Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
It is my contention that the assumption by Vedic scholars of a coherent cosmogonic myth throughout the various strata of the Rgveda is not warranted. The dissertation, by focusing upon the combat between Indra and Vrtra, sheds light on what this these meant to those inside the Rgvedic tradition at various times and also indicates the changes that the tradition underwent. In the course of analyzing appropriate references it became apparent that there were several layers within the data, each of which utilized the conflict theme for a particular purpose. The method used in examining the material was the form-critical method as utilized in some areas of Old Testament scholarship. This method, with some small modifications, suits the data and enables one to coherently separate out layers of the tradition and thus pursue the hermeneutical task to a satisfying conclusion. A key to understanding the combat theme is the identification of sóma as Amaníta muscaria, a hallucinogenic mushroom, particularly since Indra drinks sóma-juice more than any other god and it is this juice that empowers him in his conflict with Vrtra.
The employment of the method brought several factors into clearer perspective. The epithet vrtrahán is employed throughout the Rgveda, but not in a consistent manner. The two broadest and most significant usages are found within 1) a context suggesting the ritual ingesting of sóma, where vrtrahán is the overcomer of obstacles in the quest for a psycho-pharmacologic vision and 2) a context suggesting the later New Year's festival ritual which surrounds the homology between the king overcoming his enemies and the mythology of the divine warrior overcoming the dragon.
The word vrtrá is also employed throughout the Rgveda in a similar manner. Again one can establish the two broadest and most significant usages as being within 1) a context suggesting the ritual ingestion of sóma where vrtrá may mean either an enemy who has appropriated sóma or the physical barriers to be overcome in the receiving of a vision, and 2) a context suggesting both the mythological development of an epic theme of overcoming the dragon and the tendency to see this struggle in terms of a cosmogony.
Three hymns are examined in some detail (3.30, 5.30, 8.89). The accommodation apparent in 8.89 (in comparison with the other two hymns) demonstrates the disappearance of sóma (i.e., Amanita muscaria) as a normative cult experience. Its place appears to be taken by a highly organized ritual centered on Agni. Indeed, it appears certain that (by the time of the composition of 8.89) the Agni sacrificial complex is predominant in the minds of those who chanted the hymn (and wished to imitate normative cult experience). Concomitant with this is the folk-etymology Vrtrahan ergo Vrtra-slayer such as is expressed in 8.24.2. This connection presents the base for the later interpretations of the conflict by the Indian Religious Tradition, such as those enumerated in the Nirukta (i.e., the story of the conquest of the dragon or the mythological explanation for rain).
Hodgson, Raymond, "Indra and Vrtra: A Study of Continuity and Change in the Indian Religious Tradition" (1975). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 3078.