Romuva and the Vedic Gods of Lithuania

Romuva Sanctuary/ UNESCO

In May 2018, the Lithuanian traditional religion of Romuva was given state recognition. Now the Romuvans have the right to teach their religion in schools and their marriage ceremony will be recognized by law. This is part of a return to traditional religion in many parts of Europe driven by a yearning to know the past and make sense of ancient myths and customs. There is also institution-building going on, which is how, in Iceland, the first temple to Norse gods in 1000 years is opening later this year.

The Romuva story is particularly interesting because of the well-attested connections between Lithuanian and Sanskrit and the many details in which the Romuvan religion is similar to the Vedic. But what could be the basis of these connections? In this brief essay I summarize the evidence and also provide some new parallels that were overlooked in previous studies.

Of all the European nations, Lithuania held on to its traditional religion the longest. Nearly 1,000 years after the Roman Empire had embraced Christianity, and four hundred years after the Slavs did the same, Lithuanians continued to perform their ancient rituals and keep the sacred fires (Ugnė, Skt. Agni अग्नि) burning.

The conversion of Europe to Christianity was a protracted affair that doesn’t concern us here. The Lithuanians resisted the Northern Crusades for a long time, but eventually the sacred fire was extinguished in Eastern Lithuania in 1387 and in Western Lithuania in 1413. These changes affected the nobility the most, and the conservative Lithuanian population secretly worshiped their gods for several centuries more.

The name “Romuva” was chosen in honor of the famous Baltic Prussian sanctuary Romuva which was destroyed by Christians. The sister religions in the region are Dievturi and Druwi. “Romuva” means “temple, sanctuary” as well as “abode of inner peace”. But the name Romuva (from the Baltic rām-, ‘calm, serene, quiet’, which is identical to Skt. Rām राम) goes back to the deepest resonances in Indo-European beliefs.

When I was a young boy in Udhampur, the first dead body I ever saw was on a bier carried on shoulders by men. They were walking quickly and chanting “Rām Nām Sat Hai” (“The name Rām is [the only] Truth). I was puzzled by the chant until my father explained that “Rām” or “Rāma” means the highest divinity. The Zoroastrians have a Rām Yasht and the specific worship of Rāma is mentioned in Khorda Avesta 2.9.

The connections between Lithuanian and Sanskrit have been studied by linguists for decades. Some have used its archaic features to “reconstruct” the so-called Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language even though the earliest texts in Lithuanian are quite late, that is 1500 CE. In my view, the PIE project is methodologically flawed and in conflict with the recent DNA evidence.

The connections between Lithuanians and Sanskrit could be explained by the fact that the Vedic people and culture had expanded into the region of Uttara Kuru and Uttara Madra, between the Caspian and the Aral Seas, by the period of the Brāhmaṇas. This expansion is stated in various Vedic and post-Vedic texts and is corroborated by Greek historians. The pressure from Turkic tribes must have forced many ethnic groups residing in this region to move further northwest towards Ukraine and the Baltic region. Linguists are also atempting to examine the details of such an expansion. Further research will give us stories behind parallels such as Skt. moka, “pupil”, मोकम्, and Lithuanian mokyti, “to teach”.

A stylized Swastika, Skt. Svastika स्वस्तिक, has been adopted as a symbol of Romuva.

Romuva symbol

The Darna

Baltic culture is properly called the Darna, which means ”harmony” as does the word “derme”. In this, its meaning is identical to the Sanskrit “Dharma” धर्म. Just as every role in the Vedic world has its dharma, so does it in the Lithuanian world. The collection of the individual dharmas goes on to define harmony at the cosmic level.

An important symbol of the Romuva is the Austras Koks, “tree of dawn,” or “tree of life,” Skt. Auśas kakṣa औषस् कक्ष, which is another name for Kalpataru, the tree of life.

The Romuva cosmology sees Perkūnas and Žemė as father and mother of all beings, which is identical to the characterization of Parjanya and Pṛthvī/Kṣamā (Earth goddess) in the Atharvaveda (12.1.12 and 12.1.29). To the best of my knowledge this astonishing parallel in the names together with the Vedic reference has not been mentioned by scholars.

