The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad - Chapter 1.1.1

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Translation by Jayaram V

Ch:1.1.1 | Ch:1.1.2

1. aum! usa va asvasya medhyasya sirah, suryas caksuh, vatah pranah, vyattam agnir vaisvanarah; samvatsara atmasvasya medhyasya, dyauh prstham, antariksam udaram, prthivi pajasyam, disah parsve, avantaradisah parsavah, rtavongani, masas cardhamasas ca parvani, ahoratrani pratisthah, naksatrany asthini, nabho mamsani; uvadhyam sikatah, sindhavo gudah, yakrc ca klomanas ca parvatah, osadhayas ca vanaspatayas ca lomani, udyan purvardhah nimlocan jaghanardhah, yad vijrmbhate tad vidyotate, yad vidhunute tat stanayati, yan mehati tad varsati; vag evasya vak.


Aum! The dawn is the head of the sacrificial horse. The sun is its eyes, the wind is its vital breath and the vaisvanara fire is its open mouth. The year is the very body of the sacrificial horse, the outer space is its back, the sky is its belly, the earth is its hoof, the quarters its sides, the intermediate quarters it ribs, the seasons its limbs, the months and half-months its joints, days and nights its feet. The stars are its bones, the clouds its flesh, the sand its  food in the stomach, the rivers are its blood vessels, the mountains are its liver and lungs, the herbs and trees its hair. The rising sun is its anterior; the setting sun is its posterior. When it yawns, then lightning; when it stirs then thunder; when it urinates it rains; and when it makes noise it is speech itself.


The sacrificial horse is compared to the entire material manifestation. It is compared part by part to Purusha, the Cosmic Self. This is the description of a horse that was either killed or about to be killed as part of an ancient Vedic sacrificial ceremony called the Horse Sacrifice (asvamedhya yajna), in which it would be eventually deified to signify the divine authority the king commanded as the earthly representative of Prajapait himself. Horse sacrifice was a very ancient Vedic tradition. As per the tradition, kings used to perform this sacrifice to extend their empires and conquer new lands, using the horse as the symbol of their royalty, authority and lordship. The sacrifice usually lasted for a year.

At the beginning of the sacrifice, a  king would choose an able horse and set it free in a public ceremony, declaring his intention to conquer new lands. He and his army would follow the horse as it rode through the open lands according to its will. Through whatever land, the horse passed, the king would lay his claim upon it. If anyone obstructed the horse or challenged him , he would have to wage a war against him and win. At the end of the year, if the king was still unopposed and unconquered, he would formally conclude the ritual by performing a ceremony in which the horse would be sacrificed and its meat would be consumed by the king and his relations. Brahma Prajapati, who was the chief deity of the Kshatriyas during their heydays, figures prominently in this Upanishad as the Cosmic Being (Purusha).

The Horse sacrifice was thus an ancient Vedic tradition practiced by kings, which is now extinct, as the ancient lineages of kings and their dynasties perished under the wheels of time. However, we can still perform it symbolically as part of an ascetic practice by renouncing our attachment to our bodies and all bodily desires and setting our bodies free.

The symbolism of the sacrifice has been well documented in this section of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Spiritually speaking, a sacrifice is both a creative and transformative process. Through sacrifices you can manifest your desires and wishes. Through sacrifices you can also transform your life with the help of gods. Through sacrificial actions you can safely enter the realm of Brahman and end your association with Nature and the possibility of another birth.

The horse sacrifice deified the horse. Through a sacrifice, you can also elevate all offerings to the level of the Cosmic Being, since the Cosmic Being Himself is the sacrificed and the sacrificer in every sacrifice. The same happened in case of the horse also. Through sacrifice, the horse became the Cosmic Being (Purusha). The horse represented the materiality or the corporeality of the creation. It was the body of the Cosmic Self. It was Prajapati Himself, who used parts of Himself to manifest creation.

The comparison is usually called Nasya. The sacrificial horse is laid down in easterly direction, with its head towards the east and tail to the west. Vaisvanara fire is the fire in the body, which is responsible for the warmth of the body and various bodily functions. Its visible aspect is speech. Its hidden aspect is digestion. Its subtle aspect is breath or prana.

The year is viewed as the body of Time, since it has months as its parts or divisions. Dhyau is heaven, beyond the sky. The sky is actually the mid region. Since it is hollow, it is compared to the belly. They bones are compared to the stars because both are white. The clouds are compared to flesh because clouds have water while flesh has blood.

Ch:1.1.1 | Ch:1.1.2

Suggestions for Further Reading

Translate the Page