Category Archives: Rig Veda

30 Days, day 12: Indra’s places.

Vedic religion seems to have been mobile, or at least lacking in lasting monuments and mausoleums, and because Veda doesn’t make explicit statements regarding religious pilgrimage, it’s hard to say whether Indra had any cult centres in the Vedic lands. That doesn’t mean that nowhere was sacred to Him; it’s just a little harder to find those places than with sites like Delphi, whose history is intimately intertwined with a particular God. So let’s do a little virtual traveling and see what we find, hmm?

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30 Days, day 9: Common misconceptions about Indra.

Hooooo, boy. :pinches forehead: I’m going to refrain from swearing up a storm (storm, haha) in this post, out of consideration for my readers, though the issues I’m about to describe can really work on my nerves. To be fair, I don’t have all of the answers – or even some of the answers – about Indra, and I don’t claim to be the guardian of some special truth of His; I can’t well point fingers and yell “You’re wrong WROOOOONG I SAAAAAY!”

Also, I acknowledge that not all errors are deliberately made. For example, it was believed for a long time that one of the five shore temples of Mahabalipuram was dedicated to Indra, but further exploration and assessment suggests that the site was actually sacred to the Deva Skanda. Other “mistakes” are really just differences of opinion; there are some, for instance, who believe that there was a historical Indra, a great commander and ruler who was deified after his death. While I disagree with this notion, it can’t really be proven either way, and certainly those who think of Indra as “the Indian Herakles” provide some interesting comparisons to back that claim.

However, there are two particular notions that I find pervasive and harmful, mistakes that could be prevented by applying common sense and humility, and these will be the focus of this post.

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Offerings to Indra (part 4 of 4).

The Vedic religion of the fourfold godhead – Agni, Soma, Sūrya, Indra – embodies the understanding of everything as yajña; the outer ritual, of offering substances into the sacred fire, is the material form of a process which occurs at every level of existence. A human birth gives a tremendous opportunity to awaken the soul’s inner fire and to aspire to bliss, light, and truth, to walk among Devas as equal and to realise the underlying Godhead, Brahman, beyond all.

Each person can “become Indra,” not through the literal action of undertaking a set number of ceremonies and earning a heavenly crown, but through the understanding of every breath, moment, and action as sacrifice of one into the next, and through the awakening of that wild, noble, heroic spirit within, which seeks for Truth alone.

The Vedic yajña-rite is rarely performed now, but the ideal of life-as-sacrifice continues:

“Every single act of one who would lead a life of purity should be in the nature of yajña. Yajña having come to us with our birth, we are debtors all our lives, and thus for ever bound to serve the universe. And even as a bond slave receives food, clothing and so on from the master whom he serves, so should we gratefully accept such gifts as may be assigned to us by the Lord of the universe. What we receive must be called a gift; for as debtors we are entitled to no consideration for the discharge of our obligations. Therefore, we may not blame the Master, if we fail to get it. Our body is His to be cherished or cast away according to His will.”
–Mahatma Gandhi

This is what we praise of that Indra called Śatayajña: not one who has earned a position by pouring substances into a hundred fires, but one who, as an embodied Deva, shines with the merit of immeasurable generosity, one whose very being is sacrifice and who, thus, is able to rightly say of Himself that He is Truth, Life, and Light.

When I write here about offering to Indra, I write not with the thought of the complex Vedic rituals, rites from which I am excluded anyway, but with the thought of yajña in my mind, and of feeding the fire of my own yearning for Him.

“Invoking him, the more recent ones
Have reached out to your former ancient deeds of fame, Indra.
Just in as much as we understand,
So do we praise you, hero brought by prayer, mighty one.”
Ṛgveda VI.21.6.

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Offenses of Indra: Pāna and Soma, inebriation and intoxication.

While the imbibing of intoxicants (pāna) is a relatively minor “crime” in Hindu śāstra, the texts mostly agree in recommending that a spiritual seeker avoid alcohol. The substance is considered to derange the senses, damage the body, and promote negative actions by weakening self-control. From what I have read, also, Hindu culture looks down upon the drinking of alcohol, and especially drunkenness, as a decadent and dirty Western deed.

In Ayurvedic medicine no substance is outright rejected. Rather, the truth of the Guṇas (qualities or principles) is taught, with all manifest conditions being Sattvik (pure, clear), Rajasik (aggressive, active), or Tamasik (inert, ignorant); the practitioner is taught to understand these properties and then select treatments according to desired effects. Alcohol is classified as a Tamasik beverage, promoting darkness in the mind and wreaking damage upon the channel-systems (srotamsi) within the body. Yet alcohol also has a medicinal utility, because it possesses a subtle, penetrating effect that can carry healing herbal essences to the deepest tissues, and an herbal tincture or medicinal wine (called drakṣa) may be administered to alleviate certain conditions. However, even Ayurveda’s approach to liquor as a double-edged sword never extends to a tolerance of dissipation.

Personally, I love the translation of somarasa as “Soma-wine,” the word “wine” bringing to my mind such delightful associations as the sacred frenzy of Bacchantes, the sharing of the ritual-cup, and the pouring of libations. But others understand Soma as mere liquor, and translate Vedic hymns to describe the Devas – Indra chief among them – as besotted with booze.

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Offenses of Indra: Rap(tur)e.

Several times I’ve been asked why Indra is no longer worshipped, why there are no temples for him. Before I can delve into this question, I want to address a prevailing myth: that Indra is forgotten either because he has lost the right to be worshipped, or because people have progressed beyond his crude divinity and realised more sophisticated ideals. There are many written sources, as well as film and television portrayals, which characterise Indra the lascivious, uncontrolled, adulterous god altogether undeserving of honour, inexplicably in charge of the heavens though lacking any real power. In the popular mind, Indra is a fading star barely holding a place among the celestials, a savage nature-force honoured by a more primitive age.

I believe that prudish ideas, and particularly (though not exclusively) English/Judeo-Christian concepts, are at least partly implicated in this widespread misconception. Though Westerners have a reputation as lustful and sex-crazed, overall the prevailing Western morality is startlingly puritanical. In terms of religion, it is ancient knowledge that the ascent to divine consciousness requires the sublimation of sexual energy, but it is a specifically Abrahamic idea to assign a moral alignment – evil, or sin – to many sex-acts and most sexual thoughts, and therefore classify much of human sexuality as direct oppostion to divinity. This bias may seem solely Western, but I have found the idea of Indra as a pimp, womanizer, or fornicator in an equal number of modern Indian sources (1).

I wrote in my prior “Offenses” post that the Purāṇic stories of Indra cannot be read without imagination and understanding, and indeed, that it’s useless to do otherwise. The Devas’ actions often make no sense when taken at flat face value. What should one learn by a superficial reading of the Samudra Manthan, to give an example – that swigging poison is dangerous, and tortoises are awesome? (Both are true, but hardly uplifting.) When Viṣṇu transforms into a woman, his deed demonstrates the ultimate genderlessness of the Supreme and also gains immortality for the Devas; when Indra takes different forms, it’s explained that he does this to hurt people because he’s a selfish jerk.

It’s hypocritical to honour the Vedas as the great knowledge founding Hinduism, yet speak of the Vedas’ great Lord with disgust. It doesn’t make sense to consider the ṛṣis as supreme seers who realised and conveyed a cosmic vision, and then denigrate that vision and their wisdom by insulting Indra, insinuating that the Sages were too foolish or short-sighted to realise his true character. And it’s ignorant to assume that the Vedic deities are just personified nature, and thus have no more far-sighted intelligence in their actions than rutting beasts. Common sense should tell us that these conclusions can’t be true – even if we do not read Veda or know much about it (2).

Sexual crime is the most frequent charge laid (laid! Ha! /twelve-year-old moment) against Indra, so it’s one I’d like to address by examining the most notorious and famous case: Indra’s liaison with Ahalyā, the wife of Gautama Ṛṣi.

The bare outline of the tale goes like this:

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The shining rain.

Yajña. Japa. Judicial summons, even.(1) When the rain is scarce and predictions bleak, Indra is again remembered, and petitioned in many ways, to fulfill his duty and end the blight of drought.

Yet, though Indra is a god of rain, he is not only – or even primarily – the rain-god.

In Veda Indra is sung as protective strength and triumphant power; he is the flash and force of the storm, less often its bounteous result. He is part of the rains, but natural processes – which, in the Vedic view, are gross manifestations of subtle, universal phenomena – are not simple and clearly-delineated. Ṛgveda hymned no single “rain god,” but recognised and honoured the interplays by which life was nourished and maintained.

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Offenses of Indra: Lim(b)ited time (dis)membership.

