1. Rig Veda, ancient as it is, has a disarmingly fresh view of life and the world at large. There is no trace of pessimism in Rig Veda. It is optimistic and uncomplicated. It does not get into debate whether the world is an illusion, a reality, a substance, or a shadow. It accepts the world as it is.
Rig Veda does not subscribe to the view that life is a misery that could be ended with the eradication of desire or vasana, the cause for the recurring cycle of births and deaths. It takes a direct approach to life.
2. There is a healthy desire to enjoy the world, in full. There is no extortion to give up desires. There are a number of prayers addressed to Devas seeking worldly happiness, the cattle, wealth, children, family, heroic sons and longevity. The worship of nature and its powers is sincere and utilitarian. They do not view family life as a hindrance to achieving spiritual excellence. The Vedic seers pray for fullness of life.
“May we see the sun rise a hundred autumns. May we live a hundred autumns, hear (through) a hundred autumns, speak (through) a hundred autumns, and be happy and contented a hundred autumns, nay, even beyond these years.”
Paśyema śaradaḥ śataṁ| jīvema śaradaḥ śataṁ| budhyema śaradaḥ śataṁ| rohema śaradaḥ śataṁ | pūṣema śaradaḥ śataṁ| bhavema śaradaḥ śatam | bhūsema śaradaḥ śataṁ| bhūyasīḥ śaradaḥ śatam | (AVŚ_19,67.1-8)
3. There is a strong faith in God. It preaches that one should have a pure mind to realize God. It calls upon the devotee to establish a relationship with each Deva, Agni, Indra and others as one would do with a son, a friend, a father, a mother etc.
There is faith that the Devas would in turn communicate with the men and women and fulfill their desires.
“Instill in us a wholesome, happy mind, with goodwill and understanding. Then shall we ever delight in your friendship like cows who gladly rejoice in meadows green.”
bhadram ǀ naḥ ǀ api ǀ vātaya ǀ manaḥ ǀ dakṣam ǀ uta ǀ kratum ǀ adha ǀ te ǀ sakhye ǀ andhasaḥ ǀ vi ǀ vaḥ ǀ made ǀ raṇan ǀ gāvaḥ ǀ na ǀ yavase ǀ vivakṣase ǁ10.025.01 ǁ
4. An ideal person in Rig Veda is Āptakāma (आप्तकाम) , the one whose desires have been satisfied; the one who has renounced all worldly desires and attachments (yenākramantyṛṣayo hyāprakāmāḥ) .
One should not cringe and humiliate oneself before others and one should lead an independent life.
Our day-to-day activities should be pure and we should make our companions and fellow beings happy.
It addresses the humans as the children of immortal bliss (Amruthasya putrah). Swami Vivekananda was very fond of this phrase.
yuje vāṃ brahma pūrvyaṃ namobhir vi śloka etu pathyeva sūreḥ / śṛṇvanti viśve amṛtasya putrā ā ye dhāmāni diviyāni tasthuḥ // 2.5 //
The Vedic mind is a progression from prayers for long and happy life (pashyema sharadah shatam jivema sharadah shatam) to lofty idealism .There is a harmonious blend of nivritti and pravritti margas.
5.They talk of a Amruta_loka (sadanam-rtasya).The devote aspire for the abode of truth (sadanam-rtasya) that is not haunted by fear of death (Amruta-loka). They pray to Varun to guide them along the path of truth (Rtasya-panthah), to lead them from mortality (mruthah) to immortality (Amruthah); and from untruth (Anrtahah) to truth (rtahah) — (Sampraptam Rtam Amrutam).
Rig Veda says the righteous ones go by the Deva_marga and the others go by Pitri_marga. The Upanishads later enlarged this idea as Deva_yana and Pirti_yana.
6. Rig Veda does not condemn those who do not believe in Devas or in their existence. There is no direct reference to sin or hell; there is thus no question of thrusting the unbelievers into hell. It only says the unrighteous go to the world of andha_tamas, land where there is no light.
(Incidentally, the Buddha also mentions andha_tamas as the world for sinners. He also does not use terms like hell or heaven).
They pray that when the body breaks up, may its elements join their source.
7. Rig Veda speaks of Satya and Rta . While Satya is the principle of integration in the cosmic order; Rta is its operating rule.
Rta signifies the natural order and integrity of all forms of life and ecological systems. The concept of Rta asserts that the order in nature is self-regulated; and operates by its own laws (svabhava); and, not necessarily by the will of gods. Ensuring the perpetuation of the order and harmony in nature is as sacred and as important as it is in conduct of one’s life.
That is because; Rta emphasizes the integrity of all forms of life and ecological systems. The principle of Rta recognizes our oneness with our environment and our unity with all life on earth. It is the framework that binds together man, nature and god.
Rta is thus the Dharma – the order – that pervades and protects all life. It asserts the principle that the physical order of the universe is also the moral order of the universe; Rta is both.
In the world of natural phenomena, Rta is described as the firm, fundamental and inherent law of nature (RV. 4.24.8-9). It is the controlling and the sustaining power in nature. Rta ordains the laws of the physical world; regulates the laws of birth, growth and decay in nature (RV 2.28.4); controls and balances all natural forces in environment. Through Rta the nature moves in an orderly manner.
pra ǀ sīm ǀ ādityaḥ ǀ asṛjat ǀ vi-dhartā ǀ ṛtam ǀ sindhavaḥ ǀ varuṇasya ǀ yanti ǀ na ǀ śrāmyanti ǀ na ǀ vi ǀ mucanti ǀ ete ǀ vayaḥ ǀ na ǀ paptuḥ ǀ raghu-yā ǀ pari-jman ǁ 02.028.04 ǁ
May we be in thy keeping, O thou Leader wide-ruling Varuṇa, Lord of many heroes. O sons of Aditi, for ever faithful, pardon us, Gods, admit us to your friendship. (Griffith’s Translation)
There is a faith that the world is sustained by a just and an eternal law decreed by God for the well-being of all. Rig Veda advocates conformity with the aim and purpose of these processes.
But, when the order and harmony is ruptured, the disruptive elements of disorder, chaos and falsehood (An-rta) step in, bringing in their wake ugliness, dishonesty, falsehood and, decay into life
Therefore, conformity with this law tends to material and spiritual progress and advancement paving way to higher forms of integration in life; while its violation is punished with banishment to andha_tamas.
