Category Archives: Vedic Deities

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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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

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Article written by: Kara Johnston (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content


Prthivi, Usas, and Ratri (Vedic Goddesses)

The Vedic Goddesses: Prthivi, Usas, and Ratri

Worship of natural phenomena has dominated Hindu religious practice since its origin. Many natural phenomena are seen to have feminine properties and it is these properties which led to the centralization of goddess worship (Kinsley 10). Some feminine traits abundant in nature include fecundity, fruitfulness, and fertility present in the earth, mothers and cows (Wangu 29). Another feature common in goddess worship is their ability to uphold rta, cosmic order (Wangu 28; Kinsley 10; Chitgopekar 55).  All these common features of nature are prominent in three of the main goddesses in Vedic literature; Prthivi the earth, Usas the dawn, and Ratri the night (Kinsley 14, 178; Kumar 67).

The origin of worship for the earth is based out of the sacrality of the earth for its fecundity and stability, and due to these attributes, the earth has been worshipped as a goddess throughout the Hindu tradition (Kinsley 178). The earth as a goddess has a basis in the underlying perception that the earth and the cosmos is a living being itself. And it is this “cosmic organism” that is worshipped as the earth goddess, Prthivi (Kinsley 178). The earth as a solid mass and an anthropomorphic goddess is the two ways in which Prthivi is identified. And it is the reverence to the stability and fecundity of the earth that provides the basis of the hymns dedicated to Prthivi (Kinsley 178). Within the Samhitas, Prthivi has three aspects of her being. She is seen as the “universal mother of physical creation” as well as the earth as a physical entity that sustains life (Pintchman 30). The third aspect of Prthivi’s nature describes her as manifest matter itself, just like the waters in the creation narrative that is formed from the cosmogonic process (Pintchman 30). In some myths the creation of the world came from the released energy from Prajapati which became the substance that makes up the earth and provides life for everything on its surface (Kinsley 178). In another myth from the Visnu Purana, the earth, Prthivi was born from the foot of Visnu (Wilkins 16). In other myths Prthivi is said to have germinated from Aditi, which in later Hindu tradition is almost completely identified with Prthivi in the Brahmanas (Kinsley 178). In later texts new names were introduced for the earth goddess such as Bhu or Bhudevi (Sullivan 76). A central and dominant quality of Prthivi is her maternal nature (Pitchman 30). She often hailed as mother and is worshipped for her fertility by providing sustenance to all living things that live on her (Kinsley 9). Because of this, she is often likened to a cow, who provides milk for her calf. It is through the worship of Prthivi and other motherly goddesses that the status of the cow is heightened (Wangu 36). Prthivi is often described as a firm, supportive, benign being whose fertility and abundance helps with the growth and well being of all living things that thrive on her surface (Kinsley 8, 126). She is said to be the source of strength, vigour and she quickens life (Kinsley 11).

Hymns in many texts emphasize Prthivi’s nourishing and creative nature in which she provides seemingly inexhaustible sources of plants and herbs, and especially crops. Prthivi is often called the all-producer based on these associations (Kinsley 9, 126; Wangu 35). Another name given to the earth goddess is rtajna, she who knows rta (Chitgopekar 55). She does not distinguish between poor and wealthy, good and wicked beings, or demons and the gods, who call her broad expanse home (Kinsley 9).  In some hymns she is described as the splendid energy of women, the fragrant mother, the light and luck in men and goddess of emotional and material abundance (Wangu 35, 36; Kinsley 9). Prthivi is one of the few goddesses in the Vedic scriptures that can be considered a goddess in her own right (Kinsley 9; Wangu 35). Even with this high status as her own deity, Prthivi is almost always found in hymns linked with Dyaus, the sky god. For some scholars Prthivi is associated with the sky as well as the earth and not just exclusively the earth, though in later texts and in the Atharva Veda she is more commonly portrayed as an individual (Kinsley 8, 9).  This divine couple, sometimes called Dyavaprthivi (sky-earth), are said to be the creators of the world and the universal parents of the gods (Sullivan 76; Kinsley 8; Wangu 35). They are said to be the preservers of all their creations and are described as energetic beings who encourage virtue (Wilkins 13). Together they are said to have created full, fat, nourishing waters and represent a realm of safety and abundance where rta pervades and happiness prevails (Kinsley 8). This multivalent duality is said to have been born through Soma and they sustain life by generating fertility through their reciprocal roles (Chitgopekar 47; Wilkins 13; Kinsley 25).  It is said in myths that Dyaus fertilizes Prthivi with the rain which represents his seed (Kinsley 8). They are often petitioned to bring happiness, to expiate sin and to protect people from danger and Prthivi is said to provide material well-being and good luck to those she blesses (Kinsley 11). In some myths, Prthivi’s worshippers will perform rites in the form of sacrificial rituals, amulets and prayers in order to appease and propitiate the earth (Kinsley 178; Wangu 35). Sacrifices were believed to replenish and rebuild the energy lost by Prajapati when he created the earth. These sacrifices, with the continuous release of power by Prajapati uphold rta and the balanced cycle (Kinsley 178). Like Prthivi, most other Vedic goddesses have a strong connection with rta and natural phenomena (Wangu 28; Kinsley 10; Chitgopekar 55). One such goddess is Usas, the dawn.

The conception of the dawn dates back to the time of the primitive Aryans (Kumar 67). Both the Hellenic and the Hindu Aryans have philologically corresponding names for the dawn as a goddess; Eos in Greek, Aurora in Roman, and Usas in the Hindu pantheon (Kumar 67; Walker 536). Though even before the Aryan dichotomy, the ideal of the goddess of the dawn, or guardian of daybreak was present (Walker 536). The poetic beauty found in the hymns dedicated to Usas is only matched by that of those dedicated to Eos in the time of Homer (Kumar 67). The hymns in the Rg Veda dedicated to Usas are said to be some of the most beautiful use of poetic language and for the Vedic poets, one of the most beloved objects of celebration (Wilkins 48; Sullivan 236). With over 20 hymns dedicated just to Usas she is the most popular goddess in the Rg Veda (Kinsley 17; Wangu 32; Walker 536). In spite of her popularity in earlier times, Usas is rarely mentioned in later texts (Kinsley 18). Usas, the dawn, is associated with light and is often said to be the mother of the gods (Kinsley 7). As an auspicious deity, Usas is seen as luminous, many-tinted, and delicate (Kinsley 7; Walker 536; Kumar and Ram 66; Wangu 32). She is often seen as a young maiden (Kinsley 7), a skilled dancer decorated with gems (Wangu 32; Wilkins 48), a “gaily attired wife appearing before her husband, a beautiful girl coming from her bath” (Wilkins 48) or likened to a cow (Kinsley 7). Worshippers believe that Usas, like a cow presenting her udder to her calf, will present her bosom to the patron as well as for the benefit of humankind as a whole (Wilkins 48; Kinsley 7).

By bringing light forth for humankind to every place of dwelling Usas is a friend to all mankind (Kinsley 7; Walker 536). Her light uncovers all people and things, with no preference to status or wealth from the night’s darkness (Walker 536; Kinsley 7). She is seen as an ever young maiden being born daily with the coming of the light at each new dawn (Kinsley 7; Wilkins 48). At each dawn she is said, in some hymns, to come forth, bringing the light, in a hundred chariots (Kinsley 7). In other hymns she is said to have a single shining chariot drawn by either cows, ruddy horses, or by the Ashvins, her sons (Wilkins 48; Wangu 32). Usas, in one or many chariots, leads the way for and is urged on by Surya, the sun (Kinsley 7; Sullivan 236). She is praised for awakening all life forms but leaves the deceased to their rest (Kinsley 7, 8; Wangu 32). Usas is associated with the life and the breath of all being that she is the one that impels life (Kinsley 7). As the reoccurring dawn, Usas is a reminder to people of their limited time through the disappearance of generations and the wasting away of lives (Sullivan 236; Wilkins 48; Kinsley 7). It is through this immortal rebirth at the dawn twilight that Usas supports rta, the cosmic order (Kinsley 7; Chitgopekar 55).The dawn sets everything into motion, causes birds to leave their nests, and awakens the sleeping to go and perform their varied duties just like a young housewife (Kinsley 7; Wilkins 48). Usas provides a service to other gods by arousing the people off to perform their daily sacrifices and entices the gods to help kindle the fires for sacrifice by getting them to drink Soma (Kinsley 7; Wilkins 48; Wangu 32).

