhu) a foundation (resting-place),” so he thought: whence it became the Earth (bhumi). He spread it out (prath): it became the broad (Earth, prithivi). On this Earth, as on a foundation, the beings, and the Lord of beings, consecrated themselves for a year: the Lord of beings was the master of the house, and Ushas was the mistress.
Now, those beings are the seasons; and that Lord of beings is the year; and that Ushas, the mistress, is the Dawn. And these same creatures, as well as the Lord of beings, the year, laid seed into Ushas. There a boy (Kumāra) was born in a year: He cried.
Prajāpati said to Him, “My boy, why criest Thou, when Thou art born out of labour and trouble?” He said, “Nay, but I am not freed from (guarded against) evil; I have no name given to me: give me a name!” Hence one should give a name to the boy that is born, for thereby one frees him from evil; even a second, even a third (name), for thereby one frees him from evil time after time.
He said to Him, “Thou art Rudra.” And because He gave Him that name, Agni became suchlike (or, that form), for Rudra is Agni: because He cried (rud) therefore He is Rudra. He said, “Surely, I am mightier than that: give me yet a name!”
He said to Him, “Thou art Sarva.” And because He gave the Him that name, the Waters became suchlike, for Sarva is the Waters, inasmuch as from the water everything (sarva) here is produced. He said, “Surely, I am mightier than that: give me yet a name!”
He said to Him, “Thou art Paśupati.” And because He gave Him that name, the plants became suchlike, for Paśupati is the plants: hence when cattle (paśu) get plants, then they play the master (pati). He said, “Surely, I am mightier than that: give me yet a name!”
He said to Him, “Thou art Ugra.” And because He gave Him that name, Vāyu (the wind) became suchlike, for Ugra is Vāyu: hence when it blows strongly, they say “Ugra is blowing.” He said, “Surely, I am mightier than that: give me yet a name!”
He said to Him, “Thou art Aśani.” And because He gave Him that name, the lightning became suchlike, for Aśani is the lightning: hence they say of him whom the lightning strikes, “Aśani has smitten him.” He said, “Surely, I am mightier than that: give me yet a name!”
He said to Him, “Thou art Bhava.” And because He gave Him that name, Pārjanya (the rain cloud) became suchlike; for Bhava is Pārjanya, since everything here comes (bhavati) from the rain-cloud. He said, “Surely, I am mightier than that: give me yet a name!”
He said to Him, “Thou art Mahān Devah (the Great God).” And because He gave Him that name, the moon became suchlike, for the moon is Prajāpati, and Prajāpati is the Great God. He said, “Surely, I am mightier than that: give me yet a name!”
He said to Him, “Thou art Iśāna (the Ruler).” And because he gave Him that name, the Sun became suchlike, for Iśāna is the Sun, since the Sun rules over this All. He said, “So great indeed I am: give me no other name after that!”
And because there are eight forms of Agni, the Gāyatri consisting of eight syllables --therefore they say, “Agni is Gāyatra.” That boy entered into the forms one after another; for one never sees him as a mere boy (Kumāra), but one sees those forms of His, for He assumed those forms one after another.
Shatapatha Brahmana (III.vi.1.3.1-19) of the Shukla Yajurveda
Trans. Julius Eggeling (1894)
The above is a well-known passage from the Shatapatha Brahmana of the Shukla Yajurveda. In this passage, we have yet another glimpse into the foundations of the Ashtamurtis, albeit in rudimentary form. The extract itself is an allegorical depiction of how the basal elements that make up the manifest universe came to be from Prajapati-Brahma, the Creator. Similar descriptions are later found in the Purana texts in modified form. Significant to our study of the Tradition of Shiva, here, is the description of the birth of Kumara, the Divine Child, said to be born of the Lord of beings and Ushas. Lord of beings in this extract is clearly identified with the year (i.e. time), and Ushas with the Dawn. Since Dawn is visualized in the sky (open space), we may take Dawn as a symbol of space. Kumara, then, is the child born of time and space.
Upon His birth, the Kumara enters into the eightfold forms: Rudra, Sarva, Pasupati, Ugra, Asani, Bhava, Mahadeva, and Ishana, viz. the rudimentary Ashtamurtis. Here, Rudra is identified with fire (Agni), Sarva with water, Pashupati with plants (beings), Ugra with the wind (Vayu), Asani with lightning, Bhava with the rain-cloud (Parjanya), Mahadeva with the moon (and Prajapati Himself), and Ishana with the Sun.
The above extact from the Shatapatha Brahmana is pregnant with meaning. However, for the present discussion, only a few points are pertinent:
(1) It is stated that Prajapati alone was in the beginning, and that He is the Creator of all. As His creation progresses, the Kumara, the Divine Child of time and space, comes to be and subsequently it is that Kumara that becomes all, including Prajapati Himself! While claiming that Prajapati alone was, and then Kumara became Prajapati under Prajapati’s behest may defy logic, the illogical progression is provided quite intentionally. The point to be extracted is that creation is not a matter to be understood strictly through logic, nor as a linear progression of events. Creation is to be understood as an unfolding of an interconnected series of events, occurring simultaneously and in a non-mutually exclusive manner.
(2) One reading the above passage must acknowledge that it is truly that Divine Child who took all the forms that surround us - fire, water, living beings (plants), the wind, lightning, clouds, moon, and Sun. Again, in these eight forms we see the Ashtamurtis in their elementary forms. As the Ashtamurtis are considered the universal form of Rudra (Shiva), Kumara indeed is Shiva’s intermediate manifestation, from Whom unfold both the Creator (Prajapati-Brahma) as well as His creation.
(3) One begins to see in the above passage that Kumara is the Deity who holds within Himself collectively the Deities of fire, wind, water, rain, lightning, living beings, the moon, the sun and the so-called Creator of it all. We begin to see in this Kumara the unitary Godhead, who has first come into being, and then differentiated into the manifest material universe (becoming). In that respect, the Kumara can be considered the Leader of the Devas, their primary Commander.
(4) Another point to be taken from this passage is summarized in the verse: “These then are the eight forms of Agni.” Once again, a contradiction is created. Initially, it is stated that the Kumara entered all the forms; and now it is said that these are forms of Agni. It must be concluded, therefore, that Agni is but that Kumara. If Agni is the Kumara, and the Kumara is a manifestation of Shiva, then it follows that Agni is a manifestation of Shiva Himself. This brings to an important point of realization – the essential identity between Rudra (Shiva) of the Veda and Agni, who is otherwise commonly understood to be the Deity of fire. A deeper understanding of the Veda, though, would reveal that Agni truly represents the Flame of Divine Consciousness in which all of material existence finds its roots. In future posts, we will explore further the essential identity between Agni and Rudra-Shiva.
(5) The final point to be extracted from the passage is that there is indeed a ninth form – the Kumara Himself – beyond the eight. Together the Ashtamurtis and Kumara, the nine forms, are considered to be Agni’s threefold state. Threefold state, alluded to here, refers to the three physical planes of existence - prithivi (earth), antariksha (atmosphere) and dhyaus (heavens). The form of Agni-Kumara on the prithivi is fire, water and living beings; His form in the antariksha is the wind, lightning and clouds; His form in the dhyaus is the Moon, Sun, and the Kumara Himself.
So, who is this Agni-Kumara, the divine Child, who is manifest as the Ashtamurtis of Shiva, and is simultaneously beyond the eight forms? That Agni-Kumara is none other than Lord Skanda-Murugan (Kartikeya or Shanmukha). Truly, that Agni-Kumara is Shiva Himself, manifest within the context of time and space, who in sequence takes on the eight forms. It is that Kumara-Swami who brings Shiva, who is until then pure Consciousness, into material manifestation. It is that same Kumara-Swami who in Shaivite theology takes the seeker retrograde from material consciousness to Shiva consciousness. Unto the feet of that Skanda-Kumara, we pay obeisance.
tat puruShAya vidmahe mahAsenAya dhImahi tanno skanda prachodayAt
© Agnideva, 2007