The symbolism of ships is as pervasive in the Vedas as that of the
sea, which it tends to reinforce. The saving action of Agni, the
sacred fire, is frequently compared to a ship that carries us across
the river or sea.
As a ship across the river (or sea), Agni, take us across to safety
Agni will deliver us across all difficulties, as a ship across the
river (or sea; I.99.1).30
Agni, destroyer of difficulties, deliver us across all danger as a
ship across the river (or sea; V.5.9).31
This image of wisdom, symbolized by fire, taking us across the river
or ocean of worldly difficulties, remains in all Indian philosophy and
is found in both Hindu and Buddhist works.
Other Vedic Gods save their worshippers from across the sea through a
ship. The Ashwins are the main saviours and miracle workers of the
Gods and this is one of their most famous actions.
When he was lost in the supportless, foundationless, ungraspable
ocean, you put forth your strength, oh Ashwins. You bore Bhujyu home,
mounted on a ship with a hundred oars (I.116.5).32
Earlier in this hymn we read:
For three nights and three days, oh Ashwins, you carried Bhujyu with
your swift birds. To the other shore of the wet ocean, with three
vehicles with a hundred feet and six horses (I.116.4).33
This is not a confused image of ocean travel. Bhujyu stands for the
Sun. The three vehicles with a hundred feet and six horses are the
360 days of the year or degrees of the zodiac. The three days and
three nights are a period at the end of the year wherein the Sun
renews its light. Ocean travel is thus interwoven with the solar myth.
The yearly return of the Sun follows the myth of crossing the ocean -
an apt symbol for a maritime people. The sunset on the sea would give
rise to such an image.
These ships that travel in the atmosphere and are often compared to
birds or horses must be sailing vessels. The poetic vision of sailing
ships would see them as birds flying in the blue of the sea, like the
blue of the sky. We read of Bhujyu's rescue:
With ships of the nature of the wind that travel through the
atmosphere and keep the water away (I.116.3).34
This story of Bhujyu and his rescue from the ocean by the Ashwins and
their mystic ship is a common Vedic myth.
Ashwins, you bore Bhujyu from the flooding ocean with straight moving
Ashwins, you delivered Taugrya (Bhujyu) across the ocean (I.118.6).36
You carried Bhujyu, the son of Tugra, from the watery ocean by birds,
through the air (VI.62.6).37
Ashwins, Bhujyu cast in the ocean, you bore across the floods with
your unfailing horses (VII.69.7).38
When the son of Tugra served you, abandoned in the sea, then with
wings your vehicle flew (VIII.5.22).
Bhujyu is also one of the main mythic ancestors of the Vedic people,
who call themselves 'Tugra' or 'Taugra' after his ancestry. The
implication is that the Vedic people in part were refugees from some
hostile land across the sea.