Let me preface this by saying that I don't intend to question the wisdom of the divine Upanishads; I'm just trying to resolve my confusion.

As you can see in the Anukramani I provided in my answer here, the sage who heard most of the hymns in the Fourth Mandala of the Rig Veda was the sage Vamadeva, a descendant of the sage Gautama. Two of the hymns of this Mandala deal mainly with Garuda's theft of the Soma/Amrita (nectar of immortality) from Devaloka. But the beginning of these hymns are considered by the Upanishads to be of profound significance. Here is how Hymn 26 of the Fourth Mandala begins:

  1. I was aforetime Manu, I was Sūrya: I am the sage Kakṣīvān, holy singer. Kutsa the son of Ārjuni I master. I am the sapient Uśanā behold me.
  2. I have bestowed the earth upon the Ārya, and rain upon the man who brings oblation. I guided forth the loudly-roaring waters, and the Gods moved according to my pleasure.
  3. In the wild joy of Soma I demolished Śambara's forts, ninety-and-nine, together; And, utterly, the hundredth habitation, when helping Divodāsa Atithigva.

The second and third verses describe the deeds of Indra, such as killing the demon Shambara, so it seems natural to assume that Indra is the speaker in this triplet. Yet here is what the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says:

Verily in the beginning this was Brahman, that Brahman knew (its) Self only, saying, 'I am Brahman.' From it all this sprang. Thus, whatever Deva was awakened (so as to know Brahman), he indeed became that (Brahman); and the same with Rishis and men. The Rishi Vâmadeva saw and understood it, singing, 'I was Manu (moon), I was the sun.' Therefore now also he who thus knows that he is Brahman, becomes all this, and even the Devas cannot prevent it, for he himself is their Self.

So according to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Vamadeva is speaking about himself, and he is making a profound statement of self-realization.

Similarly, here is how hymn 27 of the Fourth Mandala begins:

  1. I, As I lay within the womb, considered all generations of these Gods in order. A hundred iron fortresses confined me but forth I flew with rapid speed a Falcon.
  2. Not at his own free pleasure did he bear me: he conquered with his strength and manly courage. Straightway the Bold One left the fiends behind him and passed the winds as he grew yet more mighty.

Again, it seems like the speaker in these verses is Chandra, who is the god of the divine drink Soma which is protected by the fortifications of Devaloka but is then stolen by Garuda. But here is how the Aitareya Upanishad interprets it:

And this has been declared by a Rishi (Rv. IV, 27, 1): 'While dwelling in the womb, I discovered all the births of these Devas. A hundred iron strongholds kept me, but I escaped quickly down like a falcon.' Vâmadeva, lying in the womb, has thus declared this.** And having this knowledge he stepped forth, after this dissolution of the body, and having obtained all his desires in that heavenly world, became immortal, yea, he became immortal.

So the Aitareya Upanishads is claiming that the speaker is once again Vamadeva, and that he is speaking of his experiences of self-realization from within the womb. And the Rig Veda Anukramani agrees that the person being referred to is Vamadeva in both cases; see the Anukramani for hymns IV.26 and IV.27 in my answer here.

But my question is, have there been any arguments made for why the speaker must be Vamadeva? Indra and Chandra seem more natural choices given the context and meaning. Why would Vamadeva arbitrarily start talking about his philosophical realizations before relating a story of Garuda?

The authors of the newly-released Oxford English translation of the Rig Veda also believe that the Anukramani misinterpreted these verses. See this excerpt and this excerpt, where they call the first three verses of Hymn 26 an Atmastuti (self-praise) of Indra and the first two verses of Hymn 27 an Atmastuti of Chandra. And it isn't only Western Indologists who have this view; the first three verses of Hymn 26 are discussed in this excerpt from the Brihaddevata, a work by the ancient sage Shaunaka:

I (aham: iv.26) is self-praise in a triplet, for there is praise (in it) as if of him (Indra).

So Shaunaka also seems to think that this triplet is an Atmastuti of Indra. In any case, has anyone made any arguments to refute the claim that the speakers are Indra and Chandra? Do any commentators present arguments about this issue?

Let me reiterate that it's not my intention to question the wisdom of the Upanishads. I am a Sri Vaishnava, and Sri Vaishnavism is part of the Vedanta school, which holds the Upanishads as a divine authority. And the sages of the Aitareya and Brihadaranyaka Upanishads are the ancient sages Aitareya and Yajnavalkya. So I'm not accusing them of misinterpreting the Rig Veda. I am just trying to understand the logic behind their interpretation.

  • What are the chapter and verse numbers of the B and A Upansihads you are quoting? – Swami Vishwananda Dec 20 '14 at 8:31
  • @SwamiVishwananda It's Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Adhyaya 1, Brahmana 4, Verse 10. (It's the verse that contains the famous Mahavakya "Aham Brahmasmi.") As for the Aitareya Upanishad quote, it is Aranyaka 2, Khanda 1, Verse 5 (or verses 13-15 if you go by the Aranyaka's traditional verse numbering). – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 20 '14 at 9:09
  • keshav are you asking 'why' they are interpreting it that way? or 'why' not the other 2 way? or any other scriptures which also identify it as Vamadeva? It would help look for an answer if it is clearer what exactly are you looking for as an answer? Thanks – Sai Dec 22 '14 at 23:18
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    @Sai I want to know whether anyone has made any arguments for why it must be Vamadeva rather than Indra and Chandra. It would be nice if there were some ancient writer who refuted sage Shaunaka's claim that the verses in Hymn 26 are Indra's atmastuti. Or failing that, I'd even be fine with a modern writer who refuted the claims of Western Indologists that the speakers are Indra and Chandra. I'm just trying to find some defense of the Upanishads' interpretation. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 23 '14 at 1:32
  • @Sai The reason that I'm asking this question is that if I were to read these verses without referring to the Upanishads, I would assume that the speakers were Indra and Chandra. But these two Upanishads were composed by the wise sages Yajnavalkya and Aitareya, so it's vanishingly unlikely that they're wrong. So I'm hoping to be persuaded that their interpretation of the verses makes more sense than mine. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 23 '14 at 1:39

First, these 2 Upanishads were not composed by Yajnavalka and Aitareya. The Upanishads are the revealed word of God. They were revealed by God to certain sages who then recorded them. There may be stories in the Vedas (and Upanishads) that do not have to be taken literally, it is what they are meant to teach us that is important. The Vedas are the only scriptures in the world that were not composed by humans.

Both Swami Gambhirananda's translation with Shankaracarya's commentary and Swami Nikhilananda's translation and commentary both show the reference to Vamadeva. The following should be noted:

1) The Aitareya verse is clearly not Indra. The reason it says 'while lying in the womb, I came to know' means that he has come to know this as a result of meditation in many previous births. The verse is meant to show what has come to Vamadeva - an individual jiva - through Self-Knowledge, because the Knowledge alluded to can only have come through previous births. Indra, although a deva, is only a deva for the current cycle and will be subject to rebirth at the end of the cycle. Indra does not have Self-Knowledge. Devas cannot attain to Knowledge of Brahman in their birth as a deva. Only human birth can.

2) It should also be noted that the chapter ends with Vamadeva and the first verse of the next chapter starts out with again a reference to Vamadeva.

3) The reference to Vamadeva in the Brihadaranyaka is again, a reference to what an individual jiva can attain to. So it makes perfect sense that it would have a human name and not a deva name as an example of one who has realized the Self.

Finally, I am very wary of any supposed interpretations or commentaries by Western Sanskrit scholars. They learn their Sanskrit from other Westerners and are Christian or Atheists in their own philosophies and have their own agendas in their translations. Most see Vedanta as a polytheistic religion and see the religious texts as mythology to be interpreted as such.

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    "First, these 2 Upanishads were not composed by Yajnavalka and Aitareya. The Upanishads are the revealed word of God." Well, the issue is slightly more complicated than that. The portions of the Vedas that are direct revelation to Dhrishtas are the mantras recorded in the Samhitas of the Vedas. (That is why the Samhitas have associated Anukramanis.). The only reason the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads are considered Shruti is that they are divinely inspired explanations of the Samhitas. The Upanishads generally consist of shlokas, not mantras, so the specific words were chosen by humans. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 23 '14 at 9:46
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    "Both Swami Gambhirananda's translation with Shankaracarya's commentary and Swami Nikhilananda's translation and commentary both show the reference to Vamadeva." We don't need to refer to any commentaries. The text of the Upanishads themselves say that it's Vamadeva. I'm just trying to understand why it has to be Vamadeva. "The Aitareya verse is clearly not Indra." You're getting the claims mixed up. The claim is that the verse quoted in the Aitareya Upanishad is Chandra, who is the presiding deity of the Soma that is being stolen by Garuda, which is the subject of the two Rig Veda hymns. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 23 '14 at 9:53
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    "Devas cannot attain to Knowledge of Brahman in their birth as a deva. Only human birth can." No, that's not true. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad quote we're discussing specifically says "Thus, whatever Deva was awakened (so as to know Brahman), he indeed became that (Brahman)". And Adi Shankaracharya's Brahma Sutra Bhashya for Adhyaya 1, Pada 3, Sutra 26 clearly says that the gods can come to know Brahman while being gods. So Chandra, while being protected by the fortifications of Devaloka before being stolen by Garuda, could have certainly come to know Brahman. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 23 '14 at 9:58
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    "It should also be noted that the chapter ends with Vamadeva and the first verse of the next chapter starts out with again a reference to Vamadeva." I'm not disputing that the Aitareya Upanishad says it is Vamadeva. I'm trying to understand why it must be Vamadeva. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 23 '14 at 10:07
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    All the vedas were revealed by God at the same time. The Upanishads were not composed later. This is a theory that has been fostered by Western academics. See Brihadaranyaka Upanishad II. iv. 10. "As from a fire kindled with wet fuel various [kinds of] smoke issue forth, even so, my dear, the Rig-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, the Sama-Veda, the Atharvangirasa, history (itihasa), mythology (purana), the arts (vidya), the Upanishads, verses (slokas), aphorisms (sutras), elucidations (anuvyakhyanas), and explanations (vyakhyanas), are [like] the breath of this infinite Reality. From this [Supreme Self] – Swami Vishwananda Dec 24 '14 at 12:57

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