We have the famous saying "Ekam Sadvipra Bahudha Vadanti" from Rig Veda which is clearly speaking about Monotheism.

But are the characteristics of one Supreme God established in the Rig Veda?

The main characteristics are

  1. Omnipotence
  2. Omnipresence
  3. Omniscience
  4. Omnibenevolence
  5. Creator (Should be the cause of the Universe and creation.)

This article claims so

The Rig Veda Samhita not only acknowledges the existence of one ultimate Reality in general terms such as sat, eka etc., but it also refers to the essential characteristics of the one Reality in the same terms as the Upanishads speak of Brahman. The Supreme one Deity is regarded as the primary cause of the universe (sarva-karana). He is considered as the controller of all (sarva-niyamaka and immanent in the hearts of men (antaryami). He is described as the ruler of the entire universe and the Lord of both the transcendental as well as the physical universe. He is referred to as the saviour of mankind and giver of immortality. We also come across other important attributes of the Supreme Being such as omniscient (sarvajna), omnipotent (sarvasakta), endowed with unsurpassable glory (sarvatisayi) and the greatest of all.

Is this true? Are the characteristics of a Monotheistic God established in the Rig Veda? Is so, which verses of Rig Veda indicate the characteristics of a Monotheistic God?

1 Answer 1


Prof Chandradhar Sharma writes in Indian Philosophy a Critical Survey, pages 3-5,

It is said that we can notice a transition from the naturalistic and anthropomorphic polytheism through transcendent monotheism to immanent monism in the pre-Upanisadic philosophy. The personified forces of nature first changed into real gods and these later on, became mere forms of one personal and transcendental God, the ‘Custodian of the Cosmic and Moral Order, who Himself, later on, passed into the immanent Purusa. Then gradually polytheism yielded place to monotheism and the latter to monism. Max Müller introduces ‘henotheism' as a transitional stage from polytheism to monotheism. Henotheism means ‘belief in one only God, because the Vedic Aryans regarded any god they were praising as the most supreme and the only God. If this western interpretation is taken literally and in its entirety, we have no hesitation in saying that it is based on an ignorance of the Vedic literature. Neither polytheism nor henotheism nor even monotheism can be taken as the key-note of the early Vedic philosophy.

Instead of taking the trouble of coining the word ‘henotheism', Max Muller could have simply said that the gods are regarded as mere manifestation of the Supreme God so that when any god was praised he was not praised in his individual capacity, but merely as the manifestation of the Supreme God. Let us take some illustrations. ‘The One Real, the wise declare as many.1 ‘Purusa is all this, all that was, and all that shall be.2 ‘The real essence of the gods is one.3 ‘The same Real is worshipped as Uktha in the Rk, as Agni in the Yajuh and as Mahâvrata in the Säma.4 ‘Aditi, the Boundless, is the sky, the air, the mother, the father, the son, all the gods and all the men, all that is, all that was and all that shall be.5 ‘He is the Custodian of the Rta (Truth), the binding Soul of the universe, the unity-in-difference in the cosmic and the moral order’.6 The gods also are the guardians of the Truth (rtasya gopä); even the rivers flow in this Rta (rtamarpanti sindhavah). ‘Only the wise, the wide awake, the mindful, know the ultimate Abode of the Lord.7 ‘We make sacrifices to the ultimate Lord of the universe, who runs through every particle of this universe, the whole existence, and who is Blissful and ndescribable. ‘Desireless, self-possessed, immortal, self-proved, ever full of Bliss, inferior to none, ever-young and everlasting is He, the Soul of this universe; through His knowledge alone can one spurn death. ‘There was neither Being nor non-Being, neither air nor sky, neither death nor immortality, neither night nor day; That One breathed calmly, self-sustained; nought else beyond it lay.7 ‘The Indescribable is the ground of all names and forms, the support of all the creation. ‘All the gods form the body of this World-Soul. ‘He is immanent in all this creation and yet He transcends it.8. References : 1 ekam sad viprä bahudhä vadami.— Rgveda, I. 164. 46. 2 Puruça cvedam sarvam yad bhûtam yachcha bhavyam.— Ibid, X. 90. 9 Ibid, III. 55. 3 Aitareya Aranvaka, III. 2. 3. 12. 4 Rgveda, I. 89. 10. 4 Ibid, 5 X . 190. 1. 1 Viçnoryat paramani padam.— Ibid, I. 22. 21. 6 kasmai D eviya haviçâ vidhema.— Ib id ,X . 121. 1. tameva vidvàn na bibhâya mytyor àtmànam dhiram ajaram yuvânam.— Atharvaveda, X . 8. 44. tameva viditvâ 'timftyumeti nänyab panthä vidyate ayanäya.— Yajurveda. 7 nâsadâsit no sadâsït tadânïm. — Rgveda, X. 129. 4 Atharvaveda, X I. 9. 1. 8 Nirukta, V II. 4. 9. 6 pâdo'sya vishvi bhutâni tripädasyä'mrtam divi.— Rgveda, X. 90. 3

Prof S Dasgupta writes in Indian Philosophy, A Critical Survey, Vol 1 , part 8

But whether we call it Henotheism or the mere temporary exaggeration of the powers of the deity in question, it is evident that this stage can neither be properly called polytheistic nor monotheistic, but one which had a tendency towards them both, although it was not sufficiently developed to be identified with either of them. The tendency towards extreme exaggeration could be called a monotheistic bias in germ, whereas the correlation of different deities as independent of one another and yet existing side by side was a tendency towards polytheism. Growth of a Monotheistic tendency; Prajāpati, Viśvakarma: This tendency towards extolling a god as the greatest and highest gradually brought forth the conception of a supreme Lord of all beings (Prajāpati), not by a process of conscious generalization but as a necessary stage of development of the mind, able to imagine a deity as the repository of the highest moral and physical power, though its direct manifestation cannot be perceived. Thus the epithet Prajāpati or the Lord of beings, which was originally an epithet for other deities, came to be recognized as a separate deity, the highest and the greatest.

Thus it is said in R. V. x. 121: In the beginning rose Hiranyagarbha, Born as the only lord of all existence. This earth he settled firm and heaven established: What god shall we adore with our oblations ? Who gives us breath, who gives us strength, whose bidding All creatures must obey, the bright gods even; Whose shade is death, whose shadow life immortal: What god shall we adore with our oblations ? Who by his might alone became the monarch Of all that breathes, of all that wakes or slumbers, Of all, both man and beast, the lord eternal: What god shall we adore with our oblations ? Whose might and majesty these snowy mountains, The ocean and the distant stream exhibit; Whose arms extended are these spreading regions: What god shall we adore with our oblations ? Who made the heavens bright, the earth enduring, Who fixed the firmament, the heaven of heavens; Who measured out the air’s extended spaces: What god shall we adore with our oblations ?

Similar attributes are also ascribed to the deity Viśvakarma (All-creator)[The Rigveda, by Kaegi, p. 89, and also Muir’s Sanskrit Texts, vol. iv. pp. 5-1]. He is said to be father and procreator of all beings, though himself uncreated. He generated the primitive waters.

It is to him that the sage says,

Who is our father, our creator, maker, Who every place doth know and every creature, By whom alone to gods their names were given, To him all other creatures go to ask him[R. V. x. 82. 3.].

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