The Rgvedic Deities and Their Iconic Forms


Availability: In Stock

Qty :

    share :
About the Book

India’s cultural traditions have their in diverse sources embedded in the life style of various pre-and proto-historic communities occupying different parts of the sub-continent in the various periods of their existence. Despite high antiquity of several archaeological finds, one has to admit that the earliest recorded references of India’s cultural philosophy and ideological concepts are found only in the textual data of Rgveda, which show an already developed stage of thought. The importance of Vedic philosophy and religious concepts especially those defining the form of divinities lies in the fact that they preserve in them the seeds of later Hinduism to a considerable extent.

The Rgveda contains references to various types of divinities which have been classified into three broad groups viz., (i) Terrestrial deities like Prthivi, Soma, Agni, (ii) Atmospheric gods like Indra, Vayu, Maruts, Parjanya, and (iii) Heavenly divinities like Varuna, Dyaus, Asvins, Surya, Savitr, Mitra, Pusana and Visnu. Of these the last five were regarded as different phases of sun’s movements. Varuna, who has been extolled in many hymns, is also associated with the concept of Rta, i.e. the cosmic and, oral order.

The Rgveda mentions some goddess too like Prthivi, Usas or the dawn, Ratri, Ila Bharati or Sarasvati. A few gods like Dyava-Prthivi (i.e. the sky and the earth) are vitally significant for latre iconographic development. To propitiate these gods the Rgvedic people made offerings of milk, ghee grains, etc. through sacrificial oblations and chanted hymns in their praise which, undoubtedly. Suggest presence of the elements of Bhakti (deep devotional urge) in the Vedic religion.

The present work is conditioned by a kind of unconventional approach to the study of Vedic elements of iconic forms from time to time to meet the demand of the people. In her view these developments are well attested to by the literature of historical times, e.g. the Smrtis and the Puranas.

About the Author

According to Chawla the early idea of image-making can be traced back in the hymns of the Rgveda particularly in the poetic imagery of early Vedic seers. She agrees that most of the Vedic deities, no doubt, originally represented the forces of nature but in the couse of time, during the Rgvedic age itself, she feels that iconic concepts in regard to at least some divinities had already come into vogue.

The author has also located and analysed certain Vedic terms prrserving in them clues pertaining to bodily features of some deities. The representation of form as reflected in the expressions like rupani pimsatu and rupam sukrtam, is an indication of some kind of artistic activity in Rgvedic times. Perhaps emergence of the concept of Tvastr, the divine craftsman/artist, was a result of constantly growing creative urge of Rgvedic societies.

Dr. Chawla views the whole growth of Hindu iconography as a continuous process of development from the period of the Rgveda onwards under the cover of religious philosophies. Yet, she does not deny the role of Indus civilization and external mythological import.

Jyotsna Chawla further invites our attention to the iconographic parallelism between the concept of Dyava-Prthivi, the eternal parents, and the one reflected in the unified form available in the Puranic iconography of Ardhanarisvara. She traces the growth of the iconic forms of Rgvedic deities like Siva, Surya, Some, Yama, Asvins, etc. in the later periods when the Puranas were compiled. She has beautifully analysed the Vedic symbolism and the attributes held by various gods in the form of vajra, pasa, danda, sruk and sruva in an logical manner.


T HE present study which I have read with care and interest is a bold step on the part of Dr. Jyotsna Chawla having taken up the far most region of Vedic icons, which is an untrodden and unexplored field. Such attempts deserve appreciation.

The deity or devata belongs to a divine life. Etymologically also the word deva is from The celestial being which shines in the heaven and bestows human life with all blessings. However the deities in the Rgveda act with human interest. They are also benevolent for public life. .

In fact a worldly power of a hero leads to supernaturalism. When we come across with the celestial deeds of the deities we like to place them on a high mount. This obviously gives them a status of having a celestial abode. It is quite possible that those deities who do not appear physi- cally can inspire devotees to memorise their prominent features and distinctive qualities from those of other deities resulting an evolution of forms with their particular garbs in the minds of devotees. Either at the time of reciting prayers or offering oblations in the sacrifices the Vedic sages invariably desired that the deities should be present on such occasions.

Icons were conceived first in the minds of devotees with fancy to imitate the real deity, It was also possible that the icons or were not treated as inanimate things. Although we don't find any exact evidence of installing any statue or worshipping any deities as some of us do today. The conception of incarnation of a deity also is originated with the presence of its bene- volent acts. The excellent powers of a hero are natural, however they appear to be supernatural in the minds of his followers. Thus mysticism also becomes a part of life. This mystic experience had given the opportunity to the earliest Vedic society for enjoying to the spiritual rapture which became the property of the society, This inner experience was the most important factor which inspired a direct association between the deity and the devotee. It was the dawn of a unique experience of Vedic people who had the privilege of welcoming and praying Vedic gods, The idols seem to be the later invention. The idols or icons appeared when the real deities disappeared. The idols pre- served the special features of the departed deities. Their occasional appearance in the sacrifices had also been a factor which inspired devotees to offer oblation to the real power incarnated. .

Thus we see the natural phenomena inspires a seer to experience spiritual power resulting in the mysticism in the common peoples' mind. The seers being Yogins did see the abstract in a concrete form. This privilege was not enjoyed by the rest of the people. It was necessary for the devotees in general to conceive the forms of Yajna-cult as well as the idols in the public perfor- mances. Of course the idea of catching the sublimity and power into a small icon was only possi- ble with the consent of Vedic seers. It was also a natural result of the deification of the entire universe. The idols have been liable to have changed forms, however the spirit and the loftiness they represented in the sacrifices were more appreciated by the devotees in later period. In a way, the symbols have become prominent with the forms peculiar to respective deities. .

Even the anthropological investigations show how such symbols have been chosen by earliest man for his worship. The development of idols for worshipping gods could be conceived by the Vedic people. This and other conceptions are resurrected and these fossils of human mind could attain the sublimity collaborating to spiritual experience of Vedic seers in respect of Vedic deities. Later on we see bow the idols have played a prominent role in the Bhakti movement in India. .


NDIAN civilization in all its stages of progress had its start in the Rgvedic period. The influ- ence which this literature has exerted on the progress of mankind through the ages, is tremendous, since it touches a vast period which covers its history. All the Puranas, all the Dharma-sastras, the various systems of philosophy, grammar, music, physics, art and architec- ture trace their origin in the Vedic period. .

The Indian iconography cannot be studie

Item Code: IAC38
Cover: Hardcover
Edition: 1990
Publisher: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
ISBN: 8121500826
Language: English
Size: 11.5" X 8.9"
Pages: 242
Other Details: Weight of the Book: 1.0 Kg