Introduction: The religion of Vedic Age in ancient India revealed a close affinity between the human being and the nature surrounding him.
Pre-Vedic Religion: In pre-Vedic ages, during the period of Harappan civilisation, the people of Indus valley civilization used to worship the mother goddess or Shakti, Shiva, animals, tree, fire, water and probably the Sun.
That Shiva was worshipped is suggested by the discovery of a deity with three faces, horned head dress, seating cross legged in a yogi posture, surrounded by animals like buffalo, rhinoceros, deer, tiger, etc. These figure has been identified with that of Shiva:
Trimukha (three faced),
Pasupati (lord of animals), and
Two more figures representing Shiva have been unearthed also. There was also the practice of worshipping “Shiva Linga”. After the decay of Harappan civilization when the Aryans came to India we have gained a systematic idea about the development and transformations of religion in this land. We know about the Harappan religion only that much which we could unearth through our excavations. But the Vedic literatures have helped us to gain a comprehensive idea about the religion of the Aryans – as they were composed and written for ages together.
The Vedic Religion
Sources of Vedic Religion: The most important sources for the study of Vedic Religion are the Vedas and Upanishads. We gain good knowledge of the Vedic Religion from the Vedas. The Vedic literature known as the Vedas, are basically religious books which the Hindus have considered as their sacred scripture.
The term Veda is derived from the term ‘Vid’ which means knowledge. There are four Vedas as follows:
Sama Veda, and
Apart from the Vedas, all the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads were written sometimes between 1000 to 600 B.C.
Rig Veda (oldest Veda): The oldest Veda is the Rig Veda, which is rather the oldest religious book of the world. It was completed approximately by four thousand B.C. Probably between the period of 1500 to 1000 B.C. It contains 1028 hymns that speak much of the religious ideas and outlooks of the early Aryan people in India, man’s environment and his surroundings induced him to discover his religion.
Also read: Rig (Early) Vedic Religion
Nature worship in Vedas: The Vedic religion of Rig Vedic age revealed a close affinity between the human being and the nature surrounding him. The Vedic people used to worship various forms of natural phenomenon. The early Vedic aryan looked with awe and curiosity to the natural events around him like the fire, storm, thunder or even the scorching sun-rays. They didn’t know to control them, neither could understand why they happen. Naturally they imposed some divine characters on these natural events and began to call them gods. They worshipped these gods which were both male and female though the number of male gods was much more than those of the goddesses.
Simple religion: The religion of Rig Veda was essentially simple, though there were many gods, because the hymns were the product of a long period of priestly efforts and also represented the deities of various tribes. Most of the devotional objects were personified natural phenomena.
Vedic Gods: The Vedic people worshipped many gods. They were Prithvi, Soma, Agni, Indra, Vayu, Maruts, Paryanya, Varuna, Dyaus Pita, Surya, Ashvin, Mitra, Pashan, Vishnu and Savitri.
Varuna is the god of sky and with him is bound up the conception of Rita, first indicative of the cosmic and then of moral order. Lord Indra is the god of rainfall and thunderstorm. The Vedic people were agricultural people and depended on rainfall. Agni Dev is the god of fire.
Offerings: To satisfy these gods and goddess’s prayers and sacrifices or oblations of milk, ghee, grain, flesh etc. were offered. The utmost stress was laid on the performance of the latter in order that the worshipers may enjoy all happiness and prosperity. There is also a tendency in a few hymns of the Rig Veda to identify one God with others or to group them in pairs.
Transformation in Vedic Religion: As time passed, the Rig Vedic gods underwent transformations and though they were present in Atharva-Veda their nature and characters were changed significantly. There also emerged some new Gods like Prajapati Brahma and Shiva who began to be worshipped with equal enthusiasm. In the Rig-Vedic era, Indra was the principal God but in later days he had yielded the place to Prajapati who was considered as the creator as the preserver or savior of the universe.
Later Vedic Period: It should also be mentioned that during the later Vedic age sacrifice and rituals found predominance in religious ideas and practices. The Vedic Aryans also believed that through oblations and sacrifices the gods could be pleased and influenced to work as the devotee wished him to do. This very belief continued even in the later Vedic period for which sacrifices and oblations were considered as the most powerful and main cause of creation. Practically oblations, sacrifices and rituals began to dominate the later Vedic religion.
Also read: Later Vedic Religion
Features: Thus in the entire Vedic period religion and the religious practices gained some special characteristics.
The gods of the Rig Vedic period were essentially the natural phenomena, but the Aryans tried to personify them and thus the anthropomorphism began.
Secondly, the Rig Vedic gods were all equal in status because that was an age of equality in the Aryan society.
There was a sense of equality and unity in early Aryan life arid society and that sense was reflected in their ideas of gods.
Later on the society underwent changes and the Gods were also transformed.
Quest for Knowledge: The Vedic religion had kindled a quest for knowledge into the mind of the ancient Indians. The Brahmanas, Aranyakas and the Upanishads were written in the later Vedic period. All these books also laid greater importance on oblation and sacrifices and those continued as before. In fact the study of mathematics began with an attempt to make proper alter for sacrifices and setting the materials for the same in proper places.
Conclusion: As Vedic civilisation advanced men became more and more curious about the nature, the world, the universe, and of the very life of man himself. His knowledge was limited and he was confused at every stage. This had given rise to several philosophical theories and concepts with regard to religion. The Upanishads began the study of Brahma and the other philosophical works began to follow it. A systematic and unending chain of knowledge thus began to satisfy the quest of knowledge of our early fathers.