All About Hinduism

Archive for the category “Rig Veda”

How Indra Lost His Thunder

indra small

Born of the Sky and the Earth, he was an Aditya, one of the first deities. He was the copper hued Great God of War, Rain and Thunder. Worshipped more than any other deity in the Vedas, he was said to protect the gods and men alike. Sitting atop the celestial Mount Meru he supported the heavens with its thirty-three gods and guarded the directions.

Riding his white elephant Airavat and wielding the thunderbolt he led the mighty Sun, Fire, Air and Water into many fierce battles with the demons. He was the slayer of the dark dragon Vritra who stole the waters from the earth. He even fathered Arjuna, the great hero of the epic Mahabharat.

So why do we no longer care about this King of Gods, the Great Indra ? At what point was he dislodged from our consciousness as Sakra, the powerful one, to become a lesser god with a bad reputation, to be remembered only in folklore?

He was quite simply traded for loftier gods.

The Hindu pantheon has continuously shifted and changed. As the Hindu philosophy evolved, so did the gods and goddesses.

The Vedic culture was based as much on worship of Nature as it was on trying to understand it. Since the earliest of times we see a civilization obsessed with science and the pursuit of knowledge.

Even the Rig Vedic hymns which seem like simple dedications to  Nature and its elements are full of very detailed and accurate astronomical observations.  This quest for knowledge did not stop at the visible Universe. The Creation Hymn hints at a ‘Reality’ that cannot been seen or known. A reality that existed even before the gods came.

The Upanishads, written long after the Vedas, are all about uncovering that hidden ‘Reality’.

By now, the rishis, seers, through centuries of meditation, had all come to a common conclusion that what is outside is also within. We are a part of the whole and each part is whole. ‘Aham Brahmasi, or I am Brahman ( cosmic consciousness) is one of the three “Truths’ explained in the Upanishads.

Such lofty ideas needed loftier gods.

The heavens were no longer the ultimate realm.  And, thus we see the rise of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, as the higher principles of the Universe.  In their shadow Indra, the God of War becomes quite irrelevant, even undesirable.

The focus had shifted from violent conquest of one’s enemies to conquering one’s mind; from pleasing god to realizing god !

But not all is lost for the once King of Gods. Untitled taishakuten

The legacy of Indra lives on in a benign form in Jainism and Buddhism wherein he is known as Sakra in Sanskrit or Sakka in Pali.

For Buddhists in Tibet, China and Japan he is Taishakuten, a powerful guardian deity and is often depicted riding a white elephant.

Legend has it that the city of Bangkok was gifted by Indra and built by the celestial architect Vishwakarma.

Perhaps it is for the best that in these times of war and conflict, we remember the warrior-god in his gentler avataars.

 

 

 

                                                      Statue of  Taishakuten at the Toji Temple, Kyoto

Advertisements

Worshiping The Sun God-Surya

While I am desperately praying for the sun to come out in a grey and freezing London, I understand more than ever why praying to the Sun has always been such an important part of Hinduism. The sun is essential not just for life but for our general well-being too.

The Sun enjoys a special place in the Hindu pantheon and is one of the five main deities that are meant to be worshiped daily . It is the only pratyaksha Brahman, the only deity that can be seen with the naked eye.

surya 1

Several hymns from the Rig Veda, invoking the Sun, are chanted as a daily ritual in many hindu households even today.

I need this one today….

sarva mangalya maangalye sarva pap pranashanam

Chinta Sok prashamanam ayuvardhanam uttamam

‘The Sun Lord is auspicious and bestows auspiciousness.

He subdues grief and worries, and nourishes life.’

I am sure all of us, in places further away from the equator, can identify with the above hymn. We know what a little bit of sun can do to lift our spirits and how much the lack of it can weigh us down. It is  a well accepted fact that people living in warmer places tend to be happier.

The ancient seers obviously knew what they were talking about. Furthermore ,they understood the impact the sun has not just on us, but the earth as well.

One poem states- ‘at his command even the waters are still, even this wind comes to rest in its circling’  Science tells us today that all weather changes are caused by the Sun.

