Vedic influence on the Sun-worship in the Puranas

by Goswami Mitali | 2018 | 68,171 words

This page relates ‘Characteristics of the Vedic Gods’ 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 10 - Characteristics of the Vedic Gods

The divinities in the Vedic pantheon are the representative of different powerful phenomena of the nature. They are endowed with the divine qualities like brilliance, power, wisdom, beauty, righteousness, holiness, omniscience, omnipotence, mercy, etc. Although they commonly share such qualities; yet, all the qualities are not found in them in same measure. For example, Usas, the ‘Lady Dawn’ possess more beauty than that of the knowledge and strength; Varuna, the moral god has more morality, Indra, the warrior god has more strength than that of the others. Again, the deity, representative of a particular department endowed with the special knowledge and power adequate to the task. For example, the priestly god Agni is well-endowed with knowledge and the epithet jātavedas, i.e. knowing all generations is added to him.

An effort is made here to summarize some common characteristics of the Vedic deities—

i. Devas, the Shining Heavenly Beings:

Devas are the shining celestial clan. As they are mentioned as the heavenly being, their permanent abode is in the sky. It is clearly observed that the celestial gods such as Dyaus, Varuṇa, Mitra, Sūrya, Savitṛ, etc., and the atmospheric divinities like Indra, Mātariśvan, etc., take their abode in the heaven; but terrestrial divinities such as Agni, Soma, etc., are not seen taking their dwelling in the heaven. Indeed they are the deities of the terrestrial region, but having heavenly origin. They are descendent towards the earth.[1] The deified water and rivers are descend towards the earth in the form of rain. The deified river Sarasvatī has been described as flowing from the celestial ocean.[2]

ii. Indefiniteness of Outline and Lack of Individuality:

The Vedic gods possess some common characteristics due to which it is difficult to identify a single deity with a single attribute. The deities of the same domain share almost the same characteristic features. For example, the deities Dawn, Sun, Fire, etc., possess the common features of being luminous, dispelling darkness, appearing in the morning, etc., Due to the absence of distinctiveness, it becomes harder to find out individuality in a single deity and it becomes too hard when several deities spring from different aspects of the one and the same phenomenon. Mitra, Pūṣan, Viṣṇu etc. all are the Sun-gods. But they are individual gods representing different aspects of the god Sūrya. The Sun-god, in his friendly aspect is called Mitra.[3] Pūṣan is the preserver of all beings: bhuvanasya gopā ityeṣa hi sarveṣāṃ bhūtānāṃ gopāyitā/[4] The Sun-god, representative of the sunbeam is called Viṣṇu, the god of wide space.[5] All these are the individual deities, but it is difficult to find out them as because they look like the same, they possess almost the same characteristics.

iii. Deities, the Entity with the Beginning:

The Vedic gods are mentioned as the personified and defied form of the phenomena of nature. Though the powerful natural phenomena are worshipped as deities in the Vedas, they are not manifested as beginningless entities. Commonly, all the Vedic deities are mentioned as the children of the father Dyaus and mother Pṛthivī.

Conjugally they are worshipped and the term devaputre,[6] is used for Heaven and Earth. Sāyaṇācārya interprets the term as devāḥ putrāḥ yayoste, i.e., ‘whose sons are gods.’151 They are worshipped to come to the sacrifice along with their children who constitute the heavenly clan.[7]

Besides this, in the Vedic texts, several references are found where some other divinities are mentioned as the father or mother of the Vedic divinities. For example, Uṣas, the dawn is mentioned as the mother of the deities,[8] Brahmaṇaspati is mentioned as the father.[9] Again, the deity Soma is mentioned as the father and skillful generator of the gods.[10]

He is also called the generator of Heaven, Earth, Agni, Sūrya, Indra and Viṣṇu:

janitā divo janitā pṛthiyāḥ janitāgnerjanitā sūryasya janitendrasya janitota viṣṇoḥ/[11]

The deities are also said as the offspring of Aditi: tāṃ devā anvajāyanta/[12] In the Atharvaveda, they are mentioned as born from Ucchiṣṭa, the remnants of oblation.[13] Again once, they are mentioned as born after the creation of universe[14] and once from that of the ocean along with all the creatures.[15] iv. Deities, the Immortal Being and Possessor of Cosmic Prāṇa:

