mantras (was Re: [Advaita-l] The Wisdom in ...)

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at
Thu Mar 3 16:52:49 CST 2005

--- S Jayanarayanan <sjayana at> wrote:

> --- Anand Hudli <anandhudli at> wrote:


> > In reply to this, KumArila bhaTTa's argues that mantras have
> > an intended 
> > meaning.

Yes, Vedic mantras certainly have an intended meaning.

But certain mantras that have a figurative meaning are
interpreted differently by various commentators, as the variety
of interpretations of the following mantra shows:

> > His reply forms the vArtika on sUtras 1.2.40 through
> > 1.2.53. He 
> > gives various reasons why mantras have definite meanings. In
> > fact, on sUtra 
> > 1.2.46 "abhidhAne .arthavAdaH", he gives the metaphorical
> > meaning of the 
> > famous mantra "chatvAri shR^ingA trayo asya pAdA ..."
> > dedicated to agni and 
> > concludes that it is agni that is praised in the shape of
> the
> > Sun, by the 
> > mantra. (Currently, this mantra is one among others used by
> > the R^igvedins 
> > in the pUrNAhuti of a homa.)
> > 
> The book I have, "The Purva Mimamsa Sutras of Jaimini, chapter
> I-III", by G. Jha, does say that "chatvAri shR^inga" refers to
> the four horns or quarters of the day, and "trayo asya pAda"
> refers to the three feet or seasons of the year, and therefore
> the mantra refers to the sun. However, there is no mention of
> this mantra referring to agni. Is there another source you
> have
> consulted for this?

Basically, the mantra speaks of a being with 4 horns, 3 feet, 2
heads and 7 hands. The question is - what being possesses these
characteristics? It is in answering this question that
commentators propound divergent views.

shAyaNa takes it as referring to OM, and BhaTTa BhAskara says it
refers to the vaidIka yaGYa, and patanjali interprets it as
referring to flexions of speech. As I have already mentioned,
KumArila BhaTTa sees it as a reference to the sun. It could
perhaps be a reference to agni also!

Warning - this is an extract from an ISKCON-related website, but
the quote they have provided is from an RK Math publication, so
it is helpful.

We will use the Ramakrsna Matha edition of the
Mahanarayanopanisad, which was published in Madras 1957. The
translation and commentary are by Svami Vimalananda who himself
closely followed Sayana's commentaries, but who also included
Bhattabhaskara's interpretations which are often quite
different. Sayana is an early commentator whose date is given as
AD 1350-1387. He has commented on practically all parts of the

In our edition the verse appears as 12.10 and is said to be
identical with Rg-Veda IV.58.3. The Sanskrit is as follows:

catvari srnga trayo asya pada dvesirse sapta hastaso asya
tridha baddho vrsabho roraviti maho devo martyan avivesa

"The syllable om conceived as the Bull possesses four horns,
three feet and two heads. He has seven hands. This Bull
connected in a threefold manner, eloquently declares the
Supreme. The Self-luminous Deity has entered the mortals

This translation is very similar to the one shown above. But in
his commentary Svami Vimalananda also gives two alternative
interpretations. We will quote the entire commentary below.

"This is the well-known allegoric stanza of the Rg-Veda IV.58.3,
variously interpreted in different contexts. Patanjali in his
Great Commentary on Panini explains it as representing the
various flexions of speech; Bhattabhaskara takes it as a
eulogistic representation of the sacrifice with auxiliaries; and
Sayana here interprets it as the syllable om already
metaphorized as a bull. The word vrsabha conventionally means a
bull and etymologically that which rains (plenty). The
meditation on Pranava is stated to confer on the aspirant
spiritual riches. The vrsabha or Pranava, has four horns as
indicated in the previous note. Om is also the Reality expressed
by it; and that Reality is reached through the three feet or
steps, namely, the waking, sleeping and dreaming of the
individual soul, and also the universe, the soul embodied in the
universe and its unevolved cause. The higher and lower aspects
of Prakrti, taught in the Gita chapter VII, are considered as
his two heads. The seven worlds are fancied to be his hands.
Being the ground of all that exists, this vrsabha is connected
with the threefold aspects of subjective and objective universe
mentioned just now. The vrsabha or bull bellows loudly. Here the
Pranava declares the Supreme Reality eloquently. This
declaration here implies the presence of Paramatman in all
creatures and His sustaining of them. According to
Bhattabhaskara the four horns are the four adjutants of the
sacrifice, the Adhvaryu, Hotr, Brahman, and Udgatr; the three
feet are Garhapatya, Ahavaniya and Anvaharyapacana; the heads
are the institutor of the sacrifice and his wife or the
Prayaniya and Udayaniya(I); the seven metres headed by gayatri
are the seven hands. The body of the sacrifice is bound in a
threefold manner by the three savanas or ceremonies connected
with the extraction of soma. The yajna grants desired objects.
So it is vrsabha. The noise produced by the bull compares to the
chant of the three Vedas at the sacrifice. The Lord Himself
entered human beings through the sacrifices in which He is

Note: The reference is Mahanarayanopanisad 12.9, which a
citation of RV IV.58.2. The Sanskrit of that section goes as
follows, upa brahma srnvac chasyamana catuh srngo 'vamid gaura


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