Hindu deities have evolved across Hinduism’s diverse traditions through medieval era. They are represented in icons, images and paintings. They have different characteristics and are revered by people. In Vedic traditions, most of the Gods and Goddesses represent the forces of nature, each of them also symbolising certain moral values. Brahman represents the Universal Principle and since the concept is difficult for the masses to comprehend, worship and prayer to a deity helps in concentration, devotion and provides peace and solace to people at times of need. Continuous prayer and devotion leads to self-realisation and bliss. One of the most important deities in Hindu mythology is Vayu, the Wind God. He represents air which is one of the five cosmic elements or Pancha Bhutas. He is said to be the father of Bhima and Hanuman.
In other traditions
In all other traditions, the Wind God is represented by various names. In Buddhism, Vayu is one of the twelve guardian deities found in Buddhist shrines (Juniten). In Japan, he is referred to as Futen or Fujin and in China he is Fei-Lian. In Greek mythology he has various names according to the various directions like Zephyrusor (God of the west wind), Notus (south wind), Eurus (southeast wind), Anemoi (wind God), Aeolus (ruler of winds), Aura (nymphs of breeze and daughters of Anemoi), Zeus (King of Gods and Lord of sky, weather, winds and clouds), Poseidon (God of ocean who sends favourable winds for ships to sail) and many others. In Roman mythology, Cardea and Venti are deities associated with wind. In Egyptian mythology Amun, Qebui and Shu are Gods of wind.
Lord Vayu is revered as one of the Hindu triad namely sun, wind and air. He is referred to as Vata meaning blown, Pavana meaning purifier and also as Prana or the breath. Other names of Vayu are Marut, Anila, Gandhavaha (bearer of perfumes), Jalakantara (whose garden is water), Sadagata (ever moving) though he is said to have many more names.
Lord Vayu is depicted as a person with four hands who rides a deer and carries an arrow in one hand and a flag in another hand. The other two hands are in Abhaya (gesture of benediction) and Varada (gesture showing grace and mercy) Mudras. In the hymns, he is described as a distinct personage moving about in his shining chariot driven by two/forty-nine/ one thousand white and purple horses with a white banner.
In the Vedic tradition
In the Rigveda, Lord Vayu is said to be a trusted friend of Indra and the first partaker of the Soma juice. He is the Lord of thought and swift as the mind. He is praised in the hymns as the Intelligence who illumines the earth and heaven and makes the Dawn shine. He is the Lord of the North West quarter and a protector of the people. He is the King of the Gandharvas and his abode is known as Gandhavati. He is said to be married to the daughter of the celestial architect Vishwakarma and given his daughter Ila in marriage to the great King Dhruva. In the Purushasukta, Vayu is said to have sprung from the breath of Purusha and in another hymn he is referred to as the son in law of Twashtri. Vayu is also said to have reincarnated as Sage Vasishta when he and Agni were cursed by Lord Indra to go down to earth as Vasishta and Agasthya respectively.
In the Upanishads
According to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Vayu is most superior among all Gods as he symbolises the very breath of the body needed for human existence. There are numerous illustrations stating the greatness of Vayu in the Upanishads. Two frequently used symbols of Brahman in the early Upanishads are Vayu and Prana. It denotes the vital organs, the breathing and also the life principle which animates the vital organs. All organs are dependent on the prana. As long as the prana inhabits it, the body of an organism lives. Once the prana leaves the body, the living being is reduced to a corpse, without significance or value. Hence, the statement ‘Prano vai Brahma’ meaning Prana is verily Brahman. The Chhandogya Upanishad compares the prana in the body to the energy in the sun. The body generates heat during austerities (tapas). Later Upanishads drew a clear distinction between prana and Brahman and described Brahman or the self as the Maha prana of the pranas and whom prana serves. Sage Yajnavalkya in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad considers two categories, those nourished by food and those nourished by breath. He describes prana or breath as the subtle and invisible life force. By regulating and calming prana, one can stabilise the mind and senses and attain equanimity.
Vayu is also worshipped as Mukhya Prana, the father of Bhima and Hanuman. The name means ‘chief of life’ and symbolises power, wisdom and source of all existence. In Hindu mythology, when Hanuman went towards the sun to eat it assuming it to be a ripe fruit, Indra hurled his thunderbolt at him rendering him unconsciousness. Vayu as Mukhyaprana was enraged and withdrew all air from the world and went into seclusion. This created panic everywhere and subsequently, Indra withdrew the effects of his Vajra (bolt) and the Gods blessed him with various boons. Mukhyaprana was then appeased and resumed his role in the universe. There are a few temples dedicated to Lord Vayu as Mukhyaprana, the most prominent one being at Udupi in Karnataka.
In the Puranas
It is one of the eighteen major Puranas of Hinduism and is mentioned in the Mahabharata and other Hindu texts. It has 112 chapters (adhyayas) with 24000 verses and is divided into four Padas (sections) namely Prakriya, Upodghata, Anusanga and Upasamhara. It is a Shaiva Purana dedicated to Lord Vayu. King Adishima Krishna or Asima Krishna belonged to the lineage of the Pandavas. He was a good king and during his reign the sages once organised a Yajna which went on for a long time. The sage Lomaharshana, the disciple of the great sage Vedavyasa came to visit the sages. He was well versed in the scriptures and was highly respected. The sages welcomed him and requested him to recite the Puranas learnt from his great guru Vyasa. He informed them that there were several sages in the forest of Naimisharanya who had earlier requested Lord Vayu to give them answers to all their queries. Vayu’s reply to them constituted the Vayu Purana. Reciting it Lomaharshana then proceeded to tell them about creation, Brahma’s kalpas or life cycles, the Yugas, Shiva’s technique of yoga and Pranayama, the story of Daksha and his children, the story of Surya and the solar line, the lunar line and the glory of Lord Vishnu and his Avatars. He then blessed the assembled sages as fortunate to listen to the Vayu Purana which would grant them great knowledge, wealth and finally salvation.
In the Ramayana
Hanuman, the monkey God is one of the most important figures of the epic Ramayana. He is often referred to as the son of the wind God Vayu. Different legends state Vayu’s role in Hanuman’s birth. According to Eknath’s Bhavartha Ramayana, Anjana was performing intense prayers to Lord Shiva for a son. At the same time King Dasharatha received the sacred payasa on performing the Putrakameshti Yagna in order to get a child. The kheer was to be shared by his three wives. A kite snatched a portion of the pudding and aided by Lord Vayu dropped it into the hands of Anjana who was engaged in worship resulting in the birth of Hanuman. According to another legend, when Anjana and her husband Kesari were engaged in prayer to Lord Shiva to bless them with progeny, on Shiva’s direction Vayu transferred his male energy to Anjana’s womb. Hence Hanuman is considered as the son of Vayu and referred to as Pavanputra.
In the Mahabharata
Pandu the King of Hastinapura could not have children due to a curse. His wife Kunti had in her youth been granted a boon to invoke the Gods to bless her with a child. Urged by Pandu she invoked the wind God Vayu to give birth to Bhima. Bhima was born with towering strength, power and wisdom.
Vayu Stuti is one of the most famous poems (Stutis) composed in praise of Madhvacharya, the founder of the Dvaita School of philosophy. He is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Mukhyaprana or Vayu. One of his disciples was Trivikrama Panditacharya. Madhvacharya used to perform daily worship behind closed doors in the sanctum sanctorum of the Udupi Shri Krishna temple. At the end of the worship, Naivedya would be offered to the Lord along with the sounding of bells. One day Trivikrama did not hear the sound of the bells for a very long time. He then became curious and peeped through the door and found to his amazement that Madhvacharya was performing puja as Hanuman to Lord Rama, as Bhima to Lord Krishna and as Madhvacharya to Veda Vyasa. Overcome by devotion he composed the Vayu Stuti and dedicated it to Madhvacharya. It comprises of 41 paras and begins and ends with Narasimha Nakha Stuti, composed by Madhvacharya in praise of Lord Narasimha.
