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Purusha Sooktham - A translation attempt.

Date: Fri Feb 17 1995 - 08:42:48 PST

Statutory warning :

I planned this series initiall for alt.religion.vasinava, so a lot
of this may be old hat to people on our mailing list. However, this is
more for *me* recieveing your comments, and criticisms, which will be greatly
appreciated. Caveat lector =)

That said...


Invocation to the Acharyas :

lakshmeenAtha samArambhAm nAthAyamuna madhyamAm |
asmadAcArya paryantAm vande guruparamparAm ||

That wondrous lineage of preceptors, that starts with Sriman
Narayana, and came through Nathamuni down to my own
Acharya, I salute that.

Invocation to Vishvaksena (sEnai mudaliAr)

yasyadvirata vaktrAdhyA pArishadyA parashcatam |
vighnam nighnanti satatam viSHvaksenam tamAshraye ||

An Introduction to the Purusha Sooktham.

* Where is the Purusha Sooktham in the 'Shruthi's ?

Hindu religious sources are classified as 'Shruthi's or
'Smrithi's. Shruthi - that which is heard, is of the nature 
of divine revelation. We believe that the Vedas, hymns 
composed by seers and sages beginning, as best as we 
date them in 3000 BC, were sung under divine inspiration
This is why they are 'Shruthi's. These sages "heard" them
as the voice of the Divine. 

Only two bodies of hymns are recognized as divinely
composed. One being the Vedas, and the other, the 
Tiruvaaymozhi of Kaari Maaran Sadagopan, or
Sri Nammaazhvaar, which are recognized
as equivalent to the 4 Vedas in the Ubhaya Vedanta 
school, Srivashnava Tradition. The six compositions 
of Kaliyan Neelan, or Sri Thirumangai Aazhvaar, are 
recognized as the 6 vedangas.

Smrithi is that which is remembered, and includes 
a large part of the commentary of the Vedas, different
Puranas, epics, and other sources.

The Purusha Sooktham (PS) is one of the Pancha 
Sookthams of the Srivaishnava Sampradaya, or tradition. 
The other four are the Narayana Sooktham, Sri Sooktham, 
Bhu Sooktham, and the Nila Sooktham.

The PS is seen earliest in the Rg Veda,
as the 90th Sooktham of its 10th mandalam, with 16
mantrams. Later, it is seen in the Vajasaneyi Samhitam
of the Shukla Yajur Vedam, the Taittriya Aranyakam of
the Krishna Yajur Vedam, the Sama Vedam, and the 
Atharvana Vedam, with some modifications and 

In South India, the PS, Vishnu Sooktham, 
Sri Sooktham, and Narayana Sooktham are generally 
chanted together in paarayanam.

The Sri Rudram, PS, Upanishads,
the Gita, and the Vishnu Sahasra Naamam are also
recommended for daily paarayanam - chanting.

Since the PS is seen in all Vedas,
it is cited as the essence of all Shruthis, by Veda
Vyasa in the Mahabharatha. Shaunaka, Apasthamba,
and Bodhayana have also written concerning the
use of the PS.

* What does the Purusha Sooktham talk about ?

The Purusha in the title of the P.S. refers to the
Parama Purusha, Purushottama, Narayana, in
his form as the Viraat Purusha. He was the source
of all creation. It describes this form of his, as
having countless heads, eyes, legs, manifested
everywhere, and beyond the scope of any limited
method of comprehension. All creation is but a
fourth part of him. The rest is unmanifested.

Purusha as Brahma remained inactive, and
Aniruddha Narayana, one of the four aspects
of Narayana in the first tier at the base of the
Vishaaka Yoopa, asked him " Why do you
do nothing ?" " Because of not knowing", 
Brahma replied. " Perform a yagnya. Your
senses, the Devas, shall be the ritviks. Your
body shall be the havis. Your heart, the altar. 
And I shall be he who enjoys the havis-
offering. From your body sacrificed, shall you 
create bodies for all living creatures, as you have
done in kalpas before this". - Thus says the sAkalya brAmhaNA.

This yagnya was called "Sarvahut" - the offering
of all. The act of creation itself grew out of Yagnya,
the rite of sacrifice. Who was worshipped at this
sacrifice ? It was the Purusha. Who performed it ?
Brahma, the creative aspect of the Purusha. Who
were the Ritvik priests ? The devas, who are the
Purusha's senses. Who was tied as the beast of the 
sacrifice ? Brahma, again. What was barhis, the altar 
of the sacrifice ? All of nature.. Who was the fire ? 
The Purusha's heart. What was sacrificed ? Again, the 
Purusha himself, his great body that contained all of

In a way, this is a message of love, that the Purusha
would consume himself in the fire of creation, to
create all the worlds. From this sacrifice did all
of creation emanate. This is central to the message
of the PS.

"vedAhametam purusham mahAntham
Aditya varNam tamasas parastAt
tam evam vidhvaan amrta iha BHavati
na anya: panthA vidhyate ayanaaya"

This great Purusha, brilliant as the sun, who
is beyond all darkness, I know him in my 
heart. Who knows the Purusha thus, 
attains immortality in this very birth. I
know of no other way to salvation.

* What about this translation attempt ?

The redaction I have attempted to translate is based to a
large part on thiestic tradition and approach, rather 
than a critical approach. This is because this is the way
this wonderful cosmogenical song speaks to me. My
sources for the translation are to put it mildly, a 
hodgepodge. I have little skill in Sanskrit myself, and
have had to borrow heavily from these sources :

- Purushasuktha Bhashya of Ranganaathamuni.

