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Who is Vayu?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated: May 23, 2024

Vayu is a wind god in the early Hindu pantheon. He is one of the major elemental gods, and was revered as one of the most important deities. He is often put into a smaller pantheon with Akasha, the god of Aether, Jala, the god of Water, Agni, the god of Fire, and Prithvi, the god of Earth. His name was also sometimes given as Prana, or Pavana, the Purifier.

Vayu is usually represented as a most beautiful man, often with slightly purple skin. He is carried around in a stunning coach, pulled by a thousand purple and white horses. He is usually adorned in beautiful jewelry, and is often depicted with four arms, sometimes with two arms holding small flags. When not being carried in a carriage, Vayu rides an antelope.

Vayu is often portrayed as a tempestuous god, and is shown having fits of rage which he does not repent or try to hold at bay. One story tells of Vayu deciding to blow the top off of the mythical Mount Meru. He blew and blew, but the bird god Garuda defended it. At last Garuda took a rest, and Vayu in his unprovoked fury blew the mountain’s top off, where it flew through the air and landed in the water, forming the island that is today known as Sri Lanka.

Vayu is also known for his lust. Many children were sired by him, including many important gods in the early pantheon. Perhaps his most famous son is the monkey god, Hanuman, who was gifted flight by his father. Vayu also sired the hero Bhima, one of the Pandava brothers of the Mahabharata.

Vayu was the god of wind in more than the sense of the powerful winds that blow through the airs. He was also looked at as the god of the breath of life itself. One of his most famous tales serves as an illustration of the importance of breath to every other expression of life.

A story is told that all of the gods who granted their powers to man gathered one day, each one claiming to be more powerful than the other. To determine who was in fact the most powerful, each god would leave their post on the man. For example, the god responsible for man’s ability to hear would depart, and the man would be struck deaf. When the god returned, the man would be able to hear, and the next god would leave. One by one they each took their turn leaving, and in each case the man was ultimately unharmed. At last it came to Vayu. He departed the man, and one by one the other gods felt themselves being plucked away, as first the suffocating man began to lose his ability to reason, then to see, then to stay awake. So it was the other gods learned each of their powers ultimately came from Vayu himself, and the breath of life he provided.

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