Devayana Marga and Pitruyana Marga (देवयानमार्गः पितृयानमार्गः च।)

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देवयानम् ॥ Devayana (Path to the Realm of Deities) and पितृयानम् ॥ Pitruyana (Path to the Realm of Ancestors) is the description of the path of the atma's journey to the higher realms. Existence of आत्मन् ॥ Atma (soul), after-death life, cycles of birth and death, and मोक्षः ॥ moksha (liberation from the cycles of birth and death) are the core principles laid down by the Vedas, on which the Upanishads elucidate the path for attainment of moksha. Knowledge of ब्रह्मविद्या ॥ brahmavidya is an important path towards the attainment of moksha. The path taken by a ब्रह्मजिज्ञासुः ॥ brahmajijnasu and those who go through the cycles of birth and death are elucidated in many vedic texts.

परिचयः || Introduction

सनातनधर्मः ॥ Sanatana Dharma through various texts and treatises expounded the existence of जीवात्मन् || Jivatma (soul) and पुनर्जन्म || Punarjanma (rebirth or reincarnation) of the atma going through cycles of birth and death according to the person's Karma. When the Jivatma of an individual leaves the body or उपाधिः || Upadhi (carnal attibutes) it is called Death. Cycles of birth and death are based on the पुण्यकर्म ॥ Punya karma and पापकर्म ॥ Papa karma of the individual, and it goes on until the atma attains moksha or mukti.[1]

This can be explained with reference to the छान्दोग्य-उपनिषद् ॥ Chandogya Upanishad of the सामवेद: ॥ Sama Veda (5-3), where श्वेतकेतुः ॥ Shvetaketu once came to the assembly of पाञ्चाल-s || Panchalas, whose reigning monarch was Pravahana Jaivali.

The path that the different atmas take to complete their journey in the higher realms is described by various texts mainly in the Upanishads and Brahmasutras. It shows the importance of वैराग्यम् || vairagya (renunciation) and the path to moksha or ब्रह्मलोकः ॥ Brahmaloka which is the ultimate realization of the atma, a point of no return when the soul leaves the cycle of births and deaths.[2]

The King Pravahana Jaivali asks Shvetaketu five questions to gauge his understanding before imparting Brahmavidya. These famous five questions are as below :

  1. From here (this लोकः || loka) where do the people go (after death)?
  2. How do the dead come back?
  3. At what point do the paths of the देवयानम् || Devayana (journey to the देवलोकः ॥ deva loka post death) and पित्रयानम् (journey to पितृलोकः ॥ Pitru loka post death) get separated?
  4. Why do fewer जीवात्मन्-s || jivatmas attain Pitru loka (loka of ancestors)?
  5. In पञ्चाग्निः || Panchagni, the fifth आहुतिः || ahuti (oblation), how does अप्-तत्त्वम् || Ap Tattva get the name of पुरुषः || Purusha ?

In Chandogya Upanishad, in answer to these questions, the explanation about the Devayana and Pitruyana is given.

देवयानम् || Devayana (Path to the Realm of Brahma)

देवयानमार्गः ।

The Devayana path also called as Northern path or the path of light is the path by which the student or साधकः ॥ sadhaka of Brahmavidya goes to ब्रह्मन् ॥ Brahman. This path leads to mukti and takes the devotee to ब्रह्मलोकः ॥ Brahmaloka. These sadhakas consider the worship of Brahman above the religious rites and are called अपरविद्या-उपासकाः ॥ Aparavidya upasakas[1]. The student who receives ब्रह्मविद्या || Brahmavidya with श्रद्धा || shraddha (devotion) while doing तपस् || tapa in the forest follows the path as described in Chandogya Upanishad (Adhyaya 5).[3]

तद्य इत्थं विदुः । ये चेमेऽरण्ये श्रद्धा तप इत्युपासते तेऽर्चिषमभिसम्भवन्त्यर्चिषोऽहरह्न आपूर्यमाणपक्षमापूर्यमाणपक्षाद्यान्षडुदङ्ङेति मासाँस्तान् ॥ १ ॥ (Chan. Upan. 5.10.1)

tadya itthaṃ viduḥ । ye ceme'raṇye śraddhā tapa ityupāsate te'rciṣamabhisambhavantyarciṣo'harahna āpūryamāṇapakṣamāpūryamāṇapakṣādyānṣaḍudaṅṅeti māsām̐stān ॥ 1 ॥ (Chan. Upan. 5.10.1)

