Categories: Hindu God and Goddess

Savitr: The Vedic Deity of Vivifying Power

Savitr, also rendered as Savitur, is a prominent figure in Vedic scriptures, known as an Aditya, or “offspring,” of the primeval mother goddess Aditi. His name in Vedic Sanskrit connotes “impeller, rouser, vivifier.” Sometimes identified with Surya, the Sun god, Savitr is often distinguished as the divine influence or vivifying power of the Sun. In Vedic tradition, the Sun before sunrise is called Savitr, and after sunrise until sunset, it is called Surya.

Veneration in the Rig Veda

Savitr is highly revered in the Rig Veda, the oldest component of the Vedic scriptures. He first appears in book three of the Rig Veda (RV 3.62.10), later known as the Gayatri mantra, a fundamental mantra in Hindu practice. Detailed descriptions of Savitr can be found in Hymn 35 of the Rig Veda, also known as the Hymn of Savitr. He is celebrated in eleven complete hymns and mentioned about 170 times throughout the Rig Veda, highlighting his significant role in Vedic religion. Although Savitr disappeared as an independent deity after the Vedic period, he remains an important figure in modern Hindu worship.

Role as a Rigvedic Deity

The name Savitr primarily denotes an agent, derived from a verbal root with the agent suffix -tr. This class of Vedic theonyms includes other deities like Dhatr (Creator), Tratr (Protector), and Tvastr (Producer). These names signify the gods’ roles as agents in creating, protecting, and producing, respectively. Savitr, as an agent god, stimulates or impels, reflecting his dynamic and active nature.

Appearance

Savitr

Savitr is depicted with golden arms and broad or beautiful hands, emphasizing his power and grace. He has golden eyes and yellow hair, attributes he shares with other significant deities like Agni and Indra. Savitr is often described as wearing a tawny garb and riding a golden chariot with a golden axle, drawn by radiant steeds or bronze, white-footed stallions. His mighty golden splendor, a key attribute, illuminates the air, heaven, and earth, showcasing his omnipresence and influence.

Functions and Attributes

Savitr, like Pushan and Surya, is lord of both the mobile and stationary aspects of the universe, signifying his role in maintaining Ṛta, the cosmic order. He acts as a protector of all beings, guarding the world of spirits. As an Aditya, Savitr adheres to the Eternal Order and exacts scores. His primordial pathways in the air are sleekly traversed, and he is invoked to fortify his followers. Savitr is prayed to convey departed souls to righteous dwellings, bestow immortality on gods, and grant long life to humans. As a supporter of the cosmos, he holds the whole world, a role later assigned to Vishnu in the Vedas.

Abstract Classification

Vedic deities can be classified into two abstract classes. The first class comprises direct personifications of abstract notions, such as ‘desire.’ The second and more numerous class includes deities whose names denote an agent or attribute, like Dhatr (Creator) or Prajapati (Lord of Creatures). These deities often originated as epithets for other gods, eventually becoming independent. Savitr, for example, may have started as an epithet for Surya, focusing on his role as the inspirer or impeller to holy sacrifice.

Solar Aspects

Yaska, a 5th-century BCE Sanskrit scholar, interpreted Savitr’s appearance as marking the removal of darkness. According to Sayanacharya’s commentary on the Rig Veda, the Sun is called Savitr before rising and Surya from rising to setting. Savitr is extolled as the setting sun in some hymns and is associated with both morning and evening sacrifices. He brings beings to rest and awakens them, unyoking his steeds and commanding the night. Savitr’s connection with the Sun is close, and he is often invoked to remove evil nightmares and render men sinless. His will and dominion are respected by other gods, including Indra, Varuna, and Mitra.

Creation Role

Savitr played a significant role in creation, assisting Indra in shaping the universe. In cosmological speculation, the Sun, regarded as a major agent of generation, is sometimes abstracted to a supreme god, nearly approaching Brahma. In this sense, Savitr is once glorified as Prajapati, the lord of created beings, and is associated with the golden embryo (Hiranya-garbha). This emphasizes Savitr’s importance in the broader context of Vedic cosmology and his contribution to the creation narrative.

Other Names and Epithets

Savitr is referred to by several other names and epithets, reflecting his diverse roles and attributes:

Apam Napat (Born of the Waters): An epithet also applied to Agni and Soma.
God of the Middle Region: Yaska regarded Savitr as belonging to the mesial region (atmosphere) for his ability to cause rain.
Prajapati: Depicted as the Prajapati of the world in some texts, Savitr is associated with creation.
Damunas (Domestic): An epithet limited to Agni, also used for Savitr in the Rig Veda.
Asura: Like many gods, Savitr is mentioned as ‘asura’ in several hymns.
Pusan: Savitr becomes Pusan due to his vivifying power and movements.
Mitra: Associated with Mitra by reason of his laws, emphasizing Savitr’s role in maintaining order.
Bhaga: Often combined with Bhaga, forming the expression Savitr Bhaga or Bhaga Savitr, indicating his beneficent nature.

Savitr in the Brahmanas

The Vedas do not specifically identify the Adityas, but in some passages of the Satapatha Brahmana, Savitr is mentioned among the Adityas, who are gods in the intermediate and outer spaces. This inclusion highlights Savitr’s importance in the broader Vedic pantheon and his role in maintaining cosmic order.

Modern Interpretations and Revivalism

In modern Hindu spiritual thought, Vedic deities like Savitr symbolize forces within the human intellect and psyche, aiding in spiritual progress. Sri Aurobindo suggested that Vedic depictions represent various cosmic powers involved in creation, preservation, and destruction within the inner world of a human being. This perspective emphasizes the deeper, symbolic meanings of Vedic mythology and its relevance to personal spiritual development.

Popular Culture

Savitr appears in popular culture, such as in DC Comics’ The Flash series, where a speedster villain named Savitar is inspired by the Hindu god. In other fictional works, Savitr is depicted as a powerful deity or source of light in the multiverse, showcasing his lasting influence and adaptability to various narrative contexts.

Conclusion

Savitr, a significant Vedic deity, embodies the vivifying power of the Sun and plays a crucial role in Vedic rituals and cosmology. His attributes, functions, and evolution from an epithet to an independent deity highlight the dynamic nature of Vedic mythology and its lasting influence on Hinduism and popular culture. Savitr’s presence in both ancient texts and modern interpretations underscores his enduring significance in the spiritual and cultural heritage of Hinduism.

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

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