In some hymns Usas is said to be the “eye of the gods”, who sees everything that people do (Kinsley 7). As the dawn, Usas is said to have been fathered by the sky, Dyaus or the sun, Surya (Chitgopekar 56; Wangu 32; Kumar and Ram 159). In another myth Usas is said to have been fathered by Prajapati. It is in this myth that all living things were said to be created by the shape-changing of Usas who was fleeing her incestuous shape-changing father (Walker 536). This myth and others helps to support her motherly nature. Usas is said to give wealth, strength, and fame and is believed to give her petitioners joy, longevity, sons, horses and cattle (Kinsley 7; Wilkins 52). People will often invoke Usas to punish or drive away one’s enemies, though she is rarely called upon to forgive the transgressions of humans (Kinsley 7). Usas is also asked to dispel the darkness and drive the chaotic forces and evil demons far away (Kinsley 7; Wilkins 48). She is praised for disclosing the hidden treasures by driving away the night, her sister, Ratri (Wilkins 48; Walker 536).

Ratri, the night, is mainly found in the Rg Vedas when she is linked to her sister Usas; though like Usas, Ratri is rarely found in later texts (Kinsley 14; Wangu 66). In these hymns Ratri and Usas are said to be powerful mothers who strengthen the vital powers of individuals. At times they are described as twins whose never ending cyclical appearances support rta through the alternating yet predicable flow of light and dark, and vigour and rest (Kinsley 14). Like her sister Usas, Ratri is sometimes identified as a beautiful maiden though descriptions of her physical appearance are mentioned rarely (Kinsley 14). Ratri is affiliated with darkness and is often called gloomy and barren when compared to Usas (Wangu 33; Kinsley 14).  In some hymns of the Rg Vedas, she is referred to as hostile despite her usual depiction as a benign being (Kinsley 14). Unlike Usas, whose abode is not known, Ratri is said to live in the abode of Yama the god of death in the south (Wangu 33; Kumar and Ram 66). Ratri is admired for the stars she bares as light in the darkness, letting all creatures rest and for giving dew. Though she is seen as the guardian of the night but she is also seen as the very things, both hostile and benign, that thrive in the night (Kinsley 14). People will petition Ratri for protection against the evils of the night such as thieves, wolves and any other creatures that could do them harm. In the Rg Vedas, there are hymns in which Ratri, the night and darkness, is chased away by the god of fire, Agni and Usas (Kinsley 14). Unlike Usas and Prthivi, Ratri is not as well studied.

Bibliography and Related Readings

Bunce, Fredrick (2000) An Encyclopaedia of Hindu Deities, Demigods, Godlings, Demons and Heros with Special Focus on Iconographic Attributes, Vol 1. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Chitgopekar, Nilima (2002) Invoking Goddesses: Gender Politics in Indian Religion. New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications Pvt. Ltd.

Cush, Denise, Robinson, Cathrine, York, Michael (2008) Encyclopaedia of Hinduism. New York: Routledge.

Friedrichs, Kurt (1989) The Encyclopaedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion. Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc.

Kapoor, Subodh (2000) The Hindus Encyclopaedia of Hinduism: Vol 5 Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Hinduism. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Kapoor, Subodh (2002) Encyclopaedia of Vedic Philosophy: The Age, Religion, Literature, Pantheon, Philosphy, Traditions, and Teachers of the Vedas, Vol 4. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Kinsley, David (1986) Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Kumar, R., Ram, S (2008) Hinduism: Religion and Philosophy. New Delhi: Crescent Publishing Corporation.

Pintchman, Tracy (1994) The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Stutley, Margaret, Stutley, James (2003) A Dictionary of Hinduism: Its Mythology, Folklore, and Development 1500 BC – AD 1500. London: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Sullivan, Bruce M (1987) Historical Dictionary of Hinduism. London: The Scarecrow Press Inc.

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

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

Wilkins, W. J (1975) Hindu Mythology. New Delhi: Rekha Printers Ltd.


Related Research Topics



Bhu / Bhudevi








Related Websites (Usas) (Prthivi) (Ratri)

Article written by: Nicole Stevenson (March 2012) 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.

Related topics for further investigation















Noteworthy Websites

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.

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


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

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