Symbolism of Storm in Hinduism

Symbolism of Storms

by Jayaram V

For the Vedic people storms represented the celestial movements of fierce gods like the Rudras and Maruts, whom they considered aspects of Death (Kala). They prayed to them for peace upon earth and protection of their cattle and progeny. Find here the archetypal meaning, cultural significance and symbolism of Storm in Hinduism.

Storms and tempests are unusual events that disturb and destroy lives and property and interfere with the order and regularity of the world. Symbolically they represent physical, mental, and emotional turbulence. People go through stormy periods of intense suffering, emotional conflicts, adversity, loss, and pain. Storms add drama and uncertainty to life, but no one wants them. On the spiritual path too, people have to learn to cope with them and remain stable. In the Vedas you find a subtle connection between storms and wars people wage. In philosophical terms, a storm is Nature's fury and one of its intense modifications.

In the Vedic worldview, a storm or a tempest is neither a fortuitous event nor a mechanical function of Nature. It is a play of war like gods, who under the leaderhip of Shiva or Indra, unleash their fiery strength and invoke fear in the hearts of mortal beings. They may do it either for the welfare of the world, manifest the will of God, or cleanse the world and create conditions for revival and renewal.

Although a storm creates chaotic conditions, it is not an evil act of destruction. It an act of God in his aspect as Death or Time (Kala) in which the gods of the heaven express their might and fury and manifest his will. The Vedas identify two groups of gods who are responsible for them, the Maruths and Rudras. In some hymns their names are used interchangeably, and in some as different, suggesting that they may be the same or share close affinity. Their number also varies.

Both are wind gods, but Maruths are considered benevolent while Rudras are rather malevolent and destructive. We do not know what they do when the storms pass, or where they stay. However, we know that as wind gods, they reside in the mid-region. Since they are also warrior gods who act like an army, in the past kings used to invoke them during wartimes for protection against enemies and victory in wars.

The Vedas extol the power and the war like qualities of the storm gods who blow the winds to create turbulence. As they sweep across the mountains in their glittering attires with war cries, the earth trembles in fear and the oceans yield.

Maruths are led by Indra, the king of heavens, who is described in some hymns as their father and in some as their brother. Some hymns suggest that they are the sons of the sky god (Dyaus). As their names suggests they smash and break things with their might, and cannot be overcome by strength. They are gods of invincible strength, who come riding horses, roaring with their thunderous voice, singing songs, flashing their lightning like smiles, wearing bright ornaments and spotted skin, to slay the water-laden clouds and inundate the earth. When they arrive from the luminous sphere, with bellowing sounds and brilliant but fierce demeanor, brandishing their glittering spears and sharp axes, shooting fiery arrows, and roaring over the seas, to devour their enemies, darkness spreads even in day time

The Rudras are led by Rudra, the red one, who is described in the Vedas as a howler, signifying his connection with the howling winds of storm. He is a healer as well as the cause of death and destruction due to snakebites and other calamities. Only he can protect people, their progeny, and cattle from the poisonous arrows of Death.

The Rudras possess the same share many qualities with Maruths, but they are more violent and war like. Hence they are more destructive and invoke more fear. Like the wind god, Vayu, who rides upon a thousand horses, Rudras and Maruths also use horses as their vehicles. They form the cavalry of Indra's army.

Storms may arise due to the actions of individuals (karma) or the act of God (daivikam). Since they shake things up and cleanse the earth, laying the groundwork for the renewal and resurrection of life, they personify the regenerative power and the vital energy of Nature (Shakti). In spirituality, they are compared to the forces and conditions that test the strength, tenacity and devotion of the seekers and help them progress on the path.

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