Varuna and his decline - 6 Parts Blog Series (sreenivasaraos.com) Varuna

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Link of Web Resource/Blog/Video : sreenivasaraos.com

(1) The saga of Varuna is truly amazing. Though his story started with a bang; it sadly ended in a whimper. Perhaps very few other gods – Vedic or otherwise – witnessed such vicissitudes in the turn of their fortunes.

The Varuna story covers a very large canvass – in content, space and time. The story of his preeminence has its roots in the pre-Vedic era; it flourishes in the early Rig Veda inspiring awe and reverence; and as it flows into other Vedas, Brahmanas and Upanishads, Varuna’s associations with the sky, the water and the order in the universe as also in the ethical conduct of men,  all these, acquire new dimensions with mystical connotations. Till then, he is the highest lord in the Vedic pantheon, the most virtuous and the most powerful all-pervading god.

Varuna, up to a point, is the nearest equivalent to the Supreme; as he is projected as the creator and sustainer of all existence; the lord of Space; the maker of Heaven and Earth. His glory spreads far and wide into the Gathas and into the Bhrigu lore. The treaties entered  by the Mitanni kings of the distant Sumerian region (in about 1500 BCE) are sworn in the name of Varuna and his peer-Vedic –gods.

However, with the parting of ways of the ancient sages Bhrigu and Angirasa, Varuna becomes exclusively the Great God of the Aryans to the west of the Sindhu River; while Indra takes over as the King of the Devas. Varuna is eclipsed in the Vedic pantheon. 


(2) Commencing with the Taittiriya Samhita (4.8.3.1) which identifies Varuna, mainly, with night and darkness; his career takes a steep nosedive. Initially, he loses his sole kingship over the sky ; and,  then he has to share his authority with another god who is younger and more energetic – Mitra.  Varuna gets  disassociated with the day sky ; which symbolizes clarity, brightness and brilliance; and , he is made the god of only the night sky. His ethical role too diminishes.

With that, Varuna draws nearer to night, darkness and death. Varuṇa’s dark associations bring him close to gods of negative traits such as Yama, Nirṛti, Soma, and Rudra. His character and disposition too undergo a marked change, for the worse. From a benevolent and graceful god, he turns into a spiteful, malevolent and stern judge cum punisher.

His physical appearance too turns ugly: he is now pictured as a fat, bald ugly looking cruel man with yellow or brownish red eyes, protruding teeth; and, wielding a noose.

One after another, his powers and authority steadily depart from him. Varuna eventually ends up in the Puranas as a demigod in charge of local water bodies; and,  as the guardian of the west where the sun sinks into darkness and from where the night takes over.



(3) The story of his pre-eminence in the pre-Vedic and in the early Rig Veda era; the modifications that came about   in his profile during the later ages; his fall from elevated position; and his eventual eclipse, is truly astounding.

In a manner of speaking, the course of Varuna’s career epitomizes the dynamic character of the Indian mythological lore. And, it also traces graphically the evolution, the development and the vicissitudes that came about in the corkscrew course of Indian theological history in response to the needs , changes and challenges it encountered at each stage of its unfolding over the millennia.



(4) Varuna saga should not be viewed in isolation. It is better appreciated when it is placed against the backgrou

nd of the scheme, the process or the phenomenon that swept across the world of Vedic mythology in the distant past. That process, spread over long centuries, totally convulsed the sedate world of Vedic gods. It was akin to churning the ocean. It disturbed the old order; threw out the old set of gods; created and magnified a set of new gods; and, restructured the entire Indian pantheon.

Under this process of reorganizing the world of Indian mythology… those Vedic gods who had been ‘minor’ in the Rig Veda but who held great potential and offered rich scope for enlargement and glorification were re-modeled into much greater gods.

Later, those gods came to represent larger segments of life and experiences; and to mobilize greater strength and significance. The virtues and powers of numerous other gods merged into those select gods. They are today the Super Gods in the Indian pantheon.

