The Nasadiya Sukta (after the incipit ná ásat, or "not the non-existent"), also known as the Hymn of Creation, is the 129th hymn of the 10th Mandala of the Rigveda (10:129). It is concerned with cosmology and the origin of the universe.
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The Creation Hymn begins by paradoxically stating "not the non-existent existed, nor did the existent exist then" (ná ásat āsīt ná u sát āsīt tadânīm), paralleled in verse 2 by "then not death existed, nor the immortal" (ná mṛtyúḥ āsīt amŕtam ná tárhi). But already in verse 2 mention is made that there was "breathing without breath, of its own nature, that one" ânīt avātám svadháyā tát ékam). In verse 3, being unfolds, "from heat (tapas) was born that one" (tápasaḥ tát mahinâ ajāyata ékam). Verse 4 mentions desire (kāma) as the primal seed, and the first poet-seers (kavayas) who "found the bond of being within non-being with their heart's thought".
Karel Werner describes the author's source for the material as one not derived from reasoning, but a "visionary, mystical or Yogic experience put into words." Werner writes that prior to creation, the Creation Hymn does not describe a state of "nothingness" but rather "That One (tad ekam)" which is, "Spaceless, timeless, yet in its own way dynamic and the Sole Force, this Absolute..."
Brereton (1999) argues that the reference to the sages searching for being in their spirit is central, and that the hymn's gradual procession from non-being to being in fact re-enacts creation within the listener (see sphoṭa), equating poetic utterance and creation (see śabda).
An atheist interpretation sees the Creation Hymn as one of the earliest accounts of skeptical inquiry and agnosticism. Astronomer Carl Sagan quoted it in discussing India's "tradition of skeptical questioning and unselfconscious humility before the great cosmic mysteries."
Nasadiya Sukta consists of seven trishtubhs, although pada 7b is defective, being two syllables short,
- yádi vā dadhé yádi vā ná
- "if he has created it; or if not [...]"
Brereton (1999) argues that the defect is a conscious device employed by the rishi to express puzzlement at the possibility that the world may not be created, parallel to the syntactic defect of pada 7d, which ends in a subordinate clause without a governing clause:
- só aṅgá veda yádi vā ná véda
- "he verily knows; or if he does not know [...]"
Nasadiya Sukta with English translation
Translated by A. L. Basham.
नासदासीन्नो सदासीत्तदानीं नासीद्रजो नो व्योमा परो यत् ।
किमावरीवः कुह कस्य शर्मन्नम्भः किमासीद्गहनं गभीरम् ॥ १॥
Then even nothingness was not, nor existence,
There was no air then, nor the heavens beyond it.
What covered it? Where was it? In whose keeping?
Was there then cosmic water, in depths unfathomed?
न मृत्युरासीदमृतं न तर्हि न रात्र्या अह्न आसीत्प्रकेतः ।
आनीदवातं स्वधया तदेकं तस्माद्धान्यन्न परः किञ्चनास ॥२॥
Then there was neither death nor immortality
nor was there then the torch of night and day.
The One breathed windlessly and self-sustaining.
There was that One then, and there was no other.
तम आसीत्तमसा गूहळमग्रे प्रकेतं सलिलं सर्वाऽइदम् ।
तुच्छ्येनाभ्वपिहितं यदासीत्तपसस्तन्महिनाजायतैकम् ॥३॥
At first there was only darkness wrapped in darkness.
All this was only unillumined water.
That One which came to be, enclosed in nothing,
arose at last, born of the power of heat.
कामस्तदग्रे समवर्तताधि मनसो रेतः प्रथमं यदासीत् ।
सतो बन्धुमसति निरविन्दन्हृदि प्रतीष्या कवयो मनीषा ॥४॥
In the beginning desire descended on it -
that was the primal seed, born of the mind.
The sages who have searched their hearts with wisdom
know that which is kin to that which is not.
तिरश्चीनो विततो रश्मिरेषामधः स्विदासीदुपरि स्विदासीत् ।
रेतोधा आसन्महिमान आसन्त्स्वधा अवस्तात्प्रयतिः परस्तात् ॥५॥
And they have stretched their cord across the void,
and know what was above, and what below.
Seminal powers made fertile mighty forces.
Below was strength, and over it was impulse.
को अद्धा वेद क इह प्र वोचत्कुत आजाता कुत इयं विसृष्टिः ।
अर्वाग्देवा अस्य विसर्जनेनाथा को वेद यत आबभूव ॥६॥
But, after all, who knows, and who can say
Whence it all came, and how creation happened?
the gods themselves are later than creation,
so who knows truly whence it has arisen?
इयं विसृष्टिर्यत आबभूव यदि वा दधे यदि वा न ।
यो अस्याध्यक्षः परमे व्योमन्त्सो अङ्ग वेद यदि वा न वेद ॥७॥
Whence all creation had its origin,
he, whether he fashioned it or whether he did not,
he, who surveys it all from highest heaven,
he knows - or maybe even he does not know.
The hymn that immediately follows (10.130) deals with the origin of sacrifice and refers to puṃs "a Man", identified with Prajāpati by Sāyana. The hymn contemplates that the first sacrifice was performed by humans who by that act were elevated to rishis, alluding to the mythical first sacrifice performed by the gods described in the Purusha Sukta (RV 10.90) verse 6 (trans. Griffith):
- So by this knowledge men were raised to rishis, when ancient sacrifice sprang up, our fathers.
- With the mind's eye I think that I behold them who first performed this sacrificial worship.
The questions in verse 3, "What were the rule, the order and the model? What were the wooden fender and the butter?" refer back to the questions in 10.129 (5b "what was above it then, and what below it?" etc.)
In popular culture
- The title track of the popular Indian documentary series Bharat Ek Khoj features a rendering of part the Nasadiya Sukta, both in the original Sanskrit, and in Hindi translation.
- Verse 1 is quoted verbatim in Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War during the loading screen prior to the missions in the game's second act.
- Creation myth
- Ex nihilo
- God in Hinduism
- Indian logic
- List of suktas and stutis
- Neti neti
- Purusha Sukta (RV, 10:90), Hiranyagarbha sukta (RV, 10:121), Narayana sukta
- Kenneth Kramer (January 1986). World Scriptures: An Introduction to Comparative Religions. Paulist Press. pp. 34–. ISBN 978-0-8091-2781-8.
- David Christian (1 September 2011). Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. University of California Press. pp. 18–. ISBN 978-0-520-95067-2.
- Upinder Singh (2008). A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. Pearson Education India. pp. 206–. ISBN 978-81-317-1120-0.
- Swami Ranganathananda (1991). Human Being in Depth: A Scientific Approach to Religion. SUNY Press. p. 21. ISBN 0-7914-0679-2.
- Wendy Doniger says of this hymn (10.129) "This short hymn, though linguistically simple... is conceptually extremely provocative and has, indeed, provoked hundreds of complex commentaries among Indian theologians and Western scholars. In many ways, it is meant to puzzle and challenge, to raise unanswerable questions, to pile up paradoxes." The Rig Veda. (Penguin Books: 1981) p. 25. ISBN 0-14-044989-2.
- Werner, Karel (1977). "Symbolism in the Vedas and Its Conceptualisation". Numen 24 (3): 223–240. doi:10.2307/3269600.
- "Although, no doubt, of high antiquity, the hymn appears to be less of a primary than of a secondary origin, being in fact a controversial composition levelled especially against the Sāṃkhya theory." Ravi Prakash Arya and K. L. Joshi. Ṛgveda Saṃhitā: Sanskrit Text, English Translation, Notes & Index of Verses. (Parimal Publications: Delhi, 2001) ISBN 81-7110-138-7 (Set of four volumes). Parimal Sanskrit Series No. 45; 2003 reprint: 81-7020-070-9, Volume 4, p. 519.
- Patri, Umesh and Prativa Devi. "Progress of Atheism in India: A Historical Perspective". Atheist Centre 1940-1990 Golden Jubilee. Vijayawada, February 1990. Retrieved 2007-04-02.
- Carl Sagan, Carl Sagan's: Cosmos Part 10 - The Edge of Forever 37:00
- Brereton, Joel (1999). "Edifying Puzzlement: Ṛgveda and the Uses of Enigma". Journal of the American Oriental Society 10 (129).
- Avinash Sathaye, Translation of Nasadiya Sukta
- "As the subject of the hymn is creation typified and originated by the mysterious primeval sacrifice (cp. X.90), Prajāpati the Creator is said by Sāyana to be the deity. The Rṣi is Yajña (Sacrifice), Prajāpati's son." Ralph T. H. Griffith. The Hymns of the Ŗgveda. (Motilal Banarsidass: Delhi: 1973 New Revised Edition, Reprint 1995) p. 634, note. ISBN 81-208-0046-X.
- "Bharat Ek Khoj - Starting Track". Retrieved 16 May 2012.
- Joel P. Brereton, Edifying Puzzlement: Ṛgveda 10. 129 and the Uses of Enigma, Journal of the American Oriental Society (1999)
- P. T. Raju, The Development of Indian Thought, Journal of the History of Ideas (1952)
- Karel Werner, Symbolism in the Vedas and Its Conceptualisation, Numen (1977)
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