The Sun Hidden In Darkness – M.S.Srinivasan

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.

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