The Vedic gods also resemble other Aryan gods in their duties and actions. One example of this, is that Indra shares characteristics with Thor and other "hammer gods". As stated by Donald Mackenzie in Indian Myth and Legend: "Indra is the Indian Thor, the angry giant-killer, the god of war and conquest"(pg. xxxi).
These Vedic gods also resemble other Aryan gods in that they are overwhelming male, with female gods playing a minor role in the heavenly hierarchy. This was most likely because Aryan tribes practiced a patriarchal system instead of a matriarchal one. Thus with males being the dominant and more powerful figures in the society, and females having only a supporting role, so too did the gods.
The Vedic Gods are shown predominantly as being beneficent beings who bestow prosperity and good fortune upon their followers. When evil does befall, such as in the case of a draught and/or famine, it is not the work of the gods, but the work of demons. And when the gods defeat the demons, such as bringing on the rains, it only shows the beneficent of the gods even more.
They are also portrayed as moral entities, who punish the sinful and wicked while rewarding the pious and righteous. But more important than being seen as moral, is being seen as great and mightily. They are depicted as being able to do whatever they wish; having dominion over all creatures; not having their ordinances thwarted; and not having anything live beyond the time appointed by the gods (Macdonell, pg. 18).
The Vedic pantheon is considered to consist of thirty-three different gods, which are placed, in groups of eleven, into one of the three different categories: atmospheric, terrestrial, or celestial, each of which has its own area of responsibility. But just because a god is in one category does not mean that it is completely different from a god from another category; for sometimes a god from one category will have some of the same qualities of a god from another category.
To better explain this, a brief description of three different gods, each from a different category, follows. The gods being discussed, and their categories, are: 1) Indra, atmospheric; 2) Agni, terrestrial; and 3) Varuna, celestial.
Indra is considered as one of the favorite Vedic god. This is shown through the number of Vedic hymns that deal with him. With 250 Vedic hymns, he has more hymns that celebrate him than any other Vedic god. He is the most powerful, as well as the highest god in the atmospheric hierarchy; he is also one of the most powerful of the Vedic gods, with Varuna as his only real rival.
He is the king of the Vedic gods, having dethroned Varuna at an earlier time, and is believed to have shaped the universe with his hammer. He is known as the `god of war', and was responsible for smiting down the foes of the invading Aryans. He is also known as the `god of thunder', who, with the thunderbolt as his weapon, brings on the rains.
Since he is responsible for releasing the rains that provide nourishment to the plains that are parched from the long hot Indian summer, he is also considered to be the `god of fertility'. This is portrayed in an Indian myth in which Indra fights and defeats Vritra, the Demon of Drought, who had been holding the cloud-cattle captive.
In the hymns of India, according to Mackenzie, "Indra is pictured as a burly man, with `handsome, prominent nose', `good lips', and `comely chin'; he is `long necked', `big bellied', `strongly armed', and has a weakness for ornaments; and he is also addicted to drinking `sweet, intoxicating Soma'"(pg. 15). Indra's love for Soma is also mentioned by Macdonell: "He is the Soma-drinker among the gods and men...It is his favorite nutriment"(pg. 56).
When he travels, Indra is either portrayed as traveling on a golden chariot drawn by two steeds or seated on his white elephant, Airavala, whom he created from an ocean of milk. Indra is also depicted with an assortment of weapons when he travels. Some of these weapons are: the thunderbolt, which he uses in his battles with the demons; a bow and golden arrows, which he uses to strike down his human foes; a hook, with which he bestows wealth or uses as a weapon; and a net, which entraps all his enemies.
To his followers, Indra is seen primarily as a warrior who will deliver them from their enemies; thus he is invoked by the Aryans before they go into battle. He is also seen as a friend and helper to his worshipers. For as stated by Macdonell: "Those who worship him, are bestowed with financial wealth, wives, cattle, horses, and male children"(pg. 62).
