A word defective in accent or phoneme is a sound used incorrectly; it does not convey its purpose. Speech is like a thunderbolt, striking at the sacrificer who mistakes “who is slayer” for “whose slayer.”

The asuras, shouting “Ememies, ememies!” were overpowered. Therefore, a wise man will not speak a language that is not his own or pronounce words incorrectly.

translated from the Sanskrit by Motýlí Voko


Sanskrit poemThe sacrificer is Tvashtr the Creator whose three-headed son Vishvarupa the Multiform had been killed by Indra the Conqueror. As a punishment, Tvashtr excluded Indra from drinking soma, the magic juice, during the sacrificial rituals. Indra, nevertheless, sneaked in and drank most of the soma. The magic juice made him sick and gushed from all of his openings. Tvashtr, livid with rage, took the juice that was left and poured it into the sacrificial fire chanting “May the one whose slayer is Indra grow!” (The correct formula would have been “May the one who is slayer of Indra grow!”)

When the juice reached the fire, a being possessed of the powers of fire and juice sprang into existence. Since he developed while rolling (vrt), he was called Vrtra the Roller, and since he had no feet, he became a snake. Because Tvashtr said “grow!” Vrtra indeed grew, consuming food wherever he extended, pushing the oceans back. Indra bribed fire and soma with cakes to come over to his side. Powerless, Vrtra lay shrunk like a leather bag emptied of its contents. When Indra rushed forth intent on killing him, Vrtra pleaded with him: “Do not kill me, for you are now what I was before. Only cut me into pieces, do not make me disappear.” Indra replied: “Okay, you will become my food.”

The asuras and the devas were offsprings of Prajñāpati, the Lord of Wisdom. When it came to dividing the inheritance, the asuras claimed speech, the devas asked for mind; the asuras received the earth, the devas got the sky. The devas plotted against the asuras, asking Mind (he) to make a move at Speech (she). Despite initial failures, Mind seduced Speech, who came over to the side of the devas. The asuras, cut off from their chief weapon, babbled “Ememies, ememies!” and were crushed by the devas.

adapted from the Brahmanas by Admiral Babočka


About the lines and the stories they refer to: The science of grammar, the principle branch of Indian linguistics, builds on the ancient Vedic distinction between correct linguistic usage, which produces sounds that have the power to bring about reality, and incorrect usage, which reduces language into an impotent tool of daily communication. The Brahmanas are fascinating texts that, through a vast range of interpretative techniques, attempt to make sense out of the magic juice-driven creations of the Vedic seers.

Jan Vihan is a contributing writer for In The Fray.

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