The Vedic Age

What little we know of the Vedic Age comes from the Rig-Veda. By the time the oral tradition of the Aryan religion was comitted to Sanskrit, however, some of the gods mentioned had already begun to lose their importance. Nevertheless, The Rig-Veda represented a blend of beliefs held by several Aryan tribes. Each of the gods, of the Vedic Period, had a primary function, or Vrata. Usually these functions were closely connected to the forces of nature such as light, fire, and heaven which in turn followed the cosmic order (rta) of the universe. The demons of darkness and chaos, headquartered under the earth, arrayed their power against the righteousness of the gods. In this dualistic approach, the demons sought to disrupt the system of nature, therefore practicing anrta. During a later period, rta gave way to the concept of dharma, which could be translated as "virtue." Although the deities of the Rig-Veda are not organized hierarchically, each could, in its own right, be looked upon as the supreme god. Nevertheless, Indra, the god of war and weather, receives the most attention in the ancient Vedic text, and is frequently referred to as the eka deva, or "one god." According to the Rig-Veda (6.7), creation began once Indra slew Vritra, the serpent demon, who had locked up the waters necessary for human existence in mountain caves. With the waters now released, he then placed the sun in the sky thus establishing the cosmic order (rta) under the god Varuna. Varuna, then, sits in the palace of heaven and oversees the world below. As the guardian of the moral order, both earthly and cosmic, Varuna punishes the sinner with disease, or for all time by condemning them to the House of Clay following death. Aryans who practiced right deeds, or performed the proper ritual would forever celebrate happiness after death. Varuna is aided in his efforts by many spies who fly through the cosmos at his command. Less important than Indra, but still held in high regard among the numerous deities of the Aryan religion, was Agni, the fire god. Agni descends from the darkened clouds as lightning, shines on the world as the sun, and manifests in the flame of the sacrifice. Through the sacrificial offering, Agni served as the intermediary between the gods and man, and the correct performance of this important ritual could beneficially reward the devotee. Rituals based on the fire sacrifice could be as personal as dumping clarified butter in the family hearth, to the production of soma juice. As part of the sacrificial ritual, parts of the soma plant were pressed between stones, mixed with milk, and filtered through a sheepskin. An hallucinogen, soma consumed during sacrifices supposedly produced a sense of superhuman strength and visions of the gods. Soma would later become the moon god.

The cosmic order of the Aryan universe remained fairly simple. The heavens served as the residence of the major gods and the souls of the righteous. The region between heaven and earth was called the antariksa. This region, where the birds flew and the clouds crossed the sky, was also home to the demigods. Below the earth, in the darkness of the House of Clay, dwelled the spirits of the unrighteousness and the demons that sought to disrupt rta. The concept of birth and rebirth had not yet become part of the Indian cosmology that would later be indicative of all Indian religion. Religion during the Vedic Age revolved around the sacrifice. Within the home, the patriarch of the family daily sacrificed at the domestic hearth while the brahmans performed great rituals slaughtering numerous animals to the gods. In each case, the idea was to communicate with the gods who would descend from the heavens granting the devotees health, happiness, and success. Over time, these rituals became so complex that the brahmans, who knew the correct ritual, became indispensable.

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