Agni, in ancient Indian myth, is seen as the God of Fire. And as fire is associated with earthly occurrences, so too is Agni linked with the terrestrial realm; where he is the most important deity in the terrestrial hierarchy. But not only is he the most powerful deity in the terrestrial realm, but is also one of the most powerful Vedic gods in general.
He is seen as the destroyer of darkness and the force that drives away the demons at night. According to Mackenzie: "He is seen as vital spark, the principle of life in animate and inanimate nature; he was in man, in beast and fish; he was in plants and trees"(pg. 19). And T. A. Gopinatha Rao, in Elements of Hindu Iconography, accounts him as being also "the lord of the house, the resplendent quest of the house, and is friendly to man"(pg. 521).
He is sometimes considered the twin brother, and or close friend, of Indra. Agni is also second in importance only to Indra. This closeness is shown in Mackenzie's portrayal of the divine pair, when he states: "Where Indra is seen as the divine warrior, Agni is seen as the divine priest"(pg. 19). He is also considered the `messenger of the gods'. He is the one who is responsible for the delivery of sacrifices to the gods. But besides being just a courier, he is also portrayed as the devourer of the sacrifices. He is portrayed as being either golden or red in color. He is depicted as having a burning head, sometimes two or three, and faces in every direction with his all seeing eyes. Just like Indra, he too is shown carrying a bow and arrows. He is often likened to various animals, most frequently the bull; and also inanimate objects like the sun, a hatchet, a chariot loaded with riches, or to wealth acquired by inheritance (Macdonell, pg. 89). He protects his worshipers from disasters and consumes his worshipers foes in fire. He also supplies his followers with anabundance of food, invincibility in battle, deliverance from poverty, and children to the childless (Macdonell, pg. 98).
Varuna is the most prominent of the celestial deities. He is also, along with Indra, his rival for power, the most powerful of the Vedic gods. He is seen as `all-enveloping one'; sustainer of the universe; lawgiver; the chief upholder of the moral law; and the lord of the rain and ocean. He is viewed in fear, for when his wrath is roused by the wicked and sinful, he severely punishes them.
Varuna is considered omniscient, with nothing escaping his notice. He is able to view and judge humanity, as well as the gods, through his ever watching eye, the sun, or through his use of his spies, the stars. For according to Macdonell: "He beholds all the secret things that have been or shall be done...he witness's men's truth and falsehood...whatever man does, thinks, or devises Varuna knows"(pg. 26).
Varuna is also responsible for the flowing of the rivers and the bringer of rains. He is thus among the gods most frequently thought of and prayed to as bestowals of rain. He is also considered a `water god', in that when the Aryans reached the sea coast, he became the God of the Ocean.
BibliographyGopinatha Roa, T.A., vol.2-part 2, Elements of Hindu Iconography, New York: Paragon Book Reprint Corp., 1968.
Kosambi, D. D., "Ancient India" a History of its Culture and Civilisation, New York: Pantheon Books, 1965.
Macdonell, A. A., Vedic Mythology, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1974.
Mackenzie, Donald A., Indian Myth and Legend, London: Gresham Publishing Company, 1913.
Radhakrishnan S, Indian Philosophy, vol. 1
According to the Samkhya theory, existence came into being as dual separation of a unique in two elements. One element, the active repulsive component, is substance and vehicle, Ananda or Shakti (Force). The other, is memory and Consciousness of Ananda.
This second element has knowledge of Ananda but lost its full identity. Its key feature is thus an attractive power towards the Shakti(Force) missing from its self.
The repulsion of Ananda (Force), that brings separation farther and farther, and the attraction of Consciousness, keep duality into existence. Their dual interplay of loss and memory, of emptiness and substance, generates and manifests the magnetic vibration Om, threshold of unity and duality.
In this system, the repulsive Shakti force is the active component that progressively detaches from Consciousness, bringing the cosmos into being.