Vedic Gods


Agni with characteristic symbol of the ram, wood carving; in the Guimet Museum, Paris

Giraudon/Art Resource, New York

(Sanskrit: “Fire”), fire-god of the Hindus, second only to Indra in the Vedic mythology of ancient India. He is equally the fire of the sun, of lightning, and of the hearth that men light for purposes of worship. As the divine personification of the fire of sacrifice, he is the mouth of the gods, the carrier of the oblation, and the messenger between the human and the divine orders. …

Major deities > Mithra Beside Ahura Mazda, Mithra is the most important deity of the ancient Iranian pantheon and may have even occupied a position of near equality with him. In the Achaemenian inscriptions Mithra, together with Anahita, is the only other deity specifically mentioned. Although the ancient pantheon contained an individual sun god, Hvar Khshaita, in the eastern Iranian traditions…Cultic practices, worship, and


In sharp contrast to the peoples of the Middle East, the Iranians did not make images of their deities, nor did they build temples to house them, preferring to worship in the open. Worship of the gods was performed primarily in the context of a central ritual called yazna, which corresponds in a great many details to the Vedic yajña. It is interesting to note that both rituals, … Major deities > Anahiti One of the longest Avestan Yashts is to the powerful goddess whose full name is given as Ardvi Sura Anahita, literally “the damp, strong, untainted.” In fact, the long name seems to combine two originally separate names and, hence, two deities. First, Ardvi Sura is the Iranian name of the heavenly river goddess who in the Rigveda is called Sarasvati. In this role, she brings fresh water… Sarasvati Hindu goddess of learning and the arts. She is first referred to in literature as the personification of the sacred river, the Sarasvati, and is also identified with Vac, the goddess of speech. In later Hinduism she is usually considered the consort of the god Brahma (the promulgator of the Veda), but she enjoys an autonomous position as the patroness of art, music, and letters. …

Major deities > Vrthraghna The mighty deity of war Vrthraghna had martial traits in common with Mithra and with the Vedic war god Indra. In post-Achaemenian times he was syncretistically equated with Hercules and was a favourite deity of monarchs, some of whom took his name. The name Vrthraghna means “the smashing of resistance or obstruction,” and in his capacity as the god who guaranteed his…

The Vedic Pantheon by Jayaram V By vedic gods we mean those divinities (devas) who are mentioned in the four Vedas. The principal Vedic gods are said to be 33 in number, namely eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas, Indra and Prajapathi Brahma. These gods belong to the three regions of the earth (prithvi), the heavens (Dyaus) and the intermediate space (Antariksha). Contents Indra Rudra Surya Pusan Asvins Vasus Brihaspathi Rhibhus Varuna Mitra Vishnu Usha Maruts Adityas Bhaga Agni Vayu Savitr Soma Visvadevas Vashista Rta Kapinjala

Heaven and Earth Yama

Dadhikravan Rati Manyu Sarasvathi Purusha


Indra Indra is the lord of the heavens. He is the most popular and powerful of the vedic deities. He is described as the god of the blue sky. He rides a white elephant called Airavata and wields the dazzling weapon of lightening called Vajrayudh made by another god Tvastur. He fought many battles to drive the demons away and ensure victory to the gods. He also destroyed many cities of his enemies. His most famous achievement was slaying of Vratasura. He killed the demon of the dark skies (symbolically the clouds) with his weapon (the lightning) and released the cows (waters) that were held in captivity by him.

Prone to drinking soma, often losing control over himself, mighty and sensuous, always concerned about his survival and status as the leader, at times scheming and at times troubled, Indra is more like a king upon the earth than of heavens. He has a spiritual side too. According to the Kena Upanishad, he is the only god to have gone nearest to Brahman and was to know Him as Brahman. This act of him earned him the right to become the ruler of heavens. In the Chandogya Upanishad we are told that he studied under Prajapathi Brahma and learned the secrets of immortality. in the images, Indra is generally shown with four arms and as riding on a while elephant. Sometimes he is shown with his wife, Sachidevi, but mostly alone. With the emergence of Saivism and Bhagavatism in the post Vedic period, the importance of Indra gradually declined. Varuna If we find in Indra the qualities of a war lord or a typical king, in Varuna we see the earliest signs of an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and compassionate God, the precursor the Upanishadic Brahman. Varuna is the ruler of the worlds, the ordainer and enforcer of law and upholder of the world order. In one of the Rigvedic hymns he is described as the Lord of the earth and heaven who sustains the tree that has its roots in heaven and braches down below. This description reminds us of the famous Asvattha tree of the latter day scriptures. Varuna is the knower of all and controller of all. He is the supreme God capable of controlling and dispensing justice. "He knows the path of birds that fly through heaven, and, Sovran of the sea. He knows the ships that are thereon. True to his holy law, he knows the twelve moons with their progeny. He knows the moon of later birth. He knows the pathway of the wind, the spreading, high, and mighty wind. He knows the Gods who dwell above. Varuna, true to holy law, sits down among his people; he, Most wise, sits there to govern. all." (R.V) And how does he know all this? With innumerable spies (rays of light) who are spread every where acting as his eyes and ears, he knows all that goes on in this world. If two people talking together, beware that Varuna is there watching every thing that is going on. Born to Aditi, and friend and brother of Mitra, Varuna is the protector, "the Holy One, helper of all mankind, the law maker whose holy laws remain unweakened."

