RSS

Tag Archives: Bhrigu Angirasa conflict

Varuna and his decline – Part Seven

Continued from Part Six

Varuna - 1

Varuna and Ahura Mazda

It is generally accepted that the Ahura Mazda of the Avesta is indeed the Varuna of Rig Veda. Before we come to that let’s talk of few other things.

X. Before parting of ways

The Old World

78.1. In the Vedic times the people on either side of the great river Sindhu were closely related. The communities that lived in what is Iran today and in what is Sind and Punjab today shared common traditions, myths and legends as also a common cultural milieu. Their faith, as also many of their religious rites were virtually the same; and were often called by same or similar names. The language spoken on either side of the great river; the words, grammar and syntax of the idioms sprung from same roots.

78.2. For, in those days what we now call the frontier between the two lands—the imaginary line dividing people of imaginary differences—did not exist; the Vedic people populated both Iran and India equally freely. They established kingdoms, formed alliances, and created common systems of: worship, living and trade; as also measurement and mathematics. They developed ongoing cultural and trade contacts with peoples of rival cultures as far away as Mesopotamia, Phoenicia and even Egypt; and carried their language so far west that the westernmost Isles of the Eurasian land mass came to be called “Eire” after Arya the term used by these people to describe themselves.

The gods and the priests

78.3. Of the gods worshipped on both the sides, Indra the Deva and Varuna the mighty Asura were prominent. The worship was commonly through the medium of the formless fire (Agni); they prayed to Agni to lead them along the good path (Agneye naya supatha rayé asman – Yajurveda 40.17). It appears that the older deity Varuna who upholds the moral order was more widely accepted in the western region (Iran) while Indra the warrior god had more followers on the east of the Sindhu. The   priests guiding the communities on the west of the great river were the Bhrigus (identified by some scholars as the tribe of the Anu or Anva), while Angirasas were the priests of the Puru people and of the dominant Bharatas on the eastern side. There was certain amount of rivalry between the Bhrigus and the Angirasas though both groups came from same stock (descendents of Prajapathi). It was not, therefore, a conflict between two diverse cultures. What separated the two clans was the conflict of ideas and rivalry rather than as enmity. That rivalry went far back into the pre-Vedic past. During the times of the early Rig Veda the Angirasas were regarded the dominant priests, while the Bhrigus or the Atharvanas synonymous with fire-priests were on the fringe.

The Bhrigus

79.1. The Bhrigus, also known as Bhargavas, are the descendents of the sage Bhrigu. The cult of the sage Bhrigu whose name derives from the root bhrk meaning ‘the blazing of the fire’ professed immense reverence towards the elements of fire on earth viz  the life and warmth-giving Sun and the Fire. Though all Rishis, in general, have associations with these two elements, the Bhrigus’ attachment to fire was a special one. They were the first to introduce the fire-ritual and the Soma-ritual; and were the first to discover the nexus between fire and water (Apam Napat).The Bhrigus were associated with water as also fire. The fire-worshipping Bhrigus were close to the life on seas, rivers. The vast stretch of the mouths of the mighty Sindhu as it branched into number of rivulets to join the occasion was the region of the Bhrigus. It is where they resided and flourished. That is the reason that the present day Baruch was known as Bhrigu-kaksha or Bhrigu kaccha the region of the Bhrigus.

79.2. The Bhrigus followed the doctrine of the ancestors (pitris) or the older gods (Asura). The Supreme Asura the Father -Varuna the Asura Mahat (the mighty Asura) was highly venerated by the Bhrigus. The Bhrigu cult which adopted monotheistic approach wholly favoured the worship of the invisible Asura the Father Varuna through the medium of the formless fire Agni that lights the path of the Fathers (the fire does not have much of a form—at least not a static one). They dis-favoured icon worship. The Bhrigus strived to abide by Rta the physical and moral laws of Varuna. And, insisted on sharp distinctions between the good and evil.

79.3. The main text of the Bhrigus was the Atharvana Veda. They were, in particular, known as Atharvans. Sri Sayana-charya described the Atharvanas as of firm resolve and steadfast mind. Elsewhere, Bhrigus were described as very proud people, hot tempered and independent. It is said; they valued free thinking more than the rules. Bhrigus were also the expert physicians, mathematicians, architects and artists. The Bhrigus compiled their almanac with reference to the star by the name of their preceptor Shukra (Venus)) [as did the ancient Egyptians, Mayas, Incas, Assyrians, and Babylonians].

The Angirasas

80.1. In contrast, the Angirasas who professed worship of younger gods (Deva) were the preceptors of the Puru Aryans the heroes of Rig Veda on the east of the Sindhu. The name Angirasa too is connected with fire as the ‘glowing coal or the shouldering ember’ (Angara).The Angirasas are described as the sons of the flame resembling the lustre of the dawn and as the drinkers of Soma. They are hailed as the warriors, the fighters for the cows or rays of sun (gosu yodhaah); and are credited with gaining back the cows, the horses, the waters and all treasures from the grasp of the sons of Darkness. Their association with the Dawn and the Sun and the Cows comes through in several ways.

80.2. Angirasas were dexterous users of words and were superb poets. They are the masters of the Rik who expressed their thought with clarity and brightness (svaadhibhir rkvabhih – RV: 6. 32.2).Their poetry is charged with high idealism, soaring human aspirations and an intense desire to grow out of the limited human confines. Angirasa are said to have composed the very first verse of the Rig Veda, the hymn to Agni.

80.3. The Angirasas were more closely associated with mountains, hills, dales, vast open spaces; and were mainly in the foothill regions of the Himalayas. They were more attuned to contemplation and pursuit of knowledge (than wealth and pleasure). They adopted the yajna and soma practices from the Bhrigus. The Angirasas compiled their almanac with reference to star bearing the name of their preceptor Brihaspathi, Guru (Jupiter) [as did the people of ancient Chinese, Japanese, Malaya, Indonesia, etc].

Bhrigu –Angirasa rift

81.1. Though both the Bhrigus and Angirasas were closely associated with fire, the Bhrigus in particular came to be known as the Atharvanas- the high priests who worship fire. Further, though both Bhrigus and Angirasas performed Yajna with great fervour, the latter tended to personify the gods and to lend them a form (murtha).This tendency to shift towards worship the formless through a personalized form or an idol (murti) seems to have displeased the Bhrigus and exacerbated the rift between the two great sages and their followers. The Bhrigus on the west of the Sindhu asserted their method of worship was pristine and their gods who were more ancient (Asura). The Angirasas on the other hand believed that the younger gods (Deva) were more dynamic, powerful and more responsive to prayers. Each group tended to look down upon the other; and to decry the gods of the rival cult.

81.2. The rise of Indra the king of Devas and the steep decline of Varuna the Asura and his eventual eclipse in the Vedic pantheon had lot to do with widening the rift between the clans of the two sages. Varuna in the early Rig Veda was a highly venerated god. He was hailed as the sole sovereign sky-god; the powerful Asura, the King of both men and gods, and of all that exists. He governed the laws of nature as also the ethical conduct of men. But with time, Varuna was steadily stripped of his powers one-by-one and relegated to a very minor rank. Further, one of the most fundamental aspects of Varuna the Rta, which signified the greatest good not merely ensured the physical order but also the moral order in the universe, was given a goby.

81.3. The shabby treatment meted out to Varuna the Asura Mahat, the watering down the laws of Varuna the Rta offended the Bhrigu clan greatly. Bhrigu was after all the son of Varuna.

The Bhrigus professed monotheism and formless worship of Varuna; and stood by Rta.   Even while the battles of minds and hearts were being waged the rival groups lived side by side.

Y. Rift formalized

Separation of Books

82.1. The rift between the two clans was more or less formalized when the composite text Atharvana Veda, also called Bhrigu – Angirasa Samhita, was split into two books along the lines of their affiliations: the Bhargava Veda (the Veda of the Bhrigus) and Angirasa Veda (the Veda of the Angirasa).It is believed that the Atharva Veda which has come down to us in India is, in fact, only one-half of the original text – the Angirasa Veda part. The other half the Bhargava Veda is lost to us.

82.2. Shri Jatindra Mohan Chatterji argues that the Bhrigus whose notions of God, of his worship and of the moral order were not well accepted in the east took with them their sacred text Bhargava Veda over to the west of the Sindhu River. Shri Chatterji says that Zend Avesta is the Bhargava Veda text that was lost to India. He asserts that the Bhargava Veda the missing Book of the Bhrigu Angirasa Samhita is indeed the Zend Avesta (The Hymns of Atharvan Zarathustra – Published by The Parsi Zoroastrian Association, Calcutta, 1967).

Please click on http://www.avesta.org/ and then go to   The Hymns of Atharvan Zarathushtra  in the page for the E-Book.

82.3 . Thus, the Indo-Iranians became divided into two groups of people on the basis of the method of worship and accent on certain principles. And it is apparently this division that led to the breakup of the original Aryan Land into two parts: Iran and India. In the process, both countries lost something. Iran, on the one hand, lost the Rig Veda, with its hymns in praise of Indra and along with it the Saman and Yajus as well. India, on the other hand, lost half of the Atharva Veda, namely the Bhragava Samhita or Bhargava Veda. Thereafter due to vicissitudes and ironies of history the two lands could never come together again. They, sadly, remain separated- forever.

82 .4 . When the Aryan community was undivided the terms Asura and Deva both denoted gods of high respect. The gods were referred to Asura as also Deva. But with the parting of their ways each tribe accorded its own chosen words of abuse to the terms Asura or Deva, depending on to which side of the Sindhu they belonged.

Z ….  And after

Language of the Avesta and Vedic Sanskrit

83.1. The Zend Avesta (chhanda = verse, meter; Avesta = apistaka = pusthaka) literally means the Book of Hymns, which indeed was the nature of the Bhragava Samhita or Bhargava Veda. Shri JM Chatterji observes that the language of the Avesta and the language of the Vedas resemble very closely since they are based in a common linguistic foundation.