In Yogic tradition
Vayu is said to be one of the first movements referred to as prana. Within the realm of nature (Prakriti) he manifests as Prana. Within the Purusha (soul) he exists as consciousness. As Prana, he is responsible for the manifestation of all creation. He is the essence and foundation of all life, the vitality and energy that permeates the whole universe. Prana is the link connecting the material level, mind and consciousness. Life in the material plane is possible only because of the prana. Ability to control the Prana results in good health and harmony of body, mind and an expansion of consciousness. Thus, the Prana that an individual radiates depends on physical state of health, purity of thoughts and feelings reflecting in an ‘aura’. This influences the environment and the society as a whole.
The Panch Pranas can be divided into – Prana Vayu, Apana Vayu, Udana Vayu, Vyana Vayu and Samana Vayu. Prana Vayu or ‘forward moving air’ is linked to the cosmic Prana which supplies essential oxygen to the human body. It flows from the nostrils to the heart. Apana vayu or ‘the air that moves away’ influences the lower part of the body from the navel to the feet and regulates the elimination and reproduction process. Vyana vayu or ‘outward moving air’ flows through the nerves of the body and affects the whole body particularly the Nadis. Udana vayu or ‘that which carries upward’ flows from the heart to the head region and accompanies the awakening of the Kundalini Shakti. Samana vayu or ‘the balancing air’ distributes nutritional energy throughout the body. Thus, the quality of food directly affects the quality of the Prana. This is the reason why pure Sattvic and vegetarian food is encouraged for a balanced body and mind.
Vayu in Ayurveda
The Pancha Vayu in the human body namely Prana, Udana, Apana, Samana and Vyana affects the nature of the body. The dominance of each of the Vayus in the body varies with each individual. These result in different body types or constitutions called the three Doshas namely Vata, Pita and Kapha. Vata is governed by air and ether, Pita is governed by water and fire and Kapha is governed by earth and water. The word ‘Vata’ means to blow or move like the wind. Every individual has a combination of all three doshas with one or two being more predominant. Vata Dosha governs motion and flow in the body. It controls elimination of wastes, blood flow, breathing and movement of thoughts across the mind. A disturbed Vayu (Vata dosha) in the body shows constipation, flatulence, disturbed sleep, loss of strength and immunity, nervous disorders and other adverse symptoms of ill health which can be restored by Ayurveda. Pancha Vayu needs to be in balance for Vata dosha to be healthy.
Vayu tattva in astrology
Astrology is based on ancient texts in which the relative positions and movements of planets and celestial objects is used to forecast the fate and fortunes of human beings. The five cosmic elements influence the stars under which an individual is born. Since the Vayu tattva or air element is dynamic yet detached to everything in its vicinity, people born with this element are enthusiastic in achieving their goals yet detached from their immediate surroundings. The beej mantra related to Vayu tattva is ‘yam’.
Vayu Lingam at Srikalahasti
The Pancha Bhoota Sthalas are five temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, each temple representing the manifestation of the five cosmic elements namely earth, water, air, fire and space. The five elements are believed to be enshrined in the five lingams representing Lord Shiva in the temple. The Vayu lingam is manifested in the Srikalahasti temple located in Srikalahasti town of Andhra Pradesh. The temple is referred to as Rahu Ketu Kshetra and Dakshina Kashi. The initial structure was constructed by the Pallava dynasty in the 5th century. Later around the 10th century, the Chola and the Vijayanagara Kings constructed the main structure. The entire temple is carved out of the side of a huge stone hill and is one of the most impressive Shiva temples in India. The two major shrines in the temple are dedicated to Lord Shiva and Parvati. Lord Shiva is in the form of Srikalahasteeshwara and exists in the form of a Linga facing West. Goddess Parvati is in the form of Gnana Prasunamba and is in the standing posture facing East. The flame placed inside the sanctum sanctorum (Garbha Griha) flickers to this day indicating the presence of wind inspite of there being no entry point or aperture for air to come in. The air is said to be just sufficient to breathe in. The colour of the Linga is white and considered to be Swayambu. Abhishekha to the Linga is done by pouring a mixture of milk, water, camphor and Panchamrita. Flowers, sandal paste and sacred thread are offered to the Utsava murti and not the main linga.
