The gods of ancient India and Persia

This paper will cover the people and the lands (as they are called today) of the southern Russian steppes (Central Asia), Iran, Afghanistan, the Punjab region of Pakistan, and northwest India as they were 7000 to 3000 years ago.

The focus will be on the gods who ancient alien theorists assert were extraterrestrials impacting the human story.

Concerning the region and people covered here in this paper, various authors and scholars serving as guest experts on the History Channel show “Ancient Aliens” have asserted that the gods emerging as a focus of these people were extraterrestrials, like Indra among the people speaking the Sanskrit dialect of some tribes in the Central Asian steppes and northwest India or Ahura Mazda revered by tribes speaking a similiar dialect (Avestan) in Central Asia and Iran. The History Channel show rests on a foundation of works by authors dating back to the early and mid 20th century. Also, there is today the growing potential for influencing the public’s perceptions from the voice of Tom DeLonge and his co-author Peter Levenda for SEKRET MACHINES: GODS, MAN AND WAR. Jason Colavito, a hyper critic of Ancient Alien notions, summarizes how the focus of this paper is addressed in chapter 7 of that book: “This chapter rehearses standard ancient alien claims about ancient Persia and India, from gods that ride on winged discs to flying vimanas”. [1]

Around 5000 BCE there were tribes of varying ethnic backgrounds living in Central Asia. The varied peoples of the steppes (and mountains in the far east) ot this region all had a similiar and stable culture that for a long time would remain at peace. There were only minor conflicts for hundreds of years (until around 1500 BCE). This long-standing stability was based on tribes of people who farmed and raised goats, sheep, and pigs.

The varied tribes living in this region self-identified as “Aryans”, meaning “noble” or “honorable”.
Karen Armstrong, historian of religions, notes: “Because they spoke a language that would form the basis of several Asiatic and European tongues, they are also called Indo-Europeans”. [2]

Around 2500 BCE, after a long period of little mobility beyond the region, various tribes began migrating with people over a long span of time settling in Persia and the large and advanced civilization along the Indus and Sarasvati Rivers in northwest India (today the Punjab region of Pakistan). Tribes also migrated to European settings.

The great Indus Civilization of India, developing since around 4500 BCE, was larger at this time than the great Egyptian civilization along the Nile and Sumer along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. This civilization was only discovered in 1921, and with this region now the scene of political turmoil between India and Pakistan, only a fraction of 2500 know sites (mostly towns and villages) have been excavated.

There are several exposed large cities now, with Mohenjo-Daro and Harrapa first discovered along the Indus River in 1921, revealing to everyone for the first time to a civilization in ancient times that was larger than Sumer, Egypt, and Assyria. Continuity of settlements in this area can be traced back to the city of Mehrgarh in the furthest northwest region of old India (or Bharata). The whole of this civilization covered 300,000 square miles.

The late Georg Feurestein (scholar of eastern traditions) describes our view of the earliest settlement, prior to the latter great Indus settlements:

“Recent archaeological work in eastern Baluchistan (Pakistan) has brought to light a city the size of Stanford in California), which has been dated to the middle of the seventh millennium BCE [6500 BCE]. This early Neolithic town, labeled Mergarh by archaeologists, in many ways foreshadowed the later urban civilization along the 2 great rivers of northwestern India…

Mehrgarh’s population is estimated to have been around 20,000 individuals, which was huge for that period. Apart from having a thriving marketplace for imported and exported goods, the town also appears to have been a center of technological creativity and innovation. The industrious people of Merhrgarh cultivated cotton as early as the 5th millennium BCE and mass-produced good-quality pottery by the 4th millennium BCE. Terra-cotta figurines dated to 2600 BCE clearly evince a marvelous stylistic continuity with the art of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization and also with later Hinduism.” [3]

Feuerstein describes the look of the latter 2 great cities of the Indus civilization:

“…The most striking cities are Mohenjo-Daro in the south and Harrapa, 350 miles further north. The Indus River once served as their main artery of communication. Mohenjo-Daro, the bigger of the 2 metropolisies excavated in the Indus valley, covered an area of about a square mile, which is enough space to accomodate at least 35,000 people. Both cities show meticulous planning and a high degree of standardization, suggesting a sophisticated sociopolitical organization.

