Category Archives: b. Vedic Deities


Divine Artificer, Visvakarman

Visvakarman is a rather enigmatic Hindu deva. His role in Hinduism has changed greatly over the millennia he has been worshipped. In the Vedic context, Visvakarman is said to be “the maker of the universe” (Narayan & George 478). However, in more contemporary iterations, he is more of a “divine architect” responsible for only certain types of worldly creation since before the dawn of time (Narayan 111). Sometimes he is compared to the Roman god of fire and smithery, Vulcan (or Hephaestus, as he is known in his Greek variant). His place in modern Hinduism is as the patron of craftsmanship and artisanship, and the patriarch of tools and machinery (Mukharji 31). Though there was some prior interest in Visvakarman, it is truly thanks to the historian Dipesh Chakrabarty that scholarly attention was drawn to the significance of the artificer deva (Mukharji 31, Narayan and George 487).

Visvakarman has two well-known iconographic depictions: one, the most common, is mostly found in northern and western regions of India, and the other more so in the east (Narayan and George 479-480). The northern regions depict him as an old man with long white hair and a matching beard. He has four arms in which he holds various tools—a measuring stick, a plumb bob, a water pot, and a treatise on building (Narayan and George 479). He is often shown surrounded by his five sons, and his mount is a white swan. A halo of simple tools, such as hammers and chisels, encircle his head (Narayan 111-112). The eastern depictions show a much younger looking deva, with short, curly, black hair, and only a moustache on his face. In these he typically has an elephant as his mount. The tools he holds in his hands are far less standardized in this iteration, ranging from an axe, a hammer, occasionally even a kite or a bow and arrow. The halo above his head shows more complex mechanical devices rather than simple tools (Narayan and George 480). While the majority of Hindu devas hold weapons in their hands, Visvakarman is always shown holding tools instead. This directly relates to his role as a divine artificer. In fact, all of the weapons that the other devas are known for (i.e. Indra’s vajra, Siva’s trisula, etc.) were said to have been created by Visvakarman (Narayan 112).

Visvakarman is a much different deva in the Vedas than he is nowadays. In the Rg Veda, the deva that we now know as Visvakarman is more associated with the name Tvastr (“the fashioner”) (Narayan 112). Tvastr is given very minimal physical description, with only his arms and hands being talked about with any semblance of clarity, but his actions and purpose are very much in line with our contemporary Visvakarman (MacDonell 116). The name Visvakarman does, however, appear in the Rg Veda, though rather uncommonly. It is used as the name of the creator deva, along with the name Prajapati. This is especially so in the Brahmanas. His Vedic depictions describe him in a very similar way to the more modern creator god, Brahma: having a face on every side, four arms, and wings. The fact that both Brahma and Visvakarman have a white swan for a mount also suggests a historical connection. As a word, Visvakarman seems to have been an adjective for other devas, such as Indra or the Sun, emphasizing their creative ability. It was not until post-Vedic times that Visvakarman became a god in his own right, seemingly taking the place of Tvastr, similar to the way Brahma took the place of Prajapati (MacDonell 118).

Like any Hindu deva, there are a plethora of legends and myths surrounding Visvakarman. He has five sons, each of which are forefathers of specialist craftsperson castes: “carpenters, stonemasons, goldsmiths, copper or mixed metal smiths, and blacksmiths” (Narayan 112). He is also said to have a daughter named Saranyu, who marries the Sun. Together, Saranyu and the Sun give birth to three sons: Yama, Yami, and Manu. Saranyu realizes that the Sun is too bright to be around, so she creates a perfect duplicate shadow-version of herself, who then bears three more children with the Sun: Shani, Tapati, and a second named Manu. When the Sun realizes that this Saranyu is a shadow, he asks that Visvakarman shave off his excess brightness so that the real Saranyu can bear to be in his presence. Visvakarman does so, and uses the excess brightness taken from the Sun to create weapons for all of his fellow devas. Upon the reunion of Saranyu and her newly dimmed husband, they produce three more children: Revanta, and the twins known as the Asvins. In certain western parts of India, Visvakarman’s daughter is more associated with the double-goddess Randal Ma (Narayan 119).

Many groups of Hindu craftsmen claim direct lineage to Visvakarman, despite being of entirely different castes. They all consider themselves “Sons of [Visvakarman]” (Narayan 119). Craftsmen view their ability to create as a gift revealed to them by Visvakarman rather than a skill that has been perfected over many ages (Ramaswamy 549). The influence that Visvakarman has over the tools used by his descendents is somewhat vague, though it is generally understood that he is physically tied to them (Mukharji 36-37). There are many different kinds of craftsmen that claim lineage to Visvakarman, including: architects (sthapati), masons (kal tachchan), blacksmiths (kollan), carpenters (achchan), etc. (Ramaswamy 567). Interestingly, many groups of Visvakarman’s craftsmen use an image of the Hindu deva Hanuman, who played an integral role in the Ramayana, as a banner. It is said that Visvakarman accompanied the army of Rama to the kingdom of Lanka, which Hanuman had earlier burned down. Visvakarman helped rebuild the kingdom after Rama was victorious (Ramaswamy 565).