It is said; their relation is so close that entire passages from the Gathas can be rendered into Vedic Sanskrit by application of the phonetic rules – that is by exchanging some sounds for others- such as S for Sh; Z for Zh; and ,C for  Ch. For instance;  the Sanskrit terms aham (‘I’), jihva (tounge), sapta (seven), hima (snow) and yajna (sacrifice ritual) would become ajem, hijvahaptazyma, and yasna, respectively, in the Iranian texts. Similarly Pita (Sk) would be Pitar (Av); Mans (Sk) – Manah (Av); Hotar (Sk) – Zotar (Av); Mitra (Sk) – Mithra (Av); Arya (Sk)-Ariyan (Av); and, Martyanam (Sk) – Masyanam (Av) and so on. Such rendering can produce verses in Sanskrit that are correct not only in form but also in poetic flow. Further, some terms – e.g. Shukra (bright), Krishna  (dark) – carry the same form and meaning in either text.

83.2. One could find a Sanskrit equivalent for almost any Avestan word. For instance: The Avesthan : aevo pantao yo ashahe, vispe anyaesham apantam (Yasna 72.11); could be rendered in Sanskrit as : abade pantha he ashae, visha anyaesham apantham (translation: The one path is that of Asha, all others are not-paths).

Another example (left) of Avestan text from Yasna 10.6 is rendered word for word in Sanskrit on the right. Translated it means: `Mithra that strong mighty angel, most beneficent to all creatures, I will worship with libations’

83.3. The Cambridge History of India observes, “The coincidence between the Avesta and the Rig-Veda is so striking that the two languages cannot have been long separated before they arrived at their present condition.” The linguist, Professor T. Burrow of Oxford University also argued for strong similarities between language of Avesta and Vedic Sanskrit.   And, HD Griswold (in his The Religion of the Rig Veda) went  so far as to point out that each can be said to be “a commentary on the other … No scholar of the Avesta worth the designation can do without a thorough grounding in Vedic Sanskrit”.

[Similarities and differences between Rig Vedic Sanskrit and Avestan .

Source : Encyclopedia Britannica.

The long and short varieties of the Indo-European vowels e, o, and a, for example, appear as long and short a: Sanskritmanas- “mind, spirit,” Avestanmanah-, but Greek ménos “ardour, force; Greek pater “father,” Sanskrit pitr-, Avestan and Old Persian pitar-.

After stems ending in long or short a, i, or u, an n occurs sometimes before the genitive (possessive) plural ending am (Avestan -am)—e.g., Sanskrit martyanam “of mortals, men” (from martya-); Avestan mašyanam (from mašya-); Old Persian martiyanam.In addition to several other similarities in their grammatical systems, Indo-Aryan and Iranian have vocabulary items in common—e.g., such religious terms as Sanskrit yajña-, Avestan yasna- “sacrifice”; and Sanskrit hotr-,zaotar- “a certain priest”; as well as names of divinities and mythological persons, such as Sanskrit mitra-, Avestan miqra- “Mithra.”

Indeed, speakers of both language subgroups used the same word to refer to themselves as a people: Sanskrit arya-, Avestan airya-, Old Persian ariya- “Aryan.” Avestan

The Indo-Aryan and Iranian language subgroups also differ duhitr- “daughter” (cf. Greek thugáter). In Iranian, however, the sound is lost in this position; e.g., Avestan dugdar-, dudar-. Similarly, the word for “deep” is Sanskrit gabhira- (with i for i), but Avestan jafra-. Iranian also lost the accompanying aspiration (a puff of breath, written as h) that is retained in certain Indo-Aryan consonants; e.g., Sanskrit dha “set, make,” bhr, “bear,” gharma- “warm,” but Avestan and Old Persian da, bar, and Avestan garma-.

Further, Iranian changed stops such as p before consonants and r and v to spirants such as f: Sanskrit pra “forth,” Avestan fra; Old Persian fra; Sanskrit putra- “son,” Avestan puqra-, Old Persian pusa- (s represents a sound that is also transliterated as ç).

In addition, h replaced s in Iranian except before non-nasal stops (produced by releasing the breath through the mouth) and after i, u, r, k; e.g., Avestan hapta- “seven,” Sanskrit sapta-; Avestan haurva- “every, all, whole,” Sanskrit sarva-. Iranian also has both xš and š sounds, resulting from different Indo-European k sounds followed by s-like sounds, but Indo-Aryan has only ks; e.g., Avestan xšayeiti “has power, is capable,” šaeiti “dwells,” but Sanskrit ksayati, kseti. Iranian was also relatively conservative in retaining diphthongs that were changed to simple vowels in Indo-Aryan.Iranian differs from Indo-Aryan in grammatical features as well.

The dative singular of -a-stems ends in -ai in Iranian; e.g., Avestan mašyai, Old Persian cartanaiy “to do” (an original dative singular form functioning as infinitive of the verb). 

In Sanskrit the ending is extended with a—martyay-a. Avestan also retains the archaic pronoun forms yuš, yuzm “you” (nominative plural); in Indo-Aryan the -s- was replaced by y (yuyam) on the model of the 1st person plural—vayam “we” (Avestan vaem, Old Persian vayam).

Finally, Iranian has a 3rd person pronoun di (accusative dim) that has no counterpart in Indo-Aryan but has one in Baltic.]

**

Zend Avesta and the Gathas

84.1. Zend Avesta is the oldest and the most famous religious text of Iran. As mentioned earlier, it is believed to be a version of the Vedic text Bhrigu Veda of the Atharva Veda. The Avesta comprises four books: Yasna (book of hymns), Yashta (book of prayers), visparatau (book of Rta or righteousness) and vidaevadata (book of laws). The hymns composed by the prophet Zarathustra are inserted into the original text of the Avesta in the Book of Yasna. His hymns – Gatha (Gita or songs) numbering seventeen consisting 238 verses are indeed the core and cream of the Avesta despite the fact that they form only a tiny portion of the whole textThese Gathas of inspired poetry composed in ancient form were sung by Zarathustra the poet-prophet to invoke and glorify the Great God Ahura Mazda. They are highly devotional in nature expounding the essence of Rta (Asha) the greatest good, the good mind (voshu) and righteousness. They also reveal the mind and the personality of Zarathustra the first prophet of mankind. He exhorts people to lead a life of righteousness as directed by Ahura Mazda.

The Gathas also contain biographical glimpses of Zarathustra.

Zarathustra

85.1. The traditions of Iran believe that Ratu (Rishi) Zarathustra descended from a long line of sage-kings (Raja-rishi). Zarathustra describes himself : as of the Bhrigu clan, a Bhargava ‘ I am Spitama Zarathustra’ (the Avestan term Spitatama = shukla (Snkt) = white which is the colour associated with Bhrigu); as  in the line of sage Vashishtha (Vahishta in the Avesta: Vahishtem Thwa Vahishta yem); as an Atharvan (fire priest); as a Zoatar (hotar (Snkt)= priest officiating at the yajna) ; as  a reciter of Mantras (Mantrono dutim –Ys.32.13) ; and as a Mantra teacher (Manthra-ne :Ys.50.5).

85.2. He declares that “silent meditation is the best for man” (Ys.43.15); and exhorts to worship the formless-one “in essence and in vision’ (Ys.33.71). He was not very fond of rites and rituals; and was positively against worship of icons. Zarathustra proclaimed his immense faith in the Great One; and said that the formless Supreme can be realized through intense Love alone (in the sense of deep Bhakthi) –“, O Ahura, Who Art the Greatest Good; with love would I worship Thee” (Gatha: 28.82). According to Shri JM Chatterji, Zarathustra was a Vedic sage in the line of Bhrigu and Vashista; and the Gathas resemble in tenor and spirit the devote and forceful hymns sung in praise of Varuna by sage Vashista in the Atharva Veda (AV.4.16.7-8).

85.3. Scholars believe that Zarathustra lived during the late Vedic age when Varuna was being phased out; when he was no longer the greatest god; and when Indra ruled as the king of gods. Given the fact that he lived in the regions west of the Sindhu and that he belonged to the Bhrigu-clan, Zarathustra was naturally inclined towards the worship of Varuna the formless Great Asura. There is therefore in Zarathustra’s hymns a strong streak of monotheism; great love for his God; immense faith in prayers and in God’s mercy; and a very clear and a precise moral sense of the right and the wrong.

Ahura Mazda

86.1. Zarathustra declared there is only one God and He is formless. He is the only one worthy of highest worship. Zarathustra gave that ‘formless mighty spirit’ one and only one name: Ahura Mazda. Zarathustra’s monotheism is so strict and uncompromising that never in his Gathas does he address or refer to his God by any other name. And, he declared ‘Ahura Mazda alone is worthy of worship’ (Gatha: 29.4).

86.2. The terms Ahura (Asura= the formless mighty lord) and Mazda (Mahat = Greatest; or Medha = Vedhas = wise) were already in use and well known in the eastern regions of Iran as alternate names of the ancient god Varuna. The virtues and attributes of Varuna were also well known. But, ever since Zarathustra employed the compound term -Ahura Mazda – it became widely accepted in preference to the earlier name Varuna.

86.3. Ahura Mazda was conceived as a formless invisible God. The prime attribute of the invisible God is his essence. Zarathustra visualized his God in his heart and mind; and described him in varieties of ways. Zarathustra sang the glory of his God Ahura Mazda the spirit in his being as:

the uncreated God; the mighty formless spirit; highest deity; wholly wise, benevolent and good; Most beneficent spirit; Maker of the material worldHoly One; the creator and upholder of the moral order Asha (Rta); All-Wise Lord of All He Surveys; the source of all goodness; the friend of the righteous, the destroyer of the evil and the creator of the universe which is completely good.

86.4. He bursts into a series of superlatives: the All Brilliant; the All Majestic; the All Greatest;;the Greatest Good; Most Beneficent Spirit; the Best(Vahishtem);  and the Most Beautiful (Ys: 31 .21).

86.5. Zarathustra describes Ahura Mazda in as many as one hundred-and-one epithets, of which the forty-fourth is Varuna. In the Avesta, Varuna stands for the ‘all –embracing sky’.

86.6. Ahura Mazda was invoked in a triad, with Mithra and Apam Napat (described as the spirit of the waters). Ahura Mazda was not worshiped through a murti or an idol; in fact, the idols were smitten in the congregations.

