Monday, 26 November 2012

Translation of Sāmaveda hymn Bk1 vs3

When exploring the possibility of doing my M.A in Hindu Studies, I asked Dr. Lynn Thomas (Roehampton University) if it was possible for me to do so without learning Sanskrit. She said "Yes, of course - but you'll have to read at least 5 translations of a text before you can begin to approximate what the original means!" I'm grateful to her for her advice. She was instrumental in my decision to learn Sanskrit. The journey continues...

अग्निन् दूतम् वृणीमहे होतारम् विश्ववेदसम् अस्य यज्ञ्यस्य सुक्रतुम्  


(वयम्) वृणीमहे - We choose 
अग्निन् accusative, sing, masc (अग्नि को) 
दूतम्  - envoy, consul: accusative, sing, masc (उस अग्नि को जो दूत है) 
होतारम् priest (office of hotṛ)accusative, sing, masc (उस अग्नि को जो होत्र है) 
विश्ववेदसम्* - omniscient: accusative, sing, masc (उस अग्नि को जो सब जानता है)  vid

अस्य यज्ञ्यस्य - genitive, sing, masc (of this sacrifice) 
सुक्रतुम्  - skillful: accusative, masc adjective for Agni. Fromkṛ

(We have to supply अस्ति, as very often in Sanskrit - Agni 'is' all these things)

(That) Agni (who is our) envoy (to the gods), priest (of the sacrifice), omniscient, (and) skillful (with regard to) this sacrifice, We choose (that Agni)

*This translation stems from a question mark I raised on Griffith's interpretation of विश्ववेदसम् as "possessor of all wealth" after a Twitter exchage with Wayne McEvilly:

"Agni we choose as envoy, skilled performer of this holy rite, Hotar, possessor of all wealth." (

The attested and most widely used definition of  'vedas' is knowledge, or science. 'vedas' also means property or wealth. ( 

If we take viśvavedas as a genitive tatpuruṣa compound - we get (Agni who is) a) knowledge of the world, or b)wealth of the world. Grammatically, both a and b are correct. So we have to second guess the ancients. At the time of the composition of this hymn, were Vedic Indians still overwhelmingly materialistic, or had they begun the transition to an overriding love of knowledge which finds its fruition in the Upaniṣads? 

A lot of translators have taken it as possessor of wealth. Wayne then informs me that S.V Ganapati's translation is:
 2 "Agni! You preside over yajna (life activity) bestow desire4welfare on the home&support homes of men eagerly thru 

This version reflects a lot of cultural overlay. Yes Agni presides over the yajña, and yes he bestows welfare on homes etc. But that is information coming to us from other verses, other sources, other myths. This particular verse does not specifically mention any of this. The thing is, just as Ganapati chooses his interpretation, I might just as easily add 'Agni, you who give us heaven' because when the yajña is properly done, the sacrificer attains heaven. But it doesn't say that explicitly in the verse, does it? Neither does it talk about bestowing and presiding. So, learn Sanskrit, read the text, read the translations, then make up your own mind!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Harvard's head honcho in Sanskrit whose name escapes me dismissed Ganapati's translation w what he called a "tongue in cheek" review - I understand Ganapati is richly interpretive - "life activity" instead of "sacrifice" for yajna but his is an interpretation that magnetizes my mind -
But for the moment just to say I appreciate the opportunity to drop in without the gaurds on duty!