Categories: Hindu God and Goddess

Usha: The Radiant Dawn Goddess

Usha or Ushas is a revered goddess in Hinduism. She holds a special place as the embodiment of dawn in the Rigvedic hymns. She is celebrated for her role in bringing light to the world, driving away darkness and evil forces with each new day. Usha’s presence is described as vital for all living beings, as she inspires action, breath, and order in the cosmos, ensuring the harmony known as Rta is maintained.

Though not as central as prominent male deities like Agni, Soma, and Indra, Usha remains highly esteemed. Depicted as a young, adorned woman, she traverses the sky in a golden chariot, often accompanied by a retinue of chariots pulled by golden red horses or cows. The hymns dedicated to Usha are renowned for their beauty and eloquence, praising her grace and power. She is closely associated with Surya, the sun god, depicted either as her husband or son. Additionally, Usha shares a divine bond with her sister “Nisha” or Ratri, who embodies the essence of night.

Nomenclature

The word “uṣá” means “dawn” in Vedic, originating from the Proto-Indo-Iranian *Hušā́s and the Proto-Indo-European *h₂éusōs, also linked to “ēṓs” in Greek and “aušrà” in Lithuanian. It’s the basis for “east” in Indo-European languages. Uṣás refers to the dawn goddess in Indo-European cultures. It’s an s-stem, with its genitive case being uṣásas. Other Indo-European goddesses related to Uṣás include the Greek Eos, Roman Aurora, Lithuanian Aušrinė, and English Ēostre, possibly the root of “Easter.”

Usha as the Dawn Goddess of the Vedas

Usha, the revered goddess of dawn

Usha, the revered goddess of dawn in the Vedas, holds a significant place in Vedic literature. She is portrayed as the vital force infusing life into all beings, described as the “life of all life” and the “breath of all breaths” by scholars Jones and Ryan. Usha is celebrated as the divine entity who rejuvenates the earth each day, dispelling chaos and darkness, initiating the cycle of motion, and guiding all living creatures to fulfill their duties as prescribed in the Vedas.

Despite her paramount importance, Usha is overshadowed by the central male deities Agni, Soma, and Indra in Vedic hymns. Although she is mentioned less frequently than these three, she holds equal significance to all other male and female deities in the Vedas.

Usha in the Rigveda

In the ancient hymns of the Rigveda, Usha shines brightly, mentioned in numerous verses and revered for her vital role in the cosmos. With over forty hymns dedicated to her, Usha is celebrated as the bringer of light, dispelling darkness with her radiant presence. She is thanked for driving away shadows in hymns like 7.78, 6.64, and 10.172, while hymn 3.61 depicts her urged by Surya, the sun god, to illuminate the world.

Goddess Usha riding in a dazzling chariot pulled by golden-red horses

Described as riding in a dazzling chariot pulled by golden-red horses or cows, Usha is depicted as a beautiful maiden adorned with jewels, whose smile brings joy to all who behold her. She not only illuminates the physical world but also reveals hidden truths and treasures. Hymn 1.48 vividly portrays her arrival with the dawn, setting life into motion and inspiring people to fulfill their duties.

Usha’s significance extends beyond her role as the goddess of dawn; she is associated with wealth, light, and the nurturing qualities of a mother. In hymn 1.92, she is hailed as the “mother of cows,” symbolizing her benevolence towards all beings. Additionally, she is referred to as the “mother of the gods” and the mother of all living beings who seek her blessings.

Furthermore, Usha is closely linked with other deities such as Savitri, Surya, Varuna, and Agni, symbolizing her connection with various aspects of nature and cosmic forces. She is recognized as the sister of Ratri (night) and Aditya, emphasizing her integral role in the cyclical rhythm of day and night.

Overall, Usha symbolizes the eternal cycle of life, reminding humanity of the transient nature of existence. As the eye of the gods, she perceives reality in its true essence, serving as a timeless emblem of light, truth, and cosmic order.

In the Rig Veda, in the verses 6.64.1-2 Usha is called upon like this:

1. ud u sriya usaso rocamana asthur apam normayo rusantah
krnoti visva supatha sugany abhud u vavsi daksina maghoni

Meaning: The bright Dawns have come, shining with beauty, sparkling like the waves of the sea. She clears all paths, making every journey smooth. She has arrived—the generous priestly blessing, the abundant one.

2. bhadra dadrksa urviya vi bhasy ut te socir bhanavo dyam apaptan
avir vaksah krnuse shumbhamanosho devi rocamana mahobhih

Meaning: You’ve shown yourself, bringing good fortune; you shine brightly. Your glow, your brilliant rays reach up to the sky. You display your splendor as you move gracefully, goddess Dawn, glowing with all your strength.

Usha in Modern Hinduism

The Gayatri mantra holds a special place in contemporary Hinduism, serving as a daily reminder of Usha, the goddess of dawn. Sri Aurobindo describes Usha as the catalyst for the awakening, activity, and growth of other gods, making her integral to Vedic realization. Usha’s increasing illumination brings clarity to human nature and leads mankind towards truth and beatitude. In regions like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh (India), and Nepal, Usha is revered during the Chhath Puja festival.

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Krishna Das is an experienced article writer. He writes about Hinduism in his spare time.

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