Rituals Religious Beliefs during Indus Civilization3
Continued from part 2
Especially important was Agni. This was not only because it literally meant "fire" but also because it was the name of a kind of priestly god. He would carry the prayers and hymns of the priests to the realms of the gods. Also important was the god Indra, who was an atmospheric warrior god. He assisted the Indo-Aryans in their wanderings and their battles. According to one old Vedic creation myth, he destroyed the demon, Vritra. Vritra was a cosmic serpent who had devoured all of the sources of creation and life (the sun, water, and so forth).
Indra killed Vritra with a great spear or weapon called the Vajra ("thunderbolt" or "diamond-hard weapon"). He split open the body of the demon thereby allowing the sources of creation to escape their bondage in the demon's body.
One of such a practice referred to a Cosmic Man or Purusha. He was sacrificed on the sacred fire altar. From his sacrificed body, the world came to be created. Some have suggested that this may represent one of the first references to the caste system, known as the 'Varna' system. However, this is a great deal of abstraction. It may simply be calling attention to a division of labor among the Indo-Aryans and nothing more.
Another such a ritual contained probably in one of the latest in the Vedic hymn collections, concerned a mysterious "That One" (tad ekam). Subsequently, the Cosmic Man or Purusha and the mysterious "That One" were combined into a more personal, but still largely abstract, Prajapati ("lord of creatures").
Other important gods were Varuna and Mitra. These were high celestial gods of cosmic power and order. Vayu was god of the wind, while Dyaus and Prithivi, the gods of heaven and earth. Surya was god of the sun, while Vishnu was the god who maintained or sustained the cosmos. Rudra was the "howling" god of storm, thunder and the mountain. Subsequently, all these were combined with the god, Shiva.
Interestingly enough, in this early Indo-Brahmanical context, Indra and Agni, and Varuna and Mitra were considerably more important than Vishnu or Rudra-Shiva. It would be almost a millennium later that Vishnu and Shiva would emerge as principal gods in classical Hindu traditions.
The tendency in this Indo-Brahmanical context is to move away from personal gods in the direction of speculative abstractions. Such abstractions put greater emphasis on the importance of the priests for the performance of the ritual and on the interpretation of its meaning.
Initially these Indo-Aryan speakers were prominent in the old Indus Valley region. But over the next thousand years they spread their control over all of North India. This was because of the intermarriages with the indigenous population. This resulted in the entire population becoming settled agricultural people. During this thousand-year period many important changes occurred.
The sacrificial ritual became much more complex. This ritual came to be divided into two basic types:
(a) What were called shrauta (from the word shruti meaning the sacred utterances of the Vedas or scripture) or great public rituals involving as many as seventeen priests and three sacred fires. This lasted for several days and in some instances up to two years.
(b) What were called Grihya (meaning "domestic") or home-based oblations (called the Agnihotra or "fire offering") into a single fire in the domestic hearth. Also related to the "domestic" rituals were the life-cycle rituals (called samskaras). These consisted from somewhere around twelve to sixteen rites of passage. These rituals included the marriage ritual, the ritual for conceiving a male child, a birth ritual, a name-giving ritual, and so forth. Most of the Indo-Aryan families were able to maintain the home-based rituals. However, only rich "sacrificers" (called yajamanas) such as the chief or local ruler (rajan) could afford the great public rituals.