A start at the 'tap root project:'

Chauncey J. Blair, Heat in the Rig Veda and Atharva Veda (American Oriental Series, vol. 45)

LC#: BL 1112.57.B55 1961


Meanwhile we must be satisfied with results that remain tentative no matter how conclusive or reasonable they may seem until that final and far-off day when the true translation will either prove or disprove them. These investigations may well contribute to that translation for which every bit of information available and derivable will be needed.

I have gathered together here in one place the principle contexts in which the idea of heat appears. As by-products, several passages are given new or revised interpretations,13 and many suggestions are offered for additional research.

In the following paragraphs there are summarized these principle contexts of heat.

The sun seems to us to be the most obvious source of heat, and indeed the sun does appear in this role in the Rig Veda.14 The sun has several names in the Rig Veda, all of them frequently used, but as a source of heat the sun appears only under the names of Pusan and Surya.15 Here right at the start we have a question as to why this is so, which must here remain unanswered.

The sun has this peculiarity: the way in which it heats is generally different from that of other heat-producing bodies. When one of the latter is the subject of the verb " heat " there is always a direct object, such as a person, heaven, earth, the sacrificial vessel, an enemy, etc. The sun also frequently has a direct object, but in addition it heats " downward," or "propitiously," or "far and wide," or "freely"; and these expressions are never used in any other context. Heaven and Earth are special recipients of the sun's heat 16 although in the beginning of creation Heaven and Earth seem to have received heat from other sources, the ancient seers in one passage, and in another some beings of unknown identity.

Sometimes the hot rays of the sun are likened to " red birds " 17 and these seem to have special and obscure functions and powers.

These " red birds " often appear in contexts where Dawn and the Asvin gods also appear. The Asvins' special relation is to the sun's heat 18 at dawn, the beginning and growth of heat 19 in contrast for example to Indra 20 who has to do with the developed heat of the noon-day sun.

The Asvins, along with the Maruts, the storm gods, and to a lesser extent Indra, have particular importance in the production of rain, but this activity requires heat. Without heat no rain falls. This heat is either the heat of the sun, who here plays a very enigmatic role, or the heat of the fire of lightning. The Asvins have the special function of whipping up the rain 21 and here again they are related to the beginning of rain, while Indra and the Maruts appear in the fullness of the storm.

This heat of the sun in its various phases is an important part of what I have called cosmic heat. But the impression must not be given that Vedic man made any distinction between this cosmic heat and the more earthly heat of the ritual and of the human body. Indeed the ritual seems to be the connecting link between the world and the individual. Ritual heat means the heat of Agni, the fire, but also it means the heat of anything that has been heated by the ritual fire. For example, the ritual vessel, the gharma,22 with some kind of liquid inside it 23 is set on the fire. The mixture inside it is whipped up by the Asvins just as they whip up the rain drops in the sky, and just as the liquid is poured out 24 so does the nourishing and fertilizing rain come down as a gift to mankind. Another clear example is the heat in the body of the person who is performing the ritual. This heat is generated by the ritual fire and by the activity of the person's performance. The greater his devotional efforts the hotter he gets, and his sweat, as a measure of his devotional heat, has a magic power of its own. In other passages this sweat is likened to rain just as the contents of the gharma vessel when heated sufficiently became rain.25 Here is a clear and definite example of the identity of the sweat of the body, the liquid contents of the ritual vessel, and the liquid product of the cosmos, with heat playing the identical role in the activity of each.

Heating a vessel is a very important part of the Vedic ritual. NOT heating a vessel is specifically described as characteristic of non-Vedic peoples, and of hostile sorcery.26 Therefore we can be sure that heat to Vedic man is a desirable, indeed a necessary, attribute of his body, of the ritual, and of the whole universe. As "reactivating " heat it is the means by which the Asvins bring on the rain, bring on the dawn,27 and rejuvenate and heal their devotees.28

Indra 29 is another prime user of heat, the heat of lightning and the heat of the sun. But Indra, in contrast to the Asvins, appears to be associated with the hottest heat of the noonday sun, and the lightning he uses is the mighty lightning-bolt which is his fierce and awe-inspiring weapon against the demons and enemies of mankind. In the beginning Indra slew his arch-enemy Vrtra with his bolt,30 and then not only set the sun (Surya) up in the sky, but also put the pakva milk in the ama cow. This last deed Vedic man considered a great miracle. But, although the words pakva and ama are obviously contrasting, it is not clear what their precise meanings are in this context. pakva and ama basically mean " cooked " and " raw " respectively, so that this miracle, translated literally, means that Indra put the cooked (milk) in the raw (cow) . However, pakva more accurately means " ripe" 31 or " well-prepared." ama is flesh to which heat has not been applied.32 pakva, from the root pac " cook," is that which is prepared by the application of heat, and it is no accident that this word is used in connection with Indra's activities. Cooking at the ritual is done primarily for making offerings to Indra 33 of cooked, solid substances. The fact that only the god Pusan 34 is associated with Indra in these cooked offerings, leads one to suspect that the symbolism of cooking has something to do with Indra's relation to the sun, especially with the sun at its most intense heat, of which cooking would therefore be symbolic. It would be easy perhaps to take this equivalence between cooking and the intense heat of the noonday sun and say that the pakva in the raw cow is not really the milk in a cow but is something which has been fully prepared by the application of intense heat. The word " cow " in the Rig Veda is used metaphorically to describe clouds, for example, and other things where an actual cow is not meant. Therefore, it could well be that Indra's miracle of putting the pakva in the raw " cow" may have had quite a different significance to Vedic man than any we car readily imagine, much less prove, at the present imperfect stage of Vedic interpretation.

One further word needs to be said about cooking. Although the root pac, " cook," is never used to describe the action of the funeral fire on the body of the deceased,35 it is quite clear that the fire supplied intense heat to the body, so intense that special precautions were some times taken to keep the fire from consuming the body completely. This intense heat was applied in order to provide the deceased with safe conduct to the heavenly world. This heavenly world is in the HIGHEST heaven.36 I therefore suggest that there is a parallel between applying intense heat to the deceased in order to raise him to the highest heaven, and the cooking which is done for Indra in order to activate him 37 to his most active and effective point, to " noon " him as it were.

These various aspects of heat which I have described above, the sun's heat at dawn, at noon, in rain, and as symbolized in the ritual, are all kindly aspects of heat and are desirable. I cannot claim to have made a complete description of the ways in which this aspect of heat appears in the Veda, for there are several passages, perhaps of the greatest significance, the obscurity of which precludes their use for generalizations. These are found in Chapter II.C-1, 2, 3, and 11, and appear to have something to do with cosmic heat or the creation of it.

There is another very important aspect of heat in which the effect of it is highly undesirable. It is a vicious kind of heat that is turned Upon enemies and demons with destructive results. But here again the precise manner in which this heat is produced and is made effective is shrouded in some obscurity.

Evidently, it is created in the ritual and is directed against personal enemies of the priest or of the person for whom the ritual is being performed.38

Usually Agni, as the ritual fire, is invoked directly to injure the enemy with his flames. Sometimes Indra or Indra and Soma together or the Maruts, etc., are invoked for this purpose. It may be in some of these cases that the lightning-bolt was literally expected to strike the enemy down. But in other passages, as for example where Brhaspati, the priest of the Gods, is invoked, it must be that this injuring " heat " was thought of as an abstract, unseen, product of a properly performed ritual. The heat of the ritual, of the sacrificer himself, in fact, was projected by magic off into space to strike down the enemy wherever he might be.

Hostile heat of this kind was created not only by " us " against enemies, but could also be created by enemies against "us," and some passages are intended to counteract the magic of an enemy's heat.

This injuring heat, in contrast to the concrete, cosmic heat of the sun, etc., is not only abstract but its effects are unpleasant for the recipient. These two new elements, abstractness and unpleasantness, together have a major share in one of the two aspects of heat that remain to be described. This is the heat of the body which is entirely unpleasant and is not to be confused with devotional heat of the body. There is the heat of disease, particularly fever, which lodges like a flame in the head and is caused by lightning or by love. There is the heat of jealousy and of unrequited love in the heart. There is also the heat of anger, and the " heat " of misery caused by general misfortune and such reverses as losing all one's possessions by gambling. These are all described in detail in Chapter XIX. through XXI. and need not be further summarized here. These passages appear to be quite straightforward and understandable. They are found mostly in the AV. or books I and X of the RV., and therefore to be considered either of later composition or simply as belonging to a different layer of ideas.

The one additional aspect of heat which remains to be mentioned is also a product of books I and X of the RV. and of the AV. This is the concept of heat that is uniquely associated with the word tapas.

The developments of the meaning of tapas from simple " heat," to a more and more abstract and formulaic meaning on the one hand, and to an abstract and philosophical meaning on the other, are described thoroughly in Chapters XII and XIII. These are the meanings of tapas which continue on into the later Vedic and post-Vedic literature with changes that take it further and further from its basic meaning. The question of light and its relation to heat can only be touched on here and needs a much more extended treatment. The ideas of heat and light are certainly very close. There is no question that the basic meaning of the root tap is to "heat," yet there exist passages in which the translation to " light up " would seem to be more appropriate.39 On the other hand, there are the words socis 40 and jyotis 41 whose basic meanings are special aspects of light, yet they can sometimes be translated " heat." We are aware of a problem of this kind only when there is no English word that carries the same implications.

socis, for example, can be translated "flame," specifically the fire's flame. This is exactly what socis means, and fortunately the English word implies heat and we are not surprised when we read a passage in which some heating action takes place by means of socis. In the same way the root dah is accurately translated 42 "burn " which implies that the action leaves a visible mark. But what English word can translate the root tap in such a way that to the basic meaning of "heat" is added an implication of simultaneous light ? One candidate is the English word " incandesce," to apply so much heat to something that it glows. It is tempting to use this word at RV. IX, 108, 12 43 where the soma-drink would be said to " incandesce the darkness with its glow." 44 But this is not wholly satisfactory even here, and certainly is not literally exact when the incandescing action is directed against enemies, nor in any of the other types of contexts in which the root tap appears.