In my last post I mentioned one of Indra’s greatest enemies – that demon called pride – and the god’s rather spectacular, even horrific, battles against the same. This terribly glorious nature appears all through Veda: when Indra encounters any demonic power, he doesn’t only oppose it; he wounds, dissects, and dismembers it, only then releasing it through ultimate destruction. Killing in general is abhorrent to the Western mind, and especially any sort of piecemeal vivisection, which we mostly associate with indifference (as in laboratories) or cruelty (as with animals who taunt their prey). Yet there is this impulsive, violent slaughter in Indra’s wake.

The word “sin” is the English term usually chosen to describe the misdeeds of Indra, but I want to avoid this word “sin” because it carries heavy baggage of Christian morality with it, and also implies a crime committed with evil intentions rather than an action taken for the greater good. (Cue black-robed figures encircling a stone table: “The greater good.”) I think the term “offenses” is better, for he offends much against prevailing conventionality, violates social contracts, and displays neither shame nor doubt in his acts. To understand these offenses, we must examine them closely, facing these “evil” actions head-on.

Or head-off, as the case very frequently is.

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Racism (NOT) in Veda.

It happens sooner or later, that if you are searching information on Indra, some innocuous phrasing on Google guides you to some fact you’d rather not know. You discover that the Nazi SS modeled their logo from the thunderbolt, or that some members of Stormfront idolise Indra as the great Aryan hero, or that someone out there actually perceives Hitler as some sort of Indra-avatara on Earth – and if it’s possible to experience the spiritual equivalent of your jaw dropping to the ground in horror, there it is.

I write routinely on a Hindu forum online, and some months ago, someone asked “if there really are blonde gods in the Vedas or if it’s just made up.” I didn’t see – or perhaps chose not to see, in the egoistic/enthusiastic fervour of answering OHMYGOSH A QUESTION I ACTUALLY KNEW – the warning signs. I wrote a direct response, and later he revealed his true – dare I say colours, as someone hoping for a white supremacist reading of humanity’s most sacred words.

I took my post down, but saved the original text, as I thought there was truth in it, truth I didn’t want twisted and perverted as part of some racist diatribe in a hateful little corner of the Internet somewhere.

But I’m posting it here, now, for three reasons:
1. It would be nice to have some of these searches turn up actual information instead of mentally-ill bigotry.
2. Laziness. I already wrote this, so some revision and clarification gave me a blog update without much effort.
3. Indra’s transformations was a topic I meant to discuss anyway.

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A banner day.

In 1905, an Irish disciple of Swami Vivekananda – christened Margaret Noble, but renamed Niveditā by Vivekananda – suggested a national flag for independent India. Hers was a lovely and carefully-considered design: a square scarlet banner, and in gold, a border of 108 lamps – with the Vajra, between Bengali “Bonde Mataram,” at centre. Sister Niveditā included Vajra as an emblem of divine power, to symbolise India’s endurance and strength; on an esoteric level, she correctly viewed Vajra as a representation of sacrifice and, appropriately, the destruction of illusion.

Niveditā revised the flag several times before having a prototype crafted:

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A bunch of bull?

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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© 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.

Ṛgveda X.54.

From January to March, I took Oxford’s Vedas and Upanishads introduction online, and wrote the final essay: a 2,000-word paper, exploring any selected Vedic or Upanishadic excerpt in depth, relating the text to the other literature we had studied and to Hindu thought overall. The instructor’s corrections were helpful, and my final grade was a (British) 69, equivalent in the American/Canadian system to an 89/B+; I’m not disappointed, given six years since my last university coursework and an amateur attempt besides.

Since it is relevant to the content of this blog – a brief explanation and interpretation of one of my favourite Vedic hymns, Ṛgveda X.54, to Indra – I’m posting it here, without edits. Anything inspired is Indra’s; anything facile, dumb, or just plain wrong, I take full credit!

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Amazement with Aurobindo.

There are some folks whose prolific, brilliant accomplishments make me ashamed to be considered part of their species. Śrī Aurobindo is certainly one of these.

An actual post from me is forthcoming, but in the meantime, two brief quotes from this giant of Veda and verse.