8. Though there are many philosophical aspects in Rig Veda, they do not involve a systematic exposition of a particular School of thought , unlike in the later texts.
There are no references to individual soul and universal soul ; and their Oneness or otherwise.
The word Atman does not appear in Rig Veda directly, though there is a reference to a certain Chetana (a universal spirit) that is higher than the mortals are.
A belief is present that the decaying body does not signify the end of atman.
1. What we know of the Rig Vedic society is not from archaeological evidence but through oral traditions.
They were primarily a pastoral society that practiced agriculture and animal husbandry. They do not appear to have been a city building society. They waged battles. They excelled in military field in which light horse chariots played a prominent part. They loved outdoor activities like racing and hunting. The warrior class and the priests were the elite of the society. They were devoted to their gods. Sang in praise of various deities. They danced in marriages, funerals, harvests, sacrifices and communal gatherings.
2. Rig Veda repeatedly refers to the composite character of its society and to its pluralistic population. It mentions the presence of several sects and languages; and calls upon all persons to strive to become noble parts of that pluralistic society.
(There appears to be no particular term to denote what we call as religion.)
3. The plasticity of the Rig Vedic mind is evident in the use of language or in literary virtuosity as well as in the way in which they adapted to changes in life. Rig Vedic intellectuals were highly dexterous users of the words. Their superb ability to grasp multiple dimensions of human life, ideals and aspirations and to express them in pristine poetry was truly remarkable. However, we sadly know nothing about their ability to write.
However, Rig Veda (1-164-39) states, “In the letters (akshara) of the verses of the Veda…”
ṛcaḥ ǀ akṣare ǀ parame ǀ vi-oman ǀ yasmin ǀ devāḥ ǀ adhi ǀ viśve ǀ ni-seduḥ ǀ yaḥ ǀ tat ǀ na ǀ veda ǀ kim ǀ ṛcā ǀ kariṣyati ǀ ye ǀ it ǀ tat ǀ viduḥ ǀ te ǀ ime ǀ sam ǀ āsate ǁ 01.164.39 ǁ
Upon what syllable of holy praise-song, as it were their highest heaven, the Gods repose them, — Who knows not this, what will he do with praise-song? But they who know it well sit here assembled. (Griffith’s Translation)
Further, there are references to compositional Chandas (metres), lines in a metre and to specific number of words in a line of a text. Such exercises could not have been possible unless some form of writing was in existence. They might perhaps have employed a script that is now totally extant
It is said; there are a number of references in the Rig Veda which allude to the art of writing. That the seers ‘inscribed, engraved’ words (on some material) itself points that they knew how to write. There are a number of compositional Chhandas (metres), lines in a metre; and, specific number of words in a line available from the Rig Vedic text.
3.1. Similarly, we know very little about their art or architecture; though we know of their love for music, singing and dancing.
4. Rig Veda accepts that divine truths are reveled to sages. It does not make a distinction between male and female seers. There are more than thirty-five female sages in Rig Veda with specific hymns ascribed to them. Women did enjoy a right to learn and recite Vedas. The restrictions in this regard came at a later stage.
A mantra addressed to the bride, during her wedding, while she is sitting next to the groom, greets her; and, wishes her to be happy and prosperous with her children. And, asks her to rule her household vigilantly. It says; Live closely with this man, your husband, for long years; and, do take care of his family.
iha ǀ priyam ǀ pra-jayā ǀ te ǀ sam ǀ ṛdhyatām ǀ asmin ǀ gṛhe ǀ gārha-patyāya ǀ jāgṛhi ǀ enā ǀ patyā ǀ tanvam ǀ sam ǀ sṛjasva ǀ adha ǀ jivrī iti ǀ vidatham ǀ ā ǀ vadāthaḥ ǁ 10.085.27 ǁ
The famous marriage hymn (10.85) calls upon members of the husband’s family to treat the daughter in law (invited into the family ‘as a river enters the sea’) as the queen samrajni.
sam-rājñī ǀ śvaśure ǀ bhava ǀ sam-rājñī ǀ śvaśrvām ǀ bhava ǀ nanāndari ǀ sam-rājñī ǀ bhava ǀ sam-rājñī ǀ adhi ǀ devṛṣu ǁ 10.085.46 ǁ
Over thy husband’s father and thy husband’s mother bear full sway. Over the sister of thy lord, over his brothers rule supreme. (Griffith’s Translation)
The idea of equality is expressed in the Rig Veda:
“The home has, verily, its foundation in the wife” ,”The wife and husband, being the equal halves of one substance, are equal in every respect; therefore both should join and take equal parts in all work, religious and secular.”
utá ǀ gha ǀ némaḥ ǀ ástutaḥ ǀ púmān ǀ íti ǀ bruve ǀ paṇíḥ ǀ sáḥ ǀ váira-deye ǀ ít ǀ samáḥ ǁ 05.061.08 ǁ
And she, the young, the joyous-spirited, divulged the path to Śyāva, yea, to me. Two red steeds carried me to Purumīlha’s side, that sage of far-extended fame (Griffith’s Translation)
4.1. The seclusion of women was not practiced. Young women of the time had a voice in their marriage. “The woman who is of gentle birth and of graceful form,” so runs a verse in the Rig Veda, “selects among many of her loved one as her husband.”
The term for such a chosen one (the bridegroom) was Vara . And, the term used for the bride is Vadhu – the happy and beautiful bride. It was said; if the girl is beautiful and fair of features, she will soon, herself , find a friend.
kiyatī yoṣā maryato vadhūyoḥ pariprītā panyasā Vāryeṇa | bhadrā Vadhūr-bhavati yatsupeśāḥ svayaṁ sā mitraṁ vanute jane cit || RV.10.027.12 ||
5. It is not as if the Rig Vedic society was free of all vices. There are a number of references to gambling (dices), drinking, prostitution, indebtedness, destitute families of heavily indebted gamblers and drunkards. There were social inequalities, poverty, slavery and destitution too.
6. Nonetheless, the worldview of the Rig Veda is refreshing; its ideals are relevant to the modern age. The social life portrayed in Rig Veda reveals certain interesting features. Sanctity of the institution of marriage, domestic purity, a patriarchal system, a just and equitable law of sacrifice, and high honor for women , pluralistic view ,as also tolerance towards unpopular views and those that err ; were some of the noteworthy features of the social life during the Vedic period.
1. Rig-Veda is not a textbook or a manual. It is a collection of hymns, in a free-flowing language that is universal and that requires no elaboration. To make a connection with that ancient culture, we have to live the same inner experience.
2. Rig Veda is often criticized as being a book of rituals. However, not a single hymn in Rig Veda out of its 1017 hymns gives a description of a ritual or a rite.
For instance, Agni translated as fire in the altar, is mentioned in several hundred verses, there is however no mention of a priest lighting a fire. Agni is used symbolically to signify the subtle energy in all beings. Sometimes, the fire principle is the same as the sun, which illumines the universe; the same Reality underlies Ushas that makes everything effulgent.
3. Creation, preservation and destruction are not distinct occurrences. In reality, the process of birth, growth and decay is ever present, ongoing and twined into one another. There is no death in the universe. It is transformation from one state to another.
When we loose a desire, we mistakenly think it is destroyed. No, it is now transformed into a larger vision – the aspiration. Agni ignites aspiration.
Agni is the fire of life, the subtle energy in all beings and the fire of inner awakening. He is the symbol of life, wisdom, knowledge, compassion and lordship. Agni is the symbol of Paramatman and all the other gods are different aspects or manifestations of Agni. He is the Vedic symbol of the Supreme.
The cosmic god Agni is the one who transforms little desires into great aspirations. Agni is the fire of inner awakening. It illumines and elevates our consciousness. The aspiration to attain super consciousness is the theme of the Rig Veda.
4. The elements of the outer sacrifice are symbolic of the inner sacrifice and are representations of self-surrender. Behind these rituals and hymns runs the thread of gradual evolution of the concept of spiritual life. Our sacrifice is a journey towards super consciousness with Agni, the inner flame, as the pathfinder. The sacrifice is an act of self-surrender to God. That sacrifice is perpetual. That concept of life as a Yajna was later enlarged in the Gita.
D. Nature of God.
1. In its earlier stages, Rig Veda mentions various gods and goddesses. Mitra the Sun; Varuna the god of night and of the blue sky; Dyu and Prithivi the Sky and the Earth; Agni or fire god and the friend of all; Savitri the refulgent; Indra the master of the universe; Vishnu the measurer of the three worlds and Aditi the mother of all other gods (the Adityas) are some of them.
Gradually, a tendency to extol a God as the greatest and controlling all other divine entities comes into play. This marks the progress of man’s concept of God or the ultimate Reality from polytheism to monotheism, ultimately leading to monism.
2. The seeds of Advaita are found in Rig Veda. Some of the most beautiful verses that Shankara interprets occur in the Samhita portion of the Rig Veda.
For example, the following mantra traditionally associated with the Mundaka Upanishad (3.1.1) is found in the Rig Veda as well “Two birds that are ever associated and have similar names cling to the same tree. Of these, one eats the fruits of divergent tastes and the other looks on without eating”.
dvaa suparnaa sayujaa sakhaayaa samaanam vriksham parishasvajaate | tayoranyah pippalam svaadvattyanashnannanyo abhichaakasheeti ||
3. The Purusha-Sukta (Rig Veda.10.90) proclaims that this Universe is God. The Supreme Person the Purusha with an infinite number of heads, eyes, hands and feet envelops the whole of his creation in His Cosmic Body. He is the cause of the world. He encompasses the whole cosmos and transcends it to infinity. He is the supreme and the solitary divinity.
sahasra-śīrṣā ǀ puruṣaḥ ǀ sahasra-akṣaḥ ǀ sahasra-pāt ǀ saḥ ǀ bhūmim ǀ viśvataḥ ǀ vṛtvā ǀ ati ǀ atiṣṭhat ǀ daśa-aṅgulam ǁ 10.090.01 ǁ
And, then there is the Nasadiya Suktha – also known as the Hymn of Creation. It is the 129th hymn of the 10th mandala of the Rigveda (10:129). It is concerned with cosmology . And , is interpreted variously.
The tenth book of the Rig-Veda regards the highest conception of God as both the Impersonal and the Personal: The Nasadiya Sukta states that the Supreme Being is the Unmanifest and the Manifest, Existence as well as Non existence. He is the Jagat_pati, the Lord of the Universe, of all beings. He is the sustainer and the protector.
ná ǀ ásat ǀ āsīt ǀ nó íti ǀ sát ǀ āsīt ǀ tadā́nīm ǀ ná ǀ āsīt ǀ rájaḥ ǀ nó íti ǀ ví-oma ǀ paráḥ ǀ yát ǀ kím ǀ ā́ ǀ avarīvaríti ǀ kúha ǀ kásya ǀ śárman ǀ ámbhaḥ ǀ kím ǀ āsīt ǀ gáhanam ǀ gabhīrám ǁ 10.129.01 ǁ
Nasadiya Suktha -translation of Prof. Juan Mascaro.
(In the beginning…)
There was neither existence nor non-existence.
There was not then what is not, what is not.
There was neither sky nor any heaven beyond the sky.
What power was there? Where
Who was that power?
Was there an abyss of fathomless water?
There was neither death nor immortality then
No signs were there of night or day.
The One was breathing with its own power,
in deep space.
Only the One was:
And there was nothing beyond.
The darkness was hidden in darkness.
And all was fluid and formless.
Therein, in the void,
By the fire of fervor arose One.
And in the One arose love.
Love the first seed of the soul.
The truth of this the sages found in their hearts:
Seeking in their hearts with wisdom,
The sages found that bond of union
Between being and non-being
Between the manifest and the unmanifest
Who knows this truth?
Who can tell, when and how arose this universe?
The gods came after its creation.
Whether this universe was created or uncreated
Only the God who sees in the highest heaven:
He only knows, when came this universe
And, whether it was created or uncreated
He only knows or perhaps He knows not?
4. The word Brahman or Brāhmaņa occurs more than a hundred times in the Rig-Veda. In only one place, the purusha sūkta occurring in the tenth mandala, a relatively late composition, it uses the term Brāhmaņa to signify a caste. In all other places, Brāhmaņa has nothing to do with caste.
Again, Brahman of the Rig-Veda is not the Brahman, Para Brahman of the Upanishads, the highest principle of Existence.
Rig-Veda uses the words “tad-ekam”, “That one,”which is the source of all that exists .. “That One” energy which makes creation possible. “That One” power which controls, sustains, destroys, and recreates all that is seen and unseen.
