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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

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2012 in Varuna

 

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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

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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

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2012 in Varuna

 

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