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Alexis Pinchard

Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011

Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?

Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?1

1. The Vedav kṣa after the Veda

1.1 Early evidences for śākhā- as a name of the Vedic Schools
This paper does not aim at giving a detailed account of the various Vedic
“branches”, but at understanding why the Brahmanic tradition viewed itself as a kind of

Of course, it is not a mere random if the various Vedic schools are called śākhā-
already in the early post-Vedic period, especially for the Yajur-Veda, as it is evidenced in
the Manu-S 45 and in Patañjali’s Mahābhaṣya:

yatnena bʰojayet śrāddʰe bahvrcaṃ vedapāragam /

śākʰāntagam atʰādʰvaryuṃ cʰandogaṃ tu samāptikam //
145. Let him [take] pains [to] feed at a Śrāddha an adherent of the Rig-veda who has studied one
entire [recension of that] Veda, or a follower of the Yajur-Veda who has finished one branche
(śākhāntaga),2 or a singer of Sāmans who [likewise] has completed [the study of an entire recension] (MSm
III, 145, personal translation).

catvāraḥ vedāḥ sāṅgāḥ sarahasyāḥ bahudhā vibhinnāḥ ekaśatam adhvaryuśākhāḥ sahasravartmā

sāmavedaḥ ekaviṃsatidhā bāhvrcyam navadhā ātharvaṇaḥ /
The four Vedas with their auxiliaries and secret doctrines are divided into many [recensions] : there
are 101 branches -Veda has 21 recensions
and the Atharvaveda has nine (MhB; Paspaśa 12 = KA I, 8.23-10.3 = Ro I, 35-39).

The Veda was really conceived of as a tree or in connection with a tree. Some late
manuscripts even furnish the picture of the complete ṣa of which the śākhā-s are
vāṅmaya, “made of speech”. But there, whole Vedic schools (for example Caraka or
Paipallāda schools) are to be found only at the levels of the leaves, i.e., at the extremity of
the tree, and these leaves do not represent single texts only, so that such an expressions as
śākhāntaga- (MSm III, 145c) does not make sense. How could Saṃhitās, Brāhmaṇas,
Āraṇyakas and Upaniṣads be distinguished?

I am greatly indebted to the Center for Hellenic Studies (Harvard University) for having enabled me to
read during my fellowship (2010-2011) many rare papers that were needed for this work.
A similar compound occurs in the BGPS I, 1.27: śrotriyā iti te jñeyāḥ śākhāpārāś ca ye dvijāḥ // “those
twice-born who have crossed to the far shore of their branch of the Veda are to be known as ‘learned’”
(quoted and translated by LUBIN 2011: 3).
See the Appendix at the end of this paper, quoted from WITZEL 1982-1983: 193 (fac-simile from

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?
1.2 in the Bhagavad-Gītā
The connection between the structure of the Vedic śruti and the image of a tree, as a
means to reconcile the unity of the sacred intuition with the multiplicity of texts, is well
established in the post-Vedic texts. Nevertheless the various ways of imaging this tree do
not always agree with one another: sometimes, whereas the tree is inverted, it symbolizes
the whole cosmos with its material diversity depending on an invisible principle rather
than the Vedic canon with its various Śākhās, although it is called brahman. Sometimes it
really deals with the Vedic canon, but there the tree is not inverted and the idea of a
progressive development, with the rise of novelty at each generation, is forgotten. The
multipliciy of the Vedic texts would thus result merely from the division of a set of
eternal texts and this division itself would be due to the decline of the human memory
during the Dvāpara-Age.
Of course, the Bhagavad-Gītā seems to contain both elements, the inverted tree as
well as an explicit reference to the Vedic various texts

ūrdhvamūlam adhaḥśākham aśvatthaṃ prāhur avyayam /

chandāṃsi yasya parṇāni yas taṃ veda sa vedavit //1//
The imperishable fig tree is rooted upwards and its branches are directed downwards. Its leaves are
the hymns. The one who knows it knows the Veda (Bhagavad Gītā XV, 1).

But here it deals only with the chandas, which are the basis just -Veda, the
Sāma-Veda and the Atharvaveda, so that the Yajur-Veda is excluded. Moreover these
Chandas-Saṃhitās appear only at the level of the leaves of tree; it follows that the
Brāhmaṇas, Āraṇyakas and Upaniṣads depending on them are not mentionned. On the
contrary, in the Manu-S
heart his śākhā, also knows the Brāhmaṇas, Āryaṇyakas and Upanishads : the Saṃhitā is
only the beginning of the Śākhā. Therefore the śākhā-s of this Bhagavad-Gītā tree seem
not to be the various Vedic schools. According to this text, the Vedic hymns are in a tree,
but the Vedic tradition itself is not a tree. Moreover, the tree is inverted and permanent, a
conception which does not match the Viṣṇu-Purāṇa.

1.3 Viṣṇu-Purāṇa
In this Purāṇa, the word śākhā- is endowed with its technical meaning and the
branches of the tree really symbolize Vedic schools :

vedadrumasya maitreya śākhābhedāḥ sahasraśaḥ /

na śaktā4 vistarād vaktuṃ saṃkṣepeṇa ś ṇuṣva tam //
dvāpare dvāpare viṣṇur vyāsarūpī mahāmune /
vedam ekaṃ subahudhā kurute jagato hitaḥ //
vīryaṃ tejo balaṃ cālpaṃ manuṣyāṇām avekṣya ca /
hitāya sarvabhūtānāṃ vedabhedān karoti saḥ //
The branches of the great tree of the Vedas are so numerous, Maitreya, that it is impossible to
describe them at length. I will give you a summary account of them.

Cf. Yāska, Nirukta 6.32: śākhāḥ śaknoteḥ / “the word ‘branches’ originates from ‘he can’.”

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?
In every Dwapara (or third) age, Viṣṇu, in the person of Vyāsa, in order to promote the good of
mankind, divides the Veda, which is properly but one, into many portions: observing the limited
perseverance, energy, and application of mortals, he makes the Veda fourfold, to adapt it to their capacities
(ViPu III, 3.4-6; edition revised by the author).

However the V xplicitly inverted and is explicitly unpermanent. The

division of the Veda begins the Dvapara age and progressively develops. It is not a

same divisions happen again in each cosmic period:

sarvamanvantareṣv evaṃ śākhābhedāḥ samāḥ smṛtāḥ //

prājāpatyā śrutir nityā tadvikalpās tv ime dvija //
In every Manu-antara the same various Śākhās are taught in this way. Prajāpati’s revelation is eternal
whereas these Śākhās are transformations of it, O twice-born (ViPu III, 6.31-32)!

The progressive rise of diversity in the Vedic tradition is not viewed as the result of
the creative activity of the śiṣya-s, but as the fruit of the decision of the guru, who
understands that his disciples cannot learn by heart a whole Veda. Hence the divisions of
the Veda are conceived of as a sign of decadence. It is not positively valued. This
decadence comes to a head in the Kali-Yuga, where are no new divisions anymore, but
some Śākhās are forgotten. This Purāṇic view about the progessive division of the Veda
seems to be directly inspired by Yāska :

sākṣ ṇ ṣayo babhūvuḥ / te ’varebhyo ’sākṣāt

saṃprādur / upadeśāya glāyanto ’vare bilmagrahaṇāyemaṃ grantham samāṃnāsiṣur vedaṃ ca vedāṅgāni
ca / bilmaṃ bhilmaṃ bhāsanam iti vā /
The primeval seers had a direct perception of the world order. By teaching they transmitted the
efficient incantations to their successors who did not have a direct perception of the world order. The later
ones, growing tired of learning, in order to keep only small parts in their memory, organized the oral
transmission of the present sacred canon, i.e. the Veda and its auxiliaries. Indeed bilma- means small part
or explication (Yāska, Nirukta I, 20, personal translation).