Together with Mitra, he controls the world order, Rta and when people transgress the moral order and commit sin, he knows and punishes them. But if they repent and seek forgiveness, he forgives them too. He causes the rains to come down and the sun to travel. He makes the rivers flow. The rivers that flows because of him know no weariness, nor they cease flowing. Many invocations of Varuna repeatedly beseech him to forgive sins, like this one," If we have sinned against the man who loves us, have ever wronged a brother, friend, or comrade, the neighbor ever with us, or a stranger, O Varuna, remove from us the trespass. If we, as gamesters cheat at play, have cheated, done wrong unwittingly or sinned of purpose, cast all these sins away like loosened fetters, and, Varuna let us be thine own beloved." Varuna lost much of his importance as an omnipotent and omnipresent god after Indra assumed more prominence. He was subsequently relegated, or rather demoted to the position of a dikpala or ruler of a quarter (the western hemisphere) and lord of the oceans and water. In the iconography he is depicted as the rider of a chariot drawn by seven swans, with four hands and an umbrella over his head. In some images the swans are replace by a crocodile, suggestive of his lordship over the aquatic life. Agni Agni is the chosen Priest, God, minister of sacrifice, the hotar, who lavishes wealth and dispels the darkness. Sapient-minded priest, truthful, most gloriously great, ruler of sacrifices, guard of Law eternal, radiant One, no sacrifice is complete without his presence. His presence verily ensures the success of a sacrifice, because whatever sacrifice he accepts goes to the gods. Agni is the messenger, the herald, master of all wealth, oblation-bearer, much beloved, who brings the willing Gods from the heavens and makes them sit on the grass with him near the sacrificial altar. He is appointed by Manu as the priest. He is often invoked along with Indra, with whom he shares the passion for soma drink. He is also invoked along with Maruts probably to ward off the dangers of forest fires. Agni, was the earliest Angiras, a Seer.

After his holy ordinance the Maruts, were born with their glittering spears. Addressed as immortal Jatavedas, many-hued effulgent gift of Dawn, bearer of offerings and the charioteer of sacrifice, Agni is the Lord of Red Steeds, who loves songs. Kind and bountiful giver of gifts, of wondrous fame, Agni is the friend of all, loved by many in their homes. The Vedic Aryans were well aware of his destructive ability, as he sets the forests aflame. "Urged by the wind he spreads through dry wood as he lists, armed with his tongues for sickles, with a mighty roar. Black is thy path, Agni, changeless, with glittering waves! when like a bull thou rushes eager to the trees, with teeth of flame, wind-driven, through the wood he speeds, triumphant like a bull among the herd of cows, with bright strength roaming to the everlasting air: things fixed, things moving quake before him as he flies." We also know some thing about his origins. Matariswan brought him down from the heavens and handed him over to the Bhrigus for keeping. In some of the hymns like the following ones, we see Agni being elevated to the status of a supreme god, " Agni is the Vaivashnara the center of all people ... He is in the sky as well as at the center of the earth." A similar notion can be found in this hymns also. "Commingling, restless, he ascends the sky, unveiling nights and all that stands or moves, as he the sole God is preeminent in greatness among all these other Gods." In the images, Agni is depicted with two heads, long flowing hair, a pot belly, six eyes, seven hands, four horns and three legs. His seven hands represent the seven flames and the three legs represent the three worlds which he reigns. His pot belly denotes his love for rich oily food. His consorts are svaha and svadha. Being a dhoomaketu, smoke is his banner. The Ram is his vehicle, and the ram being a typical sacrificial animal, his association with it denotes his connection with sacrificial rituals. Rudra and Rudras The Rudra of the Rigveda is a militant god of storms and lightening and a "provider of medicines". Though he did not enjoy the same status as Indra, Rudra definitely enjoyed his own importance in the Vedic pantheon because of his tempestuous nature, his association with storms and storm gods called Maruts and his ability to bring medicines to the people to prolong their lives.

He is a fierce looking god, well built and golden in color, with braided hair, "of firm limbs, multiform, strong, tawny, who adorns himself with bright gold decorations. The strength of Godhead never departs from Rudra." Father of Maruts, the Rigvedic hymns describe him eloquently, "Of your pure medicines ... those that are most wholesome and health bestowing, those which our father Manu hath selected, I crave from. Rudra for our gain and welfare." He wields the thunder bolt, bow and arrow, and sends down streaks of lightening shaking the worlds, making people nervous with fear and trepidation and disturbing the cattle in the cow pens. Intelligent, and benevolent, he protects people from their enemies. We do not know whether the Rigvedic Rudra was a precursor to the Rudra of later times. But the resemblance in some fundamental traits between the two and the appeal to both in prayers and supplications not to harm the cattle and the people with their anger, is too evident to be ignored. The following hymn is one such example, which in many ways sounds like a verse from the Svetavatara Upanishad, "O Rudra, harm not either great or small of us, harm not the growing boy, harm not the full-grown man. Slay not a sire among us, slay no mother here, and to our own dear bodies, Rudra, do not harm. Harm us not, Rudra, in our seed and progeny, harm us not in the living, nor in cows or steeds, Slay not our heroes in the fury of thy wrath. Bringing oblations evermore we call to thee. Even as a herdsman I have brought thee hymns of praise: O Father of the Maruts, give us happiness, Blessed is thy most favoring benevolence, so, verily, do we desire thy saving help." Some times the hymns refer to not just one Rudra but a group of Rudras eleven in number. According to some this is a symbolic reference to the ten vital breaths and the mind or suggestive of his association with the Maruts. Mitra Mitra and Varuna are both lords of the heaven. Together they uphold the law, cause the cows to stream, the plants to flourish, and, "scattering swift drops, send down the rain-flood". Both are Adityas and mostly are invoked together probably because of their close friendship. The watchful twain, most potent, together uphold Rta or the

moral order. "Firmly set in heaven is Mitra's home, and Aryaman's and Varuna's. Thence they give forth great vital strength which merits praise, high power of life that men shall praise." We are informed from the hymns that Mitra stirs men to action and sustains both earth and heaven. Both Mitra and Varuna are guardians of the world, who sit in a gold hued chariot from day break and behold the infinity. In course of time, Mitra came to be associated with morning light, while Varuna with night sky. Vayu Vayu is a described in the Rigveda as a beautiful god, ideally the first partaker of soma juice which he seems to be especially fond of. He is a friend of Indra and a hero who shares the glory of victory with the latter. He is swift as mind, the thousand-eyed and the Lords of thought. He drives a chariot yoked with steeds, whose color vary from from red to purple and the number from two to hundreds and even thousands, depending upon the occasion. He is praised in the hymns as the Intelligence, who illumines the earth and heaven and makes the Dawn to shine. For him the dawn spreads her radiant garments in the dark and distant skies. Invisible, he moves in the heavens as well as in the human body as the vital breath, like Rudra, Vayu also brings medicines to cure people. For his sake the cows yield milk, and to him the coward prays for luck. He is a protector of people whom he protects from every world and from the highest world of Gods (their wrath). In the post Vedic period, Vayu became the lord of the north western quarters and father of Hanuman and Bhima, symbols of immense strength, loyalty and brotherhood, which were the original qualities of Vayu as a trusted friend of Indra and protector of people. Blue in color, he is depicted with four hands. He holds a fan and a flag in two hands while the other two are held in abhaya and varada mudras (postures). Surya Surya is the blazing sun. He is one of the Adityas, god among gods, the light that is most excellent, golden colored, who rides the skies in his golden chariot, drawn by seven bay horses, who are described in the hymns as the daughters of heaven. He is said to be extremely brilliant, with radiant hair, who files in the skies like a bird and shines brightly like a jewel.

