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