Ranganaathamuni is also known as Periya Jeeyar
in the Srivaishnava Sampradaya. 

- Hymns from the Rig veda, by Jean Le Mee
New York, 1975

- Hymns from the Vedas, by  Avinash Chandra 
Bose. Bombay, 1966

- "Anna" ' s translation into Tamil of the 
Purusha Sooktham. Madras, 1986.

- Rg bhAshya samgraha - Chanana, ed., Orient
Punlishing House, Delhi, 1965.

* How about transliteration

a, A, i, ee, u, oo, e, ai, o, ou, -m, :

- for the vowel sounds

k, kh, g, gh, G
p, ph, b, bh, m
t, th, d, dh, n - the soft dental t-s
T, TH, D, DH, N - the aspirates, or palatal t-s
c, ch, j, jh, ny

y, r, l, v,
s, sh, SH, h,
ksh, tr, gny
and R (RSHi) and L (neeLa etc.)

- for the consonants

Hopefully, that works. And now,
on with the show !

The 'lineage' of the Purusha Suktham

Each hymn or mantra is identified with three factors as its
'lineage', or 'qualification'. This is called the "RSHi - 
chandas - devatA. The RSHi, is the seer who "saw" the 
hymn, or chant, and praised with it. He inspires the mind
with the mantra. And so, in the RSHi's honor, the forehead
is touched iwth the fingers of the right hand while 
mentioning this in the samkalpa - the statement of intent
to chant the mantra.

chandas is the metre, the rhythm of the chant, associated
with vAk, the power of speech. chandas is the means by
which the hymn flows, and 'walks'. To honor the chandas,
and vAk, that resides in the tongue, we touch the mouth,
or lips, in samkalpa.

devatA is the diety the chant is addressed to, whose 
praises are sung in it. devatA should be manifested 
(avAhaneeyam) in the heart, should reside there to 
illumine the singer. To honor the devata, we touch the
chest in samkalpa.

asya sri puruSHa sookta mahA mantrasya
sriman nArAyaNo RSHI:
antya triSHtup shiSHta anuSHtubhah: chanda:
avyakta mahatAdi lakshaNo ya: puruSHa: sa devatA

"For this great hymn, the Song of Purusha,
Narayana himself was the seer who saw it..
triSHtup and anuSHtubh among its metres,
And the puruSHa who alone adorned the unmanifest universe, its Diety"

Having said this, we invoke peace. shAnti, peace, is 
a universal goal. When it is combined with the praNava,
Om, it is a prayer for peace for all creation.

Here then is the shAnti pATHa, the invocation to
peace, of the PS.. A wonderful prayer for all time,
and all people.

The Invocation to Peace in the puruSHa sooktam.


shree puruSHa sooktam

shAnti pATHa:

tacchamyo-rAvrNeemahe | gAtum yagnyAya |
gAtum yagnyapataye | daivee: svastirastu na: |
svasti mAnushebhya: | oordhvam jigAtu bheSHajam |
sham no astu dvipade | sham chatushpade |
om shAnti: shAnti: shAnti: ||

(AvrNeemahe) We seek (tat) that which (chamyo) gives 
us peace from sorrows, present and future. We seek
(gAtum) growth (yagnyAya) for the rite of sacrifice
and (gAtum) growth for (yagnyapataye) patron of the
rite, the yajamAna. (daivee: svasti) The grace of the Gods
(astu) be (na:) unto us. (svasti) Well being (mAnushebhya:)
to all mankind. (bheshajam) May plants, like medicinal herbs
(jigAtu) flourish and grow (oordhvam) upwards. (sham) 
Good (na: astu ) come unto us from (dvipade) creatures that
go on two feet (sham) and good from (chatuSHpade) those
that go on four feet. (shAnti:) Peace.

This prayer for peace is quite large in its scope, including
all of creation, humans, plants, and animals, like this 
prayer. It is very human-centered. It asks that sham, good,
also meaning mangaLam, be unto humans with all 
living creatures, animals and plants.. Literally, may flora
and fauna be well disposed towards us. Also the Gods. But
for plants and animals to be well disposed twards us, they
must flourish.. this is what this prayer asks for. Vedic life
was centered around the rite of sacrifice, at least for the seers
who composed hymns like this. The greatness of sacrifices
is sung all through the vedas and the brAhmaNas. The
very Gods derive their strengths, to grant boons, from the
mantras of praise uttered at sacrifices.. viz. varam deva
balam, devam mantra balam, mantram brAmhaNa balam.
The food of the gods is havis, the offering at these rites,
and Agni, the divine fire, speeds between heaven and earth
carrying havis to the gods. In return, the Gods granted
boons, power, and blessed foods such as prShadAjyam,
(yogurt mixed with clarified butter), madhuparkam 
(honeyed milk) and the soma juice. This is why the seers
ask that sacrifices flourish, and may the yajamAnas 

"Free translation" - I have tried to make this reflect,
in English, the flow of the mantra.

Sorrows that are, and sorrows to be
We seek that which grants us
Peace from these
May the rite flourish,
And those who keep it..
The grace of the Gods
Be with all mankind..
May the earth be covered
With growing green
And good come to us
>From all creation
>From beings that go
On two feet and four..
May the three-fold peace
Embrace the Land..

- Sundar