As you can see in the Rig Veda Anukramani compiled in my answer here, Book 8 Hymn 33 of the Rig Veda was heard from the gods by the sage Medhyatithi, a descendant of the sage Kanva, and it's addressed to the god Indra. But the hymn ends in a rather odd way:

17 Indra himself hath said, "The mind of woman brooks not discipline, Her intellect hath little weight."

18 His pair of horses, rushing on in their wild transport, draw his car: High-lifted is the stallion's yoke.

19 Cast down thine eyes and look not up. More closely set thy feet. Let none See what thy garment veils, for thou, a Brahman, hast become a dame.

First of all, I don't know whether in verse 17 Indra is making a general observation about the intelligence of women, or just a statement about some particular woman!

But my main question is, who is the person being addressed in verse 19, apparently a Brahmana man who has transformed into a woman somehow? Is it a reference to the story of Asanga, the man described in Book 8 Hymn 1 of the Rig Veda, who was temporarily cursed to turn into a woman and then restored? And what does any of this have to do with Indra?

  • 'First of all, I don't know whether in verse 17 Indra is making a general observation about the intelligence of women, or just a statement about some particular woman!' If the author is being sincere and is rational, then it must be the case that either his reading of Veda suggests that it elsewhere proclaims women to have low intelligence or else that it singles out particular women for censure. There is no evidence at all for either view. – Vivek Iyer Aug 30 '18 at 21:52
  • This is called a Hinduism Stack Exchange. On what basis do you say 'Book 8 Hymn 33 of the Rig Veda was heard from the gods by the sage Medhyatithi, a descendant of the sage Kanva, and it's addressed to the god Indra' ? Kindly quote one Hindu Acharya to show this is indeed a statement worthy of a Stack exchange not specifically designed to attack Hinduism by challenging its system of Credentials. – Vivek Iyer Sep 1 '18 at 19:47

The Brahmana who became a woman is Indra himself! I found the answer to my question in this excerpt from the Brihaddevata, an ancient work by the sage Shaunaka, which describes the different gods that Rig-Vedic verses are addressed to and the stories of how those verses were heard from the gods. Here's what Shaunaka says about verse 19:

In 'Downward' (adhaḥ: viii.33.19) a girl addressed (who appeared) with the characteristics of a woman; for the chastiser of Paka (Indra) made love to that Danava maiden, the elder sister of Vyamsa, by reason of his (Indra's) youthful desire (yuva-kāmyā).

So it looks like Indra disguised himself as a woman in order to have an affair with the sister of the Danava Vyamsa. So in verse 19, Vyamsa's sister is telling Indra to keep his eyes down so that Vyamsa doesn't spot him.

Indra subsequently killed the demon Vyamsa, as described in this hymn of the Rig Veda:

Thou art mine own, O Maghavan, whom Vyaṁsa struck to the ground and smote thy jaws in pieces. But, smitten through, the mastery thou wonnest, and with thy bolt the Dāsa's head thou crushedst.

By the way, as you can see the Rig Veda Anukramani here, that hymn was heard by the sage Vamadeva, just like the hymns discussed in my question here.

  • So, a person who posts a highly tendentious and faux naif question is tolerated as the answerer of his own supposedly innocent quest for knowledge! Would this be tolerated on the Mathematics Stack Exchange? – Vivek Iyer Aug 30 '18 at 22:00

I found commentary from a scholar on this book and verse. It suggests that this is a debate between Indra and a rival who wants to introduce new rituals. It says:

"VIII.33.19: The poet returns in his own voice to mock the new model, by imitating in the first three pādas the speech of a mother to her little daughter, inculcating proper behavior. kaśaplakaú in c is a hapax, but its -ka- suffix suggests that it belongs to a low register (note also pādakaú in b) and the fact that it is in the dual limits its possible applications. Old suggests “weibl. Geschlechsteile” (though he moves on to breasts), and the fact that keeping one’s feet together keeps them from being seen makes the labia a good possibility. The poet then unleashes a devastating insult on his addressee, a brahman – that he has turned into a woman. I take this unfortunate figure to be the ritualist favoring the new model, and our poet is suggesting that too much association with and sympathy for women, too much emphasis on equality, will unman a man."

  • Very good you found something, but what is it? No 'scholar' has written it. Rather, the fellow is without honor or even tenure. Why broadcast his shame? – Vivek Iyer Aug 31 '18 at 1:21

It is not the Indra who turns into a woman rather it is the sacrificer in presence of his wife becomes a woman which he does not like to be present.

As per Jamison and Brereton:

Our view of this tantalizingly opaque sequence is that it concerns the introduction of the Sacrificer’s Wife into the performance of solemn ritual, an introduction celebrated in the nearby hymn VIII.31 (see remarks there). But, unlike the situation in VIII.31, the poet of VIII.33 displays a conservative opposition to this ritual innovation, an innovation that he nonethe- less ascribes to Indra’s leadership

They described it further:

In verse 16 the poet complains that an unnamed ritualist no longer listens to the instructions of his fellow ritualists but only to Indra’s. In verses 17 and 18 Indra speaks, and though he at first disparages women’s intellect (vs. 17), he asserts that a sacrifice directed by a complementary pair (mithunā́ , a word often used explicitly of a sexual couple) is especially successful (with implicit contrast to the older model without female participation)—while at the same time suggesting that the husband should keep the upper hand (or upper chariot-pole: the common metaphor of sacrifice as chariot is in play). The final verse is, in our view, spoken by the jaundiced poet himself

Their translation (pp 1098):

  1. [Poet:] He finds no pleasure in the instruction of you or me, (but only in that) of the other one [=Indra], the hero who led us hither.
  2. Indra said just this, “the mind of woman is not to be instructed, and her will is fickle.
  3. [Indra, cont’d:] “(Nonetheless,) it’s the twin span, the complementary pair [/married couple], aroused to exuberance, that draws the chariot [=sacrifice]; but even so the chariot-pole of the bull [=husband] is higher.”
  4. [Poet:] “ ‘Keep your eyes to yourself: look below, not above. Bring your two little feet closer together: don’t let them see your two little “lips” [?]‌.’ For you, a brahmin, have turned into a woman!”
  • 'it is the sacrificer in presence of his wife becomes a woman which he does not like to be present.' – Vivek Iyer Aug 30 '18 at 22:02
  • What does the above mean? – Vivek Iyer Aug 31 '18 at 1:17

'According to Sayana, the Brahman in question was Asanga, son of Playoga.'

This is the usual way the question is answered by young snataks. However, when the Upadhyay asks 'but why did it happen? What is the reason for it to be referred to in uncreated Revelation? What is connection with Indra? etc'- the snatak may reply 'this is mithak- it is a story used by Sayana and other teachers to make the passage memorable to the student. That which is 'mithak' is neither Shruti nor Smriti nor refers to substances nor has any alethic content. Rather it is imperative and hermeneutic simply. In this case, Asanga, son of Playoga, was of a very cerebral and ascetic character. He made a mistake in gathering materials for the sacrifice. For this reason he lost his manhood. This caused his father to receive the verse which grants immunity from small, unintentional, mistakes in performance of karma kanda. Asanga was of strict askesis and like unto a monk or meditator.Thus loss or gain of virile member was inconsequential. However, to be a woman means to work with other women for the amelioration of social conditions and the salvation of all beings. Women, becoming mothers, help other mothers- 'it takes a village to raise a child'. Rishi Medhatithi was one who had highest respect for 'matrajati' (the community of mothers). He says God is higher even than Friend, Father or Guru- but he can't say more than that God is equal of Mother! There is no necessity to do so. It would be hypocrisy. Medhatithi criticises that type of meditator who is oblivious to needs of Society. How is this 'gnosis' better than the vanity of the young Beauty who is very careful of how she talks or walks though setting fire to the hearts of all the young men in the village! Women are wise, they put aside this fickleness and get married and become Mothers. Who has ever said mother is fickle? Similarly, Asanga was making a mistake. He was a Brahmin not a Shraman. The truth is Shashvati (Eternal Feminine) had come to this 'sister' in trouble but saw that by marriage and restoration of virility only could this seeker's'svadharma' be restored.

Husband and wife are two horses of the chariot of the Godhead- name it Indra or Allah or whatever you please- which ever approaches nigh.

See 'Samlee's daughter' Chapter V,Section 7, for more details. https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=uDz9hJGr-HkC&printsec=frontcover&pg=GBS.PT89.w.0.2.0

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    Welcome to Hinduism SE. As per guidelines, your answer should be more descriptive with references to sources of Puranas, Itihasas, Smritis etc. Looking forward to your continued active paticipation. – Suresh Ramaswamy Aug 30 '18 at 5:54
  • Suresh You are right. – Parthasarathy Raghavan Aug 30 '18 at 12:29
  • Thank you, Suresh and Rarthasarthy, for your valuable guidance and criticism. I will edit the answer to try to answer the erudite question. – Vivek Iyer Aug 30 '18 at 16:51

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