Category Archives: Deities and Entities


Yama is the much dreaded god of death. Depicted as a man with a gruesome face with dark green skin, coppery eyes, and blood-red robes, he resides in his palace in Naraka situated in the nether regions. Yama rides his buffalo when entering the human realm carrying his mace and noose, dandahasta and pasahasta, everywhere in case he needs to cut off an individual in the midst of his or her life. Recorded in the Book of Destiny, every living soul’s life span has been predetermined. Assistants to the god are responsible for fulfilling the duties of the book and bringing down the souls to Naraka. With Yama sitting on his throne, Chitragupta, one of Yama’s better known servants, will read out the sum of the deceased man or woman’s assets and sins as they pass judgement before the god. Accordingly the hardened sinner will be sent to one of Yama’s many Hells, or virtuous individuals will be reconciled with his or her forefathers in Pitris (Pitris is an equivalent to heaven). In some cases, it is told that an individual may also be reincarnated (rebirthed) back to the world either as a superior or inferior organism; depending on their Karma. As stated by Dieter B. Kapp in his article The Concept of Yama in the Religion of a South Indian Tribe, “Life on earth is characterized by deeds performed according to one’s own will and wishes, though they are predestined. Life after death, i.e., life which starts with death and ends with the reaching of paradise, means purification from worldly sins. The span of life which has to be spent lying on the ‘refuse heap’ of the region of ancestors serves for purification from pollution sins. Life in paradise is marked by external bliss, it., eternal youth, love, abundance of vegetarian food, music and dance” (Kapp, 518).

Despite Yama’s later evil role in Hindu mythology, the Vedas described Yama as the first man who died and the king of the departed. Vedic tradition also references Yama as the lord of justice, giving him the title Dharma. Yama can be interpreted to mean “twin” in Vedic tradition some myths have him paired up with his twin sister Yami. Surya, the sun god is also the father to Yama, his brother Shani and sister Yami. Yami has a minor role in the rg Veda, but fascinatingly Shani is portrayed as the deity that gives the sentence of one’s deeds throughout life by appropriate punishment and rewards; Yama grants the outcomes of the actions after death.

Relating back to death, Yama is given another name: Kala, Sanskrit for “time”, appropriately assigned because time is naturally selected and nobody can stop or change time. To better explain, human health always nears death after birth through decay, disease, or accident. The only cause of delay of being taken to Naraka is due to treatment options of sick persons, but the inevitability of death can never be stopped due to the outline of nature.

The Hindu God of Death, Yama, with his skull topped staff and buffalo mount, Pratihara period, 10th century, Rajasthan, Delhi National Museum
The Hindu God of Death, Yama, with his skull topped staff and buffalo mount, Pratihara period, 10th century, Rajasthan, Delhi National Museum

In terms of classification systems of Hindu mythology, Bodewitz best describes it in his article The Dark and Deep Underworld in the Vedas. “In the classificatory system (see Bodewitz 2001) the east belongs to the gods, the southeast to (some of) the Pitrs, the south to (some of) the Pitrs, and the southwest to the demons (at least it represents hell). Here the south (the region of some of the Pitrs) is in opposition to the north (the region of people living on earth). Again this opposition has to do with light (north) and darkness (south). It also deals with above and be- low, since the north (uttard) and the south (adhard) are qualified by adjectives in this sphere.” (Bodewitz 221). To better explain, Hindus view the southern region as inauspicious because of Lord Yama’s ruling. East and North having to be associated with light are considered auspicious.

In addition to Hindu mythology, Yama is included in Buddhist teachings. Though in Buddhism, Yama loses his role as a judge and punisher of the underworld because Buddhist teachings state that Karma alone will determine an individual’s fate come time for death. Logically, because of karma there is no need for a supernatural justice, restating the lack of Yama’s role. Come death the souls of the dead are reminded by Yama the concept of Karma and that the souls are responsible for the punishment they will undergo. Buddhist teachings also surround Yama by a concept of Mara which speculates Yama is hidden in the embodiment of moral evil. Contrasting from the Hindu’s depiction of Yama: dark green skin, gruesome face with copper eyes, and blood red robes, tantric Buddhism shows Yama as a terrifying figure ornamented with human skulls, consumed by flames, and holding in his right hand prajna (sword of insight), and in his left hand the mirror of karma, so the individual looking into the mirror shows the true reflection of their deeds. Japanese Buddhism worships Emma (same role as Yama), the demon lord of the Underworld who judges the dead. Emma (Yama) can only be overruled by prayers.

In addition to his rule as king and judge of the underworld, Yama is also a great teacher. “This is one of the ten principal Upanishads, which are expansions to the four Vedas that are usually delivered” as explained in Laura Strong’s written works, Immortal India: Mythic Hindu Death Rituals and Beliefs about the Afterlife. Despite the obvious meaning of the Upanishad (death, and the meaning surrounding it), it also elucidates the meaning of life and secret to immortality. To summarize the Katha Upanishad surrounding Yama and his teachings, the myth starts with a character Nachiketa. Nachiketa had a pure soul, despite being the son of a notoriously greedy man. Feeling disturbed by viewing his father inappropriately sacrificing cows, the boy asks his father to whom was he given. Despite being ignored Nachiketa asked again, and on the third time the irritated man banished Nachiketa to Yama’s abode. Upon discovery of Yama’s absence, loyal Nachiketa waited three days and nights. Upon Yama’s return, the might god offered him three wishes. Firstly, Nachiketa wished to be returned alive to his father and have his father be pleased with him. Secondly, Nachiketa wished to be instructed on how to perform a proper Vedic fire-sacrifice. “The third and most important boon requested by the young student is to know the secret of immortality. Yama is not as eager to hand over this knowledge, but eventually Nachiketa persuades him and he begins by teaching Nachiketa “the mystic sound which all scriptures praise–Om.”” (Strong 2000:6). He then goes on to explain that, “When the body dies, the Self (Atman) does not die!” (Strong 2000:6). Accordingly, one must fully understand Atman.

Upon writing about Yama, it is logical to provide information about Hindu death rituals. Following the passing of a family member, relatives of deceased individual start preparing for either cremation or having the body placed in a burial ground. Typically, unless the family is dealing with an infant, the body is cremated in which the cremation pyre is lit by the eldest son. Subsequently the ashes are then submerged into a holy river, following the family undergoes a purifying bath to enter a state of extreme pollution. Pinda (rice balls) are then offered to the spirit of the deceased during the memorial service. Particularly, this is viewed as a contribution to cleanse the soul so it can pass through the realm of Yama.

