Printer Friendly

The race of Mudgala and Mudgalani.

ACCORDING TO RGVEDA 10.102 (1) a man named Mudgala wins a race, even though his vehicle is a cart pulled by a bull, rather than a horse-drawn chariot, and even though his driver is his wife, Mudgalani. (2) Beyond this skeletal description, the details of the hymn, particularly how it is that the couple win this race, and its ritual or pragmatic application remain obscure. Rgveda 10.102 is hardly unique in this respect, since similar akhyana hymns are similarly opaque. One productive approach to such hymns has been to start with their conclusions, for these narrative hymns told their stories for specific purposes, and those purposes are often expressed, even if indirectly, in their final verses. (3) In the Sarama hymn, RV 10.108, for example, the last verse applies this story of winning the cows to the poet's effort to recover his cattle. (4) Likewise, in RV 1.179, the Agastya and Lopamudra hymn, the last two verses, which confess fault and praise Agastya for his success as both an ascetic and a husband, point towards the hymn's use in a ritual for a celibate's sexual lapse. (5)

The last two verses of the Mudgala hymn do not explicitly state its purpose, but they do hint at it rather broadly through imagery and simile:

11. parivrkteva patividyam anat, pipyana kucakreneva sincan esaisya cid rathya jayema, sumangalam sinavad astu satam

She has accomplished the recovery of a husband, like a (once) Avoided Wife: she swelling, he dripping, as (when one works) with a poor (water) wheel.

We would win with a charioteer who is very impetuous [like Mudgalani]. Let the prize bring good fortune and prosperity.

12. tvam visvasya jagatas, caksur indrasi caksusah vrsa yad ajim vrsana sisasasi codayan vadhrina yuja

Indra, you are (the eye) of the entire living world and the eye of the eye, when, a bull yourself, you strive to win the race with a bull, driving (him) with a steer, as (his) yoke-mate.

Of great help in understanding these two verses, and especially vs. 11, are Stephanie Jamison's (1996: 99ff.) observations concerning Mudgalani and the figure of the Avoided Wife (parivrkti). Jamison shows that the Avoided Wife was a ritual role, in which a woman represented a wife who has not had a child, or rather, a wife who has not given birth to a son. Line 1la compares Mudgalani to a woman who has overcome this status, and therefore implies that in winning this race, she has become pregnant or given birth to a son. The other images in vs. 11 support this interpretation. Mudgalani "swells" (pipyana). When used in connection with women, the verb typically describes swelling breasts, as in RV 2.39.6b stanav iva pipyatam jivase nah "Like breasts, may you two swell for us to live," that is, "for us to be nurtured," or 3.33.l0c ni te namsai pipyaneva yosa "I shall bend down to you, like a young woman, swelling [with milk]." Mudgalani's swelling breasts thus suggest that she has a child whom she nurtures. The end of this line, kucakreneva sincan, is problematic, (6) but in some fashion or other, the result is that waters, regularly and naturally symbols of fertility, (7) are flowing in every direction.

I suggest, therefore, that the hymn concerns sexuality and fertility. This conclusion is not exactly a surprise, since all the other Vedic hymns that involve males and females--Vrskapi and Indrani (RV 10.86) (cf. especially Jamison 1996: 74ff.), Agastya and Lopamudra, Apala and Indra (RV 8.91) (cf. Schmidt 1987, Jamison 1991: 149ff.), Pururavas and Urvasi (RV 10.95), Yama and Yami (RV 10.10)--are about sexuality or reproduction in one way or another. But the fertility and pregnancy of Mudgalani are not only a victory for her, but for Mudgala as well. Indeed Mudgala, and not Mudgalani, is the central focus of the hymn. While Mudgalani is directly mentioned in vss. 2, 6, and 11, the hymn elsewhere concentrates on Mudgala and on the bull that pulls his cart. In vs. 8, Mudgala even appears to take over Mudgalani's role as driver of the cart, since he carries the whip. If fertility is the prize that Mudgalani wins, then Mudgala's victory should be the birth of a son.

The last verse, vs. 12, does indirectly suggest that Mudgala wins a prize of offspring. It attributes his victory to Mudgala's bull and to the help of Indra, who is also called a "bull." Since bulls are embodiments of virility, the imagery again implies fertility and birth. But strangely, the verse says that victory was won also through a vadhri, a steer, a castrated bull--a figure that seems wildly out of place in a hymn concerned with fertility, virility, and birth. Moreover, this steer has not appeared before in the hymn. It is probably not a second draft animal, because the hymn explicitly and consistently maintains that Mudgala has only one animal that pulls his cart. Therefore, the vadhri is more likely a metaphoric description of another figure. But who or what is it, and how can this steer be a part of a sexual victory? I believe there is only one real possibility for the identity of the steer, Mudgala himself. (8) In this case, the hymn is dealing with the interesting and apparently unsolvable proble m of how a wife can become pregnant if the husband is impotent.

Yet there are solutions to this problem. Among other possibilities, Sanskrit legal literature recognizes the practice of niyoga, the appointment of a man to father a child by another man's wife. This appointment is made if the husband has no male heir and is incapable of producing one, either because he is impotent or dead. The child born of this arrangement legally belongs to the husband and the husband's lineage. It is, to be sure, a somewhat controversial solution. Manu 9.59-63 allows it, although it restricts the choice of the man who substitutes for the husband and the circumstances in which the substitution is allowed. The basic principle is stated in vs. 59: devarad va sapindad va striya samyan niyuktaya / prajepsitadhigantavya samtanasya pariksaye "On the failure of issue (by her husband), a woman who has been authorized, may obtain, (in the) proper (manner prescribed), the desired offspring of (cohabitation with) a brother-in-law or (with some other) sapinda (of her husband)." (9) Having permitted th is practice, Manu then immediately forbids it, at least for widows: vs. 64 nanyasmin vidhava nari niyoktavya dvijatibhih / anyasmin hi niyunjana dharmam hanyuh sanatanam "By twice-born men a widow must not be appointed to (cohabit with) any other (than her husband); for they who appoint (her) to another (man), will violate the eternal law."

