Updated: Jul 11, 2021
Have you ever wondered where we came from?
Today life has conquered every square inch of Earth, but when the planet formed first, it was a dead rock. How did life get started?
There can hardly be a bigger question. For much of human history, almost everyone believed some version of "the gods did it". Any other explanation was inconceivable.
Mythology across cultures offers varied reasons for creation of the world.
There is no single story of creation, due to the dynamic diversity of different cultures, regions and religions this world is made-up of.
According to the Boshongo people of central Africa, before us there was only darkness, water and the great god Bumba. One day Bumba, in pain from a stomach ache, vomited up the sun. The sun evaporated some of the water, leaving land. Still in discomfort, Bumba vomited up the moon, the stars and then the leopard, the crocodile, the turtle, and finally, humans.
In Christianity, Adam and Eve started the world when Eve accidently took a bite of the forbidden apple.
Hinduism, as we know, is an Indian religion and dharma, or way of life. It postulates a range of viewpoints about the origin of life and evolution but the most accepted theory is that the world was created by Lord Brahma, who made the universe out of himself, also creating human beings. After Brahma created the world, it is the power of Vishnu which preserves the world and human beings. As part of the cycle of birth, life and death it is Shiva who will ultimately destroy the universe.
In the interest of my story, I am going a step ahead from the beginning of the earth and tell you a story about how lines of Hindu ancestors began.
Through this story, I invite you to join me on the journey of my lineage. I hope that I will be able to create some excitement in your heart to begin the journey of knowing your ancestors and where you come from.
You all would agree that we are all souls first. After that, this world is divided into regions, cultures, religion and dialects.
By virtue of this division, I am a born Hindu Brahmin.
Being curious by nature, I have often wondered about my ancestors. Questions, such as where did my lineage really start, and which family tree do I come from, have often piqued my interest.
Unfortunately, my life’s path never really left any time to sit down and mull over such quintessential questions. Food was always short in supply and with many mouths to feed; survival instinct was always the core of every action.
I do not know about my family history beyond my grandfather. Nor do I know the name of my great grandfather and our forefathers before him. Bauji left way too early for me to learn anything from him.
I am sure there are still some families who have preserved their family tree for seven generations, though such families would be rare in number.
The only time, most of us remember our ancestors today, is perhaps once a year, when we make an offering to them during Shradh or pitrapaksh, without even knowing their names. This ceremony is also becoming limited to the elders in the family now.
Let us read these beautiful lines from Madhushala penned by Harivansh Rai Bachchan:
पितृ पक्ष में पुत्र उठाना अर्ध्य न कर में, पर प्याला बैठ कहीं पर जाना, गंगा सागर में भरकर हाला किसी जगह की मिटटी भीगे, तृप्ति मुझे मिल जाएगी तर्पण अर्पण करना मुझको, पढ़ पढ़ कर के मधुशाला। - हरिवंशराय बच्चन
These lines were originally not part of Madhushala and were added later on by Harivansh Rai Bacchpan.
Let me now tell you how all of this started: Sometime back, a friend of mine visited us. During our coffee session, he casually asked me if I knew my family tree for seven generations. He had clean bowled me with a googly. I raised both my hands and pleaded guilty.
That is when the search to learn more about my ancestors begun—who they were, where they came from and what happened to them—all of this started in conversations with relatives, family, in the attic or basement rifling through old photos and documents. The payoff for all this detective work is nothing less than time traveling through your family history.
It was during this time that my daughter Shafina (who I call Shafu fondly) gifted me a book, ‘The History of Hinduism: The past, Present and Future by R Ramachandran’. I owe the discovery of my ancestral line to this book.
As I was browsing through the book, a chapter on Rig Vedic religion caught my attention. According to the Rig Vedic religion, around 3500 years ago, a group of Sanskrit speaking people came to the Indian sub-continent from Central Asia, after an arduous journey through the Khyber pass losing many lives, as well as cattle and horses. Besides rishis, there were warriors and other communities in this community.
These people were called Rishis. They
used to write hymns in the service of the God and were also known as Poets.
They composed verses in Sanskrit in the praise of their gods and recited them in front of fire, as a homage to God of Fire, AGNI. They also worshipped nature in its various forms. These verses were then memorized and passed on to the next generation.
According to the author, Ramachandran, over several centuries, these verses were compiled in to a text and were collectively called the Rig Veda.
The principal Rishis who compiled Rig Veda included Vishwamitra, Vashisth, Bhardwaj, Atri and Angiras. These principal Rishis started specific lineages of their own.
Each lineage then formed specific gotras called the Brahmin Gotras.
It broadly refers to people who are descendants in an unbroken male line from a common male ancestor. In my case, it will be Rishi Angiras.
This shows that Rishi Angiras was our first ancestor. This also proved to me that our lineage goes back to the Rig Vedic period. My ancestors were teachers, advisors to kings and creators of hymns and Vedic prayers.
Rishi Angiras is described in the Rig Veda as Brihaspati ((Sanskrit: “Lord of Sacred Speech”). Brishpati is a teacher of divine knowledge, a mediator between men and Gods, as well as stated in other hymns to be the first of Agni-devas. He is known by both names Angiras and Angira.
In Vedic mythology, the Angiras were considered the Supreme Teachers, Preceptor of the Gods, the Master of Sacred Wisdom, Charms, Hymns, and Rites, and the Sage Counselor of Gods.
I was super excited by my discovery.
There are many other versions of the word word, Angirasa.
Angirasa literally means the sap of the body or essence of the body. The Brihadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads refer to the breath as the Ayasa Angiras, because it is their essence and it removes their weariness.
Angirasa also means the radiant one or the one with a radiant body.
I also discovered that Rishi Angiras is credited for inventing the Gayatri meter.
The invention of Gayatri Meter is perhaps the most important event in the history of Hinduism. It consists of of 24 syllables, grouped in to three parts or Padas and contains of 8 syllables. The correct intonation of the syllables is sacrosanct.
The complete creation of Gayatri Mantra however is credited to Rishi Vishwamitra.
Although Rig Vedic Society ceased to exist 3000 years ago, Rig Vedic text is considered to be the most sacred of Hindu texts even today.
So, this is the story of my ancestors.
Please do try and find out more about your ancestors. It fills one's heart with an unknown pride, and a sense of new responsibility, connecting you to your roots.
Get your wings to fly with this new knowledge. Thanks for reading!