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The Keśin were long-haired ascetic wanderers with mystical powers described in the Keśin Hymn (RV 10, 136) of the Rigveda (an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns).[1] The Keśin ("long-haired one") are described as homeless, traveling with the wind, clad only in dust or yellow tatters, and being equally at home in the physical and the spiritual worlds. They are on friendly terms with the natural elements, the gods, enlightened beings, wild beasts, and all people.[2] The Keśin Hymn also relates that the Keśin drink from the same magic cup as Rudra, which is poisonous to mortals.[3]

The Kesin hymn of the Rigveda is the earliest evidence of yogis and their spiritual tradition, states Karel Werner.[4] The Hindu scripture Rigveda uses words of admiration for Kesins.[4]



The Keśin were lone ascetics, living a life of renunciation and wandering mendicants.[1][3][5]

Yāska (c. 500 BCE) offered several etymological meanings to Keśin, including the sun or the sun God Surya. Sāyana (c. 14th century ACE) supported that view, followed by some early European Sanskrit scholars, including H. H. Wilson and M. Bloomfield.[6] Hermann Oldenberg took the view that the Keśin Hymn described the "orgiastic practices of the old Vedic times" and the "drunken rapture" of the Keśin.[7]

Ralph T. H. Griffith and Heinrich Roth rejected both the Surya and intoxicant-drinking views. Griffith supported Roth's view of the Keśin Hymn:

The hymn shows the conception that by a life of sanctity the Muni can attain to the fellowship of the deities of the air, the Vayu, the Rudras, the Apsarases, and the Gandharvas; and, furnished like them with wonderful powers, can travel along with them on their course.

Werner contrasts Kesin with Rishi, both loners, but the former being the silent wandering types and the latter being the satya (truth-teaching) settled-in-a-hut types.[1]

The Keśin Hymn (RV 10, 136)Edit

The description of Keśin is found in hymn 10.136 of the Rigveda.[8][4]

Ralph Griffith translationEdit

He with the long loose locks supports Agni, and moisture, heaven, and earth:

He is all sky to look upon: he with long hair is called this light.

The Munis, girdled with the wind, wear garments soiled of yellow hue.
They, following the wind's swift course go where the Gods have gone before.

Transported with our Munihood we have pressed on into the winds:
You therefore, mortal men. behold our natural bodies and no more.

The Muni, made associate in the holy work of every God,
Looking upon all varied forms flies through the region of the air.

The Steed of Vāta, Vāyu's friend, the Muni, by the Gods impelled,
In both the oceans hath his home, in eastern and in western sea.

Treading the path of sylvan beasts, Gandharvas, and Apsarases,
He with long locks, who knows the wish, is a sweet most delightful friend

Vāyu hath churned for him: for him he poundeth things most hard to bend,

When he with long loose locks hath drunk, with Rudra, water from the cup.

Karel Werner interpretationEdit

Carrying within oneself fire and poison, heaven and earth, ranging from enthusiasm and creativity to depression and agony, from the heights of spritual bliss to the heaviness of earth-bound labor. This is true of man in general and the [Vedic] Keśin in particular, but the latter has mastered and transformed these contrary forces and is a visible embodiment of accomplished spirituality. He is said to be light and enlightenment itself. The Keśin does not live a normal life of convention. His hair and beard grow longer, he spends long periods of time in absorption, musing and meditating and therefore he is called "sage" (muni). They wear clothes made of yellow rags fluttering in the wind, or perhaps more likely, they go naked, clad only in the yellow dust of the Indian soil. But their personalities are not bound to earth, for they follow the path of the mysterious wind when the gods enter them. He is someone lost in thoughts: he is miles away.

— Karel Werner (1977), "Yoga and the Ṛg Veda: An Interpretation of the Keśin Hymn"[4]


  1. ^ a b c Werner 1995, p. 34.
  2. ^ Werner 1998, p. 105.
  3. ^ a b Fitzpatrick 1994, pp. 30-31.
  4. ^ a b c d Werner, Karel (1977). "Yoga and the Ṛg Veda: An Interpretation of the Keśin Hymn (RV 10, 136)". Religious Studies. 13 (3): 289–302. The Yogis of Vedic times left little evidence of their existence, practices and achievements. And such evidence as has survived in the Vedas is scanty and indirect. Nevertheless, the existence of accomplished Yogis in Vedic times cannot be doubted.
  5. ^ Flood 1996, p. 78.
  6. ^ Werner 1995, p. 36.
  7. ^ Werner 1977, pp. 291-292.
  8. ^ Sanskrit Original: (Wikisource of the Keśin hymn);

    केश्यग्निं केशी विषं केशी बिभर्ति रोदसी । केशी विश्वं स्वर्दृशे केशीदं ज्योतिरुच्यते ॥१॥
    मुनयो वातरशनाः पिशङ्गा वसते मला । वातस्यानु ध्राजिं यन्ति यद्देवासो अविक्षत ॥२॥
    उन्मदिता मौनेयेन वाताँ आ तस्थिमा वयम् । शरीरेदस्माकं यूयं मर्तासो अभि पश्यथ ॥३॥
    अन्तरिक्षेण पतति विश्वा रूपावचाकशत् । मुनिर्देवस्यदेवस्य सौकृत्याय सखा हितः ॥४॥
    वातस्याश्वो वायोः सखाथो देवेषितो मुनिः । उभौ समुद्रावा क्षेति यश्च पूर्व उतापरः ॥५॥
    अप्सरसां गन्धर्वाणां मृगाणां चरणे चरन् । केशी केतस्य विद्वान्सखा स्वादुर्मदिन्तमः ॥६॥
    वायुरस्मा उपामन्थत्पिनष्टि स्मा कुनन्नमा । केशी विषस्य पात्रेण यद्रुद्रेणापिबत्सह ॥७॥

    – Rigveda 10.136, 2nd millennium BCE
  9. ^ Griffith 1897, Translation by Ralph T.H. Griffith.