This inconsistency and uncertainty about the practice is reflected in other legal literature, which sometimes permits the practice with various restrictions, sometimes allows it as an option, and sometimes prohibits it. But whether forbidding or permitting niyoga, this literature attests to its significance. The practice has even greater and less ambiguous prominence in narrative. Perhaps the most famous example is the niyoga of the wives of Pandu in the Mahabharata. Because Pandu cannot have children, he encourages his wife Kunti to give him sons by invoking the gods to act as his surrogates. In persuading Kunti to use her power to summon the gods, Pandu cites a number of instances in which wives gave sons to impotent husbands or in which widows gave sons to dead husbands. He tells the story of Kalmasapada Saudasa, who sent his wife to have a son by the seer Vasistha (Mbh 1.113.22), and mentions his own birth by Vyasa after the death of his mother's husband (1.113.23). (10)

This practice of niyoga was already known in the Rgvedic period. There is a direct reference to it in RV 10.40.2, (11) in which the poet, addressing the Asvins, says: 2cd ko vam sayutra vidhdveva devaram, maryam na yosa krnute sadhastha a "Who takes you two to his place, as a widow (takes) her brother-in-law to bed, as a young woman her young man?" It is possible that the category of vidhava could include not just women whose husbands are deceased, but also those whose husbands are impotent. This is the sense that the commentators give the word in their explanation of Manu 9.60 (cf. Buhler 1886: 338n.). In any case, the practice of niyoga for one whose husband is alive appears in the multiple Rgvedic references (RV 1.116.13, 1.117.24, 6.62.7, and 10.39.7) to a woman named Vadhrimati, "Steer's Wife," to whom the Asvins gave a son. Her name signifies both her childless condition as well as the reason for it, and it connects her story to that of Mudgalani and the vadhri in RV 10.102. Of the passages that refer to Vadhrimati, the most revealing is RV 6.62.7 vi jayusa rathya yatam adrim, srutam havam vrsana vadhrimatyah, dasasyanta sayave pipyathur gam, iti cyavana sumatim bhuranyu "With the victorious (chariot), o you two charioteers, drive to the stone. Hear the summons of Steer's Wife, o you two bulls. Doing service to Sayu, you two have made (his) cow swell. Thus (you show) your favor, o you who are moving and swift." I understand Vadhrimati to designate the wife of Sayu, for whom the Asvins have done the favor of impregnating his wife. Strikingly, this hymn recapitulates features of the Mudgala hymn. In RV 6.62.7, as in 10.102, there occur a victorious chariot, a wife who has been barren, a steer (implied in the term vadhrimati), a bull (or two) who responds to the need of the wife for a potent male, a female who "swells" through the intervention of a bull, and a human male who is benefited by all this. Admittedly, races, chariots, bulls, and swelling cows are not rarities in the RV, but the similar configuration of this verse and the Mudgala hymn is telling. It points to a parallel situation in which the gods mediate a pregnancy for a wife made barren by an impotent husband.

Since the appointment of a substitute progenitor was a delicate issue, it required careful ritual circumscription and sanctification. Both the narrative and legal literature refer to rituals of niyoga. In recounting former instances of niyoga, Pandu also mentions Saradandayini, who, on the instruction of the elders, gave her husband sons in the following way: Mbh 1.111.34-35ab puspena prayata snata, nisi kunti catuspathe, varayitva dvijam siddham, hutva pumsavane 'nalam / karmany avasite tasmin, sa tenaiva sahavasat "Ritually prepared and bathed, with a flower, o Kunti, at the night she was at a crossroads. After she had chosen an accomplished brahmin and had made an offering into the fire in the rite for the Birth of a Son, and when that rite had been completed, she lived with him." Three sons resulted from this union. Manu 9.60 describes a different ritual to the same end. It says that the woman who is about to receive the surrogate should be anointed with ghee, an act which makes her into a ritual offering or a ritual fire. RV 10.102 was probably created to accompany such a ritual to designate the husband's substitute and to anticipate the success of this way of securing an heir. (12)

Even assuming that this account of the context of the Mudgala hymn is correct, there remain many difficult details in the hymn. Some directly support this interpretation, and I can explain others from this perspective. Let me, then, return to the beginning of the hymn and trace its development in view of this understanding of its purpose.

The opening of the hymn establishes the image of the chariot race. While a race can represent many things in the Vedic tradition, including the Vedic sacrifice itself, (13) in this case the race represents the successful union of a potent male and fertile female for the prize of a son and the continuation of a lineage. Such use of racing imagery for a sexual union is not common, but it does appear elsewhere. There is a comparable image in RV 10.40, in which Ghosa pleads with the Asvins to win her a man who will marry her and give her children (cf. Schmidt 1996: 389ff.). In vs. 5 she expresses her desire for marriage or the marriage itself in terms of a race: 10.40.5 yuvam ha ghosa pary asvina yati, rajna uce duhita prche vam nara, bhutam me ahna uta bhutam aktave, -svavate rathine saktam arvate "Circumambulating you, o Asvins, Ghosa, the daughter of the king, said to you, 'I ask you, o heroes: be here for me by day and be here by night. Give the help you can to the owner of the chariot and horse and to the sw ift charger.'" (14) It is not clear to me exactly how we should understand this racing metaphor. Is she comparing her effort to win a husband to a chariot race or, as I think more likely, is she asking the Asvins to help her prospective husband to win sons through her? In either view, the hymn shows the association of racing and sexuality. (15)

The first verse of the Mudgala hymn not only mentions the chariot race, but establishes the exceptional nature of this race:

1. pra te ratham mithukrtam, indro 'vatu dhrsnuya' asminn ajau puruhuta sravayye, dhanabhaksesu no 'va

Let Indra encourage your chariot with boldness (though it be) wrongly used. In this race in pursuit of glory, o you who are much invoked, and in the distributions of prizes help us.

