[Advaita-l] purusha sUktam & nArAyaNa sUktam

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Mon Mar 1 16:51:40 CST 2004

On Sat, 28 Feb 2004, Raghavendra N Kalyan wrote:

> 1) I intend to know more about the significance of the purusha sUktam
>    completely, not just a mere English translation, for I am deeply
>    interested in it.

The purushasukta is notable in that it occurs in all four Vedas. There is
also a Pauranik purushasukta for those ineligible to recite the Vedas.
In the shrauta rituals, the Purushasukta is recited in the purushamedha.
This is a 5 day soma yajna in which 184 people representing various
concepts are sacrificed.  This is not a literal human sacrifice.  The
victims are tied to the yupas (sacrificial posts,) the purushasukta is
recited over them and fire is carried around them and then they are
released.  Was there ever literal human sacrifice?  There is no evidence
for it in the Vedic texts.

> 2) Further, I intend to know if the nArAyaNa sUktam is related to
>    purusha sUktam in any way. Are these two generally chanted together?
>    And the significance of nArAyaNa sutam?

Yes.  In the Shuklayajurveda which is the shakha I am familiar with, the
Purushasukta and uttaranarayanasukta form the 31st adhyaya of the

In the purushamedha, the yajamana should give as dakshina his entire
property including his household fire.  (Only a nitya agnihotri is
eligible to perform it like other soma yajnas.)  He takes the fire into
himself (i.e. inhales the smoke) and recites the Uttaranarayanasukta.  If
he desires to take sannyasa then that's it but if he wishes to remain a
grhastha, he recites it again and exhales on the aranis (kindling sticks)
and relights the fire.

> 3) Is it a mere coincidence that the Rishi for the purusha sUktam also
>    carries the name nArAyaNa? What is the name of the Rishi for nArAyaNa
>    sUktam?

Narayana is the Rshi for both. The Shatapathabrahmana (13.6.1-2) says that
it is "Purushanarayana" who saw the Purushamedha (and presumably its'
mantras) so already there is a blending going on between the sacrificer
and sacrificee.  The Purushasukta says that from the Purusha Viraja was
born and then the Purusha was born from viraja.  Viraja is Brahma.  In
the Puranas, Brahma is born from a lotus growing in the navel of Vishnu
Bhagavan (Padmanabha.) Brahma is called Grandfather (Pitamaha) and
Lord of Progeny (Prajapati) because through his sons (also called
Prajapatis) he is responsible for creating all beings.  One of those sons
Kashyapa Prajapati with his wife Aditi is the father of the Gods called
Adityas of which the youngest is Vishnu.  Vishnu Bhagavan pervades all Man
(= nara ayana) just as the Purusha "pervades this earth and ten fingers

> 4) As far as my knowledge goes, the purusha sUktam is chanted in temples
>    of Lord viSNu. Is there any reason for that?

Obviously because of the connection with Vishnu Bhagavan.  However
Advaitins also consider the name Narayana to refer to Brahman and not just
the God Vishnu.  In contemporary usage the Purushasukta is used in puja.
(Perhaps due to the fact that it has 16 verses while the typical puja has
16 upacharas.)  This is as true in Smarta traditions as Vaishnava ones.

> 5) And finally, from the point of view of advaita vedAnta, in what way
>    can I contemplate while chanting/listening to the purusha and
>    nArAyaNa sUktam-s.  Can we say that this purusha is brahman? How do
>    these sUktam-s fit in the frame work of advaita-vedAnta? (Please
>    answer from the point of view of contemplating on them.)

The Purushasukta is part of the karmakanda and not relevant to Advaita
Vedanta per se.  Purusha as the creator is at best Brahman in the
saguna aspect.  Advaita Vedanta asks us to move beyond the duality of
creation and destruction.  But you can see that it already
anticipates some of the central themes of later Indian philosophy.  Such
as the equation of the cosmos with the human body, self-sacrifice in the
form of material renunciation as the highest form of sacrifice, and the
circular nature of creator and created.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a girl! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/shailaja/

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list