“Proto-Gītā”: The Bāṣkalamantra Upaniṣad.

Last edited 4 January 2018.

“The identification of Indra with the first principle takes the form of an almost monotheistic hymn, in which Indra reveals his divine nature with his own mouth. That hymn is comparable with Kṛṣṇa’s self-revelation in the Bhagavadgītā.”
–Dr. Mislav Ježić

The Bāṣkalamantra Upaniṣad is of the Ṛgveda, a later Upaniṣad which, for many years, was lost in its original form and only known by a Persian edition later translated into Latin. A Sanskrit manuscript was (re-)discovered by Friedrich Schrader in 1908, and I am unsure if the work remained unknown until 1956, when Jean Renou translated it from the Sanskrit into French. The most recent scholarship on this verse comes from Dr. Mislav Ježić, a Croatian professor who has written several analyses of the Bāṣkalamantra as it relates to later Hindu thought, including a work (Rgvedske upanišadi) discussing the Aitareya, Kauśītāki, and Bāṣkalamantra Upaniṣads together.

Unfortunately for me, I haven’t been able to find any available in-print sources for this Upaniṣad, in any tongue. All that I know, from Internet resources, is offered in this post.

This 25-verse Upaniṣad begins with an event alluded to in Ṛgveda VIII.2.40, when Indra speaks, “Shaped as a Ram, stone-hurler, I once camest hither to the son of Kaṇva, wise Medhyātithi.” The reference is also made in the Subrahmaṇyā invocation of the Somayajña, in the call to Indra as the “Ram of Medhātithi.”

The Bāṣkalamantra may be a minor work to both Sanskrit scholars and modern Hindus, but for me, it holds weighty significance because of Indra’s declaration of Himself as the Supreme. For months I have known this work only in small snippets, but thanks to a French-language website on the Upaniṣads, I now have a full translation to offer.

First, here are some useful links:
–The original Sanskrit text is available online from the TITUS Project, at this link.
–The website offering the Upaniṣads in French was Les-108-Upanishads, now unfortunately offline.

An English interpretation of Martine Buttex’s French translation is given below the cut.

(Necessary disclaimer: I have only two years of French study, and relied heavily on translation and dictionary programs to check words and phrases; I claim responsibility for all mistakes in the French-to-English conversion.
{Vis-à-vis the original français, I do not know how closely – if at all – the French interpretation matches the structure and meaning of the Sanskrit original.}
Also, I am providing this work for the sake of love and devotion, not scholarship or reproduction elsewhere.)

I hope you love this verse even one-tenth as much as I do! Words cannot describe my delight upon finding it at long last!

It happened one day that the wise Indra took the form of a ram to approach Medhātithi, son of Kaṇva, and lifted him against his will, to take him away to heaven.

Medhātithi, indignant at the abduction by force, vented his anger against Indra, “You know who you are; I only know that you are strong and swift. Whoever saw you would not believe that you are a ram that moves beneath the sun, when you, you moved without even touching the ground! One who is weighed down by the burden of a body could not fly to the higher worlds as you do. You are the all-knowing, so tell me who you are. Otherwise, I am a Brahmin; I will strike you in my anger!”

The mighty Indra, who sees everything,
Who fulfills wishes, conquers the hordes
of his enemies, seizes everything,
It is for Him that I practiced my asceticism.

He sees me, wherever He is,
He who wields the lightning in his hand
To strike the one who deviates
From the right path, and takes the crooked ways.

Now, against my will,
I fell into your hands,
Where are you going to take me, O extraordinary one,
And where is your kingdom found?

Where might my father be?
He sleeps, and has he no knowledge
Of you, you who steals me thus,
And me, whom you have stolen?

And the gods in their heavens bright,
To the east and south, west and north,
And those living in the empyrean realm above,
Do they even know that you have taken me away?

I appropriately conducted their worship,
So why do not they release me?
Where did I commit wrong,
That they do not come to my rescue?

Indra smiled and said these words, to calm the doubt in the mind of Medhātithi: “Who do you think is the One who now holds you under his protection and his care? You feel oppressed by Me, yet you do not know who I am, and you are unaware that I cannot release you without taking you into My home.”

I am the One who rewards the sacrifice,
I am the mantra that consecrates the oblations,
I am the fire that consumes the offerings,
I am the witness of all that exists.

I feed the gods, too, all worlds
and the Egg of Brahma, I have shaped them and there I reside.
I am separate from all that exists in the world,
And yet dearly related to everything that exists.

I am the august Word that divides
And spreads in the multiplicity of discourse.
It is I who killed the demon Vṛtra,
the serpent, when he was living in the mountains.

With my lightning-flash, I terrify all that lives.
I am the growth of food, and I am the wing
Of all that flies; the victories that Indra gained
With his armies, it is I who have won them!

Who may know Me? can define Me?
I slaughtered all of my enemies; not one killed Me.
I give nourishment; who thus, in all of the worlds,
Would be able to see the extent of My power?

I am the One, I am the Light, I appear,
I assume innumerable forms by My powers of illusion.
I fear nothing: I am in the heart of all beings,
The inner guide, the universal witness.

No one will ever surpass My greatness:
Earth and Sky, it is I who have spread them.
In sacrifice, I am the food of kings,
And to those who sacrifice joyously, I distribute the fruits.

I know the center of the earth, I was the first Parent,
Father and Mother of this world.
I made the rain that flows from heaven,
I created the dew dripping from the atmosphere.

I know the Vedas, the sacrifices, the poetic metres,
And all of the treasures. I am the fire at the bottom of the ocean,
Burning, unquenchable. I am the fire Naciketas,
The pure fire which stands on the altar.

I am the priest during the sacrifice,
At the break of day, even before the birds take flight,
I pour the sacrificial offerings into the fire
And sing the praise of fire in strong notes.

It has only one wheel and twelve rays, the vehicle
That designates the course of the year, rising to heaven;
It is the sun, which in the space of twelve months
Goes around the earth. And it is I who drive this chariot.

And she who, day after day, waxes her light,
Swells her body and again pours a shower,
These waters that are the origin of life,
I am this being also; I am the Moon.

And he who, in the realm of living creatures,
Moves among them, and above them,
Who purifies the universe by spreading them through and through,
I am this being also; I am the Wind.

And she who, deep in her womb,
Holds the world of plants well hidden,
And raises it for the satisfaction of the priest,
I am this being also; I am the Earth.

It is I who transforms Myself into the breath of life,
Enters into each form, large as small,
And circulates in all beings, superior as inferior.
Whoever meets Me in the hollow of the heart becomes Myself.

I am five times, and ten times, and a thousand,
Deployed in the infinity of forms of this universe.
He who knows that unfolds like Me,
He who ignores it does not know himself.

One cannot reach Me by deeds,
Nor by studying the scriptures, nor by many fasts,
Nor by charity, even widely practiced.
And yet, all come to Me, by all paths.

Who is he, who kills and imprisons?
Who is this ram, who bore you from there?
It is I who am manifest in this form,
It is I who am manifest in all forms.

When someone is afraid of something or other,
I am both the one who fears and the one who frightens.
Yet My greatness establishes a difference:
I devour them all; no one eats Me.

O Medhātithi, it is in devotion to Me
That you have endured so much penance and self-inflicted torment.
And it is to lead you to the Truth, the Absolute Being,
That I have descended to the earth in the form of a Ram.

For that path that leads to the Truth,
Yes, this way, you will reach the Truth very quickly.
I am luminous, eternal, without limit,
What was, what is and what will be – I am That.

What I am and what you are, Me and you,
Or you and I – you should know, I am That.
Doubt no more! Until this time you lay in ignorance;
You have acquired experience now. Do not be in doubt!

It is I who fed and put in motion
The harvests of all actions,
And it is I who maintain the universe in a protective shelter.
This whole world is My form.

As Rudra, I am the destroyer of the world,
I shook all that exists. I am Death, too,
It is I who ordained misery and evil.
I am the Master of this world, I am the swan of its soul.

I am free of pain and age,
I am the Ancient One, I am free from all.
In truth, I am the universe. Yes, I am the universe.
I am also one who brings his offering.

On all sides, I am the universal face,
I am the Lord, the Witness, too.
Omnipresent, compassionate to all,
I am the One. That which exists, I am That.

© Arjunī and ridiculously reverent. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Arjunī and ridiculously reverent with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tagged: , , , ,

2 thoughts on ““Proto-Gītā”: The Bāṣkalamantra Upaniṣad.

  1. Mahalaya 15 Mar 2012 at 19:17 Reply

    That was simply awesome!

    So much of this, is like poetry…”Swan of its soul”…this is so beautiful in my mind.

    Thank you so so very much for sharing this precious bit with us.

  2. Superb!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.