('Rig Veda', X, 129)

This creation hymn is at once a supreme expression of the poetry and philosophy of the Rig Veda and an eloquent murmur of doubt, which carries over into the Upanishads its sense of the depth, the mystery, and above all the unity of creation. In 'darkness concealed in darkness' (tamas in tamas), in those 'unillumined waters' which harbour no 'being' (sat) or 'non-being' (asat), there is generated, by cosmic heat (tapas) the primordial unitary force, That One (tad ekam). 'Desire' (kama) now arose as the primal seed of 'mind' (manas), the firstborn of tad ekam, and the rishis, who 'see' that original moment when the gods were not, claim now to know the bond of sat in asat. 'But whoknows truly,' concludes the poet, still in reverence before the mystery: perhaps That One 'whose eye controls this world'; but then perhaps he truly does not know. Not only Upanshadic speculation, but also the evolutionary philosophy of the Samkhya system was deeply impressed by this hymn. It is important to consider this speculation of cosmic origins alongside other Rig Vedic creation accounts, such as X,90 (see P.226) and X, 112 (see P- 34) Or I, 32 .

1. Then 1 even nothingness was not, nor existence.2

There was no air then, nor the heavens beyond it.

What covered it? Where was it? In whose keeping?

Was there then cosmic water, in depths unfathomed?

2. Then there were neither death nor immortality,

nor was there then the torch of night and day.

The One 3 breathed mindlessly and self-sustaining.4

There was that One then, and there was no other.

3. At first there was only darkness wrapped in darkness.

All this was only unillumined water.5

That One which came to bc, enclosed in nothing,

arose at last, born of the power of heat.6

4. In the beginning desire descended on it-

that was the primal seed, born of the mind.

The sages who have searched their hearts with wisdom

know that which is, is kin 7 to that which is not.

5. And they have stretched their cord across the void,

and know what was above, and what below.

Seminal powers made fertile mighty forces.

Below was strength, and over it was impulse.8

6. But, after all, who knows, and who can say

whence it all came, and how creation happened?

The gods themselves are later than creation,

so who knows truly whence it has arisen?

7. Whence all creation had its origin,

he, whether he fashioned it or whether he did not,

he, who surveys it all from highest heaven,

he knows or maybe even he does not know.


1 In the beginning.

2 Asat nor sat.

3 Tad ekam, 'That One,' who 'breathes without air.'

4 Svadha, energy, intrinsic power which makes self-generation possible.

5 Fluid (salila) and indistinguishable (apraketa)

6 Tapas, an archaic word which also defines those human austerities br techniques which, like this cosmic heat, generate power.

7 From 'bond' (bandhu).

8 This stanza is obscure. A. A. Macdonell suggests that the 'cord' (rashmi) implies the bond of the preceding stanza; thought measures out the distance between the non-existent and the existent and separates the male and female cosmogonic principles: impulse (prayati) above and energy (svadha) below. (A Vedic Reader for Students, London: Oxford University. 1917, P. 210.)

Translation by A. L. Basham, The Wonder That Was
India (London, 1954), pp. 247-8

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