The direct worship of Visvakarman as a deva seems to be a rather recent development. For a long time—and still to this day in most cases—worship of Visvakarman is done as worship of the tools themselves. The common belief is that Visvakarman’s creative will is manifested through the actions of the workers who use his tools in their everyday lives (Narayan and George 479). The tool is more than just a man-made implement; it is a gift from Visvakarman, his own creation, and it is revered as such. Visvakarman’s sons are held in high devotional regard as the founding fathers of the craftsmen communities. There are also instances of groups who worship Visvakarman’s daughter, either as Saranyu or Randal Ma (Narayan 119).

The biggest Hindu celebration in honour of Visvakarman is the Visvakarman Puja. Celebrated on the 17th of September every year, it is a rather unusual Hindu celebration, as it falls on a day of the solar calendar as opposed to the more commonly used lunar calendar (Melton 908). The use of a specific date for such a celebration has caused some controversy, as many pujas are meant as a sort of birthday celebration for the deva that is being honoured. In the case of Visvakarman, however, many believe he has no birthday. Having played a key role in the creation of the world, he is said to have existed before there were such things as days. Most Hindu practitioners have no problem with this, simply desiring a day in honour of the divine architect. A response to the controversy has been the conception of another devotional day, Rsi Panchami Dinam (“The Day of the Five Rsis”). The five rsis in question are the five sons of Visvakarman (Melton 908). The celebration of either of these days is generally done by the craftsperson community—those that owe their livelihoods to Visvakarman. Because Visvakarman has few temples dedicated to him, common practice is to hold the celebration at the workplace in the presence of one’s tools (Melton 908).

Although his history is vague and detailed by several differing accounts, Visvakarman is nonetheless a highly regarded deva with an intricate mythology and a devout following. All Hindu devas have gone through revisional instances—such is the nature of being a part of an ancient tradition—but this does nothing to disenfranchise the reverence of his followers. We can see the different depictions that Visvakarman has gone through historically, as well as the different iterations that exist to this very day. We can come to understand him through anecdote and legend, as well as the role his children and grandchildren took. We can study his place in the lives of his devotees, and how they show reverence and respect for the one they call their divine patriarch. There is no simple one-way street to approaching something as complex as a Hindu deva, and Visvakarman is no exemption from this rule. But whether he has one head or five, white hair or black, a swan or an elephant, he is dearly beloved by those who wield the tool.











References and Further Recommended Reading

Macdonell, Arthur Anthony (1995) Vedic Mythology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers

Pvt. Ltd.

Melton, J. Gordon (2011) Religious Celebrations: An Encyclopedia of Holidays, Festivals,

Solemn Observances, and Spiritual Commemorations, Volume 1. Santa Barbara:


Mukharji, Projit Bihari (2018) “Occulted Materialities.” History and Technology 34:1, 31-40.

Accessed October 3, 2018. doi:10.1080/07341512.2018.1516851

Narayan, Kirin (2014) “Narrative Creating Process.” Narrative Culture 1:1, 109-123.

Accessed October 2, 2018. doi:10.13110/narrcult.1.1.0109

Narayan, Kirin and George, Kenneth M. (2017) “Tools and world-making in the worship of

Vishwakarma.” South Asian History and Culture 8:4, 478-492. Accessed October 2,

  1. doi:10.1080/19472498.2017.1371506

Ramaswamy, Vijaya (2004) “Vishwakarma Craftsmen in Early Medieval Peninsular India.”

Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 47:4, 548-582. Accessed

October 15, 2018. doi: 10.1163/1568520042467154

Related Topics for Further Investigation



Dipesh Chakrabarty

Sons of Visvakarman

Saranyu/Randal Ma









kal tachchan 





Visvakarman Puja

Rsi Panchami Dinam


Noteworthy Websites


This article was written by: Chase Arsenault (October 2018), who is entirely responsible for its content.



Aditi and the Adityas

Though Aditi has many definitions, synonyms and interpretations, the most common and general understanding is that Aditi is the mother of all the Hindu Gods (Wangu 33). Some common terms used to translate this Sanskrit term are boundlessness (Wangu 33), freedom (Wangu 33), innocence (Brereton 5), heaven, or the universe (Brereton 4). Aditi may also be interpreted as the mother of the Adityas, as the guardian of rta, or “social order” (Bose 18); the source of past, present, future, of all things that ever have, or will be born; as well as the entrance and exit of the original source (Wangu 33). It has also been thought that the goddess Aditi is merely a personification of the concept of aditi; a notion that lacks a specific definition itself (Brereton 4). While having a variety of interpretations, Aditi, alongside her sister Diti, presents the divide between good and evil. Her legend also indicates a turning point in Hinduism towards a more patriarchal design.

Many scholars have attempted to narrow the definition through speculation about the Vedas and its implementation of the phrases Aditi and Adityas. The use of Aditya throughout the Rg and Artharva Vedas has assisted scholars in specifying what the concept of aditi is referring to. The common interpretation of the Adityas is found through the study of Sanskrit grammar, in that when a derivation of a term ends in –ya– that it is expressing the presence of a metonymic relationship (Brereton 324). However, the term Adityas is not used consistently, and is at times replaced with Aditeya, which is a more common way of expressing a metonymic relationship (Brereton 324). This may be because the term Aditya was insufficient to suggest a relationship of familial ties but rather was implemented to show the relationship between a noun and an adjective, as is also common with Sanskrit terms of this style (Brereton 324).

Whether a representation of the concept or an actual son of the Goddess, the interpretation of Aditya is contingent upon the interpretation of Aditi (Brereton 4). An Aditya may be a son of innocence, upholding it and the “principles of ethical purity” (Brereton 22). Mitra, Varuna and Aryaman are excellent examples for how the Adityas uphold innocence as they personify the principles of justice through contract, commandment and custom, respectively. (Brereton 184). Being a son of freedom, it has been speculated that they do not make freedom but are themselves “free” in the sense that they are free from the bounds of human existence (Brereton 9). This definition is appropriate for eternally sovereign gods such as Mitra and Varuna. A son of heaven may apply to any god; however, a son of the universe may apply to either a triad or heptad; based on different understandings on how the universe is divided: whether into two sections – heaven and earth -or into three – heaven, earth and atmosphere (Brereton 4).

Many theorists have speculated on the notion that the term Adityas could be referring to only a specific group of gods, or that it may allude to any god who personifies the concept Aditi represents (Brereton 9). ‘Adityas’ has referred to a group of seven, a pair, a triad, but also innumerable number of gods, and none of which are suggested as all-inclusive list (Brereton 13). One speculator came to a reasonable conclusion that the term Adityas mainly refers to the triad of Mitra, Varuna, Aryaman (Brereton 12). This does not mean that each of them are synonymous with the term; but that they may be interchanged when they resemble inherent characteristics of Aditi (Brereton 21). Adityas are, essentially, personifications of the principles that govern the social order (Brereton 20) and the term is applied to those who adopt the personification (Brereton 320).

While the Rg and Atharva Vedas are the main source for hymns and insight into Aditi, the Bhagavata Purana has vital information pertaining to Aditi, her sons, and the moral order. Svayambhuva, the son or creation of Brahma, married off his 3rd daughter, Prasuti, to Daksha. Together they had 13 daughters, one of which was Aditi, all of which married Kasyapa (Bhagavata Purana FTR 70). These 13 daughters, or wives, are thought to be the primary beings from which all living species descended (Bhagavata Purana 1356). Aditi and Kasyapa bore their first son, Indra, who became Lord of the Vedas. Diti, one of Aditi’s sisters, was jealous of the superior son that Aditi had created. Diti, unlike Aditi, was a slave to her sexual passion. She wanted a more powerful son and demanded it of Kasyapa; forcing herself on him during his meditation (Bhagavata Purana 473). Due to Aditi’s virtuous nature she produced devas, or heavenly, divine beings, also known as Adityas, who were ruled by sattva (Bhagavata Purana FTR 70). However, Diti’s defiling of holiness lead Kasyapa to declare that she would give birth to two Asuras, who will be ruled by the passion of rajas, cause suffering to the innocent and be killed by the “Supreme Personality” in anger (Bhagavata Purana 475).  When Diti’s first two sons were killed she again demanded of Kasyapa another child. Once again pregnant, Diti laid asleep while Indra cut the fetus into 49 pieces, which resulted in 49 sons known as the Maruts. Over time the Maruts opted to serve Indra as his soldiers. Through these events Aditi and Diti have created the divide between the good and evil of all creation (Bhagavata Purana FTR 55).

When Aditi is visited by a presence in the form of the Supreme Lord, she is shocked and begins praising him. He speaks to her about her sons and how he wishes to help her as he is pleased with her virtue (Bhagavata Purana 1873). She is told she will bear The Supreme Lord as a son but is advised not to tell anyone. Pleased with the news she is given, Aditi went to her husband filled with devotion. Kasyapa, entranced in his yoga practice, envisioned that the Lord had injected a part of Himself in Kasyapa. With just his mind he was able to penetrate Aditi with his sperm, possibly due to the chaste restraints he had practiced for so long (Bhagavata Purana 1874). Lord Brahma began to pray over the pregnancy, knowing that Aditi’s womb carried the Supreme Lord (Bhagavata Purana 1875). Visnu manifested himself as Vamana, the brahmacari dwarf incarnation (Bhagavata Purana 1877), and at that moment all was filled with happiness. “The Beauty of the Liberated Souls was thereupon with words of welcome worshiped by Bali Mahārāja who honored Him by washing His feet” (Bhagavata Purana 1883). As the water used to wash His feet washes away the sin of the world (Bhagavata Purana 1883).

Throughout many of the texts related to Aditi and other goddesses, scholars have commented on the presence and importance of females throughout the Hindu tradition. As discussed in Women in the Hindu Tradition, the highest respect one can pay to a woman is to regard her as a devi (Bose 13). Just below the status of devi is to refer to a woman as “mother.” However, in the context of common human interactions, the word devi is essentially written off and inapplicable; making this highly regarded status unattainable for women. This has been viewed as a form of marginalization of women in Hindu society (Bose 13). Also, a goddess is almost always referred to by their relations with male figures; being reduced to merely a sister, wife, or a daughter, having her whole identity depend on her relationships with men (Bose 14). The attitude towards females in the Rg Veda differs from that of later texts. In the first book of the Vedas it was not customary for a woman to have a male counterpart, this is made evident by Aditi’s lack of consort in early texts (Bose 18).