In conclusion, Yama is guardian of the South presiding over the resting place of the dead and the lord of death Yama is relatively a substantial part of mythology in India. Earlier represented by the Vedas as a cheerful king of the departed ancestors who became the first human to die, this god’s role quickly changed in later mythology to become a judge of good and evil deeds of deceased souls and determine their retribution. Beyond Hindu mythology Yama has passed over into Buddhist mythology with a lesser but similar role as guardian of the dead in the following countries: Tibet, China, and Japan. Reflecting on the recently deceased individual’s karmic balance, Yama makes judgement and governs a proper reprisal. Upon deciding, Yama safeguards proper rhythm in considering rebirths back to the Hindu world so the Hindus make daily offerings of water back to this god.






Works Cited (APA)


L.D. Barnett (1928) “Yama, Gandharva, and Glaucus”. Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies: University of London, Vol. 4, No. 4, p. 703-716


W. Bodewitz (2002) “The Dark and Deep Underworld in the Veda”. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 122, No. 2, p. 213-223


Doniger, Wendy (1976) “The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology”. Berkeley: University of California Press Ltd. pp. 1-157


Keown, D. (2008). “Into the jaws of Yama, lord of death: Buddhism, bioethics, and death”. Buddhist-Christian Studies, p. 156-171


B. Kapp (1982) “The Concept of Yama in the Religion of a South Indian Tribe”. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 102, No. 3, p. 517-521


MacDonnell, A. A. (1898). “Vedic Mythology (Reprint Delhi 1974 ed.)”. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Ltd. ISBN 81-208-1113-

Rodrigues (2006) “Hinduism The eBook an Online Introduction” Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

 Roy, Christian (2005) “Traditional Festivals a multicultural encyclopedia” Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data.

 Strong, L (2000) “Immortal India: Mythic Hindu Death Rituals and Beliefs About the Afterlife” Mythical Arts

Yama (2013) In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://



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Book of Destiny







Hindu Triad





Katha Upanishad







Rg Veda



Tibetan Buddhism


Vedic Mythology





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Article written by: Blake Irvine (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content

Brahma Prajapati

The Rg-Veda is a sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns and is also one of the four major sacred texts of Hinduism, the Vedas. Within the Rg-Veda many Hindu deities are identified as are the origins of their creations. Among these deities, there is mention of a supreme creator god known as Prajapati. Prajapati is identified as the first god, and creator of all other gods and beings. He is also associated strongly with ritual sacrifice and takes on many zoomorphic forms. In later scripts he is associated with the god Brahma and many believe that Brahma himself is Prajapati. He is a god who, although not widely mentioned in the Rg-Veda, plays a major role in Hindu traditions and still has influence today over modern India regardless of his worshipped form.

Prajapati is introduced in the tenth book of the Rg-Veda and is said to have been produced in the form of a golden egg. In the story he hatched from this egg and with his first breaths created the gods Agni (god of fire), Indra (god of lightning), and then Soma (the sacred plant). From his downward breath he created the asuras, creating darkness. The tears he wiped away with his hands created air, the tears that fell into the waters became earth and the tears wiped upwards became the sky. From his first wounds came the seasons and other planets and then he created everything else (Coulter and Turner 388). Through his daughter Usas, the goddess of the dawn, he became the father of all living things (Kapoor 1438). Other tales say that his first words created the worlds and the seasons. In the Brahmanas it is said that Prajapati sacrificed himself to tapas, the cosmic result of which was brahman, transcendent reality, and then the gods, humans, animals and so on.

There is a hymn addressed to Prajapati, the Rg-Veda 10.21, called the Hiranyagarbha, which addresses the “golden germ.” He is identified as the burning seed or embryo which is produced in the waters. The Artharvaveda portrays images of the seed, egg, and embryo which have become guides for samskaras such as marriage, pregnancy, offspring deliverance, first feeding, and first tonsure (Jones 7356).

In post Vedic scripts, there is an association of Prajapati with Brahma, god of Ka. This occurred as the word Ka, or who?, was elevated in the Brahmanas to a godly ranking and was then equated with Prajapati, who possessed many of his godly qualities. Brahma is associated largely with Prajapati; in fact his “mental sons” are known as prajapatis. There is no official number of prajapatis. Most texts cite ten beings, while others state as few as seven, and some cite up to twenty one. The ten most recognized prajapatis are: Marichi, Atri, Angiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Daksha, Vasishtha, Bhrigu and Narada. Another relation Prajapati holds is to one of his created gods, Agni. To perform his sacrifice, Prajapati constructed a great fire place, and upon finishing it became Agni or came to exist within the fire place (Gonda, 6). He then sacrificed himself to the tapas, fervour of ascetic and erotic heat (Jones 7356), and was dismembered. It must be noted that this account of sacrifice is known as the first sacrifice in Hinduism. It essentially created yajna and therefore Prajapati himself is sacrifice. Currently, the act of building a fireplace for sacrificial purposes is associated with cosmologically restoring the dismembered pieces that constitute Prajapati or Agni.

Brahma Prajapati (Cambodian Style, Musee Guimet, Paris)

Almost all Hindu gods and deities are associated with animalistic forms which are often associated with their respective characteristics. It is therefore no surprise that the creator of all beings and gods is associated with not one but many animalistic forms which include the boar, goat, bull, horse, stag, ant, and one of the most sacred animals, the cow, among many others (Jones 7356). Prajapati takes the form of the boar to raise the earth out of the waters and to create the starting point of the myth cycle of the boar incarnation of Visnu (Kapoor 1211). His current association with Visnu may be linked to this tale. One count tells of his daughter Usas, changing herself into a gazelle, upon which Prajapati turns himself into the corresponding male figure and has sexual intercourse with Usas. However, it must be noted that in other versions, he marries off all his daughters, including Usas, to Soma (Kapoor 1211).

Being a supreme god, it is no wonder that there are many rituals devoted to Prajapati. Among those, one famous example is that of the horse sacrifice or asvamedha. To perform this ritual an emperor would select his best horse, which would then undergo a three day ceremony and then be released into the wild to roam freely for a year. If the horse, representing the king, wandered into another ruler’s territory the owner of that land had to choose to either let the horse wander freely in his kingdom, submitting himself to the owner of the horse, or to keep it for himself and wage war. After the year of wandering, the horse would then be returned to the kingdom where it would then undergo a sacrifice. During the ritual, a dog representing the king’s enemies would be sacrificed and then the horse would be suffocated. The queen would then perform a mock copulation on the horse, which would then be dismembered and sacrificed into the fire. The chief priest, the horse and the king are representative of Prajapati and are elevated to his cosmological status during the ceremony. During the ceremony rice would be consumed which was meant to distribute the horses’ virility among the priest, king and Prajapati (Rodrigues 63).

