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genuine member, fire god, prehistoric society, word formation

The Basics of Vedic Mythology

Author: Madhusudan Mishra

© 2001-2002 Indus Script

The Vedic language forms a chain with the isolating, agglutinative and inflexional stages of the Indus language, as proved by the march of the clause ta na Sa of the isolating Indus to the vedic root tarS (to be thirsty).

At the isolating stage of the language, the words were monosyllabic and they formed just clauses. It was not possible to call somebody by name. If it was a name it was just a clause, specifying his duty: it burns, he enlightens, he brightens the darkness, etc. At the agglutinative stage, he was specified through a phrase, which later became a lexical word.

This type of word formation is not unknown to the modern languages. Many lexical words of the modern vernaculars were phrases in Sanskrit; e.g. the Hindi mAsI (the mother's sister) was the compound mAtR-svasA and earlier the phrase mAtus svasA in Sanskrit. On the other hand, many lexical words of the modern Russian language have become phrases after the revolution, when the joint-family system has broken down.

Many Vedic words being the names of deities or other beings ,however, may be traced to the clause stage, as we have seen in case of ta'nas (child) from ta na Sa (from the womb gems come out). Thus, Agni (the fire god) was originally a clause: a gni = he makes light, he enlightens. How Agni came to possess the attributes ascribed to it in the RV is an exercise over several centuries. Its ultimate elevation to the post of a purohita was a landmark. He was not a supernatural being, but a historical personage, the genuine member of the society. He was an official of the government of the prehistoric society. He should have been in charge of enlightenment, having the key port-folio, on account of which he was later deemed to be the the leader of the Brahmins. In the Indus syllabary, ra for 'fire' has been portrayed by a man in activity, which shows that Agni was the most active member of the society. He was also ruthless in respect of discipline, without being himself violent.

Indra is the reduced and contracted form of the clause i nda ra = he brightens the darkness. This explains his wonderful exploits in the Vedic mythology. We can determine his exact status in the urbanised Indus society. He was an officer in charge of the external security. A sign in the Indus alphabet actually portrays a security personnel.

Vishnu is the contracted form of the Indus clause vi SNu = he surveys the space. He was an officer in charge of the civil administration and town planning. In the later mythology, he is said to have measured the whole world in three steps.

Rudra, though a contracted form of the clause ru da ra = the fire burns the evil, is still trisyllabic in the RV and was in charge of the internal security and the police department. He was the only officer to be afraid of. He is said to detest flattery and punish the psychphants.

Thus, many Vedic gods whose physical features have been specifically described were historical personages. That is to say, the Vedic deities were the officials of the prehistoric Indus society, having sway over specific departments. As the language passed from the isolating to the inflexional stage, clauses became lexemes, and the whole culture changed from urban to pastoral, thanks to some natural cause, the prehistoric human officials of the society became superhuman beings and deities when the memory of their physical forms and qualities faded or were forgotten. That is why, in the ancient literature, the men are said to be in the company of gods. They were not more (or less) than the persons of the higher ranks in the social order. Though, mentioned very late in the RV, the four-tier social order was an established system.

The same is true of the beings other than the deities. Even Dasa and Dasyu (the dwellers of the mountainous villages) were the outlawed Aryan groups of the countryside, but they have been painted as superhuman beings in the Vedic mythology. The rakSas (demon) from rakS (to protect), already perverted in meaning, may be traced to the desiderative formation from rAj (to rule over). They might be the rulers of the more primitive age. The desire to rule turned harmful, and at some period in the history of the society the meaning turned towards evil.

The religious ideas and superstitions have their birth from fear. We are not inclined to believe that originally the Vedic people were religious. Their checkered history of ups and downs, interpersed with the tragic events of the nature, made them religious. Thus they began to fear Rudra and implore other gods for help.

We have been led to believe that the vedic deities are the representations of the different aspects of the nature. That may be true in respect of certain abstract deities or those derived from the typically Vedic roots at the inflexional stage. But the vedic words of the agglutinative origin or those compressed from the isolating stage may be representing the typical human beings of the society. All the qualities of the gods make them typical human beings with special uniforms discharging various duties of the society. It is difficult to see those aspects of the vedic gods in the nature. Some experts on Indus have gone to the extent of saying that " the Harappan government was very complex and efficient, having efficient municipal administration .... The uniformity of townplanning throughout the Indus empire indicates that a strong centralised government must have functioned to standardise urban planning. ....."

Even though the Vedic culture was pastoral and the Indus culture was urban, both are linked underneath. The Vedic culture was built anew on the ruins of the Indus culture which was devastated by nature. Unfortunately, the agency of that devastation has been imposed on the same people who had built it. The Vedic mythology is the Indus real history.

The modern world itself is heading towards a major devastation, even more tragic than we know from history and archaeology, but who will be held responsible for it? Everybody is digging his own grave to fall into it, but the later history will certainly make somebody else responsible for it.

The history is a wayward agent. Just some change in the warfare technology in the medieval Indian history has drastically deteriorated the social status of some original warrior clans, and they are now counted as backward communities, destined to follow lower professions. The Shudras were the public servants for the welfare of the society. They were reduced to the 4th class of the Hindu order. On the other hand, Sarasvati was just a river; she was made the goddess of learning. The officials of the Indus society were human beings; they were treated as gods in the Vedic Society.