5

The Rig Veda has a verse that says:

"Through fear of thee [Agni] the dark-coloured inhabitants fled, not waiting for battle, when, O Agni (fire) burning brightly for Puru, and destroying the cities, thou didst shine." (VII, 5, 3)

Who are the dark-coloured inhabitants?

3

According to the Oxford translation by Stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton, the verse is referring to Dasyus. As the translators note, it's not referring to dark-skinned people but people that represent powers of darkness.

VII.5 (521) Agni Vaiśvānara

Vasiṣṭha Maitrāvaruṇi

9 verses: triṣṭubh

The hymn invokes Agni as both the fire on earth and the sun in heaven. More specifically, Agni is a tribal fire, which here represents an aggregation of clans in the Pūru tribe (vs. 3). This hymn thus accords with VII.19.3, in which Indra also supports the Pūru tribe, but contrasts with VII.18.13, in which Indra supports Sudās, the enemy of the Pūru. As Proferes (2007: 46–49) details, it is as a tribal fire and as the sun that Agni is called Vaiśvānara, a name repeated in each of the first five verses and then again in the last two (8–9).

The hymn begins with a statement of Agni's presence in heaven and on earth, nurtured by both the gods and priests (vs. 1). In the second verse Agni is called the master of both flowing and pooling waters, a theme echoed in verse 8, the second to last verse, in which Agni is asked to send the "refreshing drink," which might be the rain for humans or the soma for the gods or both. Having descended to earth, Agni's radiance extends to the Ārya clans (vs. 2cd). In verse 3 the víśaḥ...aśiknīḥ "dark clans" are Dasyus (vs. 6), but they are not dark because they are "dark-skinned," as the description is often interpreted, but rather because they represent powers of darkness opposed to the Āryas (cf. Hock 1999). Note that the brilliance of Agni in 3cd breaks apart the "dark clans" and, as light, disperses darkness. Or likewise in verse 6 Agni drives away the Dasyus, providing a "broad light" for Āryas. As fire and sun, Agni extends his light throughout the worlds (vs. 4). In verse 5, the middle verse of the hymn, the poet concretizes Agni as the present sacrificial fire, who guards and prospers the different communities and as both the sacrificial fire and the sun, both of which appear in the early morning as beacons of the day.

  1. Bring forth a song to the mighty Agni, to the spoked wheel of heaven and earth, who as Vaiśvānara has grown strong in the lap of all the immortals through the watchful (priests).

  2. Sought after in heaven, Agni has been placed on earth as the leader of the rivers and the bull of standing waters. He radiates outward toward the clans descended from Manu: Vaiśvānara having grown strong according to his wish.

  3. The dark clans went breaking ranks, leaving their supplies, from fear of you, o Vaiśvānara, when you shone, breaking their strongholds, blazing for Pūru, o Agni.

  4. Heaven and earth, (each) in its three parts, follow your commandment, o Agni Vaiśvānara. You stretch throughout the two world-halves with your radiance, blazing with your inexhaustible blaze.

  5. Resounding ghee-rich songs—bellowing tawny mares—follow you, Agni, the lord of settlements, the charioteer of riches, Vaiśvānara, the beacon of the dawns and of the days.

  6. The good (gods) installed their lordship in you, for they find pleasure in your resolve, o you having Mitra's might. You drove the Dasyus away from their home, o Agni, giving birth to broad light for the Ārya.

  7. Being born in the highest heaven, at once you protect the fold on every side like Vāyu. Giving birth to living beings, you cry out, doing service to their descendants, Jātavedas.

  8. Send the heaven-bright refreshing drink for us, o Agni Vaiśvānara, o Jātavedas, by which you swell your bounty and broad fame for the pious mortal, o you who grant all wishes.

  9. Bind wealth that brings many cattle to our generous patrons, o Agni, as well as the prize of victory worthy of fame. O Vaiśvānara, along with the Rudras and Vasus, offer great protection to us, o Agni.

  • Are there more descriptions of dasayus anywhere else? – Gopal Anantharaman Jun 14 at 13:32
  • There are tons of mentions in the Rigveda. See the Introduction to the Oxford translation starting page 54. @GopalAnantharaman – sv. Jun 14 at 20:44
  • @sv. That's interesting, didn't expect Western Indologists to say that "dark colored" means "evil." – Ikshvaku Jul 16 at 20:45

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