The Vedas are the oldest Hindu sacred texts that exist in the religion and are very much a backbone to the Hindu way of life, and the Rg-Veda identifies a supreme god known as Prajapati. Prajapati is a deity and symbol of many things such as yajna and divinity, and is a god who has had many different roles in the Hindu tradition. Obviously, one of the most important aspects of his history is that he created all forms of life, natural and cosmological, including himself. He is the god who sacrificed himself to the world and has embodied himself in the likes of Agni among others. Certain Hindu’s today believe that Visnu and Krsna may be the reincarnates of Prajapati. The more popular belief is that the god Brahma is himself Prajapati, which is also why Prajapati is sometimes referred to as Brahma-Prajapati. On top of still being portrayed in current Hindu traditions, he also played a significant role in formerly practiced sacrificial traditions, such as the asvadmedha, which was made to unite certain individuals with Prajapati himself. Though there are many inferences of the power of Prajapati in the Rg-Veda, nothing can compare to the magnitude of his accomplishments and it is for this reason his essence lives on today in modern India

References and related readings

Gonda, Jan (1983). Vedic gods and the sacrifice:

Smith, Brian K. (1985) Sacrifice and being: Prajapati’s cosmic emission and it consequences.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism- The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

(1998) The New Encyclopaedia Britannic. Chicago, IL.: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

Walker, Benjamin (1983) Hindu World: An encyclopaedic Survey of Hinduism. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Kapoor, Subodh (2000) The Hindus: Encyclopaedia of Hinduism. New Delhi: Comso Publications.

Kapoor, Subodh (2002) Encyclopaedia of Vedic Philosophy: the Age, Religion, Literature, Pantheon, Philosophy, Traditions, and Teachers of the Vedas. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Coulter, Charles R. And Turner, Patricia (1997) Encyclopaedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Jones, Lindsay (2005) Encyclopaedia of Religion Second Edition. Farmington Hills, MI.: Thomson Gale.

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Written by Blair Stark (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Yaksas and Yaksis

The nature of the yaksas in Hindu mythology is one that is complex and multifaceted. They serve a functional role in many traditions as local nature spirits/deities that are worshipped. The characteristic of their worship depends largely on the local traditions of specific regions. Surrounded with a sense of ambivalence, they embody benevolent and malevolent qualities that are displayed in both their portrayal in Vedic literature and in traditional worship. Within worship practices, they may simultaneously be guardians that bestow fertility and wealth while also being feared demonic creatures. The basis of this multifaceted nature is entrenched within their wide variety of portrayals in Vedic literature. Whereas later Vedic portrayals refer to yaksas as semi-divine/demon creatures and concentrate on malevolent traits, earlier portrayals as shown in the Atharva Veda refer to yaksas as a cosmic/acosmic concept rather than an entity. These seemingly contrasting descriptions mix together to create the complex identity that is ambiguous and yet all encompassing.

Within the Atharva Veda, the term yaksas is used present a concept that encompasses both the cosmic and acosmic sharing similar resemblance to the later concept of Brahman:

Atharva Veda 10 7 38-39: The Great Yaksa, steeped in concentration on the surface of the water in the middle of the world, on him the various gods are fixed like branches around the trunk of a tree. (Sutherland 21) [Sutherland’s (1991) translation is used for AV 10 7 38-39, but Shendge (1977) also offers a translation of the same passage.]

The yaksas is metaphorized as a tree that unifies the physical and non-physical elements of the universe. It is an integral part of the essence of the universe that connects gods and the like to the physical world. Furthermore, the imagery of the cosmic tree and water lends to an intimate relationship with that of fertility. It is argued that the concept of yaksas precedes Brahman (Shendge 120), however its full meaning is still under debate. Indeed, this early portrayal greatly contrasts the role of yakas in later Vedic text; yakas also serve as a possible base for the association of deified yaksas to trees, water and fertility. Furthermore, the concept of yaksas evolves into a physical form, a being that is either expressed as animallike or godlike, in later AV verses (Sutherland 71).

Mudgarpani Yaksha (2nd century BCE, Mathura Museum)

Later Vedic texts have shed the cosmic/acosmic concept of yaksas and moved toward one of a physical nature. Origins of yaksas in these later Vedic texts vary slightly, but they have a similar motifs throughout each of them: a) they are earthly physical beings, b) they share an ancient demonic lineage with other demons such as raksasas, and c) sacrifice is an important part of their identity. Classified as a type of demon, malevolent attributes such as lust and hunger are frequently associated with them (Sutherland 54). In the Epics, both yaksas and raksasas are often portrayed as possessing a barbaric nature that feed on human flesh.

The origin of the yaksas is told within the Srimad-Bhagavatam 3:19-21. As Brahma withdrew from the physical body of ignorance with disgust, demons fought one another for possession of his body. One side shouted that he should be devoured and the other side said that he should be protected. These demons were born from the ignorance of Brahma’s body and respectively became the yaksas and the rakasas. Ramayana 7 4 9-13 shares a variation of a similar story [Details of following translation are taken from Sutherland (1991)]. Prajapati created creatures to protect the element of water. These creatures asked their creator on what they should do. Prajapati answered that they should protect the waters. Some of the creatures replied with “Raksami” (“We will protect”), becoming the raksasas. The other creatures replied with “Yaksami” (“We will sacrifice”) and became known as the yaksas.

Yaksas and Yaksis (Yaksi with fruit and urn, Kusana Period, Mathura Museum)

The contrasting descriptions of yaksas in Vedic texts allows for the development of a multifaceted nature that is both respected and feared. This complexity creates an ambiguous moral position for yaksas, especially those who have been deified (Sutherland 61). The complexity of the multifaceted aspects is exemplified within Kubera, king of the yaksas, in the Mahabharata. Portrayed as a semi-divine entity, he is a lokapala (world guardian) of the north that guards jewels and gems in the earth [see “Kubera and the Lokapalas” (Sutherland 1991) for a description of the lokapalas system]. He governs over and protects wealth and earthly fertility. Geneologically, he shares an intimate relationship with the raksasas through his half-brother, Ravana, king of raksasas. This connection places Kubera in association with demons and malevolence. Though Kubera is not portrayed as malevolent, his yaksas servants and guardians are considered as such.