The excavations have brought to light an elaborate drainage system, complete with rubbish shoots, which is unique for pre-Roman times. They also revealed an abundance of bathrooms, and this suggests the kind of ritual ablution that is typical of modern Hinduism. The mostly windowless buildings, including three-story houses, were made from kiln-fired bricks, one of the finest known building materials. In both hig cities the nucleus consists of a huge citadel, some 400 by 200 yards in extent, built on an artificial mound. In the case of Mohenjo-Daro, it includes a large bath (230 by 78 feet), halls of assembly, a large structure that was presumably a college for priests, and a great granary (grain storage was a government function). The urban layout, as well as the standardized brick sizes and weights, points to a centralized authority, undoubtly of a priestly nature.” [4]

This civilization was a ship building one with its maritime reach involved in importing bronze, tin, silver, lapis lazuli, and soapstone and exporting gold, copper, timber, ivory and cotton. The people of the Indus were well-connected to elsewhere, like the advanced civilization in Sumer along the Tigris-Euphrates.
Unlike the other early civilizations of Egypt and Sumer, whose written language has been deciphered, the writings or symbolic symbols (the Indus script) of this civilization has yet to be figured out though the hunt appears to be getting closer to answers. There were no temples also for regular religion practice was in homes and at special times community-wide sacrificial rituals to feed the gods to assure their strength to protect people and help them thrive. Specifics about all that will be addressed later, but Karen Armstrong noted these signs from the native people of the Indus-Sarasvati region regarding signs of religion (apart from those from the Aryans of Central Asia):

“…There are tantalizing hints that some religious cults that would become important after the Axial Age may have derived from the Indus Valley civilization. Archaeologists have found figurines of a Mother Goddess, stone lingams, and 3 stamp seals depicting a figure sitting, surrounded by animals, in what looks like the yogic position.” [5]

(With Aryan migration over a long period of time there “could have been an overlap and interchange” between the Aryan and Indus cultures regarding religion, Armstrong suggests. Other scholars, like Feuerstein and David Frawley, argue the Aryans were always significantly present there in the Indus region.)

The Indus script is evident on over 2000 steatite soapstone seals used by merchants. There are images of animals, plants, and human figures (some perhaps deities) on these seals along with the still-undeciphered writing.

This was a very stable civilization seeing little change in hundreds of years. When the Sarasvati River dried up, around 1900 BCE, the Indus settlements began dying out with people moving to new places along the Ganges River, running east to west.

What is known about the Vedic religion will be expanded upon later. Going back to the earliest days of the Aryan peoples on the Central Asian steppes, scholar Karen Armstrong describes their religion:

“Their religion was simple and peaceful. Like other ancient peoples, the Aryans experienced an invisible force within themselves and in everything that they saw, heard, and touched. Storms, winds, trees, and rivers were not impersonal, mindless phenomena. The Aryans felt an affinity with them and revered them as divine. Humans, deities, animals, plants, and the forces of nature were all manifestations of the same divine ‘spirit’, which the Avestans (a dialect close to Sanskrit) called mainyu and the Sanskrit speakers manya. It animated, sustained and bound them all together.” [6]

Early cultures appear to have focused on a Sky God representative of the light of day and the whole of the sky hosting gods and their abodes. The name Dyaus Pitr seems to be an early designation for a supreme deity. When different ethnic groups making up the generalized Indo-European Aryans fanned out to India, Persia, Turkey, Italy, Greece, Germany, Scandanavia, etc, similiar supreme deities were visualized in this initial way. This High Sky God was aloof and over time the pantheon of gods became particularized alot with a growing and developing cast of characters coming to represent very specific aspects of life here in the human order. Humans and gods had a very dynamic relationship, with the hidden cosmic order maintained by gods who were assigned to address and secure specific aspects of existence.

