Vedic influence on the Sun-worship in the Puranas

by Goswami Mitali | 2018 | 68,171 words

This page relates ‘Concept of Religion in the Vedas’ of the study on the Vedic influence of Sun-worship in the Puranas, conducted by Goswami Mitali in 2018. The tradition of observing Agnihotra sacrifice and the Sandhya, etc., is frequently observed among the Hindus. Another important innovation of the Sun-worship in the Puranas is the installation of the images of the Sun in the temples.—This section belongs to the series “Vedic Concept of God and Religion”.

Part 7 - The Concept of Religion in the Vedas

The term dharma is used in Sanskrit for religion. It is derived from root dhṛñ, dhāraṇe, meaning to support, or dhṛṅ, avasthāne, meaning to take a position. Among the lexicographers, Sir M. Monier-William has defined dharma as ‘that which is established or firm, steadfast, decree, statue, ordinance, law; usage, practice, customary observance or prescribed conduct, duty; right, justice, virtue, morality, religion, religious merit, good work.’[1]

According to the Amarakośa, dharma is used for ritualistic performance that is sacred, blissful, virtuous and full of offerings:

syāddharmamastriyāṃ puṇyaśreyasī sukṛtaṃ vṛṣaḥ/[2]

In the Śabdakalpadruma, the term is found both in masculine and neuter gender and gives the meaning of good fortune, i.e. śubhādṛṣṭam.[3] Thus, the term dharma is used in different senses, the concept of which is too wide. It includes in it religion, deity, sacrifice, religious ordinances, moral order, fixed principle or rules of conduct, duty, virtue, etc.

From the etymological point of view, the term dharma gives the meaning of supporter or sustainer or upholder. Those who support or sustain or protect all are the dharma in the Vedas. Different gods are called as dharma in the Vedic texts as they protect or support or sustain the ritual or the individual. Agni, the fire god is called dharma as he protects, supports and accomplishes the ritual.[4] Sūrya, the Sun-god is called dharma, i.e. dharmandiva[5] as he is the supporter of the heaven, his own region. Besides this, Sūrya sustains the entire creation with the life-giving aspect.[6] For each and every means to survive, the creatures are dependant upon the rays of the sun.

Vāyu, the god of wind, is also mentioned as the dharma in the Vedas due to his character of sustainer:

tvaṃ viśvasmādbhuvanātpāsi dharmaṇāsūryātpāsi dharmaṇā/[7]

Vāyu gives lives to all living beings. Indra is also mentioned as the sustainer and the ruler in the Vedas: varāya te pātraṃ dharmaṇe tanā yajño mantro brahmadyotaṃ vacaḥ/[8] He is the prominent deity in the Vedic pantheon, glorified with the rain-giving aspect. Without the rain no corn can grow, no lives can survive. In this way, for different divinities, the term dharma is used in the Vedic texts.

The term dharma is applied for the sacrifices in the Vedas. Sacrifice is regarded as one of the principal parts of the Vedic religion. The lives of the Vedic Āryans are encompassed with it. It offers the people pollution free environment and stands as the source of all that cause rain, purify all vegetation and herbs, and produce cereals that bestow longevity of lives.[9] As the sacrifices are, so fruitful for the creatures, the term dharma is rightly used for yajña in the Vedas in the sense of sustainer.[10] The very first yajña that was performed by the gods is described as the very first means of sustenance. Again, the same is called as Puruṣa or Prajāpati, the lord and protector of all beings. The Vedic rituals, performed following the ritual of creation, have become the means of support and protection of the creatures as well as the unification with the gods and regarded as the dharma.[11] In this way, several times in the Vedic literature, yajña is mentioned as the dharma and used as the upholder or sustainer or protector.[12]

Besides these, the term dharma is used in same contexts, in the sense of religious ordinances or rites,[13] somewhere as the fixed principles or rules of conduct,[14] somewhere as custom,[15] somewhere as virtue[16] and somewhere as inherent nature or quality.[17]

Dharma is mentioned as equivalent to satya in the Vedas:

yo vai sa dharmaḥ satyaṃ vai tat; tasmāt satyaṃ vadantam āhuḥ, dharmaṃ vadatīti.../[18]

In the Aitareyabrāhmaṇa, the whole body of religious institutions is treated as the dharma.[19] Besides this, dharma is also used in the Vedic texts to denote the merit acquired by the performance of religious rites.[20] Dharma directs the duty.[21] In the Śrīmadbhāgavadgītā, and in different Smṛtis, the term dharma is used in the sense of duties.[22] Thus, dharma is found in the Vedas, in different senses, those direct to a positive and benevolent mental power.