The ambiguity has allowed breathing room for the yaksas to become deified within certain regions of India. Benevolent in nature, they are viewed as stewards of the wilderness and holy places, akin to that of sprites or fairies. Depending on the practice of certain local traditions, these yaksas are worshipped for healing, protection, wealth and/or fertility. The region of Braj supports a long standing local tradition of worshipping yaksas. Yaksas and nagas are worshipped alongside Krsna, a cult of worship that entered the region in the 1600s (Sanford 89). Both yaksas and nagas are devatas; they are semi-divine beings that wield power over specific region and bestow blessings upon those who worship them. Though Krsna is seen as the center of devotion, yaksas play a critical role in stabilizing the region by governing over human concerns largely in the social sector, such as protection and wealth (Sanford 90) [Sanford (2005) concludes that yaksas have structural importance in the region that allows Krsna to take the pastoral and devotional role which he is known for in Braj]. Just as yaksas are capable of bestowing benevolence upon a population, they are equally capable of governing acts of malevolence such as sickness, famines and natural disasters. This reversible relationship process compels worshippers to appease the yaksas responsible for the event (Sanford 102). Yaksas worship is done outside on a platform under a neem tree.

Yaksis (or yaksinis) are the female counterpart of the yaksas. Similar to yaksas, yaksis have complex identity consisting of both malevolent and benevolent nature. Once again, Vedic texts have concentrated on a demonic nature, while traditional worship focuses on the benevolent blessings that they bestow (Sutherland 137). Statues of yaksis are worshipped for fertility, which is largely displayed in their iconography of a young full bodied woman. This view of sexuality and fertility contrasts with the malevolent yaksis in Vedic text. She is portrayed as a seductress capable of illusion and shape-shifting (Sutherland 138). The malevolent yaksis tempts travelers with her sexuality and men caught within her trap are consumed.

Yaksas and yaksis have evolved drastically since their conception in Vedic text. Though the early Vedic texts do not represent their status in traditional worship, it gives an insight to the stepping stones that may have assisted the formation of their identity. The complex nature of the yaksas and yaksis allows it to persist within contemporary practice.


Sanford, A. Whitney (2005) “Shifting the Center: Yaksas on the Margins of Contemptorary Practice,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, March Vol. 73, No. 1, 89-110

Sutherland, Gail Hinich (1991) The Disguises of the Demon, The Development of Yaksa in Hinduism and Buddhism, New York, NY: State University of New York Press.

Shendge, Malati J. (2003) The Civilized Demons: The Harappans in Rigveda. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.

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Braj devotion






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Written by Mark Mendoza (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Garuda: King of the Birds

Garuda is a Hindu deity and is not to be confused with the Garuda Purana, which will be briefly described later. Garuda is described as having the body of a human with a face of an eagle. His hair is tied in a top knot, and with beautiful strong wings, he is known for having an abundance of strength. In different epics, Garuda is described as having either two or four arms, wearing snakes as anklets and bracelets, similar to what Visnu is depicted as wearing (Dallapiccola 2002). The Indian myth of Garuda and how he became to be Visnu’s vahana is found in the Mahabharata, an 180,000 line poem written in Sanskrit by a sage called Vyasa, and is filled with courage, betrayal and maternal love (Mcleish 1996).

The myth of Garuda starts with Kasyapa, a tortoise-man, who had two wives named Vinata and Kadru (Wessing 208). He impregnated both his wives at the same time and mentioned that he would grant them both a boon since he was very pleased with the services they provided him. Kadru asked Kasyapa for a thousand nagas (half human beings and half serpents, usually of the feminine gender (Wessing 208) while Vinata asked Kasyapa for two sons, which would be more powerful and heroic than Kadru’s thousand nagas. After granting Kadru’s and Vinata’s boons, Kasyapa disappeared in the forest. (Mani 581)

Both Kadru and Vinata took great care of their eggs. On the 500th year, Kadru’s thousand eggs hatched and all kind of nagas came forth, but Vinata’s eggs showed no sign that they would be hatching anytime soon. It truly pained Vinata as she watched Kadru playing with her children, so that out of curiosity, Vinata secretly cracked open one of her eggs. Out came Garuda’s oldest brother, Aruna, a half grown child. He was upset not only having his egg cracked prematurely but for having his rest disrupted as well. For having done so, Vinata was punished and was to be Kadru’s slave. She would be freed 500 years from then, when her second egg would hatch naturally (Mani 581). Aruna would later become the vahana of Surya.

Garuda was born 500 years after the birth of Aruna, in the shape of a human, having a head of an eagle with a beak, and with wings and talons instead of toes and fingers. Due to his golden skin colour, Garuda was initially and accidentally worshiped as Agni, the god of fire.

Garuda figure (Srirangam Temple, South India)

While his mother was still enslaved to Kadru for having lost a bet, and Garuda was not able to bear the sight of his mother enslaved and performing Kadru’s demands. Garuda took it upon himself to free his mother from Kadru’s enslavement, and asked Kadru what the price of his mother’s freedom would be. She replied, “Amrta from Devaloka,” an elixir that would revive the strength of the gods and render them immortal. Garuda informed his mother of his journey to find the elixir to purchase her freedom and she wished him well. She asked that his wings be blessed by Vayu, his lower body by the sun and the moon and the rest of his body by the Vasus and he then embarked on his journey (Mani 581). As a final word of warning to Garuda, his mother warned him to not eat anything, for it would burn his throat.

After having embarked on his journey, Garuda found his father Kasyapa in the forest, where he told him of his journey and asked Kasyapa if he could have something to eat. Kasyapa replied by telling him the story of a fight between two brothers, Vibhavasu and Supratika, who were enemies at the time and had been transformed into an elephant and a tortoise, respectively. Kasyapa told Garuda that he could eat them without his throat burning. Since Vinata settled for two eggs that would lead her children to be powerful, Garuda had an enormous amount of power. Because of this power, he was not able to sit down to eat the elephant and the tortoise because anything he would approach or sit on would collapse within a blink of the eyes, due to the vibration his powerful wings created. (Mani 581)

Garuda faced many opponents and events throughout his journey before he had reached the heavens, where the Devas where protecting the pot of Amrta. The same moon and sun that had blessed Garuda’s lower body attacked him when he got closer to the pot of Amrta. Garuda not only defeated the moon and the sun but also defeated anybody that was against him, for his strength was unmatchable. The strength of his wings, when flapping, created a dust storm which blinded his opponents (Mcleish 1996). As he got closer to the tower of flames where the Amrta was kept, he noted two wheels with serpents protecting the elixir. Even though he was blinded by looking into the eyes of the serpents, he defeated the serpents with his beak, grabbed the elixir and flew away.

Mahavisnu, proud of Garuda’s achievements, granted him two boons. Garuda asked to become Visnu’s vahana and to be immortal without having to drink the elixir so that he could return safely and deliver the elixir to his mother Kadru. Indra attacked Garuda as he was flying away with the elixir, by striking him with lightning. Indra told Garuda that the only way they would become friends and be at peace would be if Garuda would return the elixir back to the heavens. In another version, Indra took the elixir before Garuda was able to take it and a few drops of the elixir spilled onto the ground. The drops of the elixir fell near the snakes that were protecting the pot. The snakes both split their tongues and tried to lick off as much elixir as they could which; is the reason why snakes are immortal and shed their skin to be re-born once again (Mcleish 1996).