Dyaus Pitr, literally Sky Father, was wedded to Prithvi Mata, or Mother Earth and were generally only mentioned a few times in the Rig Veda, the earliest literature coming out of India, with composition usually said to have begun around 1800 BCE. The earliest known literature in the world is a hymn to the god Enlil (“Temple Kesh Hymn”), is dated 2600 BCE and comes from the ending phase of the Sumerian civilization (which became the Akkadian empire under Sargon after he conquered the Sumer city-states in the 24th century BCE). The union of these 2 primal gods yield the Sun (a god named Surya and Savitar in the Vedas) and Dawn (named Usha), evident here in this verse from the collection of hymns in the first book (of ten) of the Rig Veda:

The Sun:] “My father, my progenitor, is Heaven; here is my navel. My mother, this great Earth, is my relation.

My womb is within the two open cups [=Heaven and Earth]. Here my father placed the child [=the Sun] of his daughter [=Dawn].” [7]

The basis for religious practice involved sacrificial rituals mostly practiced privately at homes with only the household involved and using only one fire. The public rituals were sponsored by a patron and enacted using three fires with many priests involved and a large and silent crowd in attendance.

The gods and humans were subject to a cosmic or sacred order. The sacrificial rituals were intended to assure harmony with that order maintained by the unseen (except in ecstatic visions fueld by a powerful drug and god named Soma). The gods were addressed chiefly to assure the safety and prosperity of the family and whole community.

Highly stationed families performed the fire sacrifice (homa) at sunrise and sunset with short chants and an offering of milk and water pored into the fire.

The public events were expensive and ended in a feast of the sacrificed cattle for the community. The fire, a key god called Agni, was the conduit for transfering the sacrificed items to the gods. That included use of a drug by the priests based on crushing a still-unidentified plant stalk. Soma has been called a psychedelic but it may have been an amphetamine-like drug. From the Rig Veda:

“I have consumed the delicious drink of life, knowing that it inspires good thoughts and joyous expansiveness and which all the deities and mortals seek together, like honey.”

That is the first of 15 verses in this hymn dedicated to the god Soma. Here is the 11th:

“Weakness and disease have gone. The forces of darkness have fled in terror. Soma has climbed up in us, expanding. We have arrived where our life span is prolonged.” [8]

The gods of the Aryan milieu included some of these key ones: Varuna, responsible for maintaining the cosmic order. Mithra was representative of storms and rain. Mazda covered matters of law and justice. Indra was a fierce warrior god who freed the waters during a drought by killing a three headed demon-dragon named Vritra. Agni represented fire and Soma was the god whose effects (when the drug was consumed) inspired the visions of the ecstatic seer-poets who created the hymns of the Rig Veda. Another god in that Veda, not mentioned but a few times at this stage in Indian lore, was Rudra, known as the howler and associated with powerfully destructive wind-driven storms. That god would creatively develop into the famous god known as Shiva.

One of the basis for the argument by some that different ET factions were at war here with us humans in the middle are the events around 1500 BCE in the Aryan cultural setting.  By 1300 BCE a Persian priest practicing the sacrificial rites described above would compose hymns (The Gathas) that was an urgent response to the horrors in the region unleashed by Aryans adopting from Armenians (around 1500 BCE) the technology to make bronze.  There were advanced empires to their south and many of the Aryan young men participated as mercenaries in the great armies to their south.  Returning home with armor and skills, and knowledge of greater modes of transport, the these Aryans soon enhanced greatly their mobility by domesticating horses and attaching them to war chariots.

“When they returned to the steppes, they put their skills to use and started to rustle their neighbors’ cattle.  They killed, plundered, and pillaged, terrorizing the more conservative Aryans, who were bewildered, frightened, and entirely disoriented, feeling that their lives had been turned upside down.” [9]

This disruptive state of affairs, where “violence escalated on the steppes as never before”, led to a changing characterization and standing of some of the different gods, and also contributed to a cultural divide:

“A heroic age had begun.  Might was right; chieftans sought gain and glory; and bards celebrated aggression, reckless courage, and military prowess.  The old Aryan religion had preached reciprocity, self-sacrifice, and kindness to animals.  This was no longer appealing to the cattle rustlers, whose hero was the dynamic Indra, the dragon slayer, who road in a chariot upon the clouds of heaven.  Indra was now the divine model to whom the raiders aspired……When they fought, killed, and robbed, the Aryan cowboys felt themselves one with Indra and the aggressive devas who had established the world order by force.” [10]

A Persian priest from either northeast Iran or southeast Afghanistan was deeply troubled by this and focused on ways to counter this decline in the culture.  At the age of 30, early one morning while engaging in a purifying ritual bath and collecting water for later rituals, Zoroaster found himself encountering a shining being on the banks of the river.  This being introduced hinself as Vohu Manah, or “Good Purpose” (or Good Mind, according to some).

“Once he had been assured of Zoroaster’s  own good intentions, he led him into the presence of the greatest of the ahuras [my note: Persian terms for the gods or devas, known also as The Shining Ones]: Mazda, lord of wisdom and justice, who was surrounded by his retinue of seven radiant gods.  He told Zoroaster to mobilize his people in a holy war against terror and violence…” [11]

The 7 hymns of the Gatha, written in the old Avestan Aryan dialect very similiar to the old Sanskrit dialect in which the key early Vedic texts (the four Vedas) were written, was Zoroaster’s voice elevating Mazda to supreme deity status.  But, Mazda had an evil twin, dedicated to negative ways encouraging violence, degraded behavior, and disorder.  People as individuals had freedom of choice.  

[Ahura Mazda has been presented as an extraterrestrial on History’s Ancient Aliens.]

To address specific notions about the transport vehicles and weapons of the gods that are conveyed on the Ancient Alien show, I will share quotes from the Rig Veda related to all of that.  

And, then, I will end with 2 very vivid action scenes from the Mahabharata: first, when Agni has Arjuna and Krishna (who have gathered for a picnic with family in a forest) help him burn down a forest, feeding him energy.  Indra tries to stop them unsuccesfully with powerful weapons but Arjuna and Krishna are well armed.  And, finally, we have the amazing story of the King of Salwa (a kingdom in northern India) attacking Krishna’s city in a flying craft (the Saubha Vimana) with amazing speed and powerful weapons

Among the earliest Aryan-pictured gods were the Ashwins, twin horsemen in a golden ship who transported the sun across the sky.  Long-time Vedic scholar David Frawley:

“The ships of the Ashwin travel through the atmosphere as do the golden ships of Pushan [my note, Pushan is the Sun.  Book 6, Hymn 58 of the Rig Veda cited as source].  While this may be a metaphor for sailing vessels, some may be inclined to see in it some ancient technology or special occult vehicles, perhaps possessed by the priests and kept hidden from ordinary people.  Yet in the Vedas such magical phenomena arise through the power of mantra and the meditative powers of the mind, not some outer technology. [my emphasis]  In later Puranic and epic texts, as in the Vedas, there is specific mention of a ‘vimana’, an aerial ship.  It occurs in the Rig Veda related to the powers of the Sun and the Moon.” [11]

Before proceeding further, it is best to note how the nature of the gods is presented in the Rig Veda.  That Veda shows early signs of moving beyond early man’s polytheism to a view of an ineffable, undefinable Ground of Being that they call Brahman.  This is the ultimate identity of all beings:

“The Gods transcend the worlds.  They are not just naturalistic symbols but indicate aspects or ways of approaching the Absolute or the uncreate.” [12]

Frawley provides a summary view of Vedic cosmology:

“….The Vedic view of the universe is of a vast cosmos with many different levels.  It is a sacred view of the world and not meant to simply reflect outer actualities.  Yet it does reveal a wide scope of vision and the idea of a complex and interrelated cosmic existence encompassing man, nature and the Divine in a common law…..[This was] a culture led by seers and rishis with a vast experience not only of the Earth but also subtle planes of consciousness.

We have already seen much of the Vedic cosmology in our study of the oceans and rivers.  The heavenly ocean and heavenly rivers accompanying the earthly and the atmospheric.  Everything in the Veda occurs on these 3 levels–the Earth corresponding to the body, the atmosphere to the breath or life-force, and Heaven to the mind”. [13]

The characters identified as designers and creators of “the chariots of the gods” that Frawley notes are “magic vehicles [traveling] in the atmosphere and [having] the power to go anywhere or encompass the worlds” were great Vedic artisans and poets with “magical powers” that Rig Veda hymns mythologized as the Ribhus.  The Ribhus were 3 artisans whose efforts elevated them to god-like status.  They are Ribhu, Vaja, and Vibhvan:

“Not born from a horse, without reins, worthy of praise, the 3 wheeled chariot encompasses the region.  Great is your Divine speech when, Ribhus, you nourish Heaven and Earth, who wise by the mind, according to the thought made the chariot that turns easily and does not waver (Book 6, hymn 36, verses 1-2 Rig Veda)”

“Soma and Pushan, the aerial ship in the atmosphere, which has a sevenfold wheel, the vehicle which is not disturbed by anything, which revolves easily employed by the mind, oh Bulls, energize it which has five rays [Book 2, hymn 40, verse 3 of Rig Veda]”

In Book 3, hymn 60, the first 2 verses describe the elevation of the Ribhus beyond human mortality:

“Here is your friendship by the mind, oh men.  The priests came to these sessions with knowledge.  By magic powers, equal to each form, the sons of Sudhanvan became holy.  By magic powers they fashioned the chalice, by thought they drew the cow out of its skin, by the mind they fashioned the two horses of Indra.  According to these actions the Ribhus became Divine.”

And, to further excite the imagination (like it has with Giorgio T of Legendary Times and History’s Ancient Aliens, who often observes: “no such thing as magic, must be advanced technology”):

“Of easy travel travel is the Earth for the Maruts [my note: fierce warrior sages associated with Indra], of easy travel is Heaven with its slopes, of easy travel are the paths of the atmosphere, of easy travel are the mountains.”  Rig Veda, Book 5, Hymn 54, verse 9

“Your chariot comes that encompasses Heaven and Earth, which golden moves with powerful horses, whose path is clarity.  Extending over five worlds with three seats it goes yoked by the mind, by which you visit godly people.  It binds the ends of Heaven on your path.” Rig Veda, Book 7, Hymn 69, vers 1 – 3

“In one common yoke your chariot encompasses seven rivers.”  Rig Veda Book 7, Hymn 8

There is an  account of a flying craft in the great epic of the Mahabharata and more in other epic tales written hundreds of years later in the literature of epic tales known as the Puranas.

The Mahabharata is a massive epic, typically organized into 18 books or chapters.  Teams of poets creatively elaborated upon this epic over the centuries.

The context of the milieu described in it places the core story as happening around 1500 BCE, during the time when settlements were developing immediately  east of the lower waters of the Indus and south of its headwaters.  This was in the period after the decline of the Indus civilization.

Society was becoming more complex with the role of the Brahmin/Vedic priests more established and the center of power shifting from tribal chieftans to kings and princes governing small but developing kingdoms.

The core story entails an 18 day war between cousins (the Pandavas and Kauravas) who had shared ruling the Kurus kingdom in north-central India, adjacent to the western area of the Ganges River.  When the Pandavas’ King of half the kingdom lost his rule by the trickery of the Kauravas King in a dice game, negotiations allowed the Pandavas to go into exile and if they remained undetected in their forest hide out for 13 years, they could resume ruling.  They do just that, but the Kauravas king denies their return to power.  So, the stage is set for war.

Key characters, from beginning to end, are Krishna and Arjuna.  Krishna is presented as an Incarnation of Vishnu and ruler of a port city on the north coast of the Arabian Sea (a little south of the mouth of the Indus River).  Arjuna is the prized charioteer/warrior of the Pandavas clan.  Krishna, not a member of any of these 2 warring clans, agrees to serve as a strategist for the wronged Pandavas and as a charioteer for Arjuna.  Thirty-six years after the war in the Kurus kingdom, Krishna is killed accidently by a hunter and the city he ruled goes under water due to rising sea level.  In 1987 this city (Dwarka) was discovered and its submergence dated to 1500 BCE by marine archaeologists. 

Dwarka is scene of the first story from the Mahabharata that I will reference, as it is a favorite one for so called ancient alien theorists.  Krishna had angered the king of Salwa, another small kingdom in north-central India.  He decided to send his army to Dwarka and as for himself, he travels there in an “aerial ship” or “aerial city” which launches projectiles damaging outlying parks and gardens and revreation areas.  Krishna is not present for this first wave, which his prince-sons repell.

The Salwa kings aircraft is said (in a much later epic recounting centuries later in the Bhagavata Purana) to have been built by his engineer after Shiva’s approval.  It is called the Saubha Vimana, named after the capital of Salwa.

After Krishna returns to Dwarka and surveys the damage, a second fierce battle ensues with the Salwa king employing his vimana, able to dart here and there in a blink of an eye and also able to momentarily create illusions that for a moment confuses his enemy combatants.  But, Krishna destroys the vimana by hurling his magical discus, slicing the aircraft in half and sending it into the sea.  The Salway king ejects but Krishna hunts him down and kills him.

Another story in the Mahabharata seems to indicate where Krishna got his magical discus.  This story starts with Krishna and Arjuna going on an outting with friends and family to the forest and river.  Krishna and Arjuna go aside there and encounter a strange being there:

“Krishna and Arjuna walked off by themselves among the trees, talking, reminiscing.  They were enjoying each other’s company, seated at ease in a pleasant grove, when they were approached by a strange brahmin.  He towered above them, tall as a shala tree.  His hair and beard were red, his skin coppery, and he was radiant as the morning sun, blazing with glory…..” [14]

The being explains that he is Agni, the god of fire and fire itself and was currently in bad health due to a king feeding him clarified butter in excess during a ritual sacrifice.  He was told that only the fat of the creatures in the forest they were at could restore his health.  But, Agni would need the help of these two renowed warriors to “fend off Indra’s rain clouds” and to “prevent the million creatires of the forest escaping death.”

Arjuna points out that they brought no weapons with them to this outting, so Agni summons the god Varuna (“keeper of weapons”) who gives Arjuna the “marvelous bow GANDIVA, the indestructable, the shining arc, a bow so mighty that the cording of it caused the air to throb, the mind to shudder of anyone who heard it.”  Arjuna also receives 2 quivers of an inexhaustible supply of arrows.  “Krishna received a keen-edged discus that would always return to the thrower’s hand; and a great club, lethal as a thunderbolt”. [15]

Arjuna and Krishna do their task and Agni is restored to health.



[2] The Great Transformation: the beginning of our religious traditions, 2006, Karen Armstrong, chapter 1, “The Axial Peoples”, pg 4

[3] The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literaure, Philosophy, and Practice, 2001, Hohm Press, by Georg Feuerstein, pg 62

[4] The Yoga Tradition, page 99-100

[5] The Great Transformation, pg 16

[6] The Great Transformation, pg 16

[7] Rig Veda, tr. by Stephanie Jamison & Joel. P. Bretteron [2014]

[8] The Yoga Tradition, pg 111

[9] The Great Transformation, pg 8

[10] The Great Transformation, pg 8

[11] Gods, Sages and Kings: Vedic Secrets of Ancient Civilization, by David Frawley 1991

[12] [13] Gods, Sages and Kings, pg 305

[14]  Mahabharata, A Modern Reading by Carole Satyamurti, 2015, pgs 144-145….the translated rendering was in blank verse format, not the paragraph format used by me in quoting.

[15] Mahabharata, A Modern Reading, pg 146