Giver of power and strength, destroyer of laziness and darkness, with bright light radiating from him, he knows all that lives. Before him, the constellations pass away, like thieves, together with their beams. Swift and all beautiful , Surya is the maker of the light, who illumines the radiant realm, who goes to the hosts of Gods as well as to the world of mankind with his light. like Varuna, he is ever watchful. Because of his power and golden color, he is also depicted as provider of good health, who removes the heart disease and takes away the yellow hue (jaundice) to be given to the parrots, starlings and haritala trees. Vishnu The Vishnu of the Rigvedic times, is a minor god,. He is one of the Adityas, but with some qualities of the Vishnu of Bhagavatism. Like the Vishnu of later days, he is a lover and protector of devotees in whose loved mansion all god loving creatures live happily. Like the Vishnu in his incarnation as Vamana, who strode the earth and the heaven in two paces and then crushed the demon king Bali with his third pace, the Vedic Vishnu is also a god of three strides, who upholds the threefold existence, the earth, the heaven and all living creatures and in whose three wide-extended paces inhabit all living creatures. The Rigveda says that a mortal man, can behold two steps of him, who looks upon the light, but his third step no one venture to approach, not even the feathered birds of air that fly with wings. Described as the dweller of mountains and a bull with wide strides, who like a rounded wheel, sets in swift motion his ninety racing steeds together with the four, Vishnu is the ancient and the last, the primeval germ, with power supreme. Together with his spouse, he ordains and as a ruler of the three worlds, he helps the Aryan man, giving the worshipper his share of Holy Law. Savitr Savitr is an Aditya who is described as golden eyed, golden handed and golden tongued. A solar deity, he is regarded as the sun before sun rise, but sometimes distinguished from the sun. He not only represents the golden sun of the morning, but the hidden sun of dark night also. Riding a golden chariot he comes, looking on everyone.

He moves both ways, upward and downward, and travels along "ancient dustless paths in the air's mid region with two bright adorable bays." From far away he comes to chases away all distress and sorrow, the rakshasas and the Yatudhanas and illumines the worlds. Mounting his golden chariot that is decked with colorful pearls and lofty with golden pole, he goes to darksome regions to illumine them. Drawing the gold-yoked car with his white footed Bays, he manifests light to all the peoples. Held in his lap all men and all beings attain immortality. The golden-handed Savitar, far-seeing, goes on his way between the earth and heaven, drives away sickness, bids the Sun approach us, and spreads the bright sky through the darksome region. Like other Adityas, he is an upholder of law and forgiver of penitent sinner. Some times he is described as superior to all the other gods, whose statutes none disobeys. "Him whose high law neither Varuna nor Indra, not Mitra, nor Aryaman, nor Rudra breaketh" The Gayatri mantra is addressed to Savitr of adorable splendor for the enlightenment of human consciousness. Savitr is the most adorable, mysterious and effulgent god of mystic realms, who is considered to be the goal, the purpose and the object of meditation. When he descends into the consciousness, a golden disc with bright pointed rays, the inner world is lit up with the splendor of God and indescribable beauty. This author has been told by experienced people that whenever and wherever the Gayatri mantra is uttered with devotion and sincerity, the whole atmosphere and the auras of the people who participate in the chanting are lit up in this splendorous manner by the golden rays that descend from above. Pusan Pusan is a pastoral god. He is the lord of the paths, who protects people from wild animals and makes their paths in solitary places pleasant to tread. He is described variously as a cloud born god, lord of the path, wonder worker, lord of all prosperity and wielder of golden sword. Pusan is the guardian of cattle who shows the way carrying a goad with a horny point to rich meadows where the grass is thick and temperature moderate.

He is often associated with Soma as the whole world protectors, one from above and the other from below. Pusan stirs our thoughts, drives away the enemies, inspires the miserly to make generous donations. In some hymns he is also invoked along with Indra, his friend, whom he helps to generate ripe warm milk from the young raw cows. In some hymns he is described as the goat borne and as the god who travels across the oceans in golden ships to meet the Sun. Usha Usha is dawn, the daughter of the sky, lady of the light, who rouses all life. She stirs all creatures that have feet, and makes the birds of air fly up. Borne on a hundred chariots, she yokes her steed before the arrival of the sun and is never late. Loved by the Asvins, sister of gods, she eludes the Sun who is always eager to catch her. She brings not just light to the sleeping mankind, but hope, happiness, riches and all the good things. Goddess of light and beauty, whom the Rsis of old time invoked for their protection and help, Usha is the gods' beloved sister, whom she brings to the earth for enjoying drops of the soma juice offered by the worshippers. . Some of the hymns speak of not one dawn but many the dawns that have gone before. The hymns addressed to Usha in the Vedas are among the most poetic and beautiful hymns found in the Vedas. The following verses illustrates this point. "She, like a dancer, puts her broidered garments on: as a cow yields her udder so she bares her breast, creating light for all the world of life..." " The Gotamas have praised Heaven's radiant Daughter, the leader of the charm of pleasant voices." "Bending her looks on all the world, the Goddess shines, widely spreading with her bright eye westward. Waking to motion every living creature, she understands the voice of each adorer. Ancient of days, again and again born newly, decking her beauty with the self-same raiment, the Goddess wastes away the life of mortals, like a skilled hunter cutting birds in pieces." " In pride of beauty like a maid thou goest, O Goddess, to the God who longs to win thee, and smiling youthful, as thou shinest brightly, before him thou discoverest thy

