Humankind seems to have changed very little since the earliest civilizations down through to today. Arts, agriculture, economic exchange, an astonishment at our existence, but also hatred, war, and pillage seem to serve as the defining traits of any society chosen randomly over periods of thousands of years. The vision of the distant past as some happy Arcadia seems unsustainable in view of the latest research. That’s precisely what happened to the Rigveda, one of the fundamental four Vedas (wisdoms) of the Hindu religious tradition.

An earlier understanding held that the Rigveda had been granted to a simple pastoral people oblivious to the evils of civilization, but researchers and scholars have come to understand a far less idyllic and far more complex society. French Orientalist, Abel Begaigne (1838-1888), was the first to realize the degree of intellectual refinement and conceptual complexity enclosed within the Rigveda chants. Mostly sung verses, they invoke gods like Indra, Parvatti, and Angi, but they also hold evidence of the situations and thinking of the poets responsible for having written them in exchange for pay.

In some verses the poets complain of irregular payments, and others become subtle critiques of the excessive power of the Brahmins. They’re questions, one can see, essentially human, and together with admiration for the regularity of an aurora, or for the ritual making of the sacred Soma drink, and they all come together within a text of no fewer than 1,028 hymns.

Among all these hymns, one stands out as particularly extraordinary: Hymn CXIX, (10-119), considered by scholars as the first poetic work dedicated solely to drunkenness. This amazing hymn is just a fragment of the Rig Veda which was described by  the Hindu sage Sri Aurobindo thus: “Its chants are the episodes of the lyrical epic of the soul in its immortal ascension.”

1. THIS, even this was my resolve, to win a cow, to win a steed:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

2 Like violent gusts of wind the draughts that I have drunk have lifted me

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

3 The draughts I drank have borne me up, as fleet-foot horses draw a car:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

4 The hymn hath reached me, like a cow who lows to meet her darling calf:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

5 As a wright bends a chariot-seat so round my heart I bend the hymn:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

6 Not as a mote within the eye count the Five Tribes of men with me:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

7 The heavens and earth themselves have not grown equal to one half of me

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

8 I in my grandeur have surpassed the heavens and all this spacious earth

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

9 Aha! this spacious earth will I deposit either here or there

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

10 In one short moment will I smite the earth in fury here or there:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

11 One of my flanks is in the sky; I let the other trail below:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

12 1, greatest of the Mighty Ones, am lifted to the firmament:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

13 I seek the worshipper’s abode; oblation-bearer to the Gods:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

 

 

 

Image: Public domain

Humankind seems to have changed very little since the earliest civilizations down through to today. Arts, agriculture, economic exchange, an astonishment at our existence, but also hatred, war, and pillage seem to serve as the defining traits of any society chosen randomly over periods of thousands of years. The vision of the distant past as some happy Arcadia seems unsustainable in view of the latest research. That’s precisely what happened to the Rigveda, one of the fundamental four Vedas (wisdoms) of the Hindu religious tradition.

An earlier understanding held that the Rigveda had been granted to a simple pastoral people oblivious to the evils of civilization, but researchers and scholars have come to understand a far less idyllic and far more complex society. French Orientalist, Abel Begaigne (1838-1888), was the first to realize the degree of intellectual refinement and conceptual complexity enclosed within the Rigveda chants. Mostly sung verses, they invoke gods like Indra, Parvatti, and Angi, but they also hold evidence of the situations and thinking of the poets responsible for having written them in exchange for pay.

In some verses the poets complain of irregular payments, and others become subtle critiques of the excessive power of the Brahmins. They’re questions, one can see, essentially human, and together with admiration for the regularity of an aurora, or for the ritual making of the sacred Soma drink, and they all come together within a text of no fewer than 1,028 hymns.

Among all these hymns, one stands out as particularly extraordinary: Hymn CXIX, (10-119), considered by scholars as the first poetic work dedicated solely to drunkenness. This amazing hymn is just a fragment of the Rig Veda which was described by  the Hindu sage Sri Aurobindo thus: “Its chants are the episodes of the lyrical epic of the soul in its immortal ascension.”

1. THIS, even this was my resolve, to win a cow, to win a steed:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

2 Like violent gusts of wind the draughts that I have drunk have lifted me

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

3 The draughts I drank have borne me up, as fleet-foot horses draw a car:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

4 The hymn hath reached me, like a cow who lows to meet her darling calf:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

5 As a wright bends a chariot-seat so round my heart I bend the hymn:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

6 Not as a mote within the eye count the Five Tribes of men with me:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

7 The heavens and earth themselves have not grown equal to one half of me

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

8 I in my grandeur have surpassed the heavens and all this spacious earth

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

9 Aha! this spacious earth will I deposit either here or there

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

10 In one short moment will I smite the earth in fury here or there:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

11 One of my flanks is in the sky; I let the other trail below:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

12 1, greatest of the Mighty Ones, am lifted to the firmament:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

13 I seek the worshipper’s abode; oblation-bearer to the Gods:

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

 

 

 

Image: Public domain