I used to own a book called Images from Vedic Hymns and Rituals, and in a spirit of moronic generosity, I took copious notes on the volume and then passed it on to a religious scholar. Now all I have remaining are my notes, which I’m going to attempt to use in presenting one of author Sadashiv Dange’s really interesting points. All mistakes are mine.
In chapter 18, the names Śipiviṣṭa and Śiprin, Vedic names of Indra, are introduced, and analysed as relating to fertility. (The chapter gives more information in support of this: a) other epithets, like Sthavira, and b) aspects of Indra’s worship related to vitality – like Indra’s flagstaff, in which he rightly sees the prototypical liṅgaṃ. For this post, I’m just using the linguistic links.)
The word-root Dange offers for both names is śas – meaning to jump or be active, and also holding a sexual double-entendre. Such a reading would tie nicely to Indra’s nature as the active, aggressive, fertilising principle, as essentially Tejas personified.
Śipi is currently translated as the sacrificial flames, and Śipiviṣṭa therefore as “effulgent” or “surrounded by rays of light.” In modern times, the name is Viṣṇu’s, and its concept is beautifully displayed in representations of Śiva Nāṭaraja, as well.
Dange purports that the original Śipiviṣṭa refers to the one who has entered as lord – which I read as the life-giving essence – and also interprets śipi as a piercing horn or digging tool with, again, a reference to the male principle.
Śiprin (and Śipriṇī-vān) is a name that has rather stumped scholars. The problem is that the words śipra (singular) and śipre (plural) relate to the sacrifice somehow, but have never been satisfactorily translated, being alternately suggested as “jaw” or “ladle.” This one is sometimes translated as “having capacious jaws,” as Indra’s capacity for Soma is vast.
Dange points out that epithets are usually uttered in praise or increase of the God, and that “having a face” or “using jaws” doesn’t add much to Indra’s characterisation. He suggests a different idea: śipra as an animal horn or horn-shaped receptacle, proposing that the śipra was a Soma-vessel, the original drinking-horn. This would make Śipriṇī-vān the lord of the horned beings and – by extension – Śiprin the wearer or bearer of the horn-vessels. This, again, relates to vigour and fecundity (as do the myriad Vedic references to Indra as Ram and Bull).
What makes me grin is the implication: that – besides possibly wearing the prototype of the horned helmet that we usually associate with Vikings, Wagner operas, and Marvel Comics – Indra may also have been the original Horned God. Which means I’ve technically been worshipping him for fifteen years now. Which amuses me, and thus is the entire reason for this post.
“If you wake to the sound of a hunting horn, dance a ring in the gathering storm,
revel in the chase and let your heartbeat run, but you’d best be ready, little one,
You’d best be ready when the Horned One comes.
He will call you out, make you sweat, give you a blessing that you’ll never forget.
So revel in the chase and let your heartbeat run: Blessed are the children of the Horned One!”
-S.J. Tucker, from “Hymn to Herne,” which is a great song.
My Current Music, Which Has Nothing to Do With Anything: :Wumpscut:, “Evoke”
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