In the Vedas, the deities or devatās are mainly the elements of nature e.g. Sūrya (sun), Prithivī (earth), Vāyu (wind). The treatise on the derivation of the vocable of the Vedas, the Nirukta, gives a definition of Devatā as that which is self-luminous, that which gives its light to others and that which gives in the sense of giving and sustaining life. According to the Nirukta, these deities have a three fold interpretation:

  • elemental (ādhidaivika)
  • spiritual (ādhyātmika)
  • social (ādhibhautika)

THE ELEMENTS (ādhidaivika)

The elements are devatās (deities) because they give us the light, heat and energy that sustain us. They are the earth which gives us birth and nourishes our beings, the waters that flow and the breezes that blow. As elements we see them as integral parts of creation, all pervading for our well-being, that we may live and be sustained by them.


We see the sunshine give its light to all of creation, the light being ‘jyoti’ which removes the darkness of gloom and despair, which dispels ignorance through light, the wisdom of knowledge. Beholding the sun in all its glory and spreading its brightness we then aspire to become like the sun; we strive to become illumined spiritually ‘tamaso ma jyotir gamaya’ – from darkness to light, do lead me. The ādhyātmika has to do with ātma (soul) and spiritual enlightenment of oneself. From the waters, one becomes inspired to be calm and tranquil; from the airs comes the message of invigoration, of balance and equipoise; and firmness, resolve and sustenance from the earth.

MORAL DUTY (ādhibhautika)

When we translate these messages of the elements into service to humanity and all of creation, then we are living our lives in harmony with nature. We also serve creation like nature does.We remove the gloom, darkness, despair and ignorance like the sun does. We instil calmness and tranquility in to the lives of others like the waters do; like nature we become the harbingers of peace. We sustain our families and society, providing for their needs and comforts like the earth does. We thus translate the inherent attributes of nature into the nature of our intrinsic being.


Ethics is generally understood as conducting ourselves with due consideration to those around us, including the plants and animals. Today in any business, research or venture, one has to, by law, indicate that the project has met all these ethical requirements.

There is a very fine line between ethics and morals, with morals belonging more to the spiritual realm where the commitment has to come from an inner conviction, while ethics is to do with principles which are relevant in the social dimension.


From the most ancient civilisations to our present-day systems of schooling and even our responsibilities as a family, discipline is fundamental to the maintenance of law and order. Followed rigidly or instilled lovingly, discipline is imperative.

If we agree that there is a great, underlying principle governing the laws of creation, we then have to acknowledge that the world works according to a discipline, laws and discipline supplementing and complementing each other.

It is the inherent nature or law of the sun to shine and in so doing give its light, heat and energy to all of creation. The sun does so selflessly and incessantly, dedicated and committed to its duty of spreading light. If it were to take or ask for any respite, the world would be destroyed – it is inconceivable that the sun would desist from its duty. We therefore say it is the dharma (inherent virtue) of the sun to spread energy and light.

Similarly, the rivers flow so that the parched earth, the tree, bird and beast, and you and I may quench our thirst. It is the dharma of the waters to flow and in its flowing to quench the thirst of all of creation.The breezes blow so that we all may breathe and live. The earth not only gives birth to life but sustains it very much like a mother does.

Discipline and living according to laws designed for our benefit is a natural law and we need discipline to ensure that we in turn live up to the laws that society promulgates or those that we see in nature; they are for our well-being and best interest.


In performing their duties, the elements do not favour or judge, nor do they pronounce on or prefer one over the other. They are equitable, just and benevolent in bestowing their bounty on us. We are then reminded about how we violate this natural law by always judging each other, by choosing those we favour based on our likes and dislikes. In the yajna which is central to all the rites of passage, reverence to the elements of nature is meant to instill these values in family and society by expressing the universality of the virtues taught by the lessons of nature. Dispassionately work the laws of nature.


The sun shines so that all of creation may prosper from its light, heat and energy. The waters flow so that we may quench our thirst and the breezes blow so that we may breathe. The elements work so that we may be happy. Happiness, good health, peace and prosperity are all boons that we are endowed with through the infinite grace, benevolence and charity of nature. The elements never ask for any thing in return and never expect anything either. The Gīta describes such selfless giving, with no expectation of reward, with no desire for the fruit of one’s deeds as ‘nishkāma karma’– the best and highest (sātvika) human virtue. Again, as human beings we are constantly preoccupied if not obsessed with what we stand to gain from everything we do to the extent that we nurture our children and perform our prayers with all kinds of expectations. Often this leads to heartache, disappointment and cause of tensions, our unhappiness with not getting what we deem just rewards for the work we have done.


Just as we define the elements of nature by explaining their inherent nature of shining, flowing, granting and sustaining life, of being benevolent and altruistic as being the respective dharma of each element, we then ask what the dharma of a human being would be. Being endowed with the capacity to think, of knowing right from wrong, of having the ability to make the right choice and accepting responsibility for it:


That is the lesson in the school of nature for all of humanity.