If this is a race for offspring, it is not going to be run in the usual way. Mudgala's vehicle, it says, is mithukrtam "wrongly used," an apt description because it is a bullock cart rather than a racing chariot. But there may be more implied. In the context of a sexual issue, the hymn's audience would have associated the adverb mithu, "oppositely," with the etymologically related mithuna, "forming an opposition," "forming a pair," or, as a neuter noun, a "pairing," especially a male and female couple. Such a pair is productive, as in the often repeated brahmanic phrase, mithunam evaitat prajanam kriyate "Consequently, a progenitive pairing is formed" or its variants. (16) In a manner described below, the cart, together with its occupants and its animal, will indeed form such a productive coupling of potent male and fertile female. Thus mithukrtam may both anticipate the improbability of Mudgala's racing vehicle and ironically suggest the success of his ultimate purpose.

The second verse introduces Mudhalani as the driver of Mudgala's chariot, and immediately points to the sexual significance of her role:

2. ut sma vato vahati vaso 'sya, adhiratham yad ajayat sahasram

rathir abhun mudgalani gavistau, bhare krtam vy aced indrasena

Then did the wind carry off her clothing, when she won a thousand (cattle) and a chariot. Mudhalani was the charioteer in the quest for cattle. Indrasena selected the winning move in the contest.

The wind, it says, carried off her clothing, or lifted it up, in either case leaving her sexually exposed. It is an effective detail since it makes sense both in the context of the race and in the race's metaphoric significance as a sexual encounter. Wind-blown clothes that reveal a woman's body create an erotic moment in various stories, including the scene in "The Seven Year Itch" when the breeze from a passing subway train lifts Marilyn Monroe's skirt. In Mbh 1.65-67, Sakuntala tells how Indra commissioned the apsaras Menaka to seduce Visvamitra before his austeries dislodged the gods. Menaka agreed to try, but begged the help of Indra and the other gods: Mbh 1.65.41 kaman tu me marutas tatra vasha, prakriditaya vivrnotu deva, bhavec ca me manmathas tatra karye, sahayabhutas tava deva prasadat "Surely let the god of wind open my clothes there, when I have played before (him), o god, and the god of love should be my companion in this effort of mine through your favor, o god." The ploy works, and with the Wind's help, Menaka offers an erotically powerful performance: 1.66.3-4 abhivadya tatah sa tam, prakridad rsisamnidhau, apovaha ca vaso 'sya, marutah sasisamnibham / sagacchat tvarita bhumim, vasas tad abhilingati, utsmayantiva savridam, marutam varavarnini "Then, after greeting him, she played nearby the rsi, and the Wind took away her clothing, which shone like the moon. Hurriedly she stopped to the ground, grabbing at her clothing there, coloring and bashfully deriding the Wind with a hinted smile." (17) In RV 10.102, the erotic element is not explicitly fronted, but the direct associations of such dishabille certainly suggest its presence. (18,19)

In the verses 4-7, Mudgala's bull becomes the center of attention. It certainly requires little imagination to see the bull as a figure of a potent husband or, in this case, a husband surrogate. Especially striking is the appearance of the image of virile husband as bull in two of the other Rgvedic hymns dealing with the relations between males and females. One is again RV 10.10, the Yama and Yami hymn, in which Yama tells his sister to find someone else to be her bull and husband, in vs. 1Ocd upa barhrhi vrsabhaya buhum, anydm ichasva subbage patim mut "Make your arm a pillow for a bull. Seek a husband other than me, lovely one." The other is RV 1.179, the Agastya and Lopamudra hymn. Lopamudra tells her husband that this is the time that husbands and wives should join together, perhaps suggesting that she has entered into her fertile period: vs. 2d sam u nu patnir vrsabhir jagamyuh "Now should wives unite with their bulls." And later the hymn attests to Lopamudra's persuasive powers: vs. 4cd lopamudra vrsan am ni rinati, dhiram adhira dhayati svasantam "Lopamudra makes her bull flow; the naive woman drains the intelligent man, who is panting (after her)." The appearance of the image of husband as bull in hymns so closely related to the Mudgala hymn makes it probable that their hearers would readily recognize a similar significance of the bull in 10.102.

Some of the details in these verses not only point to a racing bull but also suggest that the bull is sexually potent. In vs. 4, the description of the bull is a surface description of a running bull and an implied description of a sexually agitated one:

4. udno hradam apibaj jarhrsanah, kutam sma trmhad adhimatim eti

pra muskaharah srava ichamano, jiram bahu abharat stsasan

Becoming very excited, he drank a lake of water. Then went the mallet, crushing the enemy. The (bull) with balls, seeking fame and striving to win, lifted his forelegs vigorously.

The bull "becomes very excited" (4a, jarhrsana), excited in the race, to be sure, but also sexually excited. The root hrs carries such a sexual nuance in RV 10.30.5ab yabhih somo modate harsate ca, kalyanibhir yuvatibhir na maryah "(The Waters) with which Soma finds delight and becomes excited, like a young man with beautiful girls ..." (20) A sexual connotation in the description muskabhara "having balls" (4c) is obvious, and one in ajiram bahu abharat "he lifted his front legs vigorously" (4d) is likely. On one level, of course, the latter phrase describes the bull's stretching his legs as he tries to run quickly. But also, when a bull covers a cow, it stretches its forelegs over and around the sides of the cow. The emphasis on the bull's front legs in the verse, and not on all four legs, is another signal of the dual reference to both racing and sexual activity.

A mysterious element in vs. 4 is its reference to the kuta or mallet. (21) Jamison (1996: 108) rightly compares vs. 4 with the description of the cow "having mallet-like horns," which is offered as the daksina at the Avoided Wife's Ratnin oblation. I take this as evidence that the mallet is the bull, called that, in part, because his horns were mallet-like. In this interpretation, vs. 4 reads very smoothly. The bull becomes the subject of all the actions: he drinks water, defeats enemies, and stretches his forelegs. If the mallet were something other than the bull, then the verse would speak of the bull in line a, suddenly switch to an unrelated mallet in b, and then return to the bull in cd. While the bull may be called "mallet" because his horns are mallet-like, it is equally likely that "mallet" suggested other characteristics of the bull. His name may have reference to the bull's success as a racing bull--he is a "mallet" that crushes all his rivals--and to his success as a breeding bull, if "mallet" has phallic connotations. (22)

The bull's victory in this contest was by no means an easy one. In vs. 5, we hear of an unnamed group who are working against his success:

5. ny akrandayann upayanta enam, amehayan vrsabham madhya ajeh

tena subharvam satavat sahasram, gavam mudgalah pradhane jigaya

They made him bellow as they approached; they made the bull urinate in the middle of the race. (Yet) through him Mudgala won a thousand and a hundred well-nourished cattle in the contest.

