Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad (1.2)

Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad (1.2)
Translation by
Shukavak N Dasa
Copyright©Sanskrit Religions Institute, 2015

1In the beginning there was nothing whatsoever. This world was covered by death and even hunger, for hunger is death. Then death thought2, “Let me take a body3.” He then roamed about performing sacrifice4 and as he performed sacrifice water5 appeared. So he thought, “Sacrifice gives me joy6.”

Sacrifice has the nature of light. Indeed, joy comes to one who understands the illuminating nature of sacrifice.

2. Water has luminance, which is its essence. This essence of water collected to form earth. Death labored on the earth—and as he labored, he become hot with exertion. Heat—its essence7—then became fire.

3. He divided himself threefold, as fire, sun and wind. He also divided his breath threefold.
His head became the east; his forequarters became the northeast and southeast. His tail became the west, and his two hindquarters, the northwest and the southwest. His two sides became the north and the south. His back became the heavens. His under belly became the sky, and his chest became the earth. Like this, he fashioned himself from water.8 One who understands this remains fixed in all situations.

4. He then desired, I should have a second body9. Through his mind, Death and Hunger joined with speech. His semen became the year. Before this there was no year. He bore this semen for a year, after which he gave birth. As this child was born Death opened his mouth to swallow it. And it cried out!10 This is how language arose.

5. He considered, “If I eat this one I will have less food.” So with speech and body he created this world and everything that exists including the Rig, Yajur, and Sāma Vedas, the meters, sacrifice, people and even beasts. Whatever he created, he began to eat. “He eats all!” This is the all devouring nature of death.11 One who knows the all devouring nature of death also becomes the eater of this world and everything becomes his food.

6. He desired, “Let me perform sacrifice once again, but this time an even greater sacrifice.” He labored! He performed great austerity. He labored and performed sacrifice until even splendor and power left him. Indeed, splendor and power are the life airs. So when his life airs departed he began to swell.12 Yet the mind remained in this body.

7. He desired, “I wish that my body could be sacrificed13 so that I may obtain another body14. Thereupon it became a sacrificial horse (aśva)15. That which swells (aśvat) is the aśva and is fit for sacrifice, medhas”. This is why the horse sacrifice is called aśva- medha. One who knows the aśva-medha in this way truly understands.

Keeping the horse in mind he let it run unrestrained for a year after which he killed it as a sacrifice to himself. He offered other beasts to the gods. Therefore, an animal sacrificed to Prajāpati is considered an offering for all the gods. This one (the sun) who blazes forth is the Aśva-medha sacrifice. The year is its body. The fire here is the fire of the Aśva-medha. These worlds are its body. The sacrificial fire and the Aśva-Medha are two, yet they are one divinity, Death. The one who knows this no longer needs to be born. Death cannot seize him. Death becomes his soul; and he becomes one of the divinities.

Here ends the second Brāhmaṇa of the first Adhyāya

1 This one of the earliest creation myths. The first appears in the Rig Veda (10.129). Another appears later in this Brihad Aranyaka (1.4). In this present creation myth there is a subtle mixture of meanings in these first two verses. The words ātmā, arca, arka and kam all have multiple meanings, thus making the interpretation complex and subtle.

2 It is not absolutely clear that death is the subject of the sentence. It literally says “a thought was done” or even “mind was created.”

3 Here the word is ātma, which can mean, self, body, mind, or soul. The best contextual meaning seems to be body, but it could be rendered as mind or self, or even glossed as form.

4 Here the used is arca, which has two main meanings, to shine and to praise. We have translated it as sacrifice, but what is really meant is liturgical recitation and not simply praising or worship. Alternatively this could be rendered as shining, ‘He roamed about shining’. The word arca is also related to the word arka, used in the next sentence. Arka means light, but also can mean liturgical recitation. It is also a special kind of fire (light) used in the horse sacrifice, aśva- medha.

5 The word here is āpaḥ, waters. In Sanskrit āpaḥ is always plural. Given the subtle wordplay in this section it could be extended to include semen, thus introducing a sexual interpretation.

6 The word used here is kam, which similarly has two meanings, joy and water. So the translation could also be rendered as “sacrifice produces water.” I have chosen “joy” because this early phase of Hinduism is a life affirming religion. The world was not illusion or a place to be abandoned. It was a place to be embraced and enjoyed. It is also interesting that the root of the word kam is the same as for the word kāma, pleasure. This further suggests a sexual interpretation, that in moving about shining and creating this world, water (semen) was produced which gave him great joy.

7 The word is rasa, which can mean essence, water or again even semen. Again this strengthens the underlaying sexual meaning.

8 Literally, he stood firm on water.

9 The word is ātma.

10 The word used here is bhāń, which is an onomatopoeia of a child’s cry or breathing. It is also a verbal root meaning to sound or speak.

11 aditer adititva. The word aditi is derived from ad to eat, the supreme eater, the all consumer. It is often an epithet God in the form of death. So this expression could also be translated as the “all consuming nature of the Supreme”.

12 That is to say, he died.

13 The word is medhya, fit for sacrifice, sacrificial, pure, holy.

14 The word is ātma, the self, soul, Supreme, mind, body.

15 The word is aśva, horse.


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