A VEDIC READER
By Arthur Anthony Macdonell (1854-1930)
1. AGE OF THE RIGVEDA.
THE Rigveda is undoubtedly the oldest literary monument of
the Indo-European languages. But the exact period when the hymns
were composed is a matter of conjecture. All that we can say
with any approach to certainty is that the oldest of them cannot
date from later than the thirteenth century B.C. This assertion
is based on the following grounds. Buddhism, which began to spread
in India about 500 B.C., presupposes the existence not only of
the Vedas, but also of the intervening literature of the Brahmanas
and Upanishads. The development of language and religious thought
apparent in the extensive literature of the successive phases
of these two Vedic periods renders it necessary to postulate
the lapse of seven or eight centuries to account for the gradual
changes, linguistic, religious, social, and political, that this
literature displays. On astronomical grounds, one Sanskrit scholar
has (cf. p. 146) concluded that the oldest Vedic hymns date from
3000 B.C., While another puts them as far back as 6000 B.C. These
calculations are based on the assumption that the early Indians
possessed an exact astronomical knowledge of the sun's course
such as there is no evidence, or even probability, that they
actually possessed. On the other hand, the possibility of such
extreme antiquity seems to be disproved by the relationship of
the hymns of the Rigveda to the oldest part of the Avesta, which
can hardly date earlier than from about 800 B.C. That relationship
is so close that the language of the Avesta, if it were known
at a stage some five centuries earlier, could scarcely have differed
at all from that of the Rigveda. Hence the Indians could not
have separated from the Iranians much sooner than 1300 B.C. But,
according to Prof. Jacobi, the separation took place before 1500
B.C. In that case we must assume that the Iranian and the Indian
languages remained practically unchanged for the truly immense
period of over 3000 years. We must thus rest content with the
moderate estimate of the thirteenth century B.C. as the approximate
date for the beginning of the Rigvedic period. This estimate
has not been invalidated by the discovery in 1907 of the names
of the Indian deities Mitra, Varuna, Indra, Nasatya, in an inscription
of about 1400 B.C. found in Asia Minor. For the phonetic form
in which these names there appear may quite well belong to the
Indo-Iranian period when the Indians and the Persians were still
one people. The date of the inscription leaves two centuries
for the separation of the Indians, their migration to India,
and the commencement of the Vedic hymn literature in the north-west
2. ORIGIN AND GROWTH OF THE COLLECTION.
When the Indo-Aryans entered India, they brought with them
a religion in which the gods were chiefly personified powers
of Nature, a few of them, such as Dyaus, going back to the Indo-European,
others, such as Mitra, Varuna, Indra, to the Indo-Iranian period.
They also brought with them the cult of fire and of Soma, besides
a knowledge of the art of composing religious poems in several
metres, as a comparison of the Rigveda and the Avesta shows.
The purpose of these ancient hymns was to propitiate the gods
by praises accompanying the offering of malted butter poured
on the fire and of the juice of the Soma plant placed on the
sacrificial grass. The hymns which have survived in the Rigveda
from the early period of the Indo-Aryan invasion were almost
exclusively composed by a hereditary priesthood. They were handed
down in different families by memory, not by writing, which could
hardly have been introduced into India before about 700 B.C.
These family groups of hymns were gradually brought together
till, with successive additions, they assumed the earliest collected
form of the Rigveda. Then followed the constitution of the Samhita
text, which appears to have taken place about 600 B.C., at the
end of the period of the Brahmanas, but before the Upanishads,
which form appendages to those works, came into existence. The
creators of the Samhita did not in any way alter the diction
of the hymns here collected together, but only applied to the
text certain rules of Sandhi which prevailed in their time, and
by which, in particular, vowels are either contracted or changed
into semi-vowels, and a is often dropped after e and o, in such
a way as constantly to obscure the metre. Soon after this work
was concluded, extraordinary precautions were taken to preserve
from loss or corruption the sacred text thus fixed. The earliest
expedient of this kind was the formation of the Pada or 'word'
text, in which all the words of the Samhita text are separated
and given in their original form as unaffected by the rules of
Sandhi, and in which most compounds and some derivatives and
inflected forms are analysed. This text, which is virtually the
earliest commentary on the Rigveda, was followed by other and
more complicated methods of reciting the text, and by various
works called Anukramanis or 'Indexes', which enumerate from the
beginning to the end of the Rigveda the number of stanzas contained
in each hymn, the deities, and the metres of all the stanzas
of the Rigveda. Thanks to these various precautions the text
of the Rigveda has been handed down for 2,500 years with a fidelity
that finds no parallel in any other literature.
3. EXTENT AND DIVISIONS OF THE RIGVEDA.
The Rigveda consists of 1,017 or, counting eleven others of
the eighth Book which are recognized as later additions, 1,028
hymns. These contain a total of about 10,600 stanzas, which give
an average Of ten stanzas to each hymn. The shortest hymn has
only one stanza, while the longest has fifty-eight. If printed
continuously like prose in Roman characters, the Samhita text
would fill an octavo volume of about 600 pages of thirty-three
lines each. It has been calculated that in bulk the RV. is equivalent
to the extant poems of Homer.
There is a twofold division of the RV. into parts. One, which
is purely mechanical, is into Astakas or 'eighths' of about equal
length, each of which is subdivided into eight Adhyayas or 'lessons',
while each of the latter consists of Vargas or 'groups' of five
or six stanzas. The other division is into ten Mandalas or 'books'
(lit. 'cycles') and Suktas or 'hymns'. The latter method is an
historical one, indicating the manner in which the collection
came into being. This system is now invariably followed by Western
Scholars in referring to or quoting from the Rigveda.
4. ARRANGEMENT OF THE RIGVEDA.
Six of the ten books, ii to vii, are homogeneous in character.
The hymns contained in each of them were, according to native
Indian tradition, composed or 'seen' by poets of the same family,
which handed them down as its own collection. The tradition is
borne out by the internal evidence of the seers' names mentioned
in the hymns, and by that of the refrains occurring in each of
these books. The method of arrangement followed in the 'family
books' is uniform, for each of them is similarly divided into
groups addressed to different gods. On the other hand, Books
i, viii, and x were not composed each by a distinct family of
seers, while the groups of which they consist are constituted
by being the hymns composed by different individual seers. Book
ix is distinguished from the rest by all its hymns being addressed
to one and the same deity, Soma, and by its groups being based
not on identity of authorship, but of metre.
Family books.--In these the first group of hymns is
invariably addressed to Agni, the second to Indra, and those
that follow to gods of less importance. The hymns within these
deity groups are arranged according to the diminishing number
of stanzas contained in them. Thus in the second Book the Agni
group of ten hymns begins with one of sixteen stanzas and ends
with one of only six. The first hymn of the next group in the
same book has twenty-one, the last only four stanzas. The entire
group of the family books is, moreover, arranged according to
the increasing number of the hymns in each of those books, if
allowance is made for later additions. Thus the second Book has
forty-three, the third sixty-two, the sixth seventy-five, and
the seventh one hundred and four hymns. The homogeneity of the
family books renders it highly probable that they formed the
nucleus of the RV., which gradually assumed its final shape by
successive additions to these books.
The earliest of these additions appears to be the second half
of Book i, which, consisting of nine groups, each by a different
author, was prefixed to the family books, the internal arrangement
of which it follows. The eighth is like the family books as being
in the main composed by members of one family, the Kanvas; but
it differs from them in not beginning with hymns to Agni and
in the prevalence of the strophic metre called Pragatha. The
fact of its containing fewer hymns than the seventh book shows
that it did not form a unit of the family books; but its partial
resemblance to them caused it to be the first addition at the
end of that collection. The first part of Book i (1-50) is in
several respects like Book viii: Kanvas seem to have been the
authors of the majority of these hymns; their favourite strophic
metre is again found here; and both collections contain many
similar or identical passages. There must have been some difference
between the two groups, but the reason why they should have been
separated by being added at the beginning and the end of an older
collection has not yet been shown.
The ninth book was added as a consequence of the first
eight being formed into a unit. It consists entirely of hymns
addressed to Soma while the juice was 'clarifying' (pavamana);
on the other hand, the family books contain not a single Soma
hymn, and Books i and viii together only three hymns invoking
Soma in his general character. Now the hymns of Book ix were
composed by authors of the same families as those of Books ii
to vii, as is shown, for instance, by the appearance here of
refrains peculiar to those families. Hence it is to be assumed
that all the hymns to Soma Pavamana were removed from Books i
to viii, in order to form a single collection belonging to the
sphere of the Udgatr or chanting priest, and added after Books
i-viii, which were the sphere of the Hotr or reciting priest.
The diction and recondite allusions in the hymns of this book
suggest that they are later than those of the preceding books;
but some of them may be early, as accompanying the Soma ritual
which goes back to the Indo-Iranian period. The hymns of the
first part of this book (1-60) are arranged according to the
decreasing number of their stanzas, beginning with ten and ending
with four. In the second part (61-114), which contains some very
long hymns (one of forty-eight and another of fifty-eight stanzas),
this arrangement is not followed. The two parts also differ in
metre: the hymns of the first are, excepting four stanzas, composed
in Gayatri, while the second consists mainly of groups in other
metres; thus 68-84 form a Jagati and 87-97 a Tristubh group.
The tenth book was the final addition. Its language
and subject matter show that it is later in origin than the other
books; its authors were, moreover, clearly familiar with them.
Both its position at the end of the RV. and the fact that the
number of its hymns (191) is made up to that of the first book
indicate its supplementary character. Its hymns were composed
by a large, number of seers of different families, some of which
appear in other' books; but the traditional attribution of authorship
is of little or no value in the case of a great many hymns. In
spite of its generally more modern character, it contains some
hymns quite as old and poetic as the average of those in other
books. These perhaps found a place here because for some reason
they had been overlooked while, the other collections were being
formed. As regards language, we find in the tenth book earlier
grammatical forms and words growing obsolete, while new words
and meanings begin to emerge. As to matter, a tendency to abstract
ideas and philosophical speculation, as well as the introduction
of magical conceptions, such as belong to the sphere of the Atharvaveda,
is here found to prevail.
The hymns of the RV. are composed in the earliest stage of
that literary language of which the latest, or Classical Sanskrit,
was stereotyped by the grammar of Panini at the end of the fourth
century B.C. It differs from the latter about as much as Homeric
from Attic Greek. It exhibits a much greater variety of forms
than Sanskrit does. Its case-forms both in nominal and pronominal
inflexion are more numerous. It has more participles and gerunds.
It is, however, in verbal forms that its comparative richness
is most apparent. Thus the RV. very frequently uses the subjunctive,
which as such has entirely died out in Sanskrit; it has twelve
forms of the infinitive, while only a single one of these has
survived in Sanskrit. The language of the RV. also differs from
Sanskrit in its accent, which, like that of ancient Greek, is
of a musical nature, depending on the pitch of the voice, and
is marked throughout the hymns. This accent has in Sanskrit been
changed not only to a stress accent, but has shifted its position
as depending on quantity, and is no longer marked. The Vedic
accent occupies a very important position in Comparative Philology,
while the Sanskrit accent, being secondary, has no value of this
The Sandhi of the RV. represents an earlier and a less conventional
stage than that of Sanskrit. Thus the insertion of a sibilant
between final n and a hard palatal or dental is in the RV. restricted
to cases where it is historically justified; in Sanskrit it has
become universal, being extended to cases where it has no justification.
After e and o in the RV. a is nearly always pronounced, while
in Sanskrit it is invariably dropped. It may thus be affirmed
with certainty that no student can understand Sanskrit historically
without knowing the language of the RV.
The hymns of the RV. are without exception metrical. They
contain on the average ten stanzas, generally of four verses
or lines, but also of three and sometimes five. The line, which
is called Pada, ('quarter') and forms the metrical unit, usually
consists of eight, eleven, or twelve syllables. A stanza is,
as a rule, made up of lines of the same type; but some of the
rarer kinds of stanza are formed by combining lines of different
length. There are about fifteen metres, but only about seven
of these are at all common. By far the most common are the Tristubh
(4 x 11 syllables), the Gayatri (3 x 8), and the Jagati (4 x
12), which together furnish two-thirds of the total number of
stanzas in the RV. The Vedic metres, which are the foundation
of the Classical Sanskrit metres except two, have a, quantitative
rhythm in which short and long syllables alternate and, which
is of a generally iambic type. It is only the rhythm of the last
four or five syllables (called the cadence) of the line that
is rigidly determined, and the lines of eleven and twelve syllables
have a caesura as well. In their structure the Vedic metres thus
come half way between the metres of the Indo-Iranian period,
in which, as the Avesta shows, the principle is the number of
syllables only, and) those of Classical Sanskrit, in which (except
the sloka) the quantity of every single syllable in the line
is fixed. Usually a hymn of the Rigveda consists of stanzas in
the same metre throughout; a typical divergence from this rule
is to mark the conclusion of a hymn with a stanza in a different
metre. Some hymns are strophic in their construction. The strophes
in them consist either of three stanzas (called trca) in the
same simple metre, generally Gayatri, or of two stanzas in different
mixed metres. The latter type of strophe is called Pragatha and
is found chiefly in the eighth book.
7. RELIGION OF THE RIGVEDA.
This is concerned with the worship of gods that are largely
personifications of the powers of nature. The hymns are mainly
invocations of these gods, and are meant to accompany the oblation
of Soma juice and the fire sacrifice of melted butter. It is
thus essentially a polytheistic religion, which assumes a pantheistic
colouring only in a few of its latest hymns. The gods are usually
stated in the RV. to be thirty-three in number, being divided
into three groups of eleven distributed in earth, air, and heaven,
the three divisions of the Universe. Troops of deities, such
as the Maruts, are of course not included in this number. The
gods were believed to have had a beginning. But they were not
thought to have all come into being at the same time; for the
RV. occasionally refers to earlier gods, and certain deities
are described as the offspring of others. That they were considered
to have been originally mortal is implied in the statement that
they acquired immortality by drinking Soma or by receiving it
as a gift from Agni and Savitr.
The gods were conceived as human in appearance. Their bodily
parts which are frequently mentioned, are in many instances simply
figurative illustrations of the phenomena of nature represented
by them. Thus the arms of the Sun are nothing more than his rays;
and the tongue and limbs of Agni merely denote his flames. Some
of the gods appear equipped as warriors, especially Indra, others
are described as priests, especially Agni and Brhaspati. All
of them drive through the air in cars, drawn chiefly by steeds,
but sometimes by other animals. The favourite food of men is
also that of the gods, consisting in milk, butter, grain, and
the flesh of sheep, goats, and cattle. It is offered to them
in the sacrifice, which is either conveyed to them in heaven
by the god of fire, or which they come in their cars to partake
of on the strew of grass prepared for their reception. Their
favourite drink is the exhilarating juice of the Soma plant.
The home of the gods is heaven, the third heaven, or the highest
step of Visnu, where cheered by draughts of Soma they live a
life of bliss.
Attributes of the gods.--Among these the most prominent
is power, for they are constantly described as great and mighty.
They regulate the order of nature and vanquish the potent powers
of evil. They hold sway over all creatures; no one can thwart
their ordinances or live beyond the time they appoint; and the
fulfilment of desires is dependent on them. They are benevolent
beings who bestow prosperity on mankind; the only one in whom
injurious traits appear being Rudra. They are described as 'true'
and 'not deceitful', being friends and protectors of the honest
and righteous, but punishing sin and guilt. Since in most cases
the gods of the RV. have not yet become dissociated from the
physical phenomena which they represent, their figures are indefinite
in outline and deficient in individuality. Having many features,
such as power, brilliance, benevolence, and wisdom in common
with others, each god exhibits but very few distinctive attributes.
This vagueness is further increased by the practice of invoking
deities in pairs-a practice making both gods share characteristics
properly belonging to one along. When nearly every power can
thus be ascribed to every god, the identification of one deity
with another becomes easy. There are in fact several such identifications
in the RV. The idea is even found in more than one late passage
that various deities are but different forms of a single divine
being. This idea, however, never developed into monotheism, for
none of the regular sacrifices in the Vedic period were offered
to a single god. Finally, in other late hymns of the RV. we find
the deities Aditi and Prajapati identified not only with all
the gods, but with nature as well. This brings us to that pantheism
which became characteristic of later Indian thought in the form
of the Vedanta philosophy.
The Vedic gods may most conveniently be classified as deities
of heaven, air, and earth, according to the threefold division
suggested by the RV. itself. The celestial gods are Dyaus, Varuna,
Mitra, Surya, Savitr, Pusan, the Asvins, and the goddesses Usas,
Dawn, and Ratri, Night. The atmospheric gods are Indra, Apam
napat, Rudra, the Maruts, Vayu, Parjanya, and the Waters. The
terrestrial deities are Prthivi, Agni, and Soma. This Reader
contains hymns addressed to all these gods, with detailed introductions
describing their characters in the words, as far as is possible,
of the RV. itself. A few quite subordinate deities are not included,
partly because no entire hymn is addressed to them. Two such
belong to the celestial sphere. Trita, a somewhat obscure god,
who is mentioned only in detached stanzas of the RV., comes down
from the Indo-Iranian period. He seems to represent the 'third'
or lightning form of fire. Similar in origin to Indra, be was
ousted by the latter at an early period. Matarisvan is a divine
being also referred to only in scattered stanzas of the RV. He
is described as having brought down the hidden fire from heaven
to men on earth, like the Prometheus of Greek mythology. Among
the terrestrial deities are certain rivers that are personified
and invoked in the RV. Thus the Sindhu (Indus) s celebrated as
a goddess in one hymn (x. 75, 2. 4. 6), and the Vipas (Bïas)
and the Sutudri (Sutlej), sister streams of the Panjab, in another
(iii. 33). The most important and oftenest lauded is, however,
the Sarasvati (vi. 61; vii. 95). Though the personification goes
much further here than in the case of other streams, the connexion
of the goddess with the river is never lost sight of in the RV.
Abstract deities.--One result of the advance of thought
during the period of the RV. from the concrete towards the abstract
was the rise of abstract deities. The earlier and more numerous
class of these seems to have started from epithets which were
applicable to one or more older deities, but which came to acquire
an independent value as the want of a god exercising the particular
activity in question began to be felt. We find here names denoting
either an agent (formed with the suffix tr or tar), such as Dhatr
'Creator', or an attribute, such as Prajapati, 'Lord of Creatures'.
Thus Dhatr, otherwise an epithet of Indra, appears also as an
independent deity who creates heaven and earth, sun and moon.
More rarely occur Vidhatri the 'Disposer', Dhartr, the 'Supporter',
Tratr, the Protector', and Netr, the 'Leader'. The only agent
god mentioned at all frequently in the RV. is Tvastr, the 'Artificer',
though no entire hymn is addressed to him. He is the most skilful
of workmen, having among other things fashioned the bolt of Indra
and a new -drinking-cup for the gods. He is a guardian of Soma,
which is called the 'food of Tvastr', and which Indra drinks
in Tvastr's house. He is the father of Saranyu, wife of Vivasvant
and mother of the primaeval twins Yama and Yami. The name of
the solar deity Savitr the 'Stimulator', belongs to this class
of agent gods (cf. p. 11).
There are a few other abstract deities whose names were originally
epithets of older gods, but now become epithets of the supreme
god who was being evolved at the end of the Rigvedic period.
These appellations, compound in form, are of rare and late occurrence.
The most important is Prajapati, 'Lord of Creatures' Originally
an epithet of such gods as Savitr and Soma, this name is employed
in a late verse of the tenth book to designate a distinct deity
in the character of a Creator. Similarly, the epithet Visvakarman,
'all-creating', appears as the name of an independent deity to
whom two hymns (x. 81. 82) are addressed. Hiranyagarbha, the
'Golden Germ', once occurs as the name of the supreme god described
as the 'one lord of all that exists'. In one curious instance
it is possible to watch the rise of an abstract deity of this
type. The refrain of a late hymn of the RV. (x. 121) is kasmai
devaya havisa vidhema? 'to what god should we pay worship with
oblation?' This led to the word ká, 'who?' being used
in the later Vedic literature as an independent name, Ka, of
the supreme god. The only abstract deity of this type occurring
in the oldest as well as the latest parts of the RV. is Brhaspati
The second and smaller class of abstract deities comprises
personifications of abstract nouns. There are seven or eight
of these occurring in the tenth book. Two hymns (83, 84) are
addressed to Manyu, 'Wrath', and one (x. 161) to Sraddha, 'Faith'.
Anumati, 'Favour (of the gods)', Aramati, 'Devotion', Sunrta,
'Bounty', Asuniti, 'Spirit-life', and Nirrti, 'Decease', occur
only in a few isolated passages.
A purely abstract deity, often incidentally celebrated throughout
the RV. is A-diti, 'Liberation', 'Freedom' (lit. 'un-binding'),
whose main characteristic is the power of delivering from the
bonds of physical suffering and moral guilt. She, however, occupies
a unique position among the abstract deities, owing to the peculiar
way in which the personification seems to have arisen. She is
the mother of the small group of deities called Adityas, often
styled 'sons of Aditi'. This expression at first most probably
meant nothing more than 'sons of liberation', according to an
idiom common in the RV. and elsewhere. The word was then personified,
with the curious result that the mother is mythologically younger
than some at least of her sons, who (for instance Mitra) date
from the Indo-Iranian period. The goddess Diti, named only three
times in the RV., probably came into being as an antithesis to
Aditi, with whom she, is twice mentioned.
Godesses play an insignificant part in the RV. The
only one of importance is Usas (p. 92). Next come Sarasvati,
celebrated in two whole hymns (vi. 61; vii. 95) as well as parts
of others, and Vac, 'Speech' (x, 71. 125). With one hymn each
are addressed Prthivi, 'Earth' (v. 84), Ratri, 'Night' (x, 127,
p. 203), and Aranyani, 'Goddess of the Forest' (x. 146). Others
are only sporadically mentioned. The wives of the great gods
are still more insignificant, being mere names formed from those
of their consorts, and altogether lacking in individuality: such
are Agnayi, Indrani, Varunani, spouses of Agni, Indra, and Varuna
Dual Divinities.--A peculiar feature of the religion
of the RV. is the invocation of pairs of deities whose names
are combined as compounds, each member of which is in the dual.
About a dozen such pairs are celebrated in entire hymns, and
about a dozen more in detached stanzas. By far the largest number
of hymns is addressed to the couple Mitra-Varuna, though the
names most frequently found as dual compounds are those of Dyava-prthivi,
'Heaven and Earth' (p. 36). The latter pair, having been associated
as universal parents from the Indo-European period onwards, in
all probability furnished the analogy for this dual type.
Groups of Deities.--There are also a few more or less
definite groups of deities, generally associated with some particular
god. The Maruts (p. 21), who attend on Indra, are the most numerous
group. The smaller group of the Adityas, of whom Varuna is the
chief, is constantly mentioned in company with their mother Aditi.
Their number is stated in the RV. to be seven or, with the addition
of Martanda, eight. One passage (ii. 27, 1) enumerates six of
them Mitra, Aryaman, Bhaga, Varuna, Daksa, Amsa: Surya was probably
regarded as the seventh. A much less important group, without
individual names or definite number, is that of the Vasus, whose
leader is generally Indra. There are, finally, the Visve devas
(p. 147), who, invoked in many hymns, form a comprehensive group,
which in spite of its name is, strange to say, sometimes conceived
as a narrower group associated with others like the Vasus and
Lesser Divinities.--Besides the higher gods, a number
of lesser divine powers are known to the RV. The most prominent
of these are the Rbhus, who are celebrated in eleven hymns. They
are a deft-handed trio, who by their marvellous skill acquired
the rank of deities. Among their five main feats of dexterity
the greatest consisted in transforming the bowl of Tvastr into
four shining cups.
The bowl and the cups have been various interpreted a s the
moon with its four phases or the year with its Seasons. The Rbhus
further exhibited their skill in renewing the youth of their
parents, by whom Heaven and Earth seem to have been meant.
Occasional mention is made in the RV. of an Apsaras, a celestial
water-nymph, the spouse of a corresponding genius named Gandharva.
In a few passages more Apsarases, than one are spoken of; but
the only one mentioned by name is Urvasi. Gandharva is in the
RV. a single being (like the Gandarewa of the Avesta), who dwells
in the aerial sphere, guards the celestial Soma, and is (as in
the Avesta) connected with the waters.
There are, lastly, a few divinities of the tutelary order,
guardians watching over the welfare of house or field. Such is
the rarely mentioned Vastospati, 'Lord of the Dwelling', who
is invoked to grant a favourable entry, to remove disease, and
to bestow protection and prosperity. Ksetrasya pati, 'Lord of
the Field', is besought to grant cattle and horses and to confer
welfare. Sita, the 'Furrow', is once invoked to dispense crops
and rich blessings.
In addition to the great phenomena of nature, various features
of the earth's surface as well as artificial objects are to be
found deified in the RV. Thus besides Rivers and Waters (p. 115),
already mentioned as terrestrial goddesses, mountains are often
addressed as divinities, but only along with other natural objects,
or in association with gods. Plants are regarded as divine powers,
one entire hymn (x. 97) being devoted to their praise, chiefly
with reference to their healing properties. Sacrificial implements,
moreover, are deified. The most important of these is the sacrificial
post which is praised and invoked in a whole hymn (iii. 8). The
sacrificial grass (barhis) and the Divine Doors (dvaro devih),
which lead to the place of sacrifice, are addressed as goddesses.
The pressing stones (gravanas) are invoked as deities in three
hymns (x. 76. 94. 175): spoken of as immortal, unaging, mightier
than heaven, they are besought to drive away demons and destruction.
The Mortar and Pestle used in pounding the Soma plant are also
invoked in the RV. (i. 28, 6. 6). Weapons, finally, are sometimes
deified: armour, bow, quiver, arrows, and drum being addressed
in one of the hymns (vi. 75).
The Demons often mentioned in the hymns are of two
kinds. The higher and more powerful class are the aerial foes
of the gods. These, are seldom called asura in the RV., where
in the older parts that word means a divine being, like ahura
in the Avesta (cf. p. 134). The term dasa, or dasyu, properly
the name of the dark aborigines, is frequently used in the sense
of fiend to designate the aerial demons. The conflict is regularly
one between a single god and a single demon, as exemplified by
Indra and Vrtra. The latter is by far the most frequently mentioned.
His mother being called Danu, he is sometimes alluded to by the
metronymic term Danava. Another powerful demon is Vala, the personified
cave of the cows, which he guards, and which are set free by
Indra and his allies, notably the Angirases. Other demon adversaries
of Indra are Arbuda, described as a wily beast, whose cows Indra
drove out; Visvarapa, son of Tvastr, a three-headed demon slain
by both Trita and Indra, who seize his cows; and Svarbhanu, who
eclipses the sun. There are several other individual demons,
generally described as Dasas and slain by Indra. A group of demons
are the Panis ('niggards'), primarily foes of Indra, who, with
the aid of the dog Sarama, tracks and releases the cows hidden
The second or lower class of demons are terrestrial goblins,
enemies of men. By far the most common generic name for them
is Raksas. They are nearly always mentioned in connexion with
some god who destroys them. The much less common term Yalu or
Yatudhana (primarily 'sorcerer') alternates with Raksas, and
perhaps expresses a species. A class of demons scarcely referred
to in the RV., but often mentioned in the later Vedas, are the
Pisacas, eaters of raw flesh or of corpses.
Not more than thirty hymns are concerned with subjects other
than the worship of gods or deified objects. About a dozen of
these, almost entirely confined to the tenth book, deal with
magical practices, which properly belong to the sphere of the
Atharvaveda. Their contents are augury (ii. 42. 43) or spells
directed against poisonous vermin (i. 191) or disease (x. 163),
against a demon destructive of children (x. 162), or enemies
(x. 166), or rival wives (x. 145). A few are incantations to
preserve life (x. 58. 60), or to induce sleep (v. 55), or to
procure offspring (x. 183); while one is a panegyric of frogs
as magical bringers of rain (vii. 103, p. 141).
8. SECULAR MATTER IN THE RIGVEDA.
Secular hymns.--Hardly a score of the hymns are secular
poems. These are especially valuable as throwing direct light
on the earliest thought and civilization of India. One of the
most noteworthy of them is the long wedding hymn (x. 85). There
are also five funeral hymns (x. 14-18). Four of these are addressed
to deities concerned with the future life; the last, however,
is quite secular in tone, and gives more information than any
of the rest about the funeral customs of early Vedic India (cf.
Mythological dialogues. -Besides several mythological
dialogues in which the speakers are divine beings (iv. 62; x.
51. 52. 86. 108), there are two in which both agents are human.
One is a somewhat obscure colloquy (x. 95) between a mortal lover
Puraravas and the celestial nymph Urvasi, who is on the point
of forsaking him. It is the earliest form of the story which
much more than a thousand years later formed the subject of Kalidasa's
drama Vikramorvasi. The other (x. 10) is a dialogue between Yama
and Yami, the twin parents of the human race. This group of hymns
has a special literary interest as foreshadowing the dramatic
works of a later age.
Didactic hymns.--Four hymns are of a didactic character.
One of these (x. 34) is a striking poem, being a monologue in
which a gambler laments the misery he has brought on himself
and his home by his inability to resist the attraction of the
dice. The rest which describe the various ways in which men follow
gain (ix. 112), or praise wise speech (x. 71), or the value of
good deeds (x. 117), anticipate the sententious poetry for which
post-Vedic literature is noted.
Riddles.--Two of the hymns consist of riddles. One
of these (viii. 29, p. 147) describes various gods without mentioning
their names. More elaborate and obscure is a long poem of fifty-two
stanzas (i. 164), in which a number of enigmas, largely connected
with the sun, are propounded in mystical and symbolic language.
Thus the wheel of order with twelve spokes, revolving round the
heavens, and containing within it in couples 720 sons, means
the year with its twelve months and 360 days and 360 nights.
Cosmogonic hymns.--About half a dozen hymns consist
of speculations on the origin of the world through the agency
of a Creator (called by various names) as distinct from any of
the ordinary gods. One of them (x. 129, p. 207), which describes
the world as due to the development of the existent (sat) from
the non-existent (a-sat), is particularly interesting as the
starting-point of the evolutional philosophy which in later times
assumed shape in the Sankhya system.
A semi-historical character attaches to one complete hymn
(i. 126) and to appendages of 3 to 5 stanzas attached to over
thirty others, which are called Danastutis, or 'praises of gifts'.
These are panegyrics of liberal patrons on behalf of whom the
seers composed their hymns. They yield incidental genealogical
information about the poets and their employers, as well as about
the names and the habitat of the Vedic tribes. They are late
in date, appearing chiefly in the first and tenth, as well as
among the supplementary hymns of the eighth book.
Geographical data.--From the geographical data of the
RV., especially the numerous rivers there mentioned, it is to
be inferred that the Indo-Aryan tribes when the hymns were composed
occupied the territory roughly corresponding to the north-west
Frontier Province, and the Panjab of to-day. The references to
flora and fauna bear out this conclusion.
The historical data of the hymns show that the Indo-Aryans
were still engaged in war with the aborigines, many victories
over these foes being mentioned. That they were still moving
forward as conquerors is indicated by references to rivers as
obstacles to advance. Though divided into many tribes, they were
conscious of religious and racial unity, contrasting the aborigines
with themselves by calling them non-sacrificers and unbelievers,
as well as 'black-skins' and the 'Dasa colour' as opposed to
the 'Aryan colour'.
Incidental references scattered throughout the hymns supply
a good deal of information about the social conditions of the
time. Thus it is clear that the family, with the father at its
head, was the basis of society, and that women held a freer and
more honoured position than in later times. Various crimes are
mentioned, robbery, especially of cattle, apparently being the
commonest. Debt, chiefly as a result of gambling, was known.
Clothing consisted usually of an upper and a lower garment, which
were made of sheep's wool. Bracelets, anklets, necklaces, and
earrings were worn as ornaments. Men usually grew beards, but
sometimes shaved. Food mainly consisted of milk, clarified butter,
grain, vegetables, and fruit. Meat was eaten only when animals
were sacrificed. The commonest kind appears to have been beef,
as bulls were the chief offerings to the gods. Two kinds of spirituous
liquor were made: Soma was drunk at religious ceremonies only,
while Sura, extracted from some kind of grain, was used on ordinary
Occupations.--One of the chief occupations of the Indo-Aryan
was warfare. He fought either on foot or from a chariot, but
there is no evidence to show that he ever did so on horseback.
The ordinary weapons were bows and arrows, but spears and axes
were also used. Cattle-breeding appears to have been the main
source of livelihood, cows being the chief objects of desire
in prayers to the gods. But agriculture was also practised to
some extent: fields were furrowed with a plough drawn by bulls;
corn was cut with sickles, being then threshed and winnowed.
Wild animals were trapped and snared, or hunted with bows and
arrows, occasionally with the aid of dogs. Boats propelled by
paddles were employed, as it seems mainly for the purpose of
crossing rivers. Trade was known only in the form of barter,
the cow representing the unit of value in exchange. Certain trades
and crafts already existed, though doubtless in a rudimentary
stage. The occupations of the wheelwright and the carpenter were,
combined. The smith melted ore in a forge, and made kettles and
other vessels of metal. The tanner prepared the skins of animals.
Women plaited mats of grass or reeds, sewed, and especially wove,
but whether they ever did so professionally is uncertain.
Amusements.--Among these chariot-racing was the favourite.
The most popular social recreation was playing with dice (cp.
p. 186). Dancing was also practised, chiefly by women. The people
were fond of music, the instruments used being the drum (dundubhi),
the flute (vana), and the lute (vina). Singing is also mentioned.
9. LITERARY MERIT OF THE RIGVEDA.
The diction of the hymns is on the whole natural and simple,
free from the use of compounds of more than two members. Considering
their great antiquity, the hymns are composed with a remarkable
degree of metrical skill and command of language. But as they
were produced by a sacerdotal class and were generally intended
to accompany a ritual no longer primitive, their poetry is often
impaired by constant sacrificial allusions. This is especially
noticeable in the hymns addressed to the two ritual deities Agni
and Soma, where the thought becomes affected by conceits and
obscured by mysticism. Nevertheless the RV. contains much genuine
poetry. As the gods are mostly connected with natural phenomena,
the praises addressed to them give rise to much beautiful and
even noble imagery. The degree of literary merit in different
hymns naturally varies a good deal, but the average is remarkably
high. The most poetical hymns are those addressed to Dawn, equal
if not superior in beauty to the religious lyrics of any other
literature. Some of the hymns to Indra show much graphic power
in describing his conflict with the demon Vrtra. The hymns to
the Maruts, or Storm gods, often depict with vigorous imagery
the phenomena of thunder and lightning, and the mighty onset
of the wind. One hymn to Parjanya (v. 83) paints the devastating
effects of the rain-storm with great vividness. The hymns in
praise of Varuna describe the various aspects of his sway as
moral ruler of the world in an exalted strain of poetry. Some
of the mythological dialogues set forth the situation with much
beauty of language; for example, the colloquy between Indra's
messenger Sarama and the demons who stole the cows (x. 108),
and that between the primaeval twins Yama and Yami (x. 10). The
Gambler's lament (x. 34) is a fine specimen of pathetic poetry.
One of the funeral hymns (x. 18) expresses ideas connected with
death in language of impressive and solemn beauty. One of the
cosmogonic hymns (x. 129) illustrates how philosophical speculation
can be clothed in poetry of no mean order.
In dealing with the hymns of the RV. the important question
arises, to what extent are we able to understand their real sense,
considering that they have come down to us as an isolated relic
from the remotest period of Indian literature? The reply, stated
generally, is that, as a result of the labours of Vedic scholars,
the meaning of a considerable proportion of the RV. is clear,
but of the remainder many hymns and a great many single stanzas
or passages are still obscure or unintelligible. This was already
the case in the time of Yaska, the author of the Nirukta, the
oldest extant commentary (c. 500 B.C.) on about 600 detached
stanzas of the RV.; for he quotes one of his predecessors, Kautsa,
as saying that the Vedic hymns we obscure, unmeaning, and mutually
In the earlier period of Vedic studies, commencing about the,
middle of the nineteenth century, the traditional method, which
follows the great commentary of Sayana (fourteenth century A.D.),
and is represented by the translation of the RV., begun by H.H.
Wilson in 1850, was considered adequate. It has since been proved
that, though the native Indian commentators are invaluable guides.
in explaining the theological and ritual texts of the Brahmanas
and Satras, with the atmosphere of which they were familiar,
they did not possess a continuous tradition from the time when
the Vedic hymns were composed. That the gap between the poets
and the interpreters even earlier than Yaska must have been considerable,
is shown by the divergences of opinion among his predecessors
as quoted by him. Thus one of these, Aurnavabha, interprets nasatyau,
an epithet of the Asvins, as 'true, not false', another Agrayana,
as 'leaders of truth' (satyasya pranetarau), while Yaska himself
thinks it may mean 'nose-born' (nasika-prabhavau)! Yaska, moreover,
mentions several different schools of interpretation, each of
which explained difficulties in accordance with its own particular
theory. Yaska's own interpretations, which in all cases of doubt
are based on etymology, are evidently often merely conjectural,
for he frequently gives several alternative explanations of a
word. Thus he explains the epithet jata-vedas in as many as five
different ways. Yet he must have had more and better means of
ascertaining the sense of various obscure words than Sayana who
lived nearly 2,000 years later. Sayana's interpretations, however,
sometimes differ from those of Yaska. Hence either Yaska is wrong
or Sayana does not follow the tradition. Again, Sayana often
gives several inconsistent explanations of a word in interpreting
the same passage or in commenting on the same word in different
passages. Thus asura, 'divine being', is variously rendered by
him as 'expeller of foes', 'giver of strength', 'giver of life',
'hurler away of what is undesired', 'giver of breath or water',
'thrower of oblations, priest', 'taker away of breath', 'expeller
of water, Parjanya', 'impeller', 'strong', 'wise', and 'rain-water'
or 'a water-discharging cloud'! In short it is clear from a careful
examination of their comments that neither Yaska nor Sayana possessed
any certain knowledge about a large number of words in the RV.
Hence their interpretations can be treated as decisive only if
they are borne out by probability, by the context, and by parallel
For the traditional method Roth, the founder of Vedic philology,
substituted the critical method of interpreting the difficult
parts of the RV. from internal evidence by the minute comparison
of all words parallel in form and matter, while taking into consideration
context, grammar, and etymology, without ignoring either the
help supplied by the historical study of the Vedic language in
its connexion with Sanskrit or the outside evidence derived from
the Avesta and from Comparative Philology. In the application
of his method Roth attached too much weight to etymological considerations,
while he undervalued the evidence of native tradition. On the
other hand, a reaction arose which, in emphasizing the purely
Indian character of the Vedic hymns, connects the interpretation
of them too closely with the literature of the post-Vedic period
and the much more advanced civilization there described. It is
important to note that the critical scholar has at his disposal
not only all the material that was open to the traditional interpreters,
and to which he is moreover able to apply the comparative and
historical methods of research, but also possesses over and above
many valuable aids that were unknown to the traditional school--the
Avesta, Comparative Philology, Comparative Religion and Mythology,
and Ethnology. The student will find in the notes of the Reader
many exemplifications of the usefulness of these aids to interpretation.
There is good reason to hope from the results already achieved
that steady adherence to the critical method, by admitting all
available evidence and by avoiding one-sidedness in its application,
will eventually clear up a large proportion of the obscurities
and difficulties that still confront the interpreter of the Rigveda.
As the personification of the sacrificial fire, Agni is second
in importance to Indra (ii. 12) only, being addressed in at least
200 hymns. The anthropomorphism of his physical appearance is
only rudimentary, and is connected chiefly with the sacrificial
aspect of fire. Thus he is butter-backed, flame-haired, and has
a tawny beard, sharp jaws, and golden teeth. Mention is often
made of his tongue, with which the gods eat the oblation. With
a burning head he faces in all directions.
He is compared with various animals: he resembles a bull that
bellows, and has horns which he sharpens; when born he is often
called a calf; he is kindled like a horse that brings the gods,
and is yoked to convey the sacrifice to them. He is also a divine
bird; he is the eagle of the sky; as dwelling in the waters he
is like a goose; he is winged, and he takes possession of the
wood as a bird perches on a tree.
Wood or ghee is his food, melted butter his beverage; and
he is nourished three times a day. He is the mouth by which the
gods eat the sacrifice; and his flames are spoons with which
he besprinkles the gods, but he is also asked to consume the
offerings himself. He is sometimes, though then nearly always
with other gods, invited to drink the Soma juice.
His brightness is much dwelt upon: he shines like the sun;
his lustre is like the rays of the dawn and the sun, and like
the lightnings of the rain-cloud. He shines even at night, and
dispels the darkness with his beams. On the other hand, his path
is black when he invades the forests and shaves the earth as
a barber a beard. His flames are like roaring waves, and his
sound is like the thunder of heaven. His red smoke rises up to
the firmament; like the erector of a post he supports the sky
with his smoke. 'Smoke-bannered' (dhuma-ketu) is his frequent
and exclusive epithet.
He has a shining, golden, lightning car, drawn by two or more
ruddy and tawny steeds. He is a charioteer of the sacrifice,
and with his steeds he brings the gods on his car.
He is the child of Heaven (Dyáus), and is often called
the son of Heaven and Earth (i. 160). He is also the offspring
of the waters. The gods generated him as a light for the Aryan
or for man, and placed him among men. Indra is called Agni's
twin brother, and is more closely associated with him than any
The mythology of Agni, apart from his sacrificial activity,
is mainly concerned with his various births, forms, and abodes.
Mention is often made of his daily production from the two kindling
sticks (aránis), which are his parents or his mothers.
From the dry wood Agni is born living; as soon as born the child
devours his parents. By the ten maidens that produce him are
meant the ten fingers of the kindler. Owing to the force required
to kindle Agni he is often called 'son of strength' (sáhasah
sunúh). Being produced every morning he is young; at the
same time no sacrificer is older than Agni, for he conducted
the first sacrifice. Again, Agni's origin in the aerial waters
is often referred to: he is an embryo of the waters; he is kindled
in the waters; he is a bull that has grown in the lap of the
waters. As the 'son of Waters' (ii. 35) he has become a separate
deity. He is also sometimes conceived as latent in terrestrial
waters. This notion of Agni in the waters is a prominent one
in the RV. Thirdly, a celestial origin of Agni is often mentioned:
he is born in the highest heaven, and was brought down from heaven
by Matarisvan, the Indian Prometheus; and the acquisition of
fire by man is regarded as a gift of the gods as well as a production
of Matarisvan. The Sun (vii. 63) is further regarded as a form
of Agni. Thus Agni is the light of heaven in the bright sky;
he was born on the other side of the air and sees all things;
he is born as the sun rising in the morning. Hence Agni comes
to have a triple character. His births are three or threefold;
the gods made him threefold; he is threefold light; he has three
heads, three bodies, three stations. This threefold nature of
Agni is clearly recognized in the RV., and represents the earliest
The universe being also regarded as divided into the two divisions
of heaven and earth, Agni is sometimes said to have two origins,
and indeed exclusively bears the epithet dvi-jánman having
two births. As being kindled in numerous dwellings Agni is
also said to have many births.
Agni is more closely associated with human life than any other
deity. He is the only god called grhá-pati lord of
the house, and is constantly spoken of as a guest (átithi)
in human dwellings. He is an immortal who has taken up his abode
among mortals. Thus be comes to be termed the nearest kinsman
of men. He is oftenest described as a father, sometimes also
as a brother or even as a son of his worshippers. He both takes
the offerings of men to the gods and brings the gods to the sacrifice.
He is thus characteristically a messenger (dutá) appointed
by gods and by men to be an 'oblation-bearer'.
As the centre of the sacrifice he comes to be celebrated as
the divine counterpart of the earthly priesthood. Hence he is
often called priest (rtvíj, vípra) domestic priest
(puróhita), and more often than by any other name invoking
priest (hótr), also officiating priest (adhvaryú)
and playing priest (brahmán). His priesthood is the most
salient feature of his character; he is in fact the great priest,
as Indra is the great warrior.
Agni's wisdom is often dwelt upon. As knowing all the details
of sacrifice he is wise and all-knowing, and is exclusively called
jatá-vedas he who knows all created beings.
He is a great benefactor of his worshippers, protecting and
delivering them, and bestowing on them all kinds of boons, but
pre-eminently domestic welfare, offspring, and prosperity.
His greatness is often lauded, and is once even said to surpass
that of the other gods. His cosmic and creative powers are also
From the ordinary sacrificial Agni who conveys the offering
(havya-váhana) is distinguished his corpse-devouring (kravyád)
form that burns the body on the funeral pyre (x. 14). Another
function of Agni is to burn and dispel evil spirits and hostile
The sacrificial fire was already in the Indo-Iranian period
the centre of a developed ritual, and was personified and worshipped
as a mighty, wise, and beneficent god. It seems to have been
an Indo-European institution also, since the Italians and Greeks,
as well as the Indians and Iranians, had the custom of offering
gifts to the gods in fire. But whether it was already personified
in that remote period is a matter of conjecture.
The name of Agni (Lat. igni-s, Slavonic ogni)
is Indo-European, and may originally have meant the 'agile' as
derived from the root ag to drive (Lat. ago, Gk.
hágo), Skt. ájami).
This god is celebrated in eleven entire hymns and in many
detached stanzas as well. He is pre-eminently a golden deity:
the epithets golden-eyed, golden-handed, and golden-tongued are
peculiar to him. His car and its pole are golden. It is drawn
by two or more brown, white-footed horses. He has mighty golden
splendour which he diffuses, illuminating heaven, earth, and
air. He raises aloft his strong golden arms, with which be arouses
and blesses all beings, and which extend to the ends of the earth.
He moves in his golden car, seeing all creatures, on a downward
and an upward path. Shining with the rays of the sun, yellow-haired,
Savitr raises up his light continually from the east. His ancient
paths in the air are dustless and easy to traverse, and on them
he protects his worshippers; for he conveys the departed spirit
to where the righteous dwell. He removes evil dreams, and makes
men sinless; he drives away demons and sorcerers. He observes
fixed laws; the waters and the wind are subject to him. The other
gods follow his lead; and no being can resist his will. In one
stanza (iii. 62, 10) he is besought to stimulate the thoughts
of worshippers who desire to think of the glory of god Savitr.
This is the celebrated Savitri stanza which has been a morning
prayer in India for more than three thousand years. Savitr is
often distinguished from Surya (vii. 63), as when he is said
to shine with the rays of the Sun, to impel the sun, or to declare
men sinless to the sun. But in other passages it is hardly possible
to keep the two deities apart.
Savitr is connected with the evening as well as the morning;
for at his command night comes and he brings all beings to rest.
The word Savitr is derived from the root su to stimulate,
which is constantly and almost exclusively used with it in such
a way as to form a perpetual play on the name of the god. In
nearly half its occurrences the name is accompanied by devá
god, when it means the 'Stimulator god'. He was thus originally
a solar deity in the capacity of the great stimulator of life
and motion in the world.
This group of deities is prominent in the RV., thirty-three
hymns being addressed to them alone, seven to them with Indra,
and one each to them with Agni and Pusan (vi. 54). They form
a troop (ganá, sárdhas), being mentioned in the
plural only. Their number is thrice sixty or thrice seven. They
are the sons of Rudra (ii. 33) and of Prsni, who is a cow (probably
representing the mottled storm-cloud). They are further said
to have been generated by Vayu, the god of Wind, in the wombs
of heaven and they are called the sons of heaven; but they are
also spoken of as self-born. They are brothers equal in age and
of one mind, having the same birthplace and the same abode. They
have grown on earth, in air, and in heaven, or dwell in the three
heavens. The goddess Rodasi is always mentioned in connexion
with them; she stands beside them on their car, and thus seems
to have been regarded as their bride.
The brilliance of the Maruts is constantly referred to: they
are golden, ruddy, shine like fires, and are self-luminous. They
are very often associated with lightning: all the five compounds
of vidyút in the RV. are almost exclusively descriptive
of them. Their lances represent lightning, as their epithet rsti-vidyut
lightning-speared shows. They also have golden axes. They
are sometimes armed with bows and arrows, but this trait is probably
borrowed from their father Rudra. They wear garlands, golden
mantles, golden ornaments, and golden helmets. Armlets and anklets
(khadí) are peculiar to them. The cars on which they ride
gleam with lightning, and are drawn by steeds (generally feminine)
that are ruddy or tawny, spotted, swift as thought. They are
great and mighty; young and unaging; dustless, fierce, terrible
like lions, but also playful like children or calves.
The noise made by them, and often mentioned, is thunder and
the roaring of the winds. They cause the mountains to quake and
the two worlds to tremble; they rend trees, and, like wild elephants,
devour the forests. One of their main activities is to shed rain:
they cover the eye of the sun with rain; they create darkness
with the cloud when they shed rain; and they cause the heavenly
pail and the streams of the mountains to pour. The waters they
shed are often clearly connected with the thunder storm. Their
rain is often figuratively called milk, ghee, or honey. They
avert heat, but also dispel darkness, produce light, and prepare
a path for the sun.
They are several times called singers: they are the singers
of heaven they sing a song; for Indra when he slew the dragon,
they sang a song and pressed Soma. Though primarily representing
the sound of the winds, their song is also conceived as a hymn
of praise. Thus they come to be compared with priests, and are
addressed as priests when in the company of Indra.
Owing to their connexion. with the thunderstorm, the Maruts
are constantly associated with Indra (ii. 12) as his friends
and allies, increasing his strength and prowess with their prayers,
hymns, and songs, and generally assisting him in the fight with
Vrtra. Indra indeed accomplishes all his celestial exploits in
their company. Sometimes, however, the Maruts. accomplish these
exploits alone. Thus they rent Vrtra joint from joint, and disclosed
When not associated with Indra, the Maruts occasionally exhibit
the maleficent traits of their father Rudra. Hence they are implored
to ward off the lightning from their worshippers and not to let
their ill-will reach them, and are besought to avert their arrow
and the stone which they hurl, their lightning, and their cow-
and man-slaying bolt. But like their father Rudra, they are also
supplicated to bring healing remedies. These remedies appear
to be the waters, for the Maruts bestow medicine by raining.
The evidence of the RV. indicates that the Maruts are Storm-gods.
The name is probably derived from the root mar, to shine,
thus meaning 'the shining ones'.
This deity occupies a subordinate position in the RV., being
celebrated in only five or six hymns. The only anthropomorphic
traits mentioned about him are the strides he takes, and the
description of him as a youth vast in body who is no longer a
child. The central feature of his nature consists in his three
steps, connected with which are his exclusive epithets 'wide-going'
(uru-gayá) and 'wide-striding' (uru-kramá). With
these steps he traverses the earth or the terrestrial spaces.
Two of his steps are visible to men, but the third or highest
is beyond the flight of birds or mortal ken. His highest step
is like an eye fixed in heaven; it shines brightly down. It is
his dear abode, where pious men and the gods rejoice. There can
be no doubt that these three steps refer to the course of the
sun, and in all probability to its passage through the three
divisions of the world: earth, air, and heaven. Visnu sets in
motion like a revolving wheel his ninety steeds (= days) with
their four names (= seasons), an allusion to the three hundred
and sixty days of the solar year. Thus Visnu seems to. have been
originally a personification of the activity of the sun, the
swiftly-moving luminary that with vast strides passes through
the whole universe. Visnu takes his steps for man's existence,
to bestow the earth on him as a dwelling. The most prominent
secondary characteristic of Visnu is his friendship for Indra,
with whom he is often allied in the fight with Vrtra. In hymns
addressed to Visnu alone, Indra is the only other deity incidentally
associated with him. One hymn (vi. 69) is dedicated to the two
gods conjointly. Through the Vrtra myth the Maruts, lndra's companions,
are drawn into alliance with Visnu, who throughout one hymn (v.
87) is praised in combination with them.
The name is most probably derived from vis be active,
thus meaning 'the active one'.
Heaven and Earth are the most frequently named pair of deities
in the RV. They are so closely associated that, while they are
invoked as a pair in six hymns, Dyáus is never addressed
alone in any hymn, and Prthiv in only one of three stanzas. The
dual compound Dyáva-Prthiví, moreover, occurs much
oftener than the name of Dyáus alone. Heaven and Earth
are also mentioned as ródasi the two worlds more
than 100 times. They are parents, being often called pitára,
matára, jánitri, besides being separately addressed
as 'father' and 'mother'. They have made and sustain all creatures;
they are also the parents of the gods. At the same time they
are in different passages spoken of as themselves created by
individual gods. One of them is a prolific bull, the other a
variegated cow, being both rich in seed. They never grow old.
They are great and wide-extended; they are broad and vast abodes.
They grant food and wealth, or bestow great fame and dominion.
Sometimes moral qualities are attributed to them. They are wise
and promote righteousness. As father and mother they guard beings,
and protect from disgrace and misfortune. They are sufficiently
personified to be called leaders of the sacrifice and to be conceived
as seating themselves around the offering; but they never attained
to a living personification or importance in worship. These two
deities are quite co-ordinate, while in most of the other pairs
one of the two greatly predominates.
Indra is invoked alone in about one-fourth of the hymns of
the RV., far more than are addressed to any other deity; for
he is the favourite national god of the Vedic people. He is more
anthropomorphic on the physical side, and more invested with
mythological imagery, than any other member of the pantheon.
He is primarily a god of the thunderstorm who vanquishes the
demons of drought or darkness, and sets free the waters or wing
the light. He is secondarily the god of battle who aids the victorious
Aryan in overcoming his aboriginal foes.
His physical features, such as body and head, are often referred
to after he has drunk Soma he agitates his jaws and his beard;
and his belly is many times mentioned in connexion with his great
powers of drinking Soma. Being tawny (hári) in colour,
he is also tawny-haired and tawny-bearded. His arms are especially
often referred to because they wield the thunderbolt (vájra),
which, mythologically representing the lightning stroke, is his
exclusive weapon. This bolt was fashioned for him by Tvastr,
being made of iron (ayasá), golden, tawny, sharp, many-pointed,
sometimes spoken of as a stone or rock. Several epithets, compounds
or derivatives of vájra, such as vájra-bahu bearing
the bolt in his arm and vajrín wielder of the bolt
are almost without exception applied to him. Sometimes he is
described as armed with bow and arrows; he also carries a hook
Having a golden car, drawn by two tawny steeds (hári),
he is a car-fighter (rathesthá). Both his car and his
steeds were fashioned by the Rbhus, the divine artificers.
As Indra is more addicted to Soma than any of the other gods,
the common epithet 'Soma-drinker' (Somapá) is characteristic
of him. This beverage stimulates him to carry out his warlike
deeds; thus for the slaughter of Vrtra he is said to have drunk
three lakes of Soma. One whole hymn (x. 119) is a monologue in
which Indra, intoxicated with Soma, boasts of his greatness and
Indra is often spoken of as having been born, and two whole
hymns deal with the subject of his birth. His father, the same
as Agni's, appears to be Dyaus; but the inference from other
passages is that he is Tvastr, the artificer among the gods.
Agni is called Indra's twin brother, and Pusan (vi. 54) is also
his brother. His wife, who is often mentioned, is Indrani. Indra
is associated with various other deities. The Maruts, (i. 85)
are his chief allies, who constantly help him in his conflicts.
Hence the epithet Marútvant accompanied by the Maruts
is characteristic of him. Agni is the god most often conjoined
with him as a dual divinity. Indra is also often coupled with
Varuna (vii. 86) and Vayu, god of Wind, less often with Soma
(viii. 48), Brhaspati (iv. 50), Pusan, and Visnu.
Indra is of vast size; thus it is said that he would be equal
to the earth even if it were ten times as large as it is. His
greatness and power are constantly dwelt on: neither gods nor
men have attained to the limit of his might; and no one like
him is known among the gods. Thus various epithets such as sákrá
and sácivant mighty, sácipáti lord
of might, satákratu having a hundred powers,
are characteristic of him.
The essential myth forming the basis of his nature is described
with extreme frequency and much variation. Exhilarated by Soma
and generally escorted by the Maruts, he attacks the chief demon
of drought, usually called Vrtra, but often also the serpent
(áhi). Heaven and Earth tremble when the mighty combat
takes place. With his bolt be shatters Vrtra who encompasses
the waters, hence receiving the exclusive epithet apsu-jit, conquering
in the waters. The result of the conflict, which is regarded
as being constantly renewed, is that he pierces the mountain
and sets free the waters pent up like imprisoned cows. The physical
elements in the conflict are nearly always the bolt, the mountain,
waters or rivers, while lightning, thunder, cloud, rain are seldom
directly named. The waters are often terrestrial, but also often
aerial and celestial. The clouds are the mountains (párvata,
girí), on which the demons lie or dwell, or from which
Indra caste them down, or which he cleaves to release the waters.
Or the cloud is a rock (ádri) which encompasses the cows
(as the waters are sometimes called), and from which he releases
them. Clouds, as containing the waters, figure as cows also;
they further appear under the names of udder (údhar),
spring (útsa), cask (kávandha), pail (kósa).
The clouds, moreover, appear as the fortresses (púras)
of the aerial demons, being described as moving, autumnal, made
of iron or stone, and as 90, 99, or 100 in number. Indra. shatters
them and is characteristically called the 'fort-destroyer' (parbhíd).
But the chief and specific epithet of Indra is 'Vrtra-slayer'
(Vrtra-hán), owing to the essential importance, in the
myth, of the fight with the demon. In this fight the Maruts are
his regular allies, but Agni, Soma, and Visnu also often assist
him. Indra also engages in conflict with numerous minor demons;
sometimes he is described as destroying demons in general, the
Raksases or the Asuras.
With the release of the waters is connected the winning of
light, sun, and dawn. Thus Indra is invoked to slay Vrtra and
to win the light. When he had slain Vrtra, releasing the waters
for man, he placed the sun visibly in the heavens. The sun shone
forth when Indra blew the serpent from the air. There is here
often no reference to the Vrtra fight. Indra is then simply said
to find the light; he gained the sun or found it in the darkness,
and made a path for it. He produces the dawn as well as the sun;
he opens the darkness with the dawn and the sun. The cows. mentioned
along with the sun and dawn, or with the sun alone, as found,
released, or won by Indra, are here probably the morning beams,
which are elsewhere compared with cattle coming out of their
dark stalls. Thus when the dawns went to meet Indra, he became
the lord of the cows; when be overcame Vrtra he made visible
the cows of the nights. There seems to be a confusion between
the restoration of the sun after the darkness of the thunderstorm,
and the recovery of the sun from the darkness of night at dawn.
The latter feature is probably an extension of the former. Indra's
connexion with the thunderstorm is in a few passages divested
of mythological imagery, as when he is said to have created the
lightnings of heaven and to have directed the action of the waters
downwards. With the Vrtra-fight, with the winning of the cows
and of the sun, is also connected the gaining of Soma. Thus when
Indra drove the serpent from the air, there shone forth fires,
the sun. and Soma; he won Soma at the same time as the cows.
Great cosmic actions are often attributed to Indra. He settled
the quaking mountains and plains. He stretches out heaven and
earth like a hide; he holds asunder heaven and earth as two wheels
are kept apart by the axle; he made the non-existent into the
existent in a moment. Sometimes the separation and support of
heaven and earth are described as a result of Indra's victory
over a demon who held them together.
As the destroyer of demons in combat, Indra is constantly
invoked by warriors. As the great god of battle he is more frequently
called upon than any other deity to help the Aryans in their
conflicts with earthly enemies. He protects the Aryan colour
and subjects the black skin. He dispersed 50,000 of the black
race. He subjected the Dasyus to the Aryan, and gave land to
More generally Indra is praised as the protector, helper,
and friend of his worshippers. He is described as bestowing on
them wealth, which is considered the result of victories. His
liberality is so characteristic that the frequent attribute maghávan
bountiful is almost exclusively his.
Besides the central myth of the Vrtra-fight, several minor
stories are connected with Indra. In various passages he is described
as shattering the car of Usas, goddess of Dawn (iv. 51); this
trait is probably based on the notion of Indra's bringing the
sun when kept back by the delaying dawn. He is also said to have
stopped the steeds of the Sun, apparently by causing the latter
to lose a wheel of his car. Indra is further associated with
the myth of the winning of Soma; for it is to him that the eagle
brings the draught of immortality from the highest heaven. Another
myth in the capture by Indra, with the help of Sarama, of the
cows confined in a cave by demons called Panis.
Various stories which, though mixed with mythological elements,
probably have an historical basis, are told of Indra's having
fought in aid of individual protégés, such as king
Sudas, against terrestrial foes.
The attributes of Indra are chiefly those of physical superiority
and rule over the physical world. He is energetic and violent
in action, an irresistible fighter, an inexhaustible lavisher
of the highest goods on mankind, but at the same time sensual
and immoral in various ways, such as excess in eating and drinking,
and cruelty in killing his own father Tvastr. He forms a marked
contrast to Varuna, the other great universal monarch of the
RV., who wields passive and peaceful sway, who uniformly applies
the laws of nature, who upholds moral order, and whose character
displays lofty ethical features.
The name of Indra is pre-Indian; for it occurs in the Avesta
as that of a demon; the term verethraghna (=Vrtrahán)
is also found there as the designation of the God of Victory,
though unconnected with Indra. Thus it seems likely that there
was already in the Indo-Iranian period a god resembling the Vrtra-slaying
Indra of the RV. The etymology of the word is doubtful, but its
radical portion ind may be connected with that in índ-u
This god occupies a subordinate position in the RV., being
celebrated in only three entire hymns, in part of another, and
in one conjointly with Soma. His hand, his arms, and his limbs
are mentioned. He has beautiful lips and wears braided hair.
His colour is brown; his form is dazzling, for he shines like
the radiant sun, like gold. He is arrayed with golden ornaments,
and wears a glorious necklace (niská). He drives in a
car. His weapons are often referred to: he holds the thunderbolt
in his arm, and discharges his lightning shaft from the sky;
but he is usually said to be armed with a bow and arrows, which
are strong and swift.
Rudra is very often associated with the Maruts (i. 85). He
is their father, and is said to have generated them from the
shining udder of the cow Prsni.
He is fierce and destructive like a terrible beast, and is
called a bull, as well as the ruddy (arusá) boar of heaven.
He is exalted, strongest of the strong, swift, unassailable,
unsurpassed in might. He is young and unaging, a lord (ísana)
and father of the world. By his rule and univeral dominion be
is aware of the doings of men and gods, He is bountiful (midhváms),
easily invoked and auspicious (sivá). But he is usually
regarded as malevolent; for the hymns addressed to him chiefly
express fear of his terrible shafts and deprecation of his wrath.
He is implored not to slay or injure, in his anger, his worshippers
and their belongings, but to avert his great malignity and his
cow-slaying, man-slaying bolt from them, and to lay others low.
He is, however, not purely maleficent like a demon. He not only
preserves from calamity, but bestows blessings. His healing powers
are especially often mentioned; he has a thousand remedies, and
is the greatest physician of physicians. In this connexion be
has two exclusive epithets, jálasa, cooling, and jálasa-bhesaja,
possessing cooling remedies.
The physical basis represented by Rudra is not clearly apparent.
But it seems probable that the phenomenon underlying his nature
was the storm, not pure and simple, but in its baleful aspect
seen in the destructive agency of lightning. His healing and
beneficent powers would then have been founded partly on the
fertilizing and purifying action of the thunderstorm, and partly
on the negative action of sparing those whom be might slay. Thus
the deprecations of his wrath led to the application of the euphemistic
epithet sivá which became the regular name of Rudra's
historical successor in post-Vedic mythology.
The etymological sense of the name is somewhat uncertain,
but would be 'Howler' according to the usual derivation from
This deity is celebrated in one entire hymn (ii. 35), is invoked
in two stanzas of a hymn to the Waters, and is often mentioned
incidentally elsewhere. Brilliant and youthful, he shines without
fuel in the waters which surround and nourish him. Clothed in
lightning, be is golden in form, appearance, and colour. Standing
in the highest place, he always shines with undimmed splendour.
Steeds, swift as thought, carry the Son of Waters. In the last
stanza of his hymn he is invoked as Agni and must be identified
with him; Agni, moreover, in some hymns addressed to him, is
spoken of as Apam napat. But the two are also distinguished;
for example, 'Agni, accordant with the Son of Waters, confers
victory over Vrtra'. The epithet asu-héman swiftly-speeding,
applied three times to Apam napat, in its only other occurrence
refers to Agni. Hence Apam napat appears to represent the lightning
form of Agui which lurks in the eloud. For Agni, besides being
directly called Apam napat, is also termed the embryo (gárbha)
of the waters; and the third form of Agni is described as kindled
in the waters.
This deity is not a creation of Indian mythology, but goes
back to the Indo-Iranian period. For in the Avesta Apam napat
is a spirit of the waters, who lives in their depths, who is
surrounded by females, who is often invoked with them, who drives
with swift steeds, and is said to have seized the brightness
in the depth of the ocean.
The association of Mitra with Varuna is so intimate that he
is addressed alone in one hymn only (iii. 59). Owing to the scantiness
of the information supplied in that hymn his separate character
appears somewhat indefirite.
Uttering his voice, he marshals men and watches the tillers
with unwinking eye. He is the great Aditya who marshals, yatayati,
the people, and the epithet yatayáj-jana arraying men
together appears to be peculiarly his. Savitr (i. 35) is identified
with Mitra because of his laws, and Visnu (i. 154) takes his
three steps by the laws of Mitra: statements indicating that
Mitra regulates the course of the sun. Agni, who goes at the
head of the dawns (that is to say, is kindled before dawn), produces
Mitra, and when kindled is Mitra. In the Atharvaveda, Mitra at
sunrise is contrasted with Varuna in the evening, and in the
Brahmanas Mitra is connected with day, Varuna with night.
The conclusion from the Vedic evidence that Mitra was a solar
deity, is corroborated by the Avesta and by Persian religion
in general, where Mithra is undoubtedly a sun-god or a god of
light specially connected with the sun.
The etymology of the name is uncertain, but it must originally
have meant 'ally' or 'friend', for the word often means 'friend'
in the RV., and the Avestic Mithra is the guardian of faithfulness.
As the kindly nature of the god is often referred to in the Veda,
the term must in the beginning have been applied to the sun-god
in his aspect of a benevolent power of nature.
This god is addressed in eleven entire hymns, and in two others
conjointly with Indra. He is also, but less frequently, called
Brahmanas páti, 'Lord of prayer', the doublets alternating
in the same hymn. His physical features are few: he is sharp-horned
and blue-backed; golden-coloured and ruddy. He is armed with
bow and arrows, and wields a golden hatchet or an iron axe. He
has a car, drawn by ruddy steeds, which slays the goblins, bursts
open the cow-stalls, and wins the light. Called the father of
the gods, he is also said to have blown forth their births like
a blacksmith. Like Agni, he is both a domestic and a brahman.
priest. He is the generator of all prayers, and without him sacrifice
does not succeed. His song goes to heaven, and he is associated
with singers. In several passages he is identified with Agni,
from whom, however, he is much oftener distinguished. He is often
invoked with Indra, some of whose epithets, such as maghávan
bountiful and vajrin welder of the bolt he shares.
He has thus been drawn into the Indra myth of the release of
the cows. Accompanied by his singing host he rends Vala with
a roar, and drives out the cows. In to doing he dispels the darkness
and finds the light. As regards his relation to his worshippers,
he is said to help and protect the pious man, to prolong life,
and to remove disease.
Brhaspáti is a purely Indian deity. The double accent
and the parallel name Bráhmanas páti indicate that
the first member is the genitive of a noun brh, from the same
root as bráhman, and that the name thus means 'Lord of
He seems originally to have represented an aspect of Agni,
as a divine priest, presiding over devotion, an aspect which
bad already attained an independent character by the beginning
of the Rigvedic period. As the divine brahman priest he seems
to have been the prototype of Brahma, the chief of the later
The goddess of Dawn is addressed in about twenty hymns. The
personification is but slight, the physical phenomenon always
being present to. the mind of the poet. Decked in gay attire
like a dancer, clothed in light, she appears in the east and
unveils her charms. Rising resplendent as from a bath she comes
with light, driving away the darkness and removing the black
robe of night. She is young, being born again and again, though
ancient. Shining with a uniform hue, she wastes away the life
of mortals. She illumines the ends of the sky when she awakes;
she opens the gates of heaven; her radiant beams appear like
herds of cattle. She drives away evil dreams, evil spirits, and
the hated darkness. She discloses the treasures concealed by
darkness, and distributes them bountifully, She awakens every
living being to motion. When Usas shines forth, the birds, fly
up from their nests and men seek nourishment. Day by day appearing
at the appointed place, she never infringes the ordinance of
nature and of the gods. She renders good service to the gods
by awakening all worshippers and causing the sacrificial fires
to be kindled. She brings the gods to drink the Soma draught.
She is borne on a shining car, drawn by ruddy steeds or kine,
which probably represent the red rays of morning.
Usas is closely associated with the Sun. She has opened paths
for Surya to travel; she brings the eye of the gods, and leads
on the beautiful white horse. She shines with the light of the
Sun, with the light of her lover. Surya follows her as a young
man a maiden; she meets the god who desires her. She thus comes
to be spoken of as the wife of Surya. But as preceding the Sun,
she is occasionally regarded as his mother; thus she is said
to arrive with a bright child. She is also called the sister,
or the elder sister, of Night (x. 127), and their names are often
conjoined as a dual compound (usása-nákta and náktosása).
She is born in the sky, and in, therefore constantly called the
'daughter of Heaven '. As the sacrificial fire is kindled at
dawn, Usas is often associated with Agni, who is sometimes, called
her lover. Usas causes Agni to be kindled, and Agni goes to meet
the shining Dawn as she approaches. She is also often connected
with the twin gods of early morning, the Asvins (vii. 71). When
the Asvins' car is yoked, the daughter of the sky is born. They
are awakened by her, accompany her, and are her friends.
Usas brings the worshipper wealth and children, bestowing
protection and long life. She confers renown and glory on all
liberal benefactors of the poet. She is characteristically bountiful
The name of Usas is derived from the root vas, to shine,
forms of which are often used with reference to her in the hymns
in which she is invoked.
This deity occupies quite a subordinate position, being celebrated
in only three hymns. His name often means 'rain-cloud' in the
literal sense but in most passages it represents the personification,
the cloud then becoming an udder, a pail, or a water-skin. Parjanya
is frequently described as a bull that quickens the plants and
the earth. The shedding of rain is his most prominent characteristic.
He flies around with a watery car, and loosens the water-skin;
he sheds rain-water as our divine (ásara) father. In this
activity he is associated with thunder and lightning. He is in
a special degree the producer and nourisher of vegetation. He
also produces fertility in cows, mares, and women. He is several
times referred to as a father. By implication his wife is the
Earth, and he is once called the son of Dyaus.
This god is celebrated in eight hymns, five of which occur
in the sixth Mandala. His individuality is vague, and his anthropomorphic
traits are scanty. His foot and his right band are mentioned;
he wears braided hair and a beard. He carries a golden spear,
an awl, and a goad. His car is drawn by goats instead of horses.
His characteristic food is gruel (karambhá).
He sees all creatures clearly and at once. He is the wooer
of his mother and the lover of his sister (Dawn), and was given
by the gods to the Sun-maiden Surya as a husband. He is connected
with the marriage ceremonial in the wedding hymn (x. 85). With
his golden aerial ships Pusan acts as the messenger of Surya.
He moves onward observing the universe, and makes his abode in
heaven. He is a guardian who knows and beholds all creatures.
As best of charioteers he drove downward the golden wheel of
the sun. He traverses the distant path of heaven and earth; he
goes to and returns from both the beloved abodes. He conducts
the dead on the far-off path of the Fathers. He is a guardian
of roads, removing dangers out of the way; and is called 'son
of deliverance' (vimúco nápat). He follows and
protects cattle, bringing them home unhurt and driving back the
lost. His bounty is often mentioned. 'Glowing' (aghrni) is one
of his exclusive epithets. The name means 'prosperer', as derived
from pus, cause to thrive. The evidence, though not clear,
indicates that Pusan was originally a solar deity, representing
the beneficent power of the sun manifested chiefly in its pastoral
The Waters are addressed in four hymns, as well as in a few
scattered verses. The personification is only incipient, hardly
extending beyond the notion of their being mothers, young wives,
and goddesses -who bestow boons and come to the sacrifice. They
follow the path of the gods. Indra, armed with the bolt, dug
out a channel for them, and they never infringe his ordinances.
They are celestial as well as terrestrial, and the sea is their
goal. They abide where the gods dwell, in the seat of Mitra-Varuna,
beside the sun. King Varuna moves in their midst, looking down
on the truth and the falsehood of men. They are mothers and as
such produce Agni. They give their auspicious fluid like loving
mothers. They are most motherly, the producers of all that is
fixed and that moves. They purify, carrying away defilement.
They even cleanse from moral guilt, the sins of violence, cursing,
and lying. They also bestow remedies, health, wealth, strength,
long life, and immortality. Their blessing and aid are often
implored, and they are invited to seat themselves on the sacrificial
grass to receive the offering of the Soma priest.
The Waters are several times associated with honey. They mix
their milk with honey. Their wave, rich in honey, became the
drink of Indra, Whom it exhilarated and to whom it gave heroic
strength. They are invoked to pour the wave which is rich in
honey, gladdens the gods, is the draught of Indra, and is produced
in the sky. Here the celestial Waters seem to be identified with
the heavenly Soma, the beverage of Indra. Elsewhere the Waters
used in preparing the terrestrial Soma seem to be meant. When
they appear bearing ghee, milk, and honey, they are accordant
with the priests that bring well-pressed Soma for Indra, Soma
(viii. 48) delights in them like a young man in lovely maidens;
he approaches them as a lover; they are maidens who bow down
before the youth.
The deification of the Waters is pre-Vedic, for they are invoked
as apo in the Avesta also.