मासेभ्यः संवत्सरँ संवत्सरादादित्यमादित्याच्चन्द्रमसं चन्द्रमसो विद्युतं तत्पुरुषोऽमानवः स एनान्ब्रह्म गमयत्येष देवयानः पन्था इति ॥ २ ॥ (Chan. Upan. 5.10.2)

māsebhyaḥ saṃvatsaram̐ saṃvatsarādādityamādityāccandramasaṃ candramaso vidyutaṃ tatpuruṣo'mānavaḥ sa enānbrahma gamayatyeṣa devayānaḥ panthā iti ॥ 2 ॥ (Chan. Upan. 5.10.2)

It can be summarized as follows[4][5]

Those who know this (the philosophy of पञ्चाग्निविद्या ॥ Panchagnividya), and those who meditate upon faith and penance, follow this path

  • Reaches the अर्चिर्देवाः || archirdeva (the Adityas) or light during उत्क्रमणम् || Utkramana time or during departing time.
  • The ब्रह्मज्ञानी || Brahmajnani continues on his journey through the daytime through the शुक्लपक्षः || shukla paksha (bright half of the lunar month).
  • From there they go higher into the realm when Surya is in the उत्तरायणम् ॥ Uttarayana or Northern hemisphere. From here, they go to the realm of the संवत्सर-देवताः || samvatsara devata. This realm is the point of separation of the Devayana and Pitruyana paths.
  • Then, through the samvatsara devtas, he reaches आदित्याः || aditya (loka) which is the passage for the atma to liberation and from there to the subtle realm of चन्द्रः || chandra (the Moon).
  • From the moon moving further and higher to the उर्जा || urja (energy, lightning), the atma is received by the देवदूताः || devdutas ( persons who are not human) who carry it to परमब्रह्म || parabrahma (the Absolute or सत्यलोकः ॥ Satyaloka).

This is देवयानमार्गः (the divine Way), the final destination in the भूलोकः || Bhuloka dimension, is the path of freedom; the path of liberation or Moksha.

The human body is likened to the Cosmos. The ब्रह्मज्ञानी || Brahmajnani (the wise one) goes to the higher realm through heart veins which are beyond hundred, unlike the ordinary person who transits through the veins lesser in number.[6]

A critical question that arises is, how does he perceive through which veins he is passing through? Such discussion is unwarranted as one who has worshiped the परमपुरुषः ॥ Parama Purusha, is absorbed in the ultimate goal; the wise seeker who through his own education and by divine grace being illuminated, is able to recognize the veins that help him depart to a higher realm. Such an advanced atma can transit through the path of light and even if such a person dies at night or in दक्षिणायनम् || Dakshinayana, the ज्ञानी ॥ jnani will attain brahmaloka (Moksha).[6]

पितृयानम् || Pitruyana (Path to the Realm of Pitrus)

पितृयानमार्गः ।

People unable to live a spiritual life, a life of meditation, having no knowledge whatsoever of the higher truths of life, yet have done पुण्यकर्माणि ॥ punya karmas (good deeds) in this world, with सात्विक ॥ satvika thoughts, deeds and charities, दानगुणः ॥ danaguna and who are परहितचिन्तकाः ॥ parahitachintaka (ie.who think of the welfare of others), accumulate the merits equivalent to that obtained by performing great yajnas. Such good people by means of virtue do not go along the path of light. Rather, they go along the Southern Path of Return.[2]

They embark on another kind of life journey which involves discharging one’s functional responsibilities or dharma and fulfilling material desires with no direction towards acquiring Brahmavidya and then eventually death. This is called धूममार्गः ॥ dhuma marga (the path of smoke) or दक्षिणयानपथः ॥ dakshinayana-patha (the Southern movements) which is, again, presided over by divinities as described in Chandogya Upanishad[3]

अथ य इमे ग्राम इष्टापूर्ते दत्तमित्युपासते ते धूममभिसम्भवन्ति धूमाद्रात्रिँ रात्रेरपरपक्षमपरपक्षाद्यान्षड्दक्षिणैति मासाँस्तान्नैते संवत्सरमभिप्राप्नुवन्ति ॥ ३ ॥(Chan. Upan. 5.10.3)

atha ya ime grāma iṣṭāpūrte dattamityupāsate te dhūmamabhisambhavanti dhūmādrātrim̐ rātreraparapakṣamaparapakṣādyānṣaḍdakṣiṇaiti māsām̐stānnaite saṃvatsaramabhiprāpnuvanti ॥ 3 ॥(Chan. Upan. 5.10.3) 

मासेभ्यः पितृलोकं पितृलोकादाकाशमाकाशाच्चन्द्रमसमेष सोमो राजा तद्देवानामन्नं तं देवा भक्षयन्ति ॥ ४ ॥ (Chan. Upan. 5.10.4)

māsebhyaḥ pitṛlokaṃ pitṛlokādākāśamākāśāccandramasameṣa somo rājā taddevānāmannaṃ taṃ devā bhakṣayanti ॥ 4 ॥ (Chan. Upan. 5.10.4)

This path can be summarized as follows[4][5].

  • Those living in the villages, perform deeds of dharma, works of public utility. Such sadhakas during Utkramana time are received by the smoke (वायुदेवताः ॥ vayu devatas). From there they continue their journey at night time.
  • Such an atma moves to the realm of the कृष्णपक्षः || krsnapaksha (dark half of the lunar month) and then onto the southern direction. From here they do not go to the realm of the Samvatsara devatas but move in a different direction.
  • The Atma reaches the dhumabhimani (vayu devatas). Without seeing the संवत्सर-देवताः || samvatsara devata, they reach the पितृलोकः || Pitru loka (realm of the ancestors) instead of the आदित्यलोकः ॥ Aditya loka.
  • Then it moves to the आकाशः || Akasha (Sky) and eventually reach सोमः || soma (Moon or the grain of the devatas). Soma is the king, that is the food of the devatas.
Pitruyana Marg : The Jivatma (soul) returning to the earth follows the above path.

तस्मिन्यवात्संपातमुषित्वाथैतमेवाध्वानं पुनर्निवर्तन्ते यथेतमाकाशमाकाशाद्वायुं वायुर्भूत्वा धूमो भवति धूमो भूत्वाऽभ्रं भवति ॥ ५ ॥ (Chan. Upan. 5.10.5)

tasminyavātsaṃpātamuṣitvāthaitamevādhvānaṃ punarnivartante yathetamākāśamākāśādvāyuṃ vāyurbhūtvā dhūmo bhavati dhūmo bhūtvā'bhraṃ bhavati ॥ 5 ॥ (Chan. Upan. 5.10.5)

अभ्रं भूत्वा मेघो भवति मेघो भूत्वा प्रवर्षति त इह व्रीहियवा ओषधिवनस्पतयस्तिलमाषा इति जायन्तेऽतो वै खलु दुर्निष्प्रपतरं यो यो ह्यन्नमत्ति यो रेतः सिञ्चति तद्भूय एव भवति ॥ ६ ॥ (Chan. Upan. 5.10.6)

abhraṃ bhūtvā megho bhavati megho bhūtvā pravarṣati ta iha vrīhiyavā oṣadhivanaspatayastilamāṣā iti jāyante'to vai khalu durniṣprapataraṃ yo yo hyannamatti yo retaḥ siñcati tadbhūya eva bhavati ॥ 6 ॥ (Chan. Upan. 5.10.6)

  • They dwell there (in the realm of Moon) till their karma is exhausted and these atmans come back to पृथ्वीलोकः || Prthvi loka using the same path that they had used to go up, through the Akasha, Vayu, Smoke, Cloud and Rain.
  • Determined by one’s कर्म || karma, they are reborn embodied through औषधाः || medicinal herbs / varieties of roots, वृक्षः || vrksha (tree) form, अन्नम् || anna (rice, barley, wheat, sesame) which when consumed by man forms the पुरुषबीजः || Purusha beeja (Semen) and then through स्त्रीगर्भः || Stree garbha (Womb of a woman) takes rebirth on the earth.

