The Indian culture – especially the culture we’d relate to Yoga these days – is a combination of two ancient civilisations; the European-speaking ‘Aryans’ who who entered the Indian subcontinent of the Hindu Kush, and the already advanced Indus Valley civilisation who had been settled there for thousands of years.
The Indus valley civilisation were well established in trade and technology, but it was the Aryans who brought with them the magic and sacred traditions of ritual sacrifice, poetry, hymns (which later become part of the ancient texts the Vedas, also known as ‘knowledge’, from the root word vid meaning ‘to know’). One of the most important aspects we can still inherently feel today is the strong connection the Ayrans had to nature. Their way of life included worship of the elements and the forces of nature; no out of fear, but out of respect and love.
The forces of nature and elements constantly surround us – although we may forget about it time to time if an office chair and computer screen take up most of our week…. The sun, rain, wind and even fire helped these ancient civilisations to evolve and find meaning; they aided in he growth of crops for food, the invention of time and order, and most importantly they connected the people to the natural world around them.
A Yoga practice – in its most pure form – is about making our way back to our most natural state. We may forget it sometimes, but we are made up of the same ‘stuff’ as the earth, the air and the water around us, and the respect civilisations have had for this over thousands of years is fascinating.
Vedic Devas – Gods of nature
The devas are the Gods and Goddesses of the Vedic philosophy, and can be recognised by their sacred characteristics. They’re also known as Demigods, meaning they’re not as powerful as the Great Gods or mahadevas but, but they rule everything around us and make the universe and world itself a place worthy of worship. Understanding their various attributed can help us o not only understand our connection to the world around us better, but give us a new insight into how important the role of nature has been for humans for centuries.
‘A study by Russell and Mehrabian in 1976 demonstrated that showing subjects views of pleasant natural scenes promoted health-oriented behaviours. Researchers suggested that viewing natural scenes increased pleasurable emotional states and thereby reduced the desire to engage in unhealthy behaviours such as smoking and drinking.
Viewing nature can actually encourage healing. A 1984 study by Ulrich showed that hospital patients who could see a natural scene through their hospital window (as opposed to a brick wall) were discharged more quickly, needed less painkilling drugs and were generally deemed to be more cooperative by staff. A 1991 study by the same researcher showed that exposure to such scenes has a positive impact on physical health by affecting blood pressure, muscle tension and so forth’. – Excerpt from The Centre For Confidence and Wellbeing: Research On The Importance Of Nature To Well-Being and Functioning.
The Sun – Surya or Savitri; giver of life and energy. He is often seen riding a chariot lead by seven horses, which represent the 7 chakras found in the subtle body, and the 7 days of the week.
The Moon – Chandra. Meaning ‘shining’; Chandra is also linked to the Vedic god ‘Soma’. It is thought that the moon and lunar energy holds the amrita or ‘nectar’ of life, as well as ojas; juicy, life-sustaining energy.
Fire – Agni; also a God of divine knowledge, Agni is the conveyor of sacrafices to the Gods. He is very much identified with action and transformation, and is thought to be one of the most important Vedic deities. There are many Yogic rituals which include fire and invoke the deity Agni.
Storms, Rain and Thunder – Indra, leader of the Gods. He weilds a lightening thunderbolt known as a vajra, which is where the name for Vajrasana or ‘thunderbolt pose’ is taken from.
Water – Varuna, the Hindu God of water and the celestial ocean. He rides a macara or crocodile.
Night – Ratri. The Goddess of night and sister to Usha. The name translates as ‘night time’ in languages like Bangali, , Tamil and Telugu.
Dawn – Ushas; a beautiful, luminous goddess who wards evil off at night. She rides a golden chariot across the sky. Twenty of the 1,028 hymns of the Rig Veda are dedicated to the Dawn, one of them being:
The radiant Dawns have risen up for glory, in their white splendour like the waves of waters.
She maketh paths all easy, fair to travel, and, rich, hath shown herself benign and friendly.
Wind and Air – Vayu; also known as vata, pavana (the purifier) and prana. The word ‘vata’ means ‘blown’, ‘prana’ often refers to ‘breath’ or ‘life’, and ‘vayu’ means ‘the blower’, so in this way it is thought that the deity Vayu is the ‘deity of life and breath’.
Death – Yama; ‘First to die’ and therefore the first in the underworld. The lord of judgement and death.
Wake up with nature
Traditionally, the demigod Surya would be greeted at sawn with the practice of Surya namaskar or ‘sun salutations’, welcoming in the energy of a brand new day. As well as the different variations of Surya namaskar (A, B and the classical surya namaskar), the Gayatri mantra is also chanted to bring about knowledge, wisdom, and – eventually – enlightenment.
To chant the Gayatri Mantra
purifies the chanter.
To listen to the Gayatri Mantra
purifies the listener.
~ The Vedas ~
“OM BUHR, BHUVA, SWAHA
OM TAT SAVITUR VARENYAM
BHARGO DEVASYA DHEEMAHI
DHIYO YONAHA PRACHODAYAT”
‘We meditate on the glory of the Creator;
Who has created the Universe;
Who is worthy of Worship;
Who is the embodiment of Knowledge and Light;
Who is the remover of Sin and Ignorance;
May He open our hearts and enlighten our Intellect’.