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The Shatapatha Brahmana (Sanskrit: शतपथब्राह्मण Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, meaning 'Brāhmaṇa of one hundred (shatam, cognate with Latin centum) paths', abbreviated to 'SB') is a commentary on the Śukla (white) Yajurveda. Described as the most complete, systematic, and important of the Brahmanas (commentaries on the Vedas), it contains detailed explanations of Vedic sacrificial rituals, symbolism, and mythology.
Particularly in its description of sacrificial rituals (including construction of complex fire-altars), the Shatapatha Brahmana (SB) provides scientific knowledge of geometry (e.g. calculations of Pi and the root of the Pythagorean theorem) and observational astronomy (e.g. planetary distances and the assertion that the Earth is circular) from the Vedic period.
The Shatapatha Brahmana is also considered to be significant in the development of Vaishnavism as the origin of several Puranic legends and avatars of the RigVedic god Vishnu. Notably, all of them (Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, and Vamana) are listed as the first five avatars in the Dashavatara (the ten principal avatars of Vishnu).
There are two versions (recensions) available of this text. They are the Madhyandina recension and the Kanva recension. This article focuses exclusively on the Madhyandina version of the Shatapatha Brahmana.
- 'Brahmana' (Sanskrit ब्राह्मण) means 'explanations of sacred knowledge or doctrine'.
- 'Shatapatha' (Sanskrit शतपथ) means 'having a hundred paths' or 'proceeding in a hundred ways'.
Kanda and Adhyâya
- 'Kanda' (or 'Khanda', Sanskrit खंड), means 'chapter', 'division of a book', or more loosely 'book'. It also means 'praise' and 'water'.
- 'Adhyâya' (Sanskrit अध्याय), means 'chapter' (of a book), 'lesson', 'reading' and 'lecture'.
In relation to the Satapatha Brahmana, a reference such as '14.1.2' means 'Kanda 14, Adhyaya 1, Brahmana 2', or in English, 'Book 14, Chapter 1, Explanation 2'. The addition of a fourth digit at the end (e.g. 126.96.36.199) refers to the verse number.
Date of Origin
Arthur Berriedale Keith states that linguistically, the Satapatha Brahmana belongs to the later part of the Brāhmaṇa period of Vedic Sanskrit (8th to 6th centuries BCE, Iron Age India). M. Witzel dates this text to the 7th-6th centuries BCE. Jan N. Bremmer dates it to around 700 BCE. J. Eggeling (translator of the Vājasaneyi mādhyandina recension into English), dates the final, written version of the text to 300 BCE, although stating some elements 'far older, transmitted orally from unknown antiquity'.
B. N. Narahari Achar also notes several other estimations, such as that of S.B. Dixit, D. Pingree, and N. Achar, in relation to a statement in the text that the Krittikas (the open star cluster Pleiades) never deviate from the east; Dixit's interpretation of this statement to mean that the Krittikas rise exactly in the east, and calculated that the Krittikas were on the celestial equator at about 3000 BCE, is a subject of debate between the named scholars; Pingree rejects Dixit’s arguments.
S.C. Kak states that a 'conservative chronology places the final form of the Satapatha Brahmana to 1000-800 B.C.E... [although on] the other hand, it is accepted that the events described in the Vedas and the Brahmanas deal with astronomical events of the 4th millennium [i.e. 3,000] B.C.E. and earlier'. According to Kak, the Satapatha Brahmana itself contains astronomical references dated by academics such as P.C. Sengupta 'to c. 2100 B.C.E', and references the drying up of the Sarasvati river, believed to have occurred around 1900 B.C.E:
tarhi videgho māthava āsa | sarasvatyāṃ sa tata eva prāṅdahannabhīyāyemām pṛthivīṃ taṃ gotamaśca rāhūgaṇo videghaśca māthavaḥ paścāddahantamanvīyatuḥ sa imāḥ sarvā nadīratidadāha sadānīretyuttarādgirernirghāvati tāṃ haiva nātidadāha tāṃ ha sma tām purā brāhmaṇā na tarantyanatidagdhāgninā vaiśvānareṇeti
Mâthava, the Videgha, was at that time on the (river) Sarasvatî. He (Agni) thence went burning along this earth towards the east; and Gotama Râhûgana and the Videgha Mâthava followed after him as he was burning along. He burnt over (dried up) all these rivers. Now that (river), which is called 'Sadânîrâ,' flows from the northern (Himâlaya) mountain: that one he did not burn over. That one the Brâhmans did not cross in former times, thinking, 'it has not been burnt over by Agni Vaisvânara.'
|—Satapatha Brahmnana, transliteration of Kanda I, Adhyâya IV, Brâhmana I, Verse 14||—Satapatha Brahmana, translation by Julius Eggeling (1900), Kanda I, Adhyâya IV, Brâhmana I, Verse 14|
Scholars have extensively rejected Kak's arguments; Witzel criticizes Kak for "faulty reasoning" and taking "a rather dubious datum and us[ing] it to reinterpret Vedic linguistic, textual, ritual history while neglect[ing] all the other contradictory data." According to Witzel, the Shatapatha Brahmana does not contain precise contemporary astronomical records, but rather only approximate naked-eye observations for ritual concerns which likely reflect oral remembrances of older time periods; furthermore, the same general observations are recorded in the Babylonian MUL.APIN tablets of c. 1000 BCE. The Shatapatha Brahmana contains clear references to the use of iron, so it cannot be dated earlier than c. 1200-1000 BCE, while it reflects cultural, philosophical, and socio-political developments that are later than other Iron Age texts (such as the Atharvaveda) and only slightly earlier than the time of the Buddha (c. 5th century BCE).
Content and Recensions
|Divisions||Madhyandina Recension||Kanva Recension|
|The Madhyandina recension is known as the Vājasaneyi mādhyandina śākhā, and is ascribed to Yājñavalkya Vājasaneya.|
The 14 books of the Madhyandina recension can be divided into two major parts. The first 9 books have close textual commentaries, often line by line, of the first 18 books of the corresponding samhita of the Śukla (white) Yajurveda. The remaining 5 books of the Satapatha cover supplementary and ritualistically newer material; the content of the 14th and last book constitutes the Bṛhad-Āraṇyaka Upaniṣad. The IGNCA also provides further structural comparison between the recensions, noting that the 'names of the Kandas also vary between the two (versions) and the sequence in which they appear':
|Kanda||Madhyandina No.||Kanva No.|
The IGNCA adds that 'the division of Kandika is more rational in the Kanva text than in the other... The name 'Satapatha', as Eggeling has suggested, might have been based on the number of Adhyayas in the Madhyandina which is exactly one hundred. But the Kanva recension, which has one hundred and four Adhyayas is also known by the same name. In Indian tradition words like 'sata' and 'sahasra', indicating numbers, do not always stand for exact numbers'.
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is from the last Kanda (i.e. book 17) of the Kanva recension of the Shatapatha Brahmana. Swami Madhavananda states that this Upanishad is 'the greatest of the Upanishads... not only in extent; but it is also the greatest in respect of its substance and theme. It is the greatest Upanishad in the sense that the illimitable, all-embracing, absolute, self-luminous, blissful reality - the Brhat or Brahman, identical with Atman, constitutes its theme'.
Significance in Science
Geometry and mathematics of the Satapatha Brahmana and the Sulhasutras are generally considered [to be] the description of the earliest science in India... Specifically, the development of the scientific method in India in that age was inspired by some rough parallels between the physical universe and man's physiology [i.e. correspondence or equivalence between the macrocosm and microcosm]. This led to the notion that if one could understand man fully, that would eventually lead to the understanding of the universe... This led to a style of seeking metaphors to describe the unknown, which is the first step in the development of a scientific theory. A philosophy of the scientific method is already sketched in the RgVeda. According to the RgVedic sages, nature has immutable laws and it is knowable by the mind...
Kak elaborates that 'the main elements of the astronomy of [the] Vedanga Jyotisa [one of the earliest known Vedic texts on astronomy] are already contained in [the] Satapatha Brahmana and earlier books'. He adds that Vedic ritual sacrifices (yajna) described in texts such as the Shatapatha Brahmana are intended to capture 'time in motion', noting some rituals lasted an entire year.
In relation to sacrifice and astronomical phenomena detailed in texts such as the Satapatha Brahmana (e.g. sacrifices performed during the waxing and waning of the moon), N. Aiyangar states the fact that 'the Vedic people had a celestial [i.e. astronomical] counterpart of their sacrificial ground is clear', and cites an example of the YajnaVaraha sacrifice in relation to the constellation of Orion. Roy elaborates further on this example, stating that when 'the sun became united with Orion at the vernal equinox...[this] commenced the yearly [YajnaVaraha] sacrifice'. The vernal (March) equinox marks the onset of spring, and is celebrated in Indian culture as the Holi festival (the spring festival of colours).
I.G. Pearce states that the Satapatha Brahmana - along with other Vedic texts such as the Vedas, Samhitas, and Tattiriya Samhita - evidences 'the astronomy of the Vedic period which, given very basic measuring devices (in many cases just the naked eye), gave surprisingly accurate values for various astronomical quantities. These include the relative size of the planets the distance of the earth from the sun, the length of the day, and the length of the year'. A.A. Macdonell adds that the Satapatha in particular is notable as - unlike the Samhitas - in it the Earth was 'expressly called circular (parimandala)'.
- Vedic Meters: The rhythmic structure of verses in sacred utterances or mantras, particularly from the RigVeda
- Area/size and numeric equivalences: Units of time such as Muhurtas, months, seasons, and days; and Vedic numerology, an example being the Falcon altar (see left image), which was constructed from five layers of 200 bricks each, the total 1,000 bricks symbolising the Purusha, the first principle of creation, enumerated in the RigVeda (10.90):
A THOUSAND heads hath Puruṣa, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet. On every side pervading earth he fills a space ten fingers wide.— Rig Veda (translated by R.T.H. Griffith, 1896), Book 10, Hymn 90, Verse 1
Notably, P. N. Sinha states that the number 1,000 represents 'the thousand Maha yugas of every Kalpa' (about 4.32 billion years), illustrated by the 1,000 hoods of the Naga Vasuki/Ananta on which the Earth is supported. I.G. Pearce, F. Staal, and D.M. Knipe all agree with Kak, repeating that the number, layering, size, and configuration of bricks to construct sacrificial altars - real and symbolic - as detailed in texts such as the Satapatha Brahmana had numerous rules, with Staal adding - in relation to similarities with ancient Greek, Babylonian, and Chinese geometry:
Vedic geometry is attached to ritual because it is concerned with the measurement and construction of ritual enclosures [and] of altars... Vedic geometry developed from the construction of these and other complex altar shapes. All are given numerous interpretations in the Brahmanas and Aranyakas [texts relating to the Vedas]... [but the] Sulba Sutras contain the earliest extant verbal expression of the closely related theorem that is still often referred to as the Theorem of Pythagoras but that was independently discovered by the Vedic Indians...— Discovering the Vedas: Origins, Mantras, Rituals, Insights by Frits Staal, 2008 (pp. 265-267)
Noting that Kak also provides three values for Pi (the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter) from the Satapatha Brahmana, Pearce elaborates on the advancement of Vedic mathematics in general in relation to the construction of sacrificial altars:
As a result of the mathematics required for the construction of these altars, many rules and developments of geometry are found in Vedic works. These include:
Use of geometric shapes, including triangles,
rectangles, squares, trapezia and circles.
Equivalence through numbers and area.
Equivalence led to the problem of:
Squaring the circle and visa-versa.
Early forms of Pythagoras theorem.
Estimations for π (pi).
