Gods and Plagues

Occasional Paper 4

Inspired by the The Nāsadīya Sūkta (after the incipit ná ásat, or “not the non-existent”), also known as the Hymn of Creation, is the 129th hymn of the 10th Mandala of the RgVeda (10:129)

In the beginning there were humans, male and female, but they were not happy. They thought and felt that it was pointless to be just male and female because they could not figure out what it meant to be male and female hobnobbing the earth. The problem of meaning was permeating their human consciousness.

They inherited a lush land, fresh air, vegetation, fruits, the birds, animals and reptiles, but these were all restricted to their separate domains. Humans desired something not just earthy but a bit more substantial, for the sake of association. Being the only thinking species they were bored, and their desire for association beyond just being alive drove them to the speculative creation of another ‘other’. The humans conjured this ‘other’ as a reference, a consultant. They expected this ‘other’ to be ‘out there (in space) but staying in touch (in contact)’; this was the agreement between the humans and their sophisticated conjuring.

Now the humans suddenly found that there were ‘thousands of them’ out there, as the sophistication self-mutated with no reference back to them. So they could do nothing except name them as ‘gods’ – for want of a better term. To this day nobody has provided a definitive definition to this sophistication of gods, except as influential and characterful beings ‘out there’, imagined as humans looked up occasionally into the abyss of heaven wondering if they might be ‘up there’.

Being dissatisfied, the humans vied among themselves to find the most powerful among the gods, precisely because they were a delightful sophistication created by them. Then, learning from the humans, the gods also battled among themselves, each seeking to become the most likable among the humans. Unexpectedly however, in the middle of this battle for the primacy of sophistication, the gods became infected by a plague. Some argued that it was devised by the humans as a way of taming the sophistication. However, many gods succumbed to the plague without proper spatial quarantine and lack of ghostly distancing (it has been wrongly called social distancing, but the more accurate designation is physical distancing).

The humans finally looked towards the survival of the gods after the plague. The thinking was that if the gods at least did survive a complex plague of such magnitude then the survivors would be omniscient, omnipotent and even invincible. De facto, a plague resistant pantheon was born. Humans were finally happy because there appeared a celestial community out there that they could access in the case of a plague or a pandemic. But, unfortunately, the gods also lived in a certain state of anxiety, as they were the result of a mutation which had been self-engineered without reference or consultation with the humans who provided them with meaning for existence.

Subsequently, something happened which humans came to know only belatedly. Gods without any reference or consultation created goddesses, because they argued that if the humans are male and female, then, as a function of their civil liberties and rights, they could deal with their experience of loneliness by deciding to be eternal with their spouses, at least as long as the humans exist. Gods and goddesses knew that there was no point of existence for them without humans and that immortality was a figment of the mind of both humans and gods before either came into being. After all, immortality could even be conceptually possible because there exists an end to existence.

There were gods and goddesses because there were humans. So the plague was not just a problem that humans faced but a problem for gods too. Gods could cease to be if the disease obliterated the humans. Mutual survival was paramount for both parties.

Plague, then, created a serious issue of meaning for a god. If only humans get infected by a plague, and if these useful celestial bodies remained unaffected, then it was certainly a matter for concern for the future of the existence of gods and goddesses. Gods and goddesses being ‘out there’ (in a space for gods) have no inherent purpose, no role or meaning without being able to make their impact on the life of humans. Hence, there is a new plea by the gods: “please find a way out of this dilemma – we know you guys can indeed do this – because you created the plague and now must un-create it.” It will be a mutual survival strategy.

Shanthikumar Hettiarachchi 10 April 2020

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