Maya In The Vedas

Created by Jijith Nadumuri at 08 Jan 2012 04:37 and updated at 08 Jan 2012 04:39

This article is a part of a series of articles on individuals described in the Vedas, Epics and Puranas, with the name 'Maya' and related concepts like 'Maaya'. Their connection with the Meso American Mayans too is explored in detail. Read the main article:- Danava Maya and Mayans of America

Maya in Rigveda

The oldest reference to anything related to Maya is found in Rig Veda with the hymn Mayabheda (Rv.10.177). This is a very strange reference to Maya, his creations, his inventions and his capabilities. Rig Veda also contains a tribal name or a personal name 'Mayava' but we know nothing more about it.

Hymn 10.177, Mayabheda

Saskrit Original of the Mayabheda hymn (Rv.10.177):-

RV_10,177.01a पतङ्गम् अक्तम् असुरस्य मायया ह्ड़्दा पश्यन्ति मनसा विपश्चितः ।
RV_10,177.01c समुद्रॆ अन्तः कवयॊ वि चक्षतॆ मरीचीनाम् पदम् इच्छन्ति वॆधसः ॥
RV_10,177.02a पतङ्गॊ वाचम् मनसा बिभर्ति तां गन्धर्वॊ ऽवदद् गर्भॆ अन्तः ।
RV_10,177.02c द्यॊतमानां स्वर्यम् मनीषाम् ड़्तस्य पदॆ कवयॊ नि पान्ति ॥
RV_10,177.03a अपश्यं गॊपाम् अनिपद्यमानम् आ च परा च पथिभिश् चरन्तम् ।
RV_10,177.03c सध्रीचीः स विषूचीर् वसान आ वरीवर्ति भुवनॆष्व् अन्तः ॥

Transliteration in ISO text:-
RV_10,177.01a pataṅgam aktam asurasya māyayā hṛdā paśyanti manasā vipaścitaḥ |
RV_10,177.01c samudre antaḥ kavayo vi cakṣate marīcīnām padam icchanti vedhasaḥ ||
RV_10,177.02a pataṅgo vācam manasā bibharti tāṃ gandharvo 'vadad garbhe antaḥ |
RV_10,177.02c tāṃ dyotamānāṃ svaryam manīṣām ṛtasya pade kavayo ni pānti ||
RV_10,177.03a apaśyaṃ gopām anipadyamānam ā ca parā ca pathibhiś carantam |
RV_10,177.03c sa sadhrīcīḥ sa viṣūcīr vasāna ā varīvarti bhuvaneṣv antaḥ ||

English Transation

A crude translation of this verse is done by Ralph Griffith here. Given below is a much refined translation:-

1. The Bird {pataṅgam} equipped (/driven) {aktam} by the Asuras' Maaya (magic) {asurasya māyayā} is seen {paśyanti} with the heart {hṛdā} and is recognized {vi paścitaḥ} with the mind {manasā}. Sages {kavayo} observe {vi cakṣate} it in the oceans' depth {samudre antaḥ}. The wise {vedhasaḥ} seek {icchanti} the locus of its rays {marīcīnām padam}.

2 The Bird {pataṅgo} bears {bibharti} the Speech {vācam} within its mind {manasā}. Formerly the Gandharva {gandharvo} pronounced {vadad} it (this speech) inside the womb {garbhe antaḥ}. It is a radiant {dyotamānāṃ} and heavenly {svaryam} invention (/conception) {manīṣām} which at the seat of the truth (/sacrifice) {ṛtasya pade} the sages {kavayo} cherish {ni pānti}.

3 I saw {apaśyaṃ} the Herdsman (/insider) {gopām}, who never rests (/comes down) {anipadyamānam} , approaching and departing {ā ca parā ca} on the pathway {pathibhiś}, always moving {carantam}. He had female companions {sadhrīcīḥ}. He had a garment {vasāna} having diffused splendor {viṣūcīr}. He continually circled around {varīvarti} the world {bhuvaneṣv antaḥ}.


