India Vedic Religion
According to Thereligionfaqs, the Vedic religion is a polytheism that is formed by the meeting of peoples of Indo-European culture with cultures, already oriented in a polytheistic sense. In the most ancient phase it did not have temples: this denotes the lack of the concept of a common place of worship, to mark and build a specific political-cultural unit. Indeed, there has never been a precise conception of public worship in the Indian tradition. Political unity was given by the king of a single territory; the cults connected with the exercise of kingship held the place of a public cult. Public, if anything, were the priests (brahmins) and they were entrusted with the cultural unity of the Indian nation. This was recognized as such (ārya), regardless of the territorial subdivisions, in a complex made up of three castes: of the Brahmans, who supplied the priests; of the kshatriyas, supplier of warriors and kings, and the vaiśya, which included all producers of economic goods. Belonging to one of the three ā rya castes and the status of out-caste (pariah), reserved for indigenous peoples, was religiously justified by the theory of existence (saṃsāra) as reincarnation, for which one was born in a condition rather than in another because of the karman, that is, of the merits or demerits acquired in a previous life. To have the qualification of ā rya However, it was not enough to be born in a caste, but it was necessary to “be reborn” through an initiation obtained from a Brahmin, in the course of a few years around the age of puberty. The initiation, which in addition to the rites included adequate religious instruction, conferred the title of dvija (twice born) and made the Indian adult, that is, able to perform the domestic ritual (grhya) once a family was formed. But his complete integration into society came when he became a yajamana (sacrificer), that is, he acquired the right to perform srauta rites., more closely related to the cult of the gods, that is, to the national religion. The ceremony of installing three “fires” on his land, celebrated by four brahmins, gave him this right. Once a “sacrificer”, he could intervene on his own initiative in the field of action of the national gods, albeit always with the mediation of a material “sacrificer” priest (adhayaryu). In Indian ideology, social integration consisted in the insertion of individual life into the rta, the cosmic order. Sacrifice to the gods guaranteed and promoted this insertion, as it linked human action to divine action, which was precisely an expression of rta. It rta itself can be understood as a sublimation, in a cosmic key, of ritual behavior (note the linguistic relationship between Vedic rta and Latin ritus) . Rta is vital flow (it is life itself, which is opposed, with arrest, death), but channeled into the right behavior and this in turn is an abstraction from historical behavior, which, in Indian ideology, is pure illusion (māyā).
In such a world conceived, the gods, who as in every polytheism are “forms of the world”, are represented not so much for their essence (as would be appropriate to forms of a static world), but for their action, as an expression of rta. The Indian theological effort, rather than fixing the individual traits of the gods, has aimed at detecting their possible interventions and the occasions in which they take place. These occasions from accidental (or natural) are made necessary (or cultural) as determined by rta, the universal order, and the sacrificial rite which is rta itself or promotes it. The rta transcends even the gods. There is a god who sets the RTA; there is no “king of the gods”, to whose will the order of the world must be adapted. There is, yes, a god, Indra, who represents sovereignty, but he does not exercise it in the sense of a king of the universe. And besides, in other respects, sovereignty is also represented by another god, Varuna . The result is a pantheon without a hierarchy; its organization, on the other hand, proceeds by divine groupings which generally correspond to the divinities who are called into question on the same occasions. A fundamental grouping is that which divides the gods into Deva and Asura, evidently in response to an ambiguous conception of divinity, or of the substantial ambiguity of the occasions of divine intervention (crisis and overcoming). Sometimes a divine grouping is formally justified by a common genealogy: this is the case of the Āditya (the sons of Aditi, a kind of primordial Great Mother) who include, along with others, Varuna and Mitra . A minimal form of grouping is the pair; of fundamental importance for the construction of the rta is the couple Mitra-Varuna: Mitra promotes it and Varuna punishes the transgressors by imprisoning them in his “snares”. Of great importance in the Vedic religion is the sacrificial rite which, in reference to the rta, even seems to transcend the gods who are its recipients. The sacrifice itself is conceived as a god: this is the case of Agni, sacrificial fire and mediator between men and gods, and of Soma, sacrificial drink and divinity at the same time. The divinization of sacrifice is apparently a development in the polytheistic sense, but in reality it moves in the opposite direction. It gives sacrifice an absolute value that it could not have as long as it remains within the limits of an instrument of communication between men and gods. It is an instrument if the gods who benefit from it are distinguished from it; it is no longer so when its nature and that of the gods are identified. Providing the sacrifice with an absolute value means detecting its autonomy with respect to gods and men, and it means distorting the relationship between the recipients of the ritual action, the gods, and the performers of the rite, men. The difference between gods and men is reduced to the two respective forms of existence; for the rest the gods depend on the strength that sacrifice confers on them and men on the capacity they have to sacrifice. It is in these terms that the Vedic religion moves in the further development oriented by the dai Brāhmaṇa.