Some scholars have analyzed the patriarchy within Hinduism and its effects on the representation of goddesses. Chitgopekar claims that patriarchy tends to subordinate female deities to ‘superior’ male gods (Chitgopekar 77). This analysis relates to the phenomenon of how Aditi can be the mother of multiple highly regarded gods, and yet she was only regarded in the first few texts of Hindu scripture before her acknowledgement began to deteriorate. This likely occurred as Aditi’s popularity was surpassed by the recognition of Prajapati, the male creator deity (Foulston 6). Chitgopekar also recognized the way in which the patriarchy affected the image of devis, especially through the way in which Aditi’s representation changes. In the Rg Veda she is the boundless, mother of all things, however in further readings she is referred to as subordinate to her husband, Kasyapa and her father Daksa, even though she is also the mother of Daksa. He also notes that if devis make it to further texts, they are never representative of the whole society, they are merely representations of the values and functions imposed on women. She is continued to be upheld as the mother of gods, however, her functional aspects are deserted, and she is treated as a minor deity with minor influence (Chitgopekar 77).  The structures that relate to the female goddess will likely contribute to shaping the cultural view of female gender, the behavior and attitude towards women in Hindu society as well as the allocation of gender roles.










Berkson, Carmel (1995) The Divine and Demoniac. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bose, Mandakranta (2010) Women in the Hindu Tradition. New York: Routledge.

Brereton, Joel (1975) Aditi and the Adityas in the Rig- and Artharva- Vedas. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International.

Chitgopekar, Nilima (2002) Invoking Goddesses. New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications Ltd.

Foulston, Lynn (2002) At the Feet of the Goddess. Portland: Sussex Academic Press.

Wangu, Madhu Bazaz (2003) Images of Indian Goddesses. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.

Vyâsadeva, K. D. (2018, Aug 10). Śrimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana). October 20, 2018

Vyâsadeva, K. D. (2014, Feb 01). The Bhagavata Purana For the First Time Reader. October 20, 2018

Related Readings:

Vesci, Uma Marina (1992) Heat and Sacrifice in The Vedas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Wilkins, W.J. (2009) Hindu Mythology. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Hawley, John (1996) Devi Goddesses of India. Los Angeles: University of California Press Ltd.

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Related Websites:


Article written Angelina Carbage (Fall 2018) who is entirely responsible for its contents.

Agni (God of Fire)

Agni is said to be one of the closest connected gods with humans than any of the other deities in the Hindu tradition. The god Agni is identified with being the producer of fire and referred to as being Indra’s (god of thunder and lightning) brother (Macdonell 57). There are many different myths as to how Agni was born; some say that the deity was born three times, once from water, then air and last on Earth. A common myth is that Agni was made from the coupling of the god of the earth (Prthivi) and god of the heavens (Dyaus) and is said to be the son of Brahma. Agni was born fully-grown and was said to be ravenously hungry which led him to devour his parents (McLeish 1996). Agni is the intercessor between the deities and humankind, and is of the few gods in the Hindu tradition that has retained its power to this day (Chandra 9-10).

Agni is identified as one of the first deities to take human form. He is said to be a red man who has seven tongues with which he licks up the butter offered in sacrifices. He is also portrayed as having seven arms, three legs and two heads. Agni is almost always portrayed with a ram as his vehicle, and is occasionally shown riding in a chariot with fiery horses or goats (Jansen 64). His eyes and hair are both black, and on his head he often bears the horns of a bull. He is usually seen wearing a yellow waistcloth. He appears to be young man, which is due to his rebirth everyday through the friction of two sticks. Agni is immortal and lives amidst humankind, yet in heaven he is portrayed as the sun. Agni’s image of fire is a symbol of destruction, which explains why his attributes include an axe, torch and flaming spear, as well as prayer beads (Jansen 64).

Soma (the moon) is a deity who is regarded as a link between the human and the divine, just like Agni. Soma is identified with the moon, which is said to “contain the ambrosia of immortality” (Flood 46). Agni and Soma are said to be the most significant gods (devas) placed at the level of the Earth. They are connected in the sense that the moon is identified with Soma, as Soma is with Agni, and Agni is with the Sun. The public (srauta) rites are primarily focused on Agni and Soma in which vegetarian and non-vegetarian items are offered into multiple sacrificial fires. The (srauta) rites require the burning of three sacred fires. Items such as milk, animals, vegetable cakes and stalks of the soma plant are all offered into the fires (Flood 41-54).

Agni is addressed in approximately one third of the hymns in the Rg Veda. He was central in sacrificial ritual because it was the fire that transformed the offerings into something accessible to the gods (Fowler 98). Agni was a very important deity, and this was evident through the high degree to which he was worshipped. He is described as a divine sage and a swift messenger between the gods and humans, which is why he is still widely worshipped to this day. His worshippers are said to thrive and have a prolonged life (Wilkins 24). He announces hymns to immortals and brings them down from heaven above to sacrifice them. Without Agni, the deities do not experience any satisfaction. Agni is worshipped in many forms such as, a wise director, a protector of all ceremonies and a successful accomplisher (Wilkins 23).

Agni is portrayed in the Mahabharata as being drained of all his energy. Through devouring the Khandava forest he regains his strength. In that story, Indra attempts to stop Agni, but with the assistance of Krsna, Agni ends up consuming the forest (Wilkins 27). Agni is known by multiple names such as, Vahni which means “burnt sacrifice”, Jivalana as “He who burns”, and Dhumketu which is “He whose sign is smoke” (Wilkins 27). Agni is said to have formed heaven and earth and is spoken of as the son of both worlds. He is said to have created the sun and decorated heaven with stars.

