Rigveda Devatas (ऋग्वेदे देवताविचारः)

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Devata (Samskrit: देवता) or Deva (देवः) refers to a supernatural entity having the capability to grant desired boons to other beings, such as humans. They are all-powerful superior beings who are invoked and praised with stutis. The concept of Devas has been present since the earliest times. However, since the earliest texts, namely Rigveda to the Upanishads, Puranas and Itihasas, their characteristics, importance and legends have undergone various changes.

In the present context, we discuss the features and nature of deities with reference to Rigveda.

Important Aspects of Devatas in Rigveda

The phenomenon of nature were the objects of worship for the human being in the earliest times. Some characteristics about Rigvedic deities include[1]

  1. Personification of Nature: Natural phenomena, the Sun, Moon, Rain etc., inspired sense of reverence in man giving rise to the concept of "presiding deities" in them. Nature stood as a never ending perplexity to them due to its power and sublimity. Various aspects of nature stimulated their aesthetic consciousness and gave rise to personification of the powers of nature into devatas. With sense of awe and wonder they worshiped the hostile forces of nature. Hence, all the phenomena of nature were the objects of reverence and became devas and devis. Agni is addressed as नृ॒णां नृत॑मो, ie., man (hero) among men. Devatas we see are often addressed as men. And this personification is a sensible representation of a human, with head, face, eyes, nose etc described aesthetically and poetically by many seers.
  2. Presence of supernatural Powers: The seers identified that different powers had exceptional capacity to grant specific wishes. The Rigveda deals with a number of nature gods of varying importance based on their supernatural powers, such as, Agni, Indra, Surya, Rudra, Visnu, Pusan, the Asvins, the Maruts, Savitr, Varuna, Usas, Parjanya etc. Praised for their mighty deeds, their greatness and beneficence extoled in mantras, the deities, in turn, helped their worshippers with their sustenance, wealth, offspring, prosperity, long life, victory, cattle, so on and so forth.
  3. Number of devatas: A belief in many devatas (Bahudevatavada or polytheism) was very common. We find many devatas having supernatural powers being amply praised. Next we find the concept of worshipping one devata (Ekadevatavada or monotheism). According to them there is only one devata, Agni whose abode is on the earth, Vayu or Indra whose place is in the air and Surya, whose place is in the sky. एकं सद्विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति। (Rig. Veda. which And the many devatas mentioned are different manifestations or descriptions of one Supreme. They emphasized that all natural phenomena were the various facets of one all-pervading Supreme being. Hiranyagarbha, the primordial "golden" germ or Prajapati, the creator is an example of such Supreme being from where the whole creation sprang forth. Gradually, the seers realized the underlying all-pervading divine principle, The Infinite, from which arose and into which the nature and universe, their individual attributes are absorbed and dissolved.
  4. Every Devata is Supreme: The important characteristic of worship is that every devata was regarded as the Supreme. Mantras in a particular extol the greatness of that particular deity as if that deity was the greatest of all devatas.
  5. Identification of devatas: One devata is identified with another as well as with all other devatas in the Veda. The first sukta of the second mandala gives the identification of Agni with all gods, viz. Dyaus, Indra, Visnu, Brahma, Brahmanaspati, Varuna, Mitra, Aryaman, Rudra, Bhaga, Tvastr, and so on and so forth. Yaska also supports this view.
  6. Dual devatas: Some particular deities, who shared certain functions in common, were joined in the form of a special kind of dual compound typically seen in the Rigveda. The most important of these paired devatas are - Asvini devatas, Dyava-prithvi, Agnisoma, Indravayu, Indragni, Indrapusana, Indrabrhaspati, Indra-varuna, Indravisnu, Indrasoma, Somarudra, Rodasi etc. Some of them Indramarutah, Agniparjanya are praised in a small number of mantras. Due to close similarity, sometimes one of the two names with a dual termination became indicative of the two. Thus, it is seen that Varuna indicates Mitravaruna.
  7. Group of devatas (plural): We find that the seers eulogized a number of groups of devatas who formed a set and are mentioned only in plural. They are the Maruts (group of 49 devatas), Adityas (12), Rudras (11) Visvedevas (13). Thus, a group of thirteen devatas are collectively called as Vishvedevas.

Devata of a Mantra

With respect to devatas, Rigveda has a some unique perspectives. Each richa or mantra in the Rigveda has a devata who is the subject of that mantra.

Mantra-devatas are determined by four characteristics, viz., name, relationship, activity, and physical appearance. For example, in the mantras, we see that Indra, Agni etc are mentioned by their name, physical appearance or referenced by their relationship with other deities, or praised for their activities; such deities are determined to be the devata for that particular mantra. However, in certain mantras, none of the four characteristics are used to describe a devata. In such cases the devata for that mantra is determined by the Yajna mentioned. Yaska clarifies[2]

यद्देवतः स यज्ञो वा यज्ञाङ्गं वा, तद्देवता भवति। तद् येऽनादिष्टदेवता मन्त्रास्तेषु देवतोपपरीक्षा (Nirukta 7.1.4)

The yajna-devata becomes the devata for those mantras where the devata is not indicated (अनादिष्ट-देवताक मन्त्र). For example, in Agnistoma Yajna, Agni is the primary deity. The deity for the अनादिष्ट-देवताक मन्त्र used in this yajna is determined as Agni. Based on the context the deity is determined.

