Monday, August 3, 2009

green, bountiful, mother earth - समुद्र-वसने देवि

o ocean-draped, o adorned with mountain breasts |
o consort of viShNu, forgive me for stepping on you ||

समुद्र-वसने देवि, पर्वत-स्तन-मंडिते ।
विष्णु-पत्नि नमस्तुभ्यं, पाद-स्पर्शं क्षमस्व मे ॥

samudra-vasane devi, parvata-stana-maNDite |
viShNu-patni namastubhyaM, pAda-sparshaM kShamasva me ||

this is the second of the morning shloka. as mentioned in the previous shloka, when the two shlokas are said at a relaxed pace - with 'aum' before and after, and then a minute to reflect on the morning to come, and your good fortune to be alive ... - it would take a minute or two, which is good enough to get the blood pressure stabilized for the brain.

so in the first one, we thanked our stars that we have our hands intact, figuratively meaning that our fate and future is in our hands to make or destroy. now the day has begun, and we need to 'make' the most of it. but how? no matter where we go, we will have to step on the ground. if you live on the 9th floor of an apartment complex or something ultra modern like that, think of the time a few hundred/thousand years back, when people lived closer to earth, even in ultra modern metropolis of the times.

now we all know and accept today, that mother earth needs to be saved green! aha, we do call her 'mother' earth, even though we have assumed we are given 'dominion' over her! imagine abusing one's own mother to the extent we have done! but here, in this shloka, the reciter says -
o mother earth, forgive me for i have to step on you, trample/touch you with my feet, for i have to go around my daily chores to make my destiny, my fate!

so three questions?
1. why is she called ocean-draped?
2. why is she called mountain-breasted?
3. and why wife/consort of viShNu?

you may want to take a pause and think about them

today we know that 70-75% of the earth surface is covered with water. i guess that much of the body is covered with clothes in any civilized traditional society (not at mardi gras or cancun for sure!) and water flows like a flowing garment of a woman. there is a beautiful poem where the river is like the flowing scarf on the beautiful lady earth, which she is trying to clutch with the fingers (in the form) of the moving bamboo shoots on the river bank! and water's "dharma", characteristic, is to flow, so it is apt to think of earth as ocean-clad.

and interestingly, india has had a LONG tradition of sea-faring traders. 'lothal' was a great port of saraswatI-sindhu (indus valley) civilization or the harappa civilization. this is fast being accepted as continuation of the actual vedic civilization. its farming practices are still practiced by farmers in eastern pakistan and rajasthan (western india). then later the sea faring indians went to trade all the way to south eastern asia - the mighty rAja rAja chola of the chola dynasty; cambodia, angkor vAT temple etc.

going along with the metaphors, the mountains are like her breasts, the nourishing source of the mother!

but why these two aspects and why wife of viShnu?

viShNu is the divinity of sustenance, the all pervading sustainer, the provider. and what do we need for sustenance? resource, wealth! and that is why lakShmI, the goddess of prosperity (material and spiritual) is viShNu's consort.

but why earth?

well, where do WE get all our resources and wealth? the food, the cloths, the minerals, metals, oil, medicines, gems, diamonds, sheep, cows, horses, whatever it maybe? everything we have, we get in this world, and leave behind in this world! we get all these resources from the earth. even the things we make in the factories, their raw materials come from the earth. in that sense, a non-hindu may say - what lakShmI? but universally it has to be accepted that earth is the giver of resources, i.e. vasudhA.

vasu = wealth; -dhA = treasure chest (fem.); vasudhA = treasure of wealth!

so even if we don't believe in lakShmI per se, we have to accept earth as the resource provider, and hence as the consort of viShNu.

and where are these resources found? although they are found many places, the mountains and oceans are special treasure places. after the churning of the ocean, the deva and dAnava (cousins) got the various celestial treasures - moon, lakShmI, celestial nymphs, ambrosia, indra's elephant airAvata etc. but the first thing that came out was the black thick poisonous fluid called halAhala accompanied with dense clouds. somehow this always reminds me of the petroleum extraction - natural gas on top, and dark black oil!

even today lot of important resources are obtained from ocean, including petroleum.
and don't forget that rains are caused due to the oceans

the mountains are also a special source of resources- medicinal plants as well water for rivers. in rAmayaNa, hanumAn has to go to himAlaya for getting the life saving medicine for lakShmaNa. lot of mountains are formed due to colliding tectonic plates and bring out things that were otherwise deep within the earth. that is how himAlaya is formed.

so at a macro level these are used to go along with the feminine image of earth, on the micro level, these are chosen because of the largest treasures of resources.

next time you think of environment, and green peace and recycling and think of this shloka which encapsulates the deeper understanding of our planet than meets the eyes.

and yes, say these two shlokas in the morning, thank the hands, ask for forgiveness and start day humbly! happy making your fate and destiny.

if you find this article enlightening, interesting or worth your time, i request you to leave comment so i know you read and liked.

