The Purusha Sukta
The Purusha Sukta is a most commonly used Vedic Sanskrit hymn. It is recited in almost all Vedic rituals and ceremonies. It is often used during the worship of the Deity of Vishnu or Narayana in the temple, installation and fire ceremonies, or during the daily recitation of Sanskrit literature or for one’s meditation.
The Purusha Sukta is an important part of the Rig-veda (10.7.90.1-16). It also appears in the Taittiriya Aranyaka (3.12,13), the Vajasaneyi Samhita (31.1-6), the Sama-veda Samhita (6.4), and the Atharva-veda Samhita (19.6). An explanation of parts of it can also be found in the Shatapatha Brahman, the Taittiriya Brahmana, and the Shvetashvatara Upanishad. The Mudgalopanishad gives a nice summary of the entire Purusha Sukta. The contents of the Sukta have also been reflected and elaborated in the Bhagavata Purana (2.5.35 to 2.6.1-29) and in the Mahabharata (Mokshadharma Parva 351 and 352).
The most commonly used portion of the Sukta contains 24 mantras or stanzas. The first 18 mantras are designated as the Purvanarayana, and the rest as the Uttaranarayana. Sometimes 6 more mantras are added. This part is called the Vaishnavanuvaka since it has been taken from another well known hymn called the Vishnusukta, a part of the Rig-veda Samhita. Though the mantras of the Uttaranarayana and the Vaishnavanuvaka do not seem to have any coherence with the 16 mantras of the Rig-veda Samhita, tradition has somehow tied them together.
The Purusha Sukta is a rather difficult text to explain in a modern way. This is primarily because of the archaic language that cannot always lend itself to interpretations based on the classical Sanskrit, and that many of the words can be taken in several different ways, both literal and symbolic.
Nonetheless, the Purusha Sukta gives us the essence of the philosophy of Vedanta, the Vedic tradition, as well as the Bhagavad-gita and Bhagavata Purana. It incorporates the principles of meditation (upasana), knowledge (jnana), devotion (bhakti), and rituals and duties (dharma and karma). This is why it is highly regarded and extensively used today as much as thousands of years ago.
Om taccham yoravrini mahe
daivi svastirastu naha
urdhvam jigatu bheshajam
sham no astu dvipade
Om shantih shantih shantihi
We worship and pray to the Supreme Lord for the welfare of all beings. May all miseries and shortcomings leave us forever so that we may always sing for the Lord during the holy fire ceremonies. May all medicinal herbs grow in potency so that all diseases may be cured. May the gods rain peace on us. May all the two-legged creatures be happy, and may all the four-legged creatures also be happy. May there be peace in the hearts of all beings in all realms.
Om sahasra shirsha purushaha
sa bhumim vishvato vritva
The Purusha (the Supreme Being) has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes and a thousand feet. He has enveloped this world from all sides and has (even) transcended it by ten angulas or inches.
purusha evedagam sarvam
yadbhutam yaccha bhavyam
All this is verily the Purusha. All that which existed in the past or will come into being in the future (is also the Purusha). Also, he is the Lord of immortality. That which grows profusely by food (is also the Purusha).
ato jyayagamshcha purushaha
padosya vishva bhutani
tripadasya mritam divi
So much is His greatness. However, the Purusha is greater than this. All the beings form only a quarter (part of) Him. The three-quarter part of His, which is eternal, is established in the spiritual domain.
tato vishvajya kramat
sashana ashane abhi
The Purusha with the three-quarters (of His energy) ascended above (the spiritual energy). His one quarter of material energy becomes this creation again (and again). Then He pervades this universe comprising a variety of sentient beings and insentient objects.
virajo adhi purushah
sa jato atyarichyata
pashchad bhumimatho puraha
From Him (the Adipurusha or original Supreme Being) was born the Virat (or Virat Purusha, the immense universal form). Making this Virat as the substratum (another) purusha (or being, Brahma) (was born). As soon as he was born, he multiplied himself. Later, he created this earth and then, the bodies (of the living beings).
deva yajnam atanvata
grishma idhmash sharaddhavihi
When the devas (the demigods or beings of light) performed a yajna (or sacrificial ritual), using the Purusha as the havis (sacrificial material) for the yajna (ritual), the Vasanta (spring) became the ajya (ghee), the Grishma (summer) served as idhma (pieces of wood) and the sharad (autumn) filled the place of havis (oblatory material like the purodasha or rice-cake).
trissapta samidhah kritaha
deva yadjajnam tanvanaha
abadhnan purusham pashum
For this (yajna or spiritual ceremony) there were seven paridhis (fuel pieces serving as borders). And, twenty-one items were made the samit or sacrificial fuel sticks. When the devas were performing this yajna or ceremony, they tied the purusha (himself) as the pashu (sacrificial animal).
tam yajnam barhishipraukshan
tena deva ayajantaha
The devas, the sadhyas and the rishis performed the sacrifice by using that Purusha as the means of yajna, the Purusha who had been born in the beginning, after sprinkling him with water by the barhis (or sacrificial grass).
tasmad yajnat sarvahutaha
vayavyan aranyan gramashcaye
From that yajna (or sacrificial ritual) wherein the Cosmic Being was Himself the oblation, was produced the prasajya (or curds mixed with ghee). Birds flying in the air, wild animals of the forest as also the domesticated animals of the villages were also produced.
tasmad yajnat sarvahutaha
chandhagamsi jijignire tasmat
yajus tasmad ajayata
From that yajna (or sacrifice) wherein the Cosmic Being was Himself the oblation, were born the riks (the mantras of the Rig-veda) and the samans (the mantras of the Sama-veda). From that (yajna) the metres (like Gayatri) were born. From that (yajna again) the yujas (the Yajur-veda) was born.
ye ke cobhaya dataha
gavo ha jijignire tasmat
tasmad jnata ajavayaha
From that were born the horses, as also animals (like donkeys and mules) which have two rows of teeth. From that were born the cattle. From that (again) were born goats and sheep.
mukham kimasya kau bahu
(Now some questions are raised by the sages:) When the gods decided to (mentally) sacrifice the Viratpurusha (and produce further creation), in how many ways did they do it? What became of his face or mouth? What became of his two arms? What became of His two thighs? What were (the products of) the two feet called?
bahu rajanyah kritaha
uru tadasya yadvaishyaha
padhyagam shudro ajayata
From His face (or the mouth) came the brahmanas. From His two arms came the rajanya (the kshatriyas). From His two thighs came the vaishyas. From His two feet came the shudras.
chandrama manaso jataha
chakshoh suryo ajayata
mukhad indrash chagnishcha
From His mind was born the moon. From His two eyes was born the sun. From His mouth were born Indra and Agni. From His breath was born the air.
nabhya asidanta riksham
shirshno dyauh samavartata
padhyam bhumirdishash shrotrat
tada lokagamm akalpayan
From (His) navel was produced the antariksha (the space between the earth and the heavens). Dyuloka (or heaven) came into existence from His head. The bhumi (the earth) evolved out of His feet, and deek (or spacial directions) from His ears. Similarly (the demigods) produced the worlds (too).
vedahametam purusham mahantam
adityavarnam tamasastu pare
sarvani rupani vichitya dhiraha
namani kritva abhivadan yadaste
“I know (through intuitive experience) this great Purusha (the Supreme Being), the wise one, who, having created the various forms and the nomenclatures (for those forms), deals with them by those names, and who is beyond darkness and is brilliant like the sun.”
dhata purastadya mudajahara
shakrah pravidvan pradishashcha tasraha
tamevam vidvan amrita iha bhavati
nanyah pantha ayanaya vidyate
In the ancient days, Prajapati (Brahma) praised Him. Indra who knows all the four quarters also spoke about Him. Anyone who knows Him thus, will become immortal even in this life. For attaining liberation there is no other path (than knowledge of this Purusha, the Supreme Lord).