Deities

Some principal deities of the Romuva pantheon together with the Vedic equivalents are:

Dievas, Skt. Dyaus द्यौस्. Literally “Heaven”, it is the general name for God and can be a synonym of Brahman in many situations.

Perkūnas, Skt. Parjanya, परजन्य. The God of Thunder; father of all beings. Parjanya is like Indra, इन्द्र. Most interestingly, Parjanya is seen as the son of Dyaus in RV 7.102.1 and as Dyaus in 10.45.4.

Žemė, Žemyna, (Skt. Kṣamā, क्षमा, Earth). The Earth Goddess. Skt. क्ष also means field and from this we get क्षेत्र; from it also came Avestan zā̊ which led to Persian zamin زمین. Zemes Māte is the Earth Mother (Skt. Kṣamā Mātā क्षमा माता). We find Dyukṣam in RV 10.185.1 as a pairing of Heaven and Earth and also as that of Parjanya and Kṣamā.

Ašvieniai, Skt. Aśvinau अश्विनौ. They are the horsemen to the gods who symbolize the morning and the evening lights. They are the children of Dievas in Romuva and Dyaus in the Vedas.

Aušra, Skt. Uśā उषा. Dawn. She represents spiritual intuition.

Laima, Sk. Lakṣmī, लक्ष्मी? She is responsible for luck and happiness.

Saulė, Skt. Sūryā सूर्या. She is the Sun goddess who marries the Moon. The Ṛgvedic hymn 10.85 describes the iconic wedding between Sūryā (daughter of Sūrya) and Soma = Māsā (Moon). Sūryā-Māsā is mentioned five times in the Ṛgveda, and an additional three times as Sūryā-Candramāsā.

Medeinė, Skt. Medini मेदिनि, is another aspect of Earth as protector of forest, trees, and animals (AV 12.1.33)

Veju Māte (Skt. Vāyu Mātā वायु माता) is the Wind Mother.

Veles (Skt. Vala वल). In Baltic mythology, Veles is a malevolent spirit of the dead. In the Vedas, Vala is a demon who takes the form of a stone cave which is split by Indra to liberate the cows and Uṣas; mentioned 23 times in the Ṛgveda and also in the Atharvaveda,

Indraja, इन्द्रज, born of Indra, is the name for Jupiter.

A speculative theory to explain the astonishing similarities between Romuva and the Hindu religion is that the Lithuanians are descendants of migrants from India in a process similar to that of the emigration of the Roma. Personally, I don’t find this theory persuasive because we already know of the presence of the Vedic people near the Caspian Sea in the Uttara Kuru, which was known to Ptolemy.

The Vedic System

Some might object to my use of the term “Vedic” rather than the conventional “Indo-European” in describing the Romuva religion. But the convention is quite wrong. The parallels are astonishing in details including some that are being presented here for the first time. We don’t have the entire set of names from the Vedic texts in Romuva, but let us note that much of the Lithuanian tradition was lost and what we know was created out of the unsympathetic Christian chronicles or the remembered folklore.

And we are not talking just of names. There are significant parallels in the structures of the two, which is an even more important piece of evidence.

In both the Romuva and the Vedas, the highest divinity, Dievas/Brahman, is neutral in the affairs of the world. There is duality in the experienced world as represented by Perkūnas-Veles pair which mirrors the Vedic duality of Deva-Asura. Other dualities likewise are the masculine and feminine deities Perkūnas-Žemė or Parjanya-Kṣamā which are mirrored in the marriage of Saulė-Mėnuo and Sūryā-Soma (Māsa). In the Vedic system, as in Romuva, the oppositions are complementary and, therefore, essential in defining the overall unity.

The return to the old is also driven by a search for a spiritual basis of life as in the Vedic tradition. The Vedic view is universal, consistent with science and it claims to address the mystery of consciousness, which is the current frontier of organized knowledge.