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Rig Veda II.1 states that there is only one Brahman, though attributed different epithets like Indra, Vishnu, Rudra, etc., to denote different actions of the same Almighty. The same was reiterated in RV I.164.46:

एकं सद विप्रा बहुधा वदन्त्यग्निं

ekaṃ sad viprā bahudhā vadantyaghniṃ

Though it is One, inspired poets speak of it in many ways

The Puranas on the other hand eulogise Vishnu, Shiva, etc, by deification, and demean Indra, Agni, Aswins, etc, even though according to Vedas, Indra, Agni, Aswins, etc, were epithets much like Vishnu and Rudra, thus advocating sectarian movements like Vaishnavism, Shaivism, etc.

Deification of epithets is anti-Hindu or anti-Sanatana Dharma. Advocating sectarian movements like Vaishnavism, Shaivism, etc., is contrary to Rig Vedic principles.

So are there any references in Puranas to justify the deification of epithets, which is contrary to Rig Vedic principles?

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[Disclaimer: I am not here to argue which sect is correct (although you can clearly see Vaishnava bias in many of the sources I present). I am just using my knowledge of scripture to defend all worshipers alike.]

First, it is important to understand the different objects these epithets refer to. Let's take the name Indra for example. Indra is both a god (the king of heaven) and a name denoting Brahman. When Indra is portrayed as a womanizer, that refers to the king of heaven, not to the spotless Brahman in the Vedas. We will look to the Brahma Sutras for further elaboration (since the existence of Brahman has been assumed in the question).

In the Govinda-bhāṣya (with expanded commentary), there is the following on Adhyaya 2 Pada 3 Sutra 15:

Viṣaya [thesis or statement]: The Holy Names of the Supreme Personality of Godhead are eternal and innumerable. During the temporary manifestation of the material creation, some of these names are also used to refer to material personalities and objects. But the primary meaning of these words remains the Lord, since at the end of the creation the material persons and objects cease to exist.

Saṁśaya [arisal of doubt]: Is it not so that if Lord Hari is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of all, and the all-pervading Supersoul, then the names of all that is moving and inert would also be names of Him?

Pūrvapakṣa [antithesis]: It is not true that all names are names of the Lord, for words are primarily the names of the various moving and inert things. We accept the primary meaning of words as given in the dictionary, and if they also sometimes indicate Lord Hari, that is a secondary or indirect meaning.

Siddhānta [Vedic conclusion]: Thinking that someone may accept this idea that words are primarily names of various things and only secondarily names of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the author of the sūtras gives the following explanation.

Indeed, He resides in all that move and does not move. Therefore it will be learned that every word is one of His names.

...The sūtra explains: bhāva-bhāvitvāt [the real meaning of names will be learned in the future]. This means that by studying the scriptures one will come to understand that all words are names of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

From this, it is clear that every word primarily denotes Brahman and secondarily the other bearer of the name. Indra can denote both a deity and Brahman. Demeaning the deity is not equivalent to reducing the purity of the name itself.

At this point you may object, "You have still failed to justify the deification of epithets, which is prevalent throughout the Puranas." I take it that you believe the conception of gods/deities is unfounded in scripture, and only Brahman is described. Then I can justify my position in two ways.

(1) Citing the authority of the scriptures in question:

Mahabharata 1.1.267:

One should clarify the meaning of the Vedas by the Itihasas and Puranas.

Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad 2.4.10:

The breathing of the Lord is the Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas, the Itihasas and Puranas.

Note that the Itihasas, which also include narrations of deities, are mentioned as well.

Skanda Purana 2.3-5:

Long ago the grandfather of the devatas performed intense austerities. The Vedas with their six angas appeared with their verses in particular order. Then all the eternal, pure Puranas, embodiment of all scriptures, with eternal words, of a billion verses, emerged from Brahma's mouth. Please hear about the different Puranas starting with the Brahma Purana.

There are two things especially worth noting here. 1) The word "devatas" is mentioned, affirming the existence of deities such as Brahma and Indra. 2) The Puranas are stated to have come from Brahma's mouth. The Puranas are not of human origin, just like the Vedas themselves.

Shrimad Bhagavatam 3.12.39:

Brahma, who has faces in all directions, created the fifth Veda composed of the Puranas and Itihasas, from all of his mouths.

Chandogya Upanishad 7.1.2:

I studied the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, Atharva Veda, the Itihasas and Puranas, the fifth of Veda.

Matsya Purana 53.8-9:

Thinking that in the passing of time people cannot receive the Puranas, I [Vishnu] appear in the form of Vyasa and collate them yuga after yuga.