In short, there seems to be no English word that fits the root tap in all of its contents and therefore it is difficult for us to grasp, much less explain, the full implications of the word.

This difficulty is augmented by the fact that the heating effect of tap is subjective and abstract. The burning effect of the root dah and the lighting effect of socis are clearly seen. But the heat of tap is felt only subjectively, and this may well be one reason why tap has gathered about it a circle of implications which to us seem vague and unrelated.

As a final summary then, the meanings of the root tap can be put into eight fairly well defined categories:

1. Kindly heat of the Cosmos; (a) of the sun, (b) of other Cosmic activities, (c) of the funeral fire.

2. Ritual heat; (a) of the gharma vessel, (b) of other things in the ritual.

3. Devotional heat of ritual activity.

4. Injuring heat which is directed (a) against enemies or (b) by enemies.

5. Miserable heat of mental distress and fever.

6. Heat of unknown source and effect.

7. Heat of the Rsis and Pitrs.

8. Heat as an abstract, philosophic entity.



The remaining occurrences of the verbal forms show an undesirable heating action.

1. " Do you, Agni, burn against the demons (but) may you not heat fiercely upon our houses." (AV. VI, 32, 1: ... raksansi prati daha tvam agne na no grhanam upa titapasi).

2. In a funeral hymn (AV. XVIII, 2, 36) Agni is asked not to heat the body too much (ati-tap) etc.9

3. "No fierce heat heated. No cold struck." (AV. VII, 18, 2: na ghrans tatapa na himo jaghana . . . ) The pair of words ghrans and himo is interesting. The whole verse is obscure, but evidently the effect of the heat would be undesirable.

4. " The sterile cow heats away ( ? ) when pasturing with the herd (i. e., not properly presented to the Brahman). (AV. XII, 4, 39: mahadesava tapati caranti gosu . . ) The idea seems to be that the sterile cow should be presented to the Brahmans and if she instead is pastured with the herd, she does some kind of damage to the herd.10 It might mean that she is badly distressed and " pines away," but this would be the only example among the verbal forms in the AV. of the idea of mental distress which occurs fairly often in the RV.1l


1. There are six passages in the AV. where some word occurs in the instrumental case to show by what means the heating is done.

(a) Against enemies, Agni heats against (prati-tap) them with tapas (tapasa) at AV. II, 19, 1, and other deities do the same thing in the first verse of several subsequent hymns.12 (b) Agni heats the vessel (carum) with tapas at AV. XI, 1, 16; " we " heat up ourselves with tapas at AV. VII, 61, 1. The sun heats in one direction with one unidentified thing, and in the other direction with five unidentified things at AV. XVII, 1, 17. Someone (the sun?) heats by truth (satyena) at AV. X, 8, 19; and "I" heat by Varuna's law (dharmana varunasya) at AV. VI,

2. The most striking AV. innovation in the use of tap is the greatly increased use of verbal prefixes. Out of the thirty-three independent AV. occurrences, sixteen are with verbal prefixes as follows:

3. In the AV. there is a type of construction not present in RV. in which the object of tap is not itself heated but is created by or at least during heating action. The clearest example of this is AV. XVIII, 4, 9: " May the southern fire heat protection and defense for you." This same construction is found with the root suc at AV. IV, 33, 1 (RV. I, 97, 1): "May Agni flame wealth (to us)." (agne susugdhy a rayim Another passage with tap is: " We heat up tapas." (bpatapyamahe tapas) (AV. VII, 61, 1 and 2). This construction is probably also present in AV. VI, 132, 1-5: " I heat by Varuna's law, that longing together with yearning...." that is, by my ritual activities according to Varuna's law, I create by heat or while heated, longing and yearning . . . in you. Where Agni is the subject, the point of view behind this expression is clearest. Agni, as a god, has the power to bring wealth to the sacrificer (or protection to the deceased on his journey to heavenly world, etc.). He is prayed to for this purpose, and, since flaming and heating are obvious characteristics of Agni, it is natural that Agni's power to bring wealth, etc., should be associated with his heat and flame. The fire god is asked to " flame wealth to us " in the same way that rain gods might be asked to " rain wealth to us," or a river god to " flow wealth to us." When the subject is the sacrificer, the point of view is less easily perceived. The sacrificer performs a ritual or by some other means acquires a power (i. e., by means of the law of Varuna) to bring about a certain desired situation. In the example of AV. VI, 132, 1-5 above, the sacrificer's ritual activity in acquiring this power gives him heat which then becomes characteristic of him and is associated with this power which he has acquired.

This conception of heat in connection with the sacrificer is indicated among the verbal forms of tap in the RV. only, RV. IV, 2, 6, where the sacrificer " heats his head." The whole subject is discussed more fully in Chapter XXII.


The most consistent use of these forms is the use of the perfect passive participle, tapta. It appears nine times, four times with gharma (RV. 1, 112, 7; RV. I, 119, 6; RV. V, 30, 1~; RV. VII, 103, 9) and two passages where gharma is obviously to be supplied (RV. I, 118, 7; RV. X, 39, 9).

1. Of these six occurrences of tapta gharma, four have to do with Atri and the Asvins (Chapter XXXI), RV. I, 118, 7; RV. I, 112, 7; RV. I,. 119, 6; RV. X, 39, 9); one passage has to do with the pravrj ceremony (RV. V, 30, 15); and one with rain (RV. VII, 103, 9). These last two. appear in the discussion of gharma.l

2. Of the other three occurrences of tapta which do not modify gharma, two are discussed in detail elsewhere: RV. IX, 83, 1, where the adjective "of unheated body" (i) describes the raw (soma?), is discussed in Chapter XXXIV; and RV. VII, 104, 5, where the adjective agni-tapta describes the stone-weapons with which Indra and Soma are to roll from the sky, is translated in Chapter VIII. B-5. The one remaining occurrence of tapta is:

3. RV. IV, 1, 6 (to Agni):

Oldenberg (SBE) translates: "His, the fortunate god's, appearance is excellent, and most brilliant among mortals. Like the bright, heated butter of the cow (the appearance) of the god is lovely, like the bountifulness of a milch-cow."

Geldner (HOS) translates sparha as "longed for" ("ersehnt") instead of " lovely," and probably both connotations are present. The god's appearance is "lovely " like the bright heated butter of the cow, and " longed for " like the bountifulness of the milch cow.

The word ghrta here takes the place of gharma in the usual phrase tapta gharma. ghrta may refer to the liquid contents of the tapta gharma. It is evidently used here as a description of Agni's color. At RV. II, 35, 11 the ghrta is called hiranyavarna " gold-colored," an adjective used of Agni as Apam Napat in the preceding verse, RV. II, 35, 10. Possibly it is only the heated ghrta that has that color.

There seems to be no doubt that ghrta is liquid. At least where it is used as a libation into Agni (RV. V, 14, 3), but is it always liquid? If Grassmann (WB) is correct that it means fat or the fat part of the milk, a form of butter, it might be liquid only when heated. A worthwhile investigation could be made of precisely what operations the Vedic peoples performed on the raw milk, how much separation took place, and what was done with each of the products.


The remaining seven forms of the participles and the verbal adjective present various degrees of obscurity. There are two occurrences of the present active participle:

1. RV. V, 43, 7 (to all the gods):

" As a beloved son is set on (the lap of his) father, the gharma is set on the fire according to the rta. (That is the gharma) which the skillful (priests) anoint, just as (they anoint the Barhis) when they spread (it) out, (and that is the gharma which the priests are) heating with fire just as (they heat with fire the sacrificial animal) which has fat inside it."

This passage is filled with difficulties, and the translation is largely guesswork, but, from the standpoint of heat, the construction is clear enough. Evidently, padas(b) and (d) are parallel: the gharma is heated by fire just as the priests heat the vapavantam, " that which is fat," which implies that the gharma, too, has fat (butter or a buttery mixture) inside it. vapavantam occurs only here in the RV. and vapa not at all. Grassmann (WB) translates it "provided with fat," and cites as a parallel Agni's ghrtavantam yonim at RV. X, 91, 4.

Griffith says the vapa is the omentum or membrane enfolding the intestines of the victim, specially offered to gods in the Vapahuti sacrifice. This meaning of omentum is also given by Monier-Williams for the later literature ("Vajasaneyi Samhita etc.."). It is used also by Geldner (HOS) .

If it is indeed the sacrificial animal that the priests are "heating" (tapantas), it recalls RV, X, 16, 4 where Agni heats the sacrificial goat which is his share.2

2. RV. IX, 107, 20 (to Soma):

" Both night and day, Soma, am I at your udder, brown one, for friendship. We fly like birds yonder over the sun that heats with burning heat."

Certainly this passage seems to mean that " I," the singer, after drinking Soma "night and day," am now intoxicated to the extent that we are very heated up (physically and mentally) and seem to fly like birds beyond the sun. This idea Geldner (HOS) apparently agrees with, and it would certainly fit in with Hauer's concept of ecstatic practices.3

Whether or not this is really the case, it is no coincidence that reference is made to birds around the sun. In Chapter XXXI, I discuss RV. V, 73, 5 (to the Asvins) and translate it " When Surya mounted your ever-swift chariot, around you (Asvins) the red birds (i. e., that sun's rays) choose (i. e., bring) heats with heat." The pertinent part of the text is padas (c) and (d):




More literal weapons of Indra and the Maruts are tapistha at:

1. RV. III, 30, 16 (to Indra):

" The (hostile) cry of the unfriendly among us is heard. Among them strike down a most hot bolt."

The avamair arnitrair, the "unfriendly among us," are the same as the antaran amitran at RV. III, 18, 2.4 The asani is apparently the thunder bolt.

2. RV. X, 89, 12 (to Indra):

" Pierce the false friends with the hottest weapon as if with the stone (which) you have hurled from the sky."

Heinrich Luders has a long article on Hesant, Hesa, Hesas, Acta Orientalia, Vol. 13, 1935, pages 81-127 (also in Philologica Indica, published in 1940, pages 751-784).



" Burn against the Bhanguravant demons, Agni, with poison, with sharp flame, and with heat-pointed spears."

3. RV. IV. 4, 2 (to Agni):

" Send out rays freely in all directions, Agni, and winged heats with your tongue (against our enemies)." 2

4. RV. VIII, 23, 14 (to Agni):

Agni is asked to: " Burn down with heat, the guileful demons."

5. RV. VII, 104, 5 (to Indra-Soma):

Indra and Soma together are asked to " roll about the sky with fire-heated stone weapons " and to pierce " the Atrins with ageless heat-weapons."

In the same hymn,

6. RV. VII, 104, 2 (to Indra-Soma):

" O Indra-Soma, let heat boil up like the pot on a fire against the wicked (man) who carries out a ritual for an evil purpose." 3

7. RV. X, 182, 3 (to Brhaspati):

Brhaspati is addressed in two passages. "May he (Brhaspati) whose head is hot injure with heat the Raksasas who are Brahman-haters in order that his arrow may slay them."

8. RV. II, 30, 4 (to Brhaspati):

"Brhaspati, with heat like a lightning-bolt, pierce the raiders,

( ? ), the Asura's henchmen." 5

In three passages the Maruts are addressed:

9. RV. II, 34, 9 (to the Maruts):

"With heat, with a wheel roll against him (and) beat away, O Rudras, the weapon of the enemy."

Is this another way of saying " with a swift wheel " ?

10. RV. VI, 62, 8 (to the Asvins):

"What anger of the gods, O heaven and Earth, has been from ancient times on earth and among mortals, make that an evil heat for the (man) associated with demons, O Adityas, Vasavas, Maruts."

Geldner (HOS) in his notes to this passage refers to RV. VII, 104, 2 ~ in which verse the words agham tapur both appear. In that verse, however, they occur in different padas, and there is justification for separating them in meaning, and making agham the object of abhi, and tapur the object of yayastu: ". . . let heat boil up . . . against the wicked (man)." Geldner (HOS) translates this: ". . . soll die bose Glut sieden . . ."

However, I see no reasonable way they can be separated in RV. VI, 62, 8. But does the word, agha, elsewhere describe something directed by the priest, or by the gods, against the enemy, rather than the other way around ?

Heat and anger are here comparable to heat and fury (manyu and tapas) at RV. X, 83, 2 and 3.

tapus is used in connection with ritual enemies in an additional passage addressed to the Maruts.

11. RV. VI, 52, 2 (to the Maruts):

This passage appears to mean: " May (his) crooked deeds be heats to him (rather than to us), O Maruts, both he who contests our spell and he who slanders (our) correct procedure. May the sky burn against that Brahman-hater."

This verse is repeated with minor variations at AV. II, 12, 6 where pada (d) reads: brahmadvisam dyaur abhisamtapati.


tapus is used to describe Agni where enemies are not directly mentioned.

1. RV. VII, 3, 1 (to Agni):

". . . (Agni) who is established among mortals, Rta-possessing, heat-headed, fed with melted butter, and clarifying."

2. RV. VIII, 23, 4 (to Agni):

" It rises up and out, the ageless flame of his, (Agni), the shining, the heat-toothed, of beautiful brightness, of outstanding followers."

His " followers " are either his flames or, as Sayan. a says, his priests.

3. RV. I, 58, 5 (to Agni):

" (Agni) the heat-toothed, driven by the wind, puffs away in the wood like a bull triumphant in the herd."

4. RV. III, 35, 3 (to Indra):

" Do you, bull who has Svadha, guide hither the two tapus-protecting bulls and care for them."

The two bulls are evidently the two steeds which in verses 1 and 2 have been yoked to the chariot bringing Indra "here."

Sayana interprets tapuspa as "tapus-protecting," that is, protecting from the enemy's heat. Griffith and Grassmann interpret it as " drinking the warm libation: somewhat as the payaspa used to describe the Asvins' horse at RV. I, 181, 2. Geldner agrees with Sayana and suggests a similarity with the Asvins' flying horses at RV. V, 73, 5 and RV. IV, 43, 6. But he suggests the alternative possibility that " tapuspota is irregular Sandhi for -pa (h) uta" and would mean that Indra is to see that they do not over-heat on their trip. In any case, as he says, tapus here does not refer to the gharma-drink, as the payas-pa probably does in connection with the Asvins' horses.

The real meaning of this verse is totally obscure.

5. RV. III, 39, 3 (to Indra):

" The mother of the twins gave birth to THE twins there. The flying (thought) has reached right to the tip of the tongue. When they were born the twins acquired brilliant lights. Darkness-destroying they arrived at the base of heat.... "

Griffith, Grassmann, and Geldner (HOS) agree with Sayana that the twins are the Agvins and their mother Dawn. Oldenberg would have the twins be Rc and Saman, their mother, Vac.

For pada (b) Geldnercites:

RV. VI, 9, 5 (to Agni):

This he translates: " der Gedanke, der unter den fliegenden (Wesen) das schnellste ist . . . "

Geldner's note to (d) is particularly interesting: "budhne here and in RV. X, 77, 4 is used as a preposition, as is agre. agre and budhne' are well-known opposites. In RV. X, 77, 4 budhne is used of space, here of time, as ogre in PV. VII, 15, 5. tapusah means 'of the fire,' so that the three acknowledged divinities of morning (RV. IV, 13, 1; RV. V, 76, 1; RV. X, 35, 6; RV. III, 20, 1, etc.) are together in this verse. Sayana interprets tapusah as the day."

By the " three divinities of morning," Geldner means, the Asvins, Dawn, and Fire.


One interesting fact to be observed here is that all the passages listed under Section B. and C. are found either in Books I to IX or in Book X in hymn 87 or before; but all the passages listed here in D. or below in E. are found in Book X in hymns 109 OR AFTER.

tapas is traditionally an attribute of the ancient Rsis.

1. RV. X, 109, 1

Here is a list of ancient and honorable things, Beings and Gods, which " first proclaimed the sin against the Brahman." It is not entirely clear what all these things are.

The boundless ocean (akuparah salilo) and matarisvan are clear. But tapas is neuter singular, and cannot be modified by the adjectives " of firm flame," (viduharas), which is plural, nor by " strong " (ugro) and " productive " (mayobhur) both of which are masculine. Pada (d) names the " heavenly waters, first-born by the Rta."

2. In verse 4 of the same hymn, " The seven Rsis of old sat down for tapas " ( . .purva saptarsayas tapase ye niseduh. . . ). The verb ni-sad " sit down " has a technical devotional meaning, and this pada might be translated freely: "The seven Rsis of old undertook the religious activities required for tapas."

In a funeral hymn, tapas appears six times in three verses:

3. RV. X, 154, 2

" Those who (become) unassailable by tapas, who reached the sky by tapas, who created mighty great tapas by their actions, just to these very ones, (the Fathers) may he (the dead) go."


Alfred Hillebrandt, Vedic Mythology (1981 English edition, vol 2 pp 259-60)

LC#: BL 1112.26.H5413 1980 v.2

The belief that the Manes shine as stars in the sky has likewise its adherents in India.22 We find that several stars are associated with the changes in nature and that the names of important Rsis occur again in those of celestial stars. "Whenever Agastya rises," says Al-Beruni,23 "and the water increases in the rivers and valleys during his time, you see the rivers offering to the moon all that is on the surface of their water..." Agastya, who bears the epithet kumbhayoni in classical Sanskrit,24 is already known from the Veda because of his relation to the Maruts. If we seek to discover further traces of the Vedic star cult, we should refer above all to the testimony of Hiranyakesin (HGS I. 22. 14 ff.) who enjoins the worship of the Naksatras, moon, the seven Rsis with Arundhati, and the Pole Star during the first installation of fire in the domestic hearth.25 The Pole Star bears the designation naksatranam methi; it is addressed as brahman, dhruva, acyuta, avyathamana, nabhya sarvasya; the first formula for him is followed by namo brahmanah putraya prajapataye, brahmanah putrebhyo devebhyas trayastrimsebhro namo brahmanah putrapautrebhyo 'ngirobhyah. Thus we find in the Grhya ritual a glorification of the Pole Star and of the seven Rsis, i.e. the stars in the Great Bear,26 and likewise occasionally in the Srauta ritual as well. One wishes that the sacrifice and the sacrificer may reach "the world of the seven benevolent Rsis"27 and makes an offering for them in the north-east during the Agnihotra.28

[28. KSS IV.14.27. When a comet obscures them, it means danger, see Weber, Omina und Portenta, p. 396.]

They are mentioned already in the oldest tradition. It was the "seven Rsis, our fathers," who through sacrifice obtained Trasadasyu as son for the wife of Purukutsa when she was in distress (RV IV. 42. 8). They settled down (in the heavens) to practice tapas,29 with the five Adhvaryus they guard "the hidden foot print of the bird"30 and are obviously identical with the seven mythical Vipras, Rebhas, Karus, Hotrs who stand next to the gods and ancestors,3l who have taken part in the recovery of the cows,32 sacrificed at first along with Manu,33 and are to be regarded as the archetypes for the seven terrestrial Hotrs who have their place at the seven hearths in the sacrifice.34 The dhisnyas of the Hotr and his companions are constructed with special mantras within the Vihara, each dhisnya being slightly more to the north than the previous one. It would be worth investigating if these dhisnyas also, like the other constituents of the sacrifice, have a symbolical significance and correspond roughly to the abodes of "the Seven celestial Hotrs."35

In this context another point may be mentioned. In verse III.7 7 cited above "the five Adhvaryus" are mentioned along with the seven Rsis; from this juxtaposition it would seem that this designation too does not refer to the professional priests of the sacrificial place but to certain models in the sky who move to and fro as the Adhvaryus do.36 It seems to me that here we have an allusion to the five planets. Otherwise we seek in vain for a mention of the planets in the hymns of the RV. In view of the ritual origin of the Vedic hymns, this comparison is not unusual.

From these five we should distinguish the other five who "stand in the middle of the sky" (I 105.10).37 The choice of the words indicates that here it is not the planets which are meant but a never-setting, fixed, hence a circumpolar constellation.


Back to Heat in the Rig Veda and Atharva Veda



Twenty passages from the RV. and AV. (six and fourteen respectively) have been collected which refer directly to the heat of the sun.


These passages have the following peculiarities:

1. The sun is given the name Surya in the majority of passages (twelve out of twenty) and appears to be the name characteristically given to the sun when the sun's heat is mentioned; names given in other passages are as follows:

2. The word "propitiously" (sam) is used as the kind of sun-heating desired by the priest toward himself, because the sun is capable of fierce action against enemies, etc.

Passages with sam: RV. VIII, 18, 9: sam nas tapatu suryas (the same text as AV. VII, 69, 1) (see II. C-9) AV. VIII, 1, 5: suryas te tanvo sam tapati (see III.C-9) AV. VIII, 2, 14: sam te surya a tapatu (see III. C-8)

Similar phrases occur at AV. XVIII, 4, verses 9 (twice) and 11, and AV. XVIII, 2, 36 with the funeral fire as the subject and the deceased as the object. (see III.C-4; III.C-3; and III.C-2).


1. RV. I, 191, 9 (a-b) reads: "that Surya flew up (to the sky), burning everything " (ud apaptad asau suryah puru visvani jurvan) . (c-d) is repeated verbatim at AV. VI, 52, 1, where (a-b) reads: " Surya goes up in the sky, burning down demons." (ut suryo diva eti puro raksansi ni jurvan ) .

2. At AV. VIII, 6, 12 " They who do not endure yonder sun, burning down from the sky . . .''1 (ye suryam na titiksanta atapantam amum divah) titiksanta from root tij, " sharpen," here apparently means "endure." It is hard to see how the idea of sharpening can be directly or indirectly present. This desiderative form appears also at RV. II, 13, 3 and RV. III, 30, 1, neither of which is entirely clear; in the latter passage it seems to mean "ward off."

3. At RV. V, 79, 9 (to Dawn) " May the Sun 2 not injure you (Dawn) with heat, with (his) ray, as if (you were) a treacherous thief." (net tva stenam yatha ripum tapati suro arcisa).


1. RV. X, 60, 11: "Surya heats downward." (nyak tapati suryas).

2. AV. XII, 1, 20: "Agni3 heats forth from the sky." (agnir diva a tapati).

3. AV. XIII, 2, 13: " Atri maintained (adharayat) Surya in the sky (divi) to make the months (masaya kartave)," and Surya is described as going "well-maintained" (sudhrtas), "heating" (tapan), and "looking down on all creations" (visva bhutavacakasat).

4. At AV. XIX, 53, 6 (to Kala, "time") the "sun heats in time" (kale tapati suryas) .

5. In AV. XIII, 3, verse 13, the sun as Agni "becomes Varuna in the evening; rising in the morning he becomes Mitra; becoming Savitar he goes through the atmosphere; becoming Indra he heats the sky from the center" (tapati madhyato, divam). He is said to heat only when he "becomes Indra" and after he reaches the center of the sky. "Be- coming Indra " probably means that he reaches his fullest strength. In verse 16 his "far-stretched bodies (i.e., rays) heat the sky" (urdhva divam tanvas tapanti).

6. In AV. XVII, 1, 17 the sun (as Indra or Visnu) is said to "heat upward with five ( ? ) " (pancabhih paran tapasi) and to heat " downward with one ( ? ) " (ekayarvan).

7. At AV. X, 8, 19 the sun " heats far and wide by Truth " (satyenordhvas tapati).

8. In AV. XIII, 2, verse 25 the sun, as Rohita, having tapas, mounts the sky by tapas (divam aruhat tapasa tapasvi.), and in verse 40 he "thoroughly heats the sky" (aty atapad divam).




Some of the clearest parallels between Agni's actions and Indra's, with his weapons, occur in passages directed against enemies. In the pattern phrases containing root tap or derivatives,3 the difference between Indra's action and Agni's is clear. In nine phrases in six verses Indra's heat-action is accomplished specifically with heat-weapons,4 except for two passages. In one of these two, RV. VII, 104, 1, no means of heating is given. In the other, RV. VI, 22, 8, the means is "flame" (socisa) which recalls phrases with Agni as the subject. Considering the low comparative frequency of these two passages it is not too much to assume that the flame of Indra's weapons is meant.

Agni, on the other hand, is his own weapon, and therefore weapons are mentioned as such in only one phrase out of the nineteen in which Agni is the subject,5 at RV. X, 87, 23.


In other passages against enemies where forms of the root tap do not occur, Indra is asked to "scorch the unholy Dasyus like a vessel with flame" (RV. I, 175, 3: ..6,sah patram na socisa). This means: scorch the Dasyus as AGNI scorches a vessel with flame. In another verse, Indra is asked to "burn down the Dasyus from the sky" (RV. I, 33, 7: . . . avadaho diva a dasyum . . .). Indra's vajra roars, and being friendly to man is asked to burn down whatever is unfriendly to man (amanusam is literally "anti-man") (RV. II, 11, 10: aroravld vrsno asya vajro 'manusam yan manuso nijurvat . . .) . " Do you (Indra and Soma) fashion from the mountains that thundering bolt with which you burn down the increasing demon" (RV. VII, 104, 4; equals AV. VIII, 4, 4: . . . ut taksatam svaryam parvatebhyo yena rakso vavrdhanam nijurvathah). The weapon fashioned from the mountains is elsewhere called a "stone," for example, in the following verse of the same hymn, " with an Agni-heated stone weapon " (RV. VII, 104, 5: agnitaptebhis .. . . asmahanmabhis); " a most hot stone " (RV. III, 30, 16: asanim tapistham); the stone of the sky is said to burn down the enemies (RV. II, 30, 5: divo asmanam . . . yena satrum .... nijurvah ...). At RV. X, 96, 4 Indra's vajra is described as sahasrasoka, " thousand-flamed." soka is usually the flame of Agni, literally or figuratively.



According to the traditional interpretation, these verses mean respectively, " You warded off Agni-heat with cold "; " You saved Rebha from Parisuti and opposed with cold the gharma surrounded by heat"; and " For Atri you Asvins covered the gharma with cold." 2. In the discussions of the roots vr, urusy, and upa-star below, it is shown that the translations given above as " ward off," " oppose," and " covered " respectively are possible, but that there are alternate translations which are not only possible but probable. However, no alternate translations are possible if it is necessary that himena mean only "with (i.e., by means of) cold."

I believe there is a good case for himena being used in the meaning "with cold" in the sense of "in the cold time," or "during the cold." For this use of the instrumental, about which there is no question, see Whitney,24 and Macdonell.25 The latter gives the example of RV. I, 86, 6: puribhir dadasima saradbhih and translates "we have worshipped throughout many autumns." Such a meaning of himena would be highly appropriate to the conception of the rbisa as a cold place, and the translations of the three passages given above would make perfectly good sense, using the alternative translations of vr, urusy, and upa-star: " You protected Agni-heat during the cold " (RV. I, 116, 8); " You saved Rebha from Parisuti and (saved) the heated gharma for Atri during the cold" (RV. I, 119, 6); "You Asvins made the gharma a cover for Atri during the cold" (RV. VIII, 73, 3).

3. The fourth occurrence of himena is at RV. VIII, 32, 26 in which Hillebrandt, for entirely different reasons, translates himena as " in winter."

