What we can learn from the Nasadiya Sukta creation myth

Nasadiya Sukta

Flammarion Engraving

The Nasadiya Sukta — hymn 129 from Rig Veda mandala 10 — has come to be my favourite poem. There are other interesting creation myths in the Vedas, but this one is so beautiful for the fact that it’s shrouded in such mystery. Unlike Genesis, it claims that even the gods are on ‘this side of creation’, so no one can really know what actually happened ‘in the beginning’ of this great mystery of life.

Nasadiya Sukta was penned in Sanskrit some 4000 years ago and has been the subject of much scholarly debate surrounding what it really means. The translation below is by Joel Brereton, a lecturer on Indic studies in Texas, who presents the Nasadiya Sukta is a riddle. He suggests that the answer to the hymn’s riddle is ‘thought’. Thought is the seed of creation, just as thought is what engages the reader with the riddle of the hymn.

With our power of thought, our capacity for directed focus, we are the ultimate creative beings. (And how humbling that, even with that immense creative force of thought, we know nothing of how this magnificent universe came into being!)

Enjoy!

The non-existent did not exist, nor did the existent exist at that time.
There existed neither the midspace nor the heaven beyond.
What stirred? From where and in whose protection?
Did water exist, a deep depth?

Death did not exist nor deathlessness then.
There existed no sign of night nor of day.
That One breathed without wind through its inherent force.
There existed nothing else beyond that.

Darkness existed, hidden by darkness, in the beginning.
All this was a signless ocean.
When the thing coming into being was concealed by emptiness,
then was the One born by the power of heat.

Then, in the beginning, from thought there developed desire,
which existed as the primal semen.
Searching in their hearts through inspired thinking,
poets found the connection of the existent in the non-existent.

Their cord was stretched across:
Did something exist below it? Did something exist above?
There were placers of semen and there were powers.
There was inherent force below, offering above.

Who really knows? Who shall here proclaim it? –
from where was it born, from where this creation?
The gods are on this side of the creation of this world.
So then who does know from where it came to be?

This creation – from where it came to be,
if it was produced or if not –
he who is the overseer of this world in the highest heaven,
he surely knows. Or if he does not know… ?

Sat nam x