Savitr

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Savitr (Sanskrit: stem savitr-, nominative singular savitā) is a solar deity in the Rigveda, and one of the Adityas i.e. off-spring of Vedic deity Aditi. His name in Vedic Sanskrit connotes "impeller, rouser, vivifier". He is sometimes identified with--and at other times distinguished from--Surya, "the Sun". When considered distinct from the Sun proper, he is conceived of as the divine influence or vivifying power of the Sun. The Sun before sunrise is called Savitr, and after sunrise until sunset it is called Surya.[1] Savitr is celebrated in eleven whole hymns of the Rig Veda and in parts of many others, his name being mentioned about 170 times in aggregate.

Savitr disappeared as an independent deity from the Hindu pantheon after the end of the Vedic period, but in modern Hinduism, his name occurs in the well-known Gayatri mantra (taken from book three of the Rigveda), which is also known as Savitri because of this.

Rigvedic deity[edit]

Savitr is a deity whose name primarily denote an agent, in the form of a noun derived from a root with the agent suffix -tr. The name of Savitr belongs to a class of Vedic theonyms, with Dhatr, Tratr and Tvastr. These names denote these as agent gods, who create, protect, and produce, respectively. [2]

Savitr has golden arms, and is broad-handed or beautiful-handed. He is also pleasant tongued or beautiful-tongued, and is once called iron-jawed. He is yellow-haired, an attribute shared with Agni and Indra. He puts on a tawny garment. He has a golden car with a golden pole, which is omni-form, just as he himself is capable of assuming all forms. His car is drawn by two radiant steeds or by two or more brown, white-footed horses. Mighty splendour (“amati”) is preeminently attributed to Savitr, and mighty “golden” splendour to him only. Such splendour he stretches out or diffuses. He illumines the air, heaven and earth, the world, the spaces of the earth, the vault of heaven.

Like Pushan and Surya, he is lord of that which moves and is stationary. Savitr has been attributed to as upholding the movables and immovable, which signifies the maintenance of Dharma. Savitr is a beneficent God who act as protectors of all beings, who are provident and guard the world of spirits. Being an Aditya, Savitr is true to the eternal Law and act as the debt exactor.[3] His ancient paths in the air are dustless and easy to traverse, on them he is besought to protect his worshippers. He is prayed to convey the departed spirit to where the righteous dwell. Savitr bestows immortality on the gods as well as length of life on man. He also bestowed immortality on the Rbhus, who by the greatness of their deeds went to his house. Like other gods, Savitr is a supporter of the sky. Also, he supports the whole world, a role which has been assigned to Lord Vishnu in later Vedic pantheon. He fixed the earth with bonds and made firm the sky in the rafterless space.

In the Rig veda, there are two classes of deities whose nature is founded on abstraction. The one class consisting of the direct personifications of abstract notions such as desire is rare, occurring only in the very latest hymns of the Rig veda and due to that growth of speculation which is so plainly traceable in the course of the Vedic age. The other and more numerous class comprises deities whose names primarily either denote an agent, in the form of a noun derived from a root with the suffix “-tr”, such as Dhatr, Creator, or designate some attribute, such as Prajapati, Lord of Creatures . This class, judged by the evolution of the mythological creations of the Veda, does not represent direct abstractions, but appears in each case to be derived from an epithet applied to one or more deities and illustrating a particular aspect of activity or character. Such epithets gradually becoming detached finally attained to an independent position. Thus Rohita, the Red One (whose female form is Rohini), originally an epithet of the sun, as a separate deity in the capacity of a Creator.

In ‘The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads’ Vol. 1, noted Indologist A. Berriedale Keith at p. 204 remarks that:

“…[A] second class of gods who may be called abstract is afforded by the agent gods, such as Dhatr, whose name expresses a function which they perform, so that they can be called functional gods. In all the cases which are to be found in the Vedic literature we are able to say with a fair degree of plausibility that the conception formed itself from the use of the epithet in question in the first place of some concrete god, and then, after denoting that deity in the special field of action, it was gradually made into a separate deity concerned merely with the sphere of action in question. This, however, cannot be proved beyond doubt: it will for instance always be open to question whether Savitr is really an aspect of the sun, or whether he is god of stimulation who by reason of similarity of nature has been made like to the sun. In other cases there can be less doubt: the god Visnu cannot really be explained as a god of wide stepping: he is a sun god, who happens to have a special sphere of activity…”

The most important of the gods whose names denote an agent in “-tr” class, is Savitr. Apart from Savitr, other such deities are of rare occurrence in the Rig Veda. Dhatr, found in a few passages as an appellative designating priests as establishes of the sacrifice, occurs as the name of a deity about a dozen times and, with the exception of one indefinite mention in company with a number of other gods, only in the tenth book. In one of these passages the name is an epithet of Indra and in another of Visvakarman. The frequent ascription of the action of establishing (Ydha) the phenomena of the world to different gods, gradually led to the conception of a separate deity exercising this particular activity.

