Are there no prominent Goddesses in Vedic religion?

Prof. C. Kunhan Raja
Worship of the Divine in a more concrete form leads to higher thinking about God and the universe and their mutual relations. Such worship maybe in a temple where there is a visible symbol of divinity or an actual image.

The concreteness, the community and the continuity associated with temple worship are a more suitable environment for the development of speculative thought. In the Upanisads we find a combination of the element of the worship of the Divine in the forest with the Vedic sacrifices. Ritualism was not given up. But contemplation became a more important feature in the fire sacrifice in the forests. The temples were forest institutions in the beginning. Perhaps it is the association with the Vedic practice of worship in the homes, in the villages and in the cities that led to the development of temples in the villages and cities and the installation of shrines also in the homes. There are many temples where the idol is accepted as self-installed. Such idols are called svayam-bhu (self-born). There are temples even now where the idol has to be left exposed to rain. There might be a temple, but no roof is put up above the idol. All these show the original connection of the temples and image worship with the forest. In the change from cities to the forests which are more congenial for contemplation and abstract thinking, and from the sacrifice to the more concrete temple worship we thus have two factors of origin that had great influence in the growth of philosophy.

The idea of unity of the universe is present in Vedic texts, but not the preliminary requirements for the growth of philosophical thought. There are two great elements in the non-Vedic side of Hindu religion that contributed to the recognition of ultimate unity in this world. These are met with also in the Vedas, but were interpreted and presented in a systematic way only in the later stages. One of these factors is the emergence of the female element in the pantheon. The Vedic religion is essentially the worship of the Divine in its male aspect. There are few goddesses in the Vedas, and the few who are there are not of great importance.

Perhaps Aditi identified with the earth is the only goddess that has a high position in the Vedic pantheon, being the mother of the gods. But even Aditi is not worshipped in the Vedas like the other gods, (fire), Indra, and Vishnu. Sarasvati is a very insignificant figure in the Vedic pantheon. Indrani appears in a very casual way in the Vedic text. It is only at a later stage that we find the Mother Goddess appearing on the scene in the Hindu religion, and the presumption is that this is due to the influence of the non-Vedic scheme of gods. Thus we find in course of time the Goddess as the most prominent power in the world, the Goddess as the creative power of the highest God, and a goddess associated with practically all the important gods. Thus we have Sri (the Goddess of wealth) and Bhumi (the earth) as the consorts of Vishnu, Parvati as the consort of Siva, and Sarasvati as the consort of Brahma. The tri-murti (the triad of divinity) had thus also a female aspect.

From Kalidasa's works we gather that Brahma occupied a high position in the religion of the times. The fact that this Vedic deity did not continue as a great god shows the non-Vedic influences then working in the religious life of India. Although on the male side, both and Siva continued to occupy the highest position, on the female side, it is the aspect of goddess as the consort of Siva that prevailed in the Hindu pantheon. Parvati, KalI and Durga are various aspects of the goddess who occupies an independent position in the Hindu religion of later days. There are certain Schools which regard the highest Divinity as the Mother, and Siva is worshipped only as her consort. Siva is also worshipped as the ardha-narisvara, or the Lord who is half woman. Beside the Goddess, there are associates like maha-vidyas (the great wisdoms), the yoginis (those who have attained to yoga), and various other elements which show the high position assigned to the female aspect of divinity.

The theistic Samkhya of the Puranas traces the cosmos to the Divine, which transformed itself into “purusha” and “prakrti”. Through their interaction, the world is originated and continues. This Samkhya metaphysics is one of the strongest foundations of the Upanisadic system. It is doubtful if this doctrine could be evolved from the Vedic heaven and earth as Father and Mother and the Vedic Aditi, without some outside contribution which assigned to the female aspect a position of requisite importance.
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