The narration is indeed enigmatic. The Asura referred here is Maya as this hymn itself is titled Maya-bheda. The Sanskrit word 'bheda' means breaking, splitting, separating, analyzing etc. This hymn is thus trying to analyze or understand Maya's technology or Maya's magic (Maaya) from an observer's point of view with the help of multiple observations of his creations or his activities at various times and places.

The Bird:- the flying-craft or Vimana

Here focus is on the Bird, a technological wonder created by Maya (Asura's Maaya). This bird could be a Vimana or a flying craft. It can be controlled or accessed by just by wishing (heart) or by thinking (mind). Seems like this flying machine is thought-enabled (seen with the heart and recognized with the mind). Some sages had seen it emerging from the depth of the oceans (Sages sees it in the ocean's depth). Some wise men have tried to trace it by seeking the rays emanating from it (The wise seek the locus of its rays). This Bird (flying machine or Vimana) is also speech enabled (The Bird bears the Speech within its mind) so that it probably recognizes some voice-commands.

The Gandharva:- the pilot of the Vimana

It is not clear who is the Gandharva here. He could be the controller or pilot of the Bird (flying machine) who sits inside its cockpit (womb), which explains the line:- formerly the Gandharva pronounced it (this speech) inside the womb. It is a radiant and heavenly invention - this statement is very straightforward;- this is an invention of Maya. Probably the ancient Indian sages tried to understand its working, which explains the line:- at the seat of the truth (/sacrifice) the sages cherished it. Many sacrificial altars, following the Vedic tradition are indeed made in the shape of this Bird. These could be the result of attempts made to understand Maya's bird-shaped flying machine or Vimana.

Here the Gandharva or the pilot could be Maya himself. This is because the name 'Gandharva', though a tribal name, has some geographical dimension as well. A person belonging to the Gandhara region (north-western Pakistan) can be termed a 'Gandharva' even if he belongs to Danava or Daitya tribe. The name Asura too though applied as a tribal name can be applied as a title. In this capacity even Indra and Varuna assumes the title 'Asura'.

The Gopa (Herdsman) and his companions:- the passengers in the Vimana

The herdsman is as enigmatic as the Gandharva (pilot). This herdsman seems to be the passenger of the Bird shaped Vimana, if we take the alternate meanings of the Sanskrit for 'heardsman', ('gopa') in to consideration, such as insider, the one who is concealed inside (like in a chamber), hidden etc. So this passenger is inside the Bird shaped flying craft or Vimana. He is having some female companion(s). He is clothed with a garment having some diffused splendor (This could be something like a space-suit or protective suit used while traveling in this Vimana). He is busy doing something (who never rests). He sometimes arrive and sometimes depart from the runway or pathways of the Vimana (approaching and departing on the pathway(s), always moving). Then he continually circled around the world in his Bird shaped Vimana or flying craft.

Vishnu / Krishna traveling on top of Garuda

The above discussed Rig Vedic hymn has a parallel in subsequent Indic texts like Mahabharata, Ramayana, Harivamsa, Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana. Here the Bird shaped flying craft created by Asura Maya is described as Garuda, the Divine Bird. Vishnu and his incarnation (Avatara) Krishna uses this bird Garuda to travel through air. Interestingly, Krishna is mentioned as a Gopa or herdsman, in these texts, as his childhood occupation was herding cattle.

Unlike in Rig Veda, in these later texts, no association of Maya with the Bird Garuda is found. However in Mahabharata, Maya interestingly teams up with Krishna to create an advanced assembly hall (Maya-Sabha) for the Pandavas. In these texts Maya is mentioned as the architect of many flying crafts, Vimanas, space-crafts and many buildings on earth.