Garuda replied that the elixir was not for him and that the only reason that he stole the elixir was to release his mother from her sister’s slavery. When he returned to his mother, she was released from Kadru’s enslavement. From that moment on, Garuda wanted to take revenge on Kadru. He decided that he would slowly eat all of Kadru’s nagas. After a certain time that Garuda was hunting and eating the nagas, they came to him with a deal that a naga would come to him day after day for him to feed on and Garuda accepted.

Throughout his life, Garuda faced many opponents and went through many adventures, such as helping Galava, a disciple of Visvamitra, fighting Airavata, searching for the Saugandhika flower and saving Uparicaravasu (Mani 584). To this day, Garuda is a sign of speed and force due to the abundant strength he has. The image of Garuda is widely used throughout Asian countries, such as Indonesia, Thailand and Mongolia. It is a symbol depicted from flags to royal crests and hotels, and even on the national airline of Indonesia. Although the image portrays a different form of Garuda, they all carry the same meanings: speed and strength.

Garuda Statue (Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal)

In the early 1970’s, a statue dating from the 7th century was discovered in Kathmandu, Nepal, depicting Garuda kneeling and praying (Exhibit 1). Garuda is normally depicted as devouring snakes or carrying Visnu on his back, with two of his arms folded in anjalimudra (where the hands and palms are clasped together near the chest) and his other two arms holding Visnu’s feet (Dallapiccola 2002).

According to myth, after Garuda became Visnu’s vahana, and Visnu subsequently wrote the Garuda Purana, a set of instructions for Garuda to follow. The Garuda Purana contains all kind information regarding funeral rites, the reconstitution of a new body, judgement of deeds and the many stages between death and rebirth (Dallapiccola 2002). Although the Garuda Purana is extremely long and consists of many stories, it is still widely read by Hindus to this day.

References & Further Recommended Reading

DALLAPICCOLA, Anna L. (2002) Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend. New York: N.Y. Thames & Hudson

DOWSON, John (1979) A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology. London: Trubner’s Oriental Series.

MANI, Vettam (1979) “Garuḍa” Purāṇic Encyclopaedia. 1st ed.

MCLEISH, Keenth (1996) Myths and Legends of the World Explored. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd.

VAJRĀCĀRYA, Gautamavajra. Sheperd Slusser, Mary (1974) A Newly Discovered Garuda Image in Kathmandu, Nepal. Artibus Asiae, Vol. 36, No. 4 P. 292-293

WESSING, Robert (2006) Symbolic Animals in the Land Between the Waters: Markers of Place and Transition. Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 65, No. 2 P. 205-239

Related Topics for Further Investigation


  • · Airavata
  • · Agni
  • · Amrta from Devaloka
  • · Anjalimudra
  • · Aruna
  • · Devas
  • · Flower of Saugandhika
  • · Galava
  • · Garuda Purana
  • · Indra
  • · Kadru
  • · Kasyapa
  • · Mahabharata
  • · Nagas
  • · Purana
  • · Supratika
  • · Surya
  • · Uparicaravasu
  • · Vasus
  • · Vayu
  • · Vibhavasu
  • · Vinata
  • · Visvamitra
  • · Vyasa


Noteworthy Websites Related to Garuda





Written by Maxime Babin-Lavoie (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Indra (God of Thunder and Lightning)

 In Hindu mythology, the god Indra “is viewed as the king of all the gods to whom most of the Vedic hymns are dedicated” (Jansen 66), and is regarded as the god of the Aryan people. Indra’s name is unlike most of the other Vedic gods, and does not have any particular connection with a natural phenomenon. For this reason, it is possible that Indra could have been an actual historic figure, a leader of the Aryan people who after the defeat of the indigenous people of India was deified (Embree 17).

Indra: The Vedic God of Thunder and Lightning with his distinctive horizontal third eye (Bronze masterpiece, Patan Museum, Nepal).

The god Indra has come to take on many meanings in Indian culture. Indra is not only viewed as the king of the Vedic gods, but is widely recognized by most Sanskrit specialists and comparative mythologers as a god of the sky, the god of storms and lightning. Indra is viewed as the “personification of the thunderstorm” (Embree 17), with his weapon being a bolt of lightning.He is regarded secondly as the god of battles (the warrior-god), the protector of human beings, whose power and rule are directly connected to the life of mankind (Perry 125). Furthermore, he has come to represent the god cried out to for protection by men rushing into deadly combat (Embree 17).

In the Rg Veda, the most important deeds of Indra are celebrated. Among these deeds the most prominent is Indra’s fight against the evil spirits of the air, the demoniac rain stealers who are thought to have stopped the rain from reaching the earth. In the Vedas, Indra is viewed as the unconquerable hero and warrior, who is the defender of Aryan worshippers against their non-Aryan enemies. In India thunderstorms holds high significance, especially in Northern India among the gigantic mountains where rain is eagerly prayed for because of its beneficial effects. Rain/water in the Vedic thought was believed to be the highest heaven, thus signifying the importance of Indra among the Aryan people (Perry 133 – 134).

In the Vedas, Indra is closely associated to soma, an intoxicating plant that causes hallucinations. Soma was the primary ingredient used in Vedic rituals, and offerings of soma are often associated with Indra’s character, which is often depicted as a drunken brawler. Various myths and legends have developed about Indra and his complex character. One of the most important is the story of him slaying Vrtra, a demon, the great enemy, who is often thought of as a dragon (Embree 17 -18, 21). Vrtra is viewed as the arch-demon among the rain-stealers (Perry 134). It is said when the earth dried up, Indra was offered the intoxicating soma plant. Under the influence of the plant, Indra fought against the demon drought, Vrtra (Jansen 66). Vrtra shut off the waters and the sun, imprisoning them in caves in the cloud-mountains. However, “commissioned by the gods to set the waters free” Indra appears on the scene (Perry 134). After a fierce battle, Indra was able to expel Vrtra with his weapons of thunder (vajra) and lightning. Thus releasing the life-giving forces, and saving the earth and all its inhabitants. From this myth it can also be gathered that Indra has come to represent the force against spirits of darkness. When Indra conquered the rain-hiding demons he also expelled the spirits who concealed the light. The black storm clouds that had once concealed the light of heaven where driven away by Indra, thus the heavenly radiance once again shone on earth (Perry 139). Many interpretations of this myth have arisen. It is suggested that the battle between Indra and Vrtra represents the renewal of the year, the ending of winter or the beginning of the monsoons. Other possibilities suggest it represents the conflict that arose between the Aryans and the Indus Valley civilization. However, in another sense it can stand for the chaos brought by Vrtra, “upon which Indra imposes form and order” (Embree 18).