At the same time, those gods whose characters, functions and achievements had been too vividly described in Rig Veda; and, those who held out little scope for further enlargement were steadily reduced in their status and rank And those  gods whose profile was too dim ; and, had very little potential for growth were allowed to fade out quietly.

In this scheme or the process of restructure, the gods that adopted best to the changing needs of times survived and thrived. One way that was done was by underplaying their Vedic characteristics   which were rather sketchy and unsuitable. And, another was by aligning them along with tutelary gods that were already being worshiped. …..In this period of transition, popular sectarian gods were gradually replacing the older Vedic gods. This new approach to the gods redefined the status, character and attributes of the older gods.

This was also a process of absorption of several gods into One; and, it culminated in the emergence of the triad, of which the two: Vishnu and Shiva inherited all the rich, adorable and living traits of all the other gods that preceded them. They were also endowed with infinite potential and capacity to imbibe the traits of all the gods yet to come.



(5) The sequence of gods changing – growing or diminishing in significance – indicates the continual influx of new ideas and a creative conflict within the existing system of thoughts. This complex and dynamic interplay of light and shadow is a distinctive feature of the Indian pantheon.

The growth and development of Indian mythology and thought resembles the imagery of the inverted tree – of which our ancients were very fond – with its roots in the sky and its branches spreading down towards the earth. Its roots are ancient but its growing shoots, leaves, buds, flowers and fruits are ever green, tender and fresh. The roots of our philosophy, religion and culture are in the very distant Vedic past. Though those roots are no longer visible to us, the branches and extensions of those roots in vivid forms that have come down to us are very alive; and, its fruits are within our experience.

*

The idioms of Indian thought are thus dynamic, living and vibrant. They are linked to the spiritual urges and the changing needs, desires and aspirations of its people. The gods, the faiths and the worship practices too keep evolving, changing, without parting with the essence of its fundamentals. Therefore, growth, change and adaptation are essential aspects of the Indian thought and living. It is distinguished by continuity with change; as also by its resilience and diversity. That is the genius of the Indian traditions.

The Varuna saga, albeit a painful one, has to be appreciated in that context.



(6) Varuna of Rig Veda had a rather disappointing end; but, he did leave behind a rich legacy of wonderful concepts and norms of behavior in personal and social life (Rta) that have endured even to this day. Those laws are universal; applicable at all times and therefore eternal. 

The concept of Rta asserts that the order in nature is self regulated and operates by its own laws (svabhava); and, not necessarily by the will of gods. Ensuring the perpetuation of the order and harmony in nature is as sacred  and as important as it is in conduct of one’s life. That is because; Rta emphasizes the integrity of all forms of life and ecological systems. The principle of Rta recognizes our oneness with our environment and our unity with all life on earth. It is the framework that binds together man, nature and god.  Rta is thus the Dharma – the order – that pervades and protects all life. It asserts the principle that the physical order of the universe is also the moral order of the universe; Rta is both.

When that order and harmony is ruptured, the disruptive elements of disorder, chaos and falsehood (an-rta) step in, bringing in their wake ugliness, dishonesty, falsehood  and, decay into life.

It is explained; a sin is any inharmonious action done with avarice to gain some immediate and temporary gain. Thus, injuring the harmony that exists in nature and among men is indeed the sin; and, it attracts punishment. The sin arises because of frailties and human weaknesses; and not because of demons. The evil in the hearts and minds of men are the real demons.

Sin is compared to unpaid debt (rna); it is a burden and an act of bad faith. The best way to cleanse the sin is to come face to face with it; own it; confess to it; and seek forgiveness with a promise not to err again. Cleansing is in the heart, mind and deed; not in the rituals. That is the Varuna’s way.

Paschat-tapa – ‘after the burning heat’ – signifies the purifying fire of repentance. The life-giving waters over which Varuna presides also signifies purity. Varuna is intimately associated with the both. Thus the Varuna-principle stands for purity in life.


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