All about Aditi: Hindu Goddess of Infinity

Aditi has the honour of being almost the only goddess mentioned by name in the Rig-Veda (Hindu religious & mythological text), as the mother of any of the gods; but it is by no means an easy task to delineate her character, as the most contradictory statements are made concerning her.

She was invoked as the bestower of blessings on children and cattle; and she is clearly declared to be the mother of Varuna, and other deities, sometimes eight, sometimes twelve in number.

She is supposed to be the impersonation of  “infinity”, especially the boundlessness of heaven, in opposition to the finiteness of earth.

Another supposition is that Aditi is the personification of universal, all-embracing nature or Being. This latter idea seems to be the more correct from the following verses, where a man about to be immolated says:

“Of which god, now, of which of the immortals shall we invoke the amiable name, who shall give us back to the great Aditi, that I may hold my father and my mother ?”

Whatever may have been intended by the poets to be expressed by this name, or whatever may have been the precise power personified by Aditi, she is connected with the forgiveness of sin. Thus the expressions:

  • “May Aditi make us sinless.”
  • “Aditi be gracious, if we have committed any sin against you.”
  • “Whatever offence we have, O Agni, through our folly committed against you, oh, most youthful god, make us free from sins against Aditi.”
  • ” Whatever sin we have committed, may Aditi sever us from it.”

In the account of the Creation given in the Rigveda, Aditi is said to have sprung from Daksha, and in the same verse Daksha is called her son. There is also a reference to her other sons. In the Vishnu Purana we have no less than three somewhat differing accounts of the origin of Daksha, the father of Aditi.

In the first account, Daksha’s name appears amongst the mind-born sons of Brahma ; and in this connection he is said to have had twenty-four daughters, but Aditi is not mentioned as one of them.

In the second account of Daksha, Aditi is said to have been one of his sixty daughters, and was given in marriage to Kasyapa, by whom she had twelve sons, the Adityas.

Elsewhere we read that Vishnu, when incarnate as the Dwarf, was a result of this marriage. In the third account of Daksha, Aditi is again mentioned as his daughter, and the mother of Vivasat (the Sun).

Aditi and Daksha create each other

In a cosmogonic hymn in the Rigveda, Daksha is said to have sprung from Aditi, but then it is immediately added that Aditi sprang from him and is his daughter, the gods (Aditya) being born afterwards.

In another verse it is stated that the existent and non-existent were in the womb of Aditi, in the birthplace of Daksha.

Thus the last two passages seem to regard Aditi and Daksa as universal parents. The paradox of children pro- ducing their own parents has been shown to be not unfamiliar to the poets of the Rigveda.

Aditi, mother of the Adityas

Aditi is widely seen as the mother of the Adityas, the most important Hindu gods. However, there are multiple tales that describe how she became their mother and how many they were.

In on version, Aditi, had eight sons – the Adityas. She cherished seven of them; the eighth, which was a shapeless lump, was thrown away, but was afterwards moulded into Vivasvat, the sun; the pieces of the lump which were cast away by the divine artisan fell upon the earth and gave origin to the elephant, therefore elephants should not be caught, because they are of of divine nature.

In another version, Aditi was one of the thirteen wives of Kasyapa, and gave him twelve sons.

“There were twelve celebrated deities in a former age called Tushitas, who, on the approach of the present age, said amongst themselves,

“Come, let us quickly enter into the womb of Aditi, that we may be born in the next Manvantara [a Hindu mythological cosmical age], for thereby we shall again enjoy the rank of gods”

And so they did, and accordingly they were born the sons of Kasyapa, the son of Marichi by Aditi ; thence named the twelve Adityas, whose names were Vishnu, Sakra, Aryaman, Dhuti, Tvastri, Pushan, Vivasvat, Savitri, Mitra, Varuna, Ansa, and Bhaga.

The meaning of “Aditi” & the philosophy behind her name

“Aditi” means “not bound, not limited” but it is difficult to determine by what the being thus described is “not bound.” 

Sometimes it manifestly refers to unboundedness in space, so in this verse, partly quoted already, of a hymn to Mitra-Varuna:

“Mitra and Varuna, you mount your chariot, which is golden when the dawn bursts forth, and has iron poles at the setting of the sun ; from thence you see what is boundless [aditi, space], and what is limited [diti, the earth], what is yonder and what is here.”

The name Diti seems to have arisen as a necessary contrast to the word Aditi, like the word Sura in contrast to Asura. Aditi seems to mean akhandita, “not cut” or “not breakable”. It is a name of quality which may be applied to the vast effulgence of the Dawn or to the vast earth.

At other times the boundlessness of time — eternity or immortality — is suggested through context and opposition to death. This is clearly indicated by the following beautiful passage, supposed to be spoken by a living man musing on his own coming death:

“Who will give me back to the great Aditi, that I may see again father and mother ? Agni [fire], the first of immortal gods, . . . he will give me back to the great Aditi, that I may see again father and mother.”

This alludes to the custom of cremation and its accepted religious meaning. Fire, while consuming the body, transfers the spirit to the boundless — and bondless — world, where it is reunited to those who went before.

In another, and very quaint passage, a horse about to be sacrificed is to become aditi — a phrase which becomes intelligible when we know that animals offered in sacrifice were supposed, literally, to go to the gods, there to lead forever a sort of saintly, divine existence.

It will be noticed that Aditi (as a person or divine being), whether representing boundlessness in space or in time, or generally freedom from bonds of any kind, always seems to mean not only that, but something more, tending always higher and deeper into pure abstraction, until in the following passage, it is broadened into the most abstruse metaphysical symbolism:

“Aditi is the sky. Aditi is the intermediate region [antariksha — the atmosphere]; Aditi is father and mother and son; Aditi is all the gods and the five tribes; Aditi is whatever has been bom; Aditi is whatever shall be born.”

This remarkable effort at an exhaustive definition describes not only boundless space, eternity, and im- mortality, but universal, all-embracing, all-producing nature itself, or — to grasp the last and highest meta- physical abstraction — Infinity, The INFINITE. Such is the final meaning, which has been abstracted and condensed from the name and conception of Aditi, by the most philosophical students, out of all the passages directly referring to or bearing on this creation of the contemplative Indian mind.

Of all who have treated this often times puzzling subject, no one has used more beautiful language or more convincing argument than Professor Max Miller:

“Aditi is now and then invoked in the Veda as the Beyond — as what is beyond the earth, and the sky, and the sun, and the dawn”

This gives the gist of the question, which then is developed in one of the master’s most exquisite and brilliant pages :

“Aditi is in reality the earliest name invented to express the Infinite, not the Infinite as an abstract concept, but the visible Infinite, visible by the naked eye, the endless expanse beyond the earth, beyond the clouds, beyond the sky.

The idea of the Infinite was revealed, was most powerfully impressed on the awakening mind by the East. It is impossible to fully describe all the thoughts and feelings that passed through the minds of the early poets when they found names for that far, far East from whence even the early dawn, the sun, the day, their own life seemed to spring.

Aditi is a name for that distant East ; but Aditi is more than the dawn. Aditi is beyond the dawn, and in one place the dawn is called “the face of Aditi.” That silent aspect awakened in the human mind, the conception of the Infinite, the Immortal, the Divine. Aditi is not a prominent deity in the Veda, nevertheless hers is a familiar name, that lives on in that of the Adityas — the sons of Aditi.

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