From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Puruṣasukta literally means "hymn dealing with the Supreme person."

The Puruṣasukta is one of the most commonly used Vedic hymns in almost all the rituals or religious ceremonies. This sukta invariably is used for the following:

  • Worship of the deity either in temple or in one’s own home
  • Daily recitation of religious scriptures
  • Vedic rites establishing the sacred fire
  • Cremation of the body of a dead brāhmaṇa

Origin of Puruṣasukta[edit]

The Puruṣasukta is an integral part of the Ṛgveda Samhitā.[1] It also appears in the Taittiriya Āraṇyaka,[2] the Vājasaneyī Samhitā,[3] the Sāmaveda Samhitā[4] and also the Atharvaveda Samhitā.[5] Apart from this, an explanation of some parts of this hymn is also found in the Śaṭapatha Brāhmana, the Taittiriya Brāhmana and the Svetāśvatara Upaniṣad. The Mudgalopaniṣad gives a nice summary of the entire Puruṣasukta. The contents of this Sukta have largely been reflected in the Bhāgavata[6] and in the Mahābhārata[7] also.

Usage of Puruṣasukta[edit]

A well-known ancient text, the Ṛgvidhāna of Śaunaka, deals with its usage,[8] the fruits of reciting it[9] and its greatness and importance also.[10] For instance, a couple desirous of begetting a worthy son is advised to perform worship and homa[11] with the first sixteen mantras of this Sukta. It can also be utilized in ṣoḍaśopacāra-pujā[12] to Śrīhari or Viṣṇu. The hymn can be used for meditation on Nārāyaṇa also.

Content of Puruṣasukta[edit]

The text available now has 24 mantras or stanzas. It appears in the Taittiriya Āraṇyaka as stated above. The first 18 mantras are designated as the Purvanārāyaṇa and the rest as the Uttaranārāyaṇa. Sometimes 6 more mantras are added. This part is called Vaiṣnavānuvāka, since it has been taken from another well-known hymn, the Viṣṇusukta, a part of the Ṛgveda Samhitā. Though the mantras of the Uttaranārāyaṇa and the Vaiṣnavānuvāka do not seem to have any coherence with the 16 mantras of the Ṛgveda Samhitā, tradition has clubbed them together.

Varied Apprehensions Regarding Puruṣasukta[edit]

There is some perceptible difference in the order of the mantras as found in the extant texts of the Ṛgveda Samhitā and the Taittiriya Āranyaka of the Yajurveda. The first 6 mantras are identical. The 7th mantra of the Yajurveda[13] is the 15th in the Ṛgveda. The 18th mantra of the former[14] is shown as the 16th in the latter. The 16th and the 17th mantras[15] of the Yajurvedic text are not found in the Ṛgvedic reading. Every Vedic mantra, even the other mantras of the āgamas and the tantras, has a ṛṣi[16] to present whom the mantra was originally revealed, a chandas[17] and a devatā.[18] Before chanting the mantra one has to reverentially repeat these three and also state the viniyoga or the purpose for which the mantra is being uttered. Though the reverence shown to the ṛṣi and the devatā is understandable, the same towards the chandas may appear a little intriguing. Since each of the chandas or metres is believed to be presided over by a deity like Agni, by whose grace only that metrical composition is possible, this reverence is really towards that deity.

As applied to the Puruṣasukta of the Ṛgveda, the ṛṣi is Nārāyaṇa, the devatā is Puruṣa and the chandas is triṣṭubh[19] and anuṣtubh.[20] Whether this ṛṣi Nārāyaṇa was a human being like Gautama, Atri, Vasiṣṭha or Viśvāmitra, it is difficult to say. Maybe that the name of the original ṛṣi had been forgotten and later substituted by this word which indicates the subject-matter of the Sukta. This method has sometimes been followed in naming the ṛṣi of a sukta in the Ṛgveda.[21] Since the description of the Puruṣa here and that of Nārāyaṇa as given in another famous hymn, the Nārāyanasukta of the Yajurāranyaka, are identical, it can be assumed that they are one and the same. Hence, the statement that the ṛṣi is Nārāyaṇa is based on this principle. ‘Sukta’ means that which is ‘well- said’ or a ‘true description’. The Puruṣasukta is a hymn that gives the true description of the Puruṣa, the Primeval Being or God, the Creator.