The deities are the immortal being. The references are found in the Vedic texts of the birth of the Vedic deities; but no references are found of their death. They are said as amṛta,[16] i.e. immortal and ajara,[17] i.e., unaging. Sāyaṇācārya interprets the two terms as amṛtāḥ amaraṇadharmāṇa[18] and ajaraḥ jarārahitoʹyam/[19] In the relevant context in the Vedic texts, Savitṛ is said as the bestower of immortality to the divinities.[20] Savitṛ bestows immortality to the Ṛbhus also.[21]

Once, Agni is also mentioned to confer immortality to the gods:

tvāṃ viśve amṛta jāyamānaṃ śiśuṃ na devāḥ abhi saṃ navante/
tava kratubhiramṛtatvam
āyana vaiśvānara yat pitrorādideḥ//[22]

From the passages quoted above, it becomes clear that the Vedic gods are not primarily immortal, but they have attained immortality by means of some other ways, e.g. drinking soma etc.

The Atharvaveda says gods have overcome death by continence and austere fervour:

brahmacaryeṇa tapasā devā mṛtyumapāghnanta/[23]

The Śatapathabrāhmaṇa narrates the process of overcoming death by the gods:

tadagnāvamṛtamadadhuḥ/ sarveṣāṃ u haiṣa daivānāmātmā yadagniḥ/ taghadagnāvamṛtamadadhuḥ tadātmannamṛtamadadhata/ tato devāḥ amṛtā abhavan/[24]

Besides these, they are called as asura in general.[25] The term asu is used in the Vedas to denote prāṇa, i.e. the vital breath.[26] The deities are called asura as because they are the possessor of the cosmic prāṇa which they bestow towards the earthly beings.

v. Generosity:

The Vedic deities are worshipped due to their benevolence in the Vedic pantheon. They are worshipped to bestow various kinds of wealth and offspring to the devotees.

For example, in the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, Agni is worshipped for bestowing prosperity and wealth:

agninā rayimaśnavatpoṣameva dive dive/ yaśasaṃ vīravattamam/[27]

Again, the divine doors, i.e. divyadvāras are worshipped as they are the possessor of virtuous progeny.[28] The powerful deities with their power rescue their devotees from distress, protect from foes by slaying.[29] All of them are the great giver.[30] They give their devotees everything according to their wish.

vi. Deities and the Ṛta:

The Vedic deities are mentioned as the upholder of law or order called Ṛta. The term ṛta found in the Vedic religion covers three senses, viz. cosmic order, ritualistic order and moral law and order.[31] All the Vedic deities are mentioned as born of Ṛta, i.e. ṛtajā[32] or protector of Ṛta, i.e. ṛtapā or ṛtasya gopā,[33] increaser of Ṛta, i.e. ṛtāvṛdha[34] and so on. Again, the term ṛta stands for the moral order which includes truthfulness, righteousness, ethical values etc. The Vedic gods are worshipped due to their truthfulness and morality. Righteousness and morality are characterized to them. All of them are true and not deceitful.[35] Among all the Vedic gods, Varuṇa is mentioned as the supreme power of morality. He is mentioned as the chief upholder of moral law.

He is worshipped to loose the sinner from sin:

pṛcche tadeno varuṇa didṛkṣūpo cikituṣo vipṛccham/
samānaminme kavayaścidāhurayaṃ
ha tubhyaṃ varuṇo hṛṇīte//[36]

vii. Hostility:

The character of hostility is very common among the Vedic gods. All the deities are mentioned as adapt in war-craft. They fight against their enemies prove their supremacy. Sometimes they prove their excellency killing their kith and kin also.

For example, Indra is mentioned as the slayer of his progenitor:

kiyatsvidindro adhyeti mātuḥ kiyatpiturjanituryo jajāna/
yo asya
śusmaṃ muhukairiya vāto na jutaḥ stanayādbhirabhraiḥ/[37]

He is hardly mentioned as the violator of the integrity of the heaven.

viii. Reciprocal nature:

The Vedic deities are reciprocal by nature. They maintain close relationship with each other. Some of the deities are mentioned as born from each other.

Yāskācārya states in the Nirukta thus:

itaretarajanmāno bhavanti/ itaretaraprakṛtayaḥ.[38]

Sometimes, they are, found to be prototypes of each other. The same is interpreted by Durgācārya with the instance of Sūrya and Agni, Aditi and Dakṣa.

The deities Sūrya and Agni, Aditi and Dakṣa are often described as being born from each other:

devānāṃtvagneḥ sūryoʹjāyata” “eṣa prātaḥ prasuvati” iti ha vijñāyate, tasmātsūryasyāgniḥ prakṛtiḥ sūryāccāgniḥ sāyaṃ jāyate, tasmādagneḥ sūryaḥ prakṛtiḥ/ aditerdakṣo dakṣāccāditiriti/[39]

ix. The Vedic Gods are Identical with the Supreme Soul:

The Vedic deities are Ātmajanmānaḥ,[40] i.e. produced from one supreme soul. Different elements, living or non-living are indeed belong to one supreme soul. Yāskācārya states in the Nirukta that all the living and non-living beings, e.g. the chariot, horse, weapon, arrow, etc., belonging to the gods are identical with the Supreme Soul, which is the all in all of all the gods.[41] Again he has mentioned that socalled non-deities are deities, in reality, for being identical to the Soul. The Supreme godhead manifests himself in various elements of nature who occupy the form of gods. The same is viewed by Śaunaka also in his Bṛhaddevatā.[42]

x. Mutual Relationship and Interdependence:

The Vedic deities maintain close connection with each other. They are linked with each other due to their different activities and interdependence. For example, Indra is mentioned as the drunker of Soma with the tongue of Agni[43] and he serves all the deities by slaying Vṛtra and giving freedom to them:

yudhendro mahnā varivaścakāra devebhyaḥ satpatiścarṣaṇiprāḥ/
vivasvtaḥ sadane asya tāni viprā ukthebhiḥ kavayo gṛṇanti/[44]

Agni serves all the deities standing as the messenger.[45] Again, the Ṛbhus have fabricated the car of Indra, Tvaṣṭṛ has fashioned out the bolt.[46] Tvaṣṭṛ again is mentioned as being sharpening the metal axe of Bṛhaspati.[47] Thus, the Vedic deities are living together with harmony and mutual helpfulness. They are dependent to each other in their day to day activities.

References are found in the Vedic texts of mutual interchanges of services of the Vedic gods. Some attributes are commonly used by two or more deities. For example, the slaying of Vṛtra which is generally ascribed to Indra is also found in case of Agni and the Aśvins.[48] The killing of Bala and releasing of cows are once credited to Indra,[49] once to the Aśvins.[50]

A specific deity is mentioned as presiding over a particular area of nature, but some functions of nature such as pouring rain, etc., are indeed the result of mutual help of each other. Sometimes, different deities are attributed for a single activity. Griswold remarks in this regard, every department of nature and of life is brought under the control of some deity. All the deities function as a unity. The unity of the divine activity is not the unity of an individual will as in monotheism, but the unity formed by the collective will of a clan, the clan of the devas. The multiplicity of the Vedic gods reflects the multitudinous aspects of nature and of life, and the unity of which, on the whole, pervades the diverse activities of the gods reflects, in like manner, the unity of nature, the fact that the universe is a cosmo, an ordered whole.[51]

xi. Anthropomorphic and Non-Anthropomorphic Nature:

The natural phenomena were worshipped with the human forms and figures. Human organs like head, face, arms, hands, feet, shoulders, etc. are ascribed to them.[52] They are related to each other as mother, father, sister, friend etc. and human deeds like war, marriage and so on, are linked to them.198 Some of them are mentioned as wearing garments, e.g. Uṣas. Again, the deities are described as moving in the luminous cars, drawn by different animals and birds like steeds, goats, deer etc.[53]

The deities perform different human activities. For example, Agni is described as a priest.[54] The Aśvins are described as physicians of gods who ward off death from the worshippers.[55]

The anthropomorphic as well as non-anthropomorphic characteristic of the Vedic deities are well observed by Yāskācārya in the Niukta:

athākāracintanaṃ devānām/ puruṣavidhā syurityekam/ cetanāvadbhiḥ stutayo bhavanti/ tathābhidhānāni/ athāpi pauruṣavidhikairaṃgaiḥ saṃstūyante/ athāpi pauruṣavidhikairdravyasaṃyogaiḥ/ athāpi pauruṣavidhikaiḥ karmabhiḥ/ apuruṣavidhāḥ syurityaparam/ api tu yaddṛśyateʹpuruṣavidhaṃ tat/ yathāgnirvāyurādityaḥ pṛthivī candramā iti/[56]

According to some, the deities are anthropomorphic for their panegyrics as well as their appellations are like those of sentient beings. Again, according to some others, the deities are not anthropomorphic as because whatever is seen of them is non anthropomorphic. The fire, the air, the sun, the earth, the moon etc. are worshipped as gods do not possess any human form. These gods are praised like sentient beings as having anthropomorphic limbs or as associated with anthropomorphic objects and action. But by this they cannot be proved with anthropomorphism. The insentient objects are also praised in the same way in the Vedic texts.

xii. Theriomorphic Character:

The Vedic deities are theriomorphic in nature. Sometimes they are designated as animals, sometimes as birds. Mostly in case of the Vedic deities, like, Agni, Parjanya, Indra and the Aśvins, the theriomorphic shape is imposed.

Agni is often mentioned as bull or cow:

agnirhanaḥ prathamajā ṛtasyapūrva āyuni vṛṣabhaśca dhenuḥ/[57]

Parjanya is also mentioned as the bull in the Vedic texts.[58]

Thus, in the Vedic religion numerous divinities are worshipped who are the possessors of aforementioned characteristics. Besides these, they possess some specific characteristics due to which they can be recognized as an individual deity having individual character and form. The religion of the Veda is ritualistic in nature. It finds expression with the mantras and the ritualistic performances offered by the Vedic people towards the deities are indeed the deified and personified form of phenomena of nature.

Footnotes and references:


cf., ānyaṃ divo mātariśvā jabhārāmathnādanyaṃ pari śyeno adreḥ/ agnīṣomā brahmaṇā vāvṛdhānoruṃ yajñāya cakrathuru lokam// Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 1.93.6 uccā te jātamandhaso divi ṣadbhūmyā dade/ ugraṃ śarma mahi śravaḥ// Ibid., 9.61.10


cf., ā no divo bṛhataḥ parvatādā sarasvatī yajatā gantu yajñam/ havaṃ devī jujuṣāṇā ghṛtācī śagmāṃ no vācamuśatī śṛṇotu// Ibid., 5.43.11


cf., mitrasya priyatamasya nṛṇām/ Ibid.,7.62.4


Nirukta, 7.9


cf., atha yad viṣito bhavati tad viṣṇurbhavati/ Ibid., 12.18


cf., te ciddhi pūrve kavayo gṛṇantaḥ puro mahī dadhire devaputre/ Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 7.53.1151 Sāyaṇācārya, Ibid.


cf., pra pūrvaje pitarā nabyasībhirgīrbhiḥ kṛṇudhvaṃ sadane ṛtasya/ ā no dyāvāpṛthivī daivyena janena yātaṃ mahi vāṃ varūtham// Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 7.53.2


cf., mātā devāṇām/ Ibid., 1.113.19


cf., devānām yaḥ pitaram/ Ibid., 2.26.3


cf., pitā devānāṃ janitā sudakṣo/ Ibid., 9.87.2


Ibid., 9.96.5


Ibid., 10.72.5


cf., ucchiṣṭājjajñire sarve divi devā diviśritaḥ/ Atharvavedasaṃhitā, 11.7.23


cf., avāgdevā asya visarjanenāthā ko vedayata ābabhūva/ Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 10.129.6


cf., ayaṃ vai samudro yo’yaṃ pavate/ etasmād vai samudrāt sarve devāḥ sarvāni bhūtāni samuddravanti/ Śatapathabrāhmaṇa,


cf., teʹsmabhyaṃ śarma yaṃsannamṛtā martyebhyaḥ/bādhamānā apa dviṣaḥ/ Ibid., 1.90.3


cf., ā svamadma yuvamānoʹjarastṛṣvaviṣyannataseṣu tiṣṭhat/ Ibid., 1.58.2


Sāyaṇācārya, Ibid., 1.90.3


Sāyaṇācārya, Ibid., 1.58.2


cf., devebhyo hi prathamaṃ yajñiyebhyoʹmṛtatvaṃ suvasi bhāgamuttamam/ Ṛgvedasaṃhitā,4.54.2 Vājasaneyisaṃhitā, 33.54


cf., tat savitā vo amṛtatvamāsuvat/ Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 1.110.3


Ibid., 6.7.4






cf., mahaddevānāmasurattvamekam/ Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 3.55.1-22


cf., prāṇo vāʹsuḥ/ Śatapathabrāhmaṇa,


Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 1.1.3


cf., vi śrayantāmurviyā hūyamānā dvāro devīḥ suprāyaṇā namobhiḥ/ vyacasvatīrvi prathantāmajuryā varṇaṃ punānā yaśasaṃ suvīram// Ibid., 2.3.5


cf., triṇi padā vicakrame viṣṇurgopā adābhyaḥ/ ato dharmāṇi dhārayan// Ibid., 1.22.18


cf., indra tubhyaminmaghavannabhūma vayaṃ dātre harivo mā vi venaḥ/ nakirāpirdadṛśe martyatrā kimaṅga radhracodanaṃ tvāhuḥ// Ibid., 6.44.10


Keith, A.B., Op cit, Part-I, p.83


cf., agne trī te vājinā trī ṣadhasthā tistraste jihvā ṛtajāta pūrvīḥ/ tisra u te tanvo devavātāstābhirnaḥ pāhi


cf., sa pitryāṇyāyudhāni vidvānindreṣita āptyo abhyayudhyatṛ/ triśīrṣāṇaṃ saptaraśmiṃ


cf., ṛtena mitrāvaruṇāvṛtāvṛdhāvṛtāspṛśā/kratuṃ bṛhantamāśāthe// Ibid., 1.2.8

ṛtena yāvṛtāvṛdhāvṛtasya jyotiṣaspatī/ tā mitrāvaruṇā huve// Ibid., 1.23.5


Bṛhaddevatā, 3.199


Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 7.86.2


Ibid., 4.17.12


Nirukta, 7.4


Durgācārya on Nirukta




cf., ātmaivaiṣāṃ ratho bhavati, ātmā aśvaḥ, ātmāʹʹyudha ātmeṣava ātmā sarvaṃ devasya devasya/


cf., pṛthakpurastādye tūktā lokādipatayastrayaḥ/ teṣāmātmaiva tatsarvaṃ yadyaṃbhaktiḥ prakīrtyate//tejastvaevāyudhaṃ prādur vāhanaṃ caiva yasya yat/ imāmaindrīṃ ca divyāṃ ca vācamevaṃ pṛthak stutām// Bṛhaddevatā, 1.73,74


cf., yāñ ābhajo maruta indra some ye tvāmavardhannabhavangaṇaste/ tebhiretaṃ sajoṣā vāvaśānoʹgneḥ piba jihvayā somamindra// indra piba svadhayā citsutasyāgnervā pāhi jihvayā yajatra/ advaryorvā prayataṃ śakra hastāddhoturvā yajñaṃ haviṣo juṣasva// Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 3.35.9,10


Ibid., 3.34.7


cf., iha tvaṃ sūno sahaso no adya jāto jātāñ ubhayāñ antaragne/ dūta īyase yuyujāna ṛṣva ṛjumuṣkānvṛṣaṇaḥ śukrāṃśca// Ibid., 4.2.2


cf., anavaste rathamaśvāya takṣantvaṣṭā vajraṃ puruhūta dyumantam/brahmāṇa indraṃ mahayanto arkairavardhayannahaye hantavā u// Ibid., 5.31.4


cf., tvaṣṭā māyā vadapasāmapastamo bibhratpātrā devapānāni śantamā/ śiśīte nūnaṃ paraśuṃ svāyasaṃ yena vṛścādetaśo brahmaṇaspatiḥ// Ibid., 10.53.9


cf., tvamagne aditirdeva dāśuṣe tvaṃ hotrā bhāratī vardhase girā/ tvamilā śatahimāsi dakṣase tvaṃ vṛtrahā vasupate sarasvatī// Ibid., 2.1.11


cf., avartayatsūryo na cakraṃ bhinadvalamindro angirasvān// Ibid., 2.11.20


cf., yābhiraṅgiro manasā niraṇyathoʹgraṃ gacchatho vivare goarṇasaḥ/ yābhirmanuṃ śūramiṣā samāvataṃ tābhirū ṣu ūtibhiraśvinā gatam// Ibid., 1.112.18


Griswold, H.D., Op. cit, p. 107


cf., ṛṣvā ta indra sthavirasya bāhū/ Ṛgvedasaṃhitā,6.47.8 yatsaṃgṛbhnā maghavanakāśirittai/ Ibid., 3.30.5198 cf., addhīndra piba ca prasthitasrya/ Ibid., 10.116.7 āśrutkarna śrudhi havam/ Ibid., 1.10.9


cf., uṣo devamartyā vi bhāhi candrarathā sūnṛtā īrayantī/ Ibid., 3.61.2 dvābhyāṃ haribhyāmindra yāhi/ Ibid., 2.18.4


Ibid., 1.1.1


cf., svāhākṛtaḥ śucirdeveṣu yajño yo aśvinoścamaso devayānaḥ/ tamu viśve amṛtāso juṣāṇā gandharvasya pratyāsnā rihanti/ Atharvavedasaṃhitā, 7.5.3


Nirukta, 7.6,7


Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 10.5.7


cf., accā vada tavasaṃ gīrbhirābhiḥ stuhi parjanyaṃ namasā vivāsa/ kanikradadvṛṣabho jīradānū reto dadhātyoṣadhīṣu garbham//Ibid., 5.83.1

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