The Vedic Gods in Rigveda:

The Rig Veda Samhita forms the basic scripture of Hinduism and tradition accords it the highest place. This great book is full of hymns, Suktas as they are called, which attain supreme heights of poetical beauty and philosophical acumen, a rare combination indeed!

A major part of this work is devoted to prayers to gods like Indra, Agni, Varuna).a and others. These Vedic gods are usually enumerated as thirty three: eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas, Indra and Prajapati.

These gods are assigned to the three regions of the earth (Prithvi), the heavens (Dyaus) and the intermediary space, (Antariksa). Apart from these gods,. we also find many non-living objects like grinding stone, qualities like faith, emotions like anger, aspects of nature like dawn, sacred and described and also there are several female deities also, though they are not as prominent as the male deities.

Who are these Vedic Gods?

Let’s put it like this, Who are these gods?, Are they different aspects of the One Supreme God? Or, are they different deities competing and differing with one another like the Greek gods? Or, are they just animals and icons masquerading as gods?!

Serve it to say that the famous statement in the Rigveda itself, ‘ekam sat viprah bahudha vadanti,’ ‘Truth is One; sages call It by various names’,  sets the tone for the philosophy of the Vedas which is amplified later on by the Upanisads. Hence, though these deities appear to be different and independent, they are really facets of the same Brahman, the Supreme God.

List of Total Vedic Gods in Hinduism:

Eight Vasus (Deities of elements)

  1. Dyaus : Sky
  2. Prithivi : Earth
  3. Vayu : Wind
  4. Agni : Fire
  5. Nakshatra : Stars
  6. Antariksha : Space
  7. Surya : Sun
  8. Chandra : Moon

Twelve Adityas (personified deities)

  • Vishnu : The presever
  • Indra : Leader of other Adityas and god of clouds
  • Ansh : Due share
  • Aryaman : Nobility
  • Bhaag : Due inheritance
  • Dhatri : Ritual skill
  • Tvashtar : Skill in crafting
  • Mitra : Friendship
  • Pushan/Ravi : Prosperity
  • Savitra/Parjanya : Power of word
  • Surya/Vivasvan : Social law
  • Varun : Fate
  • Vaman : Cosmic law

(Adityas may vary).

Eleven Rudras (The five abstractions)

  • Ananda : Bliss
  • Vijnana : Knowledge
  • Manas : Thought
  • Prana : Breath or life
  • Vack : Speech

Five names of Śiva

  • Isana : Revealing grace
  • Tatpurusha : Concealing grace
  • Aghora : Dissolution/rejuvenation
  • Vamadeva : Preserving aspect
  • Sadyojata : Born at once
  • Atma : Self

And the last is :

  • The two Ashwins : Twin solar deities.

Let us now consider briefly the more important of these deities. For the sake of convenience they are arranged and dealt with in alphabetical order:

Aditya’s: Vedic God

The Aditya’s represent a group of deities. They are six in the Rigveda, eight in most of the Brahmanas, but become twelve in the Shatapatha Brahmana. In the later mythological literate, they are always twelve.

The Aditya’s can be described as the personifications of laws that rule the universe and the human society. They regulate the relationships of human beings among themselves and with the forces of nature.

Aditya is one of the names of the sun. Hence the Aditya’s can be taken as the imperishable eternal beings, the gods of light, by whom all manner of luminous life is manifested and sustained in this universe.

Names of 12 Aditya Gods:

The twelve Adityas are: Mitra (the friend), Varuna (one who encompasses and binds), Aryaman (the destroyer of foes), Daksa (the skilful), Bhaga (the giver), Amsa (the liberal), Tvastr (the shaper), Savitr (the vivifier), Pusan (the nourisher), Sakra (the mighty), Vivasvat (the resplendent) and Vishnu (the pervader).

Sometimes, the twelve Aditya’s are linked with the twelve aspects of the sun spread over the twelve months and hence described as the twelve spokes of the wheel of time.

Agni: Vedic God

Since the religion of the rigveda was mainly sacrificial, Agni, the god of fire, naturally got the pride of place. A maximum number of hymns are devoted to describing and praising Agni. He is often eulogised as the Supreme God, the creator, the sustainer, the all-pervading cosmic spirit. All other gods are his different manifestations. He manifests himself as fire (Agni) on this Earth (Prithvi), as lightning or air (Indra or Vayu) in the sky (Antariksha) and as the sun (Surya) in the heavens (Dyuloka). He acts as a mediator between men and gods by carrying the offerings of men to gods. He is all-knowing and all-powerful. He is all-merciful too. Though an immortal, he lives among the mortals, in every house. He protects them by dispelling their difficulties and giving them whatever they pray for. Without him, the world can never sustain itself.

In later literature, Agni is described as the lord presiding over the southeast quarter.