Puruṣasukta Transcription[edit]


  1. The Puruṣa[22] has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes and a thousand feet. He has enveloped this world from all the sides and has even transcended it by ten aṅgulas or inches.
  2. All this is verily the Puruṣa. All that which existed in the past or will come into being in future is also the Puruṣa. He is the Lord of immortality. That which grows profusely by food is also the Puruṣa.
  3. So much is his greatness. However the Puruṣa is greater than this. All the beings form only a quarter part of him. The three-quarter part of his, which is immortal, is established in heaven.
  4. The Puruṣa with the three quarters of his being ascended above. His one quarter here became this world again and again. Then he pervaded this world comprising a variety of sentient beings and insentient objects.
  5. From Him[23] was born the Virāṭ.[24] Making this Virāṭ as the substratum or another puruṣa was born. As soon as he was born, he multiplied himself. Later, he created this earth and then, the bodies of the living beings.
  6. When the devas[25] performed a yajña,[26] using the puruṣa as the havis,[27] for that yajña,[28] the vasanta[29] and increasing that wealth and using it according to dharma.[30] Here, the word ‘artha’ as in ‘puruśārtha’ is taken only as ‘wealth’. It becomes the ājya,[31] the grīṣma[32] served as idhma[33] and the śarad[34] filled the place of havis.
  7. For this, there were seven paridhis.[35] Twenty-one items made the samit or sacrificial fuel sticks. When the devas were performing this yajña or sacrifice, they tied the puruṣa[36] as the paśu.[37]
  8. The devas, the sādhyas and the ṛṣis performed the sacrifice by using Puruṣa as the means of yajña, the Puruṣa who had been born in the beginning, after sprinkling him with water by the barhis.[38]
  9. From that yajña or sacrifice wherein the Cosmic Being was himself the oblation, was produced the pṛṣadājya.[39] Birds flying in the air, wild animals of the forest and also the domesticated animals of village were also produced.
  10. From that yajña, wherein the Cosmic Being was himself the oblation, were born the ṛks[40] and the sāmans.[41] From that, the metres like gāyatrī were born. From that the yajus or the Yajurveda was born.
  11. From that were born the horses and the animals like donkeys and mules, infact each cattle, which have two rows of teeth.
  12. When the gods decided to mentally sacrifice the Virāṭpuruṣa and produce further creation, in how many ways did they do it? What became of his face or mouth? What became his two arms? What became his two thighs? What were the products of the two feet called? His face or the mouth became the brāhmaṇa. His two arms became the rājanya or the kṣattriya. His two thighs became the vaiśya. From his two feet, the śudra was born.
  13. His mind gave birth to the moon. The sun was born from his two eyes. Indra and Agni were born from his mouth. The air was born from his teeth.
  14. The antarikṣa[42] was produced from his navel. Dyuloka or heaven came into existence from his head. The bhumi or the earth evolved out of his feet and dik[43] from his ears. Similarly the gods produced the worlds also.
  15. “I know through intuitive experience, this great Puruṣa, the wise one, who, having created the various forms and the nomenclatures for those forms deals with them by those names, and who is beyond darkness and is brilliant like the sun.”

  16. In the ancient days, Prajāpati praised him. Indra who knows all the four quarters also spoke about him. Anyone who knows him thus, will become immortal in this life. For attaining liberation there is no other path other than the knowledge of the Puruṣa.
  17. The gods worshiped Prajāpati in the form of yajña. Those very processes became the primary dharmas or laws guiding mankind. Those great ones attain that heaven where the ancient devas and sādhyas live.


  1. The Virātpuruṣa manifested himself from the all-pervading water and also the essence of the element of earth. This Virāṭpuruṣa was actually born out of the greatness of the Paramapuruṣa, the Creator. The Parama-puruṣa known as Tvaṣṭā engaged himself in the act of creating the fourteen worlds, which form the expanded figure of the Virāṭ-puruṣa. Thus the entire creation, related to the Virāṭpuruṣa, came into existence in the very beginning of creation.
  2. “I have known that great puruṣa who is brilliant like the sun and who is beyond all darkness. One who knows him thus becomes immortal even here. There is no other path for liberation than this.”

  3. Prajāpati[44] moves inside the cosmic womb. Though unborn he takes birth in a variety of ways. The wise ones know his real nature as the origin of the universe. The secondary creators desire to attain the positions of Marīci and others.
  4. Obeisance to him, the self-luminous Brahman, who shines for the gods, who is the leader of the rituals of the gods and who was born even before the gods.
  5. In the beginning of creation, the gods, manifesting the light of Brahman, addressed Brahman thus:

    ‘That brāhmaṇa who realizes you thus, all the gods will come under his control!’

  6. ‘O Puruṣa! the goddesses Hrī[45] and Śri[46] are your consorts. Day and night are your lateral limbs. The stars are your form. The Aśvins are your widely opened mouth. O Puruṣa! Fulfill our desire for Self-knowledge as also our desire for the enjoyments of this world like longevity, cows and horses. Give us all that we need!’

Some Salient Concepts[edit]

The Puruṣasukta is a rather difficult text to comprehend and hence to expound in a way that appeals to the modern mind, accustomed in it's reals ways of physical sciences. The difficulty arises mainly out of three factors:

  1. It is a part of the Ṛgveda which itself appears to be an enigmatic text, due to its hoary antiquity.
  2. As an extension of this, is the archaic language which does not lend itself easily to the interpretations based on grammar of classical Sanskrit.
  3. Our difficulties are further compounded by the various terms and concepts, which though closely allied to the Vedic rituals, appear to be symbolic and esoteric.

List of the more important concepts including the ones that appear to be recondite for a detailed exposition are:

  1. Puruṣa
  2. Virāṭ
  3. Puruṣa-yajña by the devas, the sādhyas and the ṛṣis
  4. Birth of the four Varṇas
  5. Further creation
  6. Jñāna
  7. Mokṣa and the nature of realization
  8. Cardinal dharmas and prayer for the fulfillment of desires

The Puruṣa[edit]

General Meaning of Puruṣa[edit]

In the most general sense the word ‘puruṣa’ means a man. By extension, it can mean a human being. However, in the Vedas, the Upaniṣads and the allied scriptures it is applied to God. Derived from the root ‘pṛ’[47] the word ‘puruṣa’ represents that principle or power which has filled the whole universe and is protecting it. What else can it be than God himself.

Other Names of Puruṣa[edit]

Sometimes it is also defined as ‘puri śete’.[48] Hence, Puruṣa is the being immanent in all the creation, especially the living beings. Puruṣa is the manifested state of the unmanifested Brahman, the origin and substratum of the universe. The other names by which He is known are:

  • Ādipuruṣa - It means the primeval being.
  • Parama-puruṣa - It means the highest being
  • Paramātman - the greatest self
  • Parameśvara - the supreme lord
  • Nārāyaṇa - the refuge of all the human beings
  • Bhagavān - the being endowed with immensely great qualities

Description of Puruṣa[edit]

The description of the Puruṣa as given in the Puruṣasukta is simply awesome.

  • Possessed of thousands of heads, eyes and feet, he has enveloped this universe on all sides and has also transcended it.
  • He himself being this entire universe, he is also immanent in it.
  • Not only the present creation but also the ones of the past and the future are verily he.
  • He is the master of immortality.
  • What appears as the living beings, sustained by food, are also him.
  • Though all the manifested world reveals his greatness, the Puruṣa himself is far greater than it.
  • In fact, the entire manifested universe of living beings and lifeless objects is only a fraction of him, whereas his major part is concealed in heaven.

Primary Creation[edit]

The Virāṭ[edit]

The question of creation of this world in which we live and move, has ever remained a mystery to the human mind. According to the religious traditions, the Vedas are the ultimate and sole authority to enlighten us in this regard. Though the several descriptions of creation given in the Vedic works including the Upaniṣads appear to differ from one another, there is a basic agreement also in regard to Brahman[49] being the original and the one and the only cause of the whole creation. The Puruṣasukta being one of the earliest of such descriptions sticks to the same pattern. Creation needs two fundamental objects:

  1. Matter
  2. Living beings

The Puruṣa created these in the first phase. This can be termed as primary creation. He manifested out of himself the Virāt, the immense being, the totality of all the objects in their seed or root form. He also entered into it and brought out the devas or the ‘bright ones’, the gods, who would carry on further or secondary creation as entrusted or directed by him. He also manifested out of himself the five subtle elements like the bhumi or the earth and the bodies of beings.

