Chapter 10 (Appendix 3)
SaramA and the PaNis: A Mythological Theme in the Rigveda
The myth of SaramA and the PaNis is found in the Rigveda X.108.
The hymn, as Griffith notes, �is a colloquy between SaramA, the messenger of the Gods or of Indra� and the PaNis or envious demons who have carried off the cows or rays of light which Indra wishes to recover�.1
But, according to Macdonell, the hymn is about �the capture by Indra of the cows of the PaNis� (who) possess herds of cows which they keep hidden in a cave far beyond the RasA, a mythical river. SaramA, Indra�s messenger, tracks the cows and asks for them in Indra�s name, but is mocked by the PaNis.�2
Clearly, there is a basic difference in the above descriptions of the myth: Griffith�s description suggests that the cows were stolen by the PaNis, and are sought to be recovered by Indra; Macdonell�s description suggests that the cows belong to the PaNis and are coveted by Indra.
The myth is a complex one, which has developed many shades and facets in the Rigveda itself. We will examine this myth as follows:
I. Development of the Vedic myth.
II. The PaNis in Teutonic Mythology.
III. SaramA and the PaNis in Greek Mythology.
IV. Mythology and History.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE VEDIC MYTH
Primitive myths came into being out of efforts to arrive at explanations for the phenomena of nature.
One very common phenomenon in nature is the daily transition from day to night and night to day. This was conceived of in mythical terms as an eternal struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness: the forces of darkness, with unfailing regularity, stole away the Sun or its rays, leading to the onset of night. The forces of light, with equal regularity, rescued the Sun, or recovered its rays, leading to the onset of daytime.
The forces of light had a specific name: Devas (from div-, �light�). The forces of darkness, however, did not have such a clear-cut name, as darkness (being merely the absence of light) is a negative phenomenon. The action of stealing and hiding away the Sun or its rays was likened to that of the miserly traders and merchants who hoarded goods and money, hence the name PaNi, originally meaning trader or merchant, was applied to them.
In the course of time, a regular phenomenon of nature was converted into a single mythical incident: the incident involving SaramA and the PaNis.
The progressive development of the three main mythical entities in the SaramA-PaNi myth (ie. SaramA, the PaNis, and the cows) may be noted:
1. SaramA is progressively:
a. �the Dawn who recovers the rays of the Sun that have been carried away by night.�3
b. �the hound of Indra and mother of the two dogs called after their mother SArameyas who are the watchdogs of Yama the God of the Dead.�4
c. �the messenger of the Gods or of Indra.�5
2. The PaNis are progressively:
a. �in accordance with the original meaning of the word, merchants or traders.�6
b. �a class of envious demons watching over treasures.�7
c. �the fiends who steal cows and hide them in mountain caverns.�8
3. The cows are progressively:
a. �the rays of light carried off and concealed by the demons of darkness,�9 the PaNis.
b. �the rain-clouds carried off and kept concealed by the PaNis.�10
c. �the PaNi�s hoarded wealth, the cattle and the wealth in horses and in kine.�11
The myth starts off with the idea of the PaNis, the demons of darkness, stealing the rays of light and hiding them away at night, and SaramA, the Dawn, recovering them in the morning, as a matter of daily routine.
The original concept of the rays of light is still present in early hymns (VI.20.4; VII.9.2), but these rays of light are more regularly depicted as cows.
SaramA, who searches out and recovers the rays of the Sun is soon conceived of as a kind of hound, �the hound of Indra, who tracked the stolen cows�.12
A regular phenomenon gradually becomes a single incident: SaramA�s searching out and tracking of the cows stolen by the PaNis becomes a major incident in itself, and develops new angles. In some versions, the PaNis, merchants and boarders of wealth, now become the owners of the cows, and Indra becomes the covetous God who covets these cows. SaramA now becomes a messenger of Indra and the Gods in their quest for the cows of the PaNis. This is the myth represented in hymn
The further development of this myth may be noted:
1. In X. 108, as D.D. Kosambi points out, �the hymn says nothing about stolen cattle, but is a direct, blunt demand for tribute in cattle, which the PaNis scornfully reject. They are then warned of dire consequences.�13
As we have seen, Macdonell notes that the PaNis �possess herds of cows which they keep hidden in a cave far beyond the RasA, a mythical river. SaramA, Indra�s messenger, tracks the cows and asks for them in Indra�s name, but is mocked by the PaNis.�14
The gist of the hymn is as follows:
a. SaramA makes her way over long paths and over the waters of the RasA and conveys to the PaNis Indra�s demand for their �ample stores of wealth�.
b. The PaNis refuse, and tauntingly offer to make Indra the herdsman of their cattle.
c. SaramA warns them of dire consequences if they refuse Indra�s demand.
d. The PaNis express their willingness to do battle with Indra. But they offer to accept SaramA as their sister if she will stay on with them and share their cattle and wealth.
e. SaramA, however, rejects the offer, and issues a final warning.
Here, the hymn ends; and the battle which follows, in which Indra defeats the PaNis, is to be assumed.
2. The myth is also found in the JaiminIya BrAhmaNa, II.440-442. Here, the cows are again clearly referred to as. the cows of the Gods stolen by the PaNis. This time, the Gods first send SuparNa, the eagle or the �Sun-bird�. However, the PaNis bribe him into silence, and he accepts their gifts and returns without any information. The enraged Gods strangle him, and he vomits out the curds, etc. received from the PaNis.
Then the Gods send SaramA. She crosses the RasA and approaches the PaNis. She is also offered bribes, but ( as in the Rigveda) she refuses their blandishments and returns to Indra with the information that the cows are hidden inside the RasA. She and her descendants are then blessed by a grateful Indra.
3. The myth is found, finally, in the BRhaddevatA, viii 24-36.
Here, the myth develops a curious twist. The same. sequence of events takes place, but this time SaramA accepts the bribe of the PaNis, and apparently transfers her loyalties to them. When she returns to Indra and refuses to disclose the hideout of the cows, Indra kicks her in a rage. She vomits out the milk received as a bribe, and then goes back trembling to the PaNis.
Thus, as the myth develops, we find a radical transformation in the relationship between SaramA and the PaNis. From being initially hostile to each other, the two are increasingly identified with each other, and the nature of the original myth is completely lost.
A side development in this whole myth is the development of the concept of the SArameyas, the sons of SaramA, as the hounds of Yama. They are a pair of four-eyed hounds who guard the pathway leading to the Realm of the Dead, and conduct the souls of the dead to their destination.
It will also be necessary to examine the characteristics of another Vedic God, PUSan, who represents one of the forms of the Sun. PUSan is one of the older deities in the Rigveda, being more prominent in MaNDala VI than in later MaNDalas (five of the eight hymns to PUsan in the Rigveda are in MaNDala VI), and many of his characteristics later devolve onto SaramA and the PaNis in Vedic as well as in other mythologies.
The main characteristics of PUSan are:
1. PUSan is basically an Aditya or Sun-God, and it is clear that he represents the Morning Sun: �according to SAyaNa, PUSan�s sister is USas or Dawn.�15 Moreover, in I.184.3, the ASvins are called PUSans; and the ASvins, as Griffith notes in his very first reference to them �are the earliest bringers of light in the morning sky who in their chariots hasten onward before the dawn, and prepare the way for her�.16
2. PUSan�s main function, however, is as the God of roadways, journeys and travellers: �As knower of paths, PUSan is conceived as a guardian of roads. He is besought to remove dangers, the wolf, the waylayer from the path (1.42.1-3)� He is invoked to protect from harm on his path (6.54.9) and to grant an auspicious path (10.59.7). He is the guardian of every path (6.49.
and lord of the road (6.53.1). He is a guide on roads (VS.22.20). So, in the SUtras, whoever is starting on a journey makes an offering to PUSan, the road-maker, while reciting RV 6.53; and whoever loses his way turns to PUSan (AGS 3.7.8-9, SSS 3.4.9). Moreover in the morning and evening offerings to all gods and beings PUSan the road-maker receives his on the threshold of the house.�17
3. Another important function of PUSan is as the God who helps find lost objects, particularly lost animals, and especially lost cattle: �As knower of the ways, he can make hidden goods manifest and easy to find (6.48.15). He is in one passage (1.23.14-15; cp. TS 220.127.116.11) said to have found the king who was lost and hidden in secret� and asked to bring him like a lost beast. So, in the SUtras, PUSan is sacrificed to when anything lost is sought (AGS 3.7.9). Similarly, it is characteristic of PUSan that he follows and protects cattle (6.54. 5,6,10; 58.2; cp. 10.26.3)� and drives back the lost.�18 Moreover, �PUSan is the only god who receives the epithet paSupA �protector of cattle� (6.58.2) directly (and not in comparison).�19
Hymn VIII.29, which refers (in riddle form) to the particular characteristics of various Gods, refers to PUSan, in its sixth verse, as follows: �Another, thief like, watches well the ways, and knows the places where the treasures lie.�
4. A very distinctive characteristic of PUSan is his close association with the goat: �His car is drawn by goats (ajASva) instead of horses.�20 This feature is emphasised throughout the
Rigveda: I.138.4; 162.2-4; VI. 55.3,4,6; 57.3; 58.2; IX.67.10; X. 26.8; etc.
5. Another very important function of PUSan is that �he conducts the dead on the far path to the Fathers�� and leads his worshippers thither in safety, showing them the way (10.17.3-5). The AV also speaks of PUSan as conducting to the world of the righteous, the beautiful world of the gods (AV 16.9.2; 18.2.53). So PUSan�s goat conducts the sacrificial horse (1.162.2-3).�21
In post-Vedic Indian mythology, all these entities more or less faded away: neither SaramA nor the PaNis nor PUSan have any important role to play in Puranic mythology.
However, the word PaNi and its variant form VaNi (found only twice in the Rigveda: I.112.11; V.45.6) persisted into later times and provided the etymological roots for a very wide range of words pertaining to trade, commerce and economics, and business activities: paN, �to barter, purchase, buy, risk�; ApaNa, �market, shop�; ApaNika, �mercantile�; paNa, �a coin vANI/baniA, �trader�; vANijya, �commerce�, etc.