"They"--whoever they are--make the bull bellow and urinate (5ab), and a bull must stop running to do either. The bull's urination is particularly striking, since the custom was to take race horses to urinate before a race just so that this kind of interruption would not occur: cf. 1.64.6c atyam na mihe vi nayanti vajinam "(The Maruts) lead away (their horses) to urinate like a prizewinning race horse." (23) If the verse has an implied reference to a bull's sexual efforts, there are at least two possible ways to understand this detail. Urination will prevent sexual activity as well as racing. In this case then, "they" obstruct the bull both as racer and sexual partner. Or alternatively, and more likely, the common location of micturation and ejaculation can allow urine to serve as a figure for semen. (24) In RV 1.64.6, for example, the urine of the Maruts' horses is also the rain that fertilizes the earth (so too RV 1.85.5 and 2.34.13). This interpretation of the bull's urination would suggest that the "they" who cause the bull to urinate are obstructions only in the surface narrative of a race; secretly and ironically, they are helpers of the bull in his true generative function. A similar argument could apply to the "bellowing" of the bull, since its bellowing can signify the bull's sexual arousal and therefore signal the likely success of his mating.

In vs. 7, the poet employs a somewhat different strategy for connecting the images of the racing bull and the sexually potent bull:

7. uta pradhim ud ahann asya vidvan, upayunag vamsagam atra siksan

Indra ud avat patim aghnyanam, aramhata padyabhih kakudman

Understanding (the situation), he struck loose the outer piece of its wheel, and, working hard, he yoked up the hull to it. Indra helped the master of the young cows, (and) the hump-backed (bull) sped in leaps.

In vs. 7b, Mudgala yokes the bull to the cart, and in 7d the bull races. But note that between these two racing images, the bull is called the "master" or "husband of the young cows" (patim aghnyanam). The term aghnya (aghnya) characterizes cows that are too valuable to be slaughtered, probably because they have calved and therefore give abundant milk (cf. Narten 1971). The description therefore implies their fertility and by implication the fertility of the bull that is their husband. Thus, the poet inserts a description of a sexually potent bull in the middle of the description of the racing bull and in this way, conjoins the image of a swift bull and a virile bull.

Already in vs. 7 and more clearly in vs. 8, the poet shifts attention from the bull and from Mudgalani toward Mudgala, for, from the likely point of view of the Vedic poet, it is he to whom the victory truly belongs. In vs. 7ab, Mudgala's skill and his effort are acknowledged, although the nature and significance of the difficulty he overcomes is unclear. (25) The most puzzling of Mudgala's actions in these verses, however, occurs in vs. 8b, according to which Mudgala fits out his cart by "binding a piece of wood upon the strap" (varatrayam darv anahyamanah). The reference is too brief and too obscure for confident interpretation, but the best explanation to my mind has been offered by Franke (cited by Geldner 1951), who compares the story in Jataka (28). In this tale, a brahmin yokes his cart to a bull, which happens to be the bodhisattva. Through the incredible strength of this bull, the brahmin wins a pulling contest. Because the yoke of the cart was made for two bulls, hitched side by side, the brahmin ha rnessed the bull under one side of the yoke and then fixed a length of wood from the other side of the yoke to the axle to hold that side in place. In that way, the yoke would not twist back around when the bull pulled the cart from the other side. Mudgala, too, has only one bull and therefore may have cleverly contrived a similar arrangement using a wooden shaft to substitute for the missing second bull.

Another, even more telling feature of these verses is the subtle merging of Mudgala and Mudgala's bull. In vs. 7, his own action literally connects Mudgala to the bull as he yokes the bull to his cart. In vs. 8, an ambiguous reference creates a composite of Mudgala and the bull:

8. sunam astravy acarat kapardi, varatrayam darv anahyamanah

nrmnani krnvan bahave janaya, gah paspasanas tavistr adhatta

Whip in hand, the man with braided hair continued successfully, binding the piece of wood to the strap. Performing manly deeds for many people, eyeing the cows, he took on strengths.

The first half of the verse surely describes further actions of Mudgala, but 8cd should apply to Mudgala's bull, which is the most obvious candidate for something eyeing cows. According to Geidner (1951), the bull becomes aroused by seeing the cows which are the prize of victory at the end of the racecourse. But this interpretation is syntactically alarming, since Mudgala is the subject of ab and there is no indication of a change of subject in cd. (26) The primary subject of cd, therefore, is more likely Mudgala. Yet the ambiguity is real, and this ambiguity functions to overlay the image of the bull onto the person of Mudgala and thereby to suggest that Mudgala receives, in some way, the virility and strength of the bull. This parallels the situation in a rite of niyoga, for the ritual confers the fruit of the potent surrogate's virility upon the impotent husband. In this connection, note especially the phrase "for many people." If the subject is Mudgala and therefore the impotent husband that he represents , then the "many people" would be the many descendants that the impotent husband will win through the niyoga.

This merging of Mudgala and the bull and the ever closer identification of Mudgala's race and the impotent husband's quest for offspring become crucial to understanding the climax and most puzzling part of the hymn, vss. 9-10. Despite significant competition, vs. 9 is perhaps the most obscure verse in the entire hymn:

9. imam tam pasya vrsabhasya yunjam, kasthaya madhye drughanam sayanam.

yena jigaya satavat sahasram, gavam mudgalah prtanajyesu

Look at him here, the yoke-mate of the bull, the wooden weapon lying in the middle of the racecourse, by which Mudgala won a hundred and a thousand cattle in the contests.

