Ways of Action:

Early Vedic Religion and its Creation Stories


Early Vedic Religion


1.    The Agni Hotra – words of power, cosmic correspondences, divine-human connections

2.    Origins of Hinduism in two ancient cultural complexes:

a.    Indus valley civilization (c.2500 BCE to 1500 BCE)

b.    Aryan culture (developed during 2nd millenium BCE)

                                     i.     Indo-European speaking > Vedic Sanskrit > Classical Sanskrit. 


3.    Two Dimensions of Early Vedic Religion: Sacrificial and Visionary

a.    Visionary dimension – Experiential

                                     i.     Rishis’ use of soma leading to unmediated vision of the divine

b.    Sacrificial dimension – Ritual

                                     i.     Priestly sacrificial cult centered on fire god Agni;

1.    Polytheistic

2.    Humans and gods partners in maintaining ongoing creative processes of the world


4.    Vedic Texts:

a.    Revealed (shruti) in the visionary experiences of the rishis.

                                     i.     Transmitted first via oral traditions then via written traditions

b.    Ritual function: mantra (verses used in liturgy) and brahmana (ritual exegesis)

c.    Dating: Rigveda 1200BCE - Upanishads 600-300 BCE

5.    Cosmology and Cosmogony

a.    Cosmology – Notions of the world and its order

b.    Cosmogony – an account of the emergence or creation of world order

                                     i.     A creation myth answer the question “How did the world and its social and natural order come into being?”

                                    ii.     Purpose not just to fulfill people’s curiosity, to put them in touch with the sacred order or pattern that makes action meaningful

6.    Three creation myths (and there are many more): 


a.    Indra slays Vrtra:

                                     i.     Early Vedic religion was polytheistic yet strove for deeper understanding of the world

                                    ii.     The categories of “non-existence” and “existence” – primordial, undifferentiated, inertia, passive state of potential (chaos) / differentiated, active and creative process of becoming (order)

                                  iii.     Vrtra: darkness and bondage, keeps the waters trapped in his belly (or within a mountain around which he is wrapped).  Water as primordial condition.  Indra: powers of existence, creation, order in the world

                                  iv.     Indra overcomes Vrtra:  Reaching to the heart of creative potential to release it into activity and order.

                                   v.     The cosmogony is a myth about the first time.  But not the one and only time.  It is also about the ongoing and dynamic nature of the world.  Moving from “non-existence” to “Existence,” from passive to active and back again.

                                  vi.     Central concern in the early Veda: How to maintain the world in its ongoing process of becoming.

7.    The Hymn of Origins

a.    Philosophical speculation embodied in narrative form: Wondering about the ultimate nature and source of all things: what lies beyond ordinary experience?

b.    The One behind the Many:  India’s question: What is the relationship between absolute unity and infinite and creative multiplicity.

8.    Purusha Sukta

a.    A Sacrifice (yajna)

                                     i.     As microcosm

                                    ii.     As creative paradigm of all existence

                                  iii.     As means of maintaining the worlds creative and ordered processes via connections between the world and the elements of the sacrifice