Worship of natural phenomena
has dominated Hindu religious practice since its origin. Many natural phenomena
are seen to have feminine properties and it is these properties which led to
the centralization of goddess worship. Some feminine traits abundant in nature
include fecundity, fruitfulness, and fertility present in the earth, mothers
and cows. Another feature common in goddess worship is their ability to uphold
rta, cosmic order. All these common features of nature are prominent in
three of the main goddesses in Vedic literature; Prthivi the earth, Usas the
dawn, and Ratri the night.
The origin of worship for
the earth is based out of the sacrality of the earth for its fecundity and stability,
and due to these attributes, the earth has been worshipped as a goddess
throughout the Hindu tradition. The earth as a goddess has a basis in the
underlying perception that the earth and the cosmos is a living being itself.
And it is this “cosmic organism” that is worshipped as the earth goddess,
Prthivi. The earth as a solid mass and an anthropomorphic goddess is the two
ways in which Prthivi is identified. And it is the reverence to the stability
and fecundity of the earth that provides the basis of the hymns dedicated to
Prthivi. Within the Samhitas, Prthivi has three aspects of her being. She is
seen as the “universal mother of physical creation” as well as the earth as a
physical entity that sustains life. The third aspect of Prthivi’s nature describes
her as manifest matter itself, just like the waters in the creation narrative
that is formed from the cosmogonic process. In some myths the creation of the
world came from the released energy from Prajapati which became the substance
that makes up the earth and provides life for everything on its surface. In
another myth from the Visnu Purana, the earth, Prthivi was
born from the foot of Visnu.
श्रीविष्णुमहापुराणम् (संस्कृत एवं हिंदी अनुवाद)- The Vishnu Purana
In other myths Prthivi is said to have germinated
from Aditi, which in later Hindu tradition is almost completely identified with
Prthivi in the Brahmanas. In later texts new names were introduced for the
earth goddess such as Bhu or Bhudevi. A central and dominant quality of Prthivi
is her maternal nature. She often hailed as mother and is worshipped for her fertility
by providing sustenance to all living things that live on her. Because of this,
she is often likened to a cow, who provides milk for her calf. It is through
the worship of Prthivi and other motherly goddesses that the status of the cow
is heightened. Prthivi is often described as a firm, supportive, benign being
whose fertility and abundance helps with the growth and wellbeing of all living
things that thrive on her surface. She is said to be the source of strength,
vigour and she quickens life.
Hymns in many texts
emphasize Prthivi’s nourishing and creative nature in which she provides
seemingly inexhaustible sources of plants and herbs, and especially crops.
Prthivi is often called the all-producer based on these associations. Another
name given to the earth goddess is rtajna, she who knows rta.
She does not distinguish between poor and wealthy, good and wicked beings, or
demons and the gods, who call her broad expanse home. In some hymns she
is described as the splendid energy of women, the fragrant mother, the light
and luck in men and goddess of emotional and material abundance. Prthivi is one
of the few goddesses in the Vedic scriptures that can be considered a goddess
in her own right. Even with this high status as her own deity, Prthivi is almost
always found in hymns linked with Dyaus, the sky god. For some scholars Prthivi
is associated with the sky as well as the earth and not just exclusively the
earth, though in later texts and in the Atharva Veda she is
more commonly portrayed as an individual.
The Hymns of the Atharva-Veda (Set of 2 Volumes)
This divine couple, sometimes
called Dyavaprthivi (sky-earth), are said to be the creators of the world and
the universal parents of the gods. They are said to be the preservers of all
their creations and are described as energetic beings who encourage virtue.
Together they are said to have created full, fat, nourishing waters and
represent a realm of safety and abundance where rta pervades
and happiness prevails. This multivalent duality is said to have been born
through Soma and they sustain life by generating fertility through their
reciprocal roles. It is said in myths that Dyaus fertilizes Prthivi with
the rain which represents his seed. They are often petitioned to bring
happiness, to expiate sin and to protect people from danger and Prthivi is said
to provide material well-being and good luck to those she blesses. In some
myths, Prthivi’s worshippers will perform rites in the form of sacrificial
rituals, amulets and prayers in order to appease and propitiate the earth.
Sacrifices were believed to replenish and rebuild the energy lost by Prajapati
when he created the earth. These sacrifices, with the continuous release of
power by Prajapati uphold rta and the balanced cycle. Like
Prthivi, most other Vedic goddesses have a strong connection with rta and
natural phenomena. One such goddess is Usas, the dawn.
The conception of the dawn
dates back to the time of the primitive Aryans. Both the Hellenic and the Hindu
Aryans have philologically corresponding names for the dawn as a goddess; Eos
in Greek, Aurora in Roman, and Usas in the Hindu pantheon. Though even before
the Aryan dichotomy, the ideal of the goddess of the dawn, or guardian of
daybreak was present. The poetic beauty found in the hymns dedicated to Usas is
only matched by that of those dedicated to Eos in the time of Homer. The hymns
in the Rg Veda dedicated to Usas are said to be some of the
most beautiful use of poetic language and for the Vedic poets, one of the most
beloved objects of celebration. With over 20 hymns dedicated just to Usas she
is the most popular goddess in the Rg Veda . In spite of her
popularity in earlier times, Usas is rarely mentioned in later texts. Usas, the
dawn, is associated with light and is often said to be the mother of the gods.
As an auspicious deity, Usas is seen as luminous, many-tinted, and delicate.
She is often seen as a young maiden, a skilled dancer decorated with gems, a
“gaily attired wife appearing before her husband, a beautiful girl coming from
her bath” or likened to a cow. Worshippers believe that Usas, like a cow
presenting her udder to her calf, will present her bosom to the patron as well
as for the benefit of humankind as a whole.
Rgveda with Four Commentaries (Skandasvamin, Udgitha, Venkata Madhava and Mudgala): Eight Volumes (Sanskrit Only)
By bringing light forth for
humankind to every place of dwelling Usas is a friend to all mankind. Her light
uncovers all people and things, with no preference to status or wealth from the
night’s darkness. She is seen as an ever-young maiden being born daily with the
coming of the light at each new dawn. At each dawn she is said, in some hymns,
to come forth, bringing the light, in a hundred chariots. In other hymns she is
said to have a single shining chariot drawn by either cows, ruddy horses, or by
the Ashvins, her sons. Usas, in one or many chariots, leads the way
for and is urged on by Surya, the sun. She is praised for awakening all life
forms but leaves the deceased to their rest. Usas is associated with the life
and the breath of all being that she is the one that impels life. As the
reoccurring dawn, Usas is a reminder to people of their limited time through
the disappearance of generations and the wasting away of lives. It is through
this immortal rebirth at the dawn twilight that Usas supports rta,
the cosmic order. The dawn sets everything into motion, causes birds to leave
their nests, and awakens the sleeping to go and perform their varied duties
just like a young housewife. Usas provides a service to other gods by arousing
the people off to perform their daily sacrifices and entices the gods to help
kindle the fires for sacrifice by getting them to drink Soma.
In some hymns Usas is said
to be the “eye of the gods”, who sees everything that people do. As the dawn,
Usas is said to have been fathered by the sky, Dyaus or the sun, Surya. In
another myth Usas is said to have been fathered by Prajapati. It is in this
myth that all living things were said to be created by the shape-changing of
Usas who was fleeing her incestuous shape-changing father. This myth and others
helps to support her motherly nature. Usas is said to give wealth, strength,
and fame and is believed to give her petitioners joy, longevity, sons, horses
and cattle. People will often invoke Usas to punish or drive away one’s
enemies, though she is rarely called upon to forgive the transgressions of
humans. Usas is also asked to dispel the darkness and drive the chaotic forces
and evil demons far away. She is praised for disclosing the hidden treasures by
driving away the night, her sister, Ratri.
Ratri, the night, is mainly
found in the Rig Vedas when she is linked to her sister Usas;
though like Usas, Ratri is rarely found in later texts. In these hymns Ratri
and Usas are said to be powerful mothers who strengthen the vital powers of
individuals. At times they are described as twins who’s never ending cyclical
appearances support rta through the alternating yet predicable
flow of light and dark, and vigour and rest. Like her sister Usas, Ratri is
sometimes identified as a beautiful maiden though descriptions of her physical
appearance are mentioned rarely. Ratri is affiliated with darkness and is often
called gloomy and barren when compared to Usas. In some hymns of
the Rig Vedas, she is referred to as hostile despite her usual
depiction as a benign being. Unlike Usas, whose abode is not known, Ratri is
said to live in the abode of Yama the god of death in the south. Ratri is
admired for the stars she bares as light in the darkness, letting all creatures
rest and for giving dew. Though she is seen as the guardian of the night but
she is also seen as the very things, both hostile and benign, that thrive in
the night. People will petition Ratri for protection against the evils of the
night such as thieves, wolves and any other creatures that could do them harm.
In the Rig Vedas, there are hymns in which Ratri, the night and
darkness, is chased away by the god of fire, Agni and Usas. Unlike Usas and
Prthivi, Ratri is not as well studied.
The Vedas, the oldest Hindu scriptures, contain references to various goddesses who represent different aspects of nature and life.Prthivi, also known as Mother Earth, is a goddess who represents fertility, sustenance, and stability. She is often depicted with a lotus in one hand and a cornucopia in the other.Usas, the goddess of dawn, represents new beginnings and the renewal of life. She is depicted with a radiant and youthful appearance and is associated with the color pink.Ratri, the goddess of night, represents the mysteries of darkness and the unknown. She is depicted with a dark complexion and is associated with the color black.These goddesses have been revered and worshiped in Hindu culture for centuries and continue to hold significance in modern-day Hinduism.
The Vedas, the oldest Hindu scriptures, contain references to various goddesses who represent different aspects of nature and life.
Prthivi, also known as Mother Earth, is a goddess who represents fertility, sustenance, and stability. She is often depicted with a lotus in one hand and a cornucopia in the other.
Usas, the goddess of dawn, represents new beginnings and the renewal of life. She is depicted with a radiant and youthful appearance and is associated with the color pink.
Ratri, the goddess of night, represents the mysteries of darkness and the unknown. She is depicted with a dark complexion and is associated with the color black.
These goddesses have been revered and worshiped in Hindu culture for centuries and continue to hold significance in modern-day Hinduism.
Bunce, Fredrick (2000) An
Encyclopaedia of Hindu Deities, Demigods, Godlings, Demons and Heros with
Special Focus on Iconographic Attributes, Vol 1. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld
(2002) Invoking Goddesses: Gender Politics in Indian Religion. New
Delhi: Har-Anand Publications Pvt. Ltd.
Cush, Denise, Robinson,
Cathrine, York, Michael (2008) Encyclopaedia of Hinduism. New York:
(1989) The Encyclopaedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion.
Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc
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