yajnena yajnam ayajanta devaha
tani dharmani pradhamanyasan
te ha nakam mahimanas sacante
yatra purve sadhyah santi devaha
The (demi)gods worshiped (the Supreme Creator in the form of) yajna through yajna (sacrifical ceremonies). Those very processes became the primary dharmas (laws guiding humanity). Those great ones attain that heaven where the ancient devas (demigods) and sadhyas live.
adbhyas sambhutah prithivyai rasacca
tasya tvashta vidadhad rupameti
The Viratpurusha manifested Himself from out of (the all-pervading) water as also the essence of the element of earth. This Viratpurusha was born out of the greatness of the Paramapurusha, the Creator. The (Paramapurusha, known as) Tvashta engaged Himself in the act of creating (the fourteen planetary systems), (which form of the expanded) figure (of the Viratpurusha). (Thus) the entire creation (related to the Viratpurusha) came into existence in the very beginning of creation.
vedahametam purusham mahantam
adityavarnam tamasah parastat
tamevam vidvan amrita iha bhavati
nanyah pantha vidyate’yanaya
“I have known that great Purusha (Supreme Being) who is brilliant like the sun and who is beyond all darkness. One who knows Him thus becomes immortal (even) here. There is no other path for liberation than this.”
prajapatishcharati garbhe antaha
ajayamano bahudha vijayate
tasya dhirah parijananti yonim
marichinam padamicchanti vedhasaha
Prajapati (the Supreme Creator) moves inside the cosmic womb. (Though) unborn He takes birth in a variety of ways. The wise ones know His (real nature) as the origin (of the universe). The (secondary) creators desire to attain the positions of Marichi and others.
yo devebhya atapati
yo devanam purohitaha
purvo yo devebhyo jataha
namo ruchaya brahmaye
Obeisances to Him, the self-luminous Brahman, who shines for the (demi)gods, who is the leader of the rituals of the gods and who was born even before the gods.
rucham brahmam janayantaha
deva agre tadabruvan
yastvaivam brahmano vidyat
tasya deva asanvashe
In the beginning of creation, the gods, manifesting the light of Brahman, addressed Brahman thus: “That brahmana who realizes (You) thus, all the gods will come under his control.”
hrishcha te lakshmishcha patnyau
Om shanti shanti shantihi
O Purusha! The goddesses Hri (modesty) and Sri (Lakshmi, wealth) are Your consorts. Day and night are Your lateral limbs. The stars are Your form. The Ashvins are your widely opened (mouth). (O Purusha) fulfill our desire for self-knowledge as also our desire for the enjoyments of this world (like longevity, cows, and horses). Give us all that we need. Om, let there be peace, peace, peace. [courtesy: http://www.stephen-knapp.com]
The Significance of the Purusha Sukta by Swami Krishnananda
The Purusha Sukta of the Vedas is not only a powerful hymn of the insight of the great Seer, Rishi Narayana, on the Cosmic Divine Being as envisaged through the multitudinous variety of creation, but also a shortcut provided to the seeker of Reality for entering into the state of Superconsciousness. The Sukta is charged with a fivefold force potent enough to rouse God-experience in the seeker. Firstly, the Seer (Rishi) of the Sukta is Narayana, the greatest of sages ever known, who is rightly proclaimed in the Bhagavata as the only person whose mind cannot be disturbed by desire and, as the Mahabharata says, whose power not even all the gods can ever imagine. Such is the Rishi to whom the Sukta was revealed and who gave expression to it as the hymn on the Supreme Purusha. Secondly, the mantras of the Sukta are composed in a particular metre (chandas) which makes its own contribution by the generating of a special spiritual force during the recitation of the hymn. Thirdly, the intonation (svara) with which the mantras are recited adds to the production of the correct meaning intended to be conveyed through the mantras, and any error in the intonation may produce a different effect altogether. Fourthly, the Deity (devata) addressed in the hymn is not any externalised or projected form as a content in space and time, but is the Universal Being which transcends space and time and is the indivisible supra-essential essence of experience. Fifthly, the Sukta suggests, apart from the universalised concept of the Purusha, an inwardness of this experience, thus distinguishing it from perception of any object.
To listen to Purusha Suktam: