Asuras (असुराः)

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Asuras (Samskrit : असुराः) considered as the children of Diti and Kashyapa, hence are also called as Daityas (दैत्याः). Many have negative qualities such as pride, quarrelsome nature, obstructing and interfering in the yajnas of devas, challenging and occupying the regions belonging to the Devas or Suras.

Etymology and history

In the Samhita texts, the Asuras are any adhyatmik, divine beings including those with good or bad intentions, and constructive or destructive inclinations or nature.


Scholars have disagreed on the nature and evolution of the Asura concept in ancient Bharat's literature.

Characteristics of Asuras

All powerful beings, good or evil, are called Asuras in the oldest layer of Vedic texts. A much studied hymn of the Rigveda states Devav asura (Asuras who have become Devas), and contrasts it with Asura adevah (Asuras who are not Devas).[1][2] Each Asura and Deva emerges from the same father (Prajapati), share the same residence (Loka), eat together the same food and drinks (Soma), and have innate potential, knowledge and special powers in Hindu mythology; the only thing that distinguishes "Asura who become Deva" from "Asura who remain Asura" is intent, action and choices they make in their mythic lives.[3][4]

"Asuras who remain Asura" share the character of powerful beings obsessed with their craving for ill gotten Soma and wealth, ego, anger, unprincipled nature, force and violence.[5][6] Further, when they lose, miss or don't get what they want because they were distracted by their cravings, the "Asuras who remain Asuras" question, challenge and attack the "Asuras who become Devas" to loot and get a share from what Devas have and they don't, in Hindu mythology.[5][6] The hostility between the two is the source of extensive legends, tales and literature in Hinduism; however, many texts discuss their hostility in neutral terms and without explicit moral connotations or condemnation.[4] Some of these tales are the basis for myths behind major Hindu Epics and annual festivals, such as the story of Asura Ravana and Deva Rama in the Ramayana and the legend of Asura Hiranyakashipu and Deva Vishnu as Narasimha,[4] the latter celebrated with the Hindu spring festival of Holika and Holi.[7]


Edelmann and other scholars state that the dualistic concept of Asura and Deva in Hinduism is a form of symbolism found throughout its ancient and medieval literature.[8][9] In the Upanishads, for example, Devas and Asuras go to Prajāpati to understand what is Self (Atman, soul) and how to realize it. The first answer that Prajāpati gives is simplistic, which the Asuras accept and leave with, but the Devas led by Indra do not accept and question because Indra finds that he hasn't grasped its full significance and the given answer has inconsistencies.[10] Edelmann states that this symbolism embedded in the Upanishads is a reminder that one must struggle with presented ideas, learning is a process, and Deva nature emerges with effort.[10] Similar dichotomies are present in the Puranas literature of Hinduism, where god Indra (a Deva) and the antigod Virocana (an Asura) question a sage for insights into the knowledge of the self.[10] Virocana leaves with the first given answer, believing now he can use the knowledge as a weapon. In contrast, Indra keeps pressing the sage, churning the ideas, and learning about means to inner happiness and power. Edelmann suggests that the Deva-Asura dichotomies in Hindu mythology may be seen as "narrative depictions of tendencies within our selves".[10]

The god (Deva) and antigod (Asura), states Edelmann, are also symbolically the contradictory forces that motivate each individual and people, and thus Deva-Asura dichotomy is a adhyatmik concept rather than mere genealogical category or species of being.[11] In the Bhāgavata Purana, saints and gods are born in families of Asuras, such as Mahabali and Prahlada, conveying the symbolism that motivations, beliefs and actions rather than one's birth and family circumstances define whether one is Deva-like or Asura-like.[11]


Asuri is the feminine of an adjective from asura and in later texts means belonging to or having to do with demons and spirits.[12] Asuri parallels Asura in being "powerful beings", and in early Vedic texts includes all goddesses.[13][14] The term Asuri also means a Rakshasi in Bharat's texts.[15]

The powers of an Asuri are projected into plants offering a remedy against leprosy.[16][17]

In Book 7, Asuri is a powerful female with the special knowledge of herbs, who uses that knowledge to seduce Deva Indra in Atharva Veda. A hymn invokes this special power in Asuri, and this hymn is stipulated for a woman as a charm to win over the lover she wants.[18]

Similarly, in the Atharva Veda, all sorts of medical remedies and charms are projected as Asuri manifested in plants and animals.[13] Asuri Kalpa is an abhichara (craft) which contains various rites derived from special knowledge and magic of Asuri.[19][20]

Hindu mythology

Vishnu Purana

According to the Vishnu Purana, during the Samudra manthan or "churning of the ocean", the daityas came to be known as asuras because they rejected Varuni, the goddess of sura "wine", while the devas accepted her and came to be known as suras.[21]

Shiva Purana

Alain Daniélou states that Asuras were initially good, virtuous and powerful in Bharat's mythology. However, their nature gradually changed and they came to represent evil, vice and abuse of power. In Shiva Purana, they evolved into anti-gods and had to be destroyed because they threatened the gods.[22][21]

The asuras (anti-gods) were depicted to have become proud, vain, to have stopped performing sacrifices, to violate sacred laws, not visit holy places, not cleanse themselves from papa (पापम्), to be envious of devas, torturous of living beings, creating confusion in everything and challenging the devas.[21][22]

Alain Daniélou states that the concept of asuras evolved with changing socio-political dynamics in ancient India. Asuras gradually assimilated the demons, spirits, and ghosts worshipped by the enemies of Vedic people, and this created the myths of the malevolent asuras and the rakshasa. The allusions to the disastrous wars between the asuras and the suras, found in the Puranas and the epics, may be the conflict faced by people and migrants into ancient India.[22]


  1. FBJ Kuiper (1975), The Basic Concept of Vedic Religion, History of Religion, volume 15, pages 108-112
  2. Wash Edward Hale (1999), Ásura in Early Vedic Religion, Motilal Barnarsidass, ISBN 978-8120800618, pages 1-2; Note: Hale translates this to "Asuras without the Asura-Devas" in his book, see page 3 for example.;
    For original Sanskrit, see Rigveda hymns 8.25.4 and 8.96.9 Rigveda - Wikisource
  3. Nicholas Gier (1995), Hindu Titanism, Philosophy East and West, Volume 45, Number 1, pages 76, see also 73-96
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Yves Bonnefoy and Wendy Doniger (1993), Asian Mythologies, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0226064567, pages 52-53
  5. 5.0 5.1 Nicholas Gier (1995), Hindu Titanism, Philosophy East and West, Volume 45, Number 1, pages 76-80
  6. 6.0 6.1 Stella Kramrisch and Raymond Burnier (1986), The Hindu Temple, Volume 1, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120802230, pages 75-78
  7. Wendy Doniger (2000), Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions, Merriam-Webster, ISBN 978-0877790440, page 455
  8. Jonathan Edelmann (2013), Hindu Theology as Churning the Latent, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume 81, Issue 2, pages 427-466
  9. Doris Srinivasan (1997), Many Heads, Arms and Eyes: Origin, Meaning, and Form of Multiplicity in Bharat's Art, Brill Academic, ISBN 978-9004107588, pages 130-131
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Jonathan Edelmann (2013), Hindu Theology as Churning the Latent, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume 81, Issue 2, pages 439-441
  11. 11.0 11.1 Jonathan Edelmann (2013), Hindu Theology as Churning the Latent, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume 81, Issue 2, pages 440-442
  12. American Oriental Society (1852). Proceedings (American Oriental Society) 1874-1893, p.xv
  13. 13.0 13.1 Hale, Wash Edward (1986). Ásura: In Early Vedic Religion, p.120-133. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. ISBN 8120800613
  14. Coburn, Thomas B. (1988). Devī-Māhātmya, p.200. Motilal Banarsidass Publications. ISBN 8120805577
  15. Bodewitz, H. W. (1990). The Jyotiṣṭoma Ritual: Jaiminīya Brāhmaṇa I, 66-364, p.265. Volume 34 of Orientalia Rheno-traiectina. ISBN 9004091203
  16. Shende, N.J. (1967). Kavi and kāvya in the Atharvaveda, p. 22. Issue 1 of Publications of the Centre of Advanced Study in Sanskrit, Centre of Advanced Study in Sanskrit, University of Poona
  17. Garg, Gaṅgā Rām (1992). Encyclopaedia of the Hindu World: Ar-Az, p.751. Volume 3 of Encyclopaedia of the Hindu World. Concept Publishing Company. ISBN 8170223733
  18. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named griffith738
  19. Magoun, Herbert William (1889). The Āsurī-Kalpa: a witchcraft practice of the Atharva-Veda
  20. Goudriaan, Teun & Gupta, Sanjukta (1981). Hindu Tantric and Śākta Literature, p.114. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. ISBN 3447020911
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Roshen Dalal (2011). Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide, p.46. Penguin Books India. ISBN 0143414216 [1]
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Alain Daniélou (1991). The Myths and Gods of India: The Classic Work on Hindu Polytheism from the Princeton Bollingen Series, pp. 141–142. Inner Traditions / Bear & Co. ISBN 0892813547.

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