Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Shiva A Pre-Vedic God, Vishnu A Post-Vedic God!

Often times, it is believed by many Hindus that the early followers of the Vedic religion worshiped the same gods that we do, such as Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, etc… However, this is very far from the truth. To get a more accurate view of the early Vedic religion, it is therefore very important to consult the Rig Veda. In this post, I will analyze the Rig Veda to show that the Shiva and Vishnu we worship today, were not actually worshiped as gods in the early Vedic Period. Instead, Shiva was a pre-Vedic god, and Vishnu was a post-Vedic god. To do so, I will split this post into two parts. In the first part, Shiva will be analyzed, and in the second part, Vishnu will be analyzed.

The translations of the Rig Vedic verses used in this post are by Stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton. They can be accessed here. The reason why I have used these translations instead of Griffith's translation is that it is in modern English, and therefore easier to understand than Griffith's translation, which is in old English.
Shiva — A Pre-Vedic God
According to the Rig Veda, the worship of the phallus was considered contrary to the ways of the Vedic Aryans, and hence improper. Phallus worship is unequivocally condemned in the Rig Veda, and the destruction of these phallus worshipers (through war) is celebrated in that text:
Rig Veda 7.21.5:
na yātava indra jūjuvurno na vandanā śaviṣṭha vedyābhiḥ |
sa śardhadaryo viṣuṇasya jantormā śiśnadevā api ghurtaṃ naḥ ||
Sorcerers do not incite us, Indra, nor sycophants with their knowing wiles, o most powerful one. He [=Indra?] will vaunt himself over the stranger, over the race contrary (to our ways). Let the phallus-worshipers not penetrate our truth.
Rig Veda 10.99.3:
sa vājaṃ yātāpaduṣpadā yan svarṣātā pari ṣadatsaniṣyan |
anarvā yacchatadurasya vedo ghnañchiśnadevānabhi varpasā bhūt ||
He is the one who drives to the prize, though going with a (horse?) whose “off” foot is lame [?] . At the winning of the sun, intending to win he laid siege to it,when, unassailable, smashing the phallus-worshippers, with his form he prevailed over the property of (the place?) with a hundred doors.

In Rig Veda 7.21.5, the word śiśnadevā is translated as phallus worshipers. It is a sanskrit word that means "phallus worshiper" or "having the generative organ for a god". This verse, along with Rig Veda 10.99.3, clearly shows that the early Vedic people were against phallus worship, and that they even resorted to violence against the phallus worshipers, in an attempt to suppress their religious tendencies. The earliest forms of the Shiva Lingam were symbolic representations of the phallus. This can be seen in the Gudimallam Shiva Lingam in Andhra Pradesh (image below), dating to the 1st century BCE:

Related image

Given that the Shiva Lingam is a symbolic representation of the phallus, the Rig Vedic verses presented above would suggest that the early Vedic people condemned the worship of Shiva. The fact that this form of worship of Shiva is condemned in the Rig Veda would however, suggest one more thing... That is, it would suggest that Shiva Lingam worship (i.e. phallus worship) was likely in practice prior to the arrival of the Vedic Aryans into India. Upon their arrival into India, they would have seen and abhorred this form of worship, leading to their condemnation of it finding it's way into the Rig Veda. The Pashupati Seal belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization period (i.e. pre-Vedic) depicts a proto-form of Shiva, that would later, in the Puranic period (post-Vedic), be fused with the Vedic Rudra to form the Puranic Shiva that we worship today.

As a caveat, I would like to state that in the Rig Veda, Rudra is often mentioned. There are four independent hymns dedicated to Rudra. However, the word shiva is never used as a noun or an alternate name for Rudra. Instead, it is always used as an adjective (meaning "auspicious") to describe this Rudra. When a specific adjective is used several times, over and over again, to describe an individual, the adjective eventually takes the place of the individual's official name, and hence the adjective serves as the name of the individual after a period of time. Take Arjuna, for example. Since he was ambidextrous, the adjective savyasachin was used to describe him. Over time, as the adjective savyasachin was used over and over again to describe Arjuna, it took the place of his official name, and hence Savyasachin is one of the many names that we address Arjuna as. Same is the case with Rudra. Initially, shiva was just an adjective describing the Vedic Rudra. However, as this adjective was repeated over and over again, it took the place of an official name of Rudra, by the Puranic period.

That being said, the Puranic Shiva that we all worship today is identified with all of the following attributes: A serpent around it's neck, Ganga flowing from it's head, a trishula (trident), damaru (drum), tiger skin, blue neck, three eyes, Shakti as his other half, and Nandi as his vehicle. Only if the Vedic Rudra has all these attributes, can he be identified with the Puranic Shiva that we all worship today. However, all these attributes are not present in the Vedic Rudra, and hence the Vedic Rudra is not the Puranic Shiva we worship today. As I said earlier, the Vedic Rudra was evolved/transformed by later poets in the Puranic period to bear the aforesaid attributes, thus converting him into the Puranic Shiva. The constant use of the adjective shiva to describe Rudra, ever since the Rig Vedic period, resulted in the adjective sticking on and taking the place of the official name of Rudra. Hence, by the Puranic period, when the Vedic Rudra was transformed to possess the aforementioned attributes, it also acquired a new name... Shiva!

I will end this part of the post by clearing one objection that some folks may have to my above claims. In the Valmiki Ramayana, Seetha's Swayamvara involved the stringing of a bow given to Janaka by Shiva. Hence, the natural question that arises is that given the Vedic setting of the Ramayana, why would Janaka (a Vedic Aryan king) use a bow given to him by Shiva, the god that the Vedic people were dead against worshiping? In order to resolve this confusion, a close look at Valmiki's Ramayana is necessary. In the Bala Kanda, where Seetha’s Swayamvara is described by Valmiki, it is mentioned that Shiva’s bow was used. However, many scholars have already presented very convincing arguments that the Bala and the Uttara Kandas were later additions to the epic. In addition to this, a few years back a hitherto unknown manuscript of the Valmiki Ramayana, dating to the 6th century CE,  was discovered, containing all the Kandas in the present version, barring the Bala Kanda and the Uttara Kanda:

6th-century Ramayana found in Kolkata, stuns scholars - Times of India

This suggests that the Bala Kanda and the Uttara Kanda were added by later poets to the epic, probably when transcribing the Valmiki Ramayana on a new manuscript (for preservation purposes), sometime after the 6th Century CE. Given the late (Puranic period) origin of the Bala Kanda, it would be highly erroneous to take the Bala Kanda narrative of Seetha's Swayamvara at face value. Luckily for us, though, Seetha gives a comprehensive summary of her Swayamvara to Anusuya, in the Ayodhya Kanda. This summary version states that Janaka used Varuna's bow in the Swayamvara. There is no reference to Shiva or his bow in this summary version:
अयोनिजाम् हि माम् ज्नात्वा न अध्यगग्च्छत् स चिन्तयन् |
सदृशम् च अनुरूपम् च मही पालः पतिम् मम || २-११८-३७
"Knowing me to be the one not emerged from a mother's womb, the king after a deep reflection, was unable to find a suitable and worthy husband for me."
तस्य बुद्धिर् इयम् जाता चिन्तयानस्य सम्ततम् |
स्वयम् वरम् तनूजायाः करिष्यामि इति धीमतः || २-११८-३८
"After reflecting thus deeply, the thought came to him, 'I shall inaugurate a Svayamvara, a process of self-choosing marriage, for my daughter."
महा यज्ने तदा तस्य वरुणेन महात्मना |
दत्तम् धनुर् वरम् प्रीत्या तूणी च अक्षय्य सायकौ || २-११८-३९
"In ancient days, Janaka received with affection from Varuna the rain-god, an excellent bow with two quivers that should never lack arrows."
असंचाल्यम् मनुष्यैः च यत्नेन अपि च गौरवात् |
तन् न शक्ता नमयितुम् स्वप्नेषु अपि नर अधिपाः || २-११८-४०
"That bow was so heavy in weight that no man could lift it up nor any of the kings were bale to bend it even in their dreams."
तद् धनुः प्राप्य मे पित्रा व्याहृतम् सत्य वादिना |
समवाये नर इन्द्राणाम् पूर्वम् आमन्त्र्य पार्थिवान् || २-११८-४१
"My truthful father called all the princes first and informed them in a meeting about the bow to be lifted."
इदम् च धनुर् उद्यम्य सज्यम् यः कुरुते नरः |
तस्य मे दुहिता भार्या भविष्यति न संशयः || २-११८-४२
"Whoever is able to lift up and string this bow, I will bestow my daughter in marriage on him. There is no doubt about it."
As we can see from Seetha’s speech to Anusuya, the bow used in the Swayamvara was Varuna’s bow, not Shiva’s bow. This should clear the confusion anyone may have. Varuna was a Vedic God, and he gave the bow to Janaka, who then used the bow in the Swayamvara of his daughter.

Another example of an interpolated Shiva is in the Mahabharatha (in Vana Parva), when Arjuna supposedly worships Shiva, following which Shiva appears before Arjuna in the guise of a hunter, and engages in fight with Arjuna to test his devotee's competence. The story continues with Arjuna impressing Shiva with his prowess, and then Shiva granting Arjuna the Pashupata Astra. If we read the context of this story closely, it should be obvious that this is an interpolation. When the Pandavas are in exile, Vyasa asks Arjuna to visit Swarga, the abode of Arjuna’s father Indra, to obtain top quality weapons (astras). As I will show in later posts, Swarga was a place north of India, around modern-day Southern Russia. Arjuna proceeds northwards to reach this Swarga, in order to both meet his father Indra, and to obtain the required astras that would prove vital for victory in the Kurukshetra war.

However, upon reaching the entrance of Swarga, he is told that he needs to first worship Shiva before being granted entry into Swarga. So Arjuna goes back to the forest, worships Shiva, and finally obtains the Pashupata Astra. After that, one day when engaged in deep thought, Matali, Indra’s charioteer, approaches Arjuna and takes the latter to Swarga on his chariot. But the difference is that in Arjuna's earlier visit to Swarga, it was described as being a place on the surface of the earth, which Arjuna could walk to, and reach the boundaries of. However, this time we see Matali's chariot taking Arjuna away from the surface of the earth, and into an extraterrestrial region, where the Swarga was located. This is an obvious discrepancy in the location of Swarga, and hence all the events from the point Arjuna was asked (by the guards of Swarga) to not enter Swarga till he worshiped Shiva, to the point when Matali takes Arjuna through the extraterrestrial regions to Swarga, seem like a later addition to the Mahabharata. The reason for this addition was likely to show Swarga as an extraterrestrial region, as opposed to an ordinary place to the north of India, since depicting Swarga as the former would enhance it's heavenliness, holiness, and divinity.

In reality, as I mentioned earlier, Swarga was a region to the north of India. In the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata, when Pandu wants to follow some Rishis to Swarga, they refuse to allow him to follow them, giving the following reasons:
"On a certain day of the new moon, the great Rishis of rigid vows assembled together, and desirous of beholding Brahman were on the point of starting on their expedition. Seeing them about to start, Pandu asked those ascetics, saying, 'Ye first of eloquent men, where shall we go?' The Rishis answered, 'There will be a great gathering today, in the abode of Brahman, of celestials, Rishis and Pitris. Desirous of beholding the Self-create we shall go there today.'
"Vaisampayana continued, 'Hearing this, Pandu rose up suddenly, desirous of visiting heaven along with the great Rishis. Accompanied by his two wives, when he was on the point of following the Rishis in the northerly direction from the mountain of hundred peaks, those ascetics addressed him saying, 'In our northward march, while gradually ascending the king of mountains, we have seen on its delightful breast many regions inaccessible to ordinary mortals; retreats also of the gods, and Gandharvas and Apsaras, with palatial mansions by hundreds clustering thick around and resounding with the sweet notes of celestial music, the gardens of Kuvera laid out on even and uneven grounds, banks of mighty rivers, and deep caverns. There are many regions also on those heights that are covered with perpetual snow and are utterly destitute of vegetable and animal existence. In some places the downpour of rain is so heavy that they are perfectly inaccessible and incapable of being utilised for habitation. Not to speak of other animals, even winged creatures cannot cross them. The only thing that can go there is air, and the only beings, Siddhas and great Rishis. How shall these princesses ascend those heights of the king of mountains? Unaccustomed to pain, shall they not droop in affliction? Therefore, come not with us, O bull of Bharata's race!'
From this text, it should be evident that Swarga was a region north of even the mountain of a hundred peaks (which might be the Himavat or a mountain range even north of it). More importantly, it suggests that Swarga was a region on the surface of the earth, not an extraterrestrial region. Returning back to the point of all this discussion, my above explanation suggests that Arjuna's worship of Shiva and his second trip to Swarga are later additions to the epic. In other words, since Arjuna's worship of the Puranic Shiva is a later addition to the Mahabharata, it cannot be taken as evidence for the prevalence of Puranic Shiva worship in Vedic times.

Image result for shiva statue

Vishnu — A Post-Vedic God
It is a common, albeit flawed perception, that the Puranic Vishnu with all his incarnations as we know him to be, was a Vedic God. The reason for this perception is that it is commonly believed that Rama, a Vedic figure, was an incarnation of Vishnu. However, this is incorrect. According to the Vedas, Vishnu was a very minor Vedic diety, with only 4 independent hymns dedicated to him in the Rig Veda. He was far less important in the Vedic period, compared to the Puranic period. In the Rig Veda, Vishnu is described as being a friend of Indra:
Rig Veda 1.22.19:
viṣṇoḥ karmāṇi paśyata yato vratāni paspaśe |
indrasya yujyaḥ sakhā ||
Look ye on Viṣṇu's works, whereby the Friend of Indra, close-allied,
Hath let his holy ways be seen.
In addition, the Vedic Vishnu was much famed for making three steps across the entire earth:
Rig Veda 7.100.3:
trir devaḥ pṛthivīm eṣa etāṃ vi cakrame śatarcasam mahitvā |
pra viṣṇur astu tavasas tavīyān tveṣaṃ hy asya sthavirasya nāma ||
Three times strode forth this God in all his grandeur over this earth bright with a hundred splendours.
Foremost be Viṣṇu, stronger than the strongest: for glorious is his name who lives for ever.
Although this does seem strikingly similar to how the Vamana avatara of the Puranic Vishnu took three steps across the earth to defeat Bali, it would be erroneous to attribute this story and conclusion to the Vedic Vishnu, since the Vedas do not talk at all about the Vamana avatara or Vishnu's other incarnations. The ten incarnations of Vishnu is a Puranic concept, and thus can only be attributed to the Puranic Vishnu. The Vedic Vishnu, who took three steps across the earth, was a minor Vedic deity, much inferior to the important Vedic gods, like Indra, Agni. Vayu, etc... Similar to what happened to the Vedic Rudra, this Vedic Vishnu was transformed and embellished by poets in the Puranic period, allowing him to emerge (in the Puranic period) as a more prominent god, with many incarnations, such as the Vamana avatara, Krishna avatara, Rama avatara, etc... The Vishnu that we worship today is this Puranic Vishnu, not the Vedic Vishnu. In that sense, (Puranic) Vishnu is a post-Vedic god.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. "This suggests that Bala Kanda and Uttara Kanda were later additions to the epic, sometime after 6th Century CE. For this reason, the direct narrative of Seetha’s Swayamvara (in Bala Kanda) cannot be taken as the final word on the subject."

    If so,

    1) who wrote Ramayan then? Valmiki name appears in Bala Kanda. Removing it, epic becomes authorless.

    2)Then who's narrating Ramayan?

    3) Episode of Rama marrying Sita would also be absent.

  3. 1) The name of author(s) of the other Kandas are not mentioned. So we do not know who wrote it! But they were not written byone author. The perspective changes drastically from Ayodhya Kanda, where Ram is hailed as an Indra on Earth, to Aranya Kanda and Sundara Kanda, where his vices are on display, and where Ravana is praised. Sundara Kanda was probably written by a poet from Central-South India, who had a good opinion of Ravana.

    2. Who knows? Its definitely not one person though.

    3. The epic would start with Rama and Seetha already married!

  4. The conclusion which you have derived from the above passage regarding the swarga i.e the southern part of russia, lets take it as correct for sone moment. But, as swarga is an abode of Indra and other devtas, then where are they now?

  5. Bhishma was able to defeat Jarasandha - It was this Bhima who, having entered of old, with Vasudeva's aid, the innermost apartments of Jarasandha, overthrew that king endued with great energy; that lord of Magadha, the mighty Jarasandha, having fully brought under his subjection the goddess Earth, oppressed her by his energy. That the Kauravas in consequence of Bhishma's prowess, and the Andhakas and the Vrishnis in consequence of their policy, could not be subjugated by him was due only to their good fortune.

    1. It only says that Bhishma was able to resist Jarasandha, not defeat him.

    2. do you believe that their are some chariots that were able to fly and go wherever their driver wants them too?

    3. No, I don't think that ancient Indians knew about flight technology...

  6. Bhishma performed aswamedha sacrifices - He, who scorching us with his wrath, stayeth in the midst of his forces, he, who will attack our troops like a lion, he, who performed three hundred horse-sacrifices,--that banner of Kuru's race, that Bhishma,--stayeth yonder!

    1. Thanks for the quote... Interesting. Whom would the queen at that point be? Ambika/Ambalika?

    2. Satyavati (she never left Hastinapore until Pandu's death in the forest).

    3. Yeah, it could be Satyavati given that Vichitravirya did not receive the Hastinapura throne by that time, because after he received the throne, his wives Ambika and Ambalika would be the Queens and Satyavati would be the Rajamata.

  7. Their is also a "Hanumad Ramayanam" look it up. Just google it.

    1. Thanks Jaideep for sharing it... Is the text available to read online? This is all I found, but it seems like a brief summary:

    2. I don't know but their is some evidence of Dhritarashtra NOT BEING BLIND.
      King Dhritarashtra whose knowledge only was his eyes, on hearing these words of his son and recollecting everything that Kanika had, said unto him, became afflicted with sorrow, and his mind also thereupon began to waver.

    3. Jaideep, that is a strong piece of evidence. So you finally agree with my theory that Dhrtarashtra was not blind?

  8. Milin is right. The valmiki Ramayana doesn't contain the incident if rameshwaram / rama making linga on the outskirts of tamilnadu.Hence it is noticeable that rama was nit a shiva worshipper.

  9. What other god do think were pre-Vedic and post-Vedic? And which gods were really worshipped in the period?

    1. Sin sama,

      About Pre-Vedic is hard to tell. We have to make decision based on IVC seals, as the IVC script has not been deciphered as yet. The Pashupati seal has been identified with Shiva.

      In the Vedic Period, Indra, Agni, Mitra, Varuna, etc were all worshiped. Vishnu was a minor god in that period. Rudra was also a god, but he was not the same as the modern (or even Puranic) Shiva. Rudra of the Rig Veda and the Puranic Shiva are completely different gods.

      In the post-Vedic (Puranic) period, Vishnu's status as a god was elevated. Rudra of the Rig Veda had been transformed into another god, named Shiva, and he became quite popular. There was also Durga being worshiped in this period...

      [IVC = Indus Valley Civilization]

  10. Greetings. First of i would like to thank you for such an interesting blog. I hhah some disagree with a few tthing. Visnu was not a post vedic but a vedic god. As u yourself mentioned visnu is a diety in rig veda. He is not vver minor as well. In fact indra used to seek help from him in veda as well. Same as rudra who waw a very much feard god. Puranic shiva maybe derived from pre vedic gids and rudra