“Tad-ekam” is Paramam (the-one-beyond), Ekam-sat (one-reality). It is the source of the concept of the Para-Brahman or “The one without a second”, as it came to be elaborated later in the Upanishads.
5. Brahman is used in the Rig Veda as a term for a high divinity or as another name for Agni. “ He has come, chosen bearer, and is seated in man’s home, Brahman, Agni, the Supporter, He whom both Heaven and Earth exalt and strengthen whom, Giver of all boons, the Hotar worships”.
The term Brahman is also used to represent the spoken word. It is said, “The development of Brahman into a word which designates formulated speech more than it does an independent power is the most significant change from the Family Books to the later Rig Veda.
Brahman acquires the meaning of unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality, at a later stage in the Upanishads.
6. Rig Veda primarily follows Saguno_pasana. The Supreme Being in Rig Veda is the abode of all auspicious qualities. The Ultimate supreme Reality is described (though it is beyond description or definition) as sat-chit-ananda. He is the one who created the world and sustained it. He is the omniscient and the original cause of the world.– (tasyedu visva bhuvanadhi murdhani).
He manifests himself as the world (Visvarupah).
Rig Veda pursues a strategy later expounded by Bhakthi yoga, the path of devotion. It calls upon the devotee to establish a relation ship with each Deva as one would do with a son, a friend, a father, a mother etc. He is omniscient, compassionate and easily accessible to devotees (Niyanta sunrutanam).
It firmly believes in grace of God and preaches that a virtuous life in this world and the progression to Amrutatva, immortality is possible only with complete surrender to God and with the grace of God.
1. A question commonly asked is whether Rig Veda speaks of one God or many gods. The Rig Veda does mention a number of gods such as Indra, Agni, Mitra, Varuna and others.
The Vedas speak of thirty-three different deities.
According to the Shatapatha Brahmana, these thirty-three deities include eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas, Dyaus, and Prithvi.
Yajnavalkya at one stage says, ‘The eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas, Indra and Prajapati are the thirty-three gods”.
According to Yaska, the original thirty-three gods (eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas and two Asvinis) are divided equally in three different planes of existence namely the celestial plane (dyuloka) the intermediate region (antarikshaloka) and the terrestrial plane (bhurloka) each plane having eleven gods.
The dyuloka (celestial plane) is presided over by Savitri or Surya; while antarikshaloka (intermediary space) is presided over by Indra or Vayu; and the bhurloka (terrestrial plane) is presided over by Agni.
2. Agni has a special position among the Vedic gods. Agni is the symbol of Paramatman and all the other gods are different aspects or manifestations of Agni. According to many scholars, the appropriate Vedic symbol of the Supreme is Agni. Agni is the fire principle that shines in the sun and is the one who carries our offerings to other gods. Agni is the fire of inner awakening. He is the friend of man and mediates on our behalf. He is the symbol of wisdom, knowledge, compassion and lordship.
3. It would be safer to make a distinction between The God the Supreme principle the substratum of all existence; and the gods who represent different aspects, powers and glory of the God. While the God is One, the gods are many. All the gods lead to One God. And, one should make a distinction between a path and the goal .The goal is consciousness of the Supreme in all its manifestations.
4. All gods mentioned in the Rig-Veda have human features such as the face, limbs etc, their forms are shadowy but they have a distinct power and personality.
For instance; Indra is endowed with strength and vigor; Pushan with ability to protect; so is Vishnu. The sun stands for many forms of brilliance; while Rudra represents the anger.
The physical features represent a specific form of nature.
For example; the tongue of the fire god represents the tongue of the flames. The names Visvedeva, Visvakarma, Prajapathi etc., are used to describe the indescribable form.
5. Yaska’s Nirukta discusses the question whether Devatas have form; whether they are different gods; or whether they are manifestations of the same God.
Yaska_charya defines a Deva as one who gives gifts (devo danat), who is effulgent (devo dipanat), who illumines (devo dyotanat), and who resides in the celestial world (dyusthane bhavati iti).
devo.dānād.vā.pīpanād.vā.dyotanād.vā.dyu.sthāno.bhavati.iti – Nir.7,15
After discussing the three different views (namely, they have form; they do not have form; and, a combination of these two views, the Nirukta concludes that, in reality, there is only one Devata who can be addressed in various ways, depending upon the temperament of the aspirant.
Yaska_charya confirms by saying Eka atma Bahudha Stuyate meaning there is only One God and many praise by different names.
Again, he emphasizes that the Sat Vastu includes in itself different deities.
imam.eva.agnim.mahāntam.ātmānam.ekam.ātmānam.bahudhā.medhāvino.vadanti/ Nir.7.18 /
He further says ; the many forms of gods are manifestation of the Atman, One Reality –
– Ekasya atmanah anye devah pratyangani bhavanti .
He emphasizes that the Sat-Vastu includes in itself different deities.
Sri Sayanacharya in his Rig_bashya_bhumika says praise of any god leads to the same tat (entity)
– Tasmat sarvairapi parameshvara eve huyate
5.1. The Real is but One, bearing a multiplicity of names and forms. The origin of all deities is One; the nature of all deities is One ; and , the goal of all of them is One. The differences perceived in the deities are due to their functions and personalities; but they are different aspects of the same reality.
6. Rig Veda accepts the plurality of views and approach to the Supreme knowledge .The acquisition of knowledge by an individual is unique. No two paths are alike. We cannot envision all the grandeurs of the nature in one-step. When we are at an elevation, we get a better view of the road that lies ahead than when we were at the base of the hill .We have to go from one peak to another. The knowledge is infinite like a vast mountain, in which each peak corresponds to a level of knowledge
[There is a view that it may not be quite correct to translate the term Deva as God. The term ‘Deva’, according to them, means ‘Those that shine’ derived from the root ‘div’ (to shine, illuminate). The twelve Adityas refer to the seasons, while the seven Adityas refer to the seven Planets or Grahas (excluding Rahu and Ketu, which are the head and tale of Vritrasura, or Svarbhanu). Thus forming the basis for naming the seven days of the week, nine planets and twelve months. The Adityas are children from Maya or Aditi (hence all representing Kala, or Time). Hence, the basis of Vedic Astrology and Astronomy.
F. The gods that faded away
The period around the first Century CE witnessed a most remarkable phenomenon that swept across the world of Vedic mythology in the distant past. That process, spread over long centuries, totally convulsed the sedate world of Vedic gods. It was akin to churning the ocean. It disturbed the old order; threw out the old set of gods; created and magnified a set of new gods; and, restructured the entire Indian pantheon.
Under this process of reorganizing the world of Indian mythology… those Vedic gods who had been ‘minor’ in the Rig Veda; but who held great potential and offered rich scope for enlargement and glorification were re-modelled into much greater gods.
Later, those gods came to represent larger segments of life and experiences; and to mobilize greater strength and significance. The virtues and powers of numerous other gods merged into those select gods. They are today the Super Gods in the Indian pantheon.
At the same time, those gods whose characters, functions and achievements had been too vividly described in Rig Veda; and, those who held out little scope for further enlargement were steadily reduced in their status and rank And those gods whose profile was too dim; and, had very little potential for growth were allowed to fade out quietly.
In this scheme or the process of restructure, the gods that adopted best to the changing needs of times survived and thrived. One way that was done was by underplaying their Vedic characteristics which were rather sketchy and unsuitable. And, another was by aligning them along with tutelary gods that were already being worshiped.
In this period of transition, popular sectarian gods were gradually replacing the older Vedic gods. This new approach to the gods redefined the status, character and attributes of the older gods.
This was also a process of absorption of several gods into One; and, it culminated in the emergence of the triad, of which the two: Vishnu and Shiva inherited all the rich, adorable and living traits of all the other gods that preceded them. They were also endowed with infinite potential and capacity to imbibe the traits of all the gods yet to come.
The sequence of gods changing – growing or diminishing in significance – indicates the continual influx of new ideas and a creative conflict within the existing system of thoughts. This complex and dynamic interplay of light and shadow is a distinctive feature of the Indian pantheon
Following that stunning phenomenon, some of the major Rig Vedic gods have virtually disappeared today. They are no longer worshipped as “gods” in the sense that there are no temples built or services conducted for them.
The following are a few such that faded away.
Varuna was a major celestial Deva considered equal in status to Indra and was the guardian of the cosmic order (rta). Hence, the hymns addressed to Varuna are more devout and ethical in tone. Varuna also addressed as Asura has his counterpart in Ahur Mazda the supreme god in the Avestha. Today, Varuna is reduced to the guardian of water element.
Indra the most important Rig Vedic god described as ‘Yo jata eva prathamo manasvan; he who, from his very birth, is the first (of the deities)’, the lord of the universe etc. is demoted in Puranas to the level of a satrap. He is always in danger of loosing his throne and is ever busy deving schemes to survive fresh attacks from asuras. He is scared of not only the villainous but also the most virtuous as he fears they might usurp his throne. It is a steep fall.
The Rig Veda calls the presiding deity of the wind as Vata or Vayu. The god conceived as the element (vata) moves wherever he wants, at his pleasure. Describing him as the soul and indweller of other gods, a Sukta in the tenth mandala says: ‘the soul of the gods, the germ of the world, this divinity moves according to his pleasure; his voices are heard, his form is not (seen); let us worship that Vata with oblations.’ The wind god, Vayu, is ‘the messenger of gods’; The Vayu later becomes a mere element in the Puranas. The Dwaita sect however elevated Vayu to a higher-level and Hanuman became Mukhya_prana.
Mitra , a friend invoked very often in the Rig-Veda along with Varuna had a separate identity. He is the counter part of the Avestan Mithra. Some believe that Mitra and Varuna together represent the Indo-European duality of Fire and water; of earth and spiritual power.
In the Avesta , they are termed as Mithra-Ahura (Ahura-Mithra) . They together became the guardians of the world (RV. 2.27.4). And it is said; the great sky shines by their ordinance (RV.10.65.5). They discharge the rains (RV 1.151.9). Their godhead is beyond the ken of the skies or of the rivers (RV 1.151.9). They are awful deities; haters and dispellers of falsehood (RV .1.152.1); they are the gods of the oath.
Mitra together with Varuna becomes the keeper of Rta and Dharman (RV 8.25). They are described as righteous Rtavan and promoters righteous rites Rtavardha, and lords of truth and light (Rtasya jotisaapathi – RV. 1.2.8; 1.23.5; 1.136.4; 2.27.4; 5.63.1). Varuna becomes Agni in the evening, and rising in the morning he becomes Mitra (AV .2.28.2). It is also said ; while Mitra is the Hotar , the invoker; Varuna is the Agni (Jataveda) – Mitra hota, Varuna jathavedah (RV.3.5.4)
It is explained; though the attributes and the functions of the two are different, dissimilar and contrasting, they complement each other well. The two ever exist and work in harmony. They present a well knit unity; the oneness of two contrasting factors: Being and Non-Being; day and night; light and darkness. Mitra and Varuna are indeed the two aspects of the same reality.
Savitr a younger member of the Vedic pantheon; the most handsome of the Vedic gods with raised arms that were golden (hiranya hasta) is the embodiment of gold. Savitir is the great inspirer .Savitr is also the motive power, the symbol of light that invokes radiance in hearts of beings. He is the awakening that impels men and creature to action.
Savitr, here, is the aspect of Sun before daylight; and, after daybreak he is Surya. He dispels darkness
According to Sri Sayana, the Sun just before he arises is Savitir.
The most celebrated Gayathri mantra belongs to him (tat Savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhi_yoyonah prachodayat).His mantra says: “We contemplate on the adorable brilliance of god Savitr, may he inspire our intellect”.
Pushan (one who nourishes) is a solar deity who is the keeper of herds and one who brings prosperity. Yaska says that when Sun appears with his rays he is Pushan. He is the husband of Ushas. He has a charming appearance. He has immense wealth and has always at his command a chariot ready to ride. He is the greatest of the charioteers. Pushan wards off calamities that might occur on the road; so pray to him. This celebrated Rik is addressed to Pushan:
‘By the lid of the golden orb is your face hidden. Please remove it, O nourisher of the world, so that I may see you, I who am devoted to Truth.’
hiraṇmayena pātreṇa satyasyā-pihitaṁ mukham | tat tvaṁ pūṣanna-pāvṛṇu satya-dharmāya dṛṣṭaye || Isopanishad ||
G. Gods in Rig Veda and Puranas
1. A word about the connection between the Vedic gods and purāņic gods is appropriate here. In Rig Veda a god is neither less nor more than the other is. In the Veda, all the Gods are pure and harmonious with no rivalry, jealousy and such other flaws. All of them are equal, bereft of impurities, endowed with auspicious qualities and all represent Truth.