[Till the Achaemenid period (ca. 550–330 BC) it was customary for the emperors to have an empty chariot drawn by white horses to honour Ahura Mazda. However, stone carved Images of Ahura Mazda began to appear in the Parathion period (ca.129 BC-224 AD).]

86.7. Further, In the Gathas where the battle between good and evil is a distinguishing characteristic of the religion, the Daevas (Devas the Vedic gods) are the “wrong gods”, the followers of whom need to be brought back to the path of the ‘good religion’.

Ahura Mazda and Varuna

87.1. Scholars, who have studied the Gathas closely, observe the virtues, powers and attributes of Ahura Mazda and that of Varuna of the Rig Veda   are almost identical. Many strongly believe that Ahura Mazda is indeed the Varuna. For instance, Bloomfield (in his Hymns of the Atharva-Veda, Sacred Books of the East, 1897) declared: “It seems to me an almost unimaginable feat of scepticism to doubt the original identity of Varuna and Mazda”. And, similarly Nichol Manicol (Indian Theism, London, 1915) observed that “the evidence that identifies Varuna with Mazda is too strong to be rejected”.

Rta and Asha

We need to talk a bit more about Rta the very heart of Varuna-doctrine and hence the core of Zarathustra’s Gathas.

88.1.  Rta in Rig Veda is the principle that supports and upholds all creation; it governs the physical and moral order in the universe. Rta in the Avesta is termed Asha; and Asha carries the same connotation as RtaAsha the greatest good of all is the basic and the most important tenet of the Avesta. The term Asha occurs in the Avesta texts in a variety of forms such as: asha, arsh, eresh, arta and ereta.

88.2. Asha is raised to a very exalted position; to the level of Ahura Mazda himself. Ahura Mazda is described as ‘of one accord with Asha’; and as one ‘who is highest in Asha, and one who has advanced furthest in Asha.’

Asha is the changeless eternal law of Ahura .It was in accordance with that law that the universe came into being; it is by Asha that the universe is sustained; and it is by obeying which universe is progressing towards its destiny and fulfilment.

As the moral order in the Universe, Asha signifies righteousness, Truth, Justice and Divine will. Asha is also the spiritual enlightenment. As it usually happens, it is hard to find an exact term in English language to capture   an Indian concept. It is the case with Rta and Asha too.

88.3. A prayer calls out Asha as “the Love, the greatest Love and the enlightenment of he who honours Asha just for the love of it”; and yearns “Through the best Asha, through the highest Asha, may we get a vision of Thee O Ahura Mazda, may we draw near unto Thee, may we be in perfect union with Thee” (Ys.60.12).Finally “there is but one path…the path of Asha; all the rest are false” (Ys.71.11)

Great Reformer

89.1. Zarathustra was not only a great prophet but was also a great reformer. He did not overthrow the older Vedic region and its beliefs. Instead, he reformed the ancient religion and lent it a definite sense of direction. [In a way, the religion of Zarathustra is closer to the Vedic religion than is the Buddhism.]

89.2. Zarathustra re-established Varuna and his doctrine of moral order, of Love and of faith in God. He placed the formless and unseen, the one and only God at the centre of kingdom of justice. He emphasized the dichotomy of the good and bad; the value systems and the wisdom in life. He asked his people to Love God and the Truth for its own sake. He played down the role of rituals and encouraged contemplation; exhorted to worship the formless God ‘in essence and vision’ and to seek him in silent meditation.

89.3. Varuna symbolized purity in life in all its aspects. Zarathustra sought to re-establish in his land the sense of purity as also the values and the wisdom of the ancient Great and Noble God Varuna.

[ I fondly recall my dear departed friend Dorabjee   ( whose story  you read earlier; if you have not , please do read  now my tribute to an old friend ) . It was Dorabjee  who during my early years in Bombay led me to acquaintance with the Gathas of Zarathustra and to the realization how close they were to the hymns of Atharva Veda. I trust my friend, wherever he is, would not be displeased with my effort.]

 

References and Sources

1. Indra and Varuna in Indian Mythology by Dr. Usha Choudhuri; Nag Publishers, Delhi, 1981

2. The Indian Theogony by Dr.Sukumari Bhattarcharji, Cambridge University Press, 1970

3. Asura in early Vedic religion by WE Hale; Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, 1986

4. Goddesses in ancient India by PK Agrawala; Abhinav Publications, New Delhi,1984

5. The Hymns of Atharvan Zarathustra by JM Chatterji; the Parsi Zoroastrian Association, Calcutta, 1967; http://www.avesta.org/chatterj_opf_files/slideshow.htm.

6. Outlines of Indian Philosophy –Prof M Hiriyanna; Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 2005

7.Original Sanskrit texts on the 0rigin and history of the people of India, their region and institution By J. Muir;Trubner & co., London, 1870.

8. A classical dictionary of Hindu mythology and religion, geography, history, and literature byJohn Dowson; Turner & co, Ludgate hill. 1879.

9. Vaidika Sahitya Charitre by Dr. NS Anantharangachar; DVK Murthy, Mysore, 1968

10. Sri Brahmiya Chitra Karma sastram by Dr. G. Gnanananda

11. Zarathustra Chapters 1-6 by Ardeshir Mehta; February 1999

 http://www.indiayogi.com/content/indgods/varuna.aspx

http://www.bookrags.com/research/varua-eorl-14/

http://www.bookrags.com/wiki/Varuna

http://www.hinduweb.org/home/dharma_and_philosophy/vshirvaikar/Dnyaneshwari/Dnch10pg1.html

http://rashmun.sulekha.com/blog/post/2010/03/vedic-literature-the-degradation-of-varuna-and-indra.htm

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Varuna

http://www.indiadivine.org/audarya/vedic-verses/453851-vak-suktam-aka-devi-suktam.html

http://www.svabhinava.org/HinduCivilization/AlfredCollins/RigVedaCulture_ch07-frame.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahura_Mazda

http://www.iamronen.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/ReadingLila.pdf

 http://www.hummaa.com/player/player.php

All images are by courtesy of Internet

 
2 Comments

Posted by on October 5, 2012 in Varuna

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Varuna and His Decline – Part Five

Continued from Part Four

Decline of a Great and a Noble god

The explanations for Varuna’s decline in stages and his eventual fall from the high pedestal are many. Let’s see some of those.

R. The Decline

Loss of sovereignty

59.1. As mentioned earlier, Varuna derived his sovereignty (kshatra) and the supreme status among the gods by virtue of his being the sole sky-god. He embodied the sky in all its aspects. He encompassed   the sky, the earth and all existence. Besides, he was the all-knowing Lord (Asura –visvavedasa; Devo Aryah) ; and the sole governor of the natural and moral laws that operated in heavens as on earth.

59.2. That, however, was a short-lived glory. Varuna’s suzerainty over the sky was lost. His powers were curtailed.   Varuna soon had to share his powers and control over the sky, the Rta and the Dharman (RV 3.59.1; 1.5.81) with Mitra regarded more active and more vibrant. Mitra came to symbolize the day sky with all its brilliance; while Varuna who earlier was the lord of the entire sky had his authority restricted to the night sky (RV 4.8.3 and TS. 4.8.3) with its thousand stars symbolizing his thousand eyes (sahasraksha) watching in secret the activities of men at night.

That was the beginning of a great slide.

[A brief note on Mitra: Of all the Vedic gods, Varuna is most closely related to Mitra. In the Vedic times Mitra was not an independent god; he was always mentioned in company of his friend (except in one hymn). It is said, he was given the name Mitra because he was the friend of Varuna. They were fused into the dual god  Maitra-Varuna and Deva –asura (a dvandva or compound) sharing common functions and authority (mahaanta mitravaruna samraja devasura –RV 8.25.4).  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.

Eventually both Varuna and Mitra had to give place to gods greater than both of them.]

Mitra Varuna surya

 tan mitrasya varuṇasyā abhicakṣe sūryo rūpaṃ kṛṇute dyor upasthe |RV.1,115.05 /

The wonderful host of rays has risen: the eye of Mitra, Varuna, and Agni: the Sun, the soul of all that moves or  Immovable, has filled the heaven, the Earth and the firmament. Rig-Veda: 1, 115,

Association with night and dark traits

60.1. Mitra symbolizing day-sky and light gained identity with god of sunlight (Tai Br. 25.10.10). With that, the virtues of clarity, brightness which reveals reality and the life-giving energy became his attributes. He was also associated with the bright-half of the month (Shukla-paksha). Varuna, on the other hand, as the night-god acquired the attributes of darkness such as: secrecy, mystery and the nature of concealing. And, he got associated with the darker-half of the month (Krishna –paksha).

60.2. His association with night and darkness is not stressed in the early Vedic texts where he merely represents the star-eyed night sky. But, in the later texts his dark and malevolent traits begins to emerge clearly. It is said, the merciful Mitra pacifies the cruel Varuna (Mitro hi kruram varunam shantham karoti –TS. 2.1.9.5).

60.3. Varuna the son of Aditi who was a solar deity (Aditya) and the chief of the Adityas; but now he is drawn nearer to lunar deities: Rudra, Soma, and Yama and to Agni another night god. He also comes close to the gruesome aspects of life symbolized by Nirtti who is the evil genius of destruction, dissolution and misfortune.

Varuna is now portrayed as a spy-master (Spasa) and a stern judge whose punitive weapons are torture, sense of guilt, disease and sudden death. Varuna’s serene form too turns ugly. He now has a potbelly, bald head, protruding teeth and reddish-brown or yellow eyes.

Inconsistent disposition

60.4. The other reason cited for Varuna’s decline is the suspected flaw in his disposition. Varuna was perhaps not wholly benevolent like Indra of the early Rig-Veda. The ambivalent character of Varuna–now favourable and now unfavourable; and his inconsistent disposition was far from admirable. Further, Varuna, for some reason, acquired the unenviable reputation of one indulging in guile and trickery. His character was shaded with a sort of ambiguity. The Vedic poets did not seem amused by a less –than- perfect Varuna; they were decidedly in favour of uncompromisingly good gods.