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“Indra arising gazed from the heights of his mental realms and the moonbeams surprising flowed on him out of the regions immortal; their nectar slowly mixed with the scattered roses of dawn and mastered us wholly.”
–from The Descent of Ahana

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Ṛgveda III.46, Aurobindo’s translation:
“Very noble are the heroic deeds of mighty Indra, the thunderer, the bearer of the Word, warrior and powerful emperor, the ever young god resplendent, imperishable and possessor of tranquil strength.
O Great, O Puissant, thou art great; by the action of thy expansive power forcefully wrest from others the wealth we desire. Thou art one, king of all that is visible in the whole universe; inspire man in the battle; establish him in the abode of peace, worthy of conquest.
Indra manifesting himself as radiance crosses all measures of the universe surpassing even the gods in every way and infinitely he becomes inaccessible to them. This power that drives straight, by his strength in the mental world, surpasses the wide material universe and the great vital world.
Into this wide and deep, violent and powerful from his very birth, all-manifesting ocean-like Indra, the ordainer of all thoughts, enter the intoxicating universal currents of delight like fast-flowing rivers issuing from the mouth of the mental world.
O puissant Indra, for the satisfaction of thy desire, the mental world and the material universe hold this wine of felicity as a mother holds the unborn child. The priest who accomplishes the sacrifice is for thy sake only, O Bull; he drives the flow of delight so that thou mayst drink it; he refines that delight for thy sake only.”

Such a difference that an excellent English rendering, made with respect and understanding, can make! Having only read this hymn through Griffith’s translation before, I see the two versions now like night and day.

A question I have long had: I know that the respectful, correct way to cite Vedic verse is by recalling the ṛṣi, devatā, and chandas of the hymn. But from what I’ve seen so far, all of the online translations omit information on the Seer and Metre, telling only the Deva(s) praised.

Does anyone know of a website, or an available print source, that gives this information? (Edit: Please see the comments to this post, for some responses!)

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© 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.

“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!

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Presents from my presence.

Happy Holi, all!

Holi is the date that I chose/researched as “Indra Jāyantī”, and today is also my two-year “anniversary” of being Hindu. So it’s pretty much my favourite day of the year, and one of the few times you’ll find this old bat in a fairly good mood.

Hence, I have a few gifts for y’all today.

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Saving the Earth, one blog post at a time.

There’s a lot percolating in my brain lately – but the mind-to-fingertips connection, which would normally translate my thoughts into blog posts, seems to be broken.

Before this WordPress journal, I blogged for eight years on LiveJournal and briefly kept a blog on Dreamwidth. This is a recycled entry from the latter. It was written about a year and a half ago, and discusses one of Indra’s many names/epithets, found among his thousand names (or sahasranāma).

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Translation – exposition, part 2 (later works).

The rest of the reviews are under the cut. All of these authors have written books which evaluate Ṛgveda and include some translated hymns as examples.

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Translation – exposition, part 1 (early works).

As promised, this begins my best shot at using my dubious (lack of) credentials and general linguistic snottiness to review English translation(s) of Ṛgveda. All pseudo-information provided beneath the cut!

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Translation – diversion.

While working on my second post about Ṛgveda translation, I rediscovered some interesting Veda-related tidbits, and thought I’d share some stories and links while I get my research together.

Warning: Slightly fluffy post. This is more “fun with Ṛgveda” than anything.

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Translation – illusion.

Can you recommend a good translation of the (Ṛg)veda to me?

It honours me that I have been asked this question several times, by friends who know me as Indra’s devotee and an avid reader, and I would like to answer it here in case others are wondering the same.

(I’ll preface this by writing, again, that I don’t know Vedic Sanskrit, aside from a few words; I can’t read Veda in the original language. My only qualification is a bachelor’s degree in linguistic anthropology, aided by a keen sense of observation.)

So, the short answer about a good English translation: There isn’t one, and I believe there never will be.

The long answer is beneath the cut, and I’ve given several examples to make my pessimism more understandable.

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Day 8: Saffron, Sāman, Soma.

11 November 2011. Day 6/final day of Panauti somayajña.

“The view that gods are dependent on man’s sacrificial rituals is a misapprehension. It is truer to say that in the Vedic view the gods need man’s participation in the Vast Cosmic Order of which the sacrifice is the dramatic, symbolic re-enactment…This mutual participation is summarized in the sacrificial ritual. The birth of the universe is a sacrificial offering of Deity to Itself (RV 10.90; 10.81.5) and the gods’ participation in it is mirrored on earth by the human ritual which is itself an epitome of the law of life, of taking and giving, the eternal exchange.”
–Jeanine Miller, from chapter 1, “Bhakti and the Rig Veda,” in Love divine: studies in bhakti and devotional mysticism

I normally have words for situations, even if they’re empty syllables to fill the silent spaces, but I say little this morning. My eyes hold every sight with care as I walk, trying to remember everything.

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