Each Vedic god has a distinct power and personality, but he or she also carries the presence of the Supreme, “That one.” All the Vedic gods harmoniously work together in providing the divine inspiration to the individual .The Rig Vedic gods are kind and compassionate. They fulfill the desires and aspirations of the devotees.
2. At a much later period, the Purāņās tried to convey the esoteric truths of the Veda in a popular form. However, in that attempt the qualities of the Vedic gods were partially humanized and endowed with human virtues/flaws. Thus in the Purāņās, the various Gods work together sometimes, but also quarrel with one another. They are bitten by jealousy, envy, greed, arrogance, etc.
3.Many of the Puranic gods are transformations of the Vedic Devas . The now major Puranic Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva were not prominent Devas in the Vedas; at the same time the prominent Vedic Devas do get diminished in stature in the Puranas..
4. For instance, Bŗhaspati, Brahmaņaspati, Brahma are the three gods to whom the Rişhi Vāmadeva addresses his mystic hymn of praise. However, the statuses of these Gods undergo a huge change in the Puranas.
The concept of Brahma as the creator in the Purāņa is derived from the Brahmaņaspati/Bŗhaspati of the Vedas where they are the creators through the power of the Word.
The elephant-faced Tāntrik God Gaņapathi captures some aspects of the Vedic god Brahmaņaspati. Gaņapati is invoked by a Vedic rik associated with the Brahmaņaspati.
Gaṇānāṃ tvā gaṇapatiṃ havāmahe kaviṃ kavīnām upamaśravastamam | jyeṣṭharājam Brahmaṇām Brahmaṇas-pata ā naḥ śṛṇvann ūtibhiḥ sīda sādanam ||RV_2,023.01||
The word Gaņapati means the lord of Gaņas or hosts. In the Purāņa, the hosts (Gaņas) are the beings of the vital world.
However, in the Rig-Veda, the Gaņās or hosts of Bŗhaspati/Brahmaņaspati are the chants, the Riks and the stomas, the words of praise (RV. 4.50).
sa suṣṭubhā sa ṛkvatā gaṇena valaṃ ruroja phaligaṃ raveṇa | bṛhaspatir usriyā havyasūdaḥ kanikradad vāvaśatīr ud ājat ||RV_4,050.05 ||
In the Rig-Veda, Brahmaņaspati/Bŗhaspati is a God of a very high plane and has little to do with the lower vital levels. The two deities are closely connected to each other. There are over one hundred riks in praise of these two deities, giving a picture of their powers and personalities.
In the Rig Veda, Brahmanaspati is the lord of all sacred prayers and lord of Satya mantra. He is the destroyer of enemies; and no sacrifice is complete without invoking him. Brahnanaspati was a partner with Brahma in creation. Brahmaņaspathi was also the middle term that once linked the Vedic Brahma and Brihaspathi’. They are the names “of a deity in whom the action of the worshipper upon the gods is personified”.
Brihaspathi is the personification of piety, purity and knowledge. He is called `the father of the gods,’ and a widely extended creative power is ascribed to him. He is also `the shining’, `the gold-colored,’ and `having the thunder for his voice.” Other epithets of Brihaspati are Jiva – the living, Didivis – the bright, Dhishana – the intelligent, and for his eloquence, Gishpati– the lord of speech.
There are over one hundred riks in praise of these two deities, giving a picture of their powers and personalities.
The puranic Brahma and Ganapathi are derived from Vedic Brahmanaspathi. However, the Vedic Brihaspathi is reduced in the Puranas to become the preceptor of Devas and guardian of the planet Jupiter. Brahma becomes the Creator, one of the Purāņic Trinity. He is however denied worship. Brahmaņaspati, the middle term that once linked the Vedic Brahma and Brihaspathi has disappeared altogether.
Indra is one of the important Rig Vedic gods and is described as ‘Yo jata eva prathamo manasvan‘; He who, from his very birth, is the first (of the deities). Indra is the lord of the universe. The idea of an omniscient and omnipresent Godhead is also applied to Indra when he is addressed as ‘ashrutkarna; whose ears hear all things. Indra in one verse is “Svayambhuva” meaning ‘Self-existent’ or ‘Self manifested’ The Vedic Indra is transformed into Puranic Vishnu; while the Puranic Indra is a demigod much reduced in status and flawed by envy, greed and other human failings.
5.1. The Bhagavata Purana states that Yajna (Indra) took incarnation as Svayambhuva Manu. Indra thus becomes Vishnu (as Svayambhuva). Vishnu in turn becomes Dhanvantri the divine healer, Prithu the King and the Rishis such as Kapila. His later Avatars are celebrated in various Puranas. He is the preserver in the Trinity. He is the Narayana the supreme deity.
Vishnu (the pervader) initially had a lower position to that of Indra. He is the younger brother of Indra
Vishnu in the early Rig Veda is one of the thirty-three Devas; and, is classified among gods of celestial region (dyu-sthana devatha) along with Varuna, Savitar and Pushan. Just about five or six suktas are devoted to him. He is ranked among the lesser- gods but is associated with the major god Indra.
In the Rig-Veda Vishnu is described as living and wandering on the mountains. He is one of the celestial gods and one of the Adithyas. He resembles Surya and has rays in his appearance. He later evolves into the most significant God and Godhead.
The six riks forming the first portion of the Vishnu Sukta (RV 1.154) are most significant in the evolution; and the ever expanding glory and splendor of Vishnu. The significance of this Sukta is enormous. The Sukta not only sets up the identity of Vishnu with Surya the sun but also goes beyond to state that Vishnu is the very source of all gods and the savior of all existence.
The ‘Vishnu Sukta’ of the Rig Veda (1.154) mentions the famous three strides of Vishnu. It said that the first and second of Vishnu’s strides (those encompassing the earth and air) were visible and the third was in the heights of heaven (sky). The second mantra of the ‘Vishnu Sukta’ says that within the three vast strides of Vishnu all the various regions of the universe live in peace.
The Sukta describes with awe and wonder the most celebrated three strides (Tri – vikramana) of Vishnu (idam vishnum vichakrame). It said that the first and second of Vishnu’s strides (those encompassing the earth and air) were visible and the third was in the heights of heaven (space) (RV 1.155.1).This last stride is described as Vishnu’s supreme abode (paramam padam), which only the enlightened (Suri) behold in their hearts, like the brilliantly shining sky. With those three great strides Vishnu came to be addressed as Tri-vikrama and as Uru-krama.
6.1. Yaskacharya, in his Nirukta, defines Vishnu as ‘Vishnu vishateh; one who enters everywhere’, and ‘yad vishito bhavati tad vishnurbhavati; that which is free from fetters and bondages is Vishnu.’ Vishnu is also characterized, as ‘veveshti vyapnoti vishvam yah; the one who covers the whole universe, or is omnipresent. In other words, Vishnu became the omnipresent dimension of the supreme Lord.
The earliest mentions of Rudra occur in the Rig Veda; where four hymns (RV.1.43; 1.114; 2.33; and 7.46) comprising 39 verses dedicated to the Rudra. It is said that there are as many as seventy-five references to Rudra in the Rig-Veda Samhita. Most of those occur in the First and the Second Books.
Apart from the 39 verses dedicated to Rudra in the Rig-Veda Samhita, the highly celebrated Rudra-Adhyaya (the chapter on the Rudra) or the Shata-rudriya (the hundred names of Rudra), or the famous Namaka hymn of Rudra Prashna also appears in the Vajasaneya Samhita of Shukla Yajurveda; and as also in the Taittiriya Samhita of Krishna Yajurveda.
The Rig Veda sings the glory and splendor of the Rudra. In Rig Veda, Rudra is one of the intermediate level gods (Antariksha-devata). He is a divinity of the subtle world, the sphere of space, the mid sphere between the spheres of earth and the Sun (Rig Veda 5.3).
Yaska also classifies Rudra along with Marutas as the deities of the mid-region (Madhyama-sthana-devatah)
tata.āgacchati.madhyama.sthānā.devatāḥ.rudraṃś.ca.marutaś.ca / – Nir. 7,23
Rudra is the intermediary between physical elements and the intellect.
Rudra is thus, a deity of the intermediate stage. He presides over the second ritual of sacrifice, the mid-day offering, the second period of man’s life.
Rudra in the Rig-Veda Samhita is a highly complex divine character with contradictory qualities; and yet harmonizing within himself all contradictions.
Rishi Grisamada adores Rudra as the blissful god of all created beings, the mightiest of the mighty who rests in his own glory. In him, the sovereign (Isana) of this world; the power of divinity (Asurya) is inherent; and, from him that power never departs. The hymns beseech Rudra to ‘transport us over miseries to well-being’. He prays to Rudra: ‘As one who finds shade in blazing sun, may I, unharmed, win the grace of Rudra ‘ (RV.2.33.6)
ghrnī̍va cchā̱yāma̍ra̱pā a̍śī̱yā vi̍vāseyaṁ ru̱drasya̍ su̱mnam II 2.33.06 II
Rudra is described as fierce, armed with bow and arrows. He is endowed with strong arms, lustrous body and flowing golden hair. He is not purely benefic like other Rig Vedic gods; but he is not malevolent either. He punishes and at the same time rescues his devotees from trouble. He is the Shiva the auspicious one.
Rudra is all pervading and present in every aspect of creatio- moving and non-moving; conscient or sub-conscient. Rudra bestows upon us the magnificence of his nature.
By the time of the Puranas, the aspect of Rudra had merged with Shiva, one of the Grand Trinity; and, Rudra represented Shiva’s terrific aspect as the destroyer
Thus, Rudra is also Shiva the auspicious one who is easily pleased (Ashutosha) with simple adulation. He is also Prachetasa (exceedingly wise); Midustama (the highest of all); and Ishana (the overlord). Rudra is also Svayambhu (self-generated) – RV.7.84.4 – and Trayambaka (three eyed like the Sun or as having three mothers) – RV.7.59.19.
He is the Lord of the universe, the cosmic dancer, the Supreme yogi; and, master of all yogis.
Vedic Rishi Vamadeva merges into to become one of five faces of Lord Shiva and the aspect of Vama or “preserver” associated with the element of water.
The Rudras are talked in terms of sets of eleven – Ekadasa Rudra; inasmuch as , the term Rudra has virtually come to represent ‘the number eleven
But, The Rudras, indeed, are said to be truly infinite (shatam anantam bhavati, asankhyakam). They are present everywhere, manifest in millions of forms in as many abodes; and influence every aspect of creation (sahasrani sahasrasho ye Rudra adhi bhumyam…); and they are there even in the food we eat and drink we consume (ye anneshu vividhyanti prateshu pibato janan…).
H.Female deities in Rig Veda
The Rig Veda mentions many goddesses but none of them is central to the text. Although Ushas is celebrated in the Vedas, she is not offered Soma in the sacrifices. In addition to Ushas, Aditi, Prithvi and Vac are the other female deities mentioned in the Vedas.
Ushas is identified with the dawn in the Rig Veda, praised for driving away the darkness. She rouses life and sets things in motion. Ushas is compared to a graceful dancer. She also gives strength and fame; and like Prthivi is called mother. She is referred to as ‘she who sees all’ and invoked to drive away or punish enemies .She is a skilled hunter who “wastes away people’s lives”. Perhaps in Ushas there is a hint of the goddess, as both nurturing and fierce.
Aditi is the mother principle. Her name means the unbound one. In the Rig Veda, she is the mother of all the gods, the mother of all creation. She is invoked for protection and wealth. She is mentioned nearly eighty times in the Rig-Veda yet at no time she appears as a consort to any of the gods. Sri Aurobindo addresses Aditi as the Goddess of infinity and the infinite consciousness.
Prithvi the earth principle is the mother while sky is as a father. The earth and sky principles are together referred as Dyava_prithivi. She is the basis for all beings animate or otherwise. She protects, she feeds and without her we have no existence. She is addressed as mother and regarded as warm, nurturing and a provider of sustenance. Prithvi is seen as stable, fertile and benign, forgiving all our tressspasses.She is sarvam_saha and Vasundhara.
Vac is the inexplicable creative power of speech, which gives form to the formless; gives birth to existence ; and, lends identity to objects by naming them. Vac, the word or the exchange of knowledge, is the mother of all communications that give intelligence to those who love her. It is the faculty which gives expression to ideas; calms the agitated minds; and, enables one to hear, see, grasp, and then describe in words or by other means the true nature of things. She is the prompter of and vehicle of expression for visionary perception, and as such she is intimately associated with the rishis and the rituals that express or capture the truths of their visions. Vac, the navel of energy, the mysterious presence in nature, was, therefore, held in great reverence.