Further, Varuna was of passive tendencies. And, like his predecessor Dayus, he too lacked aggression and convincing positive traits.

60.5. Loosing suzerainty over the sky and being restricted to night sky marked the beginning of Varuna’s decline and emergence of his darker traits. Thereafter he went down steadily. With the passage of time, the lordship, power and glory depart from Varuna.

The other explanations

The other reasons offered to explain Varuna’s fall from kingship and power, which led to his eventual eclipse, has lot to do with the history of ancient mythology. In the Indian context, history and mythology are entwined; they can hardly be separated.

Bhrigu-Angirasa rift

61.1. One explanation is that Varuna’s decline in the Vedic pantheon has to be placed against the continuing rivalry between two ancient sages Bhrigu the priest of the Anus (in the west) and Angirasa the priest of the dominant Puru-Bharatas in the valley of seven rivers. Their rivalry spread into recurring conflicts between the two clans. The differences arose between the two sages; it is said, on issues concerning the concept of a single god and the worship practices. The tendency of the Angirasas to treat all gods as equal and to shift towards worship of the Supreme through personalized forms or murtis; to glorify the warlike Indra; and to sideline the righteous Varuna as also his governing principle Rta  , all these, greatly annoyed  the Bhrigus. The Bhrigus in turn asserted their faith (which they said was ancient) in monotheism and in the worship of the single-god through formless fire. The Bhrigus placed the ancient god Varuna in the centre of their cosmology and hailed him as the only worship worthy god. The Angirasas on the other hand glorified the younger god Indra but treated him as one among other gods and as one of the many manifestations of the Supreme Being; and they assigned forms and attribute to all gods. But, as said, the Angirasas were the dominant priests in the Vedic community and their views determined the hierarchy among the Vedic gods.

The battles that Vedic communities had to fight

61.2. According to another argument, the decline of Varuna and the ascendency of Indra have to be viewed in the context of the trials and tribulations of the Vedic communities; and in the context of the wars they had to fight. Varuna till then their mightiest god belonged to the older generation of gods; he was essentially a god of righteousness and of placid nature. He was ideal for times of peace and comfort. But in hard – times when they were besieged and had to fight back the encroaching enemy they desperately needed a leader who could stand up to the demands of the challenging times, inspire them to act resolutely and to lead them in battle against the foe. They prayed for a god of war to beat back and destroy the troublesome enemy. Varuna was just not such a leader; he hardly had the vigour to inspire the heroic qualities in men, especially as he had no exploits to his credit.

Coming of the new king

62.1. Rig-Veda describes its people ‘as averse to war; peace being their normal rule’ (RV.6.41.5). It also narrates the difficulties of its people having to fight battles without a capable war leader; and the woes it brought   upon people unprepared for war: ‘we are surrounded by mighty enemies; help us’; ’ we lost because we had no king to lead us’; ‘they conquer us because we had no warrior Rajanya’. And eventually all said ‘let’s make a king’. So, they did make a king. They heartily invited the new king to lead them in the battles: “I do hereby crown you as the king. Rule us with courage and an unwavering resolve. Let all your subjects love you. Let thy kingdom be with you forever RV 10.12.02) “. And, to the king ‘who is the dread in the battle contest’ they all ‘bowed in reverence’ (TS.3.4.4.1)

62.2. The times of crisis and war somehow always throw up a boisterous and an inspiring leader; the type that is just needed. That new leader was Indra; full of vigor, a mighty god, a tornado divinity symbolizing storm and wielding a thunderbolt. He is a hero who ‘destroys in conflict the fierce and the exceedingly strong’. He was a god of battles rather than of righteousness. Indra thus possessed the requisites of a war lord and a typical king. He came as an answer to the prayers   of fighting men thirsting for win over enemies, and for power and glory it brought.”Heroes with noble horses, well mounted and passionate for a fight invoke me; invoke me in the battle. I the mighty Indra of victorious powers , lord of spurring vigour lead you on in the combat stirring up the battle dust” (RV .4.42; 10.129). Indra’s warriors did invoke him and stormed into battles shouting his names (Indram narone maditha havanthe – RV.3.34.9).

Rise of Indra and the kingship

62.3. Indra broke the treaty; and, in a fierce battle defeated the dreaded enemy Vrita , who had stolen  waters from the heavens . Mitra and Varuna , described as the arms of the king , helped the king (Rajanya) to kill Vrita (SB . 5.3.5.28). Indra also subdued and routed ten other fearsome enemies, in hard fought battles. Varuna helped Indra in all the battles that he fought.

mitrasyāsi varuṇasyāsīti bāhvorvai dhanur bāhubhyāṃ vai rājanyo maitrā-varuṇa-stasmādāha mitrasyāsi varuṇasyāsīti tadasmai prayacati tvayāyaṃ vṛtram badhediti tvayāyaṃ dviṣantam bhrātṛvyam badhedityevaitadāha – SB. 5.3.5.[28]

Eventually, those victories as also the restoration of waters to the gods established Indra’ authority as the king of gods, bhuvo janasya divyasya rājā (RV. 6.22.9).

Indra, formerly the god of rains, with some relation to war;  now,  turned into the god of war , with some relation to rains.

***

[As per its etymology, the term Indra denotes the one who, by his power (Indriya), energizes or kindles the vital airs (prana). The Satapatha Bråhmana  6.1.1.2  says, since he kindled (indh ), he is the kindler (indha ). But, cryptically, he is called Indra

sa yo yam madhye prāa | ea evendrastānea prāānmaindra ityācakate paro
‘k
am paro ‘kakāmā hi devāsta iddhā sapta nānā puruānasjanta6.1.1.[2]

Besides the etymology of Indra, as above (from indh), the Taittiriya Bråhmana  (2.2.10.4) offers an altogether different explanation : “No one can withstand this power  in him (idam indriyam) . That is why he is called ‘Indra’.”

Two different etymologies of one word , in one and the same passage,  occur at Satapatha Bråhmana 11.1.6.7

so’rcañcrāmyaścacāra prajākāma sa ātmanyeva prajātimadhatta sa āsyenaiva
devānas
jata te devā divamabhipadyāsjyanta taddevānā devatva
yaddivamabhipadyās
jyanta tasmai sasjānāya divevāsa tadveva devānā devatva
yadasmai sas
jānāya divevāsa1.1.6.[7] ] 

indra3

[Let me digress here for a short while:

(i). The transfer of power from Varuna to Indra marked a significant phase in the social and military history of very ancient India. It redefined the notion of a ‘king’ as in Rig Veda. The ‘king’ in its early phase largely meant a very exalted noblest person who was looked up to by all in reverence (e.g. Dayus and Varuna). The kingship was symbolic rather than  temporal; he need not have to defend a territory or fight an enemy. But, with the installation of Indra as the king, things did seem to change.

It became obvious that a person though righteous but without valour and aggressive tendencies was unfit for kingship. A king, it said, ought to be the foremost   protector of his people. He should be a leader of his people at all times – in war and peace. Because, his subjects look up to him for leadership, guidance and protection; and, they do so in faith, reverence and in fear. In dire times the king should himself lead his warriors in battles   to fight for the honour and the lives of his people. Not only that, the king had to strive to enhance his position as also that of his kingdom among their   rivals. That meant that a king would necessarily have   enemies; and hence the need for a standing army.

(ii). Kingship also meant that the diverse interests of all sections of the society were surrendered to the king   who was expected, in good faith, to harmonize conflicts and to protect interests of all equitably.   That implicit faith and submission to the king elevated kingship to the position of the god-on-earth. And, It also came to be accepted that one could not be a king without a spark of divinity in him (na vishnuh prithvi pathihi).The king therefore was accorded the most exalted and the   highest position in the social hierarchy. He came to be described as the best of men (narotthama). And, even at much later times the Buddha placed the kings (khattiya) higher than Brahmans (Angostura Nikaya, 107). In the epics too the heroes who became gods were all kshatriyas.

And,  during the early Upanishad-period , it was the Kshatriyas who were adepts in Adhyatma-Vidya. The Chandogya-Upanishad (8-14-1; 5-11, 24; 1-8, 9; 1-9-3, 7-1-3, and 5-11); Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad (2-1-20, 2-3 -6); and Kausitiki Brahmana (2-1, 2; 10, 4.) narrate instances where the Brahmans   approached Kshatriyas seeking higher knowledge.  For instance; king Ajatashatru of Kasi , in an assembly of the Kuru-Panchalas , consoles the Brahmin lad Svetaketu, son of Uddalaka Aruni of the Gautama Gotra that he need not be sorry for his inability to explain certain principles of Adhyatma-Vidya , because that has , so far, been the preserve of the Kshatriyas – (Chandogya-Upanishad: 5-3)

(iii). That distinction set the king apart from his people. Further, the king also became distinct from the others of his own class –the kshatriyas. The term Kshatriya was generally applied to all nobles of the ruling class. The king became the Rajanya; he was recognized as separate from the other kshatriyas (Rajas). Rajanya was glorified as the summit of the kshatra. With that, the kingship turned into a hereditary inheritance; and earned the right to live on people and even to oppress them.

(iv). Atharva Veda (AV.15.9.2; 18.2.60) narrates how king after king built his military might and created a class of  ‘ people of aggression ‘   distinct from ‘the patient tillers of soil singing pastoral hymns’.

dhanur hastād ādadāno mṛtasya saha kṣatreṇa varcasā balena |  samāgṛbhāya vasu bhūri puṣṭam arvāṅ tvam ehy upa jīvalokam-(AVŚ_18,2.60)

The priestly class became increasingly dependent on the warrior class; and came closer to the king. The two moved away from the rest.

Warfare thus led to growth of kings, states and their corollaries such as hereditary rights, despotism and standing armies. The King, his advisors and his army became separate from the society.]

Eclipse of Varuna, and shifting of allegiances

63.1. Varuna met the same fate as that befell the other passive sky-gods in all mythologies. They all yielded their position to more active and warlike solar deities. Varuna too had to give place to Indra just as Dayus the ancient god had lost to him (Varuna) earlier. It was said; “The great ones progressively lose their importance and are replaced by other divine figures nearer to man, more concrete and more dynamic- solar gods, Great Gods and Goddesses etc.

