The Vedic religion or Vedicism is a system of religious views and beliefs that became a precursor to Brahmanism and the beginning of the development of Hinduism.
The name of this religion comes from the name of the collection of sacred scriptures. The Vedas are the oldest texts of Hinduism, written in Sanskrit.
Proto-Indo-European mythology was the source of Vedicism. The very emergence of the religion dates back to the period of 2nd-1st centuries BC. This religion originally appeared among the people of Ancient Iran and was extended to the territory of the Indian subcontinent. After this period, Vedicism underwent a gradual transformation into Brahmanism, where the clergy (priests) took a dominant position in society.
In the ancient centuries, Vedas existed exclusively in poetic form as hymns. The ancient texts themselves are considered divine scriptures, uncreated by man and received through the revelations of the sages who had achieved the highest spiritual enlightenment. There are four Vedic collections: Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda.
Deification and worship of natural forces, the mythology of religious images and henotheism are the distinctive features of the Vedic religion. Henotheism (or Enoteism) is a religious system of views. Followers revere many deities, but there is significant one – the most powerful supreme god.
In Vedicism, magical rituals are given great importance. In this regard, priests are divided into types, depending upon their responsibilities. Hotar reads prayers and spells. Adhvaryu is responsible for sacrifices and the very organization of the process. Udgatar is the voice of rituals, and his duties include singing hymns. Brahman takes the leadership (highest) role. There is also a whole hierarchical scheme of priests’ assistants.
Agni is the god of fire and is central to the Vedic religion. Agni symbolizes the mediation between the human and the divine sphere and personifies the sacrificial fire. Fiery sacrifices are especially important in Vedicism. Illustrations depict Agni as an old two-headed man with three legs, seven arms, six eyes and four horns, dressed in red robes. The sacred cord in the form of a belt is another symbol of the clothing of the deity. A sheep is his fictional vehicle (Vahana) and smoke is his banner.
Indra is a warrior god, the king of the gods and lord of all heaven. He is also the god of light, lightning, rain and war. According to ancient myths, he killed a wild and cunning lower deity (Asura) in the form of the beast of Vritra. Indra’s victory is seen by myths as a universal victory of the divine over chaos. In the Vedas, Indra is described as the mental energy of the enlightened mind, the force that destroys darkness, and governor of the Gods, Heaven, Earth, and all existence.
Bas-relief. Battle of gods with asuras. Indra on an elephant is the central figure here.
Vishnu (Indra’s assistant) is the custodian of the universe. He is responsible for the cycle of birth and death, maintaining the foundations of peace (Dharma) and fighting evil. He is depicted as a four-armed form of human with blue or black skin and his clothes are yellow. There is a tradition of Vishnu worship called Vaishnavism.
Rudra is the god of anger and rage. He is associated with death, storms, wind, hunting and healing. It should be noted that followers of Vedic Brahmanism do not worship this god; they only ask him to leave and not to cause harm. Rudra is always accompanied by the Maruts — the Vedic deities of wind, thunder, lightning and storm.
Purusha is a giant primal man, a divine spirit of cosmic origin. According to ancient myths, Purusha sacrificed himself to the gods of antiquity, and then the entire universe was created from his body.
Varuna is the god of world waters and the supreme ruler of world law. He is the Supreme Justice, the lord and the guardian of justice and the punisher of sinners. who supports heaven and earth.
Mitra is the god of friendship and harmony. Mitra is a symbol of justice, order and sunlight. There is a separate movement of the cult religion of Mitra worship — Mitraism.
Ashwins are divine twin horsemen. They are the symbol of the first rays of the sun and all the light phenomena of heaven. They are the forces of healing and rejuvenation. They are healers of gods and patrons of Ayurveda (traditional medicine). They heal the blind and the sick and return youth to the aged. They are depicted as young men on golden chariots pulled by eagles, falcons or horses.
Soma is a drink made of plants, considered as a separate deity. It is invigorating and intoxicating, having medicinal and healing properties. The drink was used in rituals for pouring into the sacrificial fire.
Yama is the solar god of death, the king of death and justice and the punishing deity. He is accompanied by two ambassadors in the form of dogs, which carry away those doomed to die. According to myths, it was Yama who made the first self-sacrifice when he renounced his own immortality and served at the beginning of the emergence of people and the world. Yama became the first man to have died and having made his way to the realm of the dead, became its king.
Ritual sacrifices are an essential part of the Vedic religious culture. Fiery sacrifices were performed with the aim of fulfilling desires, avoiding evil and diseases, and atoning for sins through the satisfaction of the gods.
Agnihotra is a ritual of offering liquid onto a sacred (ritual) fire. There are two types of this fiery sacrifice — permanent (Nitya) and optional (Kamya). The process consists of two parts, performed at dawn and sunset. The reading of mantras symbolizes the connection between the sun and fire. Under the ancient religious canons, this ritual could not be performed by uninitiated young girls or sick people. In the modern version, people of any origin and either sex are allowed to the ritual.
Agnicayana is the construction of a ritual altar in the form of a bird with spread wings. The process of laying 10,800 bricks took exactly one year. The process was carried out in five layers. The ritual fire was built on a golden strip spread over the altar.
Agnistoma is the sacrifice of soma in the form of libation poured on the fire during the ritual.
Rajasuya is the royal acceptance of the title of Samraj (imperial sovereign). It was carried out by kings who considered themselves powerful enough to accept this title. Rajasuya was held after the victorious return of the soldiers (generals of the king). After the victory, tributes were collected from the vanquished, who were also invited to the ceremony. The winner was recognized by them as their emperor.
Ashvamedha is the sacrifice of a horse. The purpose of the ritual was to gain power, glory and prosperity. The preparation of the animal (a ritual horse over the age of 24) took one year, symbolizing the solar year. Only Rajas (one of the Indian titles of an influential person) had the right to carry out this ritual.
Purushamedha is the voluntary sacrifice of man. It was used in particularly exceptional cases.
To date, India has preserved communities that practice Vedicism in partial form. Vedicism, as a religion, underwent significant changes however and became the basis of Brahmanism and Hinduism, and spread throughout the world.