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Ṛta (Samskrit: ऋतम्) is the eternal path of divine righteousness for all beings, including humans and gods, which must be followed in thought and action to discover and maintain oneself in the truth. This may be termed as the unseen order of things.
The word ṛta has no equivalent in English but can loosely be translated as the ‘cosmic order in the universe,’ ‘divine law governing the universe,’
The word ṛta is derived from the root word ṛ which means ‘dynamism,’ ‘vibrancy,’ ‘seasoning,’ and ‘belongingness.’ The six synonyms of Rta in the Nighantu are as follows
बट्, श्रत्, सत्रा, अद्धा, इत्था, ऋतम् इति सत्यस्य [ ऋतम् इति षट् सत्यनामानि] | १० |
The Nirukta (10.41) understands rta to mean water. The Vedic god Varuṇa identified with water and the oceans is frequently referred to as the protector of ṛta. The symbolism of water and the ocean in connection with ṛta is profound.
Rta in Rigveda
The idea of pataka in the Rgveda is related with the conception of rta. Rta had a threefold aspect it refers to
- the nature's course of things or the regular and general order in the cosmos
- the correct and ordered way of the devatas (with respect to yajnas)
- the moral conduct of man
A few passages to illustrate these three aspects of rta include
ऋतस्य हि शुरुधः सन्ति पूर्वीरृतस्य धीतिर्वृजिनानि हन्ति । ऋतस्य श्लोको बधिरा ततर्द कर्णा बुधानः शुचमान आयोः ॥८॥
ऋतस्य दृळ्हा धरुणानि सन्ति पुरूणि चन्द्रा वपुषे वपूंषि । ऋतेन दीर्घमिषणन्त पृक्ष ऋतेन गाव ऋतमाविवेशुः ॥९॥
ऋतं येमान ऋतमिद्वनोत्यृतस्य शुष्मस्तुरया उ गव्युः । ऋताय पृथ्वी बहुले गभीरे ऋताय धेनू परमे दुहाते ॥१०॥ (Rig. Veda. 4.23.8-10)
These are 3 three verses in which the word rta occurs no less than twelve times and which breathe the all-pervading influence of rta throughout the universe.
'Plentiful waters (or riches or gifts) belong to rta, the thought (or laudation) of rta destroys crooked acts (sins), the brilliant and rousing hymn of praise to rta pierces the benumbed ears of man. The props of rta are firm, its (physical) manifestations are many and lovely for the sake of the body (i.e. man) Through rta they (people) desire food. The cows (sun's rays) entered rta by rta. He who wins over rta acquires it. For the sake of rta (heaven) and earth are wide and deep, the two highest cows (i.e. Heaven and Earth) yield milk (desires or rewards) tor the sake of rta.
Rta and Varuna
Some other passages are "The Sindhus (rivers) follow the rta of Varuna' (rtam sındhavo Varunasya yanti, Rg. II 28 4), similarly Rg I 105 12 (rtamarganti sindhavah), The wheel of rta (i.e the year) revolves round the sky with twelve spokes (Dvadasaram...varvarti cakram pari dyam-rtasya, Rig 1.164.11) 'the dawr, the daughter of heaven, correctly follows the path of rta ... ...' ('rtasya panthanam-anveti sādhu', Rg I 124 3); the young woman (Ugas) does not destroy (or come in the way of) the light of sta (Rg I 123 9 ); the gun is the bright and lovely face of rta (Rg VI. 51. 1. 'rtasya suci darbatam-anikam); the path of Eta became united with the rays' (Rg. I 136 2); when exhilarated by drinking this (Soma) Indra released for the sake of rta the concealed host of cows' (Rg. I 121 4, probably a reference to drought and subsequent rainfall). Many of the principal gods of the Vedic pantheon are described as the guardians, promoters or charioteers of fta, Mitra and Varupa rule over all the world by rta (Rg V. 637, rtens visvam bhuvanam vi rajathah); Matra and Varuna, the protectors of rta, occupy a chariot (R& V. 63 1), Mitra, Varuna, and Aryaman are said to be charioteers of rta (yüyamrtasya rathyah, VII 66 12); they and Aditi and Bhaga are protectors of rta (Rg. VI 51 3) Agni is called the charioteer of [ta' (rathi rtasya, Rg. III. 28), the proteclor of ýta, in Rg. 1.1 8,1 10,2, X. 8.5, X 118.7 and rtavan (in Rg IV.2.1). Soma is styled the protector of rta (in Rg. IX, 48 4, IX 738) and is said to support sta (IX, 97.24 ytam bharat subhrtam carvindub) In Rg. VII. 66.13 the Adityas' are said to be stalan (acting according to the fixed order of nature), mlajāta (sprung from rta) and rtávedh (augmenting or rejoicing in rta) and further they are said to be fierce baters of anyta (what is opposed to rta).'
Rta and Satya
The concoption of rta as a moral imperative occurs in several passages Rg 1. 90 6 ( madhu vata rtayate madhu kgaranti sindhavah) 'the winds carry sweets, the rivelo do the same to him who keeps rta', RE V 12 2 'O Agni, that knowost rta, know rta alono (in me) I shall not resort to magio either by force or hy duplicity, I shall conform to rta of the reddish bull (1 e of Agni); Rg. X 87 11 'O Agoil may the evil spirt who injures rta by anrta be thrice bound in thy fetters' Yama in rejecting Yami's advances says (Rg X. 10 4) 'What indeed we never did beforo (shall we do it now?); shall we who have spoken rta (so far) now speak anta ?' (rta vadanto anriam rapema) In two or three instances sta appears to be almost personifi. ed and invoked as a divinity. 'O Agni for us offer yajna to Mitra and Varuna, to the gods and to the great (brhat) rta' (Rg I 75 5). Similarly, in Rg X, 66 4 the great mahat) rta 18 mentioned alongside of Aditi, Heaven and Earth, Indra, Vippu, the Maruts &c. Rta and satya were distinguished in several passages of the Roveda T'or example, Rg. V. 51 2 speaks of the Visvo Dovas as 'rtadhitayah' (whose thoughts were fixed on rta) and 'satyadharmanah'(whose characteristic is truth or whose dharmas are true). In Rg. IX 113,4 rta and satya both ooour and appear to mean almost the same thing In Rg X. 1901 rta and satya are distinguished as having sprung from 'tapas'. Rta involves a wider conception and satya had originally a restrioted meaning (viz truth or static order). The word aneta, however, is the | 5, ऋत चिकत्व अवामाच्चाद्धबृतस्य धारा अनु वृन्ध पूर्वी । गाई पात सहसा में 4444 TOU. I * V 12.2.
Meaning of ria cpposite of both rta and satya as may be seen from Rg X. 10.4, Rg VII. 49.3 (Varuna who marks the salya and anyta of people), Rg. X. 124,5 (Varuna who separates anrta by means of rla). Gradually, however, the word rta receded into the back-ground and salya took its place even in Vedic literature, though here and there (as in Tai, Up. II 1 and 1.9.1) both sta and satya are found in juxtaposition.
Rta and Yajna
Rta is distinguished from yajña. It is not any particular yajnika rite itself nor the institution of yajna, It stands for the ordered course of yajna in general In Rg. IV. 3.4. Agni is styled raat (conversant with or observing fta) and is invoked to know the rta (of the yajna); in several Fersos we meet with the words 'Itena stam' (e. g. in Rg IV. 3.9 rtens rtam niyatam-ila a goh', V. 15.2 ctena stam dharunam dhārayanta yaj asya sake, V. 68.4 rtam-stena sapanta conforming to or joining rta with ria', where 'ftena' appears to mean the correct course of yajnika rites and tam the settled order in the universe. Soma is said to be the thread of rta spread on the datapartra (Rg. IX, 73.9 Itasya tantur-vitataḥ pavitra a). In | +, मतावाना अजाता ऋताबधों घोरासो अनूतद्विष. । तैषा वैः सुम्ने सन्र्दष्टमे नरः TYR E . 1 . VII, 66.13
Rg. I 84.4 t 15 said ' Indra, drink this (soma) that is extracted ..the streams of the bright (soma) flow towards thee in the seat of rta' (i e, in the sonia yajna) Vide also Rg IV 113 (asmakam-atra pitaro manusya abhi pra sedur-tap-i susinah) 'in this world former men, our ancestors, approached rta eto', Rg I 71 3 (dadhannrtam dhanayannasya dhitim-adidaryo) Rg. X 67 2 (rtam samsanta rju didhyapa yajñasya dhama prathamam mananta) 'the Angirasas, declaring the rta and reflecting straightforwardly first thought of the abode of Yaña', Rg. X 371 (maho devāy. tad-itam saparyata, "offer this rte to the great God')
In Ṛgveda and Arthavaveda, it is said that the law behind existence is ṛta and to tamper with it will prove deadly. The whole of creation is called sat, which has an inbuilt cosmic law, ṛta. If sat (existence) is a fact, then the value which we realize out of it is ṛta (cosmic law). When we realize ṛta, the value of the whole of creation, we are humbled and naturally become more caring towards the universe. The entire universe supports our sustenance and the whole of creation toils for our existence. This awareness infuses immense gratitude in our hearts. This indebtedness—akin to guilt but without the negativity—that arises in a sensitive mind is called ṛṇa. (In common parlance, the word ṛṇa refers to ‘being in debt’ – of a physical, monetary kind.) In the Vedic conception, every human being by birth carries this baggage of ṛṇa. It is an unwritten duty to clear this debt to the universe. Without this, one will not achieve his or her life’s purpose. The way to clear this debt is by adhering to dharma. Thus, the awareness of ṛta leads to the realization of ṛṇa, which in turn motivates one to pursue dharma.
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- Nighantu (Adhyaya 3)
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