Various deities appear in the Rg Veda, however, among these deities Indra and Agni (God of Fire) have the most hymns dedicated to them, each receiving around 200. This suggests their importance and status among the Aryans (Rodrigues 26). While Indra is above all viewed as the god of victory in battle, he also plays a role for women. At a first glance this might seem irrelevant since women do not take part in battle, however, there are some isolated verses in the Rg Veda that provide some evidence that Indra played a role in women’s lives. In epic literature, Indra is not only a god of battles but can also be viewed as a god of fertility, who can bestow children on women (Hopkins 242- 243). Within the wedding hymn, expectations and hopes of what Indra was suppose to do for newly married women appear. Verse 10.85.45 in the wedding hymns says, “You, O generous Indra, make this one rich in sons and fortune! Bestow ten sons upon her, make her husband the eleventh!” (Sohnen 68). As a God Indra, has the capacity to help a woman become pregnant and is an example of one of the “gods who can assure the birth of a male child” (Hopkins 244). Since women’s positions within the family deal largely with the number of sons she bears it can be concluded that women may have addressed the wish to bear a son to Indra. The Apala-hymn (RV 8.91.4) suggests another connection between Indra and women. The verse states “(I ask) whether he will be able (to do it), whether he will (really) do it, whether he will make us more happy and prosperous; whether we who are disliked by our husbands will, through Indra, come together with them” (Sohnen 68). This particular verse demonstrates women’s wishes directed to Indra to help them become desirable and attractive to their husbands, to help create bliss between them and their husbands, along with helping them to bear sons by their husband (Sohnen 70).

Iconographically, Indra has been represented in various ways. “He is not a giant of the mountains, as represented by some scholars, but rather a cosmic giant” (Hopkins 256). His greatness surpasses that of Varuna (Sky God) and encompasses the earth, the sky and beyond. He is the conception of an all-god, whose rule and will the other gods follow (Hopkins 256). Indra is sometimes viewed riding the “royal elephant, which is often depicted with three trunks and/or four tusks” (Jansen 66). Indra’s attributes include four arms, and he is often presented alongside a bolt of lightning, however, he can also be depicted with a lance, sword, bow and arrow, spear, and a net and conch shell. However, this is not always how Indra is depicted; he can also be represented with two arms, with eyes covering his entire body (Jansen 66).

Over time Indra’s position weakened, and he became the “king of only the lesser gods and the lord of heaven (svarga) where the gods dwell” (Jansen 66). This can often be associated with the sramana movement, which was the beginning of meditative practices in India “which began to compete with sacrificial religion” (Rodrigues 190). With the rise of Epics and Puranas, a new assortment of deities began to arise, which displaced the gods of the Vedic Samhitas and reduced their significance. However, it did not erase the worship of Vedic deities from Hindu society altogether (Rodrigues 190).


Embree, Ainslie T (1966) The Hindu Tradition: Readings in Oriental Thought. New York: Random House, Inc.

Hopkins, E Washburn (1916) “Indra as God of Fertility”. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 36. Pp. 242 – 268.

Jansen, Eva Rudy (2004) The Book of Hindu Imagery: The Gods and their Symbols. Holland: Binkey Kok Publications BV.

Perry, Edward Delavan (1882 – 1885) “Indra in the Rig-Veda”. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 11. pp. 117-208.

Rodrigues, Hillary ( 2006) Introducing Hinduism. New York & London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Sohnen, Renate (1991) “Indra and Women”. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 54, No. 1. pp. 68 – 74.

Related Readings

Brown, Norman W (1942) “The Creation Myth of the Rig Veda”. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 62, No. 2. pp. 85 – 98.

Buck, Harry M (Sep., 1968) “Lord Rama and the Faces of God in India”. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 36, No. 3. pp. 229 – 241.

Chakraborty, Uma (1997) Indra and Other Vedic Deities: A Euhemeristic Study. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld.

Edgerton, Franklin (1920) “Counter-Rejoinder to Professor Fay”. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 40. pp. 100 – 102.

Gonda, J (1967) “The Indra Festival According to the Atharvavedins”. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol.87, No. 4. pp. 413 – 429.

O’Flaherty, Wendy (Jul. – Sep., 1985) “The Case of the Stallion’s Wife: Indra and Vrsanasva in the Rg Veda and the Brahmanas”. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol.105, No.3. pp. 485 – 498.

Related Topics for Further Investigation:




Rg Veda,





Vedic rituals


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic:

Article written by Sara Smith (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content

Kamadeva (God of Desire)

Useful knowledge about the qualities of desire can be gathered from the stories and artwork involving Kamadeva: the god of sensual love. For instance, readers and viewers learn that love and desire are rooted in the mind and penetrate the body’s senses, can be lost but found, and are evoked through memory (Benton 181, 182). In contrast, love and desire are deceptively beautiful, manipulative, maddening, difficult to control, and can cause pain even when they are not visible (Benton 182). Therefore, Kamadeva is called many names, including Madana, which connotes an enthralling and even maddening aspect, Ananga, the intangible, Kandarpa, suggestive of pride, and Manmatha, he who makes the intellect uncertain (Fausboll 164 and Doniger O’Flaherty 157).

Armed with flowery arrows, Kamadeva is thought to have been born of the creator god Prajapati’s heart without the aid of any female component (Dimmitt and van Buitenen 34). Figuring prominently in depictions of Kamadeva are his two wives Rati and Priti – the personifications of sexual delight and affectionate pleasure, respectively (Benton 35). Rati, who was created from Daksa’s sweat, possesses beauty that is able to distract even the sages (Benton 28). She carries a discus and lotus and is Kamadeva’s assistant, who she was mutually in love with upon meeting. As Kamadeva’s aide, Rati enthralls others with desire and satisfies his own sexual needs but does not take on any other wifely duties (Benton 31, 32). Less is known about Priti as she found more often in art than literature; however, she is present in the story of Karnotpala, an aging woman who had not been able to find a husband (Benton 35). Kamadeva also has three voluptuous daughters that are described as temptresses (Campbell 195).

Discussing the nature of Kamadeva’s consorts offers further knowledge about this deity’s characteristics. Gandharvas and Apsarases, which are male and female heavenly creatures, respectively, are usually found in illustrations beside Kamadeva and Rati (Benton 131, 132, 135). The innumerable gandharvas and apsarases are related to the air and water components of clouds, as they move between earth and Indra’s heaven, where they reside, taking on various appearances to aid Kamadeva’s work (Benton 132, 133, 135, 137). The mesmerizing beauty, erotic nature, and seductive skills of the apsarases have even been called on by Indra to weaken the power certain yogis and ascetics have cultivated (Benton 133, 134). These creatures are thought to provoke madness, yearning, and disappointment but are also thought to be auspicious because they convey the possibility for joy and prosperity (Benton 135). Gandharvas are believed capable of seducing women with their attractive bodies and beautiful singing, which may also induce feelings of madness. These celestial beings share a connection with horses and are purported to have the ability to restore virility, sometimes through the use of herbal remedies (Benton 137).

In addition to the gandharvas and apsarases that are depicted with Kamadeva, his green parrot vehicle, or vahana, is traditionally shown at his feet and a mythical sea animal called a makara is depicted on his banner (Benton 131, 132). The appropriateness of Kamadeva’s vehicle is demonstrated by the affectionate nature parrots show toward one another and their human-like capability for speech (Benton 132). These two qualities, along with the fact that parrots are monogamous, give credit to the notion that parrots are wise to matters of the heart (Benton 141). The relation between Kamadeva and the makara is less clear although speculations can be made by examining the character of the Indian crocodile and river dolphin (Benton 142, 144). [For example, the oil of the Susu river dolphin is sought after as an aphrodisiac, love potion, and cure for impotence and its meat is consumed to increase virility (Benton 146, 148).] It is important to note, however, that neither the gandharvas, apsarases, parrot, nor makara play a role in the stories involving Kamadeva, although they are consistently portrayed in art of this deity (Benton 131).

According to the Silpa Sastras, Kamadeva is to be formally portrayed with the season of spring, Vasanta, and the makara banner is to be carried by a horse-faced being, whose appearance connotes the virility of horses (Benton 131, 132). Furthermore, Kamadeva should wear a garland of flowers, among other ornaments, and be armed with his sugarcane bow and five arrows made with flowers (Benton 131). These “five arrows are made of the sun lotus, the asoka flower, the mango, jasmine, and blue lotus, and they cause infatuation, excitement, parching or withering, heating, and paralysis (or stiffening)” (Doniger O’Flaherty 159). The Kamadeva also has gold coloring (Benton 16). In contrast to this iconographic description, it is rare to find the male deity Vasanta in images with Kamadeva, perhaps because his svelte body might divert onlookers’ attention. [For a discussion of Vasanta and the Maras as Kamadeva’s companions, see Benton 32-34]. Similarly, it is uncommon to find the banner-carrier in depictions with Kamadeva (Benton 132). [Certain similarities can be found between Kamadeva and the water god Varuna, who is called on by individuals suffering from unreciprocated love (Benton 137, 139). Like Kamadeva, Varuna is associated with the virility of horses and the makara (Benton 139).]

Perhaps Kamadeva’s most significant role in Sanskrit literature occurs in the Saiva Puranas (Klostermaier 152). Here, Kamadeva is characterized as Siva’s sexual opponent. As a great ascetic, Siva must refrain from desire, yet as the god of the linga and husband to Parvati, he must fulfill his sexual obligations and produce offspring (although he does this grudgingly) (Doniger O’Flaherty 154, 262). It is in this way that Kamadeva exercises power over the other gods. In these texts the god of love momentarily meets his demise after interrupting Siva’s meditations and being burned by his eye in an instance of fury (Klostermaier 152). Creating the context for this event is the granting of a boon by Brahma to the demon Taraka as a reward for his asceticism. More powerful than even Siva or Visnu, Taraka proceeded to steal the wives of all of the gods, creating much fear and despair among them. Upon fleeing to Brahma, the gods are informed that Taraka was rendered invincible to their powers but could be killed by an offspring of the childless Siva. After discussion occurs among the deities, Indra beckons Kamadeva, who cannot be destroyed by demons or gods and who permeates the entire cosmos, including Brahma. Indra instructs Kamadeva to fill Siva with desire and move him to marry Parvati so that they may have a child. With Rati and the spring season in tow, Kamadeva comes close to the place where Siva was deep in meditation but is first confronted by Sailadi, who was guarding the area. In order to by pass Sailadi, Kamadeva turned himself into a sweet-scented breeze. Finding Siva, Kamadeva stood with his bow drawn. At this time, Siva was distracted by Parvati and sensing that Kamadeva was present, burned him with his eye before he was able to release an arrow. Siva then offered Parvati a boon but she had no desire for it as she believed that without Kamadeva happiness could not be possible. Siva was then beckoned by Kali, to whom he granted a boon. She requested that he let Kamadeva live, which he did, although in a bodiless form (Doniger O’Flaherty 154-159). A slightly different interpretation of this story grants Parvati a more active role, as it is she who enlists Kamadeva’s skills to help her win Siva over (Klostermaier 152). Another version also comments on the influence of Rati when pleading for her husband’s rebirth (Benton 31). [Kamadeva also plays a role in the story of “Pradyumna and the Fish” (see Dimmitt and van Buitenen 141, 142) and the tale of how “Siva Engenders the Submarine Mare” (see Doniger O’Flaherty 159-161).]

As symbols of love and fertility, images of both Kamadeva and Rati are found in temples (Benton 131). Although vratas (conditional vows made to a deity), pujas (deity worship), and utsavas (festivals) involving Kamadeva are extremely rare, and perhaps have always been, they deserve mention because they demonstrate a connection between desire and spirituality that tends to be absent in many religions (Benton 93). It is important to note, however, that the sole worship of Kamadeva does not appear to be a widely acceptable practice today (Benton 102). Nonetheless, several pujas, described in the Agni Purana, can be performed by the devotee to attract a lost lover, or to increase one’s prosperity, among other things. Many other vratas and pujas devoted to Kamadeva are described elsewhere and include the worship of the damanaka plant (a symbol of this god) during the Kama Trayodasi. To gain the attention of Kamadeva and Rati, art and music are often used during these rituals. While the goals of the devotees can be quite diverse, certain vratas are performed for more specific reasons, as is the case in the vrata for prostitutes, who seek a successful rebirth. [For information on vratas for prostitutes and fertility, see Benton 96-99, and see Benton 99-101 for “Rituals for Beauty and Husbands: Tirthas for Couples.”] There is evidence of a festival, called Kamadeva’s Day, during which male followers would perform certain rituals to be reborn in a handsome, desirable body. Kamadeva’s Day would be held during March or April, which is the month of Caitra, at the Ahalya Tirtha (Benton 94). Indeed, the month of Caitra and Vaisakha (April-May) remain the most popular time for weddings, during which Kamadeva is often incorporated (Benton 102). [During Kamadeva’s Festival, which is mentioned in the drama Carudatta by Bhasa, many love-marriages took place (Benton 94).]


 Benton, Catherine (2006) God of Desire: Tales of Kamadeva in Sanskrit Story Literature. Albany: State University of New York Press.
 Campbell, Joseph (1974) The Mythic Image. Princeton: Princeton
               University Press.
 Dimmitt, Cornelia, and van Buitenen, J.A.B. (eds. and trans.) (1978) Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
 Doniger O'Flaherty, Wendy (1975) Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook Translated from the Sanskrit. Ed. Betty Radice. London: Penguin Books Ltd.
 Fausboll, V. (1981) Indian Mythology: According to the Indian Epics. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.
 Klostermaier, Klaus K. (2000) Hinduism: A Short History. Oxford: One World Publications.
Related Topics for Further Investigation
Indian crocodile
Indian river dolphins
“Pradyumna and the Fish”
“Siva Engenders the Submarine Mare”
Damanaka plant
Vrata for prostitutes
Kamadeva’s Day and Festival
Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Katie Herzog (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Surya: The Vedic Sun-God


Surya has been the object of Indian devotion since the early Vedic times and is considered to be the soul of the universe (Charak 9). Surya travels along the sky in a massive chariot which moves on a single wheel that is attached to the polar star, or the Dhruva (Charak 59). This chariot is pulled by seven green horses which move at an incredible speed (Charak 59). Surya does not travel alone but is accompanied by several other beings throughout his journey (Charak 59). These beings coincide with the zodiac and change from month to month (Charak 59).

Surya: The Vedic Sun god (Bharat Kala Bhavan, BHU, Varanasi)


The origin of the Sun-God Surya is complex. What follows is a brief summary of his mythic origins.

The origin of Surya begins with the creation of the universe through Brahmaa, the creator god (Charak 28). Bhrama begins the creation process by first creating the progenitor Daksa and his wife from the tips of his right and left thumbs respectively (Charak 28). One of the 13 daughters of Daksa and his wife was Aditi, mother of Surya (Charak 28). A succinct version of how Aditi came to be the mother of Surya follows.

Aditi was betrothed to a sage named Kasyapa with whom she gave birth to twelve sons (Charak 31). These sons were known as the twelve Adityas and their names include Indra, Dhata, Tvashta, Bhaga, Varuna, Mitra, Yama, Savita, Vivasvan (the Sun-God), Pusha, Visnu and Ansuman (Charak 31). Kashyapa also had other wives to whom were born many other children including the race of demons and also other species of animals and birds (Charak 31). Conflict arose between the demons and the gods when Bhrama allowed the gods to have a share of what was received from sacrificial offerings or the Yajnas (Charak 31). This did not sit well with the demons and, as a result, a war ensued in which the gods found themselves losing and were forced to give up their place in heaven and their portion of the Yajnas (Charak 31). Seeing her sons tormented this way grieved Aditi greatly and caused her to prostrate herself before the Sun-God, Vivasvan, and beg for his help (Charak 32). After several days of fasting and devotion, the Sun-God was pleased and allowed Aditi to make a request of him (Charak 32). Aditi requested that the Sun-God be born as a son to her and a brother to her children so that he could defeat the powerful demons and restore her children to their rightful place in heaven and also their allotment of the Yajnas (Charak 33). The Sun-God granted Aditi’s request but said that he was far too powerful to be born to her in his fullness and granted her a thousandth part of his essence to be born as a son (Charak 33). So it was that the Sun-God was born to Aditi and Indra then declared war against the demons and it was seen that Martanda (the Sun-God) turned the demons to ashes merely by looking at them (Charak 33). In the end the gods regained their place in heaven and partook of the Yajnas once again (Charak 33).


Surya’s mythology continues to expand in tales of his many exploits. One such myth involving Surya involves the gods and the demons joining forces in order to churn the great ocean to extract Amrita, or the Elixir of Life, from it (Charak 39). The churning of the great ocean proved very difficult indeed and, as a result, produced many cataclysmic events. It also gave rise to many other gods and demons by releasing them from the waters (Charak 41). Finally, after much churning, Dhanvantari came forth with a pitcher of Amrita (Charak 43). This caused a disturbance among the demons who stole the Amrita and took it back to the underworld with them (Charak 43). In order to get it back, Visnu disguised himself as a beautiful maiden, Mohini, and traveled to the underworld where the rest of the gods were petitioning Bali, the demon king, for the return of the Amrita (Charak 43). Bali was attracted to Mohini and requested that she distribute the Amrita amongst the demons (Charak 43). Mohini accepted but proceeded to give the Amrita to the gods only (Charak 43). In the process, Rahu, a powerful demon disguised himself as a god and partook of the Amrita, but before he could swallow, the Sun and the Moon revealed his identity, Visnu changed back to his original form, and lopped off Rahu’s head with his discus (Charak 43). As a result of the Amrita touching his tongue, Rahu’s head became immortal and he was given a planetary status. He is able to torment Surya to this day, blocking out his brilliance in the form of an eclipse (Charak 44).

There are many other myths associated with Surya, for instance, how he became the scriptural and spiritual teacher of Hanuman, the Monkey-God.

The Sun God Surya holding flowers in each of his hands with the seven horses of his chariot below; Pala Period; Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore
The Sun God Surya holding flowers in each of his hands with the seven horses of his chariot below; Pala Period; Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore

Surya in Modern Times

Surya does not receive much attention in this day in age, but did receive a resurgence of devotion during the period known as the classical period if Hindu tradition. We see examples of Surya worship within many temples dedicated to the Sun-God. One such temple is the Chitragupta Temple constructed in the early 11th century (Bradnock 292). This temple features Surya driving his chariot pulled by his seven horses (Bradnock 292). Another example of Surya worship today is found within a modern Orthodox Hindu sect known as the Smartas who worship Surya as one of the five gods who they regard as primary (Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions 1017).

Although Surya is no longer worshipped much today in Hindu culture, today he will yet remain part of Hindu society in the form of statues and other icons, waiting for the day when his name will once again be praised as it once was.


Bradnock, Roberta & Roma (2004) Footprint India. 13th Edition: Footprint Handbooks Ltd.

Charak, Dr. K.S. (1991) Surya the Sun God: 72 Delhi:UMA Publication.

Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions (1999)

Related Readings

Mackenzie, Donald A. and Goble, Warwick (2004) London: The Greshan Publishing Company.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

  • The Celestial Beings of the Hindu Zodiac
  • Bali, the demon king and Surya
  • Hanumana, the Monkey-God and Surya
  • The Twelve Adityas
  • Surya Temples
  • The worship of Surya

Notable Websites


Article written by Kevin Rasmussen (March 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.