प्रकरणाद्धि संदिग्धदेवतेषु देवता नियमः (Explanation of Nirukta 7.1.4)

Based on the timing (kala namely pratah, madhyana, sayam) of the yajna (Yajna-anga) the deity is said to be Agni, Indra and Aditya respectively. As per some scholarly opinions the deity for the अनादिष्ट-देवताक मन्त्र is Prajapati as given by प्राजापत्या इति याज्ञिका: (Nirukta 7.1.4). Some others opine that it is Vishnu or Agni based on the reference यज्ञो वै विष्णुः। Agni is said to represent all devatas, all devas reside in him. Yaska further mentions, अपि वा सा कामदेवता स्यात्। as an other option, where the deity can be decided as per the wish of the yajmana.[2]

Characteristics of a Devata in Rigveda

The characteristic quality of each deva/devi depends on his/her innate nature. Some deities are human-like (manava-vat) in their activities, example, Indra, Varuna, Marut etc. Their physical description is also given in many texts, more distinctly in the Agamas at a later stage. Yaska mentions that some devatas are similar to humans and they are worshipped as though they are animate beings. Some other deities are not similar to the humans, such as Agni, Vayu, Surya, Chandra, Prthvi etc. Their worship includes an inanimate aspect.[3]

पुरुषविधाः स्युः, इत्येकम् । चेतनावद् हि स्तुतयो भवन्ति । अपुरुषविधाः स्युः, इत्यपरम् । (Nirukta. 7.6 and 7)

They are described as having a certain special abode in the various regions of this universe. They play a significant role in yajnas, being specially invited and as recipients of havishya, they help in fulfilling the yajamana's wishes. Their characteristics can be summarized as follows.[1]

  • सामान्यगुणाः ॥ Common Characteristics

Devatas are said to have brilliance, power, benevolence, wisdom, infinity, omnipotence, righteousness, auspiciousness and compassion. Besides the function of creation, preservation and destruction are ascribed to them. They are said to extend the earth and prop the air and the sky.[1]

  • अमरत्वम् ॥ Immortality

In the Vedas, we see the perspective that devatas are characterized as immortal (अमृताः) and do not age i.e., ever-youthful (अजराः).

ते अ॒स्मभ्यं॒ शर्म॑ यंसन्न॒मृता॒ मर्त्ये॑भ्यः । बाध॑माना॒ अप॒ द्विष॑: ॥३॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.90.3) अ॒श्याम॒ वाज॑म॒भि वा॒जय॑न्तो॒ ऽश्याम॑ द्यु॒म्नम॑जरा॒जरं॑ ते ॥७॥ (Rig. Veda. 6.5.7)

Savitr is said to be the bestower of immortality on devatas.

दे॒वेभ्यो॒ हि प्र॑थ॒मं य॒ज्ञिये॑भ्योऽमृत॒त्वं सु॒वसि॑ भा॒गमु॑त्त॒मम् । (Rig. Veda. 4.54.2)

From the interpretation given by Sayanacarya, it is known that Savitr bestowed Soma and other means to attain immortality. Savitr also gave immortality on the Rbhus. Agni is implored to confer immortality. According to a scholar[1], devatas attained immortality by partaking amrta or the celestial Soma juice.

स॒तो नू॒नं क॑वय॒: सं शि॑शीत॒ वाशी॑भि॒र्याभि॑र॒मृता॑य॒ तक्ष॑थ । वि॒द्वांस॑: प॒दा गुह्या॑नि कर्तन॒ येन॑ दे॒वासो॑ अमृत॒त्वमा॑न॒शुः ॥१० (Rig. Veda. 10.53.10)

The undecaying nature of the gods is alluded to in the Rgvedic mantras. Indra is described as ever youthful (yuna) and undecaying (ajuryata). The concept of immortality and eternal nature of the devatas arose from the observation of the regular recurrences of the phenomena of nature. Nature repeating itself in unbroken regularity made them eternal.[1]

  • परोपकारत्वम् ॥ Benevolence

Devatas are said to be exclusively beneficent beings, bestowers of prosperity and immense wealth, who grant happiness in life. The very first sukta of Rigveda, describes Agni devata as a benevolent deity who grants wealth to the yajamana.

अ॒ग्निना॑ र॒यिम॑श्नव॒त् पोष॑मे॒व दि॒वेदि॑वे। य॒शसं॑ वी॒रव॑त्तमम्॥३॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.1.3)

Devatas destroy and protect men against enemies. Pleased with the stuti and offerings they become the friends of the yajamana. They come down to the yajna-sthala by the worship of the devoted people and partake of their offerings.[1]

  • ऋतम् ॥ Rta (Moral order)

In the Rgvedasamhita, a well developed conception of ethical conduct is noticed. The word used to denote the conception of the order of the world is rta. Everything in the Universe which is conceived as showing regularity of action may be said to have the rta for its principle. Rta is said to be the highest truth and all beings are supposed to follow its laws. Those laws are indispensable and their violation bodes bad consequences. Devatas are ideal embodiments of the human values and human character. They were described as the guardians of honesty and virtue. They were holy ones and wise. They were guileless (adruha) and are never remiss. In the first mandala of the Rgvedasamhita, Agni is called the guardian of Eternal Law (gopamrtasya).[1]

राज॑न्तमध्व॒राणां॑ गो॒पामृ॒तस्य॒ दीदि॑विम्। वर्ध॑मानं॒ स्वे दमे॑॥८॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.1.8)

Varuna and the Adityas were considered as the founders and protectors of moral order, i.e. Rta (Rigveda. 7.86.4). Varuna established the laws of rta and he is called dhrtavrata

आ॒दि॒त्येषु॒ प्र वरु॑णे धृ॒तव्र॑ते म॒रुत्सु॑ वि॒श्वभा॑नुषु ॥३॥ (Rig. Veda. 8.27.3)

Many of the deities are guardians of Rta, freeing, or punishing thereby protecting and releasing people from papa (sin). The concepts of Papa and Punya are seen from the Rigvedic times.[1]

  • यज्ञः ॥ Yajna

Yajna has a central role in Rigveda samhita. It has been described as bhuvanasya nabhi, i.e. the very source of the creation. Yajna is conceived as the nabhi (the navel) or पृथि॒व्या अ॒यं य॒ज्ञो भुव॑नस्य॒ नाभि॑: । of the entire cosmos. In the Rigvedic mantra, we find the term दे॒वव्य॑चस्तमः।[1]

प्र य॒ज्ञ ए॑त्वानु॒षग॒द्या दे॒वव्य॑चस्तमः ॥२॥ (Rig. Veda. 5.22.2)

Sayanacharya has interpreted this term दे॒वव्य॑चस्तमः। devavyachastama as - देवव्यचस्तमः देवानामाप्तः यज्ञः। which means that Yajna is most suitable for the devatas. They are exalted by the conduct of yajnas (yajnavrddha). We find that devatas and yajnas are intimately related. The very first mantra of Rigvedasamhita, indicates that the concept of yajna along with its rules and conventions of performance has its origin in the Rigveda itself. Agni is praised as the purohita, invoked to come to the yajna, be pleased with the stutis and in turn bestow wealth to the yajamana. The term yajna is derived from the dhatu yaj, which expresses three senses, i.e. devapuja or glorification of the devatas, samgatikarana or establishing a connection between men and devatas, and dana, or offering of oblations to devatas.[1]

Devatas in Rigveda are invoked to confer blessings on the yajnas and bestow benefits, prosperity, health etc, on the worshipper. The deities also gain strength due to the worship of people through offerings in yajna. Different devatas have different roles in the cosmos and they are invoked for their strengths. All the vedic activities rest on Agni, the principal carrier of offerings to the devatas. The Maruts are called rtasya sardha, as they derive strength from yajnas. It is stated that by the praises of others, the Maruts have nourished strength connected with the sacrifice (Rigveda. 8.7.21). Rudra is the protector of the yajna. The Asvins are also invoked to bring peace and blessing to a yajna. Devatas are the invisible celebrants of the yajna. [1]

Classification of Rigvedic Deities

Yaska, the author of Nirukta, classified Indra, Agni and other devatas based on four aspects as below[3]

  1. आध्यात्मिक - proceeding from bodily and mental causes within one's self (carnal agencies)
  2. आधिदैविक - proceeding from the influence of the atmosphere or planets (supernatural agencies)
  3. आधिभौतिक - derived or produced from the elements (bhutas), and environment (natural agencies)
  4. अधियज्ञ - produced by the agency of yajna

Yaska has further classified all devatas or deities based on their abode.

अग्निः पृथिवीस्थानः । वायुर्वा इन्द्रो वा अन्तरिक्षस्थानः । सूर्यो द्युस्थानः । निरुक्त ७.५ (Nirukta. 7.5)

He classified their residence in three regions, namely[3]

  1. Prthvi-sthana (पृथिवीस्थानः) devatas i.e. terrestrial deities
  2. Antariksha-sthana (अन्तरिक्षस्थानः) devatas i.e. atmospheric deities
  3. Dyu-sthana (द्युस्थानः) devatas i.e. celestial deities
Sthana Prthvi (पृथिवीस्थानः) Antariksha (अन्तरिक्षस्थानः) Dyu (द्युस्थानः)
Place Terrestrial Atmospheric Celestial
Predominant Devata Agni Indra or Vayu Surya
Devatas Agni, Soma, Brhaspati, Tvasta, Prajapati, Vishvakarma, Aditi, Diti etc devi-s, rivers, Prthvi. Indra, Matarishva (Matarishvan), Vayu Rudra, Marut, and Parjanya, Aapah Apam-napat, Ahirbudhnya, Trita Aptya Surya, Mitra, Varuna, Dyuh, Pusan, Savita, Aditya, Ashvins, Aryama (Aryaman) Usas and Ratri

Only one devata is predominant among all devatas of each and every region while the rest are personifications of that devata. Each devata has a number of activities and each name has a reference to one such activity. Yaska uses additional interpretation criteria such as

  1. इतिहासपरक - Itihasa perspective
  2. आख्यानपरक - Akhyana presentation
  3. प्राकृतिक पदार्थ - Perspective of nature
  4. निर्वचनात्मक - Etymological sense

The above criteria are understood from the akhyana (legend) of Indra and Vrtra discussed in the perspectives of Itihasa (historical), as an Akhyana (anecdote), in the perspective of nature (Vrtra is said to be whirlwind), along with the etymological explanation. Indra is thus, a raja (the ruler of Swarga), his characteristics explained in various anecdotes, as vidyut (lightning) the natural perspective among many other meanings.[3]

Number of Devatas

In the Vedas, the number of devatas is said to range from one to six thousand. In Rigveda, the famous mantra emphasizes the unity of devatas (एकेश्वरवादः), different forms of the same all-powerful Ishvara manifesting as Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni etc.[3]

इन्द्रं॑ मि॒त्रं वरु॑णम॒ग्निमा॑हु॒रथो॑ दि॒व्यः स सु॑प॒र्णो ग॒रुत्मा॑न् । एकं॒ सद् विप्रा॑ बहु॒धा व॑दन्त्य॒ग्निं य॒मं मा॑त॒रिश्वा॑नमाहुः ॥४॥६॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.164.46)

The same aspect is explained in Nirukta and Brhaddevata.

तासामियं विभूतिर्हि नामानि यदनेकशः । आहुस्तासां तु मन्त्रेषु कवयोऽन्योन्ययोनिताम् ।। ७१ ।। (Brhd. Deva. 1.171)

Yajurveda and Atharvaveda also support Ekeshvaravada. In this universe, there exists one all-powerful entity or energy (Universal Energy), which in the Vedas has been called as Vaishvanara Agni. The components and subparts of this very source of energy are the devatas.[3] By virtue of their special qualities Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Yama etc the devatas derived their names. Thus we see that Bahudevata-vada is also supported by this explanation. There is only one root source, Universal Energy. The many devatas are explained by their differing activities, and their names are given based on their gunas.[3] In the Rigveda, we find a mention of three devatas (तिस्रः देवताः) as prominent devatas; Agni in the terrestrial region, Indra or Vayu in the atmospheric region and Surya in the celestial region.[3]

सूर्यो नो दिवस्पातु वातो अन्तरिक्षाद् अग्निर्नः पार्थिवेभ्यः। (Rig. Veda. 10.15.1)

Yaska based his classification of three prominent devatas on the Rigvedic mantra.

तिस्र एव देवता इति नैरुक्ताः । (Nirukta. 7.5)

Elsewhere in Rigveda we find a mention of thirty-three devatas (त्रयस्त्रिंशत् देवताः) , eleven on earth, eleven in atmospheric region and eleven in the celestial region.[3]

ये दे॑वासो दि॒व्येका॑दश॒ स्थ पृ॑थि॒व्यामध्येका॑दश॒ स्थ । अ॒प्सु॒क्षितो॑ महि॒नैका॑दश॒ स्थ ते दे॑वासो य॒ज्ञमि॒मं जु॑षध्वम् ॥११॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.139.11)

Shatapatha Brahmana ( and Aitareya Brahmana (12.11.22) give their names. They are eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas, Dyus and Prthvi (or Indra and Prajapati).

In the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, in Shaunaka and Yajnavalkya samvada there is a mention about thirty-three crore devatas.

Important Rigvedic Deities

Among the many devatas praised in the Rigveda, a few important deities and their nature are mentioned below. All deities have their part in granting particular desires to the worshipper. The supreme position is ascribed to various deities at different times.[1][3]

अग्निः ॥ Agni

As the most invoked deity in the Vedas, Agni enjoys a prominent position as a Rigvedic deity. Agni has various positions from the elemental fire to a reference as Paramatma. Agni symbolizes the yajnas; all yagaas or yajnas are based on Agni, without him no divine activity can be conducted. He is the intermediary messenger between the devatas and the humans, considered as "the mouth" of the devatas. All oblations, aahutis and dravyas offered to other devatas are conveyed by Agni.[3] He is recognized as Havyavaaha, the fire which conveys offerings to the devatas; as Kavyavaaha, he conveys offerings to the Pitrs or ancestors and as Saharakshasas, he receives the offerings of the Rakshasas (Tait. Samh.[1]

Along with Indra he is worshipped as a protector of environment. Atharvaveda describes his Virat swaroopa as having four kinds of presentation - as Agni on earth (elemental fire), Agni in water, Surya and Electricity (Vidyut). Wherever the tattvas of Agni such as tejas (brilliance), urja (energy) are seen, in those forms we worship Agni as the devata. Thus we find Agni pervading all over the universe; the celestial regions, atmospheric region, earth, electricity, air and in all directions.[3]

Tretagni or the three Agnis - Garhapatya, Ahavaniya and Dakshinagni are of prime importance in the Vedas. Apart from these, other forms of Agni include - Kravyaada (used in Antyesti samskar etc), Akravyaada (used on Yajnas and other auspicious times), Sankasuka (used as a joining force) and Vikasuka (used as breaking force) forms.[3]

In a human form Agni is described as Ghrtapusta (one who is nourished with ghrta or ghee), Ghrtamukha (one having ghee in his mouth), Ghrtakesha (one having ghee as strands of hair), Haritakesha etc. He is also represented as an Vrshabh (ox), Ashva (horse), Vatsa (a calf), and a divine bird. His food is said to be wood and ghee. He is said to have seven faces and seven tongues as per Atharvaveda and Mundakopanishad. According to Shri. Aravind Ghosh, Agni in the modern parlance refers to the sankalpa shakti (Divine will) and viveka (wisdom) in a person. It is only to rake and inspire the Sankalpa shakti that the Jnana-Agni is lighted in us.[3] According to Dr. R. L. Kashyap, the more a person exposes himself or herself to the power of Agni, the perfect becomes his work.[4]

इन्द्रः ॥ Indra

In the Vedas, Indra is described as the most powerful of the devatas. He is described as devata for wars as well as for clouds by others. Some opine that he is Surya and others attribute him to a strong mind. Indra in the Vedas is different from the Indra portrayed in Puranas and Itihasas. In the Vedas, we see Indra as one who brings light, as a protector from rakshasas such as Vrtrasura, as one who brings rains, as a yoddha (warrior), a great ruler, one who enjoys Somarasa, uplifts the dharmik people (righteous people) and is much revered as the presiding deity in Yajnas.[3]

According to Yaska, Indra has three important characteristics:

  1. रसानुप्रदानम् - Rasa here means rains. Indra is one who showers the rains on earth.
  2. वृत्रवधः - Slaying of Vrtrasura
  3. बलकृतिः - Performing activities requiring strength and courage

Vrtrasura is Indra's main enemy as he stopped the rains and flow of rivers.

अह॒न्नहिं॒ पर्व॑ते शिश्रिया॒णं त्वष्टा॑स्मै॒ वज्रं॑ स्व॒र्यं॑ ततक्ष । वा॒श्रा इ॑व धे॒नव॒: स्यन्द॑माना॒ अञ्ज॑: समु॒द्रमव॑ जग्मु॒राप॑: ॥२॥ (Riv. Veda. 1.32.2)

In this way, Indra became the devata for rains and is known as Vrtraha (one who killed Vrtrasura). Apart from Vrtrasura, he killed other asuras such as Bala, Shambara and destroyed ninety-nine towns of their residence. Thus he got the names Purandara or Purabhit. He is described as Shatakratu because he can do many activities of the purusharthas.[3] According to Prof. R. L. Kashyap, Indra is controls the Divine Mind, helps human beings develop the abilities for mental formation and associated actions. He is the deity who gives appropriate knowledge to human beings so that they can perform all their actions. Actions that are not just limited to the physical plane i.e., actions done with physical organs, the legs hands etc, but also those pertaining to the inner level, such as the inner vital and mental energies.[4]

Indra's actions are directed towards the well-being of all individuals in the universe, thus he is called Narya. He protects the Aryas from Dasyus and Anaryas. He kills these forces to protect the Aryas.[3] He is known as the protector of people from hostile forces. These are forces of falsehood which conceal Truth, or divide the Truth into mutually opposite chunks, or which tend to stop the flow of consciousness. At the ground level as well as the inner consciousness level, Indra fights against the demonic forces such as Vrtra, who operates at both the physical cosmic as well as the inner level of an individual.[4]

Indra's favourite drink is the Somarasa, hence he is called Somapatama. He is also a good ruler, protecting dharmic people is his main role. His chief weapon is the Vajra, prepared from the bones of Dadichi. He is the chief of all the devaganas, hence called as Ganapati. His chief subordinates are the Marut devaganas, who proceed in front of him. In the "Dasarajna yuddha" he helped Sudas to attain victory. In spiritual sense, Indra represents the Jivatma according to Dr. Kapildev Dviwedi. The negative thoughts are Vrtra, which stop the flow of light from a pure Atma. Vrtravadha is the destruction of such negative thoughts and bad actions. This is symbolic to the Devasura sangrama. The good-hearted dharmic devatas are always at odds with the asuras who are driven by asuric qualities of bad behaviour. Victory of the devata qualities is the victory of Indra.[3]

वायुः ॥ Vayu

Vayu is the presiding deity of Prana or Life. Ancient mystics regarded life as a great force pervading all material existence impelling all activities of the body. This idea gave rise to the conception of Prana, the universal breathe of life. All the vital and nervous activities of the human being fall within the definition of Prana, and belong to the domain of Vayu. Yet this great deity has comparatively few hymns in the Rig Veda. Even in these suktas, he is always in common with Indra or the Maruts, the children of Vayu. According to modern Vedic conceptions, Indra is the master of mental force, Vayu is the master of nervous force. Their union is necessary for thought and for action. (5.7.6) gives a hint of the work of Vayu supported by Indra, “The mortal man must come to know him (Vayu) as one who holds the multitude of desires so that he may establish all in him (mortal); He takes the taste of all foods and builds a house for the being.."

The house is the life-sheath or Pranamaya kosha of man. Vayu is also called as Matarishvan since he is said to breathe (shva) in this midworld (matari).[4]

विष्णुः ॥ Vishnu

Vishnu is an important deity mentioned in Rigveda, Yajurveda and Atharvavedas. He is called Vishnu as he all-pervading in the Universe - वेवेष्टि व्याप्नोति इति विष्णुः। In the Rigveda, Vishnu is famous for his role in measuring the universe in three steps.

य इ॒दं दी॒र्घं प्रय॑तं स॒धस्थ॒मेको॑ विम॒मे त्रि॒भिरित् प॒देभि॑: ॥३॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.154.3)

According to Dr. Kapildev Dviwedi, the Universe is considered to be enclosed in a vast triangle, and Vishnu is said to be pervading in all the three angles of the triangle. The three angles represent the prthvi, the antariksha and the dyulokas. Hence he is called as Trivikrama, Urukrama, Urugaya, Trishadha, Tripada etc. Surya as the attracting force maintains the place of these lokas. Vishnu step is considered as the Paramapada or supreme station (Moksha). It is here that Madhu flows in cascades, Madhu here means Brahmaananda. There is eternal bliss in this Paramadham, which is said to be the fourth or supreme state of existence. Yogadarshana describes this state as Samadhi.[3]

उ॒रु॒क्र॒मस्य॒ स हि बन्धु॑रि॒त्था विष्णो॑: प॒दे प॑र॒मे मध्व॒ उत्स॑: ॥५॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.154.5)

Vishnu creates or manifests the Universe of seven planes, unveils its laws and maintains the Universe under these laws. This happens not only in the macrocosm, but also in the microcosm, the subtle body of man. Each plane is manifested by Vishnu is based on a particular principle. For instance this world, earth, is dominated by matter. The midworld, antariksha, is dominated by life-energies, emotional energies etc. The celestial worlds, dyu, is dominated by the mental energies. The highest station is said to be Vishnu's supreme step. He creates the path by which the mortals can reach the supreme station after traversing the intermediate worlds. Upholding the Universe with his three steps, Vishnu creates for Indra a wide station amongst us mortals by which we can reach the supreme station above. When Vishnu is said to sleep on the folds of the snake Ananta upon the ocean of sweet milk, Ananta is clearly seen to be not the common serpent, nor the milk the material sweet milk, nor the ocean an expanse of milky liquid. The symbolic meaning is that the All-pervading Vishnu rests on the coils of the Infinite in the blissful ocean of Eternal Existence.[4]

सोमः ॥ Soma

Soma (सोमः) has great importance in the Vedas. The ninth mandala of the Rigveda is completely devoted to Pavamana-Soma, the deity reigning the medicinal herbs and Somalata. In the Vedas, the primary reference of Soma is to the creeper Soma from where the Somarasa is prepared. It is a chief material used in Somayaga. Indra is called Somapa, one who enjoys drinking the Somarasa. Soma also implys Chandrama (Moon), Raja etc. In the Rigveda, Somalata is also called as Moujavat as the natural habitat of this creeper is the mountain called Mujavat.

सोम॑स्येव मौजव॒तस्य॑ भ॒क्षो..... (Rig. Veda. 10.34.1)

In the Atharvaveda, there is a reference that Soma is found by the banks of the river Amshuman. Sushruta Samhita (Chikitsa-sthan 26. 1 to 32) gives an extensive description of this creeper. There are twenty-four varieties of Soma - Amshuman, Munjavan, Chandrama, and Rajataprabha etc. All Soma varieties have fifteen leaves, which grow in the waxing phase (Shukla paksha) of the moon and shed in the waning phase (Krishna paksha) of the moon. Soma is said to originate in the Himalayas, Sahya ranges, Mahendra mountains, and Malaya mountains. These creepers are said to be found near the Sindhu river. The creeper grows to a range of one to one-and-half feet tall, with the branches arising from the base near the roots. Many scholars have conducted extensive research about the Somalata. Many believe that "Ephedra", found on the Hindukush and Suleiman ranges, is the Somalata. Soma creeper is crushed using the pressing stones to get the juice, which is strained and get the Pavamana-Soma rasa. When milk is added to the Somarasa, it is called "Gavashir", on adding curds it is called Dadhyashir, on adding the flour of Jau (Barley) it is called Yavaashir. Rigveda mentions all the three dishes of Pavamana-Soma and they are collectively called as Tryaashir. Somarasa is described as Madhu (Madhur or sweet), Mada (Uttejaka or Invigorating), Pitu (Peya or a drink), Piyush (Amrta or nectar-like food), and Indu (Ahladaka or refreshing). Somarasa was said to invigorate, increase power and cause happiness. It also aided in increasing the intellect and boost immunity.

अपा॑म॒ सोम॑म॒मृता॑ अभू॒माग॑न्म॒ ज्योति॒रवि॑दाम दे॒वान् । (Rig. Veda. 8.48.3)

In the Rigveda the results of drinking Somarasa are said to be Amrtva (eternity), along with finding the inner light and the devatas. Soma is said to be the adhipati of the medicinal plants.[3]

वरुणः ॥ Varuna

Varuna is another important deity well described in the Vedas. Varuna is the devata for Rta (ऋतम्) and Nyaya or the divine law and order. Hence he is the Dharmapati, one who upholds Dharma. He is described as all-knowing (Sarvajna), all-powerful (Sarvashaktiman), and all-pervading (Sarvavyapaka). He rules and sets order in the world from the waters where he is located. In the Rigveda, Mitra-Varuna occur as a pair. Their mansion is said be extensive with many doors having a thousand pillars. Varuna is said to reside in each and every atom of water. He is the presiding deity of law and order. His rules of law are binding on everyone, and no one can break free of his fetters (pasham). Only through Truth, by true words, actions and thoughts can one free himself from Varuna pasham.[3] To achieve a luminous consciousness in the mind, the help of Mitra, the deity for Harmony and Joy, and Varuna, the deity of Purity and Vastness, are indispensable. For the workings of the mind constantly interfered with by the vitiating elements of desire, preference and wrong judgement; there is a lack of coherence and harmony between movement and movement; there is a heavy limitation imposed by the nature of the senses through which mind feeds itself. Besides there are influences in the world that stand against the full development of the mind in the direction Truth. To stall all these is invoked the aid of Varuna, the ruler of Vastness and Purity, who breaks down the barriers that limit and eliminate the clinging impurities. All mental disharmonies and wrong movements are converted and a harmonious, wide, right action of thought is accomplished.

ऋतेन मित्रावरुणावृतावृधावृतस्पृशा। क्रतुं बृहन्तमाशाथे ॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.2.8)

The object of the Powers of Truth and Will, at work in the seeker is to establish in him the unimpeded workings of Truth. Mitra and Varuna manifest in a variety of ways, in a number of faculties, e.g. inspiration, intuition, revelation etc., in the seeker, imparting their purity, vastitude, joy and harmony to all his movements.[4]

अश्विनौ ॥ Asvini Devatas

In the Rigveda, we have more than 50 suktas dedicated to Ashvini Kumaras. They are the divine Physicians. The root अश् is used in the sense of व्याप्तौ। or universally pervading, deriving the term Ashvin; thus Ashvini Kumaras are ubiquitously present. They singly represent the tattva of dual contrasting pairs - of qualities and activities, such as earth and celestial, night and day, Surya and Chandra, and two rajas. Of such pairs if one represents the brilliant form the other is a dark form, one is positive and the other is negative, if one offers prosperity the other causes debts. Their qualities are also contrasting in nature - one has the fiery nature (of Agni) and the other has a cold nature (of Soma). In the human body they represent the Prana and Apana pairs.[3] In the Rigveda, many suktas (1.116 to 119 and 1.180-184) describe the great deeds of Ashvini Kumaras. They are skilled physicians capable of performing marvelous treatments and cures. They cure even the oldage of Chyavana Maharshi and make him young again. They rescue the son of Tugra, Bhujyu on the high seas from disaster. They cut the head of Dadichi Maharshi and in its place they attach the head of a horse. From him they learn the Madhu Vidya.[3]

स वां॒ मधु॒ प्र वो॑चदृता॒यन् त्वा॒ष्ट्रं यद् द॑स्रावपिक॒क्ष्यं॑ वाम् ॥२२॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.117.22)

The Rigveda states that the Ashvini Kumaras married Suryaa, the daughter of Surya. .... आसी॒द्यदया॑त्सू॒र्या पति॑म् ॥७॥ (Rig. Veda. 10.85.7). Suryaa travels in the chariot of Ashvini Kumaras. The chariot has been eloquently described in Rigveda. It travels with the speed of mind (Rig. Veda. 7.68.3) and flies like a bird (Rig. Veda. 1.46.3). It can travel in space, on earth and in water (Rigveda 4.43.5), on mountains and even the ocean.[3]

रुद्रः ॥ Rudra

The deity Rudra is found mentioned extensively in the Yajurveda (Rudradhyaya). He is a Ganadevata - of eleven devatas in number. They represent the ten indriyas and one Manas. When these leave the physical body, the body is lifeless making the relatives of the deceased wail out loudly (रुद् - रोदनम्). In the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, it is stated that

तद् यद् रोदयन्ति तस्माद् रुद्रा इति। (Brhd. Upan. 3.9.4)

There are many synonyms for Rudra as per Yajurveda and Atharvaveda. He is called as Bhava, Pashupati, Mrtyu, Neelakantha, Kshetrapati, Senani, Shankara, Vrkshapati, Shitikantha and Shiva along with many other names. He is called as जलाषभेषज (jalashabheshaja) a specialist in using water for treatment.

गा॒थप॑तिं मे॒धप॑तिं रु॒द्रं जला॑षभेषजम् । (Rig. Veda. 1.43.4)

He has control over the medicinal herbs, and environment. He consumes poison and gives back Amrtam, just as the trees consume carbon-di-oxide and give out the clear air filled with oxygen.[3]

Both in the Puranas and the Agamas, Rudra is lauded as Shiva the benevolent and the destroyer. He is prayed to protect the world from diseases and make the beings happy. Rudra is called as Triyambaka and worshiped to grant immortality as seen in the following Rigveda mantra

त्र्य॑म्बकं यजामहे सु॒गन्धिं॑ पुष्टि॒वर्ध॑नम् । उ॒र्वा॒रु॒कमि॑व॒ बन्ध॑नान्मृ॒त्योर्मु॑क्षीय॒ मामृता॑त् ॥१२॥ (Rig. Veda. 7.59.12)[4]

मरुतः ॥ Maruts

Maruts also are Ganadevatas just like the Rudras. Very early on we see the description of Maruts in the Rigveda. They are said to be "सप्त - सप्त" or fortynine in number, each having a power of hundred times (Rigveda. 5.52.17). Based on their function, they have different names such as Shukra-jyoti, Chitra-jyoti, Ugra, Bhima, Dhvanta etc. They have special dress and ornaments of gold. Bearing weapons they are described as courageous warriors and soldiers. They have a large powerful army, and win all wars. They are also described as Vayu devatas (air); their fierce forms are the violent storms, and as pleasant benevolent deities they cause rains on earth. Their thunderous sounds make even the earth and atmosphere shake and tremble. They are the subordinates and helpers of Indra. In the Rigveda, their origin is described to be from Vidyut or electricity.[3]

ह॒स्का॒राद् वि॒द्युत॒स्पर्यऽतो॑ जा॒ता अ॑वन्तु नः । म॒रुतो॑ मृळयन्तु नः ॥१२॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.23.12)

Apart from the electrical energy, they develop electro-magnetic fields and radiate the energy. The sukta 5.87 in Rigveda, refers to electromagnetic waves.[3]

They are mentioned by the epithets such as "children of Rudras" and as "brothers of Indra". Such epithets are based on their functions or actions. Because of their impetuousness, they are called as the children of the fierce Rudras, rudraha, (1.39.7); rudrāsaḥ, (1.39.4).

The Maruts also give a divine motion to the activities of the intelligence illumined by the Light and strength of Indra, the deity for the Divine Mind. Hence they are called as brothers of Indra, indrajyeshtha, (1.23.8); marutvantam indra, (1.23.7). In the aspect of aiding the work of Indra, the Divine Mind, their functions are not limited to the control and origination of thoughts.[4]

उषस् ॥ Ushas (Usha)

In Vaidika vangmaya, Usha is one deity who inspired poetic metaphors in Rigvedic seers. Everyday early in the morning, on the eastern horizon, Usha arises bringing in freshness, enthusiasm, alertness and delight. She is described as a fresh purified young lady decked in ornaments, with sparkling with grace. She is picturized as a smiling lady, throwing away the robe of darkness, anxious and longing for her union with her husband Surya. Following divine order, she maintains her time everyday, hence she is called Rtaavari.[3]

The deity Usha is lauded in about twenty suktas of the Rig Veda. She is also prominently mentioned in the ten apri Suktas and other Suktas. A careful reading of all these Suktas indicates that many of the functions and characteristics attributed to the deity do not make sense if we simply interpret her as the physical dawn as expressed by many scholars. Usha signifies the dawn of Divine Consciousness in the individual. She elevates all persons to the full force of light and pours, the 'ananda' and Soma into the mental and bodily existence. The physical dawn which we see every morning is a physical symbol of this divinity. The onset of the Divine Consciousness indicates the existence of the higher worlds of bliss and perfection which are beyond the pale of our ordinary consciousness.[4]

पूषन् ॥ Pushan

Pushan is one of the twelve Adityas. He nourishes both the yajamana and the Earth. He supports and nourishes Mother Earth, in so doing he makes her ready for the manifestation of Usha, the Dawn of higher consciousness. Pushan aids in the effort of the yajamana to reach the suryaloka, even while living (10.17.4). In the Rigveda, there are eight suktas pertaining to Pusha. He is worshiped early in the morning. He purifies the minds of the people and increases Satva or pious nature in them. He increases the power, capability and nourishes both minds and bodies, hence he is called Pusha. He protects the people who strayed from their paths. He protects the cattle from stealers.[3][4]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 Deka, Barnali. (2015) Ph.D Thesis Title: A socio cultural study of the Rgvedasamhita. Gauhati University. (Chapter 4 : The Religious Aspect of the Rgvedasamhita)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Vedom mein devata tattva. Ved-katha Kalyan Ank, Gorakhpur: Gita Press (Pages 317-323)
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 3.22 3.23 3.24 3.25 3.26 3.27 3.28 Dvivedi, Kapil Dev. (2000) Vaidika Sahitya evam Samskrti (Vedic Literature and Culture). Varanasi: Vishvavidyalaya Prakashan. (Pages 294-308)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 Kashyap, R. L. (2005 First Edition) Essentials of Rigveda (With the test, translation and explanation of 62 Mantras). Benguluru: Sri Aurobindo Kapali Sastry Institute of Vedic Culture