C.S. Seshadri states 'Familiarity with the four fundamental operations of arithmetic is evidence in Vedic Literature like the Satapatha Brahmana, the Taittiriya Samhita and even the Rg-Veda. A passage from the ancient Satapatha Brahmana gives all divisors of 720'. This passage (10.4.2.1-18) is noted by Kak as having 'exactly 15 factors (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, 16, 18, 20, 24)'. The significance of this (including in relation to astronomy) can be seen in the following verses of that passage:
pañcadaśātmano'kuruta aṣṭācatvāriṃśadiṣṭakāntsa naiva vyāpnot
He made himself fifteen bodies of forty-eight bricks each: he did not succeed. [15x48=720]
|—Satapatha Brahmnana, transliteration of Kanda X, Adhyâya IV, Brahmana II, Verses 13-18||—Satapatha Brahmana, translation by Julius Eggeling (1900), Kanda X, Adhyâya IV, Brahmana II, Verses 13-18|
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A.A. Macdonell, A.B. Keith, J. Roy, J. Dowson, W.J. Wilkins, S. Ghose, M.L. Varadpande, N Aiyangar, and D.A. Soifer all state that several avatars and associated Puranic legends of Vishnu either originate (e.g. Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, and Narasimha) or at least were significantly developed (e.g. Vamana) in the Satapatha Brahmana (SB). Notably, all constitute the first five avatars listed in the Dashavatara, the ten principal avatars of Vishnu.
Sofia states ''developments that occur in the general character of Visnu in the Brahmana literature have far-reaching influence on the growth and moulding of avataric Visnu... Probably the single most important development, which is first found in the Brahmanas and exerts the most influence over all other factors, is the identification of Vishnu with the sacrifice'. Vishnu is explicitly stated to be sacrifice repeatedly throughout the Shatapatha Brahmana (e.g. SB 188.8.131.52, 184.108.40.206, 220.127.116.11, 18.104.22.168, 22.214.171.124, 126.96.36.199, 188.8.131.52, 184.108.40.206, 220.127.116.11, 18.104.22.168, and 22.214.171.124).
Kanda 14, Adhyaya 1, Brahmana 1
in SB 14.1.1 ('The Pravargya'), the story given is that 'the gods Agni, Indra, Soma, Makha, Vishnu, and the [Visvedevas], except the two Asvins, performed a sacrificial session', which was first attained by Vishnu, hence 'he became the most excellent of the gods'. Upadika ants then agreed with the other gods to gnaw at the bowstring of Vishnu while He rested his head on the Bow, in exchange for the boon to 'find water even in the desert' (as 'all food is water'). The Gharma (hot beverage offered as an oblation) is named after the sound of Vishnu's head hitting the ground (which 'on falling became yonder sun'), and 'inasmuch as he [Vishnu] stretched out (pra-vrig) on the ground, therefrom the Pravargya (took its name)'. The body of Vishnu is encompassed by Indra, who possessed by His glory 'became Makhavat (possessed of makha)'. Vishnu is then divided into three parts, with Agni receiving the first (morning) portion, Indra the second (midday) portion, and the remaining Visvedevas the third portion.
As related in the main article, Kurma, the tortoise avatar of Vishnu, is inextricably linked in the Puranas with the legend of the churning of the Ocean of Milk, referred to as the Samudra manthan. The tortoise avatar is also synonymous with Akupara, the 'world-turtle' supporting the Earth, as well as the Saptarishi sage, Kasyapa. Accounts from the Shatapatha Brahmana are stated by Varadpande to be the seed of Kurma.
Eggeling adds that the 'kapalas [cups used in ritual sacrifices] are usually arranged in such a manner as to produce a fancied resemblance to the (upper) shell of the tortoise, which is a symbol of the sky, as the tortoise itself represents the universe... In the same way the term kapala, in the singular, is occasionally applied to the skull, as well as to the upper and the lower case of the tortoise, e.g. Sat Br. VII, 5, 1, 2 [126.96.36.199].'
Kanda 1, Adhyaya 6, Brahmana 2
tercantaḥ śrāmyantaśceruḥ | śrameṇa ha sma vai taddevā jayanti yadeṣāṃvjayyamāsarṣayaśca tebhyo devā vaiva prarocayāṃ cakruḥ svayaṃ vaiva dadhrire pretavtadeṣyāmo yato devāḥ svargaṃ lokaṃ samāśnuvateti te kim prarocate kim prarocata iti ceruretpuroḍāśameva kūrmam bhūtvā sarpantaṃ teha sarva eva menire yaṃ vai yajña iti
They went on praising and toiling; for by (religious) toil, the gods indeed gained what they wished to gain, and (so did) the Rishis. Now whether it be that the gods caused it (the sacrifice) to attract (or, peep forth to) them, or whether they took to it of their own accord, they said, 'Come, let us go to the place whence the gods obtained possession of the world of heaven!' They went about saying (to one another), 'What attracts? What attracts?' and came upon the sacrificial cake which had become a tortoise and was creeping about. Then they all thought, 'This surely must be the sacrifice!'
|—Satapatha Brahmnana, transliteration of Kanda I, Adhyâya VI, Brâhmana II, Verses 3-4||—Satapatha Brahmana, translation by Julius Eggeling (1900), Kanda I, Adhyâya VI, Brâhmana II, Verses 3-4|
Macdonell also notes another instance in the Taittiriya Samhita (2.6.3; relating to the Krishna (Black) YajurVeda), where Prajapati assigns sacrifices for the gods and places the oblation within himself, before Risis arrive at the sacrifice and 'the sacrificial cake (purodasa) is said to become a tortoise'.
Kanda 6, Adhyaya 1, Brahmana 1
so 'yam puruṣaḥ prajāpatirakāmayata bhūyāntsyām prajāyeyeti so 'śrāmyatsa tapo 'tapyata sa śrāntastepāno brahmaiva prathamamasṛjata trayomeva vidyāṃ saivāsmai pratiṣṭhābhavattasmādāhurbrahmāsya sarvasya pratiṣṭheti tasmādanūcya pratitiṣṭhati pratiṣṭhā hyeṣā yadbrahma tasyām pratiṣṭhāyām pratiṣṭhito 'tapyata
Now this Person Pragâpati desired, 'May I be more (than one), may I be reproduced!' He toiled, he practised austerity. Being worn out with toil and austerity, he created first of all the Brahman (neut.), the triple science. It became to him a foundation: hence they say, 'the Brahman (Veda) is the foundation of everything here.' Wherefore, having studied (the Veda) one rests on a foundation; for this, to wit, the Veda, is his foundation. Resting on that foundation, he (again) practised austerity.
|—Satapatha Brahmnana, transliteration of Kanda VI, Adhyâya I, Brâhmana I, Verses 8-10 and 12||—Satapatha Brahmana, translation by Julius Eggeling (1900), Kanda VI, Adhyâya I, Brâhmana I, Verses 8-10 and 12|
Vak (speech) is female (e.g. SB 188.8.131.52, 184.108.40.206, 220.127.116.11, 18.104.22.168). Used in ritual sacrifices, so is the sacrificial altar (Vedi; SB 22.214.171.124, 126.96.36.199), the spade (abhri; SB 188.8.131.52, 184.108.40.206, 220.127.116.11, 18.104.22.168; see section on Varaha, below), and the firepan (ukha; SB 22.214.171.124). The (generative) principle of gender (i.e. male and female coupling to produce something) is pervasive throughout (as reflected by the Sanskrit language itself).
Kanda 7, Adhyaya 5, Brahmana 1
kūrmamupadadhāti | raso vai kūrmo rasamevaitadupadadhāti yo vai sa eṣāṃ lokānāmapsu praviddhānām parāṅraso 'tyakṣaratsa eṣa kūrmastamevaitadupadadhāti yāvānu vai rasastāvānātmā sa eṣa ima eva lokāḥ
He then puts down a (living) tortoise;--the tortoise means life-sap: it is life-sap (blood) he thus bestows on (Agni). This tortoise is that life-sap of these worlds which flowed away from them when plunged into the waters: that (life-sap) he now bestows on (Agni). As far as the life-sap extends, so far the body extends: that (tortoise) thus is these worlds.
|—Satapatha Brahmnana, transliteration of Kanda VII, Adhyâya V, Brâhmana I, Verses 1-2 and 6||—Satapatha Brahmana, translation by Julius Eggeling (1900), Kanda VII, Adhyâya V, Brâhmana I, Verses 1-2 and 6|
Originally a form of Prajapati, the creator-god, the tortoise is thus clearly and directly linked with Vedic ritual sacrifice, the sun, and with Kasyapa as a creator (or progenitor). The tortoise is also stated to represent the three worlds (i.e. the triloka). SB 126.96.36.199-10 states 'Pragapati (the lord of generation) represents productiveness... the male means productiveness'. SB 14.1.1, which relates the story of Vishnu becoming the greatest of the gods at a sacrifice of the gods before being decapitated by His bow, states the head of Vishnu became the sun when it fell.
