Vedas are the scriptures which very clearly highlights the lifestyle, governance patterns, social structure, faith and belief of people dwelling over the planet at the time of its composition. It is a very strange yet astounding fact that for centuries these facts were just circulated verbally in form of “Smritis” (memorizing) and “Shrutis” (learning).
The values and principles embedded in these legendary scriptures were passed on to the generations by modes of teaching which were based on hearing, learning and reciting activities. For centuries, these invaluable thoughts and information had no written form. For that reason, the scriptures convey their content in form of “shlokas” or rhymes or hymns framed in a very memory-compatible mode of eloquent combination of verses and syllables.
In this context, let us know about the first “shloka” of the Rig Veda. As it is known to many of us that Vedas are form of religious manuscripts where special emphasis is given to the adoration of God, Demigods and “Parmatma” or the Supreme Soul. Rig Veda mostly comprises of hymns and songs dedicated to Agni (God of Fire), Indra (King of Gods) and Soma (Sacred Drink).
As discussed in my earlier posts, the composition of Vedas is classified in Mandalas (chapters). All these Mandalas or chapters are further divided into “Suktas” which are combination of various “shlokas” indenting towards a common purpose. The first shloka of the first sukta of the first Mandala of Rig Veda is dedicated to Lord Agni. It is evident that at the time of composing the Vedas, which ranges thousands of years ago, our Rishis or Sages, were able to analyze the usefulness, importance and need of fire. They were also very well aware of the destruction and futile effects fire can bring to a society. Related to that inference, they might have started the Vedas by paying tribute and adoration to Lord Agni or God of Fire. The first shloka of Rigveda is as follows –
“Aghnimile purohitam yajnasyadevam rtvijam|Hotaram ratnadhatmam||”
If the above shloka is translated in English, it means –
“Agni” or God of Fire, you are the major of all five elements, which resulted in the creation of this Universe. You are the property of “Parmatma” or the Supreme Soul. “-ile” as in the shloka means “I pray you”. “Purohitam” means before the creation or before the time when nature became manifest from the non-manifest. It can also be the era before atoms originated from the cosmos.
“Yajnasyadevam” means you are the “Deva” or Lord of this “Yajna” or ritual sacrifice. “Devam” means primary or most adored of all Gods. “Rtvijam” means you are an attribute of the “Parmatma” or the Supreme Soul who can be worshipped in every “Ritu” or season. “Hotaram” means you are the giver of all good things in life and the entire course of time starting from the beginning to the end resides within you. “Ratnadhatmam” means holder of good things of life like “Ratna” or precious gems and jewels and giver of the same.
Altogether, the shloka means, “I pray to you, ‘Agni’, the prime ‘tattva’ of ‘Parmatma’ by performing this Vedic Yagna (ritual). You, ‘Agni’, were there before there was anything. With you, ‘Agni’, the creation started. You are the giver of everything. I pray to you ‘Agni’, in all days, in every season. You, ‘Agni’, sustain all creation and will consume it when the end comes. It is because of you, ‘Agni’, that we get all the beautiful things of life. You are the source of everything beautiful.”
This was the first shloka of Rig Veda. It is the part of the first “Sukta” of the first “Mandala”. The first sukta is the following –
The first sukta comprises of nine shlokas all dedicated in the praise of Agni or Lord of Fire. If thought on technological perspective, we all know that discovery fire was the most important achievement in the fields of evolution of technology. Without fire, we cannot create anything. Be it the furnace of production, the stove of the kitchen, the ignition engine of an automobile, or the flame of the lamp, everywhere it is the fire, which plays a singlehanded role in delivering the result out of the process.
Although Vedic Sanskrit can never be translated to English with complete extraction of the thought behind framing of the shloka, yet, we can retrieve the summary out of it. The reason of difficulty of translation Sanskrit letters or ‘aksharas’ have evolved from ‘shabd’ (sound) and carry a distinct ‘spandan’ (vibration). The very word ‘akshara’ means that which is indestructible.
It is these characteristics of ‘shabd’ and ‘spandan’ that give Sanskrit ‘aksharas’ and words their application in ‘vyavaharika’ (everyday life) and ‘parmarthika’ (spiritual). Translation reduces their vast and profound meaning and spiritual depth. One must know the Sanskrit meaning in Sanskrit or Hindi to grasp the real understanding of a ‘shloka’ from Vedas. Moreover, as discussed earlier, for centuries together, the Vedic principles and literature was passed on the society and generations verbally. Hence, it is the melody of the shlokas, which emanates the original and complete meaning of them.