To what deities were the prayers and hymns of the Vedas addressed? This is an interesting inquiry, for these were probably the very deities worshipped under similar names by our Aryan progenitors in their primeval home.
The answer is: They worshipped those physical forces before which all nations, if guided solely by the light of nature, have, in the early period of their life, instinctively bowed down, and before which even the more civilized and enlightened have always been compelled to bend in awe and reverence if not in adoration.
To our Aryan forefathers God’s power was exhibited in the forces of nature even more evidently than to ourselves. Lands, houses, flocks, herds, men and animals were more frequently, than in Western climates, at the mercy of winds, fire, and water; and the sun’s rays appeared to be endowed with a potency quite beyond the experience of any European country. We cannot be surprised, then, that these forces were regarded by our Eastern progenitors as actual manifestations, either of one deity in different moods or of separate rival deities contending for supremacy. Nor is it wonderful that these mighty agencies should have been at first poetically personified, and afterwards, when invested with forms, attributes, and individuality, worshipped as distinct gods.
It was only natural, too, that a varying supremacy and varying honours should have been accorded to each deified force- to the air, the rain, the storm, the sun, or fire-according to the special atmospheric influences to which particular localities were exposed, or according to the seasons of the year when the dominance of each was to be prayed for or deprecated.
This was the religion represented in the Vedas and the primitive creed of the Indo-Aryans about twelve or thirteen centuries before Christ. The first forces deified seem to have been those manifested in the sky and air. These were at first generalised under one rather vague personification, as was natural in the earliest attempts at giving shape to religious ideas. For it may be observed that all religious systems, even the most polytheistic, have generally grown out of some undefined original belief in a divine power or powers controlling and regulating the universe.
And although innumerable gods and goddesses, gifted with a thousand shapes, now crowd the Hindu Pantheon, appealing to the instincts of the unthinking millions whose capacity for religious ideas is supposed to require the aid of external symbols, it is probable that there existed for the first Aryan worshippers a similar theistic creed; even as the thoughtful Hindu of the present day looks through the maze of his mythology of the philosophical background of one eternal self-existent Being, one universal Spirit, into whose unity all visible symbols are gathered, and in whose essence all entities are comprehended.