bosom. Fair as a bride embellished by her mother thou showest forth thy form that all may see it. Blessed art thou O Dawn. Shine yet more widely. No other Dawns have reached what thou attainest." Both night and dawn are sisters, dutiful in their movements. " Akin, immortal, following each other, changing their colours both the heavens move onward. Common, unending is the Sisters' pathway; taught by the Gods, alternately they travel. Fairformed, of different hues and yet one-minded, Night and Dawn clash not, neither do they travel." Soma Soma is the god of inspiration, the intoxicant who stirs the minds, lures the gods and brings them to the place of worship. One of the most popular gods of the Rigvedic hymns, the entire 9th Mandala of the scripture is dedicated to him. Also known as Indu or Soma Pavamana, he brings joy into the lives of people, cures them from diseases and leads them to the worlds of bliss and immortality. He gives strength not only to mortals, but to the gods as well. Because of him, Indra was able to slay Vrata. Because of him Agni maintains his sway. He is also known as Lord of the speech (Vachspati), because of his intoxicating influence on the movement of speech. On the physical plane Soma is some kind of intoxicating juice. It was probably extracted from some leaves, or mushrooms or some other substance by pressing them between two stones. We have completely lost the knowledge of its preparation. People have been trying for the last several centuries to know the exact ingredients with which the Vedic people used to make Soma juice, but have not succeeded so far. Even during the Vedic period the preparation of the Soma juice was probably a complicated affair. The hymns suggests that the success of extracting the soma juice depended upon the cooperation of gods, which means that its preparation was not an easy affair and depended upon several extraneous factors. Since the production of juice was central to many invocations, the god of soma was invoked to ensure that the juice flew abundantly and the ceremony would be successful.

We see this concern explicit in the following hymns from the Rigveda. "Indu as, Indra's Friend, pour on us with a stream of sweetness, like Parjanya sender of the rain." (The coming of rain is uncertain. So is the extraction of soma.) "May they in flowing give us wealth in thousands, and heroic power, these Godlike Soma-drops effused like coursers by their drivers urged, they were poured forth, for victory, swift through the woolen straining-cloth, noisily flow the Soma-drops, like milch-kine lowing to their calves they have run forth from both the hands." (The prayer is for soma to flow swiftly and noisily through the cloth.) " THE pressers from the Soma-press send forth thy juice for rapturous joy the speckled sap runs like a flood. With strength we follow through the sieve him who brings might and wins the kine, enrobed in water with his juice. Pour on the sieve the Soma, ne'er subdued in waters, waterless, and make it pure for Indra's drink. Moved by the purifier's thought, the Soma flows into the sieve. By wisdom it hath gained its home. With humble homage, Indra, have the Soma-drops flowed forth to thee, contending for the glorious prize." (Note the emphasis on the need for the purity of the juice for Indra's happiness.) Asvins The Asvins are twin deities whose origin is shrouded in myth, mystery and symbolism. A number of hymns are addressed to them because of their healing and curative powers. They said descend to earth thrice a day to help the mankind with their restorative and curative powers. The Asvins are considered to be the brothers of Usha, the goddess of dawn and may actually represent twilight, when darkness and light appear intertwined on the horizon just before dawn as well as before dusk. They are praised in the hymns as wonder workers, with nimble hands and miraculous healing powers. The Rigvedic hymns describe them as lords of hundred powers, who can make the blind and lame see and walk, the injured recover quickly from their afflictions, help men produce offspring or the cows yield more milk.

They can reduce the heat in the human body, cure the septic sores, store the germ of life in female creatures and perform even surgery. Traveling in a chariot with three spokes, they come down to the earth thrice a day carrying with them heavenly medicines. Maruts Maruts are powerful and destructive storm gods, who lash the world from end to end, make the mountains rock and reel, rend the forest-kings apart, make the earth tremble, and drench the earth with heavy rains. They are considered to be the progeny of Rudra, the bulls of heaven, radiant men in serried rank and free from spots and stains. But no one truly knows from where they sprang, for they only know each other's birth. Bright is their spirit and wrathful their minds. Mighty and well-armed, impetuous in their haste, decked in glittering gold ornaments, they send their windless rain even on the desert places. When they inundate the earth they spread forth darkness even in day time, with the water filled rain clouds. Loud roarers, giving strength, devourers of the foe, they make the winds and the lightning with their powers. Restless shakers, they drain the udders of the sky, and ever wandering around, fill the earth full with milk. The Maruts are positively destructive forces of the heave, ferocious but not wicked. They are divine beings, who work for the welfare of the world and men, though they do it in their quite noisy way. The Maruts give strength to the worshippers to make them invincible in battle, bring wealth to the people, increase their progeny and prolong life. Visvadevas The word Visvadevas means lords of the universe. In the Vedas a number of hymns are addressed to them. The Visvadevas are none but the popular gods of the Vedas. When they were collectively invoked through a common ritual, they were addressed as Visvadevas.

In the hymns of the Visvadevas, we generally find the names of such popular gods as Bhaga, Daksa, Mitra, Aditi, Aryaman, Varuna, Soma, the Asvins, Saraswathi, Vayu, Prithvi, Father Heaven, Soma, Pusan, Indra, Tarksya, Maruts, Agni , Varuna, Mitra, Rta, and the dikpalas. According to some scholars hidden in the hymns of the Visvadevas are the seeds of monotheism. By addressing various gods collectively, the Vedic people acknowledged the unity of these gods and their inter relationships. The Rigvedic people believed that the devas sprang from a common parentage and were helpful in nature, in contrast to the demons who were wicked and troublesome. Although each god in the pantheon was endowed with specific qualities and responsibilities, the Vedic Aryans did not miss the larger picture and their underlying connection in the order (Rta) of things. The concept of Visvadevas changed during the post Vedic period especially with the emergence of the Puranas and its rich lore of mythology. The list was reduced to just ten gods namely Vasu, Satya, Kratu, Daksa, Kala, Dhriti, Kuru, Pururavas, and Madravas. Eight Vasus Dhara (the earth), Anala (the fire), Apa (waters), anila (the wind), Dhruva (the pole star), soma (the moon), Prabhasa (the light) are the eight vasus who are described to be attendants of Indra, the lord of the heavens. In course of time these deities attained popularity in different areas. Dhruva became a symbol of austerity, determination and a popular name in the Hindu pantheon because of his association with the polestar. The earth became a mother deity, bearing the burden of the beings, a symbol of patience and fortitude. Soma came to be associated with soma juice and attained popularity because of his significance in the Vedic rituals. 12 Adityas "Bright and pure as streams of water, free from all guile and falsehood, blameless, perfect," these are gods of light, with many eyes (rays) corresponding to the 12 months of the year and described as the 12 spokes of the wheel of time. The Adityas are upholders of Laws. "

Upholding that which moves and that which moves not, Adityas, Gods, protectors of all beings, provident, guarding well the world of spirits, true to eternal Law, the debtexactors," they illuminate the world, drive away darkness, nourish the beings, regulate relationships and personify the laws of the universe and mankind. "Golden and splendid, pure like streams of water, they hold aloft the three bright heavenly regions. Ne'er do they slumber, never close their eyelids, faithful, far-ruling for the righteous mortal." Originally six in the Rigveda, their number increased to 12 during the later Vedic period. The 12 Adityas are: Mitra, Varuna, Aryaman, Daksha, Bhaga, Amsa, Tvastr, Savitr, Pusan, Sakra, Vivasvat and Visnu. We have given a general description of some of the Adityas already above. Vashishta Vashistha is not a god but a sage, or the head of a particular class of brahmin priests, who is described in a hymn as born to Urvasi and Varunamitra out of their conjugal love. He is also described as born from grass and as a fallen drop, whom gods in heavenly fervor laid in a lotus blossom. He is also described as the leader of the Bharatas, who brings the Saman. Indra has a great respect for him, whom he probably helped with this prayers and blessings or with his clan in the battle of ten kings. Brihaspati Brahmanaspati, popularly known as Brihaspathi is eulogized in the Vedas as Indra's lovely friend who gives wisdom, the healer of disease, protector of bodies, who gives wealth, increases the agricultural produce and protects the heroes in the battle field from enemy heroes. He is the priest of heaven who makes the oblation prosper. He promotes the course of sacrifice. Without Brahmanaspati, no sacrifice is complete. He is the leader of the songs and also the Law maker, whom both gods and mortals listen. He inspires the heroes with his gifts and his blessings. Addressed as the father of all sacred prayers, Brihaspati was invoked by the Vedic Aryans, through prayers and sacrifice, probably during war times, to quell the foe, slay demons, cleave the stall of kine, and find the light. He is the upholder of justice, who protects the worshippers from the evil-minded, arrogant, rapacious man and would not allow the unworthy to ascend to the heavens.

The consumer of the foe, the sin's true avenger, he tames the fierce enemy and protects his worshippers from the ambush and their enemy's deadly blows. Brihaspati is also known as Ganapathi Brahmanaspati and considered by some scholars as a precursor to the latter period Ganapathi. Bhaga He is also an Aditya, son of Aditi, a god of bright light. He is a giver and supporter and bestower of bliss, who discovers treasures and whose gifts are faithful. Since he grants boons, horses and heroes, he is approached by the rich and poor alike for abundance and happiness. People forgot Bhaga, but his name remains even today hidden in the name of Bhagavan. Rta Rta is the rhythmic pattern of the universe. It is the orderly way in which the world regulates itself. Rta determines the usual paths by which the heavenly objects, the sun, the moon, the stars, the nine planets, conduct themselves. Rta is responsible for many other things: the manner in which the seasons (ritus) come and go, the way the rains fall upon the earth, the way the crops are harvested, the way the people live and die, and the cattle yield wealth through milk and progeny. The Vedic people believed this universal order to be the work of gods. They uphold Rta by virtue of their strength, unity and upholding of the Law that governs the heaven and the earth. The battle between god and demons was basically the battle between order and chaos, between light and darkness, truth and falsehood. The order prevails because of the strength and will of gods, especially the Adityas, Indra, and Agni. In course of time the concept of Rta gave way to the concept of Dharma and God as the upholder of dharma. Rbhus The Rbhus are wise and skilful craftsmen, dexterous-handed, deft in work and gracious, who are said to be the sons of Sudhavan. They were generally believed to possess special powers with which they were able to make a cow out of a hide, give youth to their old parents, shape tawny steeds for Indra and make four wondrous cups

out of a single chalice for gods. Rbhus bring prosperity and were probably associated with the craft of chariot making and the earlier methods of fire making. The hymns addressed to Rbhus generally mention the names of Rbhu, Vibhvan, Vaja and speak of their craftsmanship and how they were promoted to the rank of gods because of their skills and their "cunning". Heaven and Earth In the hymns addressed to heaven and earth, they are referred as two great mothers. Between them the God, the effulgent sun, travels by fixed decree. These two, the Heaven and the Earth bestow prosperity on all and sustain the region. They are holy, wise and the spirited. They keep the truth of all that stands and all that moves and were made beautiful by the sun with his garment of light. Kapinjala Kapinjala is a bird of good omen with sweet and flute like melodious voice whose sounds are compared to the utterances of a Sama-chanter. The invokers of this bird of heaven pray for the protection of the bird from the attacks of falcon, eagle and hunter's arrows. Associated with good luck and happy omens, there are at least two hymns in the Rigveda addressed to this mystic bird of melodious notes. Dadhikravan Dadhivakran is a mighty stallion that was given to Puru by gods. It is swift of foot and shines bright. It is described as the giver of many gifts, who visiteth all people, impetuous hawk, swift and of varied color, like a brave King. Some hymns in the Rigveda are entirely addressed to Dadhivakran. Rati or Love There is a hymn in the Rigveda addressed to sage Agastya by his wife Lopamudra as an invocation to Ratidevi to come to the aid of the aging couple and rekindle love in their bodies.

Yama Yama is the controller, god of justice and ruler of the dead and departed who go to the region of hell. Two fierce dogs, described as Sarama's offspring, with four eyes and wide nostrils, look on men and guard the pathway that leads the world of Yama. Yama is master of knowledge. He taught young Nachiketa the secrets of Brahman, fire sacrifice and immortality. In the Hindu mythology Yama is shown as riding a hebuffalo, carrying a mace as his weapon and holding a noose. He uses the noose to drag the deceased beings to the hells. Sitting on a throne he reviews the deeds of men and accords punishment. He is aided in this task by Chitragupta who keeps an account of the deeds of the mortals when they were alive on earth. He is also the ruler of the southern quarter, wears red garments and carries a mace as his weapon. The Rigveda describes Yama as Vivasvan's Son, who gathers men together, who traveled to the lofty heights above men and who searches out and shows the path to many. Dark-hued, insatiate, with distended nostrils, Yama's two envoys said roam among the People and keep a watch. "Into the six Expanses flies the Great One in Trkadrukas. The Gayatri, the Trstup, all metres in Yama are contained." Manyu There are some hymns in the Rigveda which are addressed to Manyu a war god, wielder of thunder, slayer of foes, of Vrtra, and of Dasyu, of surpassing vigor, fierce, queller of the foe, and self-existent. He is beseeched to bring wealth and health. Manyu is a war god, who is considered to be Indra himself. Probably the Abhimanyu of the Mahabharata fame derived his name from this war hero. Purusha The famous Purusha Sukta speaks of the Universal Purusha, of a A THOUSAND heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet who pervading earth from every side fills a space ten fingers wide. "This Purusha is all that yet hath been and all that is to be; the Lord of Immortality which waxes greater still by food. So mighty is his greatness; yea, greater than this is Purusa. All creatures are one-fourth of him, three-fourths eternal life in heaven."

From this Purusha was born Viraj (world soul) and from Viraj again a second Purusha (hiranyagarbha) was born. As soon as he was born, the gods gathered and sacrificed him. From that great sacrifice, from his various bodily parts were born all the animals, the Riks, Sama hymns and Yajus, the sun and the moon and all the four castes, Indra, Agni, Vayu, the earth and the sky and all the regions. The Purusha Sukta is very controversial hymn. It raises a number of interesting questions, about which we can only speculate but cannot give a definite answer. One interesting question is who were the gods who gathered and sacrificed the second Purusha? Probably the original Purusha Sukta referred to the origin of the gods, the heaven and the earth, the various beings, elements, worlds and objects. It must have been conveniently altered to justify the origin of the castes and perpetuate a system that was alien to the Rigvedic Aryans. Prajanya Prajanya is a rain god, ferocious, whom all life fears, the bull who lays in the plant, the seed, who smites the trees apart with lightning and slays the demons. All life fears him and the sight of his mighty weapon. He is the slayer of demons, who sends the rains down. He made the desert places fit for travel probably by bringing the rains. When Parjanya fills the sky with rain-cloud, the winds burst forth, the lightning flashes, the plants shoot up, food springs abundantly for all creatures and earth bows low before him. At his command the cattle fly in terror, the plants assume all colors and the floods descend in torrents. Not just a god of rain and thunder, Prajanya is also upholder of law who punishes the sinners and protect the people. According to S. Radhakrishnan, " Prajanya is a sky god. He seems to have become Indra, for Indra is unknown to other members of the Aryan family. In the Vedas Prajanya is another name for the sky." Saraswathi In the Rigvedic hymn addressed to Saraswathi, she is depicted as a river goddess, who slays the Parvathas with her might, casts down those who scorn the gods and makes poison flow away from the waters. She is the giver of opulence, strength and wealth.

She has seven sisters, sprung from three fold source, who is invoked in every deed of might and sought for treasures. In the hymn addressed to her, she is beseeched to keep flowing gracefully and not to spurn people, so that they would not be forced to go to far away countries. Saraswathi subsequently became a goddess of learning and consort of Brahma. But in the Rigveda, she is a river goddess with seven sisters, who helps the gods, destroys their enemies and provides waters to the five tribes. There is no association with either Brahma or with learning.


Soma is the moon god also known as Chandra. Soma is identified with amrita (nectar). He is represented as a copper colored man, trailing a red pennant behind his three wheeled chariot, which is drawn either by an antelope or by ten white horses. He has normally four hands, one carrying a mace, second carrying nectar or soma, the third carrying a lotus and the last in protective mode. His lineage says he was the son of Dharma or of Varuna, lord of oceans, from which the moon rises.

According to a legend, Surya nourishes the moon with the water from the ocean when Soma is exhausted by the many beings that feed upon his substance.

It is believed that during half the month, thirty six thousand divinities feed on Soma and thus assure their immortality. This account neatly combines the two aspects of Soma: as the nectar from which, the gods derive their strength and as the moon that waxes and wanes.

The legend of the banishment of Soma by Brahma to the outer atmosphere can be interpreted as yet another myth explaining how intoxicants came to be banned.

Lesser Gods:

The transition from Vedic gods to the Puranic gods led to the TRIMURTI or the Hindu Trinity gaining more importance in the post Vedic period. Gradually the Vedic gods other than AGNI, VAYU and SURYA took second place to the Hindu Triad. At the same time personification of nature like rivers, heroes who proved their utmost faith to the legendary heroes of the Puranas and served them were elevated to the status of gods.

Although these gods are not individually worshipped expect for some they have a special place in the Hindu mythology and are often seen in temples or in paintings or pictures beside the main three triads and their various manifestations.

HANUMAN - the monkey god - devotee of Rama INDRA - King of the abode of gods YAMA - the god of death GAYATRI - personification of the Vedic hymn GANGA - personification of the holy river KAMADEVA - god of love KUBERA - god of wealth NARADA - the wandering seer who features in almost all the Puranas VARUNA - the god of oceans SOMA - the moon god VISHWAKARMA - the divine architect of the universe

Other than these lesser gods there are a host of celestial beings. These are often mentioned in the various Vedas and Puranas and are much a part of the Hindu mythology as the lesser gods.

Celestial beings: APSARAS: These are beautiful ladies, who dance in the court of Indra. Indra also uses them to lure the saints and sages who by their severe penance endanger his superiority as the ruler of Swarga (Paradise of Indra). In the Vedas they were personification of vapor and in the Puranas the ballet girls in Swarga. RAMBHA, URVASI and MENAKA are the most celebrated of them.

GANDHARVAS: Gandharvas are the celestial musicians who play in the court of Indra and also when some divine act of the gods had been completed in the interest of humanity. They are said to have a great partiality for women and are said to be exceptionally handsome.

KINNARAS: are mythical beings, with a body of a man and head of a horse. They are singers at the court of Indra. They are also sometimes said to be the minstrels of Kubera's palace at Mount Kailasa, which is also the abode of Shiva.

SIDDHAS: are classes of spirits of great purity and holiness, who dwell apart in the sky or mid-air between earth and heaven.

YAKSHA: They are the guardians of wealth and attendants of Kubera, employed to guard his gardens and treasure. They live in ALKA-PURI (yaksha-puri). The female of Yaksha is known as YAKSHINI.