Shiva Purana 1.33-34:

The Lord, condensing the four Vedas, divided them into four. He is known as Veda-vyasa because he divided (vyasta) the Vedas. Being only four hundred thousand verses, the Puranas were condensed by him. Even today in heavenly planets there are a billion verses.

I have obtained all these verses from the Tattva Sandarbha of Jiva Gosvami.

As you can see, a wide variety of texts prove that the Puranas (and Itihasas) are self-evident scriptures like the four Vedas. Both Brahma and the wise rishis manifested the eternal Vedas; likewise, both Brahma and Vyasa manifested the eternal Puranas.

When both the Puranas and the Itihasas "deify epithets" and are shown to be the fifth Veda, there is no question of either their authenticity or the existence of devatas.

(2) Reinterpreting the statement in the Rig Veda:

You cited Rig Veda I.164.46 in your question:

एकं सद विप्रा बहुधा वदन्त्यग्निं

ekaṃ sad viprā bahudhā vadantyaghniṃ

Though it is One, inspired poets speak of it in many ways.

Now that the authority of the Puranas has been established, let us "clarify the meaning of the Vedas" with two Puranic statements.

Viṣṇu Purāṇa [1.2.3] (This is taken from the Govinda-bhāṣya mentioned earlier):

ekāneka-svarūpāya

The Supreme Personality of Godhead is one, although He has many forms.

Shrimad Bhagavatam 3.32.36:

The Supreme Personality of Godhead alone is complete transcendental knowledge, but according to the different processes of understanding He appears differently, either as impersonal Brahman, as Paramātmā, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead or as the puruṣa-avatāra.

The gist of it is this: let us assume that Vishnu is verily Brahman for a second (since these Puranas are eulogizing Vishnu). If He is the One mentioned in your Rig Veda quote, then it is very simple to reconcile the fact that Brahman is spoken of in many ways, for Vishnu has many incarnations spoken of in the Puranas. Shaivas can also claim the same about Shiva, and the same goes for other sects.

In conclusion, the deification of epithets is justified in the Puranas because the deities do exist, but it is not "deifying an epithet" per se. The names originally belong to Brahman and are given to other objects when they come into existence in the cosmic manifestation. Additionally, since the Puranas are of the same nature as the Vedas, they can be used to understand the latter's purport. Hence, followers of different sects are not anti-Hindu.

EDIT: Neo-Advaitins and the like would respond like so: the one Brahman manifests as the gods Indra, Agni, Shiva, Vishnu, etc. to perform lilas (divine play), so when in one purana Shiva is called supreme and in another purana Vishnu is called supreme, there is no contradiction. Indeed, both are manifestations of the same Brahman. This is the explanation I have seen.

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  • However, one important point to note is that ancient Shaivas placed much less emphasis on the Vedas than the Shiva-agamas, which were authored by Pashupati himself. They used the agamas as proof of Shiva's supremacy. Shaivism and other sects will use different means to come to a similar conclusion as I have in my answer. I am pretty sure they do not use the "all names are names of Brahman" argument. – MassInquirer Aug 20 at 2:50
  • As you had posted a disclaimer in the very beginning of your post, I do not want to comment on your answer. – Srimannarayana K V Aug 20 at 6:22
  • You can post a comment, and I will see what I can do. – MassInquirer Aug 20 at 14:13
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There is in Srimad Bhagavadam good explanation of deification of epithets. It is true that Vishnu, Rudra, Agni, Ashwin are all Brahman. However, these are different aspects of Brahman and yield different results when worshipped and hence the different aspects are not of equal value for the spiritual aspirant.

All the deities are channels to the Supreme.

Sri Suka said, "One who desires to have the lustre of Vedic learning should adore Brahma from whom the Vedas have come; those who seek power of the senses should worship Indra, and those who desire progeny, the Prajapatis. The seeker of wealth should worship Sri Devi; of brilliance, the deity Agni; of wealth, the Vasus; and of power, the Rudras. The seekers of food stuffs should worship Aditi; of heaven, the twelve Adityas; of kingdom, the Visve-devas; and of popularity, the Sadhyas. The seeker of longevity should worship the Asvinidevas; of strength of body, the Bhumi Devi; and of security, Dyo and Bhumi who are the parents of the worlds. The seekers of beauty should worship the Gandharvas; of women, the ApsaraUrvasi; and of sovereignty over all, Brahma, the Lord of the worlds. The seeker of fame should worship Vishnu; of immense wealth, Varuna; of learning, Parameswara; and of happy conjugal life, Uma. The seeker of Dharma should worship Vishnu as Uttamasloka; and of increase in progeny, the Pitris; of security from possession by ghosts, Yakshas; and of strength, the Maruts. The seeker of kingdom should worship the Manus and the Devas; of the destruction of enemies by black magic, the Rakshasa Nirritti; and of sexual satisfaction, Soma. But those who have no desires worship the Supreme Being who transcends Nature. But the one Being to be adored with intense devotion by all - whether they be devoid of all desires, or whether they be desirous of all enjoyments, or whether they be seekers of Moksha - is that Supreme Person, the one God of all. (In other words all the Deities mentioned above are nothing but His manifestation, and all their powers stem from Him alone. So a man of intelligence worships the Supreme Being alone through all Deities.) The ultimate object of all worship is the generation of unswerving devotion to the Supreme Being. It leads to liberation, the highest destiny of man. By association with holy men devotion develops in an aspirant.”

Srimad Bhagavata Purana II.3.2-11

It is true that Saivism and Vaishnavism seem to be sectarian in nature. That is because the followers think that Shiva and Vishnu are different. In reality there is no difference between Brahman, Brahma, Rudra and Hari.

No difference between Brahman, Brahma, Rudra and Hari.

Sri Bhagavan said: I, who am known as the supreme cause of the worlds, its soul, its ruler, the witness of everything, the self-effulgent being and attributeless Absolute - in truth I am both Brahma and Rudra. O Learned one! Verily I assume different names like Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara, appropriate for the creation, preservation and destruction of the universe, which I perform by assuming My Yoga-maya, which has its three constituent Gunas of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. In Me, the all-comprehending and all-pervading Self, known as Brahman, the ignorant man sees Brahma, Rudra and other entities as different. Just as a man will not consider the members of his body like the head and the limbs as different from himself but only parts of himself, so does one who has taken refuge in Me sees all beings as parts of Me. He attains eternal peace who does not perceive any difference between the three - Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara - who are one in nature and pervade in all beings.

Srimad Bhagavata Purana translated by Swami Tapasyananda IV.7.50-54.

I am adding some quotes from Mahabharata.

Both Lord Shiva and Lord Krishna are Supreme.

The Supreme Spirit has three conditions. In the form of Brahma, he is the Creator, and in the form of Vishnu he is the Preserver, and in his form as Rudra, he is the Destroyer of the Universe!

Mahabharata, Vana Parva, Section CCLXX

Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra/Shiva are simply three names and forms of Brahman.

Rishi Sanat-sujata says:

There is but one Brahman which is Truth’s self. It is from ignorance of that One, that god-heads have been conceived to be diverse.

Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva, Section 43

Sri Hari himself said that no one should see any difference between Him and Shiva.

Well-adored by the Rishis, by Brahma, and by all the deities, that great God, the Lord of the universe, otherwise called by the name of Hari, then addressed the illustrious Isana and said these words:-He that knows thee, knows me. He that follows thee, follows me. There is no difference between thee and me. Do thou never think otherwise.

Mahabharata, Santi Parva, Section CCCXLIII

Another example is given below:

Then Partha, with a cheerful soul, and joined hands and eyes expanded (in wonder), gazed at the god having the bull for his mark [Shiva] and who was the receptacle of every energy. And he beheld the offerings he made every night to Vasudeva lying by the side of the Three-eyed deity.

Mahabharata, Drona Parva, Section LXXXI

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  • Your quote from SB IV.7.50-54, is leaning towards Vaishnavism. The first one is better. I request you to update your answer from some other sources. Upvoted but not acceptable as suitable answer – Srimannarayana K V Sep 12 at 6:03
  • I have added some quotes from Mahabharata. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Sep 12 at 11:37
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So are there any references in Puranas/itihasa to justify the deification of epithets, which is contrary to Rig Vedic principles?

Vishnu Purana

Thus the one only god, Janárddana(Supereme God), takes the designation of Brahmá, Vishńu, and Śiva, accordingly as he creates, preserves, or destroys

Aranya Parva CCLXX

The Supreme Spirit hath three conditions. In the form of Brahma, he is the Creator, and in the form of Vishnu he is the Preserver, and in his form as Rudra, he is the Destroyer of the Universe!

Aranya Parva CLXXXVIII

O best of regenerate ones, I am Narayana, the Source of all things, the Eternal, the Unchangeable. I am the Creator of all things, and the Destroyer also of all. I am Vishnu, I am Brahma and I am Sakra, the chief of the gods. I am king Vaisravana, and I am Yama, the lord of the deceased spirits. I am Siva, I am Soma, and I am Kasyapa the lord of the created things. And, O best of regenerate ones, I am he called Dhatri, and he also that is called Vidhatri, and I am Sacrifice embodied.

The above verses are from Mahabharat and Vishnu Purana which justify the dedication of epithets.

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    You have quoted biased statements leaning towards Vaishnavism, may be you are a Vaishnava. Sorry! I can't agree. – Srimannarayana K V Sep 12 at 6:00

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