[photos: himalaya - courtesy JP Gupta; sunrise - courtesy shashikant joshi; space - nasa]

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and now the shloka at hand -

samudra-vasane = o, ocean-draped
samudra = ocean
vasanaM = garment, cloth
vasanA = one who is garmented, clothed
samudra-vasanA = clothed with ocean
vasane = o vasanA; like sItA -> sIte, durgA -> durge, kamalA -> kamale etc.

devi = o female divinity (addressing)
devI = female divinity
compare the shloka on saraswatI for all feminine words ending in -I (-ee) changing to -i in addressing.
divya = illuminated, brilliant, from which comes the english word - divine
deva = male divinity

parvata-stana-maNDite = o one adorned with mountain breasts
parvata = mountain
pArvatI = of the mountain; daughter of himAlaya (king himavAn); another name for gaurI, shaktI
stana = breast
maNDita = adorned (masc); maNDitA (fem.)
maNDite = o maNDitA

viShNu-patni = wife of viShNu
viShNu = the all pervading; the second of the trinity, the sustainer
patnI = wife
patni = o wife (note the change of vowel to short -i)

namastubhyaM = bowing, salutations (namaH) for you (tubhyaM)
twaM = you
namaskAra, namaste all are coming from this root
namaskAra = act of saluting, bowing
namaste = namaH + te

pAda-sparshaM = touching (sparshaM) (by) feet (pAda)
pAda = foot; one-fourth -> cow has four feet, all mammals have four 'limbs', a shloka has four parts.

kShamasva = please forgive

me = my (touching you with feet, walking on you)

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(c) shashikant joshi । शशिकांत जोशी । ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः ।
Practical Sanskrit. All rights reserved.


  1. Its a very informative post! In fact the entire blog is very informative. And the way you explained how one can equate Mother Earth with Goddess Lakshmi was amazing. Never thought that Vasudha is Vasu (wealth) + Dha (Treasure chest). You made it sound so simple and some how gave so much sense to the translation.

  2. So well said ....there is no doubt in my mind the richness of mankind can be found within sanskrit shlokas.

  3. i am glad to see thid blog

  4. Aslight variation is in my morning prayer --- Instead of Vishnu patni, I was taught... HARI PRIYE

  5. Another version with a slight chage in the third line...HARI PRIYE instead of Vishnu patni.

  6. Totallly it is based on the value " krithajnathaa "

  7. pranam pranam pranam. thanks a lot

  8. Lovely article on the great Mother Bhudevi!!

  9. To the meaning of Samudra add one more dimension, life originated in water and water is the main component of our body, hence the Devi who resides in samudra, of which our body is an extension and hence she resides in all of us …. And of course she as a mother feeds us etc., etc….
    Enjoy your blogs, please keep up the good work.

  10. Thanks for giving us complete knowledge

  11. Thanks for providing us complete knowledge.

  12. a Good shloka , very well explained. thank you very much. Sarveswaran, Bangalore, India

  13. Nice and logical explanation, thanks for putting up....

  14. Marvelous! I admire the effort you have put in explaining traditional meaning and modern point of view. Great Work, keep it going.

  15. Marvellous metaphors! Appreciated.

  16. Please keep writing, it is good deep observable explanation.

  17. When I told my son not to keep feet on the almirah as we keep money it's goddess Lakshmi,he said then land is also goddess bhoodevi then aren't we walking,I had to tell him that early morning before stepping our feet we ask mother Earth to forgive us.This sloka nd your explanation helped me to enlighten him .Thanks sir for giving awarnesaw in our culture.

  18. My parwnts taught me these shlokas when I was a child. Your explanations redefined the importance and essence. Very informative, glad to have read your blog

    1. Dhanyavad. Keep the tradition alive. That is what paramparA is. From one to the other.

  19. Thanks, so informative. I was taught these shlokas by my parents when I was a child. Your explanations have redefined the importance and essence. Glad that I read your blog

  20. One needs to bring all ancient wisdom to the fore, but only with relevance to the present day. Hence the reference to awareness of the environment around us and consequent actions for its protection and preservation is very appropriate.

  21. What a wonderful blog . Thankyou so much


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