The Vedic Religion
These are the Devas (Divinities) mentioned in the four Vedas. The principal Vedic Gods are 33 in number i.e. These are the Devas (Divinities) mentioned in the four Vedas. The principal Vedic Gods are 33 in number i.e. 8 Vasus, 11 Rudras, 12 Adityas, Indra and Prajapati Brahma. These Gods belong to the three regions of Earth (Prithvi), Heaven (Dhyaasa) and the intermediate space (Antariksha).
Indra – Indra is the most powerful of Vedic deities. He is the God of the blue skies. He rides a white elephant called Airavat and wields a weapon made of lightning called Vajrayuddha. The weapon is made for him by another God. It is with this weapon that he killed the demon of the dark skies (clouds) Vratasura. Indra has spiritual as well as earthly facets. He drinks somarasa, loses self-control, is sensuous and at times scheming. At times, he is more like a mortal than a God, but his spiritual side is seen in the Kena Upanishad where he is the only God to have gone nearest to Brahma. This act earned him the right to be the ruler of the Heavens. In Chandogya Upanishad, he studied under Prajapati Brahma and learned the secret of immortality.
Varuna – In him we find the earliest signs of a omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and compassionate God, the precursor of Upanishadic Brahma. Varuna is the holy one, the law maker, who with his spies (rays of light) knows everything right from the paths of the birds in the sky to the twelve moons and their progeny. Born to Aditi and friend and brother of Mitra, he controls the world order and punishes transgressors. He causes rains and permits the travel of the Sun in the sky. Varuna loses his importance in the post-Vedic period and is relegated to a position of Dikpala (ruler of a quarter), the Lord of the Western hemisphere, the oceans and water. He is depicted in iconography as riding a chariot drawn by seven swans or a crocodile suggestive of his Lordship over aquatic life.
Agni – He has been appointed by Manu as a priest. He is often invoked with Indra, with whom he shares a passion for Somarasa. He is the Minister of Sacrifice, the one who lavishes wealth and dispels darkness. No sacrifice is complete without his presence. Agni was the earliest Angirasa (rishi). The Vedic Aryans were aware of his destructive ability as he set forests ablaze. He was brought down from the heavens and handed over to the Bhrigu rishis for safe-keeping. He is depicted as having two heads, long flowing hair, seven hands and three legs. His seven hands represent the seven flames and the three legs the three worlds which he lords over. His consorts are Swaha and Swadha. His banner is a Dhoomaketu (comet). The Ram is his vehicle and denotes his association with sacrificial rituals.
Rudra – The Rudra is a militant God of storms and lightning and a provider of medicines. He is considered important because of his tenacious nature and association with storms and storm Gods called Maruts as well as his ability to bring medicines to people and prolong their lives. When he gets angry, he wields the thunderbolt and sends down streaks of lightning, shaking the worlds. In this state he is said to have taken on the Rudravatar. The Swetavatara Upanishad refers to not one but a group of Rudras (11 in number), being a symbolic reference to the ten vital breaths, the 11th being the mind.
Mitra – Mitra and Varuna are both Lords of the Heaven. Together they uphold the law. Both are Adityas and are responsible for the Reet (moral order). The Vedas says that Mitra stirs men into action and sustains both Earth and Heaven. In course of time, Mitra came to be associated with the morning light 9his gold hued chariot can be seen at day break) and Varuna with the night skies.
Vayu – He is descrbed in the Rigveda as a beautiful God and the first partaker of the Somarasa. He is a friend of Indra, thousand eyed and swift minded. He controls thought. In the post-Vedic period, Vayu became the Lord of the North-Western quarter and the father of Hanuman, symbol of immense strength, loyalty and brotherhood. He is blue in colour, has 4 hands, hold a fan and a flag in two while the other two are in Abhaya and Varada mudras.
Surya – He is an Aditya who rides the Heavens in his golden chariots drawn by seven bay horses (daughters of the Heaven). He is a provider of good health, maker of light and destroyer of laziness and darkness.
Vishnu – The Vishnu of Vedic times is a minor God, is one of the Adityas but with some of the qualities of the later Vishnu (major God) of Bhagwatism. The Rigvedic Vishnu is a God of three strides upholding a threefold existence – the Earth, the Heavens and with all living creatures. Rigveda says that a mortal man can only uphold two steps while an Aditya can take the third which Vishnu does and with his spouse ordains laws which are upheld in all three worlds.
Savitar – He is an important Aditya who is the main solar deity described in the Vedas as more important than the Sun. He also has powers of the Sun before the real Sun rises and even during dark nights. He arrives from far away and chases away all distress, sorrow, rakshasas and the Yatudhanas and illuminates the world. His statutes are not disobeyed by anyone including Gods like Varuna, Indra, Mitra, Aryamana or Rudras. The Gayatri Mantra is addressed to Savitar. He also causes enlightenment of human consciousness.
Pusan – He is a pastoral God, Lord of Paths, protector of people from wild animals. He also guides animals to rich pastures. Usha – She is the Dawn, daughter of the Sky, who rouses all life. Borne on a chariot, she yokes her steed before the arrival of the Sun who is most eager to catch her but never can. She is also the sister of the Ashwins.
Soma – He is the God of Inspiration, the intoxicant who stirs the mind and lures the Gods. He is one of the most popular Gods of the Rigvedic times. The entire ninth Mandala is dedicated to him. He is also known as Indu or Somapavamana. He gives strength to Gods and mortals and it was with this strength that Indra was able to slay Vrata. This strength also helps Agni maintain his sway. He is also known as the Lord of Speech (Vachaspati) because of his influence on speech. On the physical plane, Soma is a juice (nectar) created for the Gods. There are verses connected to the preparation and concern of the purity of Somarasa.
Yama – He is the God of justice and the controller who decides who goes to hell. He has two fierce dogs (Sarama’s offspring) who look at the men and guard the pathways. He is aided in this by Chitragupta. He rules the Southern quarter, wears red garments, carries a mace and rides a male buffalo which he uses to drag the dead to hell if they so deserve. The Rigveda calls him Vivasan’s son and he is said to have taught Nachiket the secrets of Brahma, fire sacrifice and immortality.
Ashwins – They are twin deities whose origins cannot be traced and are shrouded in myth, mystery and symbolism. They descend to the earth thrice a day to help mankind with their restorative and curative powers. They are considered to be the brothers of Usha, the Goddess of Dawn and actually represent twilight when darkness and light appear entwined on the horizon just before dawn and dusk.
Maruts – They are destructive and powerful storm Gods. They are the progeny of Rudra. They are destructive forces of Heaven, ferocious but not wicked. When they inundate the earth, they spread forth darkness during the day with rain clouds and roar giving strength to their worshippers to vanquish foes. They are divine beings but noisy though they have their own worshippers.
Vishwadevas – It means the Lords of the Universe. They are none but the popular Gods of the Vedas. Bhaga, Daksha, Mitra, Aditi, Aryaman, Varuna, Soma, the Ashwins, Saraswati, Vayu, Prithvi, Pusan, Indra, Tarakshya, Maruts, Agni, Reet and Dikpala. By addressing various Gods collectively, the hymns are the seeds of monotheism. The Vedas acknowledge the unity of these Gods and their interrelationships. Though each of the Gods has specific qualities and responsibilities, the Vedas do not miss the larger picture and their underlying connection in the order of things – Reet. The concept of Vishwadevas changed in the post-Vedic period with the emergence of the Puranas and their rich lore of mythology.
Eight Vasus – Dhara (earth), Anala (fire), Apa (water),Aneela (wind), Dhruva (pole star), Soma (moon), Prabhas (light) are the eight Vasus that are described as the eight attendants of Indra. In course of time, Dhruva became a symbol of austerity and steadfastness. The earth became the Mother deity, Soma came to be associated with Somarasa and its significance in Vedic rituals.
