Oldest Poet Usanas Kavi!


Research paper written by London Swaminathan
Research article No.1360; Dated 20th October 2014.

“Of the Vrsnis I am Vasudeva; of the Pandavas I am Dhananjaya (winner of wealth); of the sages I am Vyasa and of the poets I am Usana”.
– Bhagavad Gita 10-37

Why did Krishna say that he was Usana Kavi, an ancient poet whom we did not know much? We know a lot of other Vedic seer poets, but not Usanas.

First of all let me give you some basic information:
1.Until this day we use the word ‘Kavi’ for a poet in all the major Indian languages including Tamil (Pulavar was old and Kavinjar is current). This shows that the Rig Vedic Sanskrit lives in all our hearts. Kavi is a poet and Kavitha is a poem in all Indian languages. ‘Kavi’ is in the Veda and in the Gita!

2.Usanas belonged to Kavya Gotra and in Tamil, the oldest poet Tolkappiyan is believed to be from this Gotra. And there is another poet Kappiyatru Kappiyanar of Patitru Pathu (Ten Decads) from the same Gotra.

3. This shows the antiquity of the Gita as well. Krishna mentioned one of the oldest poets of the Rig Veda! AA Macdonell and A B Keith say in their Vedic Index of Names and Subjects, “ Usanas Kavya is an ancient seer, already a half mythical figure in the Rig Veda where he is often mentioned, especially as associated with Kutsa and Indra”. Rig Veda itself is old; in fact the oldest book we know of. Usanas had become ancient to the seers of Rig Veda! But Krishna was able to appreciate it. That means Krishna lived before the collection of Rig Vedic hymns by Vyasa.

4.”Later on Usanas becomes the Purohita/Priest of the Asuras in their contests with the Gods. A Variant of his name is Kavi Usanas. He appears in the Brahmanas as a teacher also”, say the authors. This shows that there were more poets with the same name in later days. We know that Shukracharya was the Guru of Asuras. This reveals another fact that both Asuras and Suras had Brahmin teachers. Both Devas and Asuras were sons of the soil. In Tamil also we have famous names of Sangam period, Kapila, Parana, Nakkirar and Avvaiyar at various ages. All these poets have done some works in later ages in Tamil as well. So it is possible that we had other poets with the name of Usanas. But even their works are not available!!
5.Usana’s name figured as an author of Artha sastras (Books on Economics) earlier than Kautilya alias Chanakya.


References to Usanas in the Rig Veda
His name occurs in seven out of ten Mandalas of the Rig Veda. His name is missing in Mandalas 2,3 and 7. We are unfortunate to lose the poems of such a popular poet. This shows how much of old Sanskrit literature was lost.

The way all the people praise him give the impression that the words Kavi and Kavya (poet and classics)– all originated from Usanas Kavya!

The following references are considered important (from Vedic Index):
Rig Veda 1-51-10, 1-83-5, 1-121-12;
R V 4-16-2, 6-2011, 8-23-17
R V 9-87-3, 9-97-7, 10-40-7
Probably also 1-130-9, 5-31-8, 5-34-2
Also in A V 4-29-6 (A V = Atharva Veda)

Taittriya samhita, Panchavimsa Brahmana, Sakyayana Srauta Sutra mention the Purohit/priest Usanas (Sukracharya).

Kavi Usanas is found in RV 4-26-1.


He appears as a teacher in two of the Brahmanas.
Yajur Veda and Sama Veda also praise him as a great poet.
Usanas’ few compositions are available in the Rig Veda: 9-87 to 89 and 8-84. As usual, the foot notes say that it is difficult to understand certain lines. Ninth Mandala of Rig Veda deals with Soma Pavamana (Soma Plant and Juice).
Usana, the son of Kavi is well known for making Agni the ministrant priest and offerer of the sacrifice for Manu ( RV. 8-23-17)

He is referred to as a seer and leader of the people. By his poetic gift he is said to have discovered the secret milk of cows of Indra which was concealed ( RV. 9-87-3)

Usana is said to have increased the vigour of Indra ( RV. 1-51-10) and fashioned the thunderbolt for him for slaying Vritra( RV. 1-121-12; 5-34-2).

He is characteristically wise and soma is compared with him due to his wisdom ( RV. 9-97-7)

Indu, the well armed god, is flowing onward, who quells the curse and guards from treacherous onslaught,
Father, begetter of the gods, most skilful, the buttress of the heavens and earth’s supporter
Rsi and sage, the champion of the people, deft and sagacious, Usana in wisdom
He had discovered even their hidden nature, the cows concealed and most mysterious title (RV 9-87-2/3)

Source books : Vedic Index of Names and Subjects Volume 1 and Bhrgus – A Syudy by Jayanti Panda, Delhi, 1984; The Rig Veda, Translated by Ralph T H Griffith.

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