The verse offers three characterizations of what or whom we are asked to "look at." We are to see him (or it); we are to see the yoke-mate of the bull; and we are to see the wooden weapon. These may all refer to the same thing, or to two or three different things. Again, the ambiguity is likely to be intentional. I take the middle phrase "yoke-mate of the bull" as a slesa a connecting and identifying the "him" and the "wooden weapon." The "him" at whom we are to look is, in the first instance, Mudgala. He has been the subject of the preceding verse, which expresses amazement at his cleverness and ingenuity, and it would make sense for the next verse to tell its hearers to regard this remarkable man. The "yoke-mate of the bull" also refers to Mudgala. This is clearer in the last verse, in which Indra is credited with winning the race by means of a bull and a steer as its yoke-mate. As I argued above, the steer is Mudgala, who represents the impotent husband. If Mudgala is the yoke-mate of the bull in the last verse, then he is likely to be the yoke-mate in this one as well.

What about the wooden weapon? In the first place, I identify it with the piece of wood or wooden shaft mentioned in the preceding verse. A hearer of the hymn would likely connect these two obscure wooden objects mentioned in successive verses. If the wooden weapon is the wooden shaft, then, like Mudgala, it too could be appropriately called a yoke-mate of the bull, for Mudgala hitched the bull beside it. Becoming a yoke-mate of the bull transforms the meaning of the wooden weapon in two ways. First, because both Mudgala and the wooden weapon are "yoke-mates" of the bull, the verse creates a metonymic identification of Mudgala and the wooden weapon. Second, by becoming a yoke-mate of the bull, the wooden object assumes a transformed surface function. In being paired with the bull, the wooden weapon has become a bull, or at least bull-like. (27) The critical notion of the "yoke-mate of the bull" has thus created a series of links that connects Mudgala, the wooden weapon, and the bull that pulls the cart. The result is to carry one step further that merging of Mudgala and the bull which began in vss. 7-8, by adding a wooden weapon and shaft to the composite image.

There is, however, at least one significant problem in identifying the piece of wood in vs. 8 and the wooden weapon in vs. 9. The latter verse describes the wooden weapon as "lying in the middle of the racecourse." It really should not be doing that, since, if it is also the wooden shaft, it is attached to Mudgala's cart. And it is all the more surprising that in lying there, it is the means by which Mudgala wins the race. In poetry, it is exactly this kind of contradiction, this lack of mimesis, that draws hearers' attention and calls for interpretation. How can it be that this wooden shaft, this wooden weapon, lying in the middle of the racecourse, secures Mudgala's victory?

Rather than explaining this puzzle, the poet uses the conundrum in vs. 9 as an opportunity to create another in vs. 10. This verse is key not only to interpreting vs. 9, but also to understanding the hymn as a whole, and therefore I will consider it in some detail:

10. are agha ko nv ittha dadarsa, yam yunjanti tam v a sthapayanti

nasmai trnam nodakam a bharanty, uttaro dhuro vahati pradedisat

Heaven help us! Who has ever seen such a thing? The one whom they yoke, they yet make him stand in place. They bring him neither grass nor water. Above the shoulder piece of the yoke, he conveys [something], firmly directing [something].

The verse is a riddle, and it has the form of other riddles. Consider this example:

Riddle a diddle, unravel my riddle:

"Long legs, sharp thighs, no neck, big eyes." (28)

On the surface, the lines appear to describe a human body, but they also signal that there is some other metaphoric object. As a literal description of the human body, "sharp thighs" is barely possible but unlikely, and "no neck" is impossible. Even if this improbability and impossibility somehow escaped the reader, the first line requires a reference shift by explicitly identifying the sentence as a riddle. In this case, the riddle is solved when the reader realizes that it describes a pair of scissors.

In vs. 10, like the introductory "Riddle a diddle," "Heaven help us! Who has ever seen such a thing?" overtly signals that the following words actually refer to something other than what they appear to describe. The verse seems to describe a bull, for it speaks of yoking, of grass and water that the bull might eat, and the shoulder piece of the yoke that rests on a bull. Yet it cannot be a bull, just as the "scissors" riddle can not refer to a human body, for applied to a bull, the description is improbable and impossible. When someone yokes a bull, it is presumably to go somewhere, so it is highly improbable that someone would yoke a bull only to make it stand. Bulls do not survive without grass and water, so it is impossible that someone does not feed or water it. Therefore we need some other referent.

The only bull-like object that appears elsewhere in the hymn and that can even partially meet the description of the verse is the wooden weapon, which, as we have seen, is already physically and metaphorically connected to the bull. A wooden weapon is not fed grass and water, and just as the wooden weapon is lying in the middle of the racecourse in vs. 9, so here in vs. 10 the object stands in place. But the riddle is not solved simply by substituting the wooden weapon as the secondary referent for the apparent subject, the bull. It is still impossible to explain how the wooden weapon can "lie" (vs. 9) in the middle of the racecourse and "stand in place" (vs. 10) and yet still win the race for Mudgala. The most we can say is that the solution to the riddle of vs. 10 may also be the solution to the puzzle of vs. 9. What is somehow like a bull but not a bull in vs. 10 may also be that represented by the wooden shaft and the wooden weapon.

Two other considerations guide us toward an answer to the puzzle of vs. 9 and the riddle of vs. 10. The first concerns the location of the riddle: we are, at this point of the hymn, about to come to the conclusion. The solution of the riddle should move us toward the fertility imagery in the final verses. If we accept that the hymn was composed for a rite of niyoga, then we can further expect that the real subject is something relevant to the appointment of a sexually potent surrogate. The second concerns the nature of riddles. One of the characteristics of a riddle is that the answer to the riddle makes a surprising shift, an unexpected connection. What is black and white and read all over? Initially we hear "read" as the color "red" because "black" and "white" are color words. The answer--"a newspaper"--shifts "red" from the sphere of color words and makes us suddenly reinterpret it as the past participle to the verb "to read." In the same way, the solution to the riddle in vs. 10 might well be something th at has never been mentioned in the hymn, something unexpected in the story of a race, indeed something from a wholly different sphere. Given the context of the hymn, that something is likely to be related to the niyoga ritual or to the situation addressed by that ritual.

Here then is what we have to solve the puzzle and riddle at the end of the hymn: It should somehow be connected with Mudgalani's recovery of fertility. It might be something never before mentioned in the hymn. It must have characteristics that connect it to a bull and probably should be in some ways similar to a wooden weapon and a wooden shaft. And finally it must resolve the paradox that it gives victory to Mudgala by standing in place, rather than by moving.