Twelve Adityas – They are upholders of the law and the twelve spokes of the Wheel of Time, these are the Gods of light – pure, bright, free from guile and falsehood. Originally six in the Rigveda, their number increased to 12 in the later Vedic period. The twelve Adityas are Mitra, Varuna, Aryamana, Daksha, Bhaga, Amsa, Tvatsar, Savitar, Pusan, Sakra, Vivasvat and Vishnu. As per the Vedas, never do they slumber or close their eyelids and they are ruling and upholding the righteous Reeta for the mortals for that which moves and that which moves not.
Vashishta – He is not a God but a sage like priest and head of a clan of Brahmin prisets. He is eventually given God-like status. Bron to Urvashi and Varunamitra, he is described as a fallen drop whom the Gods laid on a lotus blossom. He is also depicted in the later Vedic period as a leader of the Bharatas.
Brihaspati – Also known as Brahmanaspati. He is Indra’s friend and gives wisdom to all. He is also a law maker and a teacher to whom both Gods and mortals listen to. He is invoked at the beginning of all rituals. He is also known as Ganapatibrahmanaspati and is considered to be the precursor of post-Vedic Ganapati.
Bhaga – He is the son of Aditya and Aditi and God of bright light. He is a giver, supporter and discoverer of bliss. Rich and poor both pray to him for abundance and happiness. He is remembers today through his name as Bhagwana.
Reet – It is the orderly way in which the Universe works and regulates itself. The order prevails because of the strength and will of the Gods, especially Aditya, Indra and Agni. In course of time, Ret became Dharma and Gods the upholders of the same.
Rabhus – They are wise and skilled craftsmen and the sons of Sudhavan. They were associated with the arts of chariot-making and Fire. The hymns mentioning Rabhus mention Vibhavan, Vaja and Rabhu and how they were promoted to the ranks of Gods for their skills and cunning.
Kapinjala – He is mentioned in the Samaveda as a bird who brings good luck and protection from birds of prey like the falcon and eagle and from the arrows of your enemies. He is a bird of Heaven who resides there and descends upon Earth to sing with his sweet flute-like voice and is considered to be singing the Samaveda.
Dahikravan – He is a mighty stallion given to Puru by the Gods. He is like a brave King, giver of gifts, swift of foot and shines bright. Some verses in the Rigveda are dedicated entirely to him.
Rati – The Rigveda has a verse addressed to sage Agastya by his wife Lopamudra as an invocation to Ratidevi, the Goddess of Love to come to the aid of ageing couples and rekindle love in their bodies.
Manyu – The Rigveda calls him a war God, a wielder of thunder and a slayer of foes. In the later period in the Puranas, he morphed into the character of Abhimanyu.
Purusha – Purushasukta speaks of Universal Purush but this is the second or modified Purushasukta. The main Purusha was born viraja (without soul) and from him was bro the second Purasha (Hiranyagarbha). As soon as he was born, he was sacrificed by the Gods and from this great sacrifice came everything, i.e. the Samaveda, the Yajus, the Sun, the Moon, the four castes, Indra, Agni, Vayu, Prithvi and the Sky. The Purushasukta does not state which God sacrificed Hiranyagarbha. The original Purushasukta refers to the origins of these Gods and the creation of Heaven and Earth and various being and elements but not the origin of the caste and caste system.
Prajanya – He is the Rain and Sky God. He is also an upholder of the law and at times takes over the role of Indra. In the Vedas, Prajanya is the name for the sky.
Saraswati – She is the River Goddess in the Rigveda and slays Parvatas (mountains) and is the giver of opulence and strength. She provides water for the five tribes. She has seven sisters. In the post-Vedic period, she becomes a Goddess of learning and a consort of Brahma, but in the Rigveda she has no association with either.
From vedic Gods to current
As non-Vedic influences like Jains, Ajivaks, Shaivaites, Sankhyas, Vaishikas, Vaishnavas, Virshnis and Bhagwatism gained importance, the Vedic scholars accepted popular Gods like Vishnu, Shiva and Shakti and popular Rigvedic Gods like Varuna, Brahma and Indra were relegated to the background. The Puranas and the social and political developments of the time had a big role to play in this.