In wider sense, dharma denotes religion and involves in it different ordinances those to be strictly followed by the people according to their tribes or castes. The Vedic religion was ritualistic in nature. It finds expression with the mantras and ritualistic activities. With the ritualistic performances, the divinities were tried to please. The priests took an active part in the whole activities of the sacrifices. Each of them performed his own specific duties and stood as the mediator between the gods and the devotees. An invisible bond is created between the worshiper and worshipped. Frequently in the Vedas, the deities are mentioned as the father, brother or the son or friend of the worshippers from whom they asked and gain food or bountiful gifts, glory, brave son or victory over the enemies, etc., and so on and so forth.[23] Indeed, a nearest and close relationship is tried to develop between the worshippers and worshipped. Thus, in the Vedic religion developed the idea of brotherhood with the involvement of group activities like sacrifices, prayers etc. The principal sacrifices in the Vedic religion can not be performed alone. It involves the performances of group of people, i.e. generally the sacrificer, priests and others.

The Vedic religion is optimistic in nature. In Vedic religion, the worshippers worshipped the deities for all the positive things such as good health, long life, prosperity, offspring, victory over the enemies etc.[24] All such expectations of the devotees towards the supreme power lead to the optimism.

The Vedic religion is the best example of naturalistic religion. Some aspects of the primal belief are found in it. The worship of nature, i.e. the worship of sun, the moon, the earth, the rivers, the dawn, the wind, the storm, the fire, the cow, etc., came from the animistic belief of the primitive man. According to it, there is a soul in each and everything in nature. Such ideas gave rise to the ancestor worship in the Vedic time.[25] According to spiritism, each and everything in the world possess a soul or spirit of independent nature. Again, different fetishes are found there in the Vedic period that introduces fetishism. Fetishism is a belief which considers a fetish as the object of worship, i.e. a stone, a piece of metal like gold, a wheel, wood, or even a separated part of human body that possess spirit within, along with the divine and mysterious powers of temporary nature. The wheel, the representative of the sun,[26] the bull, the representative of Parjanya,[27] etc., are the worshipping fetishes found in the Vedic age. In this way, different aspects of the primal religion are found more or less in the Vedic religion. As a result of such elements, the Vedic religion inherits a flavor of magic. It is worthy to note that the religion and magic have always been found intermingled, more or less, in Vedic religious practices.

An important point observed in the naturalistic religion is the tendency towards the unification of worship that developed with the development of better bonding among the people in the society. For this, a divine and universal principle is formed. Ṛta, found in the Vedic literature, is such principle of law that working behind the natural, moral and religious order of the world binds all the things together.

In the Vedic religion, the idea of unification becomes more distinct with the introduction of the verse [that conveys the meaning of one single Divine Being becoming one with all creations]:

indraṃ mitraṃ varuṇamagnimāhuratho divyaḥ sa suparṇo garutmān/
sad viprāḥ bahudhā vadantyagniṃ yamaṃ mātariśvānamāhuḥ[28]

Though the religion of the Veda is polytheistic one where a large number of deities are worshipped, but in nature, it is monotheistic one. For example, in a passage, the golden germ Hiraṇyagarbha is mentioned as the supreme deity, who is mentioned as alone and above of all:

yaḥ deveṣu adhi devaḥ ekaḥ āsīt/[29]

The fear, dread, splendour etc. of the primitive man towards the powerful natural phenomena, had given birth the religious faith inside the mind of the Āryan people. With the development of human emotions, related to the faith and devotion, the concept of god was shaped out and it was fully developed with the realization of divine within.

Footnotes and references:


Monier-Williams, M.(ed.), Op cit., under dharma, p. 510


Amarakosa, 1.4.24


Śabdakalpadruma., Vol. II, p.783


cf., imamañjaspāmubhaye akṛṇvata dharmāṇamagniṃ vidathasya sādhanam/ aktuṃ na yahvamuṣasaḥ purohitaṃ tanūnapātamaruṣasys niṃsate// Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 10.92.2


Ibid., 10.170.2


cf., yā indra prasvastvāsā garbhamacakriran/ pari dharmeva sūryan/ Ibid., 8.6.20 eṣa dharmo yo eṣa tapatyeṣa hīdaṃ sarvaṃ dhārayati/ Śatapathabrāhmaṇa,






cf., annādbhavanti bhūtāni parjanyādannasambhavaḥ/ yajñādbhavati parjjanyo yajñaḥ karmasamudbhavaḥ// Śrīmadbhāgavadgītā, 3.14


cf., yajñena yajñamayajanta devaḥ tāni dharmāṇi prathamānyāsan/ Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 1.164.50


cf., ṛtena ṛtaṃ dharuṇaṃ dhārayanta yajñasya śāke parame vyoman/ divo dharmandharuṇe seduṣo nṛñjātairajātāñ abhi ye nanakṣuḥ// Ibid., 5.15.2

pipartu mā tadṛtasya pravācanaṃ devānāṃ yanmanuṣyā amanmahi/ viśvā idusrāḥ spaludeti sūryaḥ svastyagniṃ samidhānamīmahe// Ibid.,10.35.8


cf., vaiśvānarāya pṛthupājase vipo ratnā vidhanta dharuṇeṣu gātave/ agnirhi devāñ amṛto duvasyatyathā dharmāṇi sanatā dūduṣat// Ibid.,3.3.1

viśāṃ rājānamadbhutamadhyakṣaṃ dharmaṇāmimam/agnimīḍe sa u śravat// Ibid., 8.43.24


cf., trīṇi padā vi cakrame viṣṇurgopā adābhyaḥ/ ato dharmāṇi dhārayan// Ibid., 1.22.18 samidhānaḥ sahasrajidagne dharmāṇi puṣyasi/ devānāṃ dūta ukthyaḥ// Ibid. 5.26.6


cf., ghṛtavatī bhuvanānāmabhiśriyorvī pṛthvī madhudughe supeśasā/dyāvāpṛthivī varuṇasya dharmaṇā viṣkabhite ajare bhūriretasā// Ibid., 6.70.1


cf., iyaṃ nārī patilokaṃ vṛṇānā ni padyata upa tvā martya pretam/ dharmaṃ purāṇamanupālayantī tasyai prajāṃ draviṇaṃ ceha dhehi// Atharvavedasaṃhitā 18.3.1


cf., anaptamapsu duṣṭaraṃ somaṃ pavitra ā sṛja/punīhīndrāya pātave// Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 9.16.3


cf., pavamāna dhiyā hito’bhi yoniṃ kanikradat/dharmaṇā vāyumā viśa// Ibid., 9.25.2 pavasva devāyuṣagindraṃ gacchatu te madaḥ/ vāyumā roha dharmaṇā// Ibid., 63.22


cf., dharmasya goptājanīti… abhimantrayeta/ Aitareyabrāhmaṇa, 7.17


cf., ṛtaṃ satyaṃ tapo rāṣṭraṃ śramo dharmaśca karma ca/ bhūtaṃ bhaviṣyaducchiṣṭe vīryaṃ lakṣmīrbalaṃ bale// Atharvavedasaṃhitā, 9.7.17


cf., …svadharme nidhanaṃ śreyaḥ…/ Śrīmadbhāgavadgītā, 3.35


cf., sa naḥ piteva sūnave’gne sūpāyano bhava/ sacasvā naḥ svastaye// Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 1.1.9


cf., agninā rayimaśnavatpoṣameva divedive/ yaśasaṃ vīravattamam// Ibid., 1.1.3 taṃ tvā vājeṣu vājinaṃ vājayāmaḥ śatakrato/ dhanānāmindra sātaye// Ibid.,1.4.9


Vide, Galloway, G., Op. cit., pp. 90-98


cf., muṣāya sūryaṃ kave cakramīśāna ojasā/ vaha śuṣṇāya vadhaṃ kutsaṃ bātasyāśvaiḥ// Ṛgvedasaṃhitā,1.175.4


cf., tisro vācaḥ pra vada jyotiragrā yā etadruhre madhudoghamūdhaḥ/ sa vatsaṃ kṛṇvangarbhamoṣadhīnāṃ sadyo jāto vṛṣabho roravīti// Ibid. 7.101.1 sa retodhā vṛṣabhaḥ śaśvatīnāṃ tasminnātmā jagatastasthuṣaśca/ Ibid. 7.101.6


Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 1.164.46



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