Aditi has the honour of being almost the only goddess mentioned by name in the Rig-Veda, as the mother of any of the gods; but it is by no means an easy task to delineate her character, as the most contradictory statements are made concerning her.
She was invoked as the bestower of blessings on children and cattle; and she is declared to be the mother of Varuna, and other deities, sometimes eight, sometimes twelve in number.
Aditi is the impersonation of “infinity, especially the boundlessness of heaven, in opposition to the finiteness of earth.
Another supposition is that Aditi is the personification of “universal, all-embracing Nature or Being.” This latter idea seems to be the more correct from the following verses, where a man about to be immolated says, “Of which god, now, of which of the immortals, shall we invoke the amiable name, who shall give us back to the great Aditi, that I may behold my father and my mother?”
Whatever may have been intended by the poets to be expressed by this name, or whatever may have been the precise power personified by Aditi, she is connected with the forgiveness of sin.
Thus, “May Aditi make us sinless.” “Aditi be gracious, if we have committed any sin against you.” “Whatever offence we have, oh Agni, through our folly committed against you, oh most youthful god, make us free from sins against Aditi.” “Whatever sin we have committed, may Aditi sever us from it.”
Probably the term Aditi “the boundless,” was originally employed as an epithet of Dyauspitar, the Heaven-father. When the heavens came to be divided into a number of parts, over each of which a ruler was nominated, a mother was wanted for them, and the name Aditi was given to her.
In the account of the Creation given in the Rig-Veda, Aditi is said to have sprung from Daksha, and in the same verse Daksha is called her son. There is also a reference to her other sons. In the “Vishnu Purāna” we have no less than three somewhat differing accounts of the origin of Daksha the father of Aditi.
In the first account, his name appears amongst the mind-born sons of Brahmā; and in this connection he is said to have had twenty-four daughters; but Aditi is not mentioned as one of them. In the second account of Daksha, Aditi is said to have been one of his sixty daughters, and was given in marriage to Kasypa, by whom she had twelve sons — the Ādityas.
Elsewhere we read that Vishnu, when incarnate as the Dwarf, was a result of this marriage. In the third account of Daksha, Aditi is again mentioned as his daughter, and the mother of Vivasat (the Sun). The sons of Aditi are termed
This name signifies simply the descendants of Aditi.
In one passage in the Rig-Veda the names of six are given: Mitra, Aryaman, Bhaga, Varuna, Daksha and Amsa. In another passage they are said to be seven in number, though their names are not given. In a third, eight is the number mentioned; but “of the eight sons of Aditi, who were born from her body, she approached the gods with seven, and cast out Mārttānda (the eighth).”
As the names of these sons given in different parts of the Vedas do not agree with each other, it is difficult to know who were originally regarded as Ādityas. Judging from the number of hymns addressed to them, some of these deities occupied a conspicuous position in the Vedic Pantheon; whilst others are named once or twice only, and then in connection with their more illustrious brethren.
In the “Satapatha Brāhmana,” and the Purānas, the number of the Ādityas is increased to twelve. In addition to the six whose names are given above, the following are also described in some hymns of the Rig-Veda as the offspring of Aditi: Surya, “as an Āditya identified with Agni, is said to have been placed by the gods in the sky;”Savitri, and Indra too, are in one passage addressed as an Āditya along with Varuna and the Moon.
In the Taittiriya Texts, the following are described as Ādityas: — Mitra, Varuna, Aryaman, Amsu, Bhaga, Indra, and Vivasvat (Surya).
Professor Roth says of these deities, “In the highest heaven dwell and reign those gods who bear in common the name of Ādityas. We must, however, if we would discover their earliest character, abandon the conceptions which in a later age, and even in that of the heroic poems, were entertained regarding these deities.
According to this conception they were twelve Sun-gods, there being evident reference to the twelve months. But for the most ancient period we must hold fast to the primary significance of their names. They are inviolable, imperishable, eternal things.
Aditi, Eternity, or The Eternal, is the element which sustains them, or is sustained by them. The eternal and inviolable element in which the Ādityas dwell, and which forms their essence, is the celestial light.
The Ādityas, the gods of this light, do not therefore by any means coincide with any of the forms in which light is manifested in the universe. They are neither the sun, nor moon, nor stars, nor dawn, but the eternal sustainers of this luminous life, which exists, as it were, behind these phenomena.”
As noticed above, the text of the Rig-Veda says, “Of the eight sons who were born from the body of Aditi, she approached the gods with seven, but cast away the eighth.”
In the commentary, the following explanation of this circumstance is given. “The eighth son was deformed. His brothers, seeing his deformity, improved his appearance. He was afterwards known as Vivasvat (the Sun). From the superfluous flesh cut off his body an elephant was formed, hence the proverb, Let no man catch an elephant, for the elephant partakes of the nature of man.’”
According to a passage quoted in Chapter II. from the “Satapatha Brāhmana,” Agni, Indra, and Surya, obtained superiority over the other gods by means of sacrifice. By whatever means this position was obtained, it is certain that they were the most popular deities of the Vedic Age.
Agni stands in a class by himself; but with Indra and Surya there are other deities closely associated, and possessing very similar attributes. Nearly the whole of the more conspicuous Vedic deities may be classified as follows:
(1) Agni, the god of Fire;
(2) Sun Gods, or gods of Light;
(3) Storm Gods, or those associated with Indra.