eBooksRead.com books search new books
P. T. Srinivasa Iyengar.

History of the Indian people. Life in ancient India in the age of the mantras online

. (page 11 of 12)
Online LibraryP. T. Srinivasa IyengarHistory of the Indian people. Life in ancient India in the age of the mantras → online text (page 11 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook
to be a sky god, but this identification has now been
abandoned on account of phonetic difficulties. Under the
influence of this identification, scholars have without any
proof thought that Yaruria was at first a god of the sky,
then became the god of the serial ocean and lastly of the
water ocean. This theory based entirely on a priori
considerations, is both against Indian tradition and the
evidence of the Rig Veda. The connection of Varuna with
water is referred to in numerous Mantras. " He made
them flow, the Aditya, the sustainer : the rivers run by
Varuna's commandment " (R. V. ii. 28. 4). Varuna and
Mitra are called " Lords of Rivers '' in R. V. vii. 64. 2.
But Varuna's being the sea-god is explicitly referred to in
various Mantras. " Varuna comes in the sea's gathered
waters, O sons of strength, desirous of your presence '*
(R. V. i. 161. 14). " None, verily, hath ever let or hinder-
ed this, the most wise God's mighty deed of magic,
whereby with all their flood, the lucid rivers fill not one
sea wherein they pour their waters" (R. V. v. 85.6).
^* Mitra and Varuna, ye two kings, protectors of the great
ceremonial, strong lords of the sea, come hither " (R. V.
vii. 64, 2). " Like Varuria, from heaven he [the sun]
sinks in the sea, like a white-shining spark " (R. V. vii.
87.6). "Thou art a glorious god, into whose jaws the
seven rivers flow, as into a surging abyss." (R. V. viii,
58.12). "Soma lives in the woods as Varuna in the
«ea " R. V. ix. 90. 2). " Varuna, the child of the waters,


made his abode within the most motherly waters as in his
home " (S. Y. S. x. 7). " The two oceans are Varuna's
stomachs" (A. V. iv. 16. 3). " Thy golden house, Varuna,
is in the waters" (A. V. vii. 83. i). The waters are the
wives of Varuna (T. S. v. 5. 4. i). The references to the
ocean are few in the Vedic Mantras, because their authors-
lived inland ; hence the comparative rareness of references
to Varuna, who according to the statistical standard is but
a third class deity. Probably Varuna was the God of the
tribes living on the borders of the sea, to whom the Rishis
accorded a place in their pantheon. The etymology of'
the name is obscure.

Rudra seems to have been another god of the Dravidian-
speaking tribes. He is essentially a mountain deity (S. Y. S.
xvi. 2, 4) wearing braided hair (R. V. i. 114. 1,5);,
his colour is brown (b a b h r u, R. V. ii. 33. 5), red
(S. Y. S. xvi. 7) and he is clothed in skin (S. Y. Si
iii. 61). He is an archer (A. V. i. 28. i, etc.), fierce
(R. V. ii. 33, 10) destructive like a terrible beast
(R. V. ii. 33. 11), a malevolent destroyer (R. V. ii.
33. IT, 14), man-slaying (R. V. iv. 3. 6), followed by
wide-mouthed howling dogs, who swallow their prey
Vinchewed (A. V. xi. 2. 30). He was ** lord of the green-
haired trees," who ** glides away " and whom cowherds
and female drawers of water have seen ; he was lord of
thieves, carpenters, chariot-makers, potters, blacksmiths,
Nisbadas, dog-leaders and hunters (S. Y. S. xvi.). Such
a deity could be evolved by the wild mountaineers of
the Himalayan or Vindhyan regions and not by the mild
Rishis of the valleys. His name, too, Rudra meaning the Red
One seems to be a translation of the Dravidian name S' i v a
(which is the Dravidian word for ' red ') later on adopted
for the same god. Tvashtat was probably the god of artificers^


who was supplanted by Indra (R. V, iii. 48. 4). The
antecedents of Aditi whose name has baffled ancient as
well as modern etymologers cannot be discovered. Vishuu^s
name is popularly derived from v i s h, to pervade, but the
Vedic Vishnu was anything but a pervader. He dwelt in
the highest heaven wherefrom he strode wide. He is a
dweller of the mountains, terrible like a wild beast (R. V. i.
154). But his place is the highest station (R. V. iii. 55. 10)
where there is a well of mead and where pious men rejoice
(R. V. i. 154. 5) as well as the gods (R, V. viii. 29. 7), His
name is probably derived from the Dravidian root v i n,
the sky, for he is essentially the sky-god. Vishnu, S'iva
and the mother (originally Aditi, later on, called by other
flames) are now the chief divinities of the Indians and this
can be easily explained only if they were popular gods
even before the Vedas were composed. To the Rishis
they were minor gods, grudgingly admitted into their
pantheon ; but the people worshipped them, so that when
the glory of the fire-cult was eclipsed, these gods again
came by their rights. Besides these two classes of gods,
the Rishis evolved many other gods out of abstractions ;
some of these were clothed with flesh, e.g,y Brihaspati,
Prajapati, Kama, Vftk, but other remained abstractions,
e.g., Manyu, Arftti, S'raddha and died out a natural death.
The study of the growth of religion in ancient Chaldea
and ancient Egypt, has brought out the fact that among
ancient people, religion progressed from tribal monotheism
to inter-tribal polytheism ; when tribes mingled, their gods,
•too, mingled ; and as each tribe rose to prominence, its god
became superior to the gods of other tribes. Something simi-
lar occurred too in ancient India. All the forty and odd tribes
did not worship Indra as the chief god, as the Rig Veda Man.
tras themselves admit. Indra was the god of the tribes that


Tose to great power during this age and that produced a
literature. This explains the so-called "henotheism" of
the Vedas, referred to by Max Miiller, in which each god,
when lauded, is spoken of as superior to all other gods ;
this was because to some tribe or other, he was the chief
.god. This also explains why there are so many sun-gods —
^urya, Savita, Vishnu, Mitra ; so many atmospheric gods —
Indra, Eibhus, Maruts, As'vins, etc. But as philosophic
thought grew, the many gods were reduced to one and
inter-tribal polytheism gave way to universal pantheism.

Besides these anthropomosphic gods, the people had
-many others, animistic and totemistic. The Vedas being
jtnanuals of the fire-cult, references to other cults can be
but casual. Yet, we find in them a hymn addressed to the
•waters, part of which is repeated to-day by certain sections
of Brahmanas in their daily prayers. " Ye waters, are
beneficent, so help ye us to energy that we may look on
with great delight. Give us a portion of the sap, the most
auspicious that ye have, like mothers in their longing love.
To you we gladly come from him to whose abode ye send
ius on ; and waters, give us procreant strength " (R. V. x. 9.
I — 3). The virtues of Aranyani, the goddess of the wood,
who wore a "green robe of trees" (A. V. x. 8. 31) are
lauded in a hymn (R. V. x. 146). The holiness of the
Asvattha, a tree frequently associated with the gods
(R. V. i. 135. 8; A. V. v. 4. 3, etc.) and worshipped today
for it:> property of stimulating the fecundity of woman and
.also used for making the fire-drill, symbol of the S' i s' n a,
ihas come down from the days when it was the totem of an
ancient tribe. The Atharva Veda SamhitSL contains a ser-
pent hymn (A. V. iii. 26) and Ahi Budhnya was a serpent-
god. Besides the celestial horses that dragged the cars of
?the gods and were therefore praised by the Rishis, indi-


vidual horses were paid divine honours on their owr>
account. Dadhikra was the chief of them (R. Y. iv. 38^
39, 40 ; vii. 44). The cow was also held sacred and wor-
shipped (A. V. xii. 4.5). She is called by the name
ag h n y a, not to be killed, in sixteen passages and curses
are invoked on the person that killed a cow, especially one
belonging to a Br^hmaca (A. V. xii. 4. 38). On account
of reverence for the cow and possibly on account of econo-^
mic causes also there arose before the end of this age a
prejudice against eating beef which has gathered volume-
through the ages and is now become one of the characteris-
tic marks of the members of the four Hindu castes.

Many of the demons with whom Indra fought were prob-
ably the gods of the tribes opposed to the Indra-worship-
pers. The chief of them was Vritra, called in various
places an a h i, or serpent. Vritra was the god of a tribe
called the Vritras, who were at constant emnity with
the worshippers of Indra (E. V. vi. 33. 2 ; vi. 29. 6,
etc.) Allied to the Vritras were the Panis, who wor-
shipped Vala. Vritra lived on the mountains viii.
3.19) and Vala in caves (R. V. i. 11. 5). The Panis
were traders and had, "hoarded wealth and cattle""
** wealth in horses and in kine " (R. V. i. 83. 4). They
would not accept the fire-cult, though apparently a peace-
ful attempt was made to convert them. R. V. x. 108 is a
dialogue between Sarama, the messenger of Indra and the
Panis, in which Sarama invites the Panis to worship
Indra. '* I know him safe from harm ; but he can punish,

who sent me hither from afar as envoy how will you

lie, O Panis, slain by Indra." The Panis gently reminded
her that their " warlike weapons were also sharp-pointed."*
Sarama then told them that the Brahmarias could wound
them with their ** words." But the Panis were proof


against these arguments and hence execrated by the Rishis as-
niggards (R. V. x. 60. 6, etc.) In this connection it mus
also be pointed out that the Turvasas, Yadus, Arius,
Druhyus and Pwrus, usually taken by Vedic scholars to be
the " five "" Arya " tribes mentioned in the Vedas were,
according to the Puranic legends, sons of Yayati whose two
wives were both from the Asuras. Yayati was the sonof Na-
husha, a rival of Indra, who became a serpent, being cursed
by the Rishis. The Nahushas are described in R. V. vii. 6
as foolish, faithless, rudely speaking niggard^s and enemies
of the fire-cult and in R. V. x. 49. 8, Indra is said to have
defeated Nahusha. This shows that these were tribes
of serpent-worshippers and foes of the Indra-Agni
cult. The worship of the serpent is practically universal
in modern India ; and in the legends of the M a h a-
b h a r a t a and the Buddhist J 3. t a k a tales the Nagas
are very prominent tribes ; hence the serpent-cult
must have been very widespread among the ancient
Dravidian speaking people. The s'is'na, symbol of
generation, as the serpent was of destruction, was also wide-
ly worshipped by these races and the two cults were allied
to each other and referred together. " Thou heroic Indra
has caused to flow the abundant waters which had bee»
obstructed by the serpent (Ahi). Through thee the
cows (rivers) have rolled on like warriors in chariots.
All created things tremble for fear. The terrible (god),
skilled in all heroic deeds, has with his weapons mastered
these. Indra, exulting, has shattered their cities ; armed
with the thunderbolt, he has smitten them asunder by his
might. Neither demons impel us, Indra, nor, O puissant,
of a truth any evil spirits. The glorious [Indra], defies the
hostile beings : let not those S i s' n a d^ v a s approach our
sacred ceremony. Thou, O Indra, hast surpassed ia


power, when thou runnest thy course. The worlds have
not comprehended within them thy greatness. By thine
own might thou hast slain Vritra. No enemy hath attained
the end of thee in battle. The earlier gods have yielded to
thy divine power ; their powers have yielded to thy divine
power ; their powers have bowed before thy sovereign
might. Indra having conquered dispenses wealth. Let
men invoke Indra in the combat" (R, V. vii. 21. 3 — 7),
This clearly proves that though in many passages Vritra
and Indra refer to the drought demon and the god who
with the thunderbolt bursts the clouds, originally they were
gods of rival tribes and the tribes that worshipped Vritra,
the serpent-god, either also worshipped or were associated
with those that worshipped the S' i s n a also. There is
another reference to those whose god is the s ' i s ' n a.
*^ Proceeding to the conflict, and desiring to acquire them,
he has gone to, and in hostile array besieged, inacces-
sible places, at the time, when, irresistible, slaying the
S' i s' n a d e v a s, he by his craft conquered the riches of
the city with a hundred gates." (R. V. x. 99. 3) Siyana's
interpretation of S' i s' n a d e v a as one who sports with
the S' i s' n a is clearly impossible, since the Rishis sported
with the s'i s'n a quite as much as others (R. V. i. 126. 6, 7,
179, A. V. XX. 136, etc.) The S'ivas are mentioned as one
of the tribes opposed to the Indra-worshipping Tritsus
(R. V. vii. 18.7), and theS'is'nas are referred to as
advancing against Indra (R. V. x. 27. 19). Considering
along with these the fact that the phallus-emblem of S'iva is
even to-day inseparably bound up with his worship so wide-
spread, the conclusion is irresistible that phallic worship
was universal in ancient India and that the Indra-cult failed
to displace the S'is'na-cult. On the contrary, the Rishis
adopted the phallic worship, though riot as a part of their


fire-cult. One famous hymn, that to Skambha (A. V. x. 7)
is a glorification of the divine phallus. " In what member
of his does t a p a s stand ? in what member is r i t a m
contained ? In what do v r a t a m and s' r a d d h 3; reside ?^
In what member is truth established ? From what member

does Agni blaze? How far did Skambha penetrate into

that highest, lowest, and middle universe?... How much
of it was there which he did not penetrate?... Where
Skambha generating, brought the ancient one into existence,
they consider that that ancient one is one member of
Skambha... Skambha in the beginning shed that gold (of
which Hiranyagarbha arose) in the midst of the world.. .He
who knows the golden phallus standing in the waters, he is-
the secret Prajapati." Skambha is a phonetic variant of
s t a m b h a , pillar, and is no other than the pillar of fire,
the luminous phallus, " encircled with a thousand wreaths
of flame," in which form S'iva appeared to Vishriu and
Brahma, as described in the Linga Furdnam'i, 17. For
in A. V. X. 8, it is said that he who knows the two pieces of
firewood, from which wealth is rubbed out will know the
great divine mystery. ^^ ^^^,,^..>**" *- ' - ».-.,^ ^^...^

Another foe of Indra in the ag0'''5FThe mantras was
Krishria, a god or deified hero of a tribe called the
Krishnas. Of him it is said, " The fleet Krishna lived on
the banks of the Ams'umati (Jumna) river with ten thou-
sand troops. Indra of his own wisdom became cognizant
of this loud-yelling chief. He destroyed the marauding
host for the benefit of ( Arya) men. Indra said, * I have
seen the fleet Krishna. He is lurking in the hidden region
near the Ams'umati, like the sun in a cloud. O Maruts, I
desire you to engage him in fight and to destroy him. The
fleet Krishna then appeared shining on the banks of the
Ams'umati. Indra took Brihaspati as his ally and destroyed


the fleet and godless army." (R. V. viii. 85. 13 — 15)*
Indra with Rijis'va, son of Vidathi, killed the pregnant
wives of Krishna (lb, i. loi. i, ii. 20 — 7). Indra smote
50,000 Krishrias, as old age destroys the body (R, V. iv.

16—13). European scholars have interpreted d r a p s a ^
Krishnah in the first of these passages as the

* black drop/ possibly because they believe that the
Krishna-cult rose later; but there is absolutely no
reason why beliefs on a priori grounds should
over-ride Indian tradition which makes Krishna one
of Indra's seven demon-foes, he " who never had met
a rival " till Indra was born (R. V. viii. 85. 16). In fact the
translation '* black drop" makes the whole passage meaning-
less. Krishria was the enemy of Indra throughout the
whole course of the development of religion in India. The
Purinas, which certainly contain very old legends, many as
old as the Vedic age, describe many conflicts between
Indra and Krishna, in one of which, Krishria put an end to
the worship of Indra on the banks of this very Jumna,
among the tribes that lived in the woods near the river.
The phrase ''fleet Krishna ' vividly brings home to us that
he was from early days the god of waHdering pastoral
tribes ; probably called the Vrishriis — the ram tribe. The
antagonism of the Krishna-cult to the Indra-cult not only
recurs constantly in the legends but a far-off" echo of it is
heard even in the B h a g a v a d-G i t a where Krishna refers
scornfully to the ** flowery words " of the " fools," who
delight in the Vedas, which as we know were born from the
Indra cult, and which Krishria advisesjhis followers to reject
because they bewilder the mind (ii. 42, 45, 46, 53). And
Krishna, the god of the early Indian pastoral tribes, be-
came the nucleus round which gathered other tales, possibly
of human heroes, other cults, e gr., the Vasudeva-cult of the


Bhagavatas, the Vishiiu-cult of the Vaishiciavas till to-day,
Krishria-worship is the dominating religion of India and the
Indra-cult practically dead. It is also interesting to note
that notwithstanding the accretion of so many tales round
the name of Krishna, it is the cowherd playing the flute
to his cattle on the banks of the Jumna and sporting with
the simple village maidens that still appeals to the mind of
the Hindu.

The higher thinkers of the Vedic age had developed a
strong sense of cosmic law and of moral law. The cosmic
order was called ritam orvratam and was under the
guardianship of the higher gods. The same words desig-
nated moral order, truth in the moral world and rite in the
religious world (R. V. i. 84. 4, viii. 25. 2). Vishnu, the
unconquerable preserver, strode three steps and thereby
established fixed laws (R. V. i. 22. 18). The order of
Varuria and Mitra is established where the steeds of the sun
are loosed. (R. V. v. 62-1). By Varuria's ordinances the

moon shines I brightly through night and the stars on high
are seen at night and disappear by day (R. V. i. 24.10).
Varuna rules over these worlds and beholds everything as if
he were close at hand. He knows all things, eveu deeds
done by stealth (A. V. iv. 16-1). He casts his noose on the
man who speaks lies (A. V. iv. i6-6). By Savita's com-
mands, " the wild beasts spread through desert places seek-
ing their watery share which thou hast set in waters. The
woods are given to the birds. These statutes of the god
Savita none disobeyeth. With utmost speed, in restless
haste at sunset, Varuria seeks his watery habitation. Then
seeks each bird his nest, each beast his lodging. In due
place Savita hath set each creature " (R. V. ii. 38. 7. 8).
Indra established the lights of the sky (R. V. viii. 14-9). By
his skill he has propped up the sky from falling (R. V. ii.


17-5)- " The sun and the moon move alternately, O Indra^
that we may behold and have faith" (R. V. i. 102-2). Agni
formed the regions of the earth and the luminaries
of heaven (R. V. vi. 7. 7) and his ordinances cannot be
resisted (R. V. ii. 8. 3). He is the guardian of immortality
(E. V. vii. 7. 7) and forgives sins committed through folly
CR. V. iv. 12. 4). The thread of R i t a m, wherein the gods^
obtaining life eternal, have risen upward to one common
birth place, extends far." (A. V. ii. 1.5).
The creation of the earth, of men and of gods was
^ conceived in various ways. It was built by Vis'vakarmS, as
a carpenter fashions a house or a car out of wood. (R. V^
X. 31* 7)- It was produced by Brahmanaspati with blast
and smelting as a blacksmith forges things of metal. (R. V.
X. 72. 2). Heaven and earth generated the gods as men do
children, " Prolific (s u r e t a s a) parents, they have made
the world of life" (R. V. i. 159. 2). Another primeval
pair were Daksha and Aditi and after them were born the
gods, who formed the worlds by agitating the waters
(R. V. X. 72. 5 — 6). The gods themselves came from a
germ in. the waters. " That which is beyond the sky, beyond
this earth, beyond the devas and the asuras — what earliest
germ did the waters contain, in which all the gods were
beheld ? The waters contained that earliest embryo in
which all the gods were collected. The one rested upon
the naval of the unborn, wherein all beings stood.'' Creation,
again, was due to the sacrifice of the primeval being^
p u r u s h a. The devas " bound the purusha as a
(sacrificial) animal, spring was the ghi, summer was the
fuel and autumn the (accompanying) oblation. They cut
him down, placed him on the sacred grass, the devas,^
Sadhyas and Rishis divided his body and from it were
produced all creatures (R. V. x. 90). The world was also


•conceived to be evolved from the one, which previous to
^creation, when all was enveloped in darkness, breathed
without air. Desire (k a m a) first arose in it ; this was the
.first germ of mind. The gods, themselves, arose afterwards
(R. V. X. 129).

Even in this early age the minds of some men in ancient
India rose above the interests of war, the acquisition of
-wealth and happiness by sacrifice or by spells, by war or by
trade and above the carnal enjoyments of this world or the
snext. Their keen vision pierced through the phenomena
of the world to what is beyond. Dirghatamas, son of
Mamata, propounded the question, ** I ask, unknowingi
(those who know, the sages, as one all ignorant for the sake
of knowledge, what was that one, who in the unborn's
iimage hath established and fixed firm these six regions of
the world " (R. V. i. 164. 6). Gotama saw Aditi in the
^heaven, Aditi in mid-air, Aditi in all the gods, in the five
races of men, Aditi in all that has been born and in all that
shall be born (R. V. i. 89. 10). Vis'vamitra asked " what
pathway leadeth to the gods ? Who knoweth this of a
truth, and who will now declare it ? Seen are their lowest
dwellings (heavenly bodies) only ; but they are in remote
and secret regions" (iii. 54. 5) and saw behind the many
gods the One " Lord of what is fixed and moving, that
walks, that flies, tljis multiform creation " (Id, 8). Another
seer saw one being throughout the world, Skambha, to whom
all paths tended, into whom all entered. To him all the
gods are joined as branches around the trunk of a tree. He
abides in the human body that is the nine-portalled lotus
flower and " desireless, firm, immortal, self-existent, con-
tented with the essence, lacking nothing, free from fear of
death is he who knoweth that soul (Srtma) courageous,
:youthful, undecaying" (A. V. x. 8. 44).


This tendency to the higher monotheism, as distinguished
from the tribal monotheism of savages led to the definite
distribution of functions among the gods. Thus Agni
became the overlord of the East and the Adityas his arrows^
Indra of the South, the fathers his arrows, Varuna of the
West, Soma of the North, Vishriu of the fixed quarter and
Ikihaspati of the upward quarter (A. V. v. 27). This also
led to the famous triple classification of the gods, which
though begun into the age of the Mantras, yet dominates
the interpretation of Vedic mythology ; for even in early
times the gods were divided into those of earth and
of heaven and dwellers in the waters (R. V. vi. 50. 11,
vii. 35. II, i. 139. II, X. 49. 2, X. 65. 9). A. V. X. 9. 12-
divides them into the gods that are stationed in
the sky, and that are stationed in the atmosphere and these
that are upon the earth," thus indicating that the " waters '^
of the passages of the Rig Veda quoted above was the
atmospheric ocean. This is the beginning of the division
of the gods that the Nirukta of a later age popularized
and modern scholars have accepted almost without criticism.

Omniscience as a divine characteristic was attributed by
the Rishis to Varuna. " The great guardian among these
(gods) sees as if from a near. He that thinketh he is
moving stealthily, all this the gods know. If a man stands,
walks, or sneaks about, if he goes slinking away, if he goes
into his hiding place; if two persons sit together and scheme,
King Varuna is there as a third and knows it. Both this
earth here belongs to King Varuna, and also yonder broad
sky whose boundaries are far away. Moreover these two
oceans are the loins of Varuiia: yea, he is hidden in this
small drop of water. He that should flee beyond the
heaven far away would not be free from King Varuna.
His spies come hither (to the earth) from heaven, with a


rthousand eyes do they watch over the earth King Varuna
^sees through all that it between heaven and earth, and all

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11

Online LibraryP. T. Srinivasa IyengarHistory of the Indian people. Life in ancient India in the age of the mantras → online text (page 11 of 12)
Using the text of ebook History of the Indian people. Life in ancient India in the age of the mantras by P. T. Srinivasa Iyengar active link like:
read the ebook History of the Indian people. Life in ancient India in the age of the mantras is obligatory.

Leave us your feedback | Links exchange | RSS feed 

Online library ebooksread.com © 2007-2014