Relation of Virāṭ and Devas[edit]

Devas, sādhyas and ṛṣis are the various centers of power and action[50] in the body of the Virāṭ, energized by the further infilling of life-force and consciousness by the Puruṣa himself. They are called ‘devas’ because of their power of consciousness,[51] ‘sādhyas’ because they are capable of bringing about further creation[52] and ṛṣis because of their intuitive knowledge.[53] These devas, who are the sādhyas and the ṛṣis, now take on the task of secondary and tertiary creation.

Secondary Creation[edit]

The Puruṣayajna[edit]

The Puruṣasukta describes the secondary creation as carried out by the devas or gods as a yajña or sacrifice. In the ancient days, yajñas or yāgas, Vedic sacrifices, were extremely common and were the major or the primary aspect of religion in practice. Comprising the three parts, they were not only popular but also frequently resorted to for fulfilling any desire or for bringing about a great result, where human efforts were termed as a yajña, though symbolically and the practice continues to be too inadequate to achieve the task and divine intervention alone could accomplish it. These three parts are:

  1. Dravya - materials needed
  2. Devatā - the deity to be propitiated
  3. Tyāga - oblation

Any task which needed great efforts and sacrifice was being termed as yajña symbolically which is prevalent now also. Even the Bhagavadgītā[54] calls all good deeds of service as a yajña. Hence Puruṣasukta describes the secondary creation resorted to by the gods as a yajña. Since it was before creation when no materials were available for such sacrifice. Hence these gods performed it mentally by imagining the various parts and processes involved in it. For them the body of the Virātpuruṣa himself was the sole basic material out of which they had to conduct the sacrifice. Since the Puruṣa was everything, including the paśu[55] in that sacrifice, we can call it ‘Puruṣayajña’.

Elucidation of Yajña[edit]

Then follows a very interesting description of the yajña or sacrifice. A yajña needs several things for performing it such as:

  1. Havis - Havis means sacrificial materials like puroḍāśa or rice-cake.
  2. Ājya - ghee
  3. Idhma - fuel
  4. Paśu - an animal like a goat for immolation and offering into the fire
  5. Others

The process includes several acts performed with appropriate mantras or incantations, such as fixing the paridhis or borders for the sacrificial fires, bandhana or tying the animal to the yupastambha or the sacrificial post, prokṣaṇa or sprinkling water on the animal with sacrificial grass and many other items. Once a yajña is performed with all its accessories and perfectly it has to produce its results, either here or hereafter.

The mental sacrifice performed by the gods as described in the Sukta using a language that appears as a riddle, needs to be understood in a proper perspective. It is a matter of our experience that a reality of today was only a concept yesterday. A concept of today can become a reality tomorrow. However, the worth and greatness of the person who conceives such ideas is an important factor in the whole process. The devas,[56] emanations from the Puruṣa, endowed with parts of his powers that are performing the sāṅkalpika or mānasa yajña.[57] Hence their mental activities must result in physical products, whether subtle or gross.

Yajña Performed by Gods[edit]

The Sukta says that in the mental sacrifice the gods offered the Vasanta-ṛtu[58] as ājya or ghee into the sacrificial fire. It is a well-known fact that during the spring season the whole flora and fauna is at its best. Domestic animals, especially the cows, can eat plenty of grass and hence can yield milk in profuse quantities. So, milk, curds and ghee will be available in good quantity, for being used in the sacrificial rites. This gives us a clue of the selection of the Vasanta or the spring for being offered as ājya[59] in that sacrifice.

However, neither ghee nor the spring season existed at the time of this mental sacrifice. Then the question arises that how could the gods perform it. The gods remembered the previous cycle of creation and the last created world, remembered its spring season, mentally converted it into ājya and poured it as oblation into the fire of the present mental sacrifice. This oblation instantly resulted in the physical production of the Vasanta-ṛtu or the spring season of this creation. This logic or mode of explanation can now be extended to the other items of the sacrifice in a similar manner. They are:

  • Seven chandas or Vedic metres
  • The twelve months
  • The three worlds
  • The five seasons
  • All the objects of pleasure and enjoyment
  • Various types of animals
  • The four Vedas

In other words, every conceivable object of creation was produced out of that great mental sacrifice of the gods. It is interesting to note that in this act of creation, man comes last. But he is the pinnacle of the whole process.