The importance of fire in Hindu rituals remains today, as does the deity Agni. Among the directional guardians, Agni was in control of the southeast, which is where dawn breaks. Agni was born fully mature and was able to consume everything, pure and unpure.  (Andrews 8). Fire was widely worshipped because it represented heat and light and was believed to have come from the sun. Fire was a very important part in Hindu rituals because it allowed people a way to give sacrificial offerings to the gods. This is why Agni is still important in today’s society. Agni is known to forgive sin, and offers boons that usually have to do with offspring, prosperity and domestic welfare. Indra’s boons give power, glory and victory (Macdonell 98). All gods had equal power at one time, but after acquiring immortality through sacrifices, Agni, Indra and Surya became grander than the other gods (Jansen 63). The god of war, Skanda, later became the successor of Agni and Indra.

In the epic Ramayama, the king of demons abducted Rama’s wife Sita. After Rama wins a battle with the army of demons, he is able to take his wife home, but doubts her loyalty. He accuses her of being unfaithful while she was away from him and in response, Sita throws herself into a fire to prove herself loyal. Agni, god of fire, did not harm Sita in any way and placed her into Rama’s arms without injury. This led Rama to believe his wife’s words (Jansen 78). This reveals aspects of how Agni has the power to control outcomes such as Sita being harmed or not.

Agni takes part in blessings at occasions such as marriages and deaths, and he commands riches in earth and heaven. He is prayed to by individuals and worshipped as a forgiver of sins, and it is said that he surrounds other gods as the “circumference of a wheel does the spokes” (Wilkins 24). The god Siva has three eyes: the sun, the moon and fire. His third eye is the eye of inner vision and is often invoked at the time of meditation. The third eye also burns with desire (Kama) (Badlani 95).

Agni is also said to be the son of Angrias and grandson of Sandila who is one of the great sages. Agni is the eldest son of Brahma and his wife is Swaha. Through this marriage, he has three sons, Pavak, Suchi and Pavman, and forty-six grandsons for a total of forty-nine descendants (Chandra 10). Agni’s attendant, Matarisvan, is a minor messenger god (Chandra 220). Agni symbolizes a spark in nature through the image of two pieces of wood being rubbed together. This produces the fire in that Agni dwells. (Andrews 8).

Another story in the Mahabharata is one in which Bhrigu curses Agni. Bhrigu married a woman named Puloma who was promised to a demon. Through seeing her exquisiteness, Bhrigu decides to take her away without the knowledge of anyone. Agni assists the demon in finding the bride’s hideaway and claims her back. Bhrigu curses Agni because he helped the demon and says, “from this day you shall eat everything.” Agni did not understand why he was being cursed because he had been honest and accomplished his task of assisting the demon in finding the bride’s hideout. He refers to himself as the mouth of the gods and ancestors. Bhrigu alters his curse by changing it so that Agni purifies all that is passed through him (Wilkins 366). Agni is a Kravyad (flesh-eater), and is represented under an unsightly form. He is called upon to devour meaning he places his enemies into his mouth and engulfs them. He sharpens his tusks and eats his enemies (Wilkins 27).

Agni is the lord of knowledge and fire; he is the chief deity and he is the power of inner and outer illumination. He is the mouth of the gods and the wealth giver (Danielou 64). He is said to have two shapes: one being fearful and the other benevolent. He is called Rudra. Agni is known as a devourer and a god of many powers, one being fire. He is of great importance and is highly worshipped. He is one of the highest gods in the Hindu tradition.


References and Related Readings

Andrews, Tamra (2000) Dictionary of Nature Myths: Legends of the Earth, Sea and Sky. Santa Barbara: Oxford University Press.

Badlani, Hiro G (2008) Hinduism: Path of the Ancient Wisdom. New York: iUniverse Inc.

Chandra, Suresh (1998) Encyclopaedia of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. New Delhi: Sarup and Sons.

Danielou, Alain (1991) The Myths and Gods of India: The Classic Work on Hindu Polytheism from the Princeton Bollingen Series. Rochester: Inner Traditions International.

Findly, Ellison B. 2005. “Agni.” In Encyclopedia of Religion 2nd Edition, edited by Lindsay Jones, 178-179. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. Accessed February 3, 2016.

Flood, Gavin D (1996) An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fowler, Jeaneane D (1997) Hinduism: Beliefs and Practices. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.

Jansen, Eva Rudy (1993) Gods, Manifestations and Their Meaning. Havelte: Binkey Kok Publications.

Leeming, David (2005) The Oxford Companion to World Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lochtefeld, James G (2002) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A-M. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group

Macdonell, Arthur Anthony (1898) Vedic Mythology. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) “Agni.” Bloomsbury Dictionary of Myth. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc: Accessed February 4, 2016.

Wilkins, W.J (2003) Hindu Gods and Goddesses. London: W. Thacker and Co.