However there is a contradiction in the Purāṇa : according to it, on the one hand, the
appearance of the various Śākhās is due to the division of a set of preexisting eternal
texts, what could make sense only for the first division between the fours Vedas, i.e., -
Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sāma-Veda and Atharvaveda. On the other hand, the Viṣṇu-Purāṇa
acknowledges that the Śākhās concern the various recensions of what is basically the
same text. The Purāṇa makes no essential difference between the functional division of
the Veda into four Vedas and the compositional division of each Veda into many
recensions :

so ’yam eko yathā vedas tarus tena pṛthak kṛtaḥ /

caturdhāthā tato jātaṃ vedapādapakānanam //
bibheda prathamaṃ vipra pailo ṛgvedapādapam /
indrapramitaye prādād bāṣkalāya ca saṃhite //

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?
The unique tree of the Veda, having been divided by him [Vyāsa] into four principal stems, soon
branched out into an extensive forest. In the first place, Paila divided the Rig-Veda tree, and gave the two
Saṃhitās to Indrapramati and to Báshkali (ViPu III, 4.15-16).

Are the Vedic schools the result of a division of an eternal and always perfectly
detailed revelation into different parts, or of a transformation (vikalpa, see above) of a
single spiritual intuition in different ways ? Even though it is not very clear, the image of
the tree fits better with the second interpretation. Moreover, in the Purāṇic texts, there
still are some traces of a creative power or, more exactly, of an intuitive faculty as the
source of the various Śākhās. For example, Yajñavalkya in Viṣṇu- Purāṇa III, 5 is said to
have rejected the teaching of his guru Vaiśaṃpāyana and have obtained his own
revelation from the sun. This revelation was the beginning of the Kanva-school.

Of the tree of the Yajur-veda there are twenty-seven branches, which Vaiśampāyana, the pupil of
Vyāsa, compiled, and taught to as many disciples. Amongst these, Yājñavalkya, the son of Brahmarāta, was
distinguished for piety and obedience to his preceptor.
It had been formerly agreed by the Munis, that any one of them who, at a certain time, did not join an
assembly held on mount Meru should incur the guilt of killing a Brahman, within a period of seven nights.
Vaiśampāyana alone failed to keep the appointment, and consequently killed, by an accidental kick with his
foot, the child of his sister. He then addressed his scholars, and desired them to perform the penance
expiatory of Brahmanicide on his behalf. Without any hesitation Yājñavalkya refused, and said, “How shall
I engage in penance with these miserable and inefficient Brahmans?” On which his Guru, being incensed,
commanded him to relinquish all that he had learnt from him. “You speak contemptuously,” he observed,
“of these young Brahmans, but of what use is a disciple who disobeys my commands?” “I spoke,” replied
Yājñavalkya, “in perfect faith; but as to what I have read from you, I have had enough: it is no more than
this--“ (acting as if he would eject it from his stomach); when he brought up the texts of the Yajuṣ in
substance stained with blood. He then departed. The other scholars of Vaiśampāyana, transforming
themselves to partridges (Tittiri), picked up the texts which he had disgorged, and which from that
circumstance were called Taittirīya; and the disciples were called the Caraka professors of the Yajuṣ, from
Caraṇa, ‘going through’or ‘performing’ the expiatory rites enjoined by their master.
Yājñavalkya, who was perfect in ascetic practices, addressed himself strenuously to the sun, being
anxious to recover possession of the texts of the Yajush. “Glory to the sun,” he exclaimed, “the gate of
liberation, the fountain of bright radiance, the triple source of splendour, as the Rig, the Yajur, and the
Sāma Vedas. Glory to him, […] whose banners scatter ambrosia.”
Thus eulogized by Yājñavalkya, the sun, in the form of a horse, appeared to him, and said, “Demand
what you desire.” To which the sage, having prostrated himself before the lord of day, replied, “Give me a
knowledge of those texts of the Yajuṣ with which even my preceptor is unacquainted.” Accordingly the sun
imparted to him the texts of the Yajuṣ called Ayātayāma (unstudied), which were unknown to
Vaiśampāyana: and because these were revealed by the sun in the form of a horse, the Brahmans who study
this portion of the Yajuṣ are called Vājis (horses). Fifteen branches of this school sprang from Kaṇva and
other pupils of Yājñavalkya (Viṣṇu-Purāṇa III, 5).

In order to overcome, if possible, these discrepancies about the structure of the

Vedic tradition, and to reach a unique understanding of the connection between the Veda
and the image of a tree, let us take a look at the Veda itself. I suppose that, there, the tree
of the sacred poetic tradition should be essentially symbolized by an inverted tree.

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?

The remote past may be more consistant than the classical period and may allow us
to understand why the late tradition do not agree with itself. My paper will be itself a kind
of inverted tree since it progressively approches the root of tradition.

2. Sacred speech and v kṣa in the Veda itself

2.1 Upaniṣads
Indeed the situation in the Upanishads is even worse for our hypothesis of the Veda
as an inverted tree than in the Bhagavad-Gītā, although they actually tell us about an
inverted tree. For linguistic elements do not explicitly occur:

ūrdhvamūlo ’vaśākha eṣo ’aśvatthaḥ sanātanaḥ /

tad u nāty eti kaś cana5 //

This permanent fig tree has its roots upwards and its branches downwards. It is bright, it is the
brahman; that is it which is called immortality. In it all the worlds have their support and nobody goes
beyond it (KaṭhU VI, 1).

Here no concret language element is mentioned. Are the śākhā-s of this tree the
Vedic schools? Seemingly it is not the case:

hy āhordvamūlam tripād brahma śākhā ākāśavāyvagnyuduakabhūmyadaya eko ’śvatthanāmaitad

brahmaitasyaitat tejo yad asā ādityaḥ om ity etad akṣarasya caitat tasmād om ity anenaitad upāsītājasram
ity eko ’sya sambodhayitety evaṃ prāha /
For, indeed, the brahman, inasmuch as it has three feet, is rooted upwards; its branches are ether,
wind, fire, water, earth, and so on. This brahman is called “the unique fig tree”. His sap is what the sun is.
The syllabe is also the sap of this imperishable [fig tree]. Therefore the brahman is always worshiped by
uttering . This syllabe is the only waker of this [world]. So does the tradition speal (MaiU VI, 4).

Here again the word śākhā- does not refer to Vedic schools, but to material
Nevertheless, in other well-known Vedic texts, brahman is somehow coextensive
with vāc, Speech (cf. X, 114, 8d: ṣṭhitaṃ //). Even more
precisely, in BĀU I, 5, 17, the brahman consists in whatever is recited (anūktam).
Moreover the bahuvrīhi tripād- which, according to me, refers only to the roots of the
inverted tree, reminds us of the famous division of Vāc into four quarters in I, 164,

ṇ ṣíṇaḥ /
ṇi níhitā néṅgayanti ṃ vācó manuṣ
Speech has been measured into four quarters. Those who are acquainted with the brahman, thinking
about it, know them. Three quaters have been laid in secret and they do not move them ; the human beings
speak the fourth quar

The fourth quarter might match the visible part of the brahman-tree, the branches
and the leaves, and thus the śākhā-s of MaiU VI, 4 (quoted just above) could also
symbolize the speech as it is concretly spoken in time and space. tripād-
also reminds us of the Puruṣasūkta ( X, 90, 3d-4a: ṃ

Cf. Skambha in AVŚ X, 8, 16d : tád u n ty eti kíṃ caná //16/

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?

ūrdhvá úd ait púruṣaḥ) where it is said how

the primeval sacrifice:

tásmād sarvahútaḥ sámbʰrtam prṣadājyám /

cakre vā ca yé // 8//
tásmād sarvahúta caḥ jajñire /
cʰándāṃsi jajñire tásmād yájus tásmād ajāyata //9//
From that great general sacrifice the dripping fat was gathered up. He formed the creatures of the air,
and animals both wild and tame. From that great general sacrifice - and Sāma-hymns were born.
Therefrom were verse-meters produced; the Yajus had its birth from it ( X, 90, 8-9).

Indeed there is another Upanishadic passage where the inverted cosmic tree is
directly identified with the Puruṣa:

kṣa iva stabdho divi tiṣṭhaty ekas tenedam pūrṇam puruṣena sarvam //
He stands like a unique tree fixed in the sky; the universe is filled by this Person (ŚvU III, 9).6

To sum up, these upanishadic texts do not invalidate our hypothesis of the Veda as
an inverted tree, although they are a little bit disapointing inasmuch as they do not
explicitly connect the inverted tree and the structure of the Vedic tradition.

2.2 Taittirīya-Āraṇyaka
In the TaiĀ, we can find almost the same text as in the KaṭhU, but in a different
context, which is very instructive for the interpretation:

ciketa //11.4// yas tā vijānāt sa pituṣ pitāsat / andho maṇim avindat / tam anaṅgulir āvayat / agrīvaḥ
pratyamuñcat / tam ajihvo asaścat / ūrdhvamūl samprati / na sa jātu
personal edition)
Although they are females, I am told that they are males. He who has eyes sees them, but the blind
one does not perceive them. The poet who is a [real] son [of his father] understands this (solves the riddle).
The one who acknowledges them, he will be the father of his own father! Even if he is blind, he found the
necklace (= the mystic part of the soul, the ātman?); even if he has no finger, he interwove [the jewels] on
[it]; even if he has no neck, he put it on himself; even if he has no tongue, he worshipped it [with speech].
The one who exactly knows the tree with the roots upwards and the branches downwards, he should
absolutely not believe that Death will let him die: it would be a ridiculous lament (TĀ I, 11, 4-5)!

This passage contains a series of riddles which are based on a systematic inversion:
sexual inversion, inversion between the lack of an organ and the presence of a faculty,
and at least the spacial inversion of the tree. In each case, the understanding of the riddle
brings salvation and immortality, as it is common in Āraṇyakas and Upanishads. The first
-Vedic hymn in which several riddles
allude the special upanayana ritual to access the Pravargya mantras, as Jan E.M. HOUBEN
has shown:7

sākaṃj nāṃ saptátʰam āhur ekajáṃ ṣáḷ íd yam ṣayo devaj íti /
téṣām iṣṭ ni víhitāni dʰāmaśá stʰātré rejante víkrtāni rūpaśáḥ //15//

We already justified this translation in PINCHARD 2001: 294, footnote 104. Contra FALK 1994.
HOUBEN 2000 and 2009: 86-85.

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?
stríyaḥ satīs t m u me puṃsá āhuḥ páśyad akṣaṇv n ná ví cetad andʰáḥ /
kavír yáḥ putráḥ sá īm ciketa yás t vijān t sá pitúṣ pit sat //16//
Among those who are born together, the seventh one is said sole-born while six are twins; they are
ṣis born from the gods. Their heats are distributed in accordance with law; their heats are
trembling for the Immovable, changing their aspects. Although they are females, they are told me as males.
He who has eyes see them, but the blind one does not perceive them. The poet who is a [real] son [of his
father] understands this (solves the riddle). The one who acknowledges them, he will be the father of his
own father ( I, 164, 15-16)!

Since the identification ṣis is always the ultimate purpose of an

Upanayana, the decipherer of the riddle must actually be “the father of his own father”, as
it is said at the end of the riddle, ṣis, whom the very origin of every priest
lineage (brahmanic family) consists in, are entitled “our first Fathers” (naḥ ,

The fact that our Taittirīya-Āraṇyaka passage mentions the mystic intuitive power
of a blind man (andha) might be a supplementary proof of the connection with the
Pravargya Upanayana, because, during this special dīkṣā, the future initiate shall have his
head and eyes covered by a veil, and he has to keep silence, as if he were ajihva, “without
any tongue”.
Moreover Paul Thieme has demonstrated that the two compl -Vedic
stanzas of RV I, 164, 15-16 (quoted just above) refer to the stars of the Ursa Major in the
night sky and to the -nakṣatra, which are identified by the oldest tradition with the
ṣis and their wives.8 Thus the image of the inverted tree appears in a
context which is directly connected with the fondation of the Vedic tradition and the
night sky.

2.3 Atharva-Veda-Saṃhitā

2.3.1 The sacred speech coming from heaven and creating the world
The explicit idea that the Vedic revelation comes from above, especially from the
night sky ṣis have their seat while singing, is to be found in the
Atharva-Veda-Saṃhitā even though it is deconnected from the image of the tree:

vrcó akṣáre paramé vyòman yásmin ádʰi víśve niṣedúḥ /

yás tán ná véda kím r kariṣyati yá ít tád vidús te am sám āsate9 //18//
rcáḥ padáṃ kalpáyanto 'rdʰarcéna cak pur víśvam éjat /
trip d bráhma purur paṃ ví taṣṭʰe téna jīvanti pradíśaś cátasraḥ //19//
In the syllabe of the stanza, in the highest firmament, on which all the gods sat down : he who
knoweth not that, what will he do with a stanza? They who know that sit together yonder (
cf. AVŚ X, 8, 9c). Shaping with measure the step of the stanza, they shaped by the half-stanza all that stirs ;
the bráhman of three feet (tripād; cf. Mai VI, 4), many formed, spread out ; by that do the four quarters live
(AVŚ IX, 10, 18-19= AVP XVI, 69).

See THIEME 1995.
: it deals with the saptarṣi; cf. AVŚ X, 8, 9c.
: cf. MaiU VI, 4, quoted above.

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?

This celestial and permanent origin of the sacred tradition is confirmed by the late

On the ] claim the all-knowing speech, which can not be moved by

everybody ( I, 164, 10, c-d).

This uttering of the first sacred speech by the primeval seers still happens in heaven:
it is described with a verbe using the present tense.

2.3.2 Aśvattha and sacred speech

In the Veda, while we are ascending towards the oldest texts, the AVP offers us the
first explicit evidence for a connection between the symbol of tree and precise linguistic

ya indrasya sabhādhāno yasmin samitim āsate /

hiraṇyaṃ yasya parṇāni tasmā aśvattha te namaḥ //14//
yaḥ śākhābhir antarikṣam ā pūrayati niṣṭhayā /
chandāṃsi yasya parṇāni11 tasmā aśvattha te namaḥ // 15
yaṃ mṛgo na samāpnoti pakṣābhyāṃ śakuniṣ patan /
divaṃ yaḥ sarvāṃ stabhnāti tasmā aśvattha te namaḥ //16//
The [tree] that is the place of Indra’s assembly, in which the ritual meeting is celebrated, of which the
leaves constitute something made of gold, homage to it, O fig tree ! The [tree] that fills the intermediate
space by the position of its branches, of which the leaves are the verse meters (chandas), homage to it, O
fig tree ! The [tree] that neither a deer can reach nor the flying bird with its two wings, the [tree] that
sustains the whole sky, homage to it, O fig tree (only AVP XIX, 19, 14-16)!12

In this Atharvaṇic fig tree, the language elements appear only at the last level of the
parṇas-s, not of the śākhā-s, just like in the Bhagavad-Gītā XV, 1 (quoted above). And
the fact that these leaves are equaled with gold likely means that they are eternal.
Nevertheless, if the word chandas- meant “verse meter” instead of “hymn” (like in X,
114), the creative power of each next poets generation might be not denied.
Alas, the tree is not explicitly inverted. The impossibility that birds and deers reach
it might just mean that this fig tree is nothing material, nothing visible. Moreover, if it
were inverted, such a position could not be permanent because it has also to “sustain the
whole sky”.
The AVP furnishes another connection between sacred Speech and an Aśvattha,
marked with the same word samiti-. However the fig tree is now more clearly inverted:

divo jāto divas putro yasmāj jātaṃ mahat sahas /

aśvattham agre jaitrāya--ācchā devaṃ vadāmasi //1//
yo aśvatthena mitreṇa samitīr13 avagacchati /
jayāt sa sarvā //4//
The son of Sky is born from the sky. From him is born a great strength. We firstly invoke the fig tree
god for victory […] The one who goes in a trial (or a philosophical debate ?) with the fig tree as an
associate, he will obtain victory in every strife, so well the true (fair) ones as the false (unfair) ones (only
AVP II, 55, 1-4, to Aśvattha , ed. Zehnder).

= Bhagavad-Gītā XV, 1c.
Text established with the kind help of Dipak BHATTACHARYA.
Cf. AVP XIX, 19, 14.

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?

