Dīrghatamas is one of the greatest seers of the Vedic age. He belongs to the lineage of Angiras. He was the son of Ucathya and Mamta. As per the Mahabharata he was born somewhere in the Vaishali region of Bihar. He is supposed to have been born blind. Herein it is said to lie the relevance of his name Dīrghatamas, one lying in long darkness. There is, however, no certainty about it, though the seer himself states in one of his mantra that it is only the sighted who can see, see things as they are and not the blind.
पश्य॑दक्ष॒ण्वान्न वि चे॑तद॒न्धः। RV 1,164,16
As a matter of fact, the term Dighahtamisrah occurs elsewhere in the Rigveda in the sense of ignorance rather than darkness. As regards his statement concerning his blindness, that too most probably is due to his feigning ignorance out of humility about the knowledge of the Reality.
There are thee contiguous mantras in one of Dīrghatamas’s hymns which contain certain autobiographical notes about the seer. In the first one of these mantras, the seer observes that he is surrounded by burning fuel and placed in all the ten directions around him and that being kept in the midst of it he has nothing but the dust to eat.
उप॑स्तुतिरौच॒थ्यमु॑रुष्ये॒न्मा मामि॒मे प॑त॒त्रिणी॒ वि दु॑ग्धाम्।
मा मामेधो॒ दश॑तयश्चि॒तो धा॒क्प्र यद्वां॑ ब॒द्धस्त्मनि॒ खाद॑ति॒ क्षाम् ॥ RV1,158,4
The ten-fold burning fuel around the seer is indeed symbolic of the objects of the five organs of sense and the five organs of action while the bondage he is put in the confinement of the space-time continuum. Being confined thus, one has nothing to sustain oneself on except the physical which the dust is used here to symbolize. Feeling himself put under such a precarious circumstance, the seer prays for an escape out of it. It is this feeling on his part which seems to have led him to seerhood.
It is this disaffection with the physical which made him to look beyond it and find out if there was anything beside it. How to find out that which lies beyond the physical? The seer’s attempt in this regard is reflected in one of his mantras which reads as follows:
को द॑दर्श प्रथ॒मं जाय॑मानमस्थ॒न्वन्तं॒ यद॑न॒स्था बिभ॑र्ति ।
भूम्या॒ असु॒रसृ॑गा॒त्मा क्व॑ स्वि॒त्को वि॒द्वांस॒मुप॑ गा॒त्प्रष्टु॑मे॒तत् ॥ RV.1,164,4
“Who could see how this bony universe was born as the boneless? It is evident that breath, flesh etc are the products of the physical. But, what is the source of the Ātman, Self? Who can take the trouble of approaching the wise and putting to him this query?”
While the first half of the mantra indicates the fruitlessness as the attempt to find out the solution of the problem through any objective method, the second half shows the proper way to it through it towards the inward quest. By way of self-analysis we can understand how all the ingredients of our personality are made of the physical except for the consciousness which in its concentric root is called ātman. His quest for the atman led Dīrghatamas to the development to his entire philosophical system. In course of the development, he sought the help of various supramental agencies which serve as our spiritual guides as well as the controller of the forces of Nature. The agencies Dīrghatamas took resort to are Agni, Mitra, Varuna, Vishnu, Indra, Aświns, Dyava-prithvi, Ribhus, Soma, Surya and Sarasvati. This is evident from his prayers to these deities through meditation on his Self, atman, with the help and guidance of these deities he eventually reaches the Ultimate Reality which he characterizes as Sat, Exsitent and it takes everything else, including the gods, to be just different formations out of it, no matter substantially or nominally. The mantra embodying this truth as realized by him reads as follows:
इन्द्रं॑ मि॒त्रं वरु॑णम॒ग्निमा॑हु॒रथो॑ दि॒व्यः स सु॑प॒र्णो ग॒रुत्मा॑न् । एकं॒ सद्विप्रा॑ बहु॒धा व॑दन्त्य॒ग्निं य॒मं मा॑त॒रिश्वा॑नमाहुः॥ RV 1,164,46
“What seers have named variously as Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, the divine and beautifully winged Suparṇā, Yama and Matriśvan is but one Existent.”
This One Existent came to be known as Brahman subsequently in the Upanishad and is sought to be understood why are the quest of the Atman. This quest led to the formulation of the magnificent sentences known as the mahavakyas in Vedanta. Some of those sentences are: Aham brahma asmi, tat tvam asi, prajñā brahma, sarvam khalvidam brahmam. Though these sentences came to be formulated in the Upanishads in course of deliberations on atman and Brahman, the root of them goes back to the search of the Vedic seers including Dīrghatamas in particular, as is evident from the two mantras quoted last.
In fact Dīrghatamas is a prodigious seer. He has not only given us the philosophy of ekam sat reached at via his quest for atman, but also seminal ideas in the fields of astronomy, psychology, linguistics and grammar. For instance, it is he who for the first time gives us an idea of the Indian calendar conceiving of the year of 360 days, divided into seasons and made up to date with the addition of the intercalary month every third year. His contribution to the psychological side of the linguisties, on the other hand, lies in tracing the root of the linguistic sense in the human mind back from the articulate to three successive inarticulate stages amounting to the figurative, ideational, and purely spiritual known as madhayamā, paśyantī and parā respectively.