Other Rig Vedic references to the Bird

Rigveda has several (around 34) references to the Bird, some of which hints to the artificial bird of Maya, which we have discussed. These are some of them:- it is a celestial-bird; it is the bird of the firmament; it is the mighty bird having Parjanya (lightning clouds that bring rain) as its father and earth's center or mountains as its home; it dwells in the middle of the fountain; it cannot dwell in a nest; it is the bird of golden color; the red bird; the bird with golden wings; the bird with strong pinons; it rules supreme through thirty realms and many more. These references will be analyzed in a separate article.

Other Rig Vedic references to the Gandharva

Rigveda has several (17) references to the Gandharva, some matching with the Gandharva associated with Maya's bird. These are some of them (translation by Griffith):- (8.1) Indra bore Kutsa Arjuneya off, and mocked Gandharva, the unconquered One (this indicate that the Gandharva was not on the side of Indra). (8.66) Indra in groundless realms of space pierced the Gandharva (again indicating hostility with Indra). (9.83) Gandharva verily protects his dwellingplace; He guards the generations of the Devas using wonders (This indicate that the Gandharva accepted the supremacy of the Devas and started guarding them using his technologies). (9.85) High to heavens' vault hath the Gandharva risen, beholding all his varied forms and figures (this indicates his capability to rise into outer space in some flying craft). (9.86) Gandharva of the floods, he may reign as King of all the world. (10.10) Gandharva in the floods(?); (10.123) the Gandharva found the immortal waters; (10.123) Erect, to heaven hath the Gandharva mounted, pointing at us his manycoloured- weapons. (10.139) These, the Gandharva told him, Rowed with Amrta. Indra knew well the puissancc of the dragons.

Some of these references strengthens our view that the Gandharva mentioned here is Asura Danava Maya or his close associate. The only other Gandharva mentioned in Rig Veda is Visvavasu.

Other Rig Vedic references to the Gopa (Herdsman)

Rigveda has only three references to the Gopa (Herdsman). One is a repetition at (1.164) of the same verse in the Mayabheda hymn (10.177). The only other reference is found at (10.40) as the Herdsman with the bone.

Maya in Atharvaveda

Atharvaveda has straight references to the concept Maaya in Hymn 8.10 which equate Maaya with Viraj a primordial woman.

(AVŚ_8,10.22a) सॊद् अक्रामत् सासुरान् आगछत् ताम् असुरा उपाह्वयन्त माय ऎहीति ।
(AVŚ_8,10.22c) तस्या विरॊचनः प्राह्रादिर् वत्स आसीद् अयस्पात्रं पात्रम् ।
(AVŚ_8,10.22e) तां द्विमूर्धार्त्व्यॊ ऽधॊक् तां मायाम् ऎवाधॊक् ॥
(AVŚ_8,10.22g) तां मायाम् असुरा उप जीवन्त्य् उपजीवनीयॊ भवति य ऎवं वॆद ॥ २२॥

(AVŚ_8,10.22a) sod akrāmat sāsurān āgachat tām asurā upāhvayanta māya ehīti |
(AVŚ_8,10.22c) tasyā virocanaḥ prāhrādir vatsa āsīd ayaspātraṃ pātram |
(AVŚ_8,10.22e) tāṃ dvimūrdhārtvyo 'dhok tāṃ māyām evādhok ||
(AVŚ_8,10.22g) tāṃ māyām asurā upa jīvanty upajīvanīyo bhavati ya evaṃ veda ||22||

She rose, approached the Asuras. They called her. Their cry was, Come, O Maaya, come thou hither. Her dear calf {vatsa} was Virochana Prahradi. Her milking vessel {pātram} was a pan {pātram} of iron {ayas}. Dvimurdha Artvya milked this Maaya. The Asuras depend for life on Maaya for their sustenance {upa jīvanty}. One who knows {veda} this, will certainly get their sustenance {upajīvanī}.

This verse indicate that Maya's Maaya (technology, magic, illusion) depended on smelting of metals or metallurgy, probably including iron. Asuras depended on this Maaya or Maya's technology involving iron or metal smelting.


  1. Maya in Rigveda - Maya-bheda
  2. Maya in Atharva Veda

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