4.1. In a passage of the Rig Veda, Vac is praised as a divine being. Vac is omnipotent, moves amongst divine beings, and carries the great gods, Mitra, Varuna, Indra and Agni, within itself. “All gods live from Vac, also all demigods, animals and people. Vac is the eternal being; it is the first-born of the eternal law, mother of the Vedas and navel of immortality.” The reason, the Vedic rishis paid such glowing tributes to Vac was perhaps that they attached great importance to the word and to its purity.
Yaska (Ca. 5th-6th BCE), the great Etymologist of the ancient India, describes speech (Vac) as the divine gift to humans to clearly express their thoughts (devim vacam ajanayanta- Nir. 11.29); and, calls the purified articulate speech as Paviravi – sharp as the resonance (tanyatu) of the thunderbolt which originates from an invisible power.
(Tad devata vak paviravi. paviravi cha divya Vac tanyatus tanitri vaco’nyasyah – Nir. 12.30).
4.2. In the later parts of the Rig Veda, Brahman (one of the three distinct voices in the Soma sacrifices) is associated with speech and comes to be recognized as the verbal forms of Vac. They are seen as partners working for the fulfillment of the devotees aspirations. If Vac is regarded the weapons, it is Brahman that sharpens them. In Rig Veda the Vac-Brahman relation is a “growing partnership” (RV 10.120.5, and 9.97.34)
Vac is also Vac Devi the divinity personified. Vac is called the supreme goddess established in Brahman Iyam ya paramesthini Vac Devi Brahma-samsthita (Rig-Veda.19.9.3).
She gives intelligence to those who love her. She is elegant, golden hued and embellished in gold (Hiranya prakara). She is the mother, who gave birth to things by naming them. She is the power of the Rishis. She enters into the inspired poets and visionaries, gives expression and vitality to those she blesses; and, enables them to turn precious knowledge into words. She is also said to have entered into the sap (Rasa) of plants and trees, pervading and enlivening all vegetation (Satapatha-brahmana 18.104.22.168).
vāk-tasyā eṣa raso yadoṣadhayo yad vanaspataya-stametena sāmnāpnuvanti sa enānāpto ‘bhyāvartate tasmād asyām ūrdhvā oṣadhayo jāyanta ūrdhvā vanaspatayaḥ
In the Rig-Veda, Sarasvathi is the name of the celestial river par excellence (deviyā́m), as also its personification as a goddess (Devi) Sarasvathi, filled with love and bliss (bhadram, mayas).
And Sarasvathi is not only one among the seven sister-rivers (saptásvasā), but also is the dearest among the gods (priyā́ deveṣu).
Again, it is said, the Sarasvathi as the divine stream has filled the earthly regions as also the wide realm of the mid-world (antárikṣam) –
āpaprúṣī pā́ rthivāni urú rájo antárikṣam | sárasvatī nidás pātu | RV_6,061.11)
In the Rig Veda, Sarasvathi is the river vital to their life and existence. Sarasvathi is described as ‘nadinam shuci; sacred and pure among rivers. It was, however, in Krishna Yajurveda, that Vac (speech personified, the vehicle of knowledge) for the first time comes to be known as Sarasvathi. The Aitreya Aranyaka calls her mother of Vedas. From here on the association of vac with Sarasvathi gets thicker.
There are abundant hymns in the Rig-Veda, singing the glory and the majesty of the magnificent Sarasvathi that surpasses all other waters in greatness , with her mighty (mahimnā́, mahó mahī́ ) waves (ūrmíbhir) tearing away the heights of the mountains as she roars along her way towards the ocean (ā́ samudrā́t).
Riṣhi Gṛtsamada adores Sarasvathi as the divine (Nadinam-asurya), the best of the mothers, the mightiest of the rivers and the supreme among the goddesses (ambitame nadltame devitame Sarasvati). And, he prays to her: Oh Mother Saraswati, even though we are not worthy, please grant us merit.
Ámbitame nádītame dévitame sárasvati apraśastā ivasmasi praśastim amba naskṛdhi – (RV_2,041.16)
The mighty Sarasvathi , the ever flowing river, is also adored as Sindhu-mata, which term is explained by Sri Sayana as ‘apam matrubhuta’ the mother-principle of all waters; and also as ‘Sindhunam Jalam va mata’ – the Mother of the rivers , a perennial source of number of other rivers .
Sarasvathi is the most sacred and purest among rivers (nadinam shuci). Prayers are submitted to the most dear (priyatame) seeking refuge (śárman) in her – as under a sheltering tree (śaraṇáṃ vr̥kṣám). She is our best defense; she supports us (dharuṇam); and, protects us like a fort of iron (ā́yasī pū́ḥ).
4.4. In the Rig Veda, Sarasvati is often invoked with Ida and Bharati. The three, Ida, Bharathi and Sarasvathi are manifestation of the Agni (Yajnuagni) and are tri_Sarasvathi. The goddess Sarasvathi is also the destroyer of Vrta and other demons that stand for darkness (Utasya nah Sarasvati ghora Hiranyavartanih / Vrtraghni vasti sustuition).
With the passage of time Sarasvathi’s association with the river gradually diminishes. The virtues of Vac and Sarasvathi (the river) merge into one divinity the Sarasvathi; and get recognized and worshipped as goddess of purity, speech, learning, wisdom, culture and intellect.
The Rig Vedic goddess Vac thus emerges and shines gloriously as Vac-devi, Vedamatha, Vani, Sharada, Pusti, Vagishvari, Veenapani , Bharathi and Sarasvathi.
The association of the intellect and purity (Vac, Sarasvathi) with the spoken word (Brahma) acquires a physical representation in the Puranas.
The high idealism of the Rig Veda poetry represents the soaring human aspirations. It is the intense desire to grow out of the limited physical confines and to reach out to the super consciousness that inspired the Vedic rishis.
Sri Aurobindo believed that the human being is at the crest, on the threshold of evolving into super consciousness. He asserted that Rig Veda encases that esoteric message and attainment of that super consciousness was the vision of the Rig Veda.
The Human Aspiration:
The concept of gods in Vedas: