By Dr BK Gohain
The early Vedic religion is turalism pure and simple and is symbolic of the history of development of human thought. As the Vedic society was pastoral and agriculture was the main stay of the Vedic Aryans, the society was greatly influenced by the vagaries of ture and as a result, the Vedic seers ascribed godhood to the elements of ture. It has relationship to the vicissitudes in the life of the Vedic Indians and personification of the elements of ture mainly led to the concept of creation and evolution of gods. Light, darkness, fire, air, water, clouds etc., were the factors leading to the concept of gods during the Vedic age.
The Vedic seers and thinkers composed hymns to eulogize light and darkness and they conceived of Usha and Ratri as two goddesses and used to worship them. They ascribed godhood to the Sun, the Thunder, the Fire, the Air, the Water, the Clouds etc. and called the Sun as Aditya, Lord of thunders as Indra, the lord of fire as Agni, the lord of Air as Bayu, lord of water as Baru, the gods of clouds as Marut etc. The rishis of the Rg Veda looked upon the universe in three spheres mely, Dyuloka (celestial sphere), Antariksaloka (the intermediary sphere) and Bhuloka (the terrestrial sphere). Earth ( Pritvi) is the Bhuloka. Visnu, one of the Adityas is the highest God per excellence which is applied to no other god in the Rg Veda. However, in the Vedas, Indra is mentioned in all the Vedas and the prominence of Visnu was fully developed in post-Vedic period and particularly in the Puras and in the epics.
The dymic process of evolution and development of mankind is responsible for the complex character of Vedic deities. Indra domites the pantheon of gods from the time of Rg Veda and other Vedas. In the early Aryan society, when man had to work from dawn to dusk, the thunders, hailstorms and such vagaries of ture used to instill fear and the seers ascribed these to a most powerful god and med it Indra. Indra tended to become richer and richer by his association with Soma, Maruts etc. Soma which is the godhood associated with an intoxicating drink played the central role in the religious rites of the Aryans. The well organized soldier-like group of Maruts is associated with the powerful Indra. As the me suggests, Maruts were origilly considered as messengers of death and their association with Rudra, who has both benevolent and malevolent roles makes them important. Rudra’s destructive powers used to instill fear in the minds of the Vedic Aryans and in Jajur Veda, he attains full form and qualities which, in Puranic time gets such prominence that he takes the me of Siva, the benevolent.
A critical study of the Vedic passages pertaining to Mitra, Savitr, the Pusan, produces a clear impression of certain solar myths having been super imposed-and that too, in a vague and distance manner-on the origil characters of these gods. In the evolution of Vedic mythology, there was indeed a distinct stage when several of its concepts were, so to say, artificially ‘polarized’. There are two Suktas called Devi Sukta and Ratri Sukta which may be termed as the origin of the most powerful and omnipotent goddess which ultimately led to the concept of Mother Goddess Durga.” I am associated with Rudra, Basu, Aditya and the gods of the universe. I am the only Goddess of the Universe and the first giver of riches, money and the first to be propitiated in the sacrificial fire ritual.” in this way this Devi-sukta composed by the most learned lady scholar Bak, daughter of Sage Ambhu categorized Mother Goddess as the Supreme Goddess. Similarly in the ‘Ratri – Sukta, Night is described as the supreme energy encompassing the whole creation and as goddess. “Night (Ratri) comes and covers many countries. By her advent, the goddess covers all places, high and low. She has removed darkness by her own illumition.’’
The reason for glorifying Usha and Ratri is very simple.The phenome of day-break ushering in light of the sun and setting of the sun were so important for the early Aryans who used to live in thatched houses and so the dawn is eulogized as Usha and the night is dreaded as Ratri. Thus, there are a number of suktas euloging both Usha and Ratri who are the female deities in the Vedas. Aditya or the Sun is the most important god associated with Usha and Ratri. In Rg Veda, there are suktas (hymns) glorifying Usha. “ O the daughter of god, please start the dawn by giving us wealth. Usha is the giver of horses, cows and giver of riches. For her subjects (meaning people), she has enough riches for their livelihood and for running their life in comfort and pleasure. O Usha, on your advent, the learned ones pay attention to give dotions (to the needy). Like the housewives, Usha maintains all people in life. She wakes up all living beings. She wakes up the footed beings and gets the birds fly. She encourages the diligent people to do works. She removes darkness by rising in the east.”
Likewise, as the Earth is the giver of crops and without food, no one can survive, it is eulogized as by the Vedic seers. In Rg Veda, Earth is visualized as Mother. “Mother Earth is the greatest.‘’ “O Prithvi, kindly realize our difficulties. O Earth, you are the Father and the Mother of the gods. Kindly protect us, O the nourishing Mother and the increaser of our sacrificial fires. O Earth, you are the giver of happiness, facilitator of sacrificial fires, instrumental in the birth and growth of crops and noble-born.” Likewise, in the Atharavaveda also, she is described as Mother.
