Marichi means “ray of light.” Devout Hindus revere Marichi as one of the “Seven Seers,” the semidivine poet-sages who, at the creation of the world, first “heard” the eternal word of Brahman. In its purest form, this word of divine sound is inaudible to the human ear, so Marichi and his cohorts translated it into human language: Sanskrit. These thousand-some mantras were collected in Hinduism’s holiest book, the Rig Veda.
The Rig Veda wasn’t initially a “book.” Scholars place the inception of the vedas as an oral tradition of hymns somewhere between 1700 BCE and 1400 BCE. They were put into writing between 300 BCE and 200 BCE. Amazingly, the Rig Veda existed well before the inception of writing, and so for more than a millennium they were memorized and passed down orally from one generation of Brahmin priests to the next. An English translation of the Rig Veda in my library runs 650 pages of small print, so these priests performed an impressive feat of memorization.
The hymns open a window into a world that existed at least 3,800 years ago. They tell us about that world’s geography and history, its social and family structures, peoples’ clothing and adornments, their food and drink, their occupations, and their entertainments. A popular pastime was gambling. This is reflected in a hymn that most of us can immediately empathize with. Sometimes called the “Lament of the Gambler,” it reminds us that although we’re separated from the Vedic people by many centuries, we aren’t so different from them after all:
“Because of a losing throw of the dice, I have driven away a devoted wife. My wife’s mother hates me… The gambler goes to the meeting hall, asking himself, ‘Will I win?’ and trembling with hope. But the dice cross him… [they] goad like hooks and prick like whips; they enslave, deceive, and torment.”
“My wife’s mother hates me!” Sound familiar? Many hymns speculate about concerns that are still part of our lives: the creation and destiny of the world, death and the afterlife, and the meaning of sacrifice.