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.
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 studied thoroughly without the study of the Rgvedic deities.
The iconic forms which are preserved in temples and museums even today look back to the
Rgvedic version for their origin. Moreover the study here is correlated with the Pratima Laksanas
given in the Mahapuranas. The material recorded in the Puranas comes from the Vedic stock,
although the actual compilation of that material in the form of Puranas might have taken place
pretty late. That is why the rules given by the Puranas on icons can be considered as the ancient
information traditionally coming through the generations in the houses of sculptors.
The Rgveda has been taken up as the base for the development of the conception of religious
and social thought. The deities of the Rgveda underwent changes from time to time. The icons
of these deities became popular in the age of Mohapuranas, The intervening period of Brahmanic
literature and other books like Brhaddevata, Nirukta, Sarvanukramani, Nitimanjari, etc., served
as traditional link between the two great periods of the Rgveda and the Mahapurnnas. The study
of all these literatures conclude that the mind of the Vedic sages has been manifesting through
the ages in the form of icons. There is no deviation from what they thought and conceived in
the earliest Vedic age. The icons of the different times reflect the tendencies of that particular
period. The expressions on the face of the icon also reveal the mind of the artist who at the same
time is influenced by the tendencies of that particular period. Through these images we come to
know about the ideas, feelings and thoughts about the religious development of a particular
The book has been divided into six chapters. The first chapter gives the religious origin of the
art of iconography in India. The elaborate descriptions found in the Rgveda about the different
limbs of the deities, cultivated a fertile field for this science to grow.
The second chapter gives purely the Rgvedic representation of the deities. What was the con-
ception about the deities at that time is the main concern here.
The third chapter gives the treatment of the Rgvedic deities according to the Brahmanic litera-
ture and other books like Brhaddevata, Nirukta, Sarvanukramani, Nitimanjari, etc. These literature
served as a traditional link between the two great periods of the Rgveda and Mahapuranas, In
fact we find the living cultural and religious trends which even survive today. Also, we find the
influence of Rgvedie par excellence on the art of non-Vedic branches of faiths like Buddhist and
Chapters 4 and 5 deal with the deities on the basis of Mahapuranas and their relative icono-
graphical traits found in the icons of temples and museums. Some of them have been illustrated
here. In this age, the manifold deities of the Rgveda were reduced to three main gods of Hindu-
ism - Visnu, Siva and Brahma. Today in every part of the country we find icons of these deities
It may be true that the non-Vedic sects were opposed to Vedic sacrifices and rituals, but they
could not detach themselves from their past in respect of their virtuous basic principles. Thus
we can safely say that the later Buddhist and others also are grateful to the Vedic conception of
deities basically and installing Pratimas for offering worship. The aesthetic element of the Rgvedic
deities was without any interruption and hesitation survived in the hands of non-Vedic followers
and the common art was not challenged by any preacher at any point in school of the Rgvedic
Chapter 6 deals with the Vedic and non-Vedic features of the deities. In this connection the
features of Indus valley civilization have also been taken into account. The figures of human
beings and animals on the seals of Indus valley civilization seem to have connection with the
Rgvedic god Rudra and the Puranic god Siva and his symbol bull. Besides this the two appendices
deal with the deities which still remain and survive in art and details of the deity on the basis of
The thorough study of the subject leads to the conclusion that the early deities with their pecu-
liar features were known to the common people, because, they were directly taken up from the
Vedic stock of folklore. Popular heroes from the Vedic folklore, reappeared as deities in the
Rgveda. There were many benefactors of humanity who were taken as the incarnations of God
like, Rama, Krsna, Buddha and Christ. They lived in this world among men and set an example
of noble life to the people by their own virtuous life. They appear in this world for the removal
of some temporary evil, for a define period and for the definite purpose of that time being. They
are illustrated in the form of incarnations in the Puranic age. The natural phenomenon, personi-
fied as gods in the Rgvedic period are none else than the life-giving principles which enact in
every new creation.
||List of Illustrations
||THE DEVELOPMENT OF HINDU ICONOGRAPHY
||VEDIC RELIGION AND DEITIES
||THE RGVEDIC DEITIES AS TREATED BY THE LATER COMMENTATORS
||RGVEDIC DEITIES DESCRIBED IN MAHAPURANAS
||RGVEDIC DEITIES ICONOGRAPHICALLY REPRESENTED IN MAHAPURANAS
||THE INFLUENCE OF THE RGVEDIC DEITIES ON INDIAN ICONOGRAPHY, SYMBOLS WHICH REPRESENT VEDIC AND NON-VEDIC FEATURES
||Rgvedic Deities which Survived in Literature and Art
||Vedic and Non-Vedic Idols and Symbols