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Prayers In Vedas To Overcome Death

Homage to Death, the ender of life. Let your breath — both inward and outward — rest here. Let this man be here with his life in the realm of the Sun, in the world of immortality. — Atharva Veda, 8.1.1

The wise should pursue knowledge and wealth as though they would never have disease or death; (and) practise dharma as though Death were holding them by the hair. — Hitopadesha, 1.3

The Atharva Vedic mantra above is recited by the teacher while touching the student at the navel during the traditional Vedic sacred thread ceremony, upanayana. Along with the Hitopadesha verse, it reminds us how the shadow of death is inextricably intertwined with every life-affirming activity.

Vedic humans were as acutely aware of disease and death as we are. But that did not in any way reduce their zest for life or their serious attempts to lead long and healthy lives. The Vedic rishi prayed:

May my voice remain strong,
my breath unfaltering,
my sight and my hearing acute.
May my hair not turn grey,
nor my teeth become blackened,
nor my arms grow feeble and slack.
May my thighs remain sturdy,
my legs swift to go,
my feet neither stumble nor flag.
May my limbs remain whole,
each performing its function,
and my soul ever unconquered.

This prayer was not a mere personal petition, for the rishis’ invocations extended well beyond their limited persons. They prayed:

Blessings be to our mother and father,
blessings to cattle, creatures, and men;
May all well-being and beneficence be ours,
long may we see the sun.


Peace be in the heavens, in the skies, on earth, in
herbs and trees, in all the gods, in Brahman, in all.
So strengthen me that all beings may regard me
with the eye of a friend.
May I regard all beings with the eye of a friend.
With the eye of a friend may we regard one

That the Vedic rishis felt confident their mantras could bring back humans from the clutches of death is illustrated in the efforts made by Subandhu’s brothers to bring him to life after he had been struck down by the incantations of rival priests:

May your soul, that has gone far to Yama,
son of Vivasvan, return
so that you may again live and dwell here.
May his life be renewed and further extended,
as by two skilled charioteers pursuing their
course. A fall increases one’s desire to live; (as
in the case of Chyavana) may Nirriti, the goddess
of death and destruction move far away.

Source - Excerpts from Prabuddha Bharata Magazine editorial April 2009 issues