It does not take too much imagination to see where this argument is headed: the riddle refers to an erect penis. In terms of the situation addressed by the hymn and the ritual, it is the erection of the surrogate that will be the means by which the impotent or dead husband will get an heir. This solution, I think, best meets the criteria that I have just listed. First, an erection has characteristics in common with a bull, for the bull is the embodiment and an erection the sign of virility. Second, it fits the description given by the riddle: it receives neither grass nor water, it stands, and in standing, it brings victory to an impotent husband. Third, it can also untangle the puzzle in vs. 9, for the wooden weapon there could also be a "woody" a phallic symbol. The Rgveda elsewhere uses comparable imagery. In RV 10.95, for example, Urvasi complains to King Pururavas in vs. 5ab trih sma mahnah snathayo vaitaseno, -ta sma me 'vyatyai prnasi "Three times a day, you used to pierce me with your stick, and you used to fill me, though I was not seeking this." Here the phallic significance of Pururavas's "stick" is fully transparent. A similar metaphor appears also in RV 1.179.6, the last verse of the Agastya and Lopamudra hymn. In this verse, the spade of Agastya is a tool used in his life as a ritualist or ascetic and his "tool," by which he begot children: vs. 6abc agastyah khanamanah khanitraih, prajam apatyam balam ichamanah, ubhau varnav rsir ugrah puposa "Digging with his spades, Agastya, who was seeking progeny, a lineage, and strength and who was a mighty sage, prospered in both areas." That is, he was both a successful sage and a successful progenitor. The similar use of a wooden weapon to represent a phallus is a natural one, as my crude references to a "woody" and a "tool" illustrate. Finally, if we assume that the audience of the hymn understood the phallic reference in vss. 9--10, then for them the transition to the final verses of the hymn with their imagery of fertility and birth would be natural.

This interpretation of the riddle of vs. 10 also helps explain other details in both vs. 10 and vs. 9. For example, the racecourse, in the middle of which the wooden weapon lies in vs. 9, is likely the body of the woman in the middle of which rests the erection of the surrogate. In the latter half of vs. 10, the location of the "bull," the apparent subject of the verse, above the shoulder piece of the yoke is impossible. A bull stands underneath a yoke piece, which fits on his shoulders. But if the subject is really an erect penis, it could be above a woman's sexual organs, imagined as a yoke. As such, it might also be said to "convey" her and to "direct" her.

And finally, this interpretation also explain the "merging" of Mudgala and the bull in vss. 7-8 and that of Mudgala, the bull, and the wooden weapon in vs. 9. The intention of the niyoga rite was to allow a potent surrogate to substitute for an impotent husband, to become him, in a sense, for the sake of fathering a child. The hymn reproduces this legal identification of the surrogate and the husband in its poetry. Mudgala, representing the impotent husband, merges with both the bull, which stands for the sexual surrogate, and the wooden weapon, a symbol of the surrogate's virility.

At this point, then, the hymn's discourse has become transformed. The hymn began as the story of a race, although its imagery kept pointing toward erotic themes. But gradually, as the hymn progressed, it became less and less plausibly about a race, until the puzzling description of vs. 9 and the riddle of vs. 10 forces the hymn's audience to look for another way of interpreting it and to recognize its reference to its context in a rite of niyoga.

Moreover, the hymn itself causes its readers to make substitutions that correspond to the ritual context. Mudgala's bull is the potent male who becomes the surrogate for the impotent or dead husband. The piece of wood in vs. 8, the wooden weapon in vs. 9, and the unstated subject of the riddle in vs. 10 are all phallic images evoking the virility of the potent male. Mudgala himself represents the sexually incapable husband, who against all odds, finally wins the prize of offspring. Mudgalani, who drives to victory, carried by the potent bull and bringing Mudgala with her, represents the wife who had been rendered infertile by her husband's impotence or death but who wins back her fertility and produces a child for her husband. Indeed, in the very final verses Mudgala and Mudgalani all but become this husband and wife. Mudgala is the "steer," the infertile one, who is joined to the virile bull, and Mudgalani swells with milk, a sign of her fertility. Except at the very end, this process of creating a potent su rrogate rests within the hymn's paradoxes and riddles.

In this hymn, therefore, we can see the way that one Vedic poet could construct a narrative so that it becomes congruent to its ritual context. Let us assume, for the moment, that the hymn's poet and its audience knew a story of Mudgala's race: a story that told how Mudgala competed in a race with a cart pulled by a single bull and driven by his wife. Improbably, he won the race and with it, many cattle. However convincing my specific interpretations may or may not be, it is clear that the purpose of the poet of this hymn was not simply to tell this story. Rather, the story has been molded to a purpose and a ritual context. Its rhetoric that implies sexual themes, its poetics that force interpretation beyond the surface narrative, and its discourse that leads from a race and toward the theme of recovered fertility all point to a problem concerning childbirth.

Even the technique of the hymn, the substitutions it requires, is a kind of verbal reenactment of the substitution of a surrogate for a husband. In this regard, there may be special significance to its use of a riddle at the climax of the hymn. First, such indirection may result from the problematic nature of the solution to childlessness that such an appointment of a surrogate involves. Appointing a sexual surrogate is a last resort for continuing a man's lineage, and, at least in the later tradition, somewhat suspect. The riddles make known the substitution without directly stating it. Second, the structure of a riddle corresponds to the structure of a niyoga rite. Riddles also typically begin with a paradox or with some other situation that cannot be maintained. But the riddle anticipates an answer that transforms the situation and recreates a possible world in which the paradox is resolved. The ritual too addresses a paradox: a man cannot produce a son and yet must have a son. This situation demands a solution, a way of resolving the paradox, and the ritual creates that solution by making the impotent potent through a surrogate. (29)

(1.) It is said that God warned the Prophet Muhammad to await revelation and not to presume what God might reveal. In a similar spirit, Stanley Insler tried to teach us, who were and are his students, to follow the text and not to force it into convenient or anticipated directions. I have tried to honor that admonition and in this paper to pursue Mudgala's course, wherever it leads and however strange it may appear.

(2.) See Geldner 1897. He revised this translation in Geldner 1951.

(3.) See especially Thieme 1963.

(4.) Just as Indra Brhaspati and the Angirases found the cattle through their recitation of the truth, so the poet will likewise ohtain cattle by means of the truth of his hymn: vs. 1lbc ud gavo yantu minatir rtena, brhaspatir ya avindan nigulhah "Let the cattle, which Brhaspati found hidden, come forth, exchanging with the truth." Cf. Thieme 1964: 37 and Schmidt 1968: 187.

(5.) Thieme 1963: 77ff. Cf. also the last vs. of RV 3.33, briefly discussed on pp. 69f.

(6.) Oldenberg 1912: 321 is correct in rejecting Geldner's view that sincan is for sincantam (1897: 14) or for sincanti (1951). Just as pipyana suggests swelling breasts, so sincan could imply an emission of semen, as in 10.6l.2d ksodo na reta itauti sincat "He poured out his enduring semen like a flood" (cf. also vs. 7) and 10.64. 14d puru retamsi pitrbhis ca sincatah "And through the fathers, the two pour out much semen." In 10.102, the implied pouring semen would then be compared to pouring water, and the man who emits the semen to a man working with a leaky water wheel dripping water in every direction.

(7.) See especially RV 10.9, e.g., vss. la, 2-3 apo hi stha mayobhuvas // yo vah sivatamo rasas, tasya bhajayateha nah, usatir iva matarah // tasma aram gamama vo, yasya ksayaya jinvatha, apo janayatha ca nah "For you waters bring pleasure. What is your essence that is most beneficial, make us here share in that, as if you are mothers eager (to nurture). For you we shall go at the right time to him to whose dwelling you give nurture and you waters give birth for us."

(8.) The only other possibility might be the "wooden weapon" mentioned in vs. 9. I will argue below, however, that far from being a "steer" an image of sterility, the "wooden weapon" is symbol of sexual potency.

(9.) All translations of WManu are from Buhler 1886.

(10.) In that last story, Vyasa sires not only Pandu and his half-brother Dhrtarastra (1.100.4-13), but also Vidura, who is born of a servant girl sent to him by Ambika, Dhrtarastra's mother (1.100.20-29). Ambika had sent her servant in order to avoid cohabitating a second time with the physically repellant sage. The story of Vidura echoes that of King Balm and the sage Dirghatamas. According to Mbh 1.98.22-31, King Balm had no male heir and therefore sent his wife Sudesna to the sage Dirghatamas to have a child by him. Sudesna was unhappy at the prospect and sent her milksister to Dirghatamas instead. By her Dirghatamas begot several sons, who King Balm thought were legally his. But the sage claimed them because a servant girl, and not the queen, was the mother. Balm then sent Sudesna to the sage again, who was able to impregnate her without intercourse, and this pregnancy finally resulted in Anga, the king's heir. The fact that Anga was born by a niyoga which lacked sexual consummation may reflect the discomfort with niyoga that is reflected in the legal literature. Cf. Schmidt 1996: 404f.

(11.) Cf. Doniger 1995: 173. Doniger also mentions that the Sanskrit commentators on RV 10.18.6 identify the man who extends a hand to lead the widow off her husband's funeral pyre as her brother-in-law, who might have become her husband.

(12.) The only prize explicitly mentioned in the hymn is cattle, "a thousand and a hundred cattle" (vss. 5 and 9). This prize is appropriate to the surface narrative of the race, whose victory prize we would expect to be cattle. If this hymn was, as I suggest, used in a ritual to allow an impotent man, represented by Mudgala, to attain offspring, the prize of cattle won by Mudgala would be a metaphor for the many descendants that the impotent man will gain. Also, as I will try to show, the man who biologically fathers the child is represented by Mudgala's bull. It would therefore be appropriate to the symbolism of the hymn that the many descendants which one anticipates should be represented as cattle. A final basis for the metaphor is the close association between cattle and sons in the Rgveda. The term virapsa "men and cattle" attests to the ancient connection between these two sources of wealth and power. Cf. Mayrhofer 1992: 109 with further literature.

(13.) Cf. Sparreboom 1985.

(14.) The translation of d follows Geldner (1951). Schmidt (1996: 390) translates " the courser to gain (wealth) consisting of horses and chariots." This is possible, but to parallel the situation in the Mudgala hymn, I take the husband whom Ghosa seeks to be the owner of the chariot that will win the prize of offspring or will win her as the prize.

(15.) Also in die Yama and Yami hymn, RV 10.10, Yami tells her brother: vs. 7 yamasya ma yamyam kama agan, samane yonau sahaseyyaya, jayeva patye tanvam riricyam, vi cid vrheva rathyeva cakra "A desire for Yama has come upon me, Yami, (a desire) to lie upon the same bed. Like a wife, I would abandon my body to a husband. We would tear away like two chariot wheels." The emphasis here is not on racing, since the critical point of comparison may be that the wheels move together, but the verb vi + vrh can suggest a sudden, rapid start, as at the beginning of a race. Thus, at the very least, the line brings sexual encounter into the realm of chariots and their movement.

(16.) On the meaning of mithu, mithuna, and the root mith, see Insler 1971.

(17.) The scene has obvious differences from that of RV 10.102, but note that the expression apovaha recalls ut ... vahati in vs. 2.

(18.) The Wind may not only reveal a woman's erotic charms, but may itself be attracted by women. The story motif of the impregnating Wind occurs fairly broadly in folk literature, and in the Indian epics, the Wind fathers Hanuman by Anjana and Bhima by Kunti. The story of Hanuman's conception in the Ramayana provides an interesting comparison with RV 10.102. Anjana, appearing as a beautiful young woman, walks on a mountain top. There the Wind sees her and falls desperately in love with her: Rum 4.65.12-14 tasya vastram visalaksyah pitam raktadasam subham, sthitayah parvatasyagre maruto 'paharac chanaih / sa dadarsa tatas tasya vrttav uru susamhatau, stanau can pinau sahitau sujatam caru cananam / tam visalayatasronim tanumadham yasasvinim, drstvaiva subha sarvangim pavanah kamamohitah "As the long-eyed woman stood on the mountain top, the Wind gently carried away her beautiful yellow clothing with its red border. Thus he saw her round and compact thighs, her full breasts that pressed on one another and her noble, lovely face. When he saw that glorious woman of broad hip and slender waist, beautiful in her every limb, the Wind became mad with desire." The Wind embraced (paryasvajata, vs. 15) her and left her pregnant. Interestingly, when Anjana objects that the Wind has thus destroyed her "vow to be the wife of single husband" (ekapatnivratam, vs. 16), the Wind assures her that he has entered her only with his mind (vs. 18) and that therefore her chastity is uncompromised. However convincing the Wind may he on this point, we are once again in the realm of wife who remains loyal to her husband and yet bears a child by another man. This is Mudgalani's situation in RV 10.102.2.

(19.) After vs. 1, Mudgalani appears again in vs. 6, where she becomes the target of the "droppings of the frenzied" bull. I think Jamison (1996: 109) is quite right in seeing sexual and progenitive significance in this detail. In this image, the hymn, she says, places Mudhalani "in literal Contact with the potentially fertilizing ordure" of the bull. The hymn thus establishes a symbolic sexual contact between the bull and Mudhalani that represents the actual sexual contact between the wife and the man substituting for her husband.

(20.) A later example of hrs with a sexual nuance occurs in the Buddhacarita. Young women have been sent by the king to seduce the bodhisattva so that he will be no longer interested in becoming a renunciate. Despite their best efforts, the bodhisattva remains unmoved: Buddhacarita 4.54 evam aksipya mano 'pi, sa tu dharyavrtendriyah, martavyam iti sodvego, na jaharsa na vivyathe "Though he was thus being assaulted, nevertheless his sense faculties were restrained by his steadfastness. Perturbed by the thought that death must come, he did not become excited nor did he waver."

(21.) On kuta, see the note in Geldner 1951 ad loc. He suggests that the term signifies the "peak" or "horn" of the bull, the "deception" of the false chariot, and the wooden "club."

(22.) See below for the phallic symbolism of wooden objects elsewhere in the hymn.

(23.) Rightly compared by Geldner 1951 ad toe, to RV 10.102.5.

(24.) A connection between urination and ejaculation is implied in SB According to the passage, when the sacrificer urinates within the period of consecration, he should recite the following mantra: apo muncami na prajnam "I release water, not offspring." The brahmana explains the obvious: ubhayam va ata ety apas Ca retas ca sa etad apa eva muncati na prajnam "Now, both go from here--water and semen. As a consequence of this, he releases water, not offspring."

(25.) According to 7a "Understanding (the situation), he struck loose (?) the outer piece of its [= the cart's] wheel." The most ready explanation is that he freed the cart's wheel that had become stuck. But the verb ud ahan, 'struck up', does not unequivocally imply this situation. Indeed, were it not for the context, the verb might imply that he struck the outer part of the wheel away from the rest of the wheel. But how would such an act help him?

(26.) Cf. Sayana and Oldenberg (1912), both of whom take Mudgala as the subject.

(27.) This connection between the bull and the wooden weapon is perhaps hinted at also by the "mallet" (in vs. 4), which may be both a designation of the bull and a wooden object.

(28.) Quoted in Fernandez 1980: 49.

(29.) Cf. Handelman 1996. His discussion of the relation between riddle and ritual is more subtle and complex than the simple scheme proposed here.


Buhler, G. 1886. The Laws of Manu, Rpt. New York: Dover, 1969.

Doniger, Wendy. 1995. Adultery and Surrogate Pseudomarriage in Hinduism. In From the Margins of Hindu Marriage: Essays on Gender, Religion, and Culture, ed. L. Harlan and P. Courtright. Pp. 160-83. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Fernandez, James. 1980. Edification by Puzzlement. In Explorations in African Systems of Thought, ed. Ivan Karp and Charles Bird. Pp. 44-59 Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

Geldner, K. F. 1897. Itihasalieder I. Das Mudgalalied RV. 10, 102. In R. Pischel and K. F. Geldner, Vedische Studien II. Pp. 1-16. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.

_____. 1951. Der Rig-Veda aus dem Sanskrit ins Deutsche Ubersetzt. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Handelman, D. 1996. Traps of Trans-formation: Theoretical Convergences between Riddle and Ritual. In Untying the Knot: On Riddle and Other Enigmatic Modes, ed. G. Hasan-Rokem and D. Shulman. Pp. 37-61. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Insler, S. 1971. Vedic mith. Transactions of the Philological Society. Pp. 163-74.

Jamison, Stephanie W. 1991. The Ravenous Hyenas and the Wounded Sun: Myth and Ritual in Ancient India. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press.

_____. 1996. Sacrificed Wife/Sacrificer's Wife: Women, Ritual, and Hospitality in Ancient India. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Mayrhofer, Manfred. 1992. Etymologisches Worterbuch des Altindoarischen. II. Band, Lfg, 12. Heidelberg: Winter.

Narten, J. 1971. Vedisch aghnya- und die Wasser. Acta Orientalia Neerlandica, ed. P. W. Pestman. Pp. 120-34. Leiden: Brill.

Oldenberg, H. 1912. Rgveda. Textkritische und exegetische Noten, vol. II. Berlin: Weidmann.

Schmidt, H.- P. 1968. Brhaspati und Indra. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

_____. 1987. The Affliction of Apala (Rgveda 8.91). In Some Women's Rites and Rights in the Veda. Pp. 1-29. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

_____. 1996. The Plight of Ghosa. Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik 20: 389-404.

Sparreboom, M. 1985. Chariots in the Veda. Leiden: Brill.

Thieme, Paul. 1963. Agastya und Lopamudra. Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 113: 69-79. Rpt. in Kleine Schriften. 2nd ed. Pp. 202-12. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1984.

_____. 1964. Gedischte aus dem Rig-Veda. Stuttgart: Reclam.
COPYRIGHT 2002 American Oriental Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Rig Veda 10.102
Author:Brereton, Joel P.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Apr 1, 2002
Previous Article:The dark and deep underworld in the Veda.
Next Article:The Old Indo-Aryan tense system.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |