Rudra-Shiva concept (Study)

by Maumita Bhattacharjee | 2018 | 54,352 words

This page relates ‘Monotheistic Idea In The Vedic Pantheon’ of the study on the Rudra-Shiva concept in the Vedic and Puranic literature, starting with the concept of God as contemplated by the Rishis (Vedic sages). These pages further deal with the aspects, legends, iconography and eulology of Rudra-Shiva as found in the Samhitas, Brahamanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads Sutras and Puranas. The final chapters deal with descriptions of his greatness, various incarnations and epithets.

2. Monotheistic Idea In The Vedic Pantheon

In the later Ṛgvedic age, there arose doubts in the minds of the Vedic Indians as to whether there are many gods or there is in reality only one divine being.

In the Hiraṇyagarbha Sūkta of the Ṛgveda, it is stated that

“The oblations shall be offered to what god.”[1]

Perhaps such types of doubts opened a path towards the idea of monotheism.

And the Vedic Indians started to believe that behind the multiplicity of gods there is only one Being—

indraṃ mitraṃ varuṇamagnimāhuratho divyaḥ sa suparṇo garutmān |
ekaṃ sadviprā vahudhā vadantyagniṃ yamaṃ mātariśvānamāhuḥ.[2]

It means they call him Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa, Agni, and he is hevenly, Garutmān. Sages call him by many names such as Agni, Yama, Mātariśvān.

From this above statement it is clear that the curious mind of the ancient Indians was not satisfied by the early Vedic pantheon. Their minds slowly moved away towards the monotheistic idea of godhead. The Vedic people used various methods for seeking the monotheistic answer. One process was to lump all the previous deities together drawing the common elements into a conceptualised god. And another process was to enumerate the gods on their functional basis. Thus, it can be said that Viśvakarman is the maker of the things, Brahmaṇaspati is the lord of supreme power and great Puruṣa is the creator of everything. In the Puruṣa Sūkta, it is said that everything is originated from the cosmic Puruṣa. It seems that the Vedic people were attracted with the concept of one creator god.

The monotheistic idea occurs when the worshippers worship a god and treat him as the Supreme deity among all deities. For example, in the Agni Sūkta, Agni is mentioned as Indra, Viṣṇu, the king Varuṇa, Mitra, Aryaman, the lord of beings. Agni is Rudra, Maruts, Pūṣan, Sabitṛ, Bhaga, Ṛbhu, Aditi, Bhārati, Īḍā and Sarasvatī.[3] Here, Agni is identified with many gods and depicted as the Supreme god among them. In another reference of the Ṛgveda, the indication of the monotheistic idea has been found. The entire universe is the appearance of a single deity. Here, it is stated that—‘Aditi is the sky, the air, the mother, father and son. She is all the gods as well as the five classes of man. She is whatever has been born and whatever shall be born.[4] So, these statements can be the rising point of the monotheistic idea.

According to Yāska, the author of Nirukta, all the gods are different manifestations or forms of one Supreme Reality. Only they are known by different names. One Supreme Reality is termed as Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa, Agni, and (he is) the celestial, well-winged Garutmat. Sages call the supreme one as Agni, Yama, Mātariśvan.[5]

Footnotes and references:


kasmai devāya haviṣā vidhema | Ṛgveda, 10.121.1


Ibid., 1.164.46


tamagna indro vṛṣabhaḥ satāmasi tvaṃ viṣṇururugāyo namasyaḥ | tvaṃ brahmā rayivid brahmaṇaspate tvaṃ vidhartaḥ sacase purandhyā || tvamagne rājā varuṇo dhṛtavratastvaṃ mitro bhavasi dasma īdyaḥ | tvamaryamā satpatiryasya sambhujaṃ tvamaṅśo vidathe deva bhājayuḥ || tvamagne tvaṣṭā vidhate suvīryaṃ tava gnāvo mitramahaḥ sajātyam | tvamāśuhemā rariṣe svaśvyaṃ tvaṃ narāṃ śardho asi purūvasuḥ || Ibid., 2.1.3-5


aditirdyauraditirantarikṣamaditirmātā sa pitā sa putraḥ | viśve devā aditiḥ pañca janā aditirjātamaditirjanitvam || Ibid., 1.89.10


Nirukta, 7.18

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