Creation of Human Beings[edit]

The Sukta, while narrating the creation of the human beings, puts it in a picturesque way. When the gods offered the various limbs of the Virāṭpuruṣa who himself had been treated as the paśu or animal for the sacrifice, into the sacrificial fire, all in imagination since it was a mental or symbolic sacrifice there came out of that offering, the people of the four varṇas or groups the brāhmaṇa, the kṣattriya, the vaiśya and the śudra. The brāhmaṇa emerged out of the face or the mouth of the Virāṭpuruṣa, the kṣattriya called rājanya was produced out of his arms, the vaiśya was created out of his two thighs whereas the śudra sprang from his feet. In other words, these people of the four varṇas were produced when the respective limbs of the Virāt-puruṣa were offered in that symbolic of mental sacrifice.

The creation process continued further when the moon and the sun were born out of his mind and eyes. Indra and Agni emerged out of his mouth. So also Vāyu or air was produced out of his prāṇa or vital breath. This was followed by the appearance of antarikṣa[60] from the navel, heaven from the head, earth from the feet, directions from the ears as also all the worlds.

The creation of the human beings as belonging to the four well-known varṇas or social groups and describing their emergence from the different limbs of the Virātpuruṣa, especially of the śudra from the feet, has raised bitter controversies and heated debates. The statement has even been construed as a machination of the brāhmaṇas to subdue and enslave the others, especially the śudras. The rancor generated by such polemics based on a misunderstanding on the text coupled with or nurtured by unhappy social environment has done enough damage to the solidarity of the society. Hence the subject needs a more extensive treatment.

The Varṇa System and the Puruṣasukta[edit]

Concept of Varṇa System[edit]

Choosing a vocation as per one’s desire and aptitude is a common phenomenon seen in all civilized societies. It is the duty of the society to provide suitable opportunities for the citizens to choose and pursue those vocations that conform to their nature. This is the principle and philosophy behind the varṇa system. It is prakṛti or nature that brought it into being and not the Puruṣasukta, which has not only recognized its existence but has also described it picturesquely, in a highly poetical and symbolic language.

Existence of Varṇa System[edit]

It is sometimes alleged that the varṇa system did not exist in the early Vedic society but appeared at its fag end. Since the Puruṣasukta refers to it, this work must be, chronologically speaking, a later composition added on to the earlier part. But this is not correct since there are enough references in other parts of the Rgveda to the already existing varṇa system.[61][62]

Significance of Virātpuruṣa in Varṇa System[edit]

  • The brāhmaṇas were the custodians of Vedic knowledge and culture. The organ of speech was their forte. Hence the depiction of their birth as from the mouth or the face of the Virātpuruṣa is symbolically speaking, correct.
  • Similarly, the birth of the kṣattriyas or the rājanyas[63] from the arms of the Virātpuruṣa is also met since the physical strength and military skill were their specialty.
  • The vaiśyas were the main segment of the population supporting and sustaining the whole society by their economic activities. Hence the description of their being born out of the thighs of the Virātpuruṣa is proper.
  • Without the feet, the body cannot stand erect, in a state of balance. So even the society cannot exist without the supply of physical labor, which was the chosen occupation of the śudras since they were not fit for the other three occupations. Therefore the description that they were born out of the feet of the Virātpuruṣa is in order.

One more factor to be kept in mind is that all the persons of all the four varṇas were born out of the body of the Virātpuruṣa[64] and not from a lesser entity or a mortal like us. Hence all are equally divine.

Controversy Amongst the Śudras[edit]

Much of the discontent roused by the Puruṣasukta among the śudras was due to two factors:

  • The notion that the ‘head’ is superior and the ‘feet’ are inferior in status
  • The nasty treatment that they have sometimes received at the hands of the upper classes of the society

The former is a notion that does not stand close scrutiny. Except in the game of football, where the head and the feet may be of equal importance, in all other situations of our life, the relative importance of our limbs varies as the occasion demands. For instance, while doing abhiṣeka or giving a ceremonial bath to the deity in a temple, or, laying the foundation stone for a building it is the hand[65] that gets precedence and not the head. While honoring the elders, especially the religious leaders, pujā[66] is done to the feet and not to the head! While tending little children with love, we keep them in our lap[67] and not on our crown. A cripple will perhaps consider the possession of feet as more important.

