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Suktam, Veda

Puruṣa sūkta

On this auspicious day, I commence the work on exploring the Puruṣa sūkta.

Although there are numerous puruṣa sūktas available from vedic scriptures[1], I will be using the puruṣa sūkta from Shukla Yajur Veda chapter 31. Although I’ll be deriving influence from various other sources[2], the interpretation and commentary will be of my own. A Gujarati[3] and Hindi[4] translation of the text too will be given.

Rishi: Narayana, Chanda: nichrut aarshi anushtup, Devata: Puruṣa

स॒हस्र॑शीर्षा॒ पुरु॑षः सहस्रा॒क्षः स॒हस्र॑पात् ।
स भूमिँ॑ स॒र्वत॑ स्पृ॒त्वात्य॑तिष्ठद्दशाङ्गु॒लम् ।।

sahasraśīrṣā puruṣaḥ sahasrākṣaḥ sahasrapāt |
sa bhumim̐ sarvata spṛtvāty atiṣṭhad daśāṅgulam ||

sahasra – a thousand, śīrṣā – headed, puruṣaḥ – a being, sahasra -a thousand, akṣaḥ – eyes, sahasra – a thousand, pāt – legs, sa – that,  bhumim̐ – the earth,  sarvata – all, spṛtvā – pervading, atyatiṣṭhat – transcends, daśāṅgulam – ten fingers

Literal: The puruṣa has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand legs, who pervades the earth and yet transcends it by ten fingers distance

Interpretive: The supreme being, Puruṣa having infinitesimal heads, eyes and legs, pervades the whole of creation and yet transcends it by the distance of ten fingers.

Purport: The Puruṣa sūkta is given it’s rightful place as being one the greatest praises within the entire Vedic family of hymns. The Puruṣa sūkta represents an initial change from worshipping various Vedic deities into recognising one supreme being. The sanskrit term ‘puruṣa’ disregarding context would translate to ‘man’, however studying the etymological context of the word a number of sanskrit elaborations have been made. The main being puryam(abode)shete(resides) iti purusha – the one residing in his abode, there are numerous others which are also mentioned[5]. If we take the etymological meaning the supreme being is named as such due to him residing and pervading the whole of creation.

The description of using ‘sahasra’ although is translated as a thousand, in the context of the hymn the word should be considered to mean innumerable. The ‘head, eyes and legs’ although real and considered the limbs of the Puruṣa, they however should be deemed to be divine and not made from the five material elements[6].

The most subjective part of this verse is ‘transcends it [material creation] by ten fingers distance’ which can be interpreted in various ways. Sayanacharya in his commentary writes that the ten fingers represent the human hands which are the basis of mathematics, logic and science, however as they are all limited when analysing purusha, the purusha is above all material realisations.

Another interpretation is the ten fingers represents ten entities; five material(earth, wind, fire, water, space), four astral (mind, intellect, ego, consciousness) and one divine (the Atman). If this interpretation be taken then the supreme being Puruṣa, is thought of as beyond material creation, subtle entities, and Atman, making Puruṣa position as supreme and in line with the sukta.

What is important to note is that as the suktam is very vague in ascertaining an individual vedic deity as the Puruṣa. Later theological schools of thought have interpretative this hymn to promote their deity as the Puruṣa, namely Vaishnava traditions equating the Puruṣa with Narayana or Krsna.

हिन्दी: परम पुरुष हजारों सिर वाला है. परम पुथ्भ्रुष हजारों नेत्रों वाला है. परम पुरुष हजारों पैर वाला है. वह परम पुरुष सारे ब्रह्मांड को भी दस अंगुली ऊपर अधिष्ठि है

Ralph T.H. Griffith Translation: Purusha hath a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet. Pervading earth on every side he fills a space ten fingers broad.

Happy Birthday Gurudeva! 🙂

Rig Veda 10.90,
Krsna Yajur Veda Taittiriya Aranyaka 3.12-13,
Sama Veda Aranya Aarchika Aranya Kaanda Chaturthi Dashatih 3-7 (This is according to the Kauthuma Sakha)
Atharva Veda Shaunaka Sakha 19.6
[2] Mudgala Upanishad (http://www.celextel.org/108upanishads/mudgala.html), Srimad Bhagavatam 2.5-6, Mahabharata Shanti Parva 351-352
[3] Rudrastadhyayi – sastu sahitya vardhak kaaryalay, sampaadak: Purushottam Jogibhai Bhatta
[4] Yajurveda – sanskrita saahitya prakaashaalaya, sampaadak: Rekha Vyasa
puru(plenty) sanoti (gives) iti purusha –
the one who gives abundantly
Pooranaat sadanaat cha iti tatosi Purusha:
He fulfills all our wishes, be they puerile and mundane desires or lofty ones like Liberation
purati—agragaami bhavati iti Purusha:
He is also the Leader, leading from the front
[6] Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, Space

Find below other interpretations of the Purusa sukta:
Dvaita Intepretation: http://patwari.org/purushasookta/PurushaSookta.html
Vashisthadvaita Intepretation: http://www.ramanuja.org/purusha/sukta-intro.html#INVOCATION
Stephen Knapp: http://www.stephen-knapp.com/purusha_sukta.htm
Misc: http://sripedia.appspot.com/group/srirangasri/archives/oct2009/13197


About Makwana

A student of Sanatan Vedic Dharma


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