As Varuna faded out, Indra assumed:  the Kingship of gods; the main attributes of the old king Varuna; also his other powers and authority such as kshatra, the Asurya, the nature of Aditya , and the Maya. Further, Varuna’s sovereignty too passed on to Indra.

It is said; when Indra is called Asura and is invested with Asurya , it is merely because he inherited those powers from Varuna (satrā vājānām abhavo vibhaktā yad deveṣu dhārayathā asuryam – RV.6.36.1). In a similar manner, Indra is inducted as the fourth Aditya (catvāri te asuryāṇi nāmādābhyāni mahiṣasya santi – RV.10.54.4). And, Varuna’s creative power , the Maya, also passes on to Indra. This Maya is neither the trickery of the Mayin nor is it the deception; but, is a positive creative and a self-revealing function (rūpaṃ-rūpam pratirūpo babhūva tad asya rūpam praticakṣaṇāya- RV.6.47.18).

63.2. The eclipse of Varuna and the triumph of Indra led to re-ordering the hierarchy of gods, and shifting of allegiances. Varuna and his associates lost their superior positions. And, all allegiances shifted towards Indra. Agni and Soma who were associated with Varuna moved over to Indra. “Agni, Soma, Varuna they fall, they all go away. Their empire is overthrown…these Asura have lost their magic power (Asura Maya) – RV 10.124.4-5.”  Varuna the passive Father god, the ex-leader left stranded receded into background. It is, however, mentioned that Indra offered Varuna anominal position , if he recognized and followed the new order of things. 

agniḥ somo varuṇas te cyavante paryāvard rāṣṭraṃ tad avāmy āyan ||nirmāyā u tye asurā abhūvan tvaṃ ca mā varuṇa kāmayāse |ṛtena rājann anṛtaṃ viviñcan mama rāṣṭrasyādhipatyam ehi (Rv.10.124.4-5 )

63.3. The relation between Indra and Varuna is rather interesting. Initially, Varuna was the older god who had friendly relations with the younger god Indra. (Varuna is the friend of Indra in the heavens – RV.7.34.24). Later, Indra turns into a rival and eventually displaces Varuna and appropriates most of his powers.

Transfer of powers

ndrahl99

64.1. As Varuna begins to fall, his kingship passes on to Indra while his spiritual powers are inherited by Prajapathi. The placid god Prajapathi, in particular, begets Varuna’s Asuri Maya. But later, the Asuri Maya branches into two: the one beneficial to gods and men; and the other its darker side wielded by the Asuras: – “the Asuras consecrate Varuna, Soma’s brother because they see in him the form (rupa) of their father Prajapathi” (Jaiminiya Brah. 3.152.)

64.2. In the next phase, Vishnu and Prajapathi together inherit Varuna’s glory and majesty. The powers and attributes that were once associated with Varuna are divided into two distinct spheres; Vishnu the power of creation and encompassing all existence; and, Prajapathi the symbolic spiritual power. In the Brahmana texts both Vishnu and Prajapathi are identified with yajna.

64.3. Varuna’s various other functions are distributed among the lunar deities such as Rudra and Yama.

..And thereafter

65.1. Indra too had a brief span of life as the premier god; and he did not become a Supreme God. Instead, he had to yield place to another god. Perhaps because, by then happier times had dawned on the Vedic community; the wars and its horrors were a memory of the past. In the settled agrarian, pastoral life of peace, security and high idealism the Vedic people needed a more ethical and a loftier god.  Vishnu (until then a minor god)   emerges as the all compassing god, the god of all gods.  The virtuous attributes and powers of all other gods are transferred to the incomparable God Vishnu. Into Vishnu all the gods merge; and in him they find their identities.

65.2. Eventually, Indra too surrenders to Vishnu the newly emerging super- god; and bequeaths to him most of his powers and virtues. Similarly Prajapathi who was not endowed with any other special powers pales into insignificance just as his two predecessors – Varuna and Dayus. Prajapathi merges into Vishnu just as the other gods did.

***

The Varuna saga thus touches upon all the three phases  of the Vedic era: the stage of pastoral communities discovering the mysteries of nature, pouring out sublime and  highly idealized poetry rich in abstract symbolisms ; the next, the period of wars , distress   and strife; and ,the period of settled agricultural life of peace , quieter rituals and contemplation.

S. The Fall

66.1. As the kingship, power and glory depart Varuna, he becomes somewhat different in his nature and attributes. The cosmic functions are no longer his; he is not the king anymore; his ethical role diminishes; from a supreme sky-god who is inscrutable in his ways, omnipresent and omniscient in nature, he diminishes into one of the many minor gods. As a demigod he serves Prajapathi and later Vishnu as one of the guardians of directions and of the water. It was as if the Chief was pensioned off and assigned a minor rank.

With the fall of Varuna, the term Asura came to mean ‘chief of demons’.

66.2. Today, Varuna is reduced to the guardian of water element; and, is no longer worshiped formally but is prayed in times of draught and sometimes before setting on voyages for steering the safe course of the ships.

***

Thus, the ambivalent character of Varuna-now favourable and now un-favourable; his guile; his associations with night , darkness and gruesome aspects of life; as also  the  rift between two sages, the changes that came about in the  life- circumstances of the Vedic communities  –all these factors contributed to the eclipse of Varuna .

T. The Evolution

67.1. The decline and fall of Varuna and Indra; or the supersession of one god by another; or the modification of an older god should not be viewed in isolation. Instead, it should be viewed as a part of a scheme, a process or a phenomenon   of absorption of many into One that swept across the world of ancient Vedic gods.

67.2. 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 had great potential and offered rich scope for enlarged glorification were remodeled into much greater gods (for instance Vishnu and Rudra). 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 these select gods. They are today the Super Gods among the Indian gods.

At the same time, gods whose characters, functions and achievements had been too vividly described in Rig Veda and who held out little scope for further enlargement were steadily reduced in their status and rank (for instance Agni, Indra and Varuna), And those gods whose profile was too dim and had very little potential for growth were allowed to fade out quietly.

67.3. 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 worshipped. …..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, potential and living traits of all the gods that preceded them. They were also endowed with infinite capacity to imbibe the traits of all the gods to come.

67.4. The sequence of gods changing – growing or diminishing in significance – indicates the continual influx of new ideas and a creative conflict with the existing system of thoughts. Yet, all gods – great and small, old and new, spring from One ultimate reality. That was the vision that Rig Veda provided; and it is the same vision that guides all the Indian traditions.

67.5. When viewed against that broad canvass it can be seen that the rise and fall of Vedic gods followed a certain pattern of evolution. Varuna too belonged to that chain of evolution. In that process, Varuna was obscured by the achievements of Indra who answered the demands of the changing times. Indra in turn was thrown down by the very process that had elevated him. Thus, the decline of Varuna was in the normal way of the eclipse of one god by the other, as per a pattern of evolution. This complex and dynamic interplay of light and shadow is a distinctive feature of the Indian pantheon.

Dr. Sukumari Bahttacharji   in her ’The Indian Theogony’ explains: “The Indian mythology was (is) not a static affair, neither was it a luxury.  It was linked with the vital spiritual urges and needs of the people, who projected their most haunting dreams, hopes and cravings into their myths. The changes were not wrought overnight; nor was it easily. From the earliest times, the pantheon is the product of a continual clash and friction, not only with gods of other ethnic groups, but among those of various clans of the Indian society…”

Lotus young and old

U. The ancient inverted tree

68.1. It is beyond doubt that Vedas and the related ancient texts are the roots of Indian ethos, thought and philosophy. They are of high authority, greatly revered and very often invoked. But those roots are lost in the distant antiquity. The language or the clear intent of those texts is not easily understood; its gods and its rites are almost relics of the past. They no longer form active part of our day-to-day living experiences. The worship practices followed by the common Indians of the present day differ vastly from the rites prescribed in the Vedic texts. The gods worshipped by the present generations too vary greatly from the Vedic gods out of which they grew. The present-day gods are the descendents, derivatives or transformation of the Vedic gods; but they bear few marks of resemblance to their remote ancestors.

68.2, similarly, the legends of the heroes of the Vedic era are virtually unknown to us. But, it is the wonderful tales and great poems of the epics; Ramayana and Mahabharata- that today fill our hearts and minds; and ignite our imagination. They tell the stories of men and women on earth, facing the challenges of life; rather than of the gods in heaven. The epic stories are nearer to our life-experiences; and therefore are still read and listened to with wonder and delight. They have permeated into the Indian ethos. In it we try to find echoes of our joys, sufferings, frustrations, fulfilments, betrayals, sorrows and our loves. In those epic heroes we seek the images’ of a mother, a son, a teacher, a friend, a lover etc. Every mother finds in her infant son a mischievous and most endearing little-boy Krishna; and every maiden idealizes a husband gentle and faithful as Rama, pure in thought and noble in action. Sita is the ideal of womanhood pure, loving and noble. We strive to build relationships with those heroes who grew into gods. For it is only in relationships that we adore; and it is only in adoration that we learn to live with our gods: to live in friendship with ourselves and with those around us, and, to attain a sense of balance in our lives.

[Dr. Benimadhab Barua observes  on page 27 ( in his Prolegomena To A History Of Buddhist Philosophy) “Whereas in ancient religions  we find efforts towards realizing robust and manly philosophy, the  modern religions seek only to realize images of Pauranic fiction and  effeminate poetry. For instance, while Buddhism in its religious aspirations tried to realize the philosophy of the Upanishads, the later Vaishnava cults aspired to realize the devotional teachings of the Bhagavata Purana. There was a marked distinction between religious order and civic society in ancient religions, whereas in the modern these do not stand apart, but are almost blended into a single system.  Widely divergent in their development as the religions of past and present may seem, their continuity has never been broken.  For, the several lines of growth have converged to a point, only to diverge again in many directions.  This point, which is the connecting link in the chain of past and present  is the teaching of the Bhagavad-gita .”]

Today, the epic-gods are closer to us than their distant ancestors. We try to find in the trials, tribulations and exploit of those heroes and noble women a meaning to our existence, and answers to the testing problems and the dilemmas that confront us each day.

It is the epics and mythologies with their wonderful and delightful tales; and marvellous explanations that are the immediate source of our sense of values in life. They in fact provide form to the notion and substance of the modern-day popular Hinduism. But, still one cannot stop wondering at the fact that all these legends had their simple beginnings in the Vedic hymns.

68.3. The growth and development of Indian mythology and thought resembles the imagery of the inverted tree – of which our ancients were very fond – with its roots in the sky and its branches spreading down towards the earth. Its roots are ancient but its growing shoots, leaves, buds, flowers and fruits are ever green, tender and fresh. The roots of our philosophy, religion and culture are in the very distant Vedic past. Though those roots are no longer visible to us the braches and extensions of those roots in vivid forms that have come down to us are very alive; and its fruits are within our experience.

68.4. The idioms of Indian thought are thus dynamic, living and vibrant. They are linked to the spiritual urges and the changing needs, desires and aspirations of its people. The gods, faiths and the worship practices too keep evolving, changing, without parting with the essence of its fundamentals. Therefore, growth, change and adaptation are essential aspects of the Indian thought and living. It is distinguished by continuity with change; as also by its resilience and diversity. That is the genius of the Indian traditions.

The Varuna saga, albeit a painful one, has to be appreciated in that context.

To Sum up

CIS:IM.367-1923

CIS:IM.367-1923

69.1. Varuna’s great career ended rather disappointingly; but, it did leave behind a rich legacy of wonderful concepts and norms of behaviour in personal and social life (Rta) that have endured even to this day. Those laws are universal; applicable at all times and therefore eternal. The concept of Rta asserts that the order in nature is self regulated and operates by its own laws (svabhava). Ensuring the perpetuation of the order and harmony in nature is as sacred 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 that pervades and protects all life.

69.2. When that order and harmony is ruptured, the disruptive elements of disorder, chaos and falsehood (an-rta) step in, bringing in their wake ugliness, dishonesty and, decay into life. It is explained; a sin is any inharmonious action done with avarice to gain some immediate and temporary gain. Thus, injuring the harmony that exists in nature and among men is in fact a sin; and attracts punishment. The sin arises because of frailties and human weaknesses; and not because of demons. The evil in the hearts and minds of men are the real demons.

69.3. Sin is compared to unpaid debt (rna); it is a burden and an act of bad faith. The best way to cleanse the sin is to come face to face with it; own it; confess to it; and seek forgiveness with a promise not to err again. Cleansing is in the heart, mind and deed; not in the rituals. That is the Varuna’s way.

69.4. Paschatapa –‘after the burning heat’- signifies the purifying fire of repentance. The life-giving waters over which Varuna presides also signifies purity. Varuna is intimately associated with the both. Thus the Varuna-principle stands for purity in life, in all its aspects. Salutations to Varuna the icon of purity.

 

 

Continued in Part Six – Varuna Iconography

 

 

References and Sources

1. Indra and Varuna in Indian Mythology by Dr. UshChoudhuri; Nag Publishers, Delhi, 1981

2. The Indian Theogony by Dr.Sukumari Bhattarcharji, Cambridge University Press, 1970

3. Asura in early Vedic religion by WE Hale; Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, 1986

4. Goddesses in ancient India by PK Agrawala; Abhinav Publications, New Delhi,1984

5. The Hymns of Atharvan Zarathustra by JM Chatterji; the Parsi Zoroastrian Association, Calcutta, 1967; http://www.avesta.org/chatterj_opf_files/slideshow.htm.

6. Outlines of Indian Philosophy –Prof M Hiriyanna; Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 2005

7.Original Sanskrit texts on the 0rigin and history of the people of India, their region and institution By J. Muir;Trubner & co., London, 1870.

8. A classical dictionary of Hindu mythology and religion, geography, history, and literature byJohn Dowson; Turner & co, Ludgate hill. 1879.

9. Vaidika Sahitya Charitre by Dr. NS Anantharangachar; DVK Murthy, Mysore, 1968

10. Sri Brahmiya Chitra Karma sastram by Dr. G. Gnanananda

11. Zarathustra Chapters 1-6 by Ardeshir Mehta; February 1999

 http://www.indiayogi.com/content/indgods/varuna.aspx

http://www.bookrags.com/research/varua-eorl-14/

http://www.bookrags.com/wiki/Varuna

http://www.hinduweb.org/home/dharma_and_philosophy/vshirvaikar/Dnyaneshwari/Dnch10pg1.html

http://rashmun.sulekha.com/blog/post/2010/03/vedic-literature-the-degradation-of-varuna-and-indra.htm

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Varuna

http://www.indiadivine.org/audarya/vedic-verses/453851-vak-suktam-aka-devi-suktam.html

http://www.svabhinava.org/HinduCivilization/AlfredCollins/RigVedaCulture_ch07-frame.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahura_Mazda

http://www.iamronen.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/ReadingLila.pdf

 http://www.hummaa.com/player/player.php

All images are by courtesy of Internet

 
5 Comments

Posted by on October 4, 2012 in Varuna

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Varuna and his decline – Part One

Varuna

Abstract and Intro

(1) The saga of Varuna is truly amazing. Though his story started with a bang; it sadly ended in a whimper. Perhaps very few other gods– Vedic or otherwise – witnessed such vicissitudes in the turn of their fortunes.

The Varuna story covers a very large canvass – in content, space and time. The story of his pre-eminence has its roots in the pre-Vedic era; it flourishes in the early Rig Veda inspiring awe and reverence; and as it flows into other Vedas, Brahmanas and Upanishads, Varuna’s associations with the sky, the water and the order in the universe as also in the ethical conduct of men,  all these, acquire new dimensions with mystical connotations. Till then, he is the highest lord in the Vedic pantheon, the most virtuous and the most powerful all-pervading god.

Varuna, up to a point, is the nearest equivalent to the Supreme, as he is projected as the creator and sustainer of all existence; the lord of Space, the maker of Heaven and Earth. His glory spreads far and wide into the Gathas and into the Bhrigu lore. The treaties entered  by the Mitanni kings of the distant Sumerian region (in about 1500 BCE) are sworn in the name of Varuna and his peer-Vedic –gods.

However, with the parting of ways of the ancient sages Bhrigu and Angirasa, Varuna becomes exclusively the Great God of the Aryans to the west of the Sindhu River, while Indra takes over as the King of the Devas. Varuna is eclipsed in the Vedic pantheon.

(2) Commencing with the Taittiriya Samhita (4.8.3.1) which identifies Varuna mainly with night and darkness; his career takes a steep nosedive. Initially, he loses his sole kingship over the sky ; and,  then has to share his authority with another god who is younger and more energetic – Mitra.  Varuna gets  disassociated with the day sky ; which symbolizes clarity, brightness and brilliance; and , he is made the god of only the night sky. His ethical role diminishes. With that, Varuna draws nearer to night, darkness and death. Varuṇa’s dark associations bring him close to gods of negative traits such as Yama, Nirṛti, Soma, and Rudra. His character and disposition too undergo a marked change for the worse. From a benevolent and graceful god, he turns into a spiteful, malevolent and stern judge cum punisher. His physical appearance too turns ugly: he is now pictured as a fat, bald ugly looking cruel man with yellow or brownish red eyes, protruding teeth and wielding a noose. One after another, his powers and authority steadily depart from him. Varuna eventually ends up in the Puranas as a demigod in charge of local water bodies, and as the guardian of the west where the sun sinks into darkness and from where the night takes over.

(3) The story of his pre-eminence in the pre-Vedic and in the early Rig Veda era; the modifications that came about   in his profile during the later ages; his fall from elevated position; and his eventual eclipse, is truly astounding. In a manner of speaking, the course of Varuna’s career epitomizes the dynamic character of the Indian mythological lore. And, it also traces graphically the evolution, the development and the vicissitudes that came about in the corkscrew course of Indian theological history in response to the needs , changes and challenges it encountered at each stage of its unfolding over the millennia.

(4) Varuna saga should not be viewed in isolation. It is better appreciated when it is placed against the background of the scheme, process or the 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, gods whose characters, functions and achievements had been too vividly described in Rig Veda and 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 worshipped. …..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 gods that preceded them. They were also endowed with infinite potential and capacity to imbibe the traits of all the gods to come.

(5) The sequence of gods changing – growing or diminishing in significance – indicates the continual influx of new ideas and a creative conflict with the existing system of thoughts. This complex and dynamic interplay of light and shadow is a distinctive feature of the Indian pantheon.

The growth and development of Indian mythology and thought resembles the imagery of the inverted tree – of which our ancients were very fond – with its roots in the sky and its branches spreading down towards the earth. Its roots are ancient but its growing shoots, leaves, buds, flowers and fruits are ever green, tender and fresh. The roots of our philosophy, religion and culture are in the very distant Vedic past.  Though those roots are no longer visible to us the braches and extensions of those roots in vivid forms that have come down to us are very alive; and its fruits are within our experience.

The idioms of Indian thought are thus dynamic, living and vibrant. They are linked to the spiritual urges and the changing needs, desires and aspirations of its people. The gods, faiths and the worship practices too keep evolving, changing, without parting with the essence of its fundamentals. Therefore, growth, change and adaptation are essential aspects of the Indian thought and living. It is distinguished by continuity with change; as also by its resilience and diversity. That is the genius of the Indian traditions.

The Varuna saga, albeit a painful one, has to be appreciated in that context.

maze negetive

(6) Varuna of Rig Veda had a rather disappointing end; but, he did leave behind a rich legacy of wonderful concepts and norms of behavior in personal and social life (Rta) that have endured even to this day. Those laws are universal; applicable at all times and therefore eternal. 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.

When that order and harmony is ruptured, the disruptive elements of disorder, chaos and falsehood (an-rta) step in, bringing in their wake ugliness, dishonesty and, decay into life. It is explained; a sin is any inharmonious action done with avarice to gain some immediate and temporary gain. Thus, injuring the harmony that exists in nature and among men is indeed the sin; and it attracts punishment. The sin arises because of frailties and human weaknesses; and not because of demons. The evil in the hearts and minds of men are the real demons.

Sin is compared to unpaid debt (rna); it is a burden and an act of bad faith. The best way to cleanse the sin is to come face to face with it; own it; confess to it; and seek forgiveness with a promise not to err again. Cleansing is in the heart, mind and deed; not in the rituals. That is the Varuna’s way.

Paschatapa – ‘after the burning heat’ – signifies the purifying fire of repentance. The life-giving waters over which Varuna presides also signifies purity. Varuna is intimately associated with the both. Thus the Varuna-principle stands for purity in life.

white_lotus_2

(7) Let’s in the following five articles trace the journey of Varuna from the Rig Veda through the other Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads as also Mahabharata and the Puranas. Let’s also later see his connection with Ahur Mazda of the Gathas.

***

A. Varuna in the Rig Veda

The encompasser

1.1. Varuna of Rig Veda, the one who encompasses (var) the whole world, is one of the oldest Vedic deities. He belongs to the older generation of gods than Indra; and, his origins go back to the pre-Vedic era. It is said, Varuna was uncreated or unborn; he existed before the very dawn of creation and he manifested himself along with the wake of the world. That perhaps is a poetic way of suggesting that Varuna had been recognized as a sovereign ruler even before the dawn of Rig Vedic age.

1.2. He is the mightiest of the early Rig Vedic gods. He is celebrated in the Rig Veda variously as: the universal monarch; the king of all gods, the sovereign who dwells in all the realms ; the best among the Adityas the solar deities ; the lord of the sky; the god of heavenly light; the overlord who established and governed the cosmic order Rta; the guardian and upholder of righteousness – Dharma , Dharmanaam pathi; the stern but merciful judge who judges all men and punishes the wrongdoers; the healer with thousand remedies;  the omnipresent and  omniscient, possessing limitless knowledge; kavi, the seer par excellence ;  there is none wiser than he; the wielder of divine power and wisdom Maya; the controller of the destinies of mankind; one who forges the magical and speculative relationship between god and man; the lord of water element , clouds, seas and rivers Sindhu-pathi; and as the king of waters Ambu -raja.

Everything is subject to Varuna’s authority and control; nothing happens without his knowledge; and he takes everything.

1.3. No other Vedic deity is invested with such grand attributes and authority 9. Together with Mitra, Varuna more than any other god is in charge of the established order of the universe, the fixed rules of conduct – both physical and moral- ‘dhtavrata’.  Varuna inspired awe and reverence.

Lord of Ethics

2.1. The attributes and functions ascribed to Varuna impart to his character a moral elevation and sanctity far surpassing that attributed to any other Vedic deity. His extreme concern is the morality of human beings.

2.2. While the hymns addressed to other gods seek long life, wealth, and power; the prayers submitted to Varuna pray for purity of heart, forgiveness, and release from sins and for moral strength not to err again. They are replete with humble confessions of guilt and repentance. The hymns in praise of Varuna ‘the most impressive deity among all the Vedic gods’ are lofty, devout and ethical in tone. The hymns rise to a pitch of exaltation when they sing the splendour of Varuna. In these hymns Varuna, more than any other Vedic god, appears mighty and merciful. He is feared as a severe judge. He terrifies the guilty; but is most compassionate to the virtuous.

The resplendent god

3.1. Rig Veda describes Varuna’s appearance in glowing terms: as the most resplendent god of radiant- sky-blue complexion, with Agni in his face and Surya in his eye. He is far sighted (uru-chaksasa). He is the eye of all the worlds (jagath-chakshu- RV.1.25.5). He has soft and beautiful hands (supani) in which he holds lotuses and   an auspicious noose. He is splendidly adorned in golden mantel (drapi) and a shining robe. His chariot dazzles brilliantly like sunrays (ghabasti suro nadyauth – RV.1.122.15).Varuna and Mitra ride the golden chariot like floating clouds in the blue sky, drawn by well yoked steeds. (Rv.5.62.7). in the midst of vast heavens urukşhaya (RV 1.2.9) he is seated on a splendid throne placed in his  golden palace of thousand pavilions, thousand columns (RV 2.41.5) and thousand doors (RV 7.88.5).  From his glittering throne, the monarch (samrajnya) watches over the deeds of all men and gods (pastyasu)- (RV 1.22.11-12).

Verily all of you are very great

4.1. The Mandalas of Rig Veda do not attempt stacking up its gods in a graded order; but strive to discover the Great One (Mahat) that is the source of all. There are no inferiors or superiors among the Vedic gods.”There is no one among you Oh Devas..! who is an infant or a boy .Verily all of you are very great” (na hi vo astyarbhako devaa so na kumaraha, visve sato mahanta iti – RV 8.30.1).

No one god in particular was regarded as the superior deity guiding and controlling the rest. But, all gods of Rig Veda were of co-ordinate power; and no one among them was recognized as supreme God per se, even though some gods were more imposing than others. Such gods included, particularly, Indra, Agni and Varuna, the gods of the warriors, of the yajna and of the pious devotees, respectively.

4.2. You come across in the Vedas hymns where a particular deity is lauded in glowing terms and   celebrated as the highest among the gods. There is also a tendency to elevate now this god and later another to the highest pedestal and to look upon him as the greatest power. It is explained; in all such instances the high praise and tributes paid are truly addressed to the Absolute, the Supreme principle; and, not to the god in question who merely is a manifestation of That One. Thus, all gods of Rig Veda are of equal status.

The Mighty King

5.1. The equitable status accorded to all gods, as explained above, was generally in the context of the younger gods, the Devas. But, Varuna belonged to the older generation wherein he was honoured with a very special status and hailed as the greatest god, Asura Mahat. Varuna continued to occupy that elevated pedestal until his demise or until the rise of Indra. Therefore in the early hymns of the Rig Veda, Varuna occupies a special and an exalted position. He alone is hailed as the king (Raja) (RV 7.87.6), kshatra (secular power, sovereignty and kingship) and Kshatriya; the king of gods (MS 2.21); the king of the territories (raja-raastranam) (RV 7.34.11); an independent ruler (svaraja) (RV 1.28.1); the self-dependant ruler (svaraat), and samraja the universal monarch (RV 1.36.1; 8.42.1).

5.2. As the emperor, Varuna is mighty and awe-inspiring. He is Risadas the destroyer of enemies (RV 1.2.7), tuvijata and uruksaya mighty (RV 1.02.9). His might and speed are unequalled (RV 1.24.8) . He rules over both men and gods; and presides over the relationship between man and the gods. His sovereignty pervades both the physical and moral domains, where his laws are equally eternal and inviolable.”Indra protects from external foe; Varuna protects and upholds the moral order rtaRV 7.83.9”. Even a god does not dare transgress his immutable ordinances (vrataani).He restricts and fetters the wrong doers with his bonds that he has at his command.

mitraṁ huve pūtadakṣaṁ varuṇaṁ ca riśādasam |dhiyaṁ ghṛtācīṁ sādhantā || 1. 2.07

kavī no mitrāvaruṇā tuvijātā urukṣayā |1,002.09

ṛtena mitrā-varuṇā-vṛtāvṛdhāvṛtaspṛśā |kratuṁ bṛhantamāśāthe || 1. 2.08

vṛtrāṇy anyaḥ samitheṣu jighnate vratāny anyo abhi rakṣate sadā |7,083.09

5.3. He is not only the supreme kshatra, supreme Asura, the wise king, the best of the Adityas but he is also the abode of life (visvayu). The term Asura (one who controls asu = breath or life) meaning the Lord of Life is particularly applied to Varuna (RV 2.8.27).  Prayers are submitted to him to grant an enjoyable  life-span of hundred Shrad-ritus, better than the life lived by their forefathers – śataṃ no rāsva śarado vicakṣe, acyāmāyūṃṣi sudhitāni pūrvā (2.27.10).|He is celebrated as the all knowing Asura (asuro visvavedaha –RV 8.42.1), and as the wise and attentive king (asurah prachetah –RV 1.124.14). In some passages the scope of the term is extended by adding the title ‘the king’ (RV 1.24.14; 10.132.4) or even stronger ‘the universal king ‘(RV 8.42.1). His dominant position is explained by stating Varuna is the Asura and the king of all gods (RV 2.27.10).  “I am king Varuna; these powers (Asurya) were first given to me”- (ahaṃ rājā varuṇo mahyaṃ tāny asuryāṇi prathamā dhārayantaRV 4.42.2). Mitra and Varuna are described as the two noble (Arya) Asuras (or lords) of the Devas – Devanaam asurah – (tā hi devānām asurā tāv aryā tā naḥ kṣitīḥ karatam ūrjayantīḥRV 7.65.2)

tvaṁ viśveṣāṁ varuṇāsi rājā ye ca devā asura ye ca martāḥ | śataṁ no rāsva śarado vicakṣe’śyāmāyūṁṣi sudhitāni pūrvā || 2.27.10 ||

5.4. In the Rig Veda, the totality of godly powers is called asuratvam; and it is called Mahat the great one. Varuna is Asura- mahat (Mahat devaanaam asuratvam ekam – RV 3.55.1-2). He is also regarded as the sovereign who created the Universe: The All-Wise Varuna – asuro visvavedaha-Rig Veda 8.42.1”. He also put in place the cosmic order and governed the physical as also the moral aspects of existence. He is also the punisher and a fearsome destroyer.

5.5. Thus, Varuna of Rig Veda, heralded as the most exalted god (though only for a brief period) is endowed with these powers and authority. And, with his omniscience and omnipotence he is the nearest approximation to the structure of a Supreme Being, the Almighty God – the creator, preserver and destroyer. But, the text stops short of declaring him or any other deity as the Supreme God. The powers and virtues attributed to Varuna were later crystallized and appropriated among the Trinity of the mythologies which came up later.

Epithets

6.1. Rig Veda celebrates the glory of Varuna in myriad ways ; and describes him as : the Great One (Mahat); the vast (brahat); the mighty (bhuri);the immense (prabhuti);  the abode of life (visvayu); the knower (vidvas); the wise (medha);the intelligent (dhira); the discriminating (pracetas); the clever (grtsa); the adept , dexterous (sukratu); the inspired (vipra); the seer (kavi); the great-poet (kavitara); the greatest of poets (kavitama).

Amarakosa has five synonyms for Varuna :  (1.1.142) pracetā varuṇaḥ pāśī yādasāṃpatir-appatiḥ

Besides these, Varuna has other sets of titles as being the lord of waters, the lord of Rta;   and as the king and judge. We shall see more of those in the next sections.  He has too many epithets. I admit, it is rather confusing.

Asura

[Before going further, a short explanation of the term Asura in the early Rig Veda:

7.1. The term Asura was used in the Rig Veda to indicate the powerful or the mighty one. Its application was more as an adjective than as a noun. This term was applied not only to gods but also to other powerful individuals. In the early Books of Rig Veda, Asura as a designation appears only in the singular or in dual form (as in Mitra-Varuna). Asura in that context did not refer to a cult or to a group or  to a class of gods, just in the manner it referred to group of Devas , as  in the case of visve devah. In other words, Asura was a title of highest lordship or honor assigned to certain gods who were regarded mighty, powerful and worship- worthy. These gods in general were also addressed as Devas. The older deities celebrated as Devas were often addressed as Asura, just to emphasize their power and might.

For instance; in Rig Veda, Indra the king of Devas is addressed in about sixteen hymns as Asura, possessing Asurya or Asuratya. His deeds are described as Asurani– the powerful, as those of Asuras . Similarly, the three other mighty deities of Rig Veda: Agni, Varuna and Mitra (in company of Varuna) are called Asura. Rudra is described in accusative form as devam asuram (RV. 42.11), the Asura possessing Asurya or bestowing it. Dayus the ancient sky-god too was called Asura. Some other Vedic deities too were at times called Asura, as in the case of : Savitar, Surya, Vayu, Maruts, the Adityas and Apam Napat. Ushas the goddess of dawn was said to possess Asuratva.

7.2. There are no cases in Rig Veda where a god is called Asura in respectful sense in one instance and then called an Asura in the demonic sense in another instance. Hence the change that came about was truly in the usage of the term and the meaning assigned to it at different times; and, it did not signify a change in the nature or the character of the god to whom the term was applied.

As said earlier, Asura meant highest lordship. Dayus the old sky-god was the earliest Asura. But, since Dayus , more and more , came to mean the physical sky and not the Great God, the epithet then was applied to Varuna the new sky-god; and later to Indra and other gods. But, the term Asura was applied particularly to Varuna to signify his supreme lordship over men and gods (viśveṣāṃ varuṇāsi rājā ye ca devā asura ye ca martāḥRV 2. 27.10). Aditi, the mother of gods, it is said, produced Mitra and Varuna for Asurya – Might or mightiness.  “This Asura rules over the gods”: mahad devānām asuratvam ekam – RV_3,055.01 to 22

[Sage Kapila , said to be the founder of the Samkhya system of Philosophy, is often addressed as Asura. And, his son or disciple is Asuri , another great Samkhya philosopher.]

No other Vedic god is described in this manner (anyad-anyad asuryaṃ vasānā ni māyino mamire rūpam asminRV_3,038.07 ) . It is explained; the Asurya and the dignity connected with being Asura in the case of Varuna is his original characteristic. That suggests; Varuna was a sovereign ruler even at the dawn of Rig Vedic age. However, in the case of Indra, it is said, his Asurya   was inherited from Varuna; it was not Indra’s own. When Indra is called Asura or invested with Asurya , it is done merely because Indra happened to succeed Varuna as the king of gods.

7.3. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (3.1), Mahabharata (shanthi parva: 33.25) and Amarakosha all describe Asuras , the sons of Diti, as the elder brothers or the older gods, while the Devas are the younger ones.

7.4. The sea-change that came about in the meaning assigned to the term Asura can also be explained in the context of the religious history of the Vedic people.

When the Aryan community was undivided, the terms Asura and Deva both denoted gods of high respect. The gods were referred to Asura as also Deva. But at a certain phase of their history, the Vedic people became divided along the lines of affiliation to two great and ancient sages Apam Napat and Angirasa. These sages belonged to the pre –Vedic period. The parting of their ways came about mainly because of the stand each took on issues such as: monotheism; worship of God through formless medium; use of icons in worship; and above all, on the question of the status to be accorded to the old god Varuna.

The Bhrigu clan who generally were to the west of the mighty Sindhu River continued: to regard Varuna as the Greatest and the only God – Asura Mahat; to favor worship through the formless medium of fire and honor the principle of Rta the moral order governed by Varuna as the highest good of all .

The Angirasas who were the preceptors of the dominant Aryans on the east of the Sindhu, on the other hand, elevated the more energetic and vibrant younger gods the Devas (Indra and others) to exalted positions and treated all Devas as equally great .These Devas were personified and described as having forms. Besides, the Angirasas relegated the passive old gods such as Varuna to very low positions in the Vedic pantheon, and also soft peddled Rta principle the moral order governed  by Varuna.

( We shall talk a bit more on these issues in the last part of this article.)

7.5. The parting of their ways was hardly a sweet-sorrow; it was laced with rancor and hate. The Bhrigu and the Angirasa clans each ascribed its own chosen words of abuse to the terms Asura or Deva, depending on to which side of the Sindhu they belonged. In the later Vedic texts Asuras came to mean demons.

Towards the later books of the Rig Veda (6, 7, 8 and 10) the term Asura underwent extraordinary semantic change. It not only became a noun from an adjective; but also acquired a totally different meaning of demon or demonic. And in the sixth Book of Rig Veda (RV 6.022.09), Indra for the first time came to known as janasya divyasya rājā, the king of gods. And the idea, of course, became more popular and crystallized later in the Puranas.

In the Brahmanas of Krishna Yajur Veda , the term Asura was used in the sense of anti-god. It then was usually expressed in plural to suggest a group of beings opposed to gods. And, when it was used in singular (in the same sense) it was expressed as aasura. In the Shatapatha Brahmana the terms Asura and Rakshasa came close to each other.]

The Varuna – hymns

8.1. Varuna is indeed one of the mighty gods of Rig-Veda, though he is celebrated exclusively in just about ten hymns (RV 1.24. 25; 2.28; 5.85; 7.86 to 89 and 8.41 to 42).Besides, he is praised along with Mitra (Maitra –varuna) in twenty-three hymns; and with Indra (Indra-Varuna) in nine hymns. These numbers are rather small as compared to the numbers of hymns addressed to Indra and Agni, which are about six-fold greater. For instance, in Book Three  no hymn is addressed to Varuna while twenty-two are devoted to Indra. Similarly, in Book eleven there is only one hymn to Varuna while twenty-three are addressed to Varuna. For some reason, Varuna is less frequently mentioned in the last book than in the earlier books of Rig Veda.

That does not in any manner diminish the importance, might, glory and power of Varuna as depicted in Rig Veda.

8.2. If Varuna is so great and important why is it that only a handful of hymns are dedicated to him in the Samhitas?

That might be because of the dark traits associated with him. Varuna was not wholly benevolent like Indra in the early Rig-Veda. Varuna is rather an ambivalent character – now favourable; and now unfavourable. He was a judgmental god who inspired awe and fear. Yet, Varuna was essentially a god of placid nature. And the Vedic poets were decidedly in favor of uncompromisingly good gods who protected people from enemies, diseases and draught. That process perhaps eventually led to Indra replacing the old god Varuna and taking charge as the chief of the Devas.

8.3. The Varuna – hymns are remarkably varied in their content and scope. They portray range of Varuna’s attributes; but, they project, mainly, four of his functions: as the universal monarch and lord of the sky; as the upholder of the cosmic order Rta; as related to water element (apah); and, as omniscient deity with unique magical knowledge (Maya)   who oversees men’s’ actions.

We shall discuss each of his main attributes and functions in the next part of in this article.

Continued in Part Two

img_lotus

References and Sources

1. Indra and Varuna in Indian Mythology by Dr. Usha Choudhuri; Nag Publishers, Delhi, 1981

2. The Indian Theogony by Dr.Sukumari Bhattarcharji, Cambridge University Press, 1970

3. Asura in early Vedic religion by WE Hale; Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, 1986

4. Goddesses in ancient India by PK Agrawala,; Abhinav Publications, New Delhi,1984

5. The Hymns of Atharvan Zarathustra by JM Chatterji; the Parsi Zoroastrian Association, Calcutta, 1967; http://www.avesta.org/chatterj_opf_files/slideshow.htm.

6. Outlines of Indian Philosophy –Prof M Hiriyanna; Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 2005

7.Original Sanskrit texts on the 0rigin and history of the people of India, their region and institution By J. Muir;Trubner & co., London, 1870.

8. A classical dictionary of Hindu mythology and religion, geography, history, and literature byJohn Dowson; Turner & co, Ludgate hill. 1879.

9. Vaidika Sahitya Charitre by Dr. NS Anantharangachar; DVK Murthy, Mysore, 1968

10. Sri Brahmiya Chitra Karma sastram by Dr. G. Gnanananda

11. Zarathustra Chapters 1-6 by Ardeshir Mehta; February 1999

 http://www.indiayogi.com/content/indgods/varuna.aspx

http://www.bookrags.com/research/varua-eorl-14/

http://www.bookrags.com/wiki/Varuna

http://www.hinduweb.org/home/dharma_and_philosophy/vshirvaikar/Dnyaneshwari/Dnch10pg1.html

http://rashmun.sulekha.com/blog/post/2010/03/vedic-literature-the-degradation-of-varuna-and-indra.htm

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Varuna

http://www.indiadivine.org/audarya/vedic-verses/453851-vak-suktam-aka-devi-suktam.html

http://www.svabhinava.org/HinduCivilization/AlfredCollins/RigVedaCulture_ch07-frame.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahura_Mazda

http://www.iamronen.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/ReadingLila.pdf

https://sanskritdocuments.org/mirrors/rigveda/roman03/RV0301.htm

https://sanskritdocuments.org/mirrors/rigveda/roman03/RV0302.htm

 

All images are by courtesy of Internet

 
17 Comments

Posted by on October 4, 2012 in Varuna

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,