The Vedic Hymn on the Supreme Being

by Sri V. Sundar
February 17, 1995


Invocation to the Acharyas

Invocation to Vishvaksena (sEnai mudaliAr)

An Introduction to the Purusha Sukta

Where is the Purusha Suktam in the Vedas?

Hindu religious sources are classified as ``Sruti'' or ``smRti''. Sruti -- 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 can date them in 3000 BC, were sung under divine inspiration. This is why they are Sruti. 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 Thiruvaaymozhi of Kaari Maaran Sadagopan, or Sri Nammaazhvaar, which are recognized as equivalent to the 4 Vedas in the Ubhaya Vedanta school, the Sri Vaishnava tradition. The six compositions of Kaliyan Neelan, or Sri Thirumangai Aazhvaar, are recognized as the 6 vedAngas.

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

The Purusha Suktam is one of the Pancha Suktams of the Sri Vaishnava sampradaya or tradition. The other four are the Narayana Suktam, Sri Suktam, Bhu Suktam, and the Nila Suktam.

The Purusha Suktam is seen earliest in the Rg Veda, as the 90th Suktam of its 10th mandalam, with 16 mantrams. Later, it is seen in the Vajasaneyi Samhita of the Shukla Yajur Vedam, the Taittriya Aranyaka of the Krishna Yajur Vedam, the Sama Veda, and the Atharvana Veda, with some modifications and redactions.

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

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

Since the Purusha Suktam is seen in all Vedas, it is cited as the essence of all Srutis by Veda Vyasa in the Mahabharata. Saunaka, Apastamba, and Bodhayana have also written concerning the use of the Purusha Suktam.

What does the Purusha Suktam talk about?

The Purusha in the title of the Purusha Sukta 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 yajna. 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 -- the 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 yajna was called ``sarvahut'', the offering of all. The act of creation itself grew out of yajna, 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 creation.

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 Purusha Sukta.

What about this translation attempt?

The redaction I have attempted to translate is based to a large part on theistic 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:

  • Purushasukta Bhashya of Ranganaatha Muni.
    Ranganaatha Muni (12th century) is also known as Periya Jeeyar or Nanjeeyar in the Sri Vaishnava 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 Suktam. Madras: 1986.

  • Rg bhAshya saMgraha, Chanana, ed., Orient Publishing House, Delhi: 1965.
  • Hopefully, that works. And now, on with the show!

    Purusha Sukta:

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