Hillebrandt 26 says that this is reminiscent of an old legend in which Indra splits the ice-demon and thereby makes the waters flow. Ludwig's translation of (c) ". . . mit Winterkalte verwundete er den Arbuda," may be taken as typical of other interpretations. Of it Hillebrandt says: " Ludwig ubersetzt ' mit Winterkalte ' und findet es mit Recht auffallig (V, 155), dass die Winterkalte Indra's Waffe sei."

Therefore himena is definitely open to another interpretation than "by means of cold." It is interesting to note that Hopkins 27 cites the Atri story as evidence that himena signifies " by means of cold " and as evidence that cold is a weapon of Indra's. He says: "Hillebrandt's interpretation 'in winter' is a desperate attempt to annul the absurdity of a sun-god killing with cold weather. But the use of himena elsewhere shows that it is not winter but coldness. The Asvins regularly employ this means to alleviate the extreme heat, gharma, with which Atri was encompassed (e.g., RV. VIII, 73, 3)."

If, however, the Asvins employed heat to help Atri "during the cold time," the " absurdity " which Hopkins mentions need not exist, nor need gharma mean " extreme heat " at RV. VIII. 73. 3 or anywhere else.


oman, omyavat, and omanvat occur in the Atri story in the following passages: RV. I, 112, 7:

RV. I, 118, 7:

RV. VII, 68, 5:

RV. VII, 69, 4:

RV. X. 39. 9:

In line with the traditional interpretation of the Atri story it would be highly desirable to give oman the connotation of strengthening or nourishing cold. Neisser 28 thinks that oman meant " cold " in pre-Vedic times when the story of Atri's rescue was told, but that the Vedic poets to whom a word of this meaning was unknown ( ? ) took it as a derivative of the root av, "help," and used it as such. He further says that this original meaning of oman as "cold" is shown by the fact that of all the cases where the Asvins give help, oman is used only in the Atri story, and that only in this story does "cold" (i.e., himena) play a part.




1. RV. IX, 83, 1:

"Your filter, Brahmanas Pati, is stretched; dominating, you go about (its) limbs from all sides. The raw, of unheated body, does not reach it; only when properly heated do the carriers reach it."

Verse 2:

" The sieve of the hot is stretched in the sky's position; its gleaming threads stand apart. The swift aid its strainer; they mount the sky's back by conscientious thought."

These verses are very difficult and the translations given here admittedly make no sense. Almost every word is a special problem. Nor do previous translations or commentaries offer any help.

tapu in its only other occurrence at RV. II, 4, 6 apparently refers to Agni as the lightning and/or the forest fire, although that passage also is something of a problem.

Elsdon Best, The Astronomical Knowledge of the Maori, Genuine and Empirical [Dominion Museum Monograph No. 3, Wellington, New Zealand, 1922]

LC#: DU423.A85B47 1978 [reprint--first AMS edition]


THE SUN. We have already mentioned several names for the sun, and there are here a few more to record. It was sometimes alluded to as the ra tuoi, the meaning of which is obscure, the ordinary meaning of tuoi being " thin " or " lean." Ra kura (the red sun) is a descriptive name. It has also been shown, in another paper, that Tane is a personified form of the sun, the evidence of which has been gathered from Polynesia, as well as from local sources. The sky was called " the house of Tane." The personal name of the sun, Tama-nui-te-ra, was a common usage in former days, and is still in use, but the Maori has forgotten the signification of Tane. Kau was a name for the sun in Egypt; among the Maori the word was used in a curious way connected with the movements of the heavenly bodies. Ra, the old Egyptian name for the sun, was also its ordinary appellation in Maoriland. In that old land the sun was the principal deity, and had many manifestations. Thus the setting sun was known as Ra-tum, and by a singular coincidence the expression ra tumu means " the setting sun " in eastern Polynesia.

Tama-nui-te-ra is, as shown, the personified form of the sun. When the vessel " Takitumu " made her voyage from Tahiti to New Zealand the sailing-instructions were as follows: " Keep the bow of the vessel carefully on Venus during the night, and during daylight follow behind Tama-nui-te-ra " (" Kia pai te takoto o te ihu o te waka i runga i a Kopu i te po, i te awatea ka whai i muri i a Tama-nui-te-ra").

The following is another old usage, as employed to denote the time of day: " Kaore ano i poutu a Tama-nui-te-ra " (" The sun had not yet reached the meridian "). Poutumaro is another term applied to the sun when on the meridian. Another form is, " Kia moiri a Tama-nui-te-ra ka whakatika ai " (" When the sun is well up we will start ").

This name of Tama-nui-te-ra was also known at the Chatham Isles. See Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 6, page 166, where he is mentioned in a charm employed to restore animation to persons afflicted by faintness, &c.

Another name for the sun is Tama-uawhiti. In one old myth the name of Hiringa is applied to the sun in connection with the singular belief that the sun represents knowledge--the higher kinds of knowledge. This name is evidently an abbreviated form of that of Tane-i-te-hiringa, who is the personified form of such knowledge. This is a very curious connection, but we must bear in mind that it was Tane, the personified form of the sun, who ascended to the uppermost of the twelve heavens in order to obtain from the Supreme Being the three tapu baskets of occult knowledge. With these may be compared the three sacred books of the Hindus, which are called the " three baskets of knowledge."

We now come to another singular name connected with the sun--that of Te-Manu-i-te-ra. This may be rendered as " The Bird from [or at] the sun." Stowell identifies this as a name for a comet. White gives the following as an old saying: Hoatu; tenei ano to taua tipuna, a Te Manu-i-te-ra, e tu iho nei " (" Proceed; here indeed is our ancestor, the Manu-i-te-ra, standing above"). The application is not explained. The Rev. R. Taylor states that this Manu-i-te-ra lived on the mountain of Hikurangi, which death could not reach. This was probably a Mount Hikurangi of the original home-land of the race, or possibly a mythical place. A curious myth concerning this being and Tawhaki, who is connected with lightning, is recorded at page 22 of Mr. Percy Smith's Peopling of the North.*

* See further notes under " Comets."


THE STARS. We now come to the younger members of the Whanau Marama, the " little suns " of Maori lore, and here we shall encounter many quaint concepts, many peculiar myths, singular superstitions, and a certain amount of genuine knowledge. Like unto the old-time folk of Babylonia, the Maori was much given to studying the heavens in former times. As Bevan says of the former people, in his Land of the Two Rivers, they gazed at the expanse of the night skies in the belief that the fortunes of men somehow depended upon signs in the heavens; and that is precisely what the Maori did believe.

All peoples cherish myths and fanciful ideas concerning the stars, for such curious conceptions are evolved by all races of the lower culture-stages, and are retained when such races attain a higher civilization. The peculiar fables and beliefs to be given in this paper may be paralleled in western lands, and similar things are found embedded in our own folk-lore.

It is certain that the list of star-names given herein is by no means complete, but few endeavours have ever been made to collect Maori star-lore, and it is now too late to rescue it. The men who knew have passed away. We had no Ellis among New Zealand missionaries, few of whom took any intelligent interest in the history, beliefs, and usages of this most interesting people. The late learned man Te Matorohanga stated that there was much to be said concerning many of the stars; and he was a man much given to the study of the heavens. The fixing of Maori star-names is by no means always easy, for the average person among us needs a planisphere to refer to when making inquiries, and such is not always to hand. Nor is it often convenient to have one's native authority at one's side at night-time. Star-names differ, in some cases, among, different tribes.

Artemus Ward observed: " I can partly perceive how astronomers weigh the sun, and ascertain the component elements of the heavenly bodies by the aid of spectrum analysis, but what beats me about the stars is how we came to know their names." It is not recorded as to how the Maori came to know their names either, but in a number of cases such star-names are known far and wide across Polynesia.

We have already seen that there is often a definite meaning in Maori myths, but our minds are slow to grasp the allegorical concepts in which such meanings were rendered and conserved. In his work on Primitive Traditional History Hewitt tenders some enlightening remarks on the myths of the lower races, their personification of phenomena, and mythopoetical allegories we deride as puerile. He tells us that such myths were framed for the instruction of the people, and that we misinterpret them by treating the actors described as living human beings. Concerning these myths he proceeds: " They told of the recurrence of the seasons, the annual phases of the growth of the crops, the ways of birds and beasts, &c.; and in these the winds, the rain, the stars, sun and moon, and all animate and inanimate objects were depicted as human beings, the meaning being explained to the children whose natural guardians the narrators were." He adds that, in order to understand these things, " it is necessary to enter into their modes of thought, understand their symbolisms, to see things as they saw them." He might have added that such myths are the natural, and apparently inevitable, result of universal personification .

There exists no monograph on the subject of Maori star-lore--no paper of any importance. Such matter as has been placed on record is in the form of brief or incomplete notes in a number of publications. Taylor's star-notes in Te Ika a Maui are sadly jumbled. Few men have been field-workers in Maori lore; thus many of the works dealing with such material simply contain rewritten data from previous publications. White gives an account of what he calls an astronomical school, and says that special houses were built in native villages in former times for the specific purpose of teaching therein the star-lore of the Maori. He even gives the dimensions of such houses. His English version of this story is not a translation of the Maori part. In the latter we find the following: " He tini nga whare penei o te pa kotahi " (" There were very many of such houses in a single fortified village "). This is absurd; and, what is more, no house was ever built by the Maori merely to teach star-lore in. White's remarks about the special schoolhouse for agricultural lore are equally erroneous. A special house was sometimes erected in which to teach tapu knowledge, but there was no restriction to one subject; all such matter was taught therein--historical and genealogical records, myth and religion, ritual formulae, and star-lore, with many other matters. He remarks that it was a very tapu house, but that food was eaten in it--a thing that could not be done in even a dwellinghouse.

In the Maori tongue a star is termed whetu, the final vowel being long. This word, and such variant forms as fetu, hetu, and etu, is known far across Polynesia, also in Melanesia. In far off Nuguria, in the Solomon Isles, we find hetu = a star, and it is also applied to a comet there, as it is by the Maori. Whetu ao is a planet, and tatai whetu a constellation. Kahui whetu is also employed to denote a constellation, as also the word huihui (assembly), as in Te Huih1ui o Mataviki (The Assembly of the Pleiades). In mythopoetical lore, as we have seen, the stars are the younger members of the Whanau Marama, and are termed the ra ririki (little suns). The heavenly bodies are also collectively known as the whanau puhi and whanau ariki (high-born family). These names seem to be in some cases conjoined, as whanau puhi ariki. The meaning of the word puhi in this connection is not clear. The winds are also known by that name, as in " the whanau puhi a Tawhirimatea " (" the wind family of Tawhirimatea"). Again, whanau punga and whetu punga are terms applied to the small stars of the Milky Way.

Williams gives tatai arorangi as an expression meaning "to study the heavens for guidance in navigation, &c." A tangata tatai arorangi is the person who so studies them--an astronomer, if the term be permissible. An interesting note, a brief remark made by an old native of much knowledge, seems to show that this expression was employed to denote the personified form of astronomical knowledge: " Ko Tatai-arorangi he kai arataki i te ra " ("Tatai-arorangi is a conductor or guide of the sun "). Stowell gives tohunga kokorangi as signifying an astronomer, an adept in star-lore.

We have some quaint remarks on the subject of the stars, as gathered from native sources. An old man of the Awa folk, of Te Teko, spoke as follows: " There is no limit to the world according to Maori belief, and I was taught that there are persons in the heavens. When sky and earth were separated some of the offspring of Rangi were left on high, as Whaitiri, and Poutini, Tautoru, Matariki, Tama-rereti, Whanui, Kopu, Autahi, Te Mangoroa, Te Whakaruru-hau, Takero, and Tangotango, the multitudinous stars of the heavens, who dwell there as supernormal beings. Other supernatural offspring remain on earth." The above names represent star-names, as we shall see anon. The same man was responsible for the following discourse: " The Maori folk of Aotearoa possessed much knowledge in regard to regulating the year. Gaze upon the stars that are situated in the heavens; they regulate the days, nights, months, and seasons. People say that the moon dies. Not so; the moon never dies; it clings to its elder (the sun) for a space. Each has its own realm, the elder and the younger, but the elder one is much the more powerful of the two. They do not cling together as two persons do [in marriage]. A brace of days and nights and the moon is again seen by the Maori folk. So it goes on until the moon again becomes aged."

Te Matorohanga, of Wairarapa, remarked: " Now, be clear as to the sun, moon, and their younger relatives the stars. All these are worlds, and possess soil, plains, water, stones, trees mountains, and open country. It was the ocean, the waters, that formed the plains and open lands you see. Mataaho and Whakaruaumoko (personified forms of volcanic upheavals and earthquakes) were the dread beings who altered the aspect of the plains and waters of all land."

In his introduction to The Lore of the Whare Wananga Mr. S. Percy Smith remarks on the frequency with which one meets with the number twelve in Maori lore. He proceeds: " When we consider also the thread of astronomical and meteorological ideas that permeate much of the teaching we can scarce avoid a suspicion that the whole philosophy was based largely and originally upon astronomy. It is certain that the Polynesians were accurate observers of celestial phenomena.... They gave a name to the celestial equator and every prominent star, and were fully aware of the rotundity of the earth, as proved by the fact of finding new stars as they went farther north or south. It may be that the number (twelve) of the heavens is connected with the twelve months and the twelve signs of the zodiac, and that this is the origin of their cosmogony."

Samuel Laing tells us in Human Origins how barbaric man " watched the phases of the moon, counted the planets, followed the sun in its annual course, marking it first by seasons, and, as science advanced, by its progress through groups of fixed stars fancifully defined as constellations." Also how, as observations accumulated, it was found that the sun, and not the moon, regulates the seasons.

Evidences of Star-worship. The evidence in favour of the former existence of a form of astrolatry among the Maori folk is but meagre, but there is sufficient to show that certain planets and stars were invoked in connection with food-supplies and firstfruits ceremonial.

The Pleiades were venerated by the Maori, and the heliacal rising of that constellation was greeted by women with song and dance. The occasion was marked by a festival. In the north, where the cosmic rising of Rigel marked the beginning of the new year, a similar festival marked the event. Canopus is another star the appearance of which was greeted as was that of the Pleiades, though apparently no festival was held. The Pleiades were also venerated at Manihiki and the Cook Group. Offerings of young shoots of the sweet potato were made to the Pleiades by the Maori.

The following evidence, given by Tutakangahau, of the Tuhoe Tribe, is good proof of a former star cult. Priestly adepts gathered young, new growth of plants, termed the mata o te tau and, taking them to the tuahu (place where rites were performed), there offered them to the stars that were believed to " bring food," as it was termed--that is, influenced the growth of food products, as also fish and game. As the offering was made certain ritual was intoned, in which such stars were mentioned and beseeched to cause a bountiful supply of foodstuffs--to send much food. Young growth of both cultivated and forest foods were so offered up. The ceremonial also prevented anything afflicting crops; it caused them to flourish. The invocation is as follows:--

Here Tuputuputu (one of the Magellan Clouds) and Atutahi (Canopus), mounting the heavens, are asked to cause all the new year's products to flourish. The ritual chant is much longer, but consists of a repetition of these three lines, a new star-name being introduced in each repetition. Thus are the names of Sirius, Vega, and other important stars introduced.

Some anthropologists believe that the folk of lower culture-stages inferred life from motion in the case of the heavenly bodies, and so came to recognize them as supernormal beings and gods.

In Te Ika a Maui Taylor states that a chief of Waitotara who was versed in star-lore, introduced among his clan a system of star-worship, each star having its karakia, or form of ritual when it was in the ascendant. Heliacal Rising of Stars. It is a noteworthy fact that the Maori relied on the cosmic rising of stars in his utilization of them as marking seasons phases of industry, periods of time, &c. In the Cook Group the year commenced when the Pleiades were first seen in the evening sky, but in New Zealand it was the heliacal rising of that group that marked the new year.

The passage of time during the night and the approach of dawn were notified to the Maori by the positions of the stars the Milky Way being a much used harbinger of dawn. References to this old practice often occur in old narratives, as " When Venus appeared above the horizon," or " As the stars of morning rose," and so on.

Some very curious auguries and omens were derived from the stars, and this is one reason why certain persons closely and persistently scanned them. A star in a position close to the moon excited much interest, the omen depending upon its position. If it is " biting "--that is, near--the mata o hoturoa, or cusp of the crescent moon, it betokens the approach of an enemy force. Such omens often caused natives to take careful precautions against being surprised.

An East Coast native made the following remarks: " Venus as morning star is called Tawera. Sirius, the Pleiades, and Orion's Belt are important seasonal stars. Canopus marks the coming of frost, and from the Milky Way are derived weather-signs, while the Magellan Clouds warn us of coming winds. The star Whai-tiri-papa belongs to February and March, and gives important signs regarding sea-fish. Vega marks the autumn season, and the Pleiades a plenitude of food-supplies; hence the aphorismic utterance regarding it scooping up food products of land and sea." Undoubtedly the Maori looked upon stars as fecundators, while terra mater was the passive agent.

The natives held peculiar views regarding stars. An old man of the Awa folk, of Whakatane district, informed me that he was a matatuhi, or seer, and that one of his ancestors, Te Rewha, warned him of any approaching danger. This helpful ancestor of his seems to have been represented by a star, or to have utilized stars as a means of signalling to his kinsman of this world.

The following remarks on stars were collected by the late Mr. G. H. Davies: " The Pleiades hold the highest rank among the stars, inasmuch as they usher in the new year and are also visible at its close. These are the phases: in the twelfth month [of the Maori year] they set, to return again with the new year. The task of Canopus is that of making itself important Rigel is hostile to the Pleiades because it wishes to rule the year itself. Venus announces coming daylight and the afflictions of mankind; most of her warnings are of evil things."

The rude beginning of the study of the stars consisted of observing them with the naked eye, and this condition must have continued far on the long road that leads to civilization. This fact, however, does not show that other helps, however rude, may not have been devised and employed by uncultured folk. One of the very rudest is mentioned in a paper contributed by Mr. H. Beattie, of Gore, to the Journal of the Polynesian Society (vol. 27, page 145). An old South Island native gave him certain information about the stars, and the writer continues: " When he (the native) was a lad at Temuka he had seen his father put sticks in the ground, and observe the stars. If the observed star moved south the season would be bad; if it moved north the season would be dry and good. One of the stars by which he made his nightly observations was Wero-i-te-ninihi, and the narrator said he could point this and other stars out; but, alas ! the collector is no astronomer, and did not accept the offer." Now, surely the above contrivance must have been the very rudest forerunner of our modern observatories.

There is one advantage that the Maori held in his naked-eye studies of the stars, and that was in the possession of extremely keen eyesight. This power of the natives has astonished the present writer when sojourning among them. Colenso tells us that they could see Jupiter's satellites, and not only seven stars of the Pleiades, but also several others.


THE PLEIADES.--This far-famed star group has been exalted and venerated by many races from time immemorial. Innumerable myths are connected with it, and the Pleiades year has been an institution over a great area of the world for many, many centuries. There is much of sameness in the myths clustering around this group, and those of the Greeks are such as were evolved by barbaric folk. Most star-myths are puerile, though some have a meaning that is concealed beneath a childish fable.

The old myth we are acquainted with tells us that the Pleiades are the seven daughters of Pleione and Atlas, who, on being harassed, were turned into doves and flew up to the heavens. One of them is invisible because she married a mortal. The Maori tells us that Matariki, their name for the group, is a female. Our native friends have a habit of so speaking of a constellation as though it were a single star. An old star-gazing friend of the writer said that six stars are plainly seen in Matariki, but that a seventh is faintly visible. Colenso writes: " I found that the Maori could see more stars in the Pleiades with the unaided eye than I could, for, while I could only see clearly six stars, they could see seven, and sometimes eight." Pio, of Ngati-Awa, gave the names of the six prominent stars of the group as Tupua-nuku, Tupua-rangi, Waiti, Waita, Waipuna-a-rangi, and Ururangi. He makes a curious remark that may possibly mean that Matariki is the name of a single star of the group, in which case we have the name of seven. He says: " I will now tell you about another ancestor in the heavens, one Matariki, and her six children." He then gives the six names as recorded above. Elsewhere in his voluminous manuscript he remarks that the assembly of Matariki came down to earth, leaving Poutini, another star, on high.

We have already noted a fable that shows Matariki to be the offspring of Raro and Raumati, the personified forms of earth (or the underworld) and of summer. The expressions paki o Matariki, paki o Ruhi, paki o Hewa, and paki o Rangi denote fine weather.

The task of Matariki, say the Maori, is to keep moving in a cluster, to foretell lean and fat seasons, and bring food-supplies to man; hence the name of Ao-kai is applied to it. An old saying is, " When Matariki is seen, then game is preserved "; for it marked the season when such food-supplies have been procured and preserved in fat in certain vessels. (Ka kitea a Matariki, kua maoka te hinu.)

The Tuhoe folk say that if the stars of Matariki appear to stand wide apart, then a warm and bountiful season follows but should they seem to be close together it betokens a cold season marked by scarcity. Another version is that if the stars of this group are indistinctly seen at the time of its heliacal rising and they seem to quiver or move, then a cold season follows. If they are plainly seen at that time--stand out distinctly--a warm, plentiful season ensues. Hence we hear the saying, Nga kai a Matariki, nana i ao ake ki runga (The food-supplies of Matariki, by her scooped up).

" The assembly of Matariki and Tangotango," remarked an old native, " are seen on the breast of their forbear Rangi, seen paddling their canoe." Another states that the group disappears on the 16th May, and reappears on the 16th June in the tail of the Milky Way. Again, the Maori says: " When Matariki is seen by the eye of man, then the korokoro (lamprey) is caught." Also, Tena nga kanohi kua tikona e MataYiki is a saying denoting wakefulness at night, equivalent to our own saying regarding the dustman. Sir George Grey gives four other sayings: Matariki ahunga nui, Matariki tapuapua, Matariki hunga nui, Matariki kanohi iti. The first refers to the group as provider of plentiful food-supplies; the second to the abundance of pools of water in the winter season of Matariki; the third denotes that Matariki has a numerous following, as of persons engaged in collecting food-supplies (Grey says, because all tribes made offerings of their first sweet potatoes to Matariki); the fourth may be rendered as " small-eyed Matariki," which is also the meaning of the words mata riki.

Nicholas, who visited New Zealand with Marsden in 1814-15, in discussing Maori star-lore, says: " The Pleiades they believe to be seven of their countrymen, fixed after their death in that part of the heavens, and that one eye of each of them, which appears in the shape of a star, is the only part that is visible." It is doubtful if Nicholas was a reliable collector of such lore; the language difficulty would be a serious handicap.

The appearance of the Pleiades was a notable event in Maori- land. It was greeted in two ways--by laments for those who had died recently, and by women with singing and posture dances. The event was marked by a festival, by feasting and universal joy. Parties of women faced the famous star group and greeted it with song and dance.

Turner tells us that at Samoa the Pleiades are known as Li'i and Mata-ali'i (Riki and Mata-ariki); and also that " when the constellation Pleiades was seen there was unusual joy all over the month, and expressed by singing, dancing, and blowing shell trumpets." Again, Jarves states that the Hawaiians held a festival at the commencement of the new year. It was called the Makahiki. It was a long-continued festival, marked by feasting, games, dances, and sham fights.

We have seen that the Maori year commenced with the heliacal rising of the Pleiades, but in the Cook Islands the new year began when that group rose in the evening in December. The Rev. W. W. Gill writes as follows in his Myths and Songs from the South Pacific: " The arrival of the new year was indicated by the appearance of Matariki, or Pleiades, on the eastern horizon just after sunset--i.e., about the middle of December. Hence the idolatrous worship paid to this beautiful cluster of stars in many of the South Sea Islands. The Pleiades were worshipped at Danger Island, and at the Penrhyns down to the introduction of Christianity in 1857. In many islands extravagant joy is still manifested at the rising of this constellation out of the ocean." The same writer tells us that there is a curious connection between the Pleiades and the flying kites of the natives of Mangaia. They have three forms of kites; one is club or diamond shaped, and has attached to its balancing-tail six bunches of feathers to correspond with the six stars of the Pleiades. Another is a winged form with three bunches of feathers to represent the three bright stars in Orion's Belt. The third form is oval, having four bunches of feathers for the Twins and their parents. Extracts from the Rev. W. W. Gill's papers published in vol. 24 of the Polynesian Journal show us the esteem in which the Pleiades were held at the isles of Manihiki and Rakahanga: " Another god they had was Matariki (the Pleiades), which they worshipped. "

At Tahiti the Pleiades are called Matari'i, the " k " being dropped in that dialect; at Horne Island it is Mataliki.

An old Hawaiian myth tells us of one Hina (apparently our old friend the moon) who had as husband one Makalii (Matariki in Maori), who became the Pleiades. This Makalii is spoken of as a storer of food products. Again, in far Peru we find that the Pleiades were highly venerated.

A Mangaia myth has it that the Pleiades originally formed one star, which became broken into six pieces. These folk call Aldebaran " Aumea."

The Pleiades Year.--We have seen that the Pleiades year was a Polynesian institution, and that the Maori of New Zealand seems to have changed the commencement of his year from December to June--that is, from the evening rising to the heliacal rising of the group--since he left the sunny isles of eastern Polynesia behind him. The statement concerning " sunset " at page 97 of Te Kauwae-runga is an error.

In his work on the Polynesian race Fornander states that the Polynesian year was regulated by the rising of the Pleiades, as the month of Makalii began when that constellation rose at sunset--i.e., about the 20th November.

The year beginning in autumn or winter was an ancient institution in south-eastern Asia, and apparently farther west- ward. In his Primitive Traditional History J. F. Hewitt shows that the Pleiades year was an ancient system of time-measurement in India. The beginning of this Indian year was marked by a festival, and its weeks were reckoned by nights. It seems to have commenced in October November. Emigrant Indian races took with them their measurement of time. The Pleiades year obtained in Sumeria, Arabia, Siam, Celtic Britain; the modern Mandaites of Mesopotamia retained it. The Indian year appears to have been marked by the setting of the Pleiades after the sun on the 1st November, according to Hewitt. Stellar reckoning of time, and the ancient institution of the Pleiades year, form an interesting subject, but we cannot, as Maori, pursue it further.


COMETS . The term whetu (star) is often applied to comets by the Maori, but he has a number of other names by which he designates them, such as the following:--

It is quite likely that the name of Tiramaroa is also applied to a comet. This Tiramaroa was described by a native as having long puhihi (rays), which are sometimes directed upwards and sometimes downwards. This looks somewhat like the tail of a comet. It is said to have been seen during the siege of Te Tapiri, in 1865, and again about the time of the Tarawera eruption (1886). Evidently it is neither star nor meteor.

AUAHI-ROA and AUAHI-TUROA are common names for a comet (auahi = smoke; roa = long). A curious myth is attached to Auahi-turoa among the Matatua tribes. He is said to be the offspring of the sun. Now, the son of Tangotango--that is to say, the sun--bethought him of sending his child down to earth in order to convey a boon to mankind. Even so, he said to his son, Auahi-turoa, " Go you and carry a boon to our offspring on earth." Said Auahi-turoa, " In what form shall I bear it ? " The reply was, " Give them five (tokorima). Take your offspring and attach them to those of Hine-te-iwaiwa and of the lightning. Give them fire to bring benefits to man. Do not approach the elder, but deal with the younger. Such is your task."

Thus Auahi-turoa came down to earth to bring a boon to mankind, and that boon was fire. He took to wife here in this world one Mahuika, younger sister of Hine-nui-te-po, the erst Dawn Maid, and she bore the five Fire Children, whose names are the names of the five fingers of the human hand. These are the Fire Children, born on earth, who produce fire for man.

In the secondary myth pertaining to this subject, the origin of fire, Maui begs the fingers of Mahuika as fire for man. After fire took refuge in Hine-kaikomako (personified form of a tree, Pennantia corymbosa) it became necessary for man to grasp and manipulate the fire-generating sticks so as to coax fire from the body of the Lady Kaikomako. So when you see the comet in the heavens, know that it is Auahi-turoa, he who brought fire to mankind. And fire is often called Te Tama a Auahi-roa, or Te Tama a Upoko-roa (the son of Auahi-roa, or of Upoko-roa), because it is the offspring of the comet.

Te Ra (the sun) -->

It is a singular coincidence that, in Persian myth, fire is said to have been the son of the sun and messenger of the gods, who was sent down to earth in the form of lightning.

TE MANU-I-TE-RA.--This singular name, which may be rendered as " The Bird from the Sun," is, according to Stowell, a comet-name. We have also seen that it is connected with the sun by some writers. It is worthy of note that a comet is called manu in the island of Nuguria, Solomon Group--a Polynesian dialect among Melanesian peoples.

In Te Ika a Maui (2nd ed., page 278) Taylor gives a singular myth connected with Te Manu-i-te-ra. At page 283 he states that the abode of Te Manu-i-te-ra was on the mountain of Hikurangi, a place where the evils of the world were unknown. He was a supernatural being, and his abode was called Totoka, a word meaning " congealed." In the sense of " frozen " it would be applicable to the summit of a mountain. On this place the lightning flashed; and when the Manu-i-te-ra flew abroad the heavens were illuminated.

In his Maori History of the Taranaki Coast, at page 149, Mr. S. P. Smith gives a version of the above myth in which the name of Te Manu-i-te-ra is replaced by that of Tama-nui-te-ra (a name for the sun), the difference between the two names being very slight--namely, a single vowel-sound. In the song given, however, the name of Te Manu-i-te-ra appears. Mr. Smith considers the latter to be a name for the sun.

Another peculiar myth concerning the Manu appears in vol. 2 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, at page 143.

METO.--It is now fairly certain that Meto is a comet-name It is said to be a whetu puhihi--that is, it emits rays, or seems to be partially auahi, as a native described it. This word denotes smoke, but is also applied to haze or vapour. The rays or tail of Meto extend upwards, says a native; if its body be below the horizon, as a range of hills, its puhihi extend up above the horizon (Ka hihi ake nga puhihi). The appearance of Meto is said to be the portent of a hot summer. The Tuhoe folk claimed that the comet of 1907 was Meto.

PUAROA.--I am inclined to think that this is another comet-name. Pua means " smoky " or " hazy," and roa is " long." It seems probable that pua has been used as a noun in the past. At Samoa Pusaloa is a comet, and is rendered as " Long Smoker." Puaroa is said to have been regarded as a tapu phenomenon, and is said to possess or emit mist-like emanations, referred to by the name of hiku makohurangi, or misty tail. Again, the expression au pukohu, applied by natives to Puaroa, are appropriate words as applied to a comet. One native identifies Puaroa as Rereahiahi, which is doubtful. Another states that it is a whetu tapu. We have already seen that natives often term comets whetu.

RONGOMAI.--This is thought by Stowell to be the name of Halley's Comet, but that body scarcely shows itself often enough for the Maori to have a special name for it. It may be a generic term for comets. The Maori describes Rongomai as a body that moves through space, and appears to give off sparks. The Rev. R. Taylor tells us that when the Pakakutu pa at Otaki was being besieged Rongomai was seen in broad daylight, a fiery form rushing through space. It struck the ground and caused dust to rise. This looks like a meteorite. At Owhiro, near Island Bay, is a place named Te Hapua o Rongomai, where that atua (supernatural being) is said to have descended to earth in past times. Rongomai was quite an important deity of the Maori folk. In vol. 5 of the Polynesian Journal, at page 119, is an account of one Rongomai being transferred from the earth to the moon; but this may be a different myth.

TUNUI-A-TE-IKA.--This is apparently another name for a comet that is viewed as a supernatural being by the Maori, and is utilized as what we glibly term a " god "--that is, to impart power to ceremonies, rites, and charms. It is said that Tunui can be seen in daylight. Another such phenomenon apparently is the Po-tuatini, and both are termed kikokiko, or malevolent spirits. The appearance of a comet was considered to be an evil portent. Tunui was one of the gods or malignant beings that are termed atua toro, that are sent by their human mediums on errands to distant parts. Thus I was told by an old man of the Bay of Plenty that the Wairoa natives on one occasion sent Tunui-a-te-ika to the former district to slay Hatua, of Awa. He added, " We saw Tunui-a-te-ika coming towards us through space."

Tutaka, of Tuhoe, stated that Tunui is not a star; it is a demon, a spirit that flies through space; it has a big head. Its appearance denotes the death of some person; hence, when it is seen, people ask, " Who has died ? " Another says that Tunui and Te Po-tuatini are seen in space at night, and that both are atua toro, who have their human mediums who placate and influence them by means of ritual formulae, &c. Thus Tunui is employed as a war-god, and certain invocations are addressed to him. The following is part of such a formula:--

Tunui is the possessor, we are told, of a long tail, and, when seen, priestly adepts performed the matapuru rite, in order to avert the threatened evil, whatever it may be.

TAKETAKE-HIKUROA (Long-tailed Taketake) is a comet-name. " Another name of Wahieroa is Taketake-hikuroa, and when that demon is seen in the heavens it is viewed as an evil portent for the tribe." So says the Maori.

WAHIEROA is a comet-name, and also appears in Maori myth in conjunction with those of Whaitiri, Tawhaki, Hema, and Hinetuahoanga, all of whom are personifications. A note in White seems to show that he viewed Matawhaura as a comet-name,

WHETUKAUPO is given as a star-name by Williams, but an East Coast native gives it as a comet-name. Good or evil omens were derived from its position, as to whether the tail (hiku) extended upward or downward. Hence one might ask, " Kei te pehea te upoko o te Whetu-kaupo ? " And one might answer, " Kei te korakora " (" It is sparkling or flashing "). This was an evil portent. Or the answer might be, " Kei te auroki, puaho ana tera " ("The light is calm and steady")--a good omen.

UNAHIROA is a doubtful name. It has been described as a comet-name, also as the name of some such phenomenon as ignis fatuus. Taylor gives it as Urahiroa--apparently a misprint, of which there are many in his little natural-history booklet.

The term whetu puhihi, applied to comets, is a descriptive name, not a specific name or proper name such as Wahieroa, &c. The word puhihi denotes the tail of the comet, which is said to be auahi (smoke, haze, vapour). He roa te puhihi, ara te auahi (The puhihi is long--that is to say, the auahi). Another description of a comet is Penei me te auahi ahi ona hihi, paku noa iho te tinana (Its rays or appendages are like fire-smoke, its body exceedingly small).

Early writers tell us of native speculations anent the comet of 1843, and a Wellington newspaper stated that " the Maoris hailed it as an evil omen, and commenced howling very pathetically." Lieutenant Meade tells us of a comet seen during the native disturbance of the " sixties," the portent being interpreted in totally different ways by the two parties of natives; friendly and hostile.

METEORS . Meteors are termed matakokiri, tumatakokiri, kotiri, and kotiri-tiri, and are probably also referred to as the unahi o Takero. In the Bay of Plenty district the name of tamarau seems to be applied to them. Williams has " marau = a comet or meteor," which may be the same name in a mutilated form.

The appearance of a meteor was looked upon as an evil omen by the Maori. Samoan natives say that a meteor has gone to seek fire. Taylor tells us in Te Ika a Maui that a meteor was the aria or visible form of the supernatural being Rehua; but no corroboration seems to be forthcoming. He also says that the old image of Tane at Tahiti " was represented as a meteor cone-shaped, with a large head, the body terminating in a point or long tail." This may be so, but it looks dubious. His anecdote of the appearance of a meteor just as he was preaching in a dark hut from the phrase " Behold I saw Satan like lightning fall from heaven," is good. " We all rushed out, and saw a splendid meteor, like a drawn sword. My congregation with almost one voice exclaimed, ' There is Satan falling from heaven. ' "

An old warlock of the sons of Awa discourses on meteors: " Another ancestor is Tumatakokiri, who is seen darting at night. His appearance is that of a star flying through space. His task, as he so flies, is to foretell the aspect and conditions of the heavenly bodies, of winds, and of seasons. If he swoops downwards, the following season will be a windy one. If he just flies through space, a fruitful season follows; a season of plenty lies before the people. That ancestor is an atua (demon supernatural being), but is really a star flying through space."

White has a note that reads: The matakokiri are simply stars at their gambols. " Again, we are told that meteors are falling stars that have wandered out of their places, and have been struck by their elders, the sun and moon. One says that a meteor appearing to approach one is a good sign. Marshall states that a meteor betokened the death of a chief.

MARU . This is the name of some luminous appearance occasionally seen in the heavens. Williams queries it as " zodiacal light." It is viewed by the Maori as are comets, the rainbow, lightning, &c.--that is, as the visible form of an atua (supernormal being). Thus Maru was treated as what we call a god; he was appealed to and placated when his assistance was needed to help or protect the people. He was one of the atua employed to protect a village from all harmful influences.

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