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Garbha Upanishad – On Human Body – Fetus – Sacrificial Pursuits of Body

Garbha Upanishad text describes it as Paippalada Moksha Shastra realized by a pupil of the Sage Pippalada. There is no one opinion regarding to which Vedas it belongs. It is sometimes claimed to be part of Atharva Veda Upanishad. But as per another text, Muktika Upanishad, it belongs to the Yajur Veda. It is also classified as a Vedanta Upanishad. Liberation in Garbha Upanishad means prevention of the rebirth of the fetus. It essence the scripture is a treatise on liberation.

Garbha Upanishad content is broadly divided into two –

  1. medical speculations relating to the human body and 
  2. human body in sacrificial pursuits.
The body is thought as the residence of three fires, namely,

  1. digestive fire (kosagni), 
  2. perceptive (darshanagni) and 
  3. fire for performing good and bad deeds (jnanagni).
The Upanishad explains the principal traits of the human body.

  • It is a product of five elements, 
  • five agents of action, 
  • five agents of perception, 
  • six supporting vital juices and 
  • six associated cardinal passions (gunas).
Body is conceived as a symbol of three forms of existence (triyoni), namely of plant, male and female beings.

The seven elements of body explained in the Upanishad are blood, flesh, fat, tendons, bone, marrow and semen.

The Upanishad explains fetal developments in successive months after conception –

  • like a round lump on the second night,
  • form of vesicle on the eighth night,
  • form of a spheroid after a fortnight,
  • appearance of head in two months,
  • of feet in three months, of abdomen,
  • heels and pelvic portions in four months,
  • of the spine in the fifth month,
  • of the facial feature in the sixth month,
  • life in the seventh  month,
  • consciousness of self (aham) in the eighth month and
  • finally the fetus power or remembrance of previous births and lamentation in the ninth month.
This particular portion of the Garbha Upanishad also narrates about the fetus’s resolve to follow Samkhya Yoga discipline and also prayer to Maheshwara and Narayan to avoid rebirth after it comes out of the mother’s womb.

As per the Upanishad, the remembrance of its past fades as soon as the child is born.

The contents also include the birth of male, female and hermaphrodite and their causes; three excretory matters of body, viz., feces, urine and reproductive essence; symbolizing sacrificial pursuits and weights and measurements of different body products.

It the context of body as sacrifice, the Upanishad counts the number of vital spots as 107, the joints as 180 and the tissues as 109.

The entire thought behind body is not only of medical interest but has a deeper significance. The sacrificer here is to perform the meditative mode of worship. The philosophy behind this seems to be the unification of the sacrificer’s entire existence with the Supreme Principle, which leads to emancipation.

BibliographyEncyclopedia of Hinduism Volume IV page 246 - 247