ha.msa in parama-ha.msa and ha.msa-sa.mde/sa

George Thompson gthomgt at COMCAST.NET
Wed Apr 22 16:22:51 UTC 2009

Dear List,

I apologize for sending an incomplete message to the list last night.  
It was intended to go to the Save box.  I have been rather too busy of 
late.  Thank you to Deepak Bhattacharya for replying with the AV passage 
and to Joanna Jurevich for continuing my train of thought.  RV 10.124.9 
& 4.40.5 were certainly on my mind.  Other RV passages also seem to 
predate AVS 11.4.21/AVP 16.23.1: see RV 1.65.9 where Agni is compared to 
a hissing [zvasati] hamsa awake at dawn, or RV 9.32.3 where Indra is 
compared to a hamsa inciting his flock to bellow [avIvazat].  These and 
other passages allude to two other important features of the hamsa in 
the RV: besides being a solar bird, the hamsa is also a royal bird, and 
a very vocal one. 

Mostly, however, the term hamsa in the RV is plural and is used in 
comparisons: the Maruts are compared to hamsas [7.59.7], as are the 
Angirases [10.67.3] and [at 9.97.8] an otherwise unknown clan, the 
VRSagaNas [see Mayrhofer's Personnennamen in RV, p.87].  At RV 1.163.10 
[an azvastuti] the celestial horses are compared to a flock of hamsas in 
flight  formation.  At 7.59.7 hamsas are said to have dark blue backs 
[nIlapRSTha].   AVS 6.12.1 refers to a hamsa awake at night, unlike 
other creatures.  At AVS 10.8.18 the hamsa is said to be yellow.

Because of its genre, the RV for the most part does not offer 
naturalistic images of the hamsa.  Because of its genre, the AV tends to 
refer to hamsa within lists of other birds and animals. 

In later Vedic noteworthy passages are KS 38.1 [MS 3.2.6; VS 19.74; TB] where the hamsa is said to be able to separate Soma from the 
waters [later it is said to be able to sort milk from water-- see Vedic 
Index].  There is an explicit identification of the hamsa and the sun at 
ShBr  Besides the passages mentioned earlier in this 
discussion, the Upanishads quote RV 4.40.5, and the golden person 
[hiraNmaya puruSa] is referred to as the ekahamsa [elsewhere eka 
hamsa].  Note the role of talking geese in the story of Raikva [a 
homeless man, with sores on his body, who lives under a cart].  In ChUp 
4.7 various animals, including a hamsa, teach SatyakAma portions of a 
brahman [neuter].  To be brief, for Upanishadic references see 'goose' 
in the index to Olivelle's translation.

It seems to me that this evidence suggests that the Vedic clans were 
quite familiar with the hamsa, considered it a solar figure as well as a 
royal one, and were very impressed by its vocalizations.  As a result, 
starting from the RV and continuing throughout the tradition, numerous 
Vedic gods were compared to hamsas and the hamsa himself was thereby 

Perhaps this quick overview is of some use to the list's non-Vedicists.

George Thompson

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