One of the most famous stories found in the Vedas is the story of Shunashepa, which is recited during the famous Rajasuya Yagna (the Vedic ritual for becoming an emperor). The story is told in this excerpt from the Aitareya Brahmana of the Rig Veda. There was once an ancient solar dynasty king, variously identified as Harishchandra or Ambarisha, who was childless, so on the sage Narada's advice he prayed to Varuna the ocean god. Varuna appeared before him and agreed to give him a son, on the condition that he would have to sacrifice the child to Varuna after he was born. Harishchandra agreed, and sure enough he soon got a son named Rohita. But when Varuna came for him, Harishchandra kept delaying giving up his son until his son grew up. Finally he could delay his promise no longer, and told his son that he had to be sacrificed. Rohita refused and ran away to the forest, where he met a starving Brahmin named Ajigarta. He offered him a hundred cattle for one of his sons. Out of desperation, Ajigarta gave up his son Shunashepa. Rohita returned to the kingdom with the boy, and Harishchandra prepared to sacrifice him to Varuna. But while tied up to the sacrificial post, Shunashepa prayed devoutly to the gods, reciting large number of Vedic mantras, and as a result his life was spared. Shunashepa was later adopted by the sage Vishwamitra, who was officiating the ritual.

But question isn't about the story itself, but rather the mantras that Shunashepa chanted. The Bala Kanda of the Ramayana describes two of the hymns he chanted:

When Shunashepa is tied to ritual post he immensely pleased two gods, namely Indra and Upendra as well, with those two hymns he got from Vishvamitra.

I think it's clear what the hymn to Indra is in reference to: as you can see in the Rig Veda Anukramani provided in my answer here, Shunashepa son of Ajigarta is listed as the seer of Rig Veda Book 1 Hymns 24-30. And several of those hymns, either in whole or in part, are addressed to Indra.

But my question is, what is the other hymn mentioned in the Bala Kanda, the one addressed to "Upendra"? For those who don't know, Upendra is a name of Vishnu, referring to the fact that in his incarnation as Vamana the dwarf he was was the little brother of Indra.

So where is Shunashepa's hymn to Vishnu? It's not mentioned in the excerpt from the Aitareya Brahmana I linked to above, and I don't see any hymns to Vishnu listed in the Rig Veda Anukramani for which Shunashepa son of Ajigarta was the seer. Does anyone know if it's in the Rig Veda or one of the other Vedas?

  • Wouldn't you have to check for hymns where Vishvamitra is the seer, considering it was Vishvamitra who taught him those mantras?
    – Surya
    Dec 8, 2015 at 3:44
  • @Surya That's an interesting thought, but if you look at the Aitareya Brahmana excerpt in my question, every hymn that Shunashepa chants is a hymn that is attributed to Shunashepa Ajigarti in the Anukramani for Rig Veda Book 1. So I assume that the Vishnu hymn would also be attributed in the Anukramani to Shunashepa. Now it's a good question why the Anukramani is attributing all these hymns to Shunashepa rather than Vishwamitra, but that's a question best directed to Shaunaka, not me :-) Dec 8, 2015 at 4:12
  • @Surya By the way, all the hymns heard by Vishwamitra are in Rig Veda Book 3 (for instance, that's where the Gayatri mantra comes from), but Book 3 doesn't contain any hymns to Vishnu. Dec 8, 2015 at 4:22

1 Answer 1


Could it be Varun who is being referred to as Indra's brother here? I know the term Upendra is used for Vishnu commonly but the verse you have quoted actually just says Indra's brother:

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Varun as mentioned in the Vedas itself is an Aditya just like Indra hence his brother. According to the Aitreya Brahman many verses were sung one of which was to Indra and one to Varun but none to Vishnu.

He applied to Prajapati, who is the first of the gods, with the verse, liasya ndnam liatamasya. Prajapati answered him, 'Agni is the nearest of the gods, go to him." He then applied to Agni, with the verse, agner vayam prathamasya aviritdndm, Agni answered him, "Savitar rules over the creatures, go to him." He then applied to Savitar with the three verses beginning with, allii tvd devft Savitar. Savitar answered him, "Thou art bound for Varuna, the King, go to him." He applied to Varuna with the following thirty-one verses (124, 6-25, 21). Varuna then answered him, "Agni is the mouth of the gods, and the most compassionate of them. Praise him now then we shall release you." He then praised Agni with twenty-two verses (1, 26, 1, 27, 12). Agni then answered, " Prasise the Vishve Devas, then we shall release you." He then praised the Vishve Devas with the verse vamo mahaclbhyo namo arbhahebhyo. The Visve Devas answered, "Indra is the strongest, the most powerful, the most enduring, the most true of the gods, who knows best how to bring to an end anything. Praise him, then we shall release you." He then praised Indra with the hymn yach chid dlii satya somapd, and with fifteen verses of the following one (1, 30, 1-15). Indra, who had become pleased with his praise, presented him with a golden carriage. This present he accepted with the verse, isasvad indra. Indra then told him, "Praise the Asvins, then we shall release you." He then praised the Asvins, with the three verses which follow the abovementioned (1, 30, 17-19 . The As^vins then answered, "Praise Usas (Dawn), then we shall release you." He then praised UsAs with the three verses which follow the Asvin verses (1, 30, 20-22). As he repeated one verse after the other, the fetters (of Varuna) were falling off, and the belly of Harischandra became smaller. And, after he had done repeating the last verse, (all) the fetters were taken off, and Harischandra restored to health again.

There is a verse in the Rig Veda authored by Shunahshep (RV Book 1 Hymn 24) that quite fits the description too:

1 WHO now is he, what God among Immortals, of whose auspicious name we may bethink us? Who shall to mighty Aditi restore us, that I may see my Father and my Mother? 2 Agni the God the first among the Immortals,—of his auspicious name let us bethink us. He shall to mighty Aditi restore us, that I may see my Father and my Mother. 3 To thee, O Savitar, the Lord of precious things, who helpest us Continually, for our share we come— 4 Wealth, highly lauded ere reproach hath fallen on it, which is laid, Free from all hatred, in thy hands 5 Through thy protection may we come to even the height of affluence Which Bhaga hath dealt out to us. 6 Ne’er have those birds that fly through air attained to thy high dominion or thy might or spirit; Nor these the waters that flow on for ever, nor hills, abaters of the wind's wild fury. 7 Varuṇa, King, of hallowed might, sustaineth erect the Tree's stem in the baseless region. Its rays, whose root is high above, stream downward. Deep may they sink within us, and be hidden. 8 King Varuṇa hath made a spacious pathway, a pathway for the Sun wherein to travel. Where no way was he made him set his footstep, and warned afar whate’er afflicts the spirit. 9 A hundred balms are thine, O King, a thousand; deep and wide-reaching also be thy favours. Far from us, far away drive thou Destruction. Put from us e’en the sin we have committed. 10 Whither by day depart the constellations that shine at night, set high in heaven above us? Varuṇa's holy laws remain unweakened, and through the night the Moon moves on in splendor 11 I ask this of thee with my prayer adoring; thy worshipper craves this with his oblation. Varuṇa, stay thou here and be not angry; steal not our life from us, O thou Wide-Ruler. 12 Nightly and daily this one thing they tell me, this too the thought of mine own heart repeateth. May he to whom prayed fettered Śunaḥśepa, may he the Sovran Varuṇa release us. 13 Bound to three pillars captured Śunaḥśepa thus to the Āditya made his supplication. Him may the Sovran Varuṇa deliver, wise, ne’er deceived, loosen the bonds that bind him. 14 With bending down, oblations, sacrifices, O Varuṇa, we deprecate thine anger: Wise Asura, thou King of wide dominion, loosen the bonds of sins by us committed. 15 Loosen the bonds, O Varuṇa, that hold me, loosen the bonds above, between, and under. So in thy holy law may we made sinless belong to Aditi, O thou Āditya.

Logically also a hymn to Varun would make more sense than that to Vishnu since the former is the one demanding the sacrifice!

  • 3
    Yes. When HarishChandra was about to sacrifice ShunahShepa, then Kaushika told ShunahShepa to repeat Varuna mantra, and then Varuna came. The human in your answer could be the hymn.
    – user9392
    Sep 21, 2017 at 9:05
  • "sunaschepa" (dog penis) doesn't look like a word that would occur in the Rig Veda. Ramayana says clearly that Indra saved sunaschepa. That sunaschepa said a prayer to Vishnu "assumes facts not in evidence".
    – S K
    Dec 19, 2017 at 17:47
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    You are quite mistaken! As shared in my answer Sunahshepa story is clearly mentioned in the Aitreya Brahmana which is a part of the Rigveda. The Ramayan is later and in case of any contrary points of view it is always the Vedas that are considered more authentic. Dec 21, 2017 at 4:35
  • 2
    @SK The Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads are all part of the Vedas. They are all Apaurusheya or authorless. Dec 21, 2017 at 16:26
  • 3
    @SK Again, it's the god of the bell and not the bell itself. In any case sometimes people use Rig Veda as a short hand for Rig Veda Samhita, but it is still the case that the Aitareya Brahmana is part of the Rig Veda. The Apaurusheyatva of the Brahmanas is fundamental to Purva Mimamsa and Vedanta. If you want to see a proof that the Brahmanas are Apaurusheya, see Adhyaya 1 Pada 1 of the Purva Mimamsa Sutras and Shabara's commentary on it. Dec 21, 2017 at 16:49

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