Rig Vedic Religion (Early Vedic Religion)
Worship of the Forces of Nature
The Rig Vedic hymns throw liberal light on the Rig Vedic Religion or Early Vedic Religion. The Rig Vedic Aryans ascribed life to many objects of nature. Worship of different forces of nature formed a part of their religious belief. They believed that some divine power works behind these objects of nauture such as fire, water, wind, etc.
The Rig Vedic Aryans worshiped many Gods. The gods had anger, jealousy and kindness like human beings.
The Gods of Rig Vedic Religion had no ancestry and all Gods received equal adoration from the Early Vedic Aryans.
Gods and Goddesses of Rig Vedic Religion
Most of the Gods of Rig Vedic Religion were males and a few female gods paled into insignificance in the Rig Veda. The Rig Vedic goddesses like Usa, Ratri, Aditi, Saraswati had little importance. The Gods Early Vedic Religion lived in three spheres, the heaven or the sky above; the atmosphere; and the earth.
Dau was the old God of the sky and Prithvi (The Earth) was the mother. But their importance declined in the Rig Vedic Period.
Indra was the most powerful and popular God. He lived in heaven. He was the God of thunder, lightning. Many hymns of the Rig Veda are offered in his name. He is the Purandara, because he has destroyed the Puras of the non-Aryans and ensured security of his devotees—the Aryans. He is the destroyer of Britra, which according to Kosambi meant dams in Vedic Sanskrit. He released the water protected by dams and purified earth. He annihilated the foes of the Aryans by his lightning. Many scholars have tried to interpret the concept of Indra as such: Indra was really no God. He was a powerful tribal chief who led the Aryans from victory to victory. Perhaps he was instrumental in destroying the puras or forts of the Harappans and came to be known as Purandara. He also destroyed the dams that reserved flood water in the Harappan villages and came to be known as Vritragnya. Later on he was deified.
Varuna and Mitra
Varuna was “the deliverer from sin”. Some scholars seek to identify Varuna with Uranus. He lived in heaven and punished the sinners. He is the keeper of the laws of universe, the ‘Rita’. The seasons turned at his command, the day followed the night at his direction. If Varuna compelled the universe and nature to obey the law, he also wanted the man, a part of nature to obey the law—the Rita. Departure and diversions by man were punished by him. Ethics was the law that guided the human relations. Varuna punished negligence to ethics and ethical values. However, he was never a cruel God like Indra. One could get his grace by suitable penance and devotion to him. Mitra is sometimes mentioned with Varuna though he was an independent God. He was the keeper of promises, treaties and the violator was punished by Varuna.
The God of Rig Vedic Religion, Rudra was the God of storm and thunder. But he was relatively unimportant in the Rig Vedic Religion and later on he was merged with the Siva. He was conceived as the God of death. He destroyed men by spreading epidemics, disease, flood, fire and death. Vishnu who became so prominent later on also remained relatively unimportant in the Rig Vedic period.
Agni or Fire was a powerful God and hymns were written in his name. Agni was worshiped in Yajna and in the sacred fire-pit by house-holders. He formed a bridge between the men living in this earth and the Gods living in the sky and heaven. The offerings in Ghrita to Gods during Yajna were thrown in the sacrificial fire or Agni who consumed them and carried them to respective Gods.
Yayu and Marutas
Vayu and Marutas were Gods of atmosphere. Vayu controlled the wind and Marutas, the storm.
Paryganya was the God of rain.
Yama was the God of death and he was not as deadly as he was imagined to be by later day people.
Religious Sacrifices during Early Vedic Period
Sacrifice or Yajna was the central feature of Rig Vedic Religion. Domestic sacrifices were the general rule. Community sacrifices or sacrifice offered by kings were grand festivals. It was believed that Gods were pleased by Yajna or sacrifices. It was believed that the Gods were pleased to respond to the invocation of mantras and offering of Habi and came to the sacrificial pit to receive the offerings. They fulfilled the desires of the persons performing the Yajna. The ritual of sacrifice was followed by gill to Brahamanas. Priests played the most prominent role in the Vedic sacrifices. The Brahmins had a monopoly in the performance of the Yajna. Some priests recited the mantras; some others offered the Habi and Ghee. The Brahmin priest was believed to possess some magical power.
The sacrificial rites which were a monopoly of the priestly class increased the power of the priest of the Rig Vedic Religion. Only wealthy men, who could afford to spend the money as desired by the priests could perform the sacrifice or Yajna. Animals were sacrificed during the Yajna. Horse sacrifice or Ashvamedha Yajna developed in this way. Gradually sacrifices lost their spiritual meaning. The Rig Veda has a hymn of Creation in which it is said that the universe was created by a Yajna. In this way the Brahamanas advocated a theory that the Yajnas could make and unmake everything.
The Early Vedic Aryans had concept to ethics, sin and virtue. Man was bound to die. Sinners went to Hades over which Varuna ruled. Those who were virtuous went to the World of Fathers. In some later Rig Vedic hymns the ideal of transmigration of the soul is faintly referred to. In the Later Vedic period Rudra and Vishnu increased their status in the Vedic pantheon. Rudra was identified with Siva. He was adored as “god of gods, the Great God.” Vishnu replaced Varuna as the Lord of the Universal ‘Laws. He became the deliverer from sin and his popularity immensely increased.