Many Paths to One God
Vedas and Vedic Concepts
The earliest literary productions of the Aryan settlers in India were
the Rg-Veda, Sama Veda (consisting of chants),
Yajur Veda and the
Atharva Veda (a composite religious and magical compilation) The Vedas
comprise Mantras (hymns ), Brahmanas (ritual and ceremonies), Aranyakas
(forest speculations) and the philosophical Upanisads.
In the context of This commonly accepted interpretation of the Vedas,
it may be recalled that European Orientalists have too often considered
them mainly from the theological, anthropological and sociological
points of view. A study of the material in its religious aspect is
difficult, since even the great commentary of Sayana is in terms of the
ideas of his own age.
On the presumption that the Vedas originated in primitive times, the
Rg-Veda hymns were regarded as the outpourings of a child-like nature
worship. John Dowson in his Hindu Classical Dictionary observed:
"The Aryan settlers were a pastoral and agricultural people,
and they were keenly alive to those influences which affected their
prosperity and comfort. They knew the effects of heat and cold, rain
and drought, upon their crops and herds, and they marked the influence
of warmth and cold, sunshine and rain, wind and storm, upon their own
personal comfort. They invested these benign and evil influences with
a personality; and behind the fire, the sun, the cloud, and the other
powers of nature, they saw beings who directed them in their
beneficent and evil operations. To these imaginary beings they
addressed their praises, and to them they put up their prayers for
temporal blessings. They observed also the movements of the sun and
moon, the constant succession of day and night, the intervening
periods of morn and eve, and to these also they gave personalities,
which they invested with poetical clothing and attributes. Thus
observant of nature in its various changes and operations, alive to
its influences upon themselves, and perceptive of its beauties, they
formed for themselves deities in whose glory and honor they exerted
their poetic faculty."
But on a careful analysis of the Vedas it would be apparent that the
Vedic view is more subtle and deeper in concept.
The One Being whom the sages call by many names (Ekam-sat) is
referred to in the neuter gender, signifying divine existence and not a
The monotheistic God stands in relation to man as a father and a
patriarch, while in a Rg-Veda hymn to Agni he is called "my father,
my kinsman, my brother and my friend". Monotheism, it has been
aptly stated "contemplates the Divine in heaven and polytheism
contemplates the Divine in the universe. Polytheism believes in the
assembly of gods, each possessing a character of his own.
Max Muller coined the word henotheism for indicating the tendency of
the Vedic seers to magnify the importance of the particular deity they
are praising in a hymn at the expense of the other gods. This has been
described as "opportunist monotheism''. One deity is identified
with another or different deities are identified with one divine entity,
indifferently described as Ekam (one) and Tat Sat (the reality).
Apart from these concepts. there are two basic ideas underlying the
Satya (truth) and
Rta (eternal order);
and every god or goddess
exemplifies and represents these two ideas. As Abinash Chandra Bose says
in his "Call of the Vedas," Vedic theism is based on moral values which
(also in the case of Buddhism) may be upheld in a non-theistic way.
India it is not the atheist who is denounced but the person who
repudiates Dharma, moral law. The Rg-Veda (X-85-1) states that the earth
is sustained not by the will of God but by truth, and of This truth God
is the supreme exponent, revealing Himself through Rta or eternal order.
Examining the Vedic hymns as a whole, one discovers a doctrine, not of
oneness, but of one divine substance pervading all. It is stated that
the One Being is contemplated by the sages in many forms: Ekam santam
bahudha kalpayanti (Rg-Veda, X-114-5). It may also be observed that the
Vedic ritual or Yajna is a uniform ceremonial; whatever deity is
worshipped, the ritual is the same.
The universality of the Vedas is not often realized. The Rg Veda
asserts that God is the God of Dasa as well as of Arya - "Lord God
is he to whom both Arya and Dasa belong". (Rg Veda, Vlll-51-9).
There is a special prayer for the forgiveness of sins against the
foreigner (Rg-Veda, V-35-7). According to the Atharva Veda, God is of
the foreigner (Videsya) no less than of our own land (Samdesya). There
are mantras which extend this principle to all living beings (sarvani
bhutani) ( Yajur Veda, 36-18) so that we come to a grand conception of
universal peace and serenity - the harmony with Nature (sarvam santhi) (Yajur
Source: Hinduism by Dr. C.P.Ramaswami Aiyar, et.al., The Gazetteer of
India, Volume 1, Publications
Division, Government of India, 1965.
The Upanishads (Vedanta)