How many gods?

(1)Then Vidagdha Sakalya questioned him, saying: “ How many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?”

He answered by reciting this invocatory formula : “As many as mentioned in the invocatory formula in the hymn to the All-gods – three hundred and three and three thousand and three.”

“Yes,” said he, “but how many gods are there really, Yajnavalkya?”

“Thirty-three”

“Yes,” said he, “but how many gods are there really, Yajnavalkya?”

“Six.”

“Yes,” said he, “but how many gods are there really, Yajnavalkya?”

“Three.”

“Yes,” said he, “but how many gods are there really, Yajnavalkya?”

“Two.”

“Yes,” said he, “but how many gods are there really, Yajnavalkya?”

“One and a half.”

“Yes,” said he, “but how many gods are there really, Yajnavalkya?”

“One.”

“Yes,” said he, “but which are those three hundred and three and those three thousand and three?”

 

(2)Yajnavalkya said: “These are only their attributes of majesty (mahimaan). There are only thirty-three gods.”

“Which are those thirty-three?”

“The eight Vasus,  the eleven Rudras, the twelve Adityas. That makes thirty-three.”

 

(3)”Which are the Vasus?”

“Fire, earth, wind, atmosphere, sun, sky, moon and stars. These are the Vaus. For to these all wealth (vasu) is entrusted. That is why they are called Vasus.”

(4)”Which are the Rudras?”

“The ten breaths in man (purusha), and the eleventh is the self. When they depart this mortal body, they make men weep; and because they make them weep (rud-), they are called Rudras.”

(5)”Which are the Adityas?”

“The twelve months of the year are the Adityas, for they carry off this whole universe, though going on (themselves); and because they carry off (aadaa-) everything, though going on (yanti) (themselves), they are called Adityas.”

(6)”Which is Indra? Which is Prajapati?”

“Indra is thunder, Prajapati the sacrifice.”

“Which is thunder?”

“The thunderbolt.”

“Which is the sacrifice?”

“Cattle.”

 

(7)”Which are the six?”

“Fire, earth, wind, atmosphere, sun and sky. These are the six. These six are everything.”

 

(8)”Which are the three gods?”

“These three worlds, for all these gods are in them.”

“Which are the two gods?”

“Food and the breath of life.”

“Which is one and a half?”

“The purifying wind (prana).”

 

(9)“Since the purifying wind appears to be one, how can it be called one and half?”

“Because everything grows to maturity (ardhrardhnot) in it, it is called one and a half (ardhyardha).”

“Which is the one God?”

The breath of life, and that is Brahman, the beyond. So we have been taught.”

 

-Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, III, ix. translation by R C Zaehner

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