As related in the main article, Matsya, the fish avatar of Vishnu, appears to Manu to warn him of an impending deluge. After being reared by and growing to an enormous size, Matsya then guides Manu's ship to safety at the peak of a mountain, where Manu re-establishes life through the performance of Vedic sacrificial rites (yajna). In Puranic accounts, Matsya also rescues the Vedas taken under the water, after they were stolen from Brahma by the Asura called Hayagriva (not to be confused with Hayagriva, the horse-headed avatar of Vishnu). From the Shatapatha Brahmana:
manave ha vai prātaḥ | avanegyamudakamājahruryathedam pāṇibhyāmavanejanāyāharantyevaṃ tasyāvanenijānasya matsyaḥ pāṇī āpede
In the morning they brought to Manu water for washing, just as now also they (are wont to) bring (water) for washing the hands. When he was washing himself, a fish came into his hands.
|—Satapatha Brahmnana, transliteration of Kanda I, Adhyaya VIII, Brahmana I ('The Ida'), Verses 1-4||—Satapatha Brahmana, translation by Julius Eggeling (1900), Kanda I, Adhyaya VIII, Brahmana I ('The Ida'), Verses 1-4|
Aiyangar explains that, in relation to the RigVeda, 'Sacrifice is metaphorically called [a] Ship and as Manu means man, the thinker, [so] the story seems to be a parable of the Ship of Sacrifice being the means for man's crossing the seas of his duritas, [meaning his] sins, and troubles'. SB 188.8.131.52 also mentions King Matsya Sammada, whose 'people are the water-dwellers... both fish and fishermen... it is these he instructs; - 'the Itihasa is the Veda'.'
As related in the main article, Narasimha destroyed the Asura-King Hiranyakashipu, who after undertaking severe penances, was granted a boon by Brahma that he could not be killed inside or outside any residence, on the ground or in the sky, or by any god, human, animal, or weapon. The man-lion avatar of Vishnu thus put the demon on His lap and killed him with claws. This concept is similar to that found in the Shatapatha brahmana (Sanskrit transliteration for Kanda XII is not available):
By means of the Surâ-liquor Namuki, the Asura, carried off Indra's (source of) strength, the essence of food, the Soma-drink. He (Indra) hasted up to the Asvins and Sarasvatî, crying, 'I have sworn to Namuki, saying, "I will slay thee neither by day nor by night, neither with staff nor with bow, neither with the palm of my hand nor with the fist, neither with the dry nor with the moist!" and yet has he taken these things from me: seek ye to bring me back these things!
D.A. Soifer states that 'Brahmana literature yields what must be considered as the prototype of that [Narasimha] myth, the Indra-Namuchi [or Namuki] myth', adding that other academics such as Devasthali concur that although elements of the Namuchi legend are 'scattered throughout Brahmana literature (cf. VS [Vajaseneyi Samhita] 10.34; PB [Pancavimsa Brahmana] 12.6.8, MS [Maitrayani Samhita] IV.34; TB [Taittiriya Brahmana] 184.108.40.206)', the fullest version is in the Satapatha Brahmana. Indra defeating Namuchi itself originates from the RigVeda (e.g. 10.73):
tvaṃ jaghantha namuciṃ makhasyuṃ dāsaṃ kṛṇvāna ṛṣayevimāyam |
War-loving Namuci thou smotest, robbing the Dāsa of his magic for the Ṛṣi.
|—RigVeda transliteration of Book 10, Hymn 73, Verse 7||—RigVeda translation by Ralph T.H. Griffith (1896) of Book 10, Hymn 73, Verse 7|
As related in the main article, Vamana, the dwarf avatar of Vishnu, took back the three worlds from the Asura king Bali (grandson of Prahlada, saved from his father, Hiranyakashipu, by the Narasimha avatar) in three steps.