This samiti connected with an aśvattha is not necessary a trial or a law-suit. It may
also be an agonistic riddle play (for the use - in a riddle context, see IV, 5, 5)14
or a philosophical debate. It has its paradigm in Yama’s realm, as it is evidenced by some

sámitīś cāva gacchāt //

[I yoke for thee these two conveyers, to convey thee to the oher life ;] with them you will attain
Yama’s seat and his assemblies (AVŚ XVIII, 2, 56c-d).

Even when the word sámiti- does not occur, the thing is there:

yásmin vrkṣé supalāśé devaíḥ sampíbate yamáḥ /

átrā no viśpátiḥ pit purāṇ m ánu venati //
In the fair-leaved tree where Yama drinks together with the gods, until this point our father, the chief
of the tribe, follow the Ancesters with his spirit ( X, 135, 1).

This archetypal Aśvattha of Yama’s realm is clearly rooted in heaven, and its
branches, while being identified with the Kuṣṭha herb, may even go downwards:

aśvattʰó devasádanas tr itó diví /

tátrām tasya cákṣaṇaṃ tátaḥ kúṣṭʰo ajāyata /
sá kúṣṭʰo viśvábʰeṣajaḥ sākáṃ sómena tiṣṭʰati /
ṃ sárvaṃ nāśaya sárvāś ca yātudʰānyàḥ //6//
The Aśvattha is the seat of the gods, in the third heaven from here. There is the manifesation of
immortality. From there Kuṣṭha was born : so, allhealing Kuṣṭha stands together with Soma, causing all
fever and all sorceresses to vanish (transl. Arlo GRIFFITHS modified, p. 353-355, AVŚ XIX, 39, 6 = AVP
VII, 10, 6).

We have now to explain the close association between the fig tree and Soma or the
plants in general.

2.3.3 The Aśvattha as a theological tree

This Artharvaṇic Aśvattha, rooted in the “third heaven from here”, is not viewed as
a physical tree, even at the mythological level, but as a kind of theological tree. It
symbolizes the way the various divinities are articulated together. The mutiplicity of gods
is related to its single trunk, so that the same sap, the same vital power enters every god.
To be set in such a tree means to have a divine power or a divine aspect. Such a seat has
no physical signification.
For example, the medicinal plants (oṣadhi) are said to have their seat in the

abhrātáro ná yóṣaṇo vyántaḥ patirípo ná jánayo durévāḥ / pāp saḥ sánto an t asaty idám padám
ajanatā gabhīrám //5// “Prenant l’initiative comme des filles sans frères, se conduisant mal comme des
épouses qui trompent leur mari, alors même qu’ils sont pécheurs [dans leurs actes], faux [dans leur
personal translation)!”

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?
aśvattʰé vo niṣádanam parṇé vo vasatíṣ kr /
Your seat is in the fig tree, your residence has been made in the Parṇa tree ( X X, 97, 5a-b, to
the medicinal herb, oṣadhi).

It means that each herb has a second tanū or ātman which is connected with the
source of every divinity. We have to distinguish the concret single body of the plant and
the higher divine personality (devatā) which is only manifested in space and time by its
material shape and that has a healing power, just like we have to distinguish the soma
plant on the sacrificial area and the invisible Soma who has his abode in the third heaven
from here and whom only t perceive with their mind. The plant only as a
transcendantal being has its seat in the theological tree. The plants are not physically
fixed on a visible tree, but their healing power depends on the inverted aśvattha:

varcasvān asi deveṣu varcasvān oṣadhiṣv ā /

You are endowed with vigour for the gods, endowed with vigour for the plants. Hence make
vigorous the one whom you grow toward, O Fig Tree! […] You are the king of every being, the bull, the
lord of plants (AVP I, 79, 1 + 4a-b, to Aśvattha).

This is why the Oṣadhis are rooted in heaven, just like Yama’s Aśvattha:

dharbhaḥ sahasravīryaḥ pari ṇaḥ pātu viśvataḥ //

The root [of it] is stretched down from heaven, it is placed on, woven into the earth : let the darbha,
having thousand powers, protect around us from all sides (AVP VII, 7, 7, transl. Arlo GRIFFITHS, p. 320).15

gandharvas te mūlam āsic cākhā apsarasas tava /

marīcīr āsan parṇāni sinīvālī kulaṃ tava //7//

tasyaitad agram ā dade tad u te viṣadūṣaṇam //8//

The Gandharva (in the sky) was your root, the Apasaras (in the Antarikṣam) were your branches, the
rays of light were your leaves; Sinīvālī is your family. The undecaying gods established immortality among
the mortal; I take the best part of it. This, of you, destroys the poison (only AVP IX, 11, 7, ed.

But if Yama’s Aśvattha is the divine trunk of which branches constitute secondary
gods, the Veda must be organized in the shape of a tree since, according to the ŚB, the
gods consist only in Speech: vāg eva devāḥ (BĀU I, 5, 6). This idea does not necessarily
imply that each part of the Veda is perfectly eternal, because at least the secondary gods
may endure growth and exhaustion. The theological tree is so alive as a physical tree.

2.3.4 Skambha and sacred speech

The second connection between a symbolic tree and the structure of the Vedic
tradition is also to be found in the Atharva-Veda-Saṃhitā. Skambha, the cosmic wood

Quoted by Bhattacharya 2005: 18.

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?

pillar, just like the Puruṣa of -Vedic Puruṣasūkta ( X, 90, 8-9), is presented as
the material of a sacrificial action that produces the four Vedas. The stress is firstly laid
on the ritual making of the Vedas rather than on any natural growth by the use of the root
TAKṢ- -Saṃhitā when it is compared
with the work of a carpenter:

yátra ṣayaḥ pratʰamaj caḥ s ma yájur mahī /

ekarṣír yásminn rpitaḥ skambʰáṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ //14//
yásmād co ṣan yájur yásmād ṣan /
yásya lómāny atʰarvāṅgiráso múkʰaṃ skambʰáṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ //20//
mahád yakṣáṃ bʰúvanasya mádʰye tápasi krāntáṃ salilásya prṣṭʰé /
tásmin cʰrayante yá u ké ca vrkṣásya skándʰaḥ paríta iva ʰāḥ //38//
Where the first-born seers, the verses, the chant, the sacrificial formula, the great one, in whom the
sole seer is fixed — that Sakambha, tell [me]: which forsooth is he? […] From whom they fashioned off the
verses, from whom they scraped off the sacrificial formula, of whom the chants are the hairs, the
Artharvans-and-Aṅgirases the mouth — that Skambha, tell [me]: which forsooth is he? […]. A great marvel
in the mids of the world strode in penance on the back of the sea; in it are set whatever gods there are, like
branches of the tree roundabout the trunk (AVŚ X, 7, 14, 20 and 39).

As we can see in the last quoted stanza (38), the operation of apa-TAKṢ- does not
exclude the idea that Skambha is a tree with many branches. On the contrary, the ritual
dismembering of the material pillar allows the constitution of a theological tree which is
perfectly alive but invisible, just like the ritual killing of an animal allows the constitution
of a new immortal ātman for him, which shall be organized in accordance with the law of
thought and language: such an ātman will be chandomaya, “made of hymns”.16 The
branches of Skambha’s new ātman are vāṅ-maya, made of speech (see the
presented by WITZEL 1982: 193, here in the Appendix) and thus are immortal.
Reciprocally, the sacred Speech, inasmuch as it constitutes the transcendantal ātman of
the sacrified pillar, has to assume the shape of a tree which only mind can grasp.

2.3.5 Inversion of Skambha?

a/ Salila: the celestial Ocean

Skambha might be inverted, although not explicitly. For there is no Ocean (salila) in
the mids of the terrestrial world. Moreover the syntagma usually works as
vision (cf. AVŚ XVIII, 4, 36 = I, 164, 10). In this Aharvaṇic salila ,
as origin of every religious tradition, can find a blissful abode after death:

The part of the yajamāna that goes to the gods is just the hypostasis of the ritual process itself, i.e., a new
ātman consisting in the mantra- SV. This ritually constituted ātman is said
chandomaya or vāṅmaya, “made of [Vedic] speech” (KauB II, 7). Cf. AiB I, 22 : so’agner devayonyā

evaṃ veda yaś caivaṃ vidvān anena yajñakratunā yajate (“He who knowing this, sacrifices according to
this rite, is born from the womb of Agni and offerings, and since he now is made of Vedic stanzas and
songs, of Veda, of brahman and of immortality, he goes to the divinities themselves.”) See LÉVI 1898 :
105, MALAMOUD 2005: 24 and PINCHARD 2010: 797-805.

