Puruṣasūkta (पुरुषसूक्त) is a Vedic hymn found in Rig Veda (X.90). Puruṣa refers to Brahman, original source of the universe. Sūkta means song of praise, generally from Vedas. Rig Veda mentions Nārāyaṇa as the Ṛiṣi for Puruṣasūkta. There are sixteen verses in the first part of Puruṣasūkta, which is known as Puruṣasūkta and there is second part comprising of six verses, which is known as Uttara Puruṣasūkta. They are also known as first and second anuvāka-s respectively. Both first part and second parts of Puruṣasūkta are available in Taittirīya Āraṇyaka. Second part is not available in Rig Veda. Āraṇyaka prescribes rituals and sometimes, philosophy too. According to Taittirīya Āraṇyaka, first part consists of eighteen verses (as against sixteen Riks of Rig Veda) and second part six verses. Japa and homa are done with Puruṣasūkta. Along with Śrī Rudraṁ, Puruṣasūkta is also recited by households. It is said that every household should chant daily, the above two along with Vishnu Sahasranāma, some Upaniṣad-s and some verses from Bhagavad Gītā.  

Puruṣa is explained in various Upaniṣad-s. Kaṭha Upaniṣhad (II.1.12) says, “अङ्गुष्ठमात्रः पुरुषो मध्य आत्मनि तिष्ठति॥ aṅguṣṭhamātraḥ puruṣo madhya ātmani tiṣṭhati ||”, which means “Puruṣa in the size of a thumb rests in the middle of the body”. Here Puruṣa refers to the Self, which we also call as Ātman. It further says that It is seen as a smokeless flame and controls past, present and future. Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad (II.i.2) says, “दिव्यः पुरुषः अमूर्तः divyaḥ puruṣaḥ amūrtaḥ” which means that Puruṣa is luminous and formless. It further says that It is all pervasive, without mind, without breath and It is pure and superior to māyā and Prakṛti. Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, Chāndogya Upaniṣad and Praśna Upaniṣad refer sun as Puruṣa. Thus Puruṣa is undoubtedly Brahman without attributes or Nirguṇa Brahman.

A brief note on Puruṣa from Advaita point of view.

Individual soul is also known as puruṣa or ātman. Individual soul is the preternatural existence of the Brahman without attributes or the nirguṇa Brahman. The individual soul is nothing but the manifestation of the Brahman. This explains why we should look within.  The Brahman is not elsewhere.  He is within us. The pure Brahman or the Brahman without attributes cannot create on His own. There was a necessity for Him to divide Himself into two and His carved out portion exclusively for the purpose of creation and sustenance is the saguṇa Brahman.  Whatever we discuss here is only about the saguṇa Brahman as the nirguṇa Brahman is beyond comprehension.  It is like a man attempting to explore the sun by trying to enter the core of the sun. Generally the saguṇa Brahman alone is called God. Therefore, God becomes the creative aspect of the universe and not the pure Brahman or nirguṇa Brahman. He is the static energy from whom saguṇa Brahman has originated. Saguṇa Brahman begins to create through His projecting power or illusory power called māyā.

The individual soul becomes active only if it is covered by māyā. The soul gets embodiment only to undergo experience arising out of karmic account embedded in it.  The individual soul as such is passive and does not partake in any of the activities of the physical body. It always remains as a witness.  The soul does not undergo modifications. The journey of the soul is a tough one.  It gets human embodiment only after undergoing several births and deaths in different shapes and forms.  The soul can attain liberation only in a human birth, as realisation of the Self can happen only through mind.  Though, soul is imperishable and beyond modification, it is subjected to change of field, from lower planes to higher planes. During this process, the soul as such does not undergo any change, but the plane in which it operates alone changes.  All this happens to the soul as it gets itself veiled by the influence of māyā.  Due to this influence, it forgets its original nature.  Though, it forgets its original nature, still it does not cause any actions in its embodiment, nor gets modified by the actions carried out by karmic influences in conjunction with the impressions in the subconscious mind.

Souls are only the differential manifestations of the Brahman. Typically speaking, a soul is nothing but a tiny spark of the Self-illuminating Brahman. A human is not aware that soul is the cause of his existence.  His ignorance about the soul is due to his inherent ego. The ego is inherent in human life as ego alone provides individual identity.   Ego induces him to think that he, as a physical body is responsible for all his actions.  Though, soul is also not directly responsible for his actions, actions unfold because of the soul within.  There may be several bulbs.  But electricity is needed to make them burn.  In the same way, there are trillions of beings and for their active lives souls need to be present in them.  The ultimate realisation of the Brahman happens only in a human mind and the individual soul aids the process of mental evolution though by itself, it does make this happen.

The Supreme Self and the individual souls can be compared to the reflection of sun in water kept in different vessels. Same sun gets reflected in different vessels with water, making one to believe that the reflected sun is different from the real sun in the sky.  This belief arises out of ignorance, which is also known māyā.  Ultimately, just like water bubbles becoming one with the waters of ocean, the individual souls become one with the Brahman.  The soul’s journey from the lowest level of consciousness to the Supreme Consciousness is an incomprehensible process of evolution. It is incomprehensible because, the ‘evolution’ of the soul is beyond the reach of human perception, including the great sages and saints.   

Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (II.v.18) says, “On account of His dwelling in all bodies, He is called Puruṣa. There is nothing that is covered by Him, nothing that is not pervaded by Him.”

With this brief introduction, Puruṣhasūktam is now being taken up for discussion.

Further Readings:

Purusha Suktam - 1

Purusha Suktam - 2

Purushasuktam - 3