Vayu lingam at Arunachala
The sacred hills of Arunachala at Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu have the arrangement of the Ashta Lingas or eight lingas around the octagonal perimeter of the hills. These eight linga temples are located at the four cardinals and four inter cardinal points in the 14 km circumference of the hill and are considered one of the rituals of worship during the girivalam or circumambulation of the hill. The four cardinal points are South- Yama, West – Varuna, North – Kubera and East – Indra while the four intercardinal points are South East – Agni, South West – Niruthi, North East – Esanaya and North West – Vayu. The lingas have the dominant Navagraha of the God to whom they are associated. It is believed that various benefits that are associated with the respective Navagrahas can be obtained by placating a specific linga. The Vayu linga in the North West direction is situated on the Girivalam pathway. It is said that one is always greeted by a gust of wind whenever one enters the shrine. Ketu is the dominant Navagraha of this linga. Worship of this linga gives relief from stomach problems, heart diseases, lung problems and general illness.
Vayu and Guruvayur Temple
The temple of Guravayur in Kerala is one of the holiest temples in Kerala. The idol of Lord Vishnu worshipped in the form of Lord Krishna is made of black antimony stone and pilgrims come from all over the country to offer prayers. The history of the temple goes back to the Dwapara Yuga. Vasudeva and Devaki the parents of Lord Krishna were devotees of Lord Vishnu in previous ages. The Lord then promised them that he would be born as their son for four successive lives with liberation at the end of the four lives. Their life as Devaki and Vasudeva in the clan of the Yadavas was their last birth. The idol of Lord Vishnu at Guruvayur was said to have been worshipped by them hence was considered great and divine. At the end of his earthly sojourn, Krishna prophesied to his devotee Uddhava that the island of Dwaraka would be swept away by the sea seven days after he left his mortal body and Uddhava should rescue the idol. He should then hand it over to Brihaspati, the Guru of the Gods. As instructed by Lord Krishna, Uddhava went to retrieve the idol which was said to be bobbing up and down, far away in the sea. He then begged the wind God Vayu to use his power to bring it closer to him. Vayu then created a wind which blew the idol gently towards Uddhava. Brihaspati approached him and Uddhava handed over the idol to him. Brihaspati then requested Vayu to transport him through the air so that they could search for a suitable place to instal the idol. They then saw Lord Shiva and Parvati performing their divine dance at a place and approaching them were instructed to construct the temple there which is now the holy place where the temple is present. Hence the name came to be referred to as Guruvayur (Guru +Vayu) The esoteric meaning is that the temple is said to represent the human body which is the abode of wind (pancha prana).
Mudras are specific and symbolic hand gestures used in Indian dances, yoga and other Hindu ceremonies. They act as powerful energy circuits that can restore health and fitness to human mind and body and can heal complicated problems. The human body is said to be a combination of the five cosmic elements earth, air, fire, water and ether. The five fingers are said to be the control switches of the five elements of nature. The proper practice of mudras helps in total flow of energy into the body. The Vayu Mudra helps to regulate the element of air inside the body. They are said to help in relieving problems such as flatulence, joint pain problems such as gout, sciatica and arthritis. The Vayu Mudra also helps to control Parkinson’s disease and reduce pain in polio victims.
Vayu Gayatri Mantra
Om Pavana Purushaya Vidmahe
Sahastramurtiye Cha Dhimahi
Tanno Vayuh Prachodayat
Om Sarva Pranaya Vidmahe
Yashti Hastaya Dhimahi
Tanno Vayuh Prachodayat
Regular repetition of this mantra helps to cure respiratory diseases like asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis and other related problems. It helps to purify the air and prevent air pollution.
Lord Vayu occupies a very important position in the Hindu pantheon of Gods. He is also worshipped by the Buddhists and Zorastrian religions. The scriptures extol Vayu as the Lord of the mid region and friend of the Gods Indra and Varuna. He is propitiated because he carries the rain bearing clouds, heralding the onset of monsoon which is needed by farmers for cultivation of crops. Control of breath through yoga and pranayama ensures good health and a mind saturated with peace and equanimity. Prayers and worship to Lord Vayu can grant freedom from lower impulses and raise the mind to higher levels of truth and consciousness.