As I discuss in this question, by far the most popular school of Hindu philosophy is the Vedanta school, which bases its tenets on the doctrines laid out in the Brahma Sutras, a work by the sage Vyasa which summarizes and systematizes the philosophical teachings of the Upanishads. You can read the Brahma Sutras here. In any case, Adhyaya 3 Pada 3 of the Brahma Sutras describes the Brahma Vidyas, 32 lessons found in the various Upanishads which can each lead you to Brahman if you meditate upon them. You can see the full list of 32 Vidyas here.

Now as I discuss in this question, one of these 32 Brahma Vidyas is known as the Madhu Vidya, or "honey wisdom". It's found in the Brihadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads, it was taught by the sage Dadhichi to the two Ashwini Kumaras while Dadhichi had a horse head in the place of his human head. In any case, in this chapter of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, four Vedic verses are given which allude to the Madhu Vidya and/or the story of how it was taught:

  1. Verily Dadhyak Âtharvana proclaimed this honey (the madhu-vidyâ) to the two Asvins, and a Rishi, seeing this, said (Rv. I, 116, 12): 'O ye two heroes (Asvins), I make manifest that fearful deed of yours (which you performed) for the sake of gain, like as thunder makes manifest the rain. The honey (madhu-vidyâ) which Dadhyak Âtharvana proclaimed to you through the head of a horse,'

  2. Verily Dadhyak Âtharvana proclaimed this honey to the two Asvins, and a Rishi, seeing this, said (Rv. I, 117, 22): 'O Asvins, you fixed a horse's head on Âtharvana Dadhyak, and he, wishing to be true (to his promise), proclaimed to you the honey, both that of Tvashtri and that which is to be your secret, O ye strong ones.'

  3. Verily Dadhyak Âtharvana proclaimed this honey to the two Asvins, and a Rishi, seeing this, said: 'He (the Lord) made bodies with two feet, he made bodies with four feet. Having first become a bird, he entered the bodies as purusha (as the person).' This very purusha is in all bodies the purisaya, i.e. he who lies in the body (and is therefore called purusha). There is nothing that is not covered by him, nothing that is not filled by him.

  4. Verily Dadhyak Âtharvana proclaimed this honey to the two Asvins, and a Rishi, seeing this, said (Rv. VI, 47, 18): 'He (the Lord) became like unto every form, and this is meant to reveal the (true) form of him (the Âtman). Indra (the Lord) appears multiform through the Mâyâs (appearances), for his horses (senses) are yoked, hundreds and ten.'

The quotes in verses 16, 17, and 19 are all cited by the translators as verses from the Rig Veda. But the quote in verse 18 is not given a citation: "He (the Lord) made bodies with two feet, he made bodies with four feet. Having first become a bird, he entered the bodies as purusha (as the person)." So my question is, where in the Vedas is this quote found?

If it helps, here is the verse in Sanskrit:

puraścakre dvipadaḥ puraścakre catuṣpadaḥ ।

puraḥ sa pakṣī bhūtvā puraḥ puruṣa āviśaditi ।

Is this verse from the Rig Veda just like the other three verses, or is it from somewhere else?

  • This can be a metaphor like the analogy of two birds(atman and parmatma) sitting on a tree(samsara) one eats fruits while other(paramatma) is just a surveyor of his activities. Since its a bramha vidya I think it would be a meditation technique, like meditation upon sun and all his rays.
    – Yogi
    Apr 18, 2017 at 5:12
  • It's definitely not from Rig Veda. The diction is completely post-Vedic. "Purah" is used in a completely different sense from that in Rig Veda. "pakṣī bhūtvā" is not a Vedic construct. Puruṣa entering something is completely post-Vedic. It could be a pseudo-Vedic "shloka" that was passed off as a rishi's darshana.
    – RamAbloh
    Jun 23, 2020 at 4:43

2 Answers 2


Pakshi in this context is not bird, but Sukshma Sariram. Swami Paramarthananda Saraswati, a direct disciple of Swami Dayananda Saraswati of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam has taught Brihadaranyaka Upanishad with Sankaracharya Bhashya. The transcript of his classes on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad can be found here and audio form can be found here. As far as the expanation of 18th mantra is considered, it is the 10 audio file named "05-19-07_67 Mantra2" in this link. The below is the transcript of his talk. There might be some spelling mistakes, so I suggest you listen to his lecture also.

Thus in the 16 and 17th mantra the context is mentioned. Then in the 18th and 19th mantra we get a summary of the teaching Madhu vidya. The essence of the teaching is the sarvatma bhavah. Thus Maitreyi brahmanam and Madhu brahmanam are complementary to each other; both together reveal the Idam sarvam edayam Atma sarvatma bhava. Atma alone is in the form the entire universe. And this sarvatma bhava is revealed in the mantra 18, which we took up in the last class.

The meaning of this mantra is purusah eva sarvam chakre. The word chakre means it is verbal form ‘He created’. The paramatma or the purusah created everything out of ‘Himself’. How is the creation bahusyam? I will create not out of some other raw material but I will create everything out of ‘Myself’. When you say creating out of ‘Paramatma itself’, it means paramatma ‘Itself’ became the creation. And that is the meaning of chakre. Thus purusah himself became the two-legged beings.

Here the word puraha means the physical bodies; so purusah paramatma became all the two legged physical bodies like that of human beings and catuspada puraha chakre the very same paramatma created the four-legged physical bodies. In short paramatma ‘became’ all the sthoola sarirams of all the physical bodies; ‘became’ should be inverted commas for paramatma never undergo any change to become physical bodies and we have to supply the words ‘as though’ to indicate that he entered all the physical bodies.

It is vivartha upadana karanam not parinami upadana karanam. By saying that what is the corollary that we get is that when I say paramatma became the physical bodies ‘as though’ it means paramatma is of the higher order of reality and physical bodies are of the lower order of reality and paramatma is paramarthika sathyam and jivatma sarirams are related to vyavaharika sathyam.

Having become all the physical bodies what did the paramatma do? I told you in the last class word paksi in this context is sukshma sariram. Having become the sukshma sarirams, he became ‘as though’ as many sthoola sarirams are there so many sukshma sarirams are also there and ‘He’ become manifold sukshma sarirams ‘as though’. Whatever paramatma does is ot be taken ‘as though’.

Then the paramatma in the form of sukshma sariram entered all the sthoola sarirams. Thereafter wards all the transactions begin because paramatma by itself is not available for any transactions. Here there is sthoola sukshma sariram complex and there are so many sthoola sukshma sariram complexes and therefore there is a teaching going on and the teacher being paramatma and students also being paramatma.

Both guru and sisya are paramatma only it is stated here. Then the upanisad explains the mantra. Because of this job, paramatma gets a special title purusah. And the upanisad defines the word purusah in this portion and two types of derivations are given for the word. The first definition of purusah is ‘puri sayanad’ purusah because paramatma resides in the physical body it is called purusah. And puri means sthoola sarire sayanad saha means residing and sukshma sarira rupena sayanad. This is the first derivation. The second derivation is purayati sarvam iti purusah. One who pervades everything; one who fills up everything; one who inheres everything is called purusah. Both these derivations are given in the brahmana portion. Sava ayam purusah means that this Atma is sarvasu poorsu bhavati the Atma is present in all the sthoola sarirams.

Atma is in the form of sukshma sarira rupena paksi rupena bhavati. Then purisayah iti pursaha. This means in the body dwells Atma; since it is the body dwelling therefore it is called purusah. Paksi rupena here means the sukshma sariram. This is the first derivation.

Now the second derivation comes. The upanisad wants to point out atma pervades everything but instead of putting in a positive language the upanisad puts it in double negative language to give emphasis to the statement. Upanisad says ‘nothing is not pervaded by purusah’. Then na enena kinchana na anavrutam. In fact, asamvrutam is the same as anavrutam. Adhi Sankaracharya makes a subtle difference. He says paramatma is in and through all the body. Everything is inhered by paramatma. Instead of everything is inhered the upanisad says nothing is not inhered by paramatma.

To put it in simple language paramatma is inherent in all and paramatma is the immanent principle in all. It is like as the clay is inherent in all pots; just water is inherent in all waves; just rope is inherent in imaginary snake; just waker is inherent in every dream objects similarly paramatma is inherent in all. In fact paramatma is the content of all, therefore paramatma fills up all, and therefore paramatma is purusah. With this the first summary is over. Summary is paramatma is every thing. Remember sarvatma bhava.

Hope this helps you.

  • Unfortunately this doesn't help me, because my question is about the source of this mantra, not about what it means. Jun 17, 2017 at 15:18

Sankara makes no reference to the Rig Veda in his comments to these verses, however, both Swami Nikhilananda's and Swami Madhavananda's separate translations footnotes the three Rig Veda verses you mentioned, but no footnote on verse 18.

Both Swamis Madhavananda and Nikhilananda in their separate translations reference that verses 16 and 17 refer to the Pravargya rite from the Satapatha Brahmnana (XIV. i. 1. 6-10.) and also the Taittiriya Aranyaka (V. i. 3-6.)

They both have a slightly different translation to verse 18 which I think are clearer translations. Nikhilananda's and Madhavananda's translations are essentially the same. Madhavananda's translation says:

..."He (the Lord) made bodies with two feet; he made bodies with four feet. Having first become a bird (the subtle body), He, the Supreme Person, entered all bodies. On account of His dwelling in all bodies (pur), He is called the Person (Purusha). There is nothing not covered by Him, nothing that is not pervaded by Him."

  • 2
    This doesn't answer my question at all; telling me that two other translators also don't mention where the verse comes from isn't an answer. (It should be posted as a comment.) But yeah, I know that the Rig Veda verses quoted in 16 and 17 are referring to the story given in the Shatapatha Brahmana and Taittiriya Aranyaka of Dadhichi teaching the Ashwini Kumaras the Pravargya/Madhu Vidya while having a horse head.. Sep 18, 2015 at 12:51
  • @KeshavSrinivasan I think if it had a Rig Veda reference as well, the 2 translators mentioned would have given it. Sep 18, 2015 at 12:58
  • Well, it's presumably from one of the Vedas, since it says that it was seen by a Rishi. Sep 18, 2015 at 13:00
  • By the way, have you seen my other question on this same Brihadaranyaka Upanishad chapter: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/7729/36 Sep 18, 2015 at 13:00
  • I just posted a question on Adi Shankaracharya's Brahma Stra Bhashya that you may be interested in: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/8646/36 Sep 19, 2015 at 14:06

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