According to Rig Veda, Vishwakarma is the divine architect of the whole universe. He is the personification of the creative power that welds heaven and earth together. He is the son of Brahma and is the official architect of all the gods' palaces. He is painted white, has a club in his right hand, wears a crown, a necklace of gold, rings on his wrists and holds tools in his left hand.

All the flying chariots of the gods; all their weapons are his creation. It was Vishwakarma who built the golden city of Lanka, over which King Ravana ruled. He built the city of DWARKA, the capital of Lord Krishna after the latter had left MATHURA, it was again Vishwakarma who made the AGNEYASTRA (the weapons throwing fiery flames) and it was he who revealed the STHAPATYA Veda, or the science of mechanics and architecture. Mahabharata describes him as 'The Lord of the arts, executor of a thousand handicrafts, the carpenter of the gods, the most eminent of artisans, the fashioner of all ornaments, on whose craft all menu subsist, and whom, a great and immortal god, they continuously worship'.

According to legends his daughter SANJANA was married to SURYA, the sun. As she was not able to endure the heat and light of the sun, Vishwakarma placed Surya upon his lathe and cut away an eighth part of his brightness. The fragments that fell on the earth due to this operation were used by Vishwakarma to form 'the discuss of Vishnu, the trident of Shiva, the weapon of Kuvera, the god of wealth, the lance of Kartikeya, the god of war and the weapons of all other gods.

Vishwakarma is also reputed to have made the image of Jagannatha and left it incomplete due to an interruption. He is the god whose blessings enabled Nal, the monkey, to build the bridge over sea for Lord Rama right from the coast in the south of India to Lanka of Ravana.

According to Satpath Brahman, Vishwakarma performed a SARVMEDHA YAGYA (a universal sacrifice) in which he offered up all creatures and ultimately himself too. This process of ending the universe also became the process of creating another new universe. In this way every sacrifice is also a repetition of that first creative act. This is a representation of the drama of the cyclic process of destruction and renewal of all cosmic life and matter.

He is the presiding deity of all craftsmen. The architects and also the factory owners perform the worship of Vishwakarma when the sun enters the Bhadrapada constellation; this ceremony is performed in front of the implements of trade or a manufacturing machine. The carpenter worships the chisel, the saw, etc., the weaver prays before the shuttle while the potter worships the wheel and so on. On this day an atmosphere of festivity is blended with the rituals of prayers. As an independent god, Vishwakarma is still worshipped in some parts of Bengal.


Varuna, the god of oceans, is shown as a fair complexioned man riding a monster fish called MAKARA, which has the head and legs of an antelope. He may have two or four hands and in one of his right hands he carries a noose.

Varuna lost his importance even during the Vedic times. Of his former character of a celestial deity, he retains only the title of the regent of the Western quarter of the compass. The mythological explanation of this great conflict occurred between gods and demons and when it was over each of the gods was assigned a clearly defined sphere of influence to avoid further conflicts.

From this time onwards Indra remained the god of atmosphere while Varuna was ousted from the guardianship of the heavens and was given the over lordship of the oceans. Here he kept watch over the various demons of the ocean. Varuna sits with his wife VARUNI, on a throne of diamonds and the gods and goddesses of the different rivers, lakes and springs form his court.


Indra, the god of firmament and the king of the abode of gods, is probably the most colorful character in Hindu mythology. The ebb and tide of his career, the rise and fall of his power provides a very fascinating story to all, who are interested in the lives of Hindu gods and goddesses. His parents were the sky god DYAUS PITA and the earth goddess PRTHIVI; he was born fully-grown and fully armed from his mother's side. His wife was INDRANI, and his attendants were called the MARUTS. His sons are named as JAYANTA, MIDHUSA, NILAMBARA, RBHUS, RSABHA, SITRAGUPTA, and, most importantly, ARJUNA.

In the Vedas - rather early Vedic age - Indra stands as the top-ranking figure among gods. Still he is not equivalent to OMKAR or Brahma because he has a parentage.

He was the leader of the Devas, the god of war, the god of thunder and storms, and the greatest of all warriors, the strongest of all beings. He was the defender of gods and mankind against the forces of evil. He had early aspects of a sun god, riding in a golden chariot across the heavens, but he is more often known as the god of thunder, wielding the celestial weapon VAJRA, the lightening bolt. He is the ruler of the atmosphere and the weathers are at his command. Whenever and wherever he thinks proper Indra sends rains as well as thunders and lightning.

He is also represented having a big bow with long pointed arrows as well as a big hook and a net, in which he is said to entrap his enemies. He shows aspects of being a creator god, having set order to the cosmos, and since he was the one who brought water to earth, he was a fertility god as well. He also had the power to revive slain warriors who had fallen in battle. As a high ranking god he had been shown as the preserver and rescuer of cows, priests and even gods. He once killed a demon named VALA, who had stolen cows so that men would not use the milk for themselves or for religious ceremonies. He killed this demon and saved the cows. In the earlier Vedic period he is a very great warrior, who subdued the enemies of Aryans and conquered their forts. During his warfare against enemies of gods he was assisted by other lesser gods-especially MARUTS. He has got more hymns of praise than other gods in Vedas and he was widely worshipped for his kindness and as the granter of rains and the giver of fertility. He was known as a great drinker of Soma; sometimes he did this to draw strength, and when he did he grew to gigantic proportions to battle his enemies, but more often he merely wanted to get drunk. When not in his chariot, Indra rode on the great white elephant AIRAVATA, who was always victorious, and who had four tusks, which resembled a sacred mountain. He was given numerous titles including SAKRA ("Powerful"), VAJRI ("the Thunderer"), PURANDARA ("Destroyer of Cities"), MEGHAVAHANA ("Rider of the Clouds"), and SWARGAPATI ("the Lord of Heaven").

Indra's most notable exploit was his battle with the asura VRITRA. Vritra took the form of a mighty dragon, and had stolen all the water in the world for himself. No one could do anything about this until Indra was born. Upon hearing what had happened, Indra vowed to take back the life giving liquid. He rode forth to meet him the terrible Vritra. He consumed great amounts of Soma to give him the strength needed to fight such a foe. Indra smashed through Vritra's ninety-nine fortresses, and then came upon the dragon. The two clashed, and after a long battle Indra was able to destroy his powerful enemy. Vritra had been keeping the earth in a drought, but when Indra split open the demon, the waters again fell from the skies. So Indra became a hero to all people, and the gods elected him their king for his victory.

