Brihaspati or Brahmanaspati, The Divine Priest and Teacher of Gods


Brihaspati, British Museum sculpture: 13th century, Konark, India, Modified and reproduced under CCASA 3.0

by Jayaram V

Summary: A brief account of Brihaspati, or Brahmanaspati, the divine priest, teacher and counselor of gods, and a warrior deity.

Brihaspati is mentioned in the Vedas as the Brahman priest and a Vedic deity. Subsequently he became one of the nine planetary deities (navagrapha) representing the planet Jupiter. In the epics and Puranas, he is mentioned as one of the sages, the first son of Angirasas and teacher of gods. According to some accounts he was the son of Agni.

He is also known by other names, Jiva, Dhishanaand, Animishaacharya, Brahmanaspati, Purohita, Angirasa, etc.. In Hinduism he is revered as a sacred teacher, the teacher of gods and teacher of teachers, who is one of the two paddles created by Brahma to cross the ocean of samsara, the other being Shukracharya, the teacher of demons. Since he is endowed with supreme wisdom, he gives counsel to both gods and humans.

Thursday or the fourth day in the week is named after him in Sanskrit as the day of Brihaspati (Brihaspativaram). A sacrifice known as Brihaspati Sava is named after him. It may be an alternate term for the Vajapeya (a royal consecration) ceremony or was performed after its conclusion. According to The Taittiriya Brahmana, a priest qualifies to become a chief priest or a royal priest (purohita) by performing it.

Brihaspati is also associated with some Puranic legends. According to one he once impersonated as Shukracharya, the teacher of demons and gave instructions to them for ten years. This legend might have gained prominence because Brihaspati is also known as the teacher and founder of the ancient atheistic school called Charvaka.

According to another legend, once Brihaspati’s wife Tara (star) fell in love with Chandra (moon) and out of their union gave birth to a son named Budha, a planetary deity representing the planet Mars. It resulted in a war between Brihaspati and Chandra at the end of which Tara relented and returned to her husband. Tara gave birth to six sons and a daughter.

He had another wife name Utathya through whom he had the famous Rishi Bharadwaja as his son. Symbolically, the seven children of Tara represent the seven sacred fires. His daughter Svaha had three sons, of them the son named Ukta created the sacrificial fire called Panchajanya. Out of compassion, Brihaspati accepted Budha as his son, although he was born to Tara out of an illegitimate relationship.

Brihaspati means great lord or supreme lord. In the Vedic tradition he was originally identified as the lord of sacred speech (brihati) or more particularly lord of sacrificial hymns which were chanted in a Vedic sacrifice. Since he is considered a manifestation of Agni, Brihaspati may also mean lord of light or lord of sacrificial fire or lord of sacrifice itself. He is the priest of heaven or the priest of gods, who as the royal priest of Indra leads him to victories. Because of his exemplary knowledge of the Vedas and fire sacrifices, he is also looked upon by Brahmanas as an ideal priest. As the teacher, counselor and head priest of gods, he personifies the intelligence of Brahman.

In the Rigveda he is extolled as Indra’s friend who is blemishless and harmless, master of wisdom, sweet tongued and mighty, leader of the samans and rigs, worthy of praise, who with his mastery of knowledge and speech commands attention of his audience. They also state that he offers hymns of adoration to the sun god, punishes the irreverent and insincere and grants bountiful gifts to the worshippers.

As the priest of heaven who makes the oblation prosper, he promotes the course of sacrifice. Since he is present in all sacrifices as the invisible and silent Brahman priest, without him a sacrifice is incomplete and imperfect. Without him, they say that no sacrifice is complete. Being the leader of the songs and maker of laws, he commands respect and attention from both gods and humans. With his speech, hymns, gifts and blessings, he inspires the heroes who fight wars as the protectors of Dharma.

According to the legends, the Guruvayur temple got its name because the image of Vishnu in the inner sanctum was originally worshipped by Krishna and preserved by Brihaspati, who is also know as the Guru (teacher) of gods. Subsequently, it was installed by Vayu. Hence, it became known as the Guruvayur temple.

Brihaspati is regularly worshipped by devotees in numerous temples all over the world as one of the Navagrahas. In the iconography he appears as a god with a golden body and four hands, seated upon a lotus, holding a mace or a staff or mace, prayer beads and a sphere or water-pot in his hands. In some images he is depicted as holding bow and arrows, a golden axe and a kamandala, while his fourth hand is held in vara (blessing) or abhaya (assuring) mudras. In some icons he is depicted as riding a chariot pulled by eight horses.

A 19th Century Painting of Brihaspati
A 19th Century Painting of Brihaspati.

These images suggest that he might have originally been a warrior deity just as Indra, Soma and Varuna, etc. His role as a teacher, Brahman priest and personification of knowledge and wisdom might have developed subsequently with the development of Hindu cosmology. According to Siddha Dharma, Brihaspati is worshipped in tantric rituals as a warrior teacher who with his knowledge of the sacrifices and Vedic chants ensures the victory of gods in the conflicts between them and the danavas. He also identified in some accounts with Ganapati, the leader of the Shivaganas.

Regarding his appearance of anthropomorphic form, Roshen Dalal provides the following description in his encyclopedic work, Hinduism, An Alphabetical Guide, “Brihaspati A deity first described in the RIG VEDA. Born from great light in the highest heaven, he drove away the darkness with thunder. He was seven-mouthed and seven-rayed, blue-backed, clear-voiced, bright and pure, with a hundred wings. His bow has rita or cosmic order as its string, his chariot is drawn by ruddy steeds. In some hymns, he is identified with Agni. He is sometimes called Brahmanaspati. In the BRAHMANAS he is connected with Vedic rituals, but later declined in importance.”

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