That One Verse-1: Hymn of the Origins

Original in Sanskrit:

 नास॑दासी॒न्नो सदा॑सीत्त॒दानी॒म् नासी॒द्रजो॒ नो व्यो॑मा प॒रो यत्।
किमाव॑रीव॒: कुह॒ कस्य॒ शर्म॒न्नंभ॒: किमा॑सी॒द्गह॑नं गभी॒रम्॥१॥

Joel P. Brereton’s translation:

The non-existent did not exist, nor did the existent exist at that time.
There existed neither the midspace nor the heaven beyond.
What stirred? From where and in whose protection?
Did water exist, a deep depth?

Raimundo Panikkar’s translation[i]:

At first was neither Being nor Nonbeing
There was not air nor yet sky beyond.
What was its wrapping? Where? In whose protection?
Was water there, unfathomable and deep?

John Muir’s translation[ii]:

Then there was neither Aught nor Naught;
no air nor sky beyond.
What covered all?  Where rested all? 
In watery gulf profound?

A. L. Basham’s translation[iii]:

Then even nothingness was not, nor existence,
There was no air then, nor the heavens beyond it.
What covered it? Where was it? In whose keeping
Was there then cosmic water, in depths unfathomed?

Max Muller’s translation:

Nor aught nor naught existed; yon bright sky
Was not, nor heaven's broad woof outstretched above.
What covered all? what sheltered? what concealed?
Was it the water's fathomless abyss?

Ralph T.H. Griffith’s translation:

THEN was not non-existent nor existent:
there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it.
What covered in, and where? and what gave shelter?
Was water there, unfathomed depth of water?

Putting It Together:

This verse can be called as the verse of inseparable opposites as it focuses its light on the paradoxical nature of the reality underlying the universe.

Just before the origin of the cosmos, there neither was truth (Sanskrit: sat means lasting, enduring, real, that which really is, entity or existence, essence, self-existent) not untruth (Sanskrit: asat is the antonym of sat meaning temporary, un-enduring, unreal, that which really is not, non-entity or nonexistence, non-essence, not self-existent). As such, truth is that which is always real, eternal, unchanging, ever green, and perennial while its opposite untruth is that which is temporal, and changes from time to time. There neither was any existent nor non-existent, neither being (unchanging) or nor becoming (changing), neither any animate nor inanimate, neither (aught) anything not (naught) nothing, neither nothingness nor existence.

It may be noted that the denial of both the opposites implies simultaneous existence of both or existence of neither. Since only nothing can be sourced from nothing, the existence of the cosmos means it must be sourced from something. The cosmic cause must then must have a potential of all opposites. Opposites in this cause are like two sides of a coin, inseparable and joined in eternal wedded bliss.

There neither was a realm of air (atmosphere) nor (sky, heaven) space around it; space did not exist then. Was there anything moving? Time did not exist. There is no movement without time and space, Was there anything supporting whatever it was? Was there anything wrapping or concealing it? Where was it and in whose keeping? Why was it not visible? All was a fluidity (watery primordial soup), mystery, uncertain, undefined, unformed, nebulous and undifferentiated depth of unfathomed extent. Nothing existed but this mystical fluidity.

[i] Panikkar, Raimundo. 1994. The Vedic Experience Mantramanjari – An anthology of the Vedas for Modern Man and Contemporary Celebration. Delhi: Moti Lal Banarsi Dass Publishers

[ii] Hiriyanna, M. 1993. Outlines of Indian Philosophy. First Indian Edition. New Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited

[iii] Basham, A.L. 1989. The Origins and Development of Classical Hinduism. Boston: Beacon Press