The Vedas are full of symbolic legends and myths. Among them, the legend which describes the rescue of the lost herds of the Sun by Indra, is significant for understanding vedic psychology and yoga. This article examines the hidden meaning of this vedic legend and its implications for Yogic psychology.
Legend of the lost herds; robbers of the light; hound of heaven; rescue of the light
The Legend of the Lost Herds
The main theme of the legend runs somewhat like this: Panis are the robbers who steal the herds of Indra and hides them in a subterranean dark cave. Indra deputes sarama to search for the lost cows and bring them back. Sarama goes in search of the lost cows. After an arduous journey and crossing the mighty river Rasa, Sarama discover the kine imprisoned in the dark cave of Panis. Sarama charges the Panis with theft. She orders them to flee away from the place leaving the cows to Indra or else face the consequences of the wrath of the irrepressible hero, Indra, who will pounce on them with his friends Angirasas and Navagas and destroy them. But Panis boast of their power, strength and treasures and tries to tempt and induce sarama to stay with them as their sister share their treasure with them and not to betray them to Indra. But sarama refus to be tempted, returns to Indra and reports the discovery to him. Indra, along with Angiras, following the trail of Sarama, enters into the cave of Panis, slays the robbers, recovers the lost herds and drives them upwards. An interesting part of the legend is the dialogue between sarama and Panis which apart from its deep psychological and spiritual significance, it full of wit and humour. We reproduce here this dialogue from the Rig veda:
“With what intention has Sarama come to this place? Verily the way is long and losing itself in the distance. What is the motive of they coming to us? What sort of wandering was there? And how? did you the cross the waters of the Rasa.
I come as the appointed messengers of Indra, desiring O Panis, your great hidden treasures; through fear of being crossed, the water helped, as thus I passed over the waters of Rasa.
What is Indra like, O Sarama? How is the look of him as whose messenger you have come to this place from afar? Oh let him come by all means, we will make friends with him, let him look after our cattle.
I cannot think he is a person to be subdued, he is one to subdue others — he as whose messenger I have come afar. The deep stream conceals him not. Slain by Indra, O Panis you will be prostrate.
These are the cows, O auspicious Sarama which thou desirest, having traversed round and round the ends of heaven, who will give them upto thee without fight? And our weapons are sharp, indeed.
Your words, O Panis are no substitute for armies, your sinful bodies may not be pierced by arrows, your track may yet be unassailable for an invasion, but mind you, the Lord of the Gods will spare neither.
This treasure, O Sarama with its cows, horses and riches is quite secure in the mountain strong hold. Good sentinel are the Panis who guard it Alas in vain dids thou come to this far-off land.
Roused by the Soma, the Rsis, Ayasyas, Angirasas and the Navagvas will march against you here and this treasure of kine they will snatch and share; then, O, Panis you will eat these words of yours.
After all Sarama thou hast come hither constrained by divine pressure return not, we shall make thee our sister and we shall set apart a share of cattle for thee, O good one.
Brotherhood or sisterhood, I know not; Indra knows and the fierce Angirasas. Desirous of Cattle they will beside you as I get back to them; hence, O, Panis, run away to a distant spot.
Make haste, O Panis, to a far-off place, let the kine step forth in due order — the kine which had been hidden and which Brhaspathi, Soma, the Rsis have well-earned.
This is the legend which was repeated many times with different variations. In some versions of the legend, the hero is not indra but other gods like Agni or Brihaspathi or Angirasa Rishis. The villain of the story is not always Panis but vritta or valas. The recovery of the herds is always accompanied by the setting of the Dawn and the rising of the “Sun hidden in the Darkness” – suggesting that there is a sun hidden in the cave of the Panis and the release of the Waters of heaven.
Robbers of the Light
What does this legend convey? Let us look closely and deeply the various characters and events of this legend in the lights of Sri Aurobindo’s interpretation and see what the legend reveals.
