Ours is a complex field. And as with any sphere wherein depth, detail, and nuance swirls like mist – there are certain comfortable, complacent conceptions of things which stubbornly stick around long after they ought otherwise to have been dispensed with. The reasons for this are various – and include that certain of these ‘seem’ like they should be correct to the untrained or uncaring eye, or simply because something of an ‘old boy’s club’ of established theorizing from some time in the 1800s has been allowed to persist because too many people are too fundamentally wedded to it to actually bother to examine the evidence, much less to change.
One of these areas … is the axiomatic insistence continually encountered that the Vedic figure of Parjanya is somehow equivalent to Perun, Perkwunos, Thor, Indra. The Expressions of the Striker/Thunderer Indo-European deific complex.
This is incorrect – although to be fair and sure, it is not difficult to see how the mistake has been arrived at, and then stubbornly persisted with down the decades.
I have previously argued, in the course of “Swear By The Sea, Swear By The Stars, Swear By The Sky – On The Mytholinguistics Of Varuna Neptune Ouranos” that Parjanya is, in fact, Varuna. And that both are, as it happens, expressions of the Indo-European Sky Father. I marshalled an array of evidence to this cause, including a direct comparison of certain RigVedic Hymnals, and their accompanying iconographic and functional features also within a broader Indo-European mythological context. I shall not seek to repeat that work here.
Instead, we shall concentrate upon this “alternative” that keeps springing up places – of Parjanya allegedly identified with the Striker/Thunderer. And demonstrate how this does not, cannot fit – in favour of better alternatives.
So, what is the case that is often made for Parjanya being a Striker/Thunderer expression? Well, there are some elements to it that are legitimate. The association with Thunder, for one – along with the Clouds and Rainfall which that quite naturally brings. There is also an association with the smiting of evil – which, again, is an arguably quite logical association with Thunder, as this tends to co-occur with Lightning, and other expressions of formidable, caelestial force.
Now, these are not illegitimate points to raise. And, as I have said, they are quite correct in their application to both the Sky Father and the Striker/Thunderer deifics. However, they tend to occur with some degrees of difference between the two – that we might better tell Them apart. For example, there is generally a much stronger (albeit not exclusive) association of the Smiting action of the Striker/Thunderer with a serpentine demon-dragon of sorts (although even here there is overlap – consider those RigVedic Hymnals wherein Brihaspati slays Vala et co, or makes war alongside Lord Indra against Vritra/Vala); and it is action carried out in a per-cussive manner with a club or perhaps axe type of weapon. The Sky Father, however, in His aspect as the Stern Judge, often has a more general concern with the punishment of “Sinners” (c.f Varuna hymnals upon this subject, in particular), and is typically armed with a ‘shooting’/’spearing’ weapon – a bow and arrows, a spear or trident (or, for that matter, bident), in particular. [Interestingly, there is also a Charm against a particular disease in the AtharvaVeda, AV1.2, wherein Parjanya is hailed as the Father of the Shaft, potentially also the Shaft which brings dis-ease, in the manner of some of the Arrows of Rudra in other RigVedic Verse – and with Indra portrayed as protecting the devotee against such weaponry]
And as applies the Thunder, Clouds, and Rainfall – we tend to find the emphasis in particular upon the Rainfall, rather than simply the Smiting action. Indra may unleash the Flood of the Waters via Thunder-Clubbing Vritra – but Parjanya does not require such emancipation in order to fill the Sky with water all of His own accord. I also suspect there may be some further ‘deep(a)’ distinction around the characterization of the Thunder – wherein the noise of the Thunder is subtly different in implication, and more closely aligned to the Vacam Garjit Lakshanam concept, particularly viz. reference to the Sky Father as Lawgiver for His People as well as the Universe at large … but that is another thought for another time. As is how this may link to a) the Roarer aspect of the Sky Father and b) the Crow/Raven/Corvid associates of the same Sky Father, particularly in His aspect as Lord of the (Ancestral/Glorious) Dead.
But these are not significant proofs of distinction. They are both of them ‘spectrums’ of complementary difference; and it can be fairly argued that especially after several millennia of ‘development’ in each culture’s mytho-scriptural canon, that even before we get into the figure of Zeus [Who really is doing both the Sky Father and Striker/Thunderer portfolios at once, due in part to what we have taken to terming “Mess-O-Potamia” influence etc. upon the Greeks … ], that the cotermininity of the clouds does not really prove my cause. Yet it does not harm it, either. After all, even in the relatively well-articulated distinction of the Nordic pantheonic expression upon this matter – we find Odin Himself bearing the name of Þundr … Thunderer. And yet, nobody would seriously attempt to argue that Odin and Thor are the same deity simply based upon that term of coterminity.
They would look foolish for doing so – for surely everybody knows that Thor is the Son of Odin. Which, funnily enough, is also enormously relevant to our efforts at the distinguishment of Parjanya from the ‘Per-‘ termed Striker/Thunderer deific. Because one of the defining features of the latter, as I illustrated in “Sky-Earth-Thunder – A Brief Comparative Model of the Divine Family” last year, is that the Striker/Thunderer is the Son of the Sky Father and Earth Mother. The pattern is well-known – Indra is the Son of Dyaus Pitar & Prithvi Mata; Thor’s Mother is Jord [‘Earth’]; Shiva’s Son is Hanuman; Kronos & Rhea’s Son is Zeus (in this case, the ‘Striker/Thunderer’ identity of the Deific); I could go on at some length, but you get the idea.
So – how does this pertain to Parjanya? Well, as it happens, the Wife of Parjanya is in fact Prithvi [AV 12.01.12; AV 10.10.6, as well, arguably; RV 6.49.6 makes the interesting alignment also with Vata in the same role in the same breath – which should be completely unsurprising, as Vata, quite coterminous with “Odin” etymologically, is also Shiva – the Sky Father thrice, four times over herein]; so unless we are somehow endeavouring to suggest that the Striker/Thunderer deific is not only now an “All-Father” [for such is another way to interpret several verses in relation to Parjanya, Varuna, Apam Napat, etc.], but also married or otherwise attached to the Earth Mother – then right off the mark, we can dismiss the speculation around Parjanya being the Striker/Thunderer. It just does not make sense.
Notwithstanding, of course, various Greek and Roman confusions wherein actually, yes, due to the ‘three and three’ division of their Sky Father deific – into three ‘generations’, and then three brothers in the last – to give us Ouranos/Uranus, Kronos/Saturn, and Zeus-Hades-Poseidon, we do see an incidence wherein a deity with a Striker/Thunderer identity is linked to an Earth Mother … as well as being the Son (and, for that matter, Grandson) of a Sky Father-Earth Mother pairing. But that is the Greeks for you. And, as it happens, the ‘proof’ of the pattern is also to be found amidst the breach – consider the romantic partners of Poseidon/Neptune and Hades/Pluto: Demeter and Persephone, respectively. Poseidon and Demeter, in particular, produced a rather mighty Son, Antaeus, Who also possessed various of the identifying portfolio elements of a more ‘mortal’ tier Striker/Thunderer expression – to the point of making an ideal ‘antagonist’ anti-figure foe for Herakles in the course of the latter’s Labours.
[Note: there is likely to be some controversy as applies this, with relation to the Baltic & Slavic (and, for that matter, Albanian) mythological setups – on grounds that dependent upon whom one talks to, you occasionally have similar suggestion of a ‘fusion of powers’ and portfolios in Perkwunos, Perun etc.; which gets even more complicated when the figure of Zemyna, an ‘Earth Mother’ Goddess is considered (wherein She might be linked to Perkunas or Dievas – that is to say, a Striker/Thunderer, or Sky Father deific expression – contingent upon source and reconstruction). However, without meaning to disparage our Balto-Slavic cousins, the fact of the matter is that the materials that we have to attest much of their pre-Christian religious beliefs are often fragmentary, convoluted, internally contradictory with one another, and vulnerable to having become ‘reinterpreted’ by compilers at various points in their journey down to us – including, quite specifically, ‘Greek-ified’ in the process. It is therefore difficult to state with certainty what is authentically the case for many of those – and, for that matter, whether or at what point, important details might have changed amidst which groupings.]
In any case, within the bounds of both the Vedic mythology – the earliest and best-preserved record of Indo-European mythoreligion available to us – as well as speculative reconstructive typology for (Proto-)Indo-European mythology all up … the Familial situation is quite clear. And thankfully, non-Freudian.
Yet it is the etymology and the functional roles which this serves to elucidate, wherein the confusion must really become allayed. People have, for some peculiar reason, presumed that “Parjanya” contains within it either the Proto-Indo-European “Per” that is the mark of the Striker/Thunderer (e.g. “Perun”, “Perkwunos”, “Perseus”, etc.), or the “Perwh” which underpins terms for ‘Mountain’ (i.e. “Parvat(i)”, “Pirwa”, etc.). Except that this is not easily the case – especially with the occasionally argued direct derivation from “Perkwunos” that we might see crop up from time to time.
Instead, I would suggest that Proto-Indo-European “(S)Pergh” is the more likely origin for the theonym. A term which means to ‘scatter’, and which also underpins Latin ‘Spargo’ – to sprinkle/scatter; and Ancient Greek ‘Speiro’ – which means to sow. It is obvious how the meaning-field for these terms quite closely aligns with the functional role of Parjanya in terms of, well, sprinkling with rainfall, and also presiding over the seeding of trees and life.
This is useful and important, because it also helps to underscore the Parjanya-Varuna connexion I have earlier attested. Varuna likely shares an etymological underpinning with Ancient Greek ‘Ouranos’ – with varying sources giving the ultimate PIE root for this term of “hwers”, “uers”, “ers”, “awers”, but all meaning largely the same thing. Water. Raining down from On High. Sprinkling, Spraying. Which is just what we should expect, given that the several main Vedic Hymnals unto Parjanya, along with various more peripheral citations contained in others – are precisely that. Requests for Rain, and hailings for the procreative power for new life Sown which He also presides over and upon.
I suppose you might say – He Makes The Rains Run On Time.
[As a side-note, there is a further potentially interesting direction to this which I shall leave largely unexamined in this piece – that of the linkage in AV4.15 7&9, of Parjanya to Serpents; which I mention not only due to its occurrence alongside the Maruts – Sons of the Sky Father, although also frequent companions of Lord Indra as well – but also due to the various hints of a serpentine … and more especially serpentine-sowing association to the Sky Father deific which I first unearthed at length in last year’s “NAGA PANCHAMI – A CELEBRATION OF SERPENTS” ; here it is likely that the Serpents in question are also a kenning of sorts for streams and rivers – but it is interesting to note the difference between a Sky Father deific expression in positive association with serpents, and the Striker/Thunderer deific’s more well-renowned antipathic smitery toward other water-snakes of sorts.]
So, that about sums it up, I feel. There is more that can and should be said upon this matter – but much of it I have already parsed, in the course of the aforementioned “Swear By The Sea, Swear By The Stars, Swear By The Sky – On The Mytholinguistics Of Varuna Neptune Ouranos”; and at some point I do intend to do a more explicatory writeup entitled provisionally “The Masks Of The Sky Father”, to attempt to more adequately compile and extol the characteristics of this most mighty of beings as we have thusly, scripturally and mythographically, addeuced Them.
It is in some ways understandable just why it is that we so regularly, frequently hear people insisting that Parjanya is a Striker/Thunderer and therefore equivalent to Thor, Perun, Perkwunos, etc. There are some coterminities which we have cursorily observed. But those conceptual overlaps are more easily explained by the fact that they are natural complements (insofar as Rainfall and Thunder are frequently co-occurring – “Thunder Only Happens When It’s Raining”, as the song goes), rather than naturally co-identifying of the same entity at hand.
And moreover, these overlaps are more than overpowered in their scope by the clear and salient points of distinction between the two deific complexes – which thus, via the alignment of Parjanya with that of the Sky Father, go to disprove the oft-proffered presumption of Parjanya being an emblematic expression of the Striker/Thunderer deity.
With the linguistic argument, as well as the functional argument(s) largely debunked, in favour of far more compelling counter-explications … and the familial situation and broader place within the context of the pantheon and cosmology also cursorily attended to –
I think it fair to say the time has come to ditch and to dispel the now more than a century old fallacious argument that Parjanya is Perkwunos. (Seriously – while I am not sure that it is the earliest promulgation of the theory, I have found people stating it, off the back of largely Slavic Romantic-era evidence about something else entirely, from the early 1870s – some two decades or more prior to reasonably comprehensive translations of The Vedas becoming available in the English Language. It is no wonder that some of these points I have raised which considerably undercut such a position were not realized at the time – and as I said at the outset, the ‘comfortableness’ of such shibboleths presumably helps to explain why, even in the modern age of etymological examination, it has not yet been firmly put to rest).
We have, in short, “Poured Cold Water On It”.
The ‘Parjanya’ Thing To Do !