Kanda I, Adhyaya 2, Brahmana 5
devāśca vā asurāśca | ubhaye prājāpatyāḥ paspṛdhire tato devā anuvyamivāsuratha hāsurā menire 'smākamevedaṃ khalu bhuvanamiti
The gods and the Asuras, both of them sprung from Prajapati, were contending for superiority. Then the gods were worsted, and the Asuras thought: 'To us alone assuredly belongs this world!
|—Satapatha Brahmnana, transliteration of Kanda I, Adhyaya II, Brahmana V, Verses 1-5||—Satapatha Brahmana, translation by Julius Eggeling (1900), Kanda I, Adhyaya II, Brahmana V, Verses 1-5|
Eggeling notes that in the Shatapatha Brahmana, 'we have here the germ [i.e. origin] of the Dwarf incarnation of Vishnu'. The difference in this account - aside from no mention of Bali - is that instead of gaining the earth by footsteps, it is gained by as much as Vamana can lie upon as a sacrifice. That this legend developed into Vamana taking three steps, as noted by Aiyangar, originates from the three strides of Vishnu covering the three words in the RigVeda (1.22 and 1.154). Notably, the three steps of Vishnu are mentioned throughout the Satapatha Brahmana as part of the sacrificial rituals described (e.g. SB 220.127.116.11, 18.104.22.168, and 22.214.171.124).
Kanda 6, Adhyaya 7, Brahmana 4
SB 126.96.36.199 also explains why the strides of Vishnu are performed in rituals:
sa vai viṣṇukramānkrāntvā | atha tadānīmeva vātsapreṇopatiṣṭhate yathā prayāyātha tadānīmeva vimuñcettādṛktaddevānāṃ vai vidhāmanu manuṣyāstasmādu hedamuta mānuṣo grāmaḥ prayāyātha tadānīmevāvasyati
And, again, why the Vishnu-strides and the Vâtsapra rite are (performed). By the Vishnu-strides Prajapati drove up to heaven. He saw that unyoking-place, the Vâtsapra, and unyoked thereat to prevent chafing; for when the yoked (beast) is not unloosed, it is chafed. In like manner the Sacrificer drives up to heaven by the Vishnu-strides; and unyokes by means of the Vâtsapra.
|—Satapatha Brahmnana, transliteration of Kanda VI, Adhyaya VII, Brahmana IV, Verse 8||—Satapatha Brahmana, translation by Julius Eggeling (1900), Kanda VI, Adhyaya VII, Brahmana IV, Verse 8|
As related in the main article, Varaha - also referred to as Yajna-Varaha ('sacrificial boar') - is in Puranic literature explicitly stated to be the symbolic embodiment of sacrifice (including the ritual equipment, offerings, oblations, and altars used). Stated in the Nirukta to be synonymous with clouds and rain (sacrifice produces rain, rain feeds crops, and crops feed living beings), Varaha is most commonly associated with the legend of lifting the Earth out of the Cosmic Waters, and in various accounts also battles and defeats the Asura Hiranyaksa to do so.
Kanda 14, Adhyaya 1, Brahmana 2
atha varāhavihatam iyatyagra āsīditīyatī ha vā iyamagre pṛthivyāsa prādeśamātrī tāmemūṣa iti varāha ujjaghāna so'syāḥ patiḥ prajāpatistenaivainametanmithunena priyeṇa dhāmnā samardhayati kṛtsnaṃ karoti makhasya te'dya śiro rādhyāsaṃ devayajane pṛthivyā makhāya tvā makhasya tvā śīrṣṇa ityasāveva bandhuḥ
Then (earth) torn up by a boar (he takes), with 'Only thus large was she in the beginning,'--for, indeed, only so large was this earth in the beginning, of the size of a span. A boar, called Emûsha, raised her up, and he was her lord Prajapati: with that mate, his heart's delight, he thus supplies and completes him;--'may I this day compass for you Makha's head on the Earth's place of divine worship: for Makha thee! for Makha's head thee!'