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Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Kimberly Sitter (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Kubera: God of Wealth

Kubera holds a variety of titles within Hinduism, most notably being the god of wealth and riches. He is also regarded as the god of fertility, a tutelary household spirit, the protector of sailors and god of the dead (Coulter and Turner 283). In the Satapatha Brahmana, he is the lord of thieves and criminals (Sutherland 63), and these are but a few different titles he possesses. Despite having various titles and responsibilities, he is often associated with having a lesser role in Hindu mythology in relation to other deities (Wilkins 388). However, this does not mean that Kubera does not have a rich history and importance within the mythological realm of the Hindu tradition. One of the main reasons that Kubera is not regarded as being a prominent deity is due, in part, to the lack of images and monuments dedicated to him. When he is depicted in images, which mostly come from the Himalayan regions, Kubera has a large potbelly and he holds a mongoose that vomits jewels when he squeezes it (Buswell). Another way he is depicted is as the guardian of the north and is portrayed as a dwarfish figure with a large paunch, holding a money bag or a pomegranate. He is also sometimes depicted riding on a man (Britannica), which makes him unique in relation to other gods, who usually are mounted on animals. Kubera is a lokapala or “world guardian” (Sutherland 65), deities who are usually illustrated as being mounted on animals such as elephants, whereas Kubera is described as being a naravahana or “one whose mount is a man”(Sutherland 67). Although Kubera is regarded as a god in Hindu mythology, he is also often depicted as a demon. The classification of Kubera being a demon, therefore, cause some discrepancies in his physical appearance, with some illustrations of him depicting a more hideous, monster-type of figure. In these portrayals, Kubera is described as being a pot-bellied, three-legged, one-eyed dwarf with eight snaggle-teeth (McLeish). He is also often illustrated as having ugly, black skin, again with a potbelly and is heavily jeweled, sits cross-legged and holds a purse (Coulter and Turner 283). Despite these more unsightly physical attributes associated with the demonic side of Kubera, many depictions of him offer a gentler, appealing visual of the god, illustrating him with gold coloured skin and studded with gems (McLeish), a visual representation of his role as the lord of wealth and prosperity.

Kubera’s lineage can be a bit confusing, as different sources and literature state different familial lines. In the Artharvaveda, Kubera is said to be the son of Vaisravana. In the Mahabharata, he is son of Vaisravana and Idavida, and brother of Visravas; this is further complicated by the Puranas, which states that Kubera was born to Visravas and Ilibila (Williams 190). He also has a half brother named Ravana, who is the notable demon in the Ramayana (Williams 190). Kubera also has a wife, named Hariti (Werner 51) and a daughter named Minaksi, who becomes one of Siva’s wives (Werner 73). He also had a son, named Nalakubera (Williams 219). In addition to his family, Kubera had a few close companions. Kubera is usually accompanied by two friends named Yaksa and Yaksi (Coulter and Turner 283). He is also associated socially with Charvi, Danava and Rambha (Coulter and Turner 282). According to most accounts, Kubera is said to reside in a palace in the country of Sri Lanka. However, Kubera does not live there permanently, as he is driven out of his palace and the country by his power hungry half-brother Ravana (Britannica). The relationship that Kubera and Ravana have with one another does not prove to be very hospitable and cooperative, as they are often depicted in feuds with each other. This hostile relationship ultimately causes Kubera to relocate to a residence on Mount Kailasa, which is also home to other deities, such as Siva (Britannica).

Kubera is most notably known as being the lord of riches and wealth, which includes the resources and elements that are contained within the earth (Williams 190-191). As the ruling god of wealth and riches, Kubera is responsible for possessing and distributing the wealth, as well as guarding the earth’s treasures (Kinsley 226). He is granted the power to move the earth’s riches from one place to another, and he often brought gems and precious metals near the surface during the rule of righteous kings and hid them during times of wickedness (Williams 190-191).  Kubera exercises this power over the elements when he sides with Rama in the war between Rama and Ravana, Kubera’s half-brother. Kubera decides to align himself with Rama, rather than be loyal to his brother, because Ravana dethrones and exiles Kubera from his palace in Sri Lanka (McLeish). Ravana does this in order to try and win himself a queen and kidnaps Rama’s wife, Sita, causing there to be a war between the two men (McLeish). Rama wages war on Ravana for the actions taken against Sita, and by the end of the feud, Rama is victorious (McLeish). Kubera, who remained loyal to Rama throughout the feud, is granted the responsibility of being the shepherd of all the precious stones in the world, as a reward for his assistance in the war against Ravana (McLeish). Kubera was, therefore, allowed to dictate over these stones and control their movements (McLeish), which meant he could determine who had access to them.

Among other roles and responsibilities that Kubera was attributed to was being the leader of the yaksas, creatures who dwell in the woods and forests and promote the growth of plants (Kinsley 226). It is understandable that Kubera would be well acquainted with the yaksas as they both have roles associated with prosperity, with the yaksas encouraging the growth of plans and Kubera being a symbol of richness. The yaksas are depicted as being sharp and cunning, with a benevolent earthly temperament, which Kubera is depicted as embodying (Sutherland 64). Kubera exudes this temperament most notably through his physical appearance, which includes a potbelly, a common Asian motif for good luck and more importantly, abundance (Sutherland 64). However, the yaksas also articulate a notion of ethical ambivalence, suggesting that they also possess a more corrupt, evil side (Sutherland 63). This can be associated with Kubera’s more unethical approaches that cause him to not only be classified as a god, but as a demon as well.