As regards to the latter, the mistake lies mainly with the first two varṇas who sometimes have misused their position to harass or oppress the last group. In fact, important religious works like the Mahābhārata[68] have declared that the brāhmaṇahood depends not on the accident of birth but on the possession of godly virtues.

Dissolution of Varṇa System[edit]

Once the basic truth, that diversity is a fact of life, brought about by nature, is realized and serious attention is directed towards achieving unity and harmony, co-operation and co-ordination begins, in spite of that diversity, so that all the human beings can live in peace, the problem stands dissolved. The seers had foreseen the need for such efforts. They were apprehensive of the possibilities of the first varṇa misusing its privileges and status. That is why attempts had been made to offset such tendencies by prescribing that a brāhmaṇa could take food in the house of a śudra who was serving him in some form.[69][70][71]

More than everything else, the śudras had never been denied spiritual knowledge and wisdom which was the birthright of every human being. There have been many great saints from among the śudras and even from the untouchables as illustrated by Vālmīki, Vyāsa, Dharmavyādha, Vidura, Nandanār, Raidās, Kanakadāsa, Tiruppāṇ Ālvar and a host of others who are being highly venerated even now, by all the sections of the society. It is remarkable that the brāhmaṇas, even though they had neither the military power nor the economic power, were respected and obeyed for over five thousand years by the society. This was purely based on just two factors which are their devotion to satya and dharma,[72] and their sublime character. In the dharmaśāstras[73] that they have composed, they have voluntarily bound themselves with more stringent rules than they have prescribed for others.

It is nevertheless an undeniable fact that the caste system as it is today has very little in common with the original spirit of the varṇa system. The evils generated, including the animosity among the people of various castes seems to far outweigh the advantages. The society in this post-independence era, characterized by tremendous advancement in science and technology, throwing open all the professions to all the persons, is absolutely free to bring about healthy changes. The fact has been well-recognized by the ancient sages who composed the smṛtis and dharmaśāstras that when people dislike a custom or a social system they can give it up and substitute it by better ones.[74][75]

In spite of its several shortcomings and aberrations, if the caste system based solely on birth has survived for five to six thousand years, there must undoubtedly be something good in it. Perhaps, the psychological sense of belonging to a recognized social group and the consequent security it has offered may be the main reasons for the same. Hence, it is much wiser to attempt reforming it or even replace it with a better system than totally uprooting it or substituting it with a worse system like the one based on the power of money or ethnic differences or political patronage. Svāmi Vivekānanda, the great prophet, has declared that giving of good education includes culture which will go a long way in the leveling up of the society.

Divisions like Varṇa system in Other Parts of the World[edit]

Throughout the history of the human race, such divisions have existed. Sociologists have discovered this system existing among the people of ancient Greece, China and Persia. Germany, Japan and Russia too have had it. Other countries of Europe were no exception. It may be interesting to note that untouchables existed even in a Muslim country like Arabia though they were also local Muslims. Social hierarchy is an inevitable fact of life which cannot be wished away. It exists even today in all the societies including the socialist or the communist.

Secondary Creation - Further Details[edit]

Foundation of Creation[edit]

The Sukta further describes the creation by the devas from the Virāṭpuruṣa. From his mind emerged the moon. The sun was born out of his eyes. Indra and Agni emanated from his face or mouth. So also Vāyu[76] came out of his prāṇa.[77] Dyuloka or the heaven, bhumi or the earth and antarikṣa or the intervening space were born respectively out of his head, feet and the navel. Similarly all the other worlds and their beings were also created. With this, practically, ends the description of creation from the Puruṣa.

Relation of Moon and Mind[edit]

The relationship between the moon and our minds is noteworthy, since our minds are parts of the cosmic mind and the moon is also a product of that cosmic mind, the influence of the moon on our minds cannot be ruled out. The word ‘lunacy’ used as a synonym for insanity[78] and the aggravation or subsidence of symptoms with the changing phases of the moon, confirm this.

