In Rigveda, Varun is a possessor of Maya and RV praise his Maya in many of the verse:

V 85 (5-6):

imām ū ṣv ṛsurasya śrutasya mahīm māyāṃ varuṇasya pra vocam | māneneva tasthivāṃ antarikṣe vi yo mame pṛthivīṃ sūryeṇa ||

I proclaim this great cunning of the lordly, famed Varuṇa, who, standing in the midspace as if with a measuring rod, measured out earth with the sun.

imām ū nu kavitamasya māyām mahīṃ devasya nakir ā dadharṣa | ekaṃ yad udnā na pṛṇanty enīr āsiñcantīr avanayaḥ samudram ||

And now no one defies this great cunning of the foremost sage poet, the god: that the mottled streams, pouring out, do not fill the single sea with water

Here in Jamison and Brereton's version, maya was translated as cunning (skill) which Varun uses to create and measure things. Also, RV mentions even some demons posses maya but here connotation is different and they must be stopped.

X 138 (3)

vi sūryo madhye amucad rathaṃ divo vidad dāsaya pratimānamāryaḥ | dṛḷāni piprorasurasya māyina indro vyāsyaccakṛvān ṛjiśvanā ||

The Sun unhitched his chariot in the middle of heaven. The Ārya found a match for the Dāsa. The firm fortifications of the crafty lord Pipru did Indra throw open, having acted together with Rjiśvan

From RV to Bhagvata Gita, the meaning changes from Skill, Power, Magic and Illusion depending on what context the maya is being used.

Can someone explain in details then what is maya? This question was asked elsewhere however there OP was interested in the context of Gita. My doubt is here why do we have so many definition of Maya because in order to overcome Maya one should understand what the Maya is.

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    Do you want meaning of Maya in general sense or in these specific verses or one definition that all Hindu philosophies accept?? If it is last case, i think all Hindu philosophies won't agree on single definition of Maya. – The Destroyer Oct 27 '17 at 15:19
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    @TheDestroyer In general sense would suffice provided that it should be consistent with how it is used in Rigveda! – user12262 Oct 27 '17 at 15:26
  • A translation of Sankara's exposition on Maya at the beginning of his commentary to the Brahma Sutras is here (section labeled 'Adhyasa or Superimposition') - wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/brahma-sutras/d/doc62753.html – Swami Vishwananda Oct 28 '17 at 4:24
  • Possible duplicate of What is maya and why is it there? – iammilind Oct 28 '17 at 5:44
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    @iammilind I have edited the question. The original post had different context than what I asked. Please check – user12262 Oct 28 '17 at 5:59

I am answering your question with taking help of different scriptures like Upanishads ,Puranas and works of Acharyas like Adi Shankaracharya ,who in very detail described this Maya.

Then scriptures are giving us not only the definition of Maya ,but also telling us about it's creator and it's nature as well as ways to liberate from bonds of maya.

Let's see one by one what some of the texts are saying

In the book Vivekachudamani Shree Sankaracharya says that Maya is the power of the Lord. Maya is without beginning, is made up of the three gunas and is superior to the effects as their cause. It is to be inferred by one of clear intellect only from the effects it produces. It is that which brings forth this whole universe. Maya is neither existent nor non-existent nor partaking of both characters; neither same nor different nor both; neither composed of parts nor an indivisible whole nor both. It is most wonderful and cannot be described in words.

अव्यक्तनाम्नि परमेशशक्ति -
रनाद्यविद्या त्रिगुणात्मिका परा ।
कार्य्यानुमेया सुधियैव माया ।
यया जगदसर्वमिदं प्रसूयते ।।108।।

avyaktanāmnī parameśaśaktiḥ
anādyavidyā triguṇātmikā parā | 
kāryānumeyā sudhiyaiva māyā
yayā jagatsarvamidaṃ prasūyate || 108 ||

Avidya (Nescience) or Māyā, called also the Undifferentiated, is the power of the Lord. She is without beginning, is made up of the three Guṇas and is superior to the effects (as their cause). She is to be inferred by one of clear intellect only from the effects She produces. It is She who brings forth this whole universe.

सन्नाप्यसन्नाप्युभयात्मिका नो
भिन्नाप्यभिन्नाप्युभयात्मिका नो । 
साङ्गाप्यनङ्गा ह्युभयात्मिका नो
महाद्भुतानिर्वचनीयरूपा ॥ 109 ॥

sannāpyasannāpyubhayātmikā no
bhinnāpyabhinnāpyubhayātmikā no | 
sāṅgāpyanaṅgā hyubhayātmikā no
mahādbhutānirvacanīyarūpā || 109 ||

She is neither existent nor non-existent nor partaking of both characters; neither same nor different nor both; neither composed of parts nor an indivisible whole nor both. She is most wonderful and cannot be described in words.

Here in Maya-Panchakam here is what Shankara says. Mayapanchakam, a work consisting of five stanzas, Sri Sankara brings out how Maya makes incompatibles appear together and is adept at making the impossible happen.

निरुपमनित्यनिरंशकेऽप्यखण्डे मयि चिति
सर्वविकल्पनादिशून्ये । घटयति जगदीशजीवभेदं
त्वघटितघटनापटीयसी माया ॥1॥

Nirupam anithya niramaskhepya khande Mayi chithi sarva vikalpanadhi soonye, Ghatayathi Jagadheesa jeeva bhedham Thwagathitha ghatanaa patiyasi maya.

Maya which is adept (Very Skillful) at making the impossible happen superimpose on me (the atman) who am I in reality pure consciousness ,who am eternal partless , unlimited by space ,time & other objects ,in whome there is no differentiation whatsoever ,the distinctions in the form of world , god and individual soul.

2 -: Maya, which is adept at making the impossible happen, makes even those who have mastered the Vedas and the Upanishads behave no better than four-legged animals by tempting them with wealth and possessions. What a pity!

3-: Maya, which is adept at making the impossible happen, makes the Atman which is of the nature of Bliss and pure and infinite Consciousness and is without a second, identify itself with the body made up of the elements, namely, ether, air etc., and whirl intensely in the ocean of transmigratory existence.

4-: Maya, which is adept at making the impossible happen, creates in the pure Bliss-Consciousness which is devoid of attributes such as caste, creed and the like, the notion of 'I'-ness, of looking upon oneself as a Brahmana, Vaisya, etc., as well as attachment to son, wife and home.

In Tattva-Bodha Shree Shankaracharya writes.

ब्रह्माश्रया सत्वरजस्तमोगुणात्मिका माया अस्ति ।।35।।

depending on Brahman for its existence is maya which is of the nature of the three gunas viz.sattva, rajas and tamas’.

What is Maya the question is also been answered by our Puranas. Here in the Skandha 11 - Chapter 3 : Liberation from the Illusory Energy - of Shreemad Bhagvat Purana this Maya is described as

एभिर्भूतानि भूतात्मा महभूतैर्महाभुज।
ससर्जोच्चावचान्याद्य: स्वमात्रात्म प्रसिद्धये।।SB 11.3..3।।

ebhir bhūtāni bhūtātmā
mahā-bhūtair mahā-bhuja
sasarjoccāvacāny ādyaḥ

The power withwich the Adi-purusha becoming the Atma(soul) of the universe for material pleasures and Moksha (libration) creates the worlds (lokas) which are lower & higher. That is called Maya.

Here Shvetashvatara Upanishad Shvetashvatara Upanishad Chapter 4 - Verse 10 tells us that Prakriti or Nature itself is Maya. i.e. Prakriti and Maya are the same.

मायां तु प्रकृतिं विद्यन्मायिनं तु महेश्वरम् ।
तस्यावयवभूतैस्तु व्याप्तं सर्वमिदं जगत् ।।10।।

māyāṃ tu prakṛtiṃ vidyān māyinaṃ tu maheśvaraṃ / tasyāvayavabhūtais tu vyāptaṃ sarvaṃ idaṃ jagat ।। 4.10।।

Know, then, that prakriti or nature is maya (illusion) and that Great Lord (Mahesvara) is the mayin (the illusion-maker). The whole universe is filled with objects which are parts of His being.

Maya in Rig-Veda

Rig-Veda -Mandala 10 - Hymn 177

पतंगमक्तमसुरस्य मायया हर्दा पश्यन्ति मनसाविपश्चितः |  समुद्रे अन्तः कवयो वि चक्षते मरीचीनाम्पदमिछन्ति वेधसः ||RV - 10.177.1||

pataṃghamaktamasurasya māyayā hṛdā paśyanti manasāvipaścitaḥ |  samudre antaḥ kavayo vi cakṣate marīcīnāmpadamichanti vedhasa

THE sapient with their spirit and their mind behold the Bird adorned with all an Asura's magic might. Sages observe him in the ocean's inmost depth: the wise disposers seek the station of his rays.

Alternate Translations

The Bird {pataṅgam} equipped (/driven) {aktam} by the Asuras' Maaya (magic) {asurasya māyayā} is seen {paśyanti} with the heart {hṛdā} and is recognized {vi paścitaḥ} with the mind {manasā}. Sages {kavayo} observe {vi cakṣate} it in the oceans' depth {samudre antaḥ}. The wise {vedhasaḥ} seek {icchanti} the locus of its rays {marīcīnām padam}.

Now lets look at another Verse from Book 6 - Hymn - 47-Mantra 18

इन्द्रो मायाभिः पुरुरूप ईयते युक्ता हयस्य हरयःशता दश ||  युजानो हरिता रथे भूरि तवष्टेह राजति |  को विश्वाहा दविषतः पक्ष आसत उतासीनेषु सूरिषु ||18||

18 In every figure he hath been the mode: this is his only form for us to look on. Indra moves multiform by his illusions; for his Bay Steeds are yoked, ten times a hundred.

This verse says that all the universe is Indra's art. (Mayabhi) ,and he modelled it as himself.

So its look like In the Rig-Veda there are two meanings of Maya i.e. Some unknown Magic and an multiform Illusion created by supreme god.

Conclusion - Maya is the power of the Lord. It is without beginning, is made up of the three gunas. She is only inferred from the effects she produces. Maya is very skillful in making impossible to happen. Prakriti is also a Maya.

  • @SwiftPuskar your conclusion is contradictory – B.N. Bhaskar Oct 28 '17 at 19:19

The meaning of the term 'Maya' is almost consistent from RigVeda to Bhagvata Gita. Problem lies with the translation and the translators.The etymological meaning of ma + ya is " not this" , thus it can be an illusion of 'this' or it can be a similar of 'this'. The both connotations of Maya is best exemplified in RigVedic hymn RV.1.80 (7) where Mayin Vritra takes a form of dear(mriga), thus an illusion. Whereas Indra kills him with Maya (through thunder bolt), thus a similar of natural one. The hymn quoted above RV.5.85 (5) refers to the similarity aspect of Sun in the term Maya i.e. the auora of Sun. Translators, unaware of the real meaning of Maya and few other terms, provides a far-fetched translation. A meaningful translation should be like this one - " those (qualities) of Asur (Sun) we heard of, I speak by moving forward into the great auora of Varun. In the standard view (it is) situated at the horizon ( manen eva ta asthi vam anta rikshe), yet he (Varun) is called (vi yo mame) Sun of the earth. Similarly, in Bhagvat Gita when it is said that world is Maya, we mean that the word is the manifestation of God , not that the world is an illusion of God.

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