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.]
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. 18.104.22.168).
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.
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.
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 ascendancy 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.22.214.171.124)
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 . 126.96.36.199). 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.
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 188.8.131.52 says, since he kindled (indh ), he is the kindler (indha ). But, cryptically, he is called Indra
sa yo yam madhye prāṇaḥ | eṣa evendrastāneṣa prāṇānmaindra ityācakṣate paro
‘kṣam paro ‘kṣakāmā hi devāsta iddhāḥ sapta nānā puruṣānasṛjanta – 6.1.1.
Besides the etymology of Indra, as above (from indh), the Taittiriya Bråhmana (184.108.40.206) 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 220.127.116.11
so’rcañcrāmyaṃścacāra prajākāmaḥ sa ātmanyeva prajātimadhatta sa āsyenaiva
devānasṛjata te devā divamabhipadyāsṛjyanta taddevānāṃ devatvaṃ
yaddivamabhipadyāsṛjyanta tasmai sasṛjānāya divevāsa tadveva devānāṃ devatvaṃ
yadasmai sasṛjānāya divevāsa – 1.1.6. ]
[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 advisers 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
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.
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 symbolism ; 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 drought and sometimes before setting on voyages for steering the safe course of the ships.
Thus, the ambivalent character of Varuna-now favorable and now un-favorable; 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 super session 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 worshiped. …..In this period of transition, popular sectarian gods were gradually replacing the older Vedic gods. This new approach to the gods redefined the status, character and attributes of the older gods.
This was also a process of absorption of several gods into One; and, it culminated in the emergence of the triad, of which the two: Vishnu and Shiva inherited all the rich, 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…”
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 descendants, 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, fulfillment, 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.
He said; the two great Epics of India, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, are not merely the sagas of heroes or a mythology but a day to day reality for Indians. The thoughts and ideas embodied herein have greatly influenced the thinking of the common man of India. They are, as Sri Aurobindo says, “…a highly artistic representation of intimate“.
As regards Ramayana, Sri Aurobindo said that it has played a vital role in building a strong foundation for the Indian culture. “The work of Valmiki has been an agent of almost incalculable power in the molding of the cultural mind of India: it has presented to it to be loved and imitated in figures like Rama and Sita, made so divinely and with such a revelation of reality as to become objects of enduring cult and worship, or like Hanuman, Lakshmana, Bharata the living human image of its ethical ideals; it has fashioned much of what is best and sweetest in the national character, and it has evoked and fixed in it those finer and exquisite yet firm soul-tones and that more delicate humanity of temperament which are a more valuable thing than the formal outsides of virtue and conduct.”
Ramayana is not just an epic written for the sake of the entertainment of the intellect but it is a revelation propelled by the supreme afflatus of the divine urge. Its penetrating attractiveness causes profound elation and high-spiritedness in each and every sensible heart. It makes us realize the mystically luminous and resplendent history of India encompassing the true cultural processes. The whole of the Ramayana is molded for a greater societal transformation from an unreal materialism to enduring spiritualism. It is truly the heart and soul of India.]
[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 marvelous 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 branches 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
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
All images are by courtesy of Internet