If gods are the powers of the superconscient Light, Panis are the powers of the inconscient darkness from which evolve the universe of matter, life and mind describes by Vedic sages as eh robbers of light. In the human being these dark powers are lodged in the subconscious cellars of our being. Panis are described in the vedas as robbers who steal the herds of the sun and hide it in a dark cave, which means they steal the luminous rays of the superconscient Light. Cows are the herds of the sun –sun is the symbol of the superconscient light –and hide it in the subconscient caves. They are also described as miser traffickers who do not or can not or refuse to sacrifice. It means in the psychological sense, Panis represents the powers which drive the life of the greedy, selfish, possessive and sensational physical-vital ego in man which is ever willing to take but unwilling to give. Even when the human soul and the higher mental and emotional being turns to the higher spiritual values, this part of the being controlled by the Panis presents a formidable obstacle to the sincere and whole-hearted consecration of the will to the higher life. It brings and subtly mixes its lower ego-motives with the higher parts of the being; it either refuses point blank to give its consent to the higher ideals or when the higher parts insists pretends to consent, professing lip-service to the higher ideal but refusing to live in practice; even when it seems to open its consciousness to the higher parts and its ideals, it insists either openly or secrtey for some form of concession or compromise of the ideal with its lower motives; even when it begins to open its heart to the higher spiritual forces, it tries to appropriate the greater light and force for its own egoistic enjoyment and refuses to give or surrender to the higher light.
The roots of this lower physical – vital – sensational ego in man is mostly sunk in the subconscious. Whatever may be its outer conscious professions and pretensions, its actions are driven by the powers of the subconscious being in man. There cannot be any genuine spiritual transformation of human nature until this part of the being is freed from the pull and clutch of its subconscient roots. Otherwise if the seeker makes no attempt to conquer and transform this part of his being it may sometimes lead to an appropriation of the higher spiritual forces for an intensification of the lower nature of man in some spiritual disguise, a sacrifice to the anis in the name of gods and not to the true gods.
The Hound of Heaven
The figure of Sarama, the hound of heaven, represent the intuitive discrimination which exposes the subconscious roots of our being and its powers and workings and its hidden treasures. The slaying of the Panis by Indra represent the release of the mind and soul of man from the clutch and pull of the subconscious knot in man and the release of the higher psychological and spiritual potentialities which were hidden and held down by the physical, sensational and subconscious life of the skin–encaspulated bodily consciousness in man. As Sri Aurobindo sums up scccinctly the inner significance of this vedic legend. “the subconscient darkness and the ordinary life of ignorance held concealed in it all that belongs to the divine life and these secret riches must be recovered first by destroying the impenitent powers of ignorance and then by possesing the lower life subjected to the higher”
The dialogue between sarama and pani convey all these ideas in a figurative and symbolic language. We can see that Panis, the powers of darkness are strong and powerful, full of ruse, cunning and stratagem, sarcasm and mocking wit. They do not always oppose the powers of light but try to make them the accomplice of their lower motives. They try to corrupt and bribe sarama and ask her to be their sister and share the treasures with them. In another version of the legend told in Brihaddevatha, the story takes an amusing turn but still significant and instructive. In this version Sarama actually succumbs to the temptation of Panis and drinks the milk given by them and finds it “excellent, charming, delightful, stimulating”. When Indra asks sarama “you have seen the cow I hope” she, under the influence of Panis, replies “No”. Indra becomes angry and kicks her with his foot and sarama vomits the milk. But out of fear for Indra, guides him to the cave of the Panis and there Indra slays the Panis and recovers the cows. This version of the legend shows that intuition like reason can also be misused and corrupted and become an accomplice of lower motives. Just like reason through material Science and Technology has discovered the secret laws of matter and released the tremendous potentialities and energies hidden in Matter, psychological intuition can release the still more enormous potentialities and energies of our inner being. But just like material science and technology is constantly being misused to serve the lower motives and enjoyments of the lower nature in man and become an instrument of asuric powers, the higher knowledge and energy released by intuition can also become an instrument of the Panis. But the happy ending of the legend conveys the truth that the sun-eyed gods can never be deceived neither by reason nor by intuition, and these powers of the gods, though they may be temporarily tempted and miguided by the dark powers, will ultimately be forced to serve the divine purpose of the gods.