Indra held court at SWARGA, his heaven in the clouds surrounding the highest peak of the sacred mountain MERU. This heaven could move anywhere at its lord's command. In Swarga, there is an enormous hall when slain warriors went after death. Indra and the beautiful Indrani presided over their paradise. No sorrow, suffering, or fear was allowed in Indra's home. Apsaras (beautiful damsels) and Gandharvas (celestial beings) danced and entertained those who attended court, and gaming and athletic contests were held.

In the post-Vedic period and during the age of Puranas Indra falls from the front rank status and is given the lower grade in all respects. Though still the king of other smaller gods, Indra is much inferior to the holy triad of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

Indra is still regarded as the controller of atmosphere, but only under the supervision of the Almighty. Indra in later ages is the ruler of only SWARG, the heaven where the gods live enjoying life in the company of beautiful APSARAS, the female dancers. He is now shown having great weakness and big faults. He is shown even to have a lascivious character; indulging in sexual wrongs. He tried to seduce the pious wife of sage GAUTAMA, named AHILYA. This enraged the sage, who cursed him to have a thousand wounds resembling female organ on his whole body. When he repented and prayed, these thousand wound marks were changed into thousand eyes; hence Indra is also called SAHASRA CHAKSHU (the thousand eyed).

In later versions of the story of his battle against Vritra, he is portrayed as vengeful and cowardly, and needs the help of Shiva and Vishnu to slay the dragon. In the Mahabharata, a terrible female goddess called only Brahminicide who rose up out of the dead Vritra, who was a Brahman in that version of the story, pursues Indra. She relentlessly chased him and overtook him in his chariot and clung to him so that he could not escape; he hid inside a lotus blossom, but he still could not dislodge her. Finally, he went before Brahma and acknowledged his crime, for the killing of a Brahman was considered a terrible sin, and Brahma agreed to help him become free. The king of the gods had to perform penance to atone for his transgression. Indra also suffered such indignities as having his elephant's head cut off by Shiva to be given to Shiva's son Ganesha.

In the Ramayana comes the story that Ravana, the demon-king of Lanka, attacked heaven and fought against Indra. Indra was badly defeated by Ravana's son, named MEGHNAD, who since then was called INDRAJEET. As Meghnad took Indra captive, other gods under the leadership of Brahma had to purchase Indra' s freedom by bestowing on the demon the blessing of an immortal life. He is very much afraid to lose his throne of heaven and regularly sends beautiful female singing and dancing girls to disturb the penances of the holy men, whom Indra thinks may dethrone him.

In the life of god Krishna, he presents himself as one whom the incarnated god teaches a great lesson. He pours incessant rains to drown the people of Brajbhumi; God Krishna raises the mountain named Govardhan on his little finger and defeats the design of Indra. Again when Krishna goes to visit Swarg, he wants to carry the divine Parijata tree. Indra opposes it and fights. In the battle too Krishna defeats him and the tree is carried off.

Indra is actually a position, which the aspirant god attains if his divine conduct is beyond any blemish. According to the mythological details even a moral being or a man could get it, like king Nahush got once. But he fell from grace when he tried to lay hold on the previous Indra's wife. Hence whoever becomes the Indra has to guard his position by his good conduct. Though Indra is not the object of direct worship in temples, he is constantly appearing in all tales of religious scriptures as the king of lesser gods.


YAMA is the god of death and is the lord of the infernal regions visited by man after cessation of life. He is the embodiment of the rule of law and imparts justice according to deeds. The word ' Yama' means the restrainer, it is he who keeps the mankind in check. Yama's mount is a fierce-looking black buffalo, a form, which he also adopts for himself on occasions. He has got a rope noose in one hand, by which he is supposed to catch hold of his victims and a mace in the other, which represents the weapon of punishment.

He decides what are the actions of the living beings that bear or do not bear fruits, when his messengers drag the dead before his throne. In Vedas, Yama is the First Ancestor and has the full distinction of a god. He is shown as having a fearful and grim appearance and he wears a glittering crown upon his head.

Yama is the son of VIVASAT, the embodiment of social morality, while his mother is SARANYU (clouds), who is the daughter of VISHWAKARMA, the cosmic architect. Yama' s twin sister is YAMI, who has the greatest affection for her brother. Yami later appeared on this earth as the river YAMUNA.

As being the judge of the dead, he is said to hold a court, in which he is the presiding officer. He has another small god to assist him, who is called CHITRAGUPTA. Chitragupta is supposed to keep an account of the actions of men. If the actions of the deceased in his lifetime have been wicked, he is sent to suffer in a particular part of hell, while a man with noble deeds is sent to a part of heaven. Yama is regent of the south quarter and as such is called DAKSHINASAPATI. His abode is named as YAMALYA on the south side of the earth and has an interesting legend around it. This account is taken from the Mahabharata. The narration is that after Brahma had created the three worlds, viz. EARTH, HEAVEN and PATAL (i.e., subterranean region), he recollected that a place for judgment and punishment of the wicked was wanting. He therefore asked the architect Vishwakarma to prepare a suitable place for this purpose. Vishwakarma prepared a magnificent palace and opposite its south door he created four pits to punish the wicked. Three other doors were reserved for the entrance of the good so that they might not see the place of punishment when they went to be judged. Brahma named this palace SANJEEVANI. Brahma ordered the architect to form a vast trench around and fill it with water, which came to be called VAITAMEE. Brahma next ordered Agni (the fire god) to enter this river so that the water might boil. After the death each person is obliged to swim across this Vaitamee river, which gives harmless passage to good souls but the evil ones have to suffer torments and pangs while crossing this river's boiling water.

This legendary place of heaven created for Yama by Vishwakarma is 800 miles in circumference. At this place there is no fear of enemies and sorrow of mind and body is non-existent. The climate is mild and salubrious and each one is rewarded in kind according to his deeds. He who has given much in charity receives very many comforts of all kinds.


Ushas, the goddess of dawn is related to him. Surya's son is Vaivasvata and his son is Iksvaku. The Ashvins, his twin sons, ride before him in their own golden chariots. He lives in his own capital called Vivasvati.

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