According to Yaska, Sanskrit scholar of the 5th century BCE, who made various attempts to interpret difficult Vedic mythologies in his work Nirukta (Etymology) (12,12), the time of Savitr’s appearance is when darkness has been removed. Sayanacharya on Rig Veda) remarks that before his rising the sun is called Savitr, but from his rising to his setting, Surya. But Savitr is also sometimes spoken of as sending to sleep, and must therefore be connected with evening as well as morning. He is, indeed, extolled as the setting sun in one hymn (2, 38); and there are indications that most of the hymns addressed to him are meant for either a morning or an evening sacrifice. He brings all two-footed and four-footed beings to rest and awakens them. He unyokes his steeds, brings the wanderer to rest; at his command night comes; the weaver rolls up her web and the skilful man lays down his unfinished work. Later the west was wont to be assigned to him as the east to Agni and the south to Soma.

The epithet “surya-rashmi” has been used in the Rig Veda only once and, it has been applied to Savitr:

“[S]hining with the rays of the sun, yellow-haired, Savitr raises up his light continually from the east.”

Like Surya, Savitr is implored to remove evil dreams and to make men sinless. Savitr drives away evil spirits and sorcerers. He observes fixed laws. The waters and the wind are subject to his ordinance. He leads the waters and by his propulsion they flow broadly. The other gods follow his lead. No being, not even Indra, Varuna, Mitra, Aryaman, Rudra, can resist his will and independent dominion. His praises are celebrated by the Vasus, Aditi, Varuna, Mitra and Aryaman. He is lord of all desirable things, and sends blessings from heaven, air, earth.

At p. 65 of “The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads: Vol. 1”, author Arthur Berriedale Keith has maintained that:

[T]he connection of Savitr with the sun is fairly close. It is at least possible, therefore, that in its origin Savitr was not an independent creation, but was an epithet of Surya, but that question is of little importance: the essential feature of the god is not his original basis, but his function as the inspirer or impeller to holy sacrifice: the ritual act is repeatedly said in the Yajurveda to be done ‘on the instigation of the god Savitr’.”

In several passages Savitr and Surya appear to be spoken of indiscriminately to denote the same deity. The Vedic poet observes:

“[G]od Savitr has raised aloft his brilliance, making light for the whole world; Surya shining brightly has filled heaven and earth and air with his rays.”

In another hymn Surya is spoken of in terms prasavitr (Vivifier), an adjective usually applied to Savitr, and in the third verse Savitr is apparently mentioned as the same god as Surya. In other hymns also, it is hardly possible to keep the two deities apart. In certain passages, Savitr combines with the rays of the sun or shines with the rays of the sun.

Savitr has a major role in creation. The relevant hymn mentions that: "Indra measured six broad spaces, from which no existing thing is excluded: he it is who made the wide expanse of earth and the lofty dome of the sky, even he". Savitr assisted Indra in shaping the universe. In “Indian myth and Legend”, renowned Indologist Donald A.Mackenzie has harboured such a view.

In Vedic Mythology, A. A. MacDonnel (p. 13) has asserted that:

[T]here are in the last book of the Rig Veda some hymns which treat the origin of the world philosophically rather than mythologically. Various passages show that in the cosmological speculation of the Rig Veda The sun was regarded as an important agent of generation. Thus he is called the soul (atma) of all that moves and stands. Statements such as that he is called by many names though one indicate that his nature was being tentatively abstracted to that of a supreme god, nearly approaching that of the later conception of Brahma. In this sense the sun is once glorified as a great power of the universe under the name of the golden embryo, hiranya-garbha, in Rig Veda. It is he who measures out space in the air and shines where the sun rises. In the last verse of this hymn, he is called Prajapati, lord of created beings , the name which became that of the chief god of the Brahmanas. It is significant that in the only older passage of the Rig veda in which it occurs, Prajapati is an epithet of the solar deity Savitr, who in the same hymn is said to rule over what moves and stands."

