Before we discuss the important deities of the Vedic people, it is important to understand that Aryans were solely theists and their contemplation about life and the world was from the spiritual standpoint. The Vedic Aryans believed in the concept of one in many evident from the quote “Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti“, which means that which exists is ONE sages call it by various names.
Worship of Nature
Rig-Vedic Aryans worshipped the forces of nature, but at the same time believed in the basic unity of nature. They worshipped many gods not in fear of nature but to gain nature’s favour. All the natural phenomena such as the sky, thunder, rain, air were believed to be guided by their presiding deities, while natural devastations were taken to be an expression of their wrath. The hymns of the Rig-Veda were mainly sung for the glorification of the gods in order to appease them. God was regarded as the ruler, ordainer of the period of life, protector of men and giver of happiness.
There were no places of worship like temples or objects of worship like Idols. Natural phenomena were conceived as the expression of some spiritual different appearances of various gods. For the different appearances of the sky different deities were imagined, such as Varuna, Indra, Mitra, Dyus. Most of these natural events were personified and it was the birth of first mythology in the world.
Dyus-Pitr, Mithra, Varuna
The Aryans looked up to the bright sky and worshipped it under the name of Dyu or Dyaus. This term is equivalent to the Greek Zeus and the first syllable of the Jupiter. It is also similar to Tiu of the Saxons and the Zio of the Germans.
These common names under which the sky-god was worshipped by the different cultures of ancient times prove that the sky was worshipped under these names by the primitive Aryans in their original home.
So, earliest divine power in Vedic literature is Dyaus. Dyaus was referred as Dyaus Pitr, which later became Ju-piter. Pitr means Prithvi and Dyaus was coupled with prithivi and the two Dyaus-Prithivi are the universal parents.
Rig-Vedic Aryans called the sky of day as Mithra corresponding to the Zend Mithra; and they called the sky of night Varuna, corresponding to the Greek Ouranos.
Varuna, apart from being the god of the sky, is also the god of law of nature Rta. Varuna is also lord of the Patal Loka (nether world). He is one of the most prominent gods in the Rig-Veda, and lord of the heavens and the earth.
Indra and Marut
While the Hindu Aryans of the Punjab continued to worship the ancient sky-god under the ancient names of Dyu, Mitra, and Varuna, they paid special homage to the sky that rains, which they called Indra. Rise of rivers and the luxuriance of crops depend on the rain-giving sky; and in course of time, Indra became the most prominent deity in the Vedic society.
Indra was conceived as a warlike deity, battling with the clouds, called Vritra, to obtain copious torrents of rain for man, and fighting with the demons of darkness, called Panis, to restore to the world the light of the morning. The Maruts or storm-gods were supposed to help Indra in his contest with the reluctant clouds, for in India the first showers of the rainy season are often attended with storms and thunder.
Thus, Indra was the most important divinity and was lord of war. 250 hymns have been devoted to only Indra in Rig Veda, which is highest for any of the Gods. His other names are:
- Car-warrior (Rathestha)
- A winner ( Jitendra)
- Soma Drinker (Somapa).
Indra is mentioned as son of Dyaus. He killed a demon Vritra, so he is known as Vritrahan. He destroyed the forts of Dasyus, so also known as Purandhar. He held the thunderbolt (Vajra) with which he destroyed the enemies. His wife is Indrani or Sachi (energy).
Aditi, Sun, Savithri
Next to the sky, the sun was the most prominent object of the worship of the ancient Hindus. Aditi was the limitless light of sky, and her sons, the Adityas were the suns of the different months of the year. Surya was coterminous with Greek Helios, the Latin Sol, and the Teuton Tyr.
Savitri is another name of the same deity Sun, and the sacred hymn, the Gayathri Mantra, which is still repeated every morning by pious Hinuds all over world; is a verse dedicated to Savithri. Please note that Vishnu, which in later Hindu mythology has become a name of the Supreme Preserver of all beings, was a name of the sun in the Vedic age. The rising sun, the sun at Zenith, and the setting sun were considered the three steps of Vishnu striding across limitless space.
Fire or Agni was an object of worship. No sacrifice to the gods could be performed without libations or offerings to the fire, and Agni was therefore considered to be the priest among the gods. But Agni is not only the terrestrial fire in the Rig Veda; he is also the fire of the lightning and the sun, and his abode was in heaven. The early sage Bhrigus discovered him there, and Atharvavan and Angiras, the first sacrificers, installed him in this world, as the protector of men.
Thus, Agni is the God of fire and acceptor of sacrifices. He was considered an intermediary between Gods and men. 200 hymns have been devoted to only Agni in Rig Veda while Agni is mentioned in 218 hymns.
