Sunday, February 10, 2013

Pahlavans & Sakastan 5. Trita, Visvarupa & Ahi in the Vedas

In nine parts: » 1. Introduction » 2. Timur's Account » 3. Lineage & Nation » 4. Thraetaona & Thrita. Keresaspa & Urvakhshaya. Varena, Rangha & Patashkhvargar » 5. Trita, Visvarupa & Ahi in the Vedas » 6. Battles with Dragon-Snakes » 7. Garshasp, Saam & Zal in the Shahnameh » 8. End Times. The Renovation of the World » 9. Religion in Sakastan

The Avestan Thraetaona and Thrita likely have parallels in the Hindu scriptures' personages of Traitana or Trita (Trita is said to mean third*). Scholars commonly equate Thraetaona with Thrita and Traitana with Trita. These Avestan and Vedic personages are said to share so many characteristics and roles in their respective mythologies, that they are identified as having common origins from the era when the two traditions were undivided. Nevertheless, it is odd that two names are used to define the same person. In the case of the Avesta, Thraetaona and Thrita are mentioned in consecutive verse of the same chapter - as if referring to two different individuals. (*In the Brahmanas, Trita is the third of three brothers: Ekata, Dvita and Trita - which sounds like first, second and third.)

When comparing passages in the Avesta and the Rig Veda, at the outset we find that Thraetaona is the son of Athwya while Trita is the son of Aptya. Some authors see Aptya as a contraction of Apam Napat, progeny of the waters. Apam Napat is found both in the Vedas and the Avesta. Yasht 8.34 state that Apam Napat divides the waters amongst the countries in the material world. The clan of Aptyas (who are also classified as water deities) were created by Agni.

Next, we find that in the Avesta's Yasna 9.7 & 10, Vivanghvant (Yima's father) Athwya (Thraetaona's father) and Thrita (Urvakhshaya and Keresaspa's father) are among the first three preparers of haoma, while in the Rig Veda, the first preparers of Soma are Vivasvat (Yama and Manu's father) and Trita (son of Aptya).

Perhaps, the most cited congruence between these Avestan and Vedic personages are the battles our stalwarts waged with an evil three-headed, six-eyed snake (often - perhaps incorrectly - translated as a dragon). In Zoroastrian literature, the snake is named Azi and Baevareaspa/Bivarasp/Pivarasp or Dahak (Zahhak), while in the Vedas, the snake is named Ahi and Visvarupa.

The Killing and Beheading of Visvarupa - the Snake-Like Fiend with Three Heads
Rig Veda Passages
[Adapted by this author from translations by Ralph T Griffith at ancientvoice. In the English transliteration of the nouns we find the following names Trita (29 occurrences), Trta (11 occurrences) and Traitana (1 occurrence).]
RV 2.11.18. Hero, assume the might with which you extol Vrtra piecemeal, the Danava Aurnavabha. You have disclosed the light to light the Arya on your left hand - O Indra (you) sank the Dasyu.
RV 2.11.19. May we gain wealth, subduing with your help and with the Arya, all our foes, the Dasyus. Our gain was that to Trita of our party you gave up Tvastars' son Visvarupa (the three headed snake-person).
RV 2.11.20. He (Indra?) cast down Arbuda, his vigour strengthened by libations poured by Trita. Indra sent forth his whirling wheel like Surya, and then aided by the Angirases, rent Vala.
RV 2.11.21. Now let that wealthy cow of yours, O Indra, yield in return a boon to him who praises you. Give to your praisers; let not fortune fail us. Loud may we speak, with brave men, in the assembly.

RV 1.158. When Traitana split my (Visvarupa speaking?) head asunder, the Dasa wounded his own breast and shoulders.

RV 10.8.7. Through his wise insight, Trita in the cavern, seeking as ever the Chief Sires' intention, having carefully been tended in his parents' bosom, called the weapons' kin, and went forth to combat. 10.8.8. Urged on by Indra and well-skilled in the use of his father Aptya's weapons, (Trita) fought the battle. Then Trita slew the seven-rayed, three-headed foe (Visvarupa) and freed the kine (cattle) of Tvastar's son (Visvarupa).
RV 10.8.9. Then the Lord of the brave, Indra, split him (the fallen Visvarupa killed by Trita) in pieces - he who sought to gain much strength and deemed himself mighty. He (Indra) severed his (Visvarupa's) three heads from his body, seizing the cattle of the omniform son of Tvastar. [O’Flaherty (1975) at p.71 interprets these verses as: Trita Aptya, sent by Indra, slew the three-headed one, (and then) Indra beheaded Visvarupa, cutting off his three-heads. Here, while Trita kills Visvarupa, Indra beheads him. This is the sole Rig Vedic reference to the killing of Visvarupa.]

RV 10.99.6. The lord of the dwelling, he (Trita) subdued the demon who roared aloud - the six-eyed and three-headed (fiend). Trita, (who had been) made stronger by the might he (Indra) lent him, struck down the boar (varaha) with a shaft whose point was (made from) iron (perhaps a spear). (In Yasna 9.8 Thraetaona kills Azi Dahaka who is also described as being three-headed and six-eyed.)

Transfer of the Penalties of Sin
In subsequent texts such as the Atharva Veda, the slaying of Visvarupa by Trita exemplifies how the penalty of a sin can be transferred to others. Visvarupa was a Brahmin and the killing of a Brahmin is a sin, even though the Brahmin might be a demonic threat to Indra. First, Indra gets Trita to do the killing and next the sin was erased and transferred by an appropriate ritualistic and formal offering of prayers (i.e. yajna, often translated as a 'sacrifice'). The Aptyas (the plural might indicate the entire clan) - who were culpable of the sin because they knew Visvarupa was going to be killed - transferred the penalty of the sin to mortals who commit the sin of making ritual offerings without paying a fee to the priest(s). In this entire episode, the credit for killing Visvarupa is taken by Indra while the blame is assigned to Trita and the Aptyas. The Aptyas in turn transfer the penalty for the sin of being a Brahmin-killer to other would-be sinners i.e., those who cheat Brahmins out of their income. It would appear that this acquisition of a sin was a voluntary scheme by the Aptyas, who while divine, were not as divine as Indra, ostensibly, thereby doing him a service. There is a prayer from the Atharva Veda at 6.113 said by people who catch a disease - one that laments: "The gods wiped off their sin on to Trita and Trita wiped it off on to human beings." We think we can say that such a sentiment would be entirely untenable in Zoroastrian ethics. Trita in this episode takes on the unenviable role of being the intermediary through whom the sins of the gods were transferred to humanity - and thereby the cause of human suffering, which is curious because the Avestan Thrita is a healer par excellence. We read (Westergaard in Ind. Studien and Dr. Haug in Essay on the Sacred Writings... at p. 235) that the Vedic Trita was also a healer, though the references that this author has read are somewhat tenuous. Perhaps the authors are being influenced by the Avestan Thrita.

Pahlavans & Sakastan pages:
» 1. Introduction
» 2. Timur's Account
» 3. Lineage & Nation
» 4. Thraetaona & Thrita. Keresaspa & Urvakhshaya. Varena, Rangha & Patashkhvargar
» 5. Trita, Visvarupa & Ahi in the Vedas
» 6. Battles with Dragon-Snakes
» 7. Garshasp, Saam & Zal in the Shahnameh
» 8. End Times. The Renovation of the World
» 9. Religion in Sakastan

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