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  • Ramesh Gupta

God and Devata in the Vedas

According to the Vedas, God is all-pervading, omnipresent, unequalled by anyone, superior to all, creator, operator and energizer of the entire universe, ruler and controller of all, judge, and so on. Maharṣi Dayānanda Sarasvatī has stated the attributes and functions of God in the second principle of Ārya Samāja following the Vedas, as – “God is Existent, Consciousness, Blissful, Formless, Almighty, Judge, Kind, Unborn, Endless, Without any deformity, Beginning-less, Unequal, Support for all, Ruler of all, All-pervading, Omnipresent, Ageless, Immortal, Fearless, Eternal, Holy and Creator. Worship is due to Him alone.”

Maharṣi Dayānanda describes God in his treatise ‘Ārya-uddeśya-Ratnamālā’ as – “God’s attributes, nature and temperament are true and He is pure consciousness. He is one and only one, unequalled by anybody, almighty, formless, all-pervading, beginning-less, causeless, and infinite and it is His true nature that He is indestructible, all-knowing, blissful, pure, judge, kind and born-less and His functions are to create the universe, operate the same and then dissolve the same to the primary form of matter, and to reward the individual souls in accordance with their karma, both sinful and righteous.”

Maharṣi Yañavalkya explains the nature of God to Gārgī in Bṛhadāraṇyaka- Upaniṣad (3.8.8) as – “Hey Gārgī! Those who have known Him call Him Akṣara, i.e. un-decaying. He is neither subtle and nor gross, He is neither short and nor long; He is neither red and nor white; He is neither shadow and nor darkness; He is neither air and nor space; He has no companion; he bears no taste and nor any odor; He possesses neither eyes, nor ears, nor speech and nor mind. He is void of aura, void of vital life forces, without a mouth and without any measure. There is nothing within this indestructible entity and nor there is anything outside of it. He eats none and none eats Him. He controls the sun, the moon and the entire universe. One who leaves the body at the end of the life after knowing this entity is known as a Brāhmaṇa and is Brahma (God) knowing.”

“Hey Gārgī! This entity is invisible and yet is all-seer. He is inaudible and yet He hears all. He is incomprehensible but comprehends all. He cannot be fully known but He knows it all.”

Similar description appears in Śvetāśvatara-Upanișad (3.19) – “God has no hands but obtains all. He has no feet but He is faster than anything. He has no eyes but He sees all. He has no mental faculty but He knows all. There is nobody who knows Him fully. Only He is referred to as eternal, most superior, and complete in a total sense. He functions with His own powers though without senses and mind.” The above quotations are ritten by Mahākavi Tulasīdāsa in Rāmacarita Mānasa(रामचरित मानस) in this words like this.

Kaṭhopaniṣad (2.20) describes God as smaller than an atom, and as larger than the largest. He exists within the innermost core of the individual souls, too. Being subtler than the souls, He exists within the souls. The pure souls engaged in self-less karma can realize God within them. Those engaged in worldly karma cannot realize Him. Even those engaged in selfless karma realize Him depending on His grace.

He is bodiless and yet exists within those who acquire a body. He is indestructible and yet exists within the destructible material things. Knowing Him, the matured people do not grief over mundane affairs.

Iśopaniṣad (8) describes God as omnipresent. He is pure to the ultimate extent. He has no body so there can be no wounds. He is not inflicted with sins. He creates the sounds including the Vedic hymns. Even the entire creation is His poetry. He knows everything as it is. He exists of His own and is not created by anybody else. The cycle of creation and dissolution is endless and He is controlling all the events therein.

Kaṭhopaniṣad (5.15) describes God as enlightener of everything as the sun enlightens us with things in the material world. The moon and stars, electricity and fire cannot show God to us though they themselves are visible to us because of Him. The reason is that the sun and all other heavenly bodies are created by Him. Their shape and form and other characteristics are due to God. Therefore, God is the light of all the sources of light.

God in the Philosophy of Yoga

Yoga Sūtra (1.24) describes God as one who is void of impurities such as ignorance. He doesn’t perform karma as we do that are in the wide range of being virtuous and vicious, righteous and sinful, and so on. He doesn’t obtain rewards for His karma and nor does He carry the impressions of His karma.

Furthermore (1.25), He is omniscient. Also (1.26), He is the original teacher for all of us and His knowledge doesn’t vary with time.

Many Names for God

Vedas describe God with many names though He is one and only one. Indra, Yama, Varuṇa, Shiva, Vishṇu, etc. are different names reflecting His different attributes. Ṛgveda (1.164.46) states that God is one but the learned people describe Him in different manner. He is verily one known as Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa, Agni, Divya, Suparṇa, Garutmān, Yama, Mātarishvā, etc.

Yajurveda (32.1) similarly states that He is the only one worthy of our benediction and is known as Agni, Āditya, Vāyu, Chandramā, Shukra, Brahmā, Āpa and Prajāpati. Atharvaveda (13.4.4-5) lists Aryamā, Varuṇa, Rudra, Mahādeva, Agni, Sūrya, Mahāyama as His names. Thus, it is evident that Agni, Indra, etc. are His different names based on His different attributes. It is unfounded to imagine different Devatās bearing these names as if they are different from God. Also, Agni, Sūrya, Chandramā do not carry only the meanings of the material objects of fire, sun, moon, respectively in the Vedic context. Depending on the context, they may carry the meanings of the material objects or may refer to God.

Besides above instances, there are several occasions when Vedas clearly state that there is one and only one God. Rig-Veda (6.22.1) says that there is only one who is worthy of human worship and that Indra should be glorified by our speech. Rigveda (8.1.27) – That God is one who is infinitely great and munificent. There is only one ruler of the entire universe – Rig-Veda (3.46.2). He is verily one – Rig-Veda (4.17.5). One who bears the names of Divya, Gandharva, and is worthy of respect and worship is the only God – Atharva-Veda (2.2.1). He is only one who allots names to all things in the universe – Rig-Veda (10.82.3), Yajur-Veda (17.27), Atharva-Veda (2.1.3), Taittirīya saṁhitā (, Taittirīya Āraṇyaka (10.1.14). He is only one who supports and nurtures all living beings – Rig-Veda (8.13.9). Atharva-Veda (13.5.16-18) says that only those know the truth who know that God is only one and there is no second, nor third, nor fourth, nor fifth, nor sixth, nor seventh, nor eighth, nor ninth and nor tenth one.

One Hundred Names of God in Satyārtha-Prakāśa (Light of Truth)

We have referred to some names of God. Various attributes and characteristics of God result in a large number of names referring to Him in the Vedas. Maharṣi Dayānanda has listed one hundred names in the first chapter of his Magnum Opus Satyārtha-Prakāśa (Light of Truth).

  1. 1. Aum – This syllable represents God’s own name. It includes three alphabets a, u and m. This name includes a number of other names of God. Included within ‘a’ are: Virāṭ, Agni, Viśva, etc.; Hiraṇyagarbha, Vāyu, Taijas are included in ‘u’ and so are Īśvara, Āditya and Prājña in ‘m’. Vedic literature says that these names refer to God in their respective contexts. Kaṭhopaniṣad (2.15) states that Aum is the primary name of God. In this regard, Yama tells to Naciketā, “Hey Naciketa! All Vedas describe the highest position time and again. All penance are directed towards that entity, i.e. to obtain that entity all penance are offered. To attain whom all devotees go through celibacy. I tell you briefly that that syllable is Aum.” Taittiriya Upanishad states that Aum is the primary name of God and has supported this assertion by a number of worldly examples.

His other names follow. Being subtler than everything, He is known as Kham (2). He is greater than anything and hence is called Brahma (3). He is self-illuminating and hence is Agni (4). He is Manu (5), being all-knowing; Prajāpati (6) because He rears all; Indra (7) because He owns all the wealth; Prāṇa (8) because He mobilizes all the vital life forces within all including the breath; Brahmā (9) because He creates everything; Viṣṇu (10) because he is all-pervading; Rudra (11) because He punishes the devils; Shiva (12) because He is benevolent and is most interested in everyone’s welfare.

  1. Akṣara – One who is omnipresent and indestructible.

  2. Svarāṭ – Self-illuminating.

  3. Kālāgni – He is the timekeeper even when time is not there and indeed creates the parameter called time.

  4. Divya – He is within all the divine substances.

  5. Suparṇa – He performs the highest order and perfect karma to nurture other whose spirit is great, i.e. who is intrinsically great.

  6. Mātariśvā – who gives rise to the great force of wind.

Also, He is known by the names of Bhū (20), Bhūmi (21), Aditi (22), Viśvadhāyā (23), Virāṭ (24), Viśva (25), Hiraṇya-Garbha (26), Vāyu (27), Taijas (28), Iśvara (29), Āditya (30), Prājña (31), Mitra (32), Varuṇa (33), Aryamā (34), Brihaspati (35), Urukrama (36), Sūrya (37), Paramātmā (38), Parameśvara (39) Savitā (40) Deva (41), Kubera (42), Prithivi (43), Jala (44), Ākāśa (45), Anna (46), Ānnāda (47), Vasu (48), Nārāyaṇa (49), Candra (50), Maṅgala (51), Budha (52), Śukra (53), Śanaiśchara (54), Rāhu (55), Ketu (56), Yajña (57), Hotā (58), Bandhu (59), Pitā (60), Mātā (61), Ācārya (62), Guru (63), Aja (64), Satya (65), Jñāna (66), Ananta (67), Anādi (68), Ānanda (69) Nitya (70)are His names, too.

God is known as Nirākāra (71) because He never puts on a body and has no shape or form. Furthermore, he is referred to by Niraṁjana (72), Gaṇeśa (73), Gaṇapati (74), Viśveśvara (75), Kūṭastha (76), Śakti (77), Śrī (78), Lakṣmī (79), Sarasvatī (80), Sarvaśaktimān (81), Nyāyakārī (82), Dayālu (83), Advaita (84), Nirguṇa (85), Saguṇa (86), Antaryāmī (87), Dharmrāja (88), Yama (89) and Bhagavān (90).

On who gives rise to completion in the universe, is therefore Puruṣa (91). Viśvambhara (92), Kāla (93), Śeṣa (94), Āpta (95),Śaṅkara (96), Mahādeva (97), Priya (98), Svaymbhū (99) and Kavi (100) are His names, too.

The above totals 100 names of God. Their detailed meanings can be seen in the first chapter of Satyārtha-Prakāśa (Light of Truth). Other than these, there are innumerable more names reflecting His countless attributes, functions and temperaments. All His characteristics, functions and nature give rise to a name each. Maharṣi Dayānanda says that the 100 names that he has listed are to be treated as ‘a drop in an ocean’ because the Vedas and other scriptures describe innumerable attributes, functions and nature of God. Those who study and teach this body of literature can comprehend them, besides many other concepts. Therefore, it is quite easy to know what name of God refers to what characteristic of God.

Nature of Devatās

Many people think that the Vedas encourage us to worship the material objects such as fire, sun, moon, air, etc. because their names in Saṁskrita (Agni, Sūrya, Candra, Vāyu, respectively) refer to both God and the said material objects. This misunderstanding arose because the word ‘Deva’ wasn’t understood properly. Vedic literature includes many meanings for the word ‘Deva’. For this reason, the words Agni, Sūrya, Soma, etc. carry different meanings in the Vedas. In the context when these words refer to a material object then they do not deserve our worship. However, when they refer to the characteristics of God who is one and only one, then our worship is due to God. Let us try to understand the term ‘Deva’.

Acārya Yāska writes in his treatise on etymology, called Nirukta (7.15) that the word ‘Deva’ may be derived from the roots dā, dīp, dyut, and div, meaning one who is donor or self-illuminating and illuminates others, or heavenly bodies in space. Thus, there can be sentient or conscious(चेतन) and insentient(जड़) objects fulfilling the criteria of being ‘Deva’. Indeed, the subject that a Vedic hymn describes is called its ‘Devatā’, too. Therefore, the word “Deva’ may carry the following four meanings:

  1. God

  2. Conscious beings that bring goodness to us

  3. Self-illuminating objects such as fire, sun, moon, and other material things with divine properties, such as air, water, food grain, earth, etc.

  4. The subject matter of a Vedic hymn/verse.

Among them, only God deserves worship. Vedas describe Devās/Devatās in a symbolic manner to explain the true nature and characteristics of God. Without adequate proficiency in the etymology of the Vedic words, many western scholars failed to distinguish where the reference is made to God and where to a material object well known by that particular word. This gave rise to the misunderstanding as if the Vedas teach us worship of material objects.

य एतद् अक्षरं गार्गि विदित्वा अस्मात् लोकात् प्रैति स ब्राह्मणः। (बृहदारण्यकोपनिषद् 3.8.10)

Ya etad akṣaraṁ gārgi viditvā asmāt lokāt praiti sa brāhmaṇaḥ. (Bṛhad-āraṇyakopaniṣad 3.8.10)

अपाणिपादो जवनो ग्रहीता पश्यत्यचक्षुः स शृणोत्यकर्णः।

स वेत्ति विश्वं न च तस्यास्ति-वेत्ता तमाहुरग्रयं पुरुषं पुराणम्।। श्वेताश्वरतर-उपनिषद् 3.19)

Apāṇi-pādo javano grahīta paśyatyacakṣuḥ sa śṛṇotyakarṇaḥ.

Sa vetti viśvaṁ na ca tasyāsti-vettā tamāhur agrayaṁ puruṣaṁ purāṇam. (Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad)

बिनु पद चलइ सुनइ बिनु काना। कर बिनु करम करइ बिधि नाना।।

आनन रहित सकल रस भोगी। बिनु बानी बकता बड़ जोगी।।

तन बिनु परस नयन बिनु देखा। ग्रहइ घ्रान बिनु बास असेषा।

असि सब भाँति अलौकिक करनी। महिमा जासु जाइ नहिं बरनी। (रामचरित मानस,बालकाण्ड 117.3-4)

Binu pada calai sunai binu kānā. Kara binu karama karai bidhi nānā.

Ānana rahita sakala rasa bhogī. Binu bānī bakatā baḍa jogī.

Tana binu parasa nayana binu dekhā. Grahai ghrāna binu bāsa aseṣā.

Asi saba bhṁāti alaukika karanī. Mahimā jāsu jāi nahiṁ baranī.

(Rāmacarita mānasa, Bālakāṇḍa 117.3-4)

अणोरणीयान् महतो महीयान् आत्मास्य जन्तोर्निहितो गुहायाम्।

तमक्रतुः पश्यति वीत-शोको धातुः प्रसादान् महिमानमात्मनः।। (कठोपनिषद् 2.20)

Aṇor-aṇīyān mahato mahiyān ātmāsya jantor-nihito guhāyām.

Tamakratuḥ paśyati vīta śoko dhātuḥ prasādān mahimānam ātmanaḥ. (Kaṭhopaniṣad 2.20)

अशरीरं शरीरेषु-अनवस्थेषु-अवस्थितम्। महान्तं विभुमात्मानं मत्वा धीरो न शोचति।। (कठोपनिषद् 2.22)

Aśarīraṁ śarīreṣu-anavastheṣu-avasthitam.

Mahāntaṁ vibhum-ātmānaṁ matvā dhīro na śocati. (Kaṭhopaniṣad 2.22)

स पर्यगाच्छुक्रम्-अकायम्-अव्रणम्-अस्नाविरं, शुद्धम्-अपापविद्धम्।

कविर्-मनीषी परिभूः स्वयंभूर्-याथातथ्यतोर्-अर्थान्-व्यदधाच्-छाश्वतीभ्यः समाभ्यः।। (ईशोपनिषद् -8)

Sa paryagācchukram-akāyam-avraṇam-asnāviraṁ, śuddham-apāpa-viddham; Kavir-manīṣī paribhūḥ svayambhūr-yāthā-tathyato’rthān vyada-dhācchāśvītībhyaḥ samābhyaḥ. (Īśopaniṣad-8)

न तत्र सूर्यो भाति न चन्द्र-तारकं नेमा-विद्युतो भान्ति कुतोऽयमग्निः।

तमेव भान्तमनुभाति सर्वं तस्या भासा सर्वमिदं विभाति।। (कठोपनिषद् 5.15)

Na Tatra sūryo’bhāti na candra-tārakaṁ Nemā-vidyuto bhānti kuto’yam-agniḥ.

Tameva bhāntam-anubhāti sarvaṁ tasyā bhāsā sarvam-idaṁ vibhāti. (Kaṭhopaniṣad 5.15)

क्लेश-कर्म-विपाकाशयैरपरामृष्टः पुरुष-विशेष ईश्वरः। (योगदर्शन, 1.24)

Kleśa-Karma-vipākāśayair-aparāmṛṣṭaḥ puruṣa-viśeṣa īśvaraḥ. (Yoga darśana, 1.24)

तत्र निरतिशयं सर्वज्ञ-बीजम्। (योगदर्शन, 1.25)

Tatra niratiśayaṁ sarvajña-bījam. (Yoga darśana, 1.25)

स पूर्वेषामपि गुरुः कालेनानवच्छेदात्। (योगदर्शन, 1.26)

Sa pūrveṣām-api guruḥ kālenānavacchedāt. (Yogadarśana, 1.26

इन्द्रं मित्रं वरुणमग्निमाहुरथो दिव्यः सः सुपर्णो गरुत्मान्।

एकं सद्विप्रा बहुधा वदन्त्यग्निं यमं मातरिश्वानमाहुः।। (ऋग्वेद, 1.164.46)

Indraṁ mitraṁ varuṇam agnim āhur-atho divyaḥ saḥ suparṇo garutmān.

Ekaṁ sad-viprā bahudhā vadantyagniṁ yamaṁ mātariśvānam-āhuḥ. (Ṛgveda 1.164.46)

तदेवाग्निस्तदादित्यस्तद्वायुस्तदु चन्द्रमाः।

तदेव शुक्रं तद्ब्रह्म ता आपः स प्रजापतिः।। (माध्यन्दिन शुक्ल यजुर्वेद संहिता 32.1)

Tadevāgnis tad-ādityas tadvāyus tadu candramāḥ.

Tadeva śukraṁ tad brahma tā āpaḥ sa prajāpatiḥ. (Mādhyandina śukla yajurveda saṁhitā 32.1)

सोऽर्यमा स वरुणः स रुद्रः स महादेवः। (अथर्ववेद 13.4.4)

So’ryamā sa varuṇaḥ sa rudraḥ sa mahādevaḥ. (Atharva veda 13.4.4)

सोऽग्निः स उ सूर्यः स उ महायमः। (अथर्ववेद 13.4.5)

So’gniḥ sa u sūryaḥ sa u mahā yamaḥ. (Atharva veda 13.4.5)

य एक इद् हव्यश्चर्षणीनामिन्द्रं तं गीर्भिरभ्यर्च आभिः। (ऋग्वेद 6.22.1)

Ya eka id havyaś carṣaṇīnām indraṁ taṁ gīrbhir abhyarca ābhiḥ. (Ṛgveda 6.22.1)

य एको अस्ति दंसना महां उग्रो अभिव्रतैः। (ऋग्वेद 8.1.27)

Ya eko asti daṁsanā mahāṁ ugro abhivrataiḥ. (Ṛgveda 8.1.27)

एको विश्वस्य भुवनस्य राजा। (ऋग्वेद 3.46.2) Eko viśvasya bhuvanasya rājā. (Ṛgveda 3.46.2)

य एक इत्। (ऋग्वेद 4.17.5) Ya eka it. (Ṛgveda 4.17.5)

दिव्यो गन्धर्वो भुवनस्य यस्पतिरेक नमस्यो विक्ष्वीड्यः। (अथर्ववेद 2.2.1)

Divyo gandharvo bhuvanasya yaspatir-eka namasyo vikṣvīḍyaḥ. (Atharvaveda 2.2.1)

यो देवानां नामधा एक एव। (ऋग्वेद 10.82.3; अथर्ववेद 2.1.3; शुक्ल यजुर्वेद संहिता 17.27, तैत्तिरीय संहिता, तै.आ. 10.1.14)

Yo devānāṁ nāmadhā eka eva. (Ṛgveda 10.82.3; Atharva veda 2.1.3: śukla yajurveda saṁhitā 17.27, Taittirīya saṁhitā Taittirīya Āraṇyaka , 10.1.14)

उतो पतिर्य उच्यते कृष्टीनामेक इद्वशी। (ऋग्वेद 8.13.9) Uto patirya ucyate kṛṣtīnāmeka idvaśī. (Ṛgveda 8.13.9)

न द्वितीयो न तृतीयश्चतुर्थो नाप्युच्यते, य एतं देवमेकवृतं वेदः।

न पंचमो न षष्ठः सप्तमो नाप्युच्यते,य एतं देवमेकवृतं वेदः।

नाष्टमो न नवमो दशमो नाप्युच्यते,य एतं देवमेकवृतं वेदः।(अथर्ववेद13.5.16-18)

Na dvitīyo na tṛtīyaś-caturtho nāpyucyate, Ya etaṁ devam ekavṛtaṁ vedaḥ.

Na pañcamo na ṣaṣṭhaḥ saptamo nāpyucyate, Ya etaṁ devam ekavṛtaṁ vedaḥ.

Nāṣṭamo na navamo daśamo nāpyucyate, Ya etaṁ devam ekavṛtaṁ vedaḥ. (Atharva veda 13.5.16-18)

सर्वे वेदा यत् पदमामनन्ति तपाँसि सर्वाणि च यद् वदन्ति।

यदिच्छन्तो ब्रह्मचर्यं चरन्ति तत्ते पदं संग्रहेण ब्रवीमि-ओम्-इत्येतत्।। (कठोपनिषद् 2.15)

Sarve vedā yat padam āmananti ,Tapāṁsi sarvaṇi ca yad vadanti.

Yad icchanto brahmacaryaṁ caranti, Tatte padaṁ saṅgraheṇa bravīmi-om-ityetat. (Kaṭhopaniṣad 2.15)

देवो दानाद्वा दीपनाद्वा द्योतनाद्वा द्यु स्थानो भवतीति वा। (निरुक्त, 7.15)

दिवु-क्रीडा-विजिगीषा-व्यवहार-द्युति-स्तुति-मोद-मद-स्वप्न-कान्ति-गतिषु। (पाणिनीय धातुपाठ दिवादिगण)

Devo dānādvā dīpanādvā dyotanādvā dyu sthāno bhavatīti vā. (Nirukta, 7.15)

Divu-krīdā-vijigīṣā-vyavahāra-dyuti-stuti-moda-mada-svapna-kānti-gatiṣu. (Pāṇinīya Dhātupāṭha Divādi Gaṇa)

यत्काम ऋषिर्यस्यां देवतायामर्थपत्यमिच्छन् स्तुतिं प्रयुङ्कते तद्दैवतः स मन्त्रो भवति। (निरुक्त 7.1)

Yat-kāma ṛṣir-yasyāṁ devatāyām-arthapatyam-icchan stutiṁ prayuṅkate tad-daivataḥ sa mantro bhavati. (Nirukta 7.1)

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