Rig Veda -The gods that faded away(7/7)

04 Sep

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  or worship offered to them regularly.  Let us talk about a few of such gods.

1. Bŗihaspathi, Brahmaņaspathi and Brahma

In the Rig-Veda, Brihaspathi, Brahmaņaspathi and Brahma are the three gods to whom the rishi Vāmadeva addresses his mystic hymn of praise.

Brahmanaspati/Bŗihaspati  is a God of a very high order in Rig Veda. The two deities are closely connected to each other. Their names alternate. They are names “of a deity in whom the action of the worshipper upon the gods is personified”. There are over one hundred riks in praise of these two deities, giving a picture of their powers and personalities.  However, the statuses of these Gods undergo a huge change in the Puranas.

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. Brahnanaspathi is a partner with Brahma in creation. Brahmaņaspathi was the middle term that once linked the Vedic Brahma and Brihaspathi’ he was as also the forerunner of Ganapathi.  But, he has now virtually has disappeared from prayers and rituals; and is altogether forgotten.

 Brihaspathi is the personification of peity, 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.

He intercedes with gods on behalf of men and protects humankind from the wicked influences. .

His position in Puranas gets rather complicated. Tara his wife is seduced by Soma (moon) and a son Budha is born to them. Tara accepts and announces that Soma is the father of Budha.

Brihaspathi is also mentioned as the father of Bharadwaja. He is the designated “Vyasa of the fourth Dwapara” age.

The Vedic Brihaspathi is reduced in the Puranas to become the preceptor of Devas and guardian of the planet Jupiter (Guru). In the present day, worship is offered to Brihaspathi because he is one among the nine planets and he is a benevolent planet.

Brahma: Brahma later became rather important in Brahmanas. Satapatha Brahmana says: “He (Brahma,) created the gods. Having created the gods, he placed them in these worlds: in this world Agni, Vayu in the atmosphere, and Surya in the sky.”

In puranas Brahma becomes the Creator, and one of the Trinity. But he is not prominent as the other two; he is rather in the shades. He is also denied worship. There are no temples built in his honor, except perhaps in Pushkar and one another place.


2. Indra : Indra is the most important Rig Vedic god, the first among the gods , 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.

As deity of the atmosphere, he governs the weather and dispenses the rain; he sends forth his lightning and thunder and he is continually at war with Vritra the demon of drought or inclement weather, whom he overcomes with his thunderbolts and compels to pour down the rain. Indra protects humans from evil forces.

He is frequently represented as destroying the “stone-built cities” of the Asuras or atmospheric demons. In his warfare he is sometimes represented as escorted by troops or Maruts, and attended by his younger brother Vishnu. More hymns are addressed to Indra than to any other deity in the Rig Veda, with the exception of Agni .For; he was revered for his beneficent character, as the bestower of rain and the cause of fertility. He was feared as the awful ruler of the storm and wielder of lightning and thunder.

Later, in Puranas all the virtues, attributes and power of Indra are  transferred to Vishnu.

Indra is demoted in Puranas to the level of a satrap. He is always in danger of losing his throne and is ever busy devising 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.


3.Mitra: Mitra, a friend invoked very often in the Rig-Veda along with Varuna has a separate identity.

He is one of the six Major Sovereign Principles, or the 12 Adityas – offspring of Aditi, the mother of the gods. Mitra is the divinity of contracts, of pledges. He represents Friendship and Solidarity.  He is comforting, benevolent, protecting.  He is opposed to quarreling, violence and encourages right action.  

His main influence is to make men abide by their promises and associate together. Mitra is the complement of Varuna, the favor of the gods.  Mitra and Varuna work together to rule the earth and sky.  They both encourage virtue and piety. Mitra-Varuna is basically the cosmic law, relation of man with man and man with gods.

He is the counter part of the Avestan Mithra.

Mitra today is virtually forgotten in Hinduism.


4.Agni: Agni is one of the most ancient and most sacred gods of the Rig Veda and great numbers of the hymns are addressed to him, more indeed than to any other god. He is one of the three great deities: Agni, Vayu (or Indra) and Surya who respectively preside over earth, air, and sky, and are all equal in dignity. Agni appears in three phases: in heavens as the sun, in mid-air as lightning, on earth as fire.

Agni is the Outer Expression of the Cosmic Whole, the bahiscara—the outer impulse.  Devouring and being devoured is the transformation of life, the very essence of the universe.  The entire universe is made of fire (Agni) and offering (soma).  He is the enjoyer, the digester, the consumer: sun, heat, stomach, lust, and passion.  The nature of Agni is to spread, to take over and rule.

He is also the mediator between men and gods, as protector of men and their homes, and as witness of their actions; hence his invocation at all solemn occasions, at the nuptial ceremony, etc.

Today, Agni has ceased to be an object of worship, but is honored during sacrifices.


5.Varuna : Varuna  one of the oldest deities in Rig Veda , 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, in Rig Veda, is personification of the all-investing sky, the maker and upholder of heaven and earth. As such he is king of the universe, king of gods and men, possessor of illimitable knowledge, the supreme deity to whom special honor is due. He is also the chief among the Adityas.

