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The Vedic Deities
The gods, to whom the sacrifice was offered, formed a motley group of varied and complex character. It is true that almost everything in nature, which impressed the imagination, or was supposed to be possessed of the power of doing good or evil, received the homage and worship of the old Aryans. But these were of minor importance, compared to the personal divinities to whom the vedic hymns were generally addressed. These phenomena or agencies of nature, and were endowed with human passions and instincts. The true orign of these gods is often betrayed by their names and attributes, such as 'Dyaus'(the heaven), 'Prithvi'(the earth), ' Surya' (the Sun), 'Ushas' (the dawn), ' Agni' (the fire), and 'Soma' (the plant of that name).
Usually, the natural phenomena, out of which these gods arose, pass into the shade amid a variety of attributes superimposed upon them; so much so, that in some cases the origin of these gods is altogether obscured. Thus Agni and Soma, while clearly retaining their physical characters, are credited with mystic powers, by virtue of which they kindle the sun and the stars, render water fertile, and make the plants and all the seeds of the earth spring up and grow. In Indra, on the other hand, the physical characteristics are practically hidden under the superimposed attributes. He is primarily the thunder god, but a host of fanciful myths have gathered round him. On the whole, he appears as the ideal Aryan chief, leading his followers to victory against the unbelievers, i.e., non-Aryans inhabitants of India.
It would be impossible to refer to even the prominent Vedic gods in detail. Various attempts have been made to classify them. The earlies and perhaps the best, classification is that of Yaksha, "founded on the natural bases which they represent." It places the gods mainly in three categories, according as they represent some phenomena in earth, atmosphere, or heaven. We have thus
1- The terrestrial gods , such as Prithvi, Agni, Brihaspati (Prayer), and Soma;
2- The atmospheric gods, such as Indra, Rudra (probably lightning), Maruts, Vayu(wind), and Parjanya; and
3- Celestial gods such as Dyaus, Varuna(vault of Heaven), Ushas(dawn), Asvins(probably the twilight and morning stars), and Surya, Mitra, Savitri and Vishnu, all associated with the most glorious phenomena of nature viz. the Sun.
There was no hierarchy among the hosto fo Vedic gods. It is true that some gods figure more prominently in the Vedic hymns than others. Indra, for example, is invoked in about one fourth of the total hymns of the Rigveda. But still there was no recognized chief among them, like the Greek Zeus, the position of supremacy being ascribed to different gods, at different times; by their worshippers. The true sentiment of the Vedic Aryans in this respect is indicated as follows in one of the hymns:
'Not one of you, ye gods, is small, none of you is a feeble child : All of you, verily, are great.' Reference is however, sometimes made, even in the Vedic hymns, to " the mighty and the lesser, the younger and the elder gods."
Gods, who are sometimes said to rule over others, are elsewhere described to be dependent upon them, and such contradictory statements are by no means infrequent. Sometimes one god was identified with others, and the process went on, till they arrived at the grand monotheistic doctrine, viz., ' That the gods are one and the same, only the sages describe them differently.'
In concluding this short sketch of the Aryans, we cannot but refer to the pious, lofty, and poetic sentiments which are still preserved in their hymns.
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