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Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?

út tiṣṭʰa préhi prá dravaúkaḥ krṇuṣva salilé sadʰástʰe /

tátra tváṃ pit bʰiḥ saṃvidānáḥ sáṃ sómena mádasva sáṃ svadʰ bʰiḥ //8//
Rise thou, go forth, run forth, make thee a home in the sea as station; there do thou, gathered together
with the Fathers, revel with soma, with the ritual exclamations “svādhā” (AVŚ XVIII, 3, 8, transl. Whitney,

Kuiper’s theory is here to be considered: during the night, the primeval waters from
which cosmic tree suck its food ascent the sky and thus the tree becomes rooted upwards.

b/ Skambha and Ursa Major (Saptarṣi)

Moreover the interpretation of the pāda param nedīyo avaram davīyaḥ said about
Skambha in the AV becomes clearer if we keep in mind that, especially in the Paippalāda
Saṃhitā, this pāda about Skambha is to be found just before two riddles about the
heavenly Saptarṣi which look very similar to the riddle hymn of I, 164, i.e., in the
same context as the one where the inverted tree of the TĀ was presented:

pañcavāhī vahatyágram eṣāṃ práṣṭayo yukt anusáṃvahanti /

áyātam asya dadrśé ná yātáṃ páraṃ nédīyó 'varaṃ dávīyaḥ //ŚS 8//
idáṃ savitar ví jānīhi ṣáḍ yam éka ekajáḥ17 /
tásmin hāpitvám icʰante yá eṣām éka ekajáḥ //ŚS 5//
tiryágbilaś camasá ūrdʰvábudʰnas tásmin yáśo níhitaṃ viśvárūpam /
tád āsata ṣayaḥ saptá sākáṃ18 yé asyá gop maható babʰūvúḥ //ŚS 9//
One carrying five carries the summit; side-horses, harnessed, carry also along; what is not gone of it
was seen, not what is gone: the higher thing [is] closer, the lower more distant. This, O Savitar, do thou
distinguish: six are twins, one [is] sole-born; they seek participation in him who is the sole sole-born. A
bowl with orifice sideways, bottom-side up — in it is deposited glory of all forms; there sit together the
seven Seers, who have become the keeper of it, the great one (AVP XVI, 101, 3-5 = AVŚ X, 8, 5, 9, to
Skambha, transl. by Whitney).

Indeed, in param nedīyo avaram davīyaḥ, the word nedīyaḥ might refer to the roots
of the cosmic tree, and the word davīyaḥ to the leaves. This paradoxical sentence might
be a riddle that alludes the inversion of the cosmic tree.

c/ Skambha and the inverted sacrificial stake

The verbs apa-TAKṢ- in the Skambha hymn (AVŚ X, 7, 20, quoted above) also
reminds us of a ritual discussion that connects Skambha and the ritual stake:

The sacrificer who lived after the ancient ones, observed that the svaru (shaving) being a piece of the
Yūpa [represents the whole of it]. He [who now brings a sacrifice] should therefore throw the svaru at this
time, afterwards [into the fire]. In this way any thing obtainable through the throwing of the Yūpa into the
fire (svarga with a golden body), as that of obtainable through its remaining standing (cattle), is obtained
(AiB II, 1).

-s, Sāman-s and Atharvaṇas-Aṅgirases may be these little svaru-s which are
thrown into fire so that they go upwards to the gods with the smoke. The fourfold Veda

Cf. I, 164, 15a-b.
Cf. I, 164, 15a

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Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?

assumes the form of a unified tree only when the svaru-s are burn in Agni, because at this
moment they constitute the invisible ātman of the sacrificial stake. Agni converts every
visible thing into an invisible one.
Moreover, sometimes the sacrificial stake can be inverted sometimes :

after having seen the celestial abode (svarga) might search for them in this direction [and finally find them].
The gods made an obstacle (ayopayan) with the sacrificial post, and this why it is called yūpa. The gods,
after having come back, before going up to the celestial world, struck the sacrificial post in the earth,
turning its poi spot where the gods had performed their
sacrifice, thinking: “What might indicate the sacrifice?”. They found only the sacrificial post in the earth
with its point turned downwards. They learnt that the gods had by this means precluded the sacrificial
secret [from being known]. They dug the sacrificial post out, and turned its pont upwards, whereupon they
got aware of the sacrifice and beheld the celestial world. That is the reason why the sacrificial post is
erected with its point turned upwards: it is done in order to get aware of the sacrifice and to indicate the
direction of the celestial world (AiĀ II, 1, 1, transl. Haug modified).

I suppose that this Brāhmaṇa text conveys an old and authentic story of the cosmic
tree inversion, but it may give a wrong explanation for this religious fact. I suppose that
e knowledge of sacrifice precisely because the sacrificial stake was
inverted, and not in spite of its inversion. The idea of an “obstacle” is just motivated by
the search for an etymology of the word yūpa-. This story should be compared with
Śunḥśepa’s liberation from the sacrificial stake by Varuṇa who had been pleased by his
songs ( I, 24, 7): did the sacrificial stake act as a means of knowledge? Anyway the

2.4 g-Saṃhitā

2.4.1 The sacrificial stake and poetic inspiration

stake: the Atharvaṇic Skambha structures the relation only between the gods themselves,
whereas the sacrificial stake constitutes a link between the praise of the men
he sacrificial stake, which is compared with a
many-twigs tree and plays an important part in the poetic inspiration, is endowed with a
twofold function: on the one hand it works as a scale for the gods in order them to come
down to the sacrifice organised by human beings, and on the other hand as a lift for the
human offerings, of which poetic speech is the best part. However it is normally not

[…] bráhma vanvānó ajáraṃ suvīram / 2

táṃ dʰīrāsaḥ kaváya ún nayanti svādʰyò mánasā devayántaḥ // 4//
punánti dʰīrā apáso manīṣ devay vípra úd iyarti v cam // 5
unnīyámānāḥ kavíbʰiḥ purástād dev dev nām ápi yanti p tʰaḥ // 9
vánaspate śatávalśo ví roha sahásravalśā ví vayáṃ ruhema / 11

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Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?
2b : [The stake] wins the poetic formula (bráhman), which is undecaying and very heroic. 4c-d: The
wise poets lead him (it) upwards, endowed with good thought, desiring the gods in their mind. 5c-d: The
wise poets, active and thinking in themselves, purify [it] ; desiring the gods and being inspired, it impulses
upwards the speech. 9c-d: Erected before our eyes by the poets, the gods (the stakes) go along the paths of
those who also are gods ( III, 8). 11a-b: O Tree, grow in many directions with hundred twigs. May we
grow in different directions with thousand twigs ( III, 8, to the sacrificial stake)!

At the end of this hymn, by being compared with a growing tree, the sacrificial
stake is viewed dynamically and not anymore as a mere piece of wood fashionned by an
axe. This change results of its connection with poetic speech. The sacrificial stake does
not go to the gods as a mere piece of wood since it is itself a god, but he does so only
inasmuch as it has a new ātman, which is made of sacred poetry (chandomaya) and which
is delivered from matter by the sacrificial violence.

2.4.2 The growth of the tree : time converted into space

a/ The time of sacrificial performance

the metaphor of the poetic tree is based on the idea that time is converted
into space. The origin distinguishes itself from the present solely by its place in the tree,
but not by the fact that it does not exist anymore. To compare the development of poetry
with the growth of a tree is a way to deny the fleeting nature of each word:

prá vo yajñéṣu devayánto arcan dy vā námobʰiḥ prtʰiv iṣádʰyai /

yéṣām bráhmāṇy ásamāni víprā víṣvag viyánti vaníno ná ś kʰāḥ //
During your sacrifices, may [the poets] who desire the gods praise Heaven and Earth with homage so
that they come: their best poetic formulae, never similar to each other, excited by inspiration, go apart in all
directions like the branches of a tree ( VII, 43, 1).

Here the diversity of songs is very positively valued and takes over a cosmic
dimension. There is a poetic etymological pun on the syllab vi-. The time of the various
poetic utterances during a single sacrifice is converted into a space as large as the world19.
This diversity, generating the greatness of the world, manifests the creative power of each
Kavi and is necessary to the achievement of sacrifice. The single brahman-s have to reach
the gods in every point of the sky in order to have them hear the invitation of men and
come to their sacrifice on the earth. This is why the tree is not inverted: the final goal of

Such a conversion of ritual from time into space is also to be found in the later Vedic tradition. The
various kinds of successive oblations in a single ritual performance may be compared with the various parts
of a tree, especially the world-tree by which each being is sustained, because each sacrifice is a new
cosmogony. For example, in the BGPS I, 6.11-14, there occurs a certain , of which upper part
only is identified with Vedic speech: “As a tree, spung from good soil, with good roots, firm grounding,
with many branches, fine blossoms, full of fruit, is used by gods, titans, angels, by sages and by ancestors,
by birds, bees, flies, and ants, so too in the simple worship rites (pākajajñeṣu), all this [world] stands firm:
the huta is to be recognized as the good soil; the prahuta is called the root, the āhuta is the firm grounding;
the tree of worship ( ) is lofty! Numerous are its branches (śākhā), laden with blossoms and fine
fruits. Those [branches] are easily perceived by the worshippers who really know the mantras and
brāhmaṇas, for he who understands the tree of worship is deemed learned” (Quoted and translated by Lubin
2011: 2).

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?

its growth is the sky where the gods have their abode. Moreover the fact that the word
bráhman occurs in this stanza constrasts with the Upanishads where the brahman-tree is
clearly inverted.

b/ The time of tradition ( V VII, 33, 9)

he comparison between the development of the poetic tradition and the
growth of a tree is not isolated, but this growth does not only happen during sacrifice:

tá ín niṇyáṃ h dayasya praketaíḥ sahásravalśam abʰí sáṃ caranti /

yaména tatám paridʰíṃ váyanto 'psarása úpa sedur vásiṣṭʰāḥ //
Thanks to the intuitions of their heart, they enter together the secret that has thousand twigs. While
weaving the wood frame stretched by Yama, the Vasiṣṭhas worship the Apsaras ( VII, 33, 9).

Here the mention of Yama enables us to understand that the various places in the
tree match various moments of the poetic tradition. Nothing excludes that the tree is
inverted. The thousand twigs are the various poetic creations of Vasiṣṭha’s pupils. Each
new Kavi tries to formulate through the best riddle the same ultimate mystery of the
cosmos: he thus becomes closer to his own real origin. This mystery may be identified
with Agni in the heart, as a source of inspiration (cf. VI, 9), because Agni, in other
texts, is identified with the cosmic Aśvattha.

3. From the regular alternation toward the privilege of the inverted tree
3.1 Original religious system

3.1.1 The poetic tree rooted in the earth

But how to explain the alternation of positions of the cosmic and poetic tree?
Originally, in the most ancient religious system of the Indo-Iranian tradition, during
a diurnal sacrificial performance, I suppose that the human speeches reinforced the gods
, just like in the Śraddhā ritual. Theses speeches impulsed the nourrishing
primeval waters upwards or were identified with them. The gods needed such a help from
the men because they were quite weak. The gods sucked the sap of the sacrifice in order
to make their lives longer. This process of vital ascent was symbolized by an Aśvattha
because of the sacrificial stake. At this moment, during the day, the visible sacrificial
stake and the invisible tree of sacred Speech, which constitutes the transcendantal tanū of
the sacrificial stake, both bringing food to the gods, were not inverted.
The idea that the various divinities are gathered in a single theological tree results
from this first situation. For, during the sacrifice, the offerings that nourrish and reinforce
the celestial gods are poured into āhavanīya fire on earth. Therefore fire is the common
principle of the gods (AiĀ II, 1: agnir vai devayoniḥ). Hence Agni, despite of consuming
the fig tree wood, is somehow identified with the symbolic Aśvattha of sacrifice:

aśvattho jātaḥ prathamo ’gneḥ priyatamā tanūḥ /

The Fig Tree, who is born at first, is Agni’s most intimate aspect (only AVP VII, 5, 4a-b).

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Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?

But Agni is also a god! He is the immortal among the mortals. The fact that Agni
himself is the dvijánman par excellence, the main “twice-born”, and even ,
“endowed with hundred visible or invisible personalities” ( I, 149, 4a 3c, to Agni), has
contributed to the gathering of the invisible ātman-s or tanū-s of the various secondary
gods around him, in the shape of a tree. Agni was a part of the process that promoted
henotheism and this god is also the law of the whole process. Nevertheless the theological
tree was originally not rigid, it was growing like the gods themselves during the sacrifice
and like the poetic performance.

3.1.2 The poetic tree rooted in the night sky

Then, when the gods have been nourrished by sacrifice and human prayers, they
become able to help the mortal beings. They start giving non-death ( ) from above.
The madhu, ,the sacrificial post was anointed with now dropes downwards. Each visible
thing receives a invisible tanū or ātman, I mean a transcendantal power or aspect. It is the
typical Atharvaṇic moment because it is the right time for magic healing. Even spiritual
salvation and immortality can take place for human beings. Thus there is reciprocity and
balance in the relations between human beings and gods.
Such an alternation is still visible in the speculations about the right moment for
offering Agnihotra, although ritual is present on both side of the process. So Vājasaneya
taught Janaka a secret doctrine about the reciprocal offering between fire and sun in order
to justify an offering before the sunset in the evening and after the sunrise in the morning:

tád āhuḥ / ṃ ṃ juhoti prātár agnim íti tad vai tád uditahomínām evá
yadā hy èva 'stam ety átʰāgnir jyótir yadā udety átʰa paricakṣèyám evá
paricakṣā yat tásyai ʰ devátāyai hūyáte devátāgnir jyótir jyótir agniḥ svāhéti tátra
nāgnáye svāhety átʰa prātaḥ jyótir jyótiḥ ḥ svāhéti tátra na svāhéti
In this regard, [some scholars] say: “One pours the sun into the very fire in this way in the evening;
then one pours the fire into the sun in the morning.” Thus is the [Agnihotra] of those who offer after the sun
has risen, for, indeed as soon as this sun in question sets, then the fire is the light; as soon as the sun rises,
then the sun is light. That is not reproach towards him (the sacrificer). Just this is the reproach that [the
Agnihotra] is offered not evidently towards that divinity which is the divinity of Agnihotra. [One says:]
“The fire is light, the light is fire, svāhā”; in that case not, “ for the fire, svāhā”. Now [one says] in the
morning, “The sun is the light, the light is the sun, svāhā”; in that case, not “for the sun, svāhā” (ŚB (M) II
3, 1, 36).20

Night is thus the very cosmic situation where gods are able to dispatch their powers
towards the mortal beings. Nevertheless the period of the alternation may also be longer:

JB (I.359) says that men press out Soma juice in the first fortnight and the gods in the
second fortnight. But those who perform the sacrificial session press out Soma in both fortnights.
When men press out Soma in the first fortnight, they thereby increase the heavenly world and
generate it, and when gods press Soma in the second fortnight they thereby increase and generate

Quotation and translation by SAKAMOTO-GOTO 2011: 13-14.

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Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?
this world. So performers of a sacrificial session, by pressing Soma in both the fortnights increase
and generate the heavenly world as well as this world.21

Varuṇa, the god of , is responsible for the alternation of the tree, especially when
it fits the night and day alternation.22 During the night he carries up into the sky the
primeval waters in which the cosmic tree is rooted.

ṇo vánasyordhváṃ ṃ dadate pūtádakṣaḥ /

ṣām asmé antár níhitāḥ ketávaḥ syuḥ //
In the bottomless [space], the King Varuṇa, whose mind is purified, holds upwards the stūpa (the set
of the roots?) of the tree. [The branches] stand downwards whereas their bottom is above. May the flags [of
the sacrificial stake] be deposited among us ( I, 24, 7, by Śunaḥśepa)!