The image of Agni in temples, represents him as an old man with a red body. He has two heads, a big belly and six eyes, seven arms in which he holds objects like the spoon, ladle, fan etc., seven tongues, four horns and three legs. He has braided hair, wears red garment as also the Yajnopavita (the sacred thread). He is attended on either side by his two consorts, Svaha and Svadha. The smoke is his banner and ram, his vehicle. Obviously, this is an anthropomorphic representation of the sacrificial fire.

Ashvin’s: Vedic God

These are twin deities, always described or praised together. What exactly they represent, is a moot point(debatable). While some say that they represent the earth and the sky, there are others who discourse that they stand for night and day or the moon and the sun. That they were once kings who acquired extraordinary merit, and were elevated to the position of gods, is another guess that is also hazarded sometimes.

They represent the semidarkness before dawn. They pervade this world with moisture and light. Described as eternally young and handsome, they are the youngest of the gods. However, their chief characteristic is that they are constantly striving to do good to others. They are expert physicians and surgeons and know the arts of healing, rejuvenation, and even plastic surgery! Being supplicated, they can grant boons like children, food, wealth, health and protection from enemies. Hence one should never fail to invoke them during sacrifices.

Indra: Vedic God

Indra, undoubtedly he is the chief deity in the Rigveda. Almost a quarter of its hymns, is devoted to praising him. He is the most important deity in the sky. Armed with the thunderbolt (Vajrayudha) and riding in a chariot whose speed exceeds that of the mind, he travels everywhere.

His valour is awe-inspiring. His exploits are many. He killed the demon Vritra and released the waters imprisoned by him. He clipped the wings of the mighty mountains and made them behave. He recovered the cows of the gods that had been abducted by the demons. He is fond of Soma-drink. Being a war-lord, he became a symbol of the royal power. Hence warriors worshipped him before going to the battle-field.

Indra has often been equated with the Supreme God. His love and affection for his devotees has been eulogized. Scholars opine that Indra may: just represent the natural phenomenon of rain being released from the dark clouds as a result of being “bombarded by lightning and thunder”!

Indra’s prestige gradually declined and he was relegated to a secondary place by the Pural).as, retaining however, his place as the king of gods.

In some of the temple sculptures, Indra is depicted in a human form with four arms, riding the celestial elephant Airavata.

Rudra and Rudras: Vedic Gods

Rudra is the god who howls or roars. He is terrible. He is tall and well-built. He has a long braided hair. His body is brilliant and its colour merges with the colour of the gold ornaments he wears. He wields the thunderbolt, bow and arrow. He is the god of storms. Though he looks fierce and is armed with terrible weapons, he is always benevolent and merciful to humanity. He is the protector, the kind and loving father, protecting humanity against its enemies. He is extraordinarily intelligent and wise. He is an excellent physician. He has thousands of medicines with him which can cure all the diseases of Humanity.

Rudra has sometimes been identified with Agni. He has also been described as the father of the Maruts, another class of Vedic deities. Some of the names like Siva, Kapardin, Mahadeva and so on, which have been used in the later mythological literature as epithets of Siva have been used in the Rigveda also.

It is very difficult to say exactly which aspects of nature Rudra represents.

Sometimes a group of minor deities called the Rudra’s is also mentioned. They are eleven in number. They are actually the principles of life, the ten vital breaths and the mind.

Rudras are also mentioned as eight in number and the eight namesBhava, Sarva, Isana, Pasupati, Bhima, Ugra, Mahadeva along with Rudra-represent the eight aspects of Rudra-Siva in later literature.

Soma: Vedic God

Soma, also called as Indu or Soma – Pavamana, is one of the most important deities in the Rigveda. The entire ninth Mandala is devoted to his praise. He is the presiding deity of the Soma creeper whose juice is often used in sacrifices as offering and also drink. He is sometimes praised as the Supreme God. He cures the mortals of their diseases, gives them joy and leads them to immortal blissful worlds. It was because of the power he bestowed that Indra was able to do wonderful deeds and slay the demon Vritra. He rules over the mind and activates speech. Hence he is sometimes described as Vacaaspati, ‘lord of speech‘. It is he who makes ordinary mortals Rsis, wise sages. He creates the worlds, rules over mountains and rivers.

The name Soma has been used in the Rigveda for the deity that animates the Soma creeper, the juice of the creeper itself, as also the moon. In later literature, Some has been practically identified with the moon itself. Scholars opine that the deity Homa of the Zend-Avesta is this Soma itself.

Surya: Vedic God

Surya or the sun, often identified with Aditya, Savitr and Pusan, is another important Vedic deity. He is extremely brilliant and rides in an exquisitely beautiful chariot drawn by seven horses. He is compared to a bird that flies in the sky and is described as the jewel of the sky. He gives light, produces day and night, gives power and strength to the living beings, makes them active and destroys their laziness and disease.

Savitr is the aspect of the sun before sunrise. He is golden all over. He establishes people in their respective places. He gives life and energy and guides people in the right path.

The famous Savitr. GayatrI Mantra is dedicated to this Savitr.

The nourishing and life-supporting aspect of the sun is personified and praised as Pusan. He is exceedingly beautiful. He destroys the evil ones with the discus he wears. He looks upon all with an equal eye. He is extremely generous and ever ready to protect.

Varuna: Vedic God

Varuna ‘the one who econompasses the whole world,’ is one of the oldest Vedic deities. May be he is the personification of the sky; but he is also associated with clouds and water, rivers and ocean. He is sometimes clubbed with Mitra and praised (Mitravaruna).

Varuna is the king of the universe and lives in the highest world. His knowledge and power are unlimited. He has thousand eyes and oversees the whole world. Hence he is the lord of the moral law. He punishes those who transgress this law but forgives them out of compassion if they repent and pray. By activating Vayu, the lord of the wind, he sustains life by giving rain and crops.

Though Varuna was the chief deity in the beginning, he seems to have yielded his place later on to Indra and Prajapati. In the subsequent mythological literature Varuna is described as the presiding deity of the western quarter and as the lord of oceans, water and aquatic animals. In some of the temples he is depicted as riding on a crocodile. In two of his four arms he holds the serpent and the noose (pasa). Sometimes he is pictured as riding in a chariot drawn by seven swans and holding the lotus, the noose, the conch and a vessel of gems in the four hands. There is an umbrella over his head.

Vasus: Vedic God

Vasus are a class of deities, eight in number, chiefly known as attendants of Indra. The word Vasu is derived from ‘vas’ (‘to dwell,’ ‘to cause to dwell,’ ‘to shine’) and hence Vasus are deities representing all spheres of extension or space, and height. They were perhaps personifications of nature and natural phenomena.

Eight Vasu God Names:

The eight Vasus are, Dhara (the earth), Anala (the fire), Ap (the waters), Anila, (the wind), Dhruva (the polestar), Soma (the moon), Prabhasa (the dawn) and Pratyusa, (the light).

Vayu: Vedic God

Vayu is the god of, or personification of, wind, air or lifebreath (PraI) a). As the lord of the sky (Antariksa) he shares his power with Indra. He rides in a chariot drawn by two, ninety-nine, hundred or even thousand horses, (the number perhaps, depends upon his wish to produce an ordinary wind current or a storm or a cyclone!) His chariot announces his arrival with terrific roars. However, he himself is invisible. Like Indra he is also fond of the Soma juice. It is he who is the basis of all life here. Inside our bodies he works as the five vital airs (Pancaprana). Like Rudra, he is also a physician and can effect wonderful cures.

In mythology he is the ruler of the north-western quarter. He is described as blue in colour and as holding a fan and a flag in two hands, the other two hands showing the Abhaya and Varada Mudras (indicating protection and granting of gifts).

Vishnu: Vedic God

It is rather strange that Vishnu (i.e., ‘one who pervades’), the Supreme deity of the Vaisnava tradition, the second of the Trinity and highly popular deity of later Hinduism, finds a secondary place in the Rigveda. He is a friend of Indra. He is a solar deity, an aspect of sun when he envelops the whole universe with his rays. The words Urugaya and Trivikrama, meaning one who has great strides or who covers the universe in three steps signify the sun as he crosses the sky in the three times of the day, viz., dawn, day and dusk. His abode has been highly eulogised. He is described as the personification of time. He is an eternal youth and extremely handsome. The sun is sometimes described as his discus. He is the creator and protector of the worlds. There is none equal to or superior to him. He is extremely kind and generous. He is easily pleased by the offerings made at the sacrifice also.

Visvedevas: Vedic God

Literally the word means ‘all the gods.’ Perhaps, all the gods left over without being specifically mentioned in prayers, are meant to be included under this word. But they gradually seem to evolve as a specific group like the Adityas or the Maruts. These deities are the protectors of Rta, the moral law. They destroy the enemies of their devotees, protect the good, give auspicious abodes and control like kings. They are ever young and handsome. They are easily pleased by devoted obeisance.

Later mythology describes them usually as ten in number: Vasu (dwelling place), Satya (truth), Kratu (will), Daksa (skill), Kala (time), Kama (desire), Dhrti (forbearance), Kuru (the ancestor of the Kurus), Pururavas (a being dwelling in the atmosphere), Madravas (cry of joy). These deities are said to be fond of funeral offerings.

Yama: Vedic God

Yama is one who restrains, who curbs, who controls. He was the first of men to die and to depart to the celestial world. He is the god of the dead and so the spirits of the departed dwell with him. He has two very fierce dogs, with four eyes and wide nostrils, which guard the path of the departed souls leading to Yama’s kingdom.

In the mythological literature he is described as the god of death and the judge, Dharmaraja, meting out rewards and punishments to the souls of the dead brought to him. In this he is ably assisted by Chitragupta, the recorder. He is the ruler of the southern quarter, is green in colour, wears red garments, has a mighty mace and noose, and rides a he-buffalo.