This is the pair most frequently mentioned next to Heaven
and Earth. The hymns in which they are conjointly invoked are
much more numerous than those in which they are separately addressed.
As Mitra (iii. 59) is distinguished by hardly any individual
traits, the two together have practically the same attributes
and functions as Varuna alone. They are conceived as young. Their
eye is the sun. Reaching out they drive with the rays of the
sun as with arms. They wear glistening garments. They mount their
car in the highest heaven. Their abode is golden and is located
in heaven; it is great, very lofty, firm, with a thousand columns
and a thousand doors. They have spies that are wise and cannot
be deceived. They are kings and universal monarchs. They are
also called Asuras, who wield dominion by means of mayá
occult power, a term mainly connected with them. By that
power they send the dawns, make the sun traverse the sky, and
obscure it with cloud and rain. They are rulers and guardians
of the whole world. They support heaven, and earth, and air.
They are lords of rivers, and they are the gods most frequently
thought of and prayed to as bestowers of rain. They have kine
yielding refreshment, and streams flowing with honey. They control
the rainy skies and the streaming waters. They bedew the pastures
with ghee (= rain) and the spaces with honey. They send rain
and refreshment from the sky. Rain abounding in heavenly water
comes from them. One entire hymn dwells on their powers of bestowing
Their ordinances are fixed and cannot be obstructed even by
the immortal gods. They are upholders and cherishers of order.
They are barriers against falsehood, which they dispel, hate,
and punish. They afflict with disease those who neglect their
The dual invocation of these gods goes back to the Indo-Iranian
period, for Ahura and Mithra are thus coupled in the Avesta.
Some ten hymns are addressed to Surya. Since the name designates
the, orb of the sun as well as the god, Surya is the most concrete
of the solar deities, his connexion with the luminary always
being present to the mind of the seers. The eye of Surya is several
times mentioned; but Surya, himself is also often called the
eye of Mitra and Varuna, as well as of Agni and of the gods.
He is far-seeing, all-seeing, the spy of the whole world; he
beholds all beings, and the good and bad deeds of mortals. He
arouses men to perform their activities. He is the soul or guardian
of all that moves or is stationary. His car is drawn by one steed
called etasá, or by seven swift mares called hárit
The Dawn or Dawns reveal or produce Surya; he shines from
the lap of the Dawns; but Dawn is also sometimes Surya's wife.
He also bears the metronymic Aditya or Aditeya, son of the goddess
Aditi. His father is Dyaus or Heaven. The gods raised him who
had been hidden in the ocean, and they placed him in the sky;
various individual gods, too, are said to have produced Surya
or raised him to heaven.
Surya is in various passages conceived as a bird traversing
space; he is a ruddy bird that flies; or he is a flying eagle.
He is also called a mottled bull, or a white and brilliant steed
brought by Dawn. Occasionally he is, described as an inanimate
object: he is a gem of the sky, or a variegated stone set in
the midst of heaven. He is a brilliant weapon (áyudha)
which Mitra-Varuna conceal with cloud and rain, or their felly
(paví), or a brilliant car placed by them in heaven. Surya
is also sometimes spoken of as, a wheel (cakrá), though
otherwise the wheel of Surya is mentioned. Surya shines for all
the world, for men and gods. He dispels the darkness, which he
rolls up like a skin, or which his rays throw off like a skin
into the waters. He measures the days and prolong life. He drives
away sickness, disease, and evil dreams. All creatures depend
on him, and the epithet 'all-creating' (visvá-karman)
is once applied to him. By his greatness he is the divine priest
(asuryà puróhita) of the gods. At his rising he
is besought to declare men sinless to Mitra-Varuna and to other
The name Súrya is a derivative of svàr light,
and cognate with the Avesta hvare sun, which has swift
horses and is the eye of Ahura Mazda
These two deities are the most prominent gods after Indra,
Agni, and Soma, being invoked in more than fifty entire hymns
and in parts of several others. Though their name (asv-in horseman)
is purely Indian, and though they undoubtedly belong to the group
of the deities of light, the phenomenon which they represent
is uncertain, because in all probability their origin is to be
sought in a very early pre-Vedic age.
They are twins and inseparable, though two or three passages
suggest that they may at one time have been regarded as distinct.
They are young and yet ancient. They are bright, lords of lustre,
of golden brilliancy, beautiful, and adorned with lotus-garlands.
They are the only gods called golden-pathed (híranya-vartani).
They are strong and agile, fleet as thought or as an eagle. They
possess profound wisdom and occult power. Their two most distinctive
and frequent epithets are dasrá wondrous and násatya
They are more closely associated with honey (mádhu)
than any of the other gods. They desire honey and are drinkers
of it. They have a skin filled with honey; they poured out a
hundred jars of honey. They have a honey-goad; and their car
is honey-hued and honey-bearing. They give honey to the bee and
are compared with bees. They are, however, also fond of Soma,
being invited to drink it with Usas and Surya. Their car is sunlike
and, together with all its parts, golden. It is threefold and
has three wheels. It is swifter than thought, than the twinkling
of an eye. It was fashioned by the three divine artificers, the
Rbhus. It is drawn by horses, more commonly by birds or winged
steeds; sometimes by one or more buffaloes, or by a single asa
(rásabha). It passes over the five countries; it moves
around the sky; it traverses heaven and earth in one day; it
goes round the sun in the distance. Their revolving course (vartís),
a term almost exclusively applicable to them, is often mentioned.
They come from heaven, air, and earth, or from the ocean; they
abide in the sea of heaven, but sometimes their locality is referred
to as unknown. The time of their appearance is between dawn and
sunrise: when darkness stands among the ruddy cows; Usas awakens
them; they follow after her in their car; at its yoking Usas
is born. They yoke their car to descend to earth and receive
the offerings of worshippers. They come not only in the morning,
but also at noon and sunset. They dispel darkness and chase away
The Asvins are children of Heaven; but they are also once
said to be the twin sons of Vivasvant and Tvastr's daughter Saranyú
(probably the rising Sun and Dawn). Pusan is once said to be
their son; and Dawn seems to be meant by their sister. They are
often associated with the Sun conceived as a female called either
Surya or more commonly the daughter of Surya. They are Surya's
two husbands whom she chose and whose car she mounts. Surya's
companionship on their car is indeed characteristic. Hence in
the wedding hymn (x. 85) the Asvins are invoked to conduct the
bride home on their car, and they (with other gods) are besought
to bestow fertility on her.
The Asvins are typically succouring divinities. They are the
speediest deliverers from distress in general. The various rescues
they effect are of a peaceful kind, not deliverance from the
dangers of battle. They are characteristically divine physicians,
healing diseases with their remedies, restoring sight, curing
the sick and the maimed. Several legends are mentioned about
those whom they restored to youth, cured of various physical
defects, or befriended in other ways. The name oftenest mentioned
is that of Bhujyu, whom they saved from the ocean in a ship.
The physical basis of the Asvins has been a puzzle from the
time of the earliest interpreters before Yuska, who offered various
explanations, while modern scholars also have suggested several
theories. The two most probable are that the Asvins represented
either the morning twilight, as half light and half dark, or
the morning and the evening star. It is probable that the Asvins
date from the Indo-European period. The two horsemen, sons of
Dyaus, who drive across the heaven with their steeds, and who
have a sister, are parallel to the two famous horsemen of Greek
mythology, sons of Zeus, brothers of Helena; and to the two Lettic
God's sons who come riding on their steeds to woo the daughter
of the Sun. In the Lettic myth the morning star comes to look
at the daughter of the Sun. As the two Asvins wed the one Surya
so the two Lettic God's sons wed the one daughter of the Sun;
the latter also (like the Dioskouroi and the Asvins) are rescuers
from the ocean, delivering the daughter of the Sun or the Sun
Beside Indra (ii. 12) Varuna is the greatest of the gods of
the RV., though the number of the hymns in which he is celebrated
alone (apart from Mitra) is small, numbering hardly a dozen.
His face, eye, arms, hands, and feet are mentioned. He moves
his arms, walks, drives, sits, eats, and drinks. His eye with
which he observes mankind is the sun. He is far-sighted and thousand-eyed.
He treads down wiles with shining foot. He sits on the strewn
grass at the sacrifice. He wears a golden mantle and puts on
a shining robe. His car, which is often mentioned, shines like
the sun, and is drawn by well-yoked steeds. Varuna sits in his
mansions looking on all deeds. The Fathers behold him in the
highest heaven. The spies of Varuna are sometimes referred to:
they sit down around him; they observe the two worlds; they stimulate
prayer. By the golden-winged messenger of Varuna the sun is meant.
Varuna is often called a king, but especially a universal monarch
(samráj) The attribute of sovereignty (ksatrá)
and the term ásura are predominantly applicable to him.
His divine dominion is often alluded to by the word mayá
occult power; the epithet mayín crafty is accordingly
used chiefly of him.
Varuna is mainly lauded as upholder of physical and moral
order. He is a great lord of the laws of nature. He established
heaven and earth, and by his law heaven and earth are held apart.
He made the golden swing (the sun) to shine in heaven; he has
made a wide path for the sun; he placed fire in the waters, the
sun in the sky, Soma on the rock. The wind which resounds through
the air is Varuna's breath. By his ordinances the moon shining
brightly moves at night, and the stars placed up on high are
seen at night, but disappear by day. Thus Varuna is lord of light
both by day and by night. He is also a regulator of the waters.
He caused the rivers to flow; by his occult power they pour swiftly
into the ocean without filling it. It is, however, with the aerial
waters that he is usually connected. Thus he makes the inverted
cask (the cloud) to pour its waters on heaven, earth, and air,
and to moisten the ground.
Varuna's ordinances being constantly said to be fixed, he
is pre-eminently called dhrtravrata whose laws are established.
The gods themselves follow his ordinances. His power is; so great
that neither the birds as they fly nor the rivers as they flow
can reach the limits of his dominion. He embraces the universe,
and the abodes of all beings. He is all-knowing, and his omniscience
is typical. He knows the flight of the birds in the sky, the
path of the ships in the ocean, the course of the far-travelling
wind beholding all the secret things that have been or shall
be done, he witnesses men's truth and falsehood. No creature
can even wink without his knowledge.
As a moral governor Varuna stands far above any other deity.
His wrath is aroused by sin, the infringement of his ordinances,
which he severely punishes. The fetters (pásas) with which
he binds sinners are often mentioned, and are characteristic
of him. On the other hand, Varuna is gracious to the penitent.
He removes sin as if untying a rope. He releases even from the
sin committed by men's fathers. He spares him who daily transgresses
his laws when a suppliant, and is gracious to those who have
broken his laws by thoughtlessness. There is in fact no hymn
to Varuna in which the prayer for forgiveness of guilt does not
occur. Varuna is on a footing of friendship with his worshipper,
who communes with him in his celestial abode, and sometimes sees
him with the mental eye. The righteous hope to behold in the
next world Varuna and Yama, the two kings who reign in bliss.
The original conception of Varuna seems to have been the encompassing
sky. It has, however, become obscured, because it dates from
an earlier age. For it goes back to the Indo-Iranian period at
least, since the Ahura Mazda (the wise spirit) of the Avesta
agrees with the Asura Varuna in character, though not in name.
It may even be older still; for the name Varuna is perhaps identical
with the Greek ouranos sky. In any case, the word appears
to be derived from the root vr cover or encompass.
The ... hymn [vii. 103], intended as a spell to produce rain,
is a panegyric of frogs, who are compared during the drought
to heated kettles, and are described as raising their voices
together at the commencement of the rains like Brahmin pupils
repeating the lessons of their teacher.
The comprehensive group called Vísve deváh or
All-Gods occupies an important position, for at least forty entire
hymns are addressed to them. It is an artificial sacrificial
group intended to include all the gods in order that none should
be left out in laudations meant for the whole pantheon. The ...
hymn [viii. 29] though traditionally regarded as meant for the
Vísve deváh is a collection of riddles, in which
each stanza describes a deity by his characteristic marks, leaving
his name to be guessed. The deities meant in the successive stanzas
are: 1. Soma, 2. Agni, 3. Tvastr, 4. Indra, 5. Rudra, 6. Pusan,
7. Visnu, 8. Asvins, 9. Mitra-Varuna, 10. Angirases.
As the Soma sacrifice formed the centre of the ritual of the
RV., the god Soma is one of the most prominent deities. With
rather more than 120 hymns (all those in Mandala ix, and about
half a dozen in others) addressed to him, becomes next to Agni
(i. 1) in importance. The anthropomorphism of his character is
less developed than that of India or Varuna because the plant
and its juice are constantly present to the mind of the poet.
Soma has terrible and sharp weapons, which he grasps in his hand;
he wields a bow and a thousand-pointed shaft. He has a car which
is heavenly, drawn by a team like Vayu's. He is also said to
ride on the same car as Indra. He is the best of charioteers.
In about half a dozen hymns he is associated with Indra, Agni,
Pusan, and Rudra respectively as a dual divinity. He is sometimes
attended by the Maruts, the close allies of Indra. He comes to
the sacrifice and receives offerings on the sacred grass.
The Soma juice, which is intoxicating, is frequently termed
mádhu or sweet draught, but oftenest called índu
the bright drop. The colour Of Soma is brown (babhrú),
ruddy (aruná), or more usually tawny (hári). The
whole of the ninth book consists of incantations chanted over
the tangible Soma, while the stalks are being pounded by stones,
the juice passes through a woollen strainer, and flows into wooden
vats, in which it is offered to the gods on the litter of sacred
grass (barhís). These processes are overlaid with confused
and mystical imagery in endless variation. The pressing stones
with which the shoot (amsú) is crushed are called ádri
or grávan. The pressed juice as it passes through the
filter of sheep's wool is usually called pávamana or punaná
flowing clear. This purified (unmixed) Soma is sometimes
called suddhá pure, but much oftener sukrá,
or súci bright; it is offered almost exclusively
to Vayu or India. The filtered Soma flows into jars (kalása)
or vats (dróna), where it is mixed with water and also
with milk, by which it is sweetened. The verb mrj cleanse
is used with reference to this addition of water and milk. Soma
is spoken of as having three kinds of admixture (asír):
milk (gó), sour milk (dádhi), and barley (yáva).
The admixture being alluded to as a garment or bright robe, Soma
is described as 'decked with beauty'. Soma is pressed three times
a day: the Rbhus are invited to the evening pressing, Indra to
the midday one, which is his exclusively, while the morning libation
is his first drink. The three abodes (sadhástha) of Soma
which are mentioned probably refer to three tubs used in the
Soma's connexion with the waters, resulting from the admixture,
is expressed in the most various ways. He is the drop that grows
in the waters; he is the embryo of the waters or their child;
they are his mothers or his sisters; he is lord and king of streams;
he produces waters and causes heaven and earth to rain. The sound
made by the trickling Soma is often alluded to generally in hyperbolical
usage, with verbs meaning to roar or bellow, or even thunder.
He is thus commonly called a bull among the waters, which figure
as cows. Soma is moreover swift, being often compared with a
steed, sometimes with a bird flying to the wood. Owing to his
yellow colour Soma's brilliance is the physical aspect most dwelt
upon by the poets. He is then often likened to or associated
with the sun.
The exhilarating power of Soma led to its being regarded as
a divine drink bestowing immortal life. Hence it is called amrta
draught of immortality. All the gods drink Soma; they
drank it to gain immortality; it confers immortality not only
on gods, but on men. It has, moreover, medicinal powers: Soma
heals whatever is sick, making the blind to see and the lame
to walk. Soma also stimulates the voice, and is called 'lord
of speech'. He awakens eager thought: he is a generator of hymns,
a leader of poets, a seer among priests. Hence his wisdom is
much dwelt upon; thus he is a wise seer, and he knows the races
of the gods.
The intoxicating effect of Soma most emphasized by the poets
is the stimulus it imparts to Indra in his conflict with hostile
powers. That Soma invigorates Indra for the fight with Vrtra
is mentioned in innumerable passages. Through this association
Indra's warlike exploits and cosmic actions come to be attributed
to Soma independently. He is a victor unconquered in fight, born
for battle. As a warrior he wins all kinds of wealth for his
Though Soma is several times regarded as dwelling or growing
on the mountains (like Haoma in the Avesta), his true origin
and abode are regarded as in heaven. Soma is the child of heaven,
is the milk of heaven, and is purified in heaven. He is the lord
of heaven; he occupies heaven, and his place is the highest heaven.
Thence he was brought to earth. The myth embodying this belief
is that of the eagle that brings Soma to Indra, and is most fully
dealt with in the two hymns iv. 26 and 27. Being the most important
of herbs, Soma is said to have been born as the lord (páti)
of plants, which also have him as their king; he is a lord of
the wood (vánaspáti), and has generated all plants.
But quite apart from his connexion with herbs, Soma is, like
other leading gods, called a king: he is a king of rivers; a
king of the whole earth; a king or father of the gods; a king
of gods and mortals. In a few of the latest hymns of the RV.
Soma begins to be mystically identified with the moon; in the
AV. Soma several times means the moon; and in the Brahmanas this
identification has already become a commonplace.
We know that the preparation and the offering of Soma (the
Avestan Haoma) was already an important feature of Indo-Iranian
worship, In both the RV. and the Avesta it is stated that the
stalks were pressed, that the juice was yellow, and was mixed
with milk; in both it grows on mountains, and its mythical home
is in heaven, whence it comes down to earth; in both the Soma
draught has become a mighty god and is called a king; in both
there are many other identical mythological traits relating to
It is possible that the belief in an intoxicating divine beverage,
the home of which was in heaven, goes back to the Indo-European
period. It must then have been regarded as a kind of honey mead
(Skt. mádhu, Gk. methu, Anglo-Saxon medu).
The name of Soma (= Haoma) means pressed juice, being
derived from the root su (= Av. hu) press.
The RV. contains a group of five hymns (x. 14-18) concerned
with death and the future life. From them we learn that, though
burial was also practised, cremation was the usual method of
disposing of the dead, and was the main source of the mythology
relating to the future life. Agni conveys the corpse to the other
world, the Fathers, and the gods. He is besought to preserve
the body intact and to burn the goat which is sacrificed as his
portion. During the process of cremation Agni and Soma are besought
to heal any injury that bird, beast, ant, or serpent may have
inflicted on the body. The way to the heavenly world is a distant
path on which Savitr (i. 35) conducts and Pusan (vi. 54) protects
the dead. Before the pyre is lighted, the wife of the dead man,
having lain beside him, arises, and his bow is taken from his
hand. This indicates that in earlier times his widow and his
weapons were burnt with the body of the husband. Passing along
by the path trodden by the Fathers, the spirit of the dead man
goes to the realm of light, and meets with the Fathers who revel
with Yama in the highest heaven. Here, uniting with a glorious
body, he enters upon a life of bliss which is free from imperfections
and bodily frailties, in which all desires are fulfilled, and
which is passed among the gods, especially in the presence of
the two kings Yama and Varuna.
Two hymns (x. 15 and 54) are addressed to the Pitaras or Fathers,
the blessed dead who dwell in the third heaven, the third or
highest step of Visnu. The term as a rule applies to the early
or first ancestors, who followed the ancient paths, seers who
made the paths by which the recent dead go to join them. Various
groups of ancestors are mentioned, such as the Angirases and
Atharvans, the Bhrgus and Vasisthas, who are identical in name
with the priestly families associated by tradition with the composition
of the Atharvaveda and of the second and seventh Mandalas of
the Rigveda. The Pitaras are classed as higher, lower, and middle,
as earlier and later, who though not always known to their descendants,
are known to Agni. They revel with Yama and feast with the gods.
They are fond of Soma, and thirst for the libations prepared
for them on earth, and eat the offerings along with him. They
come on the same car as Indra and the goods. Arriving in their
thousands they range themselves on the sacrificial grass to the
south, and drink the pressed draught. They receive oblations
as their food. They are entreated to hear, intercede for, and
protect their worshippers, and besought not to injure their descendants
for any sin humanly committed against them. They are invoked
to give riches, children, and long life to their sons, who desire
to be in their good graces. The Vasisthas are once collectively
implored to help their descendants. Cosmical actions, like those
of the gods, are sometimes attributed to the Fathers. Thus they
are said to have adorned the sky with stars, to have placed darkness
in the night and light in the day; they found the light and generated
the dawn. The path trodden by the Fathers (pitryána) is
different from that trodden by the gods (devayána).
HYMN OF THE GAMBLER
This [x. 34] is one, among the secular hymns, of a group of
four which have a didactic character. It is the lament of a gambler
who, unable to resist the fascination of the dice, deplores the
ruin to which he has brought on his family. The dice (aksás)
consisted of the nuts of a large tree called vibhidaka (Terminalia
bellerica), which is still utilized for this purpose in India.
There are six or seven hymns dealing with the creation of
the world as produced from some original material. In the following
one, the well-known Purusa-sukta or hymn of Man, the gods are
the agents of creation, while the material out of which the world
is made is the body of a primaeval giant named Purusa. The act
of creation is here treated as a sacrifice in which Purusa is
the victim, the parts when cut up becoming portions of the universe.
Both its language and its matter indicate that it is one of the
very latest hymns of the Rigveda. It not only presupposes a knowledge
of the three oldest Vedas, to which it refers by name, but also,
for the first and only time in the Rigveda, mentions the four
castes. The religious view is moreover different from that of
the old hymns, for it is pantheistic: 'Purusa is all this world,
what has been and shall be'. It is, in fact, the starting-point
of the pantheistic philosophy of India.
The goddess of night, under the name of Rátri is invoked
in only one hymn (x. 127). She is the sister of Usas, and like
her is called a daughter of heaven. She is not conceived as the.
dark, but as the bright starlit night. Decked with all splendour
she drives away the darkness. At her approach men, beasts, and
birds go to rest. She protects her worshippers from the wolf
and the thief, guiding them to safety. Under the name of nákta
n., combined with usás, Night appears as a dual
divinity with Dawn in the form of Usása-nákta and
Náktosása, occurring in some twenty scattered stanzas
of the Rigveda.
HYMN OF CREATION
In the ... cosmogonic poem [x. 129] the origin of the world
is explained the evolution of the existent (sát) from
the non-existent (ásat). Water thus came into being first;
from it was evolved intelligence by heat. It is the starting-point
of the natural philosophy which developed into the Sankhya system.
Three hymns are addressed to Yama, the chief of the blessed
dead. There is also another (x. 10), which consists of a dialogue
between him and his sister Yami. He is associated with Varuna,
Brhaspati, and especially Agni, the conductor of the dead, who
is called his friend and his priest. He is not expressly designated
a god, but only a being who rules the dead. He is associated
with the departed Fathers, especially the Angirases, with whom
he comes to the sacrifice to drink Soma.
Yama dwells in the remote recess of the sky. In his abode,
which is the home of the gods, he is surrounded by songs and
the sound of the flute. Soma is pressed for Yama, ghee is offered
to him, and he comes to seat himself at the sacrifice. He is
invoked to lead his worshippers to the gods, and to prolong life.
His father is Vivasvant and his mother Saranyu. In her dialogue
with him Yami speaks of Yama as the 'only mortal', and elsewhere
he is said to have chosen death and abandoned his body. He departed
to the other world, having found out the path for many, to where
the ancient Fathers passed away. Death is the path of Yama. His
foot-fetter (pádbisa) is spoken of as parallel to the
bond of Varuna. The owl (úluka) and the pigeon (kapóta)
are mentioned as his messengers, but the two four-eyed, broad-nosed,
brindled dogs, sons of Sarama (sarameyáu) are his regular
emissaries. They guard the path along which the dead man hastens
to join the Fathers who rejoice with Yama. They watch men and
wander about among the peoples as Yama's messengers. They are
besought to grant continued enjoyment of the light of the sun.
As the first father of mankind and the first of those that
died, Yama appears to have originally been regarded as a mortal
who became the chief of the souls of the departed. He goes back
to the Indo-Iranian period, for the primaeval twins, from whom
the human race is descended, Yama and Yami, are identical with
the Yima and Yimeh of the Avesta. Yama himself may in that period
have been regarded as a king of a golden age, for in the Avesta
he is the ruler of an earthly, and in the RV. that of a heavenly
This god, as Váta, the ordinary name of wind, is addressed
in two short hymns. He is invoked in a more concrete way than
his doublet Vayú, who is celebrated in one whole hymn
and in parts of others. Vata's name is frequently connected with
forms of the root va, blow, from which it is derived.
He is once associated with the god of the rain-storm in the dual
form of Vata-Parjanyá, while Vayu is often similarly linked
with Indra as Índra-Vayú. Vata is the breath of
the gods. Like Rudra he wafts healing and prolongs life; for
he has the treasure of immortality in his house. His activity
is chiefly mentioned in connexion with the thunderstorm. He produces
ruddy lights and makes the dawns to shine. His swiftness often
supplies a comparison for the speed of the gods or of mythical
steeds. His noise is also often mentioned.