Theses waters appear as the Milky Way: they are the rivers in the night sky.23 Such a
daily alternation is also to be found in the double movement of the sun himself:

The sun never really sets or rises. In that they think of him “He is setting”, verily having reached the
end of day, he inverts himself; thus he makes evening below, day above. Again in that they think of him
“He is rising in the morning”, verily having reached the end of night he inverts himself; thus he makes day
below, night above (AiB III, 44.4).

As Asko Parpola rightly noticed,24 the sun is compared with the single wheel of the
sun’s chariot, revolving horizontally (parallely to level ground), and is understood to have
a bright side and a dark side: when the chariot comes back to its starting point, in the east,
by turning round the axis mundi in the opposite direction, its unique horizontal wheel has
to be inverted, so that it presents its dark side to mortal beings. Thus everything in the
universe is inverted when the night happens.
When the sacrificial stake is inverted and the poetic tree is rooted in heaven,25 the
movement of its vital sap is going downwards:26

tvád víśvā subʰaga saúbʰagāny ágne ví yanti vaníno ná vay ḥ /

Quotation from DESHPANDE 2011: 6-7.
See KUIPER 1983.
See WITZEL 1984. The bahuvrīhi adjective tripād- which applies to the inverted tree in MaiU VI, 4 might
have an astronomical meaning. The three roots of the inverted tree may symbolize three stars which stood
round the polar star in the old Vedic age. See JANDA 2005: 304-305.
See PARPOLA 2004: 37 and 50.
In this respect, we agree with BHATTACHARYA (2005:18) while saying: “The reversion is an Indian
development out of soteriological need (underlined by us). One must go back to the root of the world,
which is divine and must be farthest away from the mundane world.” But we do not think that this
reversion is only Indian and quite late in the Vedic tradition (see BHATTACHARYA 1978: 16 and 1984: 203-
205). A similar reversion occurs also in Siberia among the Shamanes, in Plato and in the Iranian
Manicheism, likely without influence from India. See JACOBY 1928: 79, KAGAROW 1929 and PINCHARD
2007: 534-539.
ANQUETIL-DUPERRON (1802 II: 71), while translating KauU I, 5 gives unusual details about the Ilya-tree
which stands in heaven: “Et ex illā ut transierunt, una arbor est, quod nomen ejus ‘al’ est; id est, quilibet
fructus qui in mundo est, in illa arbore est.” These details do not directly occur in the sanskrit text. Maybe
they come from a brahmanic oral comment still alive at the time when the Sanskrit text was translated into
Persian language. See also JACOBY 1928: 82, footnote 22.

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?
Every auspicious happiness coming from you, o Agni, goes apart in all directions like the branches of
a tree ( VI, 13, 1a-b, to Agni).

The gods themselves are the trunk of a tree rooted in heaven, which every help for
the mortal beings comes from:

vrkṣásya nú te puruhūta vay vy ūtáyo ruruhur indra pūrvīḥ //

Like the branches of a tree, O many-invoked [god], your manyfold helps grew in all directions (
VI, 24, 3c-d, to Indra).

This divine favor happens during the night because when the eyes are not excited by
light, one can pay attention to invisible things with one’s mind. But, during the night, the
time that is changed into space by the symbol of the poetic tree is not the same. There are
two scales of time: during the day, it deals with the duration of a single poetic
performance, whereas during the night it deals with the duration of the whole poetic
tradition, from “our first Fathers” (naḥ ras
until the current Kavis. During the night, the primeval waters — I mean
the origin of everything — become visible as Milky Way, also called Saravastī, the
goddess of learning and eloquence. During the day, when a Kavi utters the last word of
his poem, the first word still exists but in heaven, among the gods whose lives are saved
by it. The poetic diversity that is praised with the image of the growing normal tree
concerns a single poem, with a lot of stanzas, or a single sacrifice with sāman and .
On the contrary, during the night, the current Kavis are brought in touch with the
ṣis. Night is the moment of communication with the
divine ancesters who are drinking soma with Yama “in the third heaven from here”. At
this moment, the tree of sacred speech is also a genealogical tree. The inverted tree
symbolizes the moment when a poet is looking at the very origin of his person and of his
art. Such a spiritual activity is directed toward past and unity. The experienced duration
of life is being concentrated in a single point, called “immortality” ( ). Diversity in
speech is not anymore directly valuated, but it is praised just as means to express the
primeval unity. The religious upwards movement is no longer a creative process, but a
return to the eternal origin. Indeed the process through which the divine powers or tanū
come down (the inverted tree) is the same one as that through which the human mind
returns to the unique source of its inspiration. Both bring salvation. During the night, each
generation of poets lets the tradition grow and diversify although respecting the common
rules of poetic composition. The novelty results from new combinations of the inherited
elements. The best way to imitate the primeval poets and to remain faithful to tradition
consists in acting creatively just like they did, instead of merely repeating their poems
word for word. Therefore the primeval speech is still alive while the current kavis are
finding out new poems and thus this primeval speech is sustaining the actual inspiration.
The origin of tradition is not past away although the present is not a mere repetition of the
origin. ṣis are still speaking “on the back of the sky” ( ṣṭhé).

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?
3.2 Logical transformation
Now we can explain why the periodic inversion of the cosmic tree stopped in the
later stages of the Vedic thought and why the brahman-tree was mainly conceived of as
rooted in heaven, whereas it was no longer clearly identified with the structure of the
poetic tradition, this latter remaining quite normally rooted in earth. So we can explain
the discrepancy in the Brahmanic tradition about the symbol of the Tree. Three factors
are to be considered:
1) The gods need no longer the human help because they are absolutely immortal.
This new conception results from a logical process. In the original religious system, the
perpetual life of the gods was viewed as due to the periodic performance of a sacrifice
which conveyed food to them. But each sacrifice must have an archetype and such an
archetype can be performed by nothing but the gods themselves, with gods themselves as
victim, because human beings are not yet created at the beginning of the world. Hence, at
the beginning of the world the gods lived further because they practiced sacrifice for
themselves. Indeed this sacrifice was the archetypal sacrifice, so that the sacrifice
performed for oneself in order to repel death for some time became the essence of
sacrifice. Then, if every sacrifice is essentially reflexive,27 its efficiency does not result
from its conveying of material offerings but from the perfect organization of its
successive parts; for the mediation of a material offering between me and myself is
neither necessary nor possible. Then, if the most important point in sacrifice is its
temporal structure, it follows that the knowledge of sacrifice must be the same thing as
the sacrifice itself. Thus the external performance of sacrifice is no longer necessary. And
if the principle of a longer life is nothing but knowledge for human beings as well as for
gods, a longer life changes into a real immortality, i.e., a real impossibility to die, because
as long as one is thinking one is sacrificing The effects of the sacrifice do not cease
because the sacrifice itself does not cease. So long as the gods are conscious of
themselves, they cannot die. Thus the need no longer human beings to perform sacrifices
for them. The sap of the non-inverted cosmic tree is no longer necessary for their
existence. This is why the symbolic tree sustaining the whole world, inasmuch as it is
rooted is earth, has disappeared from the late Vedic texts. Even if the thirty three gods are
still organized in the shape of a tree, this tree is motionless tree, deprived of growth.

See Houben 2010: 613- 50 (
dhármāṇ ṁ ḥ ḥ ḥ) in
connection with the sviṣṭ offering to Agni: “In our case, the object of ritual worship is ritual worship
itself. The statement in the first part of the verse therefore amounts to: with invigoration they invigorate
invigoration. […] This situation is not considered counter-logical or otherwise problematic; on the contrary,
it constitutes the first dharmāṇi of fundational institutions. […] More important in the present context are
the Sādhyas: an ancient class of gods who are said to have preceded the current generation of gods (PB
25.8.2 sādhyā vai nāma devebhyo pūrva āsan). In accordance with their name (which means ‘to be
accomplished’ or ‘perfectible’) they are said to rise up to heaven, or to have a wish to do so, with the help
of certain ritual performances. They are said to be the divine guardians of the directions in a region beyond
that of the (current) gods. In their ritual worship they used fire to worship fire, because nothing else was
available. What is presented as cosmogonically primitive and cosmologically distant refers to what is, in
fact, structurally basic and primordial.”

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?

2) With Āraṇyakas and Upanishads, the descent of the gods to the mortal beings is
not viewed as temporary anymore. Each being has a permanent divine part inside himself,
i.e., the ātman. Hence the tree that connects the human beings with the divine principle is
always inverted. As a matter of fact the contact with divinity constitutes no longer an
event since it brings nothing new. Therefore the creative power of a poet does not
manifest anymore his being in touch with divinity anymore. The Veda may be viewed as
an eternal text rather than a living tradition. This is why the progressive diversification of
the poetic canon was considered as a sign of decadence, due to a lack of memory and
mental energy. Faithfulness and loyalty towards the revelation of the primeval Seers were
understood as a mere repetition instead of a variation.
3) The tree symbolizing the Vedic canon and its various schools was distinguished
from the cosmic tree, which was rooted in heaven and called brahman because the
brahman-tree had to be absolutely eternal whereas it was still remembered that the
division of the Vedic canon into various recensions was the result of history. In
accordance with this late distinction, the Veda- ṣa was almost always presented as
rooted in earth. The image of the tree for the Vedic canon and its schools was saved, but
its original meaning was lost.

4. Conclusion: some comparative perspectives

The only point where the original meaning of the inverted tree, i.e, the inverted tree
as refering to the development of Vedic canon, was saved is to be found in the
assimilation between every real human being and an inverted tree, as it said in ŚvU III, 9
(quoted above) and in other later texts.28 For this assimilation might be secondary and
might be explained by the primary identification between every perfect human being and
the Veda. In the brahmanic tradition, each man of the highest varṇa (brāhmaṇayana,
BĀU VI, 4, 4) should be secretly named “Veda” at the moment of his birth because as a
possible future guru he embodies the Veda:

athāsya nāma karoti vedo ’sīti tad asyaitad guhyam eva nāma bhavati /
Then [the father] gives a name to his [son], saying: “you are Veda”. This name will be his secret
name (BĀU VI, 4, 26).

This secret name will be publicly revealed for the first time at the Upanayana, when
the child accesses the Vedic speech. It announces the fact that the ritual new ātman of the
sacrificial victim will be chandomaya whereas the sacrificer is potentially the main
victime of every sacrifice. For example, in AiB II, 1, when the sacrificial stake is entirely
thrown into fire, the sacrificer directly obtains svarga instead of cattle on earth. This is
why the sacrificer’s ritual body has the shape of a tree, just like the ritual body of the
sacrificial stake which is vāṅmaya. Such a tree is inverted because the sacrificer is

ekas tenedam pūrṇam puruṣena sarvam // “He stands like a unique tree
fixed in the sky; the universe is filled by this Person (ŚvU III, 9).” For the role of the tree symbol in the
yoga-physiology, see also Uttarā Gītā II, 18-21.

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?

sacrified for himself, for his own transcendental immortality, but not for the gods; of
course the sacrificer goes to the gods through sacrifice, but for his own sake only. Such a
sacrifice does not occur in order to nourrish the gods. It has an individual soteriological
goal, athough it also has a cosmogonic power like every sacrifice.
Inasmuch as the figure of an inverted tree symbolizes the Vedic tradition, is
constitutes the common mark that brings the Macro-cosmos and the human Micro-
cosmos into correspondence. Veda is a power that organizes the relations between Sky
and Earth, as well as the relations between the various parts of the human body, because
on the one hand no human thought would be possible without the Veda, and on the other
hand the human body gets its specificity among the other living beings out of the
manifestation of our self-consciousness.29
Such an interpretation of the assimilation between the human being and an inverted
tree, inasmuch as it is focused on language and poetic tradition, lets foresee some
comparative perspectives. The image of the inverted tree is also to be found in Plato,
where the upper part of soul, i.e., the rational part, works as a root that fixes the human
head in the direction of the sky; the sky itself is moved by a divine soul which is perfectly

τὸ δὲ δὴ περὶ τοῦ κυριωτάτου παρ' ἡμῖν ψυχῆς εἴδους διανοεῖσθαι δεῖ τῇδε, ὡς ἄρα αὐτὸ
δαίμονα θεὸς ἑκάστῳ δέδωκεν, τοῦτο ὃ δή φαμεν οἰκεῖν μὲν ἡμῶν ἐπ' ἄκρῳ τῷ σώματι, πρὸς δὲ τὴν
ἐν οὐρανῷ συγγένειαν ἀπὸ γῆς ἡμᾶς αἴρειν ὡς ὄντας φυτὸν οὐκ ἔγγειον ἀλλὰ οὐράνιον, ὀρθότατα
λέγοντες· ἐκεῖθεν γάρ, ὅθεν ἡ πρώτη τῆς ψυχῆς γένεσις ἔφυ, τὸ θεῖον τὴν κεφαλὴν καὶ ῥίζαν ἡμῶν
ἀνακρεμαννὺν ὀρθοῖ πᾶν τὸ σῶμα.
And we should consider that God gave the sovereign part of the human soul to be the divinity of
each one, being that part which, as we say, dwells at the top of the body, inasmuch as we are a plant not of
an earthly but of a heavenly growth, raises us from earth to our kindred who are in heaven. And in this we
say truly ; for the divine power suspended the head and root of us from that place where the generation of
the soul first began, and thus made the whole body upright (PLATO, Timaeus, 90a).

So human beings are rooted in a heavenly lógos (“reason” or “language”) through

their own reason. Human beings are to be compared with an inverted plant or tree
because their thought share in the cosmic grammar which structures the movement of
stars and planets. The nervous system of their body develops according to this spiritual
principle.30 Nevertheless, in contradistinction to the initial Vedic inverted tree, the
memory which enables a soul to access this primeval lógos is only internal (anamnèsis).
Philosophy does not require to learn by heart the speech of any guru. The Platonician
inverted tree does not convert the time of any human successive generations into space,
but converts the relation between time and eternity in general into space. Upaniṣads will
rejoin Plato when the only real guru of a man will be identified with his ātman which
contains the whole brahman symbolized by an inverted tree.

See AiĀ II, 3, 2: “The self (ātman) is more clear in man [than in other animals]. For he is the most
endowed with intelligence, he says what he has known, he sees what he has known, he knows tomorrow, he
knows the world and what is not the world.”
See PLATO, Timaeus, 91b-c and PINCHARD 2007: 537.

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?

It is here quite tempting to quote an old Manichean evidence for the inverted tree,
which originates from Iran:

τὸ γὰρ σῶμα τοῦτο κόσμος καλεῖται πρὸς τὸν μέγαν κόσμον, καὶ οἱ ἄνθρωποι πάντες ῥίζας
ἔχουσι κάτω <ὄντες> συνδεθείσας τοῖς ἄνω.
The [human] body is called “world” because of a comparaison with the great world, and every
human being, while living down, has its roots fastened to the above things (HEGEMONIUS, Acta Archelai
c.9, 4 Beeson 1906, 14). 31

So, does the representation of the human being as an inverted tree constitute an
Indo-European inheritance? It is quite difficult to answer, because there are also inverted
trees which represent a human being in the shamanic culture, 32 whereas the Manichean
evidence, on the Iranian side, might be due to some Platonician influence. But, at least,
Plato has transmitted to the West a very old wisdom. He transmitted this wisdom not
because it was Indo-European or from any other origin, but because it was, according to
him, meaningful and true. The result of such a free, conscious and selective transmission
may retrospectively appear to us as what we use to call an “Indo-European” inheritance.
But, at Plato’s time, there was no “Indo-European” culture which would have constituted
as a real unity transcending individual minds.

For the correction and the exact translation of the Greek text, see JACOBY (1928: 79).
See KAGAROW 1929. The author furnishes the picture of a strange wood sculpture which is made of an
inverted tree with a human face just under the roots. These roots work as a kind of hairs. We have no proof
that such an inversion was connected with the development of any poetic tradition.

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?

5. Appendix: WITZEL 1982: 193.

Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?

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Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?

ŚB = Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa with Vedarthaprakash commentary, ed. by several

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Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
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Alexis Pinchard
Fifth International Vedic Workshop, Bucharest, September 20-24, 2011
Roots and Branches: the Veda as an Inverted Tree?

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