Difference in Puruṣasukta and Other Scriptures[edit]

The human mind has always intrigued in knowing how this creation has come about. Since it itself is a product of the created world it can never succeed in knowing this secret. The Śruti or the Vedas are the only authority for knowing it. However, the descriptions given in the Vedas, including the Upaniṣads, are so variegated that we do not get a clear-cut picture of the same. Neither do the attempts made in the works like the Brahmasutras to give a coordinated picture, help us much. Hence, the only way of resolving the problem is to concede that the main purpose of the Śruti is to draw our attention to the Creator, and not to the creation as such which is only a projection from out of himself and the need to know him and the consequent beatitude we attain. This attainment of beatitude has been expressed in exquisitely enchanting terms by a ṛṣi in the Puruṣasukta to inspire and guide the spiritual aspirants.

Bliss of Realization[edit]

Synonyms of Puruṣa[edit]

One of the most important questions discussed by the philosophical works is the final goal of human life. According to the Vedas and the Vedānta, this goal is mokṣa or liberation from transmigration. This mokṣa is rediscovering our eternal relationship with that Puruṣa variously called as:

This is possible only through jñāna or knowledge which is anubhava or direct experience or realization and not just intellectual understanding.

Significance of Realization[edit]

The Puruṣasukta teaches us this fundamental truth by describing the ecstatic experience of realization of a ṛṣi and an unequivocal declaration that there is absolutely no other path to immortality than the knowledge or the direct experience of that Puruṣa who is brilliant like the sun and is beyond tamas, darkness of ignorance. Though karma or Vedic rituals have been eulogized and prescribed, they are only aids in the spiritual path and secondary importance. This statement can also serve the purpose of guiding an aspirant in the path of meditation on the supreme Puruṣa.

Spiritual Wisdom and Spiritual Teachers[edit]

Religious sampradāya or the tradition vehemently asserts that all the knowledge, especially spiritual wisdom, is generally called as ‘adhyātmavidyā’, has to be obtained personally from a competent guru or spiritual preceptor. Nobody else can be a better guru than the Puruṣa himself. The Puruṣasukta automatically stresses this point when it declares that this wisdom was first taught by the Puruṣa to Dhātā[79] who taught it to Sakra or Indra. Indra then spread it in all directions through worthy ṛṣis or sages.

Primary Dharmas or Duties[edit]

Founders of These Duties[edit]

Though the Puruṣasukta has accorded primary importance to the description of the Puruṣa, the process of creation and spiritual knowledge as the sole means of mokṣa or liberation, it has not forgotten to stress the significance of performing one's allotted duties in life. While declaring that the devas worshiped Puruṣa through yajna or sacrifice, the sukta has also proclaimed that these dharmas became the primary or the cardinal ones contributing to the sustenance of the world. This statement needs a little amplification.

The devas had been allotted the task of secondary creation by Puruṣa, who had also supplied them the raw material, in the form of Virāt. They used this raw-material, performed the mānasyajna or mental sacrifice and completed the task of creation as allotted to them. They found out their respective duties and performed them with single minded devotion. This became their worship of the Puruṣa.

Significance of Cosmic Laws[edit]

This has a great lesson for the human beings. God has given us a ready made world. It is well-regulated by the cosmic laws. Even the Gods worked and are still working within the ambit of these laws, for the good of the whole world. A yajna in spirit means just the offering of the individual good into the cosmic or universal good by performing one's duties to the best of one's ability and always keeping in mind the cosmic good.

Significance of Svadharma as per Bhagvadgītā[edit]

The day the devas performed the very first mānasa-yajna or mental sacrifice, that very day were born the 'prathama-dharmas' or the first karmas, which became the model to the human beings after creation. The Bhagvadgītā[80] describes the jagaccakra or the universal cycle in which all the beings and things are linked with one another, because of which the world runs smoothly. If each persons performs his svadharma or allotted duty, not only does the world run smoothly but also that very svadharma-karma becomes a worship of the Lord leading to the siddhi or spiritual fulfillment.

Attainment of Heaven[edit]

Being full of desires, the human beings aspire for the attainment of heaven after death. The scriptures contain plenty of references to such higher lokas or abodes of which the svargaloka is the one most sought after. The Puruṣasukta also refers to this as Nāka, the world free from all sorrow, the heaven where the ancient devas and sādhyas live, and the noble souls who contemplate on the Puruṣa go. Then there are others who wish to attain the status of the Prajāpatis[81] like Marīci, Atri and others. However the main stress of the Sukta is on mukti or liberation through the knowledge of Puruṣa.

Obesiance and Prayers[edit]

The Sukta ends with an obeisance to the self-luminous Puruṣa by the gods who also declare their subservience to any person who succeeds in knowing that Puruṣa. The hymn closes with a beautiful description of the Puruṣa identified with Nārāyaṇa with his two consorts, Hrī and Lakṣmī. His lateral limbs are day and night. The stars and the moon form his body. Heaven and earth seems like the two halves of his open mouth.


  1. Ṛgveda Samhitā
  2. Taittiriya Āraṇyaka 3.12,13
  3. Vājasaneyī Samhitā 31.1-6
  4. Sāmaveda Samhitā 6.4
  5. Atharvaveda Samhitā 19.6
  6. Bhāgavata 2.5.35 to 2.6.1-29
  7. Mokṣadharma Parva 351 and 352
  8. It is called viniyoga.
  9. It is called as phalaśruti.
  10. It is called as māhātmya.
  11. Homa is the ceremonial oblations done into the duly consecrated fire.
  12. It is worship with 16 items.
  13. It is saptāsyāsan paridhayah.
  14. It is called as yajñena yajñamayajanta.
  15. They are vedāhametam, dhāta purastāt.
  16. Rṣi means the seer.
  17. It is the metre in which it is composed.
  18. It means the deity to whom it is addressed.
  19. It is in the 16th mantra.
  20. Anuṣtubh is for the rest.
  21. Ṛgveda 10.121
  22. Puruṣa means the Primeval Being.
  23. Here He means The Ādipuruṣa or the Primeval Being.
  24. Virāṭ means the immense being.
  25. Devas are the gods or beings of light.
  26. Yajña means sacrifice.
  27. Havis means the oblation material like the puroḍāśa or rice-cake.
  28. It can be called as Yajña or sacrifice.
  29. Vasant means spring.
  30. Manusmṛti 7.99
  31. Ājya means ghee.
  32. Grīṣma means summer.
  33. Idhma means faggots of wood.
  34. Śarada means autumn.
  35. Paridhis means fuel pieces serving as borders.
  36. Puruṣa means himself.
  37. Paśu means the sacrificial animal.
  38. Barhis means sacrificial grass.
  39. Pṛṣadājya is curds mixed with ghee.
  40. Ṛks means the mantras of the Ṛgveda.
  41. Sāmans means the mantras of the Sāmaveda.
  42. Antarikṣa means the space between the earth and the heaven.
  43. Dik means spacial directions.
  44. Prajāpati is the Lord of all beings.
  45. Hrī refers to modesty.
  46. Śri means wealth.
  47. Pṛ means to protect, to fill up.
  48. Puri śete means the ‘one who lies in the body of a living being’.
  49. Here he is called Puruṣa.
  50. They are called as indriyas and prāṇas.
  51. Div means to shine.
  52. Sādh means to bring about.
  53. Ṛṣ means to know.
  54. Bhagavadgītā 3.9
  55. Paśu means animal for immolation.
  56. Devas means divine beings.
  57. Mānasa yajña means mental sacrifice, upāsanā or deep meditation.
  58. Vasanta-ṛtu means spring season.
  59. Ājya means ghee-oblation.
  60. Antarikṣa means intervening space.
  61. Ṛgveda Samhitā 8.35.16,17
  62. Ṛgveda Samhitā 1.108.7
  63. Rājanyas means fighters and kings.
  64. Virātpuruṣa is an aspect of God.
  65. It is called amṛtahasta.
  66. Pujā means worship.
  67. Lap means thighs.
  68. Vanaparva 181.20-26
  69. Manusmṛti 6.253
  70. Yājñavalkya Smṛti 1.166
  71. Parāśara Smṛti 11.19
  72. It means truth and righteousness.
  73. Dharmaśāstras means scriptural works dealing with the conduct of people.
  74. Manusmṛti 4.176
  75. Yājñavalkya Smṛti 1.156
  76. Vāyu means air.
  77. Prāṇa means life-force or vital air.
  78. Luna means moon.
  79. Dhātā is the four faced Brahmā, the creator.
  80. Bhagvadgītā 3.9-16
  81. Prajāpatis means the progenitors or secondary creators.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore

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