They saw him as the mover of the solar system and the prime source of Agni ( fire) . In the earliest poems, the sun is worshipped as Agni itself, the Universal Fire.

Later on he is depicted as Surya, the Sun Lord, riding a golden chariot pulled by seven white horses.

In praise of the Sun God one hymn says…

Upholder of the sky, Lord of the creatures of existence,

The seer spreads out a variegated mantle.

Far-sighted, extending, filling space

Savitar (Sun) has created a boon worthy of holy song.

Undeceivable, overseeing beings,

Divine Savitar guards the holy laws.

He has stretched out his arms to the creatures of existence,

He whose command is firm rules shining over the great course.

The bringer to life, the source of rest, of high benevolence,

Who holds sway over both the moving and the standing world,

May he, divine Savitar, extend refuge to us,

With three-fold security for us, for home, from trouble.

 

The Gayatri Mantra, the most important of all mantras, also from the Rig Veda, worships the sun not just as the giver of physical light but also spiritual light.

Although this mantra deserves a post of its own, here is a brief translation:

“We meditate upon the spiritual radiance of this Supreme divine reality
Who is the source of the physical, the astral and the heavenly spheres of existence.
May that supreme divine being enlighten our intellect, so that we may realize the supreme Truth.”

The Rig Veda, the oldest of the vedas is full of songs in praise of not just the sun but the moon, the planets, the  wind, thunder and lightning, the ocean,the rivers, trees and rocks.

It is an expression of a people in awe of the world around them and I think it is the forgotten core of Hinduism. The rituals came later when the elements were enshrined as deities. Perhaps the rituals were just an elaborate ways of preserving that sense of awe and reverence.

Worshipping nature is not a primitive or superstitious act. It is a recognition of the wonder of nature, a respect for its forces which cannot be controlled and an understanding that we cannot exist without it .

Unfortunately, today we seem to be lost in the rituals alone. How wonderful it would be if every time a prayer was chanted, we could pause to ‘listen’ and look around us with the same sense of awe as our ancestors and see this amazing blessing that is Nature.

I hope in revering it with our prayers we may learn to treat it well and preserve it better.

Creation Song – Rig Veda

I  have been wondering how to sequence my posts going forward, so that they make sense. I figured out this morning, The Beginning  would be a good place to start.

So, while I pen down the story of Creation for the children, here is an extraordinarily beautiful hymn of Creation from the Rig Veda, for the grown ups. Riga Veda is the oldest of the Vedas and this hymn is at least 5000 years old !

 Song of Creation – Rig Veda

(translated by V.V Raman, University of Rochester)

Not even nothing existed then

No air yet, nor a heaven.

Who encased and kept it where?

Was water in the darkness there?

Neither deathlessness nor decay

No, nor the rhythm of night and day:

The self-existent, with breath sans air:

That, and that alone was there.

Darkness was in darkness found

Like light-less water all around.

One emerged, with nothing on

It was from heat that this was born.

Into it, Desire, its way did find:

The primordial seed born of mind.

Sages know deep in the heart:

What exists is kin to what does not.

Across the void the cord was thrown,

The place of every thing was known.

Seed-sowers and powers now came by,

Impulse below and force on high.

Who really knows, and who can swear,

How creation came, when or where!

Even gods came after creation’s day,

Who really knows, who can truly say

When and how did creation start?

Did He do it? Or did He not?

Only He, up there, knows, maybe;

Or perhaps, not even He.

I just love the open ended-ness of the poem. The courage to question everything, even God and the acceptance of ‘not-knowing’. Who said we have to have all the answers? Perhaps the joy is in looking for them.

             I still remember the day I stumbled upon this , 12 years ago, in a deserted public library in the US!  It was so amazing, I wanted to share with someone , anyone this gem that I had found. But no one else ever visited that library so I had to wait till I got home to email my friends. Since then I have read many translations of this hymn but this one remains my favourite.

I can safely say, it was this poem that first made me sit up and take notice of  the Hindu philosophy. Twelve years on I continue to be fascinated.

(PS: Take a look at a video my friend Anjali has posted in the comments. It is the chanting of this very song in its original Sanskrit form and a Hindi translation)

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: