Agni_god_of_fire

Agni

 

 

“Vedic Mythology” was written by A.A. Macdonell and first published in German, in Strassburg in 1897. In 2000,  it was republished by Low Price Books in Delhi.

 

 

It is an in-depth study of the Rig Veda, the oldest book in the world, and of many other ancient Sanskrit works – a compilation of all that is recorded in early vedic descriptions of all the major gods; celestial gods, terrestrial gods, atmospheric gods, even abstract gods.

 

 

All is carefully catalogued, with footnotes giving all the sources, and exact accounts of how many times each deity is referred to with which attributes. It is a remarkable book.

 

 

Since the Rig Veda is amazingly poetic, the section of Vedic Mythology, for example, that describes Dawn, whose name is Ushas,  describes her as “the most graceful creation of vedic poetry.”  Ushas is young, though ancient, since she is born anew every day; clothed in light, she shines now and will always shine; she is immortal. Awakening the four-legged animals and causing the birds to fly up into the sky, she removes “the black robe of night” and sends away the darkness. As a resplendent being, her beams of light are like herds of cattle, and she comes to be known as the “mother of cattle.”

 

 

Many of the other gods are also living elements, like Agni, the God of fire. He faces in all directions and is said to have a burning head. Possessed of wings, he flies, and is portrayed as a bull, a horse, a divine bird, or the swan Hamsa, and once, as a raging serpent.  Shining like the sun, he destroys darkness and can see through the gloom of the night.  Driving away darkness, he is called the “goblin-slayer.”  There is much, much more about Agni, who is worshipped as one of the most sacred beings and who is invoked in at least 200 hymns of the Rig Veda.

459px-Suryatanjore

Surya

 

Surya is the sun, represented sometimes as a great eagle or a brilliant horse. He is the eye of the sky and is said to be the Lord of Eyes, the one eye that can see beyond the sky, the waters, and the earth. As an all-seeing being, he casts away illnesses and evil dreams.

 

 

Hundreds or Gods are portrayed in the Rig Veda, in some of the world’s most beautiful and inspirational poetry.

 

 

The world of the Rig Veda is a living world — the Gods, the elements, the forces of nature are alive, awakened, conscious beings who interact with each other.  It is a cosmos filled with beauty.

 

 

One might contrast this with the universe as we are given to see it today, with our modern, “scientific” worldview — where there is a presumption, unfortunately, that nothing that is not organic is alive.  All the stars, the galaxies, the supernovae, the quasars, comets, Oort clouds, dark matter — all that we see out there with our giant telescopes is somehow missing something.  It is gigantic, immeasurable, vast beyond any imagining, and yet there is something not quite all there. We are told that none of these great beings are conscious — nothing is really alive in quite the same way we humans are. Some will concede that animals may have some sort of “lower” consciousness, but the prevailing view is that really it’s pretty much us as humans, who seem to be at the pinnacle of creation, as far as consciousness goes.

Map_of_Vedic_India

Map of Vedic India

 

There seems to be something radically amiss though with this view of the universe.  It could almost remind one of the pre-Copernican days when Europeans believed that earth was the center of the universe, with the sun and all the other heavenly bodies revolving around it.  Well, here we are again, with humans placed at the center of the universe — not this time at the physical center, but, at a central place in terms of consciousness.  Only we it seems, can look out, over the millions of galaxies and consciously contemplate the universe.  No one else, we are led to believe, can be as aware as we are.

 

 

This, however, is a remarkably unsatisfying view of the universe. Except for sizzling hot suns and unexpected super explosions that come about now and then, the universe as we currently view it, is cold, dark, immense and unfathomable — in short, not very friendly.  This seems to bother even scientists, and one wonders if a certain cosmic sense of loneliness is not at the root of the perpetual search for life on Mars — the billions of dollars spent and the amazing engineering feats of sending all the rovers to look for life or water or something that could be evidence of life.  Then there is the search for habitable planets among nearby stars.  Around 600 planets have so far been found, that could, it seems, harbor life, and the majority of scientists now believe that there is little doubt that there is life on other worlds — whether these are ‘higher” life forms is not so certain.

 

 

Simply put, we as humans do not wish to be alone.  An unfathomably vast “dead” universe strikes us as somehow not quite right.

 

 

In his introduction to “Vedic Mythology,”  A.A. Macdonell writes, “The basis of these myths is the primitive attitude of mind which regards all nature as an aggregate of animated entities.”  A.A. Macdonell, who was born in India of European parents, was an extraordinary scholar who wrote a brilliant and amazing book about the Vedas. Nonetheless, if we step back a moment, we can see the picture of a European gentleman who, while studying a civilization that has existed for at least 5,000 years, and possibly for many, many thousands of years before that, made the observation that the current age (including 1897 as part of “current” time) in which we live is “superior,” while the brilliant, poetic, and immensely wise civilization on the ancient Indian subcontinent was somehow “lower” or “primitive.”

 

 

How exactly it was “lower” is quite hard to see.

535px-Indra_deva

Indra

 

Perhaps there is something to be said for the concept that the universe is truly an alive, dynamic, amazing place, filled with Gods and great beings, that the stars are divine, that the forces of nature have their own form of consciousness, not in any way “lower” than ours.  Perhaps we have all this while been mistaken about the nature of what we call “progress.”  Perhaps we are not the pinnacle of creation after all.  Perhaps the cyclic view of the ages, believed by virtually every culture other than our own — that first there is a golden age, and that each succeeding age represents a step down on the scale, until we came to the final age, which comes to a close, and then we return to an age of brilliance, kindness, compassion, greatness, and heroism – perhaps this cyclic view is the true view — the Gods are real, the forces of nature are alive and aware, the animals are innocent, magical beings, and the universe is far more wondrous than we have been led to believe. Perhaps that is the real reality.

 

 

Top photo:  Wikimedia Commons / Source: http://www.atributetohinduism.com/Hindu_Scriptures.htm / This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less. / Agni, god of fire, shown riding a goat, in a miniature painting from an 18th century watercolor

 

 

Second photo: {{PD-US}} / Source:http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00routesdata/bce_500back/vedas/surya/surya.html / “This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.” / Wikimedia Commons / Surya receives worship from the multitudes; Tanjore School miniature painting, 1800’s “A Painting of Surya. India, Tanjore School, 19th Century. The nimbated Sun God depicted upon his chariot surrounded by attendants with smaller figures at left in obeisance.”

 

 

Third photo: Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.           

Attribution: Dbachmann / Map of northern India in the late Vedic period.

 

 

Fourth photo: Source: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_object_details.aspx?objectid=3080760&partid=1&searchText=indra&fromADBC=ad&toADBC=ad&numpages=10&images=on&orig=%2fresearch%2fsearch_the_collection_database.aspx&currentPage=1 / {{PD-Art}}  {{PD-US}} / circa 1820 / Wikimedia Commons / “Painting of Indra on his elephant mount, Airavata. Painted in South India (probably Thanjavur or perhaps Tiruchchirapalli)…”