VEDIC RATRI SUKTA EXPLAINED


SRI GURUBHYO NAMAH SRI PARAMAGURUBHYO NAMAH

SRI PARAMESHTHI GURUBHYO NAMAH

SHAANTAA VIMALAA PRAKAASHAA ATMAA GUHAA CHIDYOGAASAYA SRI PARAANANDAADI SADGUROON NAMAAMYAHAM PUNAH PUNAH

The Rātrisūkta (“Hymn to Night” [ṚV 10.127]) is a glorious nature poem in praise of
the deified night, described as a beautiful goddess whose many eyes are the stars that illumine every quarter. Her approaching darkness causes people, animals, and birds to seek rest. But there are predators, animal and human alike, that lurk in that darkness. Against them the hymn appeals for protection and easy passage through the night until, as surely as the crushing blackness engulfs the earth like a wave, Night’s sister, Dawn (Uṣhas), heralds the returning light of day. This earliest hymn to the goddess Rātri reveals her benevolent and terrifying faces, but a later gloss appended to the Ṛgveda immediately after the Rātrisūkta concentrates on her auspicious, restful, and protective nature. That text, the Rātrlkhila, presents many themes found later in the Devīmāhātmya and employs the same epithets and entire verses that are markedly similar. Four times
in three verses it refers to the personified Night as Durgā (ṚV Kh 4.2.5, 12, 13).1 In Vedic worship,

Rātri was closely identified with Vāk, Sarasvatī, and Aditi, who were considered one and the same goddess, the supreme deity further identified with Durgā. From a metaphysical standpoint, Rātri represents the obscuring māyā, the power that simultaneously projects the world and envelops it in spiritual darkness. Yet, as surely as night follows day, Rātri’s sister, Uṣas, heralds the approaching light. The Devī’s inseparable faces—the night of duality that deceives and the illuminating light of dawn that points toward enlightenment— represent in turn the ignorance and falsehood of ordinary human awareness, and the blissful knowledge of Brahman.3 With darkness comes fear, for what dangers may lurk there unseen? For no small reason the Devīmāhātmya calls Mahāmāyā “the terrifying night of delusion” (1.78), referring to the embodied human state. Nevertheless, we must not forget that the dark goddess merely veils her
own light, for beyond ignorance and knowledge she is self-luminous consciousness.

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