By his laws the moon shines and the stars appear in the night sky, only to disappear mysteriously the next day.  Nothing happens without his knowledge; no creature can move without him.  He observes truth and duplicity in human beings.  He has unlimited control over the fate of human beings, knows the answer to everything, and is merciful even to sinners.  He is a wise guard of immortality.  The characteristics and functions that are ascribed to Varuna raise him far above all other Vedic gods.

In Rig Veda, Varuna is not specially connected with water, but there are passages in which he is associated with the element of water both in the atmosphere and on the earth. He is associated with Mitra. Varuna is also addressed as Asura and has his counterpart in Ahur Mazda the supreme god in the Avestha.

Today, Varuna is reduced to the guardian of water element. Varuna is no longer worshiped but is sometimes propitiated before voyages.


6.Vayu : 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’.

In Rig Veda , Vayu is  often associated with Indra, and rides in the same chariot  with him, Indra being the charioteer. According to the Nirukta, there are three gods specially connected with each other. “Agni, whose place is on earth; Vayu or Indra, whose place is in the air; and Surya whose place is in the heaven.” In the hymn Purushasukta, Vayu springs from the breath of Purusha. He is regent of the north-west quarter, where he dwells.

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.


7.Visvedevas: They are referred often in Rig Veda (Rig Veda 1.3. 7-9).They are a group of Devas that include Agni , Varuna , Vayu,Surya , Mitra et al. They are the nature’s bounties. They represent intellectual and spiritual aspects in the universe. They are offered Soma in the Yagnas “O Visvedavas! The benevolent, eternal and omniscient gods, bears of riches accept our offerings” (RV 1.3.9)

Visvedeas were major gods and were worshipped for many boons. They do not now figure directly in daily prayers.


8.Parjanya: Parjanya, one of the Adityas, is the god of rains and rain clouds was an important deity in Rig Veda. He is also associated with Varuna and an overseer of rta , the cosmic order. Riks 5.63 and 7.101 are dedicated to him. He is  described as thunderstorm and torrential rain ; as a gift from heavens, feeding plant and animal life, and “liberating the streams. He is represented in Rig Veda as a Bull and sometimes as Indra.

Sing forth and laud Parjanya, son of Heaven,

Who sends the gift of rain
May he provide our pasturage.

 Parjanya is the God, who forms in kine,

in mares, in plants of earth,
And womankind, the germ of life.

 Offer and pour into his mouth oblation rich in savory juice:
May he forever give us food.

Parjanya, today, is sometimes worshipped; but only during severe droughts.


 9.Savitir: Savitir one of the Adityas, is 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. He dispels darkness. The Sun just before he arises is Savitir, according to Sayana. The most celebrated Gayathri mantra (Rig Veda 3.62.10) belongs to him

tat Savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhi_yoyonah prachodayath


10. Pushan: 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 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.

Pushan is the lord of marriages, journeys and roads. Hymns in Rig Veda, appeal to him to guard livestock and to find lost livestock. He is a supportive guide, a good god, leading his adherents towards rich pastures and wealth.

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.’

Hiranmayena patrena satyasyapihitam mukham
Tat tvam pusan apavrnu satya sharmaya drstaye


11.Asvins :   twin sons of the sun and Ushas.. They are ever young and handsome, bright and of golden brilliance, agile, swift as falcons, and possessed of many forms; and they ride in a golden chariot drawn by horses or birds, as harbingers of Ushas, their mother, the dawn. “They are the harbinger s of light in the morning sky, who in their chariot hasten onwards before the dawn and prepare the way for her.”

Rig Veda praises the Asvins for protecting the widows.

They are horsemen. They are the doctors of gods and are the Devas of Ayurvedic medicine. Their attributes are numerous, and relate mostly to youth and beauty, light and speed, duality, the curative power, and active benevolence. The number of hymns addressed to them testifies to the enthusiastic worship they received. They were called Das and Nasatyas, Gadagadau and Swarvaidyau; or one was Dasra and the other Nastya.

According to Yaska_charya, the Asvins represent the transition from darkness to light, when the intermingling of both produces that inseparable duality expressed by the twin nature of these deities.. It agrees with the epithets by which they are invoked, and with the relationship in which they are placed. They are young, yet also ancient, beautiful, bright, swift, etc.; and their negative character, the result of the alliance of light with darkness, is expressed by dasra, the destroyer, and also by the two negatives in the compound nasatya (na + satya) ; though their positive character is again redeemed by the ellipsis of ‘enemies, or diseases’ to dasra, and by the sense of nasatya, not untrue, i.e., truthful.


1 Comment

Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Rigveda


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One response to “Rig Veda -The gods that faded away(7/7)

  1. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 9:49 am


    great series. learnt a lot about my veda and its finer points.

    who were the early rishi’s who taught rig veda exclusively. is there something like a rig veda lineage?



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