Encyclopedia for Epics of Ancient India

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Read about the Aświns at Wikipedia

ASVINS. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] Horsemen. 'Dioskouroi. Two Vedic deities, twin sons of the sun or the sky.

They are ever young and handsome, bright, and of golden brilliancy, agile, swift as falcons, and possessed of many forms; and they ride in a golden car drawn by horses or birds, as harbingers of Ushas, the dawn. "They are the earliest bringers of light in the morning sky, who in their chariot hasten onwards before the dawn and prepare the way for her." Roth.

As personifications of the morning twilight, they are said to be children of the sun by a nymph who concealed herself in the form of a mare; hence she was called Aswini and her sons Aswins. But inasmuch as they precede the rise of the sun, they are called his parents in his form Pushan.

Mythically they are the parents of the Pandu princes Nakula and Sahadeva.

Their attributes are numerous, but relate mostly to youth and beauty, light and speed, duality, the curative power, and active benevolence. The number of hymns addressed to them testify to the enthusiastic worship they received. They were the physicians of Swarga, and in this character is called Das and Nasatyas, Gadagadau and Swarvaidyau ; or one was Dasra and the other Nasatya.

Other of their appellations are Abdhijau, 'ocean born;' Pushkamsrajau, 'wreathed with lotuses;' Badaveyau, sons of the submarine fire, Badava. Many instances are recorded of their benevolence and their power of healing.

They restored the sage Chyavana to youth, and prolonged his life when he had become old and decrepit, and through his instrumentality they were admitted to partake of the libations of soma, like the other gods, although Indra strongly opposed them. (See Chyavana.)

The Aswins, says Muir, "have been a puzzle to the oldest commentators, "who have differed widely in their explanations. According to different interpretations quoted in the Nirukta, they were "heaven and earth," "day and night," "two kings, performers of holy acts."

The following is the view taken of them by the late Professor Goldstucker, as printed in Muir's Texts, vol v.:

"The myth of the Aswins is, in my opinion, one of that class of myths in which two distinct elements, the cosmical and the human or historical, have gradually become blended into one It seems necessary, therefore, to separate these two elements in order to arrive at an understanding of the myth. The historical or human element in it, I believe, is represented by those legends, which refer to the wonderful cures affected by the Aswins, and to their performances of a kindred sort; the cosmical element is that relating to their luminous nature. The link, which connects both, seems to be the mysteriousness of the nature and effects of the phenomena of light and of the healing art at a remote antiquity. That there might have been some horsemen or warriors of great renown, who inspired their contemporaries with awe by their wonderful deeds, and more especially by their medical skill, appears to have been also the opinion of some old commentators mentioned by Yaska [in Nirukta], for some 'legendary writers,' he says, took them for `two kings, performers of holy acts,' and this view seems likewise borne out by the legend in which it is narrated that the gods refused the Aswins admittance to a sacrifice on the ground that they had been on too familiar terms with men. It would appear, then, that these Aswins, like the Ribhus, were originally renowned mortals, who, in the course of time, were translated into the companionship of the gods...

"The luminous character of the Aswins can scarcely be matter of doubt, for the view of some commentators, recorded by Yaska, according to which they are identified with 'heaven and earth,' appears not to be countenanced by any of the passages known to us. Their very name, it would seem, settles this point, since Aswa, the horse, literally 'the pervader,' is always the symbol of the luminous deities, especially of the sun....

"It seems to be the opinion of Yaska that the Aswins represent the transition from darkness to light, when the intermingling of both produces that inseparable duality expressed by the twin nature of these deities. And this interpretation, I hold, is the best that can be given of the character of the cosmical Aswins. It agrees with the epithets by which they are invoked, and with the relationship in which they are placed. They are young, yet also ancient, beautiful, bright, swift, etc.; and their negative character, the result of the alliance of light with darkness, is, I believe, expressed by dasra, the destroyer, and also by the two negatives in the compound nasatya (na + satya) ; though their positive character is again redeemed by the ellipsis of 'enemies, or diseases' to dasra, and by the sense of nasatya, not untrue, i.e., truthful." 

Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM