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Deva (Sanskrit: देव, Devá) refers to "heavenly, divine, anything of excellence (सर्वोत्कृष्ट तत्त्व)", one of the terms for deity in Sanatana Dharma literature. Deva is masculine, and the related feminine equivalent is Devi. Devas are subtle beings defined by their extraordinary divine power (divya shakti). They have a positive benevolent power supporting the humanity in many ways with extraordinary and distinguished competence.
Devata-vada is yet another fundamental concept with unique characteristics propounded in the Vedas, the oldest Sanatana Dharma texts. Devas, also known by the synonym Devatas (देवताः) are the subject matter (प्रतिपाद्य विषयः) of the Vedic mantras and occupy a very important place in all traditions. Devatas are the supernatural extraordinary beings around whom revolve numerous legends as described in ancient Bharat's literature. From the earliest Rigvedic texts to the Puranas and the Itihasas these divine beings, the Devas, are explained based on their nature and specific powers.
The term 'deva' (देवः) originates from the samskrit root दिव् - क्रीडाविजिगीषाव्यवहारद्युतिस्तुतिमोदमदस्वप्नकान्तिगतिषु i.e., the root is used in the sense of - to play, to gamble, to dice, to desire to win, to transact, to glow, to shine, to praise, to please, to boast, to sleep, to wish, and to go.
Yaska, defines the term Deva (देवः) as
देवो दानाद् वा, दीपनाद् वा, द्योतनाद् वा, द्युस्थानो भवतीति वा। (Nirukta 7.15)
Deva is one who bestows (gives) something, who is self effulgent, or who helps others shine, or who lives in the celestial region.
According to Shabdakalpadhruma, देवः, is a masculine gender word (पुं) used in the sense of extraordinary, happy playful beings (दीव्यति आनन्देन क्रीडतीति ।)
According to Amarakosha, Devas are mentioned by 26 terms such as
अमरा निर्जरा देवास्त्रिदशा विबुधाः सुराः । सुपर्वाणः सुमनसस्त्रिदिवेशा दिवौकसः ।। १.१.७।।
आदितेया दिविषदो लेखा अदितिनन्दनाः । आदित्या ऋभवोऽस्वप्ना अमर्त्या अमृतान्धसः ।। १.१.८ ।।
बर्हिर्मुखाः क्रतुभुजो गीर्वाणा दानवारयः । वृन्दारका दैवतानि पुंसि वा देवताः स्त्रियाम् ।। १.१.९ ।। (Amara. 1.1.7-9)
Amara (अमराः), Nirjara (निर्जराः), Deva (देवाः), Tridasha (त्रिदशाः), Vibhudha (विबुधाः), Sura (सुराः), Suparvana (सुपर्वाणः), Sumanasa (सुमनसः), Tridivesha (त्रिदिवेशाः), Divoukasa (दिवौकसः), Aditeya (आदितेयाः), Divishada (दिविषदः), Lekha (लेखा), Aditinandana (अदितिनन्दनाः), Aditya (आदित्याः), Rbhav (ऋभवः), Asvapna (अस्वप्नाः), Amartya (अमर्त्याः), Amrtandhasa (अमृतान्धसः), Barhimukha (बर्हिर्मुखाः), Kratubhuja (क्रतुभुजः), Geervana (गीर्वाणी), Danavari (दानवारि), Vrndaraka (वृन्दारकः), Daivata (दैवतः), Devata (देवताः).
Additionally, there are other names of Devas mentioned in Amarakosha as Divyopapaduka (दिव्योपपादुका) as in दिव्योपपादुका देवा नृगवाद्या जरायुजाः (Amara. 3.1.50), Vivasvat (विवस्वत्) mentioned in Amarakosha (3.3.64) and Animisha (अनिमिष).
Kinds of Devas
Devas or Suras are the general class of devas ruled by Indra. Most of the Devas are the sons of Kashyapa Prajapati by Aditi, the daughter of Daksa Prajapati. The Devas are classified with special reference to bhutaganas like Prthvi etc. and are, therefore, referred to as Bhudevatas, Agnidevatas, Vayudevatas, etc. The presiding spirit of Bhudevatas is Kubera, that of the Jaladevatas is Varuna, that of the Agnidevatas, Vayudevata and that of the Akashadevatas, is Indra. And, under them there are various sets of Devas in charge of different subdivisions.
There are nine groups of devatas called as Ganadevatas, i.e., a collective group of Devas.
आदित्यविश्ववसवस्तुषिताभास्वरानिलाः । महाराजिकसाध्याश्च रुद्राश्च गणदेवताः ।। १.१.२० ।। (Amara. 1.1.10)
They are Aditya (आदित्यः - 12 devas are collectively termed Adityas), Vishve (विश्वेदेव - 13) Vasu (वसु - 8) Tushit (तुषित - 36), Abhasvar (आभास्वर - 64), Anila (अनिल - 49) Maharajika (महाराजिक - 220), Sadhya (साध्य - 12), Rudra (रुद्र - 11)
In each of these ganas constitute a group of devatas having similar activities, thus, Adityas collectively are twelve in number but each have a separate name (including the name Aditya).
There are 10 classes of Devas (having Devayoni).
विद्याधराप्सरोयक्षरक्षोगन्धर्वकिंनराः । पिशाचो गुह्यकः सिद्धो भूतोऽमी देवयोनयः ।। १.१.११ ।। (Amara. 1.1.11)
Vidyadhara (विद्याधरः - Jeemutavaha and others), Apsarasa (अप्सरसाः - Devata stree), Yaksha (यक्षः - Kubera and others), Raksha (रक्षः - Mayavi Lankadhivasi), Gandharva (गन्धर्वः - Tumburu and others), Kinnera (किंनराः - Ashvamukha narasvaroopa), Pisacha (पिशाचः - Pishitas and others), Guhyaka (Manibhadra and others), Siddha (Visvhavasu and others), Bhuta (Balagraha and others or followers of Rudra).
Sadhyas, Vasus, Adityas, Apsaras etc. are Akashadevas, Maruttas and Gandharvas, are Vayudevas. Yaksas and Yaksis are subordinates of Kubera.
Characteristics of Devas
Many siddhantas about devas have been explained by the commentators in texts such as Brhaddevata, Sarvanukramani, Mimamsa and Nirukta. In recent centuries, commentators such as Sayanacharya and Mahidhara explained the vedic concept of devatas. According to them, devas are those supernatural personalities (अलौकिक-व्यक्तित्वम्) described as having the qualities of being all-powerful (सर्वशक्तिमत्), bright (कान्तिमत्), splendid (आभा), graceful or charming (लावण्य) prosperous (ऐश्वर्य), and full of infinite, imperishable lustre (अनन्त तथा अक्षय शोभायुक्त), eternal (नित्य), ever-youthful (अजर), ever-lasting (अमर) immersed in happiness and comforts (आनन्द एवं सुखमें निमग्न). However, their qualities are many more. According to shlokas in Brhddevata, a summary about the origin of the devatas is as follows
भवद्भूस्य भव्यस्य जङ्गमस्थावरस्य च । अस्यैके सूर्यमेवैकं प्रभवं प्रलयं विदुः ।। ६१ ।। असतश्च सतश्चैव योनिरेषा प्रजापतिः । यदक्षरं च वाच्यं च यथैतद्ब्रह्म शाश्वतम् ।। ६२ ।। (Brhaddevata. 1.61-62)
Summary: In this brahmanda (universe) there exists only one shakti (energy), called as Ishvara. It is undivided (एकमेवाद्वितीयम्). It is this single shakti which is invoked and worshiped in subtle forms having specific powers called as devas. It has only one root and the expression of this Sat (existence) has branched out into many devas. Just like in a string of beads, the underlying string is covered by the placement of the beads, so also, the Surya, Vishnu, Vayu, Vakdevi, Aditi and other deities are all described as that Parabrahma (the Absolute).
The Vedic seers who worshipped the gross natural forces such as the earth, wind, sun etc, actually connected with the subtle governing sentient entity (अधिष्ठातृ चेतना-शक्तिः) pervading in these elements. For example, in the very first sukta of Rigveda, the rshi though fully aware of the gross form of Agni performs a stuti of the subtle energy within Agni, praising the Paramatma within. He was a worshipper of the pervading immortal quality within the mortal quality of Agni.
As mentioned in the earlier section, Devas are benevolent and helping in nature to other beings. In light of these perspectives, the elements such as Earth (Prthvi), Water (Jala), Fire (Agni), Air (Vayu), the Sun (Surya), the Moon (Chandra), the Clouds (Megha) etc are all devas because they are always benevolent entities always giving and helping all the beings of the world.
It is this characteristic nature that is recognized by the Vedic seers and they outpoured their gratitude towards these "devas" in the form of stuti mantras with an intent to receive their benevolence for the good of all. Keeping some devatas in mind the stuti mantras were given by the seers and thus we have a particular devata for each mantra. Thus Devas became the subject matter described in a mantra, and a collection of such stutis formed a particular sukta. Sayanacharya mentions thus,
देवता तु मन्त्र प्रतिपाद्या । (Sayana, Rigvedabhashya Bhumika Page 114)
The mantras throw light on the nature of a particular deity but the knowledge about them can only be obtained by tapas and sadhana. The mantras are powerful invocations and invitations to call a particular deity. This aspect is also discussed by Yaska in his Nirukta (7.1)
The attitude of reverence towards the higher objects, superior to man in power and subtle in nature led to the development of beliefs and activities of worship. Phenomenon of nature were the objects of interest that awed the ancient people. Early man was impressed by the natural inexplicable forces of nature to which he reacted to with reverence. Deities in Rigveda are conceived as the presiding deities of natural phenomenon. The seers composed the revelations they had about the natural objects surrounding them. They depicted the vastness of such phenomena and realized the idea of Infiniteness. To them the infinite revealed itself in the various forms of nature.
The Samhitas, of the Vedas enumerate 33 devas, either 11 each for the three worlds, or as 12 Adityas, 11 Rudras, 8 Vasus and 2 Asvins in the Brahmanas layer of Vedic texts. The Rigveda states in mantra 1.139.11,
ये देवासो दिव्येकादश स्थ पृथिव्यामध्येकादश स्थ । अप्सुक्षितो महिनैकादश स्थ ते देवासो यज्ञमिमं जुषध्वम् ॥११॥
O ye eleven gods whose home is heaven, O ye eleven who make earth your dwelling, Ye who with might, eleven, live in waters, accept this sacrifice, O gods, with pleasure.
Gods who are eleven in heaven; who are eleven on earth; and who are eleven dwelling with glory in mid-air; may ye be pleased with this our sacrifice. – Translated by HH Wilson
— Rigveda 1.139.11 Some devas represent the forces of nature and some represent moral values (such as the Adityas, Varuna, and Mitra), each symbolizing the epitome of a specialized knowledge, creative energy, exalted and magical powers (Siddhis). The most referred to Devas in the Rig Veda are Indra, Agni (fire) and Soma, with "fire deity" called the friend of all humanity, it and Soma being the two celebrated in a yajna fire ritual that marks major Hindu ceremonies. Savitr, Vishnu, Rudra (later given the exclusive epithet of Shiva), and Prajapati (later Brahma) are gods and hence Devas. Saraswati (knowledge) and Ushas (dawn) are some Devis or goddesses. Many of the deities taken together are worshiped as the Vishvedevas.
Henotheism In Vedic literature, Deva is not a monotheistic God, rather a "supernatural, divine" concept manifesting in various ideas and knowledge, in a form that combine excellence in some aspects, wrestling with weakness and questions in other aspects, heroic in their outlook and actions, yet tied up with emotions and desires.
Vishnu (above) is one of the Vedic Devas. The third Valli of the Katha Upanishad discusses ethical duties of man through the parable of the chariot as a means to realize the state of Vishnu, one with Self-knowledge. The oldest Upanishads mention Devas, and their struggle with the Asuras. The Kaushitaki Upanishad, for example, in Book 4 states that "Indra was weaker than the Asuras when he did not know his own Atman (soul, self). Once Indra had self-knowledge, he became independent, sovereign and victorious over the Asuras"; similarly, states Kaushitaki Upanishad, "the man who knows his inner self gains independence, sovereignty and is unaffected by all evil".
Chandogya Upanishad, in chapter 1.2, describes the battle between Devas and Asuras on various sensory powers. This battle between good and evil fails to produce a victor and simply manifests itself in the perceived universe, as good or evil sights witnessed by beings, as good or evil words shared between people, as good or evil smells of nature, as good or evil feelings experienced, as good or evil thoughts within each person. Finally, the Deva-Asura battle targets the soul, where Asuras fail and Devas succeed, because soul-force is serene and inherently good, asserts Chandogya Upanishad.
Chapter 3.5.2 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad describes Devas, Men and Asuras as sons of Prajapati, the primordial father. Each asks for a lesson on ethics. Prajapati tells the Devas to observe the virtue of temperance (self-restraint, Dama), the Men to observe the virtue of charity (Dana), and Asuras to observe the virtue of compassion (Daya). At the end of the chapter, the Upanishad declares that these are three cardinal virtues that should always be observed by all Devas, Men and Asuras.
Medieval era Bharat's scholars, in their Bhasya (review and commentaries) on the Upanishads, stated that the discussion of Devas and Asuras in the Upanishads is symbolic, and it represents the good and evil that resides and struggles within each human being. Adi Shankara, for example, in his commentary on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad asserted that Devas represent the human seeking for the sacred and adhyatmik, while the Asuras represent the human seeking for the worldly excesses. Edelmann and other modern era scholars also state that the Devas versus Asuras discussion in Upanishads is a form of symbolism.
In the later primary Upanishadic texts, Devas and Asuras discuss and act to seek knowledge, for different purposes. In one case, for example, they go to Prajāpati, their father, 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. 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.
Puranas and Itihasas
In the Puranas and the Itihasas with the embedded Bhagavad Gita, the Devas represent the good, and the Asuras the bad. According to the Bhagavad Gita (16.6-16.7), all beings in the universe have both the divine qualities (daivi sampad) and the demonic qualities (asuri sampad) within each. The sixteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita states that pure god-like saints are rare and pure demon-like evil are rare among human beings, and the bulk of humanity is multi-charactered with a few or many faults. According to Jeaneane Fowler, the Gita states that desires, aversions, greed, needs, emotions in various forms "are facets of ordinary lives", and it is only when they turn to lust, hate, cravings, arrogance, conceit, anger, harshness, hypocrisy, violence, cruelty and such negativity- and destruction-inclined that natural human inclinations metamorphose into something demonic (Asura).
Everyone starts as an Asura in Hindu mythology, born of the same father. "Asuras who remain Asura" share the character of powerful beings obsessed with their craving for more power, more wealth, ego, anger, unprincipled nature, force and violence. The "Asuras who become Devas" in contrast are driven by an inner voice, seek understanding and meaning, prefer moderation, principled behavior, morals, knowledge and harmony. The hostility between the two is the source of extensive legends and tales in the Puranic and the Epic literature of Hinduism; however, many texts discuss their hostility in neutral terms and without explicit condemnation. Some of these tales are the basis for myths behind major Hindu 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, the latter celebrated with the Hindu spring festival of Holika and Holi.
Bhagavata Purana In Bhagavata Purana, Brahma had ten sons: Marici, Atri, Angira, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Vasistha, Daksa, Narada. Marici had a son called Kasyapa. Kasyapa had thirteen wives: Aditi, Diti, Danu, Kadru etc. The sons of Aditi are called Adityas, the sons of Diti are called Daityas, and the sons of Danu are called Danavas. Bṛhaspati (Jupiter, son of Angiras) is a guru of devas (vedic gods). Shukracharya (Venus, son of Bhrigu) is a guru of asuras (vedic demons) or/and Danavas.
Symbolism Edelmann states that the dichotomies present in the Puranas literature of Hinduism are symbolism for adhyatmik concepts. For example, god Indra (a Deva) and the antigod Virocana (an Asura) question a sage for insights into the knowledge of the self. 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".
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. 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.
Classical Hinduism [icon] This section requires expansion. (July 2015)
The male Lokapala devas, the guardians of the directions, on the wall of Shiva temple, Prambanan (Java, Indonesia). Nature Devas are responsible for elements or objects such as fire, air, rain and trees - most of them assumed a minor role in the later religion. Certain other deities rose into prominence. These higher Devas control much more intricate tasks governing the functioning of the cosmos and the evolution of creation. Mahadevas, such as Lord Ganesha, have such tremendous tasks under their diligence that they are sometimes called themselves Gods under the Supreme One God. The Trimurti is composed of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. (Note: Mahadeva generally refers to Shiva)
Vayu, the Lord of the wind, is an example of an important Deva. Also, Death is personified as the Dev Yama. Devas, in Hinduism, are celestial beings that control forces of nature such as fire, air, wind, etc.
- Dvivedi, Kapil Dev. (2000) Vaidika Sahitya evam Samskrti (Vedic Literature and Culture). Varanasi: Vishvavidyalaya Prakashan. (Pages 294-308)
- Dhatupatha (ashtadhyayi.com)
- Pt. Hariprasad Bhagiratha (1896) Amarakosha by Amarasingha. Published by Ganapata Krushnajeeva (Page 2-5)
- Amarakosha (Prathamakanda - Svargavarga)
- Puranic Encyclopedia (See under Deva Pages 207-208)
- Amarakosha (Ganadevata)
- Vedom mein devata tattva. Ved-katha Kalyan Ank, Gorakhpur: Gita Press (Pages 317-323)