The Vedic God Mitra was highly revered and invoked for proper fulfilment of civil and religious acts and duties. Mentioned 175 times in the Rgveda alone, He has been described as one of the most wonderful, glorious and mighty of the Vedic gods.
This work presents a synthetic study of the evolution of the personality of Mitra, a most significant representative of the early stages of the ancient Indo-Aryan and Indo-Iranian cultures. Beginning with a discussion on the name and personality of the Vedic God, Mitra, the work deals with the evolution of the god by referring to the 1gveda and emergence of new gods as facets of the original Mitra-Mithra with time. It examines how the personality of Mitra evolved in tune with ecological and cultural diversification, growing complexity and increase in knowledge of the various groups of people who worshipped Mitra/Mithra. It delves into religious and cultural aspects of life associated with Him. It is a detailed study of the concept and origin of the Indo-Iranian God Mithra and the relationship of the god with others in the Avestan scheme of divinity.
The volume, with explanations of various terms and concepts and supported by illustrations, will be useful to scholars and students of Indology —in particular, ancient religion and culture in India.
Dr Marta Vannucci is a globally distinguished biological oceanographer who has been UNESCO’s Senior Expert (Marine Sciences) and was a member of oceanographic research cruises in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. She has been engrossed in studies in the libraries, archives, museums and universities of Florence, Italy, and India aided by a grasp over almost all Latin and Greek derived languages, English and German. She has been honoured with the prestigious Grand Cross of the “Order of Merit in Science” of Brazil. She is Italian born and has been resident in India since 1970.
My colleague Filippo Gambassi and I recently discussed various aspects of the transfer of culture among different people of Central Asia (Vannucci, 1998, 1999, 2007, forthcoming). Gambassi raised the specific question of the semi-secret establishment in Rome and elsewhere in the Empire and in the Graeco-Roman world of temples devoted to an imported god called Mithra. The so-called Mithraeum (pl. = Mithraea) flourished in Rome from the middle of the last century BCE onwards and were centres for the meetings of a select religious community well into CE times, only to disappear as quietly as they had come, during the decadence and the riotous disorders that followed the fall of the Western Roman Empire in CE 476 or somewhat later, until the descent of the Longobards in peninsular Italy in CE 568.
To better understand the rise, activities and closure of the Mithraea in Rome, we pushed our study back in time as far as historical and mythological knowledge could take us. The Vedas and the Avesta on one side and the Mediterranean, Greek, Roman and Central Asian history on the other were the starting points of our work.
The present study is centred on the figure of Vedic God Mitra, a reserved, quiet and almost self-effacing personality who was nevertheless ever present for the proper fulfilment of important civil and religious acts and duties. Though somewhat mysterious, Mitra was highly respected, revered and invoked for his truthfulness, reliability, knowledge and power. The most salient attribute of Mitra is his constant association with Varuna, the only unbound, unfettered son of Aditi, mother of Infinity and The Infinite herself. In fact, Varuna is more often mentioned in association with Mitra than alone. Mitra is mentioned 175 times in the Rgveda alone and about 20 times under the dual Mitra/Varunau. Mitra is described as wonderful, glorious, mighty, brilliant, endowed with golden splendour.
Varuna, the free and great son of Aditi is her first “born” (= originated, created, produced, begotten hence called “sons”) of the original seven Adityas. Varuna and Mitra were followed by Bhaga, Aryaman, Daksa, Atha, Surya each with its own attributes and field of competence or timai in Greek, as in Hesiod. Bhaga is the god who distributes wealth according to merits and demerits of each one of us. Aryaman is the prototype of the noble Man, the Lord of men and pits (ancestors). Daka is the learned and able craftsman, the creative inventor. Atha is a portion or a specific or an allotted portion of a whole. Stkya is the Sun-God giver of light warmth and life, over time Surya becomes the close associate of Mitra. Thus Mitra became partly identified with Savitr, the essence, concept or principle of the Sun. In Rgveda VIII. 41 and I, LXXXIX Bhaga/God is called Bhagavan, the form used down to present.
Indian and Iranian mythologies as well as the oral tradition of the Indo-Aryan and Indo-Iranian people are particularly interesting from the cultural viewpoint. They are best studied and understood under their anthropological, ecological and philosophical aspects, as much as from their religious and social significance. The oral and later the written tradition of the ancient-most Indo-European clans, who all called themselves Arya, has remained unbroken in India down to present since their early days and mythology (Vannucci, 2007). With time and following displacements, the corpus of ancient, rich and detailed traditional knowledge gradually incorporated new myths, new empirical and new scientific and historical knowledge. They were codified and evolved as philosophies beyond religious beliefs in India as Vedism and Hinduism at large and in ancient Iran and Persia as Mazdeism and Zoroastrianism. There are probably nowhere else cultures that have as long and unbroken tradition beginning since the most ancient nebulous past, all the way down to present. The oral tradition, mythology and folklore, habits and customs have survived, specially in India over millennia of unbroken evolution, development, additions, deletions, corrections and interpolations as nowhere else.
These studies offer the opportunity to go back in time to a stage when the thoughts and reasoning of Man were still anchored in Nature about which Man felt to be himself a constituent part. I interpret the word Man, written with a capital as a being conscious of having a conscience.’ The evolution of the mind and of consciousness, the invention of technicalities, the development of science and philosophy in the ancient Greek sense of the word, evolved with time everywhere in the world; however the Indo-Aryans and Indo-Iranians developed differently between them and from most other people. A characteristic trait of the Indian culture is that no knowledge, factual or speculative, was ever discarded. Teachings of sages, scientists, philosophers or just revered elders were remembered and consigned to the collective memory of the people “because it could be true or not, who knows?” (V X 129, 6/7, ft. Griffith) meaning that they should be preserved for future valuation if any.
6. Who verily knows it and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation? The gods are later than this world’s production. Who knows then whence it came into being?
7. He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it, what eye controls this world in highest heaver he verily knows ii, or perhaps he knows not. — (Rsi Prajapati Paramesthin), ft. Griffith
Every bit of knowledge was kept to be eventually eroded away, changed, modified or retained by cultural selection or newly- acquired knowledge. The cultural evolution of the original Indo Aryan and Indo-Iranian people who over the millennia mixed with other cultures and people, can be followed through the folklore and through the immense corpus of written texts available in Sanskrit, Avestic and derived languages, everywhere in the habitable world of those past eras, as well as in modern languages. The habit of putting in written form sacred, epic and profane texts was developed very late but the incredible feat of memorising all texts of historical, philosophical or religious interest had become one of the perfunctory duties of the learned brahmanas and of the magi. In early ancient times among the Indo-Aryans in India and the Indo-Iranians in Central Asia there was no conceptual difference between sacred and profane, everything in this world is sacred anyhow, for the simple reason that it exists. Knowledge was and still is stored in the collective memory of the people and is known as “oral tradition”; it includes also mythology, fables and technical know-how. Even the ancient Indo-Iranian insistence to condemn the daeva of the Indo-Aryans was an indirect factor for the preservation of the oral tradition of all the Arya people. The memory of the old myths and folklore was preserved throughout the Zoroastrian/ Mazdeian and Sassanid periods (third to middle seventh centuries a). It is still present as late as Firdausi’s Shahnameh, even if in a somewhat changed garb.
This book is a synthetic look at the origin and evolution of the personality of Mitra, a most significant representative of the early stages of the story and culture of the Indo-Aryan and Indo Iranian clans whose presence and competence are defined since the early period of their presence as nomadic tribes who came from the Eurasian steps’ north of the Black and Caspian Seas and roamed far and wide over Central Asian. Their culture was preserved as oral tradition, semantics, artefacts, sciences, poetry, music, iconography, engineering and technicalities as well as daily know-how, family life, social habits, customs, and legislation.
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