|—Satapatha Brahmnana, transliteration of Kanda XIV, Adhyaya I, Brahmana II ('The making of the pot'), Verse 11||—Satapatha Brahmana, translation by Julius Eggeling (1900), Kanda XIV, Adhyaya I, Brahmana II ('The making of the pot'), Verse 11|
The context of this verse is in relation to a Pravargya ritual, where clay/earth is dug up, fashioned or 'spread out' into Mahâvîra pots (symbolising the head of Vishnu), and baked in a fire altar (an explanation of Vishnu's decapitation relating to this ritual is given in SB 14.1.1). S. Ghose states that the 'first direct idea of the boar as an incarnation of Vishnu performing the specific task of rescuing the earth is mentioned in the Satapatha Brahmana... the nucleus of the story of the god rescuing the earth in the boar-shape is found here'. A.B. Keith states that the boar 'is called Emusa [or 'Emûsha' in the SB] from its epithet emusa, [meaning] fierce, in the RigVeda'. However, as this name occurs only once in the RigVeda, the ascribed meaning cannot be verified:
— Rig Veda (translated by R.T.H. Griffith, 1896), Book 8, Hymn 66, Verse 10
विश्वेत ता विष्णुराभरदुरुक्रमस्त्वेषितः |
viśvet tā viṣṇurābharadurukramastveṣitaḥ |
|—Rigveda 8.66.10 (Note: the transliteration is incorrectly ascribed to hymn 8.77)|
Kanda 5, Adhyaya 4, Brahmana 3
atha vārāhyā upānahā upamuñcate | agnau ha vai devā ghṛtakumbham praveśayāṃ cakrustato varāhaḥ sambabhūva tasmādvarāho meduro ghṛtāddhi sambhūtastasmādvarāhe gāvaḥ saṃjānate svamevaitadrasamabhisaṃjānate tatpaśūnāmevaitadrase pratitiṣṭhati tasmādvārāhyā upānahā upamuñcate
He then puts on shoes of boar’s skin. Now the gods once put a pot of ghee on the fire. There from a boar was produced: hence the boar is fat for it was produced from ghee. Hence also cows readily take to a boar: it is indeed their own essence (life-sap, blood) they are readily taking to. Thus he firmly establishes himself in the essence of the cattle: therefore he puts on shoes of boar’s skin.
|—Satapatha Brahmnana, transliteration of Kanda V, Adhyaya IV, Brahmana III, Verses 19-20||—Satapatha Brahmana, translation by Julius Eggeling (1900), Kanda V, Adhyaya IV, Brahmana III, Verses 19-20|
The form of a boar was produced from a sacrificial oblation of the gods, and boars share the essence of cattle (which symbolise prosperity and sacrifice in SB 188.8.131.52, and productiveness in 184.108.40.206). Eggeling notes that in this ceremony, the King wears boar-boots to engage in a mock-battle with a Raganya (a Kshatriya noble or royal), stated to be 'Varuna's consecration; and the Earth is afraid of him'. This ritual therefore seems to be significant as the mock-battle between the King (symbolising the boar) and the Raganya (symbolising Varuna, RigVedic deity of water) parallels the battle between Varaha with the Asura Hiranyaksa in various Puranic accounts of the Earth being saved and lifted out of the waters.
Manuscripts and Translations
All English translations of the Madhyandina School recension are by Julius Eggeling in five volumes. The English translation of the Kanva School recension by W.E. Caland in 3 volumes has not been found or listed; another English translation by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in at least seven volumes has been listed (only the first five volumes can be previewed).
|Madhyandina||archive.org: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, Volume 5, Volume 6, Volume 7||gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de: Kanda 1, Kanda 2, Kanda 3, Kanda 4, Kanda 5, Kanda 6, Kanda 7, Kanda 8, Kanda 9, Kanda 10, Kanda 11, Kanda 12 (not available), Kanda 13, Kanda 14 (unknown author; e-texts; all Sanskrit e-texts are here).||archive.org: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, Volume 5 (Part of the Sacred Books of the East; translated by Julius Eggeling)|
|vedicheritage.gov.in: Volume 1, Volume 2||Sacred-Texts.com: Volumes 1-5 (Hypertext version of the same the Sacred Books of the East version, translated by Julius Eggeling)|
|Wisdomlib.org: Kandas 1-14 (E-text version of the translation by Julius Eggeling, complete with introduction, footnotes, and corrections)|
|Kanva||vedicheritage.gov.in: Kandas 1-16 (Audio)||gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de: Adhyayas 1-6 (and Mula text, extracted from commented version)||Google Books: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, Volume 5; No previews: Volume 6, Volume 7|
|archive.org: Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (Khanda 17; Swami Madhavananda)|
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