Within Hindu mythology, Kubera is depicted as being a rather unforgiving god. In one particular myth in the Padma Purana, Kubera is portrayed as being a devotionalist, who had an abundantly beautiful garden that contained flowers that are utilized in daily temple worship (Williams 153). Kubera had a hired gardener named Hemamali, who tended to the flowers everyday. One day, Hemamali took a trip to Manasasaras, the lake of the gods, and forgot that it was his duty to get the flowers to Kubera for worship. Kubera waited all day at the temple for Hemamali, but he did not show up, which caused Kubera to become very angry. Hemamali was summoned to Kubera’s palace, where he was punished for his absence by being cursed as a leper. To make things even worse, Hemamali was expelled from Kubera’s heaven, Alakapuri (Williams 153). This story illustrates some of Kubera’s less desirable personality traits, as he can be viewed as being an unforgiving and strict ruler. This can further demonstrate how he was often categorized as being a demon throughout different stories in Hindu mythology, as he could be a menacing and merciless god. However, Kubera has a benevolent and softer side to him as well that is revealed through his more noble actions. Through his protective guardianship and distribution of the earth’s secret resources, he is seen as a paternal, manipulatable figure (Sutherland 65). He is also regarded with holding the title of lokapalas, meaning he is a world guardian, as well as being a dikpalas, a guardian of the directions (Sutherland 65).

It is quite apparent that the Hindu god of wealth possesses many different traits and abilities. Kubera can be described as being a noble god, who possesses and distributes wealth and riches, protecting it from the less desirable, corrupt peoples of the world. However, he is regarded as having a more temperamental side showcasing a strict and menacing personality, which sometimes causes him to be depicted as a demon. Because of these dichotomies, it is difficult to fully comprehend what Kubera looked like physically, as he is depicted in many different forms. It is also unclear as to what his familial lineage looks like completely. Despite these discrepancies, it is clear that Kubera was an important god in Hindu mythology.



Buswell, Robert E. Jr., and Donald S. Jr. Lopez (eds.) (2013) “Kubera”. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Coulter, Charles Russell, and Patricia Turner (2000) Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers.

Kinsley, David (1998) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) “Kubera”. In Myth: Myths and Legends of the World Explored. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.

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

Wilkins, W.J. (2009) Hindu Mythology. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Williams, George M. (2008) Handbook of Hindu Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press.

____(2016) “Kubera”. Encyclopaedia Britannica: Britannica Academic. Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc.

Werner, Karel (2005) Popular Dictionary of Hinduism. Taylor and Francis E-Library.


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Padma Purana

Mount Kailasa

Satapatha Brahmana






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Article written by: Kara Johnston (March 2016) 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.

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.

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Rg Veda,





Vedic rituals


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


Varuna is one of the oldest gods in Hindu history and is noted as a “universal monarch” (Choudhuri 33). In the past, Varuna was said to be king of the gods holding utmost power in Vedic India. Scholars say that Varuna is a “majestic Jehovah, preserver of eternal order and redresser of wrongs” (Hakin 105). Varuna himself is related to the skies and water controlling the cosmic order. However, though there are only roughly twelve hymns dedicated to him in the Rg Veda, Varuna is still in charge of many things, and has many obligations as a Vedic god. Varuna’s main obligations involve both creating and preserving the heaven and earth, and protecting the waters, including all oceans and rivers, celestial and terrestrial. He is to stay strong to the rta (keeping cosmic order); his duties include commanding the darkness of the night, and keeping a separation between night and day. The sky blankets Varuna. “He knows not sleep, and nothing escapes his vigilance, for the stars, his eyes, are without number” (Hakin 105). He created the rivers, and maintains the volume of water so they do not overflow, continuing to watch over the water’s entirety. The duties of this majestic deity make the stars come out at night and magically Varuna’s powers cause the stars to disappear during the day (Choudhuri 56). Along with these duties, he holds the task of keeping earth in its full form, and being an omniscient Vedic god, Varuna “knows the path of the birds flying through the air. He, abiding into the ocean, knows also the course of the ships” (Choudhuri 34).

Though Varuna is rarely depicted, if one is to look hard enough, images are profuse. Varuna is depicted as a fierce white god, with perfect posture, riding upon a marine monster known as a Makara. The Makara is still not fully understood. Some believe it to have originally been a dolphin-like creature, depicted as an aquatic being, seeming to be half-crocodile. Others believe it to have the legs of an antelope and the tail of a fish. According to the Vedas, Varuna is said to have four faces, one closely resembling the features of Agni, the god of Fire. He has many arms of grace, and a noose. Varuna’s noose is made from a snake, and is grasped in his right hand, accompanied by a shining gold foot. He wears a short, floating, sleeveless cloak of gold coloring, and complete golden armour. Varuna lives in a house of one thousand doors, thus being constantly attainable to man and humankind (Wilkins 38). Choudhuri also believes that Varuna’s palace is one of a thousand gates; inside resides Varuna upon his golden throne (34). Varuna’s palace has multiple doors to symbolize and represent his “uninterrupted movement and knowledge” (Choudhuri 34).

Vedic history explores the idea that Varuna is not solely affiliated with just water itself, but “to the water elements of ether and earth” (Nakamura 44). Many profound scholars like Georges Dumezil believe Varuna to be connected to many different ideas and concepts. Dumezil believes there to be a link between Mitra (god of Oath) and Varuna. In his essay of Mirta-Varuna, Dumezil interprets “Mitra as friend” and links Varuna’s name to “the root Var- (to bind)” (67). Wilkins states that Mitra and Varuna come together as one in many hymns and are written about quite often, though Varuna is occasionally solo in other hymns (37). Each time Mitra is mentioned in a Vedic hymns, Varuna is also elevated (Dumezil 66). Both Mitra and Varuna are considered to be great gods, and in control of the seas and rivers, and are associated closely with each other in the Atharvaveda (Choudhuri 154). Thus being said, Varuna is closely associated with Mitra, accompanying Mitra as a divine king. Choudhuri states Varuna to be “the ruler of gods, along with all men” expressing both “physical and moral demands” (38).

Myths support that Varuna became a powerful Vedic god through Indra (god of War and Weather). The myth states that a demon stole the entirety of the universe’s water, creating a large conflict with the heavens and the earth (Wilkins 42), and it was not Varuna alone who fought off the demon, but fought alongside Indra. It was stated that it is “because of this that Indra was able to supplant the lordship of Varuna and become lord of the gods himself” (Nakamura 44) taking the ultimate power from Varuna. Yet Varuna still remains a part of the Hindu culture. Though Varuna still holds power, he is not nearly as an important god that he once was. Even such as it is said, Varuna is not widely worshipped by many but still plays an important role in the lives of some. In particular, Varuna is strongly worshipped by people about to go out on long sea voyages, and fishermen as they set out to sea. He is worshipped by farmers during the long, hot, dry seasons of drought. Varuna is also worshipped by those who fear him, mostly in an attempt to free themselves of their sins and wrong doings (Hackin 105). Varuna liberates us of all sin; “keep far from us the evil (Nirrti) with unfriendly looks, and liberate us from whatever sins we may have committed” (Choudhuri 34).

Said to be the Vedic god of punishment, Varuna holds the order of the skies and waters. Of all Hindu deities, Varuna is the judgemental god, providing justice and punishment to everyone. In the book Indra and Varuna in Indian Mythology, Choudhuri states that “Varuna removes the bad elements of yajna and protects its virtuous elements. Varuna is vigilant over satya (truth) and Anrta (falsehood)” (82-3). Thus being true, he does not allow people to disobey Hindu law, and is extremely vigilant of people’s sins. When a sin is committed Varuna sees all and hears all, and those people are punished rigorously. Many human beings fear Varuna as he is in charge of the moral actions and the thoughts of all people. “Varuna is the sovereign under his attacking aspect, dark, inspired, violent, terrible, warlike” (Dumezil 72). Varuna is a protector of the good, and punishes the evil, as he cannot be fooled by anybody. Varuna is said to be able to extend the lives of the good and shorten the lives of the sinners. Here the use of Varuna’s noose is interpreted, as it is “characterized with the power of seizing and trying foes, the demons, and the sinners” (Choudhuri 159). When Varuna confronts a sinner, bargains are made, contracts are enforced; he lassoes them with his noose, as they plead for forgiveness and mercy. Although Varuna is only a judgemental deity, if he chooses, Varuna is able to share the obligations of Yama (god of Death). Of all Vedic gods, Varuna has the highest of moral character, and is called upon for in the notion of purity (Wilkins 40).

Like many other Vedic gods, Varuna is accompanied by a wife, Varuni. Though little is written by scholars about Varuni, westerners believe her to be the goddess of wine. Varuni co-existing through Varuna, sits among a throne scattered with diamonds, and among them sit other gods and goddesses such as Samudra (the seas), Ganga (the Ganges) along with other gods and goddesses of springs, rivers, and lakes in Varuna’s courts (Wilkins 44). To this day, even though Varuna is not as powerful as he once was, he still plays an important role in Hindu lives. Being an omniscient god, Varuna has unlimited control over the Hindu people, and every action is judged by Varuna himself. Perhaps the most unruly reasoning behind Varuna’s popularity is judgement. Varuna appears to play a powerful role in the lives of sinners, and under strict duties, rids Hindu society of such sins and wrong doings. Though Varuna is not widely worshipped, he nevertheless is a powerful and important deity in Hindu culture and tradition. It is Varuna who expresses his power through his actions and though his obligations as a Vedic deity.


Choudhuri, Usha (1981) Indra and Varuna in Indian Mythology. New Delhi: Nag Publishers

Dumezil, Georges (1988) Mitra-Varuna: An Essay of Two Indo-European Representations of Sovereignty. New York: Zone Books.

Gatwood, Lynn E. (1895) Devi and the Spouse Goddess. New York: The Riverdale Company Inc.

Hackin J. et al. (1834) Asiatic Mythology: A Detailed Description and Explanation of the Mythologies of All the Great Nations of Asia. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company

Kinsley, David (1986) Hindu Goddesses. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Nakamura, Hajime (1992), A Comparative History of Ideas. Delhi: Mortilal Banarsidass.

Wilkins, W.J (1882) Hindu Mythology. New Delhi: Rupa & Co.

Related Topics for Further Investigation










Rg Veda




The Ganges




Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

“Varuna.” Encyclopedia Mythica from Encyclopedia Mythica Online.

Article written by Erica Goy (April 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.