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Rig Veda 1.23.3 says:

इ॒न्द्र॒वा॒यू म॑नो॒जुवा॒ विप्रा॑ हवन्त ऊ॒तये॑ । स॒ह॒स्रा॒क्षा धि॒यस्पती॑ ॥
“The wise invoke, for their preservation, Indra and Vāyu, who are swift as thought, have a thousand eyes, and are protectors of pious acts.”

The story of Indra having a thousand eyes is known by almost everyone, but this is the first time I have heard of Vayu having that number. Is there a story behind why he has so many eyes? What other scriptures describe him that way?

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It is because there is not a clear distinction between Indra and Vayu. In the Shatapatha Brahmana, it says of Indra:

6.1.1.2. Prana, when it reaches the middle is really Indra. He, by his power, kindled this prana from the middle.

Prana is synonymous with Vayu. It is similar how, sometimes, in the Rig Veda, Indra's achievements are attributed to Agni and vice versa. E.g. Indra's slaying of Vritra:

1.32.1. Let me now sing the heroic deeds of Indra, the Rishi that the thunderbolt-wielder performed. He killed the dragon and pierced an opening for the waters; he split open the bellies of mountains.

Now, here's the same accomplishments being attributed to Agni:

1.59.6. I will proclaim the greatness of the bull. Supplicating men attend upon him who is the slayer of Vṛtra. The Vaiśvānara, Agni, killed the demon, shook the waters and pierced the cloud.

In this context, we can take 1.23.3 as not meaning Indra and Vayu as separate, but Indravayu - combined forces of Vayu and Indra. It also means that the power of Vayu bestows this quality (a thousand eyes) as well as Indra.

A thousand eyes is figurative and refers to seeing clearly, in a pervasive manner. In the Purusha Sukta, we see that Purusha is described as also having a thousand eyes:

10.90.1-2. Puruṣa, who has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet...is verily all this, all that is, and all that is to be; he is also the lord of immortality.

In this context, it means that Indra and Vayu are not different from the universal Purusha who is Brahman. That this is the case and the devas are used interchangeably and are not different, is confirmed in 1.164.46:

1.164.46. They have styled (him, the Sun), Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa, Agni, and he is the celestial, well-winged Garutmat, for learned priests call one by many names as they speak of Agni, Yama, Mātariśvan.

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  • This is a great answer! Please keep it up ✨ and a belated welcome to you! Aug 21, 2023 at 4:41

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