Besides these, in Rg Veda, there is mention of Saraswati, Ila and Bharatidevi. “O Saraswati, you are the greatest amongst mothers and the greatest river amongst all.’’ As the banks of Saraswati river were very fertile in which crops used to grow in abundance, it was the important river for the early Aryans.
Laksmi, occurring in the early Vedic literature in the sense of good fortune, came to be regarded as the goddess of fortune and the wife of Visnu during the obscure period prior to the revival of Vedicism in the form of popular Hinduism, and became Sita and Rukmini during Visnu’s incartion as Rama and Krish respectively. Similarly the Vedic river-divinity Saraswati in later period was elevated to the position of the goddess of speech and learning and schematically associated Brahma as his wife .
The Vedic sage, while contemplating upon the true significance of Dyu (sky) and Prithvi (earth), caught a glimpse of the infinite, and he called it Aditi. She is considered the mother of all other gods and the Aditya’s. Max Muller says: “Aditi an ancient god or goddess, is in reality the earliest me invented to express the infinity; not the Infinity as the result of a long process of abstract reasoning, but the visible Infinite, visible by the ked eye, the endless expanse, beyond the earth, beyond the clouds, beyond the sky’’. The root meaning of the word ‘Aditi’ is unbroken, indivisible or infinite. Yaska describes Aditi as the ‘mother of the gods’. It is very significant that the Vedic bards could intuitively understand the one indivisible, immanent principal even in that early period of Rg-Vedic age, and could feel its existence not only as a reality, but also as the progenitor of all other spiritual entries controlling this inscrutable physical universe around us, which we loosely call ture.
The me ‘Durga’ is mentioned in rayaniya Upanishad. “Durgam Devim saram ahom prapadye” meaning ‘I am taking shelter at the feet of Goddess Durga. In the Taitriya Arakyaka of Krs Jajur Veda, Ambika is shown as the wife of Rudra. In Taittiriya Aranyaka, the mes Katyayani, Kanyakumari and Durgi are mentioned in a slokas.
In the Puras, it is mainly the consort of Siva who in her several forms, plays the most prominent role. She is often glorified as Sakti, or the female energy of Siva, and as such, has two characters, one mild and the other fierce. In her milder form, she is celebrated as Uma (bright), who, incidentally is traced to the later Vedic literature and Gauri. But it is her terrible form that is more distinctive. It may be presumed that the worship of Sakti, the fierce goddess, existed as an independent religious cult among certain wild tribes, and it was only at a later stage, it was brought into the close contact with Siva worship. It is also noteworthy that the me ‘Siva’ was mentioned in place of Rudra in Puras.
As the destroyer of many asuras and accomplisher of mighty deeds, Sakti, in the form of Kali or Camundi plays almost the same role as the Vedic Indra. The Pura ‘Devi Bhagavata’ is entirely devoted to the great goddess.
It is not easy to write about the Saktism as it is vast. This vast entity Sakti popularly med Durga manifests in many forms. It is believed that She is the combition of the three energies and med Mahakali, Mahalakhsmi and Mahasaraswati. She is the manifestation of Svatta, Raja, Tama. Shri Shri Chandi is the culmition of the ancient thoughts of Mother which origites from the Vedic and post scriptures. It is the ultimate expression of greatness of Mother Goddess. In common parlance, the different manifestations of Mother are Sailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kusmanda, Sandamata, Katyayani, Kalratri, Maha Gauri and Siddhidatri. The worship of Mother Goddess Durga in these nine manifestations starts from Day 1 of varatri and ends on 9th day.
In the ‘Camunda tantra’ , there is references to Dasa-Vidya . They are but 10 forms of Sati, daughter of Prajapati Dakshsa appeared around Lord Siva and told Him that these were her ten forms She, as Sati wanted to go and attend the sacrificial ritual of her father .
Kali is dark, on a corpse, with four hands and destroyer of sins. She fulfills desires. She is the presiding deity of Saturn ( Soni)
Tara rescues one from fear. Her other mes are Nila Saraswati, Lambodari and Bhima. Ugratara is another me. She lords over Brahaspati (Jupiter).
Sorashi is ever-smiling, soft spoken, and Brahma, Visnu and Siva sit near her.
Bhubaneswari is the controller of the universe and three-eyed. She is the presiding deity over Sukra (Venus).
Tripurasundari is four-handed and the presiding deity over Budha (Mercury).
Chinmastaa is propitiated for removing sins. She is very angry in ture. She is the presiding deity over Rahu (Uranus).
Dhumaavati is smoky in appearance so med as She killed Dhumrasura. She is the presiding deity over Ketu (Ketu).
Bogolaamukhi is the destroyer of enemy and is the presiding deity over Mangal (March).
Matongi is dark skinned, with eterl smile and with four hands and three eyes. She is the presiding deity over Suyya (sun).
Kamala is the goddess of Vikunth, the place of Visnu. She has many forms, with two hands, with four hands, with six hands and eight hands. She is the presiding deity of Chandra( Moon).
“Ya Devi Sarvabhutechu Matrirupe sangsthita,
Nomostachoi nomostachoi nomostacho nomo nomh;
Our salutations to the Goddess
who is staying as our Mother.’’