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Mitra (Sanskrit Mitrá) is an important divinity of Indic culture and the patron divinity of honesty, friendship, contracts and meetings. He is a figure of the Rigveda, distinguished by a relationship to Varuna, the protector of ṛtá.


Etymology

The Indo-Iranian word *mitra- could mean either covenant, contract, oath, or treaty, or friend. A general meaning of "alliance" might adequately explain both alternatives. The second sense tends to be emphasized in Indic sources, the first sense in Iranian. The word is from a root mi- to bind, with the tool suffix -tra- (compare man-tra-), a contract is thus described as a "means of binding" (compare Ishara).


Function

Vedic Mitra is the patron divinity of honesty, friendship, contracts and meetings. He is a prominent deity of the Rigveda distinguished by a relationship to Varuna, the protector of ṛtá. Together with Varuna, he counted among the Adityas, a group of solar deities. They are the supreme keepers of order and gods of the law. Mitra has two assistants, Aryaman and Bhaga.

Varuna and Mitra are the gods of the oath, often twinned or identified as Mitra-Varuna (a dvandva compound). In the Vedic hymns, Mitra is often invoked together with Varuna, so that the two are combined in a dvandva as Mitra-Varuna. Varuna is lord of the cosmic rhythm of the celestial spheres, while Mitra brings forth the light at dawn, which was covered by Varuna. Mitra together with Varuna is the most prominent deity and the chief of the Adityas, in the Rigveda. Mitra and Varuna are addressed as devas in Rigveda and in the only hymn dedicated to Mitra, he is referred to as a deva (mitrasya...devasya).

Reflecting his status as a solar deity, Mitra has long been worshipped in the sunrise prayers of the Hindus. The morning upasthaana prayer, recited to the risen sun after contemplation on the sacred Gayatri mantra, is a collection of Rig Veda verses addressing Mitra.


References

  • Mitra-Varuna: An Essay on Two Indo-European Representations of Sovereignty by Dumézil, Georges (1990).Cambridge: Zone Books. ISBN 0-942299-13-2.
  • Occidental Mythology: The Masks of God by Campbell, Joseph (1964. New York: Penguin Group. ISBN 0-14-004306-3.