Vayu and Rudra
Vayu or the wind is sometimes invoked in the Rig Veda. The Maruts or storm-gods are oftene invoked, as we have seen before, and are considered the helpers of Indra in obtaining rain for the benefit of man. Rudra, the loud-sounding father of the Maruts, is the Thunder, and in later Hindu mythology, this name has been appropriately chosen for the Supreme Destroyer of all living beings.
Soma & Brihaspati
Agni, or fire, received special homage because he was necessary for all sacrifice. The libation of soma juice was similarly regarded sacred, and Soma was worshipped as a deity. Similarly, the prayer, which accompanied the libations or offerings, was also regarded as a deity, and was called Brahamanaspati. In later Hindu mythology, Brahman is selected as the name of the Supreme Creator of all living beings.
Soma was prepared by extracting juice from the stalks of a certain plant, and the Soma God was god of the plants. 123 hymns are dedicated to Soma and most of them are from Soma Mandala.
Agni Soma Cult
Aprt from lightning the Holy Fire, the Soma-drinking was another mark of the Arya cult, which may therefore be called ‘the Agni-Soma cult-‘ Soma is a product of the Himalayan regions, so that when the cult moved down to the plains, Kirata (huntress) girls from the Himalayan hills supplied it to Brahmanas. The use of Soma, like the worship of Agni indicates the Himalayan region as the place where the Agni-Soma cult first originated.
Soma & Haoma
The fermented juice of the plant called Soma appears to have been the only intoxicating drink used in Vedic times. So much were the ancient Aryans addicted to this drink, that Soma was soon worshipped as a deity both in India and in Iran (under the name Haoma in the latter country), and we find one entire Mandala, or Book, of the Rig-Veda, dedicated to this deity.
They are various Vedic gods taken together as a whole headed by Indra. 70 hymns are dedicated to Visvedevas in Rig-Veda.
Ashwins or Ashwinikumars
Light and Darkness naturally suggested to the early Aryans the idea of twin gods. The sky (Vivasvat) is the father, and the Dawn (Saranyu) is the mother of the twin Ashwins and the legend goes on to say that Saranyu ran away from Vivasvat before she gave birth to the twins. There is a similar legend in Greek mythology, where and Erinnys (corresponding to Saranyu) ran away from her lover, and gave birth to Areion and Despoina. The original idea is that the Dawn and Gloaming disappears, and gives birth to Light and to Darkness.
Please note that later, Aswins lost thier original charecter and simply became the physician gods, responsible for healing of the sick and the wounded, tending mortals with kindness. There are other twins Yama and Yami, who are kids of same parents – the Dawn and Sky. They also acquired different chareters in Rig Veda.
Yama & Yami
Yama is considered to have been the first mortal who died and espied the way to the celestial abodes, and in virtue of precedence, he became the ruler of the departed. He is the guardian of the world of Dead. His twin sister is Yami and both Yama and Yami are Children of Surya. Yamini means Night and Yami is also known as Yamuna.
Usha has been described as far – extending, many – tinted, brilliant Dawn, whose abode is unknown. She harnesses her chariots from afar and comes in radiance and glory. She is the young, the white-robed daughter of the sky, and the queen of all earthly treasures. She is like the careful mistress of the house who rouses everyone from his slumbers and sends him to his work. Yet she is radiant as a bride decorated by her mother for the auspicious ceremony, and displaying her charms to the view.
Such are the fond epithets and beautiful similes with which the Hindu Aryans greeted the fresh and lovely mornings of a tropical sky.
Other Rig Vedic Gods
- Pusan: The guardian of the Jungle Paths and Roads.
- Aditi – Goddess of Eternity
- Gandhrava – Divine Musicians
- Rbhus – three semi divine deities of Rig-Veda.
- Rudra – Archer of Gods
- Aranyanai – Goddess of Forests
- Usha – Goddess of Dawn
- Prithvi – Goddess Earth
Apsaras are dancers of the celestial courts, however, Rig Veda mentions Apsara as the wife of Gandharva. Rig Veda allows for the existence of more than one Apsara. The maiden Apsara is Urvashi who became the wife of king Pururavas, first king of the Somavamsha. Narrative of Urvashi and Pururavas is found in the Rigveda (X.95.1-18) and the Shatapatha Brahmana (XI.5.1)
Comparison of the Greek Dieties and Ancient Hindu Dieties
There was an essential difference between the Hindu gods of the Vedic age and the Greek gods of the Homeric age. The first thing we should note that the Sanskrit language is nearer and closer than the Greek to the original Aryan tongue, yet Hindu conceptions go nearer to the original Nature-worship of the primitive Aryans. The Gods of Homeric Greeks have attained a marked individuality and the characters are so individualistic that “nature” almost escapes. But the Hindu Gods are still the powers of Nature and show manifestations of Nature. For example, we can identify Indra with Rains easily but can not identify Zeus with Sky. Therefore, we can say that Hindu conceptions are more true to their original sources.