Indian Navy motto — Shamno Varunah — is from Taittiriya Upanishad

A Letter From Grandpa

Niranjan Shah, a civil engineer, who pioneered famous high-rise buildings in Baroda, is a broadcaster in India and the USA and a prolific writer. Under “A Letter from Grandpa.” he has been writing since 2002 on India’s historical, philosophical, and literary heritage. He can be reached at   

By Niranjan Shah

My dear Snehi and Sohan:

Shamno Varunah (May Varuna be auspicious) is the motto of Indian Navy. In Vedic scriptures Varun is mentioned as Lord of Seas. This Mantra is part of a full shloka belonging to Bhrugu Valli of Taittiriya Upanishad. Bhrugu Valli describes how Bhrugu, son of Varun obtained realization of Brhaman through repeated Tapas under his father Varun’s guidance.

The full verse is like this: Om’ shamn mitrah sham varunah; shamn bhavatvaryama Shamno indro brihaspatihi; shamno vishnu rurukramah Namo brahmane, namaste vayo Tvameva pratyaksham brahmasi Tvameva pratyaksham brahma vadishyami-Rutham vadishyami, sathyam vadishaymiTan mamavatu, tad vaktaramavatu Avatu mam avatu vaktaramm Om’ Shanti Shanti Shanti Hi ||

Meaning of this verse is “May the Mitra (Sun god), the Varuna (god of the Ocean) and the Aryama (god of the Manes) be auspicious to us. May Indra and Brihaspati be auspicious  to us. May Vishnu be auspicious to us.  Salutations to Brahman, Salutation to Vayu. You indeed are the perceptible truth. I understand you to be the laws of ritam and satyam. Let the laws protect me, let them protect the one, who speaks (the truth) Protect me, Om shanti shanti shanti hi.

India, situated at the central point of the ocean that washes on its coast on three sides, seemed destined very early for a maritime future. The oldest evidence on record is supplied by the Rig Veda, which contains several references to sea voyages undertaken for commercial purposes.

In the Rig Veda, a passage (I. 25.7) represents Varuna having a full knowledge of the sea routes, and another (L. 56.2) speaks of merchants going everywhere and frequenting every part of the sea for gain. A third passage (I. 56.2) mentions merchants, whose field of activity known no bounds, who go everywhere in pursuit of gain, and frequent every part of the sea. The fourth passage (VII. 88.3 and 4) alludes to a voyage undertaken by Vasishtha and Varuna in a ship skillfully fitted out, and their “undulating happily in the prosperous swing.” The fifth, which is the most interesting passage (I. 116. 3), mentions a naval expedition on which Tugra the Rishi King sent his son Bhujyu against some of his enemies in the distant islands; Bhujyu, however, is ship wrecked by a storm, with all his followers, on the ocean, “where there is no support, no rest for the foot or the hand,” from which he is rescued by the twin brethren, the Asvins, in their hundred-oared galley.

The Ramayana refers to the Yava Dvipa and Suvarna Dvipa (Java and Sumatra) and to the Lohita Sagara or the Red Sea. The drama Shakuntala, Ratnavali of King Harsha, and Shishupalvadha of Magha, relate stories of sea voyages of merchants and others, and the fabulous literature of India is replete with stories of sea voyages by Vedic Indians.

Historian R. C. Majumdar states: “The representation of ship on a sea indicates maritime activity, and there is enough evidence to show that the people of the Sindhu valley carried on trade not only with other parts of India, but also with Sumer and the centers of culture in Western Asia, and with Egypt and Crete.”

There was a time in the past, when Indians were the masters of the sea-borne trade of Europe, Asia and Africa. They built ships, navigated the sea, and held in their hands all the threads of international commerce, whether carried on overland or sea. India, according to Chamber’s Encyclo-pedia, “has been celebrated during many ages for its valuable natural productions, its beautiful manufactures and costly merchandise,” and was, says the Encyclopedia Britan-nica, “once the seat of commerce.”

Sir William Jones was of opinion that the Hindus must have been navigators in the age of Manu. Lord Elphin-stone has written that “The Hindus navigated the ocean as early as the age of Manu’s Code because we read in it of men well acquainted with sea voyages.”

— Grandpa’s blessing

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