Arthur Berriedale Keith in “The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads, Vol 2” has noted that Savitr is never mentioned as having part in the Soma sacrifice, "a fact which is doubtless fair evidence that the Rig veda did not know him as having a place in the rite, and that he was later brought in, perhaps because of his growing importance, perhaps as an Aditya."

Epithets[edit]

Apam napat (Born of the Waters): Savitr is at least once[citation needed] called “apam napat” (Child of Waters), an epithet otherwise exclusively belonging to Agni.

God of the Middle Region: Commentator Yaska commenting on the verse where Savitr is attributed with causing rain, regards Savitr as belonging to the middle region (or atmosphere) for possessing this ability, adding that the Adityas, who are in heaven, are also called Savitr. It is probably owing to this epithet and because Savitr’s paths are said to be in the atmosphere, that this deity occurs among the gods of the middle region as well as among those of heaven in the Naighantuka.

Prajapati: Savitr is once depicted as the Prajapati of the world. In the Satapatha Brahmana (v. 12, 3, 5), Savitr has been identified with Prajapati and in the Taittiriya Brahmana (v. 1, 6, 4), it has been stated that Prajapati becoming Savitr created living beings.

Damunas (Domestic): In the Rig veda, Savitr has been twice spoken of as domestic (“damunas”), an epithet otherwise almost entirely limited to Agni.

Asura: Like many other gods, Savitr is mentioned as ‘asura’ in many hymns of the Rig veda.

Pusan: Savitr alone is the lord of vivifying power and on account of his movements (yamabhih), he becomes Pusan. In two consecutive verses, Pusan and Savitr are described as connected. In the first the favour of Pusan who sees all beings is invoked, and in the second, Savitr is besought to stimulate the thoughts of worshipers who desire to think of the excellent brilliance of the Deva. The latter verse is the celebrated Savitri, now termed as the Gayatri mantra, with which Savitr was in later times invoked at the beginning of Vedic study.

Mitra: Savitr is also said to become Mitra by reason of his laws.

Bhaga: Savitr seems sometimes to be identified with Bhaga also, unless the latter word is here only an epithet of Savitr. The name of Bhaga, the good god bestowing benefits is indeed often added to that of Savitr so as to form the single expression Savitr Bhaga or Bhaga Savitr, with the term Bhaga simply acting as a qualitative and attributive adjective.

Savitr in the Brahmanas[edit]

The Vedas do not identify the Ādityas and there is no classification of the thirty-three gods, except for in the Yajurveda (7.19), which says there are eleven gods in heaven (light space), eleven gods in atmosphere (intermediate space), and eleven gods in earth (observer space). In the Satapatha Brahmana, the number of Ādityas is eight in some passages, and in other texts of the same Brahmana, twelve Adityas are mentioned.

Savitr disappears in post-Vedic literature and is absent from the corpus of Pauranic Hinduism..[4][5]

Hindu revivalism[edit]

Some modern Hindu spiritual thinkers like Shri Aurobindo assign symbolism to the Vedic deities like Savitr. The Vedic deities are not only forces of nature, but also forces that exist within the human intellect and psyche and help the individual in spiritual progress. Shri Aurobindo has enumerated the symbolic significance of the Vedic Gods in his book "The Secret of the Vedas".

According to Shri Aurobindo, the vedic imagery are deeper than mere imagery. The gods, goddesses and the evil forces mentioned in the Vedas represent various cosmic powers. They play a significant role in the drama of creation, preservation and destruction in the inner world of a human being.

Once the senses are controlled and the mind is stabilized through slaying of all the dark powers, comes the awakening, the goddess Ushas, who brings along with her Ashvins into the world of inner consciousness. After Ushas appear Aditi, the Primal Sun, the God of Light, first as Savitr, who represents the Divine grace essential for all spiritual success, and then as Mitra, who as the Divine love is considered as a friend of the illumined mind (Indra) and his associates (the other gods). The Sun is of Truth, after which appear Rta, Truth in Action and Rtachit, Truth consciousness.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary (1899).
  2. ^ MacDonell, A.A. (1881). Vedic Mythology. Williams and Norgate. 
  3. ^ Rig Veda Book 2, XXVIIth Hymn, Translated by Ralph T.H. Griffith
  4. ^ Wilson, H. H. (2006). The Vishnu Purana: A System of Hindu Mythology and Tradition. Read Books Publications. 
  5. ^ Muir, John (1863). Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and Progress of the Religion and Institutions of India. Williams and Norgate.