These are of course some of the general psychological truths of spiritual life most of which are well-know to all yogis and mystics who have tread the spiritual path and attained to a higher level of consciousness.
Rescue of the Light
The unique discovery of vedic sages is the intuition of the rays of supreme Light hidden in the subconscient roots of our physical being. This means that Sun which is the source of all light is not only up above in the highest heaven but also down below, hidden and involved in the nethermost darkness of the subconscient and inconscient. The Vedic sages described the caves of the Panis as “cowey wideness” which means wide and luminous with the rays of light. The practical implication of this discovery is that the key to the riddle of existence and the supreme spiritual transformation lies not only up above in the superconscient but a crucial part of it is hidden in the subconscient. One of the main conditions of the conquest of swar, the highest worlds of the superconscient Sun, is that the herds of the Sun and later the Sun itself, hidden in the subconscient caves of the human being has to be released from the Panis and driven upward towards its own home in the supereconcient.
The second related intuition thrown by this vedic legend is the psychological and spiritual powers hidden in Matter or our physical consciousness. The home of the Panis is described as a rocky cave or mountain strong hold. The rock and mountain, in the vedic symbolism, represents matter. The cave of Panis represent the inconscient or subconscient foundation of our own physical being and the material universe. And the Panis caves are full of cows, horses and treasures, which means subconscient roots of our physical being contains hidden within itself immense psychological and spiritual potentialities. In the later period, this intuition was further explored by Tanthric Yoga which gave the highest importance to the human body and conieved the vision of kundalini shakthi the bio-plasmic energy of the body coiled at the bottom of the spine and potentially containing within itself all the psychological and spiritual potentialities of the human being.
The second suggestive idea thrown by the vedic legend is that a complete transformation of the subconscient roots of the individual seems to be an integral part of the vedic ideal of spiritual self-perfection; not only the soul but also the mind, life and body and their faculties have to be totally released from the limiting and perverting influence of the Panis and have to be given up to the gods, the powers of the superconscient. In other words not only the soul released from ignorance and raise towards the superconscient but also the human nature made up of the body, life and mind have to be liberated from the subconscient darkness and subjected to the luminous powers of the superconscient Being.
The third suggestion hinted by the vedic legend is that this rescue of the supreme Light hidden in the inconscient darkness by the Indra, the divine Mind from above, suggest some sort of a descent of the Light involved and hidden below, and the fusion of the descending light from above and the ascending light from below, effecting the supreme spiritual transformation.
These are some of the unique and original Vedic intuitions concealed behind the symbolic legend of the lost herds of the Sun. Sri Aurobindo in his epic Savitri sums up in a few beautiful and exquisite verses the central idea behind the Vedic legend of the lost sun.
“The treasure was found of a supernal Day.
In the deep subconscient glowed her jewel-lamp;
Lifted, it showed the riches of the Cave
Where, by the miser traffickers of sense
Unused, guarded beneath Night’s dragon paws,
In folds of velvet darkness draped they sleep
Whose priceless value could have saved the world.
A darkness carrying morning in its breast
Looked for the eternal wide returning gleam,
Waiting the advent of a larger ray
And rescue of the lost herds of the Sun.
In a splendid extravagance of the waste of God
Dropped carelessly in creation’s spendthrift work,
Left in the chantiers of the bottomless world
And stolen by the robbers of the Deep,
The golden shekels of the Eternal lie,
Hoarded from touch and view and thought’s desire,
Locked in blind antres of the ignorant flood,
Lest men should find them and be even as Gods.”
1. Sri Aurobindo, “Vedic Symbolism” compiled by Sri M.P. Pandit, P.
2. Sri Aurobindo, Savithri, SABCL, Vol.28, P.