The Rig Veda
The Vedas are the four earliest Hindu texts, and the Rig Veda is the
oldest and most important of the four. These were the works brought by
the Indo-Aryan people as they migrated into the Indus Valley.
The word Veda means knowledge or wisdom, and the word Rig means praise
in Sanskrit. Hence, the Rig Veda is a collection of hymns which sing praise
for the gods.
The Vedas are believed to have been revealed by the gods to mankind (works
revealed by the deities are known as sutras). To this day, the Rig Veda
is considered the most holy of all Hindu texts, even though the role of
those deities worshipped in the Rig Veda has diminished greatly (as you
will see later). The hymns were handed down from their origins in the
distant past until they were finally set down in writing as a collection
somewhere around 900 BCE.
Where The Vedas Came From:
To better understand the Vedas, one needs to understand their historical
context. Most believe that a group of Indo-Aryans came from the Russian
Steppes or Central Asia to invade present day northern India, Pakistan,
and Iran before 2000 BCE. They were a warring group with predominately
male gods, and they conquered the native people of that area (who it is
believed worshipped primarily an Earth Goddess and other female deities).
What The Rig Veda Contains:
Because of their successful battles, the hymns in the Rig Veda are primarily
focused on celebrating the strength of the gods in helping to destroy
the enemies of the invading Indo-Aryans. Indra is praised for smashing
enemy forts, killing 30,000 foes in one battle, and destroying 50,000
foes in another.
The other hymns are concerned with asking for help in primarily worldly
affairs, such as smiting one's enemies, obtaining wealth and ensuring
good harvests. There is much praise and mention of Soma, which is a concept
that is very difficult to understand. Soma appears to be a real plant
that has intoxicating properties, as well as being a god and a "life force"
that permeates all animate beings.
The Role of the Rig Veda in Modern Hinduism
Although being revealed by the gods makes them the ultimate religious
authority, modern Hinduism has been more influenced by later religious
works, such as the Upanishads.
For example, Indra is easily the most praised deity in the Rig Veda, with
over one thousand hymns dedicated to him. Nevertheless, he was relegated
to a minor deity in later Hindu works and his role in Hindu belief diminished
over the centuries.
Likewise, the gods Agni, Soma, Surya, and Varuna are also highly spoken
of, yet now enjoy only a minor status among deities. On the other hand,
Vishnu receives very little attention in the Rig Veda, yet becomes one
of the three main deities in later Hinduism and highly revered through
his Avatars Krishna
Further, the Hindu gods Brahma
the two other deities who make up the later Hindu trinity along with Vishnu,
are not even mentioned in the Rig Veda. In the world of today, the other
Vedas (which deal with yoga and rituals) seem to have more of a lasting