तद्य इह रमणीयचरणा अभ्याशो ह यत्ते रमणीयां योनिमापद्येरन्ब्राह्मणयोनिं वा क्षत्रिययोनिं वा वैश्ययोनिं वाथ य इह कपूयचरणा अभ्याशो ह यत्ते कपूयां योनिमापद्येरन् श्वयोनिं वा सूकरयोनिं वा चण्डालयोनिं वा ॥७॥ (Chan. Upan. 5.10.7)

tadya iha ramaṇīyacaraṇā abhyāśo ha yatte ramaṇīyāṃ yonimāpadyeranbrāhmaṇayoniṃ vā kṣatriyayoniṃ vā vaiśyayoniṃ vātha ya iha kapūyacaraṇā abhyāśo ha yatte kapūyāṃ yonimāpadyeran śvayoniṃ vā sūkarayoniṃ vā caṇḍālayoniṃ vā ॥7॥ (Chan. Upan. 5.10.7)

Meaning : By the power of धर्मः || dharma, कर्म || karma (दैवम् || daiva) and good conduct, through these grains, atmas accept the wombs according to a definite principle and may be born either as a ब्राह्मणः || brahmana, क्षत्रियः || kshatriya or वैश्यः || vaishya. Such pious people are called as रमणीयचरणाः || ramaniya charana. If however their accumulated papa (पापम्) during the human birth is high, then they could become dog, pig or a चाण्डालः || chandala (outcaste). Thus, those atmas who are attached to worldly pleasures but do not do things prohibited by Vedas attain Pitruloka. After enjoying all the accrued punya there, they return back to earth through the Pitruyana marg.

अथैतयोः पथोर्न कतरेण च न तानीमानि क्षुद्राण्यसकृदावर्तीनि भूतानि भवन्ति जायस्व म्रियस्वेत्येतत्तृतीयँस्थानं तेनासौ लोको न सम्पूर्यते तस्माज्जुगुप्सेत तदेष श्लोकः ॥ ८ ॥ (Chan. Upan. 5.10.8)

athaitayoḥ pathorna katareṇa ca na tānīmāni kṣudrāṇyasakṛdāvartīni bhūtāni bhavanti jāyasva mriyasvetyetattṛtīyam̐sthānaṃ tenāsau loko na sampūryate tasmājjugupseta tadeṣa ślokaḥ ॥ 8 ॥ (Chan. Upan. 5.10.8)

The jivatma of one who does not follow the injunctions of shastras are involved in पापोपासना ॥ papopasana. Leading a wayward life, they do not attain the higher realms and do not traverse either of these paths, the देवयानम् and पितृयानम्. Such atmas are reborn time and again in the lower species of life owing to their great papa (पापम्) attaining a place called Trteeya. Therefore, Pitru loka is not filled all the time.

ब्रह्मसूत्राणि ॥ Brahmasutras

ब्रह्मसूत्र-s || Brahmasutras extensively and intricately describe the path of the atma after जीवन्मुक्तिः ॥ Jeevan mukti and विदेहमुक्तिः ॥ Videha mukti.

तदन्तरप्रतिपत्तौ रंहति सम्परिष्वक्तः प्रश्ननिरूपणाभ्याम् || (Bram. Sutr. 3.1.1)[7]

Tadantarapratipattau raṁhati sampariṣvaktaḥ praśnanirūpaṇābhyām || (Bram. Sutr. 3.1.1)

Meaning : When the transmigration of the atma takes place, the living being enters into the new body along with the subtle elements - मनस् || manas (mind), बुद्धिः || buddhi (intellect) and अहङ्कारः || ahankara (ego). This is corroborated in the Upanishads.[8] The Devayana and Pitruyana is described in the Brahmasutras in the 4th chapter (फलाध्यायः ॥ phaladhyaya), 2nd section. The mode of departure from the body up to the way is common to both the knower of the सगुण-ब्रह्मन् ॥ Saguna Brahman and an ordinary man.

समाना चासृत्युपक्रमादमृतत्वं चानुपोष्य (Bram. Sut. 4.2.7)[7]

samānā cāsṛtyupakramādamṛtatvaṃ cānupoṣya (Bram. Sut. 4.2.7)

Meaning : And common (is the mode of departure at the time of death for both the knower of the Saguna Brahman and the ignorant) up to the beginning of their ways; and the immortality (of the knower of the Saguna Brahman is only relative) without having burnt (ignorance). The present Sutra says that the knower of the Saguna Brahman enters the सुशुम्ना-नाडी ॥ Sushumna Nadi at death and then goes out of the body and then enters the Devayana or the path of the deities while the ordinary ignorant man enters some other Nadi and goes by another way to have rebirth.[9]

But the mode of departure at death is common to both till they enter on their respective ways.

कौषीतकिब्राह्मणोपनिषत् ॥ Kaushitaki Upanishad

Kaushitaki Upanishad associated with the Rig Veda also describes the transit of atma in Devayana marga and the description of the Brahmaloka.

स एतं देवयानं पन्थानमासाद्याग्निलोकमागच्छति स वायुलोकं स वरुणलोकं स आदित्यलोकं स इन्द्रलोकं स प्रजापतिलोकं स ब्रह्मलोकं तस्य ह वा एतस्य ब्रह्मलोकस्यारोहृदो मुहूर्तॊऽन्वेष्टिहा विरजा नदील्यो वृक्षः सालज्यं संस्थानमपराजितमायतनमिन्द्रप्रजापती द्वारगोपौ । विभुप्रमितं विचक्षणाऽसन्ध्यमितौजाः प्रयङ्कः प्रिया च मानसी प्रतिरूपा च चाक्षुषी पुष्पाण्यादायावयतौ वै च जगान्यम्बाश्चाम्बावयवीश्चाप्सरसः । अम्बया नद्यस्तमित्थंविदा गच्छति तं ब्रह्मा हाभिधावत मम यशसा विरजां वा अयं जरयिष्यतीति ॥ ३ ॥ (Kaus. Upan. 1.3)[10]

Summary: Having entered upon this Path of the deities, he comes to the अग्निलोकम्, the world of Fire, वायुलोकम् the world of Air, (then) वरुणलोकं the world of Varuna, (then) आदित्यलोकं the world of Aditya, (then) इन्द्रलोकं the world of Indra; (then) प्रजापतिलोकं the world of Prajapati, (then) ब्रह्मलोकं the world of Brahma. This world of Brahma has a lake of Ara, the moments of Yeshtihas, the river Vijara, the three Ilya, the city Salajja, the abode Aparajita, the door-keepers Indra and Prajapati, the hall Vibhu, the throne Vichakshana, the couch Amitaujas, the beloved Manasi and her counterpart Chaksusi, who taking flowers verily weave the worlds, the mothers, the nurses, the nymphs and the rivers. To it comes he who knows this. To him Brahma (says), Run ye. With my glory verily he has reached the river Viraja, the ageless. He verily will not grow old.[11][12]

ज्ञानमार्गः कर्ममार्गः च ॥ Jnana Marga and Karma Marga

One important question raised is who traverses which path? What kind of actions leads one on either of these paths? Do all beings take either one of these paths? Answers to such questions are given extensively in Brahmasutras and Upanishads.

  • The बृहदारण्यकोपनिषद् ॥ Brhadaranyaka-Upanishad (6.2.15 and 6.2.16) says that those who meditate on the Panchagni-s (five fires), Satya or Brahman reach the world of हिरण्यगर्भः ॥ Hiranyagarbha (brahmaloka) eventually by the path of the deities. This is the Jnanamarga.
  • Those who perform yajnas, give away gifts, and undergo penances, eventually reach the world of chandra (moon), by the path of the ancestors. The path of the manes is clearly identified as those who take up the karma marga, not necessarily karma yoga which involves giving up the fruits of actions. As such, those who take the path of the manes and reach the world of chandra will have to be reborn on the earth after their merits have been exhausted. (See above Chan. Upan. 5.10.7)
  • Those who do take neither the path of the deities nor the path of ancestors are reborn as insects, moths, mosquitoes, etc. and lead a lowly existence on earth (See above Chan. Upan. 5.10.8).
  • As per Brahmasutras (4.2.7), there is no departure for the knower of निर्गुणब्रह्मन् ॥ Nirguna Brahman. His प्राणाः ॥ Pranas are absorbed in Brahman.[9]

भगवद्गीता ॥ Bhagavad Gita

The law of Creation is also explained in the  Bhagavad Gita[13] (Chapters 7 and 8) and in the third chapter of Yajna chakra. Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that the Ultimate Reality has to be realised in both aspects, transcendent as well as immanent. The Yogi who realizes both has nothing more to know.[6]

This complete union with the Brahman is an extremely difficult task to attain. Of the millions of human beings, very few aspire for this union, and among those who aspire for it, few make efforts to achieve that union, and of the few who make efforts, few ever reach the pinnacle of spiritual realisation.

Sri krishna then explains about the manifestations of the परमात्मन् ॥ Paramatma as the revealed universe and the power behind it. He speaks of these manifestations as His lower and higher manifestations (Prakrtis). The lower प्रकृतिः ॥ Prakrti is made up of the five elements, mind, ego and intellect. The higher Prakrti is the  ultimate ‘Powerless Power’ which creates and upholds the universe, and causes its final dissolution. In the eight chapter,

शुक्लकृष्णे गती ह्येते जगतः शाश्वते मते । एकया यात्यनावृत्तिमन्ययावर्तते पुनः || (Bhag. Gita. 8.26)

śuklakṛṣṇe gatī hyete jagataḥ śāśvate mate। ekayā yātyanāvṛttimanyayāvartate punaḥ || (Bhag. Gita. 8.26)

Meaning: These are the bright and the dark paths (called the path of the devatas and the path of the forefathers in the Upanishads); by the one he departs who does not return, by the other he who returns again.

संवादः || Discussion

The Vedas are the earliest literature that speak extensively about the concept of life after death and the journey of the atma in different paths. While other faiths also believe in the existence of life after the death (For example, Christians believe in Heaven, Hell and Purgatory), clear explanation about the upward journey of the atma is described vividly in the Vedas, Brahmasutras, Upanishads like Chandogya and Mundaka apart from Brihadaranyakopanishad and Garuda purana.

No other faith has such extensive and ancient system of rituals and deeds for their ancestors as described in Sanatana Dharma. In the present day, festivals like Halloween, Day of the Dead, Wag festival, Bon Festival, Ayamarca, Ghost Festival are celebrated, characteristic of each religion or country, as an event to remember and honor the departed atmas.[14]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Mani, Vettam. (1975). Puranic encyclopaedia : A comprehensive dictionary with special reference to the epic and Puranic literature. Delhi:Motilal Banasidass. (Page 613 and 614)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Chandogya Upanishad By Swami Krishnananda (Chapter 1)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Chandogya Upanishad (Adhyaya 5)
  4. 4.0 4.1 Jha, Ganganatha. (1923). The Chandogya Upanishad and Sri Sankara's Commentary, Fourth Volume. Madras:The India Printing Works.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Jha, Ganganatha. (1942) The Chandogyopanishad (A treatise on Vedanta Philosophy translated into English with The Commentary of Sankara) Poona : Oriental Book Agency
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Narayanacharya, K. S. (2011). Veda Sanskritiya Parichaya, Part I. Hubli:​Sahitya Prakashana​.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Brahmasutras By Maharshi Vedavyasa
  8. Brahmasutras By Swami Sivananda (3.1.1)
  9. 9.0 9.1 Brahmasutras By Swami Sivananda (4.2.7)
  10. Kausihitaki Brahmana-Upanishad
  11. Warrier, Krishna A. G. Kaushitaki Brahmana-Upanishad Chennai:The Theosophical Publishing House
  12. Kaushitaki Upanishad :
  13. Shrimad Bhagavadgita
  14. Festival of the Dead in Wikipedia